Sora shifted to a more comfortable position, resting her tails against her thighs as Wendy worked herself up.
“I remember…” Wendy cut off, her body lowering into the water as she rested her chin against folded arms.
It took a moment for Wendy to vocalize her thoughts. Her features dropped as she mumbled, “My first memory—I remember my mom coming home. She was frustrated—I don’t know how old I was, but she looked like a giant. She must have paid the babysitter because she left, and then my mom sat on the couch—she cried.”
Sora’s brow furrowed as she listened. I thought she was going to go off on her mother?
Wendy swallowed before sucking on her lower lip a few seconds. “I don’t remember saying anything … I just remember that scene, and it makes me sad. I didn’t like seeing my mom cry—I don’t know what it was about, but I just remember feeling that my mom was so sad—my first memory.”
“You’ve never told me that … I guess I’ve just always seen the jealous side of your mom.”
“Yeah—she started to change when I met you … the end of first-grade. I mean, for a while it was great. No more babysitters; well, there was hotel staff. I’d just go to your suite after school, and we’d play … we’d go places with your caretakers and have lots of fun—it was the best.”
“Yeah,” Sora smiled. “I remember going to Disney World a lot—we always had the Platinum Plus Season Passes. We always were doing something.”
“For a while, it was really great, but—my mom grew more and more bitter. She occasionally had a bit of wine when she got home, but in third-grade was when it became a common thing … then sixth-grade, it got really bad—that was when she was blacking out, and the house was always a mess.”
“The court case?”
Wendy shifted a little to scratch her cheek before looking left. “Yeah—Ms. Hoover called Child Protective Services, and the court ordered her to take rehab … she passed the minimum requirements. It started to become bad again in seventh-grade—when Kari showed up and started singling you out—sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Sora sighed. “It was a hard time for you.”
“My mom had a few blackouts that year but seemed to know when the PO would show up. I helped out a lot more around the house—eighth-grade was when I started working when I turned fourteen.”
“It must have been rough—I wish I could have helped,” Sora whispered.
Wendy huffed. “How? You were dealing with Kari—I knew what was happening; I saw it, heard the talk—but I was scared. I mean, Kari somehow made even the principle, and just about every adult think you were an attention seeker. I didn’t want to stand out—Kari scared me.”
“For good reason,” Sora mumbled, staring up at the darkening sky. “I understand now why all of it happened—Eric was manipulating everything behind the scenes, letting Kari lash out … even Aiden’s ability seemed to play a role in that.”
“I still feel bad…”
“Hey,” Sora frowned. “I thought we were talking about your mother; not how much we both suck at being friends.”
Wendy chuckled softly. “Bad habit … yeah, I tried getting my mom to date again.”
“When was that?”
“Eighth-grade—that was when I met Theo.” She paused, cheeks reddening.
“Hold up,” Sora grinned. “Let’s focus on that for a minute! How did that happen?”
Wendy’s face grew even more flushed as she glanced over at Theo’s imprint, still standing motionless with a slight smile. She quickly turned away, ears scarlet. “I—why do you want to know?” Her heartbeat elevated. “He’s just cute—handsome…”
Sora’s smile grew impish as she felt a spur strike a nerve. “Cute? Explain.”
Swallowing, Wendy took a deep breath. “What’s there to explain? He’s nice and helpful…”
“I—you really are a Vulpes…” She growled, sinking into the water a bit more.
“Hey! Don’t run away,” Sora giggled. “I want to know a bit more about him. It’s more than obvious that you like him. I just want to know why—what caused it?”
Unable to blush any further, Wendy breathed a moment before responding. “Theo—I mean, he is pretty cute. Every day he’d get to the janitor’s closet first, and he’d clean out my bag for me … the vacuum. We each had a trash can that had supplies on it, and he’d make sure it was stocked up—he didn’t have to do it, but he did it every day.”
“Oh?” Sora grinned. “Sounds like he liked you.”
Wendy shook her head. “I mean, how could I have known? He did it for everyone; that’s why I thought it was nice. It wasn’t just me, but the other staff too—he was just really nice. Sometimes we’d meet each other when we were doing the same job … we’d sweep the halls together.” She tried hiding her face in her arms. “I’d take the left side, and he’d take the right, and we’d talk. I was always too embarrassed to talk about my life—so, I always asked about his.”
