My name is Ethan. When this story began I had been divorced for 15 years. My daughters were 25 and 28 and lived far away. My ex remarried but I had reached the age of 52 without a new partner. We had shared custody after we divorced, and it had worked well.
My girls and I had a good relationship. Their mother was a good parent, but I provided them with something valuable that their mother couldn't. I could listen to their thoughts and feelings respectfully in a nonjudgmental way.
When the younger one started sleeping with her boyfriend in ninth grade, she told me but not her mom. So I raised a few considerations (STDs, birth control, fidelity) but made it clear that I trusted her to make her own decisions. When he dumped her she cried on my shoulder, knowing I would never say "I told you so" or try to moralize. She could draw her own conclusions. But my girls had grown up and left. They stayed in touch regularly and visited when they could, but they had their own lives.
I coached soccer when my own girls were growing up. They weren't great soccer players, so I wasn't coaching the best teams, but I found I had a knack for it. I could motivate the girls to improve while having fun, to compete hard but not to get either too proud of winning or too upset about losing. So I had kept up the coaching.
Lindsay caught my attention from the first practice. She stared at me periodically, looked away, and stared again. She seemed sad and confused, then would start smiling or giggling or looking embarrassed for no apparent reason. She didn't quite fit in with the other girls, and a few of them told her she was acting weird. Lindsay wasn't the most skilled player but she tried hard and she improved.
Outside of practice I occasionally noticed her walking down my street, sometimes back and forth within a few minutes. I figured she must live nearby and the route to a friend's house happened to go by mine.
Over the fence behind my house lived a Mrs. Wong. We chatted occasionally but that was all. One warm evening after the season was over she called around 8pm to report that someone was lurking in the bushes behind my house. I was naturally alarmed. Then Mrs. Wong said the person had just that instant taken off. It looked like a young woman. She further explained that she had seen some movement behind my house half an hour before but couldn't see anything more and thought it must be one of those little tricks our senses play on us. But she kept glancing over and saw the same thing twenty minutes later. Then she watched closely and had made out that it was a person just before she called me. So whoever it was had been there at least half an hour.
The same thing happened about three days later. Mrs. Wong called reporting somehow behind a tree, but as soon as I answered the young woman took off.
It was four days later that I became aware of some loud talking outside my window. I got up to investigate, and as I reached the front door Mrs. Wong came around the corner with Lindsay, who was looking pale and sick with fear. Mrs. Wong said she had kept her eye out for anything near my house and this time when she saw her she had snuck around the block to the front of my house, gone around the corner from the front and confronted her. She asked me if I knew the girl, and I said I did. Mrs. Wong started a lecture about how it wasn't good for a girl like her to be creeping around at night, and not good to trespass or spy on people. I tried some hints to get Mrs. Wong to leave, but gentle wasn't working. So still trying to be diplomatic, I thanked Mrs. Wong profusely for her concern and looking out for my interests but said that now Lindsay and I needed to talk alone. She left then reluctantly. (I sent her a thank-you card later that week.) I could tell Lindsay was feeling horrible and whatever she needed it was not a lecture from Mrs. Wong. So I asked Lindsay to come in. She sat on a sofa in the living room, and I took an easy chair.
"So, this is a surprise," I said. "You look like you feel really awful." Lindsay shifted a little in her chair, looking away from me. Then she burst into tears.
"Gosh, whatever it is, I'm sorry!" I said. I got a box of tissues from the next room, and when I came back and put the box within reach of her I sat on the sofa. We have to be careful with touch in this day and age, so I sat a safe foot away but did put my hand on her shoulder blade -- not necessarily so safe, but I personally can't just stifle my reaction of compassion because someone might conceivably take it the wrong way.
Just at that moment she said, "It's OK, I like your hand there". That was surprising. I wondered if she had a crush on me and was hoping to get close in an inappropriate way. No sooner had I thought it than she said, "My mother does that when I'm upset". It was a slightly odd thing to say, but she relieved my fear.
