Pay the Piper – Chapter Fourteen

“You’re hiding something.”

“Aurora…”

“Don’t call me that, Trevor, you know I don’t like it.” I grimaced, from anyone else it would have sounded like a calm request, from Aurora it almost came off as whining. “I’m here to keep your mind centered and healthy and I can’t do it if you won’t let me have a clear look at you.”

I brushed her hands away from my temples and sat up on the bed. “Well I don’t know why the Constellations sent you and not an actual psychologist with the Gift. Your expertise is in bodily health, not mental health.”

“Because I’ve had a crush on you off and on for the past thirteen years, that’s why. It’s not like it’s a secret, Trevor.” Again, it was a rebuke but one that even psychometrics who hadn’t known her for years would miss. “It makes me more attenuated to your mental state and I’m already an expert on what counts as normalcy for you. If you’d actually visit a psychologist maybe there would be one who already had a baseline understanding of you they could send. But you don’t, so they sent me.”

Okay, so that part was my doing. “If you know it so well, why is it taking so long to clear me?”

“Clear you for what?” Aurora climbed up off the bed and moved over to a chair where she sat a little more comfortably. “I already told you, you’re not going back out today. You were just came out of a twenty four hour trance. You need to recover.”

“There’s no time for that, Aurora. Something’s happening out there and it’s picking up steam, not slowing down.”

“Then you’d better rest up while you can.” She straightened the skirt of her economical linen dress and said, “Tell me what happened again, from the start.”

I knew better than to try and move her when she was in this kind of mood so I did as asked and ran her through the weird look I’d had at the inside of my own head. I did my best to keep my mental defenses down as I did it, mental walls are something all of the Gifted live with but there is a need to pull them down from time to time and I was willing to do it for Aurora, even if I didn’t like it much. By the time I was done she was nodding along like she’d gotten some kind of insight. I wasn’t sure what but I wasn’t going to push her on it, either. I did want to go back to work some time this decade, after all, and if Aurora did have the ear of the psychometric elders she could make sure it didn’t happen. If she was feeling hostile.

Not that she would. I could tell, there was a clear current of sympathy at my forced inaction running under her conscious thought process. Doubtless born of her being shoved into a role she wasn’t best suited to, even if it was one which she was happy to do. We both knew all these things about the other’s conscious and subconscious reasoning. We were just ignoring it, for the sake of privacy.

Most conversations between the Gifted go like this. It’s one of the reasons we tend to live at a distance from our own kind as well as everyone else. It’s very difficult to maintain healthy relationships when you can’t give one another space.

And yes, that’s why Aurora and I are not a couple. I can read your mind, too.

After finishing my story Aurora made me lie down and I actually drifted off to sleep in fairly short order. It turns out that fugue trances are not very restful and I was quite tired. I woke up to an empty room but Aurora was not gone as I’d originally thought. She’d just moved to the in suite kitchenette and was making dinner. As I watched her quietly measuring and stirring and boiling I marveled at her ability to find happiness in what she was doing. She was making food, the food satisfy the two of us and that made her happy.

For all her deep understanding of the human mind and body, for all her deep and overwhelming sense of peace, for all her seemingly limitless compassion for people, at her core she’s a simple person. Perhaps that’s the source of her equanimity. Stripped down to her simplest goals in that moment I could see past the emotional reservoir that usually surrounded her to the physical person beneath. Straight, almost stringy brown hair in a pony tail, rosy cheeks, a graceful neck. And a very round face. Not quite Natalie’s eye-popping figure but overall very nice. I wondered how many of her patients had looked up from a hospital bed and proposed on the spot. With her aura of calm I’m sure she struck most people as a supernatural visitor to begin with.

“Stop it.” She didn’t bother looking up from the food she was working on. “Come and eat.”

I don’t argue with that tone of voice.

We’d finished loading the dishwasher and I was just thinking about trying to sneak onto the Net and find some news on the case when Aurora asked, “Trevor, are you happy?”

I hesitated, the dishwasher door half closed in one hand. “Happy?”

For the third time today there was a crack in her calm. “Happy, Trevor. You know, is doing all this getting you any closer to what you want?”

“What I want?” I laughed. “No one gets what they want, Aurora. I’m just trying to do something that makes life better for others.”

The crack opened a bit wider, filling with exasperation. “Of course. But you could be building something. Teaching people. You could-“

“I’ve never been any good at those things, Betty. I can’t build, I can’t teach. So I protect. I try and stop people from tearing down. In the long run, I think that’s the only meaningful thing I can do with my life.” I closed the dishwasher and set it running.

“Do you ever wish it was different?”

“Used to. Almost fell into a Gap – nothing good comes of thinking that way, Betty.” I shook my head, catching the slip of the tongue too late to call it back. I’d had this kind of conversation with Aurora dozens of times when we were younger, before life took us to different places. “You can’t like suffering along with all your patients every day, right? But it’s the price we pay to make a better world.”

Her exasperation drained away, replaced with deep weariness. With me or the world at large I couldn’t tell. “What if you don’t like the world at all?”

Well, that answered that. Unfortunately her question wasn’t as easy for me to respond to. I thought about it, then walked over to the hallway door.

“Trevor, you can’t go back to work.” The crack was closed and normal Aurora was back. And she was quite adamant about my staying away from the job.

“Not to worry. I’m not going there.”

She wavered a moment because it was obvious to her that I was telling the truth. “Then where are you going?”

“Where are we going.” I pulled the door open. “And we are going for a walk.”

“A walk?”

“Yes.” I held out a hand like a butler. “After you?”

For a moment she struggled with the invitation. Like most of us, Aurora didn’t like large groups of strangers, which was what you found on most streets these days. But after a moment’s internal debate she steeled herself and came along. Something was bothering Aurora, something more than just the case and what I was doing in it. I had a day off from the FBI. I might as well try and figure out what it was.

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