Mind of Darkness

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Chapter Five: Emily

I wake up to an alarm clock.

What have I done to myself? Summer is supposed to be free of alarm clocks.

Reluctantly, I crawl out of bed. Violet is also up, but she’s already doing her hair. By the time I get to my hair, Violet is flicking through another fashion magazine.

Putting the brush down, I try to decide how to make small talk with my roommate. Preferably small talk that might lead to me explaining my PTSD. “So, what are your three classes?”

Violet doesn’t bother looking up as she answers. “Pencil and paintbrush. Gymnastics. Literature.”

“I’m in pencil and paintbrush too.” At least there’s some common ground. “I’m also in swimming and science. My... boyfriend-” I still haven’t figured out the proper term for our relationship and suitor seems too casual for a school of potential suitor thieves. “He’s in fencing, swimming, and history.”

Violet doesn’t answer.

I clear my throats. “Well, It’s almost breakfast.”

“Go ahead,” Violet answers, still not looking up. “I like being late.”

“Oh. Okay.”Well, I guess we’ll talk about it… later. To feel safer, I make sure my phone is in my satchel- after, all, I can call superhumans to my aid with it since my last rescue- and grab my satchel that I feel naked without before leaving the room.

Mickey is standing in the hallway with a short girl with a plain face almost invisible behind short, thick hair and glasses.

“Emily!” Mickey greets before gesturing to the other girl. “Meet my roommate, Destiny Mode. Isn’t that just the coolest name?! She’s in science and swimming like me. She’s also in needlework, but I’m in performing arts. What classes are you in? And Christopher? Ooh, I hope he’s on the swim team… Oops! Sorry, he’s your boyfriend.”

I laugh. “I’ll tell you, but you have to take me to the dining room.”

“Sounds fair to me.” She whirls around to face Destiny. “You coming?”

Destiny gingerly shakes her head, her hair almost completely obscuring her face. “Go on without me,” she whispers. “I have to check on something first.”

Mickey shrugs. “Come on, Emily.”

She practically drags me down the hallway.

The dining room turns out to be in the main building. About a hundred kids mill around the dozens of long, banquet tables. The whole room is buzzing with activity.

My eyes scan the room until I find Christopher’s golden curls. He’s sitting next to a red-headed boy.

“This way,” I say.

Mickey and I make our way to Christopher’s table.

“Hi, Christopher,” I greet.

He looks up and smiles before standing up and pulling out two chairs for us. Then he gestures to the red-headed, freckled boy. “Emily, this is my roommate Donald. Donald, this is my roommate Emily, and her… roommate?”

I shake my head. “Neighbor. Mickey, Christopher. Christopher, Mickey.”

Christopher raises an eyebrow. “The Mickey?”

Mickey giggles. “The one and only, obviously.”

Violet strides over.

This is my roommate,” I add. “Violet, this is Christopher, my boyfriend. Christopher, this is Violet.”

Christopher pulls out another chair for her, but Violet ignores and plops down on a different chair.

He raises an eyebrow, but says nothing.

“How do you do?” Donald greets Violet, putting a napkin hat on his head and tilting it.

Violet rolls her eyes and proceeds to ignore him.

“I’m in performing arts, swimming, and science,” Donald adds, not taking his eyes off her. “You?”

She takes a napkin and carefully folds it. “Glad I’m in none of the above.”

“I’m in performing arts and science,” Mickey announces. “Don’t know why I didn’t choose swimming too.” She shakes her head at herself like she just can’t understand making such a mistake.

Christopher gives me an amused look.

