KAI Tallman Michalski stood at her kitchen sink looking out the window. In daytime she would have seen mesquite, tumbleweed, and the pale grasses of winter stretched across land as flat as her frying pan. But it was after eight o'clock at night in late January, and her apartment complex perched at the very edge of town. Beyond the reach of the parking area's lights, across the wide road that ran along the back of the complex, darkness waited.
Lightning stitched from one black-hung pocket of sky to the next. Eight seconds later, thunder rambled like a giant's empty belly.
Her own belly tightened.
"Where's your plastic wrap?"
She twitched all over like a nervous horse.
"Chill," Jackie said. "It's just me."
Kai turned away from the window to see her friend standing in a tiny kitchen aglow with color. Ghostly patterns swam through the air, some soft as a soap bubble, some so vibrant they seemed almost solid.
She clenched her fist, digging her fingernails into her palm. Pain was a quick way to focus—handy, too, since it was always available. The colors faded to a transparent overlay, barely visible. "Sorry. I phased out watching the storm rolling in on us. Listen, y'all don't have to clean up."
Jackie rolled her eyes. The transparent sea around her was olive shaded with royal blue. Small, discrete shapes swam in her colors like agitated minnows. "Plastic wrap," she repeated. She jiggled the platter she held, still half-full of broccoli, carrots, and bell pepper.
As usual, the vegetables had gone largely unappreciated. Kai always put them out—she liked them, even if no one else did. "In the bottom drawer by thestove. But there isn't much mess, and the storm—"
"Now, Kai." A chunky blonde zipped through the arch between the kitchen and the living area, her hands full of glasses. The colors swimming around her were as quick and lively as her hands as she plunked glasses in the dishwasher. Ginger was twenty years older than Kai and Jackie, but she didn't move like it. "That storm will bother you a lot more than it does us. You need to learn to accept help gracefully, like Jackie does."
Kai's smile stretched across her face, slow and amused. "Jackie does almost everything gracefully. Then she opens her mouth."
"Hey." Jackie's eyebrows lifted above eyes almost the same warm mocha as her skin. "You think I can't chew on my foot gracefully?"
Ginger patted the taller woman on the arm. "We love you anyway, sweetie. So," she said, ripping off a paper towel and turning on the water to dampen it. "Y'all are going to the rally tomorrow, right?"
"Count me out." Jackie's colors looked upset, the shapes breaking up and re-forming. "If what Kai said about those two people who were killed is true—"
"It is," Kai said quietly, opening the refrigerator to put away three unopened Cokes and two cans of Dr. Pepper. "You won't read about it in the paper, but they were both Gifted."
"So we're supposed to band together and march in public, demanding our rights?" Jackie snorted. "Might as well hang a sign around my neck:
Gifted here. Come get me
. Even if the psycho who whacked those two people doesn't come after me, other nulls might. Like my boss. Or the idiots in Reverend Barclay's congregation. Bet they'd be thrilled to know exactly who to hate."
"We've got to do
." Ginger was uncharacteristically serious. "We can't let them march us off a cliff without speaking up."
"Not everyone has your nerve," Kai said. "But I suppose I'll go. If you…" Her voice trailed off.
Jackie's colors were too jumpy, too dark. She was a deeply reluctant medium who did her best not to contact the dead, but sometimes they pushed their way in. "Hey." She put a hand on Jackie's shoulder. "What's wrong? Is one of the dearly departed giving you a hard time?"
"No. It's nothing. Here." Jackie thrust the wrapped veggies at her.
Deliberate lies were snot green. Something was wrong, but Jackie didn't want to talk about it, so she lied.
Kai didn't call her on it. She accepted the platter and found room for it in the refrigerator. People lied in so many ways, for so many reasons. Most lies weren't malicious. People dodged the truth to spare someone's feelings, to avoid long explanations, to get what they wanted, to fit in, to avoid the consequences of their actions.
Kai knew that good people lied, sometimes for good reasons. She just wished they'd stop. Which, of course, made her quite the hypocrite. She might only lie about
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Hans Joachim Alpers
Hans Joachim (Hrsg.) Alpers