"I'm sorry, you what?"
"I'd like ... to help."
"By bringing it down? But Rosa, I thought you understood! You can't. Absolutely not."
"But... it's just eating away at you and it's going to get worse and worse and I'm going to end up with a totally heartless kingfisher or no kingfisher at all."
Ross looked alarmed. "It's not going to kill me, Rosa! Oh sweetheart, were you scared I was going to die?!"
He jumped up and threw his arms around me.
"I didn't know you thought that would happen! Oh my darling Rosa, I'm going to be okay!"
"Are you, though?" I murmured.
Ross held me at an arm's length away by my shoulders so he could look directly into my eyes and convey his sincerity. "Of course I am! I have my rose-dove. How will I ever have a problem again with you around?"
I sighed. "I'm not a massive problem solver, Ross, at least not from just being there for someone. Don't worry about what I said if you really don't want to do this. I didn't think things through."
Ross cringed, took my hand and closed his eyes.
I gasped as sudden pain filled my thoughts.
‘I'll let her do it. She only has good intentions, that much is clear.
‘I'm so terrified but I love her, don't I? I'm willing to surrender myself to her, solve the problem which is making this difficult. I don't want there to be any obstacles in the relationship.'
I felt his absolute terror at the thought of what I was proposing to do.
‘It'll hurt so much, but if it's what Rosa wants...
‘Oh, it will be terrifying...
‘But I love her. She's my raison d'être, my ... soul. I need her to live and ... you know what? This wall is silly. It's stupid to hide from myself.
‘I ... I choose to surrender to her... Completely... Utterly... For the sake of the strongest emotion in the universe, for adoration of my rose-dove, for love...
‘Rosa, I ... I'm giving myself to you.'
He let go of my hand and I found a pendulum in my hand. He opened his eyes.
I felt tears in my eyes. "You... you're going to let me ...?" I couldn't finish.
Ross nodded. I could see the pain in his eyes.
"You're... you're so brave. And ... all that stuff you were thinking: it was so ... so powerful. You were... you sounded as if you were placing your life and everything you hold dear to you in my hands."
"Rosa, you are everything I hold dear to me. I couldn't hand you that."
"You know what I mean. You're ... incredible. That you feel you can totally... give up your intentions because you think I'm saying you have to ... You don't have to. In fact, I realise I was being pushy and not considering the massive effect this will have on you - you're petrified for goodness' sake! - and it's just not right if I take advantage of your love for me like this."
"Rosa... Please, just get on with it. I've made my decision. I ..." he hesitated and then decisively said, "I want this too."
I shook my head. "No you don't. And that doesn't matter. I'm not doing that to you. I don't even know how to use this thing." I held up the pendulum.
"You swing it, Rosa. Like this." He held my hand and moved it up so that the disc of the pendulum was at his eye level. He began to move my hand from side to side, watching the pendulum as it swung.
I let go of the pendulum. "I am not doing it. And you and I both know there's more to it than that."
Ross looked at me with gentle eyes. He picked up the pendulum, put it in my hand and glanced meaningfully at it.
Ross continued to look at me. The sadness in his eyes was heart-wrenching.
Ross didn't relax his gaze. I could feel his emotions compelling me to do this. It was almost impossible to resist him as he twisted my heart around to face him and give in to him. He made it seem as if my request was perfectly reasonable, was reminding me it had been my idea in the first place and reassuring me that things would be all right, just with that simple gaze. Simple. That's the word he wanted me to think, that's the description of the situation he wanted me to recognise.
"No," I said weakly, unable to tear my eyes away.
He picked up my hand with the pendulum in it, rearranged the pendulum so it was hanging the way it should, once again lifted it to his eye level and looked deep into my eyes.
"Rosa," he murmured. "Do it."
I shook my head, afraid my tongue would betray me.
His cerulean eyes saw right through to the depths of my soul.
I felt a tear slide silently down my cheek.
"You swing it. Say a few words to get me to relax. Make the suggestion. Say something to wake me up. That's all. That easy."
"I ... can't. I don't know what to do..."
"Think about how Jack did it. Exactly like that."
"I can't produce the same effect."
"Yes you can."
"And," I took a breath, "you're sure you want me to do this?"
He nodded. "Yes."
I took a few deep breaths to steady myself. Ross smiled and brought the hand he'd used to reposition my hand and the pendulum down to rest on his lap.
