A. J. Larrieu A. J. Larrieu


Twisted Miracles


Chapter One

Someone was looking for me.

The buzzing started up in my head over breakfast. At first, I convinced myself it was stress. No one in San Francisco knew what I was, and a string of sleepless nights and back-to-back deadlines were enough to make anyone feel fuzzy. I just needed to rest.

Or, I was finally going insane.

It didn't go away. By noon I had the beginnings of a headache. By three o'clock it was bad enough that when my colleague Jackson Herring asked if I wanted to leave early and grab a drink, I said yes. My pills weren't working—maybe a couple of beers would. And anyway, I hadn't made a dent in the warehouse plans I was supposed to be drafting.

I followed him out to his Audi and got in the passenger seat, relieved when the buzzing faded as he drove down Market. We agreed on Featherweight's, but as soon as I walked through the door I regretted it.

"What is it?" Jackson asked. I'd paused in the entryway.

"Nothing," I lied.

The bar was packed. I remembered too late that the Folsom Street Fair was going on, which explained the guys in assless chaps sipping martinis and the man in a studded collar chatting up the bartender. But it wasn't the bondage wear that bothered me. For a telepath, crowds were trouble no matter what they were wearing.

"It's not usually this busy," Jackson said, almost like he'd read my mind.

"No big deal." I faked a smile and followed in his wake, doing my best not to brush any arms or legs. Contact made it hard for me to shield myself from the thoughts swirling around me. Bonuses and unpaid bills, itchy socks and uncomfortable heels, the sexual proclivities of last night's date... By the time we made it to the bar, my vague, dull headache had become a sharp, piercing one.

Miraculously, two unoccupied barstools appeared in front of us, and I snagged one before a woman wearing fairy wings and black tape X's over her nipples could horn her way in. She was wondering if it was legal to park in a green zone after six. I rubbed my temples.

"You sure you're all right?" Jackson sat next to me and signaled the bartender.

"Fine. Just a headache." Alcohol was going to make it better. I hoped.

Jackson looked down and fiddled with his drink coaster. He was still wearing his tie, and he looked charmingly out of place amidst the fair-goers, like an ad for dress shirts in an adult video store. He'd just made partner at Reardon Engineering—something that was at least ten years off for me—and he couldn't have been more than five years older. Golden boy. My cubicle mate would've given her Nob Hill condo to be in my place right now, a fact she thought about every time he came by my desk.

I wasn't interested. Jackson was nice enough, but I didn't do relationships. Overnight guests and telekinetic nightmares don't mix.

"I—" he began, but the bartender arrived and cut him off. We both ordered pints of the happy hour special, and I stared at the television above the bar while he pulled them. It was showing the national news, a human interest story about a rebuilding effort in New Orleans.

"Isn't that where you're from?"

"Yeah." I wondered when I'd mentioned it. I never talked about my past. They started showing old footage of the Ninth Ward levee breach, and I looked away.

"When was the last time you went back?"

"A while ago." Never.

Our beers arrived and saved me from elaborating. I downed half of mine in one long drag. The buzzing only got worse. I thought about the bottle of sedatives in my purse, and whether I could pass them off as aspirin and take a couple right there at the bar. They'd worn off early last night, and tonight wasn't looking good, either.

"Actually," Jackson began, and I realized I'd been staring at my glass for longer than was polite. I looked up. His usually perfectly parted dark hair was mussed, and he was rubbing his neck. "There's a reason I brought you—" he said, and just as I was thinking, Crap, this is where he tells me he wants to date me, pain sliced through the base of my skull, and I doubled over and hit my head on the bar.

I knew what was coming. The roaring in my brain blocked out the world for an instant, and then every consciousness in the room came rushing in. Images laid over each other, faces on top of menus on top of clothing store sales racks and MUNI maps. A deafening static of voices, bitten-back insults, declarations of love, twenty different songs stuck in twenty different heads. I pressed my hands to my ears as if it would help, moaning.

