Episode 4: Thursdays
By: Lauren Derrick
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series. The previous episode was published on February 9, 2022
Marilyn looked burned out from the inside when she and Finley pulled up into the driveway of her rambler. The sun had gone down long ago, and both women slumped a little. Ladybug, Marilyn's pug, yipped and danced as they entered the house. Marilyn fed the small creature and apologized for the late arrival.
“It's been a long day.” Finley said to the little dog. “Grandma's evil twin sister escaped from a high-security compound.”
Marilyn let out a long sigh. “Madelyn's not evil, she just has a very interesting sense of justice.”
“How did she do it? How much trouble are you in?” Finley asked weakly, stuffing her hands into her pockets.
“Me? I'm not in any trouble.” Marilyn said dismissively. “I'm mostly worried about you.”
Finley tilted her head a little to the side, looking confused.
Marilyn led her granddaughter into the sitting room. The low light twisted shadows from doilies and granny-chic fixtures into sinister figures. The older woman turned on a lamp, throwing a golden warmth into the room. The two sat together, and Marilyn squeezed Finley's hand in her own.
“I was told once,” Marilyn began, “that my sister and I were the greatest weapons to ever be created. Madelyn knew I was feeling nervous, letting someone in on my secret for the first time in, well, decades. She took advantage of that. I should have been suspicious when she hugged me. From what I can gather–and I may very well be wrong–Maddie held onto that connection with the security guard until we left, and then she used it to make a partial illusion, hiding herself from view. When he didn't see her on the camera, he went in to make a complete search, and as soon as he opened the door, she slipped right out.”
Finley bit her lip and shook her head with a small laugh. “Crafty old lady.”
Marilyn sighed. “Indeed she is. We are, as the rising generation would put it, 'overpowered.' I've been living my life under a complex set of rules for the sake of morality, and for the peace of mind of those who know about me—keeping myself in check. Madelyn, at least historically, has had a tendency to disregard the rules.”
“Are you still able to do the things you want to do?” Finley asked carefully.
“I am.” Marilyn said simply. “Because I've spent years behaving myself and convincing powerful people that I am trustworthy. I don't invade the privacy of others for my own gain. I never infiltrate someone's mind without their expressed consent. I never reveal my telepathy to anyone except to those whom I have been approved to reveal that secret to.”
“So you were allowed to tell me? What about Mom?”
Marilyn cringed. “I have permission, but I...haven't quite been able to. I'm afraid to tell her. What if she spends the rest of her life wondering if I know all her secrets, or if I've been controlling her from the shadows? I wouldn't do anything like that, but just the idea that I could have... Do you see, Finley?”
Finley nodded slowly.
“I know I should have told her long ago.” Marilyn lamented. “There are many things I should have told her.”
There was a brief though undeniable contortion of Marilyn's face that denoted pain. Within seconds, her eyes regained a measure of serenity. She gulped. “I couldn't even tell my own husband what I could do. They had to perform background checks, and he had to agree to be sworn to secrecy. We had been married for six months before I was allowed to tell him about my telepathy. I don't want those restrictions for you.”
Marilyn's grip on Finley's hand loosened, and her eyes wandered to the far corner of the room. Finley squeezed Marilyn's hand as if to remind her grandmother to continue. Marilyn's breath caught, and she shook her head.
“Before we left the compound, I’m sure you heard us discussing that Madelyn stole the recording of our visit. Typically, the security guard stores those on a server that I can access, but they don't save the files long. I was just going to corrupt the sound file, but Madelyn has it. Because she left, the agency wants to see the file to determine the details of her escape. I don't think Maddie would ever sell you out. Our relationship has been complicated at times, but I don't think she would take out any residual anger she feels towards me out on you. I don't think she would, but honestly Finley, I can't know that she won't.
“If anyone finds out what you're becoming, it will affect you for the rest of your life. If the agency finds out, then they will keep tabs on you. They will want to train you. They will want to monitor your children and grandchildren to see if they develop abilities as well. If the media somehow managed to find out you'd have a target on your head for the rest of your life.”
Finley paused for a second, absorbing the news. “It's weird, but...I'm actually excited. It's like I have a super power. It's...it's cool. I've never thought I was cool before.”
“I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have been a coward. I should have told you sooner instead of taking you to Maddie.” Marilyn said flatly. “Thank you for not hating me for it. Moving forward, I promise to be more open with you. I will help you as much as I can. Also...I'm going to need your help finding Madelyn.”
Finley sat up straight. “But I thought Monica said...”
