Authors: Wendy Higgins
To my mom, Nancy Parry, who always told me
I’d be a writer someday
Nearly sixteen years ago...
he newborn wailed as the midwife wrapped her in a receiving blanket and quickly handed her to Sister Ruth. Even stooped with age, the oldest nun at the convent exuded a regal air as she shushed the tiny bundle, attempting to shield her from the sight of her mother’s last breaths.
In the corner of the sterile room a large man with a smooth, shaved head and goatee stood watching. Darkness fell over his face as the young midwife tried to resuscitate the woman on the bed.
Sweat ran down the midwife’s temples as she continued chest compressions. She shook her head and spoke in a panicked murmur. “Where’s the doctor? He should be here by now!”
The midwife didn’t see the soft shimmer of mist rise from the patient’s chest, then linger in the air above her body, but the man in the corner did.
His eyes widened as another vapor, even stronger than the first, arose from the woman’s lifeless form. It took shape: a winged being of blinding purity. Sister Ruth gasped in wonder, then shifted the baby from her shoulder and cradled her upward to let her face show.
The larger spirit swooped down and covered the infant girl in a kiss as soft as a breeze. It moved next to the man in the corner, who choked out a single sob, reaching for her. A tear escaped before he reined in his emotion.
The spirit remained in front of him for one moment longer before gathering the weaker spirit into her arms and floating away as if on a wisp of wind.
“I’m sorry. I—I don’t know what happened.” The midwife’s voice and hands shook as she pulled the sheet up over the woman’s small body. She crossed herself and closed her eyes.
“You did all you could,” Sister Ruth said with gentleness. “It was her time.”
The silent, fearsome man looked away from the bed and fixed his hard eyes on the baby.
Sister Ruth hesitated before angling the child outward for him to see. The newborn let out a whimper and her dark eyes opened wide. For the briefest moment his features softened.
Their shared gaze was severed as the door banged open and the midwife screamed. Police rushed in, filling the small space. Sister Ruth backed against the wall and held the baby close.
“Dear God above,” she whispered.
The man in the corner appeared unfazed as cops surrounded him.
“Jonathan LaGray?” asked the officer in front. “Also known as John Gray?”
“That’s me,” he responded in a raspy, gruff voice, lifting his frown-lined face into a wicked smile of defiance and danger.
He did not fight when they surged forward with handcuffs, reading him his rights.
“You’re under arrest for trafficking illegal drugs across state and international borders....”
As they pulled Jonathan LaGray from the room, citing a list of crimes, he turned again to look at the baby girl, giving her a tight, ironic grin.
“Just say no to drugs, will ya, kid?”
With that, he was yanked from sight, and the baby’s wail rose again.
“Pleasure is the bait of sin.”
tugged the jean skirt down and tried not to fidget with the straps of the tank top as we stood in line for the show. My shoulders and arms felt naked. The outfit had been picked out for me by Jay’s older sister as an early sixteenth-birthday present. And Jay got us tickets to see a few local bands play, including his latest band infatuation, Lascivious. Their name alone was a strike against them, but I wore a smile on my face for Jay’s sake.
He was my best friend, after all. My only friend.
People at school assumed something was going on with Jay and me, but they were wrong. I didn’t like him like that, and there was no question he didn’t like me in that way either. I knew his feelings.
I could literally
them. And feel them if I allowed myself.
Jay was in his element now, tapping his fingers against his hips. He radiated excitement that I could see around his body as a blinding yellow-orange hue. I let myself soak in his good mood. He ran a hand over his thick, short-cropped blond hair, then pinched the square tuft of hair under his bottom lip. He was stout and short for a guy, but still a good bit taller than me.
A loud song with a thumping beat rang from Jay’s pocket. He gave me a goofy grin and began to bop his head back and forth to the rhythm. Oh, no—not the crazy booty dance.
“Please don’t,” I begged.
Jay broke into his funky ringtone dance, shoulders bouncing and hips moving from side to side. People around us stepped away, surprised, then began to laugh and cheer him on. I pressed my fingers against my lips to hide an embarrassed smile. Just as the ringtone was about to end, he gave a little bow, straightened up, and answered the call.
“’Sup?” he said. “Dude, we’re still in line; where you at?” Ah, it must have been Gregory. “Did you bring our CDs?... All right. Sweet. See you in there.”
He shoved the phone into his pocket.
I rubbed my bare arms. It had been a gorgeous spring day in Atlanta, but the air temperature dropped when the sun disappeared behind the tall buildings. We lived an hour north in the small town of Cartersville. It was strange to be in the city, especially at night. Streetlights came to life above us, and the crowd grew louder with the arrival of dusk.
“Don’t look now,” Jay leaned over to whisper, “but the dude at three o’clock is checking you out.”
I immediately looked and Jay grunted. How funny—the guy really was looking at me. Albeit with bloodshot eyes. He gave me a nod and I had to suppress a ridiculously girly giggle as I turned back around. I busied myself playing with a strand of my dirty-blond hair.
“You should talk to him,” Jay said.
“He’s... high,” I whispered.
