Authors: Courtney Cook Hopp
We spent the next few hours walking in and out of gallerie
s. Our debates lingered safely on the context of art. Around the truths and lies, the real and the make believe, the good and the evil.
One artist in particular, an oil painter, held us both captive. His small canvases forced us to step close while the minute details grabbed hold, daring us to look harder, to follow the lines off the canvas and search for what treasures lay hidden underneath.
I was completely consumed. So much so, I didn’t notice when Quentin had stepped outside, his dark silhouette reflecting through the front window, his hand holding a cell phone to his ear. I weaved through the other art viewers, unintentionally shivering as I crossed into the chilly evening air. Quentin’s eyes followed my every movement. He ended his call as I neared, and pulled his coat off, draping it around my shoulders. He was everywhere. The musky scent of him rising all around me. Every sense in my body heightened.
“There are two more galleries on the next street over,” his voice soft in the night air. “Do you have time?”
“Sure.” I had no idea what time it was, but I knew I wasn’t ready to go home. I looked up to his face and quietly asked, “Are you going to tell me how you got my phone number?”
“Does it matter?”
“No, not really.”
We started to walk down the street, when his low voice murmured, “Evelyn.”
Of course, Evelyn. How she had my number, I have no idea.
Washed in a scent of contentment, we rounded the corner and crossed a street cutting a diagonal path across the otherwise traditional city grid. It was a short, odd street, which abruptly came to an end at the mouth of an alleyway. The dark opening pulled me like a magnet and I was unable to stop my feet from moving toward their new trajectory.
“CeeCee, the galleries are this way.”
It began, like it always began, at the base of my neck.
Please, not tonight,
For weeks I’d waited, prepared myself for the onslaught, almost convinced myself I’d imagined the entire thing. But tonight, I let down my guard and now my mind would pay the consequence.
I heard Quentin’s voice somewhere behind me, but with every step, the penetrating needles grew stronger. Forcing me to focus. Preparing me for what was about to unleash. And unleash it did. Slow at first, like a freight train picking up speed, until my entire mind was coated in color. Blues of every shade, bending into red.
I knew enough not to be fooled by the beauty, because it was always followed by horror.
“CeeCee, where are you going?”
I wanted to turn to him, but the colors blew out like a candle, and my mind was ravished by exploding images.
The outline of a man.
The silhouette of a couple.
The flash of a gun.
Faster and faster they shuffled, casting me into depths of darkness as the silent movie came to life. A shadowy man next to a dumpster. A couple. The flash of a gun. Spinning blue lights throbbing hues of gray over the entire scene.
On they went. Fear booming inside of me, adding the only soundtrack to the scene.
The shadowy man by the dumpster.
The backs of the couple.
The blue lights.
I stood at the mouth of the alley. My eyes open, unseeing, my body shaking uncontrollably. I felt Quentin’s arm wrap firmly around my back. I wanted to spin into him, to force my eyes from the unfolding scene.
“CeeCee?” A whisper, a lifeline, in the storm of silence, in the nightmare playing out in front of me. The images continued to march forward. One after the other.
The flash of a gun muzzle.
Until one image burst forward and hovered. It dangled over me, crushing me under its weight. A single silhouette, crumpled on the ground, bathed in blue light, begging me to understand.
“Stop!” I screamed. I grabbed the sides of my head, tears streaming down my cheeks. “No more! Please, no more!”
And like a T.V. unplugged from the wall, they immediately vanished, leaving only a heavy gray fog over my mind.
My body fell under the pressure of their hasty retreat, but not before Quentin’s arms wrapped protectively around my waist, safely holding my feet to solid ground. My eyes darted in panic, looking for the couple. For the man. But all that remained was a cold, dark alley, just as it was when I first noticed it, trails of dumpsters as far as the eye could see.
“CeeCee?” Quentin probed again. He grabbed my shoulders and spun me to him, away from the trail of darkness. His hands clasped over my cheeks, rubbing life back into them with his fingers, forcing me to look in his eyes, which I feared could see clearly into my slipping mind. “You have to tell me what’s going on.”
“I don’t know.” My skin prickled in a sweaty chill. “My mind . . .um . . . I saw . . .”
I looked back over my shoulder at the alley, but nothing was amiss. There was no one but us. I felt the dam behind my eyes threatening to break as I turned back to Quentin. To his eyes. The concern floating in them was my undoing, unleashing a torrent of tears. My chin dropped as my shoulders burst up and down with every jagged breath I sucked in. Quentin pulled me to him.
This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening,
spun over and over in my mind like a broken record, holding back all irrational explanations. I sunk deeper into the warmth of his arms, which kept me from splitting in two.
Time marched forward and slowed my breath into small hiccups.
“Did you see something? Like at the dock?”
