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Sing A Twist

The Talent Within Series, Book 1

By Brook T. Mays







Sing A Twist

Published by Brook T. Mays at Smashwords

Copyright © 2016

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places or events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

Cover design by Design Smith







To Stacie,

Without your encouragement in the beginning,

I would never have written more than the first chapter!







Acknowledgments

Thank you to my family for your love and support during the process of writing my first novel, especially to my sisters, Sherri and Stacie, and to my mom, Carolyn, for being the firsts to read it.

To my amazing group of friends, thank you for your support and inspiration in this endeavor and in the day to day of our lives. To Angie, thank you for your input on all things Cajun! Any mistakes are all mine. To Hannah, thank you for your critique and for your technical support. Your brain amazes me! To Jodi Johnston and the STAR team, without you all giving me the courage, motivation, and drive, this story would have remained written but unpublished.

I couldn’t have done this without you all!







Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Epilogue

Glossary

About the Author

Titles from Brook T. Mays

Sneak Peak at Hear My Call

Connect With Me







Chapter 1

She stumbled a bit as she opened the front. Who could be in the house? The silent lecture going on in her head about working too late to get her errands done repeated for what had to be the four hundred forty-fourth time. Some things were too important to put off. Some things were too dangerous to put off. But she had let herself get caught up at the community center where she volunteered by manning the crisis hotline. Again. Letting all that go, she concentrated for a moment. Taking a deep breath and mentally fanning herself, she stepped through the entryway. Only to find one roommate watching the television on the couch, the other finishing up a phone call, and the third rooting around in the fridge.

“Hey, guys. Is anyone else here?” She glanced up the stairs a little apprehensive. Whoever was up there, she would deal.

“What, we’re not enough?” came out of the refrigerator.

She smiled. They were hardly all there together at the same time. She loved her roommates. Different college and work schedules sometimes kept them passing ships in the night. But tonight, here they all were. And someone was feeling . . . lust. Phillip didn’t always show up until the next day after one of his gigs at a local college bar, but he never brought anyone home. Neither Monica nor Jacob was seeing anyone. They were both okay with casual, though. Either one could have brought someone home, but no one else was there. So what brought on . . .

They were all looking at her. Incredulously, she asked, “Did one of you cook in my kitchen? I left an entire lasagna for you! And there is all that meat you guys bar-b-que’d…”

“Relax, neurotic queen of the kitchen. Nobody else even wants to cook.” Monica smiled at her as she teased. She had finished her phone call. Elena enjoyed grocery shopping and cooking. She would do most of the shopping, and the roommates would split the bill four ways. “By the way I picked up tampons for you,” Monica added for all the room to hear. Elena often forgot non-food items, though. Way to be discrete, Monica.

Elena heard her driest voice come out, “Thanks for the announcement.” Some people had no boundaries. And she loved Monica for that. Elena was too shy and had to struggle when she was in a group, making it even harder for her to concentrate. She admired Monica’s outgoing personality. She told you exactly how she felt and what she thought and somehow still managed to be tactful. It was a unique combination. In this case, however, she threw a little couch cushion at Phillip who had sniggered not-quite under his breath. He never even blinked as it fell short by at least a foot.

“Your aim is off,” he said with his slight Cajun accent. He had broken family tradition by moving away from “the swamp” as he called his family home. With his slightly curly light brown hair, half grin that always seemed to be on his face, and slender build she couldn’t decide if he was sexy or cute. Until she watched him sing. Then she knew. Along with every other female and a good portion of the guys, too. No surprise he often came home the next morning, not at night after the bar closed. “You’ve been clumsy, lately. I heard you fall coming in the door. You alright? Too tired from saving this college town one phone call at a time?” He grinned his should-be-famous grin at her. “Now you make a babbin,” which she supposed referred to the face she was making at him. “I woan tease you anymore. Come here and sit down with me.” He intentionally thickened his accent. It actually sounded more like ‘Come hear an’ sit down wit me’. And the way he pronounced the word won’t, drawing out the vowels… He did it on purpose. Phillip knew how to charm.

Grumbling to herself about specifically not falling, she wondered how bad she had been lately for him to notice her clumsiness. She would have to be more careful. he shouldn’t have worked too late tonight. She knew what time the strip mall closed. Elena thought babbin might have something to do with pouting, maybe. Had he been accusing her of pouting? Just in case, she quickly changed her expression pasting on a very fake and bright smile. Didn’t matter. Phillip’s grin never changed.

As she plopped down on the couch, she noticed that Phillip had turned the television off. Jacob and Monica had both joined them in the small living room. Jacob was without any food from the refrigerator. And they were all looking at her. Curious. “Is this an intervention?” She narrowed her eyes at them. “Because I thought I was the only one of us qualified for that.”

“You actually would be qualified if you hadn’t left me to study abroad. You would be finished with your Master’s by now.” Ever the loyal friend, Monica’s assessment of her academic career was a little over-inflated. Even if she had been able to finish that semester last Spring, she would not have been able to complete her Master’s yet. And, actually she wanted to eventually get her PhD. But some things just can’t be helped. For Elena, that time away had been necessary. But still, she didn’t want to go ‘study abroad’ again so soon. “I learned a lot,” Elena mumbled, avoiding eye contact and hoping no one would notice the guilt she felt. She could be more careful. As careful as was necessary. It wasn’t the easiest path she could have taken. But it was her choice. That was important to her.

