Turning Amber

Amber has a secret.  She can read auras and feel emotions.  Which means she’s never trusted any boy to get close, because she can ALWAYS tell what they’re thinking.  Until she meets Ryder.  He’s the first person she’s ever told about her power.  But will her secret tear them apart?

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2. Chapter 2

The Majestic has drawn its usual crowd of local kids. There’s also a battalion of bearded biker guys wearing so much leather they squeak when they walk and which (I shudder when I think about it) must cause hideous chafing.

There are some thiftstore junkies over in the corner who we recognise as regulars to the Exchange, some crusty surfer dudes (as Nancy refers to them), and a few kids from school – a mix of the pot smokers, the emos and the punk grunge kids – all of whom ignore me and Nancy. And then there are the out-of-towners, looking scared as they clutch their Buds to their chests and wait for the warm-up band to finish.

I see him straight away. He’s hard to miss in this mismatched group of Majestic patrons. He stands out not only because he’s exceptionally good-looking (his good-looks only heightened by his proximity to one particularly hairy, bearded specimen of doorman with an aura so bile-stained and pockmarked it makes me flinch), but also because Nancy sucker-punches me in the stomach to call my attention to him. He had my attention fully anyway. I snatch the sunglasses off to verify I’m not just seeing things.

I have never, in all my life, seen an aura like his. Except on two other people. And both those people had something pretty unusual in common.

I can only describe it by saying it’s like one of those ticker tape parades where tiny squares of tinfoil float and whirl in the air above conquering heroes’ parading heads. It’s astonishing.  There are other colours mixed in there – but it’s the silver I notice… can’t help but notice. It’s like he’s wearing a chandelier for a hat.

Blood whooshes in my ears, louder than the reverb from the speakers and my heart does this weird thing where it seems to expand and fill my chest, beating insistently against my ribs.

‘Sweet hotness on a stick,’ Nancy purrs in my ear. ‘And I’m not talking about Santa’s fat ugly brother next to him.’

The boy turns to face us – as though he can feel us both staring – and in the split second where we lock eyes everyone else in the club spins away to some far corner of the universe, leaving just the two of us alone. He smiles – an easy, slow smile that hooks me as certainly as a fish on a line. But then Nancy starts smacking me on the arm and the club comes hurtling back across the universe at warp speed. My heart contracts and the only sound whooshing in my ears now is Nancy, who has started making a series of weird, small animal noises – thankfully not aimed at the boy. Her attention span is way shorter than that.

I turn around and look at the stage. The Gnarly Surs have appeared and are pulling on their instruments, ready to torture us with something that could just about be classified as music. In some outer galaxy inhabited by deaf aliens, perhaps.

Suddenly I’m engulfed in thundering noise and rancid sweat smells and auras bursting bright as solar flares at the edge of my vision. My head starts to throb and I close my eyes and try to breathe through it.

This is one of the reasons (other than men in leather with rodent beards and torture music) why I don’t like coming here, or anywhere where crowds of people gather (unless the gathering crowds are meditating Buddhist monks). Because I don’t just see auras. That I could live with. That’s what the sunglasses are for. It’s the emotions that do it, bouncing off people like infra-red rays. That’s the real killer.

In small groups I can tune out the rays.  And the one or two people I choose to hang out with (OK, make that one… Nancy) only give off happy rays.

In this room however, filled with sweating, loud, mosh-pit loving people – most of whom are amped on some form of mood-enhancing drug – I feel like I’m being squashed inside a microwave and zapped on high.

Someone nearby is ecstatic – that would be Nancy. She bumps against me and I feel her happiness spark a surge of dopamine straight to my brain. I let out a whoop that makes Nancy shoot me a bemused look. But the joy is short-lived as from the other side jealousy spears me like an ice-pick. I squint through the strobe lighting. Some tall skinny guy watching his girlfriend go fan-girl crazy over the drummer on stage is responsible. I edge away from him. And get a hammer fist flare of red slamming down on my skull. This one’s more surprising as it’s coming from a small girl just behind me who looks like butter wouldn’t melt, and whose foot I’ve accidentally stood on in the crush.

