Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. The seconds chug along, the minute hand inching across the barren white background like a snail trekking over a wide path. I groan, fiddling with the braided bracelets on my wrist, noticing how the vibrant neon blue and bright violet clash with my olive skin. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Could this class take any longer? I thought as the teacher lectured the class on inertia, droning on and on in a dull monotone. He sounded like a robot with depression, flailing his hand unenthusiastically to point at the screen. Each second was like fire on my hyperactive brain. Anything seemed more interesting than the screen, and honestly, the lesson itself.
Suddenly the weak golden sunlight filtering through the crimson curtains was fascinating as the sunbeams streamed over my desk, illuminating the rough wood and making it gleam. Names and initials were etched into the wood, little rivets of black in the smooth oak. Trailing my fingers along the rivets, my breath left my chest in a long sigh, blowing the silky wisps of hair so they danced on the air. Trying to look demure (with little success), I glanced over at my crush, who sat directly across from me, lounged back in his seat.
He’s probably bored too… I thought. He just looks so darn cute! All of a sudden he tensed violently, the muscles of his back clenching under the gray sweatshirt. I knit my brows, but didn’t think much of it. Probably just a spasm, I thought, and continued to study him carefully, forehead creasing in thought.
My cheeks flushed as I cast a sidelong glance at him, noticing how the chocolate depths of his eyes gleamed with a spark of laughter and defiance as he gestured animatedly towards the screen, whispering to his friend Thomas.
Try and pay attention for once, Vivian. Please? Stop staring at James and- Snap! James’ head jerked up. He instantly became silent, the husky whispers ceasing abruptly and leaving my ears ringing with silence. The only sound was the teacher’s throaty grumble and the tippity-tap of his finger against the whiteboard as he explained some obscure property of matter. My eyes widened. It was almost as if he had… heard his name?
Running a pale hand through his ebony hair, he cleared his throat and stared straight forward, leaving his friend staring after him in confusion. Thomas opened his mouth, seeming to speak and ask a question, when he froze. His curious, lively hazel eyes glazed over.
Thomas shut his mouth abruptly, jerkily, and I stared in horror at his eyes. In that moment, I could have sworn they flashed from hazel to black. As though in a trance, he blinked twice and his eyes slowly snapped back into focus, the cloudy murk dissipating to reveal their natural amber-hazel tone.
With a shrug, James’ ginger friend diverted his attention to the creased notebook page, twirling a pen between his fingers and scribbling in the margins yet again, black ink swirling out from the nib and flowing across the yellowed surface. He seemed to have forgotten about the conversation all together.
James’ shoulders relaxed a little and he sighed as Thomas tittered away happily, humming and scratching designs in the paper. Something is wrong here, I thought nervously, What about the other people that noticed James’ outburst? Worried, I turned my gaze behind him, impatiently pushing away unruly brown strands of hair that obscured my view.
The girl behind him that had looked up raised a thin brow, but didn’t seem to think much of it. Nonetheless, her thin arm reached up to tap James on the back, probably to ask if he was alright. Without even seeing her, he tensed in anticipation. My eyes widened in shock. The girl’s hand had froze in mid-air, suspended in space. His face was contorted in what looked like effort, and slowly, her sapphire blue eyes began to flash black. Stifling a scream, I sat in silence, terror stampeding through my veins. Her hand inched away jerkily, James’ back tensing with each movement until Ella’s dainty palm was resting against the desk.
Snap! With one final flicker, her eyes returned to their tranquil ocean-blue and she glared at her gleaming silver watch, seemingly becoming infatuated by the ticking. So much so that she ignored the blonde ringlets that fell over her eyes and didn’t even look up at his heavy sigh.
Anyone that had noticed James’ abrupt movement seemed to have moved on, continuing with their fiddling or sketches. Except me. My mind became feeble and weak at the thought that was so insane… that it might be true? Could my crush truly read (and possibly control) minds? Swiftly, I decided that I would confront him after one last test…
And I unleashed hell on my own thoughts. I mentally screamed, recalled every annoying, screeching sound I had ever heard, conjured up memories of blaring sirens. Aaaaah! Banana! Octopus! Mind-reading! Screaming in my own thoughts, I let loose one, piercing shriek that echoed in my thoughts. James was doubled over on his desk. I willed my mental voice to grow louder, sustaining an ear splitting cry.