"Cass? Cass!" Jackson. Shaking me. His hands on my shoulders made it worse. Christ, what's happening to her? Gotta get her out of the crowd—shit—should've just told her—

For an instant I wondered what he meant, but then the pain in my head doubled, and the only thing I cared about was getting out of that room. I twisted away from him and off the barstool, knocking into two women standing behind me.

"Hey!" said one of them, holding up a spilled cosmo. —bitch needs to watch where she's going—eighty-dollar shirt—motherfucker—

If I didn't get out of the room fast, I was going to throw up all over the polished wooden floor. I made myself speak. "Sorry, sorry...just a headache. I just need...painkillers..."

"Cass, maybe you should come in the back."

The bartender. How did he know my name?

My pills. I needed my pills.

"It's this way—" Jackson. His hand on my arm. —gotta get her out of the crowd— "Hey, look at me." —not an ordinary headache—

I jerked away. "No! I just need—bathroom." I grabbed my purse and staggered through the crowd before he could stop me.

There was a line at the bathroom, of course. I eyed the employees-only utility closet nearby, but even as I thought it, the door opened and a young couple came out. They definitely didn't seem like employees. The guy gave me an odd look and held the door for me. I didn't want to know what he was offering. I turned and slipped out the side door into the alley.


The alley was full of garbage bins and dirty blankets left over from street people who'd spent the night there, but it was perfectly, wonderfully empty. The cool, still quiet drowned out the murmur of the crowded bar and the ghosts of Jackson's thoughts. I leaned against the door for a moment and let the silence wash over me, willing the pain to recede.

It'll pass. Let it pass.

This had happened before. I could usually keep my powers in check, but every now and then, they broke free all at once. Overload. I just needed to concentrate on my breathing and get to my sedatives.

No one was around, but I ducked behind a Dumpster just to be safe and fished the orange plastic bottle out of my purse. Two pills, swallowed dry. It helped if I focused on something physical, so I pressed back against the stucco wall, feeling the hard ridges of plaster dig into my skin. The pressure in my head eased; the hum of unspoken words from the bar grew more muffled.

In, hold, out. The rhythm of my breath calmed me. In, hold, out. I'd give myself five more minutes to pull it together, then I'd go back inside, make my excuses and leave. In, hold—

Someone was in the alley.

Someone was looking for me after all.

If I hadn't just damped my powers down with pills, I could've broadened my awareness and seen his intent. As it was, I'd only barely picked up his presence. Panic hit me—what if it was a mugger? What if someone had seen me slip into the alley, a five-foot-four woman in dress slacks and heels, alone? I kicked through the trash collected at the base of the wall, looking for something I could use as a weapon, a bottle, a branch, anything. I came up with an empty beer bottle just as the man stepped around the side of the Dumpster.

"Hi, Cass."

The bottle fell from my hand and smashed.

I should have known. I should have figured it out as soon as my head started buzzing over breakfast. "How the hell did you know I was here?"

"How do you think?"

"Dammit, Shane, haven't you heard of phones? I thought my head was going to split open in there." I slammed my hands into his broad chest, shoving him back, shoving him away, but he caught them and held them.

"You didn't leave a number." His voice had gone dangerously low. I stepped back, coming up hard against the side of the Dumpster, and he pursued me, hands still covering mine. "No address, nothing. What the fuck was I supposed to do?"

Our gazes locked, and I went still. We both knew my number wasn't listed. We both knew I hadn't wanted to be found.

My breath went shallow. It had been five years since I'd seen him, but ten times that wouldn't have been enough for me to forget. I still remembered what it had been like to share thoughts with him as easily as breathing. I still knew his mind the way I knew the planes of his cheekbones and the café au lait color of his skin. The last night I'd spent with him went tunneling through my head before I could stop it—one hand clasping my waist, rough fingers tracing circles on my shoulder as I lay on top of him. Shane's teeth light on my bottom lip. His eyes dilated, and I knew he could see it.

For a moment, I thought he was about to lean in. He was that close. It would've been that easy. My heart pounded, but I closed my eyes and turned my head, and he dropped my hands. "Jesus, Cass." He stepped back and ran his hands over his close-cropped black hair and down his face.

"What are you doing here?" It was easier to look at the garbage on the ground than at him.

