“You asked how I learned to control my gift,” he continued earnestly, “and I told you it was fear. You’ve got to let go of the fear, Em. Or you’ll never get control of this. And you want that, right?”
Vaguely, I wondered if he had another gift hidden behind those dark eyes, because I found myself nodding, agreeing to submit to the mind-jacking.
Things kind of happened fast after that.
Parker waited for us inside. I was taken aback by how he blended into the darkness of the log walls, as if he was nothing more than smoke and shadows. He stood near the bed where Hayden and I had fallen asleep so many nights since the bonfire that it’d become a habit. I hated seeing Parker close to it. It was like this cabin was no longer a place for just Hayden and me.
It took me a moment to realize Parker held something—that something being a sweater of mine. “Why does he have that?” I asked.
“It’s easier to get in when he has something that belongs to the person,” Hayden answered. “Right, Parker?”
“Kind of like a psychic?” I asked, feeling dumb for doing so.
“Yes.” Hayden brought a potted aloe back to the couch. He sat, keeping the plant in his lap. “You ready? It’ll just take a few seconds. Parker will be in and out. It will over before you know it.”
My glaze flicked back to Parker. His bright, bottle-green eyes fastened on Hayden and me. As always, his pale face appeared vacant.
Hayden said a couple more reassuring things, and then it was time for me to do my thing. My fingers hovered just over one of the green stems, and it happened. It was like a whisper of air in my mind—a slow, purposeful brush behind my eyes that sent shivers through me.
Parker was in.
I touched the plant.
Immediately, my mind went blank. Then, like a switch being thrown, several thoughts rushed to the surface. I felt them being picked out, looked at, and then thrown to the side. During this, the thick arms of the aloe started to deflate, wither up. My scalp tingled, and then my head seemed to explode with information. My own thoughts and memories flooded me. I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t make sense of any of it.
A flash of bright light sent dizziness sweeping through me. It was like watching my life on rewind—not what I’d expected. My fear of being mind-raped, the conversation I’d overhead, lunch, my Catcher in the Rye epiphany, and on and on as Parker sifted through everything.
I think I started to stand at some point, because I felt Hayden reaching for me, calling my name. He just sounded so far away, unreal. Without any warning, the night of the accident came to life in startling detail. My eyes were open, but I wasn’t seeing the room anymore. I was in that car, about to die again.
Dad had sat in the driver’s seat, talking softly with Mom. No. Not talking. They were arguing again, fighting over Olivia. I hadn’t understood why. I really hadn’t even cared.
“You’re saying her touch did that? Fixed it?” Mom asked, shaking her head.
“Yes,” Dad snapped. “For the tenth time tonight.”
“You shouldn’t have ever involved them,” she said.
I shifted down in the back seat and rolled my eyes. Olivia. Olivia. Always about Olivia. I was practically invisible to those two. So much so that last night I had snuck out and met up with Dustin. They hadn’t even noticed. Olivia. Olivia. Olivia. I looked up and saw the stoplight turn from red to green. I was going to give Dustin the green light on Friday—the green light to go all the way.
Dad glanced back at me, forcing a fake, stupid smile. He hadn’t smiled for real in a long, long time. “What do you want to eat, honey? Pasta or seafood?”
“I think we should just go home,” my mom said. “I can make pasta at home.”
I ignored her and picked what I knew Mom couldn’t whip up. “I want seafood from Salt of the Sea.”
He nodded and hit the gas.
Only a memory, but my heart raced. I felt sick. I stood in the cabin, but I couldn’t pull myself out. I wanted out—needed out now before—before—
A scream got stuck in my throat.
The headlights of the truck threw everything into a harsh yellow light, and then I was flying back in my seat. The collision knocked me into the door, spun the car around. The screaming and twisting of metal overpowered my mom’s screams. Stunned and helpless, I felt the car whirl around and flip. Once. Twice. Glass broke, pain ripped through my stomach, and over it all, I could hear Olivia crying for Daddy, crying for me.
The impact was shattering, excruciating and terrifying—final.
“Nothing,” I heard Parker speak for the first time. His voice strained, thick. “There’s nothing.”
The memory blinked out, flipped to the days after the accident. My mirror reflected an empty shell—a girl covered with scars and vacant, soulless eyes.
“No soul,” Parker said. “Nothing but scars and an empty shell.”
The image of me faded, replaced with several more memories. The first accidental kill, the first time I’d tried to touch Olivia, Dustin spasming on the cold, rain-soaked cement.
“No!” I jerked back from the couch, but Parker was still in, seeing everything. Panic floored me. The room spun around me. Parker let out a startled sound and pulled out all at once, but the room still spun. I felt sick, twisted.
