Chapter Two: New Things
Emily tensed. She liked it. She usually didn't like strangers touching her but this...felt nice. Like, really nice. Tammy's touch was like a thin sheen of angel feathers softly pressing to her skin. It was only a moment before Tammy disengaged.
"I hypnotized you," the introvert grinned, "And made you...well...I guess 'made' isn't the right word. Probably? It depends." Emily glared, trying to hide that she honestly felt more flustered than upset.
"Okay, okay," Tammy splayed her palms in the air like she was gesturing for someone to stop approaching. "Well, actually...which part do you want explained?"
"What do you mean, which part?"
"Well…" Tammy looked out her little window, lost in thoughts. "I did...a lot just now. I don't know what I'm being asked to explain." Emily huffed with irritation.
"Fine. What do you mean, you didn't make me?" Tammy nodded.
"Well...hypnosis is like conversation but, like, on steroids. I can't actually snap my fingers and tell you you can fly and you be able to fly."
"Obviously." Tammy took the interruption in stride.
"Yeah. Anyway, it's fairly common knowledge even to outsiders that hypnosis also can't make you do anything you don't want to. And that's...mostly true. For instance, here, I didn't force you to like being touched. I told you to do it, and you did. But if you'd been strongly averse to it, that suggestion would have failed." Emily ran a hand through her hair.
"So...what? You're telling me I secretly wanted that?"
"I'm saying you didn't not want it all that strongly." An awkward pause. "Sorry if I...breached anything just now." There was a sense of genuine, heavy dread and regret in Tammy's voice that took Emily for a loop. Why'd she sound so upset? "Normally we do a briefing first. Explain how everything works, learn your boundaries so we don't accidentally cross them, that sort of thing."
"I thought you said you couldn't," Emily practically spat. Tammy sighed.
"Well...have you read MacBeth?" Emily resisted the urge to curse her out for that seemingly disconnected question and instead settled for shaking her head no. "Damn. Well, uh...let's say there's a guy named Dave, right? Dave really likes chocolate, but he's...I dunno. Allergic or cursed or something." This metaphor was stupid. "If he eats it he gets really sick. You follow?"
"Yeah. Sure." Emily crossed her arms and looked cross. She was cross. The tone of her voice rang aggressively with impatience.
"So...Dave would never eat chocolate, normally, cause it could kill him. But if he was hypnotized, someone might be able to convince him to. Or repress the memory that it'll hurt him. And in that case, I think it'd be scummy to blame him and not the hypnotist. Don't you?"
Emily was starting to get it, and something else was occurring to her. The explanation made sense, but she'd also been surprised by Tammy's voice: there was genuine care and anger in it. "Y...yeah. I guess so."
"So like, let's say you really took poorly to a suggestion. Even entranced, you can still say no. You should say no, if you ever want to. But someone with ill intent...a lot of the time they can get around a subject's objections if they want to. It varies from person to person how well that works, of course. With some people, you have to take extra care not to do it by accident. " Tammy seemed to realize she was rambling. "In any case, yes and no. You can't make someone do something they never would, but it can make pressuring them into stuff much easier. Does that make sense?" Emily sighed.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. You hypnotized me and made me like contact with you. Now get out of my room." Tammy rolled her eyes at the rejection and left.
The next week was normal, but...awkward. Something about that hug had stuck in Emily's mind. She recalled feeling...safe, she supposed? And it infuriated her. Tammy was some awkward stranger. Tammy didn't know her! Emily had zero reason to feel anything but annoyance and mistrust. They'd opened up her mind...albeit consensually...and something about that excited her. Which it shouldn't!
The days went by. Monday, Tuesday, class, Wednesday, Thursday, class. She tried to force herself not to think about her encounter the previous week but the memory kept bubbling up against her wishes and completely without warning. Tammy's arms, soft and gentle and caring. The girl's voice, sweet and tender. She remembered how vulnerable she'd felt and...how...that was okay. She tried escaping into her classwork but it was only the second week of class and there was barely any to be done.