"I know you don't want to see me." He paused long enough that I had to look up. "It's important."

It finally registered that there was more in his voice than five years of anger. It took me a moment to place his emotional state amidst my own panic, but once I did, it was unmistakable. Grief. I couldn't voice a question. I was too afraid I should be asking who was dead.

"It's Mina," he said, and my heart stopped. "She's missing."

His sister. It took all I had not to reach for him. Shane noticed, or maybe he read my thoughts. His lips went thin.

"How long?" I asked.

"Almost thirty-six hours. She went out fishing and didn't come back."

Thirty-six hours with no contact. Already I suspected the worst.

"Look," Shane said, "you've got more range than the rest of us. And you were like a sister to her. Maybe you'll pick up something I missed."

I sensed the hint of desperation beneath his words. For Shane to leave the search to come and find me, they must be running out of hope.

My throat tightened with held-back tears. Mina, who'd taught me how to mindmove, how to light candles and matches from yards away. Who'd helped me sneak out of my foster parents' house to go listen to bands in the Quarter, who'd known about my feelings for her brother almost before I had, and who'd helped me pick out a shirt for our first real date.

Mina, whom I'd never told goodbye.

"Okay," I said. "Okay. I've just got to make an excuse to get out of here."

"Who's the guy in the bar? Jackson."

I didn't ask how he knew. His voice didn't betray any emotion, but I could tell it was there. Not jealousy—more like resignation.

"Just a friend. Coworker. It won't be a problem."

Shane nodded, still expressionless, and I went back through the alley door.

When I got to my spot at the bar, Jackson was gone, and the bartender was guarding our seats from an angry-looking crowd holding their drinks. At least the woman I'd knocked into was gone.

"Jack'll be right back," the bartender said. "He just got a phone call."

"Oh." Perfect. "Well, could you tell him I caught a cab home?" I started backing away. "I'll see him at work."

"Hey, wait, he'll be back in a second..."

"I really have to go," I said, and darted for the back door. As I turned away, the goth fairy I'd beat out earlier claimed my seat.

Shane was waiting for me, leaning against the cinderblock wall of the defunct car dealership next to the bar, thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his jeans. Now that I was over the shock of seeing him, I noticed that he hadn't shaved, and his dark eyes were bloodshot. Not that it made much difference. He'd always been hard to mess up.

"We can catch a cab on Market." I led the way down Mission. He hadn't dressed for the damp, chilly weather, and there was gooseflesh on the brown skin of his arms. He'd put on weight since I'd seen him last, mostly muscle. It showed through the tight T-shirt he wore, in the way he walked. He caught my eye and I flushed, hoping he hadn't noticed me noticing. I hailed a cab at the corner.

"Our flight leaves at ten o'clock," he said as we got in. "Red-eye."

"You already booked tickets?"

"Call me an optimist."

I didn't reply. When we got to my building, I asked the driver to wait. I unlocked the security gate and led Shane up the two flights to my place, wishing I'd cleaned it up that morning. As the door swung open, he stepped back.

"Holy shit, Cass. What happened in here?"

"I had a nightmare." I walked in without looking at him and threw my keys on the table in the hall. He followed slowly, no doubt taking in the empty walls. Picture frames were a liability. I went straight to my tiny closet and started yanking T-shirts and sweaters out of the overstuffed drawers. It was fall, and I knew the weather in Louisiana could go either way.

"A nightmare?" Shane was standing in my bedroom doorway, looking at the mess. The books that used to be on my ceiling-height bookshelf were jumbled on the floor, some of them open, pages torn out. My robe was hanging from the light fixture above the bed, and broken glass from a smashed mirror was all over the floor rug. I knew from experience that some of the glass had been pulverized and shoved deep into the fibers. There was no getting it out. I was going to have to throw it away.

"It's happening again?" His voice was soft, and I didn't dare look at him.

"No." I shoved underwear and two pairs of jeans into my carry-on. "Not that often." There'd been a time when I lost control in my sleep nearly every night. I was past that now. Mostly. The dream came back to me, the panic still fresh. I'd been drowning, fighting a current in muddy water, a voice I couldn't quite recognize screaming at me in pursuit.