Sora hummed. “He never asked about your life?”
“He did,” she mumbled, head lifting. “I was just—I didn’t want to sound like a loser—I just changed the topic and asked about his grandma. His grandma was always going through rough health, so there was usually something to talk about with that. He told me about his dreams—he wanted to become a professional dance choreographer; he was pretty good at hip hop and contemporary.”
“Wait,” Sora shifted her tails as a tingle shot down her spine. “You’re telling me that he showed you his dance moves?”
“Yeah … I was a little curious.” Wendy shrugged.
“He told you his dreams and also danced for you.” Sora shook her head with a smile. “And you didn’t think that he might like you?”
“I—it’s just that—what’s there to like about me…” Wendy whispered.
“I have just one word,” Sora winked. “Violets.”
“Don’t say that—it’s embarrassing.” Wendy sank back into the water, trying to cool down.
Sora chuckled as she watched her disappear, embarrassment emitting in waves. I like this side of her, and we’re getting so close! I can feel the walls cracking. When she’s talking about Theo, it’s like I have my old friend back, before all the drama. She’s sincere and filled with emotion.
Sora pursed her lips as she looked down at Wendy, cupping her face at the bottom of the pool. She’s really thinking about that. She giggled. She never thought she naturally smelled nice, but she did eat well and took good care of her hygiene when we were kids. I blame Tasha for always making use follow that hygiene chart; eventually, it just became second nature … dad hired really great caretakers. Now I’m a Founder that has a lot of natural perks…
Her attention returned to Wendy as she began to rise; poking her head out, she stared at Sora. “What?” Sora asked.
“You didn’t make me smell like Violets, did you?”
“What—no?” Wendy continued to glare at her. “Seriously? I didn’t change into a Vulpes until my sixteenth birthday.” She chuckled. “You should blame Tasha.”
Wendy’s eyes widened. “You’re right! Tasha had us follow that same weekly chart … she always made us eat berries and vegetables with our meals too.”
“Don’t forget about cooking … I hated it, but you always enjoyed the cooking lessons.” Sora grimace. “The moment she left, I ordered all sorts of things from the kitchens … I hate cooking!”
Wendy smirked. “I told you those chocolate truffles would make you fat, but it looks like that’ll never happen now—you could probably eat chocolate all your life—well, forever since you’re basically a goddess, right?”
“Wait—do I sense jealousy?” Sora smiled back.
“Hey, I’m just saying that you should be thankful!” Wendy huffed. “Some of us have to watch what we eat.”
Sora grinned. “For Theo?”
“Don’t!” Wendy warned, threatening a wave with her outstretched hands.
Giggling, Sora held up her hands. “Please, not the wetless water!”
Wendy broke into giggles. “How can I win a goddess?”
“Ouch, that’s low!” Sora huffed. “Once your Core’s unlocked, you can start developing into a goddess!”
Wendy’s smile fell a little. “Right … the story about Isis and the Egyptian gods. Humans can become gods.” Taking a deep breath, she looked over at her mother, dozing in an outdoor lounge chair. “Sora…”
“Can you show me a little about my mom’s past?” Why’s that a crack in her walls? A pretty big one.
Sora frowned. “Umm, I think so—I mean, I think it’s like reading someone’s Spiritual Imprint, but I’m reading their Core itself … so, there’s a lot more information, but I think I can. I’ve never done it to a live person before though…” Well, I think I did the surface level of that with Aiden at the graveyard.
She looked over at her aunt, but she was gone, chair empty. Of course, this must be another teaching experience. Wait … she’s inside my Core, so she can’t actually be gone. No, she’s got to still be here; it’s just her telling me to figure it out. I’ve learned a lot of the basics, now to put it to the test … it’s my aunt though; there’s got to be more to it. Human Cores are much easier to read than monsters, so it shouldn’t be that bad … I hope.
Sora took a deep breath as her eyes returned to Wendy’s searching gaze. This is turning out way different… “Alright, can you…” Her lips pursed as she leaned forward, staring at Wendy’s lower body, legs tightly crossed. “Can you even get out?”
