Chapter One It’s too freaking quiet here! I can’t sleep. Not a wink. This is the third night in a row this has happened. Ever since we moved from my beloved twenty-two-hundred-square-foot high-rise condo on the Gold Coast of Chicago to this creaky old Victorian house here in Radisson, Georgia—i.e. out where God lost his shoes—I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep. A teenager like me needs the proper amount of rest or else her growth will be stunted. It’s bad enough I’m not blessed in the boobage department, like my thirteen-year-old sister, Kaitlin. Aren’t older sisters supposed to develop faster? Now this whole insomnia prob. Oh, like dark circles under my eyes are going to make me even more popular when I start my new school tomorrow. I roll onto my side and hang off the bed, peering over at the North American Van Lines cardboard box marked “Moorehead—Kendall’s Bedroom.” I wonder if there’s any Tylenol PM in there from when I couldn’t sleep last summer because I was working part-time at Intelligentsia Coffee on North Broadway and had a caffeine contact high. Hmm, probably not. I shouldn’t take that anyway, especially since I turned down Mom’s offer of a sleeping pill sample she got from the pharm rep—she’s a nurse—that she occasionally takes. Course, my sleep disorder isn’t related to hot flashes, like hers is. Mine’s because of this freaking silence! I mean, living in downtown Chicago since my birth, I got used to the noise of a city: The cacophony of cars, taxis, and delivery trucks. The hustle and bustle of tourists and townies alike trekking around the Windy City. The El with its metallic symphony along the rails. The planes from O’Hare and Midway coasting through the sky, like you could reach up, grab them, and hang on. To me, it’s a harmonious concerto of urban life. Not this unbelievably earsplitting silence of Main Street in Radisson, Georgia. I’m seriously not kidding about this deafening quiet. I’m almost on a first- name basis with the crickets and chirping cicadas that live in our backyard. I have to crack the window to let air in—I have a ceiling fan, but it’s not helping with the night warmth—and the outdoor insects serenade me with their nightly opera while I lay here staring up at the crown molding on my bedroom ceiling. As my Grandma Ethel used to say, “It’s so quiet you can hear the dead thinking.” Yeah, like that’s what I want. What I want is to see the inside of my eyelids and some colorful, vivid dreams of the Justin Timberlake or Channing Tatum variety. That’s what I’m talking about. Flipping to the middle of the bed, I wipe the back of my hand across my forehead, mopping up the sweat from the September heat. At home in Chicago, I’d have my favorite Patagonia Synchilla blanket between the sheet and comforter to keep me warm. I hardly think I’ll need it anytime soon here in Radisson. Which just ain’t right. Nothing’s right. Not anymore. I don’t want be to an angst-ridden, sulky sixteen-year-old, but this relocation will take some adjustment. Honestly, I haven’t felt like myself since I moved into this house and started unpacking my things. I’ve had a killer headache for the past three days (behind my right eye), and no amount of ibuprofen can battle it. Maybe the pain’s purely psychosomatic due to the whole moving away from everyone and everything I’ve known my entire life to a town no bigger than the Lincoln Park section of Chicago. I roll around underneath the covers and rub my fists into my eye sockets to try and dig at the source of the headache. If I can just go to sleep, I’ll be okay. A deep, deep sigh escapes my chest, blending into the whir of the ceiling fan. At first, I thought this not-so-Kendall feeling was allergies or something like dust mites from this musty hundred-year-old house. But I’m not sneezing or anything obvious like that. The symptoms border on weirdness more than anything else. Like yesterday . . . I was hanging my whatnot shelf (you know, for all those trinkets your grandparents give you over the years from their travels) and my fingers got all tingly to the point where I couldn’t hold the hammer anymore. Not like “oh shit, I’m having a heart attack” tingly. More like when your arm falls asleep and it feels like there are ten thousand ants marching underneath your skin. Yeah, like that. Then, when I was helping Mom set up the picnic table and hammock in the backyard, I literally burst into tears like I do whenever I watch The Notebook. Except I had no reason to cry. None. Whatsoever. Mom thought it was because I was depressed about being away from Chicago, which probably had a little to do with it, but it really made no sense. I told her I was PMSing so she wouldn’t worry or try to cram somme drug samples from her stash into me. The “that time of the month” answer seemed to satisfy her. The most bizarre thing so far, besides gearrrrring up to be a somnambulist (What? I listen to DJ Brian Transeau’s music . . . he rocks!), happened when I was playing solitaire on my bed last night. I’m not talking computer Klondike, but honest-to-goodness playing cards—how old-fashioned of me!