The mind readers, p.1
The Mind Readers, p.1Lori Brighton
The Mind Readers
Copyright 2010 Lori Brighton
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The man sitting across from me at the café was thinking about murdering his wife.
He imagined stabbing her and pretending like it was a robbery. Or perhaps, he thought, he’d take her hiking, push her off a cliff and say it was an accident; that she’d slipped. I wanted to tell him it wouldn’t work, that in those CSI shows on T.V. they always suspected the husband first.
Instead, I huddled deep within my down jacket, the diner booth pressing uncomfortably hard against my back. I didn’t dare move for fear of drawing attention to myself. I didn’t want to know his thoughts. I wished he’d keep them to himself. But I suppose he couldn’t help it. The thoughts seeped from his mind like the fog currently drifting in from the harbor.
Slowly, I slid him a glance out of the corner of my eye. With his thinning brown hair combed neatly into place, and his blue button-up shirt free of wrinkles, he looked like a normal suburban dad. But if there was one thing I’d learned early on in life it was that normalcy, as we thought of it, didn’t exist.
His pale blue eyes met mine. My heart slammed frantically against my ribcage. I dropped my gaze, my long, dark hair falling around my face like a curtain. He’d noticed me looking at him. He was wondering if I was a virgin. He hoped I was. Pervert. Bile crawled up my throat. I wrapped my hands around my cup of Chai tea, hoping the heat would warm my insides. It didn’t.
But the guy sitting at the table next to me who’d been imagining killing his wife and was now imagining seducing me wasn’t the problem. No, it was the guy sitting across from me, the guy with his bright orange hunting cap pulled low over his eyes, the guy waiting for the right moment to rob the café… he was the one who worried me. For one brief moment I thought about alerting the owner. Common sense and years of warning got the better of me and I remained silent.
With a trembling hand, I latched onto the strap of my bag, gripped my cup and slid from the booth. My conscious screamed at me to return, to help, say something. Shifting my bag strap to my shoulder, I scurried from the café before guilt got the better of me. Outside the air was crisp, cool. It was early fall and the bees were swarming an overflowing trashcan. Dumping my cup, careful to avoid the stinging insects, I pulled my hood atop my head and stuffed my hands into the soft, fleece-lined pockets on my jacket, trying to get warm…always trying.
A black truck zoomed by, sending fall colored leaves of orange, red and yellow into the air. For one brief moment, as the leaves settled around me, I felt like I was in the safety of a snow globe.
A deep shout resounded from inside the café, a muffled demand. I shouldn’t have been surprised, still my heart made a mad leap for my throat. People screamed, the sound noticeable even through the thick glass windows. Trembling, I stepped off the curb, glanced left, then right and darted across the street. I had five minutes to make it home in time and couldn’t be late…again or Grandma would worry. I focused on the long road that led to our small Cape Cod style cottage, focused on the crunch of brittle leaves under my sneakers, focused on breathing. I would not react to the scene around me. I couldn’t. My life depended on silence.
A sudden blast rang through the air, vibrating the glass windows. A flock of black starlings burst from the maples lining the road. I flinched, sucking in a sharp breath of cold air and resisted the urge to drop to the cracked sidewalk. Surprise faded quickly and for one brief moment guilt churned deep within my gut. A sickening guilt that was almost unbearable.
A woman with gray hair who was walking her poodle next to me froze, her gaze pinned to the café. “My God, I think they’re being robbed!”
I didn’t respond but continued down the sidewalk as she fumbled with her cell phone.
Taking in a deep breath, I forced my body to relax and slipped the ear buds of my iPod into my ears. Home. I had to make it home before I was late, before nerves got the better of me and I was sick all over the sidewalk. But even as I attempted to ignore the guilt thrumming in time with the music, anxiety clawed its way into my lungs, making it hard to breathe. I knew, deep down, I could have stopped it.
Sometimes it really sucked to be able to read minds.
“Café was robbed, one person shot. They just announced it on the news.” Grandma lifted her remote and turned the volume down on the T.V. nestled in the far corner of the counter. She was settled behind the round table where we ate all of our meals. A table that, according to her, had come across the ocean with her English grandparents over one-hundred years ago. I was pretty sure I remembered her buying it at a garage sale when I was a kid but didn’t have the heart to argue with her.
Hello to you too, Grandma.
I dropped my backpack on the kitchen table and headed straight for the refrigerator, my sneakers squeaking over the pea green 1970’s linoleum. I shouldn’t have been annoyed by Grandma’s blatant attempt to pry. I’d been living with her since I was five and my ability had surfaced. Mom pretty much thought I was a freak and shoved me into Grandma’s capable arms, the one person who understood. Another freak.
I barely remembered my mom. But overall, my childhood hadn’t been horrible. Lonely, as we’d moved a lot when I was young; a little complicated as Grandma had to explain away my uncanny ability to know what others were thinking. But I couldn’t complain. I had a roof over my head and plenty to eat.