He groaned and clutched his head, knotting his fingers in his hair, the pale ivory of his skin a sharp contrast with his mop of jet-black hair. Shuddering violently, the seat literally quivered beneath him. Stop!!! I can’t take it! Just… stop. A voice sounded off in my head that wasn’t my own. It sounded masculine, low and smooth like honey dripping over my thoughts even with the panicked tone.
James? What in the-
Stop. Ask to go to the hall, and I’ll ask too.
I’m so confused, but okay. Wait, he’ll never agree though! He only lets one person go at a time. I ended my thought. The strange connection between us buzzed with silence. Glancing over, I saw him staring right at me, brown eyes glowing like embers in the charred remnants of a fire.
Who are you? His voice echoed in my head. It was surreal. I expected his mouth to be moving as I heard the voice, but sure enough, he sat there, motionless and staring.
Vivian. You know that. I mean we’ve worked in groups. Why? I should be asking you!
I know you’re Vivian. But you’re resisting. I can see your thoughts, like everyone else’s, but I can’t touch them or erase them like I can with Thomas and Ella, and every human I’ve ever met except you. Give me a second. I’ll get us to the hall. Follow my lead.
Baffled but not ready to question anything, I stood up as he rose from his seat, scampering down the aisle after him. The teacher looked up expectantly, raising a bushy black brow.
“What do you need?” he grunted, glancing back and forth between James and I. Twirling a strand of brown hair around my finger, I looked over at James expectantly. Time for me to “follow his lead.”
“We need to go to the bathroom. Please, sir…” He drawled. My eyes widened in shock. Where the voice of an adolescent boy with a scratchy voice should have been, the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard came out, like honey sliding over each word in a low, almost southern drawl. Looking astonished, the teacher looked up at me, and I took the unspoken cue.
“Please. It won’t take very long, sir, just five minutes.” The voice sounded foreign even to my own ears, definitely my own but seeming almost… beautiful. Heavenly. High and clear and sweet, like an angel’s croon to the lord. James’ eyes widened in shock, but he quickly recovered and turned his gaze on the teacher, brown eyes locking with the older man’s tawny hazel. And to my terror, his eyes flashed black for an instant, fog sliding over his gaze.
“I- just go. You have five minutes. Go.” A millisecond later, his eyes snapped back to the clear, tawny tone, the hazy blankness fading off. I swung open the door, holding it momentarily as James slipped through then slamming it shut.
“What in God’s name are you? You just controlled their minds!” He cringed at my harsh yell, looking like a guilty dog being chastised by its owner.
“I’m sorry. When you screamed… well, okay. I’ll give it to you straight. I can read minds and-” I slapped him hard across the face, and an angry red mark blossomed immediately on his pale cheek.
“Stop. Go back. Explain quickly and tell me why you can’t control me. Go,” I commanded. The harshness of my tone shocked me, and in that instant I felt like a general barking orders. I just slapped my crush and he can read and control minds. The reality flew in on swift wings as I drew in a shaky breath.
“Ever since I was born, I’ve been able to read minds. I can focus on a person, and in my mind, I hear their thoughts and see the images they imagine. Or I can turn on a general listen, where the thoughts are going off in the background, like background noise,” he paused to rub his cheek, which was turning redder and redder with each passing second, the pale skin flushing a furious crimson. There was a little outline beginning to form where my hand had made contact.
“So… you know that I…?” My cheeks flushed at the silent question, and I nearly cussed at the awkward tension that clouded the space between us, stabbing into the silence like daggers.
“That you like me? Yeah… yeah. Vivian, I-” I held up a hand, cutting off his words. I knew where they were going, and the words out loud would only have caused more pain. Forcing the lines on my brow to dissipate, I put on a cool, slack face that I hoped masked my pain.
“Stop. Don’t say it. Just tell me how in the world you can control minds.” He looked over at me with guilty eyes. The mask on my face could never hide the pain in my thoughts, and I would be willing to bet he felt guilty for not liking me back… and nervous. I could see it in his rigid stance, the vigorous shaking of his foot against the tiled floor.
“Well, I can hear thoughts. Usually everyone has a glowing orb of light above their head, representing their mind or something. To hone in on a specific person is to stop the din of noise and only hear their thoughts, and to do that, I imagine touching the orb. Then I can see the inside. Inside the orb are these little bubbles. Thoughts. Memories. Feelings. To erase a memory, like my weird behavior earlier, I just wipe away that bubble and they instantly forget.”
