I avoided Randall, Cassi, and especially Michael for the rest of the week. I had a lot of catching up to do so I concentrated on my writing and by the time I was done on Friday I was back at the top of my game, even getting two front page articles during the week, much to Amy’s chagrin.
“Well it looks like you’re not going to get fired after all,” Amy said haughtily as I tossed my bag over my shoulder so I could leave.
“What are you talking about?”
Amy had always been pretty nice to everyone but lately she had gone into full bitch mode against me. I was starting to tap into what Michael had called my empathy power so I was feeling certain emotions from some people and the animosity that I was getting from Amy at that moment made me wish I had an off switch.
“You’re the spoiled rich chick that gets to keep your job just because your family has money.”
My hand lashed out against her cheek before I could stop myself. “Listen, Amy, I have no idea what’s been up your butt lately but I work my ass off just like anyone else here. I’m a journalist because I’ve earned my position, not because I bought it. If you have a problem with me well then that’s just too damn bad.”
She looked taken aback. “Well, I- I mean- Ugh!”
She turned and stormed off without getting out a complete sentence.
I sighed, feeling like total crap for picking a fight with someone that I had worked with for such a long time. My life was getting so screwed up that even my normal world was starting to get turned upside down.
I slowly pushed my car key into the door to unlock it when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I let out a squeal and spun around quickly. My heart was racing and my breathing was shallow so it took me a few minutes for my brain to process that the person in front of me wasn’t a threat.
“Hey, are you okay?” Randall said carefully.
I let out a deep breath and forced my body to relax. “Yeah, why?”
He arched one blonde brow at me. “I saw what just happened in there with Amy. You wanna tell me what’s up?”
I returned my attention on unlocking the door so I wouldn’t have to face him. “I thought you went home,” I stalled.
“I was on my way out when Amy started antagonizing you. And don’t change the subject, Ly. What’s been going on?”
“I honestly have no idea. She’s just been so different the past week or so. She really doesn’t like me and it’s just getting worse.”
“C’mon, Lyra, how could she not like you?” he teased
“She’s jealous,” I answered. “Wait, that sounds conceited but I’m not trying to be. She’s jealous of me, I can feel it.”
His already light complexion paled slightly. “What do you mean you can feel it?”
“Um, Michael says I’m empathetic. Why? What’s wrong?”
“Well, I’m not exactly sure how to explain it to you.”
I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him. Randall knew me well enough to know that I wasn’t taking any crap answers like that. “Simplify it,” I said tartly.
He reached back to rub the back of his neck nervously and his light hair fell into his crystal blue eyes in that way that always made him look way younger and made me feel bad for being so mean to him. “Can’t I have Cassi do it?” he whined.
I sighed and smiled to myself. “Seriously? You’re going to have your girlfriend fight your battles?”
He smiled at me. “Heck yeah. I’ve known you long enough in this life for you to scare the crap out of me when you’re pissed. Besides, I’m only a cupid and she’s one of your Gifted.”
I stuck my tongue out at him and climbed into my car. “Fine. I’ll follow you so that Cassiopeia can do all of the explaining that you’re not gutsy enough to do. Including explaining what the hell my Gifted are.”
I followed him a few blocks to Cache Street and his big blue townhouse. He pulled into the driveway and I parked on the curb so that I was blocking him in- I’d learned the hard way that Randall was a chicken and he wasn’t above making a break for it as soon as I got out of the car. He waited for me at the front door and held it open like a true gentleman.
The living room, like the rest of the house, was decorated in pastels and accented with vibrant purples. I’d never noticed before that the place had two different personalities but I guess that was just because I’d always thought Randall lived alone. Now I could see Cassiopeia’s flare in the purple throw pillows and even the lavender-scented candles littered around the room.
“Hey, Cassi,” he called as he took a seat on one of the light red loveseats. “Lyra wants to talk to you.”
She walked gracefully from the kitchen and smiled at me. Her brown hair was dusted with flour and she was carrying a tray of steaming brownies. “Hello, Lyra-Rose. What can I help you with? And would you like a brownie?”
I smiled and took one before she sat next to my best friend and scooped one out for him. I took a bite and for a second I couldn’t remember why I was there. “Cassi, these are so yummy!”