Monica had been living in the house with her the longest. Another roommate, Jennifer, had been living with them at the time Elena had to leave for a few months. Jennifer had graduated while Elena had been gone. She still felt so selfish not being there in person for Jennifer’s graduation. Instead, she had just sent a gift.

Elena’s family owned the house they lived in, and she rented out the extra rooms at a good rate. The downstairs had a kitchen that opened on to the living room, and one bedroom that was Elena’s. The rest of the downstairs was taken up by the attached garage that also connected to the kitchen. Monica had the bedroom upstairs with the bathroom, and the guys had the other two that shared a bathroom. Jennifer had not moved out long when Jacob had moved in with them the summer past. He had transferred from a smaller community college in his hometown of Angleton and had lived there for almost a year now. He hoped to be the first in his family to get a college degree and Texas State University offered a lot of flexibility for transfer students. He was studying business management. Phillip had joined them just before the fall semester had started. Studying music, of course. He had stayed home after high school graduation working in the family business, a pawn shop, for a couple of years. Elena knew it was a hard fought battle to leave home that had strained his relationship with his family, but Phillip said little about it. It was also a hardship to leave his beloved bayou. Elena often thought that was a big part of the reason Phillip had settled here in this small Texas town. Though the San Marcos river running nearby their university wasn’t the swamps of Louisiana, it was water; and Elena thought he just couldn’t live too far from it, different though it may be from his own home.

This was the first time that all four bedrooms were being used at one time. All of the roommates were a bit older than your typical college student. They had all started a little late, and had to work part-time. It gave them a common ground with Elena feeling a little odd-man out because of her more stable financial situation. This was also the first time that any of the roommates had been male. Elena knew they were trustworthy, though her family had still insisted on a more thorough vetting process than even the roommates were aware. The four of them had been living together for about nine months now. It was the best roommate situation that Elena had experienced yet. She was happy here. Although, a little suspicious of all the scrutiny right at this particular moment.

“So, this is an intervention? Why are you all looking at me?” Everyone was seated. Phillip had kept his seat on the big couch in front of the television. Monica had joined him, and Jacob had taken the small recliner next to them. Sitting across on the couch against the wall, Elena caught the end of a long glance between Jacob and Monica. She worked hard to keep the shock and the blush off her face. How could she have missed this? Especially with her birth date looming over her! She lived with them! Still, it had been a busy time. Now that she thought about it, she realized she had not often been home with both of them.

“What thought do you have in your pretty little head right now? I think you should share. It looks down right dirty. And I don’t mean unclean. Naughty. They say it’s always the quiet ones.” Phillip’s teasing interrupted her thoughts. He had been watching her. Guess she hadn’t quite kept the blush off her face. Careless of her. She blushed some more, but this time it was from her own feelings. How embarrassing! Her concentration was back in place despite Phillip’s ongoing promises of doing chores he had no intention of doing in exchange for her giving up her “fetishes.” Apparently, he had decided that she was having one hell of a fantasy right here on the couch. It had been quite a look between Monica and Jacob, one filled with expectation not yet experienced. She desperately hoped her face hadn’t shown that much.

As Jacob joined Phillip in teasing her and earnestly trying to get her to give up what was going through her mind, Monica saved her. “No, this isn’t an intervention. Since you didn’t seem to hear me the first time I said it. Leave her alone, boys. And the girl on girl thing is a guy fantasy. That one is just wishful thinking, Phillip, all on your part. Besides, you know I’ll get the secret out of her and share later.” Monica had saved her, huh? She was taking that grateful thought back. “We know it’s your birthday. And somehow your parents knew you would be too late to go pick up your package.” Monica didn’t quite keep her voice as excited as she was trying. She had let Elena know in the past that she thought it strange that her parents never visited. Monica had never even met them. They never called either. They sent letters. Monica found it all very impersonal and backwards in today’s society of cell phones and face time. She disapproved that her parents mailed Elena a gift to the same Fed Ex store in the strip mall every year. The underlying feeling was one of worry for Elena, though, so Elena didn’t take offense. Plus, Monica wasn’t one to harp on a topic. She said her piece and moved on. “We know part of the roommate agreement is no gifts, only cake and candles. We also know you don’t especially like cake. So we have ice cream.” Elena watched as Jacob and Monica went to the kitchen and pulled out four bowls with chocolate ice cream in them from the freezer. It was Ben & Jerries Phish food. Elena’s favorite. It seems Monica picked up more than just tampons on her grocery run, and Jacob hadn’t been just scrounging in the fridge when she got home.

Monica handed her a candle and then lit it for her. Phillip picked up the guitar that he was never too far from and played “Happy Birthday” as they all sang. She blew out the candle, laughing, as Phillip embellished at the end of the simple song. Hugging them each in turn, she thanked them. They ate the small bowls of ice cream. “Thank you, Monica, for going to pick up the package. I knew the delivery store closed at 6:00 today. I shouldn’t have missed it. I’m sorry you had to go to the trouble.”

“Actually, it was Phillip who went to pick it up,” Monica corrected. Elena looked at him in surprise, and he seemed a little part embarrassed and a little part flustered as he shrugged it off. It was an endearing expression on his face.

“Well, I was home when a messenger delivered a note from your parents. They really wanted you to have your present on your birthday. They asked me to pick it up for you. Guess they know you well. Knew you would be too late before it even happened.” They were all used to Elena’s parents delivering notes despite how odd a form of communication it was.

