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The Differences Between Them
It had never occurred to them through all those years, even towards the end, that they would ever be torn apart completely. Given the fact that they could hear each other’s innermost thoughts, they knew for certain that both of them intended to stay friends forever. But even when they reflected on this fact years later, they realized that The Mysterious Shadowy Figure had always been there. It had been there from the very beginning, and there was nothing they could’ve done to prevent it from coming out.
Josh and Celia had been friends for as long as they could remember. They had always relied on each other and couldn’t even recall what it had been like to live without their friendship. It hadn’t been until a few years after they met however, that they started hearing the other’s voices fill their minds. They could hear each other’s thoughts, feelings, fears, passions, everything. It was this that brought them closer together. They became so inseparable, most would assume they were twins. It was about then that The Figure appeared. They really didn’t pay it much mind at all. Like most young children, they didn’t care much for things that weren’t right in front of them, and at that time The Figure had stayed barely in the background.
With dark hair and eyes, and a tall and muscular body, Josh was Celia’s opposite in nearly every physical way. Her blue eyes, fair hair, and small fragile body contrasted greatly, and yet they still somehow looked related. Personality-wise, the two shared many traits. They were both adventurous, full of energy, and fiercely loyal. They knew when it was time to be serious, but still took every moment they had to be silly and loud. However, Josh’s guarded emotions and need to stay within his own feelings yet again was opposite to Celia’s big out-there emotions. While she prefered to let others know how she felt about every situation around her, Josh wanted to hide any and all emotions he possessed for fear others might judge him for them. It was this that underlyingly caused their greatest conflict.
When the two were young, they used their telepathy to share secrets and jokes in class. As they got older however, they used it to help each other talk to difficult people, debate private matters, and help with answers to silent tests. It was their secret always, and in the beginning only seemed to bring them closer together as friends. Only Josh knew when to lift Celia up when she was so down she couldn’t bring herself to smile. Only Celia knew when to calm Josh’s anger and fear. They were the perfect balance; they were the perfect team.
The children’s first true challenge came when they entered middle school. It was at that time that The Shadowy Figure suddenly decided to come out of the shadows and enter their midst. It started to follow them, though not very closely. It was almost not enough for them to mind, except for the fact that it interfered with their gift. They had to actually try for once to be heard and to hear each other’s voices fill their heads. This was a terrifying prospect to both of them.
“What if it gets worse?” said Josh one day, eyeing The Figure suspiciously. They were sitting in the brown-green grass outside the cafeteria at school. It was a sunny autumn day, with a slight breeze shaking the red, orange, and yellow leaves. Josh’s tone didn’t match the cheery weather.
“It won’t,” Celia assured him, ripping up a colorful leaf she had picked up earlier. “I really don’t think it’s all that bad.”
It stops our telepathy, he hissed in her brain. How could that not be bad? What if it never goes away? What if it stops this completely?
Celia looked at him for a long time. It won’t. It’ll go away. We can ignore it.
Josh sighed. “I hope you’re right,” he said quietly, still looking at The Figure. “I really do.”
But Celia had been correct about The Figure giving up. After a while it simply faded away. It did so so well, the two completely forgot about it for longer than they had originally thought possible. Their mind-communication continued, almost better than ever. As years went on and the two moved into High School, it grew stronger so that sometimes they didn’t even have to say anything, verbal or telepathically, to know what the other was thinking. Their facial expressions were enough. But just when they thought nothing could ruin any part of their friendship, Celia fell on hard times. As the weather darkened and grew colder, so did Celia. She became so depressed that she sometimes couldn’t even bring herself to breathe and had to be reminded to. She stopped eating. Stopped sleeping. Nearly gave up.
How can I help you? Josh transmitted to her one day as they sat in class.They were supposed to be writing essays, but neither of them were really focused on working. Josh was used to being the strong, capable one, but this time he didn’t know what to do. And he hated that feeling.
I don’t know. She sent back, staring off into space. He wasn’t used to Celia talking so little, and it was starting to really scare him.
Just don’t give up on me ok? He said. I promise you’ll find a way to move past this. And until you do, I’ll be right here to help cheer you up. And he did. Josh would tell her jokes and make her smile even when no one else could. Celia’s big brother was looking out for her always, and this thought was the one that let her look past her pain and misery. The Shadow truely and finally disappeared, it seemed for good, and Josh was able to pull Celia back onto her feet again.
Celia’s light returned as the days became warmer and longer. With it, and in the absense of The Shadow, came a new force that strengthened their friendship tenfold. In that moment, it actually looked to them as though they could stick through life together as family. They would be by each other’s side no matter what.