It was Friday again. She was eating lunch alone as she did from time to time, in a booth on the corner of the little cafe attached to the university's cafeteria. She was just finishing a sandwich when Fara, a middle and high school buddy of hers, sat at her table. Emily felt a certain tension hang over her as the girl glared daggers. What had she done? They'd never spoken since sophomore year!
"Hi," Emily nervously managed to say. Her mouth was suddenly dry and uncomfortable. She hated it. "What...are...you doing here?"
"I heard about what you did to Tammy." It was like Emily had been punched in the face. What the hell was this!?
"Wh-what do you mean, what I did?" Emily attempted to deflect. "She uh, hypnotized me a little to prove a point, what do-"
"You were RUDE to her." A weird chill hit Emily all at once like an ice bucket had been dumped on her. Why did Fara care?
"Oh...kay? And what's it to you? Did she tell you to-"
"No. Because she's not interested in petty middle school bullshit." Okayyyy, Emily thought to herself, she was clearly missing something. Also, sort of rich for Fara to be saying that right now.
"What…" she chose her next words carefully. "What's wrong, Fara?"
"I'm watching you." Fara growled. "She's my friend. If you hurt her I'll never forgive you."
"Hurt her?" Emily laughed nervously, which had always defused tension effectively with Fara as children. Her stone cold face of naked hostility informed Emily that, no, it wouldn't be working now.
"I don't know. " Fara glowered. Emily remembered she had always been protective and territorial. That's part of why they'd stopped talking. So Tammy was her replacement, were they? "But she's wonderful and kind and you hurt everyone you get involved with." Emily tried not to laugh, but she did roll her eyes and twist her lips into a condescending smile.
"Whatever, Fara. You almost sound like you have a crush on her." Fara's face scrunched up like an angry dog.
Oh. That made sense.
"I-" Fara stood up. So did Emily, or at least she tried. She had to awkwardly shuffle out from between the booth and the table. "I'm sorry, I-"
"Shut it." Fara's eyes burned angrily. "I'm not telling you who you can and can't be around. I'm not your mother. I'm done here." The girl stormed off. Emily made to follow but could only make it one step out from the table with her arm outstretched before Fara was out the door. She slumped back into the seat.
That was probably why they'd drifted apart, too. Emily finished the rest of her food in silence, and got to leave when-
"Hey." It was Tammy. Emily narrowed her eyes. Had they come to taunt her? To gloat over the friend they'd taken from-
"Sorry she blew up in public like that." Emily froze. It was all she could do to keep her jaw from dropping open. What did she mean, sorry?
"Why would-you-you don't control what she does! You...don't, do you?" Tammy shook her head and averted her eyes.
"No. Can't do that. I've been trying to get her to reach out to you recently, actually. Didn't realize you were the old friend she was talking about." Emily had to have heard that wrong. Tammy had been...what? Emily suddenly realized what a public venue the cafeteria was.
"You. Me. Fregri, Room 213. NOW." She growled.
Tammy was visibly nervous.
"Uh...should we really be here?"
"No." Emily shut the door to the classroom and locked it.
"Then WHY are-wait, why do you...have that?"
Emily put the old, worn key in her purse. Room 213 of the Fregri building was an old, small classroom that rarely saw use on a floor where, coincidentally, no classes were taught this year for large swaths of the day on Fridays. It was musty, but it was private.
"I was a teacher's aide last semester. Forgot to return it." She lied. "What's going on. Explain." Tammy sighed and stretched.
"Well...your, um...friend? She's...one of my subs."
"One of your WHA-"
"Quiet!" Squealed Tammy with genuine distress in her voice. "Let me finish!" They looked a bit like a frightened cat, so Emily obliged. "She...told me she had an old friend she used to like. Everything she told me about her relationship with them sounded so cute and sweet so I tried to get her to reach out to them, but...then this happened."
"So Fara had a crush on me." Tammy's eyes dilated immediately. Her mouth hung open and she put hands over her mouth.
"I didn't-shit! I didn't know you-that I-fuck! Damnit damnit DAMNIT!" Tammy was practically crying now, clutching at her head and freaking out. "Please don't tell her, fuck, fuck me I always do this nooo shit god DAMNIT-" Emily reached out to hold the other girl's shoulder but Tammy swatted her head away. Emily started talking.
