Read Perception Online

Authors: Kim Harrington

Perception

To Mike.
My better half.

I STEPPED FORWARD WITH FORCED CONFIDENCE
. “Let’s do this.”

I reached out and took the knife, the wooden handle heavy in my hand. For a moment, it felt like everything in me froze. As if even my blood stopped rushing through my veins.

I thought about the events of the last few days and wished I could have pieced things together sooner. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be standing here with a knife and a girl’s life in my hands. Every muscle in my body tightened in preparation for what I was about to do.

For what I
had
to do.

I raised the knife above my shoulder. She looked up at me with widened eyes and trembling lips. And with all my strength, I plunged the knife down.

I JUMPED WHEN MY BAGEL POPPED UP FROM THE TOASTER.

“A bit on edge this morning, are we?” Mom said, buttering her toast.

“Nah. It’s quiet in here, and that toaster shoots these things out at warp speed.” I plucked the bagel out with my fingertips. “Ouch, ouch, ouch.”

“It’s hot,” Mom said.

“Wow, you
are
psychic!” I joked.

She gently patted me on the face as she brought her plate to the kitchen table. Mom wore a mauve Indian print dress that hung down to her bare feet. Her mass of red curls was tied up in a loose bun. Looking at her was kind of like looking into the future. My mom and I share the same red hair, freckles, blue eyes, and petite frame. Though I definitely won’t dress like her when I’m in my forties, unless I fall victim to some midlife personality disorder.

She glanced up from her plate. “Joining me or taking your bagel on the go?”

“I’ll join,” I said. “I’ve got some time before school.”

“Good, bring the OJ.”

I grabbed the jug from the fridge and settled into a wooden chair at the table. “Perry still sleeping?”

Mom grunted in reply.

“Any appointments today?” I asked, quickly changing the subject.

Mom shook her head sadly. I wasn’t surprised. It was the end of September and the tourists were gone.

My brother, mother, and I live in a purple Victorian house on the main drag in Eastport, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Our family business is in … well, entertainment, I guess. The sign outside our home advertises: R
EADINGS BY THE
F
ERN
F
AMILY
. My mother, Starla, is a telepath. She can read minds. My brother, Periwinkle “Perry” Fern, is a medium who can contact the dead.

And me? My full name is Clarity Fern, but I go by Clare. I have a gift called retrocognitive psychometry. I can’t predict the future, but I can see the secrets in the past. When I touch an object and concentrate, I can sometimes see visions or feel emotions from when someone else touched the same thing.

Readings can be one-on-one or all three of us working together. Most of our business comes from tourists during the summer months, and we have to budget that money to last throughout the year.

Most townies love it when September comes and the tourists leave for the season. The traffic clears up. The beaches empty. Things slow down. But I’ve always found it sort of sad. Watching the seasonal businesses close down. The empty lifeguard towers on the beach. Vacancy signs on every motel.
The gray skies that foretold of a long winter to come. Knowing I had months of school and therefore torture ahead of me.

Although things were different this year.

My phone buzzed in the pocket of my jeans, and I slid it out and took a peek. A text from Gabriel Toscano.

Want a ride?

I couldn’t help the smile that overtook my face. I typed back.

Sure

“Is it Gabriel?” Mom asked, and I nodded, still grinning.

“Are you dating him?” she pressed on, and I didn’t answer.

Steam rose from her teacup, trailed up into the air, and disappeared. Her eyebrows went up and I knew what she was about to do. The thing that made me so angry, I imagined fireworks shooting out of my ears.

She was going to read my mind.

So I focused all my energy on a message and silently repeated it over and over.

Stop invading my privacy, you peeping Mom!

She cocked her head to the side and sighed. “No need to call me names, Clarity.”

Almost all mothers are busybodies, always wanting to know every detail of their daughters’ lives. I get that. And I was glad Mom wasn’t one of those distant, unloving mothers who didn’t care enough to bug her kids with questions. But being a telepath gave my mom an unfair advantage and I hated when she used it. If she wanted to know about my love life, she should do what other mothers do: politely ask questions
that remain unanswered until the daughter decides to toss her mother a bone over a shared pint of ice cream.

