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Gasp

Gasp

Gasp 7


  “That’s good. I bet she was glad to see you.”

  “Yeah.” He doesn’t elaborate, and I don’t press him on it. I can tell he doesn’t want to talk about them.

  “So,” Sawyer says after a while, “do you think your father still has visions? Or do you think he had one and it stopped after its tragedy happened, like Tori’s did?”

  I’ve been thinking about that. “I guess I don’t know. I mean, I believe he’s had one for sure, obviously. But . . . I don’t know.” I frown, puzzled. Something doesn’t add up.

  “Maybe it’s not a repeating vision that’s been driving his depression all this time,” Sawyer says lightly, pulling toasted raviolis from the broiler and plating them with a small bowl of marinara and freshly grated cheese—from here it looks and smells like Pecorino Romano, but I’m not sure. “Maybe it’s the guilt of not having saved people.”

  I think about that. And I don’t know. I might never know.

  But I do know that I’m hungry and this bad boy in the kitchen can cook.

  • • •

  When Sawyer drives me home, I invite him to come inside. And he does. He offers a nervous hello when I officially introduce him to Aunt Mary and Uncle Vito, but they greet him with warmth. When my mom comes up to him, he plants a kiss on her cheek, which makes her smile, and my dad doesn’t yell or kick him out. He just leaves. Probably heading to the ash heap to find some more treasures. I still think that’s progress. The Sawyer part, not the treasures part.

  Once Sawyer and I migrate to the living room with Trey and Rowan, I ask them, feeling a little ashamed, “You guys doing okay? I’m really sorry I blasted out of here.”

  “It’s just weird,” Rowan says. “I feel so bad.”

  Trey nods. “It sucks. It’s like we had this power to do something good, and we didn’t use it.”

  “Not didn’t,” Sawyer says. “Couldn’t. We did our best. We did everything we could think of to stop it. But we can’t force some stranger to give us what we need.”

  “And now it’s over,” I say softly. I still can’t believe it. “I mean, I think so. There’s nobody for Tori to pass the vision curse to.”

  “Tori told us the vision is completely gone,” Sawyer explains, and he fills in the others on our visit.

  And it’s a boring Friday night for the first time in forever. None of us are working. There’s no vision to ponder. Ben shows up after a while and we all hang out in Aunt Mary’s living room, even the cousins, and we play this game called Apples to Apples, and after months of stress, it’s like I’m finally starting to decompress. It’s over.

  It’s really over.

  When my dad comes home around nine, he doesn’t have pocketfuls of scavenged burned junk. He has ice chests and ice and bags of groceries. We stop our game and look up as he stands in the kitchen, arms laden.

  “Two things,” he says in his old familiar, booming voice, and it shocks me to hear it again after so long. “First, our new landlord just called and said we don’t have to wait until the fifteenth—the house is ready and we can move in on Sunday.”

  We try not to cheer too loudly because we don’t want to seem ungrateful, but we are all ecstatic over this news.

  “And second,” Dad continues, holding up a bag of groceries, “Paula and I are taking Demarco’s Food Truck out tomorrow. And next week, and the next, and every day until we open the doors of our new, improved restaurant!”

  The household breaks into applause, and I cheer too, at first, until the doubt creeps in and all I can do is clasp my hands together and stare at my dad’s flushed cheeks and triumphant smile, and wait for the cracks to come back and ruin it all.

  Twenty-Two

  Mom and Dad start preparing the sauce on Aunt Mary’s stove for tomorrow’s big day in the meatball truck. We go back to our game, eventually forfeiting so the little kids win, because Aunt Mary says they have to go to bed as soon as the game is over, and we just want to get rid of them because we’re selfish teenagers like that.

  Nick sticks around and hangs out with us because all his friends are working tonight. He doesn’t say much. We don’t really have anything in common, even though he’s between Trey and me in age and we played together a lot when we were little. We haven’t been close since I started elementary school, even when he spent an occasional day working for the restaurant.

