I wake up on the train with a jolt. My head bangs against the window as I sit up much too quickly. Rubbing my head, I look around me. The guy sitting across from me is giving me glances over the top of his magazine and the woman beside him is reprimanding her five-year-old who's bawling about the train crashing and about not wanting to die.
The little brat knows I wouldn't dare hit him in public.
Stupid kid. If I hadn't—
I wouldn't mind getting a—
Grimacing, I place my headphones over my ears and turn up the volume on my iPod until I can't hear anything. The rain pelting the window of the train beside me distracts me and I pick out patterns and pictures in the drops that cling to the chilled glass, ignoring the glares from the mother and the provocative looks from the skater guy.
It's so annoying. I don't want to hear about every frilly girl's insecurities about how she looks in the restroom, I don't care about what a mother thinks of my loud, obnoxious music, and I really, truly don't want to know what a perverted old guy wishes he could do to me if I agreed to a few hundreds tucked down my bra. Though the whole telepathic thing really helped me in my foster families.
But, now that I'm twenty, been out of high school for a while, not on the run for the moment, and caught up on cash, I'm safe from being tossed to any more foster phonies and their pathetic sympathy.
The pocket of my over sized hoodie vibrates and I pull out my scraped and bedraggled cell phone to look at the ID screen.
I pause my music, push my headphones back, and flip the phone open.
"Hello?" I say quietly.
"Hola, chiquita," Oliver says in loud, strangled Spanish. "On your way, or am I going to be disappointed for the millionth time? I know you said you would this time, but you've been 'wrong' before. I mean, that last time? Come on, you're grandmother was dead already. But, seriously, when are you coming to see me, chicky?"
I smile wanly. "Actually, I'm on the train right now. About forty-five minutes till I'm at the station. Is that okay?"
"Yee-yeah-yuh!" comes his excited shout, turning yeah into a three syllable word. "I'm going to be waiting. Please don't ditch me, okay? I love you!"
"Yeah, love you, too."
With that, our connection drops.
I place my phone back in my pocket and glide my headphones back on. I can hear the confusion and jealousy in the creepy boy's thoughts and the frustration in the mother's at the return of my headphones, which means music.
Morons, I think.
Before I push the play button for my music, the five-year-old tugs at my sleeve and says, "Who's a moron?"
I stare at him stupidly. He'd read my mind.
"Reginald, come back here, stop pestering people," his mother snaps, her fingers as well as her words. I can hear punishments she's listing in her head for when they get home.
Reginald. Now that's a name I've never heard outside of horse races and old British movies. Who names their kid Reginald? I mean, really? "No, he's fine," I say quickly. I pat him on the head. "I don't think there are any morons here." Then I think . . . well, at him. Except your mother. But don't tell her that.
He stared at me, eyes wide.
Can you hear me? I hear his little voice in my head and his mouth isn't moving as he gazes up at me.
I wink at him. Yep. Can you hear me?
I admit I'm now curious about the kid, my mind boggling at the discovery of another gifted one. He's a telepath like me, obviously, but he's so young. Well, I was young once, too, but I was in an orphanage, so all I heard were the thoughts of my peers and the thoughts of my agents, which were all mostly boring human thoughts, excepting the one time I'd caught a couple of the older kids making out. I'd never heard my mother hating me and thinking of hitting me.
"What's 'telepath'? What's 'making out'?" the kid interrupts my train of thought.
"Reginald, come here." His mother snaps her fingers angrily, as if the kid is some pet of hers that's pissing on the wrong rug. She smiled a huge, fake motherly smile, one I had seen on a few hundred possible foster parents before, but I can feel some weird emotion in her. It takes me a while to figure out it's fear. Fear of her son. "I'm sorry if he's troubling you, miss."
Miss? I think. Oh dear Lord.
But I grin back hugely, falsely and say, "He's no problem."
I think my eyeliner scared her because she turned away and began scolding the kid in a hushed tone.
Demon-child, push you down the stairs. Spoiled brat. . . know I wouldn't hit you in public.
I frown as the lady's thoughts go on to what she'd do to the kid when they get home. He's an adorable kid, or I think so. He has black hair like silk, if maybe way too long, blue eyes like the tiles at the bottom of a pool, and that button nose. Kids don't come any closer to perfect in my opinion. He's sniffling into his already unclean sleeve. I watch him. He looked uncomfortable in a long-sleeved shirt a few sizes too big and jeans almost ratty enough to be scraps from the trash. And I know from previous sightings at many a vast mall that the woman's shoes and dress both came from department stores whose price tags are never under three digit prices, not to mention the Prada hand bag and model-worthy hairdo. I reserve to scowl at her shoes.
