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Authors note:

Once again, I extend my heartfelt thanks to neuroparenthetical for taking the time to untangle my tenses and re-conjugate my verbs. The fact that his patience has lasted so long is a testament to his fortitude – or maybe strong liquor [alas, my body can barely tolerate sugar these days, let alone anything stronger – ed.]

As usual, I couldn’t resist tampering with his finished article, so any errors, real or imagined, are mine and mine alone.
Caleb 24 – Rachel

I traveled with Jamie back to the house. She looked impressed when she pulled onto the drive.

“Jules’ father must really like you,” she observed. “This is one heck of a house.”

I determined to have words with Jules later about that. I hadn’t known that Pops had actually made me the legal owner of the house, thinking he had bought it for his daughter. I had assumed that once we were finished with it, he would either resell at a profit or rent it out.

Rachel was sitting in the kitchen when we entered. She looked nervous when she saw Jamie but steeled herself and stood. Jamie, for her part, looked Rachel up and down. I guessed that she was trying to see if she had been hurt in any way.

Jamie looked at me. “Is there somewhere private that Rachel and I can talk?” she asked.

“You could go out onto the deck,” I suggested, “or into her room.”

“Let’s go to my room,” said Rachel. “The others will be back soon, and I don’t want them not to be able to sit out on the deck. It’s a nice day.”

The others arrived home while Rachel and Jamie were talking, and we sat out on the deck, chatting and catching up on our days. About forty minutes later, Rachel came out onto the deck.

“Caleb,” she said. “Jamie asked if she could talk to you.”

I followed Rachel back into her room. Jamie was sitting on the chair. Rachel had been obviously sitting on the bed, as there were no other seats in the room. Rachel closed the door behind us and sat once again on the bed. I, for the moment, remained standing.

“You didn’t just stumble across Rachel, did you?” asked Jamie, her voice accusing.

I shook my head. “When you told me that the dean had had family trouble,” I explained, “I did some digging. It took me no time at all to find out about Rachel.”

Jamie nodded. “Okay, I can accept that,” she said. “But how did you find her? The police weren’t interested, and I’m sure that Steve Jackson didn’t tell you.”

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my FBI ID. “I had help,” I said, “but it was all off the record, so they wouldn’t admit to it even if you asked.”

Jamie looked at my ID. “You’re a consultant with the FBI?” she asked in amazement.

I nodded.

“What exactly does a college student consult the FBI about?”

“I’m not really supposed to talk about it,” I said, “but it does mean that sometimes I can find things, or people, that perhaps may be difficult for others to find.”

“Why?” asked Rachel.

“Why what?” I asked.

“Why did you come and look for me?” she queried. “You didn’t know me. My dad was harassing you about whatever. What made you come to find me?”

“Your dad had nothing to do with it,” I said. “I heard that there was someone who might be in trouble, and I wanted to make sure they were okay. If, when I had found you, you had been happily shacked up with some dude, then you would never even have known I was there.”

“You wouldn’t have told my dad?” she asked.

I shook my head. “You are a big girl, Rachel,” I said. “I only wanted to make sure you were safe. If you had been, then, like I said, you and I would never have met.”

“Rachel showed me all the stuff you bought her,” Jamie said. “That was a lot of money to spend on a complete stranger.”

I grinned. “You remember Jules telling you that her Daddy was rich?” I asked. “Well imagine how a rich, grateful father would treat the boy he thinks saved his baby girl’s life. The house wasn’t the only gift. The money I spent on Rachel didn’t even register.”

That was obviously not true, but I thought it was an easier explanation than the truth, which was something that people had a real issue believing existed: true altruism. I really didn’t want anything from Rachel - or her father, for that matter. My motivations had been exactly what I had said they were.

“I don’t think I believe you,” said Jamie. “Oh, I believe Jules’s father gave you the house, and maybe money too, but you started that hypnotherapy business because you needed money. I actually think you did it for another reason.”

“You think I want something from her,” I asked, “or her father?”

Jamie shook her head. “No,” she said gently. “I believe that you did it because it was the right thing to do, and that you are hiding that fact because you know that the world is too cynical to accept that as motivation for anyone these days.

“Rachel told me she offered herself to you - both when she first arrived and then again this morning. You turned her down both times. Why?”

“If she told you that,” I answered, “then she told you what I said to her at the time. I didn’t lie to her. I wasn’t about to take advantage of a terrified and defeated woman. She didn’t want sex that first night; she just wanted her nightmare to be over. I needed to show her it already was. As for this morning, well, Rachel has been through a lot. I am not going to exploit someone vulnerable. If a lively, well-adjusted, happy and whole Rachel invited me to her bed, then I’d be there in a shot. But I don’t think this Rachel is quite there yet.”

“And how would your other girlfriends react to that?” she asked.

“Amanda and Mary would probably join in,” I said, “as long as Rachel was okay with that. Jules would watch.”

Jamie shook her head. “You have a very unusual arrangement.”

“We all love each other,” I said. “That’s what makes it work.”

“Rachel asked me to tell you that it was all right for you and her to have sex,” Jamie said, still barely believing she was uttering the words. “I can’t do that. As you rightly pointed out, she is still confused and emotional. So much has happened to her over the last three months.”

I nodded. “I figured as much.”

“So, when do you want me to move out?” asked Rachel.

“The day you feel that you want to, and have somewhere safe to go. We’re here for at least another two years. If it is going to be longer, then we’ll have to figure something out.”

“And how is she going to pay for that?” asked Jamie.

“The house is paid for,” I said. “It costs no more with six living here than five. Rachel did eat a lot the first day, but she’s leveling out now. She’s not that expensive to keep. I don’t know her, but I suspect that once she finds her feet, she’ll want to get herself a job, and possibly find her own place. When she’s ready, we’ll help her move. Until then, she has us.”

“Can I still sleep in your bed?” asked Rachel.

Jamie’s eyes widened. I don’t think Rachel had told her about that.

“Rachel got scared sleeping alone,” I explained. “Her first night, Jules went and slept with her, but Jules wasn’t happy being separated from the rest of us. So, Rachel slept in with us last night. And the answer, Rachel, is yes - on condition that you promise me that I am not going to wake up inside of you one morning.”

“Just how big is your bed?” asked Jamie.

I grinned. “Sometimes, not quite big enough,” I said, but then I took a more serious tack. “What are you going to tell the dean?”

“That I have met with Rachel,” Jamie said, “and that she is safe.”

“And when he asks where she is?” I asked.

