Blessed Fall. Glorious Fall. I could go on and on in praises. So many great things came, I couldn’t stop counting them.
First, no more passing out from heat for me! Second, food! Oh gawl, the food was great. The harvest festival was all about food, and then it just kept going. Fresh off the vine, home grown produce beat whatever I could buy in a store hands down. Third, business cooled down, so I wasn’t running around like a maniac from sun up to sun down to keep up with everything (Hal assured me he hadn’t had to deal with as much before I’d came—pretty faces really did bring in more business. That is, before me and after his wife had died). Fourth, I could sleep with Gus again!
Or, I did for one night, then Gus announced he was sleeping with Hal. Milly and Gus had somehow found an old bedframe from the attic, riddled with termite lines, to Hal’s horror. While Milly and I restored the frame, he spent the entire day deep cleaning and sanitizing the attic, finding all sorts of long forgotten trophies in the process. Milly managed to scrounge up a second-hand mattress from a neighbor due to Hal’s preoccupation.
“I’m certain it doesn’t have bed bugs,” she said. “The lady is a distant cousin of ours and has the same water magic, but Dad doesn’t think that means anything.”
Milly would be taking the new bed in my room.
While I was happy to have my girlfriend as a roommate, I didn’t find out until that night that the feel of a warm body next to me to hug left me awake for hours, despite having twice the work that day due to losing Hal to the attic.
The dreams I had that night didn’t help. Because I had lied when I said I didn’t dream about my ex. I did, and in worse ways than just seeing him moving on without me or doing terrible things to me. No. The worse dreams were the ones when he acted like he had when he had been warm and in love with me.
But I wasn’t about to complain. Gus was fifteen, after all, and he had started to look like a teenager too. It wouldn’t do to have him sleeping in the same bed as me, especially since he refused to see me as his mother.
Gus caught me dozing behind the bar during a lull in work. The regulars made a soothing hum of background music that had tempted the already exhausted and heart-heavy me.
He brought me back by flicking my arm.
“Ow!” I glared.
He frowned, as though he’d been the one flicked. “Something’s wrong.”
“Yeah, I’m tired, and my kid’s got attitude.”
“I’m not your—ugh. No. Something besides you being tired.”
I yawned, eyeing his ruby eyes and puckered frown. This felt weird. I hadn’t been acting any different today besides tired, so how did he know that?
“Are you…somehow using your magic from a distance?” I asked just above a whisper, wondering why it didn’t bother me more that he could be potentially reading my mind.
“I’ve been able to read emotions since I was baby,” he said sourly. “This is nothing new. I just don’t know what’s causing it, so whatever bad thing in your head is making you like this, stop it.”
“I can’t just stop thinking.”
“Then pretend you have a little you in your head with an ax chopping up whatever’s making you sad.”
“Oo, that’s dark.” But I smiled and leaned forward, lowering my voice even further. “Why not do that for me?”
I had come to enjoy our practices with his mind magics, as we often fell into games of vision where he gave me images and I, in turn, imagined things for him to read. I’d learned in the beginning how to block things I didn’t want him seeing, and it surprised me how easy it was. Or, perhaps, it was simply because he respected the blocks when he saw them. I had urged him to break one down before and he’d done it easily, which unsettled him even as it pleased me. I enjoyed seeing him grow. I knew there were things in my head he shouldn’t see, for his sake, but I didn’t see the need to keep everything else from him. Gus had called me shameless and foolish for that, but to me, if opening my mind helped him learn how to navigate the entirety of one’s brain, then it was a happy sacrifice.
Even now, as I offered my mind to him, openly, he had that same heavy scowl.
“You’re shameless,” he said.
“Oh contrare, I get embarrassed all the time,” I said, sitting back onto the stool.
“This is completely different. You get embarrassed about stupid things you can’t even help, like having sensitive skin or…ugh, whatever. No. Soren’s table looks done.”
“Don’t act like that. I keep my whole past a secret, remember? You haven’t even tried to look through memories yet.”
