Nick froze in his doorway, looking at the stranger sitting cross-legged on his bed.

It was that girl he'd seen snooping around the other night. She still wore her tight jeans, dark tank-top, and beanie. Nick had assumed she was someone from school, but getting a good look at her now he realized she was older than him. Nineteen? Twenty? That only made it worse. Why was this woman several years older than him sitting on his bed, grinning? Any sane person would've bolted; called the cops. Called for help.

But as always, Nick's telepathy worked against him. He could sense something inviting about this woman. She didn't exactly mean him any harm, but there was an air of mischievous about her. Maybe she was feeling smug about catching him surprised, standing mouth agape in his own bedroom.

"Hello Nicholas, I've been waiting all day for you."

Nick swallowed hard. He steadied his left hand, which still held tightly to the doorknob. That doorknob was the only thing keeping him standing. His legs felt like jelly. Words were not his friend right now. Still, he managed something.

"Actually…it's just Nick."

The woman shrugged. "Eh, it was worth a shot. Your parents seem like the type that would use a more formal name."

So she'd been snooping around his house, too. Great. Nick reconsidered making a run for it. That was the problem with his telepathy. While he could get glimpses of intent, if the other person was crazy enough to think they weren't doing anything hurtful then he couldn't pick up on the reality. It was the same reason his younger brothers were always stealing his stuff because they thought it rightfully belonged to them. But who thought of themselves as doing something hurtful to someone else?

"Damn, you really are a fraidy cat, aren't you?" said the woman. "Chill out—I'm not here to freaking murder you. Take a seat. And close the door, too. We got stuff to figure out."

Nick obeyed unconsciously. He closed the door behind him, marching over and plopping in the rollout chair from his desk. Then he nearly stood back up. What was he doing! This was insane!

The woman was fast, reaching out with a strong arm and pushing him back into the chair. "Not so fast, hot shot. Like I said, we've got stuff to figure out. Such as the fact that you're a telepath, too."

That froze Nick harder than seeing her sitting on his bed. Too? The shock must've shown on his face, because she lit up again with that grin.

"That's right, I know all about that thing you can do sensing others. Tell me—how many people are around us right now?"

Easy. "Two: Mrs. Brady across the street, and Jennifer Hinkle next door. She got off the same bus as me."

The woman frowned. "You can't pick up on your neighbors behind you?"

That didn't count. There was a greenbelt between Nick's backyard and the next street. At least ten yards of separation with the next wood picket fence. He could easily sense everyone in his own house, as well as neighbors on both sides, and most of those immediately across the street. But any farther was beyond his capacity.

Well, he could sense those places minus this woman. Before stepping into the room she gave off no telepathic feel that he could detect. And that troubled him. He should've sensed she was here the moment his bus dropped him off at the corner. But Nick hadn't sensed her the other night he spotted her lurking outside, either. A pickle at the time, but now a real problem. Because she probably sensed him.

"Never mind," said the woman. "You're obviously new at this. But that's hardly going to matter to the creeps at the end of the cul-de-sac. That's the real meat of what we need to discuss."

Nick exhaled loudly, shoving his backpack onto the floor. "And who are you!"

The woman put a hand on her chest, blinking fast with a tight smile. "Oh, little ol' me? I'm just Whit. Yes, that's short for Whitney. And I know you're just dying to learn how you can't sense me."

"I can sense you just fine," Nick huffed. He didn't like how much she seemed to know. Or the fact that it was hard to look her in the eyes. She had pretty eyes.

"You can sense my emotions now that we're sitting face to face. But you couldn't pin me down when I got here. And I know for a fact you couldn't pin me down when I was lurking about. You're reach gave you away."

Reach? "What is that supposed to mean?"

Whit tisked, shaking her head. "You don't know anything. Of course you don't know anything. Well, time for an education. Pay attention, because class is in session."

Nick folded his arms, staring off at the dirty pile of laundry in the corner of his room. Great. Just what he needed after a day at school. A lecture.

"Telepaths don't just pick up on ambience—they reach. If you want to think of it as some weird third arm, that's a good enough analogy. I prefer to think of mine as a tentacle. When you sense others around you, that third arm is out in the world around you poking at people. Normies like your parents and neighbors can't feel that poke. They just don't have a sense for it. But telepaths like us? We're well aware when someone is poking around where they ought not to. And the other night I could feel your third arm all over me like some drunk guy getting handsy at a party."

Nick's face felt hot and Whit laughed. Though he had to admit it was fascinating hearing all of this explained. After the last three years he'd groped around trying to make sense of this peculiar ability. And now this woman had dropped out of nowhere and seemed to know everything.

