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FictionAutoscopy

By Stewart Finnegan

 

August 4th, 2053
Boy, not a great Trevor day.

It started out real nice, which makes it worse, I think, the way it ended. He’s always been behind on kinesis—Sadie’s a year younger and powering a cow’s aorta—but today he moved the glass three millimeters and change, a personal best. We still don’t know his tether, but maybe this could get us there. Maybe.

So I wanted to reward him, and since I was out of brownies, I took out the cards. He likes cards, even if the program stopped caring about them, and they’re easy for him. 2D, bloodless, none of the shifting focus you need to play with neurons. I had a Two of Clubs and thought he’d know right away.

But he just kept saying Jack of Hearts. I thought he was joking, but when I told him it wasn’t, when I showed him, he got real mad. Kept sinking into his arms, like they were sandbags.

I tried a different card, Three of Spades, but he kept getting it wrong too. And then he guessed Jack of Hearts, like he was testing me. I told him to try again, though I hesitated before I said it, and he must have heard the hesitation because he shut down. Full-on static. No psis at all, just cortisol and noise in the amygdala. I was scared for a second that he was going to pull out the spike-probes, but he didn’t. He was just quiet.

“It’s okay, Trevor,” I said.

“You’re lying,” he said.

But I wasn’t. I really wasn’t. I had meant it.

Hadn’t I?

August 6th, 2053
“Your tires are low.”

That was the first thing Carol said to me all day, and it was after dinner.

“Thanks,” I said, meaning it, and how pathetic is that? She throws me a bone—the tiniest possible bone, a metatarsal, broke in half—and I slobber all over it. I slurp down the marrow. “Trevor’s seemed off lately.”

“Oh,” she said, real quick. And that was it.

I know she’s got a stressful job, okay? You, this journal’s fine imaginary audience, know that I know. I don’t have any problem that she’s higher-ranked, or makes the good money, or works with wunderkind Sadie while I’ve got, fucking, Trevor. We all, all, all know that. So I say, with confidence, that what I’m feeling about her behavior isn’t coming from resentment and it’s not coming from jealousy: it’s coming because this shit is shitty and I’m not happy about it.

I just want to have a conversation with my wife. That’s all. I’m charming, and clever, and got perfect teeth. So what gives?

August 8th, 2053
Trevor’s still been off. I don’t think he’s getting worse, or I’d be making a fuss, but there’s something up. And I asked him, direct, “is something up?” and he said no, and I’m not sure I believed him, but he’s the psychic, not me.

And I say that, but I did believe him. He didn’t hesitate none, but also didn’t overdo it, use too much force to show how real he meant it. It didn’t feel like a lie to me.

So I believe Trevor. He’s been moody, but just a regular sort of moody. My working theory is girl troubles—he’s got a thing for Sadie, plain as day—but nobody’s torturing him or nothing. And, hell, we still don’t even know what his tether is, so it’s no surprise that his whole internal life is a little opaque. 

I gave him a brownie. I remembered this time. And I do, you know, care about Trevor. He’s my project, sure, and he’s a shitty project at that, nothing that’s going to land me the big promotions. But Trevor’s a good kid, kinda funny, kinda clumsy, likes kickball but sucks at it, or at least liked it before he got here. Shame about that, that there’s no kickball here, no sports of any kind. Too risky. Makes me wish we didn’t have to open up their skulls.

 
 

August 10th, 2053
He keeps staring at Sadie, at meals and such, Trevor does. Carol told me, and I’ll cop to some resentment there, since I don’t know if she’s just saying this is my responsibility or if she’s saying it’s my fault, but this is some serious shit and I’m not going to be so petty as to ignore it.

When Trevor was done running cups for the day, I employed some of what I like to call “stern jocularity.” 

“Heard you been starin’ at Sadie,” I told him, like I’d practiced. “You gotta cut that shit out, bud.”

And he was cagey at first, but his eyes told the whole story. He confessed, and soon as he realized that my knowing meant Sadie knew, he started crying. I almost felt bad for the little creep.

“I just like her so much,” he said.

