I dropped my bags on the floor as soon as the door clicked behind us. A sigh escaped me as I relaxed into the gentle light of the setting sun in the courtyard. This had to be one of the more beautiful times of day to see the apartment.
Carl dropped a stack of mail on the counter. He proceeded to reach into his cupboard and pull out a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. A knife from the utensil drawer and a plate from the cabinet followed suit. “Want one?” he asked, looking up, suddenly realizing that he had fallen into a pattern.
“I thought you hated peanut butter?” I asked.
“I like your cooking more than peanut butter sandwiches. This is just something I find really easy when I can’t take going to the lunch room for dinner,” he replied.
“Mind if I?” I pointed to the curtains that hung to the side of his floor to ceiling windows. He looked at me quizzically and shrugged, “make yourself at home,” he waved me on. I walked over and found the pull rod in the folds of drapery. They were heavy hotel quality with a darkening capability. I tugged them closed, finally shutting us off from the Guild. I closed my eyes and relaxed in the dim light of the underlit cabinets and nothing else. It was so nice to finally feel like I wasn’t under prying eyes.
Carl cleared his throat. I opened my eyes to look over at him. He had laid his knife down and was braced against the countertop, trying not to stare at me too openly. “Gracey, what are you doing?” he finally asked. I looked at him, confused. “Closing the curtains?” I asked. I thought that was fairly obvious.
He was fighting a smirk and losing. “I mean,” he gestured to me. I looked down. “Eep!” I squawked. My dress and everything else had disappeared. “What the bloody hell?” I whispered. I looked around myself, expecting to see the red material pooled up somewhere. “Carl?” I looked up at him, panicked. He came around from behind the counter, putting his hands up in a placating manner as he tried his best not to laugh. “What happened? Is this going to happen when I’m in public?” I could feel my heart beating too fast and my throat closing up.
“It’s okay, Gracey,” he gently rested his hands on my shoulders. “Breath in with me,” he took a slow deep breath. “Breath out,” he encouraged. I breathed with him for a minute as I tried to calm down.
“Now,” he murmured to himself as he turned to the bags of clothing we had just picked up on our way back to his apartment. He extended a couple garments to me that I quickly pulled on. Underwear and bra in a simple nude, a pair of black yoga pants and a soft grey cashmere turtleneck tunic that reached almost to my knees. Finally dressed and calming down, Carl set a cup of hot chocolate in my hands as he eased me onto the couch.
I waited. I felt like that was something I was mastering recently, waiting. “I guess,” Carl settled next to me, “that might be the first thing I can teach you.” I blinked up at him, not trusting my voice yet.
“I had asked you earlier today if you had summoned the dress, right?” he asked me. I nodded. “Most summons, most Readings only last for so long. An unRead helps in dismissing something quickly and keeps backlash like unBound from happening, that way you can leave an area or a battle without waiting for a Read to pass. unReadings are vital to keeping the Guild safe. Say you summon a…a…hmmm…a vampire or something like that, you wouldn’t want it sticking around for very long, right?” he lead me on. I nodded again, taking a sip of the hot chocolate. It wasn’t really something I drank much of anymore, but I could sympathize with Carl not keeping tea in the apartment.
“How were you releasing, or passing, or unReading your other Reads, your other summons? Like the mammoth and the unicorns from earlier?” he asked, pushing me to think. How was I doing that. I sat and thought about it. He watched me, his entire focus centered on me.
“I…it’s…um,” I wasn’t sure how to explain it.
“It’s okay if its hard to really say. Try to formulate it though, it’ll help you later…or at the very least, me,” he smiled encouragingly.
“When I Read something, it’s like, I can see pictures in my head of what I’m wanting. I have to be really exacting in all the details. Then, I just sort of…reach for it, but with my mind. I have to will a lot of power into it, like I ground myself to the floor. I feel like I pull power out of the ground. It’s a thing you do when you center for meditation, so I know I’m not actually pulling energy out of the ground or anything like that,” I apologized. He nodded gently. “When I want to unRead, without having to say anything I…it’s almost like I have a thread or a leash attached to the thing I Read and I just let go of it. Does that make sense?” I asked him, not sure if that was really accurate.
“It’s an interesting way to phrase it. Essentially when most Guild members are taught how to unRead, they are taught to form poems that help them focus on letting go of the object, returning it back to its original source. It takes a long time and a lot of practice for most members to be capable of unReading. They have to learn how to let go. You seem to have found the most fundamental aspect of what unReading is. It is a tether. Your Reading takes your energy to project something, and your unReading is releasing your connection to it all at once. If you wait for a Read to pass on its own, it will wear you out, eventually you don’t have the energy for it after a bit. Sometimes, if its a big Read that took a lot of effort to project, it can backlash and you can end up with unBound reactions. You aren’t suffering any negative effects that I can see as being unBound, just startled. You were holding a Read for the whole day and doing more on top of that without losing your hold on that one. You must not have really realized that you were still holding it, and when you finally relaxed completely, you let that one go,” he explained.
“Well, if it means I have to relax completely for something like the dress to go away, I won’t have to worry about losing it when I’m out of here,” I mused to myself.
“Why’s that?” Carl asked.
“Because it’s stressful outside of these walls,” I answered.
“Fair enough,” he laid his head in my lap. We sat there in the quiet of the room for a time. My fingers tunneled in his hair absently. It was soft, and silky. He had closed his eyes.
“Carl?” I asked after a time.
