Authors: A.T. O'Connor
Tags: #Children & Teens
Copyright 2013 A.T. O'Connor
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Elephant's Bookshelf Press, LLC, except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.
Book format: R.C. Lewis
Cover design: Charlee Hoffman
Editing: Laura Carlson
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Elephant's Bookshelf Press, LLC
Springfield, NJ 07081
My head rested on a shoulder, though I couldn’t remember whose. The crunch of gravel interrupted the soothing hum of an engine as the vehicle turned. I opened my eyes. Windshield wipers swept across the glass, brushing away fat snowflakes. The soft glow from the truck’s dashboard cast shadows into the cab and illuminated a Scooby Doo bobblehead. Classical music spilled from the speakers.
I latched onto this tiny detail, praying the rest would come.
I’d been here before, with these same wipers and the piano music in the background, the same bobblehead nodding in time to the rutted-out road. I buried my face in the jacketed shoulder and drew in a deep breath of spice air freshener and him. The scent wrapped around me like my favorite sweatshirt.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” The deep baritone cocooned me.
His truck rolled to a stop in front of my house. He turned off the lights and ran his hand up my spine and massaged the nape of my neck. I stretched the length of the bench seat, basking in the warmth of his gentle fingers in a way I had no right to. If I were a cat, I would purr.
All too soon, he tugged my stocking hat over my head, casting a wary glance toward my parents’ bedroom window. “Better hurry.”
My dad hated Travis, though I hadn’t figured out if he disliked Native Americans in general or Travis in particular. Regardless, it was best if they didn’t cross paths. I zipped my jacket, mentally brushing at the cobwebs in my brain. “So, uh…?”
The unfinished question hung in the air. Forgetting details was nothing new for me, and Travis was used to answering my quirky questions. Lately, though, I’d been losing time, not just details. A minute here, a minute there. An hour at the most. I hadn’t told anyone for fear of sounding crazy. Thankfully, Travis hadn’t figured out that my memory was really starting to slip. His dark cheeks dimpled, and his brown eyes laughed at me. “Our fearless basketball team is still undefeated. Forty-seven to sixteen.”
While I digested the information, he slid out of the cab into the Minnesota cold. He opened the passenger door and snow swirled in. His hands circled my waist, lingering a heartbeat longer than necessary for me to catch my balance—and my breath—when he set me on the ground.
His lips were an inch from mine, though that inch might as well have been a mile. At the moment, I couldn’t remember where I’d been or what I’d done, but I knew with the utmost certainty that Travis Stone was firmly off-limits. I leaned back slightly to separate us. Biting cold filled the space between our bodies, and I shivered.
He draped his arm casually over my shoulders, keeping the wind at bay as he guided me to the front step and punched the numbers into the lock pad. Once inside the entryway, I eased the door shut between us. Trav’s outline faded into the night just outside the window.
Without turning on the lights, I climbed the stairs and tiptoed past the master bedroom. Snores seeped out from under the door. Careful not to wake my parents, I stepped into my room and turned on my bedside lamp—Trav’s signal to leave. Without it, he’d wait in my driveway until his truck ran out of gas, then wait some more. I could count on it as surely as I could count on Christmas next week.
This chivalry was something Granny loved most about him. Every Sunday when he dropped me off at her house on his way to work, she commented on his manners. “You just don’t find boys like that anymore.” What she really meant was, “Why don’t you date him?”
But she never pried. She just listened, even though I didn’t have an answer. Not for her or for myself. Travis had been the first person I’d met when I changed schools from Medville to Prairie Flats. He’d been there ever since, like a modern day knight in contemporary armor.
Light flashed in my window. My cell phone vibrated with an incoming text.
For just a second my breath hitched and I wanted to chase after him. I ignored both the urge and the pain in my temple, listening instead to the spit of gravel and the hum of the truck’s engine as it left our yard.
By the time I stripped off my clothes and slipped into my flannel pajamas, goose bumps covered my body and not even the warmth of my down comforter could ward off the icy thoughts chasing me to bed. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to piece my night together, rubbing my temples, pushing harder until the pain pulsing on the outside rivaled the ache from within. Still no fresh memories.
My name is Gemini Baker.
I am a senior at Prairie Flats High School.
Member of the dance team.
Part-time college student.
I am losing my mind.
A memory slid loose. After school, Travis and I had gone to the Dairy Barn for supper before the basketball game and my halftime dance performance.
And then what?
Karen Webber asking if Travis was still on the market, batting her doe eyes at him and running her hands over his chest, daring me to engage. Trav’s eyes begging me to save him, flickering when I walked away. The headache that drowned out the pep band’s enthusiasm and the gaping hole that blacked out the last half of the game.
