The noise from the party raging downstairs seeped into my quiet space. I palmed my blue and red bouncy ball as I lay on my bed facing the wall. I threw it in the air a few times to watch the colors blur together before bouncing it off the wall above my headboard.
It was ten o’clock at night on a Thursday, and the party was just getting started. My parents said that having people over tonight was unavoidable. We were leaving for Cedar Ridge, Texas—a town too small to register on most maps—in a few days, and people wanted to say good-bye. Any other seventeen year old would probably be excited about sneaking a drink or having an excuse to buy a new dress, but not me. I wasn’t much of a party person. Or a people person.
With my most of stuff already packed up and the TVs unhooked, I was beyond bored. Still, there was no way I was going downstairs.
I’d disappeared to my room as soon as the caterers arrived. Since then, I’d found the end of the internet. Apparently there were only so many gifs a girl could enjoy in a row and unless I wanted to pay for crappy re-runs, I was out of things to watch and left with only a bouncy ball to aid in my entertainment.
It’d been a bad idea to pack everything but my essentials so early. Twenty-three small boxes were stacked against the side of my room. Most of them were filled with books. The only stuff of mine that I’d left unpacked would fit into a small duffel bag and my backpack.
But a bouncy ball was better than nothing, and much better than braving the crowd downstairs. I threw it to the beat of the music and counted down the seconds. Those would turn into minutes, and then into hours, and then eventually back into quiet so I could go to sleep.
I guessed that moving could be stressful for most people, but not for me. I was really looking forward to a fresh start. The sooner I could go to sleep, the sooner it’d be tomorrow.
Only three more sleeps until Texas. Until everything would change. I smiled at the thought. This girl could use some change.
A knock came from my door. “Bathroom’s downstairs,” I yelled. I held my breath as I listened, hoping they heard me.
The knob turned. Shit. I should’ve locked it.
I hopped off my bed. “Hey—”
“Whatcha doin’, Tessa?” My older brother, Axel, swung open the door.
I sat back down on the bed. He knew exactly what I was doing. “What do you want?”
He leaned against the doorframe. He was well over half a foot taller than me, but that didn’t mean much to my five feet and almost nothing inches. We had the same wavy dark hair—when he let his grow—and the same dark brown eyes, thanks to our Latina mom. “Dad wants you to come downstairs, even if it’s just for a minute. People are asking about you.”
I made a face. “I’d rather not. Cover for me?”
“What if I said a certain celeb was down there?” He waggled his eyebrows. “The one who I saw you drooling over last week?”
I threw the ball at him and he caught it, laughing. The jerk. Dad’s combo of PR work and law degree made him a hot commodity in Hollywood. He now had an enviable number of high profile clients. If I were more into the LA scene, then maybe the guest list would’ve been appealing.
I chewed on my lip, unable to deny the draw of my latest actor crush—James MacAvoy. Nothing hotter than a guy with a sexy Scottish accent. “He’s really downstairs?”
I thought for a second and then sighed. “Still can’t do it. I don’t want to destroy the illusion that my favorite Scotsman is absolute perfection. What if he has a zit? Or spills something on himself? Or worse—what if I accidentally touch him and get a vision? The dream will shatter. And that—big brother—is not worth it. Even if I was willing to risk having a million other random visions—which I’m not.”
He rolled his eyes at me and stepped into my room.
“Hey!” I jumped off the bed. “Don’t come in here. This is a clean zone.” He knew I wasn’t referring to the fact that I was a neat-freak, but that everything in the room was new. Touched by a minimal amount of people. It was my only defense. A quick brush of skin-against-skin, or even skin-against-other-person’s-property, was sometimes enough to give me an in-depth view into their mind. As much as that might sound like fun, it was usually more icky than cool.
He held up his hands. “Please, Tess. I know the drill.” He moseyed his way to my bed and collapsed. “Come here.” He patted his side.
I looked at him suspiciously. “The shirt’s new?”
I lay down on my side next to him, resting my head on his chest.
A quick vision of a factory in some Asian country filled my mind. The humid heat had me sweating as the clacking of hundreds of sewing machines echoed in my head.
“Are you sweating?” Axel’s voice brought me back to my room. “Christ. It’s like lying next to a furnace.”
I elbowed him as I rolled away. “Your fault. That’s a sweatshop shirt you’re wearing.”
“Shit.” He pulled the shirt from his chest and looked down at it, making a face as if it’d suddenly grown mold. “I should let you touch my stuff before I buy anything…I actually liked this shirt.”
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “So wear it. You already did whatever damage you were going to do by buying it in the first place. You never would’ve known if you didn’t have a freak for a sister.”
He was quiet for a second. “You’re going to have to come out of this room at some point. You can’t hide forever.”
He did this at least once a month, but he hadn’t gotten the family “gift.” I had.
“You’re not Rogue, you know.”
Oh God. He was on variation five-B of the speech also known as The Comic Book Rip-off. “You’re not going to kill someone if you touch them,” I finished for him, mimicking his deeper voice.
“Right. Well. I still think that if you learned to block it out instead of trying to avoid it, then you’d be able to have some kind of normal life.”
