by A.T. O'Connor
release date: November 1, 2013
My head rested on a shoulder, though I couldn’t remember whose. The crunch of gravel interrupted the soothing hum of an engine as the vehicle turned. I opened my eyes. Windshield wipers swept across the glass, brushing away fat snowflakes. The soft glow from the truck’s dashboard cast shadows into the cab and illuminated a Scooby Doo bobblehead. Classical music spilled from the speakers.
I latched onto this tiny detail, praying the rest would come.
I’d been here before, with these same wipers and the piano music in the background, the same bobblehead nodding in time to the rutted-out road. I buried my face in the jacketed shoulder and drew in a deep breath of spice air freshener and him. The scent wrapped around me like my favorite sweatshirt.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” The deep baritone cocooned me.
His truck rolled to a stop in front of my house. He turned off the lights and ran his hand up my spine and massaged the nape of my neck. I stretched the length of the bench seat, basking in the warmth of his gentle fingers in a way I had no right to. If I were a cat, I would purr.
All too soon, he tugged my stocking hat over my head, casting a wary glance toward my parents’ bedroom window. “Better hurry.”
My dad hated Travis, though I hadn’t figured out if he disliked Native Americans in general or Travis in particular. Regardless, it was best if they didn’t cross paths. I zipped my jacket, mentally brushing at the cobwebs in my brain. “So, uh…?”
The unfinished question hung in the air. Forgetting details was nothing new for me, and Travis was used to answering my quirky questions. Lately, though, I’d been losing time, not just details. A minute here, a minute there. An hour at the most. I hadn’t told anyone for fear of sounding crazy. Thankfully, Travis hadn’t figured out that my memory was really starting to slip. His dark cheeks dimpled, and his brown eyes laughed at me. “We won. Forty-seven to sixteen.”
While I digested the information, he slid out of the cab into the Minnesota cold. He opened the passenger door and snow swirled in. His hands circled my waist, lingering a heartbeat longer than necessary for me to catch my balance—and my breath—when he set me on the ground.
His lips were an inch from mine, though that inch might as well have been a mile. At the moment, I couldn’t remember where I’d been or what I’d done, but I knew with the utmost certainty that Travis Stone was firmly off limits. I leaned back slightly to separate us. Biting cold filled the space between our bodies, and I shivered.
He draped his arm casually over my shoulders, keeping the wind at bay as he guided me to the front step and punched the numbers into the lock pad. Once inside the entryway, I eased the door shut between us. Trav’s outline faded into the night just outside the window.
Without turning on the lights, I climbed the stairs and tiptoed past the master bedroom. Snores seeped out from under the door. Careful not to wake my parents, I stepped into my room and turned on my bedside lamp—Trav’s signal to leave. Without it, he’d wait in my driveway until his truck ran out of gas, then wait some more. I could count on it as surely as I could count on Christmas next week.
This chivalry was something Granny loved most about him. Every Sunday when he dropped me off at her house on his way to work, she commented on his manners. “You just don’t find boys like that anymore.” What she really meant was, “Why don’t you date him?”
But she never pried. She just listened, even though I didn’t have an answer. Not for her or for myself. Travis had been the first person I’d met when I changed schools from Medville to Prairie Flats. He’d been there ever since, like a modern day knight in contemporary armor.
Light flashed in my window. My cell phone vibrated with an incoming text.
For just a second my breath hitched and I wanted to chase after him. I ignored both the urge and the pain in my temple, listening instead to the spit of gravel and the hum of the truck’s engine as it left our yard.
By the time I stripped off my clothes and slipped into my flannel pajamas, goose bumps covered my body and not even the warmth of my down comforter could ward off the icy thoughts chasing me to bed. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to piece my night together, rubbing my temples, pushing harder until the pain pulsing on the outside rivaled the ache from within. Still no fresh memories.
My name is Gemini Baker.
I am a senior at Prairie Flats High School.
Member of the dance team.
All State Musician.
Part-time college student.
I am losing my mind.
A memory slid loose. After school Travis and I had gone to the Dairy Barn for supper before the basketball game and my halftime dance performance. And then what?
Karen Webber asking if Travis was still on the market, batting her doe eyes at him and running her hands over his chest, daring me to engage. Trav’s eyes begging me to save him, flickering when I walked away. The headache that drowned out the pep band’s enthusiasm and the gaping hole that blacked out the last half of the game.
But before that, a phone call.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull that memory loose and drifted off to sleep with a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I woke up stiff, sitting at the computer in the office with a mug of cold chai tea in my hand. Sleepwalking was a normal part of my life, and I never knew where I’d wake up or what I’d be doing. Once, I’d pulled my mattress downstairs to the living room. Another time, I’d ridden my bike up town, only to wake up on the curb in my pajamas. I also had conversations with my dream self, sometimes changing the outcome in my semi-lucid state.
My college psychology professor had assured me that despite the craziness of my nights, sleepwalking was perfectly normal. Lucid dreaming, however, wasn’t as prevalent and some people actually practiced what came so naturally to me. To help us better understand the power of the latent mind, he’d assigned a dream study for the whole class. Out of habit, I teased my nightmarish-dream from the wispiness of sleep and jotted down everything I could remember in my psych notebook.
I debated sending an email summary of my newest dream to my study group, the Baker’s Dozen. Angel would have a perfectly inspirational take on hummingbirds dive bombing into an emerald green lake, while James would provide me with a cynical explanation. Everyone else would fall somewhere in between. Exhaustion won out. The Dozen’s interpretations would have to wait. I logged off the computer and made my way upstairs for a second time.
A rough hand shook me awake. “Gemini, get up. Now.”
I rolled to my side and stared at my clock, trying to make sense of the blurry numbers. 6:40. “It’s Saturday.”
My eyes slid to my dad’s shadow at the edge of my bed. His mouth formed words long before their meaning sunk in. “My mother’s in the hospital.”
Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed the acid burn.
The phone call from last night.
Granny’s request for a visit. But she’d never said anything about being in the hospital. Not then. Fear tugged at my lungs, sucking the air from them.
Please, God. Please. I’ll do anything for another week. Another day. At least a day.
I pulled my hair back, threw on some clean clothes and beat my parents to the car. The hour-long drive took a lifetime. My parents whispered in the front seat, while I stared out the window, ignoring all discussion of Granny’s estate, hospital bills and their precarious financial situation. The landscape blurred to memories. Canning vegetables. Building snowmen. Reading books on the front porch swing. Every good thing that happened to me took place on Granny’s farm.
"What if she tells her?” Mom’s panicked whisper rose above the radio and grabbed my attention. I pretended not to notice my dad’s glance in the rearview mirror or the way he reached over and squeezed Mom’s arm. Not with affection, but the kind meant to shut her up. The kind that left bruises.
A cold sweat washed over my body. Something serious had gone down in the Baker household. Something I knew nothing about.
The muscles in my dad’s neck bulged and the scent of alcohol permeated the air despite the early hour. Residue from last night. “She won’t. She promised.”
“She’s dying, Dan. Who knows what she might say.”
If you enjoyed this sneak peek into WHISPERING MINDS, stay tuned for its pre-party release during the month of October when I'll be posting some of my favorite quotes from the novel as well as chances to win great prizes--including signed copies!