“Do you have the note?” Elena tried to keep her voice neutral. She was pretty sure she pulled it off. “Sure,” Phillip said, digging it out of his pocket. It was crumpled and short. It was written to Phillip and signed by her mother. After reading it, Elena casually thanked him. Inside, she wondered what that detail meant. Why was it addressed to Phillip?

“I have been sitting here guarding this for you. Monica wanted to shake it, and Jacob wanted to open it then rewrap. But I kept it for you. This is from your parents.” Phillip pulled a small wrapped box from underneath the couch where he had been sitting. The box was wrapped in paper the color of copper mixed with gold and the ribbon and bow was a muted silver color. She took it from Philip’s hand and started opening it as they all watched. Taking the necklace out she held it up for them to see. It was thick gold in the back nearest the clasp but divided into several strands of gold with small opals woven through it that would hang just below her neck. It was quite formal. Elena was a bit dismayed wondering how she was going to pull off wearing the piece every day. It didn’t exactly match the wardrobe of a college student. She was incredibly relieved, though. Danger averted, despite her poor time management.

“It is beautiful. Your parents are nothing if not consistent.” Monica let her voice show a little more of the true emotion she was feeling.

“Elena, it matches the bracelet you always wear. Beautiful, just like you.” Jacob came over to give her another hug and a kiss on her cheek. He wished her happy birthday again.

“It matches the ring they got her the year before that, too.” Monica gave her a hug, too, making Elena shiver. Monica was definitely displeased with her parents. She grabbed the bowls and started toward the kitchen. Elena noted that Jacob followed her. He wasn’t usually big on doing dishes. This time she felt her whole body flush before she had a chance to focus and block. That was potent. Feeling like a peeping tom never set well with her, especially with good friends. A worried thought in the back of her mind wouldn’t go away. She hoped she wasn’t responsible for this. It was always risky this close to her birth date. Everyone deserved to make their own choices. She would not let her concentration drop again.

“Let me help you put it on.” Phillip took the necklace and Elena started to move her hair out of the way. She wasn’t sure what happened first: The necklace catching in her hair right at the base where it was most painful, or the necklace getting caught in Phillip’s watch. He started to try to pull away reaching for his watch. “Ow! Don’t move. I don’t want you to break it or pull my hair out. Come in to my bathroom. The light is better there. I can unhook it from your watch.” As they headed to the bathroom, the other two roommates didn’t even seem to notice the tangle or Phillip and Elena awkwardly walking connected as they were by her necklace.

Elena flipped on the lights. “Give me your hand. I’m good at knots.” She worked at it unsuccessfully for a while, her hands feeling clumsy. Resigned, she finally let her concentration slip just a fraction. She was able to quickly free the necklace from Phillip’s watch. She was dismayed at the amount of heat she felt. She had always felt Phillip was attractive, half the co-ed population did, but more than ever now she was afraid that she had been accidentally affecting Monica and Jacob. She should have more control than this. She needed to get the necklace on quick. She was careful to avoid eye contact with Phillip. Now that his hands were freed, he quickly untangled the necklace from her hair. This time, he put it on her without a hitch. Immediately, she was able to relax. If she wanted to know now, even given his close proximity, she would have to actively try to feel Phillip’s emotions.

She turned around smiling at him. “Thank you for your help, and again for picking this up for me. My parents are sticklers for getting me my gifts on time.” Always true words, if never the truth.

He smiled back at her and puckered his lips in a ridiculous exaggeration as he leaned in for a kiss. Her hands automatically went to his shoulders, and she felt his hands on her waist. Time seemed to freeze for a second, and then they laughed at the same time. It was a companionable moment like many they had shared before. She felt relief that she hadn’t ruined anything. But now - it was time to step away. Neither did. They were still staring into each other’s eyes, and the laugh had faded. They both leaned in. This time the laugh from both of them sounded forced as they stopped just short of contact. She made herself step back and took off the matching bracelet placing it in her jewelry box. She was breathing just a little too fast. The necklace was on and he had wanted to kiss her. She kept her back to him, still fiddling with the jewelry box, but she risked a peak at him in the mirror as the moment of awkward silence started to stretch out. Phillip ran one hand through his hair. He gave a short laugh. “Yeah. What was I thinking?” she thought she heard him mumble. But he was still standing so close. Looking a little desperate, he changed the subject and asked her, “You’re not goan to wear the matching set?”

“I think it would be an overkill of a fashion statement, don’t you? The necklace is newer, so I’ll wear it. I don’t wear the ring either, most of the time, though I keep it in here.” She could feel the necklace against her skin. It made contact with her skin all the way around her neck, but the attraction hadn’t lessened a bit. He wasn’t standing that close to her, but she swore she could feel the heat rolling off of him.

She had procrastinated fiddling with the jewelry box as long as she could. Finally, she turned away from the jewelry box. And they crashed together. The only thing more frantic than their lips, were their hands grabbing on to each other. After some time, the kiss slowed down. Less desperate, but somehow deeper. When they finally parted, she wondered if she looked as shell-shocked as he did. Surely she had been more affected by a single kiss than this before, right? If so, the memory eluded her.

“Hey, Phillip! You still want a ride to the bar? My shift starts soon,” they heard Jacob call from the living room. He tended bar some nights at one of the clubs that Phillip often had gigs. Phillip smiled a bit of a cocky smile as he walked backward a few steps, calling over his shoulder, “Yeah, podna,” he called to his friend. “I’m coming now.” Yep, she must have looked at least as shell-shocked as he did, judging by the confident smirk on his face.

