Morgan Abbey is not the average seventeen-year-old. From the unexplained disappearance of her mother ten years ago to her unorthodox part-time job—telling fortunes for her classmates—Morgan has always stood out. Now, suddenly, she begins to attract more notice than usual. Kellen, a mysterious stranger, approaches Morgan and insists he knows more about her mother, and herself, than she does. Soon, Morgan is swept up into a world she didn't know existed but to which she is inextricably linked.
Awaking (The Naturals: Book One)
Excerpt from Chapter One
Morgan Abbey noticed him during a routine day of telling fortunes at the park. Her last customer of the day was just sitting down when she became aware of him, standing some fifty yards away from the shaded picnic table at which she sat, looking almost too cool in his dark blue jeans and black T-shirt, leaning up against the pole of a swing set and staring off into the distance.
Morgan’s first irrational thought was that he was a drug dealer. Her second irrational thought was that, though he wasn’t looking in her direction, he was watching her.
But before there was time to do anything but register these ideas in her mind, her thoughts were interrupted by the perpetually petulant voice of Tasha Rush. “Morgan, are you paying attention?”
“Of course,” Morgan said, fixing her gaze on Tasha’s face. “You were saying your sister’s annoying? And that summer school’s boring.”
Tasha looked mildly mollified by Morgan’s summary. She shifted on the bench, looking excited. “Okay, so…”
Morgan raised an eyebrow at her. “Anxious?”
She smiled. “I always get a little anxious before a reading; you know that.”
Morgan nodded. She picked up her cards and shuffled them with a practiced rhythm. They weren’t tarot cards, just a regular deck. She’d tried out tarot toward the end of middle school, but gave up when the boys who came for readings couldn’t stop giggling at the sight of the nude lovers. Every now and again, someone would comment about the cards, but mostly no one cared. In general, people just wanted to be told what they wanted to hear.
Morgan would oblige only occasionally.
She dealt out four cards: the nine of spades, the queen of diamonds, the ace of diamonds, and the six of spades. Made a face.
Each card had a meaning in itself. The queen of diamonds was the card that represented Tasha—the signifier that these cards were for Tasha. If that card hadn’t shown up, Morgan would have re-dealt the cards. The nine of spades meant loss and worry. The ace of diamonds and the six of spades together foretold news of failure. Morgan took a few moments to consider this information and what it might mean for her client.
When she glanced up at Tasha, she snuck a glance over Tasha’s shoulder. The guy was still by the swing set. She turned her attention back to her customer. “So, bad news,” she said bracingly. “Summer school’s a waste of your time.”
Tasha smiled, rolling her eyes. “I know, right? I mean, do you know how much I’ve had to give up this summer because of stupid summer school? I’ve barely been to the beach. And look—” She held out her arms. “—not even a little tan.”
But Morgan just shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, it’s a waste. You’re not gonna pass.”
“But…but…” Tasha seemed unable to form a coherent sentence for a few moments. “But I’ve been to, like, every class! They can’t fail me!”
Morgan considered mentioning that grades weren’t based solely on attendance but changed her mind. She sighed and forced a smile. “Well, forewarned is forearmed. Now that you know what path you’re on, you can maybe change something.”
Tasha made a scathing noise in the back of her throat. “Not likely. It’s almost over.”
Morgan shrugged. “Then I don’t know what to tell you.”
Tasha pouted. “What am I gonna do, Morgan? My mom’s gonna kill me. She’s been such a mondo-wench about having to pay for this class. So obnoxious, you know?” Then Tasha looked up at Morgan, eyes wide, realizing her faux-pas too late. “God, Morgan, I’m so sorry—”
“Why?” asked Morgan coolly. “Did you take her?”
Tasha’s mouth moved wordlessly. “I’m—oh, my god. I didn’t—I wasn’t thinking…”
Morgan didn’t bother to respond. Maybe she shouldn’t have pushed the matter—she knew Tasha wasn’t trying to be malicious with her remark—but it drove her crazy how people could speak so disparagingly about their mothers when she didn’t have one around…Not anymore.