But then, The Figure took its chance. Suddenly, it was fully out in the open. Staring them in the face, sticking by their side all day and all night. Sometimes it would back off for a few days, but it was never again as far away as it had been while on the sidelines. At first, it didn’t seem to interfere with their telepathy. They were still able to talk normally within each other’s minds. But Celia could tell that Josh was getting more and more weary of The Figure. He became more certain it was evil.
We have to get rid of it somehow, he insisted one day. The two friends sat in the basement at Josh’s house, speaking in their heads in order to not disturb the parents upstairs. Celia was sitting on the old, faded couch reading a book. Josh was pacing back and forth on the dust-colored carpet, as he had been for a while now. It’s not right. It’s going to ruin everything. Please, we have to do something.
But it’s not doing anything right now, Celia reasoned, not looking up from her book. It’s just a thing that’s around right now. Our telepathy is still working just fine. We can learn to live with it. Just ignore The Figure if that’s what you have to do.
I can’t ignore it, Celia. It follows us around. I just know that it’s wrong and bad and evil. We can’t live normally while it’s near us. Celia sighed and finally closed her book.
What’re we going to do? We can’t get rid of it. If we could, wouldn’t it be gone by now? She asked. Josh rolled his eyes and started up a game on the tv that was in front of the couch. It was clear to Celia that he had given up for the moment, as she had defeated his argument. But she knew he’d be back at it.
And indeed he continued the argument not even a few days after that. The two kept arguing about The Figure back and forth. Celia continued to defend it, saying nothing was going wrong and that they didn’t have to turn it into a big deal. Josh continued to mistrust and hate it. The more time that went by that they disagreed, the more their telepathy began to disintegrate.
“You see what it’s done?!” They were back in the grass where their first discussion had happened, but Josh was angry now. Celia didn’t know what to say to assuage him. She sat on the hard ground, watching him pace yet again. “It’s tearing us apart! Just like I knew it would! We can’t communicate at all anymore. Now will you admit we have to do something??”
“We can’t do anything,” Celia said for what felt like the millionth time, glancing around to make sure no one had heard his outburst. When she saw that the nearest people were out of earshot, she continued in a more hushed voice. “Nothing we can do will get rid of it.” The two were silent and still for a long time. Josh seething with rage, Celia silent with something she couldn’t describe.
“What if it’s not The Figure?” She asked finally.
“What does that even mean? If it’s not The Figure, what is it?” He asked exasperatedly. She took a deep breath.
“What if it’s us? Our arguing.” Silence again.
“No,” Josh sat down facing her. He was quieter now. “It can’t be. That’s what it wants us to think. It’s manipulating us. Getting in our heads. Literally.”
“But think about it,” Celia stood up and started to pace herself. “It didn’t start doing anything until we started arguing.”
“Yeah, this time. But the times before? It’s just trying to throw us off the real path.” Neither of them accepted defeat. Each were convinced the other had it wrong. As time passed, they had many more arguments like this one. Their mind communication disappeared for so long, they forgot about it. They forgot they had even had it. The only thing on each of their minds was The Shadowy Figure that neither of them could identify or explain.
It was because of their absent mindedness to their fading friendship that they hadn’t talked face to face for months before they noticed. At that point, both of them knew it was too late. They parted ways, and The Figure split into two so as to follow them both.
Celia moved on to live her life. She moved through the world, always with The Shadow behind her. It almost looked like a cape, draped across her shoulder, for she had learned to live and accept it as part of her. But still, she missed Josh.
Josh moved on to live a separate life. He moved through the world in constant fear and anger at The Shadow. He mistrusted it for the rest of his days and refused to acknowledge it, always certain he could get it to leave. But still, he missed Celia.
When they looked back, many years later, on to the friendship they had had with someone they could hardly remember anymore, they became quiet with sadness and longing. Even though neither of them ever tried to reconnect after all that time, they still knew deep down that they were family. That they were still connected somehow.
“How did it happen?” They would say to themselves. “We were so close. How did we let that small thing get in the way of family?” But even as they said this, they knew. They both knew that it had been too big, too close, too important to the both of them to have really been ignored. The Figure had been there always, not to scare them off, but to remind them of the differences in the world. The drifting apart hadn’t been its plan. The two of them simply had grown apart as they inevitably would have, even without The Figure. It was neither of their fault. And yet, it was both of their fault. They had thought themselves so similar, and yet the differences between them, however small, seemed to them too big. They’d been too hung up on their differences, refusing to see past them. Perhaps, had it not been the strong tie between them that was their telepathy, they wouldn’t have seen something different as something so inescapable. Perhaps if they had studied The Figure and talked through it, their story might have ended differently. But because of how they saw those differences between them, their friendship had to end.