“Liking someone’s fine,” I said. “So long as it doesn’t make them uncomfortable.”

I remember that I said that. I was proud of thinking it up.

“I’m not in control around her,” he said, and I remember that on account of how troubling it was.

I told him that men have been excusing our shit with that feeling, that powerlessness feeling, for ages. And I told him he wasn’t powerless, that he was in control, and that control meant responsibility. 

“Yeah,” he said, sheepish. “I just think she’s my tether.”

And that, dear imaginary reader, was awfully easy to remember.

Because I had checked for Trev’s tether, night and day. Some of the kids have tethers that kinda make sense—tides, phases of the moon, sine functions—but Berlanti’s kid’s tether is, swear to fucking god, the strength of the Belarusian ruble. I thought Trevor’s might have been the price of sugar, but nope. Then the cricket population in St. Louis, but that was a dead end. I got excited about the weather in Capetown, then really excited about the weather forecasts in Capetown, but neither of those had any effect on his psis. 

I told him, even if that were true, he had to be more respectful, but, I’ll admit, I was getting excited.

August 11th, 2053
I checked over Trevor’s psis. He might be onto something.

None of this makes creeping poor Sadie out okay, okay? But it seems like, when she’s having a good day, Trevor is too. And not just in her psis: one of his psi peaks lined up with her birthday. There are a few of Trevor’s peaks that don’t match up with anything I can see, but that doesn’t mean much. We don’t even know if the kids’ tethers are all recorded phenomena, so it’s not rare for some numbers to miss the mark a little.

So when I told Carol about it, and she damn near laughed it off, well, that was an indignity to bear.

“She is not his tether,” she told me over dinner.

“It’s worth a look.”

She looked at me like I was the silliest piece of slime on the planet. “She’s not.”

And, you know, my friends, this isn’t very charitable, but I thought that she thought I was jealous. Like I was trying to mooch off Sadie’s success, off Carol’s. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? That she sees me as this bottom-feeder?

I was going to ask her if I could look at Sadie’s records, maybe even talk to Sadie, but I’m not going to do that if Carol’s just going to mock me all the way there. So I ate my pasta, and when I was done with that, I cut into the brownies. I asked Carol if she wanted some. She said yes to that, at least.

August 14th, 2053
I got a call from Cassandra.

“It’s Cassie,” she said, first thing, which was silly on account of caller ID. Though, admittedly, I’d deleted her number. Though, admittedly, I had it memorized.

“Hey Tom,” she said, and I drank down those words like manna. “Hey.”

We didn’t talk long. And there was something tentative, something incomplete about it all, like she was afraid somebody was listening in. But nobody was listening in, and Carol wasn’t home yet, and it was just me and Cassandra’s voice and heat enough in my gut to make a soufflé.

Not a blip since I left Washington. And then this, out of the goddamn blue. Which is funny, since I’ve spent these last two years just waiting for her call. Leaving the candle in the window for her. And I’m not proud about that, of course I’m not, but there’s been that thrum, that resonance, and I’ve just wanted her to resonate with me.

I could have called her myself. Two years I could have, but I didn’t. And I never slept with Cassandra, okay? I never slept with her. Not once. But there’s that scratching in my belly, like something’s alive in there, burrowing deeper, and I don’t know how to pull it out without dying from the blood loss.

August 15th, 2053
I snuck a peek at Sadie’s charts—Carol brings work home with her—and saw that her sinusoid was hitting its apex and her psis would be at full blast. So I was a little more ambitious with Trev today.

I brought in an ant.

The boy doesn’t like bugs, and he’s made sure to tell me. And the ant was dead, but that didn’t seem to make no difference to him, since he still stared at it like it would pop up at any moment. Which, admittedly, was what I was asking him to make it do.

“Now Trev,” I said, “I just want you to take a look at the thing. I just want you to think it over. It’s not a big deal, okay?”

He looked at the ant, didn’t even look at me, and Jesus fucking Corpus Christi, I tell you, the ant twitched.

