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“Are. You. Insane.”

Taylor was on his arm like a leash on a dog. This was probably the most agitated Matt had ever seen him; his shoulders were arched and his eyes darted around the hallway as they strode towards fifth period. Suddenly, they were the centre of attention – people stopping, pointing, whispering to one another. Him directly, Taylor vicariously through being beside him. Matt kind of loved him for that, being loyal enough to walk into the centre of a maelstrom. If he’d been less practised controlling his thoughts, Taylor’s agitation might have been contagious, but Matt just concentrated on walking and breathing as calmly as possible.

“She. Is. A. Goddamn-!”

“Empath. She’s an empath. So what?” He tried to avoid looking back at a scale-skinned girl who was gawking open-mouthed at him as they passed.

“So what?!” hissed Taylor, “So-” he loosed a string of profanity, “-what?! You know what those people can do!”

“And I know she’s not going to do it. I know.” He said it firmly, like he believed it.

“You don’t-” Taylor stopped suddenly. He stared at Matt. “You know?”

“I know. Hundred percent. Heart of hearts.”

A steady stream of staring faces continued past them.

“You’re sure? Like not even a little-?”

“No doubt. Not an inch. Nobody here needs to be afraid of her.”

“Man…” Taylor glanced around at either side, then gritted his teeth and breathed out a torrent of swear words.

“Ok. Alright. Ok. I trust…” He looked at him, face hard. “I don’t trust her. But man, I mean, this is your thing, right?”

“It is.”

“Seeing stuff, being right, this is… this is what you do!”

“You know it is.”

“Alright. Ok. Alright. I trust you. I trust you, and if you say it, it’s on point, that’s your thing, you…” He shook his head and looked at Matt almost pleadingly. “But do you have to go sitting with her man, I mean come on-”

Matt shrugged. “I’m sorry man. I just see it how I see it. I’ve got to hang around, she’s got a part to play in my future.”

“It’s not tempting-?”

“Fate? I’m a clairvoyant numbnuts, I own fate.”

“Yeah...” Taylor let out a big, pent-up breath. He was wavering. “Yeah, I suppose, right, if you know, yeah, it wouldn’t be…” He shook his head. “Just, damn man, you know I gotta worry ‘bout my boy. You know I love you.”

“Gay.”

“Screw you, I hope she murders your ass.”

“Bet you twenty bucks she won’t.”

*****

The staring didn’t let up in fifth period, but the silence did. Even muted, Matt’s phone was buzzing so much he could have used it to seduce bees. He spent the entire fifty-minute class with his eyes buried in his lap, tapping out replies to the torrent of messages as fast as he could while remaining inconspicuous.

No shes not a murderer shes just new felt sry 4 her. Shes cool all g

Luckily, he’d manage to snag a desk second row from the back, which put him out of Mrs Colbert’s immediate attention without looking like he was trying to hide. The only downside of this was that it meant Abby Sanders sitting behind him was able to keep tapping him on the shoulder and trying to hand him scraps of paper. Matt kept waving her away as discretely as he could.

No notes dude just msg srsly whats wrong w u fug

Whatever historical event they were supposed to be learning about today, Matt didn’t gleam a bar of it, although he was quietly grateful that Mrs Colbert had the good sense not to decide right now was the perfect time to revisit the Black Death and Africa.

Im not tryna bang her u idiot just eat lunch say hi. She at our tbl. Not dangerous no prob

Thank God his phone had unlimited messaging. He snapped out a reply to Rebecca Grayson, who was asking if his nose had been bleeding, implying he’d been psychically possessed. Him, honestly. And this coming from Rebecca Grayson, the same girl whose mental defences their Thought Protection teacher had described as “paper-esque”. The nerve.

A+ in ment def rmbr? Im not stupid, shes not even psy

Technically, Matt didn’t know if the new girl had telepathy or not. Actually, he didn’t know what she could do. Jeez, he didn’t even know her last name. That was a bit of an oversight.

Dude relax dont worry know wat im doing

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. Dear Lord. What had he gotten himself into?

*****

The girl’s full name, it turned out, was Jane Walker. He’d learnt that when his science teacher Mr Swaim had, his eyes very much averted and with much adjustment of his bowtie, called the roll in sixth period. Still buried in his phone, Matt had been very nearly late, and upon entering had found the entire lab fixated on one bench up the back, its sole occupant, and her glaring spikey ‘E’. Suppressing a sigh, Matt had dutifully hitched his book-bag up on his shoulder, pulled himself a little straighter, walked right over and sat next to her.

Jane had just glared.

If it had been any other new student starting the teacher might have introduced them, asked them where they were from, all that boring kindergarten stuff. As it stood, Matt was actually impressed Mr Swaim even said the empath’s name – the coward’s way out would have been to just ignore her or skip rollcall entirely, but despite his quivering and unseasonable build-up of sweat, the young teacher hadn’t.

Jane, of course, didn’t seem to care about making it any easier either. The girl didn’t say a word to him all lesson, which was quite a feat considering they were setting up an experiment together. She also, as an aside, resoundingly sucked at Science – she clamped the wrong cable onto the electrode and her answers to the written questions were so poor Matt had eventually just taken the sheet off her and done them all himself. “Do you want a hand with those?” he’d asked politely, but Jane had just scowled and kept on writing copper as ‘CO’. So she was definitely stubborn, and possibly stupid. Great.

*****

The girl disappeared after class and Matt made no attempt to follow her. Still enduring the many stares, he’d packed up his belongings and trudged out past the suspicious gazes of the security staff and onto a bus where he was just as irritatingly ogled as he had been all afternoon. After twenty uncomfortable minutes Matt Callaghan managed to escape the whispers of his onlookers and finally found himself, for the first time in hours, in the company of someone completely oblivious to his new-found celebrity-pariah status.

“Ice cream?” Sarah asked, immediately and predictably, her Powerpuff Girls backpack bouncing on her shoulders.

“No,” her brother replied, annoyed and stressed. His phone was still vibrating like it was trying to burrow its way through his right butt cheek. “I’m broke.”

“You’re ok.” Sarah hugged his leg.

“No, Sare that means…” Matt sighed, then gave up and smiled down at her in spite of himself.

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About the author

Benjamin Keyworth

  • Australia

Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).

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