23. Insecurities

2022, March 23th
Collapse – 27 years

“What if you’re focusing past them, but your eyes just happen to line up with theirs?” Katherine asked.

“I don’t know,” said Alexander. “Whenever I’m reading minds, I’m focused on my target. I wouldn’t look past them.”

“Can we try it?”

“Sure. Why not?” Alex smiled broadly. It was a good smile.

For Katherine’s final night, Sakhr had taken everyone to the highest class restaurant this small town had to offer—a repurposed townhouse with tables set up throughout small rooms. Sakhr had reserved a room for the coven. It had mild art along the walls and plastic logs in a fireplace which flickered with orange electric light. Whenever the waiter left, they had the room to themselves.

Katherine tried staring through Alex, her eyes wide.

“Can you read my mind?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“And you’re sure your eyes are lined up with mine?”

“Yep.” Alexander made of show of covering one eye as he checked.

“What if you focus on my eyes and I look past you.”

“Okay.”

“Are you getting anything?”

“Nope.”

“Really? How about now?”

“Nothing.”

“Hmm.” Katherine took notes of the results. Alexander’s smile switched off while she wasn’t looking.

Apart from a few side conversations, Katherine’s questions were the center of attention. She had a prominent seat between Josephine and Sakhr, giving her a line of sight to every other witch.

“So I guess it probably doesn’t work if they’re unconscious then,” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Alexander said. His smile was back at full force “We could always knock out one of the busboys if you’d like to try it.”

“That’s okay.” Kat missed the sarcasm as she took notes. Alexander’s eyes met Sakhr’s. Tension passed between them.

Josephine stepped in. “Maybe you’d like to ask me more questions instead?”

“Oh, well. I guess so. I mostly asked you everything I could think of on Saturday, but now that I know powers can improve, there was something I was wondering.”

“Yes?”

“How come when we both talked to people on Saturday, you could make people forget the entire conversation, but you can’t make them forget if only I did any talking?”

“Because then I wasn’t involved in the conversation. I can only block memories I’m a part of.”

“But you were. You were standing right there, even if you didn’t say anything.”

“I guess it just wasn’t enough.”

“So you can make people forget things I say, but only if you’ve said something during the conversation. Does that make sense to you? I feel like it shouldn’t matter. You were there. You were part of it.”

“I just can’t. The switches in my head don’t do that.”

“But you should be able to. I think you should be able extend your power out to anything you’re even slightly associated with, any shared memory. I think you could make people forget about the entire coven as long as you’re a part of it.”

“My power works for me, not others.”

“That’s only because you believe that. Think about this, you can make people forget about you when they see you drive down the road, right?”

“Right.”

“And it’s not like they just forget about you and only remember the car. You can make them forget the car was there, right?”

“Okay?”

“What if Sakhr was in the car too. Would that mean they’d forget about you and the car, but they’d somehow remember seeing Sakhr? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“That’s a good point,” said Sakhr. “And you have done this before. Remember Berlin?”

“I don’t know…” said Josephine.

“It makes perfect sense psychologically,” continued Katherine. “If a person gets into a car accident, they say, ‘someone hit me,’ not, ‘someone’s car hit my car.’ That’s because when people drive, their cars become an extension of them. You do the same. When you drive, you see the car as part of yourself. That’s why you can drive a car into somebody’s house and leave them wondering where the hole came from. When we were in the park, you could use a stick to knock over somebody’s drink and they’ll forget both you and the stick, because you see the stick as part of yourself. It’s you knocking over their drink, but if you throw a ball, they remember the ball because you stop seeing the ball as part of yourself. The ball knocked over their drink, not you. But if you could trick yourself into expanding what you consider part of you, then I think you could expand your power too. So if you imagined the entire coven as an extension of you, then you could blank us all from people’s memory.”

“Very clever,” Sakhr nodded. “That would be useful.”

“Hold up,” Josephine said. “I’ve thought about this before. I’ve been trying for decades to grow my power like that. I never got anywhere.”

“Maybe you just need a coach. I think you just have to visualize it properly. Next time we go to the park, we’ll try it. Alexander, could you come too? I might need help making sure she’s visualizing correctly.”

“Sure.” Alexander’s smile snapped back on, “that is, if Josephine is okay with letting me read her mind.”

“Would you be okay with that?” Katherine asked. “I wish I could read your mind instead. That would help me more, but I think even a third party could work.”

“Certainly,” Josephine said. “I’m looking forward to it.” She could always make Alex forget what he read.

“Okay, great. And you’re sure you’re okay with this, Alex? It might take a long time.”

“Anything I can do to help,” he said.

“Thanks! And by the way, thank you for answering all my questions. I was worried I was boring you the other day.”

“Of course not.”

“Cool. Because actually I have a few more questions if that’s okay.”

“Absolutely.”

Katherine missed the irritation behind his grin. “Thanks. I’d like to know more about how you visualize your mind reading. Do you have a mental exercise you do? Like, do you imagine looking through a window into their minds?”

“No. It just happens.”

“Did you ever confuse their thoughts for yours?”

“Nope.”

“Never? Sakhr said you used to do that.”

“Oh right. Then I guess I did.

“How do you tell them apart? Are their thoughts in a different part of your head?”

“Sure.”

Her brow furrowed at the ambivalent answer. “Well, what was it like the first time you read a mind? How could you tell it wasn’t just in your head?”

“Because their thoughts weren’t mine. They didn’t have the same voice. So for instance, when I look in your eyes, A voice in my head is excited about what to ask next, so I know it can’t be coming from me.”

“You never mix them up?”

“Nope.”

“How often do you catch people’s private thoughts?”

“All the time.”

“Do you ever feel bad about it?”

“What does that have to do with my power?”

“I was just wondering.”

“No. I don’t have a moral problem with seeing people’s private thoughts. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not exactly the most moral bunch. Your private thoughts are tame compared to most. Take your desire to steal Britney’s body and taunt her while she’s stuck in your old one. I know you weren’t planning on telling us about that because you didn’t want us to think you were ‘psycho’. Except that we steal people’s bodies all the time, and then we kill them. Then we take all of their money and cut ties with their families. That’s much worse than your daydreams. Besides, I know that your desire isn’t wrath. It’s envy. You want to have her body, because your own body disgusts you so much that you don’t even include yourself in your own sexual fantasies.”

Katherine’s face went white.

Alexander.” Sakhr’s voice cut through the dining room like a slammed fist.

“I’m sorry. Were we not telling her about the body stealing yet? I figured she’d already put that together given how many questions she’s asked about it.”

“Alexander, you will cease this immediately.”

“Shouldn’t she know what kind of people we are before signing on with us? Wasn’t that the point of waiting around? It’s not like it matters. She’ll still come with us. Everyone in this town sees her as an undesirable little runt. Even our waiters are wondering what we’re doing with her. By the way, is our check coming? We’ve been sitting here a long time.”

Katherine had slowly withdrawn into herself. She clutched her notebook to her chest as though it were a source of warmth. This was the same timid child Josephine had seen sitting on the school steps where the girls had tormented her.

Josephine wrapped her arms about Katherine and pulled her close. “Shut up, Alex. What the hell are you thinking?”

“I’m sorry. Was I rude?”

Sakhr rose. “Alexander, leave this restaurant now. I will speak with you back at the hotel.”

“Sure, fine.” Alex tossed his napkin on the table and rose.

“Wait.” It was Christof. Everyone looked at him, and then to whom he was staring: Katherine.

Still wrapped in Josephine’s arms, she looked up and met Alex’s gaze head on.

The silence hung in the air.

“What?” Alex uttered, his expression perplexed.

Katherine spoke. “You want a pretty girl’s body too.”

For the first time that Josephine had ever seen, Alex broke eye contact first.

Katherine continued. “You’ve always thought about asking Sakhr to give you a woman’s body instead of another man’s, but you’re worried everyone would think you’re gay. You’re not. You know you’re not. You just think to yourself sometimes that if you’d had a choice at birth, you would have picked female. Then you tell yourself you’re okay with being a man, but sometimes at when you’re laying in bed, you rub your hands across your legs and pretend—”

Shut the fuck up you little bitch!

He hurled his beer glass at her. She squeaked and recoiled. Josephine deflected the glass, but beer splattered both of them. Alex’s eyes were wild, but his gaze did not look near Katherine. After several seething breaths, he stormed from room.

Everyone was quiet at first, until Sibyl quietly asked, “Did you just read his mind?”

“Yeah.” Katherine paused, then, “Yeah! I don’t know how. It’s like I just figured out how he did it, and then I did it, like I finished a puzzle.” She looked at Sibyl. Her eyes lit. “I can still do it!”

“Christof?” Sakhr said. “What are you seeing?”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“Is she a mimic?”

Bewildered, he shrugged. “I just don’t know.”

“I see it!” Katherine was looking into Christof’s eyes. “I see what you see in me.”

Startled, Christof averted his gaze.

Katherine hardly noticed. “Oh my God. This is so awesome. I just get how it’s done now. I always felt like if I could just figure it out enough, I’d know how to do it myself.” She spun to Josephine. “I can read minds now! I can probably help you so much faster now too.”

Sakhr stood. “Yes. Indeed. However, we’re making a scene. Perhaps it’s best if we call it a night.”

Katherine spun to him. “Right now?”

“Yes. Between Alexander and the time, I think we’ve had enough excitement for one day.” He pulled out a wallet and left several large bills on the table. While everyone else stood, Katherine remained seated.

“But I just found out what my power is. Why do I have to go home now?”

Sakhr smiled warmly… at the table. “Tonight is the last night you’ll ever have to go home. Make sure you’re packed and ready. We have a long trip tomorrow. Then you’ll have all the time in the world to explore your power.”

“Okay…”

“Josephine. If you’ll take her back.”

Sibyl moved to.

Sakhr stopped her. “No. Just Josephine. Sibyl, I might need your help with Alex.”

The order struck Josephine as strange. Sibyl wouldn’t be any help with Alex. If anything, it was usually her that needed help from Sakhr when Alex was hard on her.

Outside, Sakhr addressed everyone. “All right. Let’s find wherever Alex sulked off to. Once we’re back, he and I are going to have a long, long talk.” He looked in Katherine’s general direction. “I must apologize for Alexander. He forgets his place.”

“It’s okay,” she said.

“Go home. Sleep well. Remember. You mustn’t tell your father anything, even to say goodbye.”

“I know.”

Sakhr handed car keys to Josephine. “Take her. We’ll meet you at the hotel.”


The ride to Katherine’s house was muted—not what Josephine would have expected from an inquisitive girl who’d just discovered her secret ability. Josephine tried to break the silence.

“I’m glad somebody finally threw mind reading in Alex’s face.”

“Yeah.” Katherine was gazing out the window.

“For years he’s been using everyone’s personal lives against them. But you taught him a lesson. I don’t know if he’ll forgive you, but I don’t think he’ll ever bully you again.”

“I guess,” Katherine wasn’t convinced. Alexander’s behavior had tainted Katherine’s opinion of the coven. Josephine’s optimism couldn’t change that.

She kept trying anyway. “Who knows? Maybe Alex’s power was just the first. Maybe you can learn all our powers.”

“Maybe.” Katherine hesitated. “Why does Sakhr keep him around?”

Josephine knew who she was referring to. “He’s a jerk, but he’s one of us. We’re a family. Sometimes you don’t like your siblings, but you put up with them anyway.”

“Sakhr doesn’t see him as family. He hates Alex. Everybody does except for Anton. Sakhr only keeps him around because he’s useful, and Alex knows that. He just doesn’t care.”

“You saw a lot in his mind, didn’t you?”

Katherine shrugged halfheartedly.

“Maybe now that you can read minds too,” Josephine said. “Alexander will have to behave himself.”

“Maybe…”

“Is something wrong, kiddo?”

Katherine turned to look at Josephine. Josephine had her eyes on the road. She pulled onto Katherine’s street and parked before her house.

“No. Nothing’s wrong.”

“You’re morose for somebody who just learned how to read minds.”

“I guess.” A pause. “Do you think you could stay for a while?”

“I have to get back.”

“Please? Now that I can read minds, I can help you improve your power too. I was serious before. I really do think you’re not using it to its full potential. You could be erasing so much more than just yourself from people’s minds.”

“And we’ll have plenty of time to work on it tomorrow on the plane. I promise.”

“Please?”

Josephine shook her head. “Sakhr wants me back. Besides, this is your last night. You should spend it with your father. We’ll have lifetimes to spend together.”

Katherine was silent a while. When she spoke, the words came out flat. “Okay.” She opened the car door. “Tomorrow then.”

“Flight’s at ten!” Josephine called after her. “I’ll pick you up here at seven fifty.”

“Yeah, sure.” Katherine smiled. It seemed forced.

Josephine watched as Katherine walked up to her house. She thought of getting out and joining Katherine, just for a while. After the way Alexander had treated her, she could probably use some assurance. She’d just spend a few minutes with her, that’s all.

She didn’t though.

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