I gulped the last of my OJ as another text came from Gabriel.

Outside now

I pulled back the white lace curtain and peeked out the window. Sure enough, Gabriel’s red Jeep was out there idling. He’d already been almost here when he texted me. He knew I’d say yes.

I yelled a “bye” to Mom, slung my black book bag over my shoulder, and darted down the porch steps. I gave a quick wave to Milly, our neighbor, who was crossing the front yard. She often came over to share town gossip with Mom.

I slowed my walk on the driveway, not wanting to appear too excited. Though it was a bright and sunny morning, the fall air was crisp and stung my cheeks. I zipped my gray hoodie, then hitched my jeans up a bit when I realized a slice of stomach was showing.

Not fast enough, apparently. Gabriel’s eyes lingered on my midsection a beat too long, then snapped up to my face.

If he were Justin Spellman, my ex-boyfriend turned friend, I’d toss out a snarky remark about staring. But Gabriel and I weren’t on those comfortable terms yet. We were still feeling each other out, learning what made each other tick. And Gabriel was a hothead. I never knew when he’d take a comment the wrong way.

Plus, I didn’t exactly mind that he was staring.

I climbed into the passenger seat and dropped my bag on the floor. Gabriel fiddled with the radio and I snuck a peek at
him. He wore baggy jeans and a white T-shirt that contrasted well against his tanned arms. His black hair was a bit longer than the short cut he’d had over the summer, a little windblown with the hint of a curl against his neck.

He stretched his arm over the back of my headrest and leaned toward me. For a moment, I thought he was going in for a kiss, but then I realized he’d put the car into reverse and was just angling to see out the rear window as we backed into the street.

I let out a breath I’d been holding in. Had I wanted him to kiss me again? I didn’t know, so I forced the thought out of my mind.

Gabriel and I had met over the summer under intense circumstances. He had just moved to town and was the son of our new detective. When I got involved in the case of a tourist’s murder, I was partnered with Gabriel. Much to his dismay.

Years ago, Gabriel’s little sister was kidnapped. She’d never been found. His mother had spent all the family’s money on psychics. One psychic would say her body was in such-and-such a lake. They’d dredge the lake, nothing. The other would say she was in Bangkok; they’d fly to Bangkok, nothing. But his mother kept believing whatever the psychics said, and kept wasting the family’s time and money on these wild goose chases. It eventually caused Gabriel’s parents’ marriage to fail. His mother was constantly drunk now. He and his father moved to Eastport from New York to get some space.

So, naturally, Gabriel had a bit of an issue with psychics.

We had undeniable heat and shared a couple of swoon-worthy kisses over the course of the investigation. But we totally got off on the wrong foot, and I also had an unresolved situation with my ex-boyfriend who didn’t want to remain ex.

So Gabriel and I were starting over. Trying to move past our differences and be friends.

Super-complicated friends.

“To what do I owe this honor?” I asked.

“Honor?” he repeated, turning forward and shifting the car into drive.

“Mr. Big Time hot new senior picking up little ol’ me for a ride to school?”

The side of his mouth lifted in a half smile. “You think I’m hot?”

“The girls at school do. They even have a nickname for you.”

“If it’s those vapid blondes who follow you around everywhere, I don’t even want to know what it is.”

A year ago, the idea of
anyone
following me around would have made me howl with laughter. I was used to attention, but only the negative kind. Being a psychic in a family of paranormal freaks attracts that.

But when I started my junior year of high school a month ago, everything changed. Rather than tell me to get lost as I approached a cafeteria table, people actually asked me to sit next to them. When I walked by, people said, “Hi, Clare,” instead of snickering and calling me names.

It was all because of what went down over the summer. My showdown with a murderer, during which I nearly got killed myself, was the talk of the town. It was like I was a celebrity. But I didn’t ask for this newfound popularity and I didn’t really want it. It wasn’t
me
they liked. It was the story. Everyone wanted all the dirty details. How did I feel when the gun was pointed at my head? What was it like when Justin got shot? How did we get the bloodstain out of our hardwood floor?

