Authors: Jess Bowen
This book is dedicated to all those who believed in this book way before I did and gave me the courage to put it out there.
She had never before considered death, not in the sense that she did now. She had seen death: eyes fell flat as life left them, bodies went limp, never to move again, and blood poured from wounds that were unable to be mended as she watched helplessly. A countless number of deaths played over and over again, in memories she couldn’t bear to think about. Now, in this moment, she had a new sense of what it meant to die. A sense of death being a finality. An ending. Where the pages stopped turning because the story was over.
With the last months spent preparing to face this darkness, it was improbable that the end of her story would be a happy one. She had considered death, maybe even accepted it, at times even wished for it. But no matter how many times she had thought it over, no matter the circumstances, it didn’t matter to her now.
She could feel sadness, grief, anger, and denial all swirling around her in shades of gray. Yet, at that precise moment, the blackest hour, she found her hope. Why she found a reason to hope at that particular instant, she wasn’t sure.
She was dying, hanging onto life by just a thread. Friends crouched around her, trying to understand, trying to find a way to mend the bloody mass that was her body as they carefully tried not to think the words—the words that meant no hope was left. As they tried to find a solution, the words they didn’t want to accept still floated in the back of their minds. She could hear it. Weak and injured—bleeding onto the stone beneath her—she could still hear everything. Her gift, her curse, gave her the proof she needed to know she was dying, because they all knew it too.
She found peace, all the way to her soul, in the fact that she would no longer have to worry about living without the man she loved. Her heart would never be shredded in that unbearably painful way again. She may have already lost him, but as long as he lived on, that pain was bearable.
Even as she took all of this in, all the reasons she should give up as her own heart was giving up on her, she still hoped.
Hovering somewhere between her conscious and subconscious, Phoebe could still see the dream—the dream she was so desperately clinging to—but it was no longer in focus. She felt the weight of her limbs spread out over the bed and the pillow beneath her head. But she could also still feel the peace from the dream she had been having. It was so beautiful: a great stone palace adorned with beautiful flowers, a waterfall in the distance. This was a dream she’d had before, several hundred times before. The vision before her never changed, and the serenity it conveyed was always strong.
Then there was the presence. She assumed it was human, because of the cool hand holding hers, yet there was something different about this person, something she couldn’t understand. Even so, she never bothered to look over to see who it was. She always just stared, entranced at the scene before her. However, the more she tried to hold on to the details—the exact sound of the waterfall, every flower cascading down the stone wall, the cool temperature of the hand in hers—the more it slipped away, bringing her back to reality as she squinted into the light that shone directly into her eyes.
“Phoebe!” her mother called.
It was nine o’clock in the morning; it had to be. The prism in her window was situated perfectly so that at nine o’clock the sun would reflect off of it and fill her room with hundreds of rainbows to wake her up. Slowly, sensation spread into the rest of her body, replacing the absolute peace of her dream, and she sat up.
One could call her room average—a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a closet—nothing fancy. It was decorated in shades of her favorite color, blue. Phoebe’s mother always said that her daughter’s favorite color choice never surprised her although she never really explained why that was. But while all the other kindergarten girls were choosing pinks and purples to color with, Phoebe always chose blue, every shade of blue.
“Phoebe!” her mother called again.
Phoebe sighed and pushed the blankets off, then stretched and stood up. If she didn’t get up, her mother would be up the stairs in less than ten minutes, complaining about the hours of the day whiling away while she slept.
“Be down in a minute, Mom!” she called back.
She padded to her closet, pulled out some clothes, and headed for the bathroom. Phoebe hurried through her shower, knowing that her mother would probably go mad if she took too much longer to get downstairs. Her mother was never one to sit and be idle. One would never know it from watching her, but Phoebe’s mother, Elizabeth, had a pattern to the erratic behavior that filled her days.
Her philosophy was simply to live life to the fullest with no regrets. Elizabeth had probably picked up and mastered every hobby on the planet, and yet every day she seemed to unearth a new project. Phoebe wasn’t sure why she didn’t just get a job. She asked her about it once, and her response was that time was limited so they had to cram everything they could into it. Phoebe was endlessly carted off to dance, music, art, drama, and every other imaginable class in their town and the five surrounding it.
Her mother had a passion for life, and Phoebe couldn’t find fault with her for that. Her father was much the same, although more reserved. While her mother filled her with culture, her father filled her with knowledge from his extensive library and seemingly limitless answers to any questions she had.
Phoebe never complained about her parents’ eccentric behaviors. Because of them, she did very well in school and just about anything else she set her mind to. She had even been accepted to Harvard for the fall. She was extremely excited about that—her parents, not so much. Phoebe was sure it was because it meant she would be moving out. She’d seen pictures of the on-campus housing and was excited to meet others who would be living in her dorm.
Her parents, though quirky, were usually happy, but the mood had changed considerably in the past week. To an outsider, it would appear as if nothing was wrong. Phoebe knew better. She had long ago given up trying to explain how she could sense emotions so accurately, because there simply was no explanation available, but while her mother and father continued their façade of happiness, Phoebe felt the sadness in the air and the sense of doom coming down on the house.
Today was the same; the weight of emotions was so oppressive that Phoebe had to work extra hard to maintain her normal breathing pattern. She briefly noticed that the radio had been turned off. As she dressed after her shower, she evaluated the feelings in the air. Her mother could be heard bustling around in the kitchen, but her heart was breaking into a million pieces.
