Strange as Angels


Photo by Caroline Duckworth

“Afraid to meet his eyes, I gaze at my cardboard cup. The coffee’s heat seeps through to my fingers. I have no idea what to expect from this boy.”

I open the door and hold my breath.  Automatically, I glue my eyes to the worn wooden floor as the rich smell of espresso envelops me.  I can already sense a small crowd of people in the coffee shop.

I should leave.

But stubbornness rises up through my panic.

I regulate my breathing, focusing on The Cure song playing softly through the speakers overhead.  I walk to the front counter where the boy behind the cash register gives me a kind smile.  He looks a bit older than me, maybe twenty, with shaggy dark hair and nice midnight-blue eyes.  As I look into them, worry flashes through my mind, but I don’t know what is worrying him.

“A medium latte, please,” I say, returning his smile with difficulty.

Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to notice my anxiety.  He punches a few keys on the cash register and takes my money with the same gentle smile.

As he makes my coffee, I glance around the store for the first time.  My eyes drift across the people in the room, and I hold my breath again, attempting to block out the emotions pounding in.  But soon I catch sight of Lane reading alone at a table by the window.  The other feelings fade away.  He looks exactly the same as he does in the picture Wren gave me, with strong shoulders and light brown hair that curls at the ends.  I let out my breath.  He’s nervous.

“Here you go,” the dark-haired barista says suddenly.

“Thanks,” I reply, taking the cup from his hand and meeting his eyes once again.  Worry.  Stress.  A sad longing for something.  “Have a good day,” I add.

Without looking at anyone, I walk quickly across the room to the window.  It’s difficult, like always.  The emotions of the room press on my mind, trying to draw my eyes upward.  They demand to be felt.

“Waverly, right?” Lane asks, shutting his book as I sit across from him.  “I’m glad you came.”

Afraid to meet his eyes, I gaze at my cardboard cup.  The coffee’s heat seeps through to my fingers.  I have no idea what to expect from this boy.

“Wren told me to come here to meet you,” I start abruptly.  Then pause.  My fingers tremble annoyingly.  “He said you understand.  You have a gift, too.”

Gift, I think to myself sarcastically.  That’s the word Wren uses to describe what I have.  A curse is more like it.

“I wouldn’t call it a gift,” he says in a soft voice.

His emotions tug on every fiber of my being, begging me to look up and notice them.  They’re too strong.  I raise my head.  His soft amber eyes meet mine.  A sea rushes at me.


Deep, bottomless sadness.  Aching, agonizing, heart-wrenching sadness.

Then guilt, regret, and resentment.  But the sadness is the most powerful, with a very real but unknown cause.  I never know the reasons.

Suddenly shock.  Those amber eyes are as wide as those of an innocent deer.  They hold a comforting honesty that somehow frightens me.

“Empathy,” he states
with disbelief.

My breath catches in a painful knot in my chest.

“You’re empathetic,” he continues.  “You feel what others feel.”

I nod slowly, trying to breathe past the knot, “Yeah.  When I look at them.”

My own feelings surface through his ocean.  Together they create a confusing mess that makes my breath grow short.  Stars dance across my vision.  I close my eyes, shutting off the world and this boy—this Lane with his overwhelming sadness and unnerving honesty.

I should leave.

“Don’t leave,” Lane says suddenly.

My eyelids fly open.  He turns away immediately, avoiding me.  His ocean hits me again, less strongly this time.

“You have…”  My voice drifts off.  I’m afraid to say it.  Afraid to think it.

He chews on his thumbnail nervously as he looks out the window.  A cherry-red car coasts down the street.  The sunlight glints in his eyes.

“A week ago I had a feeling that I needed to leave college and drive somewhere,” he says after a moment, almost talking to himself.  “It was like a force was drawing me away.  It was freaky and unnerving… and yet I didn’t stop to question it.  I just got in my car and started driving.  Then I ended up here in this old town in front of the office of some psychiatrist named after a bird.”  He chuckles softly.  “I knew I was supposed to be there, for some reason, even though I wanted to drive away immediately.  I don’t need someone trying to figure out how I think when I know what everyone thinks… but I talked to this Dr. Wren anyway.  He said he had a client with a similar ability and that had to be the reason I was drawn here.  He gave me your name and picture and told me to come here today to meet you.  He thought it would be best for us to talk outside of the ‘confines of an office.’”

He turns back to me, amber eyes now piercing.

“I’m telepathic,” he states almost with shame.

“Well yeah, I kind of figured,” I reply lightly.

The corners of his mouth lift in a small grin that I’d love to see every day.

“So do you always know what everyone else is thinking?” I ask, now a bit nervous.

“Only when I make eye-contact,” he replies, looking directly at me.  “And I’ve been able to control it better the past few years.  If I completely focus on something else, I can barely understand what someone is thinking.  But I still hate it.  I’m still invading someone’s mind.”

I nod in understanding.  “I just have to see someone to feel their emotions.  And even when I look away I can sense them there.  I’m working on focusing on other things, too, but it’s still difficult to be in crowded places.  Before we figured out I was empathetic, my parents thought I just had claustrophobia.  I guess emotions are stronger or more persistent than thoughts.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Lane says thoughtfully.  Then he shakes his head and looks out the window again.  “I always hoped there were others out there like me but never had any idea of how to find them.  So what brought me here?  And why now?”

“I don’t know, Lane.”  My voice sounds hopeless.  Looking down at my coffee, I realize that I haven’t actually had any of it, so I take a sip.  The cold liquid hits my tongue, and I grimace.

“How about I get us both a fresh coffee,” Lane says kindly.  As he stands up, he reaches across the table to take my cup.  Our fingers brush each other.

A shock runs up my arm and through my body, as though a hundred emotions have been shot into my veins.  My vision blurs.  My mind throbs.  My breath quickens.

Then suddenly it all clears away.  I see the remnants of my coffee spilled across the table, staining Lane’s book.  I hear the sound of it dripping onto the floor.  Lane looks at me with those wide deer eyes, his hand suspended above the tipped cup.  We stare at each other in silence.

The honesty of his eyes no longer scares me.  It calls to me, like the Sirens calling to Greek sailors.

I reach out my hand.  He reaches out his.  When our palms meet, our fingers intertwine, and a storm breaks loose.  Outside a wind begins to howl.  Then lightning flashes.  Then thunder roars.  Then the sky opens up.  As rain floods down on the roof over our heads, a tempest assaults my mind.

The shock is worse this time.  I want to cry out in pain, but no sound comes forth.  I realize that thoughts, not emotions, are the things running through my body.  The thoughts and ideas of millions.  I try to look at Lane, but he’s too distorted.  I try to let go of his hand, but our fingers refuse to unclench.

The only things I can hear are the nearly incomprehensible thoughts of people suffering and my own heartbeat.  My blood pounds and pounds, faster and faster.

And the world fades to infinite black.