“You don’t know that.”
But I did. The colors of someone’s emotions blurred when their bodies were under the influence. That guy’s were fuzzy at best.
Seeing emotions as colors was an extension of my ability to sense others’ feelings, their auras. I’d had the gift since infancy. The color spectrum was complicated, as were emotions, with shades of a color meaning different things. To simplify, positive feelings were always colors, ranging from bright to pastel. Negative feelings were shades of black, with a few exceptions. Envy was green. Pride was purple. And lust was red. That was a popular one.
The colors mesmerized me, the way they shifted and changed, sometimes slow, and sometimes in rapid succession. I tried not to read people constantly or to stare; it seemed like an invasion of privacy. Nobody knew what I could do, not even Jay or my adoptive mother, Patti.
The line for the club moved slowly. I adjusted my skirt again and looked down to evaluate the decency of its length.
It’s fine, Anna.
At least my legs had a little muscle these days, instead of looking like a pair of toothpicks. Although I’d been pegged with nicknames like “Twiggy” and “Sticks” growing up, I didn’t obsess about my figure, or lack of one. Padded bras were a helpful invention, and I was satisfied with the two small indentations in my sides that passed for a waist. Running had become my new pastime five weeks ago, after I’d read how my body is the “temple of my soul.”
Healthy temple: check.
As we moved up a few more steps, Jay rubbed his palms together.
“You know,” he said, “I could probably get us drinks when we get inside.”
“No drinks,” I immediately answered, my heart quickening its pace.
“Fine, I know. ‘No drinks, no drugs.’ No nothin’.” He imitated me, fluttering his eyes, then nudged me with his elbow to show he was only kidding, as if he could be mean anyway. But he knew I had an abnormal aversion to substances. Even now, his comment about drugs and alcohol caused an uncomfortable, almost
reaction within me; it felt like an urgent, greedy pushing and pulling. I took a deep breath to calm down.
We finally made our way to the front of the line, where a young bouncer snapped an underage wristband on me and gave me an appraising look, eyes scanning my waist-length hair before raising the velvet rope. I rushed under it with Jay on my heels.
“For real, Anna, don’t let me stand in the way of all these dudes tonight.” Jay laughed behind me, raising his voice as we entered the already packed room, music thumping. I knew I should have put my hair up before we came, but Jay’s sister, Jana, had insisted on my keeping it down. I pulled my hair over my shoulder and wound it into a rope with my finger, looking around at the tightly packed crowd and wincing slightly at the noise and blasts of emotion.
“They only think they like me because they don’t know me,” I said.
Jay shook his head. “I hate when you say things like that.”
“Like what? That I’m
I was trying to make a joke, using the term us Southerners fondly called people who “weren’t right,” but anger burst gray from Jay’s chest, surprising me, then fizzled away.
“Don’t talk about yourself that way. You’re just... shy.”
I was weird and we both knew it. But I didn’t like to upset him, and it felt ridiculous having a serious conversation at the top of our lungs.
Jay pulled his phone from his pocket and looked at the screen as it vibrated in his hand. He grinned and handed it to me. Patti.
“Hello?” I stuck a finger in my other ear so I could hear.
“I’m just checking to see if you made it safely, honey. Wow, it’s really loud there!”
“Yeah, it is!” I had to shout. “Everything is fine. I’ll be home by eleven.”
It was my first time going to something like this. Ever. Jay had begged Patti for permission himself, and by some miracle got her to agree. But she was not happy about it. All day she’d been as nervous as a cat at the vet.
“You stay right next to Jay, and if any strangers try to talk to you—”
“I know, Patti. Don’t worry, okay? Nobody’s trying to talk to me.” It was hard to reassure her while I was shouting and being jostled.
The deejay was announcing that Lascivious would hit the stage in five.
“I gotta go,” I told her. “The band’s about to come on. I’ll be safe. I promise!”
“All right, honey. Maybe you can call me on your way home?” It was not a suggestion.
“Okay. Love you, bye!” I hung up before she started talking about self-defense moves or some other crazy thing. I’d barely made it out of our apartment earlier that night because of her list of warnings. Part of me thought she might be paranoid enough to follow us to the club.
“Come on.” I grabbed Jay’s hand and pulled him into the crowd. It was an eclectic mix—everything from punks to goths to preps. I worked us all the way to the front corner of the stage, annoying a few people with my slight pushiness, but I was careful to apologize. I figured I owed Jay a front-row seat after upsetting him.
The wooden stage was battered, like every other surface in the building. The club was small and boxy, but the ceilings were high. Cramming people inside and breaking every fire code in Georgia added to the atmosphere.
We squeezed in just as the deejay told everyone to “give it up” for Lascivious. The band was greeted by a roar of cheers, and I recognized the first song as one Jay played for us on our way to school sometimes. Despite my usual tendency to be ultrareserved, I found myself caught up in the music, jumping up and down and singing along at the top of my lungs. Jay was right there with me, doing the same. I couldn’t believe it. This was
. I bounced with the crowd, allowing myself to be caught up in the surrounding exhilaration.
