With a flash of lightning, Jessi saw the image of a man's face through a window. He was an older man, perhaps in his fifties or sixties, with facial hair, glasses, and a hood to shelter him from the heavy rain. He was looking right at her, staring at her with a haunting glare.
Jessi awoke and rose from her bed, breathing heavily. For a moment, she looked around, still unsettled, listening to the sound of rain falling outside.
It was just a dream. I had had dreams before, but this was my first nightmare. I knew that it wasn't real, but something about it still seemed disturbing.
Not content to just go back to sleep, Jessi stood up and walked over to her window, which bore an unsettling resemblance to the window from her dream, thanks to the rainy weather.
Suddenly, a dark figure in a hood appeared on the other side. Startled, Jessi stepped back with wide eyes. Whoever it was knocked on the glass a few times. After getting over the shock, she felt more curious than scared, so she walked over and opened up the window.
"Hey thanks." A teenage boy hopped through the window and removed his hood.
Declan was just as surprised. "Jessi? You live here?"
"Yes. I told you that before."
"Right. I knew that, I mean, you live in this room?"
"I sleep here in the den now."
"Oh… I see."
"What are you doing here?" There was a hint of annoyance in her voice. "Are you here to see Lori?"
"Uh… well that wasn't what I was planning on. I just got into a fight with my old man. I was hoping I could crash here for the night, but I didn't know you'd be sleeping in this room. I don't want to make things weird, so maybe I should just try to sneak into Lori's room and stay with her."
Jessi's eyes widened. "No!" She paused, noticing Declan's confused look. "I mean, I don't mind if you stay here."
Declan slightly winced. "Are you sure? This is your room. I'd completely get it if you're not comfortable with me staying here."
Declan paused. "Because… I'm a guy and you're a girl?"
"Lori's a girl."
"Yeah well, that's different."
Jessi tilted her head. "How is it different?"
Declan scratched his head, unsure of what Jessi meant. "Well, you know. She and I are dating or… something. Whatever you'd call it."
Jessi sighed, but tried to hide her displeasure. She raised her eyebrows. "I still don't mind if you sleep here."
Declan nodded. "If you say so. I didn't really want to sneak through the house and risk waking the Tragers. You got an extra blanket?"
Jessi handed him a blanket and Declan set up a sleeping area on the floor. As he got himself situated, Jessi noticed a slash of red on the side of Declan's forehead.
"You're injured." Declan looked at her and she pointed at the blood. "Your head?"
"Oh that? That's nothing. I just slipped on some leaves."
Something didn't seem right to Jessi. "Are you sure?"
"Listen, can we not talk about this?"
Although she was concerned, Jessi nodded. "Ok."
For a minute the room was silent, other than the sound of falling raindrops. Jessi lay down on her bed and Declan had himself rolled up in his blanket. Then she turned to face him again.
"Why do you like her?"
Declan looked up. "What?"
"Why do you like Lori?"
"Uh… I don't know I guess."
"You don't even know why you like her and you're dating her?"
"Jessi, these things can be complicated, you don't always understand why you like someone. I mean, Lori and I get along really well—most of the time anyway—and we have a lot of fun together. I think she kind of understands me."
"You like it when someone understand you."
Declan paused. "Well, yeah. Who doesn't? Still, she and I always seem to run into drama anyway. I think she still blames me for tricking her into sleeping with me."
This wasn't something that Jessi wanted to hear. She hated thinking about someone else sleeping with Declan, but she tried to hide her unhappiness. Declan sat up and looked at her.
"If I may ask, why are you so curious about all this?"
Jessi shook her head. "No reason."
Declan shrugged and then lay down again. "Cool. Well, good night I guess."
"Declan? Are you serious? You cannot be here!" exclaimed a very exasperated Lori.
It was morning and Lori had discovered Declan in Jessi's room. Declan and Jessi were both up and hoping Lori could help him escape to the front door.
"My Dad and I got into a fight."
"So your first thought was to come here? And should I even ask why you stayed in Jessi's room?"
