Palindrome!

A gathering of words and people have both used in fun ways.

The fall air was cool, especially a few hours past dusk. With the heat of the sun gone, Luc had to resort to turning on his mother’s heater to keep himself warm, making him wish he would’ve driven to his family’s home city instead of flying, since his car’s heater didn’t take forever to come on, and actually put out good heat. Then again, he never expected to have to do a stake-out on his mother’s behalf, spying on his sister.

It would’ve been an easy decision to not even show if that’s what he knew was coming, partly because it wasn’t the first time she’d been someone the family had to rally around to keep her on the proper path. Both Luc and Bailey were ivy league graduates, but Bailey never shed her hard party girl sensibility, and Luc had to stop mincing words about how long nights of alcohol, shady friends, and god knows what else almost got her in some real trouble. After an intervention where everyone got to air out their feelings, especially the siblings to each other, it seemed like a healthy path was being taken. But Luc always worried how easily she could slip back into addiction, to the devils she knew, and that eventually it would get her into irreversible trouble. He hated that he cared so much about his sister sometimes, but she was family.

Cursing his mother’s car’s shitty heater for barely putting out room temp warmth, he shivered in frustration watching the ten-story apartment building he parked across the street from. Several floors up all the lights seemed to be on in one apartment, with constant movement inside it. He figured that’s where Bailey was. It was tempting to go inside just for what hopefully was a heated lobby. From there he knew the floor, and probably just had to follow the loudest commotion on the floor to find her. But knowing that she was being spied on, Luc didn’t want to set her off and make her do something stupid in retaliation which she was capable of doing, just to spite him. It would’ve been easy to assume she was just socializing with friends or at a small work social. He would’ve worried less if he didn’t see someone’s arms flapping like crazy out at the window, someone with hair as long as hers.

A minute later, his phone buzzed.

Bailey: Hello

Luc: Hey. What are you up to tonight?

Bailey: 4th floor. 4B. Come and see for yourself, dumbass.

The cold evaporated from his body, melted away by anger at how he was found out so quickly. He sighed a frustrated breath and walked like he was storming into the building; easy to look that agitated when no one seemed to be able to see him do it. Fortunately it was warmer inside, so he could shed his coat, despite the cold feeling of uncertainty waiting for him on the 4th floor. Out of the elevator, as expected, 4B was the loudest apartment, though nothing worth neighbors screaming their heads off at them.

After knocking gently, he was greeted by a woman a head shorter than him. Brownish ginger, slightly curly hair came down across the shoulders of a a white short-sleeved sweater, with a craggy pattern that belied the soft material. Pinned to it was a name tag with “Avid Diva” written on it, and a subtitle of “Lynne – nerd queen supreme.” Assessing the young-looking woman’s face, she could’ve been his age range of mid-20s, a mix of maturity and enough youthfulness that she’d still get carded in any bar or club in the country.

“Come in,” Lynne ushered him in. “You must be the infamous Prince. Honestly I would’ve guessed ‘Ross’ looking at you.”

“The what,” an eyebrow furred up as he entered. He never expected a response in the form of being slapped upside the back of his head from behind.

“It stands for Princeton dumbass,” his sister clarified, hand raised, quickly applying another slap to the same spot. Luc rubbed the back of his head in rising annoyance, holding back the temptation to retaliate in someone else’s apartment, fully quelled as Lynne gently guided him a few feet away from his sister and deeper into the apparent party.

“Look, Bail. I’m sorry for-”

“Don’t give me ‘sorry’. Mom sent you out to spy on me cause she thinks I’m up to ‘no good’; thank god you’re not a real spy or this country would be even more fucked up.”

“Well, while I’m here, exactly what are you up to?”

“Bailey didn’t tell me you were the older, concerned brother. That’s nice for you.”

“You want him? Trust me, he’s for sale. Hell, take him for free.”

“Don’t make me take you up on that, Bailey,” Lynne joked before Luc could get in a word edgewise. The look on his face still let the ladies know his question was still unanswered.

“Palindrome!” a man’s voice yelled from a room nearby.

“Ughh, starting ahead of the ladies,” Bailey complained. “No manners whatsoever.”

“Be afraid of what Minnie might do to them,” Lynne responded, making Luc’s sister chortle.

“Palin-what?”

“Mr English major Princeton grad doesn’t know what a palindrome is? So glad I went to the better school.”

“And I’m glad you got out of yours. Barely. Before they kicked you out.”

Lynne smiled at the transparent sibling interaction unabashed, happy to see another side of her friend.

“And I also know what a palindrome is Bail. Just haven’t heard it in years, let alone a need for someone to scream it out.

“Come see why, Prince. It’s a little game we play,” Lynne gestured toward her living room.

“See if you can keep up bro,” Bailey patted her brother’s chest harshly, inciting a need to meet a presented challenge in him. He barely conceded since he remembered his concern for whatever Bailey was into, but concede he still did.

The trio walked into Lynne’s living room to find two men and another woman, whom had one of the guys in a firm headlock.

“Hey, hey,” Lynne started. “‘Is it I? It is I!'” Every head in the living room turned her way, looking at her, waiting for her next words.

“Palindrome,” Bailey said with absent tones in her voice.

“Good catch.” Lynne told the girl behind her, still eying the wrestling participants.

“Another ‘doom mood,’ Minnie?”

Luc observed her sister walk over to a white board leaning against cabinets attached to the kitchen, writing with an orange marker, writing the mirrored phrase on the board,

{Is it I? | It is I!}

then diverting his gaze to an Asian, goth-looking beauty, black and grey clad, two long braids like pigtails, and hauntingly beautiful make-up job made even more haunting by the angered expression on her face. She was a bit bigger in muscles and physique than Luc himself, and certainly bigger than the shorter restrained man who tried to smile while prying himself out of the Minnie’s hold. Luc wondered what kind of athlete she was, maybe one of those MMA fighters. The smaller man only received release as Minnie let him go.

“Palindrome,” she said as if annoyed, leaving her victim on the floor, picking up her black marker off the board to write under Bailey’s entry.

{Doom | mood}

All the other people in the room didn’t seem concerned at all at the physical altercation, meaning they were used to that kind of horseplay, or this party had qualities Luc had ample reason to be concerned about for Bailey’s sake.

“Not de kind of ‘rough’ ah had in mind,” the downed man said, clearly with a strong southern, maybe Cajun accent.