“Let’s see,” she inhaled before holding her breath. Arms tensing, she lifted herself up, turning to sit at the pool edge. Her legs knotted as she looked at her mom, but she didn’t look away. “I made it out.” She breathed.
Rising, Sora smiled down at her. “Yup. What’s next?”
Wendy scratched the back of her neck before running a hand through her hair, humming with pursed lips. “I—I feel so stupid … it’s just my mom—it shouldn’t be this hard.”
“You’re right,” Sora muttered, bending down to offer a hand. Inari’s watching, I don’t want to reach too far into Wendy’s emotions and thoughts … I want to share her feelings though, but it could be dangerous… “She shouldn’t have made it this hard on you—that’s why you want to go through her memories? You want to figure out how she justifies it?”
“Partially,” Wendy rubbed her temple before accepting Sora’s hand, getting to her feet. “I’m so—I just want to feel her love … not a burden.”
Sora couldn’t help but feel the slash to her heart, nose burning as she fought her tears unsuccessfully. Just to feel loved again? What justifies a mother making her daughter feel like a burden … that it would be better if she hadn’t been born at all?
Wendy’s muscles sagged as she caught the tears running down Sora’s cheeks. “Hey—I’m supposed to be crying, right? Don’t be a baby…” She cut off as Sora hugged her, sniffing as she buried her face in Wendy’s left shoulder, tails crossing around her waist.
“Why aren’t you crying?” Sora felt a massive fracture split down Wendy’s walls.
“I—I can’t,” her chest fluttered against Sora’s, voice cracking. “Hey—that—that’s not fair…” A tear struck Sora’s shoulder. “I—I can’t—can’t cry … my mom’s crying inside—I know she is—I can’t cry if she doesn’t…” Her words started to jumble together, hands jerkily closing around Sora’s back as her walls collapsed. She buried her face against Sora’s neck, both quaking in each other’s arms as they cried.
After a while, their emotions began to stabilize; Sora waited for Wendy to pull away, face wet, red, and puffy. Sniffing, and taking a deep breath, Wendy looked down at Sora’s shoes. “Why does school seem so long ago? Even that horrible place.” She muttered, forehead pressing against Sora’s chest. “But—my mom—it feels like it’s happening now … every second—it hurts.”
Sora leaned back in as Wendy’s emotions rose again; chin resting atop her head as she held Wendy’s shoulders. She didn’t have an answer, so she just continued to hold her, Wendy’s hot breath pressing against her skin. “I don’t know what I’d do without you—I don’t,” her throat constricted. “I—I hate it … Inari’s right … I feel it—all the time. Life is so unbearably cruel—it’s tragic—unjust,” her voice cracked again as soft tears stung Sora’s chest. “I hate it—why me—why? I tried—so hard…” Her chest trembled. “I just wanted—I wanted to make her happy—so why am I so—so sad?”
Wendy pulled back a little, wiping at her cheeks as she looked across the pool. Breathing in and breaking down, her heart shattered. “She looks happy … why’s she happy—why—without—without me? Why am I so empty—an object to her? Why?”
Sora squeezed Wendy’s shoulder as she turned to look at Jane. “Let’s go find out.”
She nodded against Sora’s chest. “I—okay.”
They both walked around the pool, passing a male attendant that slowly cleaned up around the pool, and sat on the lounging chair next to her. Wendy’s hand trembled in Sora’s as they watched Jane, several seconds passed in silence.
Swallowing, Sora turned to Wendy. “Alright, I’m going to try to link the questions you desire with your mom’s Core; bringing those memories into your mind. I won’t intrude.”
Wendy shook her head. “No—I want you to be with me. Is that okay?”
“Alright,” Sora squeezed her hand. Taking a deep breath, she released her magic and fed her desires into it, molding it. She looked up as their environment changed; it looked like her Core, black everywhere but with a sourceless light overhead. It spotted with color, showing a rough image of the bar Jane used to work at, Jane’s emotions and thoughts filling their minds. She looked younger, healthier.
