The government thinks I am some kind of mutant. They want me for their work. They could use me as a lie detector, a search dog, or advanced warning of certain people entering a room. But I think they want me to hunt down criminals, terrorists, and other bad guys. Call it a hunch.
See, I can 'see' other people's brain waves, locate them by the patterns of their thoughts, know their mood by an aura of color.
Anticipation was almost tangible in the classroom as the second hand ticked closer to three. The Junior class kept their whispers subdued as many auras pulsed with excitement, though many more were darkened with anxiety.
“Don’t forget you have to stay after school for that college fair,” my mother had reminded me yet again this morning.
“I know, Mom. It’s just some recruiters handing out information about their campuses,” I played it down.
“Well, you’re going to a good school. If Harvard or Yale are there, get a brochure. And smile! And shake their hands. Make a good impression.”
I knew Yale and Harvard weren’t going to be there. It would be all local colleges: state schools, private universities, the Army, Navy, Marines, and some technical institutions. But I didn’t want to burst Mom’s bubble.
The minute hand reached three, and all eyes counted the extra agonizing seconds before the bell rang to release us. When it did, there was a rush of noise and motion as most of the class bolted for the door. I took my time getting up. Normally, I wanted to get my things and leave the building as quickly as possible, but today I had no reason to hurry. At my locker I leisurely packed my homework into my book bag, waiting for the hall to clear of students so my head could clear as well. The fewer auras there were to distract me, the easier it was to concentrate on myself. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. The only talent I had couldn’t be expressed to others, nor used for anything related to higher education. I wasn’t sure why I was going to the college fair.
The recruiters had set up tables around the cafeteria’s perimeter, transforming the giant space from dining hall to exhibit hall. I stood at the double doors and studied some auras, noticing that a few of the recruiters were as nervous as the students, their auras wavering in the same anxious shades of orange and brown. The crowd inside milled about in small groups. I knew my mother expected me to come home with something to prove that I'd attended this event, so I went in and joined the end of a long line at the state school table. While I waited, I looked around for my best friend Kristy, who was giving me a ride home. I scanned the crowd for her auburn, curly bob haircut, but instead spotted something that sent a shiver down my spine. Leaning over the Army recruitment table was a boy with no readable brain pattern, no colorful halo, no aura! I looked and only saw a guy: his hair, his clothes, his stance. I had never seen a person with no aura. The only one I couldn’t see was my own.
At first I thought I must be slipping. It unnerved me. As I stared longer, though, I realized could still see everyone else’s clearly. Although the knowledge that it wasn’t me going crazy was comforting, this phenomenon was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen. I felt my bookbag slipping down my shoulder, and my unease grew as I listened to my heart race wildly in my ears. I knew I should move, should stop staring, but my legs weren’t responding to my thoughts.
“Hey Brynn, what’s going on?” Kristy's voice jolted me back to reality. I felt a little vulnerable, like my security blanket had been stolen and I was standing there naked. “Are you okay? You look a little flushed,” she moved directly in front of me, blocking my view.
She followed my line of sight to the guy, “Hel-lo-o? Him?! Look at him! He’s wearing dirty jeans and a Bears jacket. He’s a shop geek. And you don’t like sports! Besides he’s signing up for the Army and you don’t want a boyfriend who could die overseas! He is so beneath you. You’re supposed to go after rich guys, so they'll support you, so you can shop all day!"
She was right. He certainly didn’t dress like the type of guys we always pined after: brand name clothes, chiseled pecs, gleaming white teeth. The black jacket he wore was faded, the leather scuffed at the elbows. His jeans were filthy and the ends frayed. His shoes were coated in a layer of grime. But seeing him as he really was fascinated me. It was like seeing an actor on TV where no auras got in the way. Television was the one place I could see people the same way as everyone else; I learned to read facial expressions instead of relying on their auras to show me how they felt. Though I didn't even see the guy's face to tell if he was attractive, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. “Who is that guy?” I nodded in his direction.
“I don’t know. What is it about him you like so much?” she wrinkled her nose. I craned my neck to see around her, but he was gone.
I pushed past her, looking everywhere for him. I walked through the crowd, past the trade schools and private schools, and around the long lines waiting at the state school tables, but no sign of him.
“Maybe you spooked him,” snickered Kristy, who had followed me all around the cafeteria with her eyebrows raised. She just didn’t understand, and I couldn’t tell her. “You want me to find out his name?” She winked at me as she sauntered off to flirt with the Army recruiter. But even when she practically sprawled on top of the table, doing everything but unbutton her top, she couldn’t persuade him to show her the application.
Returning promptly with the disappointing news, she asked if I was ready to go. “Yeah, let's grab some brochures and go home.”
“What is it about that guy?” Kristy asked me for the second time. I felt trapped inside her car, staring out the window at the buildings and houses passing by. I thought about how to word my response so our friendship stayed intact. If she found out I had such a big secret, she might never trust me again.
“Come on Brynn! Tell me! I know you’re thinking about him. I mean, you’re quiet, but never this quiet!”
I sighed. I decided to give her the best answer I could. She was my best friend after all.
“I can’t really describe it. There’s something about him, that’s… well… peaceful.”
