Lori sat in the front of the school, waiting for her mother to pick her up. Riah had been giving her a rundown on how many people had been unable to avoid staring at her. Was Riah doing something to make her more appealing, or was she really that attractive when her hair and makeup were done properly?
"Closet lesbian," Riah commented, nodding toward a freshman who was walking past them. The girl had been unconsciously staring at Lori with a slight blush to her cheeks. When she finally realized Lori was looking back at her, her face turned bright red and she hurriedly looked away.
"You think?" Lori asked doubtfully.
"Definitely," Riah replied firmly. "The other lesbians are probably too scared to come out, after seeing what happens to you on a daily basis."
"I remember life before disclosure," Lori reminisced with a faint smile. "I was actually fairly high on the social ladder before I came out."
"All right, bitch," Amanda's voice spat as she and her bitch-squad walked over to surround her. "It's collection time."
"Do you mind if I borrow your body for a minute?" Riah asked Lori in a whisper.
"Have at it," Lori replied nervously, hoping the small goddess would just fly them out of there.
Thanks, Riah's voice spoke inside her head. Now let's teach these bullies a lesson they'll never forget.
Lori felt like a backseat driver as she watched Riah operate her body. Two members of the bitch-squad had just grabbed her arms from behind while Amanda stood inches from her face. With a sneer, Amanda balled up her fist and punched at Lori's stomach. Before the blow could land, Lori's body did some kind of acrobatic maneuver that launched her feet up into the air where they connected with Amanda's face. There was a loud cracking sound, followed by blood spurting from the lead cheerleader's face. As soon as Lori's feet touched the ground, she kicked the knees of the girls holding her from behind in quick succession. Their howls of pain combined with Amanda's as Lori spun about to face the rest of the bitch-squad.
Two more girls rushed her, looking for all the world like offensive linebackers trying to take down the quarterback. Lori's body shifted almost casually, causing the girls to charge through the space she had just vacated. She kicked the first girl's foot behind her other leg, and the girl sprawled into her companion with a howl of pain as her arm landed wrong.
Riah turned Lori's body to face the remaining half dozen girls in the bitch-squad with a raised eyebrow. They didn't seem in any hurry to have their faces broken. They stood in shock as they witnessed the sudden blitzkrieg of violence carried out by the small girl. Lori's body took a firm step toward the remaining members of the bitch-squad. They turned and fled, their eyes filled with a sudden fear as they tried to figure out who the sudden stranger was in their midst.
"It's all yours," Riah's voice announced from her own body with a satisfied grin. "Your mom's here."
Lori turned to see her mom in the driver seat of their Prius, watching her incredulously. Lori hurriedly ran over and climbed into the back seat of the car before her mother could come out and investigate the carnage.
"Lori, what just happened?" her mother asked in a slightly strangled voice.
"The bitch-squad tried to jump me," Lori told her truthfully. "We should probably leave soon, before some teacher shows up and starts assigning blame."
Her mother gave herself a small jerk, then put the car back in drive and pulled out. "Since when did you become a martial arts expert?"
"I'm not sure," Lori replied uncomfortably. She didn't like lying to her mom. "I just sort of responded naturally to their attack. Maybe I've watched too many Jackie Chan movies, and they've rubbed off on me."
"I feel like your hiding something from me," her mother said with an inquisitive look in the rearview mirror. Lori could see a hurt look in her mother's eyes; they never kept any secrets from each other. Her mother had only been seventeen when Lori was born. The small age gap between their generations made it easier for her to relate with her mother.
"I have been keeping a secret from you, mom," Lori admitted with a sigh. "I was afraid to tell you because it sounds so crazy. I didn't want you to worry any more than you already do."
Her mother's eyes softened and the hurt look vanished. "Lori, you don't need to worry about how I'll react. No matter what happens, I will always be on your side. You can tell me anything, regardless of how crazy it sounds, and I'll trust your judgment."
Lori looked at Riah questioningly. The lavender-eyed goddess nodded her head with an encouraging smile. Lori looked back at her mother's reflection in the rearview mirror and took a deep breath.
"Do you remember how you heard two voices this morning when I was getting ready?" Lori asked quietly.
"Yes…I thought you were talking on the phone to someone," her mother said slowly. "I thought you might have met someone, since you've never spent any time on the phone before."
