Gerry packed his remaining clothes into his uncle’s faded green military duffel bag. He took his time, though, carefully re-folding each garment and laying it into the base of the sack. He knew Mandy didn’t want him to leave for military college–he didn’t want to leave her either. Mandy was the best friend he’d ever known, and she’d been there for him through it all–especially the last two years since the accident at the construction site. If she hadn’t been there for him then, encouraging him, he might not be able to understand his powers as he does now, with such clarity and command.
Mandy waited with Gerry in silent contemplation, staring at the things in his room that had been such a staple part of their lives. She wished so much that he didn’t have to go. After all, she made her father angry when she put off a scholarship for college a full year so they wouldn’t be apart during his senior year of high school. She stayed for him, out of love, and, well, because he saved her life.
She continued to wander around his room, stopping occasionally to pick up an odd picture, or one of their favorite records, and every so often her eyes would grow misty. Then she would sigh. They just didn’t know what to say to each other, so the contemplative silence continued.
Truthfully, the prospect of officer’s college sort of scared Gerry as well. But with the military conflict in Vietnam looming, his Uncle Pete–a war veteran himself–believed that having advanced military training and volunteering for service would be far better than simply being drafted into the war, and that sort of logic made perfect sense to Gerry. “Put in your service, and be the best you can be, then come home; don’t be drafted, sent out with nothing but basic training, and be wounded or worse, all as an unwilling pawn,” Uncle Pete would say gruffly. This usually made Aunt May roll her eyes when the conversation came up at the dinner table, which would make the young man grin. But Gerry bought into that ideal, and today it was the only thing keeping him calm and collected.
Mandy picked up a picture of the two of them, arms around each other, sitting on the south bridge over Howard’s Brook. She chuckled, and he glanced over at her.
“Uh, I think Aunt May took that one,” he said flatly.
“No, you did,” she fired back. “I remember that day,” she continued with her eyebrows raised. “That was the day you finally figured out how to hold a camera still in the air, and move its moving parts without dropping it.”
Gerry chuckled. “Huh, you’re right. I remember that now.” He tilted his head to the side with mock pride, and added, “Well, I was always better at shifting matter around in my own body than I was at manipulating matter at a distance.”
“Yeah, I got sick of hearing you curse every time you dropped a camera. I don’t think my mom ever forgave you for breaking her Polaroid.” They both laughed.
“I think that was the same day I took us out to dinner at Radicio’s Grill. Remember? I shifted into Radicio’s manager and told the hostess to give you and your date who was running late a free meal at the ‘best table in the house.’ Wow, that was a great day.” Gerry smiled widely, and stopped packing to walk over and take the picture. “I have to take this with me too,” he added, still smiling.
Mandy looked into his eyes. “What are you going to do about your shifting when you get to officer’s school? You’ve got an amazing gift, Gerry. I know we’ve been calling it ‘shifting,’ but whatever it really is, it’s a remarkable ability. You could help people; you could save lives.”
“Shifting,” Gerry chuckled. “I think you came up with that name too.” He let out a sigh as he stuffed the picture frame into his bag. “I’ve thought a lot about this too, Mandy, and I just don’t think I should tell other people what I can do. I want to help people if I can, but. . . .” He sighed again, searching for the right words. “It’s just that I can imagine what would happen if this got out. They’d use me, Mandy. Dissect me. I wouldn’t be able to help the people that needed helping, unless I lived my life on the run. I can’t do that.”
“You’ve been listening to your Uncle too much,” she replied with a sigh. She continued with more authority in her tone. “You’ve got to put more faith in people. Let’s face it, Gerry; you can shift into anyone you see. When you shift you look and feel exactly like them. You can even shift into objects nearly your size. I. . .”
“I know–you used to call me ‘The Imitator,’ remember?” Gerry interjected, jokingly.
“Yes, I remember.” Mandy sighed. She didn’t want to joke any more. “I’m just saying that it’s one thing to look like any man–anything–you want, but don’t confuse that with actually understanding everyone. You’re a loner as it is, and I’m worried that you hiding your abilities will make you feel separated from norm–. . . from people who can’t do what you can do. Until now you’ve had me, but now you have to leave. You’re really going to be on your own, Gerry.”
Normal people. He sighed. Really, though, that word didn’t bother him any more. And she was right. He did keep his distance from people. He liked watching them, observing, waiting. He was great atimitating them. He was profoundly gifted with acting just like anyone. But the only person he’d really ever connected to was Amanda. Suddenly, he realized how much he was going to miss her.
They continued their nostalgic trips down memory lane, until finally it was time for Gerry to go. Uncle Pete was calling him down. Mandy and Gerry kissed as if they would never see each other again, and then headed toward the hallway. Gerry took one last look at his room, and then headed down the stairs after Mandy. Aunt May hugged him, and then took Mandy in her arm. “You’ve already made me proud,” she said. “Now go make yourself proud, Gerry.” He climbed in the passenger seat next to his Uncle and had to use his power to hold back the tears.
During the car ride to Quantico, Virginia, Uncle Pete was mostly quiet, but gave Gerry several pep talks about the responsibilities of being an officer and a “Watson.” It wasn’t until they crossed the Virginia border that Gerry’s uncle finally addressed the topic he had been avoiding for the entire trip–Gerry’s powers.
“You’re like a son to me, Gerry. I want you to know that I’m thankful every day for what you did to save me; I’m thankful for your gifts. But you need to keep them secret. It’s one thing to be trusting of people, but there’s such a thing as too much trust. People. . . well, people wouldn’t be able to see you as normal because you’re not like them and that scares them. And because of that, people would use your abilities at your own expense. That’s my advice, son, but you’re a man now–a Watson. You’ve got your own decisions to make; just know I’ll support you.”
“Thanks, Uncle Pete. That means a lot,” Gerry replied.
“You’ll enjoy being an officer in the Marine Corps, Gerry,” Pete said, changing the subject with a clearing of his throat. “I know you’ll do well.”
Gerry smiled but didn’t reply. He made a vow to himself instead. He had spent the past two years of his life learning how to skillfully manipulate matter, shifting and honing his powers to remarkable proficiency. During boot camp and military school, he vowed to himself to see what talents he could achieve without using his powers to manipulate matter. He decided that it wasn’t enough just to have power, he needed to be the best at something regardless of his power. And that’s just what he planned to do. . . .
TO BE CONTINUED. . .