Authors: Angela Fristoe
A Touched Trilogy, #2
By Angela Fristoe
Copyright 2013 Angela Fristoe
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“I want to see them.” Zoe winced and a hoarse croak struggled from her lips. Hours of laboring had torn her throat ragged. She fought against the urge to close her weary eyes. “I want to see them. I need to.”
He went to the door and spoke to a nurse outside the room. Zoe gazed at his strong features when he returned to her side. “They’re bringing them now.” Even as he said the words, three nurses entered the room rolling the carts.
Michael handed her the first baby and she cradled it in her arms, smoothing a hand over short raven curls. “Phoebe, my little truth teller.” The baby’s eyes opened and the deep blue twinkled as Zoe whispered, “I love you.” She knew.
“Truth teller?” Michael asked. He nuzzled Phoebe’s hand that wrapped around his finger.
“She knows I’m telling her the truth. It’s her gift. To hear the truth of the words.” Zoe gave her another kiss on the forehead. “Tomorrow and always I’ll be with you.”
Zoe looked up at Michael, his face lined with worry. “Don’t worry. Everything is fine.”
Phoebe’s little face scrunched up and she gave a small whimper.
He gently lifted her and put her back in the rolling crib, then picked up the next baby, placing her against Zoe’s chest.
“Chloe, my sweet seer.” Their eyes met and Chloe gave a cry filled with fear and sadness, her fingers clutching desperately at Zoe.
This time she ignored Michael’s questioning gaze. She couldn’t share with him what Chloe had seen. It still hurt too much. She pressed a kiss to Chloe’s head and passed her to the nurse then leaned over to take the last baby from Michael’s arms.
“Lily,” She said, placing her over her heart. Warmth flooded Zoe and she smiled weakly. “My healer.” Lily’s little heart beat fiercely and Zoe rubbed her hand along Lily’s back as she began to wail. “I’m sorry, little one. You’re not strong enough yet.”
Her heart ached for Lily and the knowledge that she would remember exactly what Zoe was feeling as she held her. Of the three, Lily’s heart would be the most vulnerable, it was a downfall of her gift. Zoe wished she would be there when Lily’s heart broke, but she knew she wouldn’t be.
Gradually, Lily’s wail subsided into a soft mewing and her eyes fluttered closed. Michael lifted her from Zoe’s arms, placing her back on her mobile bed and the nurses wheeled the babies out of the room. Zoe wanted to scream and cry for them to come back, to let her hold her girls just one more time. But there was no strength left in her. This time when her eyes closed she didn’t fight. She let them fall as a last tear slipped down her cheek. A hand gripped hers and a panicked voice began shouting. Michael. Girls. Be strong.
Is it wrong not to love the person you’re with? I don’t know if that’s worse than not being with them.
I stared at the photo of Dylan and me, taken almost a year ago. We’d gone to Sea World with a group of his friends and someone had snapped the picture. We looked happy. In love. Everyone always assumed we’d be together forever. High school sweethearts. I had believed it. I’d clung to the idea until it felt like it would swallow me whole. I thought that would be a good thing. I thought that was what love was supposed to do.
But things changed after that day. Dylan changed. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment or event. There was a slow building of anger and pain within him. Not the physical pain that caused my stomach to clench in dread, but the emotional kind that burned my hands until I was desperate for relief. He even looked different now. Oh, the wavy hair was a tad longer and he was still reed thin, but his face was now drawn tight, a constant signal to me that he was hurting. As if the heat in my hands wasn’t enough. Fixing it would be easy if I knew the cause, but in all the healings I done for Dylan I’d never been able to figure out the source.
“Yo, Lily? You still with me?” Phoebe waved her hand in front of the photo.
I tried to remember what she’d been talking about, something to do with junior prom. Something I hadn’t even thought about yet. I should think about it. Dylan would want to go. He always wanted to go to those things, to be in the middle of a crowd and feel their energy. All I felt during those was a suffocating sense of dissatisfaction drifting from the girls and boys discovering that high school dances were less exciting and glamorous than movies portrayed. But Dylan would want to go.
The photo wobbled in my hand and I blinked, trying to blend the Dylan of a year ago with the one I knew today.
“Are you and Nathan in love?” I asked, still staring at the picture. The question popped out. I wasn’t even sure why I bothered to ask. I already knew the answer. Whenever she was with him it radiated off her, once I’d even managed to transfer a bit of it.
“Yeah, I mean, I guess we are. We’ve never said it, but it’s there, you know?” She gave a lopsided smile.
Her answer didn’t surprise me. Out of the three of us, Phoebe always seemed the least likely to exhibit any girly emotions. Although, since she and Nathan started dating she’d been a lot softer, even more now they’d gone through the whole ‘time apart’ thing.
“Do you think that’s strange? Should I tell him?” she asked.