Not full-on moved. It wasn’t jumping or dancing, and it didn’t speak the way some kids get the ants to speak, bit of a whine and a lot of scream, but it twitched, legs and antennae and thorax. 

This shit’s not easy. Moving something inorganic is relatively simple, since the atoms pretty much stick around, but orgokinesis’s got to account for the psi of regular synapses, decay and entropy, electricity that’s kinda just stored in the muscles, and that’s just for a dead damn animal. So a twitch, even a tiny one, is huge.

I gave the boy a brownie. He ate the whole thing fast and it smeared on his fingers. 

He did ask me something kinda weird, though. He said, brownie all the fuck over his face, “did you bake these or your wife?”

I don’t wear a ring in here. And with the dampeners at full blast on my side of the room, he shouldn’t have any window to my head. Maybe he’s just guessing, just being a kid. I put it in my notes anyway. And when I told him that it was me, that I made them, he just laughed.

August 16th, 2053
Been thinking about Trevor so much that, well, now I’m thinking about Cassie.

Cassie and I’d met through work. I mean, she didn’t work for the program—that was part of the issue—but she was a teacher at one of the fonts. I was on a liaison assignment, so I had a guest office in the school and an apartment in the suburbs. This was Washington, state, far as fucking possible from home. And I just want to, for the sake of my own self-conception, reiterate the ease with which I could have slept with Cassandra, in my very singly mine apartment on the opposite end of the country from Carol.

We—Cassie and me—met in some mixer, PTA or something. I was jetlagged and cranky, but we still got along. She was, and this was not unique to this night, gorgeous, though gorgeous in a way that always made me feel a little sad. Like a, I dunno, sunset, which I tried to explain to her, but just the once.

We talked. Just shot the shit, about the weather and the kids. I was lying about my job of course, which was standard procedure, but I got the sense that she knew what I was anyway. I mean, there must be rumors, right? It’s not like the program’s subtler than gossip. 

She started stopping by my office. Then I started dropping by the break room with dessert and get the whole faculty on my side. I’d joke that I was bribing them, and we’d all laugh and have a brownie, and I’d keep looking over at Cassie to see if she liked them, which she did, from what I saw. 

I scared her. At least, I think I scared her, just a bit. Not for herself, but she knew I was vaguely associated with the government, even if it was just the state of goddamn Florida. And I was, she must have surmised, a danger. I was this new thing, like a virus on a meteorite, but I was also a good old boy who she’d flirt with effortlessly, and I think that left her in an interesting spot. 

As for me, I liked it, more than I wished I did. I liked being kinda scary, since I don’t feel all that scary back home. And I sure liked the idea that I could be scary that would be attractive.

So I guess I thought she knew that I was a recruiter for one of the psi institutes. Like, on some level, and I thought we were playing around it. But then I found Trevor and, well, that was that.

 
 
 
 

August 17th, 2053
I told Carol about the ant, how it jumped, and it knew it wasn’t real impressive to someone dealing with Sadie on a daily basis, but this was one hell of a win for me, okay? 

And, you know, I wanted her to notice the timing.

“How was Sadie?” I asked her, and she put her fork down. She took a deep breath.

“He’s still creeping her out,” she said.

My heart damn near broke.

I asked if he was still staring at her, and she said that he was, but now he’d gone on to tell other kids she was his tether.

“But that one could be true,” I told her, and she looked at me sour.

“Even if it is,” she said, all measured, “it’s giving him an excuse to go after her.”

I swore up and down that I’d talk to him, get him to cut it out, but it was clear I wasn’t comforting her, not really. She looked down at her food.

“She deserves more than being his muse,” she said.

“She sure fucking does,” I said, and I worried I said it with too much force, but that did seem to reach her. “She’s nobody’s muse, okay?”

Carol was staring at me. She wanted me to keep going. So I went.

“I’ll tell him Sadie’s not his tether,” I said, and, folks, Carol out-and-out smiled. First time in a long time I’d made her do that.

And then, and this is wild, she reached out to touch my hand. “Thank you.”

