Authors: Kimberly Readnour
“Sorry,” Barry said. “You shouldn’t have had to witness that.”
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry. This is my fault, I shouldn’t have come tonight,” I said.
He shook his head. “No. You have every right to go out with your friends. Don’t let narrowminded jerks like him dictate what you’re going to do.”
“Barry’s right,” Nicole agreed. “That asshat got what he deserved.”
“Yeah,” Caleb said, giving me a hug.
Everyone murmured their agreement, and I relaxed somewhat. But I still hated the situation. This fiasco had occurred because of me, fault or not. They scattered in different directions as we turned toward Barry’s car—the only car that miraculously had scored a close parking spot.
We walked toward his vehicle, and I shuddered at the thought that my stupid clairvoyance might never go away.
“See you guys later,” Nicole said.
I went to say goodbye and stopped. Nicole was walking toward a dark alley between the Gamer and the adjoining building. Amber light illuminated off the streetlight and cascaded in a circular pattern that didn’t extend into the alley’s entrance. Where was she going?
“Nicole, what are you doing?” I hollered out to her.
“Oh, I parked behind back, along the road,” she said, pointing toward the eerie darkness. “I was just taking a short–cut.”
Barry frowned. “Wait up, we’ll walk you to your car.”
“Oh, I’ll be all right,” she said.
“No, it’s late.” Barry insisted. “With everything that’s happened tonight, I’d prefer you were safe.”
He joined our hands. My eyes strayed down, causing me to stop walking. “Barry, your knuckles are torn.”
He looked at the torn skin and shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?” I asked. The small amount of blood had dried, but the skin was still scraped.
He shook his head. “Nah, I’ll be okay.” He squeezed my hand slightly in reassurance, and we headed toward Nicole again.
“Seriously, I’ve taken this route several times before and nothing has ever happened,” she said when we approached her.
He pinned her with a look—one that meant
don’t mess with me
—before responding. “I don’t care. I’m not letting you walk by yourself, especially since we’ve made enemies tonight.”
I flinched at his remark, but Barry didn’t notice because Nicole distracted him by leaning toward him when we stepped into the alleyway. He draped his arms over her shoulders and tightened his hand around mine as if he refused to let go. This position wasn’t the best for defending against assailants, but it didn’t matter. The false security that our joined fingers provided gave me an illusion of safety. His touch eased some of the tension built up from thinking about how they had formed their new enemies because of me. That part troubled me the most.
The tall brick buildings swallowed us in darkness as we edged our way back toward her car. I wrapped my jacket tighter around me. An eeriness crept its way inside me, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the creepy shadows or our recent altercation with Micha.
What if someone was hiding, waiting to ambush us?
I scanned our path as far as I could see for anything suspicious, but the only thing visible was a dumpster placed near the rear exit of The Gamer.
Fluorescent rays from a single floodlight shone down into the alley, casting more shadows than actual light. If danger lurked, the problem would be there—a person could easily hide behind that large dumpster. I kept my eyes peeled as we got closer to that area and let out a sigh when it became apparent that there was no one lurking behind it. My gaze strayed toward the back door. I halted and my breath hitched. A sense of dèjá vu washed over me at the sight of a rusty, metal door.
Nicole noticed my hesitation and asked, “What’s wrong?”
My mouth opened, but no sounds came out. Transported to my vision, I could see the mayor and police chief standing in this very spot.
This place was where their transaction had occurred. I swallowed. Unable to explain to Nicole, I scrambled for something to say.
“Um, I thought I saw something. I guess I’m more shook–up than I thought,” I said, glancing at Barry.
His lips drew tight as he peered at the back door. He nodded slightly and said, “It’s all right. There’s no one there. We’d better get going though, it’s late.”
Nicole began to speak but snapped her mouth shut. She shook her head as we began walking to her car again. When we approached her green Volkswagen, she offered us a ride back to Barry’s car. I shivered as I crammed into her backseat. The temperature seemed to have dropped again, but the icy conditions had nothing do with my shakiness. Perhaps I could tell Barry what had happened back in his car and my nerves would calm down.