“And why should I care about the kind of rough you like,” was fired back almost arrogantly, without even looking at him.

“Thought dis was a friendship with benefits,”

“Breathing is your benefit.”

“When you put on some nice perfume, and stronger deodorant, ah’ll agree.”

“Everyone,” the avid diva interrupted, “this is Bailey’s brother, Luc, or Prince if you will. Prince, everyone.”

“‘Luc’ is fine,” he told them.

“Sure, Prince,” Bailey tossed him a name tag. Prince was written in big bold, above ‘Luc – Bailey’s dumbass relations,’ and ‘Ross’ below that for some odd reason.

It was hard for a nanosecond to let Bailey’s slight slide, like he wanted to reignite some sibling rivalry and have her in the same headlock her friends just displayed. The adult in him merely sighed and looked around to notice everyone else’s tag.

‘Minnie – bad girl, bad ass.’

‘Jerome – Pretty-boy, Cajun-flavored’ was the man from Minnie’s grasp.

The other man was “Leonard,” simply with chef under his name.

And his sister’s “Bailey – overnight artist with a tequila chaser;” Luc wished he could know for sure whether that was a joke or not.

“Hello everyone,” Luc said cordially, more cordial than he felt comfortable with as he still didn’t know if these people were aids in Bailey’s destructive habits, particularly the ‘Avid Diva’ that was all smiles, most of those he noticed out of the corner of his eyes were directed in his sister’s and his direction.

All but Bailey greeted him warmly back, even Minnie whom he thought might be suspicious of a newcomer. But the way Bailey and Minnie whispered to each other, he figured any inquisition was unnecessary with dear sister dishing the goods on her brother, whether factual or not. He figured there was talk about the immovable stick up his ass with their snickering.

“What are you two on about?” Lynne questioned.

“Eh, just talking about men,” Bailey said it with such disdain, like she had a bone to pick with all men.

“All ‘men’?” Jerome wondered out loud, mimicking Bailey’s distinctive tone taken with the opposite gender.

“Well, Neil’s alright, as long as he still makes me things.”

Luc wasn’t clued in to who everyone was laughing at.

“Neil?”

“They mean me,” Leonard raised his hand, trying not to laugh at his nickname mentioned.

“‘Neil, an alien,'” Lynne said.

“Palindrome!” Leonard was the first to notice, answering in a very stereotypical alien accent, taking his marker to the white board.

{Neil a |n| alien}

“Is there a point system to this game?” Luc was curious about the game itself for the first time.

“Naturally,” Leonard kept the accent up. “Usually at the end of the night, we tally up the most palindromes on the board based on each player’s color.”

“What’s the big prize at the end?”

Leonard thought for a second, like he’d forgotten the last prize given, and then any prize the game yielded.

“Bragging rights or beer,” Lynne finished for him, “Or if the chef is keen on it, some ‘ufo tofu.'”

“Palindrome!” Minnie spoke just ahead of Jerome. She bumped him out of the way with her hips to write

{ufo |t|ofu}

“Terrific,” Minnie replied satisfied, stepping away from the board.

“Not before he makes me a drink,” Bailey declared.

“Want a ‘evil olive’ to go with your martini?”

“You know I hate m-oh Pal-”

“Palindrome!” Jerome beat Bailey to it. Jerome gave a strut in Minnie’s direction, and threw momentum in his hips at Bailey, making both ladies eyes-roll so hard everyone else wondered whose eyes were going to roll out of their sockets.

{evil |o|live} Jerome rushed to write before Minnie could take a swing at him.

“Oblivious,” a Cajun accent uttered softly, the meaning fitting the way he said it.

“‘Dr. Awkward’ in action; flirts with them then runs,” Leonard commented.

“Palindrome” Luc said, unsure if he’d gotten one.

“Dammit,” a disgusted Bailey complained.

“Kudos to Prince picking up one of the least recognizable ones; possibly good competition tonight from the new blood.” Lynne played announcer for a second as Luc took his marker to write his entry like the rest would

{Dr. Aw|k|ward}

“Pure luck,” Bailey shot at her brother.

“Constructive sibling rivalry, I call it.”

“Yeah, but he won’t take the the ‘top spot’ anytime s-”

“Palindrome,” Luc said more confidently than before.

“Huh? Aw what the f-?”

“You forget I occasionally parse words for a living, don’t you sis?”

Luc went to the board to add his second entry.

{top |s|pot}

“Any extra points for consecutive palindromes?”

Luc turned around to ask Lynne, but noticed that everyone went silent for a moment looking in Lynne’s direction as she wore a highly bemused smile.

“We’ve thought about that ruling; maybe you’ll get it as a newcomer,” She answered, not the least bit concerned about why the room got nearly dead-quiet all of a sudden for a few seconds, “though you did admit that you have a significant ‘advantage’ over the rest of us.” The way she said advantage meant more to her than to him somehow. “So we’ll see…”

It seemed like a isolated-enough moment to Luc, but it did leave a question mark in the back of his head for later.

“Still not fair” Bailey half-heartedly complained.

“Well, ‘in words, alas, drown I.'”

“Is that Shakespeare?” Leonard thought out loud, the alien accent fading.

“No…”

“Palindrome, seems like a new one too,” Lynne said, impressed with a new phrasing she hadn’t heard, parsing the words ahead of everyone else.

Lynne wrote hers down.

{in words a|l|as drown I}

“If no one would’ve guessed mine, would I have gotten a point?”

“Lasting. And yep; starting to wonder if you’re Bailey’s secret weapon or something.”

“Trust me, it was not my idea to bring him here.”

“You sure about that,” Lynne asked playfully, ominously.

“Like you said Bailey, I’m probably just a lucky newbie. And you all have been playing for a while.”

“Yeah, not as easy as you’d think de first time round,” Jerome inserted himself into the discussion.

“The ladies liked to trip me up tantalizing words like ‘boobs’ and ‘tits’ instead of….”

A shameless glance panned at all three ladies present, waiting patiently for one of them to finish his lewd thought.

“‘Tit,'” Leonard spared the women.

“Palindr-come on man!” Jerome complained, making his way to the board, on his knees instead of his feet for some reason the newest member couldn’t explain. Everyone else seemed to just laugh at him as he wrote his entry down

{T|i|T}

“You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, you know that? One of those ugly younglings too,” Minnie declared.