“No, not unless you really want to.” I glanced at her and tried to smile. She rolled onto her stomach, scrunching one of my pillows under her chest, while mussing up the comforter with her legs. Visits with Phoebe tended to end with me having to tidy up either my room or hers.
“How did you tell Dylan?” she asked.
I looked back at the photo.
I had loved him. Once upon a time. A time that got harder to remember each moment I was with him.
When we started dating in seventh grade, he had been sweet and cute. All of the girls at school had been jealous, well except Phoebe. Every day, he would share the dessert his mom packed in his lunch with me, since my dad never thought about that type of thing. He’d walk me home, holding my hand every step of the way, and then stay to help me with my homework.
It was like Phoebe had said. It was there, just never said. But now, there was nothing. I wanted to feel something for him, but he was surrounded by pain, anger, sorrow. And nothing I did healed him. I’d tried so many times I wasn’t even sure I wanted to love him again.
“Lils! Come on, how did you tell Dylan?”
“What?” She nearly fell off the bed when she sat up in surprise, saving herself by grabbing the headboard and hoisting herself upright. “You’ve been with him for, well, forever. How could you not have told him?”
“Almost five years.” Nearly a quarter of my life.
“Whatever. Five years and you never said it? Not even once?”
I shrugged and shoved the photo back in my desk drawer.
“Do you love him?”
“Yes.” It was an automatic answer. One I felt I was supposed to give. Why else would I stay with him for so long? I’d loved him once. Part of me must still.
“Uh, hello? Truth Teller here.” She waved her hands, gesturing to herself. As if I could forget lying to Phoebe was pointless. Since first developing her gift four months ago, she’d taken to testing pretty much everyone. Up until now, I’d been able to avoid anything I would want to lie about.
“Lily, I might not like Dylan, but how could you let him think that for years? That’s kind of messed up.”
I looked at Phoebe. She blurred, filtered through the tears welling up in my eyes. She was right. I was messed up.
“Ah, Lils, I’m sorry.” Phoebe rose and awkwardly tried to wrap an arm around me. I brushed her off and went to my door, holding it open for her. She walked out into the hall and I shut the door before she could say anything else.
I flopped onto the bed and curled into a tight ball, making myself as small as possible. There must be some love for Dylan left inside of me, otherwise I wouldn’t be so worried about him. But whatever there was vanished a little more each day. Messed up, maybe, but I didn’t want to hurt Dylan. He already hurt so much. How could I add to what he was dealing with?
Knowing Phoebe’s big mouth, I probably had only a few minutes until Chloe was at my door wanting to share her visions of my life. I pushed off the bed and checked myself in the mirror. I looked paler than usual, but at least I’d kept in the tears so my eyes wouldn’t be puffy for hours after. Porcelain skin, Nanna always called it. More like a freckled window to my soul.
A short knock preceded Chloe’s entrance. She looked only mildly concerned, but it was easy to be calm when you knew everything that was going to happen.
“Hey,” she said with a bit too much casualness in her voice.
“Phoebe has got to be the fastest gossip in town.” I gave a semi-smile. It wasn’t Chloe’s fault. The two of them were natural snoops. They just didn’t understand that I wasn’t much into sharing. Emotions were a private thing and most people didn’t want someone else to know everything they felt. “Despite what I’m sure Phoebe said, I’m fine.”
“Oh, sweetie, you and Dylan are gonna be okay.” She used her big sister voice granted to her originally by her two minute and thirty-eight seconds head start on life and now by a seven-inch advantage.
She gave me a more successful hug than Phoebe, and for a moment, I truly believed what she said. Then reality checked me back in. Nothing would be okay with Dylan and me, because I didn’t want it to be.
“I don’t know what crap Phoebe fed you, but you and Dylan have always been perfect for each other. Just because you haven’t said I love you yet, doesn’t mean you won’t.”
“Have you seen anything?” Normally, I didn’t ask her about my future. When we were little, I asked all the time, wanting the security of knowing what would happen, thinking it would give me some control. It didn’t. Knowing only made me realize how little control I did have, and knowing things I couldn’t change only made me feel sick. But right now, I wanted something to hold on to.
“I saw you guys going to junior prom, and homecoming, and he’ll be here at Christmas. Next year you guys will go to senior prom together.” She smiled down at me, thinking that was what I wanted to hear. What would she say if I told her that was the one thing I didn’t want? “Now let’s go make pizza. Dad won his case and he’s going to want to celebrate.”
I followed her up the stairs, glad to be out of my room, away from the photo of Dylan.
“Are you sure?” I asked before we joined Phoebe in the kitchen.
Chloe’s smile faded. “I saw it, Lils.”