And I felt good about doing that, and felt good about it for the rest of dinner, mostly. But then I started to get frustrated. I wouldn’t have asked Carol to hamstring her project for the sake of mine, and she’s wanting me to do it for her? And then, what, is she going to stay embarrassed by her fuckup husband, all while making sure her husband’s a fuckup? That’s not right. Not one bit.

But, then, she’s right. Trevor’s crossing lines, and Sadie doesn’t owe him anything. She shouldn’t have to put up with this so he can make the ants move, you know?

So I’m writing this in a state of real conflict, internally so. I’ll be true to my word, tell Trevor that Sadie’s not his tether, that we got it all wrong, even if my whole heart won’t be in it.

But there’s some comfort, seeing as, you know, I know.

August 18th, 2053
I didn’t talk about Sadie at first. I didn’t want to influence his performance. But maybe I wouldn’t need to worry about that, since he tanked it anyway.

The ant wouldn’t twitch. The cup moved, but not much. I brought out the cards and he was alright with those, better than that one day, but still missed at least a fourth of them. Sadie’s sinusoid is on the way down too, so this doesn’t mean she’s not his tether, but it was discouraging. 

Then, when he missed three cards in a row, he hit the table and knocked the ant away.

“That’s not how we want you to move it, pal,” I said, going for gentle.

“I’m the worst,” he said, just so fucking miserable that I felt half-manipulated, though the other half was breaking for him.

“Trev, I can’t do this at all,” I told him. “You’re a better psychic than me. Hell, you’re a better psychic than most of the world.”

He looked pretty dedicated to feeling bad, but he did kinda glance up at me.

“We’re pushing you because you’ve got so much talent,” I said, which was kinda true. “You’re gonna grow up and have to do all this on your own.”

And that was totally true.

“And hey, we all have bad days. I burned the brownies today.”

He was trying to hide disappointment when I told him I bought more.

So I pulled those out and he started chowing down. And when he had brownie crumbs stuck to his face, I figured that was as good a time as any.

“Listen bud. Sadie’s not your tether.”

He stopped eating for a second and looked up at me. I couldn’t read his expression. Maybe he wasn’t feeling it yet.

“Yeah,” I said, “I was thinking that any day where Sadie got cake would be a good day for your psis, but I was wrong. She had some today, and today wasn’t your best ever, you know?”

He was looking at the table now, meekly, at the cards and glass. “I can do better.”

“No, pal, that’s not it,” I told him. “This isn’t about doing better or worse. It’s just about finding your tether.”

“Jack of hearts,” he said, looking at the deck.

“Trev…”

“Jack of hearts.”

I flipped it over. Three of spades.

He started to cry.

August 20th, 2053
It’s all so weird, because when I first found Trevor? I thought I’d hit the jackpot.

I got sent to Washington after they picked up some weak psis at the school, but the longer I stayed, the stronger they got. I didn’t know who it was at the time, just a list of three hundred names or so, but a few weeks in, we were seeing levels as high as Sadie’s.

Then I found him.

It was recess, and the kids were playing kickball, as kids will, and Cassie was supervising them, and I was out there researching, but mostly I just wanted to talk to Cassie. She started on her ne’er do well brother, a bit, but stopped herself when she realized the kids might be listening. Then I was telling her all about my wasted youth getting drunk in boats, and she seemed a little nervous about that, too, on account of the kids, so I toned it down a bit. She still laughed.

Well, it was Trevor’s turn to kick, though I didn’t know his name at the time, and he goes to the plate, and he kicks the regular way and it goes a regular distance, but he gets stuck, legs swung up and arms swung out, like he’s frozen. And then, shit you not, he starts to float, just a bit but enough to tell for sure, until he comes crashing down and audibly cracks his ankle. All this happening like he’s attached to some pulley or something. All this before everyone’s eyes.

When I checked in on him at the hospital, the psis were wild. Just huge. I thought he was gonna be another Sadie.

What happened?

August 23rd, 2053
Well, ladies and germs, folks at home, my imaginary audience, I’ve got a real choice plot twist for you today: Carol and I had sex.