“‘I’m a pup, am i?'” His body seemed to agree as he gracefully slipped to his hands and knees, moving back to the couch on all fours.

“Palindrome!” Minnie caught while Luc wondered if apostrophes counted, then looked at the board and wondered aloud

“Why two capital T’s for Tit?”

{I’m a p|u|p am I}

Minnie added hers and answered.

“Under. He’s the i, women are the T’s. A little man looking up in admiration.”

“Lovely here call it admiration, I call it-”

“‘Sex at noon taxes!'” Three female voices chimed in unison, interrupting whatever lewd phrasing was coming.

“Pali-” Jerome’s confident voice only made it so far before being sidelined by a severe case of sudden fatigue. He collapsed in front of the couch, groaning weirdly as if straddling, or having been straddled hard by the line between pain and pleasure.

“Is he ok? Does he need a doctor?” Luc asked in genuine concern.

“Nah, he’s alright,” Bailey assured him. “He saw the love doctor, overdosed on a prescription,” Bailey chuckled along with Minnie. Through her own giggling, Lynne explained.

“It’s a little part of the game, Prince. Sometimes the special words carry with them, or imply certain….feelings. The one we all said sounds like taxing sexual relations; when he’s on the verge of getting too raunchy, we employ that and he starts to feel like the morning after all-night hard sex. So he’s nice and worn out now, especially his mouth.”

“Why does he have to feel that way? How is he feeling that way?”

“‘Won’t…lovers..revolt……now?'” Jerome got out weakly, with a face that said the words were supposed to retaliate for him somehow.

“Palindrome,” the soft, condescending, little girl quality of Minnie’s voice took another shot at Jerome’s pride, informing him there was no effect to be had

{Won’t lover|s|revolt now}

“Sensual-I mean sorry, revolting lover, immunity comes standard with awesomeness, free of charge.”

“‘Naomi, did I moan?'” Lynne asked as if to someone else entirely in the room, wiping the cruel smile right off of Minnie’s face, a moan escaping quivering lips. Minnie couldn’t explain why she felt the way she did, but looked somewhat accusingly at the diva half her size, bearing an innocent smile that fooled no one.

“Pa-” was all she got out audibly, whispering the rest, imagining something intensely. That lasted for a minute before she hastily wrote her entry on the board and grabbed Lynne’s hand, pulling her to her bedroom.

Luc watched the scene raptly unfold, silent and still so he wouldn’t miss a moment of the inexplicable. Moaning from deeper into the apartment got stronger, and stronger. More rhythmic and consistent, the only sound in the apartment. Luc guffawed at seeing Lynne emerge back into the living room while the moaning never stopped, casually walking to Leonard and telling him

“‘Evil Olive,’ please,”

Prompting Leonard to say “Palindrome!” but head to the kitchen instead of the white board to make Lynne a martini with a single green olive. She took a slow sip of the drink, pleased with the taste which made Leonard smile. The green olive was caught between her teeth as she smiled, teasing her audience with her eyebrows showingly rising and falling. She finished the drink and regarded Leonard again.

“‘Name tarts? No medieval slave. I demonstrate man,'” spoke as if a character out of Shakespeare.

Leonard could’ve said “Palindrome,” but his mind yelled it and his mouth decided

“‘Ye Boil! I obey.'”

was more proper to say, as he moved to make something edible in her kitchen. She walked back to the bedroom where labored moaning sounded like it was reaching a climax, but having trouble. Lynne disappeared down the corridor and everyone heard

“‘Dial laid,'”

prompting a yelling whispered “Palindrome!” orgasm out of Minnie.

Lynne sighed, satisfied as she returned to her place on the couch, as if nothing was wrong. Luc was too stunned to move, looking at Bailey and the hostess who seated herself at Luc’s couch then. He tried not to show how intimidated she made him feel, shrinking into his seat but too stubborn to move, wondering if he was wrong for feeling so not-calm when everyone else was.

“I wonder how many points that was supposed to be,” Lynne asked herself, seemingly uncaring about the answer. She looked around the room to see nearly everyone was busy with something.

“Guess that’s half-time,” Lynne talked to herself again.

“Why is this…effect so strong?” Luc asked more to the point, more of a reaction than a thought, because he thought of the growing reasons to fear answers given.

“They like it this way, Prince.”

“It’s Luc. And don’t you mean ‘we?'”

“What?”

“You made it seem like everyone was supposed to be affected by these words, but it looks like you’re the only immune one besides me.”

“That’s not really the case Luc. You’re right, I should’ve said ‘we’ really. It gets to me too, in ways that are different from the rest honestly.”

“Really could’ve fooled me…” Luc trailed off, looking at Bailey who was greeting Minnie shuffling herself back to the group, tired, leaning against his sister.

“It hits me in the ego Luc,” Lynne looked point-blank at his face to explain herself, in a quieter voice than before. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a barely 5’4, frizzy-haired, post-teenage acne-bearing, nominally-attractive, brownish redhead, in a room full of beautiful people with so little flaws, at first glance at least.” She was glad that everyone had paid little attention to their small-talk; the girls were talking, Jerome was half-dozing off from the fatigue wearing off, and the smell of sugar cookies from the kitchen meant Leonard was kept busy too.

“Judge’em by their faces, yours too, and you all could get past some velvet ropes I never could, even Minnie who looks like a Miss Bodybuilders pageant queen or something. I’ve never seen beauty and brawn work so well together to make one person. All of you might be able to go anywhere you want, more places than I can.”

“So, here among the ‘beautiful people,’ you get to be the Avid Diva?”

“Or Nerd Queen Supreme,” she pointed out the subheader on her name tag. “My little exclusive club that I host. And don’t you even try to get all modest with me, handsome. Bailey’s shown me pictures – your whole family comes straight out of a well-to-do magazine the way you all look, carry yourselves.”

“You carry yourself pretty well, Lynne, or it’s like they carry you.”

“I’m the shortest, so easiest to carry.”

“That’s some kind of oxymoron, cause I don’t buy it. Your impact is heavy, whatever it is.”

“Really Luc, it’s just words.”

“Is it, Avid Diva?”

“Call me Lynne, if you like,” her face inched closer as to imply more intention that she might’ve meant.

“Won’t I panic in a pit now?” She uttered with sudden concern.