"Emotions and feelings? Those are a little trickier," said Whit. "I've heard there are straight up empaths that can read those. But as telepaths, we're more aware of the people around us. And, if you're strong enough, what they're thinking. Sometimes that translates to emotion, but most of the time that's simple thought and intent. That's how you knew I wasn't here to kidnap you, isn't it?"

Nick looked at her. "Yeah," he finally said. "I knew you didn't want to hurt me."

Suddenly she reached out, slugging him hard in the shoulder. Nick sucked in a breath, biting back a cry of pain. He knew immediately what she'd meant. But Whit explained anyway.

"Didn't want to hurt you then, either. I wanted to get a lesson across: you can't judge people based solely on their interpretation of what they want. You have to extrapolate. Yes, that's a big-boy word you're going to have to get used to. You have to make a judgment call on what they'll really do based on what they're thinking and what you can tell from behavior. You have to extrapolate with the little bits you can pick up on."

Nick rotated his arm in his socket. The pain went away quickly enough. "And why do I have to make a judgment call? I'm not doing whatever it is you do. I'm just going to school. I'm just a kid."

Whit frowned, her eyes suddenly seriously. "You're not just a kid, Nick. You're nearly a year from graduation. Practically an adult. And those creeps I mentioned? They prey on young telepaths like you who are too naïve to realize you're being hunted."

Something cold trickled into Nick's gut. He sat up straighter. "Hunted? Those yuppies at the end of the street are after me?"

"Those aren't yuppies. They may look and dress like it, but they're hunters. Damn good ones, too. I followed them here after the last six months. They know I'm out there, which is why I think they haven't come after you yet. They didn't know you were here—ended up here entirely by chance. But eventually they'll realize what you are. Maybe they already have. So you're welcome: I just saved your life."

Nick couldn't help himself; he stood, peeking through the blinds out onto the street. It was a long way down; nearly ten houses. At the end of the cul-de-sac he could see the rental property where the four guys had moved in. That was a couple of weeks ago. They drove nice cars and were always sharply dressed—when Nick actually saw them. It's what made the image so perfect. They always seemed to be away at work. Working, he'd thought, at some high-rise downtown making a killing on stocks or pushing paper.

"You're sure?" Nick turned around to face Whit. Her expression hadn't softened. She looked as intense as ever. "You're absolutely sure those guys are hunting telepaths?" It felt so weird to say. Until now, Nick hadn't realized there were others like him.

Whit held up her left arm, a nasty red scar cutting halfway down the length. "The blonde one in their group gave this to me. There's another nice one on my belly if you'd like to see."

Nick held up his hands, shaking his head furiously. "Fine, I get it. They're the real deal. What does that mean for me?"

"It means that you're going to lie low. You're going to turn off every inclination you have to poke around." She paused, a smile forming. "It also means we're going to do some training."

Nick's breath grew short. He fell back against his chair, struggling to make words come up. Finally, he said, "I don't want to fight them!"

Whit rolled her eyes. "I'm not training you to fight. I'm training you to use your telepathy. You were going to have to learn eventually. Before you set out to college and attracted hunters somewhere else to finish what these guys couldn't."

Nick let his gaze wander to the poster of his favorite band across the room. He stared at it for a long time. It was a lot to digest. Whit looked down at her hands, fidgeting with her fingers.

Gradually, Nick became aware of his neighbors coming home. Cringing, he pulled back, closing off that part of his mind that knew those things. His reach. Whatever it was. Damn it all, but he needed Whit's help, didn't he? All this time, keeping tabs on the people around him; not knowing they might be aware of that fact and possibly come to murder him because of it.

Screw figuring out what his telepathy meant. This was survival now. And his only chance was this strange woman sitting on his bed. Great.

"All right," said Nick. He met her gaze. She looked bored. How long had he sat there thinking it over? "I'll train with you. I'll do whatever you say. You know everything I don't."

Whit nodded, smirking. She patted his knee. "Good boy. We'll make a proper telepath out of you yet."

Nick exhaled, sinking back into his chair. And to think only an hour ago the only thing that mattered was a chemistry test he had to study for.

"Well…when do we begin?"

Whit unfolded her legs, jumping up from Nick's bed. She grabbed him by the cuff of his shirt, yanking him out of the chair. Nick yelped, staggering to keep up with her.

"Right now. We've got to make time count before your brothers and parents get home. Then you can forget about those hunters down the street. Explaining why you're home alone with a woman like me will be murder enough."


A/N: I honestly wanted to get a feel for a telepathic magic system, but when I set these two in motion I found I cared less about the magic and more about their chemistry. I'd like to keep playing with telepathy, but it'll have to be on Nick and Whit's time table.