"I'm leaving," eighteen-year-old Jenny announced to her brother Kyle on a balmy September afternoon as they sat nursing tall glasses of homemade lemonade at the patio table. "Soon. I just can't stay here any longer."
"Are you crazy?" Kyle didn't try to hide his shock. "Where would you go? To do what? And besides, you know Mom and Dad couldn't hack it if you left." He ignored the tiny little dart of pain that pierced his heart every time he realized that Jenny was his parent's favorite. He'd never been able to change that. "You have it made here."
"Maybe so," Jenny said. Her chin lifted. "I'm not crazy, either. I have to leave--it's the only way I can find my true destiny. You're only jealous cause you're staying here, going to college." She shrugged. "All that stuff."
"You don't know what you're talking about." His heart contracted, but he refused to break eye contact with his younger sister. He truly wasn't jealous of her--he loved her as much as everyone else did. Maybe even more. "Why do you keep hanging around with that darned guru? Can't you understand what he's doing?"
"You're the one who doesn't understand. Master Kundalini can see my soul. He says I'm being smothered here--that my aura has been poisoned. I have to get away from this toxic life and cleanse myself." Jenny's voice echoed her defiance.
"Whatever your aura is, it's fine. And there's nothing toxic about people loving you." Kyle struggled to understand Jenny. He'd been fifteen months old when she was born, and they'd always been close. Until Master Kundalini entered their lives. "All that guy wants is to break up families."
"I've thought about this all summer, big brother. I have to go. I'm telling Mom and Dad tonight, and I'm leaving tomorrow."
"You can't just traipse off to who knows where."
"Master Kundalini has a commune in New Mexico. He only invites special people there."
"Where in New Mexico?"
Jenny shook her head. "No, Kyle. I wasn't even supposed to tell you that much. Master Kundalini said you'd try to stop me. He says I have latent powers that can only be developed if I'm away from everyone I know."
"That's really crazy."
"Master Kundalini said you'd say that. He says people are afraid of those who develop their higher powers and will do anything to stop them."
Cold fear twisted Kyle's insides, then snaked its way to his heart. "Don't listen to him." Kyle leaned forward, his voice urgent. "He's wrong. Don't listen to him, Jenny. Don't leave."
"You're the one that's wrong. I have to leave. I love you, and Mom and Dad, but I can't let all of you hold me back any longer." Jenny gulped the last of her lemonade and pushed herself away from the table. "I have to get started on my packing." She patted Kyle's hand and smiled. "Don't worry so much, big brother. I'll be fine." She bounced away before Kyle could reply.
He remained on the patio a while longer. He tried shrugging off the feeling that something terrible was about to happen. But a sense of danger, of harm, to Jenny lingered. How could he convince her to stay home? Sadness filled him when he realized that his baby sister, the little girl he'd adored and protected all his life, no longer wanted her brother's advice. He couldn't make her do anything she didn't want to do.
Kyle harbored a hope that his parents would change Jenny's mind when she told them of her plans. But Jenny didn't come to dinner that night.
"She looked up to you. Why didn't you talk her into staying?" his father said bitterly when Kyle repeated what Jenny had told him. "This is all your fault."
His mother simply looked at him, her face a grief-stricken mask he'd never forget, before retreating to the bedroom.
As the weeks went by and there was no word from Jenny, Kyle's parents withdrew even more from him. His father continued to blame him for her disappearance, and Kyle spent sleepless nights reliving his last conversation with Jenny. Then had come the shattering headlines of a drug bust at a New Mexico commune and the death of the leader and three acolytes.
Jennifer Marie Cordell was one of the three.
Kyle's parents resumed attendance at the church they had earlier abandoned. His father began amassing anti-cult literature, and lecturing against psychologists, psychics, and anything "New Age" whenever he could find a podium and an audience. He and like-minded cronies banded together to establish the Family Foundation Against Mind Control.
The more Kyle's father spoke out, the more his mother retreated into herself, until she was only a shadow, lurking on the edge of life. Master Kundalini had snatched Kyle's whole family from him.
Although his father devoted himself to spreading the Family Foundation message, Kyle chose to not take an active role in the organization. He yearned to remember Jenny with love, rather than the legacy of hate and bitterness his father preached daily. Adam Cordell recorded this as yet another failure against his son.
In his never-ending efforts to please his father, Kyle forced himself to earn a MBA--the elder man had been vociferous in his opposition to his son's desire to be a "bleeding-heart" social worker. Kyle married Belinda, his childhood sweetheart, the day after graduation. Although his parents and Belinda had clashed over the Family Foundation, the elder Cordells doted on their grandsons, Jason and Jared.