We were talking over dinner, and with my project harassing her project, we actually had something to talk about, you know? So we were talking and she said that Sadie hadn’t said anything about Trevor since I’d talked to him, and when she’d checked in on the boy, he was on his best behavior. She thanked me, not profusely or nothing, but in a way that I believed.

And, now, I’ve been matching Trev’s psis against Sadie’s even after I’d talked him out of it, and the numbers are promising, though I’ll be the first to admit they’re not conclusive. And here, with Carol thanking me for giving this whole thing up, I felt kinda low for looking into it. But I told myself it was just knowledge, that it wasn’t hurting nobody, that it was better for me to know than no one to know, and that helped with the guilt.

“He’s even eating again,” Carol said. “At the cafeteria.”

And I smiled at that. “Ah shit. That might be even worse.”

“I caught a whiff—just a whiff—of soup the other day?” she said. “I almost threw up.”

“Chicken noodle shouldn’t smell like fish,” I said, and that got a bona fide laugh out of her. 

“Hey, do you remember the oatmeal at FSU?”

And it did—runny when hot, a goddamn brick when cool—and then we started reminiscing about the good old days. Bad food, inconstant air conditioning, yours truly mixing schnapps in the cake batter and immediately regretting it--it was nice. And then one thing lead to another, and, well, we had sex.

And it had been a while—a while—since. And, honestly, folks, it kinda reminded me why we didn’t have sex for so long to begin with. It was…now, look, I am a modern man who understands the value of open emotions, but I’m also an adult human being, so I don’t want to say the sex is scary. I’m not scared of the sex. But there’s something goddamn vertiginous about the whole deal, gross and acrobatic and exposed, and I am just about as content to be watching vids as I am to doing the fucking myself.

She was all naked on the couch, and I had my pants off but shirt still on, looking like I’d pissed myself and needed to change, and we started going at it from behind but then Carol stopped me, and she turned around, and she lay all naked and creamy on the couch staring up at me, and she told me to take off the shirt. So I took off the shirt, but I wasn’t real happy about that. The old spare tire came falling out, the chest fat pointing hard, and she was smiling but not a smile I could trust. 

And thinking back to FSU, what’d started this all, I remembered how beautiful I’d been then. How I’d been able to turn Carol on without even meaning to, just rolling up a sleeve or reaching for something high, and now I was trying damned hard to turn her on but it wasn’t easy, wasn’t natural, and I didn’t believe her. I didn’t believe that this was anything but theatre, that smile, and I felt slimy and I felt thrumming. So I closed my eyes.

I didn’t last long—of goddamn course I didn’t last long, I’m living like a virgin teen these days—so I finished her off with my mouth. And, my face buried up there, even knowing my ass was summiting up and my legs were falling off the arm rests, she moaned and it was like a blanket, or a bass drum, or piano wire, and that’s all there was around me, and I wasn’t a body no more, just a sound, her sound, even if all I tasted was me.

August 30th, 2053
I got a text from Cassie. Just a picture of a pan of brownies. Just a bit burnt at the edges.

“Not as good as yours,” it read.

I’m an adult. I’ve got a retirement account. I change my own oil. I thought I was past being a lovesick teenager.

But I just kept looking at that text, all through the day and sneaking off to the bathroom to look at it that night. I felt it all the way through me, deep and warm.

I knew I should have deleted it. For Carol’s sake, maybe even for the program’s. Instead, though, I kept it saved.

August 31st, 2053
Carol got a call in the middle of the night. 

“Anything I should know about?” I asked.

“You can go back to sleep,” she said.

And, you know what? I went back to sleep.

It was only in the morning, when I checked my work mail, that I found out the problem was Trevor. 

He’d broken out of his enclosure. Sensors picked up a burst of psis, more than any he’d shown before, enough to short the cameras and let him into another block. Sadie’s, in particular.

He had tried to open her skull.

It hadn’t worked, of course. He’d broken the dampener when he broke in, and so she had him crumpled up and vomiting blood before he could lay a finger on her. But he’d told her, when she’d asked, before she wrecked him. That he was there to open up her skull to find out he worked.