  So things are somewhat quiet, and we can’t talk about what happened with the vision even if we want to. And strangely, I don’t want to. I snuggle into Sawyer and he drapes his arm over my shoulders, and it feels wonderful to be safe and stress free for once.

  I think about the man who has to bury his parents. I look up at Sawyer and murmur, “Should we go to the funeral?” And I love that he immediately knows what I’m talking about.

  “We can do that. I’ll try to find out when it is.”

  I nod. He smiles.

  When I get a text message, I look at my phone. “It’s from Tori,” I say. I open it and read: I’m so sorry.

  That’s all there is.

  I raise an eyebrow and mutter, “Jules is not impressed.” I shove the phone back into my pocket.

  “What was that?” Sawyer says near my ear.

  “Tori says she’s sorry.”

  “Good. Maybe she understands it now. What did you say back?”

  I grunt.

  Sawyer shifts so he can look at my face. “Jules,” he says, “I know how you feel, but there are a few factors here that you’re not really considering. One, she couldn’t see the phone screen because of the vision playing out on it. Two, her mother dictates absolutely everything.”

  “Her mother ought to be the one saying sorry,” I mutter.

  “And three,” Sawyer continues in a louder voice, pretending he didn’t hear me, “Tori has been heavily medicated this entire time. Do you even remember when you were on your pain medication in the hospital? Do you happen to recall Trey on pain meds?”

  “I do,” Ben offers from across the room. “He was . . . emboldened.”

  “Whoa,” Trey says. “We agreed not to talk about that.”

  I glance at Nick, who is playing some game on his phone and ignoring us.

  “Anyway,” Sawyer says, “you can’t judge her equally with someone who can actually stay awake for a four-hour stretch and doesn’t appear to be stoned all hours of the day and night.”

  I sigh. “You’re right, I know. I just don’t want to forgive her.”

  “That’s up to you, I guess,” Sawyer says.

  “Yes, it is,” I say. But I know Sawyer is the one being reasonable here. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’ll think about it.”

  • • •

  Dad and Mom say they can’t afford to hire us to help them quite yet. We say we’ll work for free, but it’s like they’re having some sort of weird bonding time or something and they don’t want us along. So while they head off to the public market Saturday morning, Trey bolts for the shower, and Rowan and I are supposed to pack.

  “Pack what?” Rowan asks from the middle of the living room floor, where she’s sitting like a pretzel with her hair all messed up from sleep. She’s cranky. “We don’t own anything.”

  I look around the living room, realizing we’ve managed to collect a good deal of stuff since the fire. “I don’t know. All this stuff, I guess.”

  “What are we supposed to put it in?” she whines.

  I glare at her. “How about we shove it in your face hole?”

  “How about we cram it up your butt . . . nose.”

  We stare each other down. Finally I concede. “Buttnose is funny.”

  “Thank you. It was an accident.”

  “Oh, really?”

  “You can cut the sarcasm.” She gets up and kicks me in the shin with her bare foot.

  I snort my mockery in her direction.

  She kicks me again and I grab her by the back of the neck and shove her to the couch and sit on her.

  She pokes her fingers at me, trying to f
ind a sensitive spot, so I’m forced to bounce up and down on her while giving her a noogie. Then she hits her mark. “Whoa!” I yell, and jump off of her. “Out of bounds, loser. That was totally my buttnose.”

  She sits up and smooths her hair, trying not to laugh.

  I back my way toward the kitchen in case she plans to try something else, and scrounge around for some shopping bags to pack our junk in.

  Somewhere during the scuffle I got another text from Tori. I glance at it: I really am sorry and I need to talk to you.

  I groan and shove the phone back into my pocket. “Great. Tori’s feeling guilty now,” I call out to Rowan. I skirt a small cousin in the dining room and head back to the living room with the bags. I throw a few at Rowan’s head.

  “How can you tell?” she asks.

  “She just sent me another text. Says she really is sorry and that she wants to talk.”

  Rowan puts her clothes into a bag. “What did you tell her?”

  “I haven’t responded.”

