Our big existential conversation had taken up the better part of an hour, ending with her hand on my thigh, and me feeling...okay. About as okay as I'd felt in months. The real world was still real, if that meant anything. I recognized landmarks on the highway we were on, I knew the split at the highway junction where she traveled south—where on my way to a visit a friend in college, I would have gone north.

It was a quiet ride in the back half, and I guess we were both fine with that. It had been a long day—a long evening—and Kayla finally broke the silence when we hit an exit ramp shortly after the junction.

“You hungry?” She asked.

“I could eat,” I say.

“Something specific, or...?”

“You pick,” I tell her. “You're driving.”

“Five Guys,” She says without missing a beat. “I want a burger. You good with that?” I just shrug and nod, watching the commercial strips go by as we drive down a divided four-lane. I don’t really know this town, but Kayla seems to know where she’s going.

“Are we near your place?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Nah, we’ve got another twenty five minutes or so. You wanna hit a Target or something before we go back to my house? Toothbrush, deodorant...whatever?” She grins at me as I’m looking back at her. “You didn’t exactly have a reason to pack an overnight bag,” She laughs. “It’s not as if I don’t have toiletries, but you’re not using my toothbrush, dude.”

I think about how much money I must have left in my account, then I nod.

“Sure. Yeah, that’s--that’s probably a good idea.”

She hooks a left, and when we pull into the parking lot, evening has given way to dusk. We go into the store together, and I recount everything that’s happened so far. She has a vehicle that I rode in. She drove me here. The...automatic door opens for her, as she’s pacing ahead of me. She’s real. Weird and magical, but real. The real world recognizes her as a thing. At least an infrared eye does.

She grabs a cart, and when we go into the store, she makes a beeline to the clothes. The women’s department. The intimates. She’s shuffling through underwear.

“Uh, should I just grab what I need and meet you--” I stutter when she holds up a strapless satin bra to her chest, still on its hanger.

“Black...or beige?” She asks. I can’t help but smile a little.

“,” I say. She tosses the hanger into her cart, and as she’s replacing the beige one, I watch the cart roll forward...on its own. I’d have chalked it up to an uneven surface, but it stops dead at the next rack of control bras and corset-like stuff.

“Ooh, I like this,” Kayla says, pointing to the rack. I watch as one of the red corselette bras lifts, its hanger detaching from the rack and hovering over into Kayla’s hand. My jaw hangs open, and I just stare at this woman as she examines the thing and holds it up against herself, as with the first pair of things. “What do you think?” I think that there’s a million questions I want to ask...but I’m conditioned to my promise a little more now. Magic. The girl is magical, and for now--I just have to accept this.

“I think...there’s a lot of stuff here I wouldn’t mind seeing you in,” I say with as much honesty as I can. She smiles wide now, biting her lip--like she’s got me now. “But, yeah. That looks...really nice.”

“Then we’ll put me in it later,” She says, flinging it into the cart. “So underwear shopping is what it took to loosen you up, hmm?” She pushes the cart with her hands again, leading us through the sleepwear.

“Along with witnessing things my rational mind can’t explain? Yeah,” I laugh. “I’m uh--I’m kind of at your mercy at this point.” I wonder how often she does things like that...if she’s doing it specifically to show off to me, or if it’s a casual thing. Now I’m caught wondering what would have happened to me if I’d left the car travelling at speed. I have some picture in my mind that I would have literally stayed suspended from the road--that Kayla would have somehow held onto me with the same magic and placed me back in the car as easily as she summoned that hanger to her hands. It’s mind-blowing.

“You’d be surprised, Wes,” She shrugs. “People discount themselves so easily. Their minds, their senses, their instinctual conclusions...we’re separated from ourselves by a lot of factors, you know?” She puts a hand on my shoulder as I’m talking next to her. “Pick out some pajamas.”

“For you?” I ask?

“For you, dummy,” She says. “And get the other things you need. Meet me at the dressing rooms.” She raises an eyebrow when she says it, and I can’t help but blush. I just swallow and nod, heading through the other side of the aisle through hosiery and women’s sportswear, which gives way to the men’s department.

Some part of me is still fighting all this--telling me I don’t deserve it. Telling me to walk out of this store and away from this strange and beautiful woman. Telling me I should’ve stopped breathing a couple of hours ago--that I should be at rest at the bottom of a small lake. I’m looping through it, starting to argue with myself about what I’m feeling and seeing here.

I’m absent-mindedly rifling through athletic shorts, looking for my size when I hear it in my head.

Whatever you’d normally do, Wes...reject it.

I stop and look around. It’s her voice, but she’s not next to me. It’s not...something I heard aloud. It was in my head. Coming from my thoughts. And the thoughts from before--the self-destructive thread--is disrupted. I grab a pair of medium shorts and it comes through again.