Jane knocked on the back office door, hands knotted as she waited for a response. “Come in.” Entering, she took a deep breath. “Oh, Jane. Your shift should have ended fifteen minutes ago?”
“I know … it’s just—remember what we talked about last week? I need some overtime…” So, there was a time Jane tried to work overtime to make a bit more money. How old was Wendy?
“Ah, yeah, your daughter’s birthday,” he leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh. “I remember—I talked with Paul, but he said he couldn’t do it. Overtime hasn’t been approved; so, if you could just sign out at your normal time.” Sora frowned at his responses; she could feel his intent through his Spiritual Imprint. What a lier … he forgot to talk to Paul and just wants to save face.
“Please—Keith; is there no other shifts I can take?”
He shook his head. “Sorry, Jane, but no overtime—maybe next week.”
“Alright, I understand,” Jane whispered, head low as she walked out.
The environment changed to Jane at a store, looking between different MP3 players; she was talking to an employee. “So, you’re saying that this can hold how many songs?”
“Oh, Ma’am, this is the Bush four gig MP3 Player! You could listen to a thousand songs on this. It’s one of the best MP3’s you’ll find today for the price you’re looking for.” At least he’s sincere.
Jane looked torn. “I’d need to buy some albums and transfer them over on a computer though, right?”
“Yes—do you have a computer at home?”
Jane sucked on her lip with a frown before shaking her head. “No, I usually go to the library to use their computers.”
The boy’s attitude brightened. “That works! You just have to use the cord that comes with it to transfer—move the—well, you’ll need to rip the music to the computer with something like Itunes, but you can download it free. I think you can download programs onto the library computer, or they should have something like Itunes … I think. There are videos on YouTube that can help you!”
“I haven’t used YouTube that often … that’s the video website, right?”
“Yeah, just ask someone at the library! Any kid should be able to help you.”
Jane looked down at the MP3 Player with a small smile. “It’s for my daughter’s ninth birthday—I used to use a CD Player; these MP3 Players are big though, right?”
The boy’s features faltered. “Ehh, kind of—I mean, they were really big a few years ago…”
Brow creased, Jane hummed. “So—it’s old technology already? Will she like it?”
“Sure,” he shifted nervously. “I mean, I guess if she doesn’t have one. Phones are becoming the big rage with teens now though. You said she was nine though—so, maybe she’s a bit young to take care of a phone?”
“Really?” Jane swallowed as she looked down at the MP3 Player. “I only got a phone a few years ago, and they’re giving them to teens now?”
“Well—at least at my school, there are some kids with them; everyone wants some of the new phones. I mean, the iPhone and Android phones are pretty popular with some of the rich kids.”
“How much do those cost?”
“I mean, they’re like three hundred to four hundred dollars … then you have the kind of call plan you have and data—apps … it can get pretty expensive.”
Jane shook her head. “No—I can’t do that. This is just twenty-five dollars, right?” She asked, holding up the MP3 Player.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean by the best for the price. There’s a three dollar discount I can give you too!”
Smiling warmly, Jane nodded. “Thank you; I’ll take this and see if I can find some of the groups she likes in the CD section. Mind waiting?”
The scene faded again to Wendy’s birthday party; Sora had arranged for them to have it on the party terrace atop her hotel, her dad hiring a party planner for the celebration at her request. It was extravagant, Jane was more than intimidated as she took the elevator to the top floor, walking up the granite steps to the rooftop party. They’d invited their entire class, and there were many more kids and parents that came as word spread. I didn’t think that it would make Jane feel so insignificant … I just wanted Wendy to have a good birthday. Wait … was this…
Wendy was watching her mother’s journey with sad eyes, knowing where this was going as she experienced her mother’s emotions. The environment changed; it was time to open presents. Wendy opened Sora’s gift first, a Samsung Galaxy S2, sixteen gigs of internal memory with a thirty-two gig Micro-SD inside, attached to her own plan with unlimited texts, calls, and unlimited data with four gigs of 4G. There were subscriptions to Spotify and Netflix among a host of other services included.
Jane recognized the phone from ads and from what store employees had mentioned to her as she shopped around for an MP3 Player. She feels so worthless and insignificant; like all the effort she puts in was for nothing.
