"So, how old is she exactly?" asked Raymond, "This doesn't really seem like the place to bring a young girl."
"She's seventeen," answered Helen.
The two of them were wandering through the forest by Shangri-La, looking for wild mushrooms. Helen would have prefered to be alone at the moment, but she did not know what kinds of mushrooms they were looking for, and which were poisonous.
She had been here a few days now. As storyteller, she had been welcomed and accepted by everyone. But Mary . . . Mary did not have a specific job here. She was just another farmer. And it seemed that Shangri-La did not need another farmer. Helen had heard complaints against Mary, that she was just another mouth to feed, that there was not enough work for her to do. Helen hoped that Mary had not heard what she had.
Mary seemed withdrawn lately, like her current reality was unimportant and frivilous, a plot to distract her from her thoughts. She tried though, she really tried to help out. But, like Helen, she needed to be taught how to do almost everything, and she was not very strong.
Maybe she could think of some way to cheer Mary up. Or a way to get the people here to accept her.
"Are these the mushrooms we're looking for?" asked Helen, who had just come upon a likely patch of mushrooms.
"No," answered Raymond, who then turned the conversation back to Mary, asking, "That still seems pretty young. So why did she come here? Shouldn't she be in school?"
Helen did not want to answer that question in a way that would reveal to much, so she decided to be as vague as possible.
"She had a lot to escape from," she answered. She wouldn't tell Raymond anything more specific.
"I can understand that," said Raymond, his voice slick as oil, "Everyone needs healing." With this last statement, Raymond walked up very close behind Helen. His arm began to slide around her waist.
Helen quickly stepped out of his grasp, and turned to face him. Suddenly, it became obvious to her that their quest for mushrooms had led them suspiciously far into the forest. Helen screamed at herself inside her head, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Now what was she going to do? If she walked away, back to the commune, would he follow her? What could she say to him? Raymond was still standing there with a smile on his face.
"I . . ." began Helen, but found she couldn't continue. I'm gay, was the statement complete in her thoughts, but she just couldn't say it to him. Just as she hadn't wanted Raymond to know anything about Mary, she also didn't want him to know anything about her.
Helen tried to find her voice, to say something, anything coherent.
"I . . ." began Helen again, determined this time to finish her words, "I . . . I can't."
The smile began to fall off Raymond's face. Helen began to run back to the commune, praying that he would not follow her.
There was a note on Mary's pillow when she woke up. She unfolded it and read the message.
I love you. Let me explain.
Explain what, Helen? thought Mary irritably. Explain why you've been abandonning me lately? Explain why hardly any one will talk to me out here? Explain how you love me, and I should love you back for caring? Explain why you don't think you have to ask my permission to tell personal details about me to ten strangers?
This last one bothered Mary the most. Then had Helen seen her, listening in the dark the last few nights, afraid to come sit with everyone else, afraid they wouldn't let her, or afraid they'd figure out that it was her story Helen was telling so dramatically?