I nodded into his chest, unable to trust my voice. Unable to trust that the
lingering tingles wouldn’t return with a vengeance.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered calmly, as if what was happening to me was an every day occurrence.
I pushed him away, fear roaring in me like a bear. “Why are you so calm? Why aren’t you freaking out? I’m seriously losing it. Sliding off the mental deep-end.”
I watched the shutters come down over the concern in his eyes, making me wonder if I’d imagined that too. “Trust me, this is nowhere near the deep-end.”
“What?” I howled. “What does that mean?”
He reached for my elbow and walked us away from the alley. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I stepped out of his touch and tried to calm the frenzy building inside me, the fear that my mind was slipping in front of him. Always in front of him. The new thought spewed out an irrational accusation. “You’re the reason this is happening.”
Affronted, he threw up his hands and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I have no idea either. All I know is, every time you’re around, I start seeing things.” I turned and stumbled in the direction I thought the ferry would be. I had to get out of here. Away from him.
“CeeCee. Where are you going?”
“Home!” I snapped, my feet tripping a jagged line down the sidewalk.
Quentin ran up behind me and grabbed my arm. “Stop, CeeCee. Talk to me.”
I threw my finger in his face. “Were you on the island Monday? Did you drive by my house?”
“CeeCee, I think you need to calm down.”
“Were you there?” I asked in near hysterics. “Are you stalking me?”
Quentin grabbed for my hand. “CeeCee, what happened? What did you see?”
“Someone was shot,” I yelled. My body shook uncontrollably with the revelation.
His recoiled and dropped my hand. “What do you mean ‘someone was shot’?”
I couldn’t stop the tremors inside me, forcing me to gulp for air as I tried to explain. “I saw the outline of a man and a couple. A gun went off. I saw the flash of a gun.”
Quentin didn’t reply. One minute turned into another and I started to panic. I didn’t want him to think I was crazy. I wasn’t crazy! I lifted my head to see if I could read his face, but the darkness covered his features in shadows, leaving them unattainable.
I couldn’t stand his silent scrutiny any longer. “I’m losing it, aren’t I? I’m fucking losing my mind.”
He looked at me, his eyes murky pools on a mask I couldn’t read. The ferry horn filled the air and he jerked his head in the direction of the boat and pushed us forward. “We should get you on that boat.”
That’s right. Send the crazy girl back into isolation.
The ferry terminal was nearly vacant. Quentin stepped up to the ticket window and said, “Two foot passengers.”
“You don’t have to cross over,” I protested as he finished the transaction.
He grabbed the tickets from the window agent and marched us into the holding area.
Hating his silence more than his patronizing actions, I snapped, “I can take care of myself. I don’t need to be handled like a child.”
“I don’t doubt it,” he fumed, the hard lines of his face sinking a little deeper. “But since you have no idea what just happened and you really don’t know how deep the deep-end really is, a little forbearance would be acceptable while I make sure you get to your car safely.”
What was that supposed to mean? A little forbearance? I wanted to ask, but I was exhausted, unable to endure any more question and answer sessions.
We boarded and I walked straight to the booth I’d ridden over in a lifetime ago. Quentin sat next to me, releasing a current of electricity down my left side. It washed over me, soothing, melting down my hardening stance. Together, we sat
quietly, side by side, until the ferry reached Vashon. He followed behind me to the commuter parking lot.
“Is this your car?” Quentin asked as I
stepped up to the red Ghia, its white convertible top glowing in the dim light.
“Yes,” my defensive posture back. “Is there a problem with it?”
“No, no.” He held his hands up. “Just a surprising choice.”
“Well, I didn’t choose it. I inherited it from my dead mom,” I unfairly spit out to rattle him.
“I’m sorry.” His voice dropped low and velvety, slipping in and around the pain. “You’d better go before your dad worries.”
I handed him his coat, a chill shuddering through me as I got in my car. “Not something I have to worry about.”
I reached out to pull the door closed, but Quentin stepped in its closing path and pushed it wider, leaning in. The air was suddenly sucked gone. I held my breath.
Hesitation lingered, his eyes locked on mine, before he said, “Goodnight,” and slammed the door closed, vanishing into the dark.
I snatched my bag from my locker, thankful it was Friday. Thankful to escape the torturous day I’d forced myself to move through. But no amount of school distraction was able to shake the cold feeling left in the wake of last night’s images. It was a war of shadows dueling in my mind, tormenting me to understand their vagueness before they’d made a hasty retreat into nothingness. I had no idea why my mind conjured up the people, but was fairly certain their fate did not end well.
I cut through the back doors of the school, instantly wrapped in a veil of mist. My mind felt like a scarlet “A” that throbbed for all to see the craziness lurking behi
nd my eyes. I picked up my pace as I wove in and out of the parked cars, my cell phone beeping somewhere in the depths of my messenger bag. I dug for my keys and came up with my phone. I ducked into the car, wiped the mist from my eyes, and glanced at the screen. My stomach clenched as the letters of Quentin’s name sprung from the screen, along with three words:
Where R U?
