Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
We braced for the cold as we stepped out of Quentin’s car. Sandwiched between the guys, I snaked an arm through each of theirs, feeling content, like a bird about to take flight. The air bit at my cheeks, but the warm sound of carols floated out of the Seattle Center and found us on our brisk walk in.
Pockets of people milled around a sixty-foot tree that emerged from an imaginary hole in the ground. Through the branches, hints of a spinning carousel could be seen on the opposite side.
Quentin pulled his coat sleeve up and looked at his watch. “We’re early. Do you want to walk around?”
“I vote for a carousel ride,” I said with a grin stretched across my face. I looked between the two of them, both of their eyebrows pushed high up on their foreheads. “W
hat? Is it too much for you boys?”
“You’re serious?” Foster asked as he tucked
his arms tightly around his chest. “I told you this place was a chick magnet. Aren’t we supposed to have young children in tow to be allowed on the carousel?”
“Oh, but we’ve got you, Foster,” I said, and added in hopes of goading him into going, “Unless it’s too scary for you.”
“I’ll go with you, Cee,” Quentin said, his arm casually resting over my shoulders. “But the ride will cost you.”
“Cost me what?” I felt certain I would agree to just about anything.
“Not sure yet. But I will collect.” He was teasing. I think.
“You two are killing me,” Foster said, caving to pressure. “I’ll go. But only because the festive night seems to be calling for a festive attitude.”
“Very generous of you, Foster.”
We walked through waves of laughter to the ticket booth. Quentin consented to let me buy his one-dollar ticket since he wouldn’t let us contribute to dinner. Queued and ready, we waited and watched as the line slowly slid forward.
Illuminations of light revolved against the night sky as jewels twinkled under a gold painted canopy. It held me spellbound. My eyes blurred the pirouetting horses in and out of focus. Quentin inched closer, his hand sliding effortlessly into mine. Slowly, I leaned my shoulder into his chest, his voice resonating around me while he and Foster carried on a conversation over my head.
nkling organ music whooshed in my ears and morphed into,
“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see . . .”
And she was there. On the white horse, dressed in her floral sundress. Her hands clasped tight to the pole. Her head thrown back in laughter. She was laughing. I could hear her. Joyous, delightful laughter ringing in my ears. She pulled herself straight and looked directly at me, bestowing a dazzling smile upon me. I felt her. Fully. I wanted to reach out, to touch her, but I didn’t dare move. I didn’t dare risk the illusion disappearing.
Inadvertently, I blinked.
Like a camera shutter opening in slow motion, my lids lifted and she was gone. Only the horse remained.
“CeeCee,” Quentin said, pointing to the moving line. “It’s our turn.”
“Um, great.” I straightened and followed the herd moving through the open gate. We sat three across, Quentin on the outside, Foster on the inside, and me centered between them on the white horse. We laughed. We went round and round, up and down. The delightful smiles of the children charmed us, allowing us to bask in the childlike wonder.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, the ride came to a standstill, depositing us at the exit. We stepped out the gate and headed back to the tree
for the lighting ceremony. I heard the carousel start up again. I turned for one last look. Hoping for one last glimpse. She was gone, but not from inside me.
“What time is it?” I asked as we approached the tree.
Peering under his coat sleeve, Quentin said, “Seven-fifty-seven. Almost time.”
We found a spot on a grassy knoll. Quentin stood behind me and I leaned back. His arms wrapped familiarly around my waist, holding me secure.
We spoke easily with one another. Waiting, anticipating the dark tower of branches to shine bright. The air stirred and something wet skimmed my nose. I looked up. In the distant lights, small, delicate flecks of white drifted down from the heavens.
I held out my hand to catch one. “Is that snow?” I
felt a giggle bubble up from inside me.
Quentin and Foster looked up and started laughing.
“I think it is,” Quentin said. “It’s unusual for Seattle to have snow, let alone this early in the season.”
“I really need to invest in a coat,” Foster said, currently sporting Dad’s winter parka. “I never did get used to wearing one when I was . . .”
I only half heard him as a tingling sensation started to creep up the back of my neck. I knew what it was. My hands gripped tight to Quentin’s arms, steeling myself, waiting. Simultaneously, the lights of the tree burst on, the cheers soared, and my mind was ravished by color and the swift shuffle of images.
I closed my eyes against the bright tree lights. My mind a blaze. A fire. A ring. Burning around me. I was trapped inside the licking flames. Only a shadow danced in and out of view. It reached out an arm before recoiling from my view.
My body tensed. I strained to discern each image hurtling by, but my mind was paralyzed, unable to force my voice to ask for more. The fire was moving. I was spinning. And the shadow danced in and out of reach. Taunting me.
The whirl of movement in my head caused me to lose my footing. My feet began to slide out from underneath me and I clawed Quentin’s arm, trying to hold tight. His own grip around my waist turned into a vice. Through the noise in m
y head, I heard his muted voice calling, but I couldn’t find him through the flames. The fire burned and burned. Burning until everything went black.