“Palindrome..wait! Wha-why would you panic?” Luc asked, wondering more about her question than his fear.

Leonard came back into the living room with fresh cookies for everyone, setting them close to Lynne’s end of the coffee table. Lynne took one, marveling at Leonard’s culinary expertise, happy she always kept a fairly stocked kitchen when he was around.

“Looks like everybody’s back, and ready for round two.”

2/3’s of the room sighed happily at that, tossing their markers toward a basket near the white board with all the game paraphernalia nearby.

“What about the board?”

“Eh, mere prop. Good starting point, but better to go and just feel it all the further we go. How’s it going down there, Jerome?”

“‘I’m a fool; aloof am I.'”

“Palindrome, and the truth,” Minnie commented, both feeling a wave of pleasure overcome, Jerome for having said it and Minnie being the first to call it out. Minnie closed her eyes for a moment to see herself approaching the mirroring “A,” and absently mouthed “amazing” to herself.

“Humbled Jerome, this calls for a celebration. Cookies for everyone!” Bailey announced.

“You’re welcome,” Leonard commented.

“Madame,” Minnie waved her finger at Bailey. “‘Madame, not one man is selfless; I name not one, madam,'”

“Palindrome,” Leonard laughed as he ate his cookie, pretending the near orgasmic bliss he felt stemmed from his own culinary creation.

“I’ll have what he’s having, plus that evil olive I never got.”

“Uhh….”rum…rum,’ I murmur,'” was the only flotsam Leonard could come up with, prompting a negative reaction out of Luc, acutely remembering rum being the choice of beverage Bailey once went out on a bender for. He got up after seeing her head for the kitchen.

“Bail…!”

“What?” She asked confused and annoyed, retrieving an unopened bottled water from the fridge, ignoring the row of liquor lined up at the kitchen entrance.

“Such a pain sometimes, I swear!”

“‘Lonely Tylenol,'” came from Lynne.

“Palindrome,” Bailey responded, moving away from the liquor as if repulsed by it, especially the many terrible hangovers it caused.

“You’re a good brother you know,” Lynne whispered to Luc as she sat down. “Worrying about a sibling who’s had some obvious issues, but you don’t have to really worry much anymore. It’s not that kind of party.”

“What do you mean?”

“‘Party boobytrap,'” Lynne uttered after Bailey was done with a swig of water.

“Palindrome. Ugh, did I tell you guys about the last dumb party I got roped into?”

Bailey was telling everyone else about one of the parties she was once trying to be the life of, painting it in the light of a bad scene, while Lynne further explained to Luc.

“There are a few phrases your sister responds to to keep her more on the straight and narrow, like going for ice cold water if some liquor is mentioned, or having less than nice memories of her partying days. All that help you and your family tried to get her, consider this part of it.”

“At what cost?” Luc asked quietly with dead-serious concern.

“‘Drawn, I sit; serene rest is inward.'”

Lynne’s words interrupted Bailey’s triad, making her sink into the cushions and feel as tranquil and accomplished as completing a favorite painting; her speech suddenly turned to the latest art she was going over, as the group got caught up in the utterly positive emotion.

“So you’re telling me the cost of her getting better is just feeling good?”

“You misunderstand; the cost is her doing what I tell her to. ‘In words, drown I.'”

“Palindrome,” Luc’s approach softened as he watched Lynne address his sister directly again.

“‘See slave, I demonstrate yet arts no medieval sees.'”

“Palindro-ooohhh-me”

A deep sigh accompanied Bailey’s transformation to a puddle of submission on her knees, staying below Lynne’s height sitting on the couch as she approached her hostess and waited for her to do some amazing trick, in full view of her brother filled with surprised but persuaded to let the words explain what was, or not.

“Remember that party we met at once Bailey? Before you actually saw me there, remember that tumble you took to the floor when one of your heels broke? Think of that embarrassing scene for a sec, just a still image of it to be precise. Yeah, just keep that in the front of your mind for a second, a reflection of nearly that whole party for you, on average every party that you drink, that one cartoonish image of you trying to hold your drink, trying to hold yourself up, failing at both. Just that one still image, that seems to be shrinking in your head, growing smaller and smaller like your stepping away from it.”

Luc watched his sister’s face shift from awkward smile, to a grimace, to confusion with the lines forming the grimace easing.

“It gets blurrier the farther you step back from it, maybe you notice there’s a border around it, like a frame maybe, smaller and smaller, like it belongs in a gallery. It’s so small now that it’s like it’s across from the room, the gallery where you stand, a vague memory that doesn’t really bother you anymore and doesn’t compel you to make another image like that happen again. No, you’re on a better side of the room, because if you turn 180 degrees, you’re in-front of another still image. This one could be very familiar to you, the first time we really got to know each other. You’d ended up on the floor for some reason, and I was there with you, asking if you were ok, talking to you, for some reason whatever I was saying was easing your pain from falling.”

The corners of her mouth began shifting upwards.

This still image you stand in-front of, you walk toward it without anyone having to tell you to; you’re drawn to it, letting it become clearer to your eyes. Remembering how good you felt in that moment, the smile on your face, your muscles relaxed and at ease, a warm gesture of a friend consoling you with her touch and her voice. You loved that, you want that, sometimes as much as you can get. There isn’t any border you can see of this image; it isn’t an image anymore, it’s your reality. It feels really good, so good, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you that earlier in that week we had words and you told me what you really think of me. You might only believe it if what you think of me as one of the greatest people to ever come into your life. There isn’t an image anymore, it’s animated, live, happening right now, and you love that I’m making it happen for you all over again.”

Like a lost puppy finding a home, Bailey’s head found itself in Lynne’s lap, hair stroked lavishly; Luc had to wonder if Bailey just fell there or if Lynne’s hand guided her there. The dumb smile on her face says she didn’t care how.

“NLP, neuro-linguistic programming is a big part of the how, Luc.”

“Neuro…what was that?”

“That silly stuff you hear about, word tricks that confuse and get people into acts only fast-talking con men can get the most ignorant marks into, that stuff is real. I was so in-love with it when I tried it out myself, I kept testing the boundaries of how far I could take programming people, and haven’t stopped since….been years by now. Good years.”

“I don’t understand.”

Grabbing a handful of cookies, Lynne looked at everyone carefully as she spoke

“Desserts I stressed.”