"Trager, I didn't want to wake your parents. Don't worry, nothing happened between us. I would never do that."
Jessi turned to look at Declan with a hurt face, but said nothing. She then turned back to Lori, trying to hide her annoyance.
Lori sighed. "Fine, whatever. Let's just get you out of here before my mom finds you."
Lori left the room first, scouting ahead just in case anyone was outside the den. Jessi and Declan followed, making sure to walk quietly.
"Oh, Lori," came Nicole's voice. "You're up too early! I was hoping I'd have time to finish a batch of pancakes for your birthday."
Lori turned to face her mother and smiled, hoping not to arouse suspicion. "That's ok Mom, I can still eat them."
Seeing the opportunity while Nicole was distracted, Jessi quickly led Declan over to the front door and opened it for him. Declan nodded in appreciation.
"Jessi, who's at the door?"
Jessi turned to see Stephen walking down the stairs. Pretending to have just arrived, Declan stepped forward with a smile and shook his hand.
"Hi, I'm Declan McDonough. Lori's friend."
Stephen grinned. "Stephen Trager."
Declan looked towards the kitchen. "Do I smell pancakes?"
About half an hour later, the Trager family, Declan included, gathered around the table for breakfast. Jessi sat between Josh and Declan, the latter of whom also sat next to Lori.
Declan had already finished his first serving and was helping himself to more. "These pancakes are great, Mrs. Trager."
"Oh, thank you. They're Lori's favorite. I make them every year to celebrate her birthday."
"Right," said Josh. "Because we're so happy she was born."
Jessi couldn't help smiling to herself at Josh's comment. Lori noticed. "What are you cracking up at?"
"Lori." Nicole eyed her. "Be nice."
Lori rolled her eyes. "Sorry, Mom."
Stephen looked over at Jessi. "By the way, Jessi, how's my old den been working out for you? Sleeping all right?"
Jessi shrugged. "I had a bad dream."
Nicole leaned forward slightly as she held her coffee cup. "What sort of bad dream?"
"There was a man in the rain looking at me. It felt strangely real."
"Do you think it might have been a memory?"
"I don't know."
Declan turned to look at her. "You still can't remember anything? I heard about that. That's rough."
Stephen noticed the injury on Declan's forehead. "What happened to your head?"
"Oh, that? I just hurt it playing basketball."
Jessi tilted her head in suspicion as Stephen and Declan began to talk about basketball. He had told her a different story earlier.
After breakfast, Jessi sat in her room tapping various crayons onto a piece of paper. An image slowly began to form of the man from her dream. As she drew, Amanda knocked a few times on the door and walked in.
Jessi turned and smiled. "Hi."
"The power's out at my house. I thought I'd come over and see you, but if you're busy…"
Jessi shook her head. "No, come in. It's nice to see you."
Amanda walked over to the desk and peered over Jessi's shoulder.
"Wow, you're an amazing artist. What are you drawing?"
"I saw him in my dream. It might be a memory."
Amanda gave her a sympathetic look. "Still having trouble remembering where you came from?"
Jessi nodded. "I can't remember anything before the day I woke up in the woods. I don't even know when my birthday is."
Amanda nodded understandingly. "I'm guessing it's not easy listening to everyone talk about Lori's birthday."
Jessi raised her eyebrows. "That and Declan still wants to hang out with her."
Amanda smiled and grabbed Jessi by the arm. "Come on, let's go see everyone else. You can't just wallow and hide in here all day."
Lori was sitting up in her room when Nicole walked in for a visit.
"What is it, Mom?"
"I just wanted to see how you were doing."
"With Josh, playing video games."
Nicole paused. "Why do I get the sense you're not very excited about your birthday this year?"
Lori sighed. "I don't know, I just don't really feel like I have much to celebrate."
"What you mean?"
"Well, Declan's acting all distant and secretive, Hilary won't even talk to me, and then there's Jessi."
"Jessi? What's the matter between you and Jessi?"
Lori looked at Nicole and raised her eyebrows. "Mom, she hates me for some reason."
"Lori, Jessi doesn't hate you."