She beamed at me. “Well I’m glad you think so. Now, what did you need to talk about?”
I blushed a little and stopped stuffing my mouth. “Well, I was talking to Randall a little bit ago and he freaked out on something that I said. When I asked him about it, he said that you’d have to explain.”
She nodded patiently for me to continue. I struggled for a moment, trying to decide how to broach the subject. She waited a full minute without bugging me to answer. “Okay, first of all, what are the Gifted?”
She smiled gently. “The Gifted are humans with an especially strong connection to you. They share some of your essence and therefore some of your power. That’s why I can show you visions of your past or why Andromeda was chosen gatekeeper. Most of us that were given immortality are a part of your Gifted.”
“What else did you need to discuss?”
I hesitated again. “Well, Michael was talking about me having something called empathy. I was telling Randall about how I could feel what one of the girls we work with was feeling and he kinda flipped.”
She frowned slightly and tugged on one of her dark waves. “And you told Michael about this already?”
I looked away feeling guilty. “Well… he was telling me about it but it was just hypothetical when he told me. He doesn’t really know that I’m actually using it, kinda.”
“Awe, crap,” Randall hissed, sitting ramrod straight rather than slouching.
“What?” I asked innocently. “Seriously, what’s the big deal?”
Cassi tried to stay calm and comforting but I could tell that she was just as upset as my best friend. “Lyra, your empathy is one of the powers that make you, well, human. It connects you to your creations.”
“Okay,” I said slowly still not understanding what the big deal was.
“If your godly essence is returning to you in this life that means that you are transitioning from human back to goddess. It also means that Vega will have an easier time tracking you.”
I wrinkled my nose. I liked being human and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a goddess. “Is there any way to stop this transition?”
Cassi bit her bottom lip nervously. “I’m not really sure. You are, after all, the only one from the City to ever give up your immortality. If we tap into your earliest memories from when you started your reincarnation cycle, we might be able to find a way.”
I nodded once. I’d have to freak out about that a little later. “And what about Vega being able to track me? She already knows where I am every minute of the day.”
Cassiopeia seemed glad to be on a different subject. “Lyra, it took several centuries for Vega to find you. The last few times that she was after you, you had some of your powers. If you’re getting stronger not only will she be able to literally sense where you are at any time but her titans will also be able to track you. As it is, she must call her monsters to her when she wants them but if they can find you on their own…”
“Then I’m screwed.”
I couldn’t think about the supernatural stuff going on in my life or else I was going to go crazy. I woke up bright and early Saturday morning and called my sister so that we could have a spa day with just the two of us. I hadn’t really seen much of Maxine in the last couple of months, since the disastrous dinner where Dad had announced he was moving to Salt Lake. She happily agreed and we were at Mystique’s Health and Beauty by ten.
“I’m so glad that you called,” she gushed as we changed from our day clothes into fluffy white robes. “I feel like I never get to see you.”
I slammed my locker door shut and turned to shoot her a smile. “Yeah, I’m happy that we can get together and do this. It’s seriously been forever since we’ve hung out.”
She laughed and made idle chitchat as we followed one of the technicians into the back where a pair of hot guys was waiting to give us massages. I followed my big sister’s example and lay on the table sliding the robe off under the thin sheet.
Oh, lord. A nice long massage was exactly what I needed.
“So what’s been with you lately?” she asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence.
“Hmm?” I hummed absently, too busy enjoying the man’s strong hands working out the innumerable knots in my back and shoulders.
“You’ve seemed stressed lately. I just want to know why. Is it this whole thing with Mom and Dad?”
Leave it to Max to make me share my feelings during a spa day. “That’s part of it,” I half-lied. The whole ordeal between my parents had gotten me worked up but that had only contributed a portion to the intricate web of strain that was slowly eating away at me.
“Well what’s the other part?” she pressed.
“God, you’re relentless, aren’t you?” I muttered. “Fine, if you really want to know it has to do with a guy.”
“Okay, you’re done,” the massage therapist behind me announced. I sighed in relief, definitely feeling much better and glad that Max was distracted for at least the moment. She smiled at the pair as they walked out and the technician that had led us into the room reappeared and motioned for us to follow her. Next was the mud-bath where there was going to be way too much time to talk to my sister.