“Hm?” he was dozing.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have taken such a low blow on you. It wasn’t fair,” I apologized.
He sighed out, trying to figure out how to respond. “You know…you’re right. Honestly, I’ve hated being the Simil so much. It fucking sucks.” I felt hot spots on my pants.
“I’m beginning to see that,” I whispered.
“What about Simil though…you don’t seem to have a problem with him,” he rolled to look up at me. His face was blotchy and his eyes were red and watery. The missmatched black and pink iris stared back at me.
“With you,” I answered.
“But -” he protested.
“See, all I see is you, Carl, or Simil. All I see is what’s in front of me. You have changed in so many ways, but you are still you. You are still the man I married all those years ago. The man I fell in love with, talking about the validity of Tolstoy’s explanations of man’s nature. Simil is only part of you, not you entirely,” I explained.
He shook his head. “No, Gracey. That’s the thing. I consumed a character. This is a split personality almost. I have absolutely no control over him. He’s a second person,” he tried to explain.
“That’s the thing Carl, what am I supposed to make of this?” I leaned back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. I couldn’t look at those disjointed, piercing eyes. “You are one body. What am I supposed to do, only come near you when you are Carl? How am I supposed to know when I can’t approach you? What happens if you shift when I hug you…or we…we have sex?” I looked back down on him, my cheeks flashing a deep scarlet. He looked up at me, stunned, then he glanced away, his eyelashes lowering as he tried to wrestle with himself.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about this, Gracey…” he moaned. Tears rolled across his cheek and splashed onto my pants.
“Is this…” I wanted to ask, I wanted to know so badly, but I didn’t want to hurt him more. “Is this why you couldn’t come back to see me, why you were gone for so long?” I dived in. “Not because of your physical transformation, but because you didn’t trust yourself not to give Simil the reigns?”
“I’m not the most sharing type of person,” he admitted.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
“You’re not helping my ego here, woman,” he groused.
“Meh, I’m just agreeing with the obvious,” I answered with a small grin.
He stuck his tongue out at me. “This is supposed to be a serious conversation,” he replied.
“And I’m taking it all in stride, seeing as everything down here seems to be so straight laced and serious all the time,” I finished the rest of my hot chocolate, which had already cooled off.
“It really doesn’t bother you, Simil or me being the way I am now?” he asked, his eyes begging for acceptance.
I leaned forward and kissed him. “I’ve loved you since that group project on Tolstoy in the Widener. I may not see you very often in the course of a year. We’ve been drifting apart for some time, but that still doesn’t account for the fact that every time I finally get to see you again, I can finally feel free. I feel like I can let down my hair and just be me. I know that I don’t have to shoulder adulthood anymore for just a little bit and I can depend on someone else to hold my hand and help me plough through the current we call life. Yeah, I can make it on my own. I’ve kept the house operating, gone to school, watched Dante. Yeah, I’ve remembered to pay the bills on time and all the adult things. You’re my best friend, Carl,” I tried to explain.
“And if someone else was thrown into the mix?” he asked.
“I think, for my point of view, that accepting you as both Carl, and Simil the Mad Hatter is the best thing for me. As long as I can treat you as one and the same, you don’t have to worry,” I answered.
“What if Simil takes over?” he asked.
“Is that liable to happen?” I responded, suddenly a bit worried.
“From time to time a Simil can take over and never change back, the character overwrites the host,” he couldn’t quite face me.
“Is there a way to undo a character like this? When you retire, like the previous Simil, do you what, regurgitate the character or something?” I asked, concerned.
“No, it’s permanent, you can’t get rid of it once its inside of you, you only learn how to cope with the times you can remember,” he sat up. He took my empty cup to the sink.
“That’s…that’s horrible,” I finally told him.
“Yeah…it’s hard knowing that one day my body could be walking around with a different me using it to do things, and I would not exist anymore. It’s like knowing that you could wake up dead any day. Not the most reassuring of feelings, I can tell you that much,” he rinsed out the cup. He took the rest of the bags into the bedroom and returned to the living room.
“What does it take to consume a character, Carl?” I asked, fidgeting. He paced around the room for a minute, straightening his books and picture frames on his shelves. He sighed and returned to sit next to me on the couch.
“That projection of energy that you use in your Reading?” he started. I nodded. “It’s like that, but you direct inside yourself. You’re trying to form the object inside of your core, or your psyche really. That energy sears nerve endings, reforming it to allow the new memories and personality of the character to have a habitable space,” he explained.
“You can actually see these changes on a CT scan?” I asked.
“Yep. Before those CT scans, it was more difficult to verify if a Simil had actually been created, or if someone was only acting like one to bank a Simil’s pay,” he laughed derisively. He stood up and walked over to his bookshelves and pulled out a thin manilla envelope from one of the shelves. He came back and sat down next to me. Inside were images of his brain before and after the transformation. Flowering colors showed where the Reading ability lay in the brain and how it flared when a Read was taking place, or an unRead. A distinctive new shape of color after the transformation verified the authenticity of the Simil process.
“Will I have this done?” I asked, curious now.
“Probably. We could go tomorrow if you want. You seem to have abilities that most don’t. It might be better actually to have it done to make sure where your starting point is,” he mused.
“Alright,” I was curious to see just what was going on in my head.
“Tell Simil, if you see him, that you need to go to the CT specialist. I don’t know when he’ll pop back in and I don’t want you getting forgotten because of that,” he returned the envelope to the shelf.
“Okay,” I agreed.
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