A Lucy Valentine Original Short Story
© Heather Webber 2011
A loud, comic, overdramatic whisper came from over my shoulder: “It was a dark and stormy night….”
Rain lashed the windows. Thunder crashed, rattling my small beach cottage high atop a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Goose bumps rose on my arms. A tiny bead of fear slid down my spine. I forced a smile as I groaned. “Please, no Snoopy quotes.”
My best friend Marisol grinned, mischief sparking in her dark eyes like the lightning outside. “It’s a fitting description, don’t you think, Lucy?”
I didn’t really want—or need—the reminder.
“I do,” Em Baumbach, my other best friend, piped up from the couch, where she was supposed to be looking for a chick flick on Pay-Per-View, but had been sidetracked by movie titles on the kinkier channels.
A buttery scent filled the air as a steady pop, pop, pop sounded from the microwave. We were having a rare girls’ night in. Movie, popcorn, wine, chitchat. It was getting harder to make time for getting together now that our lives were going in different directions. Mine had taken quite a turn now that my psychic abilities were public knowledge. Em, too, had experienced some life-altering changes. And Dr. Marisol Valerius, veterinarian extraordinaire, was working hundred-hour weeks while maintaining an active dating life.
Em burst out laughing. “Oh! Listen to this one: Cracklin’ Rosie: A Tale of De-Flowering.”
The microwave dinged as lightning cracked nearby. In its glow outside, I saw the angry ocean churning its displeasure, much as my stomach was churning mine. I’d hated spring storms—dreaded them—ever since the one that had changed my life forever when I was fourteen years old.
Thankfully, this part of Massachusetts, on the South Shore, didn’t have many.
I was trying not to let my anxiety ruin the night, and Em’s little cinematic treasures were helping. Laughing, I said, “That’s just wrong.”
“Hey,” Em replied, “I didn’t make it up.”
“No, but you’re enjoying it a little too much. You’re supposed to be looking for a romantic comedy.”
Marisol took a large bowl from the cabinet and set it on the counter. She tucked a strand of her sleek black bob behind her ear. “No, no romance. I’ve given up on romance. Who needs it, anyway? I don’t need no stinkin’ man. Actually I vote for no romance talk at all. I don’t want to hear anything about love or lust or even so much as a kitty kissy noise.”
She looked at Grendel, my cat, who was currently curled up on Em’s lap, spread out, his three paws up in the air. He purred loudly as Em rubbed his belly. The thunder didn’t faze him at all, the little stinker.
With a pointed gaze, Marisol added, “You two can keep your love lives to yourselves for a night. How about a nice documentary? Something about the polar ice cap, maybe?”
Em and I stared at her.
“What?” she said. “I know you’re thinking a ‘nice documentary’ is an oxymoron, but there are some great ones out there.”
“A week,” I said to Em. “I give her a week.”
Em shook her head, sending red curls bouncing. “Three days before she’s on the prowl again.”
Marisol’s lips flattened, and with just a hint of self-righteousness she said, “Ha, ha. I’m serious this time. No more men.”
I knew her too well. She wasn’t serious. She was just between guys and hating the whole dating process. I couldn’t blame her. Before I met sexy private investigator Sean Donahue, I’d avoided anything romantic at all costs. Even though romance was the core of my family’s business, my upbringing, my very DNA, our own track record wasn’t so hot. Every single Valentine relationship had fallen apart, including my parents’ marriage, though they publicly faked it so no one would find out that the country’s most famous matchmaker, Oscar Valentine, couldn’t find true love for himself. Thankfully, they were still friends and sometimes, when the mood struck, lovers. And every once in a while, they got back together and tried to give their marriage a go, though the reunion generally never lasted long. It was no wonder I had dating issues.
“You should talk to my dad,” I said. His success rate at Valentine, Inc. was close to ninety-eight percent. None of it was luck; it was all about my father’s ability to read people’s auras. I’d once shared the power—all bloodline Valentines were gifted with it—but mine had been zapped out of me fifteen years ago in a storm just like this one, only to be replaced with a psychic talent of a different sort.
“Maybe. So no documentary tonight?” she asked.
