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Gasp

Gasp

Gasp 5


  And that’s when Tori’s mom stops us. She stands up and says, “That’s enough.”

  I swallow hard.

  “My daughter has been through a tremendous amount of pain and stress. You are not making her any better with your crazy theories and your—your—making light of the fact that my daughter almost died. This isn’t a joke, and if you two really are seeing things, I think you should tell your parents and go to the doctor immediately so you can be treated.”

  “Mom, I just . . . ,” Tori whispers, but then she gives up, like she knows it’s futile. She sinks into the pillows and puts her arm over her eyes.

  We are motionless, absorbing the words. After a moment, Sawyer stands. He touches my shoulder. “Come on, Jules,” he says in a gentle voice. He turns to Tori’s mom. “We’re really sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Hayes.”

  I get to my feet too. “Yes, we’re sorry. It was a mistake.” I look at Tori. “I apologize if we upset you.”

  “You didn’t. It’s fine,” Tori says. She lifts her arm. “Mom . . . don’t.”

  Mrs. Hayes ignores the plea and ushers us to the door. “There’s no need for you to visit again,” she says, as if she’s the decider of what we do.

  I mask the panic in my eyes and nod. “All right.”

  She closes the door behind us and we walk in silence to the elevator and out to Sawyer’s car.

  “I totally blew it,” I say once Sawyer is navigating the streets once more, heading home. “Now what?” I lean back against the seat’s headrest.

  “I don’t know. I’m pissed off. It’s not like we forced her to listen to us. She contacted you. And you gave her an opportunity to not talk about it because her mom was there, but she didn’t take it.”

  “How are we going to figure this one out?”

  “We’re not,” Sawyer says. He steps hard on the gas to merge onto the highway.

  “But we have to!”

  “It’s over, Jules. There’s nothing we can do. We’re not allowed to come back. She’s not going to talk to us. Not now. We don’t even have a hint of what this one’s about.”

  I scrunch down in my seat and scowl. “I do not accept this.”

  “Okay,” Sawyer says with a wry grin. “But there’s still nothing we can do. Your responsibility has ended. We are done.”

  Funny how I don’t feel at all relieved.

  Fifteen

  I gaze through the car window as we get closer to Melrose Park. And then I text Tori: Can you at least tell me what happens in your vision? I promise I’ll leave you alone.

  She doesn’t respond.

  Sawyer and I meet up with Trey and Rowan at the library so we can get our homework done in relative peace, even though it’s a Friday night. I think we’re all tired of hanging out at Aunt Mary’s, and besides, I need something to read now that my books are all burned toast. And it’s there at the library that I get a response: I don’t know if I can stand this. It’s been going on since I woke up after the shooting.

  “Guys, look.” I show the message to the others.

  “What the heck,” Sawyer mutters. “I don’t get it.”

  “It seems obvious,” Rowan says. “She can’t talk in front of her mom, so she can only tell you important things via text. Like when her mom is in the bathroom or asleep, probably.”

  “But why would she make us go all the way over there if she wasn’t going to talk anyway?” Sawyer asks.

  “I don’t know,” Rowan says. “Maybe she’s sneaky, and she thought she’d be able to get rid of her mom for a little bit, but it didn’t work.”

  “Spoken like a pro,” Trey remarks.

  Rowan sticks out her tongue at him.

  Sawyer tilts his head, thinking. “Yeah, maybe Rowan is right. Tori realized she doesn’t have the support she thought she had from her mom, and now can only text when her mom isn’t around. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mrs. Hayes looks over Tori’s shoulder and reads every text she sends.” He pauses. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s great Mrs. Hayes has dropped everything to be at her daughter’s side. It just seems like she’s gone a little overboard.”

  “So what should I reply?” I ask. “Just tell her we can stop the visions but only if she tells us everything?” I shake my head, trying to imagine getting all the info we need from her text messages.

  “Yeah,” Trey says. “Don’t waste time asking her what’s up with her mother. Just get right to the point.”