“Monica said that the agency wouldn't be able to get me on the case. Bringing in a retiree takes a lot of red-tape cutting as it is, and I...” Marilyn's lips pressed together, then she sighed. “I may have recently requisitioned an agent to steal into a friend's home to help him get the courage to publish his novel.”
“WELL, they aren't very happy with me right now, but they have almost no chance of finding Madelyn without me. We need to find her first to destroy the recording of our visit.” Marilyn blushed. “That friend I mentioned is going to get us plane tickets to New York as a favor. We should be able to leave Saturday.”
“You think Madelyn's in New York?” Finley asked.
“She's not here.”
“Okay. I guess I'll just...quit my job then...” Finley said, pulling out her phone and grimacing.
Marilyn smiled. “Don't you worry about work. I've got a job working at the mall on Thursdays. It would be a great way to gain experience with your abilities. You can even come this week.”
“Does Mom know you work at the mall?” Finley asked.
“Oh hush. She doesn't need to know about that.”
Two Days Later
At six forty-five, Marilyn strolled towards the food court doors of the mall, Ladybug right at her heels. She strode towards a small shop with a quickly hung purple and blue beaded curtain. There was a sculpted Army Surplus sign that someone had draped a banner over. The banner read “Psychic Guidance and Palm Reading.”
A young lady with mousy brown hair with purple ends, glazed green eyes, and a nose ring stood at the counter behind the beaded curtain. She smoothed a long, silk purple cloth over a knife-display case. She perked up a little and waved at Marilyn.
“Hey boss. How late are you planning on staying today?”
Marilyn shrugged, removing some lacy doilies from her purse and arranging them on top of the purple silk. “Oh, it's hard to say. I have a five o'clock appointment, but it shouldn't take long.”
Marilyn's own blue eyes pierced into those of the receptionist, who straightened and nodded with a dutiful expression on her face. The older woman drew a stack of papers from her purse.
“Thank you. Please, make sure everyone signs this new release form. My granddaughter is coming in to help today.”
“Sure.” the receptionist said, taking the stack of forms from Marilyn.
Marilyn entered a dimly lit room with stacks of boxes and army-green sleeping bags in plastic-wrap. A worn, circular coffee table and two folding chairs were set up in the center of the room. She draped a bright purple and gold paisley patterned cloth over the table, then set a black velvet scarf in the center. From a cabinet in the corner, she fetched an intricately carved stand and a glass globe that sat on top of it. Ladybug made herself comfortable in a red plush dog bed near the cabinet.
Marilyn fussed with the black velvet scarf surrounding the “crystal ball” and admired her handiwork. She checked her watch. “There, you see Ladybug? We still have at least fifteen minutes to go get your cookies before our clients start arriving and at least an hour before Finley gets here.”
Ladybug yipped excitedly, popped out of her bed and trotted over to Marilyn's side.
A few minutes later, Marilyn returned with a coffee and a plastic bag filled with bone shaped dog biscuits. She gave the coffee to her grateful receptionist. Ladybug's bulging eyes tracked the bag. Marilyn gave the little pug a biscuit to eat while she fitted the small hat to her head, sliding a white elastic under Ladybug's chin. Marilyn donned her own hat.
“Benji is coming soon.” Marilyn told the little dog, causing her to perk up and wag her curly tail. “And Lady, I mean it this time, don't you...”
She couldn't finish before a gruff voice was heard from the reception desk. Marilyn pursed her lips and pointed a warning finger at Ladybug as the receptionist asked the man to sign a new waiver. Seconds later, a scruffy white man with beach-bleached dreadlocks shuffled in. Ladybug quickly downed the rest of her treat then adopted the most regal posture she could manage, standing on her hind legs and striking a pose by bringing her front paws together. Even at her minimal height, it seemed that she was staring down at the humans with a godly gaze. The man put his hands together and bowed his head to the little dog. He removed a small dog treat from the pocket of his worn jeans, which he presented as an offering on her dog bed.
Behind Benji's back, Marilyn rolled her head slightly in exasperation and gave Ladybug a frustrated, wide-eyed stare. The pug completely ignored her master as she pawed at Benji's hand.
“What is it, Little Shaman?” Benji asked, gazing deeply into the pug's bulging pupils. “Are you lending me some of your positive energy? That's just what I need today.”
Ladybug panted, a grin-like expression on her face.
Marilyn cleared her throat. Benji jumped a little as if he'd forgotten Marilyn were there.
“Hey! Er...sorry it's so early.”
