"Is that what you think?" I asked, shocked.
"That's what I know, Charlotte. What normal person could hear thoughts?"
"I don't know but you're still human."
Rory looked uncomfortable. "Look, forget I said anything."
"But I can't just let you feel like you're not natural! I'm your friend, remember? Friends cheer each other up."
"You might not be my friend in a few moments," Rory pointed out. "We've got to see if you can trust me."
"Don't be so pessimistic," I said, leading him out of the store to a dry, sandy field with pale yellow grass and weeds that tangled around stones on the hard ground.
"Right," Rory said, "if you really want to do this, let's get the trivial one out the way. The falling back exercise."
He positioned himself behind me. I closed my eyes and let myself fall without bending my knees. I was terrified throughout the freefall but Rory caught me effortlessly, as if I weighed no more than a feather.
"Wow," he murmured. "You barely know me."
"I'm willing to trust you so that you won't be lonely again," I told him, standing up.
"You're very warm, you know that?" Rory said, sounding surprised.
"It's a hot day," I said, confused.
"No, I meant like emotionally. You've got a big heart. You're willing to accept my differences because you don't believe anyone should be treated unfairly."
I frowned. "How d'you know that?"
"Oh, I unintentionally caught some of your thoughts along the way here."
"Another way I can prove I trust you is by saying I believe you weren't listening intentionally," I said, smiling. "I do believe you."
Rory sighed. He murmured something like "Way too trusting."
Then he looked at me intently. "Are you sure about this?"
"Okay then. The slightest touch increases how much I sense from a person, involuntarily or not." He looked at me expectantly. "Guess what the next test is."
"You're going to touch me?"
Rory nodded. "Give me your hand."
"Wait," I said, a little worried.
I could see Rory was listening to me so I continued. "How much do you usually ... sense? And how much more will you?"
Rory looked satisfied. "You're finally being sensible. That's good. What I normally sense from you - involuntarily - is warmth. I don't know how much more I'd sense, though. I certainly wouldn't sense everything about you - not if I wasn't probing, which I won't be - but I might get, oh I don't know, a sense of a motto you live by, something that's dear to you or just another aspect of your personality. Some people have the rare ability to prevent me from sensing anything though they don't know that and you're not one of them because I can feel your affectionateness."
"Does that work ... the other way?" I asked nervously.
Rory smiled wryly. "Yes. But don't worry: you prevent your ‘self' being sensed to a moderate degree."
Having absorbed all the information I required, I said, "I'm ready."
Rory held out a hand, palm facing upwards as if we were at a ball and he were asking, "May I have this dance?"
I placed my hand upon his and he clasped my thumb. He gazed into my eyes. We stood there a few moments, with me returning his gaze steadily.
‘I'm not afraid,' I thought confidently.
Finally, Rory let go. During the previous minutes, his eyes had widened and now he was looking at me in awe.
"You... have a very strong sense of moral justice," he said, looking as if it was difficult to speak.
"Thanks," I replied, wondering exactly what he had sensed.
Rory still looked awed but said, "Next one, then."
I smiled to show I still wanted to do this.
"Have you anything sharp on you?"
Slightly worried, I pulled a safety pin out of my pocket and handed it to him.
"Excellent. Now close your eyes. When I see you relax - and I don't expect that straightaway - I'll know you trust me. If you have to open your eyes, I'll know you don't."
"What has this got to do with your ‘talents'?" I asked.
"Nothing. Just like the falling backwards exercise, it's something you might do with any friend - although you usually just develop the knowledge they won't hurt you without this kind of thing. I confess, I'm also interested in seeing how brave you are. Might tell you (or show you) why one day."
I took a deep breath. "I'm ready."
"Close your eyes, then."
I did so. I felt that all my muscles were tensed and found my ears were strained to catch the faintest sound which might indicate approaching danger. My heart was racing, pumping adrenalin around my body so I was ready to either fight or flee.
"What are you going to do?" Rory mused, talking to himself.
I took several deep breaths before attempting to relax my muscles. First, my shoulders, which I rolled so my arms were hanging loosely by my sides, and then my legs.
Rory then did something totally unexpected. He lifted my right arm until it was horizontal. He walked his index and middle fingers along from my wrist to my shoulder. My arm was tensed as I didn't know what he was doing.
"Are you scared?" Rory asked quietly.
"A little," I admitted.
He walked his fingers up to my shoulder along my still
tensed arm and then surprised me by rubbing my shoulder.
"You can open your eyes now," he told me.
I blinked in the golden sunlight.
"You trust me," Rory said smiling.
"Even though I was tense during that last bit?"
Rory nodded. "Fear of the unknown is perfectly understandable. Do you need walking home?"
"Oh, yes please."
So we ambled over to my house, chatting about Rory's ‘talents'.
"How long have you had them?" I asked.
"About a year," Rory replied.
"I see. And ... how did you get them?"
Rory frowned. "When we know each other a bit better, I'll tell you everything. I promise."
"Oh, okay," I said, mystified.
Rory looked at me searchingly. "You're not upset, are you?" he asked.
"Oh no," I said smiling.
Rory smiled back. "Thanks for bearing with me."
"What's it like?" I wondered aloud.
Rory's face darkened. "Scary."
He wouldn't talk anymore for the rest of the walk and something like a coldness or tension in the atmosphere stopped me from saying anything else.