"Well, I did meet someone," Lori told her with a half-smile. "Last night, I tried to slit my wrists with that razor blade. Right when I started to make the first cut, a hand closed over mine and took the razor blade away. Her name is Riah, and she has been with me nonstop since last night. She is a goddess of some kind, though she is kind of vague about what it is she does."
"Okay, that was definitely unexpected," her mother admitted with searching look. She pulled into their drive way, but didn't get out of the car. Instead, she turned in the driver seat to face Lori. "Can you see Riah right now?"
"Yes," Lori confirmed with a nod, watching her mother carefully. She had a 'walking on eggshells' look to her face as she studied her daughter concernedly.
"Why can't anybody else see her?" her mother asked tentatively. "Is she only visible to you?"
"For today," Riah replied, a wide grin in her voice.
Her mother jumped in surprise and nearly hit her head on the roof. She looked into the back seat with wide eyes. "Who said that?"
"My name is Riah, remember?" Riah replied lightly. "Lori isn't crazy; at least no more so than anyone else in this crazy world."
Her mother jumped again at the sound of Riah's voice. She stared at the empty seat next to Lori, where Riah's voice was emanating from.
"Maybe we should go inside to discuss this," Lori suggested with a small smile. She felt much better after letting her mother in on the secret.
"Okay…" her mother nodded slowly. She seemed to be having difficulty taking her eyes away from the empty seat.
Lori opened her door and held it open for a second before she realized Riah had exited through her own door. Her mother looked dazed as she got out and watched Riah's door close seemingly by itself. Lori walked around the car and took her mother's hand, pulling her along into the house. Her eyes were continually darting around as she tried to locate Riah.
"Now you see what I meant this morning when I said I wasn't sure I was awake?" Lori asked with a wry grin.
"Uh huh," her mother replied absently.
Lori went into the living room and deposited her shell-shocked mother into one of the recliners, then climbed into the other recliner. Riah had walked up to where Lori's mother sat.
"I'm going to take your hand in mine," Riah informed her gently. "I think it will be easier for you to accept if you can feel that I am real."
Riah reached out and grasped her hand delicately. Her mother gasped as she felt the invisible goddess caress her hand comfortingly. "I'll be visible to everyone tomorrow, so that should make it a little easier for you to accept."
Her mother's eyes were filled with wonder as she felt Riah's small hand within her own. She reached out with her other hand and hesitantly felt the top of Riah's hand.
"Are you really a goddess?" her mother finally asked in awe.
"Only in an extremely broad sense of the word," Riah replied dryly. "The concept of what God is and how he behaves is a human construct that bears very little resemblance to the true nature of reality. Most religions cannot even get my gender right."
"I always thought God was just a massive spirit of some kind," her mother revealed with an intrigued look. "Are you the only God there is, or are there more of you?"
"Just me," Riah replied with a smile. "I certainly have a spirit, just like all life forms do. Spirits are distinctly male or female though, which is why I choose this body instead of a hairy-chested, bearded old man."
"Spirits have gender?" Lori asked Riah in surprise.
"Of course," Riah replied with a laugh. "Everything has gender. That's one of the reasons so many people are attracted to the same sex. They often inhabit a body that is not the same gender as their spirit."
"So you're saying that because I'm attracted to the same sex, I have a male spirit?" Lori asked uncertainly. She didn't like the idea of being male at all.
"Not necessarily," Riah replied with a knowing smile. "That's just some of the cases. There are plenty of spirits of the same gender who are attracted to each other."
"And you don't have a problem with same sex attraction?" Lori's mother asked hesitantly. "Most religions say you don't approve of it."
"The bible and other holy books people preach from have absolutely nothing to do with me," Riah replied in a disgusted tone. "They are just excuses for people to go to war that they justify in my name."
"If the holy books weren't inspired by you, then is this the first time you have interacted with humans?" Lori's mother asked curiously.
"No, not even close," Riah answered with a chuckle. "I find those who need me the most, who have the purest hearts, and then I spend a mortal lifetime helping them explore the essence of true happiness."
"You're going to stay with me for my whole life?" Lori breathed, barely able to comprehend such an amazing possibility.
"Your whole life," Riah confirmed with a dimpled smile that never failed to make Lori's heart skip a beat.