“I’ll claim patient confidentiality until Rachel is ready to see him,” she said.

“Are you going to tell him what happened to her?” I queried.

“I could,” she said, “if Rachel asked me to.”

“Rachel?” I turned to her. “Maybe it would be better coming from someone else. Perhaps he could get used to the idea before you have to meet him face to face?”

“What do you think?” she asked Jamie.

“I think it might be better coming from you,” she said. “I’ll tell him if you need me to, but in reality he needs to hear from you that you know that you messed up, and you need to hear from him that he still loves you.”

“That’s just it,” she said. “I’m not sure he will when he finds out what happened.”

“You told me he loved you,” I said. “I doubt that is going to change. Besides, he has been out of his mind with worry for two months. He’ll be happy to have you back.”

“I’m scared he’ll be angry with me,” she said.

“It’s okay for people who love each other to be angry,” I said, drawing from personal experience. “It doesn’t mean they love you any less. Remember that whatever happens, you have a safe place here with us. When you are ready, perhaps Jamie could set up a meeting on neutral ground.”

“Here?” Rachel asked.

“I have no objections,” I said. “But if you do it here, he will always know where to find you.”

“I feel safe here,” Rachel said, “with you.”

I looked at Jamie, and she gave me a half smile. “Rachel, can I talk to Caleb for a little while?” she asked.

I got up. “Let’s let Rachel clean up for dinner,” I said, and led Jamie out of Rachel’s bedroom and into ours.”

“Wow!” said Jamie. “That is a big bed.”

I laughed. “It doesn’t feel like it sometimes.” I indicated one of the chairs, and I took another.

“Rachel is fixating on you just now,” she said. “Her ‘knight in shining armor.’”

“How long will that go on for?” I asked.

“Who knows?” she said “Maybe a few weeks, maybe more. I do know that you are the key to her current mental well-being. She was abused badly while she was in that squat - not physically or sexually, but mentally. She had been abandoned by someone she thought loved her, and the others there wouldn’t let her forget it. Had you not been there when they finally threw her out, I don’t know what she would have done. She told me that she was contemplating stepping out into traffic.”

I sighed. “So, what can I do?”

“Be gentle with her,” she said. “As if I needed to tell you. You have, either by accident or design, done everything right so far. But as much as I told her she shouldn’t have sex with you, if she really needs it, I think you should. A rejection when she is this vulnerable would be devastating.

“She needs to go and see a doctor and get checked over. I’m not sure if she had any postoperative care following her termination, and at the same time, it would probably be wise to get her checked for all the usual STDs. If Mr. Jenkins is the horndog I think he is, then it is possible he may have infected her.

“I would advise against trying to help her with your hypnosis. While I know you are good at inducing a hypnotic state and leaving post-hypnotic suggestions, it would have to be done at least in conjunction with a trained professional. Perhaps, if her condition warrants it, we might work together to help her.

“I think it is too early for her to meet with her father. If he reacts badly, then I think it would do untold harm. She needs time to become secure again. She needs a support network of people who love her. Are you willing to be that network?”

“What exactly are you asking?” I asked.

“You have a unique environment here, full of love,” she said. “You helped Jules recover, and now she is thriving - a strong, healthy, balanced young woman. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that such an arrangement could exist, but it does. Can’t you do the same for Rachel?”

“I am more than prepared to let her live here,” I responded after a moment, “and keep her physically safe, warm, and fed. But now you are saying there should be more? First, you tell her it’s a bad idea for her to have sex with me, and now you are saying it’s a bad idea for me to refuse her. Are you really asking for us to bring her into our family?

“I don’t think you understand the dynamic of our relationship. Yes, we are polyamorous, but that doesn’t mean that we just pick people at random and include them. It’s so much more complicated because there are so many more people to consider. I have four girls to think about, and they are my primary concern.

“Yes, I am concerned for Rachel, but I can’t put her well-being above that of my girls. I will do all I can to help her, but I already told her that our family is closed to admission. As for sex, I can’t do that either. I’m not worried about STDs; that’s a transient concern. If she has them, she will get treated, unless he gave her something really nasty. But that’s not the point. The point is that she is fixated, and my having sex with her will only increase that fixation. You seem to think I’m a kinder, gentler version of Steve Jenkins.”

“You’re a very healthy college-aged boy that’s already having sex with multiple partners on a regular basis,” Jamie said dryly.

I didn’t want to concede the point, but I at least took a beat before responding. “Think back, Jamie,” I said. “It would have required almost no persuasion that day in your office to have you wrapped around me, but I didn’t. I didn’t because it would have been the wrong thing to do, for you. My girls would have hi-fived me and asked me for a blow-by-blow account, but it would have damaged you, and that is why I didn’t.

“If you are asking me - asking us - to love her, we can do that. But it will be a filial love. I won’t rebuild her life by destroying ours.”

Jamie looked at me for a long time. She had blushed at the mention of the afternoon in her office, but she seemed to be considering my words.

“You are right,” she said. “I don’t - can’t - understand the nature of a polyamorous relationship. I guess I fell into the media trap of believing that it’s one horny guy, and a number of groupies.”

I shook my head. “I love Jules,” I said, “and Mary and Amanda and Ness. Jules loves me, but she also loves Mary, Amanda, and Ness. Amanda loves Me, Jules, Mary, and Ness. Ness loves the three of us equally. It’s not just me with groupies who tolerate each other. We all love each other equally. That is a completely different dynamic than you envision. Our relationship works because of that love. When Mary sees me with Amanda, she’s not jealous, because she loves us both, and is happy to see us having a good time.” I neglected to mention that she felt the orgasms anyway. I could see how that tidbit actually weakened my argument.

She nodded slowly. “Then all I can ask is that you support Rachel the best way you can,” she said finally. “Your reasoning for refusing to sleep with her is sound, surprising as I find it. It may certainly increase her fixation on you. Please, though, when the time comes - and it will - be gentle with how you deal with it. I know you will; you have done nothing but be gentle with her, but she is exceptionally fragile. I’ll text you the number of a doctor. I’ll let her know to expect your call. The university will take care of the medical bills; I’ll get the dean to sign off on it. He will when he knows it’s for his daughter.”

“Send me the number,” I said, “and I’ll get her booked in.”

We both stood.

“I’m making some dinner,” I offered. “Would you care for some?”

She thought about that for a few moments, then accepted. Her curiosity about our household’s dynamic was flying off of her like a spark. It was both a color in her aura and a thought in the air.