Lynne and Luc both watched everyone’s attention perk and look in the hostess’s direction, small but bright, expectant smiles, watching Lynne break the baked goods up into little pieces. She fed a sizable piece to Bailey, moaning in appreciation for the treat. She made smaller pieces for the others.

“Think hypnosis, getting people into suggestible states. Kind of the same thing, only NLP I’ve found people are more awake-looking, and it’s supposed to be temporary. My NLP is kinda rudimentary in style, but I’m just relentless, so I go at them and at them and at them and at them, and at them, until the only way that’s up is my way, so I practically am a brainwashing hypnotist to them. I have learned a bit of standard hypno and worked that into what I do, but I have a strong bias toward using what NLP I know.”

“What does that have to do with the palindromes?”

Lynne tossed a piece of cookie at Minnie who caught it with his mouth.

“Wordplay is one of the things I’m avid and geeky about, especially quirky ones like palindromes, which I guess is more letterplay maybe, but whatever. I love it.”

“Why?”

“The challenge to make phrases with almost a coherent meaning, even if they sound like really low-grade Shakespearean quotes, or like rejected Yoda quotes from the prequels.”

“If they’re supposed to be like hypnotic…triggers, I guess, some of that really seems off with the pronouns and meanings.”

“I’m pretty loose with that. You’re right about how some of them seem weird, like I don’t really boil, but Leonard will obey.”

Leonard heard his name, and didn’t have to wait long for the treat to be tossed into his wide open mouth.

“Why will he obey you?”

“Because he wants to.”

Luc scratched his head. “If he wants to obey you, why the palindromes at all then?”

“Goes back to it being fun for me, meaning it became a conditioned part of his obedience to me; I like them, so he, your sister, they all do. The wording of the palindrome does take a compromise of logic when you want those unique phrases to affect people, but it’s all in fun. We all accept it now, out of my desire and of how they use them over and over again.”

“They have to be really recycled over time; who the hell even thinks in palindromes like that? This place should be filled with scrap paper trying to make out words that sound clever,” Luc commented.

Jerome tried to catch the first piece, but it hit him on his forehead, as did the second and third piece. Luc watched as he never complained about how a giggling Lynne was obviously aiming for his face, and not his mouth, and his dumb smile as his mouth finally caught one on purpose.

“You got me-er, us there with the recycling. After I don’t know how many parties, the good ones just stick to the memory. They tend to make great triggers, fun little uncommon phrases you really won’t hear anywhere else that I eventually turned into a game for the people I was most relentless with. And I do mean relentless. Relentless enough that the same palindromes come to them almost automatically, cause who’s going to think up strange long-winded phrases on the fly like that.”

“Why would you be relentless against my sister?”

Munching on half of a new cookie, the blissed artist enjoyed the deliciousness of the cookie and Lynne stroking her hair luxuriously.

“Bailey and all of them were on my shit list at some point in our lives. They rubbed me, or we rubbed each other the wrong way, and since that point was after I got really into NLP, they took the brunt of my skill. On Bailey, I used what’s called ‘framing,’ isolating a bad memory and then really focusing on a good one, my word weaving on her drunken mind. Minnie was ‘mirroring,’ subtly imitating her till she sort of couldn’t tell the difference between her Amazonian self and my scrawny shrimp-sized self, like her shadow was a step ahead of her. I let her get comfortable with me before different programming followed. I used them to my heart’s content once I got a strong enough hold on them, convincing them to do things for me that never in a million years would they do. I kind of broke out of a shy shell when it came to the NLP, and for a while, I indulged a sadistic side with everyone here, individually, as much as I wanted.”

“I…I can’t help it. Sadistic how?”

“Minnie, for example, I’ve got a crop in the bedroom that her ass cheeks had been very intimate with, hence the ‘bad girl, bad ass’ Once I got my hooks, word hooks, more than deep enough in her, I went to town with punishing her, cropping her ass hard, and I do mean hard.”

“What’d she do to you?”

“We met at the gym where she really felt comfortable calling out other people’s deficiencies. A combination of months of terrible short jokes plus a tendency of being shoved aside because of the overconfident stride of her walk, knocking me around and showing indifference as if I didn’t matter. In hindsight maybe my reaction was petty, but I genuinely hated her for that. Once I convinced her she was overdue for spanking, I found she had a high threshold for pain, making me work like three times as hard to get any satisfaction, which I still got. Eventually, I found making that amazon pussy convulse with just my words to be waaaay more fulfilling.”

“Jesus…”

The smirk across the short woman’s face didn’t go unnoticed, not that she was trying to hide it.

“Thankfully, I got tired of the mistreatment I gave all of them. The strangest thing happened when I thought I was done with them, they all loved what I did so much, they weren’t done with me. They begged not to be let go, and I still liked the NLP but not the anger I got to exercise with it. We compromised, that’s how this Palindrome party/game night came to be. Once a month maybe, someone will have a hankering for it, send a group text about getting another one going, and that’ll set someone else off till they all want it. Once all the particulars are arranged, the good times roll.”

Trying to reason with the overload of information that had to do with his sister’s issues somewhere along the line got lost in the tide of fascination with Lynne and her intent with these games. He knew in the back of his head, in a small sliver of a corner somewhere that he should just persuade his sister to leave with him, no matter how much resistance he got from her or her friends, though Lynne was the one he feared the most. And it was on his mind the whole time, but pure fear kept him from asking the question Lynne sensed was in him.

“Let me take a stab at your thoughts – why is this girl telling me all these convoluted details about her freaky private party?”

She took his silence as permission to go on.

“I’ve never told anyone outside our group about it for one, so I was curious to see how crazy it sounded to someone from the outside, so to speak.”

“What do you mean, so to speak?”

“Just that you seem really…receptive to everything. Curious. I bet you’d like to hear what each palindrome is like in their heads.”

His silence again was taken as an affirmative, but it was for theorizing what she might say, wondering if he could guess right the what.

