Harbinger – Before the Lullaby

A few years back, one of my favorite authors wrote a short novella that gave some backstory to her newest novel. It wasn’t for sale; you couldn’t get it in stores. The only place it was available was online. It was short—maybe a couple of chapters—but it was a little something “extra” for her readers. I liked that idea, and decided I wanted to do something similar with Hush to give my readers that little gift.

So I wrote Harbinger—Before the Lullaby. I’m posting it on my website with a link on Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and Twitter. That will be the only places it’s available. It’s only four chapters long, but it gives some of Lacey’s backstory to help you know her better. It’s written in her POV at the age of thirteen, when she finds out about her ability to dream things before they happen.

I hope you enjoy it and that it will keep you in touch with Lacey while you wait for the sequel to Hush to release in about a year. The title of Book Two of the Amelia Island Suspense series is Hoax, and it takes up the story right where Hush left off. I hope it doesn’t sound too prideful to say that I absolutely love this book! Now, I’m hard at work on Book Three, and will keep you updated on progress. Stay tuned…

 

 

harbinger (här-bǝn-jǝr) – noun: a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another; a forerunner.

HARBINGER – Before the Lullaby

CHAPTER ONE

Thirteen year old, Lacey Campbell squiggled hearts and flowers in intricate designs around the bold, blocky letters that spelled the name of the boy of her dreams.

FORD.

A wistful smile lit her face as she began to add color to the sketch with her scented markers. Cherry, watermelon, green apple, orange… the sweet smells of fruit wafted around her as she lay on her stomach, propped up on her elbows atop her bed.

His full name was Stafford Jamison, but he was Ford to his friends. Oh, how badly she wanted to be in that category, but he didn’t know she existed. Why should he? He was in high school, a star football player, and drop-dead gorgeous. Tall, broad-shouldered, sun-streaked hair, and sea green eyes. Someone like him would have no reason to notice a scrawny, red-headed, middle school kid who was so klutzy it should be against the law. The idea of it was laughable.

Lacey Campbell Jamison … she continued doodling.

Her cheeks warmed when she read the daring words. Though done lightly in pencil, it made her nervous to see his last name added after hers, written down like that. In theory, no one but her would ever see her diary. She always kept it locked and hidden. No one was supposed to know about it, but anything was possible. She hastily erased the words, replacing them with a drawing of a rose. She eyed the flower critically when she was done. Since she wasn’t an artist, calling it a rose was being generous, but at least it camouflaged any evidence of wishful thinking.

A single curl slipped from the barrette she used to control her chaotic hair. It drooped down in front of her eye, and she puffed it impatiently out of her face. At that moment the kitchen telephone rang.

“Lacey,” –her mother called down the hallway—“Phone.”

“Coming,” she replied. After shoving her diary under her pillow, she rolled off the bed. If only her parents would let her get cell phone like so many of her classmates had. Wishful thinking and she knew it. How many times had she heard her dad’s lecture about how money didn’t grow on trees? Too many to count, that was for sure. Well, at least their house phones—both of them, one in the kitchen and one in her parents’ room—were cordless. The same couldn’t be said about her best friend, Olivia Hale. She lived in one of Fernandina Beach’s many Victorian homes that filled the historic district downtown, and Liv’s parents hadn’t updated it. At. All. They had one phone in that big ol’ place. It was located in the kitchen, attached to the wall, right beside the fridge. It was the old-fashioned kind, with a cord and everything. Horrible. She didn’t know how Liv stood it. No privacy at all.

She hurried to the kitchen, and grabbed the receiver her mother had placed on the counter, but paused when the movement caused several slips of paper to flutter to the floor. She bent to retrieve them. Oh. Some of mom’s “brain joggers.” That’s what her mother called the little lists she left lying all over the place. Lacey called them “cheat notes.” Mom was always joking that the lists were her brain, that she’d never remember anything without them. Lacey quickly placed them back on the counter top, then retraced her steps to her bedroom. “Hello?”

“Whatcha doing?” Liv asked.

“Speak of the devil.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing,” Lacey laughed. “I was just thinking about you and that stupid phone of yours.”

“Ugh,” Liv groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

“Well,” Lacey said, trying to think of something to make her friend feel better. “At least you never have to worry about losing it. Sometimes ours gets set down somewhere, buried under newspapers or something, and we don’t find it until the battery is almost dead.”

“Leave it to you to put a positive spin on having an antique phone. And let’s not forget about the long cord,” Liv snickered.

That comically stretched-out cord was a sort of running joke between them. The thing was probably long enough to wrap around her house a couple of times if it weren’t in a perpetual twisted and tangled knot.

Once their giggling died down, Lacey prompted, “So? What’s up?”

“Can I spend the night with you?” Liv asked in a voice gone desperate. “Aunt Jill is visiting again, and you know what that means.

Lacey groaned. Aunt Jill was really Liv’s mother’s aunt, which technically made her a great-aunt, but Liv wasn’t allowed to call her that, because that would make her sound old, and old wasn’t something Aunt Jill intended to be. She sold Mary Kay cosmetics for a living and she was very good at it. Highest sales in the entire state of South Carolina, where she lived. Drove a pink Cadillac and everything. All you had to do is look at Aunt Jill’s dewy, smooth complexion to know that she was her own best customer. Skincare was practically a religion with her. Every time she visited, Liv had to run for her life to keep from getting a facial or a makeover, or both.

“I’ll ask. I’m sure Mama will be fine with it since she won’t have to get up early to get ready for school.”

