The next day greeted me with bright summer sunshine. I sat up in bed, begrudgingly, and wiped the sleep from my eyes. I would have loved nothing more than to pull the blanket back over my head, but I had deadlines to meet.
Staring in the mirror while I tied my hair up, I smirked, remembering Katie’s response to Benny last night. It was no wonder she was so interested in my scandalous relationship. In my pajamas and no make-up, I could easily pass as a teenager. Not that I was nearing retirement age or anything. I was old enough to legally live on my own though, despite my appearance implying otherwise.
Oh right, Katie. I had given her an open invitation to visit today. Crinkling my nose up at my reflection, I decided to pull my hair back down, and attempted to use my fingers to smooth it out. It had an annoying natural wave. The kind that couldn’t decide between being straight or curly, and always looked like I’d just crawled out of bed. Which, to be fair, was exactly what I had just done, so maybe I was expecting too much from it. Wearing it up was much less work than trying to actually style it though. Unfortunately, I had a birthmark the size of a dime on my neck, just behind my ear. Two thin, dark lines curved down the center. Otherwise it was a perfect circle. When I went out, I usually kept my hair down to hide it. Most people mistook it as a burn scar because of the shape and coloring, and I really didn’t like having to engage in conversation about it.
I thought about changing into something more presentable, since my shorts and slouchy t-shirt were barely a step-up from pajamas. I settled on applying eyeliner instead. Nothing fancy, just a quick black outline to bring out the dark rim of my gray eyes and give the impression I actually saw myself in a mirror this morning. After feeling reasonably satisfied that I looked old enough to drive a car, I went to make tea and get to work.
Creative endeavors usually yield the best results when you let inspiration take you. It’s important to get ideas on paper immediately, so they aren’t lost in the shuffle of your daily thoughts. Too bad I’m a procrastinator. So much of my work lately had been rushed from me running out of time. As a result, I had ended up on a storyline for my comic I didn’t really love, and I was struggling to figure out how to get myself out of it. I had recently given the main character a love interest, which started out strong. Unfortunately, my own natural tendencies to avoid relationships had interfered with my writing. That, combined with waiting until the last minute, had caused the characters to get into an epic argument during the last strip. It’s not what I wanted to happen, but my mind couldn’t find a way back to my original idea.
When the doorbell rang, I jumped. I looked down at my incomplete panel with disappointment. It was just as well, those damn purple plates infested all of my sketches and I was no closer to resolving the conflict than I had been last night. I slowly made my way to the door with a tablet in one hand, and my stylus between my teeth. I opened the front door without looking up and was greeted with a rude and unfamiliar voice.
Instinctively, I looked down at my feet, then back up. What kind of person doesn’t like fuzzy socks? The expression on my face was confused and, I hoped, very unfriendly. It was even more unfriendly when my eyes landed on the person the voice belonged to. The blond girl standing in front of me had perfect skin, pouting lips, and a tiny nose sporting a small diamond stud. All of which would have been appealing, if she wasn’t looking at me like she’d just scraped me off the bottom of her shoe.
I took the stylus out of my mouth, flicking it between my fingers. “Who the hell are you?”
Katie stepped out from behind the girl. “She’s my friend. The one I was telling you about last night.”
“Right.” Probably while I was dealing with Benny. I looked the other girl up and down with mild interest, biting my tongue to keep from making any sarcastic comments. “Well, come in, then.”
Katie smiled and nearly tripped skipping into the house. Her friend walked past me with a smirk, swaying her hips. She then stretched out on my sofa, attempting to appear like she was lounging. Instead, she was obviously stiff and uncomfortable in her skimpy dress. She gave me a similar appraisal that I’d already given her, one that started with my toes and ended in annoyance at my face. This interaction was reminding me why I avoided people. Especially teenagers.
In contrast to her friend, Katie looked extra sweet with her hair pinned up in two buns on either side of her head, the bangs tucked behind her ears. In the daylight her hair was closer to a dark blond than brown, and she had a faint spattering of freckles across her skin. The excitement on her face was so pure it was nearly blinding. She plopped comfortably onto the sofa, tucking her feet under her. “This is Jessie.” She gestured toward the other girl with her hands. “Jessie this is…Oh.” Katie blushed several dark shades of red. “I never asked your name.”
