Authors: David Pandolfe
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Fireworks will do to you. This book is PURE feeling. It is a bounded SOUL.
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likes of John Green, or David Levithan, and quite possibly, even exceeds them.”
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Copyright © 2014
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critical articles or in a review.
Cover art and design
by Samantha Pandolfe
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on a Fender Telecaster
“The whole thing was mind blowing,” Gary says. “The light
show was spectacular and the tech guys were amazing. Seriously, we sounded like
Gary’s eyes shine every time he tells us about the time
his band opened for the Foo Fighters. A big grin parts his goatee this time
too. He watches our faces for reactions like we’ve never heard the story before
but we understand. This was the peak of his glory days and you have to respect
He takes a moment to look each of us in the eye. “There
was a sea of women out there and they were all going crazy. Unbelievable.”
“Awesome,” Justin says.
“Wish we could have been there,” Doug says.
I’m doing my best to pay attention but the back of my neck
tingles. It’s been doing that off and on all day. I try to ignore the feeling
because I know what it means. Something wants my attention. Something wants me
to know what I shouldn’t be able to know. Still, I figured I could buy myself
some time by hanging out at Gary’s store. I never know when I’ll get a flash
but it’s never happened before in Edmonds Music. This cluttered space full of
guitars and amps, drum sets and keyboards. This place that smells like rosewood
and brass polish. This place that feels more like home than home.
“Damn, I wish we could have recorded it,” Gary says.
Gary’s band broke up years ago but they used to play
mostly small clubs in Richmond. One winter, the Foo Fighters were playing at
the National and a blizzard up north delayed the opening act. They couldn’t get
to the show and the promoters needed someone. Suddenly, Gary’s band found
themselves playing in front of thousands of people. Each time I hear the story
I have to wonder how, of all the club bands playing at the time, Gary’s got
picked. But he has photos hanging on the wall behind his cash register showing
him standing next to Dave Grohl. In the photos, they stand next to each other
smiling so something must have happened there.
“That must have been incredible,” I say, just to add
something to the conversation. It must show that I’ve been tuning out. But I can’t
help it. I feel uneasy. Edgy. Whatever it is that wants my attention keeps nagging
“Did you guys tour with them after that?” Justin says.
“Did you get a record deal?”
How Justin says it without irony is beyond me but I chalk
it up to bass player diplomacy—that inherent skill for building a bridge
between competing factions. Still, we’re all standing in Gary’s future. These
days, Gary is married and has a baby. Obviously, his life isn’t all that
glamorous considering it now boils down to peddling gear to teenage musicians
and sometimes changing diapers.
Gary studies Justin, thin to pushing frail, long brown
hair and unblinking brown eyes to match. “Didn’t quite go that way,” he says, possibly
thinking about the diaper changing thing too. “But their manager asked for a CD
to take back to LA. He thought we were great.”
“Nice,” Justin says.
Sunlight pings against my eyes
and I squint at the back wall where Gary displays the used guitars.
sun must be at just the right angle since it reflects off only one of them, an
old Fender Telecaster I’ve never noticed before.
knobs, pickup plates and tuning machines gleam. Alongside it, t
look dusty and forgotten.
“And, dude, you made out great,” Doug says. “Now you have
this awesome store.”
Doug is our drummer, squat with curly blonde hair, a
solid and steady kind of guy. Obviously, he’s trying to make Gary feel like he
didn’t miss the boat. A nice thing to do, definitely.
I half-listen as Gary starts talking about forming an
indie label, maybe recording our band and a few others. I keep glancing at that
Telecaster. Even from a distance I see the nicks and scars suggesting it’s
taken a long journey.
“Do you mind if I check out that Fender?” I say,
unintentionally cutting Gary off mid-sentence.
He frowns, then tries to track my gaze across the store.
A reasonable question since Gary stocks plenty of
I point and he says, “Sure, I guess.”
Gary turns his attention back to Justin and Doug. The
idea of “signing” to Gary’s imagined indie label is bound to hold their
attention for a while. Normally, I’d be on board for the whole fantasy too. You
never know, right? And it’s not like anyone else is taking us seriously. But
right now it’s almost like I have no choice but to get my hands on that guitar—that
tingling at the back of my neck telling me there’s something I need to know. As
much as I wish I could, I’ve never been able to ignore these feelings.
I cross the store while Gary, Justin and Doug continue
talking but I’m not listening anymore. They sound muted and far away. I reach
up and take the Telecaster from its mount. The weight of it surprises me and I
have to tighten my grasp to keep from dropping it. I’ve checked out some of the
new Fenders but this one feels different, more solid. Definitely, this guitar
has a story to tell. I sense that story in the scratches and worn pickguard.
How the cream finish has been rubbed off along the top. This guitar has
traveled. It’s been around for a long time. Decades maybe.
I flip it over to discover that someone has carved their
initials into the back—J.M.—two old wounds left in the wood. Who would do
something like that? Someone who wanted to leave a mark on this guitar,
obviously. Someone who wanted to remain part of the story. I
snag one of the cables Gary leaves coiled on the floor,
plug into an amp and sit on the edge of it.
