Welcome to my new first chapter of Awakening.
What’s a writer if she can’t edit and edit and edit?
Getting ready to query soon.
Kate’s about to discover she has a gift.
With a touch, she’ll read your emotions.
Know your thoughts.
Download your memories.
She’ll learn to hijack your mind.
Kate’s about to discover what killed her sister.
Death Changes Everything
I stalled at the edge of the creek, transfixed by Claire’s hair.
The long strands fanned out in wisps and rode the surface of the water. Why would my sister go swimming with her clothes on in the middle of December? She floated about ten feet out, her foot stuck on a large log, the slight current rocking her body in a gentle sway.
Clarity struck with the force of a sucker punch—shattering my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine, driving me forward. Clarity screamed—Do something, Kate. Do something now!
“Claire!” I stumbled down the embankment and sloshed through the murky water, my socks squishing inside my shoes.
I dropped beside her. Struggled to flip her over. The icy water soaked me up to my waist, saturating the ends of my hair, numbing my lower body.
A tangled mane plastered her face. I brushed it away. Wished I hadn’t.
She stared at the blue-black sky. But she didn’t see me. She didn’t see anything—her pupils fixed and dilated. Her eyes—one blue, one green—looked even more out of place frozen like that.
I pushed myself up, scraping my palms on tiny jagged rocks on the creek bottom. I slipped my arms under her and locked my fingers together at the top of her chest. My waterlogged jeans clung to my legs like a suit of armor—slowing my progress, weighting me down.
The effort to drag Claire to the bank brought me to my knees. I yanked her once. Twice. Three times. Her body finally slid across the rocks. I took slow steps. Pulling. Dragging. Heaving.
My shoes cleared the water. One final tug and I collapsed on the damp dirty ground, Claire on top of me. My numb fingers shook against the cold, wet skin on her neck where I was supposed to find a pulse.
“Claire?” I put my hand on her chest. She didn’t move. “Claire! Please.”
My hair blew across my face, blocking my vision. I shoved it out of my eyes and crawled out from under her. At almost full dark, we were too far down the embankment for anyone to see.
“Someone help me! Help me!” I yelled anyway, a frenzied tornado churning in my gut.
No one came.
Wind slashed across my sopping clothes, cold and vicious, biting my skin. My hands shook. I bent close to Claire’s face. No breath. We needed to get closer to the road. The creek only sat back twenty feet or so. Someone would drive by. Someone had to drive by.
I gripped her still form and pulled, gaining about a foot up the slope. I yanked harder, screaming her name with each inch of progress. Halfway up, I stumbled. Tripped over a rock. Hit the ground. Something sharp cut into my jeans right by the left back pocket. Tears burned my eyes. My arms ached, like someone stretched them too far.
Why wasn’t there anyone to help me? “Please! Please. I need help.”
I forced myself off the ground, clamped my jaw, and kept pulling. We made it to the small grassy area by the bridge, under the tall bright lamp where someone might see us, my legs so shaky I was sure if I took a step I would crumble next to my sister and we’d both die here.
No one stood on the bridge. No one walked the trail. No one drove down the street. “Help me!” I screamed and then remembered 911. I had to call 911.
I patted my empty pockets, picturing where I’d left my cell on the dash in my car—parked next to Claire’s Beetle in the four-space alcove down the street.
Should I leave her and get it?
No, I couldn’t leave her alone. How many precious seconds had I already wasted standing on the bank trying to make sense of what was happening?
I sunk to the ground on my knees and tilted Claire’s chin. Her blond hair fed the ground like a soft stream. How much water did she swallow? How long had she been there? I hadn’t been too far behind her. Ten minutes? Fifteen?
I pinched her nose. Pressed my mouth across hers. Blew into her icy lips. How many times? How many times? How many times?
My thoughts scattered, darting into the deepest drawers of my mind, plucking out useless knowledge. I’d taken CPR. A hundred years ago. Why didn’t I pay attention?
I blew into her mouth again. Three times. Three seemed right. I placed my palm on top of my other hand and searched for the right place on her chest. I slammed my hands over where I thought her heart was—a sob wrenching from my throat with each compression. I checked for a breath again.
I was doing it wrong. She was dying. And I was doing it wrong.
A shock of heat burned through my sweatshirt in the form of hand-size imprints.
My heart throttled into overdrive. I screamed and lost my breath somewhere in the chasm between terror and shock—imagining—I don’t know who—behind me.
