Mum and I sat at the table kindling the hearth. Ray soon came down from his room having felt the hearth, and his presence added warmth and light to the fire. When Dad sat at the table, the hearth was fully lit, and we all fed off of its warmth and comfort as conversation stoked the soft flames.
Mum told us what Grannie Hattie had told her about her children’s lives. Hattie wasn’t actually related to our family, but she had just always been like a grandmother to us ever since we moved here.
“Ray, we should go by Hattie’s cottage after dinner. Mum says the pumpkins are getting really big,” I said.
Ray nodded, “Sure.”
“How are your friends, Quinn?” Mum asked. “We haven’t seen them in a while. Why don’t you invite someone over this weekend?”
I shrugged, “They’re more just school friends.”
“If you made effort to play with them outside of school, maybe they’d become more than just school friends,” Dad supported Mum.
“I don’t really want to be friends with them. Most of them are not very nice to be around,” I said, my feathers ruffled uncomfortably. “Maybe I could invite Charles; he’s pretty mellow.”
“What about Charlotte? She seemed nice,” Mum suggested.
“Charlotte moved away last year. I don’t even know where she lives now.” The fire in the hearth snapped and crackled as the wood became brittle with the tension at the table.
“I just think you should hang out with girls your own age is all,” Mum said. “I’m sure your brother gets tired of you tagging along with him and his buddies.”
The fire popped and embers flew up onto the table.
“We really don’t mind having Quinn around,” Ray defended me. “She’s a delight.”
“Okay. Okay,” Mum hushed us, cooling the embers that had fallen on the table.
“Ray, have you been thinking about college programs?” Dad changed the topic, but it was of little relief to table tensions.
Ray nodded, “I want to do something with hiking and the outdoors. A lot of colleges have an Outdoor Recreation major that sounds really sweet. Mostly, I just really enjoy that sort of stuff, but I think that my empathy skills will be really valuable and useful in that field as well.”
It was Mum who snapped sparks out of the fire this time. “Well, you don’t know how long you’re going to be an empath. You’re already older than most of our family members when they lost theirs. You could lose it any day.”
“I don’t plan to lose it, Mum,” Ray said calmly. This was a common argument in our house.
“But, Ray, dear, you don’t know how much more peaceful your life could be without it.”
“I want to use my skills to help others.” Ray was hard to argue with when he was a mountain.
Mum sighed, but under her breath, she whispered, “It’s more of a curse than a valuable skill.” Then, talking to Dad she said, “Chester, how was your day?”
After dinner, Ray and I walked through the backyard trails up the slope to Grannie Hattie’s house next door.
“How will your empath skills help people hiking?” I asked as we walked through the trees.
He shimmered golden, “If I’m leading a trip, I’ll be able to sense the needs of the people in the group. So, I’ll know when someone needs a break, when someone’s upset or tired, if there’s conflicting tension between people, if their health is bad. It doesn’t really matter what we do, having the ability to feel what others feels puts us at an advantage.”
I nodded but wasn’t fully convinced because Mum was so adamant that being an empath put us at a disadvantage. Personally, I had more moments where feeling caused me more trouble than producing anything good.
The trail let out right behind Hattie’s garden, and immediately, we saw the huge, orange pumpkins nestled among the crawling vines. I ran to them eagerly and tried to wrap my arms around one of the huge gourds. “They’re so big!” I laughed.
Ray walked through the garden, encouraging the plants to grow with the energy of his light.
The back door to the cabin creaked and the smell of cookies drifted on the air. “What are you hooligans doing in my garden?!” Grannie Hattie smiled and butterflies floated through the air between us.
“Your pumpkins are so big!” I ran to her and hugged her. “When are you going to pick them?”
“I’ll pick them when they’re ready. Patience and love, my dear.” She patted my head, then looked out at Ray as he brushed his hands gently against the plants, healing them. “Son, why is it my garden always looks better after you’ve visited?”
Ray just smiled. Hattie didn’t know about empaths. Mum and Dad said it was better if people didn’t know because it may scare them.
“Would you two like some cookies? They just came out of the oven,” Hattie offered.
“Thank you. They smell delicious!” I said, and Ray followed us into the cottage.
As we sat around her tiny table munching on molasses cookies and sipping milk, rainbows refracted around the room like sunlight casted through a crystal chandelier.
“You two are so good together,” Hattie winked as she brought out another tray of cookies.
Ray and I may be siblings, but we’ve also always been best friends. We were rarely apart. Even at family reunions, we mingled with our relatives, but we always stayed close by each other. Once when we were little, we were playing with our cousins at a family gathering and one of the girls paused in our game of make-believe saying, “You two are the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen. Like a giant, gorgeous waterfall on a cloudless day, and the sun hits the mist from the water and there’s a bright colorful rainbow.” Ray and I had looked at each other and felt that it was true.
After we were stuffed with cookies, I ran back out to the garden and hummed to the pumpkins. Ray sat with Hattie on the back porch, and I could just make out their words as they talked.
“You’re a senior now, Ray?” Hattie asked.
“Thinking about college maybe?”
“Yeah, I’ve started looking into some programs.”
“Gonna stay around here?”
Ray’s reply was slow, “Possibly. If they have a program I’m interested in.”
Hattie dropped her voice slightly, “Quinn will miss you if you leave.”
“I’ll never leave Quinn,” Ray said, and though his voice was happy, I felt a loneliness in him.
I turned and looked back at the porch curiously.
“We should get back before it gets too dark. Mum doesn’t like us out too late,” Ray said and walked into the garden towards me.
“Thanks for stopping by,” Grannie Hattie waved from the porch. “And, Quinn, I’ll let you know when it’s time to pick those pumpkins. They look bigger already, don’t they?”
“Thank you!” I called as Ray walked down the trail, and then, I hurried to catch up with him.
We walked along quietly for a while, and I felt a cold ice cube deep in the pit of Ray’s heart. “Why are you lonely?” I finally asked.
“I’m not right now. I’m just thinking about college.”
“I thought you were excited about college.”
“I am,” he smiled at me, but the ice cube remained. “It’s just…” he paused, and his pause turned into an extended silence.
The birds whistled their last tunes in the trees above as they nestled into their nests for the night. Bugs came out and filled the air, providing meals for the bats that began to swoop down above our heads.
Ray wrapped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his side, “Quinn, you know I’d never leave you, right?”
“Why would you leave?” I asked confused.
“I’m not leaving,” he said with confidence as strong as a mountain, and the ice cube in his heart melted away.
Empathy explores the inner emotions of people through the fascinating question of “What would it be like to feel what everyone else feels?” Brother and sister, Ray and Quinn, explore their ability as “empaths” as they try to decide how to handle and use this power. During this transitional period of Ray preparing to leave for college, Quinn faces an immense struggle of how to live on her own without Ray by her side.
This snippet of the novel is from the first chapter. I started writing this novel a few weeks ago and have many exciting plans for it as I continue to explore the world through Quinn’s experiences. (Note this is not a contracted novel. I’m just writing for fun, though I hope someday to be published! So please do not plagiarize.)