I cradle the Telecaster on
my knee. I barely touch the strings but that’s when it happens.
An image flashes inside my mind—a woman, young, probably
in her early twenties. She’s onstage, red hair dripping sweat as she slams at
this same guitar. A crowd stares, enraptured. It’s like I watch from the side
of the stage, both there and not at the same time. Suddenly, she turns and
startlingly green eyes bore into mine. Her lips don’t move but her whisper
Bring it back to me.
In that moment, I know—I hold part of her soul in my
I jump up and drop the guitar against the amp. I step
away as the whine of feedback builds.
“Jack, what’s up?” Gary stares from the front counter.
Next to him, Justin and Doug block their ears.
I hear him and see them. But it’s like I’m still inside
my flash—in that moment when her eyes found me.
“Kill the amp!”
The feedback spikes against my brain. I snap out of it,
click off the amp and the sudden silence might as well be a spotlight pointed
right at me. I walk toward the door. I know I should put the guitar back but I
have to get out of there.
I get closer to where they are and Gary says, “Hey, are
I keep my eyes fixed straight ahead. “Sorry. Not feeling
so good. I should go.”
I hear Justin say, “What the—”
“I know,” Doug says. “Looks like he just saw a ghost or
I feel the three of them watching me but I don’t look
back. Soon, I’m outside and walking fast.
My mother is on the phone when I
She’s always on the phone, planning things, staying involved.
She’s baring her teeth in a smile that looks forced even though whoever she’s
talking to can’t see her.
“I absolutely agree,” she says, “I’m so glad the
committee felt the same way. Tell me, what was historic about that building?”
She waits, then laughs. “Exactly, sometimes old is just old.”
My mother doesn’t work. She doesn’t have to for three
reasons: Atkinson, Atkinson and Atkinson. My father’s law firm. His father and
grandfather were both attorneys.
These days, my
father is the only attorney at his firm with the last name Atkinson but the name
remains the same despite four other lawyers working there.
legacy: Egotism cubed.
I grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator and snag a
bag of chips from the pantry. My mother doesn’t break off her conversation as I
leave the room.
My sister tromps down the stairs as I climb them. She
doesn’t remove her earbuds, her eyes meeting mine just briefly.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” I say, even though she can’t hear me.
I close my bedroom door and grab my laptop. I take it to
my bed and sit, legs crossed, hunched over the screen. I scroll through some
stuff on Tumblr but I can’t stop thinking about that flash. I’ve never had one
that strong before. Never that vivid or intense. And somehow I heard her.
That’s never happened before either. Who was she?
My flashes are why my mother and sister have a hard time
looking me in the eye. My father too, when we spend time together. Which isn’t
often. Bad enough that I’m pale and thin, with long hair. That my grades keep
slipping. That I love music more than anything. That I’m nothing like him.
There’s no way he’s going to deal with the flashes too. It’s easier to just not
deal with me.
Maybe I had flashes before that—probably, I did—but the
first one I remember happened when I was six. I remember it because my parents
fought in front of me for the first time. My father yelled at my mother for
losing a folder full of legal documents. My mother raised her voice too,
insisting she didn’t move it. From there, the conflict escalated and I started
crying. I wanted them to stop so I told my father to look on top of the
refrigerator. After a moment, he did, probably because he felt guilty for
upsetting me. Then I told him I meant the one in the garage. I knew what his
folders looked like and, inside my mind, I could see one up there in that place
I couldn’t actually see. A few minutes later, he came back from the garage
holding the folder. He stared at me for a long time.
The next flash I remember happened a year later. I told
my little sister I was sorry she’d be going to the hospital and she ran to my
mother crying. My mother told me how mean that was to scare her that way. The
following week, Caitlin fell off a play structure at the park and broke her
arm. On the way back from the emergency room, my parents kept whispering.
That flash was followed by the time my parents were
packing for a cruise to the Bahamas and I told them they shouldn’t go. They
went anyway, of course, and everyone on the ship got sick from some sort of
virus. Twice, I predicted the deaths of family pets. First, our cat, Stripes,
one morning before going to school. I kept holding her, tears streaming down my
face, saying she wouldn’t be there when I got back. My mother forced me out the
door to catch the bus. Stripes got hit by a car that same morning. The second
time was for my hamster. I somehow knew he’d be dead in the morning but staying
up all night did nothing to change that.
Over time, I learned to stop telling my family when I get
a feeling about something. It doesn’t make any difference and each time
something like that happens, they back away from me even more. Obviously,
they’re not going to be supportive if I tell them I just had a mental meltdown
after picking up an old guitar.
There’s no way I’m
sharing that experience with Justin or Doug either. This much I know—it’s not
normal. People get scared. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize. Now I do. The
best thing? Pretend I don’t see what I see, that I don’t get a feeling every so
often about something that’s going to happen. Just act normal. I go back to
staring at my computer screen but inside my mind I still see her green eyes. I
still hear her.
I don’t want this.
There’s only one person I can think of who might be able to
understand the flash I got off the Telecaster. I can’t say for sure because
I’ve never really talked to her. Not that I haven’t wanted to know her better.