“On the outside, you probably wouldn’t notice them being affected at all. Unless it’s a palindrome that comes with a specific trigger, they don’t flinch, they don’t hesitate, or give any sign of being affected, at first. Inside is most interesting because through my imagination, theirs collectively gets hazy, loses track, loses specificity, loses a little step in their wit, like they lost it, but they know it’s close by so they search for it in just the next room down, leaving the hazy and finding their wit and specificity again, but finding someone else curious in the room itself, an empty room except for a mirror, full-length, vanity, a reflection of desire, of who you’d want to be, happier, smiling more, at ease and comfortable with yourself, open to suggestibility, walking up to this mirror to see all of those things on your face, even more specific, even more wanting it, until your at the mirror, and somehow past it, not just seeing what you desired, but being what you desired. You’re happier, calmer, so much more open-minded, willing to think of any room you’re really in as the room with the mirror, a room in my house, a house in my world.”

“In my room, in my house, in my world, there are lots of fun words to play around with, and they’re so fun when they reflect on one another, just like your reflection. You hear one of those palindromes, and you can see them as if they’re there at the mirror, urging you to follow not only your reflection, but the words to take in the full meaning assigned to them. I assign meaning to them, and they make you feel good, so I kind of assign the good you feel. So if I was to say ‘Avid Diva,’ avid is on your side of the mirror, and diva on the side of the reflection that looks like who you want to be. You smile just at the thought of how much bigger your smile will get following my words, from a to v to i to d, instantly feeling better, more you, following your diva’s words with a capital D, then I, then V, then A. And right now you might be as avid as your Diva to hear the other way my words will affect you, yes you are.”

“So if I say ‘now I won,’ you’ll notice that there’s a small difference there, because that ‘I’ resides between two mirrors you can walk into, happy and happier, following the n, the o, the w, and coming into the happy room with this I, and the wit you carry with you, helps you think of a word you associate with how happy you feel, something locking you in to your Diva’s words, like irrefutable, that’s a popular one, and once you lock onto that word, the space between mirrors is filled with echoes of ‘irrefutable’ over me speaking to you, as if saying the voice you hear is ‘irrefutable,’ as if Lynne, Avid Diva, nerd queen supreme, is ‘irrefutable,’ over and over, until the word ‘refute’ just doesn’t make sense anymore, feels incomplete without ‘irrefutable’ to ultimately give it proper meaning. And once you’ve had your fill, you can walk past the happier mirror to w, o, n, feeling like you’ve won, like you’ve won because I’ve won. What have I won, you might ask? Can you ask it? Does it matter? What matters when you’re feeling so happy right now?

“I think you’re happy enough right now that I think I’m ready to skip right to that infamous lightning round of the game. Or maybe Zeus round is more apt for this –

‘Dogma: I am God.'”

Lynne’s breathing always got close to labored for a second at this point, watching her guests breathing slow to a crawl, and then watching the normal atmosphere of air they breathe drop to the floor as they did. They all found it so easy to breathe down there, on their stomachs, feeling the warmth of the ground, made hot given the statuesque deity standing, looming quietly over them.

“‘God saw I was dog.'”

Strength came into their limbs and the air became better to breath at the level of everyone on their hands and feet. Every face was the human equivalent of a dog’s that doted on their owners attention. Some were close to drooling, and no noise was made as they stared at her, inwardly heads echoing ‘irrefutable, irresistible,’ any words beginning with I to strengthen their connection. Feet together, hands on her hips, giant, gloating Mona Lisa smile, she was a pillar of their world, power and femininity incarnate in their eyes, gravity not outweighing gratuitousness of being able to touch her at the jeans of her calves, unable to reach any higher unless granted permission to. Silent or whispered pleads asked for their God to be able to do more for her. The only real distraction for Lynne was how she still couldn’t find a good palindrome for ‘goddess,’ and neither could anyone else. But maybe she could find one in her newest inductee, who remained on his hands and knees the whole time, looking at her like a mountain, trying to work out why the mountain was so tall and why he should approach. Her explanatory induction got him to see his sister’s point of view now, but he was still a beginner in all of this.

“‘Devil never even lived,'”

she smiled evilly at her pets who were subject to believing there was no such thing as the devil or evil, there was no wrong that could be done so anything she did to them translated to pleasure. She gushed at bending down to hardly pinch Bailey’s cheeks, and moreso the deep moans from the attention she received. She grabbed Jerome by his short hair and threw him down to the ground with a lot less force than she used to, watching him get back up to touch what he could, before being thrown down again. Then she took one of the last cookies, broke it in half, and made Leonard and Minnie try to rise above their limbs to get it, smiling with each fail, even when she ate the whole cookie herself.

“‘I poll a gallop I.'”

Minnie specifically felt full strength come back to her, especially in her back as it firmed enough to support Lynne saddling onto her, pulling at her pigtails, riding her around the room, filling her other pets with loss for the few seconds she left them, seeing a ghost of Minnie’s beaming smile, swearing she thought the word ‘gorgeous’ slipped from that mouth. Minnie came to a stop where Luc resided, her rider down at him with perplexing interest.

Luc’s eyes saw Lynne in such majestic clarity, and he didn’t know if it was more because of her poise or the fact that everything else was blurry. The smile never left her face as she peered closer at him, nearly as curious as he was about her whole modus operandi.

“Do you even remember when we first met, when we really first met?”

It was written all over his face how he was trying, but as expected, help was needed.

“Perhaps you can get a lifeline from someone. Why not try calling ‘Professor Ross Eforp?'”

***

Wide eyes was the reaction to a wide open memory, the cafe he went to the day after he got into town to work, how he was temporarily trying to take his mind off of the family he visited, especially Bailey, with papers he promised himself he would take care of over the break. He was doing fine with those until an interruption came in the form of a young girl with the demeanor of a student willingly running into their teacher, the willing part being as foreign as the girl was to Luc.

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be a professor, would you?”

Luc turned is head to make sure she was referring to him even standing right in front of him.

“Sorry?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just…you look like one, and I was hoping to get a moment of your time.”

“What for?”

“I’m getting back into school soon, and it’s been a while for me, and I wanted to ask a professional some tips.”

He noticed her demeanor seemed like his when he was a college freshman, not to mention the vibe she gave off seemed similar for some reason, similar like his own. Confident, subtle, mature, more mature than the average student he knew.

“I’m honestly not sure I should be giving out any tips; I’ve got much more experience as a student than teacher right now.”

Her face brightened as she smoothly took the opposite chair at his table.

“That’s perfect actually, you sound like thee person I should be talking to about this.”

“Do you have some kind of fear with professors?”

