Leah lies in bed and peers through sleepy eyes at the cell-phone on the other side of the room. She wants it, but she doesn’t want to get up. She wants to stay all cozy and warm under the covers while she Facebooks and Netflixes her Saturday into oblivion.
I know what she wants. I understand her desires and the conflict, so I indulge her. I pull the phone by its center of gravity, lift it up and carry it through the intervening space until it rests in her hand. “Yay!” she croons by way of thanks, and that brief exclamation is all the thanks I need as I wrap myself back around her under the covers.
It took me a while to realize that she doesn’t know that I’m there. She thinks that I’m a part of her, something she can do with her mind, and that’s fine, I have thought that, too. When I first came to her and she discovered she could call on me to move things around invisibly, it took me a while to realize that I had some choice in the matter, so I can’t really blame her. She is good to me, gives me the attention I need, taking me out to play with a kind of clockwork spontaneity, but never abuses my services.
The first time, Leah was twelve years old. She was sitting on the toilet in a stall and realized the door wasn’t really closed, but she couldn’t reach the latch and she heard someone come in. Not in a position at that moment to get up and walk over to the latch, she found herself thinking “If only I could do it from here,” and I heard the thought and I thought “Well… why not?”
That first time, she wasn’t sure. She was grateful, but didn’t know to what, or whom. She couldn’t tell, until she had worked up the courage to try again.
“If you had a superpower,” she asked her best friend Penny, “what would it be?”
This was a mistake, considering how Penny knew about everything.
“Every zodiac sign has its own superpower,” she enlightened, and then she named them:
“Aries is super-strength; Taurus is invulnerability; Gemini is mind-control and illusions; Cancer is this weird, like, emotional control; Leo is control over energy; Virgo is matter-transmutation; Libra is telepathy, I guess?—Libra is weird, though; Scorpio is the death-touch, but it’s more like Entropy-control, and there are some really fun ways to use that, like applying Entropy to probability-against, to make things happen; Sagittarius is telekinesis—“
Sagittarius? Leah thought. But that wasn’t her sign…
“Capricorn is time-manipulation,” Penny continued, “Aquariuses are Psychic—” side-eye to her friend, though, who definitely wasn’t. “And Pisces?” which is what Penny was. “It’s supposed to be Empathy, but that’s lame, so I’m gonna go with oneiromancy: power over dreams!”
It bothered Leah to think that she’d somehow come by the wrong power. But when she did a little more research into it (“Mom, what was the exact minute I was born?”) she realized that her Ascendant was Sagittarius. “Aquarius sun,” she would say from now on, when asked her sign, “Sagittarius Rising.”
She never did it in public. Not yet, anyway. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust anyone close to her. She had ideas about secret government agencies wanting to capture her to experiment on her—or worse: to recruit her to do terrible things. But she knew that her parents or Penny, for example, would keep her secret. And it did make her think that maybe there was some possibility that everyone could do what she did, just kept it a secret, but she’d seen Penny try to keep a secret, for example, and it didn’t seem likely to her. She just didn’t want to tell them. Didn’t want to share her gift.
And that was fine with me. I appreciated having her all to myself, as it were. We had plenty of down-time together, practicing in ways that felt intimate. Every now and then, I would surprise her—I’d catch her thinking about a particular book in the back of her mind while she was in her room and I’d bring it to her and she would be surprised and think My subconscious must be able to use it without my direct control. It took me some time to realize that it frightened her—but the more it scared her, the more time she set aside to practise with me, to get me “under control.”
One time, in a geometry class, she was missing a compass and was expected to draw a perfect circle. I checked around to see who had one and make sure no one was looking, then fetched her one from nearby.
It was the first time I realized just how scared I could make her, and it gave me a glimpse of how much trouble I could get her into, even without meaning to. I never did that again.
I promise it wasn’t because I was bored or wanted attention. I really thought I was helping out.
But then came the boyfriend.
It wasn’t a new-kid-in-school, struck-by-lightning sort of falling in love. She’d actually known him for years—known who he was, at least, knowing his name, recognizing him from afar, knowing things about him he might not want other people to know and falling in love with him anyway. It was sweet, I suppose. I should have thought so, anyway. But for me, it was an inconvenience.
Time she spent with him was time she couldn’t spend alone, practising. With me. And much as she enjoyed sharing other sorts of intimate details with him, she still didn’t want to tell him about “what she could do”. The very thought made her nervous.
But didn’t she have to tell him? Didn’t he deserve to know?
Wasn’t he worthy of her secret?
I spent some time studying the motion of her hand when she held a pen before I realized it was much more useful to study the movement of the pen itself, the shifts in weight and balance. I had tried by then speaking to her mind, but for whatever reason, her mind couldn’t hear me, so I decided to write her a note. One night, after the boyfriend has surreptitiously climbed out the window, I gathered a paper and pen at the desk and I wrote out a simple note. It was in her own handwriting, but only because that was what I’d specifically studied. “Tell him,” said the note. And once she saw it, I picked up the note and added “Tell him what you can do.”
I hadn’t thoguht she could still be so frightened of me. Hadn’t she known I was there? Did she still think of me as some impersonal force, or some long-buried aspect of herself, pre-verbal, that she had to tame and keep quiet?
“Who are you?” she asked, her voice shaking. So I explained. It seemed odd this was the first time we’d ever really talked, after all the time we’d spent together, but it changed our relationship in ways I never thought it could. Before, it was like I’d been a pet she was training, but now that I had a mind of my own, now that we were speaking, exchanging opinions and ideas, there was so much more to us.
“But you still ought to tell the boyfriend,” I reminded her.
“Why?” She smiled. “Do you think he’ll be jealous?”
“It’ll open up a lot more possibilities,” I typed—don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before to use a computer. “And besides, it’s never fun to have secrets, not in the long run. Better to share. Have secrets together. I mean, look at you and me!”
It’s scary how we can so casually write our own doom.
He didn’t take it well. I figured it was jealousy—he wanted to be telekinetic, too—but Leah insisted that human beings don’t like things that they don’t understand or can’t explain—so maybe it was a good thing I’d kept myself secret from her for so long, given her a chance to grow accustomed to me before introducing myself.
But we still had the problem that now he knew.
“He won’t tell anyone,” she assured herself.
But he did. He told everyone.
“What?” Leah said when rumors of herself got back to her, “That’s so ridiculous—is that even a thing? Telekiwhatnow?”
For most people, that was enough to paint him as a bogus ex making up excuses and trying to discredit her. But it was Penny who cut through all that: “I can’t believe you told him!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m not an idiot, Leah! I know that it’s true! I’ve known for months now—“
“I’m your best friend, doofus! What, you think I wouldn’t notice? I just figured you weren’t ready to tell me—but then you go and tell him!”
I tried to imagine if I had told Penny I was conscious before I’d told Leah, and I think that made Leah understand.
“This can’t stay secret for long, though,” she reminded me. “Now that it’s out there, someone is going to figure out that it’s not bullshit.”
“And then the men in suits will come?” Men in suits was code, of course.
“We’ve got to be ready for them.”
So there was one silver lining, at least: we got to spend a lot more time practising together!