Josh begins by quickly summarizing the business of the last meeting, and then mentioning a few things on the agenda for this evening.
Some of the Outsiders want to rent a few cabins in the mountains for Sarah's birthday. The fundraising committee needs volunteers.
The Junction City chapter would like to meet up and discuss strategy. And maybe a rematch of last year's basketball game too.
Then Josh looks at me. Here I'm expecting to be embarrassed, to be called out by Josh in front of everyone. Asked to stand up and introduce myself and explain what my gift is.
Then he gives me a barely perceptible nod. He folds his hands, looks down a single time at the tablet sitting on his lap, and begins speaking.
"I know that a lot of you aren't political nerds like me, but all of you need to know what's happening on Capitol Hill right now.
A bill called the 'Civil Service and Fidelity Act' is currently being considered in the House Judiciary committee.
I can see some of your eyes glazing over already, but the reason every one of you should care is that..."
The door creaks softly as it opens. In walks a spectacle of a person.
He's wearing large, reflective aviator shades and colorful leather jacket that looks like the one Tyler Durden wore in Fight Club.
He stops, looks around a bit as if considering if this worth his while. He shrugs and closes the door behind him. Val crosses her arms and glowers at him.
Josh rolls his eyes and glances back down at his tablet.
"Nice of you to join us tonight, Andrew," Josh says with a sigh, still staring down at his notes, determined not to give him any more of his attention.
Andrew lazily takes of his sunglasses and yawns. "You and your politics, Josh. Why don't you go run for Congress or something?"
There are a few giggles across the room, but there are more groans. I notice that Sarah has her hand over her mouth, laughing way too hard for a quip that wasn't even funny.
Val notices me looking at her and shakes her head. In warning, it seems, which confuses me.
Before I have any time to ask or even consider what she meant, Andrew walks across the room and kisses Val on the forehead.
I'm not expecting this. Should I say something? Confront him? Maybe, but from the little time I've known her, Val seems more than capable of taking care of herself, plus...
"New kid?" Andrew looks at me. "Andrew Lattimore, nice to meet you, dude."
"Miles--" I extend my arm, but he doesn't seem to notice, and turns his attention back to Val. For one stupid moment, I just stare at my empty hand.
"You're not still mad about last night, are you, babe?" he asks Val.
Josh clears this throat. Val doesn't say anything. She's just sitting there, arms still folded, and looking straight ahead. Andrew takes the other seat beside her.
"It was just a joke," he continues. "You know that I would never--"
Josh clears his throat again. Louder this time.
"Not now," Val mutters under her breath.
"Hey Romeo and Juliet!" Josh shouts. That having gotten their attention, he lowers his voice again. "Either take it outside, or wait until after the meeting to resolve this... lover's quarrel. We have serious business to discuss."
Andrew throws up his arms and mockingly jazz hands.
Josh stares at him, and after meeting his gaze for several moments, Andrew relents and something more interesting in the room to look at.
Josh pauses for several more seconds, and begins, "The Civil Service and Fidelity Act is being proposed by Representative Dana Christenson of the Fourth District of Ohio.
As you know, people with gifts like ours are 'expected' to work with the military, law enforcement, or engage in other government work after we graduate high school.
"Up until now, enforcement has been lax. This bill would change that. Under the new law, we would be forbidden from attending college, voting, from..."
I know that what Josh is saying is important but I look at Val out of the corner of my eye. Andrew is resting his hand over her knee, her hand on top of his.
For a moment I feel a hot stab of jealousy. But why? I've literally just met this girl. We're not together. I have no right to feel this way, and yet I do.
"The bill already has powerful allies, including Concerned Citizens and the governors of several states, including this one," he continues.
Now Andrew is whispering something in Val's ear. She bites one side of her lip and blushes. For a moment I wonder what he said to her, curious.
That's swept away by that all-too familiar inadequacy though. Why couldn't I say or do something her blush? Why couldn't I do or say something to make any girl blush?
