“You know what I find interesting?” Taran tipped her head to one side, indicating her stirring curiosity. After a beat of silence, Riley concluded, “Your stories are always about others, never yourself. It seems you should go on a few adventures of your own.” A swallow paired with a nod, rounded up with a heavy exhale. Three seconds ticked out on Riley’s watch. He leaned back, his skinny, nimble fingers curving around the edge of the table behind his lanky form, and encouraged, “I’ve seen you grow an entire forest out of just air. It’s no secret that you’re capable of painting worlds within a matter of seconds. I’d love to witness your work firsthand.” Taran managed a crooked, watery smile and mumbled, “Wow, no pressure or anything, huh?” Riley mirrored her tentative grin with a persuasive smile of his own. Several paces backwards and one removed sweatshirt later, Taran rubbed her suddenly sweaty hands against the thighs of her jeans and dropped her gaze to the packed earth beneath her bare feet. Pressing her toes into the gritty dirt, her eyes focused on the contrast of the mud against the peach of her freshly washed skin. After a final breath that visibly gathered her concentration, she squeezed her eyes shut, enclosing herself in a world of shapes swimming in swirls of color. She resisted the temptation to steal a glance at Riley, who had lapsed into a patient silence. It began with fleeting sensations that quickly deserted her, much like startled deer. Dewy grass brushing against the backs of scraped knuckles. The security of muscles around a small, shaking child, guarding and protecting, the interlocking collection of stones between a thin waterfall. A beating heart, hammering against a cathedral of ribs, delivering a rush of glittery adrenaline throughout a pathway of veins and arteries. Hooking a tendril of attention around Riley’s blank mind, she reeled him into the bubble of pulsating energy, allowing her latest creations to flow into the open river of his thoughts. “You’re amazing, really,” he breathed once she had retreated, having worked up a sweat from the exertion of connecting her neurons to his. She muttered bashful thanks and gulped down water from the bottle tucked into her backpack, reminded of her attachment to the material world as her fingertips brushed against the canvas of her bag. Noticing how her lips tumbled into a frown, Riley pursued, “I can understand why you have a hard time returning to reality.”
“Nothing beats make-believe.”