The shields around my mind faltered, and I felt Shane's concern, tinged with that same protective edge he'd had when he was training me. I knew he was about to ask more, but I pushed past him to the cramped bathroom in the hall. I shut the door and stuffed toiletries into my bag, taking a moment to brush my stick-straight hair into a ponytail. It was too short for it, and blond wisps snuck out of the band. I leaned my head against the mirror and closed my eyes.

It'll just be a few days, I told myself, knowing it probably wasn't true.

It had been five years since I'd been in New Orleans, five years since I'd used my powers—consciously, anyway. It had taken me three of those years to start living anything close to a normal life, and I still trashed my bedroom in my sleep every time I had a bad dream. Going back, letting my abilities loose again—was I going to have to start all over? Don't think about it. Just don't think about it.

I stayed in the bathroom until the panic ebbed away. I don't know how long I was in there, but when I came out, Shane was still waiting in the hallway, leaning against the wall. He must have heard everything I'd been thinking, but he didn't comment.

"I'm ready," I said.

"Then let's go."

We didn't talk much on the plane. Shane gave me the window seat, and I was grateful. I didn't want to sit with my leg crammed next to the guy in the aisle seat, who was playing some sort of first-person driving game on his phone. I'd never be able to block out his thoughts if I was touching him, and I sure didn't want to hear them. Men really did think about sex every seven seconds.

As it was, I was working as hard as I could to avoid Shane's mind. He took up too much space in the seat beside mine, his thigh brushing my leg, his arm grazing my shoulder. We shifted away from each other in silent mutual agreement, but each brief contact was enough for me to catch a flash of his mood—anguish like a deep pit of black water, spikes of white-hot fear, ripples of anger and annoyance. I didn't know what was for Mina and what was for me.

I wanted to know more about what happened, but I knew better than to mindspeak. It took practice to keep your mental voice from wandering. It took practice not to pick up things you'd rather not see.

Eventually, I fell asleep slumped against the bulkhead with a flimsy airplane pillow wedged under my neck. I don't know whether Shane slept, but when the plane started its descent at 4:00 a.m. and I woke up with stiff joints and a cottony mouth, he was watching me. I looked out the window at the oil refineries lighting up the swampy land to the west of the airport, sodium lamps and occasional flames decorating the blackness. Neither one of us spoke.

When we landed, Shane carried my bag through the airport. Everything was closed up and dark—the praline shop, the frozen yogurt stand, the fried chicken place. Even the security guards were quiet. In the long-term parking garage, Shane's red '67 Camaro was the only car in the lane.

Christ, I'd managed to make myself forget that car.

We'd had our first kiss in it—my first kiss. Spring of my junior year of high school. Shane was fixing the Camaro up himself at the body shop where he worked, and every week something new showed up—vinyl upholstery on the seats, a fresh coat of paint, the trash bag on the back right window swapped for glass. The night it was finished, I snuck out to see him. We parked on the lakefront, mentally warming the air inside until we had to take our jackets off.

"See?" he said. "It's easy."

"Sure, once you know how."

"You picked it up fast."

I traced a line through the condensation that collected on the cold window glass. "You're a good teacher." For once, I hadn't looked away when he met my eyes.

That was the night my adolescent crush gave way to something bigger, something I hadn't dreamed he shared. It was everything those moments usually are, all lust and fumbling, but with Shane there was more, his hands and his mind both running over me hard and fast, me gasping and pulling him closer, feeling the first twinges of real desire in the pit of my belly. I'd been certain I'd never feel that way again. Turned out I was right.

I looked up to find Shane watching me where I'd frozen in the middle of the walkway.

"Are you going to tell me what happened?" Embarrassment made my tone sharp. I followed him to the car.

"We don't know." He stowed my bag and slammed the trunk a little harder than necessary. "She went out fishing. I dropped her off at Ruddock before sunrise on Thursday. I was supposed to pick her up that afternoon, but I never heard from her."

"You tried to contact her?"