“It is good to see you, Benji. You know, you really don't have to bring anything for the dog.”
“No, I want to! She's special. She was a shaman in her last life. I can feel it in her aura.”
Marilyn smiled kindly. “Well, I don't know about that.”
She threw a dirty look at Ladybug as soon as Benji's head turned down.
Benji launched into a tale of lending money to his brother, then his best friend's sister, then his roommate. He was now broke. Though another roommate was covering the tab for the rent for the month, Benji was concerned that he wouldn't be able to pay him back. As he spoke, Ladybug sat squarely before him, occasionally performing her standing pose, looking intently at the dreadlocked man. Benji kept scratching the dog behind the ears, calling her “wise Little Shaman” and giving her treats.
“Benji,” Marilyn said with some exasperation, “You have a giving heart, and that's wonderful. But at some point you need to have limits on how much you give away and to whom.”
Ladybug stood on her hind legs once more, pawing gently at the knee of Benji's worn jeans. He scratched the little dog's head. “The Shaman thinks it's good to give freely. It's unhealthy to become too attached to material possessions.”
Marilyn took a hold of Ladybug and held the little dog tightly on her lap. Ladybug fidgeted, gently trying to paw her way back to their visitor. Marilyn held on firmly. “Benji, this is exactly what I'm talking about. It is wonderful to give freely—but it is also wonderful to set healthy boundaries. At some point you need to ask yourself whether your giving is actually benefiting you and those you give to...or is it hurting you both? This little dog will take advantage of you as long as you let her, but think, Benji! Is that actually good for you? Are the people you keep lending to ever going to learn to be wise with their cash if you keep acting like their personal piggy bank? Is it good for this little dog to keep giving her so many treats?”
The man looked deep into the little pug's eyes. Ladybug gave an obliging burp.
Benji's eyes widened. “Little Shaman, those treats are going to give you a stomachache later, aren't they?”
Ladybug gave Marilyn a sidelong glance and let out a muted whine.
“Thank you for your sacrifice, little Shaman.” Benji said reverently, touching his head to hers. “I understand now. Thank you for the lesson.”
He put his hands together at his heart and bowed his head to the little dog. Ladybug licked her nose and looked up sadly at Benji as he walked away.
Once he was gone, Marilyn grumbled, setting Ladybug down on the floor. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, fooling him. He's had a tough life. You don't need to take advantage of him like that. Also, stop trying to undermine my efforts to teach Benji about setting healthy boundaries.”
Ladybug tilted her head, looking confused but utterly unashamed. Marilyn sighed. “Oh, I'm still just irked at my sister for taking advantage of me, I suppose. I'm not really that mad.”
Not long after Benji had gone, Finley came wandering past the beaded curtain, looking a little lost. Marilyn called out to her. “This is the right place.”
Hesitantly, the young woman stepped in. “I'm sorry I was running a little late today. I had to...”
She trailed off as Ladybug trotted in to inspect the newcomer. Finley glanced at the pug's little silk hat. “Really, Grandma? Isn't this like...an army surplus store?”
Marilyn shrugged, adjusting her own hat. “It is, except on Thursdays.”
Marilyn pulled her granddaughter back to her “office.”
“I keep star-charts, a crystal ball, tarot cards—all the regular things. Some people seem to think that I can't possibly be doing my job without them, though I certainly have some clients who realize that it's all for show.”
Finley folded her arms, skeptical. “But don't people ever try to get you to tell them the future? You can't do that. Right?”
“True, but the industry of fortune telling is notoriously vague, so it doesn't matter.”
Finley glanced at a star-chart out on the table next to Marilyn's crystal ball. “Do you actually know how to read these?”
Marilyn shrugged. “I've skimmed a few books on it.”
The receptionist peeked in. “Carolyn is here.”
“Perfect. Let her know my granddaughter is job shadowing me and have her sign the new waiver.”
The woman bobbed her head, purple hair brushing her shoulders. Finley stared Marilyn down.
“Grandma—why are you doing the mall-psychic thing? You're a licensed therapist.” She whispered.
Marilyn touched her granddaughter’s arm. “We can talk about that later. I want you to try your best to open yourself up to my clients—try to love them. They aren't perfect people, and they have plenty of problems, but the better you try to love them the easier it will be to hear their thoughts.”
Finley stiffened a little and nodded.
First came a blockish-faced blonde woman in leopard print leggings. Finely focused in hard as Marilyn spoke to her at length about her string of bad relationships and spending problems. Marilyn was very kind and soft-spoken, but firm as she (or perhaps the tarot cards) encouraged the woman to use less expensive methods of self-care and put more thought into why she wanted to be in a relationship to begin with. By the end of the session, Finley was rubbing her forehead.