“Rachel,” I called as we left our room, “I’m making dinner. Thirty minutes, okay?”

“Okay,” she called back. She was in the bathroom, probably in the bath. She spent a lot of time in the bath.

For only the second time, our dining table was full. Josh and Louise also joined us, and Louise, thankfully, decided to keep her clothes on. I had been doing all of the cooking in the house, and so my knife skills - not to mention all the other associated motor skills that were needed to complement the knowledge I had ‘stolen’ from Daisy - were coming along nicely. I was actually scheming to get more knowledge and was wondering how I might get memories from more experienced chefs in the future.

Jamie spent a good portion of the meal watching the interactions between us all. I had warned my girls to keep all communication verbal, so as to give nothing away. It was going to be a bit of a struggle while Rachel stayed with us to be more circumspect regarding our powers, but I was sure we could do it.

After dinner, Jamie thanked us all for our hospitality and gave me her doctor friend’s number. “I’ll call her tonight,” she said, “so she will be expecting your call tomorrow.”

I thanked her for that, and she left.

“How do you feel?” I asked Rachel after Jamie was gone. We had gone outside onto the deck. Jules had come too, but the others were watching some reality television show that didn’t appeal to us.

“A little better,” she said. “It was good to tell someone. I know I told you, but that was different. Somehow it feels like you are on my side. I needed to tell someone neutral if that makes sense.”

“I’m glad you feel like we are on your side,” I said. “Jamie said that you should go and get checked by a doctor.”

“I know,” she answered. “She said the same to me. I didn’t have any check-ups after the procedure, and he might have given me something.” She made a face. “That would really put the icing on the cake. Maybe I should go and have a chat with his wife - tell her what he has been up to.”

“Will that make you feel better?” I asked. “Hurting her?”

She looked at me for a moment before shaking her head. “Him,” she said. “Him, I want to hurt - for everything he did to me, and most likely others as well. His wife… I guess she is as much a victim of that sleazebag as I am.”

“Did you ever hear the saying that the best revenge is a life well-lived?” I asked, and she shook her head. “I read it somewhere, and it stuck with me. Don’t concern yourself with wasters and fools. They will eventually destroy themselves. Live your own life and live it well, and you can look back and laugh at those idiots as you leave them behind.”

“Who said that?” asked Jules.

“Me,” I said. “Just then. Didn’t you hear?”

They both laughed.

We sat chatting on the deck for the rest of the evening, the twins joining us after their dose of television tripe. I left them to their chat, intending to spend an hour on Wolfenstein. I had to admit that I was starting to enjoy it. It was surreal and bloodthirsty and gave me an outlet for my anger and aggression. I could kill Nazis all day long with no guilt. The robot dogs, well, maybe a twinge here and there.

I got so engrossed trying to finish the particular mission I was on that I lost track of the time. By the time I got killed, I realized that two hours had passed and it was way past my normal bedtime.

At some point, someone had come and placed a cup of coffee beside me, but I had been so fixated on the game that I hadn’t even noticed. I looked away from the screen, still seeing the afterimage of the HUD. Blinking, I tried to clear my vision, but it wouldn’t go away. I still had the armor bar and the health bar, although against the background of the room they looked slightly different.

I blinked again, trying to rid myself of the afterimage, and then actually considered the two indicators. They had no legends. There were two bars, one beside the other, which was different from the Wolfenstein UI, where the bars were one above the other. It finally clicked: I had finally done it. I could see some indicators of my current status. Both bars were full, and since neither was labeled and both were simple white bars, I had no idea what either signified, but they were there. I could finally tell Maggie that I had succeeded, nearly two months after I had started. I hoped that meant I could start my Healer training in earnest.

I stretched and looked around. The house was quiet. Everyone else, it appeared, had gone to bed. That was a reversal of the norm. I had a quick shower in the main bathroom, so as not to disturb anyone, and sneaked into the bedroom.

The girls were all asleep. Jules and Rachel lay together, Jules spooning Rachel, both facing the middle of the bed. Mary was cuddled up to Amanda. There was a me-sized gap in the middle of the bed, and I gently slid into place.

I lay in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, contemplating the new additions to my vision. I had expected that they might be annoying - get in the way of something I wanted to see - but it was strange. They didn’t interfere at all with my vision. I could see just fine. They didn’t seem to move. Somehow, I could right through them, and yet still see them. It was a weird duality that I couldn’t really comprehend. It made my head hurt to think about. I was still wondering how that could be the case when I must have drifted off, lulled to sleep by the steady, even breathing of the four girls around me.

I awoke with the feeling of being watched. When I opened my eyes, I could see that Rachel was awake, and had indeed been watching me.

“Morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” she replied. “Why do you get up so early?”

“I need to train,” I said, “and if I don’t get up early it means I will miss the time with my girls while I’m training.”

“What are you training for?” she asked.

“I want to join the FBI,” I said. “I need to be fit and ready.”

“Don’t you have to be older to be an agent?” she asked. “I thought their minimum age was twenty-three.”

“For agents, yes,” I said, “but you can join earlier, in another role, until you are old enough to become an agent.”

“I didn’t know that,” she said.

To be honest, neither did I. I had made that up on the spur of the moment. It may or may not have been true, but it was the story I was sticking with.

I slid out of bed, dressed, and went into the yard. I wanted to see how using my powers affected my HUD. Using my TK, I lifted the hot tub just enough so as to be taking its full weight. Neither bar moved. I went into the garage and did the same thing with Amanda’s car, lifting it just off its wheels. To a casual observer it would still appear to be on the floor, although the suspension would look jacked up.

I guesstimated I was holding something around fourteen thousand pounds, and still saw no reaction on my bars.

Finally, I went out onto the drive and lifted Louise’s car. That got a reaction. One of the bars decreased by one point. I estimated about a twentieth of its length was empty. I sat on the porch for about an hour, watching my bar fall, approximately one graduation every ten minutes or so. Judging by that rate, I should have been able to hold up the combined weight of the tub and the vehicles for just over three hours before emptying that bar. What would happen then, I had no idea. I went back into the yard and ran through some katas while still holding the weight for another hour. When the bar was down to about a third, I began to feel hungry, and it changed from white to amber. I decided to stop there, not knowing the effect of completely emptying my ‘power bar,’ and gently put everything down.

I was in the kitchen, eating the snack I had made, when the twins and a Compelled Josh and Louise joined me, ready for our run.