Come on, Wes. I’m gonna dress up allllll pretty for you, and you’re gonna reciprocate with basketball shorts? I don’t look around this time. I just chuckle to myself and put the things back on the rack. Whatever you’d normally do, Wes...reject it all. Party like you’ve earned a new life.

I keep looking, and I find a sleek pair of grey men's satin pajamas with burgundy piping. I grab them, and a 3-pair box of men's bikini briefs. Because why not.

I'm waiting for her to tell me I’ve done okay, but it never comes. I head to the toiletries to grab my other stuff, and before long I’m back in the women’s department. I find Kayla’s cart and move her things over, dumping my stuff in the front half. I’m hanging out by the cart for a minute when I hear her in my head again.

Second door to your left. I look around, checking if anyone is going to see me go into the changing room. Whatever you’d normally do, Wes...

“I got it, I got it,” I mutter aloud, thinking she can probably hear me. I can’t get used to it. What is she? I dodge into the dressing rooms, knocking on the second door on my left. I hear her sneer.

“Well, obviously it’s me, Wes. Did you think you were just making up my responses in your head?”  I take a deep breath and push the door open, and--god damn. Kayla’s in the strapless satin bra and a pair of gleaming black microfiber panties. She smiles at my reaction.

“Would you fuck me right here?” She asks. My lower lip trembles, and I look around the dressing room, hoping-- “Let’s continue our game. I ask a question, you ask a question.” I blink a couple times, looking at this woman’s body. Her skin is flawless. Her athletic frame is pressing against every inch of what she’s wearing, and I can see her hardening nipples under the black satin--spurred on either by the air-conditioning in this big-box store, or her own excitement.

This time it IS my head repeating the words. I dunno--I can just tell the difference somehow: Whatever you’d normally do...reject it all. Party like you’ve earned a new life. You don’t know what you’ve done to earn it, but,

“Yuh-yeah,” You whisper. “I would fuck you right here.” She pulls me into the dressing room, shirt first, and kisses me. My whole body responds, and I wrap my arms around her as her lips claim supremacy over my own, her tongue dancing into my mouth. She tastes like peach. Probably her lip gloss. Her hair plays over my fingertips, and I instinctively reach for the back of her bra, but I feel my hands pushed away--repelled by something. Her arms are around me, so I have no ideas what’s going on. It’s a strange, alien sensation that surprises me to an extent that I gently fight against it--testing it.

Kayla’s lips detach from mine, and she smacks them, as if she’s savoring every drop of my taste.

“Ooh, he can be trained. Good boy, Wes.” My hands are still reaching for that clasp--but I can’t get there! “Your turn,” she whispers. I look at her gleaming eyes, her playful smile, and I just laugh.

“H--how the fuck are you holding me back?” I ask.

“Magic,” She shrugs, slipping away from me and grabbing her tee. She slips it back on over the new bra as I shake my head, bewitched and totally confused.

“I thought you wanted to fuck me,” I say as quietly as possible. She giggles, biting her bottom lip.

“I asked if you WOULD fuck me here, Wes.” More musical laughter as she sits on the bench, grabbing her pants and pulling them over her new panties. “P.S., you passed the test.” It’s the second time I fell for that one, but obviously my response has been received well this time. She stands up to get her jeans on the rest of the way.

“Why water?” She asks, looking me in the eyes, her face turning serious on a dime. “Why not a gun?” I’m taken aback by the change in tone for a second, but I’m not offended or anything. There’s something we’re building here that I don’t want to fuck up, so try to stuff the defensive reaction I’m about to have--and I just answer the fucking question.

“I, uh...wanted to disappear completely,” I said. “It’s why I didn’t take an Uber out there, or drive a car, you know?” She squints a little, nodding her head. “I didn’t want to make a scene or have people thinking I was trying to send a message. It wasn’t about that. I’m not...angry at any of them. At anything, really. I just wanted to disappear.” She looks at me knowingly, grabbing the back of my neck and pulling me in, kissing me on the cheek.

“You are as present now as I’ve ever seen you,” She says, letting me go again and putting her shoes on. “You’re up.”

I shake my head, watching her put on her chucks. This fucking girl. This goofy, spontaneous, beautiful young woman. She’s pulling the laces and doing bunny ears--and then it hits me.

“How old are you?” I ask.

“Ah-ha…” She grins. “I’m caught.” I guess I’m expecting her to say a hundred, or five thousand or something. “I’m twenty, Wes.” She puts a finger up to her lips, smiling.

“Fucking twenty?” I say. She’s laughing again.

“Oh, god--that never fucking gets old,” She says. “Yes, twenty. January 5th, 2015.” She sighs. “So like--don’t call the liquor control board when we get to my apartment, okay?”