The large hands lifted me off my sister. A guy in a dark leather jacket anchored a knee on either side of Claire and began harder, stronger compressions—his hands steady, moving in a controlled rhythm.
A short crack came from her chest.
He’d broken her ribs.
My compressions had been too light. How many minutes had I cost her?
My breath came in short pants. I fell against the grass and stared at the stranger hurting Claire—no helping Claire—he was helping her.
He jerked his head my direction, reached in his jacket, and tossed me a slim black phone. “Call 911.” A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead and stayed there.
I grasped the cell, barely able to feel my hands, and touched the numbers. My finger slipped, skimmed the 8 instead of the 9. Two times. Three times. Come on! I closed my fist, stretched my fingers. You’re wasting time.
I finally typed in 9-1-1 in the right order.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“My sister…” My jaw chattered. The words got stuck behind my teeth. “I tried CPR. I couldn’t…I forgot…how.”
“Ma’am, what’s your name? Give me your location.”
“Kate. It’s Kate. We’re by the creek.” I glanced around. A savage urgency hammered my heart, driving it out of my chest. Water. Trees. Dirt. The large wooden bridge.
“Ma’am, what city are you in?”
“Plano.” I gasped. “No. Richardson. By the bridge over the creek.” How had I forgotten the street?
The guy on top of Claire gave her two long breaths, paused, and took the phone. He rattled off our exact location, unzipped his jacket, and resumed giving Claire compressions.
A long shiver stole my breath. Could Claire feel the cold? She wasn’t shaking. Her wet hair bunched on the grass in a mangled mess. Her only movement in direct correlation with the stranger’s violent assault on her chest.
“Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs—” Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. He whispered words that didn’t make sense.
He was sweating while I slowly froze. I scooted closer to my sister and rubbed my arms—like that would make me warm. Helpless, useless, and relieved in the same moment that help had come, I watched the stranger pump my sister’s chest, force life into her slack mouth with his own, then do it all again.
Millimeter by millimeter, Claire was leaving me. We split apart in a slow, excruciating tear—her soul ripping from mine. We’d never been apart. Not ever. Except maybe in the three minutes before I’d followed her into the world at birth.
“No!” I scooted to the top of her head, pressed my cheek upside down on hers. My hands went to my chest, pushed against the spot over my heart where my half of us stung and burned and ached—a ragged mutilated organ torn down the middle.
I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t breathe. Had my lungs been ripped in half too? Our argument played an endless loop inside my mind—in IMAX with Dolby sound—each revolution louder and larger. The second she’d grabbed the diary out of my hands and sprinted out of the house, I wanted to snatch back my words. But it was too late. It was too late.
I lifted my head and stared into her sightless eyes. Tears streamed down my cheeks, blurring her face, placing an opaque filter between us.
The stranger checked his watch. He touched Claire’s neck with two fingers and leaned his ear by her mouth. He groaned—a low deep sound, a giving up sound—and swung off her to kneel on the ground. “I’m sorry.” He looked at her, not me.
“What are you doing?” I shouted. “Why are you quitting?”
“She’s gone.” His eyes were green. Really green. It was dumb, but all I could think of was that no one had eyes that green.
He kept talking.
I couldn’t hear the words over the loud hum flooding the space inside my head. I watched his mouth move, staring at the early traces of stubble on his face. He was younger than I’d thought at first. It took me a moment to realize his mouth stopped moving and pulled into a tight line.
I shook my head. Squeezed my eyes closed. Opened them. “What?”
“She was probably already gone when you found her,” he said.
The world rushed back, the buzzing drone sucked into an instant silent vacuum. My head cleared enough to process his words. “No, don’t stop. The ambulance isn’t here yet.” I shoved him toward my sister. Was that high-pitched wail coming from me?
He rocked back on his heels and shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry.”
“No!” I crawled to her other side, across from the stranger. “I won’t let you go, Claire.” I curled my right hand into a fist and beat on her chest, pictured her heart jumping to life underneath her skin. It just needed help. A jumpstart. A kick.
Her body jerked with each assault, the way it had under the stranger’s compressions, only as a reaction to my violence this time.
The stranger got right in my face. “Look at me.” He took my chin in his hand.
I braced myself for that horrible crawling feeling to slide across my skin where he touched me and tensed waiting for the suffocating weight of the panic that would drop across my chest any second.