The meeting goes on like this for another thirty minutes or so, with Josh doing most of the talking. Only he and a few others in the group seem that concerned about it though.
Everyone else is much more excited about Sarah's party and what to do for fundraising instead.
When Josh adjourns the meeting, everyone seems to instantly revert back to the conversations that they were having before it started.
I look over at Val, hoping for her to say something so that I won't be sitting alone and silent in this room full of strangers.
But she's laughing at something, her face buried in one of Andrew's shoulders.
"Oh my god, you are such a jerk," she says, and playfully punches him where he head was just a few seconds ago.
I get up, as quietly as possible. I'll grab one of those sandwiches and a bottle of water and be on my way. Maybe I'll come back. I don't know.
The Outsiders have a worthy cause, that's for sure, but it seems like that kind of, close-knit, small group that's been together for years.
How do you fit in in a situation like that? Even if they tolerate me, it's like they're doing just that--tolerating me. Who knows if I'll ever be one of them.
Italian, roast beef, or ham sandwich? Italian, roast beef, or ham? As I'm considering my options I hear the patter of footsteps behind me.
"Stay cool, stay cool," I think to myself. "Don't act like a jealous ass. Just be normal."
I turn around. Remember how I said that some of the Outsiders looked like football players and some looked like they were in the drama club? Well, these three looked like that latter.
There are two boys and a girl. One of the boys is tall and lanky with sandy brown hair a long, inquisitive face. The other is about my height but stout, with dark skin and hair.
The girl is barely five feet tall, with huge glasses and curly black hair.
She's standing slightly in front of the two boys and I can tell though she hasn't said a word that she must be the leader of this trio.
Without even noticing, I look past them at Val. She's still sitting with Andrew, running her fingers through his hair and the two look like two lovers in love.
The drama club follows my gaze then looks back at me.
Embarrassed, and feeling a bit like a jerk, I quickly jut out my hand in greeting to the girl. "Hi, I'm Miles Brandenburg. Guess you noticed I'm kind of new here."
She grabs and shakes it, and with surprising strength too. "I'm Crystal Simpson and these here are my friends Chris Hollings and Praveen Bandara."
I can't help but notice that she didn't give the other two the opportunity to introduce themselves. I shake each of their hands in turn.
"So you gonna make you ask you or what?" Crystal says.
"Ask me..." I begin, for a moment not understanding what she was getting at. Feeling a bit slow for not getting it right away I answer. "Well, I guess you'd call it psychometry, though that isn't exactly right."
"Psychometry? What the hell is psychometry?" Crystal looks up at me and adjusts her glasses.
"Well... sometimes I can see the past of a place. I can see the memories and feelings of the people that were there too."
"Cool," Chris and Praveen say in unison.
Crystal turns to look at them both, seeming to chastise them with her eyes for the laconic response.
"Cool..." Praveen begins, then shrinks back from another glare from Crystal. "I call what I can do 'dimming.' It's not invisibility per se, but if I focus and try, it's like I blend into the background and people have a hard time noticing or seeing me."
"What a coincidence, I have that gift as well. In fact, it works whether I want it to or not with girls," Miles thinks to himself and smirks.
"Best pyromancer this side of the Mississippi," Chris says. Then he holds out his skinny arms and flexes. "And these guns can melt steam beams."
Praveen and Crystal both groan loudly and playfully jostle and shove Chris.
"Okay, and what about you?" I ask Crystal.
"Can't really show you inside," she answers. I look at Chris and Praveen. Chris is vigorously shaking his head and Praveen is nodding. I decide to take their contradictory answers as word.
"Look, as president and executive director of the fundraising committee, I came over here to ask if you can help us out. You can help us out, right, Miles?"
I spare one more look toward Val. She and Andrew are now talking with a group of girls whose names I don't know yet.
"Yeah, sure. Why not?" I answer.
"Great, Praveen, you get Miles' information and text him the details. We'll meet this Friday night. And don't be late like Andrew."