It’s just that Lauren Turner isn’t very social. As in, not at all. And not in
the awkward, you know she really needs some understanding friends sort of way.
Just the opposite. By all appearances, Lauren seems completely comfortable
remaining a loner.
I’ve always had this thing about moths. How they fly at
night, beautiful spots and patterns not meant for our eyes. Everything about
them intended for some other realm we might glimpse but never fully experience.
Hidden. Magical. Secret. That’s Lauren to me. Jet black hair streaked with
blue, green and sometimes red. Black eyeliner. Purple hoodie, gray jeans, black
combat boots. A midnight rainbow.
Compared to the
popular girls—butterflies competing for admiration—it seems like Lauren just
happens to be trapped in the daylight next to us. Something that wasn’t
supposed to happen and that she just has to live with for now. With my
borderline translucent skin, red hair and freckles, I’ve wondered many times if
maybe I’d be better off flying at night too. But I’ve never once gotten the
impression Lauren wants anyone sharing her environment.
Lauren also has a reputation for being kind of strange.
Even now, people talk about how she found that money for
Lauren joined us in elementary school when she and her
mother moved into in an old house on the outskirts of town—one of those old
Virginia properties that probably once had a farm around it. The place was
built in the 1930s or something and it’s changed hands a number of times over
the decades. The house was basically falling apart, the roof shot, the paint
peeling, shutters missing, all that. One day, Lauren’s mother suddenly had
plenty of money. Enough to fix up the house and buy a new car. It turned out
she discovered a stash of money within her kitchen wall. No one knew how much
but people said she found thousands, maybe even tens of thousands. Possibly
someone’s life savings or money from an old bank heist. Rumors flew but it was
all just speculation.
Lauren’s mother told everyone it was because of her
daughter. One day, Lauren pointed at the wall and said, “Mom, money! There’s
money in there!” And she kept saying it over and over, for days, until her
mother got either got mad enough or curious enough to grab a hammer and knock a
hole through old plaster. After that, people started looking at Lauren like my
own family looked at me.
There were other stories about Lauren too. In elementary
school, she told one of our teachers, Mrs. Murphy, that her father wasn’t
really gone—that he was right there in the classroom watching. That he was
proud. Mrs. Murphy broke down crying and left the room. None of us knew that
her father had passed away over the summer. In middle school, Lauren warned
John Hewitt to stay home one Saturday rather than play soccer. Nothing happened
on the soccer field but John ran across the street after the game and got hit
by a car. He lived but was in intensive care for weeks. Just stories, old
history now but that history has lingered. And while I’ve wanted to talk to
Lauren for a while, until now I’ve convinced myself that my flashes are fairly
trivial. Better off ignored. With this last one, though, it feels like
The next day, I spot her in the hall after my Geosystems
class and trail at a distance. When she opens her locker, I wait nearby. She
checks her phone, apparently not in any rush, which is good since the hallway
keeps clearing. The bell rings a minute later and it’s just the two of us left
in the hall. Lauren slips a book into her backpack while I lurk silently nearby
wondering what to say.
Suddenly, she turns to face me. “So, are you maybe
impersonating a stalker?”
My eyes shoot around as if she might be talking to
someone else. My face grows warm. Not a great start, obviously, but I decide to
forge ahead. “Hey, Lauren. How’s it going?”
She frowns, then slings her backpack over her shoulder.
I’m not sure if she even knows who I am. At school, I fly
under the radar as much as possible. “Sorry, I’m Jack.”
“I know. The quiet guy in Algebra last year. Sat in the
back and spent most of his time writing what looked like lyrics in his
She noticed I was writing lyrics? She’d been two desks
away the entire time. Talk about observant.
“But you followed me for a reason,” she says. “Or did you
just get so absorbed in one of your little sonnets that you became
Man, she’s a killer. I’m not feeling so sure about this
now. “No, I followed you.”
Lauren narrows her eyes. “So, you
“Honestly, I’m not stalking you!” My words echo down the
hall. A moment later, I hear footsteps approach from a distance. Perfect.
A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. Amusement shows
in her eyes. She was just messing with me and I walked right into it. Nicely
played. I can’t help crack a smile even while my face burns.
“Glad we cleared that up,” Lauren says. “What’s going on?
We’re almost out of time before we get detention.”
Suddenly, I’m not sure where to start. Does she
experience things like I do? How does it work for her?
“Well, there’s this guitar,” I say. “A thing happened
when I picked it up. It’s hard to explain but I got this sort of—” I stop
there. The footsteps grow louder.
Lauren’s expression changes to curious. “What did you
“I saw something. And sort of heard something.”
Lauren considers, her eyes on mine. “Sounds like an
energy transfer. No biggie but it freaked you out, obviously.”
“I wouldn’t say it freaked me out, exactly. More like it
“Scared the crap out of you. Got it. Has that sort of
thing happened before?”
“Sort of. Not exactly.”
“What’s your phone number?”
I tell her and Lauren’s thumbs dash at her phone. Mine
buzzes in my pocket.
“I should get to class.” She gestures to a door about two
feet away. “You have my number.”
My class is half-way across the school.
A second later, Lauren arrives late for class and I get