But when the old friend wants more from Rebecca than friendship, it puts a strain on her fragile relationship with Tristan. The messenger has plenty on his mind already as he befriends a graduate student in psychology who believes she has a medical explanation for his constant string of assignments.
Tristan finds himself plagued with questions: Is he insane? Is he being manipulated? Is he part of a larger plan that he can't see? And is he alone in his ability to see future disaster and his compulsion to warn the victims? All this conflicting information is enough to set the messenger adrift in his own thoughts.
What followed were four of the most harrowing days I’ve ever known. I watched a man die in an explosion; I watched Tristan get accused of his murder. Fortunately, I had the knowledge and training to help him beat the rap.
Beat the rap? Good, Rebecca. Way to sound like a 1930s detective magazine.
That’s my name, by the way. Rebecca Traeger. For the first eighteen years of my life, I was Persephone Traeger, a name I carried like a lead weight around my soul, because I knew it wasn’t who I was. It was who my father wanted me to be. My father … I haven’t even talked about him yet. God, so much has happened. It was my father who sent Tristan to Florida to bring me home, only Tristan didn’t know it. He gets … assignments, I guess you could call them; instructions in his mind to go and help people in trouble. Strangers, people he’s never met. And he does it! He drives for days and warns them about whatever danger they’re in. Of course, if he doesn’t do it, he gets terrible pain all through his body, so it’s not totally out of the goodness of his heart. Well, he does have a good heart. He can be socially awkward sometimes, but I blame that on a solitary lifestyle. Because he really does mean well.
Earlier today, he told me that he loved me. I haven’t even known him a week and he said it—right in front of my father … right to my father. (Who almost shot him for saying it, but that’s another story.) It’s been a very long time since anyone told me they loved me and meant it. I honestly don’t know if I love him … but I know that I honestly could.
"Penny for your thoughts.”
His voice startles me; I’ve been wrapped up in what I’m thinking. “Even with all your money, my thoughts are only worth a penny?”
“Humor me,” Tristan says. “I don’t have the luxury of peeking inside my companion’s mind, like someone here does.”
“Hey, gimme a break on that, huh?”
“So what’s on your mind?” he asks, easing off on the ribbing.
“Everything. I imagine after two years of doing this, you’re used to this frantic pace, but it’s all new to me. I feel like I barely have time to catch my breath before we’re headed somewhere else.”
“That’s why I insisted on a leisurely sit-down lunch today,” he says. “A chance for both of us to catch our breath.”
We’re at a corner booth in a little café in Palisade Heights, Ohio—my former hometown until I left college two years ago and decided I couldn’t live with my father’s rules anymore. But then he tricked me, deceived Tristan into bringing me back here so my father could use me to help him make money.
This is hard to explain, mostly because I’ve just realized it myself and it sounds absolutely crazy to say it—but I have … abilities, I guess you could call them. Skills with my mind and my thoughts that most people don’t have. I wish I could explain better, but I literally found out about it today, and with everything that’s happened, I can barely keep it all straight.
“Are you thinking about me?” he asks.
“It’d be a little hard not to.”
“Any thoughts about … you know … what I said this morning?”
“It’s private,” I tell him.
“Even if it’s about me?”
“You really haven’t spent much time with women, have you?”
He looks sheepish. “No.” After a few moments of silence, he adds, “You took a big chance back there.” I knew he’d bring that up.
“My father had a gun to your head. I wasn’t going to let him hurt you.”
“But standing in between us? How did you know he wouldn’t hurt you?”
I take a sip of water and tell a half-truth. “Because I know him.”
“Do you think he’ll have us followed?” Tristan asks.
“I don’t know. I guess it depends on how much he needs my help in finding that oil reserve. He can follow us all he wants. We’re going to Kansas to help those people.”
Kansas. Our new destination. There’s a town there called Cedarsburg, with 11,000 people in it, and on Tuesday, in two days’ time, a tornado will devastate it. An hour ago, Tristan got the assignment to go to Cedarsburg and warn as many people as possible so they can get to safety. I saw the horror in his eyes when he told me that—the magnitude of it, the burden of having to save so many lives. That was the moment when I knew I had to say no to my father and stay with Tristan, at least until this assignment is over.
“Yeah,” he says solemnly. “Those people. How are we supposed to do this? How are we supposed to get all 11,000 people out of town in time?”
“We’ve got two days, and because we’re flying there, we have time to coordinate our efforts. We can contact the local authorities, and I’ll call my friend Kavi to help us.”
“The storm chaser?”
“That’s right. He’s been through a lot of tornadoes, up close and personal. He’ll do it just for the chance to know exactly when and where one is going to hit. I believe we can do this, Tristan. Otherwise I wouldn’t have come with you.”
As we wait for our food to arrive, we have time to strategize. We’ll have to fly from Dayton to Kansas City and then rent a car to meet Kavi in Lawrence before heading to Cedarsburg. I’m optimistic, but I can feel the anxiety pouring off of my companion. Breaking a promise I recently made to myself, I open my mind up enough to peer into his thoughts, and inside I find overwhelming insecurity and self-doubt. He doesn’t think he can do this, but he has no choice. I have to be strong for him, because I do think we can do this. And what an opportunity; a chance to save hundreds, maybe even thousands of lives. Hell, yeah, I’m in.
“You don’t have to come with me, you know,” he says, but I know what he wants me to reply.
“Yes I do,” I tell him.
He hesitates a moment, then says, “I’m glad you’re here. The thought that I would never see you again was pretty upsetting.”
He says the sweetest things sometimes. “I think it makes the most sense to wait until tomorrow before we contact the authorities in Cedarsburg,” I suggest.
“Why not today? Why not give them a full two days to prepare?”
“Credibility. The storm system we’re warning them about hasn’t even formed yet. By tomorrow, the front will be approaching, and there’ll be some indicators of trouble that a meteorologist might pick up on. Tell them tomorrow and we sound like experts; tell them today and we sound like fortune tellers.”
“You are so goddamn smart, it scares me,” he says.
“Thanks … I think.”
The waitress brings our lunches. I’m starving, so I ordered a personal pizza (as opposed to an impersonal pizza, I guess) and a Caesar salad. Tristan ordered a turkey club with bacon, home fries, and cole slaw. We continue the conversation as we begin eating.
“So what do we do today?” he asks me. And suddenly I get the distinct feeling that I’m leading this mission. I like that.
“Well, we have to get there, and I can’t imagine there’s too many flights from Dayton to Kansas City each day, so we’ll have to take what we can get. Once we get there, we’ll pick up Kavi in Lawrence, which isn’t far from KC.”
“How well do you know this Kavi?”
I laugh a little. Memories stir. “Kavi Ariashi. We went to high school together. He’s quite a character. He made me laugh all the time. And smart. Wow, if you think I’m good, wait till you meet him. Makes me look like serious shortbus material.”
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