I shrug and roll my eyes. This is high school all over again.

~~~

Together, Violet and I walk down the hallway to our pencil and paintbrush class.

I clear my throat. “So, uh, Donald seems friendly.”

Violet grunts. “He’s a buffoon. Most guys are.”

“Christopher isn’t.”

“And he’s taken.” Violet shrugs as if to say ‘this is life’. “I once knew this one boy who wouldn’t clown around unless I wanted him to. I had him wrapped around my little finger.”

“Uh, that could be convenient.”

“It was. He was always there for me, too. Until one day, he wasn’t.” Violet shrugs again. “It wasn’t his fault. Things like that happen.”

“Did he move?” I know first-hand the annoyances of moving.

A mental list of all the times I’ve been forced to move:

(1) When I was three and we moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona (I actually didn’t mind that move much);

(2) When I was seven and we moved to Houston, Texas (I had to leave behind a whole classroom of friends);

(3) When I was nine and we moved to Richmond, Virginia (I had to leave behind Judy and Kelly- we were known as the three musketeers);

(4) When I was eleven and we moved from Virginia to Alabama (I had to leave Christie- we were known as Christie and company);

(5) When I was sixteen and we moved from Alabama to Great Britain (I had to leave behind Heather and Rodrigo [okay, so Rodrigo wasn’t not technically my friend, but he’s still cute]);

“But if I hadn’t moved I wouldn’t have met Christopher,” I add.

“Whatever.” Violet says nothing more for the rest of the journey.

When we step into the classroom, it’s like stepping into a whole other world. The room is larger than I had expected, and mismatched pieces of art decorate the walls, except where huge windows stand, letting in sunlight. Also, where a large shelving unit takes up one wall entirely and is laden down with various art supplies. Easels are set up randomly around the room and fellow students stand in awkward clusters, all watching a petite (as in, shorter than I am!) woman working on an easel at the front of the room.

The woman is pretty, with Spanish features, exotic clothing and jewelry (lots of jewelry), and a look of pure concentration.

After a moment or two, she looks up from her work and sees us. She smiles. “Is anyone not here?” she asks with a Spanish accent.

No one answers.

Her smile widens. “I’ll take that as a no then. I am your art teacher, Senorita Hernández. I’ll be helping you get further in touch with your creative side. Today, I want everyone to claim an easel and create a masterpiece. Draw, paint, do a collage- whatever you want; the sky’s the limit. I don’t care what you depict as long as it’s from your heart.” She smiles again. “Have fun.” Then she returns to her own project.

Violet and I claim easels near each other. Then I lose myself in my work.

It’s decided: I love this class.

~~~

I study my large sketch of Chase and Mary-Ann and smile.

“Nice sketch,” Violet says with surprising sincerity.

“Thanks.” I glance at hers and gasp at a gorgeous watercolor of a welcoming (if muddy) forest path. “Yours is gorgeous.”

Violet shrugs. “I like to paint. Well, I have to get to my gymnastics class.”

“And I need to get to my… swim class.”

Violet nods and we leave the room together before parting ways.

Now where would I find an exit…

Christopher walks over to me. “Need help?”

I blush. “Yeah.”

“Then allow me to escort you to our next class.”

Christopher leads me outside to the pool house. We part to go to separate locker rooms where I find a curtained off section to change into my modest-as-possible tankini. But it still shows too much of my luminously pale skin.

I hate my swimsuit.

Wearing flip-flops to avoid any possible foot diseases lurking in wait for me, I plod out to the swimming pool.

Donald catches my eyes first with his flaming red hair and boisterous wave. But my gaze quickly turns to the tall, blonde boy beside him looking as handsome in his swim trunks as I must look hideous in my suit.

And behind them is the blue-green of the water waiting to eat me- er, envelop me.

I hate swimming.

“Is everyone here?”

I turn to see a twenty-something man in swim shirt that says ‘licensed instructor’ holding a clipboard and walking up to the pool.

“Welcome!” the instructor greets jubilantly, tossing his clipboard behind him. “My name is Bill, but you can call me... Bill. So, who’s ready to swim?”

Almost everyone cheers. But not me.

Water tried to kill me.

But Christopher’s physical therapist said it would help him with his leg.

Taking a deep breath, I go to stand next to the boyfriend I absolutely will support. Even if it means defying death. Because, well, that’s what he did for me.