  I type: We can help but we need to know everything about your vision so we can stop the tragedy from happening. It’s a tragedy of some sort, isn’t it? I look up, my finger hovering over the send button. “Okay?”

  Everybody nods. I press the button.

  Yes, comes the reply.

  Sawyer groans. “Come on, Tori. Give us something.”

  “Hold on, she’s typing more,” I say.

  We stare, breathless, waiting to find out what our next impossible mission will be.

  “I think I’m going to throw up,” Sawyer whispers.

  “Me too,” I say.

  And finally: Must hurry—there’s a house. Sirens. Ambulance. Paramedics taking bodies out on stretchers.

  I read the text aloud, and then type: Do you see any street signs? What kind of house? Is there a house number? How many bodies? Can you tell what’s wrong with them? I look around the group. “Okay?”

  They nod. I send. And we wait.

  She doesn’t reply.

  After a few moments of silence, all of us willing my phone to vibrate, willing Tori’s name to show up on my screen, we give up and try to do our homework for a while.

  “This is agonizing,” Rowan says as the “Library closes in ten minutes” recording breaks our concentration. We pack up and make our way through the teen section, each of us grabbing a few books to borrow, and stop at the checkout desk.

  Once outside, I look at my phone again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I echo Rowan’s words. “It is agonizing. It must be for Tori, too. Especially since it seems like she thought it was okay to talk about this in front of her mom.” I think back to my vision—how horrible and alone I felt. And that helps strengthen my weakened resolve to help Tori.

  I say a quick good night to Sawyer in the parking lot and head home with Rowan and Trey.

  “I wonder what happened to the people on the stretchers,” Rowan says. “Do you think they were murdered?”

  Trey frowns. “I don’t think paramedics are supposed to move bodies if they’re dead. So there must be some hope of them surviving if they’re carrying them out to the ambulance.” He pauses. “Of course, there could be dead people inside the house.”

  I look at Tori’s description on my phone. “She didn’t give us much to go on. I hope she has a chance to text me again soon. ‘A house.’ That’s about all we’ve got. Hello, this is Chicago, land of many houses.”

  • • •

  On Saturday morning I send Tori the longest text known to humankind: Tori, I think we can help you but we need more information. Can you please answer the questions I asked? Tell us everything you can. Please. The only way to stop the visions from driving you crazy is for you to stop the tragedy from happening. But since you can’t, we will do it for you. I’m sure the vision is getting worse every day. Believe me, I understand. I want to help.

  My phone is so silent I think it must be broken. I forward the message to Sawyer just to make sure my phone is actually sending text messages. He replies in a nanosecond: Good job.

  The hours crawl by as we go out as a family to look at some houses for rent. By midafternoon my parents think they’ve found the one they want. Even though the rent is a little higher than they’d planned, it’s really close to our pile of ashes, and I guess they find that comforting. They go back and forth in quiet voices about the rent being seventy dollars a month higher than they had budgeted based on the insurance money, and after ten minutes of that I want to butt in and tell them I’ll give them the stupid seventy bucks a month . . .
except I forgot I no longer have a job.

  But then, in a flash of brilliance, I remember the envelope Mr. Polselli gave me yesterday. When we get back to Aunt Mary’s I race to the living room, pull it from my backpack, and present it to my dad. “This is from the teachers at school,” I say.

  With a puzzled look on his face, he opens the envelope and pulls out a wad of twenties. He counts the money—all eight hundred dollars of it.

  “Holy moly,” I say. I feel so weird about it. Teachers don’t have a lot of extra cash. I bet most of them sacrificed something pretty important in order to chip in, like, I don’t know, bifocals or cat food or whatever teachers buy.

  “That’s incredibly generous,” Mom says. Her eyes are shining.

  And my dad grips the cash like somebody just threw him a lifeline.

  Sixteen

  On Saturday night Sawyer comes over, and Dad still doesn’t yell at him, not even when I say we’re going out for a while. Together. Alone.

