A lot had happened between Joan and Jacob after I left.
When Step-ins left bodies that didn't belong to them, that body's original inhabitant regained control. We turned them off when we took their bodies, just as easily as one could turn off a television. As far as the human knew, everything that we did while in their bodies, they had done. The memories remained in both individuals, as the feelings would have also had my true form had the ability to facilitate emotions. Therefore, the feelings remained only in Jacob. And had I not known better, I'd have sworn that I not only had not left his body during those two years but that I had never even discovered my true origin. For Jacob had done exactly as I imagined I would have done.
Jacob continued following Joan. Had I realized it would happen before I left, I would certainly have made sure that it didn't happen.
Jacob had continued following Joan well into his sophomore year, until an energetic, chestnut-haired girl named Rachael had taken her place at the center of his universe. He and Rachael had stricken a very good friendship (with some very interesting benefits that nearly made me kick myself for having left).
After a few months with Rachael (that ended rather predictably), Jacob would move on to yet another girl. Jacob's relationship with the third girl ended rather tragically. However, he at least had learned quite a bit from the girl's rather surprising intellect.
Suffice it to say Jacob had changed drastically since I'd left his body. He had learned things about life and himself that even taught me a few things. Yet, for all of his lessons and the girls that he'd met, none had held as strong in his heart as Joan.
And despite the actions of Jacob and I during his freshman year, he had somehow managed to develop a friendship with Joan. Curiously, it was Joan who made the first step.
When I had left Joan, the night that I deactivated her genes, I had left her lying in her bed to awake the next morning with no memory of my visitation. To leave her with such a memory would surely have caused problems for Jacob.
So, for reasons unknown, Joan began talking to Jacob. It first began one afternoon after school just before the end of his freshman year. He had decided to walk with Evan to his house. Along the way, Joan had appeared suddenly, and walked with them, talking as though nothing had ever happened. Both Evan and Jacob were astonished. However surprised, Jacob had somewhat expected it. Like myself, Jacob had always believed that Joan would eventually let him in - not entirely, of course, but at least partly. She had indeed let him in, for he received many opportunities to converse with her over the years.
A few days after Joan began talking to Jacob, he called her after school. He would finally explain everything to her. He would confess to her his feelings and explain that he'd never had any intention to scare or harm her, only to know her. Unaware of the supposed "real" reason that I had begun to follow her while in his body, they seemed quite content with believing that it all began with a crush. After half an hour of pouring himself out to her over the phone, Joan actually apologized for her own actions against him. While Jacob accepted her apology, he felt it completely unnecessary, believing her actions entirely understandable under the circumstances. If anyone deserved an apology, it was most certainly Joan. It seemed that she had forgiven him, but it would take much more time before Jacob could forgive himself.
But Jacob had at least finally chained his emotions for Joan. While his feelings for her remained the same, as deep and strong as ever, he had finally given up hope on her. It was not only Joan's aversion to Jacob that had made him realize she would never return his feelings, but also his observations of she and her boyfriend, Eric. Though he would never admit it, the sight of the two of them together had never quite hurt him as he had expected. Instead, he had always found the sight of them together quite perfect. They both seemed so right for each other, and they had remained a strong couple for almost three years. Though they were young, it would not have surprised me if they had stayed together for the rest of their lives.
Alice introduced me to her team the evening of my arrival. She had been sent alone at first. Her mission, originally, had been simply to observe Joan, but when the humans began to demonstrate abilities not unlike our own, and then to die, the Guild designated her the leading authority on the mission to explain such mysteries, sending her a team to help her investigate.
To my surprise, Mattie was on the team, one they called Ryan was Mattie's mate, and last was the one I had already met, Livingston.
It was good to see Mattie again. She had also taken the same body she had used the first time as host. The last I had seen her, we had just finished a meeting with the Guild Council concerning my mission. She, Alice, and I had eaten together that day after the meeting, talking about earth and all of the things we suddenly couldn't remember. One of the things that had quite baffled both Mattie and I was the attitude she'd had with me when I had that talk with her on earth about the kind of human she was. Of course, I hadn't entirely understood her attitude before leaving earth. The next day, Alice found out about her assignment to observe Joan, I got assigned to the I.R.S. (our I.R.S., not earth's), and Mattie received an assignment as an engineering technician aboard an interstellar craft.
Ryan I had met only once before, during he and Mattie's Bonding ceremony. He'd spent most of his life dedicated to work as a sort of interplanetary archaeologist. According to what I'd read from Mattie's mind, she'd put in a request to the Guild that the both of them get assigned to Alice's team. The human he'd taken as host, a tall, sort of bulky, fellow, appeared quite smug. I think that perhaps my impressions of him during their ceremony had finally taken emotional form when I met him as a human; some part of me hated his guts.
