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."
"No, I don't live anywhere near here, and when you saw me walking back and forth it was because I wanted to be close to you."
"Yes, I bolted the first two times the moment I read your thought that Mrs. Wong had seen someone by your house."
"Yeah, it was totally bizarre to go to the first practice and find I could read the coach's thoughts. All the little details of your life. Career, groceries to buy, thinking of how to get us to pay attention. Then how you could be closely watching Jane's kicking technique and offering suggestions while also aware of how her boobs were so big and her legs so long and sexy."
This was getting routine, so I didn't even get too embarrassed to hear her know that.
"But now, why was I stalking you? Here. Listen. I've been depressed for ages. I've been to shrinks, had tests. Been put on a dozen drugs. I'm on two antidepressants now. But they don't do much. They keep me from crying in public and keep me going to school."
She paused, shame coming over her face.
"And I've slit my wrists and been in the hospital."
I could just make out the scar on her wrist.
"But when I read your mind, I also feel your feelings like they're my own. It's like color in a black and white movie. When you feel fairly happy, like you do most of the time, I feel happy too. When you got scared a few minutes ago I felt scared too. When you get embarrassed, I feel embarrassed -- though I would be feeling embarrassed anyway."
I wondered if she felt sexual tension when I felt it too. She didn't answer, but gave me the quickest glance, then lowered her gaze again. As clear as any words.
"When you felt really angry with Alison this spring, I felt it too."
Yes, Alison had really pissed me off.
"When you wanted to bash that ref's skull in I felt that too."
I colored a little. Way to go Ethan, model of good sportsmanship, of not taking the game too seriously.
Something came back to me from the spring. I usually had the girls do a weaving drill for five minutes; it was part of the routine. That day I had decided to cut it short to do a different one. And I was thinking it was just about time to tell them to stop when Lindsay stopped the drill and started coming towards me. Then she stopped dead in her tracks and looked confused. I then told the girls it was time for the drill to stop, and she started towards me again.
Now I thought I could make sense of it. She knew I wanted to stop the drill, and she was doing what she knew I wanted, and had forgotten that she wasn't supposed to know that so she should wait until I actually said it. I could see it would be hard for her to act only on what she got through "normal" senses, sorting it out.
She smiled at me as I had these thoughts, then said, "Yes, you got it."
I reflected. She had just finished seventh grade, a time when kids struggle so hard with self esteem. She was having a very difficult conversation with a grown man, first trusting him to believe in mind-reading, which all clear-thinking people knew was impossible. She was fending off or experiencing sexual thoughts and feelings that were whizzing around.
It had to be excruciating. Why was she going through it? A chance of feeling a little better. I offered some escape from depression -- the kind of depression that makes you slit your wrists. I felt a surge of compassion. She caught her breath, acting almost strangled for a moment -- oh right, she felt the surge too. So it might be worth the confusion to her, worth lurking behind my bushes even though she had aroused suspicion twice before and must know she might get caught.
I wondered if she maybe was hoping to get caught. At that point she spoke. "No, I didn't want to get caught!" Then, following my line of thought, she said uncertainly, "Well yeah, maybe some part of me wanted to."
This means of communication was very fast. I could quickly go through a line of thought and she would correct me if I was wrong.
But she could have thoughts and share just the ones she felt like sharing. She was in a position of power over me. She knew my mind but I didn't know hers.
"Yeah, I know. What can I do?"
Tell me all your secrets, I thought.
"Maybe," she said. And she started staring into my eyes, until the instant I realized it was making me uncomfortable, so she shifted in her seat and looked down.
My life would be a whole lot simpler if she would simply disappear and never come back. But she was a severely depressed child, and I held promise of a life that had some joy in it.
I had been depressed too, before the divorce, and thought of that endless crush of cold and gray, where nothing holds any joy and it never will again.
She looked at me, startled. "You know!" she said. And after a moment, as I relived what it had been like, she said, "I don't know if I should say this, but you didn't get it as bad as I do."
God! This poor girl! She made that strangled sound again.
So, suppose I agreed to find some way she could see color in life through my mind. How would it actually work? She could spend time close to me, and if I was happy, she would be happy.
I had the amusing image of making a little cot for her in the garage so she could lie there and soak up my positive thoughts. The idea of any arrangement like that where she would be reading my thoughts and I would be getting no feedback was totally creepy.
But if she was with me in person, she would know every time I found her sexy, and because of that I would try not to think about it, and then I would find I could think of nothing else. And my sexual frustration would grow. She would feel that, and she would no longer feel happy but sexually frustrated too.