"Don't...it's okay. I'd figure it out sooner or later based on...today. Alright?" Tammy seemed to calm down, nodding her head and wiping at her face. To Emily's astonishment, all signs of that meltdown-redness in her face, blurriness in her eyes, uncomfortable facial expressions-vanished in under a minute. It was impossible to tell and if she hadn't seen it she'd feel doubtful it happened. "What the-your face!"
"Oh, that? Haha. Yeah. When I stop crying my face goes back to normal really quickly." Tammy did a nervous laugh of her own and waved her hand. Then she laughed again, more genuinely. "It was the first thing my councilor noticed about me in high school." Well...that wasn't nearly as funny as Tammy seemed to think it was.
"I...want to make it up to you," Emily sputtered. "And-to her." Tammy squinted warily.
"Not sure you can, buddy. That bridge seems to be up in smoke."
"Make me forget!" Emily blurted out. Tammy raised an eyebrow. "Make me forget you tipped me off!"
"I...probably can't. Memory is tough-"
"I don't care! Try! Please!" Emily felt way more upset than she felt like she ought to. Why? What was the problem?
"Alright," Tammy sighed. "Here and now or at my dorm?" Emily frowned. She couldn't really relax here. "At your dorm, but...maybe after practice?"
"Yeah." Emily smiled slightly. "Cheer practice is five to nine today. Or rather, auditions are." Tammy shrugged.
"Alright. I'll see you in my room. One of my subs gave you my number?"
"You keep using that word-"
"I'll explain then! Now let me out. I feel like you're holding me for ransom." Right, Emily recalled, even from the inside you couldn't open locked doors in the Fregri building without unlocking them first. She sheepishly did so and watched Tammy slink away. Then the guilt came crawling back.
Cheer auditions were hell. She was a returning member and thus basically only had to show up, but she was so distracted she was sure everybody else was staring. Judging. Every pirouette that she gave, every forced smile, was mechanical and she could feel her body missing steps and botching landings. Everybody gave her the usual polite grins teammates give each other on a bad day but she knew better. Those smiles were those of piranha, hungry and malicious and glinting with sadism.
She ended her routine in a split and shook a pom pom over her head. Her face contorted into a spirited look of artificial joy and her squadmates applauded. As she stumbled off to the side she could already hear her father screaming her down from across the phone that she'd screwed up, that he was ashamed of her and-
"You okay?" Asked Marshall. She had a first name but her last name was Marshall, and it was a cool-ass last name so that's what everyone called her. Her skinny, tight frame and black skin contrasted Emily's light, curvy but toned one.
"I'm...fine," she panted. It was an unconvincing lie and Marshall wasn't having it.
"You know Emily, just because we're cheerleaders doesn't mean we're all like-"
"I'm fine, Emily insisted. "I don't need your help, even if I appreciate your offer." Marshall arched one eyebrow in obvious disbelief.
"Emily, you definitely aren't. Your hair is messier than usual and it looks like you didn't do your makeup."
Shit! Had everyone been mocking her before she even started performing!? No, no, no! If Marshall could see it then everyone could!
"Oh, really?" She gave her best impression of an awkward smile. "I totally forgot, oops! Silly me!" Marshall was visibly upset but...not in an angry way. In a sad way.
"Okay...if you say so. You have friends here, okay?" Emily nodded, even though Marshall was definitely mocking her. Anything to get away faster.
"Thank you." Lied Emily. Was Marshall convinced? She seemed to be. The coach called Marshall's name and they seemed hesitant to leave. "Good luck Marshall!" They nodded and ran out onto the basketball court where they performed.
After practice Emily saw that Tammy had texted her a room number and the name of a building. She didn't need the latter, on account of knowing where Chris was, but the room number helped. She struggled through the usual post-practice niceties with the cheer squad, congratulating the new people and tactfully shrugging off praise from her in-group, and was on the way to Chris' building soon after.
When she got to the right door she grimaced. Most of Chris' floor took less after him and more after your teenage drama's jocks. But like, the obnoxious sexually aggressive version that actually existed. She knocked on the door and it wasn't long before she was let in.