Bill gestures to the water. “Everyone in!”

Oh, whoopee.

Christopher leans toward me so I can feel his warmth as his breath tickles my ear in words only I am meant to hear. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

To answer, I step backwards, and dive into the pool backwards.

Then I quickly push myself up, spluttering in a panic until I remember the moves Christopher taught me on the Island and begin to tread water.

Only when that is taken care of do I dare to glance away from my enemy to find Christopher looking down at me, his lips quirking in amusement. “Oh, Emily.”

~~~

Christopher is still smiling when he meets me outside the locker room. “Emily, we need to go back to Belgium and pick up that hat that said ‘survivor.’”

Shaking my damp hair, I slip my hand in his. “Just walk me to my science class.”

“We’ll get one for swimming and one for directions.”

I laugh and enjoy the warmth of his hand all the way to the main building where we stop outside a room that smells strongly of chemical compounds.

“See you later,” Christopher says, kissing the top of my head before heading off toward his history class.

For a moment, I watch him go- until he turns a corner and disappears from my sight. Then I take a deep breath and plunge into the new room.

Of course, all eyes are on me at once.

Gulping, I focus on the row of chairs where Mickey, Destiny, and Donald are occupying. I move toward those familiar faces.

Mickey grins at me before patting the empty chair next to her, which I quickly take before turning to face the lab table set up in front of us with a smattering of vials, beakers, and even a microscope scattered across it.

Secure now, I take in the rest of the room. A bunch of students are whispering together in the table behind us. I turn again in attempt to find whether the teacher is in the class already or not, and find a man with precisely combed black hair and an equally precisely combed mustache that compliments his dark skin who is gazing out the window.

Suddenly, a bell rings, and the man grabs on a lab coat from off a hook before pulling it on and turning to us.

“Welcome, young minds,” the man greets. “I am your science teacher, Professor N. Allow me to lead you through a rich past of scientific discoveries and into a bright future where you will lead.” He claps his hands together. “Now I’m going to begin this lesson by informing you about some current advances in technology.”

I sigh. This is supposed to be a science class, not technology.

“First of all, there’s this baby.” Professor N. pulls a model of a futuristic gun out of his desk. “This gun- the F-12- is designed to emit different levels of frequency. The lowest can summon dogs, and the highest can knock a grown man out cold.”

“Ooh,” coos all the guys and quite a few girls.

“It’ll be great for crowd control,” Professor N. adds. Then he puts the model down and holds up nothing. “This is an invisi-cord. It’s supposed to be strong, flexible, and, of course, invisible. It’ll make plays appear more realistic, among other things.” He puts the ‘cord’ down (but really, who could be sure that he wasn’t pulling our leg about it?) and claps his hands together again. “Now let me tell you something really interesting.”

Somehow, Professor N.’s enthusiasm drops a level, like he hates this part of his job or something. “It’s called the Cure, and it’s in its prototype stage as I speak. When completed, it should cure any who take it from any and all forms of physical weakness.”

My jaw drops. Could it be true?

Mickey raises her hand. “But… how?”

Professor N. raises both hands in a shrug. “I’ve not been given all the details. But, not to worry, this is coming from a very trustworthy source.”

Another student raises his hand. “What do you think makes up this Cure?”

“Honestly, I believe it has something to do with the ‘superheroes’ of Alabama. It’s only natural that something so incredulous yet true as a cure-all would come from something as incredulous- but obviously true- as superheroes. In Alabama.”

I lick my lips nervously. I’ve met the superheroes of Alabama before- and the Ninja twice. Hunter had even given me his phone number, which I still have. I hope that whatever part they may have played in this was willing.

Destiny raises her hand. “When is this Cure scheduled to be available?”

“It’s still in prototype phase, so the due date is highly flexible. However, it’s rumored to be available to the public in about a month.”

I blink. This can’t be true. There’s something off- but what?

All around me, people ask questions like “Will it cure klutziness?” and “When will they make a cure for stupidity, because I know a few people who could use that?”

But I just stare straight ahead.

How can this be true?

And what does it mean for Christopher?