But then a possibility jumped into focus, one I had been trying to avoid thinking about. We could have sex, and I would feel great pleasure, and she therefore would too. And she would know all the things I fantasized about doing, and we could do all of them, or at least most of them.
As this line of thought came over me she was looking away but I could see her trying to control her rapid breathing. But I would feel terribly guilty being her lover, guilty about what it would do to her. I would be mightily afraid that we would get caught, or she would grow up and realize that I had been raping her for years and was a horrible person, then maybe send me to jail for life.
"No! You're so nice I'd never hurt you!" she said.
But she didn't say anything when I considered that it is very hard for people finishing seventh grade to know how they will feel years later.
My pain at being caught and shamed and facing prison would cut her like a knife, I could see that -- but only if she was within 100 yards.
I stopped myself. The entire idea of being sexual with her was absurd.
Even if we found a way to keep things chaste, there was the small matter of explaining to her parents and the rest of the world what she was doing carrying on a friendship with an older man.
I also realized that from the moment she had first found herself reading my thoughts, she knew she couldn't tell her parents or her shrinks or they would lock her up.
Suddenly I wondered why she had trusted me.
"I dunno, I never thought it through. You're kind, that's a big thing. Hmmm. I could prove it to you directly. And ... and you're the one who could help me."
That all made sense. Now if I told people they would lock me up too, or at least dismiss me as wacky. This dilemma was now another thing we shared.
Could we work out any way that I could help her be happy?
A lot of this came down to her parents, to what kind of people they were. What would they do if Lindsay and I demonstrated that she could read my mind? It would be easy enough. Send Lindsay outside, tell me some numbers, then have her come back in, pick them up from my mind and say them. Would they believe it? I looked at Lindsay.
She considered a moment, "I think so."
They too would realize that telling anyone else about this would lead to big trouble. What would they think about a friendship with me?
"I know they love me a lot. They spend lots of money on treatments for me, and they worry. One thing that makes it worse for me is that when I don't get better, I know it hurts them so much too. I'm letting them down."
I tried to stifle my next surge of compassion, but she caught her breath anyway.
So if they got on board and believed that a friendship with me was good for their daughter, what then? She could come over to my place a lot, but people would get very suspicious. I could come to their place, but what would that be like, the four of us?
I stopped for a moment and two pieces of the puzzle suddenly fit together. I was willing to consider some sort of arrangement to help Lindsay be happy instead of horribly depressed. If she hadn't been able to read my mind, something could have been worked out. We could be like big brother and little sister. Kindly uncle and niece in need of guidance. I would be aware of my attraction but just not think about it.
But she could read my mind. Every time a sexual fantasy popped into my mind she would know it too. I could not stand trying not to think about sex, failing, being sexually frustrated -- and the humiliation of having her know I had the hots for her.
It was all or nothing for me. We either had to be lovers or nothing. Statutory rape, big time. A little wave of nausea came over me, and Lindsay stirred.
The time had come for me to shake her hand, wish her luck, and say I just could not help her.
But I couldn't keep thinking about the other side. Would she even consider the sex part? She wasn't getting up to shake my hand and leave either. She wasn't bringing up ways we could make it work on the uncle/niece model.
I wondered if she found me attractive. She didn't say anything for a moment, even though she knew I had formulated the question.
"You're attractive enough," she said.
That sounded like damning with faint praise. But then I was an old guy, and girls don't go for old guys. Unless they are wise, kind and good, especially if they are figures of authority like soccer coaches.
She was suppressing a smile.
I thought about what she would be feeling. If she did find me quite sexy and said so, wouldn't the sexual tension in the room be almost unbearable? Maybe it was better not to know too much.
She then said, "All that matters is how sexy you find me."
It made sense, and I wondered why I hadn't thought of this.
Whatever her own independent mind and body thought, they were crippled with depression. The happiness would come from what I felt.
Blushing a little and looking down she said "It felt really, really, really good the other night when you jerked off."
I had a huge flush of embarrassment, which in turn flushed across her face. Yeah, I had jerked off one of those evenings.
I tried to see if this embarrassment could be turned into a real solution. She could eavesdrop on my feelings while I jerked off a lot -- that was a crime too, if she was present.
But maybe that wasn't her point. My sexual pleasure was a huge draw for her. Even if I could manage a platonic parental relationship, it would be hard for her to keep from trying to seduce me!
She didn't speak to correct that line of thought, but she looked up briefly as she smiled shyly.