The first thing she noticed was the posters. Tammy had three posters set on the bizarrely tall walls of her room, two of which were nerd shit she didn't understand but one of which was an adorable picture of a kitty pawing at a paintbrush. Emily started to squeal at it...then remembered she was with company and immediately regained composure by force-disguising the weird inhale she'd done as clearing her throat.
"Hi, Tammy," she said while hiding how flustered she felt. She was slipping.
"Hiiii," Tammy answered, her voice awkward and cautious. She was clearly put off. Damn, she was so freaked out this stranger could see it? Emily took a long, deep breath through her nostrils and regained some of her composure.
"Shall we begin?"
"I suppose," Tammy seemed stressed, "but we should really brief properly this-"
"No. I know all I need to." Emily hopped into Tammy's bed and sat there, eyes confident. "Trance me."
"The usual terminology here would be 'put me under,'" Tammy snarked as she rolled her eyes. "But really, this can be-"
"You're doing as I ask, no?" Emily practically hissed. "I'm your employer. I'm the one taking risks here."
"Well, you're not paying me," Tammy jabbed. "But fine. Take a nice deep breath. Close your eyes." Emily did as she was told. For some reason, it wasn't relaxing like it was last time.
"You're doing it wrong."
"I'm-!?" Tammy's jaw fell agape, not that Emily could see it. "How would YOU know?"
"It was better last time!" Emily grumbled. "You figure it out." There was an uncomfortable pause. She had probably hurt Tammy's feelings. She went to apologize and-
"Should I do it more like this?" Tammy's voice was suddenly in that sweet, lilting tone again. A chill spiked down Emily's spine, melting her as it went.
"Yes, what, sweetie? Be polite." A soft hand began to trail long nails across Emily's spi-jesus fuck that felt gooood.
"Y-yes, please," Emily whimpered. Her anger was swiftly retreating. An arm went around her waist, pulled her against Tammy. It felt good. Not angelic like the previous night but-
"Shhhhh." Tammy stroked Emily's hair. "You must be soooooo stressed. Your face is all scrunched up," she stroked it lovingly, "Let it relaaaax as you sink, and breathe, juuuuust like that, sink, breathe, listen, drop, gooood, gooood," Tammy purred. Emily sank into the hypnotist's soft comfy body. Her brain was getting...quieter...laxer…
"No need to strain your brain cause there's only pain to gain, riiight?" Emily uselessly nodded her head, not entirely aware of how limp she was getting. "Now, three...two...one!" A snap.
"Are you under?" Tammy asked, somewhat impatiently. She didn't usually have to try to go "in character" but she didn't usually extend her talent to people pissing her off.
"Yesssss," moaned Emily. "Feels...goood.." the half-conscious cheerleader snuggled up against Tammy's body and against her best judgment she felt some of her anger disappear.
Why'd she have to be so damn pretty!?
"Why'd you come up with this?"
"Wanna...not hurt Fara." The girl sounded stressed.
"Shhhh, shhhh," Tammy patted her head. She settled back down. Tammy thought for a moment how to do this and decided to get straight to the point. But...there was definitely also a lot to unpack here. Emily was acting...weird. Not that she knew how a popular cheerleader would normally act, but she knew, or at least she thought she knew, that this wasn't normal behavior. An idea popped into her head that would let her dissect the girl's motives and do as she'd been tasked to do at the same time.
"Okay, Emily, I want you to picture a book, okay? In your mind." They nodded weakly. "Picture it as vividly as you can. A nice, thick book. And whenever you hear a question, the answer writes itself in that book. Okay?" Emily's eyes fluttered half open and she put up her palms like she was staring dopey-eyed at a big leather tome that they held.
"Kay. Now. The answers don't reflect on you. You don't have to consider what they mean. They don't make you bad. You're juuuust reading a book, right?"
For a moment Tammy hesitated. This...felt wrong. She was helping one of her subs. Protecting them, even! She'd gotten into fistfights over less, and Emily wouldn't even be hurt!