That’s not what happened. Instead, heat spread from his fingers, sending tingles through my face. I jerked back and slumped over Claire’s chest.
He knelt behind me and pressed his fingers on top of my right shoulder.
I flattened my hands on Claire’s black, sopping t-shirt. Sobs formed in my heart, swam up my throat, spilled out my mouth.
The fingers on my shoulder became one hand, then two. Somehow, he’d taken his jacket off and draped it over my wet sweatshirt. Overly large and warm from his body heat, it blocked the biting wind and took my shaking down a notch. He pulled me back against him his chest. “Es tut mir leid.”
Strange words again. I tensed. The urge to leap over my sister, to put her between us, flared strong. But not strong enough. Something tempered my instinct to bolt and kept me there, frozen, on the ground. In his arms.
Nobody touched me like this. Nobody except for Claire. And now—
Why didn’t I push him away? Because he’d tried to save Claire? Because he’d come when no one else had? Because I was losing my mind?
I held my breath and concentrated on my lungs and the pressure building inside them. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I exhaled.
Claire’s eyes accused me. An inerasable image—a terrifying scene straight out of a horror movie.
Water dripped from the sleeves of the jacket and puddled on the ground.
The stranger slid his hands down my arms and pressed the tips of his fingers against my wrist, above my pulse. Even that didn’t drive me away.
“I didn’t let Claire explain.” I mumbled. I closed my eyes against visions of our Aunt Julia—my mother’s sister. That last memory of her, chasing me through the kitchen, the knife glinting off the dim light, added to the nightmare.
That’s not what happened to Claire—Claire wasn’t Aunt Julie. She wasn’t and I didn’t care what the words said in the diary.
A shudder ran from my shoulders to my feet. “I can still see her.”
“Don’t look.” He turned me around—misunderstanding the her—and folded me into his chest, set one hand on my back and the other on my neck under my hair, his grip loose.
My heart slowed, my thoughts paused, my mind cleared. “What’s taking the ambulance so long?” I pressed my face against his white shirt. He smelled warm and spicy. Like the man section of Bath and Body Works—only richer and somehow incredibly calming. Aromatherapy on steroids.
Something was wrong with me, taking refuge in a stranger—taking refuge in any guy. But I didn’t pull away. I breathed out against his chest. Let my shoulders droop. Let him shelter me.
“You’re going to be okay.” He breathed against my ear. A slight accent wrapped his words and I remembered the strange words he’d said. They hadn’t been in English. Or Spanish. Not French either. And the longer he held me, the more my heart calmed. My breathing slowed. A sense of peace flooded through me.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
He sighed against my hair and didn’t answer at first—as if he didn’t want to tell me his name. “Rane. My name is Rane.”
Sirens broke the silence, growing louder and louder, severing the bizarre respite I’d found in a stranger’s arms.
“I have to leave.” He leaned away, cupped my cheeks with his palms, and locked those green eyes on mine. Dirt smeared his cheek.
I wanted to rub it off. But I didn’t.
Before I could ask him to stay, he got up. Mud clung to his dark pants and clumped on his shoes. My tears stained his shirt, leaving a mess of dirt and mascara behind.
He glanced at Claire—unfathomable sadness riding his eyes—then he turned and strode toward the parking lot, hands at his sides, and left me here. Alone. With Claire.
My calm ripped away with his departure. Emptiness rushed through me. I flung myself over my sister. Curled around her. My damaged half-a-heart ached—a jagged, raw, open wound. Was I bleeding out? All over the ground? Dying with my sister?
The ambulance raced to the curb, lights and sirens screaming.
I faded into the distance—like one of those disappearing roads in a painting. The distance muted the cold soaking through my jeans and sharp ache inside my chest. I floated outside of me. Detached. Anesthetized. I watched myself sob over Claire’s still body and try to dig my way inside her.
Footsteps crunched over leaves and grass. Voices. Hands. My floating self reconnected with my sobbing self in a giant, painful stab.
“No!” I screamed. “No!”
I fought against the hands separating me from Claire. Hands that did make my skin crawl. Hands that had no right to touch me. I Yelled. Screamed. Kicked. Went limp. Fell to the ground.
Two bodies lifted me between them. More voices buzzed in my ear.
I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. They were taking Claire away from me. They were taking my sister. “No!” I screamed over and over, animal sounds keening from my throat in a raw gush of agony.
Something sharp bit my thigh.
My whole body relaxed and went limp. And blackness swallowed me whole.