I would remember the day forever. I knew because I’d lived through it once before. Tonight I’d have to say a final goodbye to Winter Rain, the only father I’d ever known. I wished now that I hadn’t called him by his first name, because only the word father could describe the loss I now felt.
Friends were already gathering for the all-night vigil in my living room, where we would share stories and talk about his life. There would be plenty for everyone to say. Winter had loved and helped more people in his short sixty-five years of life than many men could have in ten lifetimes. My mother, Summer, had been the same way. The only good thing about the bridge bombing that had stolen Winter’s life was that it had also returned him to her.
A home funeral was our tradition, and even though Winter had been under water for nearly a week after the bridge collapse and some of his skin had been torn away, the cold water had preserved him enough that we didn’t have to betray his wishes with embalming. Winter lay inside the simple pine box one of his friends had made, one we would use markers to decorate with messages of love. There was a peace in the stillness of his face that strangely comforted me.
My best friend Jake popped his dark head into the kitchen. “I found the markers. And I’ve made sure we have plenty of dry ice in the coolers if we need to replace the bags around him.”
“Good.” With a sigh of relief, I shut the kitchen drawer I was searching and followed him out to the living room, where people were gathered.
Tawnia, my twin sister, with whom I’d been reunited only this week, after thirty-two years of separation, looked up from her conversation and gave me a little wave. Her being here was a comfort every bit as large as the loss that carved up my insides until I didn’t know if I could ever breathe again.
Jake stopped and I nearly plowed into him. “What about the picture?” he asked, reaching out to steady me.
He meant Winter’s favorite picture of Summer. Because though we’d gathered to celebrate Winter’s life, Summer had been the only woman he’d ever loved and a huge part of his life. He’d loved her from the first day they’d met, had adored her through twenty years of marriage, had cared for her during a year of cancer, and had been faithful to her for over twenty years since her death. The picture would bring her back, just for the night, to those who had known her and would remember those stories.
“Oh, right. It’s still in his bedroom,” I told Jake. “I’ll go get it. Can you pass out the markers?”
I turned and went into the bedroom Winter had used. Everything was neat and clean, except the bed where I’d been sleeping to feel close to him. Tawnia must have been at work in here. The picture was on the nightstand in the same spot it had adorned for the past two decades. As a young girl, I’d sat on his bed for hours staring at the picture.
I swept it up and stared into my mother’s face. I expected to remember the emotions of the sad eleven-year-old I’d been at her passing, emotions that were forever frozen in time. Instead I felt . . .
An ache so large the world couldn’t contain it. An ache that would have been impossible to bear but for the love that also rushed in and filled every crevice and pore, pushing out the ache so I could bask in the warm light of pure love. Loving Summer was the best, most perfect thing I had ever done, and though she was gone, she was still in my heart and would be forever.
I reached out and traced the glass covering her face . . .
I gasped. The hands I’d seen in this strange vision weren’t mine but Winter’s. And the love I felt wasn’t that of a girl for her lost mother, but the larger, more encompassing love of a husband who was completely devoted to his wife.
My fingers became suddenly boneless, and I dropped the picture. It fell . . . seemingly both too fast and in slow motion. Down, down, down to the thin throw rug covering the wood floor. The frame hit the carpet and bounced, slamming into the floor with a loud crash. The glass splintered.
I stood there staring, my chest heaving. Frightened yet exhilarated.
“Autumn? You okay?”
I turned to see Tawnia in the doorway, concern on her face.
“Yes, it slipped.”
She rushed in, passing me and picking up the picture. “Not a problem. You join your guests. I’ll throw away the rest of this glass and clean up the shards. We can still set the picture out in just the frame. I’ll get it replaced for you tomorrow.”
“But . . .” The words died on my lips as she left the room with the picture.
I’d wanted to touch it again, to feel the love Winter had for Summer. Even with the all-encompassing ache of missing her, it was the most incredible experience. Almost as though he hadn’t died, or at least a part of him hadn’t.
Or as though, for an instant, I had become him.
“Thank you,” I whispered to the empty room.
My eye caught on the small book of poetry my parents had used to recite their favorite verses while exchanging their vows. Some of the people gathering would remember the ceremony, and would like to hear the poems again. I would. As a girl, I’d had them practically memorized. I lifted the book.
And I was happy. So happy. I stared at Winter, knowing today I would pledge my life to him, knowing my future was safe, our love secure. My eyes met his as I began to recite the poem, the one that explained exactly how I felt about him.
The scene skipped backward to one that had occurred only minutes before the first.
I was the luckiest man in the world, standing with my hand linked to that of the most beautiful woman in the world. Words of a poem slipped through my lips as if I’d written the words myself just for her.