“Yay for summertime! I thank you, and so does my over-moisturized face. I’ll ask around town, try to catch a ride with someone heading out to the beach this morning. I don’t dare stay here until Mom gets off of work to drive me out there. It’d be too much of a temptation for Aunt Jill. She’d have me slathered up with some kind of face goop in a heartbeat.”

Lacey laughed. “Okay. I’ll see you when you get here.”

****

Lacey swung the front door open to admit Olivia an hour later. “Here!” she tried to stick something into her friend’s mouth. “Try this.”

“Oh, no you don’t!” Liv jerked her head back before Lacey could hit her target. “Jeez, Lace. Give me a chance to get in the door, first.” She took a step inside and closed the door behind herself. “What if I’d been someone else, like the UPS guy or something? That would be embarrassing!” She eyed the proffered item suspiciously. “I see green. Is that spinach or zucchini?”

Lacey gave a happy nod. “Zucchini. One of my mom’s students from last year dropped a bag of them by. Said they were overrun with them. Mom didn’t know anything to use them for except zucchini bread, so she gave them to me to experiment with. Try it!”

Liv made a face. “I don’t like zucchini.”

“You don’t know if you don’t taste it.” Lacey held it closer. “Please?”

Olivia sighed and took it, her face that of a martyr. “What is it this time?”

“Zucchini boats,” Lacey clasped her hands in front of herself, twisting her fingers while Liv took a cautious bite. “I cut them in half, lengthwise, scooped out some of the inside, then filled them with a ricotta cheese and fresh herb mixture and baked them. They’d have looked better—prettier—if I’d been able to pipe in the filling, but I don’t have a pastry bag or nozzles. They’re on my list of cooking equipment I need to get. I just don’t have them yet.”

She waited impatiently while Liv chewed. “Well?” she asked the moment Liv swallowed.

Liv’s blue eyes sparkled. “I changed my mind. I do like zucchini. At least I do if they’re fixed like that!” Then she took another bite.

“Really?” Lacey’s voice sounded hopeful. “Or are saying that just to not hurt my feelings?”

“Lace, believe me. Angels will want this recipe so they can serve these things in heaven.” She took another bite, wearing a blissful expression. “Oh, my gosh! It’s like the flavors build. It keeps getting better. I’m telling you, if you don’t pursue a career as a chef or something when you grow up, you’re crazy.”

“Good.” Lacey beamed. “That’s my dream job—to be a professional chef.”

“Excellent choice,” Liv said as she licked her fingers.

When she was done, Lacey motioned her down the hallway to her bedroom and asked over her shoulder. “Did you remember your swimsuit?”

“Duh. You live right on the beach. I’d have to be an idiot to forget it.”

Lacey gave a noncommittal grunt. She’d only asked because Liv, being a proverbial blond in every sense of the word, had forgotten before. Often enough that she kept one of Liv’s old suits in her bottom dresser drawer, just in case. Since Liv was as curvy as Lacey was lean, there was no way she could manage one of Lacey’s suits. “C’mon! Let’s get changed.”

Within minutes, Liv was turning this way and that in front of the full-length mirror. “So?”

“So what?” Lacey asked.

“My new suit. What do you think?”

“You already showed it to me.”

Liv frowned, wearing a puzzled expression. “I just got it yesterday, Lace. How could I have already showed it to you?”

Now it was Lacey’s turn to frown. She could’ve sworn this entire scenario had already—

Wait! It must be another one of her déjà vu moments. Though she’d had them for as long as she could remember, they seemed to be getting more frequent and more real. And frankly, it was starting to freak her out. An occasional episode was one thing, but this … this couldn’t be normal. Was something wrong with her? Did she have a brain tumor or something? She tried to shrug it away, but worry nagged at her like a splinter she couldn’t pull out. With an effort, she tuned back in to what Liv was saying.

“… sales-lady vowed it made me look like a million bucks; that it was more flattering than a regular one-piece. I believed her in the shop, but now I don’t know. I think she just wanted the sale.” She winced, wearing a doubtful expression as she turned sideways, looking over her shoulder at her reflection. “Do I look like a pink sausage?”

Lacey pushed her worry aside so that her laugh sounded almost normal, only slightly forced. “If that’s what a sausage looks like, then I want to look like one, too. I like that style.”

“They call it a tankini. Tank top with bikini bottoms.”

“That’s a good name for it.” She tried to sound enthusiastic, but her mind was busy thinking. She already knew what they called it. This entire scene had already taken place in her mind. She’d have to ponder it later, though. Her friend needed some encouragement. That’s what friends did. Putting her hand on Liv’s shoulder, she turned her around. “And it’s a good look. The saleslady was right. You do look like a million bucks.”

“Really?” Liv asked, doubt changing to hope.

“Really!” she answered with fervor. “Now, grab your towel and the sunscreen and let’s go.”

“See you later, Mom,” Lacey called to the living room, where her mother was crocheting as they headed for the back door.

“Oh, shoot! Was I on stitch twenty-seven or twenty-eight?” Eve Campbell muttered. “Guess I’ll recount them. Again.” She looked up and smiled. “Oh, don’t you girls look nice. Liv, pink is definitely your color. It goes perfectly with your blonde hair and baby-blue eyes. ”

“Thanks, Mrs. Campbell. Mom complained when I picked it out. Said everything I had was pink; that I needed some variety. But what can I say? It’s sort of my ‘signature color.’”