Josh and Louise were doing well. We ran for over half the total distance. They were not nearly so out of breath when we finished, and I released the Compulsion. When we got back to the house, they trotted off happily to shower. I had noticed that my Compulsion had run my power bar down quicker than TK had. I didn’t know if that was because I hadn’t trained it as much, or that it used more power. By the time we had finished the run, my power bar was a dull red, and only one graduation from empty.

I had a shower and then made breakfast, eating more on my own than all of the others combined. When I was finished, not only was Rachel looking at me wide-eyed, but my power bar was full again.

“I thought you were joking when you said you ate enough for six,” she said.

“Only when I’ve been training,” I said. “Normally I don’t eat that much.”

When I thought the hour was decent enough, I called Jamie’s doctor friend.

“Izzy Stevens,” she answered her phone on the second ring.

“Dr. Stevens?” I asked, even though she had already told me her name.


“My name is Caleb Stott,” I replied. “Jamie Smythe told me to contact you about getting a check-up for my friend Rachel Hamilton?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Jamie called me last night. Are you able to bring Rachel in this afternoon, about three?”

My phone was on speaker, and Rachel was listening into the call. I looked at her, my eyebrow raised. She nodded.

“Yes, that should be fine,” I said. “Can you text me your address please?”

“No problem. We’ll see you then.”

I hung up and looked at Rachel.

“Will you come with me?” she asked. I had kind of expected that - had planned for it in my head even. This afternoon would have been wrestling practice, which I had already told the coach I wouldn’t be attending. I had an appointment with one of my weight loss clients just after lunch, but after that I could grab an Uber, pick Rachel up, and we could go to the doctor’s together. I told her as much, and she smiled.

“Thank you,” she said.

I then sent a text to Maggie.

_I have the HUD. Can you ask Jeevan to contact re training, please?

I got a thumbs-up emoji from her, which was surprising. I had expected her to use words. She didn’t seem the emoji type.

My first class of the day was ethics, and our professor wanted to continue the discussion regarding my breaking Jasper’s arm during our fight. Obviously, much hinged on whether or not I’d done it on purpose. The video was fairly damning – perhaps not ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ damning, but still not good for me. Five-on-one sounded terrible, but I’d made it look like it was nothing serious.

“Before I open the floor up for discussion,” he said, “I would like Caleb, if he would agree, to state his case.”

I nodded. I had had some time to think about the issue in between sessions, and decided to try an argument I had come up with.

“First,” I said, “I have to say that anything and everything I say is strictly for the purposes of the ethical debate. I am making no admissions about what I actually did or didn’t do during my fight with Jasper Green.”

The professor smiled and inclined his head.

“We have already discussed, in this class, the use of lethal force,” I began. “The consensus of that debate, if I remember correctly, was that when facing an armed opponent who appears to have the intent to use the weapon to inflict serious injury or even worse, the use of lethal force is justified.

“I wasn’t armed. I was faced with not one, but two armed opponents, either of whom could have seriously injured or even killed me. I had limited time to react, let alone make considered decisions. I needed to defend from two attackers approaching from either side. Simply disarming Jasper would not have been enough to remove the risk of him slicing or stabbing me. I needed to make sure he was out of the fight. As a martial artist, I had several alternatives, but as someone that had very little actual combat experience, I didn’t know how effective each would be.

“If it was a calculated decision to break Mr. Green’s arm, then I personally feel that that was a justified use of force, still falling well below using lethal force – which, as I already said, given the circumstances, may have been justified. It took him out of the fight and allowed me to deal with the other opponent.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stott,” the professor said. “Who’s next?”

The majority of the class agreed with me. There were a couple of people in the class who argued – and probably believed - that any use of force would have been excessive. They always advocated talking toward a peaceful resolution, no matter the subject matter. I doubted that either of them would last more than five minutes outside the classroom. In other debates, even the professor had become frustrated with their stubborn pacifistic stance on every topic.

One student, I had to admit, gave me pause.

“Okay, setting aside the kumbaya crowd,” she began, “am I the only one who actually watched that video? Yes, there were five guys. Yes, two of them turned out to be armed. But Mr. Hypothetical Caleb Who Did It On Purpose waltzed up to them like he knew exactly who was going to need the ambulance and who wasn’t – and we all saw it play out exactly like that. He handled those guys.

“Five-on-one became two-on-one in a flash, and they couldn’t even touch him. They didn’t get a single hit off. Doesn’t it complicate the ethical situation that Karate Caleb seemed to know he wasn’t in any real danger, didn’t try to run away towards any security officer or academic building or anything else, and then proceeded to absolutely have his way with five guys? It’s not like this was a dark alley or a home invasion. They were thugs in a parking lot of a pretty well-populated university. Help was nearby – or at least witnesses that would’ve made the attackers think twice.

“By the end there, it seemed to me like he was in total control of the situation, wasn’t afraid at all, and was already in questionable ethical territory because of his refusal to retreat. That arm break had *coup de grace* vibes, don’t you think? I don’t know, I just think that this whole ‘lethal force was justified under some static rule so then I could do whatever’ argument doesn’t seem right. When a ninja master keeps making exactly the right decisions during a fight over and over again, it makes me a little suspicious when he later claims, ‘Oh, everything was happening so fast’ and ‘I just didn’t know what might happen.’ Not a scratch, guys. Five guys, a knife, and a pipe, walked up to them like JoJo Star, and came out of it without a scratch.”

The professor raised an eyebrow. “Interesting objections, Ms. Reed,” he said, “and despite not catching that last pop culture reference, I think can make the necessary inferences.

“That’s quite a lot to break down. Duty to retreat is indeed something we didn’t discuss, and, for anyone who isn’t aware, there’s quite the national debate about whether Stand Your Ground laws are a good idea. That’s an entire tangled debate of its own – and again, please don’t get lazy and conflate what’s legal or illegal with what’s ethical or unethical. Legal principles can certainly inform our debates, but laws don’t dictate their outcomes.

“As for the other objection, well… I suppose you could sum it up like so: does great responsibility come with great power even when a bunch of thugs tries to jump you? How much is Spider-Man allowed to flex on some unlucky goons who try to attack him, not knowing who he is and what he can do? Hopefully, that pop culture reference won’t slip past anyone. He was in some movies recently, right?

“Alas,” he concluded, “much as we can’t know for sure what the real Caleb’s thought process was when he broke Mr. Green’s arm, we may never know just how lopsided the fight was in Real Caleb’s favor. But perhaps that’s for the best. This way, we can construct all sorts of different hypotheticals and hash them out on their own terms.”

