In My Mind - A Short Story
It’s hard to claim to know a person, but it can be just as hard to truthfully claim to know a person you’ve lived with for years. The inside of a human being, the part left unseen, is easily misunderstood.
For Carter Lauren, the youngest in a family of psychics, this doesn’t ring true. He’s known the people around him inside and out since he was a child, and he’s good at reading people without the use of his powers.
At least, he thought he was. Upon transferring to a new high school and getting seated next to the ‘quietest’ student in his class, he realizes that people can surprise him.
What do the others call her? Boring? Reserved, maybe a little stupid?
It takes all of three minutes for those cheap observations to be proven wrong, since despite his best efforts and the fact that he isn’t actively reading anyone’s thoughts, the mind of the girl next to him shouts into his own.
I can probably push the math homework back until the weekend.
Flying over the stairs instead of walking down them? Best power.
I regret avoiding her last night. What if she’s sad about it?
That skirt looks good.
Why did I feel bad when she insulted me first?
New kid is cute, but Annalise already gave him the stay-away speech. Damn.
How’s his skin so clear—
Carter claps his hands over his ears, not that that does anything, and focuses on putting a wall between himself and the girl sitting next to him.
This is supposed to be boring?!
Carter can barely hear himself through her projectile thoughts.
The situation doesn’t improve as class starts. The student next to him is completely reserved on the outside, but internally, she’s a maelstrom.
When she and Carter are sent to the library for a partner’s project - groups assigned by the teacher – it takes her an hour to bounce from hobbies to homework to anime to people watching. How could the class representative, Annalise, call this girl boring? Sure, she says nothing aloud, and that cold shoulder is intense, but there’s so much going on in her head.
Though, the more Carter tries to get her to express some of it with actual words – casually prompting her to make conversation here and there – the more he realizes she’s not interested in socializing. It’s like there’s a door between them, and every time he knocks, another lock clicks. He can hear her scoffing at him mentally, encouraging him to go back to Annalise. It’s not that she dislikes him, she just thinks he’s wasting his time; her peers have led her to believe that they can’t communicate on the same wavelength, so she’s given up on sending out a signal.
By Friday, Carter realizes she’s in a world of her own. It’s like she’s not there when they’re working together at the library. The most she does is share a link, which he takes as a hint to research it for his part. The material is always helpful, but he doesn’t bother thanking her since the first time he did, she ignored him.
If he weren’t psychic, he’d have no idea how passionate she is about everything. She often pictures mental scenes where her classmates are happy – and magical, for some reason – Annalise included. It’s both incredible and weird to Carter, so he decides to do one thing:
He’s going to use his ability to befriend the girl he’s come to know as Ollie, the social outcast with seemingly nothing to say.
That feat is easier said than done. For the next week, Carter uses the hints he gets from Ollie’s thoughts to provide convenient openings for him to befriend her, but the most he gets is suspicion and mild annoyance. Ollie starts actively avoiding him outside of class or their work sessions for the group project, and whenever she sees him in the halls, she starts running in the opposite direction - literally, since she doesn’t have a social image to care about.
By the time the introductory project is over, Carter’s ready to give up entirely. Having no project to work on means having no excuse to meet with her outside of class and having nothing to talk to her about during homeroom. The only hope he has left is the fact that, no matter what he pulls, he can hear Ollie’s amusement in his mind. She thinks their game of cat-and-mouse is hilarious, if not ridiculous. Again, if he weren’t a psychic, he wouldn’t know the truth of what she’s thinking.
Though, even with his ability, he doesn’t see the change in attitude coming his way until it’s right in front of him.
Using Ollie’s thoughts to conveniently put himself in her path wasn’t hard since she had a talent for projecting everything that went through her brain. With a tiny bit of focus, he could hear her no matter where she was in the school.
He thought using that advantage would be fine, because who would explain away coincidences with mind reading.
However, Carter seriously underestimated Ollie, and he starts seeing that the week after they handed in their project.
That morning, Ollie’s thoughts are calm and quiet. Carter chalks it up to peaceful contentment since he heard mental gushes about an anime finale the day before. They make it through homeroom without a problem, Carter physically hanging out with Annalise’s group while his mind hangs around elsewhere.
By lunch, Carter’s heard all of two thoughts from Ollie, and she manages to slip out of the classroom before he can get a read on her. Not a problem; he scans his ability’s radius for her thoughts the moment he breaks away from Annalise, but he comes up empty. For the first time since he arrived, he can’t hear Ollie.
Then, something comes in loud and clear.
Why am I here if no one’s showing up for math help?