She’d been wrong lately, though. While everyone else came through spot on for her, Phoebe and Tonya’s futures had been a complete disaster for Chloe to see. I could only hope she was wrong about mine, too, and I wondered if that made me more messed up than Phoebe thought. I didn’t ask her anything more. Instead we worked together to fix dinner and I let the questions go.
Sleep came only moments before my alarm went off the next morning and I resigned myself to yet another exhausting day. As a young child, I’d imagined school as a place that would give me a break from the overwhelming emotions of my dad and Nanna. Though their pain from Mom’s passing had faded by the time kindergarten came around, there were moments it overtook them and the rush of heat would rip through me. School meant distance from their hurting. The first day of school had shattered that idea.
School was worse than being at home. At least at home, I had my own bedroom and could close the door when my sisters fought. School was just one big melting pot of emotion and only got worse as we got older. There was no escape and while one person was riding the high of first love, like Phoebe and Nathan, others were consumed by insecurities, jealousy, and anger. Which maybe would have balanced out if I’d been able to take in the positive stuff. But people tended to hold onto those warm and fuzzy feelings, leaving me constantly absorbing all of the unwanted crap.
The bell rang and I frantically pulled my English books from my locker. I’d planned on arriving to class early, but Phoebe had caught me right after first period, needing me to take care of her monthly cramps. It was definitely not how I’d wanted to start my day, but I couldn’t say no to her. A five second healing had ended up with me sitting on the floor in front of my locker for ten minutes recovering.
“Chill, Lils. Ms. Garcia is running late,” Chloe said as she sidled up to me.
“Yeah, but I wanted to read over some of my notes before class. You know how she is with pop quizzes.” I closed the locker door and started down the hall.
“Don’t I always warn you before one?” she asked, walking beside me.
“Well, the last time you waited until about five minutes before class, so I don’t really count on you seeing it in time to do me any good.”
“Whatever,” she said and flipped her brown hair over her shoulder in a perfect wave.
I’d always wanted hair like hers, or even Phoebe’s darker curls. Instead, I suffered through my carrot locks that were gradually becoming a little less orange and more of a deeper auburn. Somehow I had ended up with the recessive genes in hair color
the short end of the stick with my height. Together my sisters and I averaged normal height. Independently though, they towered over me at five-eight while I was barely five -one.
“So, I’m thinking I want Andrew to ask me to junior prom,” she said, smiling. “But the only time I see him is in English.”
I could hear a question somewhere in there. “And?”
“And I want you to switch seats with me, so I can sit beside him. Maybe play him up a bit.”
“I thought you didn’t like Andrew anymore?”
“Yeah, well it’s not like I have many options. I was hoping the new guy would ask, but he seems entirely oblivious to my beauty.” She laughed, but an underlining tone caught my attention along with a tingle in the tips of my fingers. Casually, I grazed her arm with my hand. A small jolt went through me, followed by a fleeting tangle of emotions I couldn’t dissect before they faded.
“So? Will you?”
I didn’t want to, but I was a path of least resistance person. “Sure.”
We walked together to class and I did my best to avoid brushing against the other students, but it was nearly impossible. The more negative they felt the more they closed in on me, their bodies sensing my ability to take it all away. For the most part I could ignore it all, but the stronger the feeling, the harder it got. Once I would never have considered not healing someone. I would have gladly laid hands on anyone who came near. But now, with Dylan...I needed every ounce of energy.
English wasn’t exactly my favorite class. I loved reading, but some of the old stuffy pieces they forced on us absolutely bored me. It was the only class where I constantly struggled to maintain a B average. Ms. Garcia was an eager, overly creative teacher who simply tried too hard sometimes, but I figured there wasn’t much you could do with Shakespeare to make a person like it. They either loved him or hated him. I fell into the hater group.
Today was no exception. Ms. Garcia had warned us the previous day that with our Othello papers due, she’d have a final partner assignment ready for us. Partner work never seemed to help my grade much and Dylan would want to work with me.
He was Mensa smart and had always made straight A’s, but lately his grades were going straight downhill. The last time we’d worked together, I’d done pretty much all of the work myself and that hadn’t been much better than what we would have had by handing in the garbage he’d given me.
Ms. Garcia had the desks arranged in a giant U shape and, thanks to assigned seating, Dylan sat directly across from me. I stared at him, wondering which Dylan he was today. He whispered to the girl next to him. He seemed to be in a good mood. Unlike the day before, he didn’t mope in his desk. His hair fell across his eyes and he brushed it back, his eyes catching mine. He grinned and I forced myself to smile back.
Ms. Garcia droned on about the assignment and I focused my attention on potential partners. I passed over Chloe. Working with either of my sisters never ended well for me, since they had seventeen years of learning how to manipulate my gift to their benefit. Besides, she was chatting up Andrew. The rest of the class was filled with people I rarely socialized with, including two newer students I’d never even spoken with.