“Caleb? Do you have a last comment?” asked the professor.

I thought about that for a moment and examined my own ethical position. I had known for a certainty that I wasn’t in any danger, but that was because of my powers. I had definitely made the decision to cause injury to Jasper, but why? Was it, as I had argued, to put him out of the fight and ensure my safety, or was there an aspect of revenge in there too? He had hurt Jules - hurt her enough that she’d wanted to commit suicide. Had I simply wanted to cause him pain as some kind of punishment? I had to look hard at myself on that one and admit that I had just wanted to hurt Jasper. There were myriad arguments, but none of them could get around that single, inescapable fact: I had deliberately injured him when there was no real need. That was a startling and worrying conclusion. Already, I was changing. I would never have had the capacity to be so brutal before. So what had changed? Had my powers changed me, or had it just been the circumstances? Jasper had certainly pushed my buttons, and he'd hurt someone I cared about deeply - primally, even.

Either way, I resolved to be vigilant and think through such decisions far more carefully in the future.

“Caleb?” prompted the professor, I had been silent for too long.

“No, thank you, professor,” I said thoughtfully.

As we filed out at the end of the class, the professor called me over.

“As I said at the beginning of the year,” he said, “ethics has no right or wrong answer. It is a matter of opinion in almost every case. I must confess, however, that when somebody decides to thumb their nose at civilized society for such selfish reasons, and gets it broken for their trouble, well… it feels good.” He grinned at me. “I’m glad you’re okay, Caleb. I think you acquitted yourself nicely.”

I went and endured my next class, and then went for lunch with the girls. After lunch I went to my appointment with my weight loss client, only to find she had brought someone with her: her mother.

When she was introduced, I was expecting a grilling about my qualifications to be hypnotizing her daughter, but it turned out that she had been amazed at the success of her daughter’s treatment and wanted to sign up.

The session took a little longer than usual because I had to do more theatrics, but it was another hundred bucks in my bank account, and they went away happy.

I decided to walk home, rather than Uber. Once I got back, I called a ride for Rachel and me.

Rachel held my hand all the way. She was obviously nervous about what the doctor would say, and the results of her tests. When we got to the office, I followed her in. She went to the reception desk and spoke to the nurse there.

We waited, and then she was called through into the doctor’s office.

The nurse at the desk kept glancing at me. I heard her inner monologue.

“He doesn’t look like the sleazeball type,” she thought. “So, is he the new boyfriend, or just the gay friend? He doesn’t really look gay, although you can’t tell these days. They were holding hands, but it looked more supportive than loving. No, he’s not a boyfriend. Definitely not a sibling. I wonder if I should ask him for his number. Darren is away until next week, and I could do with a good fuck.”

I coughed, to mask my snort of laughter.

When Rachel came out of the office, she looked more relaxed. And we left the office together. The nurse obviously decided I wasn’t fuck material, because I never got her number. We didn’t talk in the Uber on the way back, it was hardly the place, but once we got home, I asked how she felt.

“The doctor says I’m fine,” she said. “Everything is as it should be, and she took blood for various tests. She said she will call me after five today, with the results.

“That’s not really what I was asking,” I said.

She looked at me. “I actually feel pretty good,” she said. “It’s like I’m starting to put my life back together. Once I get the blood tests back, if everything is okay, I can put this whole episode behind me, and start again.”

“That’s good,” I said. “So, what’s your first step?”

“I need to get a job,” she said.

“What kind of job?” I asked.

“I have a degree in English,” she said. “I was working in a bookshop, but I doubt they would take me back. I just abandoned them.”

“Did you like working there?” I asked.

“It was really good,” she replied with a nod. “All the students from the university came in to get their books there. I had a great time with them.”

“You worked at Briar’s Books?” I asked. I’d gotten a couple of my books from there. They did a book exchange, so they had a good range of nearly-new books that other students had exchanged to buy their next year’s texts.

“You know it?” she asked.

“I bought some of my textbooks there,” I told her. “The guy who served me was older – in his fifties, about my height and balding.”

“That’s Geoff,” she said. “He and his wife Marjorie own the store.”

“When did you last speak to them?” I asked.

“I told them I was pregnant,” she said, “and then Steve took me to the clinic, and that was that. That would be just over two months ago.”

“Maybe if you explain what went on,” I said, “they might be open to letting you go back. Two months is a very short time to try and get a replacement - if you were any good, that is.”

She had a look of mock outrage on her face. “If I was any good?” she yipped at me. “I’ll have you know that Marjorie said I was the best assistant she had had for years.”

“Then let’s go talk to them,” I said. “All they can say is no, and you never know, they may just say yes.”

“What?” she said surprised. “Now?”

I nodded, and she bit her cheek for a moment. “It’s about fifteen-minute walk from here,” she said. “If we set off now, we’ll get there just before they close.”

I grabbed her hand, and we were out of the door before she could draw breath.

“Caleb!” she said as I led her down the street.

“No time like the present,” I insisted.

“Caleb, stop!” she said. I stopped and looked at her, waiting for her argument against going.

“What?” I asked gently.

“You’re going the wrong way,” she said, pointing in the opposite direction. “The shop is that way.”

I blushed and she grinned at me as we set off in the correct direction.


The bookshop had an antiquated vibe, complete with a tinkling bell over the door as you went in. It had a narrow frontage but went back a long way, and there was the feeling of stepping into something timeless as you walked through the doors - kind of like the feeling you get entering a church or a library. It felt like you should only talk in whispers.

That was one reason why the shriek of, “RACHEL!!!” as we entered shocked me as much as it did.

A plump woman flew over to us and attached herself to Rachel, pulling her into a tight embrace. “We were so worried,” she said. “Your father came to see us and told us you had disappeared. We obviously didn’t tell him what you’d told us, but we were so scared for you. Geoff even went out looking. We asked all the students if they had seen you, but nobody had.

“Geoff, GEOFF!” she called. The taller man, from whom I had bought my books, emerged from a door behind the register. When he saw Rachel, I thought I actually saw tears in his eyes. He, too, rushed over to embrace the pair of women.

It was fortunate that there were no customers in the shop, because the woman simply turned the sign on the door from open to closed and locked the door before attempting to lead Rachel toward the other door that Geoff had emerged from. It seemed they hadn’t noticed me at all.

“Marjorie, Geoff,” said Rachel, “this is Caleb.”

They both turned to look at me.

“Is this…” asked Marjorie, her lip curling a little as she looked at me.