Grandma didn’t look like your typical old lady. Yeah, she was in her fifties, but she colored her dark hair and refused to cover her trim body with a housecoat. I got my hair and eye color from her, but my smaller facial features from my mom’s side of the family. Grandma was blunt and a little cold and it showed in her sharp features. But she’d taken care of me when no one else would, and for that I had to reluctantly appreciate her.
“Anyone die?” I asked, pretending a nonchalance I certainly didn’t feel.
“Nope.” She snapped her cookbook shut and peered up at me through her wire-rimmed glasses. I tried to ignore her intense hazel eyes, but it was impossible. I swear Grandma’s beady gaze could read a person’s soul. It was why I’d never lied to her.
I wrapped my fingers around the handle of the refrigerator, relief releasing sweetly from my gut. No one had died. Just injured. No death. No guilt. At least not this time. But it was there, always in the back of my mind. Shame was the worst of it, knowing I could help if I’d just open my mouth. But as Grandma had taught me early on, there were worse things than feeling guilty, like feeling dead. I hadn’t realized a person could “feel” dead, but knew it was pointless to argue with Grandma.
“Cameron, isn’t tha
I pulled the refrigerator door wide, the burst of cold air adding to my unease. As if she didn’t know where I went. As if she didn’t know every tiny thing I did. “Yeah.”
“Were you there?”
I pulled out a can of coke, letting the chill aluminum numb my fingers, hoping that numbness would move to my heart, my gut, my brain. No such luck. “Yeah. I was there”
There was a short pause. I knew what she would ask next. Not that I could read her mind. I’d never been able to read Grandma’s thoughts like I could others. Grandma had learned, over the years, how to keep her thoughts to herself. An ability she refused to share with me and I knew why…then she wouldn’t be able to spy on me. Her power would be gone. And at times like this, I resented the hell out of her.
“Did you know?” she asked, her own voice casual.
Did I know the man was going to rob the café? Did I know he had a gun? Did I know someone might die and I could stop it? I swiped my hands on my jeans, wiping away the condensation. Slowly, I nodded.
“You didn’t say anything?”
Annoyed, I released a puff of air through pursed lips. Why did she even bother asking? She knew the answer. “No,” I grumbled.
“Good girl.” She pushed her chair away from the table, the legs screeching across the linoleum, and stood. “You’d only be courting questions and trouble. You remember what happened in Michigan. Always remember that when you want to warn someone. I’m going to the garden.”
Michigan. There it was again. As if I could ever forget that incident. The time we’d almost been caught. The time I’d realized I couldn’t trust anyone with my secret.
I watched her move to the door, my bitterness growing with each step she took. Whenever she praised me for keeping quiet, it felt so patronizing. Like inside she was smirking. Good little girl had done what she’d been told once again because she was too afraid to rebel.
The screen door banged against the frame and she disappeared into the back garden. Truth was, Grandma controlled me; she knew everyone one of my dark secrets, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. At times I felt beaten down, exposed, exhausted. Imprisoned like an animal at the zoo, constantly watched.
But in less than one year I’d be free of Grandma. She had to know I was eager to attend college, yet she never said anything. She had to know that when I went away, I could do whatever I wanted. Part of me worried that she had some nefarious plan to keep me by her side forever. I shuddered at the thought.
A horn blared out front, pulling me from my morose thoughts. I grinned, knowing the noise would piss off Grandma. I set my pop on the counter and pushed open the front door. Emily was parked alongside the curb, her new red convertible shiny, free of dents and scratches. I knew that wouldn’t last long, the girl had almost flunked Driver’s Ed. I hadn’t said how ridiculous it was to get a convertible when you lived in Maine. Icy roads and convertibles didn’t mesh. But Emily loved the car and Emily got what she wanted.
Blonde and blue eyed, she was everyone’s idea of perfection and she was my best friend. I couldn’t hate my abilities, no, because if I couldn’t read minds, I would never be friends with Emily. I would never get the grades I got, and I wouldn’t be as good at soccer as I was. I knew answers, I knew game plays, I knew what people were thinking practically before they did.
“Come on!” She waved me over, large Chanel sunglasses covering half her face. Fall in Maine was far from warm, but she liked to pretend she was some incarnate version of Audrey Hepburn. If anything, with my petite features and dark hair, I looked more like the old movie actress. But if Emily wanted to be Audrey, Emily got to be Audrey.
I tripped down the brick steps, eager to escape if only for the evening. Some days were harder to get through than others. At times I felt like I was acting; no one knew the real me. They only knew the person they wanted me to be. It was exhausting. But today I didn’t care. Today no one had died at the café and I was going driving with my best friend. After today I’d no longer have to take the bus to school.
“It’s gorgeous,” I said the one thing she was waiting for me to say, the thing she wanted to hear. She could have gotten a car months ago, but had waited for them to ship this one specially from Germany or some other car-loving country. “You’re so lucky.”