I had been ready for a nice Sunday. Relaxing Sunday. Catch up on my sleep.

When I heard Carol got back, it was still blue dawn and I was in my boxers. The house was real quiet, and her anger was quiet too but I could hear it clear. She was microwaving something when I came down, and she didn’t turn to look at me.

She asked me if I’d read the work mail and I said yes. I asked why they didn’t call me in, since I’m Trevor’s shrink, but she didn’t say anything to that. She asked me what I told him, what I taught him, and I assured her up and down that I didn’t tell Trevor anything that made it seem like this was acceptable.

And I kept saying all the right things, okay? That I was horrified. That I’d talk to Trevor, and not in a boys-will-be-boys sorta way. That if there was anything I could do for Sadie, I’d do it, no questions asked.

“What could you do for Sadie?” she asked, and I remember that because it stung. And because I didn’t have an answer, and I just stood there with my mouth half-open and my feet getting cold. When the silence got to be too much, I said again that I’d talk to Trevor.

She didn’t say anything to that. She was looking past me, then away, and she turned to the cupboard to get a glass but there weren’t any. She slammed the cupboard door and I really wished I had emptied the dishwasher.

“How could you let this happen?” she asked, and I remember that too. And I won’t lie, I was getting pissed off at this point, because I hadn’t, okay? I hadn’t let this happen. This wasn’t on me, and it wasn’t fair to act like it was, and I told her as much, and she just kinda shook her head, not meeting my eyes.

“I’ll just kill Trevor. How about that?” I asked, and she just kept shaking her head and I repeated myself, “how about that,” getting louder and louder until I realized she was crying.

“What the fuck have I done to her?” she asked, and I felt like a real heel. “What is wrong with me?”

I told her it wasn’t her fault, because it wasn’t, and I told her we were doing important work, because we were, and I told her that there was nothing for us to feel guilty about, but I wasn’t so sure about that. 

September 1st, 2053
I checked. Believe me, I checked. But with psis that big last night, when Sadie’s psis were normal and no one was giving her cake? She’s not his tether. She can’t be.

I went to visit Trevor. He was in solitary, though of course we call it something different. He was in solitary, as he should be, with dampeners blasting and one-way mirrors. He looked skinny, scary skinny, like he was about to pass out or something. I guess he hadn’t eaten nothing much in the cell. I was glad I’d smuggled some sweets in, if only for leverage.

“How you doing, Trev?” I asked, just like I’d practiced on the drive over.

“Tom,” he said, and it didn’t sound like a greeting It was like he was just seeing that I was there. Just noting my existence. Real spooky expository shit. He said it slow, long, like a sick person wallowing.

“Can you tell me what happened with Sadie?” I asked, scripted. Not “what you did.” Not “Why you did it” Keep it vague, keep it non-accusatory. I’m sure he’s already seen the bad cop here, and it’s hard to be both the bad cop and to come bearing brownies.

“I went into her enclosure,” he said, and that bit scared me. See, we obviously don’t call them enclosures in front of the kids. Rooms, dorms, bunks, etc. etc. But we do call them that in the case notes. And I don’t know if someone slipped him a note, or dropped one by accident, or he overhead something he wasn’t supposed to, or what. I wondered, for a sec, if the dampeners weren’t really working on him all that well, and I kept my hands real still on the table.

“Rooms, pal,” I said. “We call them rooms.”

He just kind of smiled at me.

“Why did you?” I asked. “Go into her enclosure?”

“She’s my tether.”

“She’s not,” I said. “We went over this already.”

“She’s my tether,” he said, again, forceful.

And I told him, over and over, that I had checked, and she wasn’t, and we’d keep looking but he couldn’t do this anymore.

“I’m not in control of it,” he said, and he was almost at a shout now.

And I told him he was he absolutely fucking was, and I swore, because I was getting angry here. He was acting like a menace and blaming it on me, and I know I should have kept my kept my cool, but goddammit, folks, I was so tired.

“Someday you’re going to hate yourself for this,” I said. “You’re going to be just fucking sick with it.”