"I love you," I murmured.
"I love you, too."
I gave a faint smile as I began to swing the pendulum.
"Focus on the disc," I said quietly, almost whispering, overwhelmed by the enormous impact on Ross's life this would have. "Let it be the only thing you're concentrating on. All else is irrelevant, even me. All you can see is the pendulum and all you can hear is my voice, but the face which owns it is unimportant."
Ross seemed to relax slightly as his eyes followed the pendulum.
"Allow yourself to relax. Let waves of calm wash through you."
Ross's face lost its hard determination and he was smiling faintly as he followed my instructions.
"As you become more comfortable, feel yourself travelling down into deeper parts of your mind where it gradually becomes easier and easier to relax."
I was relying on my personal experiences of having this done to me to induce the trance. I felt oddly calm as my voice seemed to have a soothing effect on me.
"Down you travel, into those depths of relaxation, where nothing else matters. There are no worries or fears there, just calm."
A sort of dreamy look came into Ross's eyes as if he were imagining something beautiful or romantic.
"Allow yourself to become detached from your body, all those physical links to negative feelings. Keep going down, further and further until you reach the deepest part of your mind where you are totally relaxed."
His cerulean eyes seemed to have a depth and deeper understanding to them which made him look incredibly wise. This was definitely like meditation, I thought to myself.
"When you reach the ocean bed of those seas of tranquillity, just... let ... go." I said, my voice getting quieter as I spoke those last three words which would send him into a state of complete suggestibility.
I was suddenly panicked as his face blanked. The faint smile was there but there was nothing behind it. His eyes were staring but unseeing. He was totally focused on the pendulum, but wasn't consciously aware of it. I allowed the pendulum to stop swinging as I thought carefully about the suggestion I was about to make. I was terrified of making a mistake.
I took a deep breath before speaking again. "When you wake up, you will let go of the wall around your deeper thoughts and feelings. You'll let it slide down and away, never to be seen again."
I frowned. What did I do now? I'd been in a trance when Jack had begun to wake me up.
"And now you'll begin to rise out of this state of relaxation," I said, guessing really, and starting to swing the pendulum again. "You'll connect to yourself again. Rise up, up out of those depths of calm."
I was relieved as the life returned to Ross's face. He was conscious of his surroundings again. He lost his look of deeper understanding too.
"Up you come, out of those depths. Break out from under those waves of calm."
Ross blinked a couple of times and his face hardened.
I stopped swinging the pendulum and anxiously watched his face. I let the pendulum fall into my lap as Ross's brow furrowed and he frowned.
He suddenly gasped.
He fell forwards, clutching himself. "Oh damn," he said.
I grabbed him. I felt his body shake and his breaths come out sharply and raggedly. I wondered why I wasn't feeling any of this when I felt the wall around the whole of his mind. He was shielding me?! That was so lovely... yet so stupid of him!
"Let go," I cried. "You have to let it out! It's going to drive you crazy."
"Can't... let... you ... feel," he gasped.
"I don't care. Let down those walls."
"Do I have to force them down myself?"
Ross lifted his head, looking as if it took an immense amount of effort. His agonised expression tore me up inside.
"You ... are... not... feeling this."
"If you let that wall down, I can subdue the emotions!"
Ross looked torn between trying to protect me and stop the incredible pain he was experiencing.
"Let it down, Ross!"
Ross looked agonised, but he closed his eyes and I felt the defences around his thoughts give in.
I was shocked by the pain that flooded out. It was like being stabbed with a dagger.
I collapsed on Ross. "Oh my goodness! I'm so sorry! I didn't realise! This is awful! Oh my ..."
"Rosa!" Ross cried desperately.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry."
I tried to get a grip on my thoughts as I was overwhelmed by crashing waves of agony which pierced through every part of my mind.
I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the pain as I spread my thoughts out across the open space towards Ross's mind, to the source of the pain.
Ross was being tortured by the feelings he'd buried for so long. Stab after stab of paralysing pain. I could feel bitterness, hatred, resent and fury attacking him along with a grief that should have rendered Ross inconsolable. He was strong though. Amazingly so.
‘Wow, you're so brave...'
My thoughts thinned out to spread over Ross's like a sheet covering a mattress on a bed being made. I felt relief from Ross's mind but also felt relieved myself as the pain faded to a dull ache while his thoughts turned submissive.