It’s too much.

I shout in Nancy’s ear that I’m going outside for some air and then I try to push my way towards the nearest exit. Weaving past the biker crew – flashes of red, pulsating waves of yellow – is like swimming against a tide of pus. My head’s pounding up a storm. I only just make it to the door.

But Santa’s ugly fatter brother is suddenly in front of it, blocking the way.

‘Hello little lady,’ he says to me, easing his hands over his pregnant belly and rocking back on his heels.

BO. Stale beer. Mingling with something altogether more vile and stinking. He isn’t touching me but I can feel him – feel his thoughts – reptilian smooth and snaking around my limbs. I jolt back, unable to hide my revulsion, and catch the flare of anger in his eyes in response. Crimson bursts off him like arterial spray.

I glance over my shoulder, looking for help – but we’re practically behind the stage here, submerged in a well of shadow. Just a wall of leather behind me, and beyond, the bouncing, ecstatic heads of those in the mosh pit. The music is so loud I can’t even hear my own voice when I ask the guy to let me pass. He acts like he hasn’t heard.

A cold rush of adrenaline floods my system.

I’m used to brushing paths with darkness – it’s around us far more than you’d think. You walk past someone on the street who from the outside looks like he might teach Sunday School – all Colgate smile, button-down shirt and side-parting – and get the shock of your life when you glance up and see a dirty writhing swampfest of an aura, and realise that in all likelihood the Sunday School teacher is in fact a serial killer. Normally I cross the street, because going to the police and explaining your suspicions only gets you a raised eyebrow and delivery home to your mom in the back of a patrol car. At least that’s how it worked for me.

The guy now standing in front of me smiles, though the smile doesn’t make it to his eyes.

‘Why don’t you stay and hang out with me?’ he asks.

‘I just need some air,’ I tell him, shouting to be heard over the feedback from the mic.

‘I just want to talk,’ he says, manoeuvring his substantial bulk fully in front of the door.

Liar. His aura is brown as sewage. Like he’s been swimming in a septic tank.

I force a smile – act like I am actually considering his proposal, but really I’m gathering myself, trying to fight the nausea and to clamp my mental focus into place.

My grandma spent a lot of my childhood preparing me for the gift, as she called it. And one of the things she taught me as a necessity is how to protect myself from all the creeps in the world. And I’m not talking pepper spray and knees to sensitive groin areas. She taught me instead how to manipulate moods. That’s not to say I can turn a serial killer psychopath into a law-abiding lover of all humanity, nor that I could start my own cult by inducing joyous rapture in an unsuspecting crowd, but if I focus on one person, or even a group of people, I can change the colour in their aura and hence, their mood. It’s not easy, which is why I hardly ever do it, and the effects are short-lived, but at times like these I thank the gods my grandma taught me how.

It’s a bit like pouring paint thinner over an oil painting – I can dissipate jealousy, douse lust and destroy anger. I can generate feelings of love, inspire happiness, confusion, sadness… you name it. If I focus hard enough I can make a grown man cry.

So I do. I narrow my eyes and stare at the man’s forehead just above his monobrow and I send a spear of greyish mauve light his way. The snaking thoughts recoil instantly. He drops my hand and staggers backwards, his face crumpling and his lip starting to quiver. Tears well behind his eyes. He doesn’t know why. He frowns – confused – and blinks at me. The tears start to roll down his jowly cheeks. I keep focused. If I let it slip, sadness can become embarrassment, which can become rage, which isn’t what I want.

His aura now swirls, mustard yellow flattening to grey. Sadness and despair muting out his other impulses. Enough that I can slide past him and out of the door, leaving him blubbing like a baby into his hands behind me.

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