I got to the airport and spent a few tense hours waiting for my plane, convinced that at any moment, agents would show up and drag me off to jail. I didn’t breathe easy, until the plane was airborne.
More than once, Tammy’s letter found its way into my hands. Plum had already opened it. I peeked inside the torn envelope and saw that her daughter’s name was Delilah. What would be the harm in reading the letter?
I had already experienced enough nasty surprises to last me a lifetime. The address on the envelope did not give any hints as to what type of location I’d be walking into. What if it was dangerous?
In the end, I stuffed the letter back in the purse and reclined as best I could in the seat. I realized the time would be better spent strategizing my next move after delivering the letter. Now that Tammy’s spirit was gone, I was on my own again.
A surprising sense of loss came over me. Why did I always end up all alone? Tears stung my eyes and threatened to begin coursing down my hot face. Not wanting to draw unwanted attention from the people sitting around me, I forced my mind onto more practical matters.
Would it be possible for me to stay in New York and build a new life for myself? There was nothing waiting for me in the city I from which I had just departed. For all I knew, my landlord had already set my things out by the curb. Maybe they had been seized as evidence. I had no clue.
Going home to my parents, while the feds were after me, was out of the question. That wasn’t the only reason I didn’t want to go back. My family had always been little more than strangers to me anyway. They never understood me…never even tried to understand me. I could live with that, but they also never really accepted me.
As a child, that realization had deeply wounded me. I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to win their approval. It angered me during my teenage years and I put on an elaborate act of indifference. As an adult, who never fit in anywhere I thought, why should they be different from anyone else in my life?
I am different and something about that just seems to rub people the wrong way. They never get past that initial wariness. No matter how hard I try to fit in, I always stick out like a sore thumb. Thinking about it now just sort of made me feel tired. I accepted the inevitability of it all, a long time ago. However, as much as I hated to admit it, some small part of me was still bothered by the rejection.
For years, I had always thought that if I could start my life over knowing at that point what I learned as an adult, then life could be amazing. It would be my chance to become someone entirely different, freed from the limitations that those who knew me had placed on me. Not having to worry about upsetting or disappointing anyone was freeing.
I closed my eyes and spent a few pleasurable moments imagining all the different types of people I could become. Most people never look beyond the surface level. It was all about keeping up appearances. My enjoyment was fleeting. Try as I might, all of my imaginings were overshadowed by the thought that Plum would show up, when I least expected it, and ruin my new life, or worse…end my life.
Sooner or later, I would have to face her and put an end to the chase. Again, the memory of Tammy’s departure set off a pang of sadness. Help from her would have leveled the playing field a little.
What chance did I have of doing battle with a witch and surviving? The idea that Plum might enlist her coven was too overwhelming to contemplate. There was also Hiromi to consider. I had so many doubts about her trustworthiness, I didn’t even tell her that I was leaving town.
According to Raven, I was a manifestive empath. Funny, I didn’t feel any different. Even if she was right, I had no idea how to use my so-called powers. Were they even supposed to be called powers? At the most, learning what I might be made me more receptive to the sensations that people evoked in me. In a way, it felt good to finally put a label on what made me so different from other people. It made me feel less like a freak.
The only problem was, I couldn’t figure out how in the world a heightened awareness of other people’s emotions protect me from magic. I was completely in the dark on that one. My only frame of reference was a few scary movies. We all know how questionable movie plots can be.
The more I puzzled over my situation, the more frustrated I felt. Despair sapped my energy and I suddenly felt sleepy. It was a relief to close my eyes and drift off. I awoke as the plane touched down, roused by the rustling of passengers around me, as they gathered up their things.
I can always tell when I’m sinking into one of my spates of deep depression, because no matter the amount of sleep, I awake feeling tired with heavy limbs. That night, I stumbled off of the plane and plodded through the airport terminal feeling drugged.
I didn’t have a bag, so I walked right outside. The cool night air began to revive me. By the time I walked to the first in a row of taxis, parked by the curb, I felt more alert. The driver gave me a knowing leer when he heard the address on the envelope.
When we pulled up in front of my destination, I understood the creepy look he had given me. It was a strip club. I paid the driver and stood on the sidewalk squinting down at the address on the envelope, double checking it for the third time.
In the doorway, my attention was suddenly arrested by someone grabbing my arm. I looked up and found myself caught up in the crush of drunken bridal party attendees and allowed myself to be pushed our way inside. I quickly separated myself from the herd before they corralled me in one of the red vinyl booths along the wall. The place was cave-like with strobe lights that were almost disorienting flashing in the darkness.
I made my way over to the bar and after three tries, got the bartender’s attention. He drew a blank on Delilah’s name until I purchased an expensive drink. Then he suddenly remembered that she would be coming out on stage next.
I stood indecisively at the bar with my watered down drink in hand, pondering whether I should watch her or avert my eyes. The bartender mistook my indecisiveness for shyness and urged me to take a seat front and center. He assured me that nothing embarrassed Delilah. I shrugged and sat at one of the small two seat tables near the front of the stage.
From the moment she came out on stage, Delilah commanded the attention of everyone in the room. She was scantily clad and balanced on impossibly high red heels. I wish that I could recall what she was wearing but I’m not sure I even noticed. Almost immediately, Delilah made eye contact with me and it was as though we were alone in the room.
After a few moments of that intense connection, I squirmed uncomfortably. She wasn’t so much looking at me as looking into me. Delilah danced towards the front of the stage and made her way down the steps without breaking eye contact.
When she advanced on me, I wanted to leave but the force of her stare kept me pinned in my seat. I sat there helplessly as she danced provocatively, thrusting her chest at me.
Delilah reached out and took my hands, preparing to run them over her svelte body. I felt a jolt of something electric pass between us. My scalp tingled and she was suddenly inside my head.
It freaked me out. I jumped up so fast that my chair flipped backwards. I nearly fell over it, as I hurriedly backed away from her. Amused faces turned in my direction but I was too alarmed to be embarrassed. I turned to leave, pausing to get my bearings.
I glanced over my shoulder. She looked over towards the bartender and nodded subtly. He came around from behind the bar and motioned for the muscle at the door to intercept me. In short order, I was grabbed and dragged to the dressing room. The bouncer shoved me inside and locked the door.
I stayed on the floor where I landed, hugging knees to chest and attempting to quell the panic stirring up my emotions. Delilah had somehow reached into the recesses of my mind and violently stirred things up.
Memories that I had long worked to tamp down out of my thoughts were suddenly rearing up. Anger and sadness were at war inside my head. When Delilah finally entered the dressing room, I couldn’t look her in the eye.
“What did you do to me,” I asked raggedly.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so heavy-handed. Working in a place like this makes you forget that not everyone enjoys the rough stuff. It’s just that I got excited when I realized that you were an empath too.”
“You mean you’re an empath? How did you know I was one?”
“As soon as I stepped out on that stage, I could feel your gaze on me. I thought maybe I was mistaken. You get some pretty intense looks when you…do what I do.”
“So, how did you know for sure that I was an empath? ”
“When I looked into your eyes, you looked back into me. Most people just let their eyes graze over the surface. They take in someone’s looks without really seeing the person underneath. That’s why con artists are so successful, they dress the part and people believe what they see without stopping to assess what their gut tells them.”
“Can you show me how to do that thing you did to me?”
“I don’t need to show you how to do it. We were both doing the same thing. I was just doing it more…forcefully. You just have reach out with your mind and push harder that’s all.”