“Any luck, dear?” Marilyn asked kindly.
“No. I could feel what she was feeling, but that's it.”
Marilyn nodded. “That's fine. Keep practicing, but when it gets to be too much, let me know and I'll get you an ice pack and pain killers for the migraines.”
Next came a short, curvy Latina with impeccable English. Her family had recently suffered the loss of one of her brothers in a car accident. The woman was distraught and spoke about the difficulty of being strong for everyone else. Marilyn took off her hat and comforted her and encouraged the woman to allow herself time to grieve as well. She listened carefully and offered her condolences.
Once the woman had left, Marilyn asked Finley again if she had been able to hear any thoughts. Finley shook her head slowly.
“I...I thought maybe for a moment I could sense something.” Finley said carefully. “Like she was very worried for someone's health. Worried sick.”
Marilyn looked at Finley thoughtfully. “That's very interesting. I can confirm that she was very worried for her mother. But you didn't hear her thinking in Spanish?”
Finley shook her head.
Next, an Indian man in a sharp business suit came in. Marilyn pulled out her star charts again and gave him very non-specific advice about various things before honing in on his relationship with his children and encouraging him to spend more time with them. The man seemed puzzled by the advice, but accepted it once Marilyn cited the positions of various planets. As he left, the man shook his head.
“I do not know how you know all these things. Your horoscope readings are very different sometimes from what my brother-in-law says. But your advice is always good.”
Marilyn blushed a little. “Well, the stars...speak differently to me than they do to others.”
Once the man left, Finley giggled. “I guess I'll have to brush up on my horoscope reading.”
Marilyn let out a sigh of relief. “I think I mixed up my planets a little there. I suppose I'd better brush up on it myself. He's on to me. Did you hear any thoughts from him?”
Finley shook her head. “I really can't.”
“He thinks more in pictures—did you see any images in your mind?”
Three more clients came and went before lunch time. Finley asked for the ice pack and medication after the last. Ladybug received a modest kibble and water meal as Finley slumped over in a folding chair. Marilyn rubbed her granddaughter's back.
“That should be enough practice for today, I should think.” She said gently.
Finley sighed. “I don't think I'm going to be able to hear thoughts the way you can.”
“That...could very well be for the best.” Marilyn answered honestly.
Finley's eyes grew distant and disappointed. “I guess. Grandma—why are you doing this? I mean, why not just go back to being a therapist?”
“The people who come here have reasons for not seeking therapy. They're scared of doctors, they don't think they can afford it, or they're just embarrassed. Being here allows me to access a demographic of people who need help more than anyone but who are difficult to get to go to formal therapy. There's nothing to be ashamed of—everyone needs someone to talk to about important matters of the heart, to give sound advice. Everyone needs to be able to express their feelings. It's important for emotional health.”
Finley thoughtfully folded over to rest her chin in her hand. “So...so who does that for you, Grandma? Who do you talk to?”
The question hung in the air like a curtain between them. Marilyn's eyes glazed over briefly, her mouth twitching as if she really wanted to produce an answer, but had none.
“Well, sometimes I would talk to Madelyn...but then there's...mostly Ladybug.” Marilyn finally said lamely.
At the mention of her name, Ladybug peeked out from a sideways cardboard box in a corner. Marilyn furrowed her eyebrows. “Ladybug...are those...MREs?!”
The little pug crouched, letting out a low whine while slowly backing up into the box again. Marilyn marched over and extricated the little dog. “Harold is going to be very cross with me if you eat his MREs. Is that...beef stew?!”
Ladybug licked the sauce from her muzzle, as if hurriedly trying to hide the evidence. Marilyn examined a barely torn tan package of beef stew. “I can't believe you chewed through that. You are a greedy little thing today!”
Finley shrugged awkwardly. “Well, I mean, she is wearing a turban and helping administer therapy right now...so...maybe she feels like she deserves a treat?”
“I bought her a whole bag of treats!” Marilyn complained, setting Ladybug on her cushion. “And I was going to give her one at lunch but now I'm not so sure!”
Ladybug glanced up at Marilyn apologetically and licked at her nose.
Marilyn and Finley got salads and french fries from the food court. Ladybug munched on a couple of dog treats under the table as they talked next to a sandwich booth. The lunch rush was dawning, with small crowds beginning to gather.
“How's the migraine?” Marilyn asked.
