Authors: Cyn Balog
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance, #Family, #General, #Science Fiction
EAD ALL OF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Cyn Balog
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Cliff Nielsen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Touched / Cyn Balog. — 1st ed.
Summary: Nick is tormented by visions of “future memories,” and although he can risk changing these events if he goes “off script,” the results are often worse than what he has seen, but when he meets Taryn one summer at the Jersey shore he begins to understand where this hated power comes from and what it means.
[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Blessing and cursing—Fiction. 3. Love—Fiction. 4. Mothers—Fiction. 5. Beaches—Fiction. 6. New Jersey—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B2138 To 2012
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
This novel has not had an easy time of it. The poor thing was seriously neglected for years, had many starts and stops, and, like Nick, spent much time in chaos and had its life fully revised multiple times. Nick and I owe a big debt of gratitude to those who have helped us make sense of it all along the way. Thank you to readers Brooke Taylor, Teri Brown, Maggie Stiefvater, Mandy Hubbard, Cheryl Mansfield, Heather Dearly, Karen Kincy, and Jennifer Murgia. Thank you to my agent, Jim McCarthy, for having unwavering faith in this book from the first few chapters. Thank you to the editorial team at Delacorte Press, including Stephanie Elliott, Wendy Loggia, and Krista Vitola, as well as everyone at Random House Children’s Books, for being so lovely to work with every time. To my readers, and to book bloggers and book lovers everywhere who have spread the word about my novels, thank you just isn’t enough. And once again, thank you to my wonderful family, because it’s your love—the one constant, unshakeable thing in my otherwise chaotic life—that made this possible.
HAT’S THE EFFECT OF LIVING BACKWARDS,” THE
UEEN SAID KINDLY: “IT ALWAYS MAKES ONE A LITTLE GIDDY AT FIRST—”
LICE REPEATED IN GREAT ASTONISHMENT
NEVER HEARD OF SUCH A THING!”
BUT THERE’S ONE GREAT ADVANTAGE IN IT, THAT ONE’S MEMORY WORKS BOTH WAYS.
M SURE MINE ONLY WORKS ONE WAY
CAN’T REMEMBER THINGS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN.
T’S A POOR SORT OF MEMORY THAT ONLY WORKS BACKWARDS,” THE
It had taken years, but finally, I had everything down. Perfect. For three months, everything had been perfect.
But of course I went and screwed it up.
You will pedal three blocks. Slowly. You won’t be out of breath. You’ll see the cat lady on her front porch and she will wave at you, ask you how that mother of yours is doing. She will be wearing her red housecoat and fuzzy orange slippers, and she will be petting either Sloopy or Joe, one of the calicos, though you won’t know which. You will answer, “Fine, thanks.”
“How is that mother of yours doing, Nick?”
I glanced up at the decaying home, just enough to see the orange and red on the old lady’s skeletal figure, and a furry creature in her pockmarked arms. “Fine, thanks.”
That morning I’d awakened with the prickling sensation I always got when something big was on the horizon. Every turn of the wheels on my rusty old bike seemed to shriek “Something’s coming, something’s coming, something’s coming.…” I knew I would save a little girl on the beach one day, or at least, that was what the jumbled flashes of memory in my head seemed to say. Since summer began, I’d relived the experience over and over in my mind, my mouth against her cold, salty lips, the moment her eyes flickered open and I knew I’d done it, saved her. Was today that day?
You will notice how the sun sparkles on the blacktop, as if it’s covered in crystals. Steam will rise from it. You will see a little boy on the boardwalk, eating a rocket pop and carrying a green bucket. He will have a cherry mustache
I turned to the pavement. Noted that. Looked up on the boardwalk. Smiled at the kid, but wasn’t sure if I was supposed to. Wondered if that smile would come back to haunt me. The smallest mistakes were the ones that kept me up at night.
You will bike across Ocean Avenue, right in front of a green pickup, and the driver will beep at you and yell something that sounds like “Dumbass!” You will not turn around
I veered to the right. Held my breath. Wasn’t sure I was supposed to. Cringed. The sound of the horn wasn’t what I expected. It was a blaring honk instead of a cheerful beep, and it rattled me. I had to straighten out the bike to keep from swerving into a pile of sand, and suddenly found myself in the middle of the next memory.
—straight up the ramp to the boardwalk, climb from your bike and lean it against the fence, under the Dogs Prohibited sign. You will twirl your whistle cord around your fingers and ask Jocelyn how it’s going
I jumped off the bike and carefully propped it against the fence. It started to slide, so I reached over and grabbed it, realizing this was going to make me late. “—going?” I huffed out, a good portion of my words getting lost in my struggle to breathe. Jocelyn, the badge checker at the entrance to the Seventh Avenue beach, gave me a confused look, confirming my suspicion.