  She shrugs. “She’s probably trying to deal with the shock of it.”

  I feel a twinge in my gut, but I’m not giving in. “She could have prevented all of this.”

  “Yeah, I think she probably knows that now,” Rowan says with a smirk.

  “How would you know? You don’t even know her.”

  “It’s a logical guess. Besides, you two aren’t exactly BFFs either.”

  “Yeah we are. We’re BFFs. I know everything she’s thinking and you know nothing.”

  Rowan rolls her eyes. “I’m just saying you’re not being very gracious. She practically died. This is a lot to take on from a hospital bed.”

  I put my index finger in the air. “But! She didn’t die. Because Sawyer and I risked our lives for her. And she did not do the same for her fellow humans of Chicago.”

  Rowan sighs and gives up. And for some reason I don’t feel very triumphant about my win.

  Twenty-Three

  Sunday is a day of joy. We have a new place. Not just an apartment—a whole little house in a neighborhood across from my old elementary school. And there’s no restaurant attached. It’ll be months at least before I have to go to school smelling like pizza. Mean people will cease to recognize me. I may survive high school after all.

  Ben and Sawyer show up at the new place, surprising us with a pickup truck full of used furniture. My dad stares from the garage (yes, we have a little garage!) as they start unloading it onto the driveway (because yes, we have a driveway, too!), and walks over to them.

  “What’s all this?” Dad says.

  “We brought you some furniture,” Ben says. “Thought you could use it. Is it okay if we show you what’s here?”

  Dad’s stern gaze sweeps over the scene.

  “You don’t have to keep any of it,” Sawyer replies. He stops unloading, looking uncertain. “We just thought . . .” He wipes a bead of sweat from his temple and stops talking, likely scared to death.

  My dad shakes the hard look off his face and clears his throat. “We can use it. At least for a little while until our new stuff comes.” He lifts his chin slightly. “Thank you.” But we all know our “new stuff ” hasn’t even been decided on, much less ordered. We’re being extra cautious with the insurance money since we don’t know how long it’ll take to get the new restaurant running.

  I leave Sawyer outside to bond with Dad (har har) and follow Rowan into our new bedroom, where we each currently have two bags of clothes and toiletries and basically nothing else. We will have new beds to assemble later today, and I’m hoping there’s a dresser on that pickup truck.

  “Where’d they get all that stuff?” Rowan asks.

  “No idea,” I say. I’m not sure I want to know.

  • • •

  By evening, the house is starting to feel like a home, and the best part is that there are no little cousins running around. It’s a little bit bigger than our old apartment above the restaurant. Or at least, it feels that way without all the piles of junk. I worry that this place will fill up too. And I don’t know how to prevent that from happening, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

  Sawyer returns later in his car, having taken the truck away, to see if we want him to pick up some burgers, and then he’s gone again with our orders. When he returns with the food, I watch him as he ever so slowly works his way into the good graces of my dad. And I think that makes Sawyer a good, quality guy. I will just have to keep him.

  Before Sawyer heads home for the night, he and I sit together in the dark on the front step of my new house, and he tells me that he found an updated article about the carbon monoxide poisoning. He says the old couple who died were both receiving hospice care, which means that they were already dying. And that the man’s sister is fine now, and her husband is improving and should be okay.

  I’m quiet for a moment. And then I say reluctantly, “It doesn’t excuse what Tori did, but I guess that’s a pretty good outcome under the circumstances.”

  “You know, there’s a chance that this even spared the old people from a pretty miserable ending to their lives,” Sawyer says. “I mean, I don’t know that for sure. But it’s possible. And maybe it’s okay to think of it that way.”

  “Maybe,” I say. “Is there a funeral planned?”

  “Just a private memorial service for the family.”

  “Well. I guess that’s that.” I draw in a deep breath of the fresh spring nighttime air in my new yard (because I have a yard!) and I blow it out, trying to get rid of all the anger that was stored up inside me. I imagine it escaping my lungs and leaving my fingertips. And it feels like all the negative crap is finally beginning to clear out.