“So what about this guy has you so worked up? Do I need to kick somebody’s ass?”
I snorted. “No, Max, I’m pretty sure that he could take you. Besides, you’re kind of a pushover.”
She immaturely tossed a mud ball at me which missed by a mile. Once again I was comparing her to Vega. I loved Max and I would do anything for her whereas Vega was the epitome of psychotic and I couldn’t imagine giving her the time of day.
“I might sort of like him,” I confessed slowly. “But we both have some baggage that might be affecting how I feel about him.”
“Does he like you?”
I bit my bottom lip and stared at the bubbling brown surface of the shallow pool we were in. “I don’t know. I think so but he was in love with this other girl a long time ago and I don’t think I’m enough like her for him to actually like me.”
Max snorted and I looked up at her. “Lyra, don’t try to be like some other girl to impress this guy. If you can’t just be yourself with him then he is definitely not worth it. And if you won’t let me meet this guy then I want Randall to. If he gives his seal of approval on the guy you like then I guess I don’t have to try to hurt him; and notice how I said try.”
I smiled despite myself. “You’re amazing, you know. And yes, Randall has met him. I’m not completely sure if he approves but I’ll tell him that you said he gets to be in charge of my love life.”
She didn’t really laugh at my failed attempt to crack a joke. Instead, she continued to study my face as if trying to memorize every line and freckle. “There’s something else though, isn’t there? Lyra, what’s really bugging you so much? You know that you can tell me anything.”
I couldn’t meet her eyes. I knew that I could trust her with anything but the truth would probably get me locked up in the loony bin. “It’s just that recently I’ve felt like the weight of the whole world is on my shoulders. I feel like I’m responsible for everything and one little screw up can ruin things for everyone.”
Max frowned at me and reached out to rest her muddy hand on my shoulder. “You can’t think that, Sis. Everyone gets that feeling sometimes but it doesn’t help anything. You can’t be so hard on yourself for every little thing. As long as you try your best everything’s going to turn out fine. Honestly, Lyra, it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake.”
I smiled at her. I could almost believe what my sister was saying but the stupid empathy Gift was constantly getting stronger so I couldn’t forget it. I could feel the annoyance from some of the technicians, the relaxed bliss of customers getting spa treatments, and the complete trust Max had in me. Her blind faith was the hardest because I knew that I was more than likely going to end up failing, totally not worthy of any of that faith.
By the time Max and I were led into the steaming sauna Mystique’s had filled up. Emotions were bouncing off the walls and it seemed like I was quickly becoming a magnet for everyone’s rampant feelings. Everything hit me at once and it felt like I was going to explode from the migraine quickly forming at my temples. I gritted my teeth and leaned my head against the wall. I was going to definitely need another massage sooner rather than later.
“Hey, you okay?” Max asked.
I shot her a weak smile. “Fine,” I said in hopes that she wouldn’t worry about me; one of us at least deserved a carefree day.
“No you’re not. Do you need to see a doctor?”
I snorted. I’d never been sick or needed a doctor in my life, well other than after the wreck. “I’ll be okay,” I tried to reassure her. “It’s just getting kinda crowded here.”
“Do you want to leave?” Max was going into protective mode and had that crease between her brows when she worried. “We can go if you’d like.”
“No, Max. I don’t want to ruin your day.”
She let out a bubbly little laugh. “It’s really no problem, Lyra. If it weren’t for you I’d have been watching College Football all day with Ethan and Mackenzie. I don’t think that I’ll be heartbroken if we have to leave the spa a couple of hours early.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks, Max. It’s just a headache and I’m sure I’ll be better once I get home and rest a little.” Not to mention, it was probably time that I told Michael about my Gift starting to come into my life.
Walking down the crowded sidewalk to my car was absolute hell. My sister insisted on walking with me so I had to walk at her pace rather than sprint like I was so dying to. Emotions were flying at me a million miles an hour but I felt Maxine’s the strongest; I’d quickly noticed that the closer emotionally I was to someone the easier it was to get a read on them. I quickly said goodbye to Max and climbed into the car, making extra sure that the windows were up and the doors were locked tight. I was pushing the speed limit all the way to my house in an effort to escape the Gift that was becoming my own personal hell.