“Tell me.” I can barely get the words out.
His jaw muscles clench a few times then his Adam’s apple bounces with a hard swallow. “I have some …”
Where’d he go? His gaze is locked to mine, but I don’t think he’s really seeing me. And his words are jumbled and broken.
“I need to … uh …”
“Just say it.”
Nate squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head while pinching the bridge of his nose. “Say what?”
“What we both know is true.”
He grunts a laugh. “And what’s that?”
“I can read your mind.”
The pregnant moment lasts longer than I anticipated. If he doesn’t open his eyes and say something, I might die because I’m holding my breath. I can’t—I won’t—breathe until he looks at me.
In the tiniest of increments, he opens them and they trail up just as slowly until we connect. “What am I thinking?”
“Not those thoughts.”
“Then what thoughts?”
His moves are robotic. He tips his chin up and drops it into a slow nod with as much ease as he lays his sleeping daughter in her crib. “I … see. Why do you think this?”
“It’s the only logical explanation for how I know so much about your past.”
“Elaborate.” He leans in a fraction like I’m going to whisper it to him.
“I lied. That day at Dr. Greyson’s office, I knew you. I knew about your scar. Later I told you it was because I heard the story from my older cousin who dated your friend Toby Friedman.”
Another slow nod accompanied by a tightly-knitted brow.
“I don’t have an older cousin who dated Toby. I wanted the job, so I tried to set your mind at ease by making up a story that you might consider believable.”
“How do you know Toby?”
“I don’t think I do know him. I think I can read your memories of him. He lived four houses down from you. You teased him about his buckteeth, then he lost the two front ones after taking a nosedive off his bike. His parents didn’t have dental insurance, so their church took up a special offering to get him a retainer thingy that had two flipper teeth. It was cheaper than implants or a bridge. He called it a retainer. You called it a denture just to be mean.”
Another pregnant pause.
“What do you mean?”
“Right now. What am I thinking?”
“I told you I can only read the past—”
“I’m thinking about my past. So tell me what I’m thinking.”
I frown. “I don’t know.”
“But you just said—”
“I know what I just said.” Stabbing my fingers through my hair, I glance down the hall toward the nursery to listen for Morgan, hoping my outburst didn’t wake her. “I don’t know. Maybe there’s something like an active and passive memory. Like … maybe next week I’ll be able to tell you what you’re thinking right now. I don’t know.”
“Then tell me more. Tell me what you do know.”
“It’s …” I shake my head. “It’s too much.”
“Like what?” He digs, and I hate the irritation in his edgy tone, like it’s my fault I know what I know. I thought I wanted to have this conversation, but now I’m not so sure.
“You kept nudie girl magazines under your mattress.”
“Twenty, twenty-five years ago every boy kept nudie magazines under his mattress. Now you’re just sounding like a fortune teller making broad and rather obvious assumptions.”
I huff out a sigh. “You liked chess more than video games.”
“You’ve seen the chess board in my office.”
“You’re a Chicago Bears fan and it pisses off your Packer-fan father.”
“I have Bears beer mugs in the kitchen cabinet. Statistically my father would be a Packers fan.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Why are you doing this? What reason do I have to make this shit up? I’m not a fortune teller. I have nothing to gain. I …” I shake my head. “What do you want to know?”
He stands, gathering the takeout boxes and shoving them in the white plastic takeout bag. “Forget about it. If I have to tell you what I want to know, then that just proves you don’t actually know it.”
I follow him to the garage where he tosses the trash in the large bin. The door closes behind me leaving us trapped in the late summer heat and humidity. It’s so thick in here I think I need to chew and swallow instead of inhale.
“You cheated to pass your final in Spanish. You had straight A’s and one D going into finals.”
He stops like an invisible wall appeared in front of him. “H-how do you know that?” he whispers, continuing toward me like I could bite him.
This hurts. I hurt for him because moments like this feel personal. But I can’t give him an explanation. I can’t make this better for either one of us. He climbs two of the three garage steps, putting us at eye level. Everything about him invades my space—his woodsy scent, his familiar gaze, the essence of his touch, the curve of his nose, even the way his ginger hair curls around his ears.
“How. Do. You. Know. That?”
I pinch my lips together to keep them from quivering. These memories scare me. They come with this vulnerability that reaches my bones.
“You wrote notes just above your knee because teachers paid attention to arms and hands. So you wrote answers on your leg and wore a pair of jeans with holes in the knees so you could slide the leg up just enough to see the notes.”
The pain in his blue eyes sends a wave of nausea through my stomach. I thought sharing this burden would help, but it’s just compounding my own pain and bringing him down with me.
“I’m sorry.” Unshed tears burn my eyes.
Nate has lost so much. He doesn’t need this. What am I doing?
I flinch as his hand reaches for my face. He pauses a second before wiping his thumb along my cheek. It’s wet. I don’t remember blinking, but I must have because I’m now aware of the wet trails of tears on my cheeks.
“Something’s wrong with me,” I whisper while choking back a sob.
There’s a lifetime of concern etched into his forehead as he slowly shakes his head. “No. Nothing’s wrong with you.”
It’s too much to hold in. I cover my face with my hands as a cry rips from my throat. Nate pulls me into his chest.
But mostly … it’s terrifying.
It took years to come up for air after Daisy died, but I did. That breath’s name was Jenna. With a single smile she showed me love never dies. We just experience it in different forms, ever-changing like the tides and the stars in the night’s sky.
Since she died, Morgan has been my life support—my new form of love. She’s my purpose for holding my shit together instead of drinking myself into the grave. Being her everything leaves no time for self-pity. No time for mourning. No time for letting my mind be anything but sharp and focused on working, raising a child, and being a role model.
Dr. Greyson helps me navigate the hard parts. I let go of my insecurities and confess my fears in the safety of his office. Then I put on my responsible father mask and do what needs to be done.
However, this week I cancelled my session with him because I need answers that I’m not sure he will have for me. There’s only one person I trust with these questions—a fellow professor at the university. She was my old professor of psychology. With a twinkle in her eye, she used to say pieces of many souls lived inside of her. The most unnerving part was her vast knowledge of everything. More knowledge than anyone could acquire in a single lifetime. Her students say it’s because outside of the classroom, she lives the life of a recluse.
No close family.
Just books—writing them and reading them. I’ve read several of her books and that’s why I’m here to see her.
“Nathaniel Hunt.” Doctor Hazel Albright peeks out from behind a pile of books on her desk, shoves a bookmark into the one in her hand, and slips off her reading glasses.
At eighty-four, she’s the oldest professor at the university and probably the shortest and skinniest. I think my bag of golf clubs weighs more than her—it might be taller than her too. Her short, gray hair and eyes too big for her head make me think of an aged Tinker Bell.
“What a lovely surprise.”
“Thank you.” I gesture to the door. “Mind if I shut this?”
“Must be serious.” She takes a sip of her tea then removes the teabag, depositing it in the garbage can next to her desk. “It’s a bit early for a nooner, so I guess you’re not here for that.” She winks, moving some of the books on her desk to the shelves behind her.
I chuckle, easing into the red leather chair. “I doubt I could keep up with you.”
“Don’t sweat it, young man. No one can.” She takes another sip of her tea. “Well, Professor Hunt, to what do I owe the honor of a closed-room conversation with you? Things not going well with Dr. Greyson?”