The smell always hit me first.
I noticed it right when I opened the office door, and I paused. It was a lemony smell, like walking through a citrus grove. Growing up in New Jersey, I didn't know much about citrus groves, but I was sure that's what it would smell like. Every time I smelled the lemons, I knew death was in the air.
Mr. Harris looked up and gave me a smile over his dark brown glasses. I made eye-contact with his forehead, a survival technique I mastered years ago. The aroma rolled off him in waves, overpowering the scent of his black leather chair.
“Ms.—” he glanced down at my resume on the mahogany desk. “Lockwood. Please come in.”
I swallowed and stepped inside, the wooden door behind me closing with a swish. Don’t look into his eyes. My palms felt sweaty, and I was glad I wore a black blazer over my white button-up shirt.
Clutching my spiral notebook to my chest, I sat in the chair across from him. My eyes dropped to my polished black heels. I spent a lot of my time studying shoes. Looking at the ground was safer than looking at faces.
“Thank you for showing interest in our internship position, Ms. Lockwood.” Mr. Harris’s voice was kind, and I knew he thought I was nervous. Little did he know that if I met his eyes, I would See his death. Lucky me. “I notice from your resume that you write the sports column at your high school. You go to Lacey Township High?”
I gave a nod. “That’s right.” How could I escape this? There was no point in continuing. My interest in the internship position at Lacey Patch, the online news column for Lacey Township, had vanished. I examined his desk, determined to avoid eye contact. My gaze landed on a picture of Stephen, wearing his navy blue and white lacrosse jersey.
My stomach plummeted even further. Harris. Great. Not only was a vision of this man’s death taunting me just out of eye contact, but he was the father of my ex.
He must’ve noticed my stare, because his fingers closed around the photograph. “You covered the lacrosse team extensively in your column. You even mentioned my son a few times. Do you know Stephen?”
Did I know Stephen? I was embarrassed he had to ask. I happened to know Mr. Harris had a small affinity to his Scotch, and that was probably why he didn’t remember the night Stephen had brought me over after Jessica’s pool party.
Not that I remembered much from that night, either. It was the same party where Stephen hooked up with Jessica—the little hoochie—and still had the gall to take me to his house afterwards. To Mr. Harris’s credit, we’d only met briefly, saying hello as Stephen pulled me up the stairs to his room.
Oh, right. He wanted to know if I knew his son. “Sure, sure.” I looked over his shoulder, out the window. Clouds floated lazily by, and the branches of an oak tree with pink blossoms waved at me. “Everyone knows Stephen.”
“I’ve looked over your writing samples, and they are very precise. Yet you manage to insert your voice nicely. Would you be comfortable venturing outside of sports?”
I jerked my head up. “Oh, no. I couldn’t.” Stop talking. Stop talking. Drop your eyes.
The vision started as soon as our eyes met. I melted into his soul, becoming, for a brief moment, Ben Harris.
Images flashed through my head of Mr. Harris with his wife, photographing Stephen in front of the mantle with his prom date. Even locked in the vision, I couldn’t help feeling a stab of jealousy at the sight of the beautiful blond.
Wait. That wasn’t Jessica.
The vision continued, sucking me back into Ben’s mind. An ambulance, a white hospital room. A funeral. My heart clenched with the pain of the death of Ben’s wife, Abigail Harris. Abigail was dead, and Stephen blamed his father, turning into a moody, rebellious teenage boy. I couldn't bear the guilt, the anger, the sorrow that suffocated me.
Those weren’t my emotions. Hold on to yourself, Jayne.
I struggled to maintain my own identity while Mr. Harris climbed onto the roof of the house and gave into his despair. He hit the pastel bricks head first, with a crack that threw me out of the vision.
I gasped and jumped to my feet. It took a moment for the pain in my head to dissipate. Mr. Harris frowned behind his desk. He was still alive. It hadn’t happened yet. And the air was free of the oppressive lemon smell.
Maybe two seconds had passed. Time doesn’t really move for them when I’m in a vision. I shook my head, trying to clear it away. My heart still pounded as if I stood on the roof, looking three stories down.
“Mr. Harris—” I began. I never knew how to tell them about their impending death. Especially since they never believed me. I swallowed hard. “You should—you shouldn’t—”
My phone rattled next to me and I pulled it from my bag, grateful for the distraction, not caring how unprofessional it was.
It’s bad enough that I can See their deaths. Experiencing them is even worse. My throat ached with unshed tears, as if it were my dying wife and my angry son.
“Are you all right?” Mr. Harris asked. “Do you need something to drink?”
The tears welled up, threatening to overflow. “Excuse me. I have to take this.” I tried to keep my voice steady and rushed from his office, dragging my binder and purse with me.
I needed to warn him. But how? No way was I walking back in there. He’d call security for sure. Or was I just making excuses? I’ll send him a letter, I consoled myself. I’ll remind him what he has to live for.
Joshua’s face flashed in my mind, a vivid reminder of the first time I’d tried to change a death and failed. The first of many, many times.
I stopped in the hallway and closed my eyes, forcing myself to breathe. I remembered his little red bike with the yellow training wheels, the one he always rode around the neighborhood. He couldn't have been more than six years old. I was only twelve when I met him, and new to the lemon smell.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed off the wall and lifted my eyes. Light streamed through a tall window at the end of the hallway nearest me. Curiosity overran my desire to get away from Mr. Harris’s office. Was she there?
I stepped up to the window and peered outside. She might not be here, I reasoned. Maybe she’s on the other side of the building, where I can’t see her.
There she was. I spotted the tall, wiry blond, her billowy white dress blowing in the breeze. She stood regal and out of place on the busy New Jersey sidewalk. People moved next to her as if she didn’t exist, oblivious to this odd, beautiful woman rooted to the concrete.
She turned her head toward me, and I ducked back, heart pounding. There were two things I could always expect with a vision: the lemon scent beforehand, and the woman afterward. She’d probably always been there, but I had only noticed her in the past year or so.
The visions were coming more often. I used to get them a few times a year, at most. Now I got them several times a week. It unnerved me, made me anxious about going out in public. And I was beginning to resent the woman in white, who surely knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it.
I ran all the way down the two flights of stairs, stopping only when I reached the first floor. Shoving open the bathroom door, I dropped into a stall and snapped my phone open. I had to be the only person left on earth without a smartphone.
“Dana?” I whispered, finally returning my best friend’s phone call.
“Oh, Jayne!” Dana’s bubbly, perky voice sang out from the small blue speaker. I winced, holding it away from my ear. “I totally forgot. You’re in an interview, aren’t you?”
“Was.” I exhaled, feeling my blood pump a little slower. I hated Seeing. “It wasn’t working out. So I left.”
“Ugh.” Dana gave a non-committal grunt. “How so? One of your feeling things?”
I paused, considering how to answer. I kept telling myself that I should tell Dana about my ability, but somehow I could never bring myself to do it. “Yeah. Just didn’t feel right.”
“Oh, well, sorry. So, what are you doing now? Want to come over?”
I could just picture Dana, blue eyes sparkling with mischief. Confident, not a care in the world. She wore her curly blond hair cut at the shoulders, where it always bobbed in perfect ringlets. “Well, I have some free time. I should probably get back to job hunting.” I relaxed against the toilet seat. “What are you doing?”
“Oh, just organizing.”
Emerging from the stall, I stopped in front of the mirror and examined my eyes. Just slightly red now. “Organizing what?”
“My closet. Why don’t you come over?”
Really, I wanted to go home and light a candle. The pink one called “Sweet Pea.” It was the only thing that could clear the visions from my head. But it could wait. Dana was a year older than me, and at graduation next month we would be parting ways. I didn’t want to miss a chance to be with her. “Yeah. I’ll be right there.”
I slipped the phone into my purse and pushed open the bathroom door. The secretary sat behind the front desk, talking on the phone and writing a message. I brushed my short brown hair in front of my face, shouldered my purse, and marched by with as much confidence as I could muster. My heels clicked across the marble flooring, echoing in the silent lobby. Nobody called out to me and I walked through the revolving doors without a second look.
Fresh air. My shoulders relaxed, even though I knew at any moment I might turn the corner and be accosted by someone’s death.
I didn’t know what the official stats were, but I felt sure the majority of people in New Jersey die peacefully in their sleep, just like in the rest of the world. For some odd reason, I didn’t get to See those people. The ones I Saw were dying before their time. And usually it’s not a happy death.
Worry about something else, I told myself. Like getting to the car before the parking meter runs out.
Sunshine fought to get past the gray clouds in the New Jersey sky. I shoved on a pair of sunglasses, wishing they would keep me from Seeing. I took out a newspaper subscription for a month, just to check out the obituaries. Once I saw how many accidental deaths occurred every week, I realized I was bound to run into some of these people during my daily activities.
Somehow this knowledge didn’t make me feel better.
I only had ten minutes left on the parking meter when I got to my decade-old white Honda Accord. Since I couldn’t seem to hold a job, I couldn’t afford anything nicer.
The thought made me scowl. I always froze up when I smelled that citrusy, lemon smell. I didn’t want to know their lives, and especially not their deaths.
Even now, images of Mr. Harris’s impending suicide danced before my eyes. The man with the kind voice and professional exterior was upstairs in his office, probably interviewing the next hopeful intern, blissfully unaware of the unhappy turn his future would take.
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Genre – YA
Rating – PG
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