It clicks instantly, causing Carter to take off. Ollie’s good at math, so it makes sense for her to be in the math help room where younger kids can go to upperclassmen for tutoring. His odd classmate has never volunteered before, but there’s a first for everything. Now he can show up and ask her to help him, and she would be obligated to say yes considering there’s always a teacher around to supervise.
Carter, victorious and out of his mind, confidently steps into an overfilled math help room, his grin faltering when he notices someone staring right at him.
Ollie blinks at the new student before turning back to the ninth grader sitting in front of her, copying down her example of the problem bothering him. That’s the beauty of math; Ollie can explain calculations on paper without needing to articulate verbally.
Carter continues watching, wondering how she tricked him, until someone asks what he’s doing, and he leaves awkwardly without a word.
Hanging out with Annalise and her gang is easier than hanging out with Ollie anyway. Annalise and her friends are predictable, yes, but amusing. Half of them spend most of their time judging online profiles while the other half stick around for the company, but they have their funny and endearing moments.
Either way, this isn’t Carter giving up. It’s him being weirded out and living to fight another day in order to befriend someone. At least this time around, it’s a challenge.
People are easy to understand when you can hear their thoughts. Minds are intricate and unique, but when you have access, all the difficulty melts away. Sometimes, Carter feels like he understands a person more than they understand themselves.
He scoffs lightly, his footsteps a little glummer as he walks toward the cafeteria where Annalise and the others are. He’s envious of the people around him, who have no idea what it’s like to know everyone else like the back of your hand while having little of your own intrapersonal reflective ability. He’d much rather be able to observe himself from a third-person, objective standpoint than creep on everyone else.
Alas, he’s lucky to be able to do either, or that’s what he tells himself as he sits down to have lunch with his friends.
One looks up with a peace sign when he arrives. “Excited to get our marks back?” They ask, referring to the group project rubrics that are being returned tomorrow morning. “You worked with Ollie, right?”
“He did, the poor guy,” Annalise replies for him, barely glancing up. “Must’ve been impossible.”
“I hear she doesn’t talk.”
“Someone said she does, but only for death threats.”
Annalise, ever the ringleader, scoffs, looking up from the book in her hands. “Like I’ve said before, I’ve been around Ollie since second grade. Trying to communicate with her is a nightmare.”
Carter frowns at that, staring at his hands in his lap. It’s not so bad once you realize that there are just so many thoughts going around in her head that it’s hard for her to convey one at a time. He’s about to say just that, but in a subtler way, when he hears a whispered thought from Annalise.
Anything is better than the babbling fool she was, though.
“She talks to me, and she’s fun.”
The blatant lie has everyone at the table looking at Carter like he has two heads.
“I was late coming here because I went to check on her first, actually. She’s helping people with math, and I’d say that takes communication.”
Beside Carter, Annalise closes her book, looking annoyed as well as bewildered. “Ollie’s never spoken clearly in her life, Carter.”
“Maybe she didn’t think you deserved to understand her.”
The lackeys around the table drop their jaws, one of them recording the exchange. They snicker instead defending their friend, who, for the record, looks ready to dump her ice water over Carter’s head.
Scratch that, she isn’t ready to, she already has.
“Maybe that’ll bring you to your senses,” Annalise snaps, getting to her feet while her groupies collect their things. The group leaves in a gaggle of laughter, abandoning a soaked Carter at the table.
Hanging out with Annalise and her gang is easier than hanging out with Ollie - until it’s not.
Ollie Morgan doesn’t need a psychic to do her a favour, and she certainly doesn’t want to humour the high-and-mighty attitude the new kid seems to sport whenever he sees her. She’s fine living in her own world of daydreams, and whatever gracious act he thinks he’s pulling off, he can keep it to himself. After all, it’s obvious that her tablemate has the crazy idea to befriend her after he tries continuously to talk to her despite the cold shoulder.
Carter Lauren is a force to be reckoned with, though, so his every attempt is at least entertaining. If she’s being honest, she may have warmed up to the ridiculousness somewhere along the line.
Ollie isn’t stupid. She struggles with biology and can’t write an essay to save her life, but she has creativity on her side. Not only that, but contrary to popular belief, she isn’t oblivious, and she ends up understanding Carter long before he understands her.
During their time as partners for the project, Ollie found Carter annoying. He’d already heard the spiel from Annalise, an ex-friend of Ollie’s from elementary, which meant that his kindness toward her was probably fake. That was fine with Ollie; it’s not like he was the first. It wasn’t until after they handed in their finished work that she started paying attention to him.