Phoebe finished combing out her hair and considered her reflection in the mirror. Nothing spectacular. Dark brown, wavy hair framed her face and flowed down her back. Her face was average—high cheekbones, rounded jaw, slim nose and neck, average-sized lips and ears, a light tan on her skin. Definitely not beauty queen material, but not unbearable either, just ordinary. Her only notable features were her brilliant blue eyes that contrasted with the brown of her hair. There was nothing wrong with being ordinary, but she’d always wanted to be more. She didn’t care about being extraordinary in the way of beauty; she just wanted to do something important, to make a difference. She sighed and quickly pulled up her hair in a knot as her mother yelled for her once again.
A glint of silver caught Phoebe’s eye as she was about to walk out, and she remembered she hadn’t put on her necklace. She let go of the door handle and turned back to the sink where it sat. As she fastened the clasp around the back of her neck, she thought she saw the charm flash. That was strange. She twisted the charm to inspect it more closely, but it looked the same as it always had. She decided it must've been the sun reflecting off the surface, or perhaps the relentless sadness in the house was beginning to wear so heavily on her that she was starting to hallucinate.
Once finished, she trudged down the stairs and headed into the kitchen. The sadness was stronger and definitely centered around her mother. Phoebe had once tried to describe to her parents this sixth sense that allowed her to feel other people’s emotions, and they had told her to trust whatever she thought was the truth. And the truth was…she could sense other’s emotions, maybe even better than they could themselves. It had made her pre-school classmates uncomfortable, and she became an outcast—to the point that she had to postpone Kindergarten for a year because of what her teacher noted as “immature social skills.” She’d gotten used to this ability to sense others’ emotions and became a great mediator by the time she got to high school, but overall, most of the time it was simply annoying. She hated intercepting everyone’s emotions all the time. In school she would often find herself gazing at a guy that some other girl had a crush on, or even the other way around, which was even more embarrassing. She felt every twinge of anger and every annoyance, no matter how insignificant.
Phoebe knew her mom was upset about the coming month when she would be leaving the nest for college, and then there was her birthday the next day. Her mother always got emotional when it came to birthdays, as if they were something to be mourned, not celebrated. Today was June thirtieth; Phoebe’s mother had obviously not forgotten. For Phoebe, her eager anticipation of her nineteenth birthday had been almost unbearable. She couldn’t understand why this particular birthday was the one she had been looking forward to the most, but it was.
For some reason, this birthday seemed more important than her new car and even more important than turning eighteen last year. She knew something was going to happen; she just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was like knowing you had to be somewhere for a very important meeting but not remembering what the meeting was supposed to be about or what to bring. She walked into the kitchen and smelled bacon and eggs, her favorite breakfast. Her mother turned away from the sink, a pleasant smile placed firmly on her face. Anyone else would have been fooled, but not Phoebe.
“Good morning, Mom,” she said as she kissed her mother on the cheek before she settled into her chair.
She really didn’t deserve for her mom to prepare all her meals for her. Sooner or later Phoebe was going to have to learn to cook. She was sure her mom was secretly hoping that if she didn’t teach her that skill it would bring her daughter home more often from college.
“Nice to see you out of bed,” her mother replied, laughing softly as she sat down at the table with Phoebe. This was their morning routine. Even with her mother’s gentle laughter, there was still something off about her voice. It didn’t quite match her usual carefree cheeriness.
“So, what are you going to do today?” Phoebe asked as she ate.
Her mother smiled warmly. “I haven’t decided yet. I think I’m going to do some writing. What are you planning?”
Phoebe considered as she took a bite of eggs. Her mother’s cooking was perfect, as always. “Probably the usual—go down to the beach, meet up with Kate and Carmen later.” Phoebe could feel a calmness emanating from her mother, and she couldn’t understand that. “You seem relieved about that,” Phoebe added.
Her mother carefully composed her features. She had never questioned Phoebe’s sixth sense, but her daughter wasn’t a mind reader, so Elizabeth still had some form of defense from her intuitiveness. “Well, yes, I was hoping you would stick close to home today. I want you to be home in time for supper.”
Phoebe’s forehead furrowed in confusion at this request. They only lived two blocks from the beach, and she usually made it home for supper. Although, recently she had been staying out later with her friends, so she could understand why her mother would think she might not be home in time. “Is there something going on?” Phoebe asked, suddenly suspicious of things like surprise parties and other nonsense.
A fresh wave of sadness from her mother changed her mind immediately. “Well, sort of. Your father and I have some things to go over with you. If you could be home by five o’clock, we would really appreciate it.”
Her mother had not emphasized a specific time to be home in years; she usually trusted Phoebe’s judgment. And she’d never let her mother down. She wasn’t one for parties and things like that. But Phoebe felt her mother’s urgency, her need for Phoebe to understand that this was important.
“Five o’clock,” Phoebe repeated, committing it to memory. “Is this about anything specific?” she asked, wondering about all the mystery.
There were usually no secrets in their house.
Her mother shifted uneasily in her chair. “Yes, but I really can’t discuss it without your father. I promise it’s nothing you’re thinking of.” Another wave of sadness pressed down more heavily on Phoebe’s chest.