Walking back into the living room, she could hear a shower running upstairs. She guessed Monica was getting ready for bed. Completely opposite Jacob and Phillip, she worked early morning shifts before taking classes. As a result, she was almost always the first to bed. Elena gathered up the wrappings to take back to her room.

“I’ll see you later, Elena,” Jacob called grabbing his keys. They were both headed towards the door as she heard Jacob tease him. “You’ve been home a lot of nights lately. Think you’ll end your dry spell tonight?”

Phillip was looking at her as he said, “No, I woan. I’m coming home tonight.” He turned away and shut the door. She could barely hear him say to Jacob, “Wait for me. Doan leave me at the bar tonight.” She couldn’t hear the rest of their conversation as they got in the car and drove away.

She thought about all she had been experiencing since she walked in the door tonight. Jacob and Monica. Now Phillip. She had some important questions to answer.




Chapter 2


Elena had finally fallen asleep late the night before. Although she had climbed in to bed not long after the guys had left, she had lain awake unable to sleep until they had come home a little after 2:00 am. She still didn’t have answers to any of her questions. At least not any she could rely on as truth. She had some ideas, but a lot of the answers could just be wishful thinking. Still, she fell in to a peaceful sleep, the first in a while, after she heard two - and only two - sets of footsteps. When she woke the next morning, she decided to bake muffins and leave some bacon for the guys when they finally woke. She glided around the kitchen as she prepared it all. Monica had left as Elena was getting up and starting the muffins. The two had shared a quick conversation about their plans for the day, when they would see each other next, and then Monica was out the door. She had an arrangement with a doctor’s office. She got to work at 6:00 am and worked on filing patient’s notes until the first patients were scheduled to come at 7:30. She manned the front desk and answered phones until she was relieved at noon. Then she was quickly on her way to afternoon classes on campus. Elena had left her a to-go package in the fridge. Monica’s favorite yogurt and an apple, with a note included as well. It read, ‘Thanks again for my birthday! I need to talk to you!!’ They kept the coffee set on a timer. Monica took a travel mug on her way out the door. She probably wouldn’t see the note until she got to work. Elena hoped it wouldn’t make Monica too distracted today. She finished getting ready while the muffins baked in the oven. She sat them out on the counter to cool and left a note on the fridge about the bacon. She had one lecture to attend today. The rest of the time was to be spent working on her thesis, meaning she had most of the day alone with her thoughts. Great. She hoped at least some of the thoughts would be on her work and not on her friends and one particularly sexy roommate.

Surprisingly, Elena came home with her thoughts full of ideas for her thesis. She had not chosen where her main area of focus would be, yet. She had too many ideas and interests. She was a bit delayed because of her enthusiasm for psychology as a whole. At least, that is how she chose to view her reluctance to commit to one idea to research. Okay, she was beyond behind. She was running out of classes to take. She needed to make a decision and produce a thesis if she wanted to continue in the field of psychology. Tonight, though, she pushed that to the back of her mind. All that mattered was that today had gone well. She had gone to the library and was able to read and concentrate on her own thoughts about psychology. So what if they ranged from biopsychology to child psychology to engineering psychology and back around to developmental psychology? She was just as interested in the way animal species adapt, survive, and evolve as she was in the way people interact with their equipment and systems in their work environment. It was all fascinating. And, don’t even get her started on the psychology of the individual’s growth and development. She pulled into the garage. That overwhelming thought was back. She wanted to do her thesis on, well, everything to do with psychology. She refused to dwell on how impossible and impractical that goal was. Instead, she took the time to just enjoy the moment. She had chosen this field to study. She loved it. She held on to one of life’s truth that she had learned from her parents. Life was in the small moments. She was living, right now, doing what she had chosen for herself. Soon enough she would have to deal with details and make decisions. For now, she would just enjoy the moment. She entered the house through the garage door that connects with the kitchen. And found all her roommates there again. Well, it wasn’t her birth date today.

A quick look at the table told her that they had eaten the lasagna. That made her smile on the inside. She liked to cook for everyone. In her opinion, food is always needed and appreciated. Plus, this one was low fat made with ground turkey and she hadn’t told the guys that little fact. She had just enough crazy in her to check the pan to see how many helpings they had inadvertently ate. “So is this an intervention?” she asked the three of them. They were sitting at the table in the breakfast nook. Monica and Jacob were across the table from each other with Phillip between them. Elena took a seat across from Phillip and joined them. It looked like they were waiting for her.

“Finally, you’re home. I was afraid the library swallowed you whole. The world of psychology can’t have you right now ‘cause I need you. I have an announcement to make.” Monica actually stood up. “Well, we have some news to tell you at least.” She looked expectantly at Jacob.

He had remained sitting back in his chair with one ankle crossed over the opposite knee. “She’s hot,” he said nodding his head at Monica. “A blind fool could see that. I’m not blind and only a fool for a pretty face. With large breasts.” He smiled, probably hoping that the joke he played on himself would exonerate him from the boob comment. Elena noticed that Phillip had relaxed as Monica and Jacob had started to speak. So he hadn’t known what this was all about, either.