The brusqueness of his message sent annoyance down my spine. What does he mean, where am I? What business is it of his?
Why? Where R U?
I tossed the phone on the seat and pulled out of the parking spot. The beep was instantaneous. I stopped and picked it up.
In UR house
My heart hiccupped in disbelief as I re-read the text. This had to be a joke. A very bad joke.
A horn blared behind me, causing me to jump. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a line of cars stacking up behind me. I tossed the phone back to the passenger seat and slammed on the gas, racing away from the school at record speed.
My grip on the steering wheel tightened in anger. The nerve, showing up uninvited. He had no right to be there, to be sharing anything with my dad. I wrenched the steering wheel hard into my driveway and skidded to a stop in front of Quentin’s parked car. My shoulders slumped. It wasn’t a joke. He was inside my house, telling Dad who knows what.
This day was not going to end well.
The mist had upgraded to a full rain shower by the time I ran up the front steps and burst through the door, my eyes adjusting to the unreal scene before me: Quentin and Dad were sitting quietly across from one another in the living room.
“Cee? Is that you?” Dad asked, standing up from his spot on the couch.
“Yes.” I skirted cautiously around the backside of the furniture like a trapped prey, not taking my eyes off of Quentin.
His eyes held mine in a contest that was becoming all too familiar. I braced myself, waiting for the questions, the accusations.
Instead, Dad said, “Quentin Stone is here from the University as part of the art partnering program you forgot to mention to me.” His disapproval rang loud. Picking up his cane, he moved to a familiar spot at the end of the couch where he could be sure of where he was looking.
Partnering program? What the . . .?
Quentin stood, a newspaper tucked under his arm. “Your art teacher, Ms. Harris, passed along your contact information to me so we could meet,” Quentin lied with ease as he walked toward me. He stretched out his hand in a friendly gesture, but the gesture didn’t touch his frosty emeralds. “It’s nice to finally meet you, CeeCee. My name is Quentin Stone.”
I had no idea what was going on.
I hesitated before shaking his hand and prayed it would not end with me on the floor. “Um, nice to meet you Quentin.” My feet remained firmly on the ground. The warmth of his grip crawled up my arm, skewing the moment and tipping it sideways. Sarcasm drifted into my tone as I added, “It was lucky for you that you knew Ms. Harris, and she could connect us.”
“Yes, it was convenient, wasn’t it? Would you like to show me any of the current art pieces you’re working on?” He didn’t relinquish my hand, but continued to hold it
firm in his grip.
I looked over at Dad anxiously, waiting for him to react. Waiting for him to toss Quentin out. Waiting for him to say something. Anything. “Um, sure. I have some in the room above the garage.”
I yanked my hand from his and turned to walk out of the room. Dad finally broke his silence — two minutes too late. “Cee, when you’re done, will you please come back in and find me?”
“Okay.” I didn’t bother to look at him, or wait to see if Quentin would follow. Instead, I stalked out the front door into the rain, my words locked in my throat where anger bubbled close to the surface. I tucked my head down and picked up my pace as I crossed over the wet gravel, Quentin’s feet falling somewhere close behind me.
“Is your dad the deranged person wandering around your house?” His voice traveled over my shoulder and ran into my wall of irritation.
“Amongst other things,” I said, simmering as I climbed the stairs to the art room two at a time.
“He appeared lucid to me.”
“Appearances can be deceiving,” I snapped and wiped the rain off my face. The sharp scent of acrylic paint greeted me as I stepped into my sanctuary and moved to the far side of the art table, happy
for the barrier between us.
His voice turned serious. “Has he always been blind?”
The tragic story of my family was not a journey I had the energy to take today. “Why are you here Quentin, and what the hell is the ‘partnering program’?”
He closed the door and spun the newspaper he’d had lodged under his arm across the art table. The damp pages came to a stop in front of me, an article circled in red facing up.
“Read it,” his hard voice urged, leaving no room for argument.
Mugging in Pioneer Square Leaves One Dead
Karen and Leland Tate were held at gunpoint around 1:00am Friday morning, while crossing through an alley in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. An unknown assailant came out from the alley, demanding the Tates’ purse and wallet. When they didn’t immediately surrender their money, the husband was shot twice in the chest. The police are asking for any information in regards to the shooting. The assailant is still at large.
I was stunned. I read the story three times, the shadows in my mind aligning to the words on the page. My breathing turned into huge heaves. I couldn’t look at him. “This could be anybody,” I choked out, the walls of my sanctuary pressing in around me.
“It could be.” He crept gradually around the table, rendering the barrier useless.
