15. Blow up the world with strange magic – Apprentice

Apprentice

At four o’clock, Jeannie packed up her stuff and got ready to walk back to her car. As she got up to go, she realized her right ankle hurt. Bending over to examine it, she saw a little cut that still bled a little. OK, that’s pretty freaky! That’s where Lady Zhurong nipped me with her sword! Jeannie’s brain seemed to lock for a moment. What . . . the . . . fuck, she thought. She shook her head and shivered. There’s no fucking way, no fucking way. I must have scratched it on the edge of the booth or something. She hurried out of the café onto Hayes Street and headed south.

She’d parked on the bottom level of the underground garage in a remote corner be­cause she figured she might have to change in her car. She got into the car and dug around in the suitcase in the back seat to get her slinky sequined black dress and her black heels. She pulled the dress over her head and wriggled out of her peasant blouse. Then she squirmed to get the dress over her long skirt, which she then pulled off. Ditching the combat boots and grabbing her black purse (which contained her little black Remington RM380), she strapped on her heels. Finding her makeup bag, she did her lips and lashes in the rear view and patted on a little powder.

After combing out her hair, she was ready for the 10-minute walk to the Pentagon City Metro. Oh, shit she thought. Where the hell is my perfume? Jeannie only wore a single brand, Trouble, which was fairly expensive. I hope I haven’t left it behind at Glenn’s. She got out of the car, opened the driver’s side rear door and bent over to rummage among the bags and small boxes on the floor behind the driver’s seat. Her skirt hiked up a bit over her butt as she shifted her possessions around.

She was startled by a wolf whistle followed by a male voice saying, “I see London, I see France.” She stood up abruptly, bumping her head against the ceiling of the Camry. Furious, she turned to locate the jerk who had accosted her. A fat, well-dressed man in a business suit was grabbing his bag out of the trunk of his car across the aisle from her. He turned to face her and leered.

“Get lost, you son of a bitch!” Jeannie spat, turning red with fury. A huge gust of air from the garage’s ventilation duct behind her blew her hair over her eyes. When she pushed her hair back behind her ears, she saw that the man was gone. That was fucking quick, she thought. I don’t see how a guy of his size could have disappeared so fast.

Grabbing her purse, she slung the strap across her left shoulder and the bag onto her right hip, unzipped it, moved the Remington to the top, and went over to the man’s car with her hand on the pistol. I’ll bet that fucker’s hiding and ready to jump out at me. But she saw no sign of him. Jeannie searched between the adjacent cars, thinking he might be hiding there. No dice. Fucking dude vanished, she thought. Well, at least the asshole’s gone. Jeannie went back to her car and eventually located the bottle of Trouble, stuck way down in the toe of one of her sneakers, inside a shoe box entitled “Taxes.” She applied the scent, brushed her disheveled hair, locked up the car, and headed for the elevator.

The subway ride was uneventful, except for the usual pervs staring at her boobs. She’d perfected the “Don’t Even Think About It” look, though, and that generally prevented open ogling. Once she arrived at Farragut North, she realized it was a little before six and she’d be early. No sense looking over-eager, she thought. She decided to pop into the Mayflower Hotel to grab a cup of coffee and wait.

Breezing by the doormen like she owned the place, she walked into the bar and sat down in a booth. After the waiter took her order, she sat back and reflected on her hallucination. I’ve been stoned before, but never had a vision like that, she thought. It was so real. I should sue that café, or at least let them know they’ve got a bad run of muffins. But something was nagging at the edge of her consciousness. The ergot explanation just didn’t seem to fit in some way she couldn’t identify. The dream couldn’t have been real. Seriously. It was a seizure, perhaps, or a psychedelic muffin, or . . . what? What else? She ran her mind over the battles, the electric shocks, the cut on her ankle. She crossed her right leg and looked at her ankle. The cut was on the outside of her ankle and there was little way she could maneuver in the booth to get a good look at it, at least to do so and remain ladylike in her short dress.

Her salted caramel soy mocha espresso showed up and she sipped it for a few minutes. Then a thought occurred to her. Wait a minute. Those women in the café, they looked like the women in my hallucination, right? But now that I think about it, they looked exactly like the way they look on the Magic cards. Those ladies were dead ringers for Gwendlyn, Jaya, Chandra and Lady Zhurong! What are the chances of that? Ap­proaching zero. Rather than me using the faces of random café people in my vision . . . um, oh shit! That can’t be. It can’t be that these real women were somehow both human and Magic creatures. Jeannie buried her face in her hands as she became a little woozy at the thoughts she was thinking.

The waiter came over to her. “Are you OK, miss?”

“Oh!” Startled, Jeannie snapped her head up. “Yes, yes, sorry, I just realized something and it kind of shook me up. I’m OK. Thanks.” The waiter was staring at her boobs. “So, thanks, and please bring me the check.” The waiter snapped his eyes up to her face. “Right away.”

Jeannie shook her head to clear it and glanced at her smartwatch. OK, it’s a little after six. How long should I make him wait? She tapped the watch to check for messages or emails. No word from Juston. Maybe he’s running late. She realized she had to pee and got up to go to the ladies’. When she returned, the waiter, a bellman, and the front desk manager were standing and talking next to her banquette. “Hello, gents. Can I sit down again, please?”

The men exchanged glances, and the waiter and bellman walked away. “Oh, sorry, miss. When the waiter noticed you were gone, he mistakenly thought you had depart­ed without settling the bill.”

“So, you’ve never had an unaccompanied lady have to use the loo while visiting your bar?”

“Yes, yes, of course. It’s just that Bill thought that . . . Well, anyway.”

“He thought I was a streetwalker trying to beat the Mayflower on a tab, eh? That’s pretty insulting! Do you get a lot of that here at the Mayflower? I thought this was a classy place.”

The manager turned red. “No, no, no, we don’t, I mean . . . Look, Bill’s new, and that’s no excuse. I apologize on his behalf. I am sorry for the inconvenience. Your bill is on the house and please visit us again.”

Not bloody likely, Jeannie thought. “Well, you can tell him for me that he should quit staring at ladies’ bosoms if he knows what’s good for him.” The manager was nonplussed. “I, ah, will certainly tell him,” he said and gave a slight bow, then turned to return to the lobby.

Well, that turned out OK, Jeannie thought to herself with a smirk. The stinking coffee was probably 20 bucks. I don’t know why I thought this would be a good place to grab a drink.

Her smartwatch buzzed and Jeannie glanced at the message. It was from Juston. He had arrived at Midtown Partyplex and found it was closed to the public.

Juston’s text said, “They turned it into an event space. Dude says try the Dirty Martini down the street.”