I drew in a swift breath. It was them—Winter and Summer. On the day they’d exchanged their vows. It was as if I were there, seeing an event that had taken place ten years before my adoption. I knew the story by heart, of course. Winter had recited his poem and then Summer had followed. I’d seen it in reverse order, but it was as real as if I’d been standing there.
Carefully, I set the book down and began touching more of Winter’s belongings. His favorite mug, his lamp, his shoes, the piece of pottery I’d made for him in grade school. On everything he’d loved, I felt him. Sometimes faintly, like a whisper, and sometimes it was more of a shout. I looked out from his eyes, reliving his memories. I was overwhelmed with the sense of him until I almost forgot I existed, except as he saw me—his beloved child, the daughter he loved more than life. I remembered events I’d never experienced. I understood things I could not possibly know.
Whatever was going on here, I didn’t question it. I’d felt an invisible cord tying me to Winter and Summer every day of my life—until they died. I’d felt the same tie from the moment I met Tawnia. It was family. Connection. This was like that . . . but stronger.
Tomorrow, I knew we’d drive to the outskirts of town to a plot of earth owned by one of my father’s friends, where we’d bury Winter next to Summer. And then it would be over, and life would return to the closest thing to normal I could find without him. Whatever crazy worlds had aligned to give me this intimate glimpse into Winter’s life, I was grateful.
I was also dead wrong.
Two minutes before the cop entered my antiques store, life was good. My best friend, Jake, had bought Winter’s Herb Shoppe and was making regular payments that kept the bank off my back, my own business was growing slowly but steadily, and my recently-married sister was six months along with my niece or nephew. And, perhaps best of all, I’d begun helping people with the strange gift that had manifested the day of Winter’s funeral.
Psychometry, it was called, the ability to read emotions left on certain objects. In the ten months since Winter’s death, I’d gotten past my disbelief, and with the support of Jake and my sister, I’d begun to use it. I had helped unite lovers, resolved disputes between landlords and tenants, found runaway teens, and even helped several mothers know which of their children were telling the truth.
Through it all, Jake and I had grown closer, which made me begin to hope that maybe we could move past this friendship thing we had going on. Maybe. At least it was a possibility.
Life was good.
Then the cop came.
The electronic bell on my door rang as he entered, and I looked up from the solitary customer I was helping and for a moment, I stared. He wasn’t tall for a man—only a few inches taller than I was—but he had presence. His strides were powerful and sure, no movement wasted. From the moment he entered, his eyes locked onto mine and didn’t let go.
His hair was that color between brown and blond that was darker in the winter and lighter under the summer sun. May meant the color was probably in the midrange. I couldn’t tell if the slightly messy hair was purposeful or if he’d been running his hand through it recently. Either could be true because he definitely hadn’t taken the time to shave for a few days. The look suited him. On a hot scale of one to ten, he was at least an eleven.
He looked neither right nor left, and the way he disregarded all my antiques told me he wasn’t here to buy. Even with his nice slacks and blazer, he didn’t look like a salesman or a politician. No, he was either a writer who wanted to rehash the Hawthorne Bridge bombing or a law officer of some kind, one who skirted the clean-shaven face policy.
Every now and again, as a matter of courtesy, a police officer would stop by with news of the bridge rebuilding. The gesture was overkill for me because my brother-in-law was in charge of the reconstruction, but I appreciated that they offered the information to all the victim’s families.
I forced my gaze away and returned my elderly customer’s credit card. “Thank you. I hope you enjoy the music box.”
The woman laughed, clutching her purchase that I’d wrapped in brown paper. “Oh, I will. It’ll make a perfect addition to my collection. Please do call me if you find any more that you think I’d like to see.”
The man had reached the counter and I felt his stare. I deliberately watched my customer half way to the door before turning to find him staring at me with green-blue eyes unlike any I’d ever seen before. One of my own eyes was blue, but his were a wash of brilliant color that seemed to pin me in place. Or maybe it was only the intent way he stared at me, as though he saw all of me and understood me on some core level no one ever had before.
A stare like that definitely meant he expected something. Most cops didn’t, so maybe he was a writer after all. If so, I’d send him packing.
“May I help you?” I asked.
Something flickered in his gaze as it wandered over my face, briefly lingering on my hazel right eye. Most people didn’t notice my heterochromia the first time I met them, so I’d give him credit for that.
“I hope so,” he said. “I’m Detective Shannon Martin, with PPB Homicide.” He held up a badge.
“Shannon, huh?” That was different for a man, at least in my circle, especially for a man who looked like he did. I pretended to study his badge for a moment. PPB meant Portland Police Bureau, and the badge looked legitimate. So, cop it was.
“Homicide?” I asked. Clearly that was the important thing to take from all his words.