****

They clomped down the back stairs to the boardwalk that headed toward the beach, their flip-flops thwacking against the weathered wood. Lacey drew a deep breath of warm, salty air tinged with just a hint of coconut from her sunscreen, and smiled. It was a smell she’d never grow tired of.

There was a flash of movement out of the corner of her left eye which caused her to swing her head toward the ramshackle house next door. Her neighbor and classmate, Coop, was talking to a skinny little girl—probably eight or nine years old—who was sitting astride a red bicycle with a big wire basket. The girl looked familiar, someone Lacey’d seen around town, but didn’t know by name. Seventh graders didn’t generally associate with kids that age. So why was Coop talking to her? He was even older.

Her steps dragged to a stop. Wait a minute. By definition, a conversation implied that both parties were participating. That wasn’t the case with this situation. Though she couldn’t hear what was being said over the crash of waves and the laughter of seagulls, it looked very one-sided, with the girl doing all the talking. Boy, was she doing all the talking! Her cheeks were angry red, and her arms waved around in big, jerky gestures. He, on the other hand, stood slumped, head and shoulders cowed, and his face looked like a thundercloud. It was easy to see who was in control.

At that moment, the girl abruptly tossed her blond ponytail, whipped her bike around, and sped off, leaving Coop to stare sullenly after her before he slunk back into the shadows of his house.

What in the world was that all about? Who knew where Coop was concerned? Though he brought a lot of it on himself with his smart aleck mouth and surly attitude, she couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him, trying to put herself in his position. Of course she’d heard the rumors—that he tortured animals—but she refused to believe that. No way!

Everyone called him Coop; short for his last name, which was Cooper, but with that beaklike nose of his and those nearly colorless eyes, he looked a lot like a chicken, which was unfortunate with a nickname like that, and it brought him a lot of teasing. Did he even have a first name? She wasn’t sure she’d ever heard it.

Poor guy. Her parents had often used him as an illustration of how she wasn’t to act, calling him a problem looking for a place to happen. He was always getting into trouble at school. But what did anyone expect? Look at his home life. His mother, Joelle Cooper, had been in and out of the jail so many times, and for so many things, she’d heard her parents say the police department needed to install a revolving door on the jail, just for her. How could people expect Coop to act any differently when that’s the kind of home he came from?

She shrugged it off and followed Liv out to the beach.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

Sunlight glinted off something metallic up ahead in the marsh grass. I hurried a few steps forward, pushed the rustling blades aside to investigate. A bicycle? A glance around showed no sign of the owner nearby. What was a bike doing out here?

I looked down at it again. Practically new, candy-apple red, a wire basket, and multi-colored beads decorating the spokes of the wheels. Tilting my head, I glimpsed one of those miniature tags dangling from short pieces of chain under the seat, but it was face-down in the sticky mud. It made a faint sucking sound when I pried it up, but it was so coated with muck, I couldn’t read it. I eyed the sticky mess with distaste. I hated marsh mud. It was so nasty. I needed something to scrape it off, but a glance around provided nothing that might work. Retracing my steps to the sandy bank beside the road, I spotted a broken oyster shell. Perfect.

Squatting beside the bike, I used my makeshift spatula to remove enough muck so I could see what was under it. It didn’t take long.

Blue letters against red background: Becky.

Okay. So, now I knew the owner’s name, but where was the owner.

Another sweeping glance around me showed a landscape of waving marsh grasses across the sound, a smudged horizon that outlined the mainland, a glimmer of water here and there. Not much, though. It was low tide. The scene was both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I had no idea where I was.

Had the bike been stolen? The thief spooked by something so he’d dumped it? Would he be back later to get it? That last thought produced a shiver. Maybe I should leave.

When I turned to go, I noticed the bridge. How had I missed that? Becky was probably under there. She’d found a good fishing spot in the shade underneath, and was, no doubt, catching a string of fish for supper.

As I hurried toward it, goose bumps suddenly traced up my arms, making fine hairs stand in quivering attention. I stopped so suddenly I almost lost my balance and had to windmill my arms to stay upright. I stared at the shadowy darkness under the bridge with my heart pounding in my throat, and I knew—something terrible was under there.

Dread made my feet weigh a hundred pounds each, and fear tasted bitter in my mouth. Right before I stepped into the shadows, something in my peripheral vision stopped me and I turned toward the water.

Sunlight skipped and laughed across the surface in an almost mocking way, as if trying to camouflage a dark secret. I squinted against the brightness. There was something there. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it.

Then the sun went behind a cloud, and the blinding dazzle on the water’s surface disappeared.

Wide blue eyes stared blindly up at me in an almost accusatory manner through six inches or so of water. Recognition jolted through me. I’d seen this girl yesterday. She was the one who’d been arguing with Coop.

Terror was frozen forever in her eyes, her mouth open in a silent scream; visual evidence of horrors she’d experienced in her final moments, but would never be able to tell anyone about. Her long, blond hair was no longer in a ponytail. The creek’s lazy current drifted it like a cloud around her head. Pink shorts on pale, colt-like legs with knobby knees; a white t-shirt with the “hang loose” symbol waving in slow motion around a slender torso. Then the sun returned, blanketing the deadly secret once again under a layer of glitter.

Lacey awoke with a gasp, and sat bolt upright in bed. Her heart thundered in her chest, her eyes wide with horror. She was nearly hyperventilating and felt unable to get enough oxygen into her lungs.

