Bumped hard from behind, Jolie Figg fell forward.
“Hey! Watch it,” she barked as she caught herself, her books flying from her arms.
Proving her theory of the fickle nature of reality, the books went slow-mo, hanging suspended mid-air like birds struggling to fly into the face of a storm. The school hallway disappeared as vision replaced reality.
Car brakes screeched. Metal slammed against metal and a battered yellow skateboard corkscrewed into the blue sky in a futile bid for freedom. Gravity pulled it down into the mess of a car accident below.
Jolie’s vision broke as the board shattered against the pavement, her books thudding onto the floor and sliding away in three directions.
“Sorry,” a dark haired boy shouted over his shoulder. “I’m late for class.”
“Jerk,” Jolie muttered as she tried to retrieve her books, dodging between semi-truck football players and smaller sportier student models.
Her Biology book became a hockey puck.
“Score,” the muscle-bound jock leered. “Oh, was that yours, Witch Girl?” His entourage laughed, celebrating with high fives.
“Surfs up!” English One got a new life as a surfboard, while Geometry raced toward the stairwell, saved from a dead drop by striking the corner post.
The vision of a crash swirled through Jolie’s mind, fogging out the scene in the hallway. The hard, cold surfaces of a hospital room replaced it.
No. Jolie gritted her teeth, pushing the vision away.
She hated this. She was always careful not to touch anybody, walking with her head down to avoid eye contact, keeping to herself. The last thing she wanted, was to be burdened by her peer’s stupid secrets. But it wasn’t enough anymore. Things were changing. Her ability to hear other people’s thoughts was becoming harder to avoid. It wasn’t fair. How could someone who didn’t want to be psychic become more psychic? She didn’t want to know these things about other people and their rotten lives. She didn’t want to get involved in their problems. With a mom who treated everything in her own life like it was disposable, including her daughter, Jolie had enough problems of her own. Her friend and mentor, Faith was helping Jolie learn to work with her gifts, but the visions and headaches that had begun to accompany her psychic disability were getting more intense.
Once again the vision won, and the fog of someone else’s life enveloped the gifted teenager.
The image of a young man covered with abrasions bloomed in Jolie’s mind. An oxygen mask covered most of his face; the tubes sprouted from his body making him look like a medical Chia pet.
“Get out of my head,” Jolie demanded, grabbing at reality. “This has nothing to do with me.”
A pale blond “Brady Bunch” mom stood by the boy’s bed with one arm around a younger version of herself.
The mom and the sister, Jolie thought, though something seemed not quite right about that. If the boy was part of this family, someone had colored him with the wrong crayons.
A golf-tanned doctor, with an expensive haircut and perfect manicure, entered alongside a haggard businessman, his frazzled appearance contrasting sharply with the physician’s cool.
“I’ll give you a few moments. Just let me know when you’re ready.” Doctor Cool checked his watch, hinting he had somewhere else to be.
The man’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. He’d been crying. He would no doubt cry again, but not where his family could see him. He and the blond woman looked at each other across the room, and Jolie understood that more separated them than the space of a few feet. The father’s grief was deep, troubled, and honest. This boy was the child of his heart, the legacy of his first love. His loss opened old wounds that the blond woman’s affection could not touch, and she resented it.
He looked away, knowing that his second wife saw his memories of his first family as a betrayal of their life together. But it was too late. Guilt, regret, and pain worked like worms in the minds of the two adults, exposing the secrets that whispered to them in the heart of the dark night.
He turned sadly to his daughter. “Are you ready, sweetheart?” he asked, including her in this most final of family decisions.
“There’s no use waiting,” the mother said, through tight lips. “Nothing’s going to change.”
“I think we should wait for Hoke,” the girl said in a soft but firm voice. “He’d want to be here.”
Disgust hardened the features of the mother’s beauty queen face.
“That could take days, weeks if he’s off on one of his trips. We can’t wait that long.” The words sounded harsh and mean-spirited, but she did not try to sweeten them.
“We need to give him a chance,” the daughter said, pressing an auto dial number on her cell phone as she stepped out of the room.
The mother rolled her eyes. “She has him on speed dial?”
“He’s family.” The father shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to Hoke that she’s not his blood.”
“This shouldn’t be happening,” Jolie heard the father think. “I’m so sorry, Mara. I thought I could keep him safe in my world, but I was wrong. I should have let Hoke take him. I failed you. I failed you both.”
The girl came back into the hospital room and slipped her hand into her father’s.
“All I could do was to leave a message.” She stared at her brother, tears welling in her eyes. “This is all wrong. He is the best of us,” her voice caught. “What will we do without him, Dad?”
Her father pulled her into his arms, holding her close. “We’ll carry on, and we’ll help each other, just like he’d want us to.” In spite of his resolve, the father’s chin trembled and a tear appeared.
After a few minutes, the blond woman caught his eye and a silent agreement passed between them.
“But your mom is right, honey. We have to think of us now. Who knows where Hoke is or when he’ll get your message. He could be back on the res or up on a mountain somewhere. Dragging this out will only make it harder.
“He’ll come. He will.”
Her dad put his arm around her thin shoulders. “Hoke will understand.”
The girl shrugged her father’s arm off. Her lower lip quivered, but she did not argue.
The boy’s father went to opened the door. “Nurse, will you tell the doctor that we’re ready.”
The girl watched determinedly, her eyes shining with tears as the doctor removed the IV’s, the tubes, and finally the oxygen mask, exposing her brother’s ruined face. She did not turn away.
Jolie reconsidered her earlier assessment of the sister. She was not a copy of her mother; she was better, stronger.
One by one, the monitors went dark until only the heart monitor beat out the final moments of the young man’s life.
And then it too stopped, and he was gone.
But he wasn’t.
Jolie emerged from the vision, like a drowning person rising from underwater, gasping for breath. Reality had returned, and she was standing in the middle of the hallway of Chaparral High School. Somewhere close by, the young man she had just watched die was alive and breathing, and maybe, just maybe, she could keep him that way.
The warning bell blared from a corner of the hallway. She was going to be late for class, again.