“We also investigate assaults, kidnappings, and missing persons. Right now we have a little girl missing, and I’m here at the request of her father. Apparently, he thinks you’re a psychic.”
There was no missing the derision in his voice.
“Well, I’m not psychic,” I said with a bland smile that I hoped didn’t reveal the pounding of my heart. So far I hadn’t used my ability to solve a serious crime, but all at once I wanted to help that little girl. “I only read imprints.”
“Imprints?” He arched a brow in a way that might have been called seductive in another environment. Not that I was noticing.
I gave a little shake of my head. “I call them imprints, because it feels like they’re emotions imprinted on certain objects. Like a virtual reality program, or something. They’re not on everything, though, like you might think. Only on certain objects.”
“Oh, of course.” Now the derision translated to a noticeable pursing of his lips, as if he held back words he was too polite to say.
I wanted to tell him to get lost, but there was that little girl and her father to think about. “What happened to her?”
The detective snorted. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me?”
“It doesn’t work that way.” I might be glaring at him, but I didn’t care.
“If I tell you what happened, you’ll be just that more likely to make something up.”
That made me laugh. I lifted my hands and took a step back from the counter. “Fine. Don’t tell me anything. But if you want my help, you’ll need to let me touch the evidence. I can’t read what I can’t touch. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
He nodded sharply. “Then you refuse to help.”
“Whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better. But you’re the one who obviously doesn’t want me involved.” I turned and started toward my back room that ran the width of my antiques shop, banging my thigh painfully on the tall stool I kept behind the counter for busy days.
I’d made it only a few steps when the bell at my door rang again. Too soon for the detective to be exiting, unless he could fly. I turned to see the detective still lingering near the counter and a burly man coming into the shop.
“Well?” the newcomer asked. “Did she agree to help?”
“No. She’s not a psychic,” said Detective Martin. “She verified that. But we both knew she wasn’t before we came here. You’re going to have to trust that we’re doing everything we can.”
“But my wife knows someone whose kid lied about cutting a hole in their new playpen, and this woman told her who did it.” The burly man’s eyes went past the detective to focus on me. His hair was too short to be out of place, but his eyes were wild and his clothing askew. Need radiated from him as strongly as any spoken plea. “You’re Autumn Rain, right? Can you really read emotions on objects?”
Just like that my annoyance at the detective vanished. I’d go a long way to help this man. “Yes, I can.”
“Then please help me. My Alice needs you. She’s only ten. Just a baby. We have to find her.”
Before I could answer, Detective Martin said, “Please go back to your car, Mr. Craigwell. I know you’re desperate, but whatever you’ve heard, this woman won’t bring your daughter back.”
“It’s been three days,” Mr. Craigwell said, tears welling in his eyes. “You have no leads. If it were your daughter, wouldn’t you try everything?” His big shoulders convulsed.
The detective looked at me and then back at Mr. Craigwell. I knew he hated what he believed I represented, but he wasn’t immune to the father’s suffering.
“Okay, Miss Rain,” Detective Martin said, turning to me, his voice gruff and angry. “What do you need?”
“How did she go missing?” I said. “I mean, were there any physical objects present? If she was taken from her home or school, I might be able to pick up imprints there.”
The father was shaking his head before I’d finished speaking. “No, it was her birthday. We gave her a new bicycle and she was so excited that she left the party and went for a ride around the block. My wife told her to wait, that she had guests, but she wouldn’t listen.” He rubbed a tear from his cheek. “Can’t blame her. She’s been wanting this bike for a while. And she was only going around the block. But she didn’t come back.” His face crumpled and he started to sob.
Detective Martin and I stood there helplessly staring at each other and Mr. Craigwell. Finally, the detective moved toward him, placing a hand on the larger man’s back.
The touch seemed to ground Mr. Craigwell, and with a deep gasp, he reined in his emotion. “They found the bicycle, but not her.”
“Did you say bicycle?” said another voice.
We all turned to see Jake, coming from the double doors that joined my store with his Herb Shoppe. We covered for each other on slow days and shared two part-time employees, both of whom were over on his side now. Monday afternoons were always slow for me.
I wondered how long he’d been listening. His dark face was framed by even darker dreadlocks, or locs, rather, barely thicker than pencils. He looked both strong and sympathetic. I met him around the counter near the other men, where his arm brushed mine, letting me know he had my back.
“Mr. Craigwell’s daughter is missing,” I explained. “They found her bicycle.”
Jake nodded. “I heard about it on the news. I’m so sorry, Mr. Craigwell.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Craigwell said. To Detective Martin, he added, “Can we show her the bike?”
The detective sent a searing stare in my direction. “All right.”
The reply took too long for politeness, and what he really meant was “If we must.” I wondered why he didn’t outright refuse, if he thought I was such a fraud.