Morgan remembered the day vividly. It happened when Morgan was in the second grade. Her mother, Chelsea, dropped Morgan and her cousin Joss off at school, the same as every day before it. But when the bell rang at the end of the day, Chelsea was not there to pick Morgan and Joss up. Morgan and Joss waited and waited. Eventually one of the teachers at the school noticed them, called Morgan’s house to see what was keeping Chelsea. When no one answered, the teacher tried every number on file for Morgan’s and Joss’s families. Finally they got in contact with Morgan’s father, but Dylan didn’t know why Chelsea wasn’t there.
The next few days—or weeks—were mixed up in Morgan’s memory. There were lots of people around, always around—police officers and reporters and family. Morgan spent quite a few nights at Joss’s house. Joss told Morgan over and over again that everything would be okay, that Aunt Chelsea was just lost and the police would find her and bring her home again. Words like missing and alibi and kidnap and murder were whispered everywhere. Then, one day Morgan went home. There were no more people, no whispers at home. If Morgan asked where her mother was, Dylan would say that he didn’t know, but that the police would find her. And Morgan believed him.
But days and days and weeks and weeks and, finally, months passed. And the talk began at school. Older students taunted Morgan, saying her father was a psycho and a murderer and that Morgan must, too, be crazy. At first, Morgan and Joss stood together, defending Dylan and Morgan alike. But after a while, Joss stopped standing up for her cousin. And Morgan stopped caring what people said.
And Chelsea hadn’t come home.
Morgan rarely spoke of her, partially for the reason that people who were aware of what had happened often reacted much in the same way as Tasha. They didn’t know what to say—they were afraid to say the wrong thing. And Morgan had no interest in making them feel better for making her feel worse.
For a minute, Tasha just sat there, staring blankly at the cards on the table before her. Finally, with a sigh, she stood up. She eyed the payment she’d given at the beginning of the reading. Morgan never put the money away until a reading was over—her tacit money-back guarantee. For a moment, Morgan though Tasha might ask for a refund, but then she seemed to think better of it. She straightened and, with an awkward wave, muttered a farewell and walked away.
Morgan watched her briefly before taking the payment and placing it in her velvet drawstring purse. She wondered momentarily if she shouldn’t’ve told Tasha a different fortune. But, then again, that wasn’t really how Morgan operated.
She looked out into the park again, wondering vaguely if the guy in the black T-shirt was still there, but her search was halted by the appearance of her best friend and business partner, Clarissa Perry, Ris for short. Ris, who had been at a nearby table during Morgan’s readings, commented about the day’s turnout and mentioned something about not thinking word-of-mouth was the most efficient way to communicate when Morgan would be at the park giving readings. Morgan was only half paying attention.
“Hey, Ris, did you notice that guy over there?” Morgan said quietly as soon as she could get a word in edgewise.
“What guy?” Ris asked, voice too loud, turning her head in all directions.
Morgan groaned. “Dude, seriously? Could you be more obvious?” She moved a few inches to her right to look around Ris toward the swing set. No one was there.
Ris grinned sheepishly and then shrugged. “Well, at least we know spy school’s out for me. But what guy?”
Morgan shrugged too. “He was just standing over by the…Never mind.”
“Was he hot?” Characteristic Ris question.
Morgan rolled her eyes. “Yes. Naked, too. And holding a sign that said ‘Ris Perry, will you be my Princess Leia?’”
Ris closed her eyes and put her hand solemnly to her chest. “Han Solo has finally come for me.”
“Really? Han Solo?”
Morgan’s eyes snapped over to where the speaker stood and she immediately felt an unaccustomed heat in her cheeks. The guy who had been standing against the swing set now stood before her.
If Ris noticed anything off in Morgan’s reaction, she didn’t show it—which Morgan took to mean Ris hadn’t noticed anything. Ris was rarely adept at hiding her emotions.
“Can I help you?” Ris asked in her professional voice.
The guy appraised Ris, something of a smirk playing on his lips. Meanwhile, Morgan appraised him—hair brown, but not too dark, and artfully tousled to look like he woke up that way; stance casual but sure.
“Depends,” he said with a slight shrug. “What is it, exactly, that you girls do out here?”
