Gasp 4

  He shifts. “I was thinking about going back to UC to talk to the guy we missed. Clark, I think his name is.” He hesitates. “You probably can’t come along, right? I mean, I totally understand if—”

  “Yeah,” I say. “I mean no, I can’t. Whoever has the vision curse is going to have to wait.” I can’t believe I’m saying that, but that’s just how it is right now.

  “I figured. You don’t mind if I just try to keep things moving while you handle your family stuff, do you? I’m just . . . getting a little anxious about it.”

  I frown at the ground. I want him with me. It’s selfish, I know. “Yeah,” I say. “Go.” I try to sound like I really mean it. Because I should really mean it. Just because my whole life burned up doesn’t lessen my responsibility for this vision thing. “I wish we knew how to stop the visions,” I say.

  Sawyer looks at me. “Do you? Because if we stop it, chances are more people will die.”

  “Yeah.” I scrape the toe of my new used shoe along the asphalt. “I guess I’m just full.”

  He seems to know what I mean by “full,” even though I’m not quite sure myself. Full of shock, full of sadness, full of stress. Too full to deal with the vision. He brushes my hair from my shoulder and caresses my cheek like his hand belongs there. “It’s okay. I’ll keep searching.” He lifts my chin and puts his soft, cool lips on mine.

  And then he’s gone, and I’m in the food truck with my siblings, riding to Aunt Mary’s. I lean my head against the window as we pass the Jose Cuervo billboard, which looks just as it should.

  • • •

  When we walk into Aunt Mary’s breezeway, I can hear the cousins running around, arguing. Trey presses his eyelids shut and shakes his head slowly. Rowan flashes an annoyed look. We have nowhere to hide, and this is getting old. Our home is the living room. I try to be thankful for Aunt Mary and Uncle Vito for opening up their house to us, and for keeping their kids mostly out of the living room so we can feel like we have someplace to call our own, but it’s hard.

  We venture up the two steps into the main part of the house and around the corner into the kitchen and see a stranger sitting at the table with Mom and Dad. Mom’s lips are pressed together so firmly that they’re gray, and Dad is staring straight ahead, a vacant look in his eyes. It’s frightening.

  “What happened?” Trey asks them above the noise of the cousins.

  Mom snaps her chin toward us. She looks right through us and shakes her head ever so slightly. Dad doesn’t blink.

  I stare, and then I grab Trey and Rowan by the elbows and push them toward the living room.

  “What the hell,” Trey mutters.

  “No idea,” I say.

  “It looked bad,” Rowan says.

  Later, when we’re trying to do our homework, I look out the window and see Dad driving off in the delivery car. Mom comes into the living room, fists clenched like she’s going to lose it. She looks at us, and we look at her, and she says, “They believe the fire began upstairs, not in the restaurant.”

  My eyes widen. Nobody says anything, waiting for Mom to continue.

  She does. Her voice is low. “It looks like it started from a worn extension cord in the living room next to some of Dad’s . . . stuff.”

  My heart leaps to my throat.

  “With all the hoards of newspapers and books and recipes,” she continues, her voice straining, “well . . . there was no chance of saving anything.”

  I drop my homework and stand up, Trey and Rowan right behind me, and we wrap our arms around our mom. Her tears fall now, and a groan from deep inside her chokes its way out in a coughing sob like I’ve never heard before. I glance at Trey, and his eyes are as scared as I think mine must be.

  Mom cries for a minute, and then she sniffs and wipes her eyes with her sleeve and tries to laugh, embarrassed for losing it in front of us, I guess.

  “We’re sorry, Mom,” Rowan says.

  “He feels just terrible.” Mom’s laugh disappears. She shakes her head. “He walked out in a daze. I don’t know where he’s going.” She lets out a shuddering breath and runs her index fingers under her eyes, absently checking for mascara smudges, and for a split second, in her vulnerability she reminds me of Rowan.

  “Do you want me to go find him?” Trey asks.

  Mom nods. Her voice cracks when she says, “I don’t know what he’ll do.”