“I’m not talking about this.” He pulled out a pair of tankards to fill. “The guy with the mole keeps looking over here for a refill too, I’ll take him.”
And we had talked about it. Even as I took up the empty plates, returning the smiles of three laborers at the table, I remembered all the times Gus had flinched back from my head, either to fan at his flaming red face or to gape at me as pale as death.
‘How can you not have a problem letting me read your thoughts like this?’
Technically, he’d seen some of my memory when I pulled it up in my thoughts. But all the thoughts I’d had since then, including embarrassing things about my thoughts on intimacy, people’s bodies, digestive issues, basically everything I could spare without hinting I was from another world. Sometimes I even justified pulling out little memories from my past, as long as they didn’t have too much of the technology or differences.
But just once, way in the beginning, before I’d known I had to block anything, Gus had slipped in, much like one does down a slope on the side of a path while walking in the dark.
A roll of memories burst forth, too quick to catch, and just as quick Gus had flinched back. I, myself, had only caught a few flicks of images that hadn’t been from me. I’d seen the dark eaves on the underside of a simple roof, hanging with herbs, and the face of a man with ash blond hair and brown eyes.
After talking with him, I discovered that had been a bit of his childhood home and the face of his father. Gus hadn’t seen that, though. He had seen a flicker of my own memories, though the bit of my house hadn’t made much sense to him (“The walls were so white!”) and some splattering of a garden I couldn’t have told him where it was from.
Even so, I was just waiting for him. As promised, I didn’t tell him, but I couldn’t help but think that Nehcor might not have thought this part through.
Because it all seemed so sloppily planned. Telling me I couldn’t let Gus know I was from god and another world, yet giving him mind-reading abilities. For all I knew, Gus had already seen everything and the blocks were just to make me think otherwise. Or, hopefully, Nehcor would be proactive for once and put in the blocks himself. He hadn’t said anything about it during our temple visits. But, then, our conversations had been short. Had to be, or else I would end up being dragged home unconscious.
It was just…so sloppy. How could a god be so sloppy?
Still, that night, Gus could not resist his curiosity and put his hands to my head asking if he could see what upset him so.
But, instead of just handing it to him, I tried to sit quietly in my memory where the dream was and purposely thought of other things, like strategies to hook up Milly with Derrick and trying to make tortillas with the corn we’d gotten in that morning.
“Come and find the answer,” I said.
Because he wouldn’t always be dealing with a mind that so readily gave answers. Sometimes he’d have to find answers while the subject had their thoughts far, far away.
It was a show of how controlled I’d become over my own mind that I was able to stay full concentrated on my plans while I felt his warm, squiggly threads dart around in my head. At some point, I’d stopped being able to feel them as he got deeper. I sent a silent prayer to Nehcor to not make things difficult for me.
As he search, I could hear Gus’s thoughts trying to figure it out. It wasn’t just finding the dream that was the problem for Gus. It was also timing the memory as well as connecting it as the source of my depression that day. Thoughts were a lot like smoke, visible only until it dissipated in the air. Unless held down by memories, the thoughts were as good as gone.
Finally, while I was idly daydreaming about what would happen if I walked down the street wearing modern day pants, a roll of images, like the first time, burst across my mind, interrupting me.
I saw an old building with bricks showing through crumbling plaster. A gaggle of skinny children in ragged clothes played, not giving a glance to the watcher. A red-faced, tired looking woman with thin lips saying “No exemptions. It’s the law. Every child receives the magic test when they turn thirteen.”
I felt a flush of anxiety that wasn’t my own. Then the images fast forwarded to small hands slipping bits of hard bread into a little bag and tying it close. Then those same hands opened a door and slipped out into a night filled with stars.
Then is was gone, and I could see the back of my eyelids. The darkness seemed to tingle with pop rocks, even once I opened my eyes in the candlelight of the empty attic. Light came up from the ladder as well, since Hal had given us this space to study.
Gus looked back at me from underneath silver lashes. His expression looked pinched.
“I’ve been meaning to ask this for a while,” he said softly. “Because it sounded so crazy, and I haven’t traveled much, but…are you from another world?”