Crossing the threshold
The next few weeks seemed to blur for Jay. Her classes kept her from bumping into CaraBelle most afternoons and it seemed like they were never eating in the caffeteria at quite the same time ever. Discussions with Doctor Pomona were ongoing and Jay found the sessions boring for the most part. One afternoon she found herself in the Vice-Principal’s office talking to the doctor, her mind wandering.
“She thinks we need to integrate.” the Voice whispered.
Jay looked shocked. It had been silent for so long and now chose to pipe up?
“Jay?” Pomona asked, sipping a mug of herbal tea.
Jay refocussed on the woman again and tried to concentrate, “you were saying something about integration?” she prompted.
The doctor spluttered into the mug, “At what point did I say that?”
“Well, not with words you didnt, but you meant it didnt you?”
“Yes, I may have done. Those parts of you that act as guardians for the rest, that come to the fore in painful moments and store the pain down inside themselves so the main part of your mind doesnt have to be burdenned by them, we need to integrate those moments back into the whole. It’s going to take time. Do you feel ready to embrace some of those buried painful experiences as your own?”
Jay sighed. The Voice had been right. What did that mean though – integrate? Was the voice a fragment of her own psych that had somehow splintered off from the whole? She looked across the desk at the doctor who was wearing an enigmatic smile. What was the woman up to?
“Jay. I’ve tried to avoid medicating your condition so far. All the textbooks suggest that the process of healing progresses nicely without it. However, I have to ask how you feel these sessions are going? Too slow? Boring? Or are they helping?”
Jay pondered a moment and opted for honesty, “Boredom does sort of cover it, yeah.”
The doctor reached into her briefcase, pulled out two small bottles of pills and put them on the desk in front of Jay. She stood, went and poured some water into a plastic cup, and placed that next to the pills.
“It’s important to have iconic moments you can look back on. I think we’ve reached such a milestone. I have 2 medication options for you.” Doctor Pomona popped the first cap off and dropped a glassy blue pill onto her hand and held it up, “First of all, we have the safe path that leads to health … eventually.”
She opened the other bottle and tipped out a glassy red pill, “Then we have a drug that only just hit the market, and to be honest, is rough on the system. Look at it this way: You’re standing on the edge of a cliff. The blue pill represents taking the zig-zag stairs all the way down slowly. The red pill is you base-jumping right off the edge and screaming all of the way down. Blue, you keep life largely as it is, red things will change drastically. The decision is yours.”
Jay looked at the pills for a moment the reached to take them both out of the doctor’s hands, “Blue – Im bored, life goes on. Red – might kill me but it’ll be a trip while it lasts?”
Doctor Pomona laughed, “Essentially, yes.”
“Then its obvious, isnt it?” Jay said dropping the blue pill on the ground and crushing it with the heel of her boot. Taking the red pill was a mere formality after that.
Jay had barely left the room when Doctor Pomona pulled a cellphone from her jacket pocket. She hit the redial button and waited for a connection.
“She’s gone for it. You should be getting a lock on her any time now.”
The gym was half empty when Jay arrived. She picked a treadmill in the corner furthest from the door into the room, least likely to be seen, yet she could feel eyes on her even here. Doctor Pomona would call her paranoid if she shared this feeling, for sure. Small white (wireless) earbuds were the only hint to other gym go-ers that she was listening to music rather than their attempts at conversation. She selected a challenging 5k run option and started her workout to the understated lyrics of Rob Dougan:
You’re a dirty needle You’re in my blood And there’s no curing me
And I want to run (like the blood from a wound)
To a place you can’t see me
Cause love, like a blow to the head, has left me stunned and I’m reeling – yeah I’m reeling.
And if you go, furious angels will bring you back to me.
You’re a cold piece of steel between my ribs and there’s no saving me.
And I can’t get up, from this wet crimson bed that you made for me.
Cause love, like a knife in the back, has cut me down and I’m bleeding – yeah I’m bleeding.
And if you go angels will run to defend me – to defend me.