Maybe he was right, but you couldn’t wash your mind or un-see things. “Yeah, well, believe it or not, too much information is an actual thing. Like getting the glimpse of when you and Bambi—”
“Whatever.” I gagged.
“I don’t know why you’re so stubborn. Not letting anyone touch you isn’t the answer.”
I elbowed him again. “Gross! You want people to touch me.”
“Shut it. You know what I meant.” He messed up my hair. “I’m gone in a few weeks, and I’m worried about you.”
I glanced up at him. We looked like twins, except he was all angles, whereas my face was round. Axel was only two years older than me, and was, without a doubt, my best friend. “I’ll be fine without your butt stinking up the house.”
He smiled like I wanted, but I wasn’t so sure that I’d actually be fine. Even if he wouldn’t admit it, I knew he’d picked a Texas college because we’d still be within driving distance. I hated that he’d turned down other schools, and hated myself a little for being glad that he’d done it.
He nudged me. “I dare you to find out what the deal is with Dad’s new job.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s leaving his celeb-filled job in LA to work for some random boarding school in Texas. That doesn’t strike you as odd at all?”
I shrugged. “I guess I hadn’t thought about it. I’m just looking forward to not going back to school here. I don’t think I could take another year of those monsters.” I paused. I shouldn’t have brought that up. “Look. The gloves will work fine in a school that’s clueless as to what they mean. I’m old enough not to talk about what I see anymore. Plus, I’m getting better at minimizing the number of visions I get. It’ll be a fresh start, and I’m not about to poke holes in something that might actually be a good thing.”
“Aren’t you curious? Even a little?”
I thought about it. “Well, I wasn’t…”
Axel sat up so quickly that I almost fell off the bed. “You have to go downstairs, to Dad’s office, and touch some of those papers from St. Ailbe’s.”
“That’s a terrible idea.” Going downstairs during a party where people might actually want to hug me good-bye was a disaster waiting to happen. Add messing around in Dad’s office, and I’d be begging for a grounding. Only a moron would agree to this.
“Come on.” He gave me the look-that cocky, half-grin that told me I was about to get into trouble. “We’ll go downstairs, sneak a glass of champagne, you can get an eye-full of Sir Hunkalot, and then we can find out the real story on this move. We’ll be sneaky, and no one will see us.” He paused. “I didn’t want to have to say this but…I double-dog dare you.”
I couldn’t stop the grin. “What are you? Twelve?”
“What are you? Forty?” He poked me. “Live a little. You’ve gotta start having some fun, Tess.”
I wouldn’t mind seeing Sir Hunkalot. I snickered at the name. Plus, whatever we did had to be more entertaining than bouncing a ball against the wall. “Fine. But if I do this, then you’ve got to do something for me.”
Axel crossed his arms. “Name it.”
I chewed on my bottom lip. I could never think of anything good enough on the spot and he knew it. Then it came to me, and an evil grin spread across my face. “No chicharones on the road trip.” I almost patted myself on the back. Fried pork skins were something that I couldn’t stomach. Even if both he and my mom swore they were positively delectable.
His mouth dropped open. “What! You’re talking about messing with a road trip tradition. That’s sacred stuff.”
I crossed my arms. “They’re disgusting.”
He narrowed his gaze. “You’ve never even tried them. They’re delicious.”
“They stink.” I stared him down. It might not seem like a big deal, but on road trip halfway across the country, it was huge. Multiple bags could be avoided. Two days of a chicharone-free car ride was more than adequate reparation for one vision. “Do we have a deal?”
He rolled his eyes and left my room.
Great. Now I actually wanted the deal, and he was bailing. I wouldn’t give in. If I knew my brother at all, he’d be back in ten, nine, eight, seven—
“Just kidding.” He appeared back in the doorway. “Let’s do this.”
I started out the door and then ran back. I’d only left a few pairs of gloves unpacked. I grabbed the heather gray cotton pair and slid them on, doing up the apple buttons along the forearm as I walked into the hallway. I would’ve changed, but there was nothing nicer for me to put on. My jeans, white peasant blouse, and leather flip-flops would have to do. “Ready?”
I only had a second to think about how much fun using my visions for something useful would be before I hit the bottom stair and stopped.
This had to be a fire code violation.
A few people clogged the bottom of the stairwell that emptied into the living room. The party planner must’ve taken out some of the furniture to make room, but there was still not enough. There were people in every square foot available, and—except for the few actors who everyone would recognize—I didn’t actually know anyone.
Waiters dressed in black pants and white button downs made their way slowly through the room, offering up hors d’oeuvres or drinks, depending on what their silver platters held. Speakers stood in the corners of the room, playing non-intrusive electronic music with a steady beat but I didn’t spot the DJ. He had to be set up outside by the pool.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and entered the madness. It wasn’t long before I heard Dad’s voice above the din. “There she is!”
So much for no one seeing us. I wanted to hit Axel. So I did.
Dad shook his head at me. “Come here, Tessa,” Dad mouthed. His blonde hair hid most of the gray that had started appearing a few years ago. I always wished I had his blue eyes, but got my mom’s brown ones instead. He was wearing a tailored navy suit, and I suddenly felt way underdressed.