Believe me, no question was out of bounds to those vultures.

“Okay, I won’t repeat the sentiments of any vapid blondes,” I replied, laughing. The good thing about Gabriel was you never had to wonder how he felt about anything. He made his opinions painfully clear. Even when I wished he’d keep them to himself. Not because he was wrong. Sometimes I didn’t want to listen to him because he was right.

“So who was that old lady going up to your house?” Gabriel asked as we drove down the street. “Is she like … a regular customer?”

“No, that was Milly. Our neighbor,” I said curtly. I wasn’t in the mood for Gabriel’s high horse about psychics. He’d finally agreed that, maybe, my family and I weren’t frauds looking to bilk grieving people out of their savings. But I knew he still didn’t completely approve. One time he’d said that our seeing regular customers was feeding an addiction, like we were drug dealers or casino owners.

I was
not
going to take the bait this time. I gazed out the window at the passing stores and houses.

“What’s wrong?” he prodded.

“I don’t want to fight with you,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Disagreeing and having a bit of back-and-forth is not fighting.”

“Bickering, then,” I said.

“For it to be bickering, we have to be annoyed with each other.” His eyes left the road and instead traveled the length of my body. “And I’m anything but annoyed by you right now.”

That was Gabriel’s MO. Get me all pissed off, then say something flattering as if that would make it all better.

It usually did.

He parked the Jeep in the school lot and we both got out, causing a few second glances and raised eyebrows as we walked toward the school.

Gabriel leaned closer to me and whispered, “People are staring.”

“They shouldn’t be,” I said, tossing a stern look at a group of sophomore girls. “Everyone knows we’re friends.”

“Maybe it looks like more than that to them.”

“I don’t get why it’s so interesting. People need to stop theorizing and gossiping about others and focus on themselves,” I said with a raised voice.

We’d reached the main doors, but Gabriel stopped walking. I turned to find him staring at me. I’d seen that intense gaze before, but it still started a fire inside me, beginning at my cheeks and spreading everywhere else.

In a low voice, he said, “Everyone in school assumes you and Justin are going to get back together.”

I swallowed hard. “And what do you think?”

He stepped up to me and tucked a windblown curl behind my ear. “I think people shouldn’t make assumptions.” Then he turned and walked into the school.

Just then, Kendra Kiger and Brooke Addison — the so-called vapid blondes — marched up to me. It was good timing since I wasn’t sure my legs could move yet and I didn’t want to be standing there outside all alone and frozen in place like an idiot.

“What was he saying to you?” Kendra asked breathlessly.

“He is so hot,” Brooke said.

“Did he really drive you to school this morning?” Kendra asked.

I nodded. “We’re friends.”

“So hot,” Brooke repeated, staring off into space.

Kendra rolled her eyes at Brooke. “But
why
did he drive you to school today?”

“He offered,” I said.

They expected me to jump up and down and squee and giggle about how smokin’ Gabriel was, but that’s just not me.

I walked into the entrance hallway, which was painted a lovely shade of nursing-home gray. Kendra and Brooke followed closely at my side. I still wasn’t used to their company. Kendra, Brooke, and their other friend, Tiffany Desposito, were the most popular girls in my class. All three were blond and pretty, but only Brooke was naturally so. Kendra had to try a bit harder, to overcome the hard angles of her face. Kendra was popular because she had money. Daddy bought her a nice car, and Mommy looked the other way when she
wanted to throw parties in the McMansion. Meanwhile, Tiffany rose to the top by being so mean that everyone else was afraid to slight her.

Last year, the only interaction they’d had with me was their daily attempt at verbal torture. But this year, Kendra and Brooke had gotten obsessed with my “magic powers” and desperately wanted me in their clique. I had no interest whatsoever, but I had to admit not being constantly bullied was a nice change of pace.

“Anyway, forget boy talk — we have some news,” Brooke said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

It was then that I noticed the buzz surrounding us. Clumps of kids dotted the hallway, leaning in close, whispering and reacting in shocked tones. Something was going on.

“What news?” I asked.

Kendra put on her serious face. “Sierra Waldman is missing.”

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