~~~

Christopher is silent as he walks me to the lunchroom. I need to talk to him about the Cure, though. But that’s not something you just jump into, like ‘hey, you know that bum leg of yours? I think they’re making a way to cure that!’

I clear my throat. “So, how was your history class?”

He shrugs. “Mostly introductory. But Mrs. White promised that we would begin studying different forms of governments used throughout history soon.”

“Sounds interesting...” Time to drop the bomb nicely. “More interesting than hearing everyone ask questions about some strange miracle Cure.”

Christopher glances up. “I heard something about that too. I don’t know what to think about it, though.”

I purse my lips together. Like it’s too good to be true, but I want it to be true so badly.

“I’m sure that’s how our grandparents viewed computers.”

Startling at the sudden alien input to our conversation, I turn to find Destiny behind us, her eyes flashing with passion.

And Mickey skipping down the hallway beside her and Donald. “It is exciting.:

“What is?” Donald asks. “I kind of zoned out during the lesson. I joined the science class to blow things up with potions, not listen to some guy talk. Blech.”

Christopher gives him a weird look. Then we claim a table.

Violet strides over and drops into the chair across from me. “The literature class is… interesting.”

“Oh, hi, Violet.” I reach for a napkin. “What did your class cover?”

“We’re discussing Brave New World and 1984.”

“Oh... What an interesting selection.” I lift the napkin to my face.