"So, you are the infamous Jacob Riley," Ryan said during the introductions. The smirk on his face told me he didn't much care for me either. "Forgive me if I restrain myself from reading your mind."
The sharing of memories was thought of as a polite introduction on our world, no more a big deal than a human greeting someone with a wave of their hand. To not share memories was like refusing to shake hands with someone.
I returned his smug smile with one of my own. "Ditto," I replied.
Alice, Mattie, and Livingston had all stared, rather surprised, at Ryan and I. They had certainly noticed our dislike for each other.
The five of us had dinner together that evening at a nice Italian restaurant. Ryan and I had not said a word to each other the whole evening. Alice, Mattie, and I however, dominated the conversation. Livingston seemed so focused on his food that I thought he might be trying to share memories with it. Ryan focused on myself and my interaction with the girls. Admittedly, I took some sick pleasure in his elevating nerves and the slight bit of jealousy I could feel emanating from him.
The dinner went well. Alice, Mattie, and I were great friends, and we really loved each other's company. Even Mattie seemed happy that night, smiling and giggling the whole night as though she hadn't had fun like that in years. I think that perhaps Ryan sensed that the most.
One thing that surprised me most was their behavior. Both Alice and Mattie seemed to have a personality overflowing with emotions, and no doubt Ryan and Livingston were developing the same thing. I could understand Alice; she'd been on earth for over two years as a human, it's only fitting that she would adopt their emotional tendencies. As for myself, it felt almost like returning to the home I never lived in. I had become Jacob Riley again. I'd forgotten the feelings, the emotions, everything except for the memories, and the memories felt no more real than a dream.
I felt good.
I woke up early the next morning. Alice and I slept in the same bed together. After she fell asleep, I set her alarm to go off at six. The alarm had also woken her, but I held her as she fell back asleep.
Tired, I left the ship and crossed the street into Jacob's house. I took a shower, threw on some clothes, and began my trek. I went to the school. I had to see Joan. Alice and her team, though all utilizing teenage bodies, did not attend school. Realizing that I too couldn't waste any time going to and from school every day, I had already altered the memories of the school's students and faculty so that they all thought Jacob Riley had moved to another school district over the summer before. I had also altered the faculty's memories so that they wouldn't realize I wasn't supposed to be there. As for my excuse when people, such as Joan, asked what I was doing there, I simply responded, "I'm just visiting," with a smirk. Some part of me took pleasure in the mystery.
The entire journey overwhelmed me. I couldn't believe that I was there again, walking down that road, past that cul-de-sac, and along that sidewalk. I had truly thought I would never get to make that trip again. Then, I had also thought I'd never see Joan again.
Joan no longer walked to school from the cul-de-sac. The same car that had dropped her off at the cul-de-sac before then dropped her off at the front of the school. I found her sitting against a wall through the doors from the cafeteria that I had taken Alice through the day she returned my life to me, and outside the hall that I first realized there was something more to me than a weird, little teenage human.
Going through a binder, Joan sat, her red hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing her typical mono-black outfit consisting of baggy pants and a tank top. I froze when I first saw her. There she sat, just as beautiful and radiant as the first day I'd laid eyes on her. My heart melted in my chest, and I felt as though Jacob's body would collapse in a pile of unrecognizable flesh. I lost the control I had over his body and began to tremble. So many times I had seen her, and so many times Jacob had spoken to her, and yet neither of us had the ability to stand still in front of the girl. My breathing sped up, and even as I attempted to inhale and then exhale slowly, making a conscious effort to breathe normally, I could not slow the rapidly increasing vibration in my chest. Sometimes I wondered how Jacob could ever manage to face her without me and keep himself from fainting.
Slowly, I stepped toward her. She didn't notice me until I'd stopped hardly a foot to her right. When she looked up at me, and her eyes met mine, I thought that perhaps time had stopped in that instant, surviving forever in the moment's eternity. I used a smile to assuage her. Her expression was unreadable. I detected some hint of a smile. She asked what I was doing there and I gave her my rehearsed response. Trying not to look too stupid, I sat beside her on her left and turned my attention to her binder. We exchanged the standard greeting, "Hello" "How are you doing", the meaningless expressions that we used to normalize the awkward moment. Then the silence would set in, as I looked around, desperate for something to break it with. We spoke of her binder. I asked her about Eric. I would leave just minutes after it began, getting nothing of importance out of her other than her presence, something that meant everything to Jacob and I.
As I left, I asked about her lunch period with the promise that I would return for it and see her and Eric. That first meeting seemed pleasant enough. She hadn't seemed too disturbed by my visit. Politely, she had made conversation, utterly oblivious that the person she had spoken to had just arrived from a very distant and remote part of the galaxy that she could not even begin to fathom.