“Cee, open your eyes and look at me.” Quentin’s warm breath blew in my ear. “I’m here. Open your eyes and look at me.”
A panicked voice pierced through Quentin’s gentle pleas. “Is she okay? Should I call for help?”
“No.” He was adamant. “Give her a minute.” His bare hand stroked my cheek, pushing the shadows back. Light seeped through the slits of my eyes, calming the storm inside me. My lids parted like butterflies, revealing beautiful pools of green on Quentin’s face. Quietly we sat amongst the noise, cradled together on the gra
ss. He held me tight, patiently waiting for the vision to pass.
“Are you hurt?” he whispered, his mouth pressed gently on the top of my head.
I shook my head no and buried my face into his chest, comforted by his musky scent.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked for my ears only.
Again, I shook my head.
“Cee?” Foster’s voice broke through my fog. “What happened? Are you okay?”
I looked up and squinted. He stood between the tree and me, a halo of light bursting from his hair like an angel. I had to shield my eyes to see his face.
“I’m fine, Foster.” I tried to push myself up. I needn’t have bothered. Quentin and Foster were both swift to pull me up. “I just slipped on the wet grass.”
“Why don’t we get out of the cold?” It was less of a question and more of a command from Quentin. Not relinquishing his grip on my waist, he asked, “Are you up for walking back to the car?”
“Yes.” The trip to the car was quiet. No one talked. Quentin didn’t let go of me until he had the car door open
and me nestled inside. The short drive felt infinite as I tried to placate Foster’s questions and ignore Quentin’s concerned glances. We pulled into the driveway and I quickly stepped out of the car and bee-lined for the bathroom once Quentin had opened the front door.
Not bothering to take off my coat or turn on the light, I closed the
bathroom door and sat on the cold toilet lid, chills quaking inside me as my mind staggered.
What had I seen?
My head dropped into my open palms. I tried to assimilate the fiery slideshow that teased me with its vagueness. Taunting me. Calling my courage into question for not having asked to see more.
I swallowed down the tears threatening to flow. I was the coward. I’d been so busy pointing my finger at everyone else I’d never bothered to look at myself.
A light knock on the door interrupted my self-berating. I knew it was Quentin. He didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, he stepped in with a flood of light behind him. Our eyes fastened on one another before he closed the door down to a sliver.
He sat on the edge of the tub and reached out. Our fingers laced together as the vacuum of sound swallowed us and turned the void red. Fiery red. I desperately wanted a paintbrush. A canvas. A chance to purge.
So I did.
“Everything was on fire,” I choked out. “I was trapped. I couldn’t see. And there was a shadow . . .”
His grip tightened around my fingers. “What about the shadow?”
“I don’t know, it just danced beyond me and seemed to watch me.” Words spouted from my lips, but my eyes only saw fire. “Taunting. It was taunting me.”
“Are you sure you were in the fire and not the shadow?”
“I’m not sure about anything.” Except that I’m a coward. A chicken. Unable to help, even myself. “I felt trapped. But it makes no sense. The visions are not supposed to be about me.”
“Do you know that for a fact?”
“Have you seen anything else like this?”
“No. Wait. Yes.” The bonfire. Grace. “At the park, around the bonfire. I saw fire raining down around Grace.”
His grip loosened. “Maybe Grace is the shadow.”
“Maybe.” But the answer didn’t fit the equation. I couldn’t explain why. But one thing did fit. Danger. It loomed over me, waiting to pounce, putting everyone around me at risk. I let go of his hand. “I can’t stay. You can’t be around me. This vision, future visions, I don’t know what it means, but I can’t risk . . .if anything were to happen to you because of me . . .”
“Cee, what are you saying? You’re not making sense.” There was an edge to his voice as he pushed his hand through his hair.
“My dad watched Evelyn almost die because of her visions. I can’t ask that of anyone.” My voice trailed off to a whisper. “Especially you.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” His voice was firm. He slid off the tub and pushed on my legs, kneeling before me. “I meant what I said. We have to trust in each other.”
“But, the images . . .” I tried to protest.
“I don’t care,” he replied, his hands firm around my back, pulling me to him. “Together. We’ll figure this out together.”
“Why? Why would you purposely put yourself in danger?”
He didn’t answer my question. Instead, his lips found mine and gave me an entirely different answer to my question.
I sprawled out on the couch and stared at the ceiling, unsure of what to do with myself, my thoughts, my visions. I could hear the soft murmurs of Dad’s voice as he spoke on the phone in the other room.
Foster had returned to school, but not before proclaiming that when he returned at Christmas, he expected to meet Evelyn. I
’d wrapped my arms tight around him, not wanting him to go, but needing him to leave. I was drained. The pressure of holding tight to my secrets and not letting him in had worn me down.
“Try to stay upright, Cee.” His eyes flashed with humor, with love, with a rejuvenation that restored the emptiness inside me.