I’d be happy to have my Grandma’s rusty Toyota.
She shrugged, but I knew she was thrilled I was envious. Emily’s desire was to be worshipped and envied by all. Of course she’d never admit that dark secret, but she didn’t need to. I pulled open the passenger door and settled onto the soft, black leather seat. I held no illusions. I knew Emily and I wouldn’t be friends if it wasn’t for my ability. I knew exactly what Emily wanted me to do, think, say, and because of that, I was her perfect B.F. We probably wouldn’t be friends if I told her what I was really thinking, but today that didn’t matter because the sky was clear and the air somewhat warm for October.
I smoothed my fingers over the arm rest as Emily took off. I didn’t bother leaving Grandma a note. She knew where I was going. At least, she would until I got out of range. At some point, and I still wasn’t sure where, she wasn’t able to read my thoughts anymore. It was a realization I’d stumbled upon three years ago when I’d gone off with a friend without telling Grandma, only to return and find her frantic with worry. It was the same for me. Once a person was a football field or so away, I couldn’t read their minds no matter how hard I tried.
It was a thrilling feeling of escape that coursed through my body as we drove out of town toward the coast. Emily whipped around a curve and I fell into the door, laughing. Excitement followed Emily wherever she went. The world was a movie, and she was the star. At the moment she was pretending she was some hot spy and being chased by an equally hot guy. Of course she’d never admit how many times she invented movies in her head and she’d probably kill herself if she realized I knew.
“Where should we go?” I asked, a secret smile playing on my lips.
“Lakeside!” she said.
Lakeside was a diner near the Ocean. Half the teens worked there after school, the other half hung out. There wasn’t a lot to do in our small town, but years ago the students had quickly taken over the restaurant as their own.
“So get this, Trevor suddenly has to study Saturday night.” Emily glanced briefly at me. The wind was blowing her hair around her perfect face. But while my hair was getting stuck in my mouth, whipping me in the eyes and wrapping around my neck in a chokehold, she somehow managed to look like a model in a print ad.
“What do you think?” she asked.
I thought, no, I knew Trevor was seeing someone else from another school. But I also knew how Emily wanted me to answer. I shrugged, not quite meeting her gaze. “Maybe his parents are on him about his grades.” Emily didn’t want to know he was cheating. Most people didn’t really want to know the truth.
“Yeah,” she seemed relieved. “That’s what I figured.”
Emily couldn’t stand the idea that someone would dump her. No, Emily dumped boys, boys didn’t dump her. But she was worried that was exactly what was happening with Trevor. I was no psychologist, but I’d seen enough episodes of Oprah to wonder if her need to be adored had something to do with the fact that her parents were never around.
“Still, if he keeps this up, I just might dump his ass. God, what does he expect? Doesn’t he know how many people would go out with me?”
She was arrogant, but she was right. I’d read enough horny teenage minds to know that 99% of the school’s male population wanted Emily. The other one percent were gay.
She followed the road that ran along the coast. The ocean was rough, the winds and weather making the waves crest into white peaks. It was a volatile life we lead here on the coast, and more than one fisherman drowned every year under the unrelenting power of the ocean. Despite the danger, I loved the feeling, the energy that surged from the waves…that secrecy of not knowing what was there underne
“I swear Kevin was checking me out the other day.”
For a moment I thought I’d heard her wrong. That the roar of the ocean had made me hear something she hadn’t said. But no such luck, her thoughts were as clear as my own. My heart lurched, even as I forced my smile to remain in place.
She was looking at the road, but she was wondering what I was thinking. “If Trevor doesn’t get his shit together, maybe I’ll go out with Kevin.”
My heart thundered painfully in my chest, my palms growing damp. The urge to shout out No! bounced around my skull. But I didn’t move, didn’t dare move for fear she’d read something in my gestures.
She slid me a sly glance. “You don’t still have a crush on him, do you?”
Yes. “No,” I somehow managed to get out, although my voice sounded strangled.
“I didn’t think so.”
She wanted me to feel horrible, less than her, she loved it. Knowing she could get any guy she wanted, knowing I couldn’t, made her feel special. Still, I was her friend because for the most part, we had fun and as pathetic as it sounded, being her best friend made me feel special. And so we used each other. Believe me, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
The gray clapboard sided diner came into view, perched there on the edge of the sea, looking ready to tumble down at the first sign of a storm. Emily pulled into the parking lot, gravel crunching like boney victims under the wheels of her perfect car.
Although school had only been out an hour, the lot was already half full. And there was Kevin’s black SUV. A guy I hadn’t even had a chance to start a relationship with because I’d already lost him to Emily. And that’s how it was; I was friends with girls who were popular because I knew what they wanted from me. I knew exactly what to say, when to say it. But while they got the boys and got to be prom queen, I stood cheering on the sidelines.
The Mind Readers by Lori Brighton / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes