I skipped out on my first couple classes the next morning. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t. I couldn’t deal with them that morning. Getting to sleep had been hard enough after what I’d heard. I woke up a couple times with strange nightmares I couldn’t explain or even really remember. In the morning, I dragged myself through breakfast and used the voice changer again to call myself out of the first couple classes, claiming family obligation.
Then I made my way to the half-finished youth center thing where I had first practiced with my powers. It was no more completed now than it had been a few weeks earlier, and I let myself in. But I didn’t start playing with my paint again. Instead, I just stood there in the room with my face against my hands, letting all the emotions run through me. All the emotions I’d been feeling for so long and had just been burying deep down inside me. With the lock taken off of them, they boiled up quickly, making me feel everything I’d been pushing back since that fateful night.
Gradually, my hands against my face closed into fists and I found myself moving to the nearest wall without conscious thought. My fist lashed out to hit the wall hard enough to hurt. Good. I hit it again with my other fist then I kicked the wall. Then I hit it with both hands and screamed out loud. Then I screamed again and punched it before kicking the wall several times in quick succession, each time saying a member of my family. Simon, Dad, Mom. I hit that wall while cursing loudly, not even really following anything that I was saying. It was emotional gibberish.
Finally, I spun around, put my back to the wall that I had just been abusing, and sank down to sit with my knees drawn to my chest, arms wrapped around my legs. I buried my face against my knees, held myself as tight as I could, and screamed against my own leg. The sound was somewhat muffled and I did it again. I held myself even tighter than before, tighter than I thought possible, and screamed into my leg. Everything I felt poured out into that scream. But it wasn’t enough. Just screaming wasn’t enough, of course. It couldn’t be. But that unleashed the floodgates, and my scream suddenly turned into a choked sob without any input from me. My hand groped blindly for my backpack, shoving in before finding what it was looking for.
Felony. I came out with my little pink plastic unicorn with his leather jacket and held him tightly in both hands. I pressed my forehead against the toy, just as the tears burst forth like a dam had been broken. The force of it took me by surprise, and I fell onto my side as my body shook with emotion. I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t control it. My eyes were stunned into blindness by the rushing tears. For some time, how long I wasn’t sure, I just lay there on the floor, crying as I clutched my unicorn.
No, it wasn’t productive. It didn’t actually contribute to anything. Maybe it was even childish. But I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Not after what I had heard. Not after everything that happened. Not after having to shove my feelings down for so long. It all came out at once, and I was completely helpless to keep it in. I just lay there, sobbing from every bit of stress and lies that had been boiling up inside me. Having to keep myself under control while in the house the night before had been the end of my ability to bury it. The emotions had to come out, and right here, away from anyone who could possibly see, was my best chance. So I stopped holding back.
Some time later, I opened my eyes and stared at the wall in front of me. I was still lying on my side, the floor under my face damp from my tears while I shuddered a bit weakly. I didn’t move at first. I didn’t do anything. I just lay there, staring at that wall. I was too exhausted from the rush of that whole emotional release to even think straight. I stared and let my mind stay as blank as possible. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to feel. I just wanted it all to go away for a few minutes. I just needed it to leave me alone for now. Please. Please just leave me alone. Just for a little bit. Just for now. Let me lay here and not… not think about it. Please.
I might have fallen asleep like that. I wasn’t exactly sure. But the next thing I knew, my eyes were open. Something… something caught my attention, visible just out of the corner of my eye. Quickly, I sat up and turned that way with a gasp.
Nothing. There was nothing there. It was weird, for a second… for a second I’d thought I saw another one of those Touched orbs. It was so real. I’d seen… or thought I’d seen it hovering just over there in the corner. It had looked the same as before, a small glowing blue orb with white rune symbols on it that flashed and moved in a hypnotic pattern. I’d had the strangest feeling that it was… watching me?
Dream. I was definitely dreaming, imagining things, whatever. There was no orb. And now my body felt sore after dozing off like that. So, for another few moments, I just sat there and stared at the floor while letting my conscious mind catch up with everything.
Okay. Okay, I had needed that. I had definitely needed it. That much was readily apparent. I could only hold in my emotions about everything for so long. If I wasn’t careful, they were going to come out at the worst possible time. How would I have explained this kind of emotional outburst, or anything like it, to my parents, or to Simon, or to anyone I knew? How would I explain it to Izzy? God, Izzy. She would be so freaked out by any of that. I couldn’t do that to her.
But it was out now. It was done. I’d let out some of that pressure, and now I could think. Now I could focus. Or try to, at least. I had a chance of keeping myself together enough for the moment. How long that would actually last, I couldn’t say. But, for now, I was back in control.
With some effort, I pushed myself to my feet, standing up before letting out a long, slow exhale. Okay, I’d let go and had my moment of release. Now I had to focus on the actual situation.
What did I know? First, Tomas’s father was evil. That was completely indisputable. He had been ready and willing to shoot a girl in the head and dump her body in the water. The fact that I didn’t particularly like that girl was completely irrelevant. She didn’t deserve to die.
Second, he worked for my parents. I knew that too. Mr. Jackson was an… employee, or whatever, of my family’s little (or not so little) criminal empire. I wasn’t sure why he’d been in the UK (did they have a division there too?!) for so long, but it was readily apparent that he’d been working with them for quite awhile by this point. He was part of their whole organization, clearly.
Third, he had a power of his own. He was Touched. And this power apparently allowed him to mess with people’s memories. Which was something he used to help my family in their… criminal things.
The fourth thing I knew was that, for whatever reason, Paige was immune to that power. I had no idea why or how, because she wouldn’t confide that in me. But somehow, she was immune. That was something I was going to have to look into further later. Yeah, I was definitely going to have to look into it oh, that whole situation. Which meant I was going to have to interact with Paige more, and wasn’t that just the cherry on the giant Sunday that was this entire situation?
Okay, Cassidy, have some perspective, I told myself sternly. You might not get along with the girl, but your family is a bunch of actual supervillains. Having to interact with her is hardly the end of the world. You don’t have to like it, but try to be a little more mature. She’s not Satan.
Anyway, that brought me to the fifth thing that I knew. The things that had pushed me over the edge. At some point in the past, Mr. Jackson had used his power on me. He had erased part of my memory. I had no idea why or what he had taken away. My mother had called it traumatic. But what was it? How traumatic could it be if there was no evidence of it anywhere? Had I found out about their real lives and flipped out on them? Was that why they hadn’t told me the truth yet? Had I threatened to call the cops before I realized that it wouldn’t do any good? Was that the trauma my mother was referring to? Had I run away from home? What happened? How long ago was it, even? It had to be before Mr. Jackson was sent back to the UK, didn’t it?
No, no it didn’t. Because planes were a thing. There were ways to travel, duh. It was more likely to have happened before then, but not definite. They could have brought him over during that time just to change my memory, then sent him back. I just didn’t know. I didn’t know enough about any of it. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, damn it. It could have happened at any point in my life. I just had no idea. I couldn’t remember anything that felt like it was missing or incomplete, but that was the entire point of a memory being manipulated or erased, you didn’t remember it the way you were supposed to.
So yeah, a significant event within my memory had been erased or manipulated and I had no idea what it was. I wasn’t even sure how to narrow it down. What was I supposed to do, go up to my mother and ask if there were any traumatic events in my past that I didn’t remember properly? Yeah, that would definitely go over well. While I was at it, I’d ask her if Dad had any superpowers I wasn’t aware of, and if any of their business dealings might be a bit shady.
Nope, that definitely wouldn’t work. I needed to find out what exactly was missing in my past, but I couldn’t just ask any of the actual players in the event that I knew about. I couldn’t ask my parents or Mr. Jackson. God, Mr. Jackson. The thought of him sent a shudder through me.
But hey, at least there was one bit of ‘good’ news from all of this. Now I finally knew why the man had always given me the creeps. Wait a minute. Wait just a second. He’d always given me the creeps, since I first met him. Wait. If that was really why I found him creepy, because part of me remembered him changing my memory after some traumatic event, or being involved in it somehow, then… did that mean that whatever had happened would have had to be from before I knew Tomas?
My mind was racing. Yeah, it had to mean that, didn’t it? There was absolutely no reason for Mr. Jackson to mess with my memory to make me find him creepy. There was no reason for him to change my memory to make me think I’d always been disturbed by him. Either I was making it all up in my head from the start, which I didn’t think I was, or the thing he had taken out of my mind was from before I’d met Tomas. It had to be, that was the only thing that made sense, the only way all of this actually fit. Part of me had remembered the way he messed with my mind and had been warning me subconsciously this whole time, ever since I ‘first’ met him.
Okay, well, there was a tentative bit of information that I’d worked out already. Whatever happened was from before high school. Which didn’t really do a lot to narrow it down further, but it was something to potentially work with. Maybe whatever happened came right before I met Tomas? Maybe my parents had brought Mr. Jackson and his family over to Detroit (or had the government transfer him, which just raised a hell of a lot more concerns on its own) to ‘fix’ my memory, and they’d stayed after that for a bit to make sure the memory change really stuck?
All of which led me to the thought I’d been dreading focusing on. The thought that had been there at the back of my mind basically ever since I’d heard Mr. Jackson on the phone the night before last, but even more so since my mother had said those words the night before.
Tomas. Was our relationship real? Everything that happened, all the ways he’d made me feel, the way… the way he’d treated me like an actual woman, someone he desired, was that… real? Or was it fake? And if it was fake, was he in on it? Was he willingly manipulating me just to find out what I remembered or so that I would confide in him if something came to mind? Was he part of my parents’ evil organization too, just like his father was, just like Simon was? I wanted to say no. I desperately, desperately wanted to say it was impossible. But I wanted to say that there was no way my family could be evil either, and look how far that had gone.
And what if he didn’t know about it, yet our relationship was still a lie? What if his memories had been altered to make him like me so his dad could keep an eye on me? Would his father actually go that far? Would he change his own son’s memory and make him like me just for that? Again, he’d been willing to shoot a teenage girl in the head, so I really had no accurate barometer for how far he would go or how low he would sink. I just… I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. Everything was so wrong now. Everything was so fucked up. Nothing was real. I couldn’t trust anything I knew or thought about any of that. It felt like everything bad and horrible was possible.
What about Mrs. Jackson… Mills? What about her? Was she in on this whole thing? I liked her more than her husband, but I didn’t know. She could just be like my parents, better at hiding her real face. Or maybe the fact that I had never had my memory erased by her meant she didn’t send my hackles up subconsciously. I just didn’t know. She could be innocent or very much not.
One thing was crystal clear now, even more so than it had been before. I couldn’t trust anyone with this. Not my family, not Mr. or Mrs. Jackson, not Tomas… I’d made the right choice not to confide in Tomas earlier. I didn’t know if he was willingly part of it or not, but for all I knew, Mr. Jackson’s power let him mess with his son’s mind to the point that he would report anything bad I said to him. And that would be the end of… basically everything. No, whether he was part of it or not, I couldn’t tell him any of it. There was far too much of a risk of it blowing up in my face.
Okay, so I couldn’t get any answers from Tomas. At least not directly. I couldn’t get any answers from anyone directly. I sure as hell wasn’t going to openly ask about memory erasure.
But there were other things I could do. First and foremost, Paige definitely knew something about all of this. A lot of somethings about it, maybe. She could probably fill in some of the blanks and help me understand the whole situation a lot better than I did right now.
Beyond that, she had some kind of immunity to this memory altering power. If she could share that, or explain it, or whatever, that might help me get my own missing memories back. And getting my memories back was suddenly incredibly important. I had to know what had been erased. Yes, my mother had said they were traumatic. But I didn’t exactly trust her judgment. Besides, they were my memories, and I wanted them back. I wanted to know the truth. I deserved the truth, as much as my family thought I didn’t.
Unfortunately, there was no way Paige would help with that. Not with things the way they were. As Paintball, she didn’t really know me. I’d saved her life, but she’d made it clear that that didn’t mean she’d tell me everything she knew. Sure, she’d talked like she was saving me from trouble, but still. She clearly wasn’t to the point of sharing all the secrets she knew.
And as Cassidy? Forget it. She hated me. She’d always hated me. There was absolutely no way she would tell me anything if I came to her as myself. And even doing that would necessitate telling her enough that she’d almost definitely be able to figure out that I was Paintball. And of all the various people who I dreaded finding out my identity, she was near the top. Not as bad as my family, of course, but still. I wasn’t going to expose myself to her like that. Not if there was any possible way to avoid it. Not if I had any chance of getting the answers I needed without putting myself into that vulnerable of a position with someone who hated me.
So… was there a way for me to get Paige to tell me what she knew, and possibly help get my memories back, without actually telling her more than I wanted her to know? Maybe, maybe not. I didn’t know yet. I needed to know more about that whole situation. Which meant I was going to have to interact with her more. I was going to have to go to her as Paintball and find ways of making her trust me, at least enough to find out how she was immune to the memory power and what this leverage thing she had was. I was just going to have to shove down my private dislike of her and make this work, somehow. I had to try, at least.
Beyond that, I could also investigate the Jacksons themselves. After all, they had no idea that I knew the truth. I could find out just how much Tomas was involved, or his mother. Maybe I could even find out what memories had been taken from me by looking into Mr. Jackson himself. It would be risky, of course. But this whole thing was risky, so what else was new? I was basically fucked if my family found out anything that I knew, so I might as well keep going across the tightrope, right? There was no walking this thing back. I had to find out for myself, and that would mean taking risks.
It would also mean actively spending time with them while restraining my own emotions. But I did that in front of my family already. It was… different with Tomas, of course. It was… oh God. God, I really hoped he wasn’t actively part of this. If he was, if he’d just been… if he’d just been manipulating me…
No, I couldn’t focus on that. I had to find out the truth, not wildly speculate about the worst possibilities. And finding out the truth meant looking into the Jacksons. Which meant burying my feelings deep down and playing nice.
Okay. Well… there were my current plans, as far as my family went. I had to investigate the Jacksons, and I had to make nice with Paige.
Suddenly, going back to school and sitting in class for awhile didn’t seem all that bad.