Jeannie texted back, “OK, where?”

“Just a couple doors down, same side of the street. CYA.”

Jeannie got up and walked down the street. She found Juston waiting outside for her. He went for the hug. She extended her hand and he ran into it. Flustered, they embraced awkwardly.

“Jeannie, it’s been a hound’s age since we last saw each other!”

“It’s true. Good to see you, Juston. How have you been?”

“Just peachy! Let’s go get a drink. I could use one.”

Inside the Dirty Martini, Juston told the maître d’, “Could we go upstairs? We’ve not seen each other in a while and want to talk.” Jeannie thought this was too much information for the maître d’ and assumed Juston was just trying to impress the man with the fox he was dining with. Typical dude.

Once seated, Jeannie ordered a Dirty Martini, shaken not stirred, and immediately started pumping Juston for information about the AMEBA project. It turned out that Juston was not only involved; he was going to be the program manager if Booz got the bid.

“Well, could you use a girl like me?” she asked.

“In so many ways,” Juston said, barely suppressing a leer. Jeannie frowned and Juston quickly said, “We’re actually looking for an AI person. I think you’d be ideal.”

“OK, I don’t really call it AI. The state-of-the-art today is more appropriately called Machine Learning. We should be so lucky, or possibly so unlucky, as to have real Artificial Intelligence. But, yeah, it sounds like an interesting project, and I’d love to come aboard.” From the look on Juston’s face, Jeannie knew that he was thinking of coming aboard, in a different way.

Jeannie leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “Juston, if I do come aboard, I don’t want any funny business, like the last time.” In addition to making an overt pass, Juston had taken many opportunities to brush up against Jeannie, or to touch her in a familiar, but not overtly sexual, manner: putting his arm around her while walking, standing close to her in the elevator, touching her arm in a reassuring manner when mansplaining something to her.

“Right. Yes. Of course.” Juston looked very uncomfortable. “Jeannie, I’m going to be straight with you. I’ve had a massive crush on you for some time. But I will be a gentleman.”

Jeannie thought to herself, Wait a minute. I have two goals here, and one of them is to go home with Juston. Get it together, girl. Sweeten up.

“Why, Juston! You little sweetie. Well, let’s get to know one another better and see what develops.” He was a pretty good-looking guy, nice build, nice bulge, and she’d had worse.

What developed was they both got quite drunk before ordering. Jeannie didn’t find much a vegan could eat on the menu, and so ordered the mixed greens, hold the gorgonzola. Juston ordered the ancho-rubbed ribeye. Typical guy, Jeannie thought. After a few more drinks, Juston asked Jeannie if she’d like to come to his place for a nightcap. Ordinarily, Jeannie would have turned down such a ham-handed proposition, even drunk as she was. But there were the two deals she needed to close, so she accepted, and Juston ordered an Uber to take them to his apartment at Foundry Lofts at The Yards. Jeez, thought Jeannie. How much does this guy make? That’s a pretty nice area, and not too far from the Booz office and the Nationals’ ballpark. If Juston didn’t seem to be such a dickhead, I might could get used to a place like that.

When they arrived, Jeannie’s impression of the place skyrocketed. Soooo nice! she thought. Nice view, nice furniture, impeccable. He must have maid service, she thought. Juston took her on a short tour, ending in the bedroom. He leaned in to kiss Jeannie, and she let him. One thing led to another, and Jeannie was bangin’ for roof.

In the morning, Jeannie awoke to find Juston already gone to work. Oh, my head, she thought. And my nipples! Juston played with my boobs for fucking ever last night. They’re sore as fuck. She sat up and immediately fell back. Take it easy, she told herself.

After a few minutes, she rolled to the edge of the bed and dragged herself onto the floor. She crawled into the bathroom and sat on the john for about 20 minutes before she felt ready to stand up. After brushing her teeth with the toothbrush she kept in her purse, she showered and then looked through Juston’s drawers for something to wear. She found some sweatpants and a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Duke logo. Yeah, that Juston. Always slipping that he went to Duke into the conversation. She was about as tall as Juston, so the clothes didn’t fit too badly.

Her head was still throbbing, but she was famished. She looked through Juston’s cupboards and fridge. Typical. Mostly just beer and lunch meat in the fridge, and chips and Cheetos in the cupboards. Finally, she turned up a few slices of bread in the frost-bound freezer and popped them in the toaster. At least he’s got peanut butter and jelly, but only real butter.

While she ate, Jeannie was scrolling through the national news on the New York Times site on her iPad when a picture stopped her dead. The headline was, “Man Transported 1,300 Miles in Three Hours?” She took another look at the picture and realized it was the guy who harassed her in the parking deck. An electric bolt ran up her spine.

Omigod! What the fucking fuck? she thought and read on:

George Flicker, a bankruptcy lawyer from Washington, DC, walked into Balta, North Dakota yesterday afternoon wet, dazed, and disoriented. One of the (disputed) claims to fame of the tiny hamlet in Pierce County is that it is just six miles from the geographical center of North America. And that appears to be just where Mr. Flicker landed, seemingly by teleporting from a parking garage in Pentagon City, Virginia to those exact coordinates: a pond near Kilgore Lake in the middle of the desolate prairie west of Balta.

Witnesses put Mr. Flicker at a trial in the Arlington Courthouse at 4:30 pm yesterday. Mr. Flicker says he drove from the courthouse to the Pentagon Row shopping center to run some errands, arriving at the parking ramp a little after 5 pm. As he was getting his bag out of his trunk, he suddenly found himself waist deep in muddy pond water.

A large man and a poor swimmer, Mr. Flicker managed to struggle to shore and followed the waterline west to 21st Avenue NE. Totally disoriented, Mr. Flicker luckily decided to head south, where he found a crossroad at 50th St NE, turned east and followed the signs into Balta. It took him a little over three hours to cover the 10 miles into town, according to Mr. Flicker. He showed up still wet at the offices of Jundt’s M & M Repair, where workers gave him a mechanic’s jumpsuit to change into and called the sheriff.

Authorities have examined the contents of Mr. Flicker’s bag and found they contained legal papers relating to the court case he was working on. One document of particular interest was signed yesterday by the judge in that case, who has confirmed the apparent authenticity of the document. Virginia authorities have found Mr. Flicker’s car parked in the Pentagon Row parking garage, just as he said. The timestamp on the parking receipt corroborates Mr. Flicker’s story.

Mr. Flicker is obviously shaken by his ordeal and declined to be interviewed for this story.

There appears to be no practical way for a man to be transported 1,300 miles to the middle of North Dakota in roughly three hours. A commercial airliner could barely cover the distance in that amount of time, even assuming it could land in tiny Balta, population 65.

If this is a hoax, there seems to be little point to it.

Mr. Flicker is currently under the care of a psychiatrist at the Center for Psychiatric Care in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Mr. Flicker’s wife has been contacted and was expected to arrive in Grand Forks today. When he recovers sufficiently, the FBI, NSA, and CIA are eagerly anticipating interviewing him.

Jeannie was in a state of shock at reading this. What the fuck? I tell the guy to get lost, and he magically appears in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota? She shivered and got up to pace back and forth. What if it all was real? What if I somehow acquired real magical powers? What if I sent that poor asshole for a well-deserved dunk in a pond? What if those women in the café really were Magic creatures, and Magic isn’t just a game, but some kind of reflection of reality? Omigod, my brain hurts.

Jeannie went over to the couch and laid down, facing away from the window because the light still hurt her eyes. So, when I beat the Black Dahlia and he said I was the most powerful mage in the world, that was true. Somehow, the whole initiation was real. Somehow, it not only wasn’t a dream about a Magic game, I have real power in the real world. But, shit, if every time I get pissed off, I could end up hurting someone, that’s so not cool. I need to figure out first, how did I send that poor jerk to Bumfuck, North Dakota? Next, how can I prevent doing this unintentionally? And finally, how can I use this power—assuming I can figure out how to control it—for good. Wait. Black Dahlia mentioned 40 days of mentorship. Oh, I hope that’s true. I need help.

After worrying for another 10 minutes, Jeannie fell asleep on the couch. The next thing she knew, Juston was shaking her shoulder. “Wow, Jeannie, we really tied one on last night. I wish I could have sacked out all day on the couch.” Juston smiled as Jeannie sat up quickly. He settled in beside her. “So, babe, how you doin’?”

Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready for more Juston just now, Jeannie thought.

“I’ve been better,” she said. “Definitely not ‘peachy.’ How about you?”

“Yeah, it was brutal at work. But, good news, what I didn’t tell you yesterday is, that grant for the radio arrays? That’s wired for MacAllan. The feds need to make a show of an open procurement process, but we’ve got it. Hell, we gave the feds the idea in the first place, and a line on the scientist who’s done the preliminary work in proving the concept. So, that means as soon as best and final offers come in in a couple days, we can put you on staff.”

“Wow, Juston! That’s incredible! Thanks so much.” Jeannie decided she probably should kiss him, so she leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. “Now I’ve got something to tell you. I’m homeless at the moment.”

“What? What happened to Whatsisname?” For a split second, Jeannie wondered why Juston thought he should know her boyfriend’s name.

“Glenn. I got tired of his bullshit, picked a fight, loaded my stuff into the car, and split, day before yesterday. He’s been texting me, but I’m ghosting him.”

“Well, you can stay here until you get settled, or . . . if you like, longer.” Jeannie searched Juston’s face. He wasn’t being a smart ass. He must have meant it when he told me he had a big crush on me.

“That’s so kind of you. I don’t think I’d be comfortable moving in permanently at this stage in our relationship. You know, we barely know one another.”

Juston briefly looked disappointed but recovered. “Well, as I always say, you don’t ask; you don’t get,” he said with a laugh.

What he didn’t say was that he had been obsessed with Jeannie for years. Ever since they had first met, he’d maintained a folder of every picture, every online post, every shred of information he could find about Jeannie. When they had worked together, he had broken up with his then-girlfriend just so he’d be available for her. He yearned for her touch and was devastated when Jeannie moved on when the project ended. He even did a little bit of hacking after that, breaking into her Gmail and social accounts to see whom she was dating. He pulled back from that after a few months because he creeped himself out. But he never stopped thinking about her.

“I’ve got a hide-a-bed in the second bedroom,” he said. “That’s my office, but I can sleep there until you get situated.”

This was just what Jeannie had been hoping to hear.

“That’s so kind of you Juston. You’re a lifesaver!” She gave him another kiss. “You don’t happen to have a parking space available in this building? My Camry needs a muffler and I’ve got it stashed at Pentagon Row at the moment.”

“Yeah, I get a space with the apartment, but I don’t own a car so, sure, you can have it. You want to go get it now?”

“No. It makes such noise. Let’s wait until it’s dark and there’s fewer cops around.”

Since there was no food in the house, they decided they should go out, but no place fancy, due to Jeannie’s attire.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Juston said. “The DC Duke Club is having a gathering tonight to watch the basketball game at Mackey’s Public House, just off the Mall. And they’ve got veggie options. You wanna go? You’re dressed for it.”

Jeannie thought for a minute. Do I look too grungy to be seen in public? Juston read her mind. “You look fine. Most everybody will be dressed like you.”

“All right, but just don’t tell anybody I’m a Dukie. I hate Duke.”

“You wound me, mademoiselle!” Juston made an outraged face, then smiled, and started for the door. “It’s across the street from Metro Center. Let’s go.”

In the train, Juston said, “Why do you hate Dukies? Don’t you like excellent schools with dominant college basketball teams that actually graduate players?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s something—no offense—about their attitude.”

“What attitude?”

“Well, for example, Dukies never say, ‘When I was in college.’ They always say, ‘When I was at Duke.’ And, I don’t know. Why do people hate the Yankees? Or used to hate the Cowboys? Because they win too much. America loves an underdog.”

“I don’t buy that. Ivy Leaguers are much more obnoxious, for example. Ever talk to a Hahvahd man? And Kentucky and even archenemy Carolina win a lot, too.”

“True. I don’t know. I went to MIT, and nobody hates me for it. Could be a perceived white privilege thing?”

Juston said he didn’t know and then turned to look out the window at the rushing blackness. He knew he was prone to say, “When I was at Duke.” Jeannie had nailed him there. But he also loved the reaction when he said it: a noticeable pause and a look that said he was being reassessed positively.

For her part, Jeannie decided she had come on too strong. The recent events had her frazzled. “Look, Juston, I’m sorry. I guess I’m still recovering from last night.”

This cheered Juston up, since it brought back memories of their lovemaking. Jeannie sure was a hellion in bed. And those boobs!

They arrived at Mackey’s and there was already quite a crowd of Duke-blue-clad revelers. The NCAA tournament game had just started, and the fans were getting rowdy.

Juston said, “Hair of the dog?”

Jeannie grabbed her head in mock anguish. “No,” was all she said.

“OK, anything else to drink?”

“Yeah, get me a lemonade. You know this place is louder than I had expected. We may just need to eat and leave.”