  Five things I want to say right now:

  1. He’s a douche for making you worry.

  2. Maybe it would be best if he does just go kill himself, so we can get on with our lives.

  3. Okay, those are the only two things I can think of, but dammit, I’m pissed.

  4. And now I remember why I don’t love him anymore.

  5. Because I can’t.


  Rowan stays with Mom, and I go with Trey to find Dad.

  “Back home, you think?” Trey asks as he pulls the meatball truck out of the parking lot across from Aunt Mary’s. He winces turning the wheel, and I know his shoulder must hurt, even though he doesn’t like to admit it.

  “Home would be the logical guess,” I say. And then I let out a huge sigh. “Now what?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Do you think he’s going to . . .”

  “No.” He puts on his sunglasses when we turn west. “Mom wouldn’t send us if she really thought he’d do it.”

  We drive in silence as the sun sets. Trey pulls into the alley and goes toward the restaurant’s back parking lot. There’s a portable fence now around our plot of destruction and there are NO TRESPASSING signs posted. Trey parks next to the delivery car and we get out. He glances in the delivery car’s window, probably to make sure Dad didn’t blow his brains out in the front seat or something.

  The substitute beat cop, Officer Bentley, is doing his rounds. He sees us and comes over. “I’m so sorry about your place,” he says.

  “Thanks,” I reply. “It pretty much sucks.”

  Officer Bentley turns to Trey. “How’s the arm?” he asks. “I heard you took a bullet over at the UC shooting.”

  I can’t quite read the tone of his voice, and maybe it’s the uniform, but I think I detect a hint of suspicion. I glance at Trey.

  “It’s not bad,” Trey says lightly, which makes me think he’s detecting it too. “I was lucky. It’s healing nicely. Starting physical therapy soon.” He looks beyond Officer Bentley and changes the subject. “You haven’t seen our dad, have you?”

  Officer Bentley points his thumb over his shoulder toward the fence. “He’s in there.” He gives us a grim smile, and he doesn’t mention what a coincidence it is that we were hauled into the principal’s office a few weeks ago for talking about a shooting at school.

  “Thanks,” Trey and I say together.

  Officer Bentley hesitates, eyeing us, and then he nods briskly and smiles. “Take care, kids. And stay out of trouble. We’ve seen your names in the paper more than enough lately.”

  “Yes, sir,” I say. “We’d really like things to calm down too.”

  He smiles and continues walking.

  When he’s out of earshot, I mutter, “I was worried he was going to ask a few more questions.”

  “Me too,” Trey says. “We need to stop getting hurt. And be invisible.”

  “You’re telling me.”

  Trey and I walk over to the opening in the fence and look through it. And there’s Dad, on his haunches next to a long, slanted hunk of whatever the roof was made of. Delicately he picks up a nearly unrecognizable scorched book and wipes the ash from it, straining to see in the dying light. And then he sets the book on a pile of other books and pokes through a layer of ash, picking up something else. Something small. He wipes it off and holds it up to the last weak rays of sun, and it glints silver.

  “It’s the thimble from a Monopoly game,” Trey says softly. “Dear God.”

  Dad slips the thimble into his pocket.

  My stomach hurts.

  I look
at Trey. He looks at me. We drop our eyes and walk away.

  • • •

  Later, after we’ve debriefed Mom and everybody else is either in their bed or in a sleeping bag on the floor, I find her again in the dimly lit dining room, sitting at the table holding a cup of hot chocolate, staring out the window into the darkness.

  I pull out a chair. She turns at the noise and smiles at me.

  “Are you feeling okay, sweetie?” she asks.

  “Yeah, I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

  She puts her warm hand on mine and squeezes. “I’m fine. It’s just a house. It’s just a business. Replaceable things.”

  I nod and contemplate that for a long moment. “Waiting up for Dad?”

  “Yep,” she says, trying to sound upbeat. Trying to sound like the old Mom we’re used to.

  She takes a sip from her mug and turns back to the window.

  After a minute I ask, “Aren’t you mad at him? I mean, it’s kind of his fault . . .” The words aren’t coming out right, so I stop talking.