“Ember? You okay?” Hayden said, coming to his feet. “What’s going on? Parker?”
“I’m gonna be sick,” I mumbled. I was too hot, too cold.
Hayden stood beside me, leaning down because I was bent over, grasping my knees. The dead aloe now looked like a skeleton to me. I stumbled back against Hayden, staring at Parker now.
His face constricted as he grabbed the side of his head, over his temple and winced. “She thinks she has no soul. It’s always in the back of her mind. She thinks she has no soul.”
The last thing I heard was Hayden yelling my name, and then nothingness closed over me.
* * *
Eventually I woke up. Shadows danced across the ceiling. My head felt fuzzy and sitting up didn’t help.
The bed dipped beside me. Turning, I met Hayden’s eyes. I was kind of struck by their color. They were brown, not black. Warm. Rich. So deep, I could fall into them and never come back out. Then I remembered.
I swung out at him, catching him in the shoulder.
“Hey!” Hayden said. “Take it easy.”
I hit him in the chest, but it was like hitting a wall. “Damn you! You told me he’d be in and out! You said he wouldn’t dig around in my head.”
“He wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know what got into him.”
“Whatever.” I scrambled off the bed. “I want to go back to the house. Now.”
Hayden arched a brow. “You won’t go back through the woods without me, and I’m not leaving.”
“You wanna bet?” I spun around and headed for the door.
Hayden jumped off the bed. In an instant, he was in front of me. The look he shot me was a pure challenge. “Not until we talk about what Parker saw.”
Cursing, I looked around for another exit. There was a good chance I was being unreasonable, but I didn’t care. There were things people never needed to know. Things I’d never wanted Hayden to know.
Again, he moved fast, way too fast. He caught me by the shoulders and turned me around. “You’re not leaving.”
I glared at him. “You can’t make me stay here.”
“You don’t want to talk to me?”
“No! I don’t even want to see your face right now.”
He smiled—actually freaking smiled. “You’re being a bit dramatic, don’t you think? No one hurt you.”
“Uh, I passed out! What do you call that?”
“I’ve never seen that happen before, but I guess going as long as Parker did made you a little lightheaded. I had to carry you to the bed.”
I stopped trying to wiggle out of his grasp. Man, I’d missed him carrying me? “You carried me?”
He nodded. “I almost dropped you. Parker left after that.”
“Gee, good to know.”
“Em, we’re not leaving this cabin until we talk about what Parker saw.”
I pushed against his stomach, getting nowhere. Giving up, I went back to the bed and sat down. “Why did Parker go that far back? There were things… I didn’t want him to see.”
“You want to talk now?”
I glared at him. “I want to punch you. Just answer my question.”
Totally unbothered by my threat, Hayden sauntered over to the bed and sat beside me. “I guess he wasn’t getting the answer we needed.” He paused, his earlier amusement faded. “Do you really think you don’t have a soul?”
I stared down at my hands—hands that killed.
“Em?” He twisted toward me, his knees brushing my leg. “Parker said you think you don’t have a soul.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Hayden. Please.”
He was silent for several heartbeats. Finally, he spoke. “There were other things that Parker said he saw.”
I pulled on the hoodie’s string and twisted it around my finger.
Hayden’s gaze dropped over me. “Why do you always wear long sleeves? Is it because of what Parker saw?”
The string tightened around my finger until I thought it would cut the circulation. “He didn’t tell you?”
“No. He only said you were scarred. At first, I thought he meant… well, something else, but then I thought about it. You always wear long sleeves, even to sleep in. I don’t think I’ve seen your arms.”
He inhaled softly. “Do you trust me?” I risked a quick look at him. “Why do you ask?”
“I guess so. Even though I shouldn’t after the crap you pulled, but whatever.”
Hayden reached for me. Well, not me actually. He went for the hem of my hoodie, sliding his fingers under it.
My hands clamped down on his arms as the muscles in my stomach tensed. “What are you doing?”
“You said you trust me.”
“That was before you tried to take my clothes off!” The moment the words left my mouth, a hot flush crept over me. Because, really, was that what he intended? Because… because I didn’t know what to think about that.
He gave me a bland look. “You have a shirt on underneath. I can feel it.”
“That’s not the point,” I sputtered. I actually had a tank top on underneath, not that it mattered. He wasn’t seeing it.
“Em, you said you trust me.”
My fingers curled around his sweater as my heart revved up to a ridiculously speed. “Hayden… no one—you wouldn’t want to see this.”
“I don’t think you give me enough credit.”
“It’s not that. I do give you credit, but this—this is different.” I stared down at his fingers. They were perfect, a far cry from what I looked like. “I… I died in that accident, Hayden. It wasn’t my imagination. I was dead and there was a reason for it. I must’ve been really messed up.”