What just happened? A dream, yes. She had lots of those, but this was no ordinary dream. It’d been so realistic—so terrifying.

“Just a dream,” she whispered aloud, hoping that would help.

It didn’t.

After several minutes of trying to get her breathing and heart rate back to the semi-normal range, she flopped back against her pillow, her mind still racing. She glanced at the clock, and rolled her eyes. Almost two. She needed to talk to talk this out, rehash it, get it out of her system. It was her only hope of ever being able to get back to sleep, but she couldn’t call Liv. Not now. Her parents would freak. Well, her mom would. Her dad probably wasn’t home. He was probably gone on another sales trip. That’s where he was the most of the time. Only home on the weekends. Liv’s mom was a doctor, and as such, would probably frown on her daughter taking part in a middle-of-the-night dream analysis.

Should she tell Mom? She wrinkled her nose at the idea. She used to tell her everything, but she was thirteen, now, and thirteen year olds didn’t do that sort of thing, did they?

Maybe they didn’t, under normal situations, but this wasn’t normal. She had to tell someone.

With a heavy sigh, she flung back the covers, swung her feet around to the floor and stood there, still debating. She took a step forward, hesitated, almost turned back around, but stopped and groaned, Oh, go ahead and get it over with. Stumbling down the hallway to her parents’ bedroom, she hurried to her mother’s side of the bed.

“Mom,” she whispered, reaching out a hand, patting it around in the dark until she found her mom’s shoulder. She shook it gently, but insistently. “Mom!” she repeated, a little louder.

Eve Campbell stirred, asked in a sleep-husky voice, “Lacey? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I-I need to talk to you.”

“Now?” Lacey felt, rather than saw her mother glance at the clock on the nightstand. “It’s after two. Can’t it wait?”

“No. Now. It has to be now.”

Eve sighed and eased the covers back, careful not to awaken her husband. “This better be good,” she muttered under her breath, just loud enough for Lacey to hear.

“Okay,” Eve began once she flicked on a lamp in the living room. She wrapped her robe around herself, tying the belt tightly around her waist. “What’s this all about?”

Lacey sank to the couch, and drew a quivering breath, still shaken from the vividness of what she’d just experienced. “I had a dream.”

Eve rubbed her eyes tiredly before giving Lacey a deadpan look. “You woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me you had a dream?”

“It wasn’t an normal dream, Mom. More like a nightmare.”

“Okay, then, a nightmare,” she replied, then paused, wearing an, ‘I’m waiting’ expression, her growing irritation obvious. “Well?”

“I saw a body,” Lacey blurted. “In the marsh creek.”

Eve’s irritation vanished, and her brown eyes grew alert. “Was it someone you knew?”

Lacey made a face. “Well, I’ve seen her. I don’t know her. She’s a few years behind me, in elementary school. You probably know her, since you teach there.”

“But it wasn’t just some random person,” Eve persisted. “You knew her.”

“Does it matter?” Lacey’s voice shot through a full octave. She winced and gave a fearful glance down the hallway, half-expecting to see her dad emerge like a grouchy bear roused before its winter hibernation was over. When the hall remained still and quiet, she drew a deep shuddering breath and continued. “I’ve never had a dream so … so … real before.”

Her just mother gazed at her, wearing the weirdest expression.

“Well?” Lacey finally blurted when she couldn’t take the silence any longer. “Say something! And why are you looking at me like that?”

Eve’s eyes dropped to her lap where her hands were clasped together so tightly, her knuckles bleached white. She pressed her lips into a straight line, staring at them before looking up. “I guess it’s time.

Lacey’s stomach muscles tightened at the cryptic words. She swallowed convulsively and stared at her mother with wide eyes.

“I’d been wondering for several years if it might skip you, but when you started mentioning the déjà vu, I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“It’s something that’s been passed down through the women in my family for generations.”

What?

“The Gift.”

“The gift?” Lacey parroted.

“Some call it ‘the sight.’ Sometimes it’s referred to as ‘sixth sense,’ but it’s a sort of extra-sensory perception that takes the form of dreams.”

“Wh-at?” Doubt gave the word two syllables. “You mean, like seeing things before they happen?”

“Yes.”

“You mean, like ‘The Mentalist’?” Lacey scoffed. “Mom, that’s a TV show. You know—fiction? I’m sure you’re familiar with the term; you being the ‘Book Lady’ at school and all.”

“Don’t mock,” Eve’s voice was stern. “The show might not be real, but this is. You’ve been given a gift, and I’ve taught you to be thankful for gifts.”

Lacey gave her an incredulous look. “In what galaxy would I ever be thankful for some weird hereditary ability to see the future through dreams? I don’t need anything else to make me more of a freak, Mom. I’m in middle school. Remember middle school?”

“Well, it was called ‘junior high’ when I was your age, but yes.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s just a name change. The rest is the same: a minefield of teenage angst. That’s enough of a challenge. If people find out about this, I might as well drop out of school and join the circus. I’d fit in better.”

Eve didn’t reply, but her mouth was curved in a Mona Lisa smile. Seeing it made Lacey fume inside. Was Mom happy about this? Unbelievable!

Then she sat straight up, eyes wide. “Wait! All the women in your family have this. Does that include you?”

When her mother nodded, Lacey’s eyes widened even more. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Why in the world didn’t you warn me?”

“I told you. I was waiting to see if you had it first.”

“A warning would’ve been nice,” Lacey muttered with a scowl, flopping back against the couch, arms crossed, elbows out.