“Peaceful.” She didn’t sound convinced. “Peaceful?” she asked after a short pause. “I wouldn’t call him peaceful, I’d call him plain, and even a little poor. Didn’t you see what he was wearing? He’s not even buff! I don’t know if he’d even survive Army boot camp. Lanky. That’s a good word; I’d call him lanky.”
Kristy and I had met in middle school. She talked a mile a minute. Most people avoided her because it was disrespectful to not let anyone else get a word in. She was an outcast like me. In elementary school, I was the crazy girl no one wanted to know. Middle school had been my chance to start over, but I became merely ‘the quiet girl’, watching people’s auras, looking for the perfect friend. I would sit and watch my peers. When passions grew strong, the aura would swell to envelop the whole person. Anger would encase a person in a dark red glow. Lust made an aura bulge toward the object of a person's desire. As for relationships, they were beautiful. When two people in love were together, their energies would reach out in tendrils, wrapping them both in ribbons of color until the hues mixed into the same tone.
Kristy loved gossip. She got stuck beside me in the crowd on the way to our lockers one day and just began talking.
“Kat likes Toby Himes! Did you know that?”
“No she doesn’t,” I retorted.
“Yes, I heard it in the girls' room just now!” She beamed with satisfaction, because anything said in the girls' room had to be true.
“Well, it’s a lie. She likes Mike McCray.”
“What? You’re kidding.”
“No, but it’s a secret, don’t tell anyone.”
Why she believed me over the girls’ room talk is beyond me. Maybe I just said it with such conviction, leaving no room for argument, that she didn’t question my declaration.
Kristy began asking me about couples around the halls. I could tell which couples were madly in love and which couples were pretending. Kristy loved it. She called me her ‘human barometer’. She said her grandma had these owls that changed colors when rain was coming based on the barometric pressure. She didn’t know how close she was to truth.
So when I told her I didn’t know what it was about this boy that I liked so much, she didn’t believe me. She surmised I was so lovestruck, it must have knocked out my personal barometer, my relationship radar.
I finally turned to look at her. Kristy’s brain pattern was changing rapidly as she processed the change in me. Hues were morphing into hues, patterns were overlapping and morphing into new patterns. She was very confused, so she began to talk. It cleared her mind to hear her thoughts aloud. She was an auditory thinker.
“I don’t know why you like this guy, he is so beneath you! You can do so much better. But maybe I’m judging him unfairly. I mean, he could be a really great guy..” Kristy droned on and I tried to let my mind wander, but her aura started to fill up the space between our seats. I began to feel crowded.
“Stop. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Sorry. I’m just excited.. and confused. I’m trying to be optimistic. This is a whole new thing for me, and you.”
“I know, and I don’t know how I feel about it either.”
“Is it love at first sight? Are you bubbly and warm inside?”
“No, I’m just fascinated and surprised. I want to see him again, just to look at him. He’s like a puzzle. I didn’t even see his face. So it can’t be any love at first sight thing, can it?”
“Don’t think so.”
“I just want to see him.” I turned to look out of the window.
“Maybe I can find out who he is, what is his name is, what he’s like, for you.” I knew Kristy wouldn’t let this rest, and that she’d do it for her, not really for me. She loved mysteries, especially when she got to poke around in someone else's business to solve them.
We had arrived at my driveway. My mother’s honey-blonde ringlets vanished from the window as the curtain rippled back into place. I knew her aura would be changing from a distressed yellow-orange to a relieved green and teal blue without even looking. She operated in a scheduled world where anything that occured for unknown length of time would nearly throw her into a panic. My arriving home 45 minutes later than usual must have had her pacing from oven to window as she wondered if I would make it home in time for dinner and whether she should call the police or hospitals. I found her nonchalantly sitting in her favorite spot on the sofa watching a late afternoon talk show.
“Nice try, Mom.”
“I saw you at the window, I know you were watching for me.”
“Well, I love you, honey. You’re all I have left! And after 22 hours of labor..”
“..I want to keep you here!”
I growled in annoyance. You know how the story goes where the Mom whips out the naked baby pictures to show your first real boyfriend? My mom would tell the ‘I-was-in-22-hours-of-labor’ story to go along with it. Even Kristy had heard it several times.
“So did you talk to Harvard and Yale?”
“No, Mom, they weren’t there. I have a lot of homework though, so I’m going to try to get some finished before dinner.”
“Okay.” She happily turned back to her TV program, now that she could relax and not worry about my whereabouts.
I’d learned a lot about how people interact from movies and TV. They didn’t shy away from red-tinged auras and flying sparks before the person spoke out in anger. Actors were surprised when a person suddenly turned on them, whereas I always saw it coming. They didn’t cross the street to avoid someone with a black aura, but I would. They didn’t know who was at the door or in the next room and they certainly didn’t announce it. Mom’s TV habits saved me from a life of social ostracism. It also blinded her to reality sometimes. For example, there were no restrictions on my computer usage, no sites blocked at all, yet she imposed a strict curfew.
She didn’t suspect me of lying to her, but I wasn’t going to do my homework. I just needed to be alone in my room. I flopped on my bed, my head swimming. Why couldn’t I see his aura? I replayed the whole encounter over in my mind. It only raised more questions. I decided to do some research. It was something I had never looked into before. I took my ability for granted.