  “Definite progress,” Sawyer says later in the car. “Is he just distracted, or do you think he’s actually starting to like me?”

  I grin. “I wouldn’t go that far. I think it’s a combination of having too many other things to worry about plus realizing the inevitable—that I’m going to see you whether or not he approves. I think he’s given up. At least for now. And as long as I behave.”

  Sawyer gives me a sidelong glance and slides his hand on my thigh. “Oh?”

  And just like that, my whole body tingles. It’s been a while since Sawyer and I have had some time alone. I try to swallow the instant desire in my throat but it rushes up again. “I guess what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

  I lean toward Sawyer and watch him driving, the outline of his profile lit up by streetlights. I resist the urge to trace my finger down his sexy chin, run my hand through his thick, dark hair.

  He turns to look at me. His lips part when he sees my face, and I hear him take in a short breath. “Jesus, Jules,” he says, and his grip on my thigh tightens and inches up.

  “Pull over,” I whisper.

  His Adam’s apple bobs in response and he peers ahead, looking for a place to stop. He pulls into the parking lot of a closed factory and parks in the shadows of the building.

  I unlatch my seat belt and climb over the gearshift to straddle Sawyer’s lap as he adjusts the driver’s seat as far back as he can. And then I’m touching his face, nipping his lip with my teeth, drawing the tip of my tongue across his. His seat belt unlatches and I slide it out from between our pressed bodies, between our hot lips, and fling it aside, barely flinching as the buckle hits the window.

  Sawyer kisses me hard, and when I move my lips to his neck he moans and reaches up under my shirt, his cool hands on my bare sides, and I can’t think, I can only breathe and taste his skin and fumble with the buttons on his shirt with fingers that are shaking. Finally I rest my face against his hot bare chest and imagine us naked together. For the first time, it doesn’t seem too weird. A thrill rushes through me from my thighs to my throat. I guide his hand up my side and press it against my bra, and through the fabric his thumb stumbles over my nipple. I suck in a breath.

  “Oh, God,” he says, and his body convulses under me. I bury my face in his neck and kiss him, run my tongue along his collarbone and my fingers up and down his sides under his shirt. He adjusts again and I grip the waist of his jeans and kiss him full on the mouth as he pushes against me, breathing hard. His hands pull me toward him and he searches with blind fingers for the clasp of my bra.

  “It’s two hooks in the back,” I whisper, my lips against his ear. I don’t even know what I’m saying, only that I want him to succeed, I want him to touch me. He finds the clasp and wrestles with it until I help him, and then his hands are cupping my breasts and his hips are grinding, pushing up against me, and I feel mostly euphoric and a little scared as something deep inside me builds.

  I rake in a breath and move my jeans against his, like I’m controlled by some other force of nature, and then Sawyer’s breath turns ragged and he wraps his arms around me and holds me to him, thrusting his hips and gripping mine, and I find his rhythm and try to match it, feeling weird about it but also wondering if this is a little bit like what it would be like if there weren’t any clothes between us. But I don’t want to stop and analyze that now.

  Waves of lust rush through me and I want to be closer to him, touching him, my body becoming one with his body. I open a few buttons of my shirt, as much as I feel comfortable with, and press my chest against his, roll my hips with him, and I feel so beautiful and free. His breathing grows deeper, heavier, and it’s thrilling and scary all at the same time to watch him react to me in this way.

  But then he buries his face in my shirt and gasps, “Oh. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, SHIT.” And then his torso jerks and shudders and his gasp turns into a low moan. “Oooh. Faaahck.”

  I don’t know for sure what’s happening at first, but even though I’m not an anatomy expert, I think I have an idea. I ease back against the steering wheel and peer at him. “Are you okay?”

  His eyes are closed and there’s a pained look on his face. “Shit,” he groans, and lets his head fall back against the seat. He brings his hand up to cover his eyes, takes a deep breath, and lets it out. “God, Jules. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know that could . . . you know, happen, without actually, you know. Touching it.”