They grabbed a table at the back, and when Juston returned with the drinks, the crowd erupted at a spectacular Duke dunk. Juston craned his head to see one of the TVs.

“Nice. Seven-point lead and the game’s only seven minutes old.” He glanced at Jeannie who took a huge gulp of the lemonade.

“Oh, my head,” she said.

“Poor baby. Look, we don’t need to stay.”

“No, I can see this is an important game for you. We can stay, at least for a while.”

Jeannie started feeling better, especially when her tofu vegan salad came. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything all day other than the PB&J. By the time she finished the salad, she was feeling more human and actually started getting interested in the game.

They switched to a booth with a better view of a TV. Juston was yelling and screaming. In his excitement, he looked like a teenager. Eventually, the game came down to the final 10 seconds with Duke behind by two points. South Carolina had the ball, but Duke’s freshman player of the year candidate stole it and launched a three-pointer from way far away. It looked like it might go short.

“Go in!” shouted Jeannie, and it did. Duke won and Juston went nuts, jumping up and down and high fiving everyone he could find. The commentators were shocked, calling it a miracle shot. They replayed the shot in slow motion, and it indeed looked like the shot was going to fall short, but at the last instant, it somehow moved horizontally to fall into the basket.

Jeannie was thunderstruck. Omigod, she thought, I’ve done it again. Damn. Juston was in seventh heaven with his Blue Devil buddies, pogoing around and hollering. After he calmed down a bit, Jeannie reminded him that they needed to go get her car. Juston jabbered about the game all the way to Pentagon City. Jeannie listened politely, but her mind was fixated on going back to the garage. It felt like returning to the scene of a crime. That poor man. He was a jerk, but he didn’t deserve to be terrorized like that.

When they got to her car, she realized she’d have to do some rearranging, since she’d piled some of her stuff in the passenger seat. While shifting stuff to the back seat, she kept glancing back at the spot, festooned with yellow police tape, where George Flicker had disappeared, half hoping he’d reappear and say, “Surprise! I’m a twin. Psych!” Of course, that would be ridiculous. This can’t be happening to me, she thought. I must still be on a trip. Please, please wake up! She even tried pinching herself, which prompted a raised eyebrow from Juston.

Once they were settled in the car, Jeannie started it up, and the noise from the broken muffler echoed from the garage walls sounding like a jet fighter taking off.

“Jeez, you weren’t kidding! That’s hella loud!” Juston said.

“What?” said Jeannie, just for a laugh.

They drove out onto Joyce Street and headed toward I-395. When they got off on South Capitol, just past the Capitol Skyline hotel, Jeannie noticed several fire engines parked on the side street.

“What’s up with them? They’re just sitting there.”

“That’s a staging area, I think. Since the traffic sucks so bad in DC, the fire department keeps engines all over the city, just in case.”

As they passed the intersection, they saw a police car at the head of the line of engines. It turned on its lights, pulled out behind them, and pulled them over.

“Oh, merde!” Jeannie said. “I’m busted. And I don’t really have the money to pay a ticket. Goddamn!”

The DC cop came over and asked for license and registration which he took back to his squad car to run a check. When he returned, he said, “You know, young lady, we got a noise ordinance here in the District. It’s after 10 pm, which means a double fine. I can also arrest you.”

“Oh, officer,” Jeannie said with a big smile. “You don’t want to do that.”

After an awkward pause, the cop said with a puzzled look on his face, “No, I don’t want to do that. Just get that thing fixed. Have a nice night.” He returned to his squad and drove off.

“What the fuck, Jeannie? Do you always get off so easily?”

Jeannie had a feeling the cop fully intended to have her spend a night in the slammer. Oops, I did it again, she thought, smiling.

“Sure. The Girls help,” she said, indicating her breasts. “Even with no cleavage.”

Juston just shook his head as Jeannie pulled back into traffic. “Men are definitely the weaker sex,” he said. “An extra hundred or so cc’s of breast tissue turns men into fools.”

“Yeah, guys are boobs for boobs. I’ve certainly found that. But it’s actually no picnic to have big boobs, let me tell ya. I can’t lay on my stomach and tan my back at the beach unless I do some excavation. I sometimes get under-boob rashes; I basically can’t run or jog very far or ride a roller coaster; clothes generally don’t come in my size; and I can’t use the tray table on airplanes. My cleavage also catches crumbs—the term of art is ‘titty litter.’”

Juston laughed with a snort. “Man, that sucks!”

“Plus, there’s the backaches. And, don’t even get me started on all the reactions from men. In addition to creepy men staring at them—starting with my uncles when I was 12—they feel free to yell, from across the street, ‘real or fake?’ or ‘hey airbags!’ or some other inanity. Also, men immediately assume I’m a dunce. I used that to my advantage a lot at MIT and since. Alternatively, they think I’m a call girl. You know, I stopped off at the Mayflower to grab a coffee yesterday, and the fucking waiter thought I was a working girl and called the manager when I went to the Ladies’. So, I’m just sick of my boobs. I’m just sick of dealing. I’ve actually been saving up to get breast reduction surgery.”

Juston was shocked by this. “No!” he yelped involuntarily, then sheepishly said, “Sorry. I mean, that seems so drastic.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to lug around 18 pounds of flesh on your chest every day. Besides, don’t worry, I’m constantly raiding the Deboobification Fund when I’m between gigs, like now. And it’s basically down to nothing at the moment.”

“But there are advantages to big boobs, right? Like getting out of parking tickets. Turn here. The garage entry is around the corner.”

“Oh, for sure. The fact that I can easily manipulate ‘breast men’ into doing pretty much anything, short of committing murder, is a plus. Or the fact that several of my boyfriends didn’t care when I would put on weight because they were so overjoyed at how much bigger my breasts got. But I think I could have all the advantages with fewer disadvantages if I were a C cup.”

They pulled into the underground parking, the engine sound reverberating, parked, grabbed a couple of Jeannie’s suitcases, and took the elevator to the second floor. Once inside Juston’s apartment, he got some linen and blankets from the closet and made up the hide-a-bed in his office.

“Nightcap?” he asked.

“No, thanks, Juston. My boobs need to recover from the working over you gave them last night.”

Juston turned bright red. “Oh God, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m kinda used to it. But when—or if—we make it again, treat the Girls a little nicer.”

Juston was so embarrassed he just gave a dorky little wave and retreated to his office.

Alone in Juston’s bed, Jeannie finally had a moment to reflect on the crazy few days she’d had. Losing her job was a bummer. But if that asshole boss of hers can’t stand someone being smarter than him, well, good riddance. Leaving Glenn didn’t bother her so much. It had been coming for months and she was glad to be rid of his boasting. If the cost was sleeping a night in her car, it was worth it.

The mindblower was the magical power she had acquired in the battle, which was apparently real, and not some sort of psychedelic hallucination. Did I really drop that poor jerk into a pond in North Dakota? Did I really score the winning basket for Duke? Did I really beat a ticket with more than just the Girls? The feelings that she’d been holding at bay suddenly washed over her. Serially and all at once she was scared, bewildered, skeptical, intimidated, and near catatonic. She again felt like throwing up and hurried to the toilet in the master bath. But no vomit came. She sat on the cold tile with her mind roiling. After what seemed like hours, Jeannie’s mind cleared, and she got up and climbed back into bed.

Let’s take stock of what I know, she thought. It appears I can create miracles. And so far, I’ve used power inadvertently except for, I guess, that cop. Apparently, my power works at a distance. The Duke game was at Madison Square Garden a couple hundred miles away, and I sent that Flicker dude halfway across the country. It must work without regard for the physical Universe, otherwise, that Flicker jerk would have been smashed against the garage ceiling or been incinerated by the friction generated by moving through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed. I can affect people’s minds as well as material things.

So, for what shall I use this awesome power? I think it would be best to start off slow, but perhaps eventually I can work on my life’s goal: saving the world. Perhaps if Juston gets me this radio gig, I can figure out how to instill ethics into war machines. That still sounds like a huge goal. I guess I should concentrate on getting employed, getting my own place, and, I guess, figuring out what to do about Juston. Jeannie was realizing the guy was kind of growing on her. He didn’t seem to be quite the dickhead she had thought he was back when they worked together, and he obviously adored her. That’ll do for now, she decided. Maybe I can be a friend with benefits for a while until I can figure out what the fuck is going on here.

As she was drifting off, she remembered the 40 days of mentorship Black Dahlia promised. Yeah, but I beat his ass pretty good, she thought drowsily. Perhaps I don’t need any mentors.

Sunday morning was bright and sunny. Jeannie awoke a little disoriented. Oh, yeah, she thought. I’m crashing with Juston. She lay in bed for a few minutes until the various magical incidents drifted back into her head, driving her nuts. She got up and showered. She dressed in the mirror and took stock of her appearance: jeans and a wrinkled untucked plaid shirt. Well, at least it’s not Duke sweats, she thought.

She briefly considered some eye makeup but decided against it. Do I care if he sees me without makeup? No. Not really. If he’s into me, he should see what I really look like. She examined her pale oval face for incipient zits. Thirty-three and still with the zits already. She stood back and looked at herself in the mirror. Nice eyes, but a little too close together. Small mouth, but nice red lips. If I had more of a waist, less of a beanie, and a little more junk in the trunk, I might be really good-looking, she thought. Oh, stop it, girl! You’re a fine figure of a woman! Quit the stinkin’ thinkin’.

She brushed her hair, pulled it back into a ponytail, and went out into the living area to see if Juston was up.

Juston was rummaging in his freezer when she came in. “What’re you looking for, J-man?”

Juston bumped his head against the top of the freezer. “Ouch. You startled me,” he said. “Good morning, J-girl!”

Jeannie came around the end of the counter and gave him a little kiss on the cheek. “Peanut butter and jelly again for breakfast?” she asked with a smile.

“No. I’m planning on have stuff delivered.”

“I hope it’s vegan.”

“Yup. I thought we could get stuff from Sweetgreen. They don’t deliver, but Uber Eats will pick it up and bring it here. I have you pegged for the Shroomami bowl and the Spicy Sabzi for me. Both are vegan. The menu’s on the counter over there. See what you think.”

“Thanks. That’s sweet of you.”

“And I thought I’d make us some sangria to drink, if I can get this damn can of lemonade unstuck from the back of this freezer.” He returned his attention to his frosty struggle. “You know, the Internet and sports media are blowing up about that basket last night. They’re analyzing the shot frame by frame and have pretty much concluded it’s totally impossible for the ball to have gone in.”

Jeannie didn’t know what else to say, so she said, “Freaky.”

Finally, Juston liberated the can from the ice. He went to get a glass pitcher from the top shelf of a cupboard. It was an odd shape, looking like a stylized upside-down oxbow with two long prongs at the top. As he pulled it down, the pitcher slipped out of his wet hands, hit the top of the refrigerator, and broke across his right shoulder, gashing his carotid. His neck began spewing blood and Jeannie rushed over to him.

“Omigod! Juston!” Jeannie pressed a towel to his neck. There’s no way help can arrive in time, she thought. Not even enough time to call 911. Desperate, she yelled, “Heal!”

Juston stopped bleeding immediately but was still freaking out. Jeannie removed the towel from his neck. There was no sign of the injury other than the blood.

“Calm down, Juston! You’re not bleeding anymore.” Juston gave her a strange look and felt his neck, which although still slick with blood, was obviously not bleeding, or even injured. Juston was hyperventilating and white with shock.

“What the fuck just happened? What the fuck just happened?” he repeated over and over.

Jeannie couldn’t think of what to say.

“Seriously, Jeannie, what the hell did you do? I was spurting blood, and now I’m not. What the fucking fuck?”

“Let me dry off this blood and then why don’t you go get changed?” she said. “Then we should sit and have a little talk.”

Juston walked unsteadily into his bedroom, washed his neck and changed his clothes. When he came back out of the room, his face was still white, and he was shivering. Jeannie had cleaned up the mess in the kitchen and was sitting on the couch, looking pretty unsteady herself. She motioned Juston to sit next to her.

“OK, you’re not going to believe any of this. In fact, I don’t believe any of this, but most of what I am about to tell you has objective proof.” Jeannie proceeded to tell Juston about George Flicker, and the Duke game-winning basket, and the cop, and her move to save Juston from certain death. Juston just listened, staring straight ahead, expressionless except for a kind of shocked bewilderment.

When Jeannie was finished, Juston said in a dull voice, “Wow.”

“Juston, honey, look at me. What do you think about what I just told you?”

Juston roused from his catatonic state and turned to Jeannie. “What do I think about it? What do I think about it? I can’t think anything. I’m stuck on that part a few minutes ago when you yelled, ‘Heal’ and I stopped bleeding. Pinch me. I must be dreaming.”

Jeannie pinched him. “I didn’t mean that literally!” he yelped.

Jeannie put her arms around him. “Something happened to me Friday, and now I seem to have all this power that I don’t really know how to control.”

“OK, if you want me to believe that this isn’t all just some kind of fever dream, lift up that armchair with your mind.”

Jeannie gave it a try, but the chair didn’t move. She tried lifting a bowl from the counter, a pen off the table, and other small items around the room. No dice.

“It’s got something to do with emotion,” she said. “The first time, I was pissed at that letch Flicker. When I put that basketball in the hoop, I was excited about the game and worried about the outcome. I was scared that cop would arrest me last night. And, of course, just now, I was terrified that you were going to die on your kitchen floor. So that’s gotta be it. I only can use the power when I’m riled up.”

Justin shook his head several times rapidly as if freeing his mind from cobwebs. “Yeah, I guess that makes some sort of sense.”

The color was beginning to return to his face, and he had stopped shivering. “Look, Jeannie, you may think that I am the type of guy that would never believe in this sort of thing, in magic. But I’ve got something to tell you as well. I am a Chaos Magick mage.”

“And that would be . . .”

“And that would be an adept at Chaos Magick, which is a hermetic tradition involving the manipulation of the hidden code of reality.”

“Um, that’s not a lot clearer.”

“Yeah, I know. OK, Chaos Magick 101.” Juston explained that Chaos Magick is based on the belief that magic is a real force in the Universe that can be measured and controlled. He explained some of the ideas of the most influential thinker in Chaos Magick, Peter Carroll, and that the chaos in Chaos Magick was akin to the Chinese concept of Tao with many similarities to quantum physics.

“It is a way of opening oneself to the possibilities of the Universe. A key concept for Chaos Magicians is ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted‚’ meaning that you can theoretically do anything.”

“That sounds a lot like that fiend Aleister Crowley and his ghastly Thelema religion back in the first part of the 20th century. So, if nothing is true and all is permitted, then murder, rape, and torture are all allowed?”

“Chaos Magick is not dark or light. Yes, there are some who use it for evil, but they are constricted by their lack of understanding, which limits their attainment of power. They lack the mental flexibility required to truly master Chaos Magick. The mage can play with the Universe and see how the Universe responds. Living becomes entirely a creative act. Another important concept is malleability of belief. Unlike religions that codify belief into strictures and dogma, Chaos Magicians use belief as a tool, and discard beliefs and take up others as necessary.”

Juston paused for a moment, looking into Jeannie’s eyes to see if she was following him.

She said, “That last bit reminds me of a Mary Baker Eddy quote I’ve always liked: ‘Belief is changeable, but spiritual understanding is changeless.’”

“Uh, OK. Interesting. We should talk about that later. Anyway, the Magick adept uses techniques to focus his or her mind on a single point, thought, or goal, much like Zen Buddhist practice. It involves the typical magical accoutrements, like wands, robes, visualizations, symbolic systems, sigils, barbaric languages, and rituals to invoke real and imaginary entities who can accomplish the magician’s goals. Magicians believe that somewhere in the Universe is someone or something that can accomplish their intentions.”

“So, is this just a bunch of immature nerds in their parents’ basements—present company excepted—running around in capes with wands?”

Juston was irritated at this. “Look, Magic Jeannie, you’re the one who has wielded fantastic power over the last three days, not me. I’m trying to explain to you that there may be a framework that supports and explains the power you have and could help you control it.”

“You’re my first mentor, aren’t you?”

“What?”

“The Black Dahlia said I would have 40 days of mentorship so that I could control my power. You’re the first one, aren’t you?”

Juston had no idea what she was talking about, but he said, “If it makes you happy, and willing to listen to what I am trying to tell you, then fine.”

“OK, great. Now is this Chaos Magick organized in any way, or is it just a bunch of weird—ah, strike that—magicians working alone?”

“Well, I’d have to say we’re not really that organized. Remember, a signature aspect of Chaos Magick is the ability to adopt and abandon beliefs at will. Makes it hard to have a dogma, and that’s kind of the point. There is an international organization called The Illuminates of Thanateros. Don’t you love the name? A combination of Thanatos and Eros, the Greek gods of death and sex.”

“Sounds like the name of a death metal band.”

“Actually, there used to be a German metal band called Thanateros.”

“I just knew it.”

Juston described how the Illuminates try to bring others to mastership of Chaos Magick, and how Peter Carroll and Frater Vegtan founded the Church of Chaos in Sydney, Australia in 1980.

“A major way that many mages focus their energy on their objectives is through the use of sigils, physical symbols with magical power that work subconsciously in the mage’s mind, bypassing consciousness and the will. The mage creates a sigil as a glyph of desire, charges it with power, grounds him or herself, and then forgets all about it.”

Jeannie was skeptical, but this was certainly no weirder than what she’d been through the last few days. “So how does one create a sigil?”

“Well, a common way is to write a short statement of the desire. Like, for example, ‘I wish to become a billionaire.’”

“I’ll just bet you do.”

“Très humoroso, funny lady. Anyway. You take out all the repeating letters from your phrase. Let me write it down here and show you.” Juston wrote the phrase on a scrap of paper.

“OK, cross out the i’s, the b’s, the l’s, the o’s, the e’s, and the a’s. That leaves w, s, h, t, c, m, and n. You then arrange the remaining letters into a symbol, stylizing it either using the letter shapes or creating vectors based on numerological reduction. Here. Let’s go to Sigilscribe, which creates sigils for you. You got your iPad handy?”

Jeannie got up to get the tablet, and they navigated to sigilscribe.me, entered the phrase and produced a sigil.

“OK, now we charge the picture up with magical energy.”

“And how the fuck do we do that?”

“Well, funny you should mention it, orgasm is one way. Meditation or other types of achieving a gnostic state is another. Or dancing. What are you up for?”

Jeannie thought she had heard smooth proposals before, but this one took the cake. Nonetheless, given the stress of the day, she thought a nice roll in the hay with Juston would be good for both of them.

“I choose orgasm, you slick seducer. Tell me you didn’t make all this shit up just to get me back in the sack.”

“I honestly did not. I can show you the Wikipedia entries if you like.”

“No, I’ll believe you for the moment. Let’s print this thing out and get busy.”

When they were done, they sat back down on the sofa and Juston continued. “OK, the next step is to ground yourself. A good way to do that is to burn the sigil and go do something completely different.”

“OK, burning is easy. Let’s do that and then why don’t we just go out to Sweetgreen? How far is it?”

“It’s less than a mile.”

“Well, it looks like a brilliant day out there. Let’s walk.”

As they walked up 3rd Street, Juston continued to fill Jeannie in.

“Getting back to the fundaments of Chaos Magick, one of the foundational elements is sharpening the mind through meditative practices. One way to do this is Image Concentration, which helps train the part of the mind in which pictorial thoughts arise. Have you ever, for example, tried to think only in pictures? It’s hard but learning to do so enables more control and concentration. So, you try to keep a simple shape, like a triangle, circle, or cross, in your mind’s eye, without distortion, for as long as possible. It’s surprisingly hard, but after a while, you can see the image with eyes closed, and eventually be able to project it onto any blank surface.”

“OK, I can see how that would be difficult, but it hardly seems worthwhile.”

They crossed into a tree-lined neighborhood bordered by a park. The spring buds were out on all the trees. They passed by a Walgreens and Juston said, “Oh, can we stop in? I need to get my Claritin. Spring in DC pretty much hashes out my sinuses, and once the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, I’m barely functional without drugs. Although come to think of it, with all these buds out, I should be in agony, since I ran out day before yesterday.”

“I guess when I heal, I heal everything,” Jeannie said with a weak laugh. But they both fell silent thinking of the implications of her power.

When they turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, huge federal buildings came into view. The area was boiling with young Congressional aides in dark suits rushing to pick up sandwiches to eat at their desks. Sweetgreen was across the boulevard from the massive John Adams Building of the Library of Congress. Just down the block were the even more massive main Library of Congress and James Madison buildings.

“Say, these library buildings remind me, I’m writing a book about Chaos Magick. I’m maybe half done. Perhaps you can read it and kill two birds: understanding Chaos Magick and giving me feedback on the book.”

“Sure. Sounds like a good idea.”

“OK, when we get inside, I’ll email it to you.”

After the two had settled in and ordered lunch, the enormity of the morning’s incident descended upon them. Juston stared at Jeannie and said, “Was that a dream, what happened in the kitchen?”

Jeannie averted her eyes for a moment, then met Juston’s gaze. “No, Juston, that was real. You almost died. I saved you with, uh, magic, I guess.”

Juston again shook his head rapidly, then crossed his arms on the table and buried his head in them. He remained like that for five minutes. Jeannie became more and more concerned.

“Juston? J-man? Hey, it’s OK. You should feel good. You’re alive, and magic works. And maybe that means you’re going to be a billionaire.”

Juston laughed weakly and looked up. “Well, that’s one thing about Chaos Magick. The spells don’t always work. We live in a probability-based universe in which the future is not written but depends on the probability of events as they unfold. Some things remain more possible than others. There are ways to figure out how much probability distortion a given act of magic will produce using spell and anti-spell equations.”

“Equations? In magic? That seems counterintuitive.”

“That’s kind of a pun you did there. But think about it. If we have free will and the Universe is not deterministic—in the sense that everything can be foretold, and noth­ing can be changed—then that means the Universe is probabilistic. Things might happen, but they’re not destined to happen. So, when you cast a spell, if the difference between the probability of something happening due to magic and it happening by chance is large, the likelihood of the spell working is lower.”

“So how high can the probability be that a man could be teleported across half the continent?”

“Well, that’s kind of what’s blowing my mind! The odds are astronomical! As I said, generally, in Chaos Magick, most spells don’t work, at least they don’t work within a timeframe that the mage might desire. But some mages use a three-dimensional graph called the Tripod of Stokastikos to prove that even an event with zero probability of natural occurrence can occur under the influence of sufficient magic. Among the variables used are: Gnosis—the altered states of consciousness I alluded to when we wanted to charge the sigil; the magical Link—the connection made in a magical operation between the Will of the magician and the desired object to be affected; Subliminalization of intent—that business of forgetting about it; and Belief—you need to believe it will work.”

“Well, I’ve got the subliminalization thing licked,” Jeannie said. “I didn’t overtly think about banishing Flicker or putting the ball in the basket. And there was nothing planned about the cop or, ah, your neck.”

Juston winced at the mention of his injury. “Yeah, you seem to be accessing magic in a completely different way. As a matter of fact, your power calls into question everything I’ve believed, and have been writing in my book.” Juston looked glum.

Their lunches arrived and the two quietly ate their food for several minutes, each lost in a torrent of thoughts. Jeannie thought, well, besides a belief in magic, I’m not too sure what Chaos Magick has in common with my experience, which seems somehow entangled with the Magic game. Both may be coming at magic from different directions, but if Juston is my first mentor, I wonder if I’m going to learn much from him. I guess I need to wait and see if Black Dahlia put him in my path on purpose. If he did, it sure doesn’t seem like Juston knows he’s a mentor. His reaction seemed authentic when I mentioned it.

Juston’s thoughts were much more unsettled. This chick has got ahold of some terrific power. She doesn’t know how to use it, and it doesn’t seem to follow the practices of Chaos Magick. It’s so far from Chaos Magick that I’m wondering if there’s any reason to continue with my book, or with my magic practice. Have I wasted years becoming an adept? She said something about me being a mentor. What’s that all about? If anything, I think I need her to be my mentor. From what she described of her other-dimensional battle, it seemed like she was sucked into the battlefield on purpose. But why? What was the means of entry? Why did she get pulled in now rather than at any time before? Was it that Magic card-flipping app that she wrote? Should I learn the Magic game and use her app? If Black Dahlia said she was the most powerful mage, why wasn’t she called to battle or apprenticeship sooner? How come they couldn’t identify her sooner? This is too much like the Luke Skywalker story, but he was stranded on an isolated planet. Jeannie’s been right here. What was the trigger? And how can I prepare myself to use it?

Jeannie roused herself from her contemplation and looked at Juston. He had a faraway look in his eyes and had stopped eating. “J-man, are you OK?”

Juston turned his unfocused eyes her way and slowly came out of his reverie. “Oh, uh, yes, um, sure. I was just thinking about all this. You know, at first, I thought teaching you about Chaos Magick would help you. Now I’m not at all sure. As I said, you’re accessing magic in a completely different—and apparently much more powerful, way. I think you should be teaching me.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. I have no fucking idea how I did any of these things. I just willed them to be.”

“Yes, well, that could be an important insight. The will is important in Chaos Magick, but basically, the use of magic is not generally via an act of the will, but rather the setting in motion of magical forces using various techniques. It’s much more indirect, more like jiu-jitsu, and obviously way less successful than what you’ve got ahold of.”

“Well, I feel like there was a reason we met at this time,” Jeannie said. “You have or know something I need in order to control this power I appear to have. So please tell me more about Chaos Magick.”

Juston didn’t know how to proceed. Mentally he ran through the various techniques and doctrines of Chaos Magick, discarding them one by one as not pertinent, and potentially completely ineffective. He thought back to his neophyte, initiate, and adept training and ceremonies, but was at a loss to pick out significant parts that might be germane in the new world he found himself in. But wait, he thought. If I am to be a mentor, perhaps it’s more like the role of the Insubordinate.