"Yes she does. Have you even seen how the two of us interact, if at all?"
"I know that Jessi has had some difficulty fitting in, but she seems to be a very caring girl. It looks to me that she's getting along fine with Josh."
"Yes, she and Josh are best buds. She gets along with pretty much everyone—Amanda, Declan… It's just me she hates."
Nicole sighed. "Well, I have seen the two you have little disagreements now and then, but it can't be as bad as you say it is. And you know, you could make an effort too."
"Me? What are you saying?"
"Well, if you're so sure she dislikes you, do something nice for her. She'll appreciate it."
Lori rolled her eyes. "Yeah sure. I bet that would go over great."
Nicole smiled. "Everyone else is downstairs. You should go join them."
Lori walked into the living room with a pile of board games to join Jessi, Amanda, Josh and Declan.
"We might as well play something if this rain isn't going to let up."
Something caught Amanda's interest. "How about this Ouija board?"
Josh stepped up. "No. Not that."
Amanda eyed him suspiciously. "Why not?"
Jessi raised her eyebrows. "That's where Josh hides all his porn."
Josh's eyes widened. "Jessi!"
Josh held up his hand, trying not to be angry. "Ok, I don't know if you were actually trying to help me there, but whatever. Now that everyone knows, we might as well just play the game."
Declan raised his eyebrows as Josh set up the board. "Are you sure you want to? It's a game for little kids."
"How does it work?" asked Jessi.
"You ask it questions and the pointer spells out answers," explained Lori. "Of course, it's usually just some idiot moving it."
"Who wants to go first?" asked Amanda.
"I'll go," volunteered Lori. "Who is the biggest queen bee bitch in Beachwood High?"
Everyone put their hands on the pointer as Lori read out the letters.
"L… O… R…" She turned to Josh and game him an elbow. "Quit it."
"Hey, what can I say? The spirits speak the truth. Who wants to go next?"
Jessi leaned forward. "When is my birthday?"
Amanda looked at her. "Jessi, you know it's just a game."
"I want to ask it anyway."
Amanda shrugged and the group focused on the pointer again. Jessi's eyes were closed and for a minute, nothing happened.
Josh began to notice something. "It's moving!" He leaned forward to read the results. "7… 8…"
Amanda took her hand of the pointer. "This is freaking me out."
Everyone but Jessi followed Amanda's example. Jessi's eyes remained closed and she continued to move the pointer to the letters.
Josh continued reading. "1… 2… 2… 8."
Jessi opened her eyes. "781228. What does that mean?"
Josh looked at her. "You tell us."
Declan stood up. "This is stupid. I don't want to waste my time with this anymore." With that, he left the living room.
Some time later, Jessi found Declan, standing by himself alone and staring out the first story window.
"What are you doing?"
He turned to her. "Nothing."
He smirked. "You sure like to ask a lot of questions."
Jessi shrugged. "I guess so."
Declan sighed. "I'm not looking forward to going home and talking to my father. And Lori's still mad at me, so I'm trying to avoid her."
"Why is she mad at you?"
"She doesn't think I'm willing to be open with her."
Jessi paused. "Maybe you can be open with me then."
Declan gave her a confused look. "What?"
"Talk to me about what's going on. I'll understand."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me what really happened to your head. You told two different stories today. I'd like to know the truth."
Declan shook his head. "I don't think I should."
I needed to prove to him to that I could understand and support him, but I didn't know how to prove something so abstract. I thought back to how people acted around me when they wanted me to feel safe and comfortable. I thought of Nicole's caring face and reassuring touch, and how she convinced me that she wanted me to stay with her family.
Jessi stepped closer to him and put her hand on his shoulder. Her wide eyes looked into his. "Declan, you can tell me."
Declan paused and then finally nodded. "Alright. Don't tell anyone."
Jessi nodded back and smiled slightly. "I won't."
"I was driving home in the rain and I couldn't see anything. I slid and hit another car. Instead of staying, I panicked and left. Now the cops are probably out there trying to track down their hit-and-run suspect and I can't decide whether or not to turn myself in."