I let her evasiveness slide. I didn’t want to push.
Em said, “How about a horror movie? Something gory, with lots of screaming and blood?”
“No, no, and no.” Marisol shook her finger. “I’ll never be able to get to sleep tonight.”
I had to agree; during the last few months, I had enough of those things in real life. As I shook the bag of popcorn into the bowl, the lights flickered. I froze, moisture dampening my hairline, my palms. I checked the thermostat—the air conditioner was set for 74 degrees. Perfectly comfortable for a humid May night. Only, now I wasn’t only sweating—I was shaking with chills, too.
I had to snap out of this. I should have learned to cope after all these years.
The phone rang.
“Aren’t you going to answer, Lucy?” Em asked.
“No.” As in, hell no.
“But it might be Sean,” she offered helpfully.
“He’d call my cell.”
My relationship with Sean was complicated at best. We both had our issues, but we were trying to work through them. I wished I knew for certain if we were a perfect match, but being a Valentine came with its disadvantages; my father’s matchmaking powers didn’t extend to members of the family. I had to trust in fate, in kismet, and I didn’t like it.
“Em!” Marisol nodded my way, her eyebrows twitching near her hairline. She was acting out the universal charade for Warning, Warning, Shut up!
“What?” Em’s creamy complexion colored. “Oh! Right. I forgot, Lucy. I’m sorry.”
The phone. My power to see auras had been lost because of one stupid phone call.
Marisol threw an arm around me. In a blatant show of diverting the subject, she said, “Speaking of cell phones, I can’t find mine. Hint, hint.” Her eyebrows waggled.
I smiled. “Very subtle.”
My ability to see auras might have been lost, but the surge had somehow given me the knack to find lost objects as a consolation prize. Using the energy in the palm of someone’s hand, I could easily see missing items—but only inanimate objects, not people or pets. For a long time, I’d thought the power to be fairly useless (after all, I couldn’t find anything I’d lost), but I’d been wrong. Very wrong.
Marisol thrust her hand at me. She squeezed her eyes shut as she waited for me to place my palm atop hers and commence with the reading.
Em gestured at me with the remote. “Are you going to let her use you like that?”
Popping open an eye, Marisol said, “You’re one to talk, Ms. I-can’t-find-my-pink sweater.”
I didn’t mind finding these kinds of objects at all. In fact, it was rather fun. It was my part-time work with the Massachusetts State Police that often gave me nightmares. Happy endings were rare, which was why I loved using my talents with my new job at Valentine, Inc. There, those coveted happily-ever-afters were all but guaranteed.
I took Marisol’s hand. It was smooth, her nails cut short. I held on tight as images flew behind my closed eyes. Dizzy, I pulled my hand away. “It looks like it’s in an over-stuffed drawer at the clinic, under a folder with a picture of a scrappy-looking Greyhound.” Marisol was a vet at a clinic in Quincy. It was through her that the three-legged Grendel came into my life. Odysseus, my one-eyed hamster, too.
Marisol opened her mouth.
I cut her off. “No, I don’t want a Greyhound.”
She kissed my cheek. “Thanks, Lucy.”
Em’s attention had returned to the TV. She laughed. “Listen to this one: Six Sorority Sisters Say ‘Sure!’”
“I’m starting to worry about you. We are not watching that.” I shook some salt on the popcorn.
“It’s not a romance,” Em pointed out.
“It’s not a documentary, either,” Marisol joked.
“Well,” Em turned to meet her eye, “that depends on how you look at it. Plus, who can resist such clever usage of alliteration?”
“Where’s the equality?” Marisol pulled a face. “There might just be some people out there who’d like to see some frisky frat boys. Sheesh.”
Em raised an eyebrow. “Some people? Like you?”
Marisol’s retort was cut off as the power dipped, died, and came back on. The TV had gone dark. My alarm system beeped its annoyance at having its circuits interrupted. I cleared the panel and tried to keep the shakes at bay.
It seemed I didn’t do such a great job of hiding my reaction to the storm. Em abandoned the remote control and looked my way, her blue gaze serious. “You know, Lucy, you never really told us about the day you lost your power to see auras. Actually, I’m curious about how all your family’s…abilities work. I’ve been reluctant to ask. Didn’t want to be pushy.”