“Yes. I’m pretty and have big boobs. Thank you, Jacob. He’s pretty, and I’ll let you know how he measures up later.” She winked at Elena. Open and out-going. Gotta love her. “We are all roommates here. I have lived in enough places to know that we have a good thing going. We’re practically family. Jacob and I are attracted to each other and we are going to explore that. Tonight. Despite how bad that sounds after the family comment. You know what I meant. Jacob, help me out,” although she plowed on without pause. “We would appreciate any privacy you could give us. We know this may be frightening to you both,” at this point she was looking solely at Elena. Phillip was sitting back in his chair. The two guys looked like they were mentally fist bumping each other across the table. “But we are adults. We know that whatever may come of this physical exploration, we will always respect the roommate agreement.” Monica sat down. She looked around the table. A bit agitated, she shifted her legs under the table, bumping it and causing a beer bottle that Jacob had been drinking to slide off. Elena caught it without looking or spilling a drop and replaced it on the table. She waited in the short silence that ensued. When no one spoke, Monica began to fidget again.

Elena had to stretch to know Monica was worried. So Elena responded to her. “Thank you for letting us know,” she said inclining her head toward Phillip to include him in the “us” part. “We will respect your privacy.” She smiled at Monica and felt the warmth of Monica’s relief. Her friend had been truly worried about how she would take this news. Monica stood up and moved around the table to take Jacob’s hand. “Thank you. We need the upstairs tonight.” They walked away from the table and went upstairs. Elena could not recall a time when someone told her, “Hey. We’re going to have sex now. Don’t interrupt.” First time for everything, right?

Phillip and Elena looked at each other for a moment. Then they laughed. It felt good and natural. She was also feeling relieved. After spending a whole day at the library and able to concentrate for hours on her research, Elena knew that whatever was going on with Monica and Jacob right now was their own choice. She could not be influencing them right now. Or anyone but herself. Secure in that, she took pity on Phillip. Kicked out of his room as he was. “So, we can watch On Demand together. I haven’t seen Dancing with the Stars all season,” she teased him. She knew he couldn’t tolerate the show.

“Naw. We can watch Swamp People. I haven’t caught up with my family.” Elena often wondered how much he was kidding when he made comments like that. Phillip had great teeth, though. And none were missing.

As they flipped through the channels, they found a repeat of one of the early Harry Potter movies on HBO. Just as Harry and Ron were discovering the ginormous hidden chamber with the ginormous hidden snake, Marvin Gaye drifted down the stairs. Seriously, ‘Let’s Get It On?’ Phillip and Elena burst out laughing again, but tried to quiet it as they heard footsteps walking around upstairs. They looked at each other as they both came to the same conclusion. “They’re coming downstairs?!” Elena asked as the footsteps became louder. They raced to Elena’s room with Phillip tight on her heels as he quietly pulled the door shut. “We can watch tv in here,” she whispered as they both stood by the door shamelessly listening to someone moving downstairs and opening the refrigerator. Neither moved away from the door. Marvin Gaye sang on. Elena giggled again. It was like a bad cliché. “Maybe they’re thirsty,” she suggested.

“Maybe they’re goan after the whipped cream you bought last grocery store trip.” They were still standing by the door, listening to what sounded like Jacob moving around the kitchen. He was taking a while. “Come on. We gotta turn the tv on or something before I go see for myself.” Phillip moved further into her room but stopped just short of the bed. Elena fluffed up a couple of pillows, grabbed the remote, and patted the bed beside her as she hopped on. Phillip climbed in beside her. It felt like the most natural thing in the world when he slipped his arm behind Elena for her to rest her head. They turned the television on to the Harry Potter movie.

“You know I doan keep secrets. I already told Jacob I kissed you on your birthday.” Phillip spoke disturbingly close to her.

“You do know that was only last night, right?” Marvin Gaye played on in the background. She thought they might have the song on repeat.

“Well, he gave me a ride to my gig. Kissing you was on my mind. Like it has been every moment since last night.” She was a bit jealous of everyone in the bar that had heard him sing while thinking about kissing her. Phillip had begun playing with the material on the front of her shirt with his free hand and drawing slow patterns on her stomach. He untied the strings on her top that opened in the front, revealing her tank top underneath. The music was soft but the beat could be felt through the walls. Elena could hear footsteps walking down the hall upstairs. “Are you ticklish?” he asked her close to her ear.

“No, I’m laughing at Marvin Gaye.”

“That’s not Jacob’s move. That has to be all Monica.”

“Maybe you’re right. It is one of her favorite songs. She has it on her playlist for when she goes for walks. Which makes no sense. You don’t exercise to Marvin Gaye.” Elena was beginning to get distracted by his slowly moving hand on her stomach.

“They’re exercising right now.”

Well, he did have a point. “I’m not as open to casual as Monica or Jacob.” Elena was finding it hard to follow her own train of thought, but she knew she needed to be honest and up-front with Phillip.

“I know. I know you, cher. And we have time.” Cher. He had only called her that once before. Phillip had moved his hand under her tank and continued drawing lazy patterns softly on her skin. He grinned at her adding, “At least a whole week, no, if what Monica said last night is true?”

Oh, yeah. Monica’s own special grocery store run. How could she forget that announcement? She had less than a week left, but she wasn’t going to discuss that with him. Embarrassed, Elena had to force herself to look Phillip in the eyes. Then forgot what she was going to say as he moved with slow intent toward her. He kissed her long and deep, taking his time. Every so often his fingers would flex against the skin of her stomach as if he wasn’t quite aware he was doing so. He rolled on top of her but broke their kiss placing his forehead on hers. They both groaned, caught up in the way his weight settled on to her. He kissed her again as somewhere above the song started over again.Never had she so completely understood lyrics before. Trying to hold back this feeling, indeed.