Lacey’s mind whirled. Anger and betrayal at her mother spun one direction; fear, the other. She felt suspended in the middle of the unknown, as the emotions wrapped tighter and tighter around her. She knew how a fly in a spider’s web must feel as it was being trussed up for dinner. Somehow she had the ability to dream the future, and there seemed to be no way to opt out; no possibility of saying, “I’ll pass,” or “thanks, but no, thanks.” It was a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from. Even worse? Her mother seemed pleased about it, like this bonded them, or something.

Lacey squeezed her eyes shut, but when she did, the vision of Becky’s body in her watery grave came back, so she snapped them back open. Then she sat up with a gasp. “I dream the future!” she whispered, staring in horror at her mother.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

“The future!” Lacey repeated emphatically. “As in, something that will happen?”

“Yes.”

“It hasn’t happened yet?”

Her mother’s expression grew wary. “It’s not a science, Lacey. You can’t be sure—”

“I need to report this!” Lacey interrupted. “Go to the police, I mean. Maybe they can keep it from happening. Maybe it’s not too late.”

Eve opened her mouth, as if to argue, but closed it. She must’ve seen that any argument on her part would be useless. Instead, she sighed. “I’ll take you by the police department in the morning. Now, can we get some more sleep?”

****

The local news was on the television in the living room the next morning as Lacey hurried to the kitchen for breakfast. She was already dressed and planned to grab a Pop-tart and go. The sooner she got to the police station, the sooner she could report what she’d seen, and they could keep it from happening.

A close-up photo of a girl filled the TV screen, and Lacey halted mid-stride, feeling like she’d been punched in the gut.

“… police are asking for your help in locating this little girl,” the news reporter announced. “Nine year-old, Fernandina Beach resident, Becky Simmons was last seen yesterday riding her red bicycle. She has blue eyes and blond hair; is four foot, three inches tall, and weighs sixty-two pounds.” The photo was joined on a split screen with a woman who had to be Becky’s mother. Same blond hair, though hers was darker. Same blue eyes, though hers were filled with tears.

“Please help us find Becky,” she begged in front of the camera. “Help us find our little girl. She was wearing pink shorts and a white t-shirt with the ‘hang loose’ symbol on it.” She demonstrated the surfing gesture by shaking her hand, with thumb and little finger extended. “If you have any information, any at all, please call the police.” A phone number flashed across the bottom of the screen.

Lacey felt sick to her stomach. Any desire for a Pop-tart vanished. “Mom!” she wailed. “I need to get to the police station, now!”

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Lacey fidgeted beside her mother as they stood in front of the reception desk at the police station. The woman behind the desk, whose dark eyebrows looked mismatched against her platinum beehive hairdo that was teased up so high it seemed to defy gravity. She was busily scribbling away on something and never even looked up when they approached. The rectangular engraved sign on the counter named her, Midge Davis. After a long moment, Eve cleared her throat.

No response.

She tried again, louder this time. “Ahem.”

Still nothing.

Lacey’s eyes went from Ms. Davis to her mother. Uh-oh. She watched an angry flush work its way up her neck.

“Excuse me,” Eve said in a voice so strident it couldn’t be ignored.

The receptionist looked up, feigning surprise. “I’m sorry,” she said, wearing a mask of false pleasantness. “I didn’t see you standing there.”

The crispness of Eve’s smile would make potato chips seem stale. “Of course you didn’t.”

Ms. Davis’ eyes narrowed. “What can I do for you?”

“We need to speak with an officer. It’s about the missing girl,” she added when the woman’s dark eyebrows rose in question.

Without a word, Ms. Davis plucked her telephone receiver from its cradle and punched in a number. “Someone here with information about the missing girl.” After hanging up, she announced, “Officer Craig will be with you in a moment. If you’d like to take a seat.” She gave a vague wave toward a cluster of lime green Naugahyde-covered chairs in the lobby, and immediately went back to whatever it was she’d been scribbling before they’d interrupted her. They were dismissed.

****

Lacey had already flipped through all of the available magazines—twice—when she heard heavy footsteps against the tiled floor. A tall, middle-aged policeman approached them. He was fair-skinned, a redhead, like her. Well, he’d been a redhead. Now his hairline had receded so far back it made his forehead seem abnormally high, and the rest of it was buzzed super-short. He looked about the same age as her mother, maybe a bit more, but less fit; like he’d once been athletic, but those days were long past. Now it looked like he enjoyed doughnuts in the break room too much. His uniform shirt looked too tight to be comfortable.

“Mrs. Campbell,” his voice boomed, and he extended a meaty hand toward her mother. “Nice to see you again.”

“Officer Craig,” Eve murmured, shaking the proffered hand. “How are your children?”

He grimaced, motioning for them to walk with him. Their footsteps echoed down the hallway. “Not children anymore. Sam’s in college. A junior. And Shelby graduated last year. She’s engaged. Planning a wedding that will probably send me to the poor house.” He sent a meaningful glance Lacey’s direction. “You know how girls are.”

Lacey eyes narrowed at his insinuation and she bristled with instant dislike.

“Has it really been that long?” Eve asked, bewildered. “I didn’t realize how many years it’s been since I taught your kids.”

“Time flies!” He stopped beside an open door and gestured them inside. “Have a seat.”

“Now,” he began, once they’d settled across the desk from him. “What can I do for you? Midge said you had information about little Becky Simmons?”

“Yes,” Eve answered. “But it’s my daughter, Lacey, who wanted to talk to you. I’m just here for support.”

