THE WOMAN’S SCREAM IN MY head diminished. The sickness in my stomach did not.
“I need to lie down,” I said, bolting from the porch swing and charging into the house.
The soles of my tennis shoes pounded against the steps as I hurried up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom.
I would have screamed when I entered the room had I not been out of breath.
My father stood next to my empty easel. A white glow surrounded him. Only his face was definite; it smiled out at me.
How could this be? He was dead.
“You’re a ghost,” I said.
“You haven’t painted anything new since your coma,” he said.
I swiped at hot tears blurring his image. I wasn’t ready for any more strangeness. “NonononononoNO.” I staggered to the edge of my bed and sat.
Daddy reappeared at my bedside, looking down at me. His head nearly grazed the slanted ceiling. His Nordic DNA had made him very tall.
“Are you really a ghost?” I asked, trying to make sense of what I saw. “Or am I having another vision?”
“I’m spirit, Vree, honey, just like when we talked when you were comatose. Your mind has connected to the astral plane and the vibrations of my energy again. But this time you have not projected like you did in your coma. This time, you have called me.”
“You wanted to tell me goodbye.”
“I am. I have gone to the light and came back to say goodbye. But returning to this plane takes a lot of energy. I cannot stay.”
“Where are you going? Heaven?”
“If that is what you want to call it.” The light around him began to fade. “I have to go. But before I do, I want you to remember to stay with the light.”
“Your light. You’re psychic. You can see and hear and do things no one else can. And so much more.”
“I don’t wanna be psychic. I wanna be normal. I want things the way they used to before lightning changed everything.”
“When you’re feeling down and unsure about your path, see the light and let it come to you. The light will strengthen you when things are darkest.”
“Wait,” I cried out as Daddy’s spirit dulled and vanished.
“Come back,” I said, wishing I could have hugged him.
Large tears rolled down my cheeks and dripped on my hands clenched in my lap. I fell back on my bed, not wanting to face the weird and creepy world beyond my bedroom. Not ever.
Dave called from the bottom landing and told me to come downstairs to eat.
“I’m not hungry.” I stared at the ceiling. Daddy was gone. I never told him how sorry I was for causing his death. Was that why he’d left without saying he loved me?
“Hurry up,” Dave called, his voice closer. “We’re hungry.”
Pushing from the bed, I rose to all my height and shouted at the ceiling. “YOU NEVER SAID YOU LOVE ME.”
Without warning, my stomach buckled. I needed to vomit.
I charged the stairs and into my brother who had climbed the stairs and stood at the top step.
I halted but Dave lost his balance. He grabbed hold of the railing on his right to keep from tumbling down the steps. His momentum swung his body and slammed his right shoulder into the wall. There was loud cracking sound before he lost his grip and thudded to a stop halfway down the steps.
“Why can’t you watch where you’re going?” he cried out. He touched his shoulder and cried out more, using some offending words to describe me and my clumsiness.
I turned, fell to my hands and knees, and vomited on the floor.
Bile rose in my throat a second time but I held the sour liquid down.
My hair mingled in the vomit; its ends painted wet streaks across the wood when I moved my head.
Someone touched my back—my mother—and asked if I was okay.
I nodded and hid my face. I wished to be whisked through time and space to when my childhood had been happiest, to when Dave, Amy and I were happy together, to when Daddy gave us piggyback rides, read Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua books to us, tucked us in bed at night and told us how much he loved us.
“We’re taking your brother to the hospital for x-rays,” Mom said. “Clean up your mess and take a shower. Make sure you wash your hair. Okay?”
I nodded again.
“She pushed me,” Dave said at the bottom of the stairs.
“I’m sure it was an accident,” Grandpa said.
“I don’t know what happened to cause this,” Mom said to me in her I’m-angry-but-can’t-show-it-right-now voice, “but you can’t let your emotions control your actions.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“You can tell me about it when we get back … after you shower, and after we eat and have time to relax from our long day.” Mom started down the stairs. She stopped and turned around. “I know it’s been a big change for all of us, but you need to accept the fact that although change is scary, it’s important to adapt to it.”
“I know,” I said. “But sometimes I need a hug and … well, you’ve been so busy lately, and Dave and Amy treat me like I have cooties.”
“Cooties? Really, Vree, you’re not a little girl.”
“You know what I mean.”
“We’ll talk about this later.”