The scenes kept changing, showing Jane’s efforts to compete with her, struggles with her bosses, and fighting to get time to spend with Wendy, but thwarted at every turn with her rich lifestyle mocking her as she took Wendy around the world. No wonder she grew to hate me and became so jaded. Wendy noticed there was something wrong with her mom, but didn’t start really paying attention to her until sixth-grade, and she was already in a spiral by that time. I never noticed her efforts either. Wendy was her life, but I stole her, and when Wendy pulled away from me, it was too late.
Eventually, it showed the memory of the organization presenting adoption papers to Jane. The emotions were confusing to Sora. Jane was terrified of her, but more of life. She was drinking to escape the terror she felt about the world and her own miserable decisions in life; even genuinely feeling like it would be better if Wendy hadn’t been born or lived at some tutoring program.
Sora looked to her right as Wendy watched her mother sign the documents; her tears were soft and silent, but her emotions were so mixed inside her. She felt powerless, hurt, sad, angry, but still love for her mother.
Wendy sniffed softly. “I never needed all the fancy stuff,” she whispered. “I just wanted you.” She was silent for a moment. “Sora…”
Rubbing, her shoulder, Wendy turned to her. “Can you heal my mom’s alcohol addiction?”
Sora’s brow furrowed. “You want me to heal her? Are you really okay with what she did?”
Wendy was silent for a while as she stared at her mom’s giddy excitement at a vacation as she got ready. “No,” she sniffed. “No—I don’t think I ever will, but—I don’t hate her—I can’t. I’m just sad—really sad.” She sucked on her lower lip before turning to smile at her. “I have you though—so, I’m not alone. It sucks—I hate how this turned out, but—but I still have you.” Her vision returned to her mother. “If she’ll be happy, then maybe it’s for the best. I want to pay her back for all the wonderful things she did for me though—can you heal her?” Wow … I really didn’t expect this.
“I can try.”
Nodding, Wendy wiped at her cheeks and nose. “Thanks—that’s all I ask.”
Taking a deep breath, Sora let go of the magic, and they returned to the beach. She stared at Jane for a few moments before rising, tails shifting to hover over her. Feeding the magic into them, they began to glow a light blue as she sent her desire into the magic. A faint blue aura surrounded Jane before vanishing.
“There—I think that’s it. She won’t go through any withdrawals anymore—unless she gets addicted again.”
“Thanks, Sora.” Wendy moved to her mom’s side, pulled her hair back, and kissed her forehead. “Bye—mom.” Her throat caught for a moment. “Have a good life.” Pulling on Sora’s hand, she guided her back to the chairs overlooking the beach. “I think I’m done.”
Her aunt was back, smiling warmly. “That was beautiful; you’ve overcome a major shadow in your heart.”
They both sat, facing Inari. “What now?” Sora questioned.
“We return. The other human confrontations are happening as we speak. Time works much differently in Sora’s Core, The Vulpes Realm, and Human Realm. Sora’s magic is compensating for the time delays between dimensions and within her Core by connecting your copied Intelligences to those spaces. Time is a tricky thing; in essence, Sora actually projected your replica Intelligence into the Human Realm at the moment she desired it and the magic was woven, and when we choose to leave, these copies we will be sent back to merge with your real Intelligence. It is no different than me and how I will return to Inari.”
“Wait,” Sora thought on her aunt’s words for a moment. “That means … since the Vulpes Realm runs a lot faster than Earth, that it will be a little bit before this sinks into Wendy and my Intelligence?”
“Yes, I suspect that when you leave the Outer Body Technique, freshen up, and go downstairs to eat, that is when this impression will merge with the humans and yourself. At that moment, I have already arranged for the first level to be unlocked; the spiritual energy is awaiting to pulse inside your Oltera Nexus to quicken it. So, until that happens, they will not know anything that has transpired here, but it will be as if inspiration illuminates their minds; transforming your Cores in an instant.”
Wendy smiled, staring down at the sand and ocean. “Thank you for being so patient with us, Inari. Honestly—I can’t express how I feel, but—I know you know … thank you.”
“Of course, darlings. That emotion you’re feeling … this will do.”
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