“She’s making me do it!” he screamed, and it was a scream, a shriek, hard to piece together because I didn’t want that to be what he said. But he said it. And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake, like I did with his tether. I wasn’t going to believe him.

“You’re letting yourself do it,” I told him.

And he looked at me, red-faced, so skinny his head looked unstable.

“You’re lying to both of us.”

 
 

September 12th, 2053
Not a great day today. Not for Cassie, not for me, not for anyone.

Cassandra called again. Said she was in the area, which was fishy since I’d never told her where I lived, but all this time hadn’t been enough to kill whatever was killing me, so I told myself to go with it.

And I felt guilty, of course I did, but…what’s there to lose? Things aren’t great with Carol, not after the Trevor thing. Hell, nothing’s great after the Trevor thing.

We met up at a bakery, a little place in the next town over, because I was despondent but not reckless. She was leaning against the storefront, waiting for me, skin so radiant she looked like a new coin, and a sort of half-smile that got all up in her eyes and made me light-headed. I spent the walk over trying not to remember how she smelled, and then we hugged and it turned out my memory was pretty spot-on.

“Hey stranger,” she said.

“Ma’am,” I said, and flashed a smile that made her laugh.

We went inside.

“I’m buying,” she told me, and I protested a little but not that much. We sat.

There was something really light in me, some sort of blimp or bladder, full of air and getting towards my throat. “Cassandra,” I said, not quite believing it. “What are you doing here?”

She just smiled to that.

We shot the shit. I complained about government salaries and she complained about teacher salaries and I said some lies and she said what I thought were truths. Apparently, a student had poured cleaning solution in her tea one day, as a prank, and the kid was horrified to know that was technically poisoning someone.

“Yeah, poison’s got no honor to it. Next time they’ll challenge you to single combat.”

She laughed at that, and it was almost more of a giggle, like she couldn’t help it, like we were both inhaling something and on the same high. For the first time in a while, and certainly since the Trevor incident, I was feeling good.

Then she asked about Trevor.

“You remember the kid who broke his ankle playing kickball?” she asked, and I felt a little odd on account of how poor a transition that was.

“Cody or somethin’, right?” I said. “Maybe Gerald?”

“I think it was Trevor,” she said, and it was suspiciously measured, the uncertainty.

“Yeah,” I said. “How’s he doing?”

She was quiet for a bit, looking at me in this bashful way that seemed gently embarrassed for me. She reached her hand across the table and fit her fingers through mine.

“I know, Tom.”

“Know what?” I asked, which I knew wasn’t going to work but, hell, I’m an optimist.

“You took him.”

My stomach flipped so hard I had trouble hearing.

“And it’s okay,” she said, squeezing my hand. “You had a job and you did it. It’s not your fault. You’re not bad. You’re not a bad man.”

I was sitting there like bait or something, my ears ringing, not saying a word. I was afraid my goose was cooked and, more embarrassing, that if I told her more she’d stop saying those nice things. Stop believing in me. And I wanted her to believe in me so bad I had to piss with it.

“Buffalo,” I said, I think, still sorta stunned. “We don’t want another one.”

“Of course you don’t,” she said, at some point. “I don’t either,” she said too.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I was crying now. We were in a corner of the bakery, and I didn’t actually see anyone look at me, but I was smothered by the sense of being seen.

“It’s okay,” she said, again. “It’s okay.”

“We don’t know what’s causing it,” I told her, through sobs. “We have to…do things…we don’t like.”

“I know,” she said. She might have been patting my shoulder.

“We’re doing the best we can.”

“You are,” she said, “you really are. I just want to know how Trevor’s doing.”

I started crying harder.

“Great,” I said, eventually, and I just closed my eyes so hard that the tears splashed off my lids, knowing I’d have to open them and knowing I’d have to say some more words but wanting to stave it off as long as possible.

“Tom,” she said, and it was soft and it was understanding, but it was a reprimand, no doubt about it.