“Jeannie, I’m trying to figure out which parts of Chaos Magick practice can survive the collision with the magic reality you’ve demonstrated. And I’ve been wondering how I could possibly be a mentor to you. I’ve just thought of a role I could play that’s not so much a mentor as a kind of reality check on the adept. It’s called the Insubordinate. That’s an adept who attends the Magister Templi and the teaching magi of The Pact. The roles this person fills are designed to, so to speak, prevent the adept from becoming too sure or too full of him or herself. The Insubordinate chooses two primary roles that best suit them from the five roles available: the Fool, the Jester, the Chaplain, the Confessor, and the Inquisitor.”

“That’s a cool idea,” Jeannie said. “The powerful often forget how much they do not know, and how imperfect their judgment can be.”

Juston explained the roles to Jeannie. The Fool ensures that teachings and instructions are understandable and criticizes or demands clarification if they are not. Often the Fool feigns ignorance to make the adept clarify. The Jester has a similar role, but delivers it with levity, poking fun at any pompousness or other big-headedness. The Chaplain concentrates on more-personal failings and blind spots but remains impartial. The Confessor attends to the personal progress of the mage, generally without comment. A main objective is to safeguard against sloth or complacency. The Inquisitor is an impartial arbiter with the power to veto any instructions and report on abuses of position.

“What a wonderful set of checks on power!” Jeannie said. “Which roles do you want to fill for me?”

“Well, I obviously would lack the knowledge to be an Inquisitor or probably the Confessor, since I have no idea how you do what you do. I am perfectly suited to the role of the Fool, but don’t think I could handle the Jester. And I guess that leaves the Chaplain.”

“OK, so you’re the Foolish Chaplain.” Jeannie giggled at the thought. “Which Chaos Magick practices do you think would help me learn how to control my power?”

“Well, I don’t rightly know. It’s hard for me to think clearly, given what happened this morning, facing death and the disillusionment of my beliefs and all.” Juston scowled and rubbed his neck.

Jeannie reached across the table and gave Juston’s hand a squeeze. “Yeah, it’s been a pretty harsh day for you so far. And I’m reeling myself from the last three days. I don’t mean to put pressure on you. Take your time figuring out what to teach me. In the meantime, I need to try not to get too wound up and send some other poor jerk to Timbuktu or something.”

Juston smiled for the first time since the incident. “Yeah, you need to be even-keeled alright, and I need to be on my best behavior, or I might be that next jerk. Pow! To the moon!” They both collapsed in laughter, not because Juston was funny, but because it was all so stressful and so crazy, they had to laugh.

“You know what you were saying about belief struck a chord with me,” Jeannie said. “I don’t know if I ever told you, but I was raised in the Church of Christ, Scientist.” Juston raised his eyebrows. “I know, most people think it’s off-the-chain crazy, but in many ways, it really is quite a sweet religion. Mary Baker Eddy was an amazing woman, ahead of her time. She believed that God, although infinite, was personal and individual. The healing of the sick through faith was originally just a small part of the church she founded. She was so strong. Despite her father’s cruelty, which undoubtedly caused her several illnesses—many probably psychosomatic—and the strictures of the time, she became one of the first feminists. What other existing religion was founded by a woman? She was fierce and loving. She didn’t believe in doctrine or dogma. She believed in truth, life, and love as taught by Jesus. She was a healer, and using her curative system of metaphysics, performed many miracles that saved peoples’ lives. Come to think of it, she seems like a mage.” This realization momentarily stunned Jeannie. Was she following in the footsteps of Eddy?

“Wow,” said Juston. “That’s not the conception I had of Christian Scientists. But, wait, you have strange look on your face . . .”

Jeannie was lost in thought, overwhelmed by the possibility that she was destined to carry on the work of a church she had left as a teenager.

“Uh, no, I’m OK. I’m just thinking of what I’m supposed to do with all this power. And it’s occurring to me I should train as a Christian Science practitioner. And, since I haven’t been a believer for more than 15 years, it’s kind of blowing my mind.”

Jeannie slumped down in her chair and didn’t speak for five minutes. Juston decided it was best to not bother her and ate his meal. Eventually, Jeannie sat up and said, “OK, we don’t know each other that well, so let me fill you in on what’s bugging me.” She took a deep breath and then told Juston the story of her disillusionment with the church.

Jeannie’s mother, named Mary in honor of Mary Baker Eddy, was a devout Christian Scientist, and her father had been an Episcopalian. He converted upon marrying but had drifted away from the church. Part of the reason, Jeannie said, was the fights the couple got into about raising Jeannie and her younger brother. It got so bad that if Jeannie got ill or needed stitches, her father, who was a stay-at-home dad, would secretly take her to a doctor. He had to pay in cash, so her mother wouldn’t know, and so kept a hidden box of cash in the house. Jeannie was sworn to secrecy. She was also instructed by her father to hide any evidence of doctor intervention by wearing coverings, including long sleeves and pants if it was summer.

When Jeannie was 16, her father became quite ill and took to his bed. He told Jeannie his whole lower abdomen felt like it was on fire. He had cramps, vomited frequently, and had bloody diarrhea. He slept all the time, but when he was conscious, he begged his wife to call an ambulance. Mary would not hear of it and summoned first one, then two, then three Christian Science practitioners to help Joe let go of his “fixation” of illness. They prayed over him, and, during his brief periods of consciousness tried to get him to realize that his pain was an illusion.

Jeannie was in tears by this point. “He died after suffering for two weeks. The last thing he said to me was, ‘Get away from your mother.’” Jeannie broke down crying.

Juston crossed over, sat in the chair beside her, and put his arms around her.

Jeannie wiped her eyes and said, “He died of uremic poisoning resulting from prostatitis, something that modern medicine can easily cure. He was in agony before he went. I packed some clothes, grabbed the keys to my dad’s car, and went to live with my uncle—my dad’s brother. From then on, I wouldn’t have anything to do with my mom’s side of the family. My biggest regret is that my brother was at school the day I left, or I would have taken him with me. My uncle, who was divorced, tried for years to get custody of Cody but failed. I haven’t seen him since.” Jeannie started to cry again. Juston didn’t know what else to do, so he held her quietly.

When she recovered, Jeannie said, “So that’s what’s bothering me. Is this whole megillah we’ve been through some sort of sign that I need to return to that so-called church? Should I train as a Christian Science practitioner? Is that part of my 40 days of mentorship?”

“I certainly can’t say what you should do, but I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t make any big decisions today. Let’s finish up and I’ll get an Uber to take us back.”

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