“Dude,” Jay shouted in my direction as the first song ended. “They. Are. Awesome!”
The second song started, and it was slower. I calmed down a little and looked at the band. The lead singer oozed with pride. His dark purple aura all but drowned out his tight shirt and snug jeans. His spiked hair was styled in a stiff lean to one side. He held the microphone like a lover. The tempo sped up into a frenzy of drumbeats as they hit the chorus, bringing my eyes to the drums as the wild crowd began jumping again.
I noticed several things about the drummer all at once. He was focused on the task at hand, keeping perfect rhythm. Instead of a swirl of transparent colors around his torso, there was a small, concentrated starburst of bright red at his sternum. But otherwise his aura was blank.
That was strange. But before I could contemplate it too much, my eyes landed on his face.
He was smokin’ hot. As in H-O-T-T
. I’d never understood until that moment why girls insisted on adding an extra
. This guy was extra-
I examined the drummer, determined to find a flaw.
Brown hair. An interesting haircut: short around the sides and back, but longer on top, hanging loose and angling across his forehead. His eyes were narrow and his eyebrows were a bit thick and... Oh, who was I kidding? I could pick him apart, but even the shifty slant of his eyes made him more alluring to me.
There was an intensity in the way he played, like he was unleashing his passion into the music and nothing else mattered. He was feeling it, lost in it, and he was
. A light sheen of sweat shone on his arms and face, dampening and darkening the hair at his temples.
Never before had I felt such instant physical attraction. The power of it was jarring. I’d noticed when guys had nice features, sure, but I was usually distracted by their emotions.
Now, with the drummer’s absence of an aura, I was able to watch the muscles in his biceps and forearms flex as he slammed the drumsticks down in a whirlwind of precise movement. The beat was intoxicating, bumping each nerve ending inside of me. His whole body moved fluidly, jumping with the force of the beat, his face focused and sure.
I looked again at the red starburst on his chest. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I doubted he felt lustful at that moment, with his utter concentration on the music. It was weird. The song came to an end with one last crash of the cymbals; then he twirled the drumsticks in his fingers before tucking them under his arm. Jay was cheering, along with the rest of the crowd. I stood there in absolute awe.
“Are you having fun?” Jay asked.
“Yeah, definitely,” I said, still watching the drummer as he swiped the straight brown locks from his eyes and looked down at two girls screaming out to him from the other end of the stage. He gave them the cutest, nonchalant half smile I’d ever seen. My heart sputtered. The girls screamed and jumped up and down, megacleavage threatening to bounce right out of their low-cut shirts. The drummer’s red starburst widened a notch, and I felt an unpleasant snarling, ripping feeling in my gut—another new sensation. I wanted him to look away from them.
Jealousy? Good grief!
“It’s not right, man,” Jay said, following my stare. “Some guys have all the luck.”
“What?” I finally broke my trance to look at Jay.
“That guy, the drummer? Get this. He’s a killer musician, he gets tons of chicks, his dad’s loaded, and as if that wasn’t enough, he’s got a friggin’ English accent!”
I had to smile at Jay’s mix of envy and admiration.
“What’s his name?” I hollered as the third song started.
“Kaidan Rowe. Oh, and that’s another thing. A cool name! Bastard.”
“How do you spell it?” I asked. It sounded like
Jay spelled it for me. “It’s A-I, like Thai food,” he explained.
Kai, like Thai, only yummier. Gah! Who was this girl invading my brain?
The name Kaidan Rowe sounded familiar. I’d never seen him before, but I’d heard of him.
“How old are they?” I asked, nodding toward the band.
“Juniors,” Jay shouted close to my ear. Okay, I was impressed. They were only a year older than us, and they had major talent. According to Jay, these guys were the next big thing. They’d recorded a small-time record that was being shopped to labels in L.A., and they’d be touring regionally this summer. Jay was such a fanboy.
An aggravated scuffle broke out behind us. I turned and saw Gregory’s round face and mop of curly brown hair above a too-large Hawaiian shirt shoving through the crowd. He was Jay’s musical partner in crime. They had written a few songs together, and were pretty much addicted to music. The problem was that neither of them could sing. At all.
“’Bout time, G!” Jay and Gregory did that male grab-hands-and-bang-chests-together thing in the cramped space, then Gregory and I nodded at each other. I was surprised and a little grossed out to see a flutter of red across his aura as he looked down at my legs, but it passed quickly as he turned his attention back to Jay.
“Dude, you ain’t gonna believe this,” Gregory said in his thick Georgian drawl. “I was just talkin’ to Doug—you know, one of the bouncers—and he can get us backstage!”
My heart danced an involuntary jig all over my insides.
“No freakin’ way!” said Jay. “Where’re the CDs?”
Gregory held up two CDs of their compositions and lyrics. They were good songs, but I cringed at the thought of their being given to Lascivious. The band probably got that kind of thing from fans all the time. I didn’t like to think of Jay and Gregory’s hard work tossed aside as if they were some desperate posers. But the two of them were shrouded in such happy yellow auras that I could do nothing except be supportive.