Now what? I thought to myself.
‘Put pressure on the pain and ask me to embrace it bit by bit when you let my thoughts out from under yours to confront it.'
‘Oh wait, you have to ask me to let the pain fill my mind first - so you can subdue it effectively.'
‘I can't do that!'
‘And make sure you push down slowly - otherwise the pain will just overwhelm you.'
‘Rosa, do it.'
‘I'm sorry.' I felt awful as I thought ‘Let the pain fill your thoughts.'
The centre of the pain sent out the sensation that was like a dull throbbing to engulf the other thoughts in Ross's mind. Thankfully, Ross didn't feel it too strongly because he was subdued.
Even so, I felt the centre of his consciousness wince slightly as the pain reached the edges of his mind.
I slowly pushed down on Ross's thoughts, trying not to crush them, but still attempting to apply enough pressure to decrease its intensity. I found it getting difficult as I reached the end of my mind's ‘physical' strength.
I heard someone walk in.
"Rosa? Ross? Are you guys okay?"
It was Jack.
‘Er, hi, Jack. I'm trying to push Ross's mental pain down.'
"Do you want some help?"
‘Er, I don't see how you can. Thanks for offering though.'
My thoughts were strained as I'd pushed down as far as I could and was now battling fatigue to maintain this amount of pressure on Ross's thoughts. He was trying to send me encouragement and gratitude but he couldn't really do much because I was subduing his thoughts as I attempted to strengthen and thicken the fog over them. I gritted my teeth, but it was still nigh impossible to make any more progress.
I was surprised when Jack took my hand.
"I can use my amber."
With his other hand, he pulled out his brilliant stone that reminded me of a glowing coal in the fire.
"Let my mind to Rosa's link, so she can hear what I think," Jack murmured. Suddenly, I felt an even wider space open up in my mind.
‘Draw from my mental strength,' Jack thought to me.
‘Oh, that's right. You're a bit busy, there. Um, I ... may have to take over.'
‘What do you mean?'
‘I mean I may have to do what I've always had nightmares about doing.'
His reply was a whisper. ‘Controlling your thoughts.' His volume returned to normal as he continued, ‘I'd ... just subdue them of course, but still, it's a horrible thought.'
‘And that would help Ross?'
‘Yes. I'd be able to draw from your strength when mine runs out. I have a lot more so I wouldn't need to do it so quickly anyway, but you could have a break.'
‘If it helps Ross, do it.'
‘Okay. Let go then.'
I sighed as I released the pressure over Ross's mind. I felt his alarm.
‘Oh, quick, Jack! Sorry, Ross.'
‘What are you talking about? What has Jack to do with this? Why've you let ...? Oh.'
I felt Jack's thoughts travel across to Ross's. It was a queer sensation as he sort of passed through mine on the way (as my mind was in Ross's too).
‘Now stay in his mind while I do this, okay? Otherwise, I'll lose the contact.'
I felt Ross's thoughts lose emotion around me as Jack carefully spread his out over them without touching mine.
‘If that's difficult, feel free to cover mine too,' I thought.
‘You won't mind? I'm going to put an awful lot of pressure on Ross's thoughts.'
‘It's fine. Oh, just remember to do it slowly, okay?'
‘Yeah, of course.'
His thoughts spread out over mine too. I felt Jack's relief at not having to concentrate too hard on being cautious since he'd need a lot of focus to apply mental pressure to Ross's thoughts.
I felt a familiar nonchalance as Jack's thoughts formed a layer over mine and Ross's. I also felt myself floating towards Ross's centre of consciousness.
‘That's not happened before,' I thought.
‘It's because we're both being subdued simultaneously,' came the explanation.
But even mental conversation was prevented as Jack continued to apply pressure to our thoughts. I could feel Jack's discomfort at controlling the minds of his best friend and ex-girlfriend and there was particular distress when I became a mindless zombie.
I felt Jack begin to draw from my strength. It felt like a part of me was being absorbed into the layer of consciousness above me and being used to help control me, which was fairly strange and didn't really seem sensible.
Suddenly, there was a change in Jack's thoughts. A sense of awe and interest replaced the negative emotions.
‘I can do anything with them,' Jack thought.
I could feel a tiny twinge of alarm from Ross's thoughts. He obviously took longer to totally succumb when being suppressed as he thought, in muffled tones, ‘Don't succumb to it.'
