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Authors: Kimberly Pauley

Ask Me

BOOK: Ask Me
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Copyright © 2014 Kimberly Pauley

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Soho Teen
an imprint of
Soho Press, Inc.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pauley, Kimberly.
Ask me / Kimberly Pauley.
pages cm
ISBN 978-1-61695-383-6
eISBN 978-1-61695-384-3

[1. Oracles—Fiction. 2. Missing children—Fiction. 3. Murder—Fiction. 4. Grandparents—Fiction. 5. Florida—Fiction. 6. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.P278385 Ask 2014

[Fic]—dc23     2013038340

Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

v3.1

To the Music and the Musicians who make it

Let’s be honest. I hit him on purpose. I was driving and half-listening to her once again yammering on and on and on about how I should apply myself more in school and how I should try harder with my dad and how—I don’t know—I hadn’t mentioned how cute her new skirt was or some stupid shit like that. And there he was, some old Cuban guy, walking along the edge of the road in the middle of the night. Eight ball, corner pocket. I found myself wondering if that would shut her up. Spur of the moment, but that’s how some of my best decisions have always been made. I barely had to swerve to hit him
.

One satisfying thump, a squishy bump as the back tire went over him, and that was it. I kept driving, but she didn’t shut up at all. Instead she started screaming. He hadn’t even screamed, and he was the one who’d been hit
.

“Oh my God, oh my God! You just hit that guy! You have to stop! Turn around! Oh my God! Do you think he’s okay?”

I slowed down and looked in the rearview mirror. It was dark,
but the moon was out. He wasn’t even twitching. “Pretty sure he’s dead,” I said and stepped on the gas again. “No reason to stop.”

That actually shut her up. For about a minute. “We can’t just leave him there. We have to tell someone. We should call the police.”

“Why?” I asked. “They can’t do anything for him.” I was regretting it now. Not the hitting him part; that had actually been the biggest rush I’d had in ages. I could still feel the adrenaline running through my body. I felt more alive than I had in months. I shouldn’t have done it with her in the car, though. Now she was never going to shut up
.

She was quiet for a few peaceful moments, huddled over against the passenger’s side door. Staring at me
.

“You hit him on purpose, didn’t you?”

The problem with prophecy is that someone has to actually ask the right question at the right time for me to produce the answer to it. Otherwise, I’m as adrift in the world as anyone else. Maybe more. The day that changed my life and the lives of everyone around me started the same as any other day, though technically things had been set in motion the night before. I just didn’t know it then.

It was a typical morning with Granddad Porter reading the paper or, more likely, studying the dog pages for the track. I sat down at the old wooden table in our tiny dining room and poured myself a glass of juice from the carafe. I took a sip and grimaced. Granddad gave me a knowing grin and tapped the side of his coffee mug, even though he knew I couldn’t stand coffee. I might need to develop a liking for it, though, if I had any hope of keeping my taste buds. Grandma Ellie’s juice concoction was far too heavy on the grapefruit that morning. She always said it was
good to start the day with something sour, so everything else would seem sweet after. But truth be told, I think her taste buds gave up in disgust years ago.

“I’m thinking I might try getting the Powerball numbers out of you again,” Granddad said. I rolled my eyes. He’d been working on that ever since I’d moved in with them when I was thirteen, but my prophetic “gift” apparently didn’t want us to be independently wealthy. It didn’t seem to matter how he asked, the answer always came out as a cryptic riddle he could never figure out until after the numbers were picked. It wasn’t my fault, though. I’d tell him the numbers if I could. He knew I had no control over my answers. I think he enjoyed the challenge. It was like a running family joke between us.

“You leave the girl alone, Porter, you hear me?” Gran called from the kitchen. “She doesn’t need any of your foolishness before school.” She poked her head in the doorway and waved a wooden spoon threateningly in his direction. “Pancakes and sausage in three minutes, Aria. Don’t fill yourself up on juice.” She disappeared back into the kitchen.

Granddad leaned forward and whispered to me, glancing at the kitchen as he did. There was little enough privacy in our house, but after the door between the kitchen and dining room had rotted off its hinges a few months ago, it was even worse. I could see the swish of Gran’s skirt as she whisked back and forth between the stove and the counter. “So, Aria … we could use a spot of help this month, even if it isn’t the lotto. Don’t want to worry Ellie about it.” He gave another furtive look toward
the kitchen. What that really meant was that he was going to ask me for something that she wouldn’t want to participate in. She didn’t believe in divination for personal gain, even when we were flat broke. Gran had lost her ability to prophesize years ago when she turned seventeen. She still cast the stones, but the only answers you could find that way were far more general than specific. Not the kind of help Granddad was looking for.

I nodded, and he scooted his chair a little closer to the table.

“So, could you tell me who’s going to win the third race?” He leaned over to put the tip sheet in front of me. I waved it away. It wasn’t necessary.

I let myself go loose so I wouldn’t interfere with the answer. Usually I’m trying to hold it back, and it felt strange and freeing to let it all go. “Your gambling away may bring loss easily. Question it,” I said, then paused to gather myself. “Sorry, Granddad. I guess that won’t help much.”

I sighed. It was times like these I wished I had
any
amount of control over what came out of my mouth. Gran may not approve, but giving tips to Granddad was the only way I had found to contribute. Money had been tight since I had moved in, and it wasn’t like Mom or Dad ever sent any funds our way to help out with things. It had been months since I’d heard anything from either one of them and that had only been a birthday card signed by Janice, Dad’s second wife. He hadn’t even bothered to scribble his own name on it. No money in it either, just a generic card with a teddy bear on the front. Apparently, they still thought I was seven instead of seventeen.

“No, no, I think that might do it,” said Granddad, chewing on his stub of a pencil. “The long odds are on a dog called Y Gamble? Clever. The odds-on favorite is Bonnie Ballyhoo, but I think I’ll put my money on the other fellow.” He grinned and winked as he leaned back in his chair. “Just don’t tell Ellie.”

“Don’t tell Ellie what, you old dog?” Gran came in with a platter full of pancakes and sausage.

“Nothing!” said Granddad loudly. I mumbled something under my breath about fools and money that probably neither one of them would have wanted to hear. That was a trick I used all the time. People were always asking questions, and the only way I could leave the house and go out in public without attracting too much attention was to go ahead and answer as quietly as I could. One of the names the kids at school called me was The Mumbler. It was one of the nicer ones.

Not answering a question I overheard wasn’t possible. The longest I’d ever made it without answering had been ten minutes, and that had been on a small, inconsequential question. Those minutes had been the most uncomfortable moments of my life. Well, most physically painful, anyway. If we wanted to talk emotional pain, I had lots of stories to tell, stretching back years, back to when I’d first been cursed with the “gift” of prophecy at age twelve.

“Hmmmphf,” said Gran. She set down the plate and picked up the paper, pretending not to notice as the dog pages fell out onto the table. Granddad swept them onto the floor and kicked them under the table where chances were he’d forget them.

I took two pancakes and poured some honey over them, grateful Gran hadn’t tried to pass off one of her homemade orange marmalades on us this morning. She never used enough sugar. The fact that the few tourists who came through Lake Mariah bought them never failed to amaze me. I supposed “quaint” counted for something. Either that or they were charity purchases. Probably the latter. It was pretty obvious to anyone that came by our roadside stand that we were terminally broke.

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