I smiled. “Don’t feel bad. It was late, and I didn’t give it.” I chose to sit on the arm of the sofa, keeping a safe distance from them both. I was still thrumming with Katie’s energy from last night. Jessie’s soul was barely noticeable in comparison, but the angst coming off her was enough to ward me away. I didn’t need any help feeling sarcastic and anti-social. I did that well enough on my own.
Katie smiled brightly again.
“Are you planning on giving it any time soon?” Jessie retorted.
I didn’t bother looking at Jessie as I answered, “Senlis.”
“Saw-lees?” both girls repeated my name, butchering the inflection.
“Yeah.” In French, traditionally the en is a nasal sound, but no one had pronounced it correctly since my grandfather, and I had long since given up trying to teach people. Before she passed away, someone had allowed my grandmother to name me after the place she and my grandfather had met. It seems like a sweet notion, until you have to live with it.
“That’s an odd name,” Jessie said.
Katie shushed her friend “I think it’s pretty. Does it mean anything?”
“It’s just a family name.”
“It would have to be,” Jessie snorted.
“You can call me Sen, it’s easier,” I offered to Katie.
“Sin, like, s-i-n?” Jessie scrunched her nose in distaste.
“Oh my god, yes! Sin, I love it!” Katie squealed.
“No, that’s not…” I started to protest.
“Oh! What are you drawing?” Katie snatched the tablet from my hand. Her ability to bounce between topics left me almost breathless. Plus, she was still leaking her aura all over the place, just like last night. Benny was going to have a heyday later. “Hey, I’ve seen this before.” She leaned into Jessie, who looked over with mild interest. “This is a character from the Coffee Shop Medleys comic.”
Jessie reviewed my sketches, blinking her blue eyes in a sign of boredom, and shrugged. “That’s a bad attempt at drawing her. I wouldn’t quit my day job if I were you.”
Raising my eyebrow in response, I replied, “Barely old enough to drive and you’re an art critic. Impressive.”
Jessie’s response was to flutter and roll her eyes at me.
Katie laughed at the other girl. Then a spark of realization lit up her face. “Jessie, this is her day job. She’s S. Helleu!”
Jessie looked up at me sharply. She opened her mouth, shut it, then opened it again. “I thought you were a guy.”
“Most people do.” I watched her face flush at my steady smirk.
Katie’s giggling made us both turn to look at her. She looked up from the screen. “I love the plates!”
I gave her a small smile and shrugged. “Sorry. I was dreaming about them all night. Couldn’t get it out of my head.”
“I think it’s great! You should keep them.”
“Yeah?” I leaned over her shoulder to look at the comic layout.
Jessie just looked back and forth between the two of us with a perplexed look on her face. “Plates?”
“It’s a private joke.” Katie grinned at me and beamed over the little purple doodles.
“This is just a sketch, of course. I have to line and color it,” I offered to Katie.
“Amazing,” she said, pouring over the images. Jessie was already bored and had pulled out her phone.
“Katie, do you or Jessie want something to eat or drink? I haven’t had breakfast yet.” I started to wander off to the kitchen.
“Sure! What do you have in mind?” She jumped up from the sofa to follow me.
“It’s past lunch time.” Jessie snorted.
“I’m a night owl.”
“Makes sense,” Katie said. “You’re an artist, they’re always on crazy schedules.”
I smiled at her, not contradicting her explanation. It beat saying, “My pet ghost controls my sleep schedule.”
Jessie rolled her eyes. “Fine. Do you have any sparkling water?”
With Katie practically skipping on my heels, I went to make something to eat.
“Do you like eggs?” I asked.
I went to the refrigerator and pulled out the eggs, cheese and milk.
“What plans are the two of you up to today?” I spoke to Katie over my shoulder.
“We’re going to hang out with some friends later. Jessie’s waiting for a text on where we’re meeting up.”
“She seems friendly.” I smirked as I poured milk into a pan on the stove.
“She’s harmless. She’s just a little salty around people she doesn’t know. It’s a defense mechanism.”
“That’s understandable.” Completely untrue, but it would have been understandable if it wasn’t. Jessie’s aura was not in the least bit insecure or uncomfortable. She was just that annoyed with the entire world around her.
“Our moms have been friends forever. Jessie keeps me around when she really doesn’t have to,” she added in defense. I expected to feel some sadness or insecurity escape her with that explanation. Instead, she seemed to just accept and believe it as a truth. Nothing to be mourned, just reality. How strange.