And I wait for the perfect opportunity...

~~~

I sneak away from the cafeteria without alerting Christopher. I’m sure I can find my own way to my shrink. No need to make him be that guy who has to gently lead his girlfriend to her mental help.

Bad enough I have to be that girl who needs the mental help.

After a few dozen wrong turns, I finally find myself staring at a door with door version of a name tag on the front boasting that a Dr. Earnestine is on the other side.

Taking a deep breath, I raise my hand to knock.

Before taking it back down. Maybe next second-

Suddenly, the door swings open and I startle before looking up at the very tall, very handsome dark-haired man smiling down at me through glasses that only help with the Clark Kent good looks.

I blink. Is this another student leaving?

Clark Kent smiles warmly and holds out his hand. “Ah, Miss Rogers. I’ve been looking forward to our talk.”

I choke on something. Probably my voice box. “I- you- you’re Dr. Earnestine?”

“That I am.” His lips part, revealing perfect teeth, and he steps back with a gallant, welcoming gesture toward the neat office containing a desk, its chair, a filing cabinet, and a velvet couch all matching quite nicely. “Please, have a seat.”

I’m settling onto the velvet couch before even realizing I’ve moved. Then I turn to find Dr. Earnestine already seated in his desk chair.

He folds his hands and leans forward, his handsome face all warm and open. “Can I just begin by saying what an honor it is to meet you?” His voice is so calming, soothing.

I lick my lips. Again, my reputation precedes me. “Well, um… thank you?”

“No, thank you. Would you like some water?”

At my nod, he moves to a water dispenser and fills up a cup before handing it to me.

I smile and take it. “Thank you again.”

He nods and retakes his seat. “You don’t have to keep thanking me. I haven’t fixed you yet.”

I blink, startled. “Fixed me?”

“Helped you to fix yourself despite your trauma. You have every reason to feel the insecurities you feel, my dear. I am here to give you the key to make every single one of those insecurities into a superpower.”

“A… superpower?” I shake my head.

“Yes, my dear. Your journey to a better you begins today.” He folds his hands and leans forward. “So let’s start. Tell me about yourself. Not the Emily we all hear about on TV. The real Emily, the Emily when the eyes of the world aren’t on her.”

I lick my lips. “Well…”

“She doesn’t like talking about herself.” He cocks his head at me. “She doesn’t realize how beautiful she is. An unfortunate experience at school? Maybe the popular girls didn’t want her to know she was a competition to them.”

“I don’t know about all that. I mean, the unfortunate experience that is junior high, sure.” I take a sip of water. “But- why are we talking about me in third person anyway?”

“So you can see the you who you should be apart from who you have been.”

I blink again and take another sip of water.

“Would you prefer second person? You are primed to always be alert and ready to protect yourself and those you love. And admirable quality, but not necessary here.”

Staring at him, I take another sip. This really is good water. But it tastes like it has another flavor in it. “Is this essenced?”

“Grape,” he answers. “You know you are safe here, correct?”

Strangely enough, I do. I do feel calm here. Safe. I think it’s his voice.

“And you can trust me,” he adds. “I’ll be like your best friend. I’m here to help you through your griefs and fears so you can be the best you for the people you aren’t comfortable around.”

“Oh.” I take another sip. I feel woozy. Just like I knew I would in the face of exposing all my secrets.

But I also feel… excited.

“We can take as long as you need,” he adds. “My afternoon is free for you. All of them are.”

I glance at the clock telling me my initial appointment is over. Do I want to continue?

My eyes slide to the door, to the small window I can see Christopher through, leaning against the wall. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“Maybe tomorrow we can take your second step toward the you you want to be,” Dr. Earnestine agrees. “Toward the you you were meant to be.”

I nod and take the last gulps of my water before glancing around for a trashcan.

Dr. Earnestine holds it out to me and I smile. “Thank-”

He holds up his hand. “Thank me when I give you something to be thankful for.”

I nod and go to the door.

“There you are,” Christopher says when the door closes behind me. He pushes away from the door. “You know your parents want me to watch over you, right?”

“I’m fine.” I take a shaky step. Wow, my nerves are spent. But it wasn’t that bad, actually.

I’m kind of looking forward to the next class.

I take another shaky step before realizing Christopher’s not walking with me. I glance back to where he’s standing, frowning down at me. “Are you okay, Emms?”

“Or course I am. Never been better. Just glad it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.” I reach for him and he steps up beside me and takes my arm like the gallant knight he is.

Squeezing him more tightly than I normally do, I lean into him as much as I dare.

But soon the Cure will heal him completely. And soon I’ll be the Emily I should be, one he’ll have been proud to be hobbled for. Not that he’ll be hobbled for much longer…

“Emily?”

I blink and look up at his concerned expression. “Hmm?”

“We’re here. And I’m not so sure you’re all right.”

“Of course I am.” I find myself touching his face, which only seems to confuse him more. But why should it? He’s my boyfriend and practically my fiancé. So maybe I’m shy.

But it’s time I be the Emily I’m meant to be.

Grabbing his shoulders, I push myself up and press my lips to his.

He kisses back, one hand looping around my waist either to support me or him. Then his other hand reaches for my shoulders and pushes me away.

I blink. “What-?”

“Emily, this isn’t right.”

“Why not?”

“Because… we’re not married.”

“It’s just a kiss.”

He shakes his head. “And a kiss has never become more than that. We’re not married.”

I blink. “Or maybe you’re just too scared.”

Christopher steps back, startled. Cowardice was never something either of us saw him being accused of.

“I-” I shake my head. “I’m sorry. Right, but sorry.”

“Emily, I don’t think you’re okay. Was it your therapist-”

“He’s not my therapist because I don’t need a therapist!” I blink, startled at my raised voice.

Several people glance at us, but I don’t even blush. Maybe there is something wrong with me.

Or maybe I’m finally overcoming my insecurities to be the Emily I’m meant to be.

He steps back toward me cautiously, like someone approaching an injured animal. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have issues.”

“Not you. You’re perfect. Except for where I maimed you.” My eyes fill suddenly with tears. “No wonder you don’t want to touch me.”

“Emily-”

I turn and flee into the dormitories without looking back.

Violet, however, looks up when I barge into the room. “What’s wrong with you?”

Instead of answering her, I barge into the bathroom and slam the door behind me.

Then the bathroom floor seems to jump up at me and my head hits something hard.

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