Despite the all encompassing music through the earbuds, Jay couldnt shake the feeling of being watched. She turned and to see a sweaty 50-something man stumble off the treadmill behind her, exhausted. She shook her head and kept running. She pushed it hard on the run searching for her “runner’s high” that she knew would come at the twenty eight minute mark; the ache in her limbs would fall away to be replaced with the feeling that she could go on for hours, but to get there she had to grind through every muscles screaming at her to give up. She blinked sweat out of her eyes keeping them on the digital clock as it ticked slowly upward time seemed to be dragging. She realized she’d lost track of the music in her ears. The song had changed a couple of time, she was sure of that, but couldnt recall what they were. “Radar Love” from Golden Earring was pounding out 70’s driving rock
The radio’s playing some forgotten song
Brenda Lee’s “Coming on Strong”
The road’s got me hypnotized
And I’m speeding into a new sunrise
When she’s lonely and the longing gets too much
She sends a cable comin’ in from above
We don’t need no phone at all
We’ve got a thing that’s called radar love
We’ve got a wave in the air, radar love
Was that it, the rolling road of the treadmill hypnotizing her? Was she dissociating again, against the wishes of Doctor Pomona? Jay didnt have time for thoughts like that. She pushed on toward the twenty eight minute mark.
“Watch the clock.” the Voice whispered to her as the track on her music player switched.
Jay frowned as she focussed on the clock ever more intently. The green-on-black digits mocked her. She wanted so much to reach her peak moment in the run. Intensity rose inside her, determination to make it, fueled by something else she couldnt name. She glanced up from the clock to the calory burn-counter while mentally counting off seconds. When she looked at the clock she expected to see thirty seconds had passed but it was wrong, showing thirty five.
“That’s it.” the Voice urged.
Jay felt the runner’s high wash the ache out of her limbs. As it flooded her system she sped up the run. She tried counting again, thirty seconds looking away, to find that forty five now on the clock. The song changed to Animotions’s “Obsession” as she reached for the clock’s green digits. The now familiar green texture hovered superimposed over reality. The clock seemed to have roots in the flow of the inner texture of the green. As she counted and looked back, she saw the flow-rate of the texture adjust itself.
“Remember the vending machine. Reach. Let me show you how.”
Jay put a hand on the treadmill display and wriggled her fingers under the surface. Now she could feel the insistent flow. With a deliberate effort she urged it to speed up and grinned as the digits on the clock spun past. Thirty seconds in her head gave her forty minutes on the clock.
“Excuse me … are you done here? I booked this unit starting ten minutes ago.” an elderly voice behind her asked.
Green colour vanished, the clock snapped back to moving at normal speed and Jay realized that it hadnt just been the clock on her treadmill that she’d wound forward.
Thankfully the water in the gym shower was as hot as it was meant to be and flowed with the intensity she craved. She wound the dial up as hot as she could stand and let the spray massage the after-workout ache from her legs and (surprisingly) her shoulders. Time appeared to be running perfectly.
“Hey, you.” a familiar voice called to her as she was towelling her hair off. One benefit of the attack was how easy it had become to get her hair done. There was an edge of guilt too, the positive feelings bounced around her head colliding occasionally with the negative ones of the attack. “Am I allowed to feel good about something like that?” she found herself wondering when the thoughts arose.
“Hey CowBell. Long time no see.”
There was a long pause. CaraBelle wasnt known to be the strong silent type. Jay always counted herself as wearing her emotions on her sleeve, very open and chatty most of the time. Finally with towel off her head and hair combed she looked up to see where she’d got to.
CaraBelle had grabbed a locker across the aisle from Jay and was pushing workout gear into a battered yellow and green backpack. Jay grinned, remembering the time they had climbed out of CaraBelle’s bedroom window without her folks knowing. For all they knew the two girls had been sound asleep upstairs where in fact they’d slipped off down the street to the local pancake house. First the backpack had caught in the tree, tearing off the fabric cup-holder from one side, then it had fallen into an inky black puddle outside the pancake house gaining a permanent black smear down one side. The bag certainly had history!
CaraBelle looked up from the bag, caught Jay’s eye and appeared to melt. There had been a wall, a defense against the possible rejection, but it melted under the warmth of a genuine smile drawn from their shared history. CaraBelle blossomed, passing from winter through spring to summer in one swift transition, the various shades of emotion playing across her face.