"Why?" Lori asked softly. There were unshed tears in her eyes. "Why would you choose me?"
"I've spent a lot of time studying my creations," Riah replied seriously. "I discovered long ago that I wanted to experience a mortal life. When there are no mysteries left in reality, existence becomes a stale and boring place. I began partitioning my mind so that I could experience mortality without the burden of omniscience. I chose you, because I can see into your heart and soul. You are a bonfire of light among candles. Such a powerful light draws parasitic individuals who try to steal your energy. I see myself as a gardener who is protecting the most beautiful of my creations from the predators who would destroy my garden."
Lori felt a tear slide down her cheek as she stared at her beautiful goddess adoringly. She had never in her life experienced tears of happiness. She thought authors who depicted the unlikely phenomenon were exaggerating. Now, she understood exactly how powerful the emotion of happiness could be.
"Why are you invisible at all, if you are going to be visible all of the time after tomorrow?" Lori's mom asked with a puzzled look.
"I needed to assert Lori's status at school as a force to be reckoned with before I showed up as the new student," Riah explained with the hint of a smile in her voice.
"So do you still need to remain invisible now?" Lori's mother asked curiously. "I mean, if it was just to help Lori at school, isn't the need for stealth over now?"
"I suppose so," Riah said with a sigh. "It's just fun watching people's reactions when I'm invisible."
Riah suddenly materialized in front of Lori's mother. She was wearing a white blouse and a pair of white cargo pants that were transparent enough to see her now black panties beneath the fabric. Lori had never seen her change clothes, so it was probably one of those "god things".
Lori's mother stared at Riah in unabashed fascination as the seemingly young goddess beamed back at her with a thousand-watt smile. Lori smiled to herself as she thought of the imminent reactions of all of the students and teachers at school the next day.
"How is anyone going to study with you in the same room?" Lori's mother finally asked with an incredulous laugh.
"Your mom is so sweet," Riah told Lori with a small blush. "I'm really happy that I found the two of you."
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway caused a sudden wave of consternation to wash over Lori and her mother's faces. Lori hoped her father was just stopping by to pick something up. She glanced at Riah and found the small goddess watching her father with a calculating look.
"What have I told you about inviting guests over without consulting me?" her father demanded of her mother with a glowering look as soon as he walked in.
"Sorry, this was unexpected," her mother replied faintly, her eyes downcast. Her father had insisted on such sexist traditions like women not meeting a man's eyes. He demanded instant obedience and absolute submissiveness. When he felt it was lacking, he had a belt he would use to reinforce the rule.
"Get lost," her father told Riah coldly. "I don't ever want to see your face around here again."
"You won't ever see anyone's face again," Riah told him grimly. Her eyes were filled with contempt as she studied the monster looming over her. "Nor will you hear another person's voice, or feel their touch."
As Riah finished speaking, Lori's father suddenly collapsed on the floor with a loud thump. He started making some kind of noise, but Lori couldn't understand it. She could sense the underlying panic though.
"It appears that your father has had an aneurism," Riah told Lori gravely. "I suggest you call 911 and have him taken to the emergency room."
"What did you do to him?" her mother asked in stupefied shock.
"Certainly less than he deserves," Riah replied distastefully. "He'll spend the remainder of his life in the solitary confinement of his own mind. Perhaps he will come to understand how horrible he is after several decades of reflection. The company he works for will take care of the cost of his new life in a senior care home, where someone will have to cater to his every need. The bottom line is that he is out of your lives for good."
Lori stared at her mother with a sudden spark of hope in her yellow eyes. How many times had she fantasized the possible ways her father came to a sticky end? To actually be free of his tyrannical control was almost too much to believe.
Lori realized her mother was weeping. She hurriedly walked over and squeezed into the recliner beside her mother and wrapped her arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay, mom?"
"More than okay," her mother replied, smiling through her tears. "I'm just a little overwhelmed right now. I can't believe it's finally over."
"I know what you mean," Lori said with a wide smile. She felt like a huge weight she had become used to over her lifetime had suddenly been lifted. It left her with a feeling of blissful gratitude.
Her mother stood up and walked over to Riah. She wrapped the small women in a tight embrace, whispering "thank you, thank you, thank you…" over and over. Riah held her close, and Lori could feel the waves of comfort and love emanating out of her goddess and into her mother.
It was midnight before they finished all of the paperwork at the hospital, where it was determined her father would need to be in a special care ward for the rest of his life. The doctors had diagnosed the symptoms as an aneurism that had disrupted the motor functions in his brain. There was no treatment available for his injury. The doctors and nurses had shown plenty of sympathy for Lori and her mother. They were a little taken aback at their lack of grief as the doctors explained the level of dependence her father would require from now on.
"After he is stabilized and outfitted with the necessary hardware to keep him safe, he could actually return home with you, if you have the ability to take care of him," the doctor had told her gently.
"I'm afraid I won't have time to take care of him and Lori both while continuing to juggle a day job at the same time," her mother had said without missing a beat. "I think a place that can offer him more consistent care would be a better solution in the long run."
The doctor had nodded while sneaking furtive glances at her mother. Lori could see that she was having trouble hiding her sudden deluge of happiness.
"There's one more problem we'll have to deal with," her mother told Lori and Riah with a sigh. "Our house is leased by my husband's company, and I'm sure they won't continue paying for it now that he is out of work for life."
"Good," Riah replied with a delighted look in her lavender eyes. "I won't have to bully you into moving in with me now."
"Moving in with you?" her mother asked in surprise. "Why were you going to convince us to move in with you?"
"I can hardly keep the two of you happy all the time if I don't live in the same house," Riah explained with a grin. "Besides, my house is way too big for one person."
"Which house are you moving into?" her mother asked curiously.
"The one with the battlements that looks like a miniature castle on the corner of the block," Riah replied as they got in the car to drive home. "I love the mix of Victorian and Gothic themes."
"You own the Sunlight Mansion?" Lori asked incredulously. "I've wanted to tour that place all my life, but the former owner hated kids."
"I know," Riah replied with a disgusted shake of her head. "He was a real jerk. I had to shake up his world quite a bit to get him to sell it to me."
"How in the world do you make him sell it to you?" Lori asked with a laugh as she regarded Riah fondly. The day had steadily progressed upward with happy surprises at every turn. She almost felt weightless with the overwhelming happiness filling her body like a drug.
"I just do little things, like infest it with roaches and termites," Riah said with a wicked smile. "I jammed up all of the plumbing beneath the house as well, so the smell was driving him crazy."
"Are you sure you're not the devil?" Lori's mother asked between peals of laughter.
"So is it still infested and stinky?" Lori asked distastefully.
"Of course not," Riah replied indignantly. "I wouldn't try to move the two of you into a rat-hole. The termites didn't actually eat the foundation at all. They were feasting on roots beneath the house. I asked them all to leave as soon as the sale was final. The plumbing mysteriously fixed itself too."
"So none of that interferes with his freewill?" Lori asked in amusement.
"Nope," Riah replied with a smug grin. "I never once tried overriding his cognitive processes to force him to sell it. I prefer much subtler methods of coercion."
As they pulled into the driveway behind her father's car, the realization of never having to deal with him again nearly overwhelmed her. Could it have only been yesterday that she had tried to take her own life? She shook her head in wonder at how quickly circumstances could change when you least expected it.
Her mother's jaw made a popping noise as she yawned widely. "I think it's time for some sleep. That was quite the busy day."
Lori nodded her agreement, though she didn't feel sleepy. It was nearly one O' clock in the morning. She knew she would regret it later if she didn't try and get some sleep before the night was over.
"Riah, we have a guest bedroom that's never been used that you can stay in, if you want to sleep here," her mom offered hopefully.
"I liked the other bed I slept in last night better," Riah told her, winking at Lori slyly.
"What other bed?" her mother asked in puzzlement.
"Lori's bed," Riah replied with a mischievous grin. "She kept me nice and warm."
"Oh!" her mother exclaimed in sudden embarrassment. "Of course…I mean, that's just fine."
Lori didn't trust herself to speak. She felt a swarm of butterflies trying to take off with her stomach again as she snuck sideways glances at Riah. The goddess was giving Lori a very direct look.
"Good night, Lori and Riah," her mother said with an indulgent smile. "Don't forget to sleep a little or you'll be a zombie tomorrow."
Lori giggled nervously as Riah took her by the hand and led her down the hall to her bedroom.