The three of us had been friends since we were five years old. Pushy was the last word I’d use to describe Em. Now Marisol, on the other hand…
Marisol nodded enthusiastically as she carried the popcorn to the sofa. “I’ve wanted to ask, too, but Em thought you’d tell us in your own time. And now look. Here she is, asking.”
Em shrugged, not bothered in the least by Marisol’s accusing tone.
It was just this past winter when they had finally learned all my family’s secrets. I was surprised they’d waited so long to ask for specific details.
I sat between them, the three of us squeezed together on the couch. Four, really, if you counted Grendel, who was in kitty heaven with all the warm bodies and attention. I reached for the popcorn. The lights flickered again and died completely. The room plunged into darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.
“Scary.” Em made woooo-woooo noises.
“Stop that!” Marisol huffed.
Good thing she didn’t work with the state police—she’d never last.
“I’ll light the fireplace.” I managed to find the fireplace switch. Flames leapt to life, bringing much-needed light. It was going to get warm in here, but it would be worth it. I grabbed some candles, a flashlight, a bag of mini-marshmallows, graham crackers, some Dove chocolates, and three wooden kabob skewers. We gathered around the hearth.
“Well, hmmm.” Marisol threaded marshmallows on a stick and held it over the flames. She turned and stared hopefully at me. “I think it’s story time. A documentary, Lucy style.”
I was more than willing to tell all. I’d kept too many secrets from them during our friendship, and it would be good to have everything out in the open.
“You don’t really want to hear all about it, do you?” I prodded, teasing. Grendel rolled over onto his stomach, belly-crawled his way toward the chocolate. I shooed him away. Rain pounded the roof.
“Definitely!” Marisol cried.
“Maybe?” Em, ever cautious, asked with a shrug. “If you’re okay with it.”
“I can’t guarantee it will be as scintillating as frisky frat boys.”
Solemnly, Marisol said, “Nothing is as scintillating as frisky frat boys. Unfortunately.” She pulled her toasted marshmallows out of the fire.
I glanced at Em. “Two days. I give her two days!”
She laughed. “If that.”
Marisol ignored us. “Start at the beginning, Lucy.”
Truth was, I told them, I didn’t know how the aura reading worked. It had always been something that was just there. Family legend decreed that Cupid himself had bestowed the gift on a Valentine ancestor, and no one had ever dared test the theory that this type of ESP might be the result of a genetic electrical malfunction or mutation. We liked the Cupid legend. Much more romantic. “My trouble with the auras began on a dark and stormy night…”
“No, it really was.” I moved the bag of marshmallows out of Grendel’s reach. “I was fourteen and on the phone with you, Marisol. Remember? There was a huge storm. An electrical surge…”
Marisol nodded solemnly. “When your line went dead, I was a nervous wreck. I thought you’d been electrocuted.”
“Well, I was. Sort of.”
I recalled that evening, sitting on my bed at my mother’s house. I’d been on the phone with Marisol, talking about her latest crush (what else?). It was early evening, still light out, when the storm hit. The sudden crack of lightning was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. A jolt of electricity had surged through my body, knocking me to the floor. It wasn’t until my mother rushed in to check on me that I realized that my life had been irrevocably changed.
“I couldn’t see my mother’s red aura like usual. When Marisol showed up fifteen minutes later to make sure I was alive, I couldn’t see hers either.”
In a flash, my colorful world had gone dark. In that moment, I had instantly become the black sheep of my matchmaking family. Without the auras, how would I be part of the family business? I’d been completely devastated, as had my parents—my father in particular. I was the last Valentine with the family gift. The legacy ended with me. It was a burden that lingered still, along with the worry the electrical surge had affected any future abilities my kids might have–should I ever have any. Would they be able to see the colors? Or find lost objects? Or have no powers at all? It was all one big question mark that was constantly with me, like an overhead cloud.
Every time there was a storm, I wondered if the lightning could bring back my gift as mercurially as it had taken it away. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. Although a part of me longed to see auras again, another part recognized how finding lost objects had not only changed my life, but those of others as well. I wanted to have both powers. An impossibility, but I couldn’t help thinking about it. Which explained why I was a nervous wreck when storms rolled through.