“It’s a silly fear, really. But I’ve always managed to have ones with really high standards, even down to things like penmanship. It’s crazy with my luck. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the expertise and help I get,” she pointedly looked at him as she said that, giving him a good feeling, “but I don’t know if I’m getting things right with them.”

“Well, I’m a young teacher, and you probably have had older ones.”

“I’ve had reputable teachers, which you seem like. And in your case, has penmanship become a big thing in being a student or teacher?”

Luc gave serious thought to that, more than he expected to.

“In a way, yes, teachers will give you a hard time if your writing is especially atrocious.”

“Yeah, I’m trying to work on that as we speak. I still write in cursive a lot. Is that acceptable still?”

“I believe it is.”

“Can I see what yours looks like? Just like writing ‘my name is’?”

Luc felt fortunate that cursive was still something he knew how to write easily, so he wrote ‘my name is Luc’ very easily, semi-conscious of the girl’s soft talking over his writing, compliments it sounded like.

“That looks really good. Can I see you write again, just so I know how much care to give a sentence, like ‘my name is Ross’?”

He wrote as she talked again, not feeling interrupted by what she said, but curious enough that some of his mental power was pulled away to her words, only some.

“What’d you say?”

“I asked if you could write it again cause you really write well, it’d take me a while to write ‘my name is Ross’ so eloquent like that.”

He looked down at the blank paper to see the third time he’d written Ross instead of his name. She didn’t let him stop, asking him nicely to do it again for some reason, his fingers already getting into the pattern of writing the same sentence, his conscious pointing out to him the name Ross, asking where that had come from. It was a simple mistake, glossed over by the smooth voice asking how long it took him to perfect ‘my name is Ross’ so well in cursive, for a fifth, and somehow sixth time. His fingers were on a roll, partially happy that cursive came back to him so easily, undeterred by asking about this Ross person until the seventh or eight time when his hand faltered to stop her from talking, realizing she hadn’t stopped this whole time.

“Wait, wait, who’s Ross?”

“Ross is Ross, I assume,” she gently laughed, looking more at the paper than him.

“But it’s-”

“It’s ok,” came the smooth interruption again. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. Ross seems like a good name, haven’t met a bad guy named Ross yet, only good guys.”

“But-”

“Like that old show Friends, of course, where Ross was usually the most straight-laced, serious-minded person in the show, dependable, the kind of guy you can count on. You associate his kind of personality with that name so long, any other name seems kind of lacking, like you could think of another name…”

She waited for some indication on his face to find one, patiently waiting to smoothly intervene in that thought.

“But Ross is so much stronger, better, more attentive and adult about things, maybe detail-orientated, open-minded, unlike…”

He looked down to search for another name, and just as he was on the cusp of one,

“Doesn’t measure up to Ross though,” she spoke the name with more significance than before, palpable in a way, “cause Ross is like a definitive good guy, a guy you want to be around, a guy who attracts good feels, meaning Ross should feel just as good. What other name deserves to feel as good as Ross?”

She barely waited before speaking again.

“Right, Ross just deserves those good feelings. He listens, he considers, parses, even takes decisive action for things as small but as important as listening. If you could nickname yourself with another name, it’d be Ross, wouldn’t it? A strong name that helps define you, a good guy, like you could live with the name for a while and wear it like a fabulous suit, to be called Ross and get the goodness you deserve. So it’s a good thing to be called Ross, right Ross?”

“…Ro-right…?”

“Yeah, Ross is such a good name for a good man, it could make the rest of a title sound better, like if you heard Ross Eforp, sounds like a weird last name but it’s bolstered up with a strong name like Ross that it doesn’t sound so bad after. Ross Eforp, Ross Eforp, Ross Eforp, Ross Eforp. Suddenly Eforp is a strong family name because they had the good sense to name their son Ross, Ross Eforp. Ross Eforp is quite the man, Ross Eforp is quite the admirable man, so you know Professor Ross Eforp is even more admirable and respected. Professor Ross Eforp is among the most strong, cultured, professional men there is. Professor Ross Eforp is distinguished, personable, someone whom will lend you their ear and he’ll take everything important in, and be gifted by knowing the name Professor Ross Eforp is well-liked, which makes him want to listen even more.”

The name was an endless stream in his mind that he was sucked into and floated downstream. Professor Ross Eforp was the only name he was aware of, and his subconsciousness liked it so much it was willing to co-opt it to his sense of self for a little while, putting his real, weaker name aside for the time being.

“Professor Ross Eforp is the teacher every student wants to flock to, because he’ll explain things easy, and he’ll listen to what his students have to say, `like a perfect symbiosis. So when a student, someone like me tells you something, you take it all way in and work with it to a satisfying result, and both of us feel good that we’ve worked toward the same thing. So me saying your name ‘Professor Ross Eforp,” will make you feel good, and make you remember how you should be feeling when a student like me addresses you. Till then, you can feel just as good with the man you once were, whether you remember it or not, and I don’t think you will for a while, but still feeling good regardless, knowing you’re more man than before with just this extra name to claim. Just like you know it’s easy to come back to being a little more wakeful as I knock on this table lightly…”

“And knock on wood, this was really helpful. I can’t thank you enough.”

“…….what?”

“The help you gave me, you’ve got some really good tips?”

“Tips?….but I don’t remember….?”

“You don’t remember how good the advice was? You really are good Professor…Ross Eforp.”

“…..don’t hesitate to forget about me too, for a while…”

***

The coffee shop disappeared, replaced by the carpet his knees rested on, looking up at his student-god.

“Feeling really good again, aren’t we ‘Professor Ross Eforp?'”

He shuttered coming back to the present, experiencing the full force of his name being spoken by that voice.

“I guess I forgot to mention another great quality of ‘Professor Ross Eforp’ – he’s a devout religious man, oh so humbled and happy in the presence of his god, prostrating as he ought to be, ready to heed the word of god. Or in this case, he’ll, right, you’ll learn from the other disciples how to heed god’s word.

‘Seven eves.'”

Some of Lynne’s guests rolled onto their backs, experiencing their own phantom orgy with each other. Originally it was supposed to be the feel of seven virgins per guest feeling them up all at once, but it became more fun to see what they’d do to each other on the most primal of levels. The space between everyone on the floor was irrelevant to what their bodies told them was real. Deep fantasies were felt to the extreme from Jerome sensing a submissive Minnie at his crotch giving him head he always knew she was dying to give, and Minnie’s thighs brought Jerome on the verge of a sweet death as they squeezed his head harder and harder between his legs, pain and ecstasy blended crazily into one. Lynne surveyed her work, giving them a few more minutes so they were ready for what was to come next.