She stopped crying, and I removed my hand.
"I know you are so kind and that is so, so wonderful." After some more tears she composed herself. Finally she took a deep breath and looked at me.
"Think of a number between 1 and 100."
I thought of 37.
"Thirty-seven," she said.
I was amused.
I thought of 7, then thought that was too easy so I picked 97.
She said, "Ninety-seven, but first you thought of seven but changed your mind because it would be too easy."
Now I was truly startled and alarmed. Then she too looked alarmed, and a little panicked, then started crying again.
"You can read my thoughts?" I said, numb and dumbfounded. She nodded.
I immediately went through my other thoughts. I felt sorry for Lindsay, remembering how she had acted a little strange when she was on my team. I considered that I felt both exasperated with Mrs. Wong but also thankful to her. I was unhappy with my boss and resented the business trip I would be leaving on the next day. And then -- oh shit -- I was thinking how sexy Lindsay was. She was only 12, but like a lot of girls that age she was sexually mature, with her lovely small breasts and graceful figure, even though she had an average-looking face. Lindsay tried to suppress a smile. It could be coincidence, but it looked like she could read thoughts beyond numbers. Embarrassing ones.
Let me digress briefly. I have always been aware of an attraction to many of the girls I coach, but I don't think much of it. I am a male animal, and they sure look like the kind of animal I would like to mate with. It's a little bit of delicious tension, not anything to be ashamed of. I never dreamed of doing anything inappropriate, and made it a point not to stare or anything. It was just something going on in the back of my mind while I related to the girls as soccer players and young people who for the moment had been entrusted to my care. The trust was justified. But in this new topsy-turvy world Lindsay had forced on me my private reactions weren't private any more. I felt open and vulnerable and that made me scared.
She looked kind of frightened and said, "I'm sorry. I can go away. I can't read any of your thoughts when I am like a hundred yards away." But after a pause she started crying again, harder than ever. I couldn't send this girl away as long as she was so upset.
Between sniffles she said, "Look, you're a good guy. I know if someone was reading my thoughts they would get all kinds of embarrassing stuff. I think I'd die if anyone could read all my thoughts." After a pause she said, "Like, my period is just about over but I'm still wearing a pad. I mean I would never tell you that but if you could read my mind you would know it anyway."
I briefly wondered once again if she was getting sexual on me, but an instant later I realized she was just trying to put me at ease. She was right. There was no shame in her having her period, and we both knew that. Social convention was that she shouldn't mention it, and if she did then she was breaking a rule. But if I could read her thoughts then I would know it, but she wouldn't have broken any rule.
She would know I found her sexy because I was desperately trying not to think of how sexy I found her. And then she could tell how flustered I was knowing that she would know that. And how I would never dream of touching her or anything, but since she could read my thoughts it was almost like I was propositioning her. I then realized how she then had all that information too. This was scary and humiliating.
My attraction to her was surely like an elephant in the room. On the other hand I had felt more attracted to a couple other girls on her team and she had large, rather unattractive ears, so now would that hurt her feelings? On the other hand, I could just see her on my bed -- No, don't think this! -- breasts ready to be sucked, panties down and legs spread wide as I got ready to take her virginity. And what would she make of that? Aaarrggh! In the several seconds these thoughts were going through my mind she cried less but looked embarrassed and upset.
She got control of herself and spoke, a little uncertainly. "No way is it news to me that I'm not the prettiest girl in the school, or even close, and it's flattering to know that at least one male on earth thinks I'm sexy. And if I know exactly what you might fantasize doing, well, you can't help the thoughts, right?" She tried to suppress a giggle that mixed with the sniffles. "And it's kind of like sex ed for me. I know you would never do anything and I know you would never have told me."
I didn't have to ask her any questions, because she knew what they were.
"No, I can't read anyone else's mind."
"Yeah, give me a minute and I'll tell you why I was stalking you like a creep and lurking in your bushes."
.... There is more of this story ...