“No,” said Rachel. “Caleb saved me.”

They both looked nonplussed for a moment before once more moving toward the door. “Come on through,” Marjorie said. “I think we need to hear all about it.”

Marjorie made tea and brought biscuits, and over the next hour, Rachel told them her tale, culminating in mine and Amanda’s collecting her from outside the squat and bringing her to our home.

“So, you two aren’t…” asked Marjorie, and Rachel shook her head.

“Caleb already has a girlfriend,” she said. Then she looked at me with mischief in her eyes and added, “Three of them, actually.”

They both looked at me.

“Rachel was wondering,” I said, trying to change the subject, “if perhaps her job may still be available.”

They were not to be diverted. “You have three girlfriends?” Marjorie asked, and I decided to brazen it out.

“Four, actually,” I said. “But only three of them live with me at the moment.”

“You all live together?” asked Geoff.

I pulled out my phone and found a picture taken of me, the twins, and Jules. Ness had taken it when we had been out riding. I was in front of Blaze with the girls gathered around me.

“Twins?” asked Marjorie, looking at the picture, and I nodded.

They looked to back to Rachel.

“Have you spoken to your father?” Marjorie asked.

“I have made contact with him through an intermediary,” she said. “He doesn’t know where I am, but he knows I’m safe.”

“And are you?” asked Geoff, giving me a side eye.

“Yes,” said Rachel. She then went on to tell them in rather too much detail about what had happened since we’d arrived at our home. She didn’t spare any of the sad bits, the naked bits, or the tantalizing bits. I was a little shocked she felt so comfortable with the older couple. To their credit, Marjorie and Geoff struck a decent balance between being understanding and not entirely comfortable with what they were hearing.

After the strange tale was done, Marjorie looked back and forth between us. “Will you be staying with them?” she asked.

I knew that what she was really asking was whether would Rachel be girlfriend number five. Rachel shook her head.

“Their family is complete,” she said. “I don’t belong with them, but they will all always be like a family to me. I need to get my life back together, and Caleb dragged me here to see you. I was afraid that you would be angry with me for abandoning you.”

“We were worried,” said Geoff, “not angry. We did advertise your job, but as yet we haven’t interviewed.”

“Could I apply?” asked Rachel a little timidly.

“There’s no need,” said Marjorie. “When are you coming back?”

They decided that Rachel would start back the following Monday.

We sat and chatted for a while longer. The older couple finally started to warm toward me by the end.

Later, as we walked back to the house, I looked at Rachel. She looked happier than I had seen her since we’d met.

“Okay?” I asked her.

She smiled at me. “Yes, thanks,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much I had missed them.”

“They seem like a lovely couple,” I said.

“They became almost like a second set of parents,” she said. “That’s why I was so scared. I didn’t want to see them angry or disappointed with me either.”

“They were just glad to see you were all right.”

She mulled that over for the rest of the walk.

As we walked through the door, Rachel’s phone rang. She answered it and spoke for a few minutes before hanging up.

“That was the doctor,” she said. “All the tests came back negative. I don’t have any nasty diseases, and physically, I’m as healthy as a horse.”

I smiled at her. “That is good news. It means you can draw a line under what happened and start to move forward.”

“Not quite,” she said. “I have one more thing to deal with. Are you free tomorrow at lunchtime?”


The next day, lunchtime found us sitting in the coffee shop where I had found Steve Jenkins. Rachel had ordered the biggest, strangest concoction I had ever seen. I would have been surprised had I not known why.

When we went to sit, she asked if I would mind if she sat alone. She was baiting a trap. She sat at a two-seat table, and I sat behind her at another. From my vantage, I could watch the door, and see what was going on at Rachel’s table.

I almost didn’t recognize him when he came in. Gone were the swagger and the confident smile, although he tried to affect them. Obviously, a couple of days of constantly striking out had not done his self-esteem any good. As usual, he scanned the room as he entered, and when he saw Rachel sitting there, he nearly bolted.

I could see from his thoughts that he was torn. His marriage was suddenly on rocky ground; his wife no longer putting up with his bullshit like she used to. He couldn’t get laid unless he paid, and now the abortion girl was back. His thoughts were conflicted with regard to her as well. He was scared she might further complicate things with his wife, but she had said she loved him. Perhaps if he played things right, he could maybe pick up with her. She was a good fuck, after all.

Steve pretended not to notice Rachel and went and ordered his drink. He then looked around, and ‘spotted’ her, exclaiming in surprise, “Rachel, when did you get back?” He said it like she had gone on sabbatical or something, not like he had dumped her miles away from anywhere with no phone and no money.

Without asking, he parked himself at her table and grinned at her. “It’s so good to see you,” he said. “You’re looking well.”

“You’re not,” she replied a little too loudly. “What’s the matter, Steve? having trouble getting laid recently? Or did your WIFE find out you were fucking around on her?” Her voice was getting louder. People were starting to pay attention.

“Rachel,” he said in a conciliatory tone, but she wasn’t listening.

“You made promises,” she said. “But then I guess you made promises to your WIFE, didn’t you? Wasn’t there something about forsaking all others?”

People were definitely paying attention at that point, and I could see at least one person with their phone out. People liked to video couples arguing and post them on the internet. It got them clicks.

He made the mistake both Rachel and I had known he would. It was the opening she was waiting for. He put his hand on hers, where she had left it conveniently on the table.

“Rache…” he began.

“GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!!” she screamed, and picked up the overly-large, overly-complicated, fifty-percent-whipped-cream drink and threw it in his face.

“Don’t ever talk to me again you worthless cheating BASTARD!!” she yelled as coffee, cream and syrup slid down his face and joined the mess currently pooling in his lap. In ‘tears,’ she ran out of the café, the door slamming behind her. All eyes, and several camera phones, were on Steve Jenkins, as he sat, dripping, and tried to look unconcerned. The barista went into the back and came back with cloths and a mop and bucket. She placed it by his side.

“You need to clean that up,” she said, “or don’t come back.”

He grabbed a cloth and wiped his face before bolting for the door.

Unhurriedly, I finished my drink, rose, and walked out of the café. After a few minutes, I caught up with Rachel in a small shop two blocks down. She was giggling like a schoolgirl.

“That was so much fun!” she said.

“I don’t think he thought so,” I said, smiling, “and if I’m right, our Mr. Jenkins is going to be an internet sensation for a short while at least.”

Her eyes widened.