“I love you,” I told her, and I swear it wasn’t a maneuver or plot or trick, I swear, I just loved her and knew it, and it felt so big that it couldn’t stay inside me, and it felt so big that maybe it would swallow all this other stuff, and I wasn’t deflecting because I wasn’t in enough control for that, I had just meant it, right then, I had meant it, and please, fucking please believe me, fucking please, because she didn’t, not at all, not one bit, none, never.

She was quiet.

“What’s happening with Trevor?” she eventually asked.

“He’s been…” I started, and then I stopped, because I realized that we were just moving past what I had said, and she had heard it, and she knew, and she’d think about it and laugh, probably, or wince, or hate me for it, and I didn’t want her to hate me, so much, I didn’t want her to hate me. “Hurt someone,” I said, finally, all I could get out.

She let go of my hand.

She started crying now, trying to keep it in but shaking with it. She was all folded in on herself, a flag wrapped up by the wind, and I reached out a hand to her shoulder, I did, but she twisted away from it, like it was fire, like it was salt, and then she looked at me with something like embarrassment.

Like she had made a mistake.

She reached back to me, and it was my turn to pull away.

“We didn’t ruin him,” I said.  “This isn’t our fault.”

And she was looking at me, still crying, still with something warm in her eyes, but now with something else, too, not warm but hot. It wasn’t the only thing there, but there was hate, raw and bleeding, and I was damn sure it was meant for me.

Cards on the table, I guess.

“I want him out,” she said. “Or I go public.”

In an even slightly better mood, I’d have laughed.

“You think you’re the first person who’s tried this stunt?” I asked her. “You think I’m important enough to do anything about it?”

She seemed, for the first time, uncertain. I must have been looking kinda smug, then, because she glared at me.

“He was such a sweet boy until you…fucking…kidnapped him,” she said, the last two words fast, like she wanted to get them out of her without tasting them on the way up. “You cut open his skull.”

“You didn’t know him, then,” I said, keeping my tone even as best I could, even with so much static in my shoulders. “None of us did.”

She didn’t say anything to that, just kept crying, violently but quietly, structurally.

I had one more question. And I didn’t want to ask it, didn’t really want to know, but it didn’t feel like there was a choice there. 

“How long did you know about me?” I asked, real slow about it, sure to keep my voice level.

She looked at me, steady but for the aftershocks of sobs, and her eyes had anger going in so many different directions that it didn’t seem like any of it could get out. She opened her mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. It was like she couldn’t believe I had asked that and also wouldn’t have expected anything else. You know what she did next?

She laughed.

I made the call.

Once she realized what I was doing, she tried to snatch the phone. Then she realized how futile that was, that the bell had been rung, and so she ran out of the bakery. I just stood there, at our table, realizing now that everyone really was watching, both me and the woman running to her rental and fumbling with the keys. 

They picked her up before she got out of the parking lot. And once the other patrons knew what was happening—knew who I was—they all stopped looking. Just went back to their meals.

I left my brownie half-eaten.

Cassie’s was untouched.

October 1st, 2053
That last entry? I wrote when I was angry. But I’m not angry anymore. 

I’m not much of anything.

Trevor’s back in the genpop again, which is good, though I hear that may just be because his psis are almost gone. They brought in a new shrink, and the conferencing afterward was apparently damn unanimous: I’m not a good influence on Trevor. But I did everything right, didn’t I? I said the right things. I followed the script. I was kind when I needed to be and stern when I needed to be too. But maybe it wasn’t anything I did. Maybe it’s just something I am.

Carol won’t tell me either way. Hell, Carol won’t tell me much of anything these days. She’s working a lot, even more than usual. I was cagey in my report on Cassie, said she was just an acquaintance, but Carol probably figured it out, even without the psychics helping her. Oh well.

I know that Cassie’s in a cell somewhere on account of me. I try not to think about it, though I fuck that up too.

Good news, though, kinda glass half full: I finally figured it out. His tether. Too late to do anything about it, of course, but I’m still gonna count it as a win. 

I’m not gonna tell you, though. Nothin’ personal. Just, I’m starting to think that the less you know, the better.

 
 

Follow Stewart on Twitter: @stewartfinnegan.

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