  “It’s like a fresh start,” I say, more to myself than to Sawyer. “We have a nice new home. My dad is getting out of bed every day. The parentals are back to work with the meatball truck. I no longer smell like pizza. We experimented with sexy time.”

  Sawyer laughs. “Is that what we’re calling it?”

  “Yeah.”

  “And let’s not forget that there are no more visions to deal with.”

  I smile in the darkness. “Right on,” I say. I squeeze his hand and he squeezes back. And for the briefest of moments, I feel like all is well in the world.

  When my phone vibrates, I am reluctant to pull it out of my pocket for fear of disturbing this new perfect universe. And when I see who’s calling, I’m tempted to ignore her. But I don’t. Maybe it’s because the old people were already dying, and maybe it’s because I’m feeling fresh and full of love, and maybe it’s because I know deep down I’ve been too hard on her, but this time I decide to answer.

  “Hi, Tori,” I say.

  “I’m so sorry,” she says. She’s crying.

  “I know. I get it. It’s in the past.”

  “No,” she says. “Let me explain—”

  I sigh. She needs to say things. She needs to help herself heal. I can handle that. “Go ahead.”

  And for the second time in a month, three little words change everything. “Jules,” she says, her voice faltering, “it’s happening again.”

  Twenty-Four

  My mind doesn’t compute what Tori is saying.

  “Hold on,” I say. “I’m putting you on speaker so Sawyer can listen too, okay?”

  “Okay.”

  Sawyer’s face is a question. I press the button. “Go ahead. Start from where you said ‘It’s happening again.’ ”

  “Well, it is. And I’m so sorry—”

  “I know you’re sorry,” I say impatiently. “What do you mean—are you seeing the vision again? How is that possible?”

  “It’s not the same one,” she says. “It’s a new one now. Totally different.”

  “What?” Sawyer covers his face with his hands and shakes his head slowly, swearing under his breath.

  “Wait. How are you suddenly allowed to talk to me now?” I demand. “What about your mother?”

  “She’s right here—she’s the o
ne who made me call you. I knew you’d be mad, but—and she’s sorry too. She wants me to tell you that.”

  I roll my eyes to Jesus in the sky. “Sure. Of course. You’re both sorry now. Little late for that.”

  “I know,” she says. “Just please, you have to help us. I promise we’ll do everything right this time. I mean it! My mom says she won’t interfere.”

  I stand up and start pacing along the sidewalk. What am I supposed to do here? Say no? I can’t. I’m ethically bound. Personally responsible.

  I close my eyes and rub my left temple, where a sudden headache has sprung up.

  “Jules?”

  “I’m still here,” I say. “I’m just processing.”

  “Sorry.”

  She needs to stop saying that now too. I take a breath and blow it out, and then sink back to my spot on the step. “Okay. When did this start?”

  “Saturday, I guess.”

  “Is that why you sent me the apology text message?” My blood starts to boil.

  “No, I sent that text on Friday night. I swear. I feel terrible about the people dying. I wish I could go back in time and fix it. I mean it.”

  Sawyer pats my knee. “Let it go, Demarco,” he whispers.

  I shoot him a look, but I know he’s right.

  With a whoosh of air from my lungs, I let it go. “All right. Tell me what’s happening. Sawyer’s going to take notes on his phone, so please try to be very specific about everything.” I glance at Sawyer, who quickly gets his phone out. “Let’s hear it.”

  “Okay,” she says, and I hear her mom saying something encouraging in the background. “There’s a ship.”

  “A ship?” both Sawyer and I exclaim. We look at each other in alarm. “Wait. Where? In Chicago?”

  “I—I don’t know. It’s in the water. It looks like the ocean.”

  “The ocean?” Sawyer and I exclaim again. We need to stop doing that.

  “I mean, I don’t know. There are huge waves and rocks. And the ship is sinking.”

  This time Sawyer and I are silent. “Are there people on board?” I ask after a pause. Of course there are, dumb shit.