“Oh my,” she said, but then after a moment giggled again. “I wonder if his wife will see it?”

“Or your father?” I asked, knowing full well that someone would make it their mission to show it to the dean if they knew of the relationship.

Her grin disappeared then, and she pondered that for a moment. “Just one more disappointment,” she said pragmatically. “If he gets over the other stuff, that will be insignificant.”

Once I knew she was all right, we separated. I went back to uni and she went home.

That night, Jamie came over to talk to Rachel again. This time she didn’t stay for dinner, nor did we have a conversation. Other than pleasantries on entry and exit, we didn’t talk at all. I did notice, however, that her fingernails were starting to grow, and she had painted them.

The night after, I was surprised when, after answering a knock at my door, I came face to face with a middle-aged Indian man. He was clean-shaven with dark hair, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I was about to ask if I could help him when something about the eyes triggered my recognition.

“Jeevan,” I said, “I almost didn’t recognise you. Come in.”

He grinned. “I was wondering if you would. Most people don’t, which is why I wear the disguise. Now I’m just plain old Jeevan Patel, insurance agent by trade. Can I interest you in a life policy?”

“So, the Healing isn’t altruism,” I said, laughing. “You just don’t want to pay out?”

He looked highly offended for all of a second or two, then grinned. “You know,” he said, “you are not the only one to draw that conclusion. What a cynical world we live in.”

We went out onto the deck and sat in the late afternoon sunshine. Since nobody in the house was over the legal age for buying alcohol, I could only offer him either a coffee or a soda. He chose coffee, and we both nursed cups as we settled in to talk.

“Maggie tells me you have finally found your status bars,” he said.

I nodded. “It took a while, but yes. I seem to have two of them - both white, and unlabelled. One seems to be affected when I use my power, and refills when I eat. The other I have not yet affected.”

“Nor do you want to,” he said. “The second bar is your own life force. The times when you overtax yourself are times when you eat into that bar. As I said to you in Maggie’s office, you are young and will likely recover, although I hear that you almost didn’t. That was foolish.”

“No,” I said firmly, “what was foolish was leaving me ignorant my whole life, and then suddenly springing all these powers on me. I should have been taught all this shit as I grew up. I should have been ready, not blundering around in the dark.”

He regarded me for a second.

“You feel that you have been wronged,” he said, “and you may indeed have a point. You don’t trust the powered community, and I see why. To learn to Heal, you are going to have to learn to trust. You are going to have to allow someone access to your mind. That someone will likely be me, or, if you are going to be working with another Healer, then them. Learning Healing can only be achieved by guided practice.

“Before you think too much about that, let me tell you this. There are very few Healers in the world - probably less than three or four hundred worldwide. There are maybe thirty in the U.S. We have our own rules and traditions. The skills you may learn as a Healer can be used to do harm just as easily as to do good. I can stop someone’s heart more easily than I can keep it pumping. Unless we know what kind of a person we are training, we will not pass on our knowledge and skills.

“We don’t extract oaths, nor are we of the opinion that if you are in a position where you are fighting for your or someone else’s life that you shouldn’t use the skills in defence, but we have to know that the person we are giving those skills to will use them responsibly and ethically.

“I have seen all Maggie’s, James’s, and Dianna’s memories of their interactions with you, and I am willing to begin the process. I know how hard it is for you to trust, and I am happy to show you that I can be trusted, although it’s not a difficult choice, really. You are so much more powerful than I. If you wanted access to my mind, you could shred my shield with a thought.”

“But I -” I began, but he held up a hand.

“You balk at the idea of unfettered access into someone else’s mind?” he asked but didn’t wait for a reply. “Mary told Dianna what you said to her when she offered. I have secrets. I hold the secrets of others. My trust in you is that you will hold onto those secrets and protect them as I would. Nothing you see will be disclosed to anyone. Without that trust, we cannot learn to Heal.”

He stood up abruptly. “I have given you much to consider,” he said. “I know that you have three more weeks until the Christmas break, which means you are gearing up for more exams. Take your exams and enjoy your break. I will contact you when you return for the start of your next year’s studies.”

He handed me a card - the one he used as an insurance agent.

“Don’t use Maggie as a go-between, please. I don’t answer to her, and I do not want her to start thinking that I do. If you need to talk, then contact me directly, but make your decision. If you choose to go ahead, then we will need one full evening a week for about three months. After that, it will depend on your progress.

“The final thing you need to know is that we do not do this for free. If we train you, we expect that we will be able to call on your services - not all the time, but occasionally. Sometimes, a Healer will need assistance, and they may call you, and you must answer that call.

“Thank you for the coffee,” he said and left.

I sat on the deck, contemplating what he had said.

“Do you want us to call out for dinner?” asked Mary, startling me. I realized that it was after seven, and I hadn’t started anything.

“No,” I said. “I’ll cook. It will take just as long for anything to get here anyway.”

I headed into the kitchen and began to cook, still going over what Jeevan had said to me. I wondered if I could do it – if I could trust someone enough to give them full access to my mind. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t need to be a Healer. I could quite happily go on with my life and use what powers I had. It seemed strange – greedy, almost – to think that they wouldn’t be enough.

I didn’t even know what I was cooking, nor what I ate, so deep was I in thought. The others left me to it, until, after dinner, I was sitting in one of the armchairs and someone climbed into my lap: Jules.

“Okay,” she said. “That’s enough moping. Talk!”

I focused my eyes on hers. “I’m not sure that I’m cut out to be a Healer,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

I explained everything that Jeevan had told me, and told her that I was uncomfortable with the idea of letting someone have free rein in my head – not to mention how uncomfortable I was doing it to someone else. I told her I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to trust anyone that much.

“Then don’t do it,” she said simply. “Problem solved.”

I smiled at her. I loved her pragmatic approach to problem-solving.

“Why were you going to do it in the first place?” she asked. “In the words of the Transpop, ‘what’s the innifo?’”

That reference went right over my head. “Who?” I asked.

“Heathen,” she said. “Don’t tell me you never read Feintuch’s Seafort Saga?”

I shook my head.

She looked like she was going to launch into a long explanation but then changed her mind.

“Innifo,” she explained, “was a term to mean what was the reason for doing something. As in ‘what’s in it for me?’ What do you get out of learning Healing? Not what can you give to others, but what do you gain? Once you figure that out, then all you need to do is decide if that’s worth the price they are asking. You don’t need to be a Healer. I think you are taking on quite enough without that too. But if you want to do it for other reasons, then go ahead. You need to know why you are doing it though. Are you just collecting powers? Is that what this is?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I just think that since I have the capability, I should be able to. What would happen if you or one of the other girls or your family got sick, and I could have helped?”