  I bite my lip, not sure what to do now. Sawyer shifts and gingerly slides his hand into his jeans. He cringes. “Well, that’s awkward,” he mutters. I ease off his lap and back into my seat, twist my jeans back into place, turn aside, and hook my bra. My lips tingle. I button up my shirt. And I’m not exactly the Sahara Desert in my pants either.

  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about what just happened. Flattered? Disgusted? I definitely don’t feel disgusted. I feel . . . smarter. Like I’m beginning to figure things out. Applying book knowledge to real life, like Mr. Polselli says, except, ew, let’s not think about him right now. But I like knowing what happens. I like knowing how things work. Cause and effect. That’s probably weird, isn’t it? But I feel like if I understand what’s going on with this whole sex thing, I can figure out how much of it I want to take part in, and I can plan better.

  I glance at Sawyer to see if he’s done doing whatever needed to be done. He’s buttoning up his shirt. And then, from his still reclined position, he lolls his head sideways and gives me a sheepish grin. “That was not in the plan,” he says. “I’m sorry.” He raises his seat back to an upright position. “So, um, basically,” he says, like he needs to explain, “I don’t know if you are aware of this, but being within, like, fifty feet of you makes me want to have sex with you pretty much all the time. I think that’s normal. And I guess even just the hotness and nearness of you combined with the amount of, um, friction and stimulation that occurred,” he continues in a scientific voice, his face flushing, “through no fewer than two hearty layers of denim protection, well . . . I guess that was enough to just wake everybody up down there and have ’em throw a party.”

  I laugh. “No need for sorry.” I kind of want to ask him how it felt, but I’m too self-conscious.

  He sits up and reaches out to smooth my hair. His fingers linger on my jawbone, and he says, “I love you, Jules, and not just because you make my thing happy. I love you because you make me happy.”

  I grin.

  He goes on. “I don’t want to push you into having sex, and I don’t want to push myself into it either. And I don’t want to do it until we are both ready for that, and I don’t know when that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not today. So I hope you can forgive me for letting things get a little out of hand.”

  He chuckles at his pun, and then grows serious again. “I mean it about the love thing, Jules. And I know it’s true, because every time I think about you getting hurt trying to stop one of these visions . . .” He drops his gaze. “Well, I can’t stand it. I can’t lose you. I
can’t.”

  My eyes well up. And the thing that is so big inside my chest spreads through my body. I have never felt like this before. I lean over and kiss him softly, gently, on the lips.

  And then I smile and sit up and pat him on the chest. “Dude,” I say, “I just have to tell you that you buttoned your shirt wrong.”

  Which, in JuleSawyer language, means “I love you, too. Maybe even forever.”

  Seventeen

  When Sawyer drops me off, I go inside and find Rowan sitting at the table playing Clue Junior with the three younger cousins. She gives me the stink-eye. I wipe my chapped lips with the back of my hand to hide my grin and hope I don’t look like I’ve just been tumbling around a steamed-up vehicle with my bra undone for the past forty-five minutes.

  “Where’s Trey?” I ask.

  “On a date.” Rowan clips the words.

  “Oh, cool. What about Mom and Dad?” I ask.

  Rowan replies through clenched teeth, “On a date.”

  I laugh.

  “I’m serious,” Rowan says. “It’s like Trey inspired them. After you left, Mom said they haven’t been on a date in twenty years, and she made Dad go. Then Aunt Mary decided she and Uncle Vito haven’t had a date in eighteen years, so they left too.” She smiles evilly at the kids. “Nick was supposed to babysit.”

  “Where’d Nick go?”

  Rowan glares, one eyebrow arched. “On. A. Date.”

  “Oh my.” I snort.

  “Yeah.” She looks at her cards and writes something down. “So why are you home so early?”

  “Um . . .” I try to think of something other than Sawyer spooged his pants so we called it a night. “I don’t know. Probably because I could feel your agony.”

  Rowan laughs.

  The cousins look at me like I’m a jerk. “She’s not in agony,” the oldest of the three announces. “She’s having fun, aren’t you, Ro?”