I was cutting a slice of parmesan to shred as Katie came up to inspect. She watched me intensely, as if she’d never seen anyone use a kitchen knife before. She leaned so close her arm brushed mine and I felt a jolt of electricity come off of her. As she jumped back, I could feel her heart begin to race in response.
“Sorry, I think I shocked you. I’m like a walking static electricity generator,” she said, rubbing her arm where we had touched. The way she shed energy around her, it was no surprise her skin would react that way to me. However, the fact she recognized it was absolutely notable. I should have assumed that was going to be the case, after she so easily sensed Benny last night. As I opened my mouth to say something, Jessie sauntered into the room.
“So, should I just get that drink myself?” she asked.
“Fridge is over there.” I nodded in the general direction, my eyes still on Katie and her arm.
Jessie took her bottled drink and returned to the living room, where she could continue to ignore us. I decided now probably wasn’t a good time to drill Katie on her unusual reactions, so I focused on cooking breakfast. Based on Katie’s description of high school, I was putting her around sixteen. I was just under that when the world shifted on me. I went from being a casual introvert to it being a necessity of my survival. I couldn’t come in contact with another person without inadvertently absorbing part of their soul. It was a tough transition. Not that I’d been particularly touchy feely before that, I took after my grandfather in that regard. But sometimes just being near someone, even with no contact, was enough to lose my control. Especially back then. Maybe Katie was going through something similar. I could tell from our limited interactions that she didn’t have the exact same “talents” I did, but the amount of energy her aura spun off probably came with its own complications.
Katie stayed and watched me move around the kitchen for ingredients, carefully keeping her distance. Eventually, I poured the mixture into a red two-quart soufflé dish and put it in the oven. “There. Hopefully you’ll still be here when it’s done.”
Katie smiled. “Oh, I’ll make Jessie stay for this. My mom doesn’t cook,” she said. Imagine my surprise at that revelation.
“Mine didn’t either.”
“Are you close with your mom?” she asked quietly.
“Not at all. My grandfather raised me.”
Katie didn’t stop to ask why. Just nodded at the information. “Is he nice?”
I laughed. “He was, but only to me.” My grandfather had been a surly old man who didn’t like people. To outsiders, he probably seemed cold, and overly stern to be raising a child. In truth, he was over-indulgent, and I loved him dearly for it. “What about you? Your parents don’t seem to like each other much, but how do you feel about them?”
Katie smirked and leaned with her elbows on the counter, her back against the cabinets. “My mom’s alright. She was better before my stepdad, but it could be worse.”
It was my turn to nod. That explained why Katie had so easily accepted that I was raised by my grandfather. Kids who grow up with both their parents are always more curious about where yours are. It’s not a bad thing, it just breaks from their accepted norm and they want to understand it. Since Katie didn’t mention her dad, I made the assumption she either didn’t know him or something had happened. I didn’t poke for information. She could tell me if she wanted to share.
“What about Benny?” Katie asked.
“What about him?”
“I assume you’re both pretty close?” she pried.
I laughed. “Sort of. He crashes here at night, but it’s not what you think.” Really, not what you think.
“I get it. I sleep at Jessie’s a lot. It’s nice to have that kind of friend.”
We stood silently in the kitchen, until Jessie’s voice hollered from the other room, “Katie, we’ve gotta go!”
“Oh, no, we don’t.” Katie started into the living room and I touched her arm softly, guarding myself so her body wouldn’t have the same reaction as earlier.
“Why don’t you go ahead and go? This keeps really well in the fridge. Maybe you could come back later, and we can pick up our conversation without Jessie’s delightful personality to interrupt?” I smiled at her.
“Oh, uhm… Are you sure?” Katie looked back into the living room.
“Alright. Thanks for having us over. What time should I swing by later?”
“I have a few things to do but they should only take a couple of hours. Otherwise I’m here all night. Pop in whenever,” I said.
“Thanks.” She gave me another quick smile and then hurried away to gather Jessie up, and they started out the front door.
I watched them from the patio window, Katie waved as she closed the gate to the yard. Jessie sauntered off without a backward glance. They left me waiting for my breakfast to finish cooking, and to continue to ponder just how much information I should share with Katie about her “static electricity.” I picked up the tablet, my disappointment returning. I still didn’t have a completed comic to submit. Maybe I really would send in the dishes.
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