Lost in my own thoughts, I hadn’t noticed Dad’s voice had gone quiet, until his ghost like presence startled me.
“CeeCee?” He stood next to the couch and talked over the top of me.
He looked down. His unseeing ambers looked directly at me. “What are you doing?”
He piled his hands on the top of his cane. “And?”
“Are you doing anything else besides laying there?”
“Do you plan to remain that way long?”
“Is there a problem with me being here?”
“No. No problem. It’s just not your usual style.” He reached down, felt around, and gave my legs a push. He sat close, a hint of shaving cream tickling my nose. “Are you still going out tonight?”
“Um, yeah.” Quentin and I were having dinner. “We’re meeting up later.”
“I think we need to create some ground rules.”
I sat up, dread slowing my movements. “What do you mean ‘ground rules’?”
“Cee, you already know my reservations about you spending time with him. Especially alone. I think he’s too old.”
“You also thought he was too quiet.” The sarcasm was lost on him. “Dad, he’s only a year and a half older.”
“I understand that, but a year and half is a big difference when you’ve been living on your own. Speaking of which, you are not to spend time at his place by yourself. Too much alone time is not good for teens.”
A thousand shades of red morphed across my cheeks. “Seriously, Dad?”
“I’m not kidding. And no sneaking around to meet up with him without telling me first.”
I swung my legs off the couch, my arms laced tight over my chest, mortified by the conversation. “Fine.”
Neither of us moved as a mild appreciation for Dad’s caring rubbed on my heart.
He broke the stillness first. “You never told me about your time at Winterfest.”
because you didn’t ask and I didn’t want to talk about it,
I thought. “It was fine. Crowded.”
“Foster mentioned you slipped. Maybe even fainted.”
“When did he say that?” I asked, flustered. He never told me he had said anything to Dad.
“Before he left. He mentioned it out of concern.” Dad shifted, and leaned back against the couch. “Did you have a vision?”
“Did you say anything to Foster?” Panic twisted in my voice. I wanted to be the one to tell him, but I wasn’t ready to divulge my new inheritance. “Please tell me you didn’t say anything.”
“No, Cee, but you didn’t answer my question.”
“Why now? Why do you care now?”
“I’ve always cared.”
“Since when? Since Aunt Lucy confronted you and forced my problems in your face?” I stood and paced. My arms itched. Anxiousness boiled out of my skin. “You’ve been nothing but distant since Mom died and now you want to know who I’m with, where I am, and what I might see?”
He exhaled quietly, controlling whatever emotions
swirled beneath the surface. “You sound exactly like her.”
“What?” My confusion from his reply sucked the steam out of my rant.
“Your voice . . . it, it sounds exactly like your mother’s, even when you’re frustrated.” The crack in his voice splintered the wall between us. “I hear you and I find myself looking for Gretta. Searching for her . . . desperately . . .”
e’ve always sounded alike.”
I know. Intellectually, I know, Cee. But when I lost one sense it heightened the others, driving home the almost perfect, beautiful match. Do you remember the day after the accident? When Lucy brought you and Foster to the hospital to visit me?”
I nodded, not sure where this was leading, but not wanting
the painful memories to tear through me again.
“You came in and hugged me . . .”
The room turned raw. I bit my tongue. Hard. The bitter tang of blood rooted me in the pain of loss.
“You told me how much you loved me. And I didn’t reply.” He stopped, holding the air in suspense as he regrouped
, chocking down his emotions. “I couldn’t reply because the only thing my eyes would produce was your mother’s face. You said, ‘hi’ and I saw her looking across the table at me. You said, ‘I love you,’ and I saw her eyes, the way they crinkled when she smiled. You asked me how I was and all I could see was her hair, pulled up in that funny knot she used to do.”
I gulped down my sob and whispered,
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“Because I couldn’t see past what I was hearing. My grief
for her,” he choked, “my love for her . . . locked me in the darkness my eyes created. It wasn’t until Lucy was here, berating me for being such a louse of a Dad that a light of clarity finally broke through.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to be pissed, but I was tired. I wanted to forgive him, but time had changed too much, displacing me, forcing me on my own. He’d left me alone for so long, I didn’t know how to be with him.
“Cee, will you please come sit by me?”
Baby steps of trepidation
tripped me back to the couch. I sat, sucking shallow breathes through my nose. He reached out and wrapped his warm hands around mine. They were strong. Foreign, yet familiar.
Cee, I’m sorry.” A tear escaped and traveled a crooked path down my cheek, matching his own. “I don’t expect everything to be as it was. It can never be the same. But I would like to try and build something new. To earn back your trust.”
Trust floated like a lazy dove through the tension in the room. It glided to me and dipped, holding out an olive branch. But for how long before the wind carried it away on a new course?
“I don’t expect an answer now. Or even tomorrow. But I want you to know, that you don’t have to go at this alone. I’m willing to walk beside you. Everyday.”