“Oh?” He turned his attention toward Lacey.

She swallowed the hysterical giggle that tried to bubble to the surface when his eyebrows shot skyward on his comically high forehead. This wasn’t a laughing matter. If she expected him to take her seriously, she needed to pull herself together. “Yes,” she replied before hurriedly blurting her dream from the night before.

He took notes for about a minute. As she spoke, the scratching of his pen on the yellow legal pad grew less and less energetic, gradually slowing to a stop. A series of emotions washed over his face. Surprise turned to amusement, followed by disbelief, anger, and finally, disgust. “Is this some kind of a joke?” he snapped, his face gone hot pink.

“No,” Lacey replied warily. “I thought you should know—that if you knew what was going to happen you could—”

“Officer,” Eve interrupted. “I know this is hard to believe—”

“Hard to believe!” he countered, then scoffed. “Try impossible to believe. And you want to know why? Because it’s crazy! And you’re condoning it. Does your boss know about this? I’m surprised they let you teach.”

Lacey’s eyes filled with angry tears, but she kept her mouth clamped shut. Mom could handle this.

“It may seem that way to you,” Eve reasoned, ignoring his comment about her job. “But whether you choose to believe it or not, generations of the women in my family have had the ability to see the future.”

“Then your whole family is nuts!” His expression changed, turned shrewd, then he said, “The whole town knows about Dan’s frequent ‘painting trips.’” He finger-quoted the words. “They also know he has the artistic ability of a hamster. I’ve often wondered why he was gone so much. Guess now I know.” He stood abruptly, stalked to the door and flung it open. “I have work to do. You know your way out.”

Eve rose to her feet with much more dignity than Lacey would’ve thought possible. She tried to copy her mother’s example, but felt numb inside, her motions dull, robotic. It had been a mistake to tell the police. She knew that now. She hoped and prayed word wouldn’t get out, that somehow, it wouldn’t go farther than the police department. But as the sound of mocking laughter grew, following them down the hall toward the exit, she felt certain it was a prayer that wouldn’t get answered.

****

For three days an intense search for Becky Simmons ensued. The morning of the fourth day broke steel gray, dismal and cloudy. Lacey stumbled through the living room, on the way to the kitchen for breakfast. The television was on, as usual. The local news talking heads were at it again. She had a sudden flash of déjà vu, when Becky’s photograph flashed across the screen again, but this time, instead of the “missing person” banner at the top, big bold letters read: body found.

“Early this morning,” the reporter announced. “a body of a child was found in Egan’s Creek by a crabber. While the identity of the victim isn’t known for sure, a search in the nearby grasses resulted in the discovery of a red bicycle identical to the one belonging to the nine year-old Becky Simmons, who has been missing three days …”

The report went on, but the loud roar in Lacey’s head drowned out whatever else was said. Her knees lost all strength and she collapsed. Thankfully the couch was in the right place at the right time giving her a soft place to land. In a daze, she watched the horrifying scene play out before her eyes. There was the bridge, right there in the background—the same one from her dream. The creek ran under it, grasses waved in ripples across the marsh under a gunmetal gray sky. She’d seen it all before. Yes, the sky had been blue, the sun shining in her dream, but everything else was the same. The only other difference was this time there were emergency vehicles parked everywhere, with their accompanying personnel milling around, TV cameras and crews held back with police tape. This was real. She wasn’t asleep. It was really happening.

She jumped at the sharp rapping on the front door.

Black spots began dancing around the periphery of her vision. She tried to blink them away, but their inky stain spread until her world went dark.

****

Questions, questions, and more questions. The same ones, over and over again. After what must’ve been the bazillioneth repetition of her dream, she was toast. Her tired eyes met her mother’s in desperation. Eve’s jaw tightened and she rose to her feet. “Okay, gentlemen—” She winced when noticing the scowl of one, lone female officer, and amended, “And lady. I think that’s enough for today. Lacey has answered your questions –repeatedly—and we’re done. It’s time for you to leave.”

Her announcement got a lot of flak, but it also got results. After much blustering, borderline threats, and warnings not to “plan any trips,” Eve succeeded in pushing the final member of the law enforcement circus out the door, locking it behind them.

Lacey flung her head back against the couch cushion and groaned. “Why, oh, why did I ever tell them about that dream?”

Eve plopped down beside her and leaned back to join Lacey, cut her eyes sideways, gave her a rueful smile. “I was afraid something like this would happen.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?” Lacey wailed.

“Would you have listened?”

The question was spoken so quietly Lacey almost didn’t hear it. She squeezed her eyes tightly together and shook her head. “Probably not, but I wish you would’ve tried.” She didn’t speak for a long moment, savoring the blessing of silence after the day’s cacophony. “Is it over? Do you think they’ll be back?”

Eve drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, a frown creasing between her brows. “I think it’ll die down. It might take it a while, but there’s no physical evidence to prove you had anything to do with that little girl’s death. You were just unfortunate enough have the dream and then tell them about it.”

“I’ll never do that again,” Lacey moaned.

“Never say, ‘never’.”

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

The murder was all anyone talked about. In spite of her prayers, word got out. In less than a day, it seemed the entire town of Fernandina Beach knew about her dreaming of Becky’s death before it happened. Whispers and suspicious stares followed her everywhere she went, but it was worst at school. But how could they know?

It didn’t take her long to figure out why. Two words—Raine Fairbanks.