She assumed he would run for the hills once they were done, but he didn’t. In fact, he tried to invite her out for celebratory ice cream the moment they handed it in. She ignored him.
The next morning, while she was thinking of the coffee she left at home, Carter conveniently showed up to class with an extra coffee. Miscommunication between him and his mom during the morning, supposedly, and since they sat side-by-side and the second coffee was basically already on her desk, she could have it. When she thanked him, his face lit up. He hadn’t pulled something like that since she started ignoring him during the second week of school.
Wednesday, Ollie kept running into Carter around the school. To solve that, she walked different ways the day after. Friday, Carter could once again be found on her routes to class.
At first, she assumed he was a stalker, or maybe purposefully messing with her.
Then, he helped her.
It happened when she was spaced out in the hallway absentmindedly leafing through a book the next Tuesday. Someone approached her, asking her a question, but she didn’t hear it. When they shook her shoulder to get her attention, it startled her, and seeing them annoyed made it worse. Ollie couldn’t get her head on straight, and though she understood that they were asking for directions and knew she knew the answer, she couldn’t get the words out.
They’re looking for that out-of-place office on the third floor... Spit out the directions, damn it!
“Oh, that place. Third floor, dude.”
Ollie and the other student jumped at Carter’s appearance; his friendly expression decidedly fixed on the stranger. He looked out of breath and disheveled, but that’s not what got Ollie’s attention.
How does he know?
Throughout the rest of the interaction, with the student thanking Carter and going on their way, Ollie wondered why the new kid of all people knew the location of the office no one could ever seem to find on their own.
Still, suspicions can do little for a person, so Ollie devised a plan to see if what she thought was happening was really happening, and that’s how she ended up volunteering for math help the next day.
Carter, with his shirt still damp and his phone blowing up about a video of him going around online, sits on the top step of the front entrance waiting for his mother to get him. He’ll probably be friendless after this considering Annalise is hard to compromise with and Ollie doesn’t seem to like him at all. He doesn’t even know what ‘Ollie’ is short for, only that it’s a nickname Annalise gave her.
The psychic sighs, feeling a little cheated. He wanted to understand an outcast and became one instead.
“Annalise will forget about it by tomorrow, you know.”
Carter flinches out of his skin, whirling around at the sound of a familiar voice that’s speaking aloud. Behind him, Ollie Morgan holds up canned coffees, offering a lopsided smile. The air escapes Carter’s lungs as he realizes for the first time that Ollie’s thoughts are purposefully calmed.
Ollie sits beside Carter and drops a coffee into his lap without warning, eyeing him in an oddly friendly way. “You’re cute enough to get away with anything, even insulting Annalise’s hair, if you play it off enough,” she snickers, the rest of her thoughts clarifying that she’s trying to be comforting. Carter snorts.
“I think I’m tired of one-sided things,” he murmurs, looking at the coffee in his hands.
“You definitely picked a one-sided bunch.” Ollie opens the top of Carter’s can for him, then nudges it with her own drink. “Cheers—Next time don’t befriend the antisocial ones.”
Carter raises a brow, glancing sideways at Ollie. “I wouldn’t call Annalise antisocial.”
“Because she never thought something along those lines?”
“Yeah—” Carter falters, processing Ollie’s question, “—figuratively, I mean.”
“Sure.” Ollie downs the rest of her drink before pointing a finger at Carter. “If you want to rely just on words and ignore human empathy.” When he frowns, she rolls her eyes. “Even mental words aren’t the most accurate, grasshopper.”
The psychic sighs. Nothing about Ollie changes whether she’s talking aloud or in her head, but still. Carter can’t imagine anyone out there truly understanding another person without being privy to the internal chaos.
“Hey, is that your mom?”
...He didn’t grow up knowing any differently, did he?
Ollie gets up before Carter can stop her, heading toward the car to greet his mom. Carter can see how Annalise labeled her a babbling fool, but for the two psychic Laurens, it isn’t so bad. It’s practically an exercise to see if they can keep up, and he’s a little amazed by her coming out of her shell in the first place. He doesn’t know what he did to trigger it.
Carter reaches the car just as Ollie’s introducing herself and his mom is inviting ‘Carter’s sweet little friend’ over for dinner. It’s the first time he’s ever heard her full name, and it’s the first time he’s ever seen her act openly expressive. Two minutes later, they’re both in the car, Ollie filling the silence with stories while the psychics read each other’s minds.
Then, Ollie says one attention-grabbing thing with no shame.
“Can you read minds too?”
The car doesn’t crash, though it’s close, and by dinner time, Elliot Morgan is the first outsider to understand the family of psychics.