  For a moment I think Mom doesn’t hear me. But finally she turns again to smile at me. And then she nods. “Yes, Julia,” she says in a measured tone. “I’m very mad. I’m mad that your father won’t get help. I’m mad that I can’t make him. I’m mad that he can’t see . . .” She trails off.

  Maybe it’s the darkness, maybe it’s the circumstances, maybe it’s because I’m seventeen now. I’m not sure. But it’s the first time she’s been so honest with me about her feelings. And I think it’s the first time she’s treated me like an adult, rather than protecting me because I’m her kid.

  “Maybe he’ll get help now,” I say. But knowing what I know about the Demarco curse, I don’t really believe it. He’s been in the hospital before for his mental illness, and he won’t go near anyone who could put him there again.

  I don’t think my mom believes it either.

  Just then my phone vibrates. I frown and look at it. It’s a text message from a number I don’t recognize. When I open the message, I almost drop the phone.

  It reads: I want to talk about the vision thing.


  “Are you all right?” my mom asks.

  My heart is racing. I look up from my phone. “Yeah,” I say. I close the message, slide my phone back into the pocket of my sweatshirt, and yawn. “No big deal. I’m going to bed. Or . . . to sleeping bag, that is.” And then I add, “I’m sure Dad will be home soon.”

  Mom gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Me too.”

  We say good night. In the living room I hunker down inside my sleeping bag and pull out my phone again.

  Sure, let’s talk. Who is this? I type in response. It could be anybody. We gave our numbers out freely at the meeting Sunday night.

  I wait for a response. It comes: Tori Hayes.

  My heart races. “It is her!” I whisper.

  Rowan kicks me and I emerge from my sleeping bag.

  “What are you doing under there?” she asks. “Sexting with Sawyer?”

  Trey is looking at me too, propped up on his elbow. “Gross,” he says. “That’s Nick’s sleeping bag. You don’t know what other body fluids could be in there.”

  “Yick. Don’t be disgusting. I thought you guys were asleep,” I say, pushing the sleeping bag off me. My hands are sweating and I’m suddenly nervous about what to say to Tori next. I just need to keep it cool. “One sec,” I say, and then I type: Oh hey Tori. Sorry, didn’t have you in my phone. Can Sawyer and I come see you tomorrow after school?

  Tori’s response is quick: I’ll be here. Like always.

  I look up and explain in a whisper, “It’s Tori. She wants to talk about the visions.”

  Trey’s attitude changes fast. “Oh, wow,” he says. “For real?”

  “Which one is Tori?” Rowan asks.

  “The one still in the hospital,” I say. “She got shot in the stomach.”

  “You were right,” Trey muses. “Sawyer passed it on.”

  I smile grimly. “Looks that way.”

  Rowan screws up her face. “How’s a girl in the hospital supposed to help you figure out the tragedy? She can’t even get out of bed.”

  I shrug. “All she needs to do is tell us what’s going on in her vision. We can figure out the rest. It’s not her problem. It’s ours.”

  Rowan and Trey exchange looks, but they don’t disagree—this is their problem too. Just because I was the one who apparently took it from Dad doesn’t mean we’re not all responsible. Me more than them, maybe, because I’m the one who passed it on, but Dad is their dad too. They’ve got the same crazy genes.

  Rowan nods. “I’m helping this time,” she says. “Besides, I don’t have anything else to do now.”

  Trey frowns. “I suppose, but you’d better freaking listen to us. This isn’t a joke, Ro.”

  “I know, sheesh. Don’t you think I’ve figured that out after all the times I visit you guys in the hospital?”

  “She has a point,” I say.

  Trey shrugs. “And we could use her since Tori isn’t able to help.”

  We’re quiet for a minute as I text Sawyer, letting him know what’s up.

  “I wonder what her vision is,” Trey whispers, just as we hear the breezeway door open and Dad’s footsteps in the kitchen.

  “Me too,” I say. An involuntary shiver races up my spine as I try to force my brain to stop thinking so I can sleep.

  That never works, you know.


  After school on Friday, as I wait for Sawyer so we can visit Tori, my psych teacher, Mr. Polselli, comes up to my locker. He hands me an envelope.