“I’ll pay you whatever you ask,” Mr. Craigwell said. “More if you come right now.”
“Autumn never charges to help people,” Jake told Mr. Craigwell, “though I encourage those who are satisfied to buy an antique.”
“Of course you do.” Detective Martin’s smirk was all knowing.
Jake took a step toward the detective, the muscles in his chest straining against his snug T-shirt. “Look, do you have a problem? From what I can see, you’re the one who walked into this store asking for help, not the other way around.”
Detective Martin’s hand lifted to his side, where I suspected he kept a gun beneath his blazer. “Take it easy.”
I put a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “The detective is just doing his job.” I went back behind the counter and grabbed my bag, and also my jacket because it was chilly, even for the middle of May. “Jake, if you’ll keep an eye on my store?” Regular customers knew they could come in through Jake’s shop when mine wasn’t open, and new customers could read the sign.
“Maybe I should come with you.” Jake was still glaring at the detective.
“I’ll be all right.” Reading imprints hadn’t hurt me yet, though when negative ones were strong, I felt exhausted afterwards.
“We’ll have her back within the hour,” Detective Martin said.
“You’re right, I’m sure.” I gave the detective my best smile, which seemed to deflate him a little. I couldn’t help adding, “I appreciate your confidence.”
His face flushed and he looked ready to tell me exactly where I could stick his confidence, when Mr. Craigwell spoke. “Thank you, Miss Rain. You don’t know what this means to me.”
I met the man’s gaze. “I just hope I’m able to help.”
He nodded as we walked out the door together. Jake locked the door behind us, concern on his face. He’d been my best friend even before Winter died, and if he didn’t treat me like a little sister, I would have told him by now how I felt about him.
“You come with me, Miss Rain,” Detective Martin said. “Mr. Craigwell will follow us in his car.”
“Sure.” I guess he didn’t want me filling Mr. Craigwell’s head with nonsense or hitting him up to buy my antiques.
Mr. Craigwell headed for the gray compact sedan next to the curb, while the detective led the way to an unmarked white Mustang. I wondered if he’d put me in the back like a suspect, but he reached for the front passenger door of his vehicle.
And stopped, staring at the ground.
I followed his gaze, only to find him staring at my bare feet that poked out from the bottom of my broomstick dress.
“Did you forget something?” he asked.
His gaze lifted to mine, and for the first time I saw the hint of a smile. “You sure about that?”
“I’m sure.” I wasn’t about to justify my lifestyle choice to him. I hadn’t worn shoes for most of my thirty-two years, and wasn’t going to begin making exceptions now.
“Okay.” He opened the door and let me inside.
He waited until we were in traffic to say, “I don’t want you upsetting Mr. Craigwell. When we get there, do your thing, but please don’t lead him on.”
I wanted to choke the man. “I’m not in the habit of leading anyone on.”
“I mean it.” He took a hand from the steering wheel and pulled a wallet from his inner blazer pocket. Opening the wallet on his leg, he pulled out a hundred-dollar bill and extended it to me. “I’ll give you another hundred once you tell him you didn’t find anything.”
“And if I do find something?”
He snorted. “Right.”
I took the bill.
As he gave me another of his smirks, I pushed the button to crack my window and let the bill slip through the opening.
He cursed and slammed on his brakes. “Are you crazy?”
“You apparently think so.”
He pulled over and glanced back, as if debating whether or not to go after the bill, which had been run over by several cars before being caught in the wind and vanishing. Too bad because I really did need the money.
He leaned toward me menacingly. “I know your kind, those who prey upon people in need. I swear, I’ll put you in jail before I let you take advantage of the Craigwells. You should take the remaining hundred while you still can. Maybe you can get yourself some shoes.”
“You’ll have to put me in jail to silence me,” I retorted. “If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be telling me what to say. Nobody tells me what to say.”
“Are you implying that I’m a crooked cop?” His flushed expression was almost comical.
“Hey, you’re the one trying to bribe me. If there isn’t an imprint on the bicycle. I’ll tell him so. And if there’s one. I’ll tell him that too.”
We sat there, gazes locked in a contest of wills that was strangely exhilarating. At least for me. For his part, he was probably thinking of ways to strangle me and toss my body into the Willamette River. Or at least into jail.
I bit my bottom lip, and his eyes dipped, following the motion. No way that could mean what it usually meant when a man looked at me that way. The tension between us increased until I gestured toward the road.
“Well, are we going or not? I’m sure Mr. Craigwell is wondering what happened.”
Detective Martin glanced out the back window, noting Mr. Craigwell’s car. “Fine.” He pulled into traffic.
At least I’d get a chance to help little Alice. I only hoped we weren’t too late.