You will not stop to say anything more and will arrive at the lifeguard stand as the noon siren sounds
Great. Wasn’t I supposed to twirl my whistle or something? Was it too late for that? I reached into my pocket and pulled it out, gave it a few rolls around my wrist for good measure. I could sense that the noon siren was about to go off, and there I was, a good football-field’s length from the stand. If I didn’t hurry, I’d be toast. I started to break into a jog, and that was when I heard a kid’s voice. Had I been farther down the beach, where I was supposed to be, it’s likely the fragile voice would have been drowned out by the crash of the surf or the sound of kids playing hide-and-seek in the dunes. But there I was, a step away from the boardwalk, turning to see the little boy with the cherry mustache screaming at something on the street below the boardwalk, out of my view. I couldn’t be sure why he was frantic, but what he was saying was perfectly clear:
There are certain phrases that are impossible to ignore. I knew I should have hurried off to the stand, head down, completely oblivious. But in my past three months as a Seaside Park lifeguard, I’d gotten cocky, I guess. For a split second, I thought, Maybe it will be okay if I let my guard slip for just a moment. And by the time I realized it probably wouldn’t be, the damage was done.
You will climb to the top of the lifeguard stand and Pedro will be asleep, snoring
Just great. I knew I shouldn’t have left him alone. I started to pick up the pace but then stopped short when I heard a whistle blowing behind me.
You will nudge him awake. He will sit up, blink, and point, saying, “Pink bikini at two o’clock.”
Of course Pedro would be pointing out the hottest pieces of ass on the beach instead of doing his job. I found myself wondering why, of all the lifeguards in Seaside, I had to be paired with the biggest horndog in Jersey, when another memory broke through.
You will follow his pointing finger down the beach
My pulse quickened. It was getting way ahead of me. I knew I looked like a total jerkwad to everyone nearby, pretending I didn’t hear that boy on the boardwalk as I continued onto the beach, but they didn’t understand. My whole life was on the line.
Like a mole, Jocelyn quietly poked her head up from her three-foot-by-three-foot box. She was so unremarkable, like a streetlight or a piece of litter, that people often walked onto the beach without seeing her. Even her “May I see your badge, please?” was feeble and spiritless and rarely turned heads. She always had this look on her face like she’d smelled something bad. Her eyes fell on me. “Can’t you do something, lifeguard?” She had to have known my name. Ten years ago, Jocelyn had been part of a long line of sitters Nan had used for me when she’d gone off to play bridge, before it became obvious that babysitters shouldn’t do the Cross house. We scared them all away. Unlike Jocelyn, we Crosses were unforgettable. I’d liked Jocelyn, though. She’d tried to play games with me, unlike all the others, who spent the time ignoring me and blabbing away on the phone.
Maybe that was why, when she asked, I stopped. Forcing a new memory down, I backtracked toward the boardwalk, kicking up scalding sand as I ran. I took all three steps at once and followed the little boy’s line of vision into the street.
You will …
A girl about my age was crouched down, tying her running shoe. She was wearing nylon shorts, a tank, and earphones, which accounted for her nodding along to the music, completely oblivious to the fact that a furniture delivery truck was slowly backing into her. Okay, yeah, in terms of distance, I was pretty close to her, maybe only twenty yards away. But though it was a hot August day and the place was swarming with people, everyone else was just staring, like invalids, or like they wanted to see the girl get flattened. Some of them looked at me expectantly, like it was the duty of the guy in the red shorts to break into action à la
and save the day.
I strained to see the lifeguard stand in the bright noon sun. I could see only the top of Pedro’s head. He was slumped down, still, unmoving. Asleep. That morning when I’d arrived at the stand, he’d smelled like a brewery. He’d said he had the hangover from hell, but I thought he was still drunk. He kept pointing out hot girls and whistling at them, as if he was at some bar in the Heights. I probably shouldn’t have left him alone for lunch, but it was in the script. And I never went against the script.
Until now. I turned back toward the girl. Crap. I knew that even just standing there, frozen with indecision, was probably going to throw everything off. Sure enough, the first pangs of pain rapped at my temple.
You will …
My grandmother always said that God puts signs everywhere. Maybe if the girl in danger hadn’t looked like my best description of an angel—a lion’s mane of curly platinum hair pushed back with a headband—I wouldn’t have destroyed that perfect future I’d found for myself. In that split second that she flipped her angelic white hair back to reveal skin so perfect it practically glowed in the sun, I realized it was a sign. God wanted—no, demanded that I step in.
You will …
It was almost like I was outside my body, watching myself break away from the script. I took a few flying steps and launched myself off the boardwalk and onto Ocean Avenue, my fall cushioned by a pile of sand. Something in my head began to whir, softly at first. Yet somehow, in that moment, I held on to the naïve hope that everything wouldn’t change.
It might still be okay, I thought as I grabbed the girl’s arm and guided her out of the way. She was limp as a rag doll and didn’t fight, as if she was used to being pulled in different directions by complete strangers. As I positioned her safely on a plank near the boardwalk, I could hear the bass thumping from her earphones.
It wasn’t a very heroic scene. The rather large audience that had gathered didn’t applaud; they just quietly turned back to what they’d been doing, almost as if they’d wanted to see a tragedy. By that time, though, I wasn’t looking for applause. My hopes of getting back everything I’d had dwindled as my brain began to pound, flip-flip-flipping as new memories shuffled like cards.
I grimaced and blinked hard to stop the throbbing, the commotion in my head so loud that it drowned out the noon siren.