Filtration System by Jo Ramsey
Reality Shift Book 2
young adult metaphysical/urban fantasy
Jonah Leighton never expected to have a close friend, especially one he met at his school, where he’s usually either picked on or ignored. A few weeks after meeting Shanna Bailey, he’s realized that she’s a kindred spirit. Intelligent, funny, and interested in the things he can teach her, Shanna is the first person with whom Jonah’s ever been comfortable sharing his knowledge.
However, Shanna’s frequent injuries cast a pall over their friendship. Jonah suspects that Shanna’s mother abuses her, but without proof, he can’t do anything. And his concerns about Shanna take a back seat when he becomes aware of a threat to our universe: An entity from another reality wants to cross over into ours, and the resulting energetic backwash will vaporize our world.
“Jonah, how do you figure out percentages again?” a slightly panicked voice said from across the large rectangular table in the middle of my dining room.
From my seat facing the doorway to the living room, I looked up from my physics text to see Shanna slumped over the table and frantically erasing something in her spiral notebook. Her backpack sat behind her on the sideboard. She’d chosen her chair so she’d be able to look out the window at the withering garden, but I’d told her to pay attention to her math homework, much to her annoyance.
“Are you trying to figure out what percent of something something else is?” I asked calmly. I’d grown used to her becoming freaked out over math. Somewhere along the line she’d either proven to herself, or been told, that she just plain wasn’t good at math. Since she worried constantly about her grades, every time she had a math assignment she acted as if the world might end if she didn’t answer every problem correctly. I really wished she had more confidence in herself.
“I don’t know.” She squinted at her math book. “Seventy-six is what percent of forty-two? How can seventy-six be any percent of forty-two? It’s bigger.”
“Which means the answer is more than a hundred percent.” I’d explained this to her earlier that afternoon. Math and Shanna just didn’t mix, though. “You have to divide.”
“Divide what?” Shanna shoved her notebook away and glared, arms folded. “I can’t do this.”
“Of course you can,” I assured her. Every time I helped her with a math assignment, she responded this way. I wanted to break her of the habit, but had decided I could manage to be patient with her until she recognized that math could actually be easy. “Divide seventy-six by forty-two. Your answer will be a decimal. Move the decimal point two digits to the right and you’ll have your percentage.”
She sighed loudly. “I only understood half of that. I’m hopeless with math. Why couldn’t Mr. Thomason move up to the high school with us? I at least sort of understood what he taught us. I don’t understand anything my teacher says this year.”
I mentally counted to ten to prevent myself from responding to her defeatist attitude. She only had difficulty with math because she’d convinced herself math was difficult. If I tried to point that out to her, though, the tutoring session would dissolve into an argument about whether she could actually do the work. Once I’d let my irritation go, I said, “Which is why you’re here, so I can help you.” I slid my calculator across the table to her. “I don’t care if your teacher says not to use calculators. Use it. Divide seventy-six by forty-two.”
She punched the calculator keys. “That’s a frighteningly long number,” she said after a second.
I went and stood behind her, refraining from resting my hand on her shoulder like I wanted to. Most people found human touch to be comforting. Not Shanna. She wouldn’t find being touched at all calming, not in this state of agitation. Touch would just make things worse. “It’s a repeating decimal. Just round up to the nearest hundredth.”
She frowned at the calculator display. “So one point eight one?”
Finally. She only had to trust that she could figure out the answers, and she could. Eventually maybe she’d trust herself without me prompting her. “Right.” I kept my pride out of my voice. That, too, would complicate things for her. She’d feel like she had to impress me all the time if she knew she had now. “Now move the decimal point two spaces to the right.”
“A hundred and eighty-one percent.” Shanna wrote the answer down in her notebook and reached up to hand me my calculator. “Thanks.”
With her arm raised, I saw something I hadn’t noticed earlier. Bruises. Four of them, long, like fingers. “What happened there?” I asked casually, as though I didn’t already have a suspicion.
She immediately lowered her arm. “What happened where?”
I gently touched her arm. She pulled away. “Shanna, who did that to you?” I asked quietly.
“No one. I bumped into something.” She stared at the table.
Ordinarily I would have stopped pushing for the truth. This time, I couldn’t. Spikes of fear shot through her energy field, and I’d grown tired of seeing my friend so often hurt and afraid. I wanted to help her with the problems I knew she had at home. I couldn’t if she wouldn’t speak. So I pushed the point. “Those are finger prints, Shanna. You don’t get bruises like that from bumping into things.”
Shanna rubbed her arm and continued looking at the table. “It’s nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
I could have kept at her. I’d seen her injured other times, and I knew darn well her mother had hurt her, but of course I couldn’t prove it because Shanna always had another explanation. I didn’t know which bothered me more, Shanna being hurt or her trying to cover up for her mother. Someday, I would get the truth so I could help.
I chose not to keep at her today, though. A few weeks earlier, when I’d first realized what went on at her house, I’d promised her that I wouldn’t force her to talk as long as she promised to talk to me if she needed to. So far, she hadn’t kept her end of the deal. I had to keep mine, though. Otherwise she would stop trusting me, and I knew her well enough by now to know she rarely trusted anyone. The fact that she’d let me in as much as she had was a wonderful gift, and I wouldn’t mess that up for anything.
Remembering that promise, and reminding myself that I couldn’t help anyone, even Shanna, unless they wanted the help, I said, “You don’t have to. You never have to talk about anything if you don’t want to. If you tell me what really happened I might be able to help, though.”
“What could you do, Jonah?” she demanded. “It’s nothing. No issue.”
“If someone’s hurting you, it’s an issue.” I sat down again. “You make the choice. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t. Just know that I’m here if you do.” I opened my physics book, signaling the end of the discussion so I wouldn’t lose my resolve to leave her alone. “How’s your math coming?”
“I hate math,” she groused. “I’m just going to fail, so I don’t know why we’re bothering.”
“That’s negative,” I said wearily. I closed my eyes for a second to keep from snapping at her. Despite my intent to remain patient, her putting herself down or becoming angry at my attempts to help really bothered me. “You’re smart, Shanna. You can learn this. You just have a block about math because you don’t like it.”
“I don’t like math because I can’t do it.” She sighed and closed her book. “I quit. I’m just wasting your time here.”
“You aren’t wasting my time,” I assured her, as I had dozens of times before. She needed the reassurance sometimes. “We’re friends. How could a friend ever be a waste of time?”