“Deal. Do you have a job?” I ask immediately.

“My turn!” She says. I give her a smug little smile, shaking my head.

“Uh-uh. You asked me not to call the control board on you. I said ‘deal’.” She throws her old pair of panties in my face in response, and I catch her scent before I grab them. My body reacts accordingly, though I pretend to be annoyed. “Well?”

“Yeah,” She says, taking a deep breath. “I do have a job.” I can tell I’ve hit something there. (Finally!) “Did you quit your most recent one?” She asks. I nod.

“Uh huh. All part of the big stupid plan,” I offer. She holds up her discarded bra and panties to me. “You wanna keep these?” It’s a naughty grin now, and my silly little victory with her information game has me a little emboldened--and instead of feigning disgust, I follow the dirty little trail of breadcrumbs.

“Yeah, I kinda do,” I laugh--biting my own lip. Her mouth drops in disbelief, and she gives me a playfully slight slap on the face as she drops them into her purse.

“I’ll just keep them for now so you don’t have to carry them out of here, dirty little boy,” she says.

She heads out of the dressing room, and as we get back to the cart, it pushes forward on its own again. I sneer at the impossible sight of it, and I know she sees me react...but she doesn’t pay it any mind. I wanna ask about it, but I know her one-word answer--and I know I can’t ask a follow up about it.

“Kayla--are you, um...taking those?” I ask, snapping the backstrap of her bra.

“Of course I am. You can’t try on panties and put them back,” She laughs. “Look, I know what you mean. Here--I do it all the time.” She presents the tags for both items, gripping them in her hand and showing them both to me. “If it’s something I never need to do, it’s steal,” She says, shaking her head. “You’ve never worn new shoes home?”

“Sure, I just thought--hooh!” I’m stopped dead as I reach behind myself, where my underwear has bunched up. A fucking wedgie? Kayla’s three steps ahead of me, grinning back at me like a fool as she puts her hands on the cart now.

“Something wrong with your clothes?” She asks. I dig down into the seat of my jeans, stopping before we get to the main aisle. I’m able to pull it out, and I just stare at her, in shock. She is literally a telekinetic--among other things.

“You know damn well there is, because you did it,” I say. She can’t stop herself from giggling, and she puts a hand over her mouth.

“You’re one for two on the accusations,” She says, heading toward the checkouts. “Cool, huh?” I shake my head and just stare at her in awe. I have no idea what’s going on here--and I wonder, again,  if this is the afterlife. Or if I somehow climbed into that water--and if all this is some compressed experience exhibited by my mind’s coping mechanism for the last five minutes of my consciousness. Kayla stops, her eyes half-closed as she looks up at me. She stares me down for a second, and I can feel a distance glance of someone down the main aisle looking at us both.

“You were a dead man a few hours ago, Wes--but you’re not dead. We’re in a Target about 15 miles from my place. We’re going to get some fuckin’ Five Guys, and eat sloppy gut-filling food and drink at my place. We’re going to wear PJs and lounge in stupor until I say otherwise, because you belong to me now.” She points at my chest. “You-are-alive,” she says, punctuating each word with a poke. “Your life..belongs to me.” She puts both hands on my chest and kisses me sweetly on the lips, and I’m dumbfounded. I smile a little, and my eyes get glossy.

I’m not fucking trying to get emotional, but I can’t help it. I wanna cry a little. Why is this happening to me? How many people off themselves, alone with their thoughts with no one to stop them--no magical pixie wandering down a trail and stifling their plans until they give in? Why do I get a second chance here?

“Because it’s the way things work, Wes,” Kayla says. “I like you, Wes. I like you...a lot. But the way you put it in your head just now? It’s not really about you. Not exactly.” She clasps my hand and places it on the cart handle as we approach the checkout. “It’s just the way things work.”

The swell of emotion passes--not because I fight it, but because I let it happen. I hear her words, and I get them. At least at some level. I have no idea what the long game is here, and I’m starting to be okay with that. She’s right. For now, I belong to her.

The clerk checking us out takes Kayla’s items. I try to seperate mine, but she ignores the gesture and tells the woman everything’s together. I wonder for a minute of there’s a glow or something about us, because the woman across from us--a thirty-something with a wedding band--simply has a strange, slight smile on her face. It’s like she recognizes something, but she doesn’t say anything beyond her occupational conservation.

I watch Kayla pull out a pocketbook from her purse, and sure as shit--she has a license. A debit card. A fucking credit card. Other laminated odds and ends. A fucking fortune from a fortune cookie. She is twenty. It’s beyond my comprehension. Whatever else she is, I have no fucking explanation.

I’m starting to be okay with that, too.