Jack's response was shock.
‘I'm so sorry. What was I thinking?! I love Rosa. I don't want to control her.'
I could feel stifled mild annoyance from Ross at Jack's declaration of love for his girlfriend.
Just then, Jack's thoughts became ones of satisfaction.
‘Just one more push should do it.'
Had I not been totally under Jack's power, I would have been horrified and filled with dread. As it was, though, I remained nonchalant as Jack asked, ‘Before I do this, what else do I have to do?'
Ross's response came at the same time as mine.
‘Ask Ross to embrace the pain bit by bit.'
‘A small amount every day to confront it effectively when you let my thoughts out from under yours.'
‘Here goes,' Jack thought. ‘Ross, when I release your thoughts, the pain will affect you in small amounts daily.'
I felt Ross's mental response: an acceptance of Jack's instruction.
Jack gave a final push that would have startled me if my thoughts hadn't been suppressed.
The pain faded until there was a tiny amount. As Jack released the mental pressure, over our thoughts, I could feel a vulnerability and defencelessness in Rock's thoughts which made me feel quite anxious.
I frowned at Jack as he let go of my hand.
"You'd better hope you didn't make the final push too hard," I said warningly.
To my surprise, the response came in my mind. ‘I'm sure he'll be fine.'
Ross sat up and I eased myself off him. The physical contact was broken. It was strange how cramped my thoughts felt in the absence of the wide spaces which had been connecting my mind to Jack's and Ross's.
But when I focused, there seemed to remain a link between myself and Jack. It wasn't so much an open space as a sense of Jack's thoughts that was omnipresent at the back of my mind, ready to become a vast plain upon physical contact.
‘How odd,' I thought to myself.
‘I'm a bit too tired to undo the spell at the moment but I promise I'll sort it out before Ross and I go home.'
Part of me didn't want Jack to undo the spell but that was the part which held the match in constant readiness to reignite the flame that had been our relationship.
Ross had been repositioning himself during my silent contemplations. He was now lying on his side, head propped up on one arm.
I turned to face him. I was slightly startled by how young he looked. His face had softened, there was the air of the innocence of a child about him and his eyes were trusting and openly conveyed dependence on me. He gazed at me with those light, warm cerulean eyes and I knew he had reverted to a childlike state of mind.
"Hi," I murmured softly, quite fatigued.
"Heya." He sounded tired too, but there was a hint of the eagerness found in an easily excited young boy. I could picture him chasing bunny rabbits and, rather more disconcertingly, crying at the discovery of a dead animal. I instantly felt protective and responsible for the happiness of my kingfisher.
"How're you feeling?" I asked.
"I think I'm ready for bed."
"Same. I'll probably see you tomorrow."
Ross's brow furrowed. "You're not coming home with me?"
I shook my head.
"But you can't leave me!"
"I'm not leaving you, darling."
"That's what it feels like. I need you, Rosie."
Oh no, he saw me as a mother figure...
"Ross, I'll still be here tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. I'd never leave you."
"Rosie, you can't do this. You have to come too."
"Ross, you're 22!"
Ross looked confused. "I'm 7."
"Jack!" I shouted in exasperation.
I turned to glare at the face I would've happily kissed just over a week ago.
Jack looked apologetic. "I'm sorry."
"I don't care if you're sorry - just remind him of his real age!"
"I ... I can't," Jack mumbled.
"What?! What do you mean ‘you can't'?"
"Complicated psychology stuff. He's reverted to a child-like state because of mental trauma. He's protecting himself from going insane."
"Great(!) My kingfisher's stuck with the mind of a 7 year old."
"I'm sure he'll remember. It's just about when he's prepared to deal with it."
"And what if that takes 15 years, Jack? What if he's always 15 years behind in the maturity department? Our lives will be difficult because his best friend got over-excited whilst applying mental pressure."
Jack looked uncomfortable.
"It wasn't just the push that did this," he said quietly.
I froze. I stared into space, processing this. I felt the colour drain from my face at the direction my thoughts were taking.
"Are you saying ... what I think you're saying?"
I closed my eyes and bit my lip, fearing the answer.
I opened my eyes, turned around and looked at my beloved kingfisher.
"He's like this because I let down his wall?"
"What have I done?" I whispered. "What have I done?!"