  “This is from the teachers,” he says. “For your family.” He shrugs and smiles, the laugh lines around his eyes crinkling. He’s like the under-the-radar teacher of the year. To me, at least. I don’t know why he likes me, but it’s been pretty awesome having him on my side. Maybe with all his psychological knowledge he can tell I’m batshit crazy and he feels sorry for me.

  “Thanks.” I take the envelope and realize it’s too dense to be a letter. It’s thick. I look up at him as he shoves his hands in his pockets and turns back toward his classroom across the hall.

  I slip my thumb under the flap and peek inside. It’s money. “Hey!” I say.

  He looks back over his shoulder.

  “This is money,” I say, flustered. We’re not charity types.

  “Very good,” he says with a grin.

  “I can’t—you don’t need to do this.” I hold the envelope out.

  He stops walking. “Julia, I think you know why you have to take it.”

  I think hard. Is this a psych question? A life lesson based on book facts? I figure it is. He’s that kind of teacher.

  “Because it makes you guys feel better?” I guess. And I know it’s something like that. “You felt helpless to fix the real problem—i.e., make our house and restaurant not burn down—so . . . you do what you are capable of doing to help us and appease your inner . . . whatever?”

  “Close enough,” Mr. Polselli says. “An A for the day.” He slips back into his classroom, leaving me standing there, kind of in shock, when Sawyer finally comes.

  • • •

  We decide that it’s best not to have Trey with us when we visit Tori since he acted like a crazed madman the last time Tori and her mom saw us. And they don’t know Rowan, so we leave her home as well to help Mom and Dad search for an apartment for us. Sawyer and I make the familiar trek up to Tori’s room.

  “Hey,” I say, lightly knocking on the open door. I poke my head in.

  “Come in,” Tori says, her voice listless.

  Tori’s mom frowns when she sees us, like she’s not expecting us. I glance at Sawyer.

  “We’re really sorry about what happened last time we were here, Mrs. Hayes,” Sawyer says, looking at Tori’s mom. “Trey—Jules’s brother—had just run here all the way from campus to let us know that there was a fire at their restaurant.”

  “Oh dear,” Tori’s mom says, her face softening immediately. “Is everything all right?”

  “It’s fine,” I say. I don’t want them to have to pity us too—they have enough to worry about. “But yeah, I’m sorry for the way Trey came screaming in here, scaring everybody.”

  “It’s understandable,” Tori’s mom says, and Tori nods.

  Sawyer and I pull chairs to the side of the bed, across from Tori’s mom. We sit, and I give Tori a reassuring smile. But I’m worried. Will she talk in front of her mom? Does her mom know why we’re here? We talk for a minute about how Tori is doing with her slow road to recovery. And then, after we run out of small talk topics, I say, “So, I got your text.”

  “Yeah,” Tori says. She looks uncomfortable, and I don’t know what to do. Tori’s mom is paging through a magazine.

  I mouth the words “Do you want to talk about this now?”

  Tori’s eyes flit over to her mother and then back to me. She nods. “Yeah,” she says. “She knows.” It’s impossible to read her face. And she’s not giving us anything.

  “Okay, so if I remember correctly,” I say, “we told you about Sawyer seeing a vision as a sort of aftereffect of the shooting. Right?”

  Tori nods.

  “Are you seeing a vision?” Sawyer asks.

  “Maybe. I don’t know.”

  “But you’re seeing something? Like, a reflection, or on TV, or in the windows?” Sawyer leans forward.

  Mrs. Hayes looks up. “The doctor believes it’s a side effect of the drugs,” she says in a firm voice. “And I agree.”

  “Mom, please.”

  Sawyer sits back. “Well, um . . .” He looks at me, scrambling, not knowing what to say.

  I don’t know what to say either. I wish Tori’s mom would go away so we could talk. But we’ve never seen Tori without her mother here. She never leaves. She even has a cot set up. I take a breath. “Um,” I say. “I—I—I think I need to give you some information that is going to sound really weird.” I bite my lip and glance at Sawyer.

  He shrugs.

  “You see,” I say, “it really started with me.” And I give her the entire story, even going into the part where Sawyer got his vision, and how we saved people because we prevented the shooting from being worse.