Empathy and an Empty Stomach

Hide and Seek Chapter 4

A buzz from Naomi’s bedside table broke into her despondency. She rolled over and checked her cell phone to see an incoming text message from her friend Emily. It read, “Meeting Candace downtown in half an hour. Wanna come?

Naomi checked the time while she decided how to answer. It was about 7:30 PM, too early to shut down for the night, especially since the hour and a half she’d just trimmed out of her day with all that skipping made it feel like it was just before six. And hanging out with Emily might be just the medicine she needed…

Sure,” replied Naomi. “I could use some cheering up.

I can do that,” texted Emily. “Or I could make you sad, or angry, or just really, really confused… Whatever you need! ;)

Just happy today, I think.

Suit yourself. :) I’ll pick you up in 15.

The prospect of spending some time with Emily and Candace already had Naomi feeling a little better, even disregarding Emily’s special ability to look into people’s eyes and affect their mood. Maybe tonight would provide an opportunity for Naomi to take her mind off of her futile job hunt and her complete lack of life direction. Or in the worst case, it would give her some people to commiserate with. Emily and Candace were easy people to talk to. They understood Naomi, typically better than her mother did. And that wasn’t Mom’s fault: there was just a certain empathy that existed between specials, something a normal person couldn’t really gain insight into.

Naomi swung her legs off the bed and stood, catching a quick reflection of herself in the mirror beside her bedroom door. Oh, right, the rips in her jeans… Mom was right about the scrapes; it would be best to clean them up a bit. There was time for that before Emily came. Naomi pulled her jeans off, tossed them on the floor, and replaced them with a clean pair. In the bathroom, she dabbed the dried blood off her knees with a wet cloth. It stung a little, but there didn’t seem to be much damage.

The doorbell rang. From the bathroom, Naomi called out, “I’ll get it!” but Mom was already there to let Emily in.

“Oh, hi, Emily!” said Mom. “How are you doing?”

“I’m okay,” said Emily with her seemingly perpetual cheery smile. “And you?”

“Oh, I’m getting on fine, thanks,” said Mom. “I hear you got a job at that little ice cream shop on the waterfront.”

“Yeah, just some part-time hours.”

“I bet they love you there… You must put a smile on every customer’s face!”

Emily shrugged bashfully. “I do what I can. I mean, some people just don’t want to be happy, no matter what, but of course the ice cream helps.”

Listening from the bathroom as she pulled the legs of her jeans back down over her knees, Naomi had to remind herself that Mom knew about Emily’s ability—well, one angle of it, anyways. Emily was pretty open about telling people that she just made everyone around her a little happier all the time. It was simpler than explaining the full truth, and a lot easier for people to swallow. That was something Naomi envied about Emily. There was no way for Naomi to put a positive spin on what she could do. Naomi’s only real recourse was to keep the secret or deal with the uncomfortable stares.

“Hey Em,” said Naomi, emerging from the bathroom.

“Ready to go?”

“Yeah, just let me grab my purse.”

“Have you eaten, Naomi?” asked Mom.

She hadn’t, and the reminder made her realize it. Her stomach growled ferociously. But Candace would be waiting… “I’m fine,” said Naomi.

“Are you sure? I can warm something up and send it with you in some Tupperware.”

“I’m okay,” Naomi repeated. And I’m not 14 years old, she didn’t add. She ducked into her bedroom, threw her phone and wallet into her purse, and joined her friend. “Let’s go, Em.” She pushed out the door, startling a crow that had landed on the front porch. It flapped up onto a power line, cawing in protest and peering curiously at her through its beady eyes.

Mom called after Naomi, “Call me if you expect to be out past 10:30, okay?”

“Sure,” mumbled Naomi, showing Emily a private eye-roll. She slammed her car door closed a little harder than usual. “I wish my mom would stop treating me like a kid!”

“Moms are always protective,” said Emily, starting the car.

“But I’m 21!” protested Naomi. “At some point she has to let me take care of myself, you know? It’s not like I ask her to worry about me.” She watched in the rearview mirror as Emily pulled the car away from the curb. Mom was still watching from the front porch. “I do enough worrying for myself…”

“Same old problems?” said Emily.

“Pretty much.” Naomi rolled down the car window. “Is anybody in Victoria hiring students this summer?”

“I could see if the ice cream shop needs anyone else part-time.”

“I don’t need part-time. I need full-time hours, or I’m never going to save enough for tuition in September. I can’t keep taking out student loans, either, or it’s going to take me 10 years to pay them all back when I’m done. And that’s if I can find a job after graduating.”

“Something will work out,” Emily assured her. “Just be glad you’ve got your health.”

Naomi sighed. “Yeah, barely.”

“What do you mean? Are you sick?”

“No. Nothing’s wrong. Just…” And whether Naomi wanted to tell it or not, the story of the car in the cul-de-sac spilled out, and Naomi found herself reliving that moment, right down to the look in the driver’s eyes. The more she pictured his face, the more real it seemed, like he was looming over her, dead set on smearing her across the pavement. “I could’ve died, Em. I could be dead right now. And I’m not even sure if I actually saw what I thought I saw—maybe it was an accident—but the thought that it might’ve been intentional makes it seem so much worse somehow. Scarier. Why would someone try to run me over? Who would do that?”

Emily was quiet for a minute. “And you haven’t told your parents?”

Naomi shrugged.

“Because you don’t want them to worry about you…”

Naomi sighed. “I’m going to tell them. I know I should. I just needed some time to process it, I think, and make sure I was okay first. Hanging out with you will help.”

“You know, if you asked your mom,” said Em, “I bet she’d say it was her job to make sure you were feeling okay, not mine.”

Naomi didn’t respond to that.

“Have you thought about reporting what happened to the police?”

“Not really,” said Naomi. “Think I should?”

“They might be able to figure out who was driving, and maybe the guy’s done something like this before, or they could make sure he doesn’t do it again. Did you see the license plate?”

“I didn’t have time to look. By the time I came back from skipping the car was gone.”

“What about the make and model, or the colour even?”

Naomi shook her head and rested her arm on the ledge of the open window as she watched the crowds of tourists along downtown Douglas Street roll by. “I don’t know anything about cars. It was blue, I think, and had four doors. That description would really narrow it down for them, eh?” A traffic light at the next intersection turned red, and Emily brought the car to a stop. Naomi watched a crow hop along the sidewalk and take an exploratory peck at the McDonald’s logo on a discarded paper bag. It looked up at her, then flapped away over the traffic that had begun to cross in front of them on Johnson Street, one of the one-way streets that characterized Victoria’s downtown. The crow circled past the cars lining the curb. “I guess it looked kind of like that one parked over—” Naomi stopped mid-sentence.

“Where?” said Emily. “Which one?”

Em!” Naomi gasped. “Em, that’s him!

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2 thoughts on “Empathy and an Empty Stomach

  1. So she took her torn jeans off twice? First in the previous chapter and again in this one. When did she put them back on and why?

  2. So she’s 21, paying nothing for rent, living at home with her Mom as a built in maid and cook, and obviously completely ungrateful; and she’s borrowing money to get a useless degree with no job prospects after she’s acquired it.

    .

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