“Why didn’t you study to be a doctor?” she asked.

“I didn’t have the grades, for one,” I said.

“Okay then, a paramedic or nurse?” she pressed.

“Medicine didn’t really interest me,” I said.

“But what if someone in your family became sick?” she asked. “You can’t be everything to everybody, Caleb. You are going to have enough to do with what you have already taken on. Unless there is a compelling reason you want to do this, then don’t.

“Having said all that,” she said, “let’s talk about trust.”

I looked at her, waiting for her to continue.

“I know that you feel that you have been lied to all your life,” she said, “but then, aren’t all children? Your parents did the best they could with the information they had. Did they make the right decisions? Possibly not, but as my mother said, hindsight and all that. You have been manipulated by a *********** few people. You are now treating the entire world with suspicion.

“I get it - god, do I. But you can’t live your life like that. Mary has offered to show you her mind. Amanda would do the same, and I hope you know that you have an open invite to mine. I have no secrets from you, and I want no secrets from you.”

“Not even about who owns the house?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You didn’t ask,” she said.

“But I assumed…” I said.

“Then that’s on you,” she said, shutting me down. “I can’t be held responsible for your erroneous assumptions.”

I opened my mouth to argue and closed it again. She was right.

“Daddy is rich,” she went on. “I don’t know how rich, but very. The cost of the house was negligible to him, and the jet costs more to run per month than he gave you in cash. I know it’s a lot to you, but to him, it’s like you tipping the pizza delivery boy. The farm is only part of their business empire. There is a whole ongoing supply chain for dairy products. He retired to the farm about two years ago and left the business in the hands of managers, but he and Mom still keep an eye on it.

“You are treating everyone, even us, with suspicion. Yes, we were manipulated, and I was zapped, but even so, the girls were working for you, not against you. You just didn’t see it at the time. You don’t know how happy I am that you and Mary are back together again. You hurt her badly with your suspicions, and, bond or no, I was really concerned you wouldn’t survive.”

“But…” I began, but she cut me off again.

“You need to reverse your outlook on life,” she said. “I’m not saying you should blindly trust everyone, but Jeevan has offered you access to his mind. He can’t hide anything from you in there. You’ll know if he is scheming or being manipulated. It could be a clever bluff on his part, but I, personally, would call it. Go, take a look around, and if you don’t see anything to alert you then maybe extend some trust. Whether you become a Healer or not is not the issue. You need someone in your life, outside of us five, that you feel you can trust. Better still if it’s a network of powered people, outside the agency, whom you can ask for help and advice.”

“So,” I queried, “do I become a Healer or not?”

“Yes,” she said, “because you would never forgive yourself the one occasion that you saw someone suffer and you think you might have prevented it. And since you are going to be working in law enforcement, the chances of that are high. Didn’t Vince say it could save lives?”

“Then why all the…” I began.

“Because you needed to think about your ‘innifo,’” she said. “I can’t read minds, but I could see in your expression as I said all that, that you were thinking, ‘But what if…?’ I just needed you to think it out for yourself. You needed to ask yourself the right questions.”

I went to bed that night with my thoughts still churning. Jules had said a lot that had made sense, but ‘gut instincts’ had no sense, and I was still viscerally averse to allowing people into my mind. The one thing that did resonate strongly, though, was the possibility of having a network of powered people I could call for help and advice. I wondered whom they reported to - who their oversight was. I determined that I would at least ask more questions of Jeevan, and maybe take him up on his offer of accessing his mind.

As Jeevan had said, it was only three weeks to the end of this semester, and we were gearing up for exams. There was also the wrestling tournament with NYU which was a week away. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, which was another reason to give it up. Normally I would have been excited and raring to go. Now it was just another ‘thing’ to get out of the way. What I was really looking forward to, was going to Jules’ parents, and to seeing Ness again.

I attended one more practice before the tournament. The new captain, Mallory, put us all through our paces, pushing us harder than I would have so close to a competition, but he was captain, and I took it in stride. Some of the other wrestlers weren’t as fit and struggled.

A few days later, we were beaten by NYU.

I won my weight class, but we lost out overall. When the coach came over to ask me to stay on to the next tournament, I smiled and handed him my vest. “Sorry coach,” I said. “I said this was it, and I meant it.”

The end-of-year exams went pretty much as expected. The only ones that I had to really think about were the ethics papers. All the papers and exams that relied on regurgitating facts and statistics were easy as I fancied them more brain dumps than brain vomiting. I didn’t think that had anything to do with me being an ass man, but who can say for certain?

Since we were going to be away from the university for three weeks, I turned away some clients, telling them to come and see me at the beginning of the next semester if they wanted. I told them I didn’t want to start treatment and leave it half-finished, even though the follow-ups were all for show. Keeping up appearances did have a cost, and not always just for me.

Rachel had settled back into her routine, going to the bookshop each day. She asked about paying her way in the house. I thought about it.

“What’s your long-term plan?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You know that we are here for another two years,” I said. “What are you going to do then?”

“I guess I’ll have to get my own place,” she said thoughtfully.

“Then put your money into saving for that,” I said.

She still hadn’t spoken to her father directly, although Jamie had passed messages back and forth between them. Jamie saw her once a week.

Josh and Louise were going to be staying at the house for Christmas Josh’s parents were going to come over to stay for a few days. They would sleep in Josh and Louise’s room, and Josh and Louise would use ours. Rachel seemed to be getting along well with them, which I was glad for. The timing wasn’t great, but I couldn’t change my plans. I just couldn’t.

On the last Friday of term, Jules spoke to her pops, and he told her that, as promised, Gerry would be waiting for us at ten the following morning at the local airstrip. He’d planned to have Gerry hire a car to collect us, but I said that it was a twenty-minute Uber ride, so it made no sense to do anything else.

I was excited about flying on the jet. I had never flown in a private airplane before and felt like a kid before Christmas. I made sure to pack in Ness’s new knives with all my other stuff, and by bedtime, all four of us had everything ready. In the morning, all we would have to do would be to shower, dress, and load up the Uber when it arrived..

I wasn’t just excited. I felt a sense of peace and warmth as I went to bed that night, surrounded by three of my girls and our latest arrival. Even though I wouldn’t be seeing my mother, my father, or my great-great-grandmother, I really did feel like I was going home for the holidays.
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