"You're not a doctor," she could almost hear her father saying, "you don't owe people help." She shook her head. She wouldn't allow him to define her actions, one way OR the other.
"Now," she started, "each time it writes an answer you'll read it out loud. It'll go right from the book to your lips. You won't even be able to judge or untangle it because it'll skip your brain entirely right?"
"Riiiight," she answered. Tammy braced herself.
"Okay. Why did you suggest this specific solution?"
"Feels good," Emily blankly recited. "Trance feels nice."
"Trusssst," Emily smiled. "Lowering guard feels good. Trust feels good. Don't want to be scared all the time."
Oh. That...that explained a lot. Tammy frowned. She shouldn't do this, but…
"Can you go to therapy?"
"No. Dad hates therapists." Well, fuck. That was unfortunate. Tammy unwittingly held Emily's limp body closer.
"Do you trust me?"
"Only...while I'm under." Emily sighed happily. "Being under feels good. Trusting you feels good. Being cared about feels good." Wait…
"Do other people care about you?" Tammy asked, already terrified of the answer.
"No." Emily responded, with a matter of fact-ness that would be better suited quantifying an amount of fish. "People say they do. I don't believe them."
"You think they're lying?"
"No. Don't analyze it that much. Just don't think they do."
Tammy held close.
"Do...do you think I care about you?"
"No idea why you would," Emily answered.
"Okay," said Tammy, "Do you remember what it is that you wanna forget?"
"Okay." Emily drew a square on the "book" with her finger. "Imagine the information is in here, kay?"
"Good." Tammy smiled. "Now, this page is where it's kept. Can you internalize that?" Emily nodded. "Good girl." Tammy kissed Emily's hair. "Now, you have to find this page to access the info on it right?" More nodding. "Good. And now," Tammy made a motion like she was folding something. "The page is folded together with the one in front of it. What's that page say?"
"I trust you…" murmured Emily. "I trust you. Trusting you feels good."
"Oh, uh," Tammy blushed crimson. It hit her that she shouldn't be surprised-it was the only other thing they'd talked about this session. "Swap that page for-"
"No." Emily tensed a little.
"No!" Emily seemed genuinely upset. The relaxed parts of her face started to tense and tighten again as she lifted her head in protest, "You said I should say no if-"
"Okay, okay, that page can stay. Good girl." Her brain took things literally enough, it seemed, that the little information bypass she'd set up only applied to questions. Good thing, too. "Keep that page, goood girl. You're right, you should say no if you want to. Good girl." She stroked Emily's hair. Emily sort of drunkenly rocked back and forth in an idle show of pride and joy,her face relaxing again and her head sloooowly lowering itself back into Tammy's chest.
It was REALLY fucking cute.
"Okay, so," Tammy was blushing harder,"the pages are dog-eared together. Trying to get information from either will only give you what's on the page about me. When you try to recall what you learned about Fara, what will you remember instead?"
"Trust you…" Emily smiled. "Trusting you...good…" Tammy patted her head.
"Good girl. Now, one more question. Why do you like my voice so much?"
"Hot," Emily shivered. "Powerful and seductressy and caring. I like it a looooot," was she-she was drooling. Okay, that was...a development. Tammy blushed really hard.
"I-I thought you were straight. You're bi?"
"No," Emily trilled, "straight."
"Okay. So it's just my voice?"
"No idea. But your voice is hoooot." At this point Tammy was squirming. So was Emily, slightly.
"So…" well, this was useless. Tammy wasn't going to get anywhere like this. It was a conversation they'd have to have while conscious. Speaking of conscious…"You've had a rough day, looks like. Want a nap?"
Emily woke up. She didn't know how long she'd been out but she knew she had tried to forget something.
Forget what? It was…ohhh, she liked Tammy. She trusted Tammy.
Wait...was that right? Had Tammy planted that there? No...somehow it felt like she hadn't. Then what was it doing in her head! She started to get up, then realized she was tucked in. A big, fuzzy, weirdly heavy blanket was on top of her. A soft pillow was under her head. A device on Tammy's end table played a soothing ambience of rain sounds.
Had they done all that for…?