Having Remy in her life changed things for Jolie. There was someone to talk to about the crazy things that happened in the halls of greater learning. There were other kids who assumed she would sit with them at lunch--kids she could stand around with before or after school, instead of pretending she was waiting for someone. The Fus didn’t share anything important in their lives. Talk centered around tests and teachers and who had a trip to what competition. Jolie knew that she wasn’t a real member of the Kung Fu boys club, but because of Remy, she was allowed to hang with them.
Except for Remy and Hugo, her connection to the Fus was one of convenience. When the boys were together, she didn’t exist. Their world centered around their practice; who nailed what form, or knocked someone out, and what level they’d reached in some video game, but no one else knew how far out on the fringe of the group she was.
Jolie might have been able to take some wicked revenge on the bullies who persecuted her if her life had been scripted in Hollywood and she had any control over her abilities, but it wasn’t, and she didn’t. But her new alliance to the Fus had come with an unforeseen perk.
Now, when she walked by a potential tormentor, a flash of doubt crossed their face as they were forced to question whether the Kung Fu boys would stand up for this weird girl and kick their asses if they bothered her, or if it was still safe to pick on her?
By the time they finished questioning the wisdom of their actions, Jolie, and the opportunity had passed.
“Hey, Jo.” Madison Bishop approached Jolie in the courtyard before school. “I thought maybe since you’re dating my brother, you and Remy and Skie and I could go out together, like a foursome? Maybe catch a movie and grab a pizza or something? How about tomorrow night?”
Jolie frowned. “Remy and I aren’t dating.”
“You eat lunch together every day. He texts you all of the time.”
That was true, but outside of school Jolie barely saw Remy. He had track practice, then Kung Fu practice. An hour or two for homework left him just enough time to call Jolie before he fell into bed. They hadn’t gone anywhere together since their first trip to Rose’s.
“We’re friends,” Jolie replied cautiously.
“Okay. Friends can go out,” Madison persisted.
Megan Washburn stopped beside them, a triumphant smirk plumping out her glossed lips.
“How’s your campaign for President going, Madison?” she asked, twirling a corded necklace.
“Fine, thanks.” Madison gave the cheerleader a tight-lipped smile. Megan held the necklace up so the symbol on the end swung back and forth. Madison fell for the ploy. “What’s that?”
“It’s a talisman against witches and evil spells,” Megan replied, with obvious glee. “Cool, huh?”
“And very useful in suburban Las Vegas,” Jolie added, her voice dripping sarcasm.
“Apparently, they’re the new thing here at Chaparral,” Megan went on. “All the really cool kids are wearing them. At least all the kids who vote for me. I’m giving them out free with a promise for your vote. Oh, but that would be weird, wouldn’t it, because you’re running, too, so if you wore a necklace it would be like saying you wouldn’t vote for yourself. Oops. Later.” She flounced off, swinging her short pleated cheerleader skirt.
“Two more years. Just two more years and we’re free.” Madison sighed.
“You’re singing my song,” Jolie agreed. They shared a smile. “I’ll ask Remy about Friday.” Jolie nearly gagged on the words. Like she couldn’t have just said, “no this is the worst idea ever,” without pretending she needed to talk to Remy first. But their mutual dislike of Megan had created a moment between them, and now, she was stuck. Still, it got Jolie wondering; what exactly was her and Remy’s relationship? Did she even know?
The Fus beat her to the lunch table and were already involved in an animated discussion about their most recent leveling on some video game. Jolie sat beside Remy and waited, hoping the other boys would leave before the break ended. They didn’t get the hint.
“I know this is kind of weird, Remy,” Jolie finally said, trying to keep her voice low so that the others wouldn’t hear. “But do you want to go to a movie or something tomorrow night? Madison asked us.”
In unison the Fus stopped eating, the food halfway to their mouths.
“Did you just ask him out on a date?” Bodhi’s words were as sharp as a porcupine’s quills.
“It wasn’t my idea. It was Madison’s,” Jolie said, defensively. “But for some strange reason, Bodhi, she asked me, not you.” Jolie picked up her books. She’d had just about enough of Bodhi’s snarky comments and depressed bullshit. “We can talk about this later, Rem, when we don’t have an audience.” She stomped off across the commons.
“Wait up, Jo!” Remy ran to catch up with her. “Are you mad at me?”
“No. Why would I be mad at you?”
“You act mad.”
“But not at you.”
“So, this is about Bodhi?”
Jolie stopped and squared off, facing him. “I don’t get you and Bodhi. You’re so not alike. Why are you even friends?”
Remy shrugged. “We’ve known each other since second grade.”
“You “know” each other? Really? So does he go to sweat lodges with you and talk to you about spirits and stuff?”
Remy’s expression darkened. “You know that I don’t share that part of my life with other people, Jo.”
“You shared it with me.”
“You mean I’m not one of the boys.” Jolie put a hand under a breast and pushed it up. ’’Thanks for noticing.” Remy got that hurt look again. “Look, Rem,” she softened her tone. “I appreciate you letting me hang out with your friends, but I just don’t fit into the boys club. I’m tolerated, but I’m not welcome. Bodhi’s made that perfectly clear.”