Mom descended the stairs. Somewhere downstairs, a door closed. Outside, three doors of a vehicle closed. The vehicle drove away and the house, inside and out, grew silent. I went to my bed and collapsed, bawling into my pillow until my sobs became dry heaves.
I sensed someone in the room, smelled Grandma Evelyn’s perfume before she sat on the bed, put an arm around my shoulders, and hugged me. Her affection quieted my sobs.
“If you need to talk,” she said, “you can come to me anytime, day or night.”
I sat up and leaned into her embrace. “You asked earlier if I’d had any visions,” I said between my sniffles. “Why is that?”
“Because lightning struck me too.”
Whoa! “Really? When?”
“I was nine years old, down on the backside of Alice Lake, fishing with my dad one summer day. I never knew what happened until after I awoke in his arms. He was crying, and he nearly broke me in half when he hugged me.” Grandma tightened her embrace around my shoulders. “I still remember my confusion and the pain after I was struck. The lightning had burned my back where it hit me. I was numb and couldn’t walk, so my dad carried me to his truck and drove me home. For several weeks, I had strange dreams and I thought I saw ghosts. I even saw strange-looking dogs prowling the grounds.”
“Were they big and black with red eyes and bull horns on their heads?”
Grandma loosened her embrace. “You too, huh? Well, they’re not real. They’re visions caused by your brain healing from the lightning. You’ll stop seeing them after a while, just like I stopped seeing them.”
“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve both seen them?” I asked.
“It’s all part of the healing process.” Grandma took my right hand in her left one.
That’s when she and my bed and the bedroom vanished
I tried to be my quietest when I closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot. I held my breath as I leaned my forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken this very moment and find me gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that I had abandoned them?
What sort of mother abandons their baby?
I held the doorknob in my grip and willed myself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before I changed my mind.
All my young adult life had been spent running away from my past, searching for the real me. Trevor had been certain living a life of magic would be best for me. But when Balen levitated the lamp last night, I knew I would never be comfortable with that kind of life.
I released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. I turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. I buttoned my green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at me while I pressed on toward the bus station two blocks away. Once I made it to the bus station and had my ticket to Bakers View, I would call Sara and let her know I was on my way. Going home was out of the question. Would father ever forgive me for leaving our faith, falling in the traps of magic, becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock, and dropping out of the religion classes that he had paid for?
The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. My bus was scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Would Trevor know I was here?
I sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished I had brought some nickels and dimes with me. But I had put all my coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in my purse contained only a few bills left from my last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.
A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?
“You dropped something,” I said to him.
He looked at me with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.
I pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on me and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.
“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”
I flinched at the mention of my name. “Do I know you?”
“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church for a while when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”
I nodded as recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to my father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty I was.
“I go by Jack now,” he said. “You know, like JFK did.”
The clock above the loading doors told me that only five minutes had passed since my arrival. I looked again at the folded paper on the floor.
“You dropped that,” I said, pointing again.
“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and sat next to me. “Just got back from Ridgewood. I’m looking to buy some farm property there … maybe start a dairy farm.”
“Are you a student at New Cambridge?” I had never seen him there, but most of my time was spent with Trevor, and now Balen.
“I was,” Jack said. “Graduated last year … agriculture with a minor in business. I’m on my way to my parents’ place. My car’s in the garage.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”
I looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of us. I broke down and wept. I felt Jack’s arms around me. I welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed my sobs, wiped away my tears with a handkerchief, and held me until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus to Bakers View and points east of New Cambridge. Once aboard, I would forever leave behind the wizard and the thirteen-month-old son whose magic was stronger than mine and Trevor’s combined.
“That’s me,” I said, pointing at the loading doors.
Jack stood when I did. “You’re not a student?”
“I dropped out. On my way to my sister’s. Her husband doesn’t like me much.”
I don’t know why I told him that.
“Wait,” he said. “Join me for a cup of coffee.”
I shook my head.
“Cash in your ticket,” he said, “have coffee with me, and I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go.”
“Your car’s in the garage.”
He checked his wristwatch. “For another hour. Come on. It’ll save you some bread and give us a chance to catch up on old times.”
There was honesty and safety with this man’s kindness. I took his hand and let him lead me to the ticket window. Then, with the refunded cash in my purse, I went with him for coffee, vowing to myself to never involve myself with magic again.