She had known Raine since kindergarten where they’d been classmates. While they’d been friendly, they were never “friends.” Things were completely civil between them. Until second grade, that is. That’s when Lacey began winning the weekly class spelling bees, ousting Raine from her throne as “spelling queen,” and infuriating her to no end. While it hadn’t seemed like that big of a deal to Lacey, it was obvious the same couldn’t be said for Raine. At first, winning had given Lacey a little rush. She’d never been good at anything, except for being a klutz. She could win a gold medal in that. Who else, but Lacey Campbell could trip in the shower, try to recover by attempting to grab the water, land in a heap in the tub, and almost drown before she could drag herself out of the line of fire. Klutziness wasn’t something to aspire to, so discovering she was good at spelling, good enough to win, well, it made her feel special.

But that feeling didn’t last. Lacey’s weekly victories fueled Raine’s fiery feelings like throwing gas on an open flame. Mere dislike blazed into downright hatred, and Lacey began dreading the Friday spelling bees. Even when she tried not to win, it was always her name Mrs. Hilliard announced when the contest was over. She’d tried to make it up to Raine, going overboard in being nice, but her attempts had backfired so many times, she finally gave up.

Fast forward to the present. As luck would have it, Raine’s mother and Officer Craig’s wife had been roommates in college and were still bosom buddies, still meeting for lunch together every other week. Perhaps they’d been discussing the strange case together and Raine had overheard their conversation. The “how” of it didn’t really matter. Raine knew. She knew about the dream, about Lacey going to the police—everything, and that knowledge had armed her with perfect ammunition.

Now, thanks to Raine, nearly everybody at Fernandina Beach Middle School fell into one of two categories. They were either afraid Lacey was some kind of witch and would hex them with an evil eye, or they thought she was a looney-tune and dubbed her, “that crazy Campbell girl.”

Tonight’s football game was just what she needed, though she had little-to-no interest in football. Of any kind of sports, really. Since she was a grade-A klutz, she was as non-athletic as a person could possibly be. She didn’t understand the first thing about football, and didn’t care to.

It wasn’t the game she was interested in. It was one particular player, Ford. She had no idea what position he played, only that he caught the ball a lot, scored points for the team, and made uniform thirty-two look amazing. Attending the game would fill a two-fold need. To begin with, Liv would be there to help take her mind off the dream and all the drama went with it. And most importantly—she’d cheer for Ford until she was hoarse.

****

After the game, she and Liv headed to the parking lot, arms linked. Her spirits were so high, she felt nearly effervescent, all bubbly inside. What a perfect night! She couldn’t remember ever having a better one. Ford had been amazing. The best player they had. Scored three of the four touchdowns. And she’d been able to stare at him for over two hours and no one had said a word. No one even noticed. It was the perfect cover. Unrestricted gawking without people thinking she was a stalker.

“Gimmee a P!” Liv yelled, interrupting Lacey’s musings.

“P!” Lacey croaked her reply. Her voice was nearly gone from cheering so loud and long for her favorite player.

“Gimmee an I!”

“I!”

“Gimmee an R!”

“R!”

“Gimmee an A!”

“A!”

“Gimmee a T!”

“T!”

“Gimmee an E!”

“E!”

“Gimmee an S!”

“S!”

“Whatta ya got?”

“PIRATES!” Lacey’s enthusiastic reply squeaked and broke like that of an adolescent boy whose voice was changing. The two girls nearly collapsed with giggles at the sound of it.

“Olivia.” The terse bark startled them, making them jump, and silenced their merriment. Liv’s mom. Lacey hoped she hadn’t heard her groan of despair. “You’re late. I told you I’d be here to pick you up at ten.”

Liv glanced at her watch and shrank visibly. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied miserably.

Lacey shot a look at her own wrist. Uh-oh. They were seven minutes late. Seven. Whole. Minutes. She nodded at Liv’s whispered, “Call me tomorrow?” Then gave her friend’s arm a sympathetic squeeze before hurrying to find her own mother’s car. She made a face. She wasn’t floating so high, now. Leave it to Liv’s mom to de-fizz the moment.

“Where’s Liv?” Eve asked when Lacey yanked open her car door and got inside. “I thought I was driving her home.”

“I thought so too,” Lacey’s voice sounded disgruntled. “But Dr. Hale picked her up.”

“Oh. Hmm.” She studied Lacey’s face a moment while she buckled in, then changed the subject. “How was the game?”

“Great!” Lacey brightened. “We blew the doors off Yulee! Twenty-eight to seven.” Mostly thanks to Ford.

“Go, Pirates!” her mother cheered. “We can celebrate with burgers from the Diner. Your dad’s not home and I’ve been busy working on lesson plans and grading papers and forgot to eat, so I’m starved. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect.”

A few minutes later, Eve pulled to a stop at the front door. “It looks pretty crowded. Here’s some money,” she said, handing Lacey a twenty. “Hop out here and I’ll go find somewhere to park. I think I’ll just sit in the car and watch for you. Cheeseburger and fries for me. I’ll get a soda back at the house.”

“Right,” Lacey answered as she opened her door and got out. “Be right back.”

It was crowded. Looked like she and her mother weren’t the only ones stopping for post-game burger. She sniffed appreciatively, filling her lungs—and probably clogging her arteries—with the wonderful aroma of French fry grease and charbroiled burgers on the grill.

Her eyes swept the dining room, searching for one particular face, but all she saw was a sea of excitement wearing lots of blue and gold. One thing she could say for FBHS students, they wore their school colors with pride. No lack of esprit de corp with this crowd.