“You got plans for the weekend” she asked.
Jay pretended to be thoughtful and consult an invisible planner, “Oh, I have a few appointments that I could move around…” Both girls laughed, “My parents are going away for a long weekend. Flying to some island in the sun. I dont want to know what they plan beyond that, only that I have the house to myself for the whole time. Want to come over?”
CaraBelle reached into her bag, pulling out an invisible organizer and pretended to flick through it, “Oh, I think I might be able to move a few things around and manage that!”
They took a detour on the way home. Jay simply couldnt bring herself to go past the spot where she’d been attacked so she directed CaraBelle to drive past the local Trader Joe’s to pick up snacks. That accomplished, they drove the most direct route to Jay’s home, oblivious to the dark blue mid-size SUV that was following at a discrete distance.
CaraBelle phoned for pizza while Jay pulled out DVDs from her collection.
“Pitch Black?” she asked. CaraBelle shook her head, “Too violent.”
Jay tossed the remade “Omen” movie on the floor with “Pitch Black” without even asking CaraBelle, followed by “Blade Trinity” and John Carpenter’s “Vampires”. She sighed. Chick-flicks didnt feature too heavily in her collection.
“How about ‘Keeping the faith’ with Ed Norton and Ben Stiller?” she ventured. The elicited a thumbs-up so she popped it in the machine. With a half eaten piece of pizza in one hand and a large glass of Sprite in the other CaraBelle was the poster child for bad nutrition and she seemed to know it. Every bite was savoured. Jay noticed that she seemed to be warming to the generally uplifting tone of the movie and wondered what would have happened if she’d picked the “Chronicles of Riddick”. Was it possible to tip the generally light-hearted CaraBelle over the edge into a murderous rage?
“Hey, Jay, they’re talking about confessing stuff. The power of getting it off your chest.”
“Ummmm … yeah … what about it?”
“Well, anything you wanna confess?” She waited, steeling herself for the explosion that she feared.
Jay thought for a second. It felt so good, so right, to be talking to CaraBelle again. It was safe.
“You know how we used to meet on Thursday afternoons?” Jay began.
“Yeah, it’s felt like you’ve been deliberately avoiding me, so I started eating a different time, figuring you didnt want to know me or something.”
“Oh…” Jay blushed, “…well, there’s this shrink been coming to the school and talking to me. My dad paid for her or something. I dont know. Anyhow, we’ve been meeting and she’s trying to help me through some stuff. Your turn.”
CaraBelle shook her head, “No, I just confessed at the same time – that I thought you were avoiding me and I avoided you.”
Jay thought for a second, then spoke in a really quiet voice, “You want to know why I was maybe happy you were avoiding me?”
CaraBelle got still, then nodded slowly. She waited for Jay to continue.
“When we were eating lunch, it felt like you were looking right through me. Creeped me out. Almost like I was looking into a mirror. I didnt want you to see some stuff in me… ” Jay stopped.
“Ummm, that I think I could have stopped Keisha from dying. I got stopped on the way out of the computer lab by the head of maths, I should have gone, should have ignored him and I’d have got to her in time. They did something to her car and I could have stopped it from happening.” She burst into tears. She felt arms wrap around her and CaraBelle cried with her. Eventually silence fell and the tears dried up. They both sat quietly for a few moments.
“OK, Jay, I have a confession to make.”
“It’s related to yours again, dont blame me, it just is…”
Jay sighed, waving her hand for CaraBelle to continue.
“Well, I knew you blamed yourself for Keisha’s death. I saw that all along. I could feel it across the room when you stood there unable to come back. The mountain of pain hung there and it made me cry. I tried reaching through it but it’s like you had erected a wall or something.”
Jay frowned, “You felt it?”
CaraBelle nodded, “Yes. I dont know how or why but I can sense – mostly by feeling it myself – other people’s feelings. They always said I was ‘easily led’ when I was young but that was just me reflecting other people’s feelings, or accomodating them when I see the really strong ones.” she began unbuttoning her light blue blous, “I cant influence others no matter how much I try though. That’s not all though … ” the blouse slipped off and she reached behind and popped her bra fastening open and wriggled her shoulders. She sighed happily.
