Ran dried her hands on the towel. She glanced into the bedroom, before she went back to the couch, to sit down. On the dresser, on Alli’s side, was a picture of them together, but beyond that, was a picture of Alli and two of her high school friends. One of them had a burst of red-orange hair. Ran knew this was Nealy.
Alli beckoned her back to the couch. Jeopardy had concluded, and Wheel of Fortune came on. Ran sat back down and put her arm around Alli. Alli snuggled in close and put her head on Ran’s shoulder. The patter of the rain, on the windows, could be heard outside. Through the gossamer curtains, a chalky, white sky could be seen.
The show cut to commercials, and Ran asked, “So, your friend, from high school – Keo, was it? – came back from abroad?”
Alli nodded on Ran’s shoulder, “Yes, we went to get a bite to eat, in the city, the other day.”
“You met Nealy in high school too, right?” Ran said, glancing down at her.
“Yes,” Alli reminisced, “She had taken a Greyhound across America, from Indiana, to get here. She had received a letter from her aunt, in Rochester. She was getting too old for the orphanage, so she came here.”
Ran raised her eyebrows and looked back at the TV, “I didn’t know that. The house in France. All of that – did she inherit it from her aunt?”
Alli nestled deeper into Ran shoulder, like a cat, and closed her eyes, “Yes. Nealy’s parents died in a car crash when she was young, and her extended family is very divided. However, Nealy’s aunt sent her an allowance throughout high school and college. In college, her aunt passed away, and shortly thereafter, Nealy’s trust vested.”
“Wow,” Ran rubbed her eyes, “Your third friend, in the picture, the one with the high skin fade, where is she from?”
“Oh, Aro?” Alli sat up slightly, “Her story, if possible, is even stranger. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
Ran looked her in the eye, “Yes, of course!”
“During college, Aro’s father signed up for a series of experiments. It was during the Cold War. There was talk of the Communists ‘brainwashing’ people and creating ‘supersoldiers’ – human psychic weapons…”
“Do you mean to say…?” Ran’s eyes narrowed.
“Yes,” Alli shrugged, looking down, “The Cold War ended, and the program was shut down. Aro’s father left the lab and married a grad student, on the outside, who was another esper, just like him. However, she died when Aro was very small.”
“Aro was raised by her dad, but he too succumbed to illness, when Aro was in high school. Aro also took the Greyhound here. Nealy shared her inheritance with Aro, well into college.”
Ran also sat up, eyes wide and face aghast – but pushed on, “You said Aro was the most powerful out of your group, correct? She must have gotten such a prominent level of talent from her parents.”
“Indeed,” Alli responded, thoughtful, “Aro had an incredible amount of intelligence. She finished early and even became an assistant professor of philosophy there. Nealy and I graduated and we all signed up – were recruited, really – to do a similar thing: remote viewing, remote reading – ”
“That’s where you met Kaan,” Ran blurted out.
“Yes,” Alli replied, unoffended, “But there was an accident. Aro passed away or was lost, at least to this world…The lab closed soon after. Everyone left; the site was abandoned.”
Ran rubbed Alli’s upper arm; Alli resumed leaning on Ran’s shoulder, “And you? Where did you come from?”
Alli smiled, despite wiping away a tear, “Me? I’ve lived a suburban existence on Long Island, just outside the city, my whole life. My parents work in computer sales. As a kid, I used to be afraid of the dark, but I learned later, in the lab, that I was just able to sense what we call avatars – they call themselves Atevars – on the other side, beyond the veil.”
“Computer sales?” Ran asked, incredulous, half-joking.
“Yes,” Alli smirked, “That’s what they said.”
Ran blinked, “Have you ever thought that you might be even more powerful than Aro – or at least more powerful than you think you are?”
Alli fidgeted, not ready to tell her about Æon, the Sky Avatar, “I have no way of knowing.”
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