With arms spread wide, the blonde steps back, staring down at her mint green formal gown now splattered with spots of bright red blood. When she looks up, her eyes widen in horror. She sees her date, a dark-haired young man in a neat black tux, his face twisted in pain as his fists tighten and he crumples down. He curls into a prenatal ball…and a dark shiny pool of blood stains the clean white floor all around him. Music blares in the background, the bass thumping a fast beat. It’s a Pretty Ricky song, but the only sound the pretty blonde hears is coming from her boyfriend as he lets out a low growl followed by a gurgle. Then he jerks suddenly, convulsing, drawing a final gasping breath. ]
The girl bends over, reaches out her hand as if she wants to help him and then, as if sensing danger or perhaps she sees someone now threatening her, she stands and backs away with a horrified look and turns, desperately dashing in the opposite direction, tripping over her spiky high heels but continuing on…as if she is running for her life. But it’s too late. More shots ring out in fast repetition and more screams of terror. All I can see is red now–blood is everywhere.
It’s a massacre.
I wake up clinging to my comforter and still shaking. My heart pounds with a very real sense of fear, as if I too am in grave danger. It takes a long moment to realize that this was only a dream. Just a dream. But a very realistic and horribly tragic dream. Without turning on the bedside lamp, I reach for the notebook that I keep handy for times like this, and in the gray dawn light, I take several deep calming breaths and begin to write.
I’m trying to capture all the still vivid details, the style of the mint green gown (beaded with spaghetti straps, form-fitting, the girl had a good figure) and those metallic-toned shoes (were they bronze or gold?). I try to recall the pretty girl’s facial features (what made her so pretty?). I do recall what appeared to be diamond earrings, three piercings in one ear, smallest on top, largest on the bottom. But was it only one ear? And if so, which ear was it? Right or left? I close my eyes and try to see her again. Left. I believe it was left.
I remember the boy’s hairstyle, short and neat as if he might be into athletics. I try to describe his tux, but other than black, I draw a blank. I can’t even remember his shoes, but I think they were black as well. I write down a description of the floor as I remember it, large square tiles of white with streaks of gray throughout…marble perhaps? I describe what the music sounded like (I don’t even know why I think Pretty Ricky since I’m not a fan, but it’s what went through my head). And then I remember strings of lights, glowing blurrily in the background. Like a party going on. A wedding perhaps?
I pause, searching my memory for more, trying to figure out if I’ve missed an important detail. Another person? A sound? A smell? Who had the gun? Or was the guy even killed with a gun? Perhaps it was a knife. I don’t remember that part at all. Did I even see what happened? Is it possible that the girl was responsible? No, she seemed too shocked, too frightened. And yet, if she’d committed a crime, perhaps in the heat of the moment, it would make sense that she’d be shocked and scared. I make note of this too. But there must be more. Is there some little detail I missed? Did I forget something? I shut my eyes again and just sit there in bed, trying to remember. But that seems to be it.
I close my notebook and set it back on the bedside table. I will tell Ebony about this dream later today. I lie back down in bed, breathing deeply to calm myself, but who can sleep after a dream like that? I wish I could call Olivia and run it past her. I’m sure she’d have some thoughts. But it’s not even six yet. Instead, I go to the kitchen and try to be quiet as I make coffee.
It must’ve been a prom, I decide as I pour water into the coffee maker. And that makes sense because it’s spring and already people are starting to pair off and plan for prom at my school. Even Olivia is starting to talk about it. She’s pretty sure that Alex is going to ask her. Naturally, she thinks Conrad will ask me as well. And I think it’d be fun to go to prom. It’d be a first for me, for sure. But what if there’s going to be a murder that night? Still, I didn’t recognize either of the people in my dream. And the girl, especially, had the kind of looks that a person would remember. She looked like the kind of girl who would be well known. But I’ve never seen her before. I am certain of that. Still, I suppose she could be someone new at school…or possibly she hasn’t started going there yet. Maybe today will be her first day. But the guy was unfamiliar too. Still, I didn’t get a very good look at his face. But for some reason, he struck me as athletic. But that might’ve just been the hair. Although it seems he was tall, well built. I better make a note of that.
Our prom is still a month away. So that gives me time. Unless it’s not our prom. What if it’s another school’s prom? Who knows what dates that might include? I know that schools like to stagger the dates so that all the local restaurants aren’t overwhelmed with high school students going out to dinner before going to prom. It’s possible another high school could have a prom as soon as next weekend. I will have to mention this to Ebony ASAP.
