16. Subdued
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Content warning: mention of death, brief mention of sexual assault

"Mara, are you all right?" Lily sounded worried. "You haven't said anything, you've barely moved in the last half hour."

I was still in the park, but I'd found a bench and now I was just staring at the river. It was almost hypnotic or whatever. Soothing I guess, the way it moved as it ran over the rocks and past the trees and bushes and stuff on the other side. I always thought there was something relaxing about moving water. The sight, the sound, it just really made me feel calm.

I wasn't really calm though. I still felt pumped with energy. My right leg was sort of bouncing slightly, though that might have been from nerves or stress. And my mood was kind of all over the place. It was like my body felt good and energetic and stuff, like my body wanted to be happy, but right now my mind was extremely not into it.

After another couple minutes Lily spoke up again, "Mara please talk to me?"

I let out a deep sigh, then admitted "I'm confused. I don't know how to feel or what to think. I feel like dancing and laughing and singing, but I also feel guilty. And I feel kind of angry at myself for being in such a good mood before?"

"I'm sorry Mara," she replied softly. "I shouldn't have said anything."

I shook my head, "It's not your fault Lily. You told me up-front, I knew about all this stuff since Friday night. I signed the contract, I went into it of my own free will, both eyes open."

"Then what's wrong?" she asked. "Perhaps we can talk through it and work it out together?"

I sighed again, then shrugged "I guess there's a big difference between talking about it, and doing it? And like..."

My voice dropped to an almost-silent whisper, "I didn't realize somebody dying would make me feel so good."

"As I said, that's a side-effect. It's because we're joined, bound together. I get a big energy boost when I feed, and your body and mind respond positively to that."

I was quiet again as I thought about that. It made me feel a little better, sort of. Like it wasn't that I felt great because someone died. I felt great because Lily felt good. And she felt good because she had a good meal. It was just that her good meal involved somebody dying that made it all uncool.

And I knew this was going to happen once or twice a month, for the rest of my life. I knew that every two to four weeks I'd wake up feeling absolutely amazing, until I remembered that my great mood meant someone else died.

I sighed again as I continued staring at the water.

Eventually I asked, "How do you feed while I'm asleep in bed? It wasn't a neighbour or something was it? There weren't any police or ambulances around this morning."

"You know that I can take over, right? We called it 'channelling' but when I take over you're no longer in control of your body?"

I nodded, and she continued.

"I can do that while you're asleep, and I can do it in such a way that it doesn't wake you up. So I am able to take charge of your body without disturbing your rest. Then I can travel, hunt, and feed, and you aren't even aware of it. Like I said Saturday morning, when I feed you aren't present, you can't watch, and you aren't a participant."

That didn't really set my mind at ease. I stayed quiet for another few minutes as I thought through it, then came up with a couple questions.

"I usually sleep nude. Does that mean I was running around naked last night while you were hunting up a meal? What if someone saw? Are people going to be reporting me sneaking around naked? Or worse, what if someone saw you feeding? Would they report me as a murderer?"

Lily replied softly, "The answer to all of those questions is no. I don't hunt like that Mara. I'm not like an animal stalking or chasing prey on city streets. I use my magic, nobody sees us. I usually find my prey in advance, well before I actually feed. Then I visit them in the night and feed when they are alone. I leave no trace. No-one saw you. No fingerprints or DNA are there to be found. There's nothing at all to connect you to my meal."

That was good to know, but it still didn't really make me feel better.

I asked softly, "Who was it? Who died last night?"

Lily sighed, "Are you sure you want to know? I don't want you to start obsessing about this. You know it's going to keep happening, I don't want you to wind up depressed or torn apart with guilt."

I gulped but nodded "Just this one, just the first one. I have to know. Please Lily?"

"Very well Mara." She took a deep breath then in a quiet voice she described the whole thing.

"I spotted him when we were outside the lotto office on Monday. I could see him from across the street, a man with a particularly dark soul. He was responsible for a dozen sexual assaults, two of which were very violent. I could tell all of that from a glance, and I... There's no human word for it but let's say I memorized the scent of his soul. Early this morning I took control while you slept. I cloaked us in magic and transported us to his apartment. When I was finished I brought us back home to your bed."

It took a few minutes for me to sort of digest all that. My voice was still quiet as I asked, "What happens after you've eaten? Like, what's left? Is there a body or something?"

Lily sounded reluctant as she replied, "Police will find his body in his bed. They'll also connect him to his crimes, he kept souvenirs from each of his victims. No-one will shed any tears for that man."

She added, "Now I think we should talk about something else, ok? It was so nice seeing you in such a good mood earlier, and I deeply regret that I ruined it."

I shook my head slightly, "I'm glad you told me. I'm glad you didn't lie about it."

She stated softly, "I won't lie to you Mara. Even though it would have saved you a lot of heartache in this case."

That was actually reassuring, and it helped lift my spirits slightly knowing I could always trust her.

Before I could say anything else my phone started buzzing. I pulled it out of my purse and found a text message from Melissa. She wanted to know if she could come over to talk with me.

That brought my mood up a little more. We hadn't spoken since Saturday and I kind of missed her.

I texted back that I was in the park right now and it'd take a while to get home. Then she offered to come to the park and give me a lift since she had her car. We exchanged a few more texts before she decided to come meet me here since it was a nice day. Then I just continued relaxing on the bench and watching the river as I waited for her.

Melissa arrived about fifteen minutes later, I spotted her coming across the footbridge over the river. I waved and she waved back. As she approached I noticed a few things about her.

She was wearing a new shirt today. It was pink and I was pretty sure it was a girl's style. It fit her fine, and it looked good on her. I knew it was her favourite colour, and I was glad she was confident enough to wear a top like that even if she wasn't out yet.

I also noticed the way she walked. I never really paid attention before, but it wasn't like a guy's swagger. She walked how I thought girls walked. It sort of hit me, for maybe the first time I was actually seeing her as the girl she really was. And seeing her like that lifted my spirits a little further.

"Hey Mara," she greeted me as she sat down on the bench next to me. "This is a pretty spot. Kind of peaceful and quiet."

I smiled, "Hi Melissa. That's a pretty top, it looks good on you. And yeah, it's nice here. I like watching the river. And it's kind of private? Nobody around to hear me talking to myself."

She glanced around with a slightly nervous look, then nodded and relaxed again. "Thanks Mara. I'm still not out, right? It's maybe not safe using that name in public."

"Sorry M... Sorry."

I added quietly, "I'm not going to say the other name. I'm trying to reinforce the right one in my mind, same with pronouns. So if I can't use the correct name and stuff, I'm going to avoid saying anything at all."

She gave me a look that was sort of grateful and appreciative, and maybe something even more. "Thanks Mara. You're a great friend."

I gave her a little smile and asked, "So what's up? How come you're not at school?"

She shook her head, "Last week before exams, the teachers don't care. And I really wanted to talk with you? I've been kind of avoiding you for a few days and I missed you."

That gave me mixed feelings. Like I was afraid to find out why she'd been avoiding me, but I was glad she wanted to see me since I missed her too.

"Uh," I hesitated. "Why were you avoiding me?"

Melissa scowled, "My folks. They made some comments when I got home from work on Sunday? Like they wanted to know why I was spending so much time with you. You're a stranger to them, right? They think you're my best friend's sister, who I've only met a few times in the past week since old-you died."

She blushed and added, "Dad wanted to know if you were into me, like if you were going to be my girlfriend? And mom sort of implied maybe I was latching onto you because I missed my friend. I didn't know what to say or how to deal with any of that stuff so I figured it was best to just hold off for a while, so my folks wouldn't make it too weird."

I sighed, "Crap I didn't even think of that. But yeah, like outside of you and me and my mom, everyone else is going to think it's weird that me and you are hanging out so much. Thanks for telling me though. I was scared you were avoiding me because of Lily."

Melissa hesitated for a few seconds before she nodded "Yeah. I've been thinking about that situation a lot."

"Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?" I was kind of scared to know, but I figured I had to ask.

She shook her head and grimaced, "I really don't know? I guess it depends on your point of view."

That didn't tell me anything, but she kept talking before I could ask.

"So last night after dinner, I was supposed to be studying for exams next week? Then my mom walks into my room without knocking, and she sees I'm on one of those websites I shared with you. I was looking at a chart about feminizing hormones and the various effects they have over different periods of time. Like what to expect after three months, six months, a year, two years."

I cringed slightly, I could imagine a hundred terrible endings to this story.

She continued, "So thank God mom didn't put two and two together. I bet it never even crossed her mind. She said something transmisic, then asked why I was reading that 'garbage'."

Melissa sighed, "I said it was because there was a trans girl at school and I was curious about her? Of course I was talking about myself but I wasn't going to say that. Anyways, then mom made a face and told me to stay away from 'him' because 'he' must be trouble."

"Fuck," I put an arm around my best friend's waist. "I'm so sorry."

She leaned against me and sighed again. "I don't think I can come out. If I do, my folks will probably kick me out of the house. Or worse."

Her voice wavered as she added, "You know I thought my mom was the one who might be ok? But she's just as bad as dad."

We were both quiet for a few minutes as I continued to hold her. Finally I asked, "What are you going to do?"

She shook her head slowly, "I don't know. I feel like I have to choose between having a place to live and getting an education, or being who I really am."

I still had my arm around her, and after another few moments I said quietly "You know me and Lily both want to help you, if we can. And mom said our home is a safe place for you. It'd be cramped but if your folks booted you out, I'm sure you could come stay with us."

Melissa leaned against me a little closer. "Thanks Mara. And uh, tell Lily thanks too. Like I said, I've been thinking a lot about you two. And your offer."

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