“I saw you do that with Thomas and Ella, and control the teacher to let us go. Why not me?” I demanded. Looking down at his tattered Converse sneakers, James shifted awkwardly. Obviously he’d never explained this to anyone before.
“Why not me?” I repeated, stepping forward. He immediately cringed back, as if afraid I might slap him again. Normally I would be offended by this, felt my heart crack as he stepped away, but not today. He had good reason to be scared, for if he didn’t answer my question soon, the angry red mark on his face would be joined by a new slap mark, courtesy of yours truly.
“I tried to erase the suspicion feeling bubble from your mind, after you said my name and I looked up. So I focused on your orb, let myself look inside. I could see all the thoughts and feelings like normal, floating around as bubbles, but when I tried to touch and erase suspicion, the bubble turned gold. And it started pulsing and glowing, so bright, like a supernova in your mind. My mind started to burn as I touched it, searing hot pain coursing through each cell of my body.”
James shivered at the thought, and in that moment, I pitied him. The boy I had worshipped as “perfect,” brave, and just overall a strong person was crumbling before my eyes. Some twisted, black part of me wanted to taunt him, douse the fire in gasoline and watch him pay for all the hope he’d crushed, all the tears and pain that had wreaked havoc on my soul all because of James.
“You repulsed me. Your thought literally burned away my powers and pushed me from your mind. That’s the first time it’s ever happened. And with the teacher… I saw something in you. As that voice came out, a spark flew out from the orb. Like you had transmitted the thought into his brain with the voice of an angel. That’s not natural.” The guilty brown eyes regarded me with fear, and I saw myself reflected back in his eyes. I looked imposing. For the first time in my life, I was scary to someone as I stood above him, blue eyes glinting with authority and raw power. I barely recognized myself.
“Not natural. Ha! I’m not natural?” Guffawing at the thought, I glanced away, pointedly not looking at him. The boy I’d regarded as handsome and perfect now seemed almost pathetic. He had powers. There was a twisted satisfaction in that, knowing that he had mind controlling powers and yet was still afraid of me. Vivian. A normal, harmless girl.
“No. You may laugh, but you aren’t. Vivian, you may look at me like a freak, but I saw you with the teacher. You must see it too. Me invading your thoughts triggered something. No offense, but before? You didn’t really stand out,” James commented flippantly. My heart throbbed with hurt, but I nodded. There was no need to deny the facts.
“But now? After I tried to erase that, a defense mechanism kicked in. And you came alive. Maybe you couldn’t hear it in your voice, but I could. That was the voice of an angel. I didn’t control him. When his eyes flashed, that wasn’t me implanting a thought into his head. That wasn’t me taking over. Vivian?” He grabbed my arm, and I whipped my head around, the long strands of loose brown hair swirling around my pale face. A defiant courage struck my veins, and I yanked my arm away, the warmth fading abruptly.
“What? What are you going to accuse me of, huh? Of having some kind of persuasive power, like charm-speaking?” I laughed, a high, tinkling sound like a symphony of bells that seemed too bright for such a situation. But his face was grim. James didn’t laugh as he stared at me, there was no humor in his pale face, in the soft brown eyes I had stared at for months when I had yearned for him to talk to me. After a moment, a wry grin spread across his face.
“It wasn’t me controlling the teacher. It was you. You know, I expected this conversation to be you asking about me. But I’m not the interesting one, Vivian. You are.” Deathly serious, he locked eyes, mine blue and his brown engaged in a silent war. After a moment, I broke the gaze, reaching for the brass knob of the classroom door.
But something stopped me. I turned back, saw him standing in the hall, looking after me with a bemusing expression that seemed both amazed and perplexed at the same time.
“So, you really think that I have some kind of Aphrodite, goddess thing going on? Where I can persuade people with… angelic powers? You believe that? About me?” The words were so absurd, I laughed in spite of myself. This was ridiculous. I wasn’t the strange one here. Nonetheless, he grinned.
“Yes, actually. I do. It seems that you need to spend less time questioning me and more time questioning yourself.” With that, he walked off down the hall, leaving me alone and confused.
“Wait, but aren’t you coming back to science class?” I yelled after him. James looked back, mischief in his large brown eyes.
“No. And I suggest you come with.” My hand hovered over the knob. But in that moment, I made a split second decision. I sprinted off down the hall, leaving behind science class and everything I had ever known.