"Every half hour. Nothing." His voice was even, but fear and exhaustion were whipping around him. Mina was his twin sister. They could hear each other through sleep, through storms. She'd gone off on her own before, sometimes for days, and no one would worry, but if she wasn't answering Shane, something was wrong.

"Where have you looked?"

"We've been all over the Northshore. But you know how much ground there is to cover."

I thought of the spiderweb of rivers and creeks that fed Lake Pontchartrain from the north. So many isolated places, so many ways she could have been hurt. Mina's powers kept her from minor troubles, but being telekinetic wouldn't help you if you got hit by a speedboat or had your leg torn off by an alligator. Gruesome images flooded my mind.

I shut them down. "I'll help however I can."

"I won't ask you to do anything you don't want to do." His voice was hard. He pulled out of the parking garage and headed for Veterans Boulevard.

"You know I'd do anything for Mina," I said, stung. I owed her that, at least. When I'd been fumbling through the first surges of real power, she'd taught me how to recite the ABCs to keep my errant mind occupied. She'd even shown me how to lock my feelings for Shane away. Back when I was fourteen and hopelessly in love with him, I'd needed that more than I'd needed food.

Shane just nodded and kept staring straight ahead, one hand on top of the wheel, the muscles in his jaw tense. The skin on his knuckles was scuffed and scarred, and grease blackened a crack in the pad of his thumb. I still remembered everything he could do with those hands. I turned to look at the houses rushing past the passenger-side window, and it took me ten minutes to notice we were headed in the wrong direction.

"Aren't we going to the B&B?" Shane's uncle Lionel, my former foster father, had a place in the Quarter, Tanner's Bed and Breakfast. Shane and Mina still lived there and helped run the place.

Shane shook his head. "We're going straight to Ruddock. Janine's meeting us."

"Hasn't she looked already?" I asked, surprised. Janine was like me and the Tanners—a shadowmind—but she wasn't a converter; she couldn't move things with her mind or create light or heat. You could never tell how the gift would manifest in different people, and Janine had an ability none of us had. If she had enough of a connection to something—a person, an object—she could pin down its location within inches. She was like a human GPS tracker with unlimited targets, a little like what used to be called a dowser. If she'd lived a few hundred years ago, she might have been finding water sources or oil deposits. Now there weren't enough people who believed those kinds of things were possible, so she married a converter from New Orleans, raised two kids, and never lost her car keys.

"She's searched three times now, but Lionel thinks it's worth trying again with another set of memories."

"Of course I'll try," I said, but I was fighting down panic. I'd known this was coming, but I'd thought I'd have more time to prepare. The sedatives I'd taken the night before were still in my system, and they'd make my powers sluggish, if I could use them at all.

Shane must have felt my anxiety, but he didn't say anything. His hand rose as if he was going to reach out and take mine, but he checked himself and put it back on the wheel.

It took us another half hour to ride out to Ruddock as the sun came up over the elevated interstate, the Spanish moss-draped cypress trees lining the road dark against the lightening sky. As Shane pulled into a dusty parking lot just off the exit, I saw Lionel there, leaning against his blue-and-white pickup.

Shane parked the car on the edge of the lot and looked over at me. "If you don't think you can do it, it's all right. Just tell me."

I looked back at him. "I'll be fine," I said, and got out of the car.

Chapter Two

Lionel walked up to meet us, and before I could say hello, he had me in a bear hug. I stiffened automatically at the contact, but being near Lionel was as comforting as always, and I relaxed as I breathed in the smell of him—soap and coffee.

"Welcome home, sugar," he said, pressing a rough kiss on my cheek. The lines around his mouth were deeper than I remembered, and gray stubble showed starkly against his dark skin. "How's California?"

"It's okay." I blinked back tears. Shane was hanging back, leaning against the side of his car, giving me a moment with his uncle.

"You can tell me about it later, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay." I pressed my lips together and looked toward the boat ramp. Janine Tooley was there, helping her son Ryan get their aluminum-hull fishing boat into the water. I waited until they were done to walk up and greet them.

"Been a long time." Janine pulled me into a fierce hug. "I wish the circumstances were better."

"Me, too."