Shoot! He wasn’t there. Disappointment left her feeling like a balloon that someone had let the air out of. Sighing, she took her place in line behind a loud, bumbling pack of high school boys who were trying to impress a group of ditsy girls who giggled behind their hands. More kids flocked in after her, adding to the din. She tried to tune it out.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped, then turned around, and her heart leapt into her throat.

Ford Jamison grinned down at her, his sea green eyes twinkling and sparking mischievously beneath a shank of sun-bleached hair draping across his forehead.

“Enjoy the game?” he drawled.

She couldn’t speak, not with her heart where it wasn’t supposed to be. She opened her mouth, closed it; tried again, snapped it shut. Great! He probably thought she looked like a fish. Her face was so hot she was afraid her hair would burst into flame.

He laughed. “I know you have a voice. I could hear you hollerin’ during the game.”

Her heart sank at his words. This made it possible for her to speak since it was no longer lodged in her throat, but didn’t know how to answer, so her face just grew hotter. He’d heard her! He knew she’d been cheering for him. Mortified, she panicked and whirled to leave.

At that precise moment, her neighbor, Coop, the boy shed seen with Becky the day before she’d died, picked up his tray of food at the counter and had taken a step directly behind her. As she turned, one of her elbows caught the rim of his super-sized drink. She watched in horror as the cup tilted in slow motion. The plastic lid popped off like it had been shot from a cannon. What seemed like gallons of soda exploded toward him. Dark liquid cascaded down the front of his shirt and pants, creating a huge puddle on the floor at his feet. He stood there—frozen and mouth agape—in the ever-widening lake of soft drink.

In the split second of startled silence that followed, Lacey watched Coop’s mouth snap shut, his jaw clench so hard it was a wonder his teeth didn’t crack, and his strange, pale, almost colorless eyes shoot death rays at her.

Then utter chaos exploded.

The rowdy pack of boys whooped and howled like a pack of coyotes; the girls screamed and pushed blindly each other out of the way, trying to avoid getting their shoes wet. Those out of the line of fire just laughed and pointed. And Ford was witness to it all. The guy she wanted to impress the most, and this happened. Where was a hole when she needed it? All she wanted to do was disappear like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

Maybe he didn’t see it, the delusional side of her thought in panic. Maybe he turned around and left the instant she’d whirled away from him. It was possible he missed the entire fiasco. She risked a sideways peek at him through her lashes and groaned. He’d seen it alright. Had a front row seat and seemed to be enjoying it.

Do something! She mentally screamed. Anything! You have to keep attention off of you at all cost!

What happened next was something she would’ve never expected herself to do, something that was completely out of character, totally not her, and would probably haunt her for the rest of her life. She looked straight into those colorless eyes and said in an uncharacteristically loud and scathing voice, “Gosh, Coop, why don’t you look where you’re going?”

She wished she could snatch the words back as soon as they left her lips, but it was like ripping apart a feather pillow in a hurricane and hoping to recapture all the fluff as it blew to kingdom come. Though impossible to imagine, the volume of laughter and insults grew even louder. It was a good thing that looks couldn’t kill because otherwise, she’d be pushing up daisies.

After one final, baleful glare, Coop whirled around, slinging a fresh spray of Coke, and eliciting another chorus of squeals by the nearby girls. He splashed through the puddle to the trash bin where he dumped his soggy dinner, then shoved through the front door so hard she winced, bracing herself for the sound of shattering glass.

Thankfully, it remained intact, but the sight of those dripping handprints on the door’s clear surface was something she knew she’d never forget. She felt hollow inside; angry at herself for saying something so cruel and stupid. Coop would never forgive her and she didn’t blame him. Her ill-timed comment had just earned her an enemy she didn’t need or want, and it was all because she’d tried to save face in front of Ford.

Ford!

She turned slowly, with the sound of endless laughter still echoing all around her, like someone had a laugh-track—set on endless repeat—piping into the diner through surround-sound speakers. She lifted reluctant eyes to meet his.

He was laughing too, but his was different. His expression told her he knew the truth: that it had been her fault, and that she’d made Coop look bad so she wouldn’t. In other words, he was laughing at her, not Coop.

Her eyes narrowed, hands clenched, everything hardened. All the anger she’d aimed at herself seemed to ricochet, searching for another target, like a heat-sensing missile. Self-loathing refocused on the nearest person at hand: Ford. Bulls-eye! Love turned to hate in an instant.

She jerked her head away, breaking eye contact with him to stare across the room without seeing. Her face felt sunburnt. Her breaths came in hard, steamy gusts while she tried to pull her wits together.

Then, as if coming out of a trance, she realized she was staring into the hard blue eyes of the last person on earth she wanted to witness what had just happened.

Raine.

As she watched, one of Raine’s eyebrows rose, and a slow smirk stretched across her face.

Lacey’s groan was more like a growl. How had things gone south so quickly? She’d been soaring after the game. Now she felt like something nasty stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe. Unshed tears pricked and burned behind her eyelids, and she blinked rapidly, desperate to make them disappear.

No! No crying. She wouldn’t allow it. Neither Ford, nor Raine deserved that kind of power over her. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. She couldn’t.

But the burning didn’t stop. No sooner had she blinked those tears away, more formed in their place, welling up, ready to spill over, the ultimate humiliation. Without a word, Lacey spun around and flung herself out the door.

 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: