Soulmate (Chapter 1)
She was there for the obvious reason. "I think I'm going insane," she said quietly as soon as she sat down.
"And what makes you think that?" The psychologist's voice was neutral, soothing.
Okay, she thought. Lay it on the line. Skip the paranoid feeling of being followed and the ultra-paranoid feeling that someone was trying to kill her, ignore the dreams that woke her up screaming. Go straight to the really weird stuff.
"I write notes," she said flatly.
"Notes." The therapist nodded, tapping a pencil against his lips. Then as the silence stretched out: "Uh, and that bothers you?"
"Yes." She added in a jagged rush, "Everything
used to be so perfect. I mean, I had my whole life under control. I'm a senior at Sacajawea High. I have nice friends; I have good grades. I even have a scholarship fromUtahState for next year. And now it's all falling apart… because of me. Because I'm going crazy."
"Because you write notes?" the psychologist said, puzzled. "Um, poison pen letters, compulsive memo taking… ?"
"Notes like these." Hannah leaned forward in her chair and dropped a handful of crumpled scraps of paper on his desk. Then she looked away miserably as he read them.
He seemed like a nice guy-and surprisingly young for a shrink, she thought. His name was Paul Win-field-"Call me Paul," he'd said-and he had red hair and analytical blue eyes. He looked as if he might have both a sense of humor and a temper.
And he likes me, Hannah thought. She'd seen the flicker of appreciation in his eyes when he'd opened the front door and found her standing silhouetted against the flamingMontana sunset.
And then she'd seen that appreciation change to utter blankness, startled neutrality, when she stepped inside and her face was revealed.
It didn't matter. People usually gave Hannah two looks, one for the long, straight fair hair and the clear gray eyes… and one for the birthmark.
It slanted diagonally beneath her left cheekbone, pale strawberry color, as if someone had dipped a finger in blusher and then drawn it gently across Hannah's face. It was permanent-the doctors had removed it twice with lasers, and it had come back both times.
Hannah was used to the stares it got her.
Paul cleared his throat suddenly, startling her. She looked back at him.
" 'Dead before seventeen,' " he read out loud, thumbing through the scraps of paper. " 'Remember the Three Rivers-DO NOT throw this note away.' 'The cycle can be broken.' 'It's almost May-you know what happens then.' " He picked up the last scrap. "And this one just says, 'He's coming.' "
He smoothed the papers and looked at Hannah. "What do they mean?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I didn't write them," Hannah said through her teeth.
Paul blinked and tapped his pencil faster. "But you said you did write them-"
"It's my handwriting. I admit that," Hannah said. Now that she had gotten started, the words came out in gasping bursts, unstoppable. "And I find them in places where nobody else could put them … in my sock drawer, inside my pillowcase. This morning I woke up and I was holding that last one in my fist. But I still don't write them."
Paul waved his pencil triumphantly. "I see. You don't remember writing them."
"I don't remember because I didn't do it. I would never write things like that. They're all nonsense."
"Well." Tap. Tap. "I guess that depends. 'It's almost May'-what happens in May?"
"May first is my birthday."
"That's, what, a week from now? A week and a day. And you'll be … ?"
Hannah let out her breath. "Seventeen."
She saw the psychologist pick up one of the scraps-she didn't need to ask which one.
Dead before seventeen, she thought.
"You're young to be graduating," Paul said.
"Yeah. My mom taught me at home when I was a kid, and they put me in first grade instead of kindergarten."
Paul nodded, and she thought she could see him thinking overachiever.
"Have you ever"-he paused delicately-"had any thoughts about suicide?"
"No. Never. I would never do anything like that."
"Hmm…" Paul frowned, staring at the notes. There was a long silence and Hannah looked around the room.
It was decorated like a psychologist's office, even though it was just part of a house. Out here in centralMontana , with miles between ranches, towns were few and far between. So were psychologists-which was why Hannah was here. Paul Winfield was the only one available.
There were diplomas on the walls; books and impersonal knickknacks were in the bookcase. A carved wooden elephant. A semi-dead plant. A silver-framed photograph. There was even an official-looking couch. And am I going to lie on that? Hannah thought. I don't think so.
Paper rustled as Paul pushed a note aside. Then he said gently, "Do you feel that someone else is trying to hurt you?"
Hannah shut her eyes.
Of course she felt that someone was trying to hurt her. That was part of being paranoid, wasn't it? It proved she was crazy.
"Sometimes I have the feeling I'm being followed," she said at last in almost a whisper.
"I don't know." Then she opened her eyes and said flatly, "Something weird and supernatural that's out to get me. And I have dreams about the apocalypse."
Paul blinked. "The-apoc …"
"The end of the world. At least I guess that's what it is. Some huge battle that's coming: some giant horrible ultimate fight. Between the forces of…" She saw how he was staring at her. She looked away and went on resignedly. "Good." She held out one hand. "And evil." She held out the other. Then both hands went limp and she put them in her lap. "So I'm crazy, right?"
"No, no, no." He fumbled with the pencil, then patted his pocket. "Do you happen to have a cigarette?"
She glanced at him in disbelief, and he flinched. "No, of course you don't. What am I saying? It's a filthy habit. I quit last week."
Hannah opened her mouth, closed it, then spoke slowly. "Look, Doctor-I mean, Paul. I'm here because I don't want to be crazy. I just want to be me again. I want to graduate with my class. I want to have a great summer horseback riding with my best friend, Chess. And next year I want to go toUtahState and study dinosaurs and maybe find a duckbill nest site of my own. I want my life back. But if you can't help me …"
She stopped and gulped. She almost never cried; it was the ultimate loss of control. But now she couldn't help it. She could feel warmth spill out of
her eyes and trace down her cheeks to tickle her chin. Humiliated, she wiped away the teardrops as Paul peered around for a tissue. She sniffed.
"I'm sorry," he said. He'd found a box of Kleenex, but now he left it to come and stand beside her. His eyes weren't analytical now; they were blue and boyish as he tentatively squeezed her hand. "I'm sorry, Hannah. It sounds awful. But I'm sure I can help you. We'll get to the bottom of it. You'll see, by summertime you'll be graduating withUtahState and riding the duckbills, just like always." He smiled to show it was a joke. "All this will be behind you."
"You really think?"
He nodded. Then he seemed to realize he was standing and holding a patient's hand: not a very professional position. He let go hastily. "Maybe you've guessed; you're sort of my first client. Not that I'm not trained-I was in the top ten percent of my class. So. Now." He patted his pockets, came up with the pencil, and stuck it in his mouth. He sat down. "Let's start with the first time you remember having one of these dreams. When-"
He broke off as chimes sounded somewhere inside the house. The doorbell.
He looked flustered. "Who would be…" He glanced at a clock in the bookcase and shook his head.
"Sorry, this should only take a minute. Just make yourself comfortable until I get back."
"Don't answer it," Hannah said.
She didn't know why she said it. All she knew was that the sound of the doorbell had sent chills running through her and that right now her heart was pounding and her hands and feet were tingling.
Paul looked briefly startled, then he gave her a gentle reassuring smile. "I don't think it's the apocalypse at the door, Hannah. We'll talk about these feelings of apprehension when I get back." He touched her shoulder lightly as he left the room.
Hannah sat listening. He was right, of course. There was nothing at all menacing about a doorbell. It was her own craziness.
She leaned back in the soft contoured chair and looked around the room again, trying to relax.
It's all in my head. The psychologist is going to help me….
At that instant the window across the room exploded.