"Mother, I'm hungry," the kid says after the woman's done sniping at him. "My tummy hurts."
Who calls their mom 'mother' these days? I ponder.
"You ate before we got on the train, you can wait."
"I don't care," she finally hisses at him and slaps his hand.
"Hey," I say.
She turns to me as if she'd just been caught with a knife to the kid's throat and waits for what I'm going to say. I ignore her, motioning to the kid. "I think I might have something for you to eat." Pulling a zip-lock bag of Oreos out of my drawstring backpack, I coax the kid over, scooping him into my lap. I place the bag in the kid's hands and smile, encouraging him to eat the cookies.
"Please don't," the mom starts, but I wave her quarries away with a flick of my hand in her direction. She thinks up a string of curses for me.
"The kid's just hungry. It's not a crime," I say and smile at her as the boy reaches into the bag for an Oreo.
He eats the whole bag, though there are only about ten left after my sweet tooth attack about an hour before I'd gotten on the train. His face is sprinkled with black crumbs and his hands are just as messy, but his thoughts are happy and lazy, except for a nagging question, which he thinks at me. How can you hear me but we aren't talking?
The train lurches and then a wave of pictures flash in my head: trains crashing, people screaming, blood everywhere, metal crunching and twisting. The train is off the rail because of a landslide and almost no one is moving in the wreckage that begins burning into my memory.
I come out of the violent images and look down at the kid. His face is already a white that would make ghosts envious. He's clutching my arms and shivering violently. His thoughts are shaken, afraid.
"Reginald," his mother groans. "What's wrong? Do you have to go to the bathroom?"
He looks up at me, then back at this mother and nods. He gives me another look and blurts, "Come with me."
His mother starts to protest, but I shrug and head off to the little door that has a standard plaque that reads 'Restroom' in boring print. It's pretty much out of his mother's sight so I go in with him and shut the door.
The moment we're locked in, the kid grabs me around my thighs and starts sobbing right there. I kneel down and take him in my arms. Sure, I'm a tough girl, but he's just a kid. He cries for a good minute before he pulls away a little and I drop my arms. At this, the kid starts sobbing again, so I pull him up onto my arms and I sit on the toilet. He cries a bit more on my shoulder, soaking my jacket, but I force myself to ignore that and rub circles on his back. When he stops sobbing and starts into the hiccuping, I'm careful to keep my arms around him. He rubs his eyes and gives me this terrified puppy face.
"Are we gonna die?" he asks me.
I sigh and brush his tussled black hair with my fingers. "I don't think so."
"But I saw it," he whimpers. "You saw it too."
I can't deny it. He can read my mind. But I try to brush it off like it's nothing but a bad dream. "It's probably just your imagination, kiddo. Something you probably just thought up because of the news and stuff."
He shakes his head and furrows his tiny black brows. "A man saw it. I saw it in his head."
A sharp knock comes from the door.
"Someone's in here," I call out.
The knock comes again louder.
"Someone's using this tin can!" I shout.
The knock just continues and doesn't stop this time.
I open the door, ready to pound in a face or two, but the guy at the door doesn't give me the chance to speak much less move. He looks to me to be in his early twenties, maybe older, with red and blonde hair that looks like a flame and eyes the color of Granny Smith apples. He seems to be flustered and panicky. But he doesn't shuffle like most people when their nervous, it's his expression. His posture is firm, confidant.
"I know this is gonna sound weird, but why are you getting off at the next station?" he asks, then sucks in a breath as if that took every last bit of oxygen he had to get it out.
I stare at him. How does he know that I'm getting off at the next station?
"He's the one who I saw it from," whispers the kid, who comes forward to stand by my left leg, peeking around it like a kid in his mother's skirts. The young man looks at him, his eyes lighting with hope.
Let me talk, I think to the kid, who nods against my leg in agreement.
He's scary tall, the boy thinks back to me.
The guy is scary tall, though I guess I'm not all that tall to begin with; five foot six isn't a midget, but it's not even close to the Eiffel Tower. I'm not braking my neck to look him in the face or anything, but my eyes are more or less level with his chest, so I'm guessing he's six foot six, maybe taller. That's pretty tall to me.
"Saw what?" he asks me, his hope fading to suspicion.
"That train wreck," I say, guessing.
He nods, excitement flaring in his expression again. "Yeah. I know you're getting off at the next station with me, and him," he tells me, pointing to the kid, who clings to my leg for dear life.