Remy shook his head. “I don’t understand. You two seemed to have gotten off on the wrong foot.”
“So he’s been a perfect gentlemen to all the other girls you’ve brought around?”
“I’ve never brought any other girls around.”
“Remy, Bodhi’s a petty tyrant and an addict. The only reason he’s still functioning is because you and the Fus babysit him, spoon feeding him Kung Fu all the time. What’s going to happen him when the rest of you grow up and get lives? He’s going to be completely lost. No one else is going to put up with his bullshit.”
“Bodhi’s my friend, I will always put up with his bullshit,” Remy stated with finality. “Just like I will always put up with yours, for the same reason.”
“Right.” Jolie took a deep breath. “I think maybe we need to back off a little. People are getting the wrong impression about us.”
“’And what impression is that?”
“That we’re a couple--that we’re dating. Your sister asking us to go out with her and Skie, pronounced Sky but with an I E. God, isn’t it bad enough that people saddle their kids with bizarre names? Why do they have to make it worse by spelling them weird? Other people don’t think they’re creative, they just think they can’t spell.”
Remy’s eyes crinkled at the edges as if he wanted to laugh but wasn’t letting it out.
“So Madison thought we were dating, huh?” he changed the subject. “What did you say?”
“I didn’t know what to say. I told her we were just friends.”
“That sounds safe.” He paused, “So, do you want to go out Friday?”
Jolie’s eye narrowed. “Are you making fun of me, Remy Bishop?”
“Never. I’ve just been waiting for you to feel like the whirlwind had passed, and you might be able to trust someone. I was hoping that someone could be me.”
His smile was like a tooth whitening commercial. Jolie reached up and closed his lips.
“Close your mouth, dude. You’re blinding me.” His lips were soft and warm under her fingertips. Her mind started listing all the reasons she should not let this go on a minute more. Shut up, she told it, stretching up, and kissing him.
There were no fireworks, no crazy chemistry, stained by the angst of a doomed young love. It was a kiss of affection between two people who had known less of love than they should have and desperately needing someone to accept them as they were.
“Woo-hoo!” A kid passing them called out. “Get a room, you two.”
Jolie and Remy stepped apart.
“You have track practice,” she reminded him. “And I have to get to Faith’s.” Jolie cleared her throat. “Call me tonight?”
“I always do.” Remy kissed her lightly. He tasted like salted sunshine.
I have to find a way to save him, she thought watching him jog away, but she had no idea how to do that.
“Faith,” Jolie called out as she let herself in the front door of the house. “It’s me.” Iris’ Cadillac was not in the driveway. Jolie went to the sitting room. Faith was propped up on her chaise lounge looking alert, a little color in her cheeks.
“Out on errands. We knew you’d be here soon, so I told her to go ahead and get started.”
“Is the color in your cheeks you or has she been at you with her makeup again?” Faith was the kind of woman who had worn lipstick twice in her life, to her wedding and her husband’s funeral, and never again. Iris wouldn’t go to the mailbox without putting on her “face”.
“It’s just me.” Faith tilted her head, presenting her cheek to be kissed. “How was school?”
“No one went postal, so good, I guess. I had a weird conversation with Remy’s sister, though. She thought he and I were dating and asked us to go out with her and her boyfriend on a double date. I mean how weird is that?”
“I think that it sounds nice.”
“Are you kidding? It would be a disaster. What do I have to talk about with Madison Bishop?”
“She is Remy’s sister, maybe you’d be surprised. Anyway, that’s why you go to a movie and then out to eat with people you don’t know yet. It gives you things to talk about; the movie, the food. You don’t have to talk about big issues or important things.”
“And the point of that is?”
“It’s the way people start to get to know each other, Jolie, the way we feel other folks out to see if they’re worthy of trust and friendship.”
“I think you missed that step with Rick and Rory,” Jolie countered.
“I never broke bread with either of those two men.” Faith sniffed. “Even in my dotage, I’m more discerning than that.”
Jolie liked that Faith used words like dotage: words that were all but extinct in the average vocabulary. She liked that Faith never asked if she understood what they meant. Her friend didn’t talk down to her. Faith operated under the assumption that Jolie was as intelligent as any of her other friends, in spite of her age.
“So, does this mean you and Remy are officially dating?” Faith inquired.
“Well, we are going to go out on a date,” Jolie hedged.
“Good.” Faith patted Jolie’s hand. “You should have friends.”
“I have friends, you and Iris.”
“And we love you, but I meant you should have friends your own age, Jolie.”
Jolie pouted. “Why? You can’t talk to kids my age about anything important.”
“You judge your peers too harshly. You may not find many who will become friends, but if you keep looking, you’ll find a few. You need to give them a chance, though. Now, how about some chocolate?”
Jolie fetched the tea tray, dressed with packets of gourmet hot chocolate and some of the little pastries that Iris always bought, and sat down beside her friend to share the moment.
“Faith, why can I see stuff about other people’s lives, but not my own?” Jolie asked after awhile.
Faith blew on her cocoa to cool it down.