Jay’s eyes got wide and her mouth fell open as two patches of air shimmered outward from CaraBelle’s back, delicate gossamer wings with beautiful, ever shifting rainbow patterns just like a soap bubble. The wingspan was around five feet from wingtip to wingtip. CaraBelle wriggled her shoulder blades and sighed happily, the sigh of someone who’s finally got a pair of ill-fitting shoes off and is walking on soft carpet, wriggling toes. CaraBelle’s bra obviously kept the wings contained most of the time.
“Whoa!” was all Jay could manage.
“When I was growing up my parents would call me their little angel. They told me I was special. I never knew how special until they started to form. For a while I had bigger bumps on my back than on my chest! Then it was like getting your grown-up teeth – hurt as the skin broke to let them out. They’d been all furled up under the skin and it was scary to stretch them out and see how big they were right away but it felt kinda good too. Actually, it felt really intense. I can feel the air moving over them. The sensations of opening them the first few times were … uhhh ….” she blushed.
Jay giggled, “Oh, really?”
CaraBelle’s blush deepened, “Anyhow, that’s my big secret. Of all the people in the school, we three sat together all the time. We’re connected. I know that you and Keisha have a gift, it cant just be me!”
Jay nodded slowly. “A gift? She’d going to think I’m insane when I tell her.” she thought.
The two girls sat quiet and still for a few moments. CaraBelle was the first to move, drawing her impossibly translucent, gossamer thin wings back, folding them neatly against her back and re-fastening her bra across them. She pulled her blouse back on, watching Jay, waiting for her to speak. The look of awe and wonder wasnt what she was expecting. The secret was easy to cover and easily kept but finally she was able to be free, finally someone knew, and it was uplifting to her. She wished Jay could feel what she did, wished there was a way to transmit it to her, a download directly into her head. It felt so good to connect back with her friend again and somewhere in the back of her brain she registered that there was a connection. It felt true to speak of them as connected. As she concentrated on the connectedness and noticed Jay relaxing, her smile growing. Was that the key? Did she lack the connection to most people that would be the conduit for emotion?
Jay knew she needed to tell CaraBelle more. They had gone in stages moving from small confessions to the bigger ones and each time she’d felt better. Sessions with Doctor Pomona werent half as effective at lifting her terrible mood! The urge to spill everything rose within her to unbearable levels and with it an insistent positive glow of approval. She let the silence hang a moment, trying to make herself see the green overlay. It wasnt coming.
“Its hard. I want to show you…” she started.
Every time she’d done this before she’d been zoning out, dissociating as Doctor Pomona had corrected her, not completely connected to the world around her. There had been the Voice too. Jay wondered if that might be the key. She sighed. If only it were as easy as undressing and unfurling wings!
CaraBelle smiled, “Jay, we’re connected. Do you feel that?”
Jay frowned, remembering dancing to Cascada. Connections. CaraBelle was right, there was a connection. It was hazy, a few dust motes catching on additional friction in the air, but she could see it without the dissociation! With a burst of faith she reached out a hand and ran fingertips down the side of CaraBelle’s glass of Sprite. The bubbles began violating gravity and going downward just as she’d wanted them to.
“Oh, you have control over soda?” CaraBelle giggled.
Jay’s eyes remained focussed on the drink, clearly a little surprised at what she’d just accomplished, “No, it’s everything. When I zone out it’s like I see something else, something under the surface, something other people dont. I can mess with it. Remember the soda machine in the caffeteria and I gave you your money back?”
CaraBelle nodded, “It’s still broken.”
“No, not broken. I just tweaked how it works deep inside, in the green.”
Jay looked up from the Sprite, “When we met at the gym, I’d been experimenting – with the green – while I was running.”
Without warning the glass of soda sprayed Sprite over them both, all of the downward bubbles erupting to the surface at once after Jay’s concentration on them had lapsed. They squealed and the absurdity of the situation left them gasping once the laughter subsided.