“It’s not what you think.” Panic sprung loose. I grabbed the edge of the art table and tried to suck in the non-existent air in the room. “It can’t be.”
“How could you possibly know what I’m thinking?” His voice was eerily calm, causing my loose panic to strangle my rational thought.
“IT’S NOT!” I trembled from head to toe. This couldn’t be happening. My eyes darted around, looking for anything that felt normal. Anything that resembled my life before my mom died. Before we moved. Before Quentin.
Unable to control my breathing, I bent over and put my hands on my knees. I was determined not to pass out. Again.
Quentin moved up next to me, demanding answers. “Do you know what I’m thinking? Or can you only see . . .”
“Don’t say it,” I interrupted so he couldn’t finish his sentence. I lifted myself upright too quickly, causing the massive amount of blood in my head to trip up my balance. Quentin reached out to steady me, but I pulled away, working to control the wave of tears threatening to escape. “You can’t say it.”
“I need an explanation.” His tone was chilling, his face a mask of intimidation. “Now!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The lost girl in the dark routine is getting old, CeeCee,” he hissed, taking a step closer. “What kind of game are you playing at? People are dead.”
He was searching my face for an answer, but I had none. No answer racing through my mind seemed remotely plausible.
The rain continued its assault on the roof and filled the painful quiet.
He pointed to the newspaper lying accusingly on the art table. “How were you able to see that shooting before it happened?”
“I already told you, what I saw was too fuzzy,” I sputtered. “They were shadows acting out a play with no lights or sounds. It could have been anyone.”
“Which means, it could have been the Tates.”
“Oh, no.” I recoiled from his words. “THAT is not even remotely possible. That is something that only happens in teen vampire novels.”
“I’ve known you for what, a month? And it has already happen three times. Three times you’ve nearly passed out from seeing random visions.”
“They. Are. NOT. VISIONS.” I was unwilling to venture down this slippery slope of possibility.
“How do you know?”
“Because nothing like this ever happened before I met you,” I said as I grasped onto my thin accusations of last night. “It’s you. Maybe you’re the one causing this to happen to me.”
“You do not want to mess with me.” His tone turned deadly. My heart threatened to thump out of my chest. “I moved to Seattle to get away from idiots and lies, and crap like this. The last thing I need is your fucking mind trip.”
“Me? Mess with YOU? No one asked you to come here today,” I spit out defensively, backing toward the window. “No one asked you to lie to my dad. Or, invite me on the art walk. Or heap your stupid opinions on me at the SAM. That. Was. All. YOU!”
“What the hell are you doing to me?” The words were barely audible as he pushed both his hands through the dark waves of his hair. I wasn’t even certain they were meant for me. With renewed vigor, his eyes darkened and pierced through me. “From the moment I saw you staring all teary eyed at those Picasso women, I knew something was off. Every instinct told me to ignore you and your strange, not normal . . .I don’t know what.” His hands flailed the air in front of him. “But every time I did, a hard, nagging feeling of dread took over, leaving me overwhelmed with the need to check on you.”
Hurt by his words I knew as truth,
“strange, not normal,”
my throat strangled my voice silent. There was no way to recap this spinning bottle of truth.
I dropped down on the bench seat in the window and pulled my legs up tight against my chest. I leaned my head against the glass, streaks of rain sliding past my eyes, rolling time forward. I wanted it to stop. To run backward. To erase the art walk, the alley, the images from my mind. To erase the warmth I felt sitting next to Quentin on the ferry.
“Are you psychic?” he asked, interrupting my thoughts. “Can you read minds?”
“No.” I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the question.
“Can you see into the past?” There was an edge to the question.
“No,” I whispered under my breath. I rested my chin on my knees, my arms wrapped tight around my legs in an attempt to keep them from extending and running out the door.
“Are you sure this has never happened before the night at the SAM?”
I nodded my head yes, too drained to say anything more. Too scared I might break down. I would not cry. I would not give him the satisfaction of knowing he got to me.
“Does anyone else know about this?”
Something inside me snapped. “No. No. And no. I can’t read minds. I can’t see the past or the future. I can’t cast spells over people and make them seek me out against their will. And yes, you are the only privileged soul to know I’m slowly sliding myself into a straight jacket. Any other questions?”
He was momentarily stunned by my outburst before he closed the distance between us with five purposeful strides. My back went rigid, bracing for another round of accusations. Before I could react to his movement, he was in front of me, his hand stretched out, softly caressing my cheekbone with his thumb.
The gesture was so unexpected, my head automatically leaned into his palm. Into the caress. Into his touch. The intimacy wash
ed over my uncertainty. Ever so smoothly, he pulled me up to my feet and into his arms, my senses overwhelmed by his musky scent and the warmth shooting up and down my spine.