“People say you can’t use your gifts for personal gain without repercussions. I’ve never known anyone personally who had it happen to them, so I can’t say if it’s true or not, but there are stories about gifted people who used their abilities to gamble themselves to a fortune and then lost their gifts. Other misuses would be manipulating a romance or a career move.”
“Really? Like poof, no powers; gone? Where do I sign up?”
“Don’t be so eager to give up your gifts, my dear. You don’t even realize how much you rely on them, or how much a part of you they are because you’ve never been without them. People breathe without thinking about it. Can you learn to breathe more efficiently if you practice? Of course, but whether you practice or not, you’ll keep on breathing at some level, until you die. It’s just a part of your life experience.”
“So, you’re saying I could just ignore my gifts and leave them undeveloped, or I could learn how to use them better, but either way I’m stuck with them?”
“Essentially, yes.” Faith smiled.
“When Remy took me to his friend Rose’s, in Red Rock, they were having a sweat lodge,” Jolie told her friend.
Faith raised an eyebrow. “Did you go in?”
Jolie shook her head. “No, but I saw things...spirits. When Rose sang the songs to call the spirits, they actually did it; they came. It was pretty amazing.”
“There are aboriginal people all over the world, who keep the old ways,” Faith acknowledged. “You were fortunate to have had a chance to see that.”
“It was strange. The people at the lodge just accepted that there were spirits in the world like it was normal. The spirits were real to them.”
“Different cultures view the world and reality quite differently. So your friend, Remy, he accepts this view of the world as well?”
Jolie hid her smile behind her cup of chocolate. “Yeah. He does.”
“And will you go to a lodge again, then?”
Jolie shrugged. “Maybe. They invited me to.”
“There are many paths that could teach you about your gifts and how to use them, Jolie.”
“I’m not interested in using my gifts,” Jolie assured her friend.
“There are practices a person can do that will develop their minds so that they can see other worlds and do extraordinary things--things that seem quite impossible to most people. Things that come naturally to you.”
“I’m not interested in doing impossible things, Faith. Only geeky teenage boys and egomaniacal dictators are stupid enough to chase after that stuff.”
“This is not something you should accept Hollywood’s version of, Jolie. It takes a person of strength and wisdom to live with abilities like yours. That’s why the skills to gain them require commitment and perseverance and are not taught lightly, or commonly. If a person is not ready, opening the mind like this can be dangerous. That is why in most disciplines there is a gatekeeper that decides who, when, and if someone gets taught.”
“Exactly,” Faith acknowledged.
“I don’t know why anyone would even try to do that,” Jolie sulked.
“Because the ultimate goal is not the abilities, my dear,” Faith explained. “The gifts are just side effects. The goal is enlightenment.”
Jolie made a face. “I can do and see stuff, and I am definitely not enlightened.”
“But you were born with your gifts. You are what the Buddhist teacher, Padmasambhava, would call, naturally anointed.” Jolie looked skeptical. “Spiritual seekers study and practice their whole lives just to get a glimpse of what you have, Jolie Figg.”
“Because they don’t know what it’s like to live with it, or understand what it costs.” Jolie thought about how helpless she had felt on Solstice when the black horde of creatures had come rolling over the desert toward her. “You’re right about one thing, though, Faith. Living with gifts isn’t like it is in the movies, or on TV. It’s not Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie; it’s not a sitcom. If anything, it’s a horror film.”
Faith held one frail hand to Jolie’s cheek. “The mind is an amazing thing if you explore its possibilities. Unfortunately, most people find it just too frightening.”
“So, they burned us,” Jolie joked.
Faith remained serious. “Yes, and that is why there are so few of us left today to pass on the wisdom of how to live with gifts.”
Jolie gathered up the remnants of their snack and took the tray back to the kitchen. What would Faith think if Jolie told her that she had already misused her gifts? Was there ever a justification for killing someone with your powers? And then there was the whole quandary of Yanna Maria appearing in her dreams. Jolie wanted to ask Faith about that but didn’t think she could without revealing the whole story of what was troubling her. It was a slippery slope.
The sun was going down, throwing dramatic shadows over Frenchman’s Peak, the mountain that served as the valley’s eastern boundary. It wasn’t tall enough to have a snow cap, but it turned a pretty pink, the sky behind it a pastel palette of muted lavenders and blues. Sunrise Mountains they called the small range. They didn’t rival Red Rock but they were pretty.
Jolie felt the same sense of wonder that had warmed her to the core in Red Rock, creeping over her. Faith had been right, bearing silent witness to the larger changes in the world around her made her feel connected. No matter what happened to her today, tomorrow the sun would start its dance across the sky and for a brief moment, if she stopped to watch, she could be a part of it.
The light faded from the eastern peak, leaving it a faded peach. Jolie finished the dishes and went back into the sitting room.
“I think the vegetable starts we got last week have hardened off. Do you want me to plant them?” she asked as she entered the room.
Faith didn’t answer. She had fallen asleep. Jolie walked quietly to the chaise lounge and removed the book from her friend’s hands.
Faith’s white hair made soft curls around her face. A feeling of deep affection flooded through Jolie for this dear woman who had befriended her, giving her a second home, then she realized Faith was not breathing.