“My aura? You saw mine? What color am I?” Marisol asked.
“An emerald green.”
Em’s eyes went wide. “And mine?”
“A bluish-green, almost teal.”
“Is that why you always are buying us sweaters and scarves in those colors?” Marisol asked.
I nodded. “It’s a way to keep your auras alive in my mind.”
“What color are you?” Em squinted as though she were trying hard to see the color that surrounded me.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Valentines can’t see our own auras or those of blood relatives. Maybe that’s why our relationships are a mess—we call it Cupid’s Curse.” Marisol peeled a sticky marshmallow from her skewer. “What about Sean’s?”
“My father says he’s a charcoal gray streaked with steely blue.” When I dreamed of him, I could see it, surrounding him like a sparkling opaque storm cloud, complementing his quartz gray eyes, his dark spiky hair. I missed him. Missed everything about him, from his smile to the beat of his faulty heart against my chest when he held me tight.
For a second I pictured him without his shirt on, a scar quite noticeable near his collarbone. It never failed that I wanted to kiss it, trail my lips across his chest, down the dips and hollows of his muscled stomach….
I fanned my face. Maybe Em’s movies choices were getting to me.
Grendel made a leap for a marshmallow. I wrestled it away from him. His tail shot in the air and he sauntered off, peeved.
“But you don’t know if you and Sean are a match, right?” Em said, warming a piece of chocolate in its wrapper by placing it on the bricks, near the flames.
“And your parents?” Marisol asked.
“Dad can see Mum’s aura, but he doesn’t know what color his is. I’m guessing by their twenty-five year separation that it’s not red.”
Em laughed. “I’m not even psychic and I figured that out. Yet they still date from time to time. How do you explain that?”
“Hormones.” My parents still held a fondness for each other, though they lived entirely separate lives—most of the time. To know them was to love them, despite their dysfunctional tendencies.
“How did you discover you could find lost objects?” Marisol asked.
She handed me a softened chocolate, and I slid it onto my graham cracker and placed a blackened mini-marshmallow on top. “Pure luck.”
I’d been with Raphael, my father’s valet who was like a second father to me, at a Red Sox game about three weeks after the electrical surge. He’d gone to buy hot dogs and come back empty handed.
“He couldn’t find his wallet and thought it had slipped out of his pocket during the game. At some point, I happened to take hold of his hand.” I blinked at the memory. “And after a bit of dizziness, I very clearly saw Raphael’s wallet—in the coat pocket of the man sitting next to us.”
Em’s jaw dropped. “What happened?”
“Did you think you were crazy?” Marisol added.
Crazy didn’t begin to describe it. “At first, I didn’t trust it. It made no sense to me. But every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing that wallet sitting in that man’s pocket. Finally, during the seventh inning stretch, I sneakily slipped my hand in the stranger’s coat pocket. The wallet was in it. The man insisted it must have fallen in there.”
“Right,” Em scoffed.
“When I explained things to Raphael, he took me right home. A big family pow-wow was called and my new power was tested every way we could think of. Everyone finally decided that the electrical surge must have transformed my abilities somehow. But as you know, it wasn’t until last year that I realized my new gift was good for anything that mattered.”
Marisol nodded. “The skeleton.”
Em added, “The lost little boy.”
I didn’t tell my friends about the visions of the future that flashed in my head every time I touched Sean’s hand. I still hadn’t figured those out; besides, I had to keep some things to myself.
“Listen,” I said, cupping an ear. I let out a little sigh of relief. “I think the storm is over.”
Em looked longingly at the TV. “Still no power, though.”
“That’s okay,” Marisol said. “I like this better.”
“Who else has a story?” I asked.
Marisol jabbed a marshmallow onto her skewer. “I can tell you two all about my last date.”
Em jabbed her. “What happened to no romance?”
“It’s not romance.” Marisol frowned but her eyes danced with humor. “It’s that horror story you wanted. Fitting, don’t you think?”
I laughed. “The perfect ending to this storm.”
© Heather Webber
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