TW: reclaimed ableist language
If you were to ask me why I’d said yes, I’m not sure I’d have a coherent answer. I supposed the threat of running into that woman again scared me more than climbing into a car with two strangers promising me answers.
It was weird—I’d never really thought of asking any of the questions that had apparently been rolling around in my head for the last decade or so. I just accepted my own peculiarity without a lot of insight or existential despair. Or at least, I thought I had.
“What happened to your curiosity?” Will teased from the other end of the passenger seat. I ignored her, staring out of the window instead and trying to look as aggressively passive-aggressive as possible. I wanted answers, but the prospect of actually asking for them made me want to retch. Even being in a car with two people I didn’t trust as far as I could throw was pushing it.
Johara, on the other hand… “You should ask them, Jamal,” she murmured, bizarrely innocent and trusting as ever. Or maybe she was just smarter than me. “Maybe they know what happened to Mr. Chaudhury.”
“Mr. Chaudhury?” Will clicked her tongue. “I don’t know that name, I’m afraid.”
I turned my head slightly towards Will, hissing, “You’re reading my mind again.” She could hear Jo. That just… No. That wasn’t right.
“Technically, we’re not,” Avery commented from the front seat. “We can hear Johara because you can, but it’s surface. We’d have to actively not pay attention to ignore her.”
That still sounded like mind-reading to me, but I kept my own counsel. Surface—they’d said that about Kiera’s name, too. Besides, I could hear Jo’s little gasp of excitement. She’d been stuck with just me for company for the last two years—I guess I couldn’t really deprive her of a little bit of conversation.
“Can—can you really hear me?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“Sure can. I can’t see you, but I bet you’re pretty.”
Johara laughed at that, and I stifled my grumble behind pursed lips. Great. Now my dead fourteen-year-old sister was getting hit on. I was sure there was a ton of moral problems with that, but whatever. It made her smile.
I tried to ignore that conversation, and caught Avery’s eyes in the rearview mirror, dark and enigmatic. I tore my glance away and back out the window, but after gathering a little bit of courage, I thought, I shouldn’t have hit you. Sorry.
Ah, that’s alright. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. I think I give off the wrong signals.
I startled slightly at the response, then suddenly unsure what to do with my hands, put them in my lap. Okay. Thinking loudly apparently worked. I snuck a glance over at Will and Johara. “…Like an onion, really. Have you seen Shrek?” Yeah, I definitely wasn’t missing anything important.
Don’t worry about Will, Avery said—thought?—with a small chuckle out loud. She means well.
I’m not sure how much I trust ‘means well’ when it comes to mind control. Especially from a white kid.
That’s fair. I can promise you that we only use it when we have to. And I’m working with her.
I thought about the command I’d gotten from Will, the little whispered word. Stop. Yeah. Yeah, that’d been fair. So can I do any of that? Like, I’m talking to you like this now—
That’s normal. You’re just thinking really loudly. They laughed again, and I pulled a face in their general direction. Apparently they’d heard that, too. We all have our gifts.
Who’s we? You seem to be in charge.
Avery shrugged. Not exactly. More like Switzerland. They paused with one hand on the wheel, poking their head into the backseat. “What are you telling that poor girl, Willow?”
“Oh, just about that time I got that guy’s wallet and turned out he had business cards from every adult store in Ottawa—”
She blinked. “What? She’s fourteen, not d—oh, well—”
I considered hitting her. Jo stifled a giggle, and I glared up at Avery. “What was that about only using the mind control thing when necessary?”
“I was homeless,” Will protested. “And out of makeup. It was totally necessary.”
I hid my smile behind my hand.
“There’s lots of us,” Avery said out loud, answering my question from earlier.
“And everybody can do different things?” The paranoia was still there, creeping around in the back of my head, but the curiosity had taken over. Fucking sue me, okay? Avery’s welcome mat message was still ringing in the back of my head—you’re not alone—and as cheesy and Hallmark as it was, I was a foster kid. The concept was appealing, if not altogether trustworthy.
Will held up seven fingers. “There’s seven types. Obviously, Sulfurs are the best—”
“—There are three celestial elements, and four core elements,” Avery finished with a sigh, and Will huffed at being interrupted. “Sulfur, Salt and Mercury are celestial. And the core ones are Fire, Earth, Air and Water.”
I looked over at Johara, who shrugged. “Don’t look at me. You’re the one who knows things.”
“No, I fake knowing things. It’s different.”
Will snorted. “Don’t worry, nobody cares about the core elements anyway.”
“That’s not what you were saying when Laura singed your eyebrows,” Avery commented dryly. “All seven elements are important.”
“Is this some Last Airbender shit?”
“Not far off.” Avery came to a stop, and I realized we were outside my house. “But as always, the truth is stranger and sadder and more complicated than fiction can ever be.” They unlocked my door with a ‘click’ that sounded very final, but I could tell they weren’t quite done. “You’re a Salt elemental.”
Elemental. That sounded a little Dungeons and Dragons to me. Then the rest of it clicked. “…That’s what Kiera was talking about?”
“Yes. With practice, we can recognize each other.”
“See, I thought you clocked me because of Jo’s nonstop chattering—”
“Hey!” Jo swatted ineffectually at me. Then she bit her lip, and finally managed to get out whatever had been on her mind throughout all this. “…How—how do you know?”
Avery tucked a purple loc behind their ear. “Know what?” they asked, although I had a sense they already knew.
Johara paused, then closed her eyes. I looked between her and Avery for a moment in confusion—then Avery nodded, and I realized it was a conversation I hadn’t been privy to. I supposed that was fair enough, but it didn’t stop the lump in my throat as I realized I wasn’t Jo’s one and only secret-keeper anymore.
“Well,” I said, breaking the silence, “thanks for the ride.” I let myself out. My head was feeling foggy again. I’d expected something to happen, but this was… a lot. Too much information, too many people. I plodded across the road, over to the sidewalk—
“Hey, hold up!”
I stopped, and half-turned. Will had sprinted across the road, and now she stood over me with a smile on her too-wide mouth, blonde ponytail bobbing. She was taller than me—not that that was hard—and now that I was seeing her standing, she had the gracefulness of an overgrown giraffe. It was… charming, in a way I wasn’t used to.
“You’re not very old, are you?” I commented with a twist at the end of my lips.
“Neither are you. Aren’t you supposed to be in kindergarten or something?”
I chose not to rise to the bait. “What do you want?”
She plucked my pen from my pocket with a startling speed, and grabbed my hand, pushing up my jacket sleeve and scrawling a few numbers on my arm. “I know all this shit is weird as fuck and probably not what you wanted from today, but just in case you get curious or need help—”
“—from, what, you two chuckleheads?”
“Don’t push your luck.” She tucked the pen behind her ear with a smirk. “The point being that you can reach me at that number. I don’t know. We can go out for coffee or something.” She paused for a moment then added, her smirk softening into something else, “Having somebody to talk to helped me a lot. So. Yeah.”
I looked at the numbers that she’d written upside-down on my skin. “I thought I was an asshole.”
“Eh, we all are. Crazies gotta stick together, right?”
“I’m not crazy.”
She gave me a lopsided grin, blue eyes twinkling. “That’s what we all say.” Then she turned and left, waving a goodbye over her shoulder. “Ta!”
Ta. How pretentious. Still, I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe—maybe—I’d take her up on it.
If nothing else, I had to get my pen back.