“Morgan’s a psychic,” Ris replied promptly in a chipper voice that made Morgan groan inwardly. “She does readings. Cards and palm.”
“And what if I said I don’t believe in that kind of thing?” the guy asked.
Ris shrugged. “Then I’d ask you why you were here.”
The guy smiled, but it wasn’t an amused smile. To Morgan it looked more secretive. “I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
“Well, that’s kind of cryptic.”
Morgan spoke the words before she even realized she’d thought them. Ris glanced at her appreciatively.
The guy crossed his arms over his chest. “As the two of you seem to be,” he said. He glanced at Morgan. “How does one become a professional psychic, anyway?”
Before Morgan could think of how to explain herself, Ris was talking.
“It’s not something you become, it’s something you are,” Ris explained patiently. “She’s good, too.”
The guy didn’t look surprised by the information, only mildly interested. Eyes fixed on Morgan, he took a few steps closer.
“Is that right?” He looked from Morgan to Ris and back again. “Quite the entrepreneurs, aren’t you? Young business prodigies and all that?”
Irritation flared somewhere in the back of Morgan’s mind. He was teasing them. “What are you, like, a year older than us? Two maybe? At least we’re here for a legitimate reason. You waiting for some middle school boys to show up so you can push pot or pills or something on them?”
“Drug dealer? Really? That’s your best try?” He let out a short laugh—not derisive, amused. He glanced at Ris. “Maybe she’s not quite the psychic you think she is.”
Ris glared at him. “She’s not reading you now,” she said, as though explaining the obvious.
A second later, catlike, the guy was sitting across from Morgan at the picnic table. “Okay, then. Read me.”
Taken aback by the request, Morgan did the only thing she could think to do: she smirked, hoping the expression belied the nervousness she felt. The only people she ever gave readings to were people she knew—her classmates and other students at Arthur B. Casey High. The thought of reading this stranger was unsettling.
But she couldn’t let that show.
“Sorry, we’ve closed up shop for the day,” she said, jiggling her change purse in her hand. “We’re back Monday; you can leave your name with Ris and she’ll get you on the list—”
He put his hands out, palms up. “Why wait? What’s the saying—there’s no time like the present? What d’you charge for a palm reading?”
Ris opened her mouth to respond, but Morgan cut her off. “Why are you here?”
He shrugged. “Maybe I wanna know my future.” He placed his hand on the table in front of Morgan, palm up. “Care to fill me in?”
Morgan glanced at Ris, who waggled her eyebrows encouragingly. She then nodded at her friend and Ris backed away to the table she usually occupied during readings.
For a moment, Morgan felt anxiety bubble up somewhere in the vicinity of her lungs. What was she doing? Ris would say she was doing the same thing she always did, but Morgan knew this was something very different. Despite what Ris and others might think, Morgan relied on the background knowledge she carried into each reading. But for this guy—whose name she didn’t even know—she had no information.
“So, how does this work?” the guy asked.
Morgan flicked her eyes up to meet his. “Depends,” she said evenly, stalling for time. “What do you wanna know?”
“Depends,” he said, leaning over the tabletop toward her. “What do you want to know, Morgan?”
Morgan’s eyebrow’s pulled together and she offered a wry smile. “Now that’s not how this works.”
“You sure?” he asked, leaning in even closer. “Because I already know so much about you, Morgan Abbey.”
Morgan was taken aback by the use of her surname, and before she could ask how he knew it, he was talking again.
“You’ve been running this little psychic business since middle school. Your classmates always tell you how right your predictions are.” He offered a smile and a soft chuckle as if this information amused him. Then his face turned serious. “Your mom went missing almost ten years ago. You were seven.”
It was like the wind was knocked out of her lungs. Morgan stared at the guy sitting across from her. His expression hadn’t changed; his hazel eyes continued to gaze intently into hers.
How could he know that? ABC was the logical answer—but Morgan was sure she’d never seen him at school. Perhaps he knew someone at ABC? Maybe this was an elaborate prank to get back at her for some reading someone didn’t like?
But what if it wasn’t?
“What do you know about her—about my mom?” Morgan asked, voice low to avoid Ris’s notice.
“I know that.”
“No,” he said firmly. “You think that. You hope it. But I know it.”