The next morning, I straightened in bed, stretched, and stared out my window. The rainbows reflecting off the crystal prism dangling from my windowsill danced around the room. The shiny colors drew my attention, but what captivated me was the view out my window, one of the most picturesque I had ever seen. The lower temperatures had caused a heavy frost that lined the ground and trees. The brightness of the sun cascaded off the ice crystals, producing outbursts of iridescence that shimmered like diamonds. I sat there, surrendering to the beauty.
From the moment we moved here, the woods had been remarkable. Although my attraction started from Johnny’s allurement, the horrific scene never pulled away from its beauty. The lush greenery that painted the landscape gave way to the colorful hues of fall. The breathtaking splash of colors forever changed my opinion of the woods. They were no longer just trees. But when the last leaf fell, the woods appeared naked and cold. The temperatures soon plummeted, bringing along winter and its blustery winds. The dullness continued until the first snowfall, but once the white, fluffy powder covered the ground and tree limbs, the woods became brilliant once again.
I’d never been a fan of winter, but I had enjoyed this past one. Barry and I made snow angels and even had an actual snowball fight.
During one snowstorm, it snowed abundantly and it shut down the town.
Barry had stayed at his grandma’s house in anticipation of the storm, and the next day had perfect snowpack. I had never had that much fun playing in the cold, wet stuff, but with Barry, it was fun. We built a snowman, complete with black button eyes and a carrot nose—compliments of his grandma, of course. She also had an old scarf she let us borrow. To complete the ensemble, we wrapped it around the snowman’s neck. I laughed when Barry insisted on calling her a snow–woman, naming her Mrs. Brown. I wasn’t sure where the name came from, but I didn’t care. She was cute, even if a little lopsided.
Watching the sunbeams bouncing off the trees through my window brought a sense of serenity. But no matter how serene the landscape, that bliss wouldn’t keep last night’s disaster from infiltrating my mind, spoiling anything beautiful. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the headboard. Sometimes, I forget. I forget the reality of my life, past and present. I forget that people viewed me differently and made such hideous assumptions. But, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself since being entranced by the delusion that everything’s perfect was too easy. With the support of my friends who never left my side, I’d gotten wrapped–up in the false security they provided.
I had simply forgotten
The beginning of last night had been undeniably fun, and I finally had a sense of belonging. Contentment replaced any uneasiness I had felt from being an outsider. I was comfortable around them and relaxed, foolishly letting my guard down. That was why Micha’s comment had disturbed me so much. His mean remarks had cruelly ripped away my sense of security and left emptiness in its wake. It was disturbing that a simple incident could stir up such old, forgotten feelings. All of my past insecurities sprang forth and reminded me of the hard truth: that I was never over them. I hated it.
Placing my head in my hands, my heart squeezed at the thought of Barry’s fight. What went through his mind last night? His sudden rage and quickness to punch Micha stunned me. I have never known Barry to be short tempered. Would he wake up with regrets, or worse yet, despair? I so didn’t want him taking pity on me.
With one last peek out the window, I sighed before forcing myself out of bed. Regardless of how beautiful my surroundings may have been, I needed to start my day. The aroma of coffee generated a tiny groan as I stumbled my way toward the kitchen. Mom was near. Not that I didn’t want to see her, but I wasn’t prepared for the impending barrage of questions. How was I going to explain Barry’s fight? Maybe I wouldn’t; I would just have to remember to have him conceal his skinned knuckles when he came over later.
Ah, the coffee pot. I grabbed a mug from the cabinet to pour myself a cup. I needed the effects of the caffeine to start my day—especially, with Mom’s impending inquisition.
As if on cue, she asked, “So, how was your evening out?”
I clamped my jaw down to stop a disgruntled moan and replaced the carafe. Without saying anything, I shuffled my feet toward the table where she sat.
Why did her questions annoy me so much
? I knew they were coming, but I still cringed internally every time she peppered me with questions. I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and ask, “Why?”
The smile I’d perfected through the years disguised my irritation as I sat down across from her. Sidestepping the question, I stated the obvious, “You’re working today?” She was supposed to have the day off, but she was wearing her crisp nursing scrubs.
“Yes. They called, asking if I’d come into work. There’s a nasty virus going around, and a few people called in. I’m going to help cover their shifts,” she answered. The nonchalance in her voice suggested she didn’t mind going in, but the dark circles under her eyes spoke otherwise. I hated her working this much.
Mom sipped her coffee, staring at me. “You didn’t answer my question.”
I sighed. There wasn’t any type of obstruction that would derail her line of questioning. Not when the subject matter was too juicy for her to pass on, anyway, and my newly acquired social life was definitely a juicy topic. After taking a drink of my coffee, I said vaguely, “It was a good time.”
She grinned, and my stomach clenched at the prospect of lying. But it wasn’t exactly a lie; more like a lie of omission. For the most part, the beginning of the evening had been fun. It was just the latter part that had turned sour.
I proceeded to describe The Gamer. Her eyes never left mine and she seemed to hang on every word I said. I explained about the games we had played, and how we joked around with each other throughout the evening. As I recounted everything, her warm smile and the twinkle in her eyes melted any lingering annoyance and I relaxed. I told her everything. I just omitted the fight. Why mention it? I would rather wait and see if any further problems developed before upsetting her.
The telephone ringing interrupted our conversation. Mom got up to answer it, and I went to place my cup in the sink. Turning to face her, the corner of her mouth turned upwards for a moment before dropping into a frown as her back muscles stiffened.
“Sure, she’s right here,” Mom said and handed me the phone, mouthing Detective Tanner’s name.
Thinking that he was calling about the police chief, I winced and wondered how to explain that to Mom. “Hello,” I said in a wavering voice.
“Heather, it’s Tanner,” he said in his customary crisp manner. “A situation has developed that could use your help. Would you mind if I came over to explain?”
I turned my head toward Mom. Her slackened, pale face made me want to shrink into the linoleum and disappear. She knew this day would arrive. It should come as no surprise that the police department had called requesting my help, but her pursed lips and hardened stare screamed disapproval.
“Of course, Detective, I’ll help with whatever you need me to.”
Mom closed her eyes and turned away from me.
“Great, I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” Tanner said.
We hung up, and I blew out a breath as Mom gathered the dishcloth and wiped the same area, repeatedly. I remained quiet and contemplated what to say to her. I mean, what more could be said that hadn’t been already? In the last few months, I thought she’d accepted my abilities, or at least come to terms with them. How could she act this way after everything we’d been through? Would she ever learn to accept my abilities?
I shook my head and stalked away. I didn’t have time to explain or smooth things over with her because—if nothing else—Detective Tanner was a man of his word. If he said he’d be here in thirty, I could depend on it. I rushed into my bathroom, quickly hopping into the shower. There wasn’t enough time to wash my hair, so I threw it up in a sloppy bun. If there was a record for getting ready the fastest, I would’ve broken it.
A quick glance out the window revealed heavy frost still blanketing the ground, but the brightly shining sun was starting to melt the frost and make it drip from the branches. Gah, this crazy weather! I grabbed a sweatshirt and went back into the bathroom.
The doorbell rang, causing a wave of jitters to crash through me. I rushed to finish, pulling the sweatshirt over my head as Mom hollered that she would answer the door. With a deep breath to calm my nerves, I grabbed my phone and hurried to the living room.
Detective Tanner stood at the edge of the entryway. I started to approach, but stopped. He and Mom were engaged in conversation, and it seemed wrong to intrude even though he was here to see me. I hung back for a few seconds while they continued talking.
Tanner was speaking with his hands in his pocket while Mom angled her head upward, clinging to every word. I couldn’t make out what he said, but his words caused her to smile and look down. I’d never seen her act flirtatiously before, but her attraction to him was obvious. And judging by the gleam in Tanner’s eyes, the attraction wasn’t one–sided.
I needed to ask Nicole how his divorce had worked out. Shelving that thought for later, I focused on the purpose of his visit, and rattled my key–chain to create noise. Their private moment interrupted, Mom and Detective Tanner jerked slightly before stepping away from each other. As they put distance between them, I pretended not to notice their conspicuous exchange, mentally preparing myself for Tanner’s news.