She hadn't gotten up to leave, so in comparing bone-crushing depression to regular sex with an old guy, the sex wasn't losing.
She smiled at me uncertainly.
"It would have been easier if you were a woman, or gay or something."
She had a point there. She wasn't seeking me out for the sex, it's just that the sex came along in the same package given my suppressed desires.
Lindsay was feeling a whole lot better than she had been when flushed out of the bushes by Mrs. Wong. She had told someone her big secret and he had believed her and been nice about it. And there was hope that she might really have a happy future.
We both had a great deal to think about, and I needed to be thinking about my part with Lindsay more than 100 yards away. She needed to get home.
So after just a little hesitation we got ready to give each other a goodbye hug. Part of me wanted to do so much more.
She blushed, smiled, and stammered, then decided to give voice to my thought: "A nice hug, even though what you really feel like doing is fucking my brains out."
I was shocked that she would say it so bluntly.
She smiled impishly, I smiled back, and soon we were laughing hysterically.
As we calmed down she beamed at me and I beamed back at her. Whatever had made me think she had an average face?
We had our hug, kept short and strictly ceremonial.
As she was halfway out the door, I realized that at one powerful level, she obviously wanted me to fuck her brains out too!
She gave a hasty, "Good night!" over her shoulder, then literally ran away.
Our news set her parents' world spinning, just as mine had been a few days earlier. Lindsay's had started spinning when she came to her first soccer practice.
They had me over to dinner and her mother had cooked a luscious thick steak. The taste of Lindsay's steak in her own mouth was soured by depression. But feeling me taste it, she gave a radiant smile, something her parents hadn't seen in years.
They were willing to think about it. We all took the summer to think about it.
Lindsay and I met periodically in public places or at her house to get to know each other, and it naturally went very fast when she could read all my thoughts.
When she read intimate thoughts of mine she tried to say something similarly intimate about herself. She had been mean to a little girl down the street. She had first gotten her period during school and was sent to the nurse's office with blood running down her leg. She had a crush on her math teacher. Boys and girls at school both made fun of her. She was terrified of butterflies, of all things.
Our life experiences were totally different. I had already raised two children and had a long professional career. I wouldn't be able to discuss art or politics or science with her -- at least not for a long time. But I had had all that meeting-of-the-minds stuff in my marriage, and it had all come to nothing when the feelings turned to ice. Lindsay would love me and that was enough.
I was attracted to women of a wide variety of ages, and had viewed the teenagers as attractive but of course unavailable. Now that one of them was available, I realized that I found her sexier than any mature woman. She read all these considerations from my mind and was OK with them. I felt her vulnerability from her youth and depression, and felt strongly protective. She was also sweet, kind, and brave. I loved her.
We had one moment of truth when she first introduced me to her parents. I couldn't hide my first impression of her mother: she was fat and ugly. As soon as we were alone, Lindsay told me I was a pig to think like that. She felt hurt and angry because she loved her mother, naturally.
But she slowly realized that my gut reactions in this regard were no easier to control than any others. The crucial thing was that I respected and even liked her mother and thought we would get along great. If she looked at her mother with a fresh eye, a man's eye, she could see that she did look fat and ugly.
I centered myself by considering that I really didn't have any evil or truly shameful thoughts. There was nothing in my mind that would make Lindsay doubt my character. She would be exposed to my dirty underwear, to the garbage I set out on the street, and even to what I flushed down the toilet, but she wouldn't find any guns or dead bodies.
Her parents had an agonizing dilemma. Their daughter had already slit her wrists once, and they were afraid she would do it again -- especially afraid if they nixed this new possibility which was so exciting for her. But to approve of this relationship with an older man went against all of their gut instincts for protecting their child.
The three of us met without Lindsay. I reminded them that they couldn't tell me anything in confidence because Lindsay would quickly find it in my mind. But their purpose was simple. Would I love and honor their girl, or was I in it for the sex? Lindsay had this intimate knowledge of my thoughts, but they felt she lacked the life experience to be confident that what she found meant what she thought it did. Could I look them steadily in the eye and tell me I had Lindsay's best interests at heart?
I could and I did.
The logistics weren't too hard. Her parents bought a two-family house at the end of a long driveway, in a wooded area with no neighbors to snoop on us. They lived in one half and I rented the other.
Lindsay would officially live with her parents and stay there if one of my daughters came to visit, for instance. And even if it were an extended visit, she could stay fairly happy reading my thoughts through the wall.
Otherwise she would live with me.