I brushed against someone and their jealousy burned through my mind. I shook it off and focused in on Dad. He was watching my careful navigation through the crowd with worry. Dad knew about my “gift”, but chose to ignore it for the most part. Luckily Mom understood it more, most likely because my abuela—a.k.a grandmother—had the same one. She always said it made it really hard to be a rebellious teenager when her mother could read her mind. I’d say actually having the abilities made it hard to be a teenager. Period.
Dad pulled me to his side, and I tucked close to him to avoid any touchy people. I got a few flashes from him, but thankfully nothing that drew me in.
“We’re so sad your dad’s leaving us,” said some lady in a super-tight dress. “What are you going to do in Texas?”
I shrugged. “Eat a lot of bar-b-que and go to school?”
She laughed and her fake boobs nearly popped out. I looked for my brother. He was flirting with some young girl who looked way too skinny. Must be an actress. “Help,” I mouthed as soon as I got his attention.
He made his way through the sea of people. I tuned the lady out as Axel grabbed my gloved hand. “Tess-aaah,” he practically shouted, drawing my short name into two long syllables. “There’s someone over here I want you to meet.”
Dad’s hand brushed my arm as Axel pulled me away.
Dad was talking to his boss—a silver-haired man in a slick suit. His tie was a little undone.
“Jesus, John. Are you serious?”
“I wish I was joking.” Dad sat heavily on the couch across the room from his boss. “I know I’m leaving soon, but this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. She’s a liability. You need to get rid of her.”
I nearly cracked up at the look on Dad’s face as he held onto my hand. He definitely didn’t want to be talking this lady. I almost felt bad leaving him with her. Almost. “Oh, fantastic,” I said to Axel, my voice so thick with sarcasm that Dad laughed. “I can’t wait to meet this person.”
Before I could get away, tight dress lady smothered me with a hug. Her hand brushed the top of my arm.
I hadn’t been to Dad’s office in a while, but I recognized it—the wall of glass behind his desk with an amazing view of the city. She was in his chair. In black lace lingerie.
Dad walked into the room and she stood up.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Dad yelled as he spun around. “I’m giving you five minutes to get dressed and get out of my office. When I get back, you better be fucking gone.”
Axel tugged me away from her and the onslaught stopped. He brilliantly played it off as tripping, glancing at nothing on the hardwood floor and cursing. “I’m sooo sorry. Lost my balance there for a second. Must be something spilled here.” He didn’t give her a chance to say anything, just started walking, towing me with him.
Holy shit. Did I just see what I thought I saw?
I spotted mom and pulled on Axel’s hand. When he turned, I motioned to her. She was already heading our way.
Mom was super cute with her short, wavy dark-brown hair, and looked ten years younger than she actually was thanks to her daily power yoga routine. She was wearing a boldly printed Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, and was getting quite a few stares from the male contingent as she walked through the crowd.
“You decided to come down on your own?” she said to me.
I raised an eyebrow. “Not likely.”
She smiled, and it wasn’t a totally happy one. “That’s what I thought. Thank you anyways. I know that your father will appreciate you making the effort.”
Before she could leave, I stopped her and leaned close. “That lady talking to Dad—the one that’s about to have a wardrobe malfunction—totally tried to come on to him. She’s thinking yucky things. Fifty shades of things…”
Mom laughed her big, booming laugh.
Not the reaction I was expecting from her. “Don’t worry though,” I whispered into her ear. “She hasn’t gotten anywhere with him.”
Mom sobered and stepped back to look at me. She seemed to realize something and then shook her head. “Of course she hasn’t. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about. Your father and I are one of the few who have a forever marriage. Your abuela made sure of it.” Growing up with my abuela made Mom able to block everything but what she wanted me to see. No one else I knew could do it. So when she reached out to cup my cheek, I relaxed my head into her hand and closed my eyes.
I was flooded with the twenty or so times that they’d said they loved each other today. She kissed my forehead, and I heard the echo from her mind that she loved me.
I opened my eyes and smiled. “Thanks. Love you too, Mom.”
She gave my cheek a couple of light pats before looking at my brother. “Be good, you two.”
Axel scoffed. “Are we ever not good?”
“Yes. Frequently.” With that, Mom slid back into her role as hostess.
“Let’s go before anyone else stops us,” Axel said.
We made our way to Dad’s office and locked the door.
Thick law texts were haphazardly stacked in his now mostly empty shelves. Bankers boxes were piled high to the right of his large oaken desk. Two long file cabinets sat along the wall behind the desk. I had no idea where to even start to look for the St. Ailbe’s stuff.
“You find the file, and I’ll touch it.” I took off my right glove and stuffed it in the back pocket of my jeans. “I’m not touching anything I don’t need to.”
He dug through some drawers, and then started in on the Bankers boxes. My palms were sweating. The longer Axel took, the better chance there was that Dad would look for us, even if that was ridiculous when we had half of Hollywood in our house.
“Got it!” Axel stepped around the mess he’d made and handed me a folder.
I grabbed it and my father’s office disappeared.