“How do you—?”
“Suffice it to say I know it. I know things.” He held her gaze for a moment longer and then stood up. “But that’s enough for now.”
Morgan stood, too. “Wait—you’re just leaving?”
He shrugged and nodded. “Yeah.”
“But—you can’t,” she hissed. She cast a furtive glance toward Ris, whose attention was on her cell phone. She turned her attention back to the guy. “You can’t drop a bombshell like that and then leave. I don’t even know your name.”
A smile played on his lips. “Well, then. Until we meet again, consider me a man of mystery.” With a wag of his eyebrows, he turned and walked away.
For an instant, Morgan considered going after him. But then cool logic took over. He was screwing with her. He had to be. What could this guy possibly know about her mother—he couldn’t have been more than ten years old when she’d disappeared. It was a joke, orchestrated, probably, by one of Lynna Rochester’s minions—Marya McKenzie or Shayna Malcolm. Or else the guy was just seriously strange. He could have learned much of his information from an internet search. Perhaps he got his kicks freaking people out.
In any event, Morgan resolved not to go after him. Taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly, she turned her gaze from the guy’s retreating back to Ris, who still sat at her table, eyes glued to her cell phone.
“Ready?” Morgan called over.
Not turning toward Morgan, Ris held one finger up. Morgan sighed and collected her cards and the drawstring purse she kept payments in. It was then that she realized the guy hadn’t paid her. Though, Morgan supposed, she hadn’t really done a reading, so it didn’t really matter.
By the time Morgan made her way over to where Ris sat, Ris seemed ready to go.
“Sorry, I was at a really good part in this book,” Ris said as the two started down the path that would lead them out of the park. “How was the reading?”
Morgan put her hand out and tilted it from side to side. “Eh.” She decided not to let Ris in on the details.
“You think he’ll come back?”
“You hope he will or hope he won’t?”
Morgan considered this. If he was telling the truth…But he couldn’t be. “Won’t. He was a little creepy.”
“I don’t know—creepy.”
“But like…I-make-awkward-intense-eye-contact creepy or, like, it-rubs-the-lotion-on-its-skin creepy?”
Morgan gave her a playful shove. “You’re the one who’s being creepy now. Subject change!”
Ris sighed but acquiesced. “You know how I was saying word-of-mouth and mass-texts don’t seem to be the best way to get the word out about when you’ll be here? Well, I know what you’re going to say, so hear me out first. I think we should have an online group—”
“Ris,” Morgan whined, tucking an errant strand of bottle-red hair behind her ear, “you know how I feel about social networking sites…”
“You don’t even have to go on it, though. I’ll run it.”
Morgan sighed. “I’ll think about it.”
Ris grinned and poked Morgan in the side as they got to the sidewalk beyond the park. “All you have to think about is telling fortunes. Let me worry about the business end.”
Morgan ruffled Ris’s strawberry blond spikes. “I always do.”
With that, Ris launched into her new business plan. Morgan attempted to pay attention, but her thoughts kept circling back to the guy in the park. Though she was at least ninety-nine percent positive he was just a creeper, something about him mad her just a little unsure…
“I am, right?” Ris asked suddenly, looking at Morgan in the nervous way she did when she was seeking Morgan’s approval about something.
“Yes…right,” Morgan replied.
“Like you suggested earlier…?” Ris prompted.
“Oh, yeah––spend the night. Yes, right.” Morgan smiled. Ris pouted. “Sorry,” Morgan apologized.
“You’re thinking about that guy, aren’t you?” Without waiting for Morgan to respond, she grinned. “He was pretty hot.”
Morgan rolled her eyes. “That is one hundred percent all you think about, isn’t it?”
“That and Han Solo. And since Han Solo is hot, yes, there is a certain singularity in my thought processes.”
Morgan sighed. “Sometimes I can’t figure out why we’re friends.”
“Because I’m hot?” Ris ventured.
Morgan bumped into Ris’s shoulder as they continued down the street toward Morgan’s car.
* * * * *
Awaking (The Naturals: Book One)
Summer 2011 on Kindle and Nook
Any comments or feedback would be appreciated! Thanks for reading!