Janine was one of the first shadowminds I'd met after Lionel. She had the plump, comfortable figure of a woman who loves good food, and her light brown hair was always a little unkempt. The sight of it coming loose from its ponytail was so familiar I almost cried. Janine squeezed my arms. "Well, I'm glad you're back anyhow. We've all missed you, hon."

An awkward silence followed, and I tried not to look at Shane. I was relieved when Ryan came up and passed out faded orange life preservers, breaking the tension. When he got to me, he lifted his baseball cap to kiss me on the cheek, and his mind brushed against mine, handshake-casual. It was just common courtesy for a converter, but I stiffened and shut down. I realized belatedly that Shane and Lionel must have known not to make mental contact with me.

"You doing all right?" Ryan asked. He was a full foot taller than his mother, lean and tan from working on the rigs, and I had to crane my neck to meet his eyes. He was looking at me with concern, no doubt confused by my response. We'd had whole conversations in mindspeech. I shrugged and pulled on my life vest. Hopefully he'd chalk up my reaction to the news about Mina.

We packed into the boat, me a little unsteadily as it rocked under our shifting weight, and Janine took the wheel while Ryan telekinetically coiled the prow line and started the motor. He stayed on idle. The channel was lined with dusty fishing camps on wooden stilts, and we had to keep our wake down.

"When will the police get involved?" I asked as we moved through the channel, water shushing against the sides of the boat. "Shouldn't they be out here searching by now?"

"Oh, they put her in the system," Shane said. "They just don't think she's in danger. They insinuated she went off on purpose." I could feel his anger, sharp and hot.

"It's not like you can tell them how you know she's in trouble," Ryan said, smiling humorlessly.

Shane grumbled, but it was the truth. Even if the police believed us—doubtful—it was too risky to reveal ourselves. I could count on one hand the number of normals we'd trusted with the knowledge of our existence.

When we cleared the fishing camps, Ryan pushed the throttle up and took us along the raised interstate to the pass that led to Lake Maurepas. I'd forgotten how cold it got out on the water, and I shivered as we picked up speed. My hair escaped from its ponytail and whipped against my cheeks and neck.

"Here," Shane yelled over the roar of the motor. He'd shrugged out of his black windbreaker and was handing it to me.

"I'm fine!" I shouted back, but he ignored me and sent the jacket floating through the space between us.

I gave up and slid it on backward. It swallowed me whole. Shane was a foot taller than me and twice as broad—I used to wear his T-shirts as nightgowns. The fabric of the jacket was still warm from his body, an instant relief, and I realized he must've used his powers to heat the air around him before he'd taken it off. It unsettled me, as though he were laying warm hands on my skin. I chanced a glance at him, but he was looking straight ahead, stone-faced.

Despite my nerves, I was glad for the windbreaker. It took fifteen minutes to get across the lake and into the tributaries, and it was another half hour before Lionel signaled Ryan to stop, saying, "This is as good a place as any." I wondered how many they'd tried before.

Ryan took us close to the bank and tied us off on an overhanging cypress branch. This far in, the river was narrower, and the bank was clotted with scrubby underbrush. There weren't any camps nearby, and I hoped we were far enough away from the small towns that dotted the area. Too much interference.

"Have you listened for her yet?" Janine asked me as she settled herself at the bottom of the boat. The men circled around her.

"Not really. I just got in this morning." I took the place they'd left for me between Ryan and Shane, wincing as the cold metal of the boat bit through my thin dress slacks. Shane's leg was almost touching mine, and I worked hard to keep my thoughts from straying.

"Well, we'll just see what we can do." Janine held out her arms, and we all linked hands. My pulse quickened as Shane fitted his palm to mine. His mental presence was as familiar and unavoidable as a favorite song playing in my head. He wasn't pushing any further than my surface thoughts, but those were conflicted enough. I took a deep breath and looked expectantly at Janine.

"Just concentrate on Mina," she said. "Whatever you can remember."

It had been so long since I'd used that part of my brain it was like trying to do long division without a calculator. I knew how it worked, but it was hard to remember the steps, what to do first. My mind felt foggy and jumbled from the lingering effects of the sedatives, and everyone would be able to tell. No help for it now.