Jessi thought for a second. "What do you want to do?"
"Well, of course I want to do the right thing and all, but I don't want to get in trouble."
"Couldn't you get in more trouble by not turning yourself in?"
"If I get caught."
Declan shrugged. "I don't know."
Jessi nodded. "I think you should do the right thing."
"You think so?" Declan nodded and looked down, and for a minute, neither of them said anything. Finally Declan looked back up at her. "Thanks Jessi."
Declan stepped forward and gave her a hug. Jessi was surprised at first, but then closed her eyes and put her arms around him. After a moment, Declan let go and stood face to face with her.
"Wish me luck."
Jessi tilted her head. "How do I do that?"
Declan smiled. "You just say 'good luck'."
"Oh." Jessi smiled too. "Good luck."
With that, Declan turned around, walked over to the door, and left the house.
As the Tragers and Amanda gathered around Lori, Nicole brought out the birthday cake with lit candles. Although Lori was confused about Declan's behavior and sudden departure, she tried to hide any unhappiness she might have, as she had something important to announce.
"Hold on. I'd like to say something."
Nicole paused. "Go ahead."
Lori turned to Jessi. "Jessi, I'd like to share my birthday with you. At least until you remember your actual birthday."
Lori had a friendly face, as she hoped Jessi would appreciate her peace offering.
Nicole smiled, clearly proud of Lori. "Jessi, what do you say?"
As much as I wished Declan would be with me and not Lori, I saw how she was trying to make me feel better about my past. She was being so kind—how could I refuse?
Jessi smiled and nodded. "Thank you."
Nicole put the cake in front of them. "Now blow out the candles."
Lori and Jessi blew at the candles, which flickered but didn't go out. Lori scowled jokingly at her brother. "Josh…"
"Hey, it's a family tradition."
Lori's gift had made me feel like I fit in, but that didn't erase the questions I had. Who was this mysterious man I had seen in my dreams, and was it a memory from my past?
Jessi thought to herself in an empty classroom at school the following week. As she was deep in thought, Mr. Taylor walked in and closed the door behind him.
"Sorry I'm late. I'm sure you're eager to get started."
Jessi turned to him. "Why did you want to tutor me?"
Brian smiled. "I've heard a lot about you. I had to meet you for myself."
"You heard about my test scores?"
"More than just that."
"What are you going to teach me that I can't learn anywhere else?"
Brian paced by Jessi's desk as he thought of an answer to give. "Jessi, have you ever felt as though you're not like other people?"
Jessi nodded. "Yes."
Jessi tilted her head and answered hesitantly. "Yes."
Brian raised his eyebrows. "I've heard some extraordinary things about you. Do you ever find yourself able to do things that no one else can? Things that others might not consider 'normal'."
Jessi gave him a cautious look. "How would you know anything about that?"
Brian smiled to reassure her. "It's just a hunch. But am I right?"
"I don't know if I should talk to you about this."
Brian nodded. "You can trust me, Jessi. Like any teacher, I'm here to help you discover what you're capable of. If you have any special talents, I can help you practice and improve yourself."
Curious and excited at this idea, Jessi smiled. "Then yes. I can do things better than anyone else can."
"I'm fast—at running, swimming, and any other sort of movement. And strong too. I jumped off my roof without being harmed."
Brian nodded. "Fascinating."
"And I can draw incredibly detailed pictures. Like this one."
Jessi reached into her bag to get the only drawing she had on hand—which happened to be the one of the man in her dream. Brian took the picture from her and stared at it in shock.
Jessi tilted her head. "You know him."
Brian shook his head. "No I don't." He looked at her. "Will you excuse me for a minute?"
Brian took the drawing outside the classroom with him, leaving Jessi alone again. As she waited, Jessi looked around the room to try to keep her mind occupied.
Then something caught her eye. There was a newspaper in the recycling pin with a picture on it. Intrigued, Jessi walked over and picked up the paper. Next to a picture of a man, there was an article about Professor Kern, a Biochemistry Professor from the University of Washington who had been missing for months.
It was him. The man from my dream.