"How?" I question.
"I saw it," he repeats. "You saw it too, didn't you?"
My mind is officially boggled, twice in one day. He's a gifted one, just like me and the kid. I don't meet many psychics. The only one I know is insane at the moment, according to the government, that is.
I look down at the kid, who looks up at me and thinks, We're leaving the train? We're not gonna die?
No, I think. We're not gonna die.
I ruffle his hair and look back up at the redhead. His expression is one of questions as he looks between the kid and me. "Yeah, I saw."
He breaks in to a smile, relief flooding through his mind. He looks me over in his mind. I'm cute, so he thinks, but I'm wearing too much black. I smirk and take the kid's hand, ignoring redhead's mind.
"You have to get off with me," the guy continues as I squeeze out of the closet of a restroom. "We can meet at the exit to the right, by your seats."
"Who says we're going with you?" I murmur as we shuffle down the aisle. "And how do you know where I sit?"
"I saw it. I've never been wrong. That, and I sit across the aisle from you."
I don't answer as we shuffle through the aisles. My eyes land on a little girl preening a baby doll in her fingers and I frown. "Why didn't you see us trying to get these people out and save them from the wreck?" I ask.
He sighs as if this is something he's done a million times, which I guess it is. "Don't judge me for not wanting to get checked into the nearest asylum. When you tell people you see the future, it doesn't always turn out so good. You can't mess with fate. Something worse might happen."
I nod, but my mind wanders back to the innocent people here on the train that may not survive. I can't help feeling a need to warn the people who are about to die a disturbing death. I'm careful not to ask the redhead if he knows how many will die and how many injuries.
The kid is grasping my hand as hard as he can. His face is a mask of tension. I nudge his head with my fingers and pin a smile on my face.
We get to our seats and I slump down in my seat and shift away from the guy.
Redhead gives me one look, but sits in the seat behind me, facing towards the front of the train as I face the back, as if we don't know each other. Which, I admit, we don't.
"One more thing," I catch in my ear.
I stare at the window, but tilt my head, listening.
"The kid's mother will die."
As soon as I hear it I look at the boy. He is engrossed in his mother's chiding. I sigh with a relief that floods to guilt and I scold myself for being so uncaring about his mother. He's going to lose her.
Then I look at her.
She's glaring at the kid and hissing about how bad he is, how terrible of him to go with me to the bathroom, it isn't good to go with strangers. I concentrate on untangle her inner voice from the mass of mind murmurs and I hear it, the continuing list of all the cruel things she has thought up against the child.
I change my mind.
Be ready to go out the exit, I think to the kid.
He glanced at me and nods. His mother rambles on, thinking that he's obediently nodding at her words.
I can feel the train slowing, the brakes working to get the couple tons of steel to stop at the right moment for passengers to get off. The squeals, like nails on a chalkboard or a dog whistle, give my head a piercing pain. I glance at the kid who's eyeing me with an anticipating expression. I wink at him and think, Exit, kiddo, remember.
The corners of his lips curl and he nods.
I can feel my heart swell with something very close to pride. He's going to follow me and live.
The train is fully stopped and an automated voice comes on, announcing this is the last stop to some big city that I don't catch the name of. Most of the people shift in their uniform blue carpet seats but don't move.
"I'm getting off because I'm afraid of landslides," I say in one last melodramatic try for heroism. "Maybe you should get off as well."
The redhead and I move, almost synchronized, and walk out through opposite exits. I drift to one side, looking back and forth, waiting for the kid. After a few suspenseful moments, I go back to look around the train. The kid is standing in the open doorway, staring at me, his eyes filling with tears.
Don't leave me, he wails into my head.
The train whistles.
In a rush of nerve-wracked adrenaline, I sprint into the car, scoop the kid into my arms and run straight, through the other exit. I cringe at the angry shouts of the kid's mother and other passengers as the sliding doors on the train close and drown out the voices. I turn my head to look at the cold-minded woman one more time.
She's not thinking anything as she stands at the doors and watches me watching her. As we pass each other, the train gaining speed, I hear her thoughts: I'm rid of him.
I set the kid on his feet, taking hold of his hand.
The redhead comes out of the crowd as though he's been watching and takes the kid's other hand. "Act natural, like we're a family."
We walk out of the train area, pull our lips apart for the guard at the door in attempts at smiling, and carry on casually into the streets. The taste of frost in the air fills my lungs and I give a sigh that sends shivers down my spine.