It was hard to think of Mina without thinking of her brother. Her chin was pointed and feminine where his was firm, but they shared the same wide mouth and high cheekbones, the same dark eyes. I needed to focus on a specific image. I searched my memories and settled on one of Mina as I'd seen her last, sitting in the kitchen at the B&B, drinking a beer and talking quietly with Shane while I snuck out the front door to take a cab to the airport. It was tinged with shame and regret, and Janine would pick up the emotions as well as the images, but this was the clearest memory I had. I got the feel of her solidly in my head, her curly black hair, her warm brown skin, the dark red T-shirt she'd been wearing. Then I focused on the quiet, tenuous touch of Janine's mind—so different from Shane's solid presence—and strengthened the connection.

Janine immediately assimilated my memories, combining them with everyone else's. The images from Ryan's head were foggier, as though he couldn't quite focus, but he hadn't known her as well as we had, and his memories were tangled with the buried pain of losing his brother. Brandon had died in a hunting accident when Ryan was just sixteen, but it wasn't the sort of memory that faded, and the current situation must have brought the incident to the front of his mind. I felt for him, and for Janine. The Tooleys knew better than anyone what Lionel and Shane were going through.

Janine's own memories of Mina stretched almost as far back as Lionel's, but she was focusing on a recent image, one of Mina and Ryan sitting on the back porch at the Tooleys' place. It couldn't have been more than a month old, and I realized with a jolt of sorrow that my own five-year-old memory might be the last one I'd ever have of her. I took a deep breath to hold back tears and felt an answering pressure from Shane's hand. It almost made me lose focus, but I got myself back under control. Then Janine's gift kicked in, and we were off.

I'd once asked her to describe how she searched for things, and she'd said she didn't quite know. For her, it just happened, the same way you'd run your hand over a piece of linen and feel the place where the fabric was torn. She cast her mental eyes nearby at first, focusing on the sparsely populated riverbanks closest to the lake. We went slowly. This was the careful pass, the fine-tooth comb. Janine lingered here and there, moving on when the twinge she'd felt turned out to be nothing. It was hard to tell how long we sat there, tapped into each other's heads, pushing farther and farther away. Eventually, a few miles from our anchor point, Janine was at her limit, and I knew without asking that she hadn't found Mina. We all felt Lionel's sharp stab of disappointment.

Janine retreated more quickly than she'd gone out. It would have been easy to miss something, but we were covering ground we'd searched before, and hopelessness was thick in everyone's minds. Janine brought our collective awareness back to the gently rocking boat, but she didn't dissolve the connection. It was more out of reluctance to give up than anything like hope. Then, just as we all began to pull away, she stopped us.

"Wait," she said.

Everyone froze. I didn't dare open my eyes. I struggled to make my thoughts go quiet, holding myself motionless while Shane's hand clenched mine. It was an endless, perfectly silent moment before Janine let out a breath and said, "There."

The boat exploded with activity. Shane leaped behind the wheel and started the motor, mentally untying us from the tree at the same time. Lionel knelt in front of Janine, holding her by the shoulders as she said, "I'm not sure, I'm not sure, it could be nothing." Ryan looked shocked, rubbing the palm of his hand with his thumb.

"Which way?" Shane asked, his face grave and his lips thin. His hope was held back like water at a floodgate, whipped white by fear that what Janine felt wasn't Mina, only what was left of her.

Janine pointed to the right, farther upstream, her eyes still unfocused. Shane shoved the throttle up and trimmed out the motor in one quick mental motion. A pair of egrets along the bank took off and winged above the cypress trees as we sped upriver, flying through Slow No Wake zones, past fishermen who yelled out expletives as we disturbed their lines. The whole time, Janine sat in front of the wheel, her eyes still distant, pointing the way through tributaries. I lost track of where we were after the second turn.

When Janine held up her hand, Shane pulled the throttle back so fast, I toppled over onto the floor of the boat. We all looked up. In a turn of the river, its propeller lodged in a tangle of fallen tree limbs, was Mina's flat-bottomed fishing boat, empty.

© A.J. Larrieu


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