“You should consider yourself not only humbled and happy, but maybe lucky in all your faculties Professor. At this point you’d be looking at acts fit for the old testament; the anger is mostly gone in me, so everything’s way more new testament now, like god and heaven on earth.

‘Eve damned Eden. Mad Eve!'”

Minnie and Bailey’s eye popped open to find their intended target, hands gently pushing at Lynne on the couch, ravishing her with gentle touches worthy of a world-class seductress. It never seemed sacrilege for them to treat their god in such a way, because they knew this was god’s command. Minnie frenched Lynne and tweaked her nipples, while Bailey struggled to get her pants down fast enough to part her folds with her tongue, urging a sea of pleasure to fall to her lips.

“Oooohhhh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep!”

Lynne rode the wave, slapping her ladies wherever she could reach as if they were horses being cropped to cross the finish line faster.

“Ooohhh fuck you bitches!”

They all crossed the finish line at the same time, the old testament trigger had never been swapped for something less demeaning, cause it was still fun to indulge reliving Lynne’s darker days for a few seconds, and she still hadn’t found out how to get a palindrome out of that phrase.

Once the darkness passed, Lynne watched as their new testament programming kicked in, where Bailey and Minnie engaged in what amounted to aftercare for themselves, knowing they did for themselves at the Avid Diva’s behest.

She let herself breath while her pussy stopped tingling for the next phase.

“‘Madam in Eden, I’m Adam.’ Line up boys, Professor Ross Eforp last, watching carefully as to how it’s done.”

Leonard who was closest got to be first, then Jerome, then Ross Eforp as instructed. Beneath the couch cushions, Lynne reached and pulled out a few collars and leashes, of which one set looked weird and small for a collar. Leonard and Jerome each took one, leaving Ross to feel a loss of his own as Leonard placed shed everything but his jeans, and started to follow Lynne who got up and stood in the middle of her living room, Leonard circling her like a predator, more specifically like a wrestler. He took his time to stalk his prey, eying weak points of an opponent standing fearlessly and annoyed.

“Remember that time you told me the only thing I could have in-common with my fantasy as a wrestler is the size of the chairs, and how the chairs would hurt more?”

Leonard never answered, still circling.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t expect you to remember that insult either, but I’m pretty sure you’re muscle memory perfect remembers

’tis time emit sit'”

The words disempowered “Emit” before she took hold of the leash and collar he forgot was attached to his neck and yanked him to the floor, pinning him, then using the long length to bind his limbs together like a wrangled wild animal.

“At least it’s only your pride that hurts more now. And you,” she looked at Jerome standing at attention nearby.

“‘Strap parts.'”

The urge to dance, to entice, to make his target come to him pushed him to become wildly charismatic from afar, the view of his six pack being teased as the layers of shirts came off him, swinging and waved like a flag as the muscles undulated to a song playing only in his head. Once his torso was exposed, he was nearly naked, only if the small collar wrapped around the base of his erection counted as clothing. The way he swung his hips and humped at her made Lynne blush and look away, but she turned her head just in-time to feel more force than he expected push his hips forward. It was an uncomfortable tug, yet at the same time it wasn’t, knowing that even if he failed to make her come to him, they were closer than before. The tug still took some of the wind out of his performance, and mobility. His ego and manhood felt in jeopardy with every tug, but it was out of his control as he watched the leather leash, serving as a single puppet string, bundle and wrap more and more in her hand, until he looked down at Lynne’s, dancing to her choreography, pulled down to kneel, and back to his feet, moaning, wanting something, unaware of his programming telling him he already had what he really wanted.

After a few minutes, boredom set in past the cruel nostalgia as she unraveled the strap and tied Jerome’s to Leonard’s, finally bringing her attention to Ross, formerly known as Luc.

“Can you imagine how I used to be much, much crueler than that, to all of them?”

Somewhere within, he absolutely could.

“‘Evil did I dwell, lewd did I live.'”

She called out to the entire room, all of whom felt their libidos start to go nuclear. Even Luc started to respond in a way he thought Lynne wanted him to.

“After so much preparation, and so, so much divine attention, I still don’t know what kind of game I will play with you. With someone of your background, it will probably be wordy, something we can play anywhere, a leash with no limits. Until I do, I hope you’ve enjoyed this demonstration of Goddess Palindrome power, and your introduction and induction to my little party. And I hope you don’t mind, I need you to do something for me before I give you a party favor…”

***

Luc got back in his mother’s car, waiting for the heat to kick in. It didn’t seem to bother him that he’d been gone long enough that it’d take a while for the heat to come; he hadn’t had that much fun in…well, ever. Never had a night he’d planned to go so far south made a hard U-turn. He could report to the family that Bailey was into something harmless, in fact a healthy replacement of sorts, with the kind of people she could trust, that even he could trust. Especially Lynne, some kind of fun Diva and apparent miracle worker to make Bailey crack open a water bottle and have that be enough, and turn something arbitrary like palindromes into a board game excitement for the 7 year old in him.

It was a hard, stimulating game, and he was better at it than he thought to be a serious contender, but the goddess, or victor, as Luc’s mind corrected, rightfully one and gave him a challenge to look forward to the next time he could come and teach her a thing or two. He would keep it close to the vest how quickly he accepted those nicknames like Prince or Ross. Ross Eforp. Professor Ross Eforp; Luc smiled deeply at that.

As he thought about it, he realized part of his brain power was still going to figuring out palindromes to use, something he hadn’t heard at the party. He let his mind work on one word and surrounding words, until something usable materialized. Quickly, he pulled out his phone.

Luc: Bailey, tell Lynne ‘Goddess amassed dog.’

He pridefully sent the message.

Bailey: Lynne said she’s very impressed with you, for some reason. And also ‘Party Favor for Professor Ross Eforp.’

Muffled screams came from the closed-windowed car, all the dormant goodness Luc felt flooded out of him into his pants, embarrassment not strong enough to take him off of cloud 9. He only thought about getting to the nearest public bathroom as soon as he could, and to get in touch with the Avid Diva again, as soon as he could.

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