I pour a cup of coffee, add some milk, and go into the living room and sit by the window and watch as the morning slowly comes. I think about Zach now. And as I often do in the morning, I pray for him. He’s back in rehab again. The good thing is that he actually wanted to go this time. Even though it was not optional, he was happy to go. He knew that he needed it, that he was lucky to get this second chance. And he promised Mom and me that things were really going to be different when he comes back this time. But that won’t be for six months now. Still, he didn’t complain. I know he was thinking it was better than doing prison time. And that was a very real possibility. If Zach hadn’t fully cooperated with the DA and police like he did, I’m sure he would be in prison right now. As it was, he spent several weeks in jail. That in itself was sobering–in more than one way. And although I’m still sad–for Zach’s sake–I am so thankful that he is alive. Things could’ve gone so differently. I’m thankful for something else too. Zach is finally returning to God. He told me that right before he left. He asked me to look for his old Bible and send it to him. I promised to send him a Bible, whether or not I found his old one. But I did find his old one, and I sent it just last week.
“You’re up early,” Mom says as she comes down the stairs still wearing her bathrobe.
“Yeah…” I consider telling her about my dream, but it still bothers her that I get these dreams and visions. Despite making some baby-steps of progress, she still has a long way to go before she completely accepts my unusual gift. I figure it will come when she returns fully to God. In the meantime, I need to be patient and careful not to overload her. And I need to pray.
Mom gets her coffee and comes into the living room to join me. “Spring really seems to be here,” she says, looking out the window. “Are you making any plans for summer yet?”
I shrug. “Not really. I mean, sure, I’d love to head to Europe with some girlfriends and have a good time,
but I don’t think it’s likely.” I laugh and try not to feel envious that my best friend might be doing just that this summer.
“No, not likely. But I really wish I could give you those things, Sam. I would if I could. But as usual, finances are tight.” She sighs sadly.
“I don’t expect those things,” I say quickly. “In fact, the truth is I don’t think I’m ready for Europe yet. I’ll probably be better off sticking around here. I’ve heard stories about kids my age getting into serious trouble over there.”
She sort of laughs. “You’re not one of those
kinds of kids, Samantha. You have a level head. I would trust you to go anywhere and not get in trouble.”
“Thanks, Mom. But if that’s true, you have God to thank.”
She nods and takes a sip of coffee.
I can tell my not-so-subtle hint hasn’t hit pay dirt.
“I better get ready for work. Thanks for making coffee.”
She pauses at the foot of the stairs. “By the way, I’m going out with Steven tonight…might be late.”
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” I tease her.
She makes a face. “How about you? Any plans?”
“Olivia wanted to go to a movie. I’m guessing Alex and Conrad will join us.”
Mom smiles now. “That’s nice.”
I want to ask her why she thinks that’s nice. Is it because it alleviates her guilt for spending so much time with Steven lately? Or is it because it makes me seem like a more “normal” girl and that makes her feel relieved? Or is it something else? But I know those questions could sound as if I were inviting a fight. And I am not. I’m just curious.
I’m used to the fact that Mom and I still lead fairly separate lives. I know this is partly due to the demands of her job and of being a single parent. And I can’t help but wonder how much different life would be if Dad were still alive. I’m sure that everything would be much better if he hadn’t been killed. But I suppose I could be wrong. As unlikely as it seems, it’s possible that things might’ve gone in an even worse direction for our family. For instance, what if my parents were divorced, like so many of my friends’ parents, and I were torn between the two of them? Even so, I’d still be glad to have my dad around.
Maybe it’s better to simply not consider those “what-if?” scenarios. Besides, I need to trust God with the big impossible-to-understand situations. And He is worthy of my trust. He’s proven this to me time and again.
Still, as I go upstairs to get ready for school, I feel a flicker of resentment in regard to my lonely family life. I mean, it’s not like we can do anything about Zach being gone. Or Dad for that matter. But not long ago, I had hoped that Mom and I were starting to get closer. We’d just begun doing more things together. We were even talking more. And Mom was trying to work less. Then just as it seemed that my relationship with her was really changing, Steven Lowery stepped into the picture. As a result, I feel slightly pushed aside.
Okay, I know it seems incredibly selfish, not to mention juvenile, to be jealous of Mom’s boyfriend. And it’s hard to admit this, even if only to myself, but I still do resent him…just a little. Yet at the same time, I’m glad for Mom. The truth is, Steven really seems to make her happy. In some ways, she seems happier than she’s been in years. I’m sure it’s wrong for me to have these negative feelings toward him. I mean, he’s always doing things for her. He buys her things and takes her places. He compliments her on her appearance. And even though she’s ten years older than him, I know that he makes her feel beautiful. She actually told me this just a few days ago. Seriously
, I scold myself as I get into the shower, I am a selfish, selfish daughter
. I should just grow up. I should be thankful for Steven being in the picture. And I should be happy for Mom. And I should be praying for both of them. After all, it was only last night Mom that said, “Steven is so good…so good for me…he’s almost too good to be real.”
Okay, maybe that’s what bothers me. It could be one of the consequences of working for the police department and solving some pretty hideous crimes–perhaps I’ve gotten a little jaded at this ripe old age of seventeen–but I do believe that when something seems too good to be real, it usually isn’t.
Excerpted from Payback by Melody Carlson. Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.