But before that, a phone call.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull that memory loose and drifted off to sleep with a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I woke up stiff, sitting at the computer in the office with a mug of cold chai tea in my hand. Sleepwalking was a normal part of my life, and I never knew where I’d wake up or what I’d be doing. Once, I carried my television to the living room. Another time, I rode my bike up town, only to wake up on the curb in my pajamas. I also had conversations with my dream self, sometimes changing the outcome in my semi-lucid state.
My college psychology professor had assured me that despite the craziness of my nights, sleepwalking was perfectly normal. Lucid dreaming, however, wasn’t as prevalent and some people actually practiced what came so naturally to me. To help us better understand the power of the latent mind, he’d assigned a dream study for the whole class. Out of habit, I teased my nightmarish-dream from the wispiness of sleep and jotted down everything I could remember in my psych notebook.
I debated sending an email summary of my newest dream to my study group, the Baker’s Dozen. Angel would have a perfectly inspirational take on hummingbirds dive-bombing into an emerald green lake, while James would provide me with a cynical explanation. Everyone else would fall somewhere in between. Exhaustion won out. The Dozen’s interpretations would have to wait. I logged off the computer and made my way upstairs for a second time.
A rough hand shook me awake. “Gemini, get up. Now.”
I rolled to my side and stared at my clock, trying to make sense of the blurry numbers. 6:40. “It’s Saturday.”
My eyes slid to my dad’s shadow at the edge of my bed. His mouth formed words long before their meaning sunk in. “My mother’s in the hospital.”
Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed the acid burn.
The phone call from last night.
Granny’s request for a visit. But she’d never said anything about being in the hospital. Not then. Fear tugged at my lungs, sucking the air from them.
Please, God. Please. I’ll do anything for another week. Another day. At least a day.
I pulled my hair back, threw on some clean clothes and beat my parents to the car. The hour-long drive took a lifetime. My parents whispered in the front seat, while I stared out the window, ignoring all discussion of Granny’s estate, hospital bills and their dwindling unemployment checks. The landscape blurred to memories. Canning vegetables. Building snowmen. Reading books on the front porch swing. Every good thing that happened to me took place on Granny’s farm.
“What if she tells her?” Mom’s panicked whisper rose above the radio and grabbed my attention. I pretended not to notice my dad’s glance in the rearview mirror or the way he reached over and squeezed Mom’s arm. Not with affection, but the kind meant to shut her up. The kind that left bruises.
A cold sweat washed over my body. Something serious had gone down in the Baker household. Something I knew nothing about.
The muscles in my dad’s neck bulged and the scent of alcohol permeated the air. “She won’t. She promised.”
“She’s dying, Dan. Who knows what she might say.”
When we arrived at the hospital with its sterile white halls and antiseptic smell, all thought of the Big Secret disappeared. In silence, we followed the signs to Granny’s room. My dad entered first, leaving no space for me by Granny’s side. I stood at the foot of her bed and clutched the book I’d brought for the two of us to read. After an awkward exchange with my dad, she turned and winked at me.
I’ll be with you in a minute,
she seemed to say. Her usually dark complexion was pale, almost as if the only color came from behind her skin and not in it. Her cheeks sunk in, and beneath the white blanket, her belly swelled. I prayed she had a minute to spare.
“So?” My dad raised his eyebrows and his shoulders at the same time. His way of asking questions he didn’t want the answer to. Questions he didn’t want to ask in the first place.
Granny sighed, a deep rasping sound that cut through the air and into my heart. “What do you want to know?”
Mom’s hands fluttered to her mouth then back to her sides. Tears shimmered in her eyes, and she tried to smile. Halfway through, it faltered and died. She refocused on the dips and peaks of the monitor she’d been watching.
My dad’s voice cut through the silence, breaking over the words. “How much…how…”
He knelt by the portable bed and reached through the metal railing to grasp his mother’s hand. A strangled cry filled the air and tears fell from his cheeks.
My scalp bristled. He had no right to care now when he never had before. He was taking up her time—our time. Time we would never get back. Before I could say anything, the door swung open. My dad turned his red-rimmed gaze toward the elderly Native American hopping past the curtain and into the room. The man’s charcoal suit and pressed white shirt hugged his thin frame. He held a ball of yarn.
My dad scrambled up, directing venom-laced words at the stranger. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Supporting a friend.” The man turned to me and stuck his hand out in greeting. As frail as he looked, he had power in his gnarled fingers. An electric energy that shot through my hand and sent a tingle down my spine. His obsidian eyes lit up, reminding me of Travis. “I’m Clarence, and you must be Gemi.”
Confused by the volatile interaction between my dad and the man, I nodded in return. He held out the bundle of yarn that unfolded into what looked like a knit hat in the shape of a turkey. Its braided legs dangled from a heavy body and two wing flaps. Cascades of knit feathers flared out behind. “My great granddaughter made it. Isn’t it something?”
Mom let out an indelicate snort. My dad grabbed her arm, and they both swayed under the force of his barely concealed anger. He was close to cracking.