Finley winced. “Bad.”
“I'm sorry, dear. Don't try to read anyone else today, alright?”
At the sandwich booth nearby, a woman with short hair angrily raised her voice, and people all around quieted. She was waving a sandwich in the acne-ridden face of a teenage girl in a white company polo. The poor girl looked terrified as the angry customer stared her down.
“This is the worst sandwich I have ever seen!” The woman spat. “Couldn't you feel how dry and hard this bread is?! And your lettuce looks like it's been sitting in the sun all day!”
A few onlookers began whispering, but nobody quite seemed willing to intervene. Tears began forming in the eyes of the sandwich girl, who began looking from side to side for help from her coworkers, who had conveniently disappeared. Finley instantly stood and strode over. She put her hand on the angry woman's shoulder.
The woman jerked around, looking furious, and met Finley's eyes. There was an odd pause as both women took a few breaths.
“I can tell this is a tough day for you.” Finley said carefully to the woman.
The anger seemed to melt from the woman's face in an instant. Finley turned to the teenage girl. “It's alright—I'm sure it's not your fault. You may want to just check your bread though.”
The girl nodded vigorously and retreated.
Finley turned back to the woman with the short hair, who was suddenly blushing and fidgeting.
“Straw that broke the camel's back?” Finley offered.
The woman could only nod, tears welling up in her own eyes now.
Finley patted her back. Behind them, a few of the workers at the sandwich place were poking small baguettes and replacing a tub of lettuce.
“I'm sorry it's a rough day. You should have a break. I think you've been pushing yourself too hard.” Finley said awkwardly.
The woman's shoulders slumped, and she nodded, a few tears escaping. Without warning, she hugged Finley.
“I'm so tired right now.” The woman whispered. “And nothing has gone right today.”
“It's okay to take a break to rest. You have to take care of yourself.” Finley answered sympathetically.
The two parted ways shortly after, the woman making a quick escape to the parking lot, dodging some odd stares. Marilyn eyed Finley approvingly as she slumped back down in her seat.
“That was very impressive, Finley.” Marilyn said, then added, “Your headache will be spectacular tonight.”
Finley grimaced. “I don't know why I always feel like I need to step in.”
Marilyn nodded. “Did you...did you know you could do that then?”
“Um...what? I just did what I always do with my friends.” Finley grumbled, then quietly muttered, “It's why I don't hang out with them anymore.”
“You...you calmed her.” Marilyn said, leaning in. “You were able to soothe her emotions when she was distressed. Finley, I can't do that. Madelyn can't do that. We can change our own emotions around, adjust chemical balances in ourselves...but to be able to calm someone else? That was incredible.”
“It's interesting,” Marilyn continued, “That your abilities are manifesting like that. I can't affect how people are feeling, but I can influence the five senses. Do you...do you think you could make someone feel something they aren't currently feeling, besides calm, if you chose to?”
Finley reddened, eyes beginning to droop. “Yeah, I think I've done that before. I made Jake panic once when I lost my phone. I didn't mean to.”
Marilyn folded her arms and leaned back. “Now that's something.”
Marilyn said good-bye to Finley shortly after, walking her to her car and admonishing her to get lots of rest and to pack her bags for New York. When Marilyn and Ladybug returned to the shop, they saw four more clients before five o'clock. At five o'clock sharp, Robert Byrd strolled in wearing a black blazer and sunglasses.
Marilyn scoffed when she saw the sunglasses. “Don't you trust me by now?”
The well-silvered fox smirked. “I just wanted to make sure I was talking to you and not Madelyn. I'm not sure if you remember, but she hates me.”
Marilyn laughed. “Ha! I suppose she does. Don't worry, I won't let her get you. I suppose you're going to ask me a security question then?”
“Yep. In the last chapter of my novel...”
Marilyn scowled. “NO. I told you that I don't give substantive edits for chapters in which one or more characters are naked, Robert.”
Byrd grinned and took off his sunglasses. “Worth a try.”
Marilyn smiled broadly. “Saturday?”
“Two day layover in Salt Lake City?”
“Just like you asked. Why do you think she went there?”
Marilyn frowned. “Yesterday I received an email from Maddie—it was a pedigree chart. Salt Lake City is one of the best places to go for genealogical help. Even if she wasn't there, I'm curious to see if they can verify what she found.”
“A pedigree chart?”
“Yes, a family tree.”
“Yours?” Robert asked, scratching his head.
Marilyn shook her head soberly. “No. My husband's—Frank's.”