Chapter 1 – Megan
A single thread of golden light glimmers across the horizon, tugging my eyes toward home. New York City. Three thousand miles away.
What the hell am I doing here?
I step away from the window of our fourteenth floor suite in San Francisco, wondering why Mom paid a thousand dollars for rooms we spent less than eight hours in. Add to that the Porsche she rented, and the past twenty-four hours must have cost more than my savings several times over.
A sigh slips free. Even if I wasn’t cursed with the ability to read people’s feelings, I couldn’t miss the happiness radiating off my mom. Sharp contrast to the anger that would rise in her so often while living in New York.
For her, today is the start of a new life; for me, it’s Day One of a prison sentence.
After a last glance at my vintage acid-washed jeans and tight tee ensemble, I snag my retro tasseled suede purse and overnight bag off the bed.
Mom fluffs her burnt sienna hair in the gilded ceiling-to-floor mirror. She has that look. The one that reminds me of Grandma — her mom — who escaped poverty in Brazil by modeling, until she made enough money to get a business degree and grow a multimillion dollar talent agency.
She was a smart quick-thinking lady, a go-getter. Guess Mom’s no different. Once she makes a decision, she wants the job done. Like moving out here.
Mom smiles. “Ready to go?”
One final glance to the east, and I follow her down to the lobby.
A valet waits, keys in hand. The lady loads our bags into Mom’s sleek rental and accepts a twenty dollar tip while brandishing a smile that’s way too wide for this hour of the morning. I dip my head, hiding a scowl, as I slide into a leather seat.
Before pulling onto California Street, Mom flips on the radio and switches to an all 90’s rock station. Nostalgia flows off her in waves as Brian Adam’s Everything I Do radiates through the space around us.
I roll my eyes.
By the time our black Porsche is speeding down the near-empty Route 101, dawn’s thread has thickened to a white-gold band beneath a sky of cloudless blue. A band like the one Mom left on her bedroom dresser in the penthouse apartment I’d called home for the past decade.
The best part of my life.
Leaving San Francisco’s skyline behind, the sports car reaches a crest and the landscape unfolds. Tall pines to our left, light-flecked waves to our right, and ahead, the red tips of the Golden Gate Bridge poke out of a crouching cloud.
Low profile tires thud to a rhythm as we roll onto the bridge’s segmented roadway. I gasp as we’re swallowed by the fog wall. A flash of fear jets off Mom, and a few sparks of excitement. Her fingers tighten around the steering wheel. She slows the car and her tension eases.
As we fly over the bay, a soft hum issues from the crystal embedded in my chest. A tingle of excitement I can’t make sense of. A feeling that runs in opposition to my I-don’t-belong-here mindset. Before I can stop myself, my hand lifts to touch my breastbone. I cover the action by redirecting my fingers to my chin, and scratch.
A quick glance at Mom to check she didn’t notice. Her eyes are riveted to the road ahead.
I couldn’t tell her what the crystal had done. At first I thought the gem had fallen off and been lost, and that I’d dreamt the sinking in part. Until the stone started “talking” to me.
I bite my lip and stare into the whiteness, then tilt an eyebrow at Mom. “Driving through fog like this is certifiable.”
Her gaze doesn’t stray from the roadway. “I can see the lane markers and the lights of the car ahead.” A smile edges her lips. “Besides, it’ll be gone once we’re through the tunnel.”
My eyes narrow at the white glow in front of us. “What tunnel?”
White morphs into black laced by a red glow from the car ahead. The Porsche’s headlights snap on as I suck in a breath. In less time than it takes to exhale, we’re back in pea soup. The sports car sails over a rise and the fog fades into cotton candy stripes until nothing’s left but a sun-bleached sky.
Enthusiasm lifts Mom’s chest, along with a myriad of lesser emotions, more difficult to untangle. She relaxes enough to reach out and squeeze my knee. “Welcome home, Megan.”
Ugh, Mom. This place might be pretty, but it’s totally not my home.
My forced smile collides with her blissful one. The euphoric glow emanating off her competes with the blinding rays beyond the windshield’s tinted glass. Guess this is what they call California Dreaming.
Unable to keep up the false pretense, I turn my gaze to the mountain backdrop beyond clamshell hills, sprawling suburbia and endless sunshine. I couldn’t be farther from New York City—that noisy, overpopulated, perpetually overcast melting pot of humanity and culture that’s the only home I’ve ever known.
I dwell on the tragedy of my life and ignore the beauty of Sausalito, Mill Valley and Corte Madera. Another green road sign catches my eye. San Rafael. The town where I was born, according to my birth certificate. Not that anyone really knows.
The freeway passes through an industrial area, the sort of place that churns out car parts and computer chips. And babies, apparently.
I sigh. My parents have always been open about my not being their biological kid. The fact never bothered me. Until recently. When I found out Mom has sole custody.
For some reason, it hurt that Dad wasn’t legally mine. That he didn’t have the right to say I couldn’t leave. That he couldn’t stop Mom from taking me away. But what hurt most was that he didn’t even try.
My phone buzzes. I snag the device from an outside pocket of my tasseled purse.
Hey, Megs. U awake? Andrea, my co-conspirator and best friend. Not even seven here, but midmorning in New York. I bet she’s only just woken.
I slide down the seat leather until I’m slumped, and thumb type, Yeah, heading to the new digs. Have to meet movers @ 8.
Place with a pool n private jetty? Wish I was moving with U.
She doesn’t really. When we said goodbye before I left for the airport, Andrea cried a few tears, but her feelings came through loud and clear. She’d miss me, but never enough to leave NYC. Her roots are tapped so deeply into the soil under Brooklyn that transplantation would probably kill her.
Mai tais @ midnight? I proposition wistfully.
Sheesh. I’ve lived fourteen of my seventeen years a handful of miles from the Atlantic Ocean and never once did I want to dip so much as a big toe in its waters. A new ocean, but I doubt that feeling’s going to change.
Does it feel like home? she asks.
I bite back a pained laugh, and type, As much as the Sierra Nevada does to an octopus.
Surf n turf. They can go together. Meet the right guy n maybe it’ll be worth it.
I roll my eyes at the endless freeway ahead. Guys. Andrea’s solution to everything.
Couldn’t find him in NYC. No chance here. I glance at Mom. She’s still grinning at the rolling hills.
I cast my eyes back to the phone screen. I don’t want to start over at some crappy high school where I don’t know a soul. I’ve got the summer to convince Mom to let me go back and live with Dad for senior year.
That would B cool, I could use ur talents. 2 new guys @ Jamba J’s. One’s cute, but can’t get a read.
I pull in a breath. My ability to pick up on people’s feelings only works when I’m looking right at them. Sorry, I can’t help.
No worries. Hey, don’t forget to hang up the car fragrance I gave U.
With a smirk, I reach into my purse and finger the cardboard, heart-shaped I Love NYC deodorizer Andrea gifted me. I drop it, and type, I won’t. Promise.
Well, C U in a few weeks, at least.
Meaning when I head back to visit Dad. A vacation at home. How weird is that? And it’ll be my best chance to get Dad on board with the idea of me staying with him through my last year of school.
A thread of hope weaves through my heart.
After that, I’ll work on Mom. Get her to see that New York is our real home. Maybe get her to straighten things out with Dad. Or if not, at least get her to move back to Manhattan.
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