“Phillip,” she breathed against his mouth. Stealing another soft kiss she said, “I hope they took the whipped cream. I’m not sure why I bought it. I’ve been feeling guilty all week for spending our money like that.” He laughed and she soon joined him. When they heard Jacob actually cheer like his favorite football team had just scored, they laughed again. Elena lost track of the kisses they shared that night. Although they had talked long after the music had finally stopped, the time seemed to fly by. He had watched with his eyes burning as she changed in to her jammie top for him. Elena excused herself into the bathroom to finish getting ready for bed. She was nervous as she came out wearing only her necklace, thin tank top, and short jammie shorts. He was still lying there completely dressed when she came out. She was not sure where she found the courage to help him out of his clothes for bed, but she did. She remembered how it felt as she slid in to bed with him. He lay there, reclined in her bed in his boxer briefs, bulging obviously, but undeniably unselfconscious. Elena and Phillip spent the night together talking about his music and her psychology whenever they found they needed a moment to stop before their kisses and touches took things too far. At one point, he actually asked her to explain in detail what engineering psychology was, as he slipped her hand out from underneath his boxers’ waistband. Her answer was almost coherent. She had tried to ask him about a melody she had heard him playing but that didn’t seem to be finished. His tongue tracing the skin under her necklace had chased the thought away before she could voice it. It didn’t escape her notice that Phillip never questioned her about wearing the necklace to bed.

Elena couldn’t recall when she fell asleep for the night, but when she woke the next morning Phillip was still in her bed. He looked his usual combination of cute and sexy as he slept. As she remembered how his abs would contract as she traced her hand down his body, she decided once again he landed on the sexy side. Quietly, she got up early, but not as early as usual. Today was Thursday. Monica didn’t work at the doctor’s office on Thursdays. Elena gathered ingredients for blueberry pancakes. She glided around the kitchen cleaning up as she mixed the batter. They would all have breakfast together. The night had been wonderful, but had definitely left her wanting. Maybe the sugar from the pancakes would help. Still, a large part of her was relieved, even if she did feel like a coward admitting it to herself. No lines had been crossed. Her friendship with Phillip really shouldn’t be damaged by last night. This would be an interesting breakfast. She hoped she could keep a straight face. Marvin Gaye?

Monica and Jacob came down the stairs together. They were talking about Jacob wanting to get a new pair of shoes. Jacob was clomping down the steps, as per usual for him. Monica was coming down behind him laughing at him like he was a fool. It was completely normal. She had seen that sight plenty of times before. Surely Elena hadn’t imagined Marvin Gaye? They came in to the kitchen gathering coffee mugs and glasses for milk while exchanging good mornings with Elena. As the pancakes began to stack up, Elena moved the platter to the table. Phillip walked out of her room dressed in his clothes from the night before and joined them at the table. Monica raised her eyes, looking between Elena and Phillip. “Sorry we kicked you out of the upstairs, Phillip. It won’t happen again.” The conclusion she had drawn had obviously landed on the side of innocent and platonic. Elena placed the syrup on the table and went to the refrigerator to get the butter. She pulled the tub out and placed it on the table after opening the lid. She sat down still holding on to the tub. “Butter?” Her voice sounded a bit squeaky. “And you used your fingers in the tub?” The long track marks were obvious. What would they even do with butter? Monica looked like she was about to explain. Jacob just looked pleased with himself. Phillip only grunted looking mildly interested. He was not a morning person. Elena quickly focused internally saying, “Seriously, I don’t even want to know.” She didn’t want to pick up on that even by accident. “I’m sticking with just syrup today.”

They finished the pancakes with Jacob talking about a new bartender and waitress that the club had hired. Elena got up to finish getting ready for her classes that day. The others would do the dishes. Another reason to love cooking. As she came back into the living room, she found Phillip and Jacob sitting on the couch. Jacob was flipping through the sports channels on television. Monica was upstairs and Elena called goodbye to her. She knew Phillip had classes and was playing tonight and they probably wouldn’t see each other again today. “Bye, guys. I’ll see you tomorrow, Phillip. Are you working tonight Jacob?” she asked.

“No, I’ll be around after my last class today. See you then.” He waved goodbye to her as he flipped the channel again.

She started to turn towards the door when she noticed that Phillip had risen from the couch. She couldn’t move as he stalked toward her. “No secrets,” he said as he came to her and bent his head to kiss her. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then he kissed her for a long moment before silently returning to his seat. Jacob’s laughter as he gave her directions to the door finally got her moving again.




Chapter 3

Since Monica and Elena both had breaks between classes on Thursdays, they had a standing meeting to get together to study or chat. The day was gorgeous so they decided to meet outside at their favorite spot on campus. Elena brought them each a bottled water. It was late afternoon but still a bright spring day. They both knew there would be no studying. They sat side by side on a bench shoulders touching. “I got your note. Were you writing it because you were worried about me and Jacob? Or were you going to tell me about Phillip? Guess I read his rumpled appearance at breakfast all kinds of wrong this morning.”

Glad for the sun’s warmth, Elena took a moment before responding. She should have expected the hurt, maybe even the censure if Monica thought she had been hiding it from her. But the anger took her aback. Slowly the blackness faded from the trees and grass around them. Monica and Jacob must have talked before she left that morning. Or it could have been Phillip. No secrets, he had said. That probably would be worse. Monica would feel betrayed. Just as Elena was about to answer, Monica broke in. “You didn’t have time to tell me. I bombarded you as soon as you got home from the library because I didn’t want to feel guilty about Jacob anymore. It’s not really your fault. Unless, it has been going on for a long time now? Whatever it is. I don’t know more than Jacob telling me you got some tongue from Phillip this morning. He thinks you’re why Phillip is coming home after every gig these days. So spill.”

Elena started to spill, but she wouldn’t forget the “feel guilty anymore” comment. “When I wrote the note I was mostly thinking of you and Jacob. I saw the two of you looking at each other. You don’t look at me that way.”

“Not my type. Keep going. Lame jokes aren’t gonna save you.”

“Anyway, Phillip had kissed me when he helped me get my necklace untangled. It started almost as a joke. Then when we were hiding out in my bedroom during the Marvin Gaye fest we kissed some more.” Monica looked like she wasn’t buying the short version. Or maybe it was just the Marvin Gaye comment. Whatever the case, Elena went on. “Truly, not too much else happened. I wouldn’t want our first time to be this week.” That was true for more than one reason. Monica snorted as she went to take a drink, understanding one of Elena’s reasons. “Now you’re laughing at me. That water I brought you almost came out your nose. That would have been poetic justice.” Monica bumped her with her shoulder playfully. Elena was glad her anger seemed to be abating. She wasn’t surprised though. That was Monica’s personality. She spoke her mind and then moved on. “I was really surprised when he kissed me goodbye this morning. It was . . . better than that first cup of coffee in the morning, you know.”

“Girlfriend, that dreamy look in your eyes is what has me worried. I don’t know if you can do the casual thing. This can’t be another Jason. And we all live together. That doesn’t leave you any space if things don’t go how you want them to. How do you even want them to go?” she demanded.

“I don’t know yet.” Elena answered truthfully.

“That’s not a comforting answer.” Monica’s concern showed in her eyes. “You’re a sensitive person.” She saw Elena start to shake her head. “Elena, you can’t deny that.”

“I’m not as inexperienced as I was before.” Elena chose her words carefully.

“I just don’t want you to leave again.” Monica had a right to be concerned. Elena had nothing she could safely say, so she tried shifting the conversation to Monica.

“What about you and Jacob? You said you didn’t want to feel guilty anymore. How long has this been going on?”

“We’ve been flirting for a couple of weeks.” At Elena’s look, she amended that statement. “I mean really flirting. Not just the playful stuff we’ve been doing since, well, since he moved in. Last week we kissed, but last night was the first night we actually slept together. I know it complicates things that we live in the same house, but we have both done the casual thing before. Jacob is a great guy. Maybe this really will go somewhere. I don’t know. I will graduate in two semesters and he has a while to go. But he is so laid back. I just don’t worry about it getting ugly. I’m still more worried about you and Phillip.” Elena actually had to agree with her, at least regarding some of it. Jacob was about as easy going as they came. She was also very aware of Monica’s timeline. It was going to hurt to be left behind.

“I know you’re worried, and I appreciate it. No lines have been crossed yet. I even talked to him some about my not being comfortable with casual.” Monica looked a bit relieved.

“Well, keep talking to him. And keep talking to me. Just don’t disappear and leave me with a letter.”

“I promise I will do my best. Well?” Elena’s voice rose as she asked expectantly.

“He measures up just fine.” Monica’s smile was wicked and she gestured discreetly with her hands causing Elena to giggle like a child. Monica’s break was shorter than Elena’s so she started to gather her things.

As they hugged goodbye, Elena said, “Thank you for the overshare. So, Marvin Gaye is on your playlist. What’s on your mind as you take all your walks?”

Monica stood up. “Why do you think I take such long showers when I get home?” she said with a wink, then added, “Chickened out about asking me about the butter?”

Holding her hands up in front of her in a defensive gesture, she said, “Never planned on it. Just going to make sure I pick out more cholesterol free foods during my shopping trips. You know, for your health,” Elena joked.

Monica turned back and said over her shoulder, “It’s funny that the timing worked out like this. All of us hooking up at the same time.” She waved one last time and headed to class.

Elena stayed seated on the bench. It was a beautiful day so there were lots of students out. But the area was open and no one was too close by. She decided it was safe enough to sit there and think things through. Monica’s last comment touched on exactly what had been bothering her most. She supposed the timing could be coincidence. Still, the weeks before her birth date were always the most dangerous. Elena knew that and had prepared for it this time. She had thrown herself into her class work and especially volunteering for the crisis hotline. She had actually avoided the house as much as possible. Fortunately for her, her birth date was right around mid-terms, so everyone else was busy, too. Mentally, she listed the questions that she desperately wanted answered. Why was her mother’s letter addressed to Phillip? The gift was from her parents, but the letter - that was all her mother. Why had she not picked up on Monica and Jacob earlier? Why didn’t she sense Phillip’s attraction at all until he tried to kiss her? Was she concentrating so hard to block everything out that she just wasn’t able to make sense of any of what she Sensed? She supposed picking up on attractions from different sources could have confused her. Unless, it actually all came from one source. Monica and Jacob were attracted, Elena picked it up, reacted and amplified, and then Phillip responded to her? She hoped that wasn’t the case. Phillip had talked as if he had actually thought about her before. Though what she most feared about Monica and Jacob’s attraction, and Phillip kissing her - was that it was all her fault. Power always flowed along the continuum, seeming opposites actually connected. Every Speaker could Hear, and every Listener had Voice, at least to some extent. Her power had always flowed inward, but at times, emotions spilled out. She had thought Phillip attractive the moment she met him. She had wanted him the first time she heard him sing. Beyond that, he possessed a quiet strength that drew her to him. Away from his swamp and the life he had always known, he was still so connected and true to himself. It came out in his words, in his actions, and in his music. That had only strengthened her initial attraction. She had always had to work hard to concentrate around Phillip. Could she have been so attracted to him that it had spilled out despite her best efforts? Had it washed over Monica, Jacob, and then finally Phillip?

No. She wasn’t going to let her insecurities cloud her judgment. Her birth date had passed and she had the necklace now. It was new and at its most powerful. Whatever happened after she had it on was legitimate. The feelings would be true. But still, she would not expect anything from Phillip. If the attraction all came from her, his feelings would fade quickly. They could go back to being roommates and friends. And Monica and Jacob would be fine, too. Worst case scenario was that they enjoyed a few nights of mutually consensual sex. She would stay focused on the questions that still remained to be answered. The letter and why she had missed so much of what had been going on in her own home.

As she got up to walk to her next class, she thought again about her conversation with Monica. She was worried that Elena would leave again, which was always an unfortunate possibility. Monica worried that history might be repeating itself. Elena knew that wasn’t the case this time and wished she could at least allay that fear. She hadn’t left last year for the reasons Monica thought. Elena had met Jason about two months before her last birth date. They were so interested in each other. Fascinating to each other, and the physical attraction was so strong. Elena could barely stand to be separated from him. Then her birth date had come. She had exchanged the ring for the bracelet and immediately realized she felt nothing for Jason. She found him mildly attractive at best. All of the feelings had been coming from him. He bordered on obsessed with her and she had missed that completely. She had been so caught up in his feelings for her, she had absorbed them and taken them as own. The whole affair had been one-sided, and she hadn’t even known. She was humiliated over her lack of control over her own innate power. Humiliated over losing herself so cheaply to another. Humiliated that she hadn’t Sensed in Jason the obsession that would have turned destructive. Her mother had Seen when she needed help. In the end, the Speaker had come for him. He had used Voice, and Jason was convinced he had lost interest in her. He broke things off and ignored her completely if he chanced to see her on campus. Monica assumed Elena had left heartbroken, and in a way she had. She had not run away though. She had learned from her mistakes and much had been accomplished. Last year, she had left Sensitive. She came back Empathic. She was not yet an Empath, but she would learn.




Chapter 4


After her classes were finished Elena spent most of the evening at the community center. It was harder to Sense what people were feeling using only their voices over the phone. Proximity always helped. Touch would make it unavoidable. She had known these next couple of weeks would be particularly difficult to help those who called in. She had to rely heavily on her education. It was good for her to practice stretching as well, actually striving to Sense other’s emotions. She didn’t have chances to do that often. On the contrary, Elena would probably always struggle blocking out other’s emotions. Being born in to her family, it was no surprise that she had developed early. Early and strong.

When she was finished, she headed to the grocery store and picked up chicken and veggies for stir fry. She would make a couple of large batches. It would keep well. Monica was home that night, though she spent most of her time studying upstairs in her room. It was good to feel how easy it was between the two of them. Elena had been worried, even though she knew it wasn’t Monica’s style to hold a grudge. When Jacob had come home a bit later after hitting the gym, Elena understood why Monica had hit the books so hard. She had wanted to be done with studying when Jacob made it home. Thankfully, there was no cheering and no Marvin Gaye, allowing Elena to get to sleep relatively early.

Sometime late in the night her eyes popped open. Someone was outside her bedroom door. Her heart beat hard in her chest. She felt her body respond with arousal. One breath in and out. Another. But Phillip walked away after whispering, “Goodnight, Elena.” She fell back asleep listening to him making his way up the stairs.

Elena was up and gone almost as early as Monica. She had some shopping to do today and needed to get some work done on her thesis. She headed to the campus library first. It opened earliest. She planned on working on her thesis. She had decided that she would focus on neuroscience. The night before, she had a caller whose feelings had felt almost alien, though she believed she had helped him. That thought made her swell with pride. Everyone felt better when they connected with another, and Elena had given him understanding. There was nothing dangerous to others that she had Sensed from him, but his emotions were so foreign, she had hypothesized that he did not possess typical biology. A branch of neuroscience specifically dealt with the brain processes of mental illness. What a fascinating subject for her to follow. Although while she was at the library, she did spend a little time looking into social psychology. Perhaps his emotions were affecting his cognitive process. She would leave her options open and maybe concentrate her Master’s Degree work in this area.

When she was finally finished with her research, she headed to the strip mall. Inside there was a music store. She wanted to get Phillip a present to use with his guitar. Walking in, she allowed herself to relax and absorb the emotion of the workers and the patrons. There was one hanger-on groupie who just felt hungry. And somehow empty. She almost ached for him. He would not find what he needed here. No matter what he had chosen, this was not a path he could happily walk. Overall, the feeling of the place was more positive, like possibilities waiting to be explored, and new discoveries waiting to be born. It all reminded her of her father. She approached the counter to speak with the worker.

“I wanted to see about specially ordering some guitar picks.” She smiled her best smile. She pushed hard to Project happiness. He was the empty, hungry one she had Sensed when she walked in. He smiled, but it was flat, mostly professional courtesy, not out of happiness. This wasn’t her power. Still, she kept it up as much as she could hoping to help in some small way.

“We do that here. It can also be done on-line.” He wasn’t unkind about it; he did want to help. “What do you have in mind?”


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