— because the cable and Internet connection isn’t hooked up yet in the house. How does anyone expect me to exist and contact the outside world if I don’t have my Comcast? So, while I’m playing solitaire and shuffling the deck, the queen of hearts— that tarty wench—kept flying out. No matter how I shuffled or laid out the cards, that stupid woman with the bags under her eyes and the pissed-off look on her face found her way out of the deck. It was like the card had a mind of its own, and it massively creeped me out. As soon as the computer’s connected, I’m totally Googling that damn card to see what that’s all about. I’d heard from my friend Marjorie, back home—yes, Chicago is still home— that some people do tarot-like readings with ordinary playing cards. Not that I’m into that stuff or anything. Maybe I’ll find a book on it and get an explanation. Or maybe I’ll just go insane first. Another deep groan from me as the wind catches the ivory-colored curtain next to my bed. The sheer linen drapery does a bit of a pole dance around one of the four bedposts. It’s only nine thirty, but I thought if I went to bed earlier tonight—in anticipation of my first day of school tomorrow—I might fall asleep faster. No. Such. Luck. My bedroom door opens with a squeak. “Kendall? Are you awake, sweetie?” “Of course,” I say bitterly and kick off the thin comforter and sheet. “Sorry,” I add. “That’s okay. I understand.” Mom pushes into my room and snaps on the light. She’s taken to wearing her shoulder-length brown hair up in a messy bun, making her look less than her forty-eight years. I sit up, squint, and see that she’s carrying a large box. “Your dad just got back from Mega-Mart—” I interrupt her with a harrumph. “They actually have a Mega-Mart here?” Go figure. She scowls at me a bit. “Now, Kendall, you haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. Sure, it’s not downtown Chicago, but Atlanta is only an hour away and we have all the necessities of life right here in Radisson.” I blow a strand of brown hair off my cheek and swing my feet off the bed. Why Dad couldn’t have gotten a job in the ATL is beyond me. I know he’s, like, the best at what he does—he’s a city planner—and Radisson’s doing all of these improvements and renovations to make the town more appealing to families and industry, but it would’ve been nice to go from one urban area to another. I mean, during the Civil War, Radisson wasn’t even important enough for General Sherman to burn it on his famous March to the Sea. How is it going to be the town for me? Mom sets the box on the edge of my bed. “As I was saying, Dad bought this thinking it might help your little . . . problem.” Unless it’s a cast-iron frying pan to bash me over the head with for a concussion-filled good night’s sleep, I’m not interested. Ooo, maybe it’s a wall-unit air conditioner, like Dad said he’ll put in every room in this ultra-old house. Scaaaaa-ore! “Look at this!” Mom tugs out a large, white speakerlike device that’s about as big as a bathroom scale. “This will help you sleep.” I lower my brows as I read the box. “LifeSounds 440?” Mom unfurls the long cord and stretches it over to the nearest electrical outlet. The machine buzzes to life, and the soft sound of static reverbs through my room. “It’s a white-noise machine. They’re supposed to be very useful for sleep problems.” “Aren’t those for babies?” I ask, not convinced this is actually going to work. Waving me off with a flick of her hand, Mom says, “Babies, adults, anyone who needs help with somnipathy.” There she goes, getting all medical on my ass. “Huh?” “Sleep disorders.” “Mom, I don’t think I have—” I bite my tongue because I don’t know what I think I have. She places the speaker on my nightstand and then reaches for the pamphlet that came with it. “Ooo, listen to this. ‘The sounds of the LifeSounds 440 white-noise machine include a womb, heartbeat, and lullaby section. These natural sounds are peaceful and comforting to infants, providing a secure and calm feeling.’ And look, Kendall, it has a one-hour timer, adjustable volume, and you can take it with you when you travel.” Right, because every girl wants to take a flipping baby monitor with her to a slumber party! “I don’t think womb sounds are going to help at my age.” The light in Mom’s eyes dims, spelling out her disappointment. I have to realize this move has been hard for her too. She had to give up her job in the neonatal ICU at Northwestern Memorial to take a staff-nurse position with the town’s one (well, okay, maybe not one) doctor. I need to cut her some slack. I swallow my annoyance at the entire sitch and smile. “I’m sorry. Thanks for getting this. I’ll give it a try.” Why not? Can’t hurt. She leans over and tucks me into the bed like she’s been doing for as long as I can remember. The woman is a pro at hospital corners and literally traps me in the straight covers. She kisses me on the head. “Try to get some sleep, sweetie. Tomorrow’s a big day.” “I know, Mom.” “You’ll make lots of new friends and fit in . . . you’ll see.” “I hope so.” Although I have plenty of friends back in Chicago. “I just want to blend in, not be too different or anything.” At least that’s what I tell myself as I picture walking into a building full of strangers in a matter of hours. “Deep, cleansing breaths, Kendall. Say a prayer and just relax,” Mom says. “I believe your sleep issues are merely stress-related, and once you start school, everything will be back to normal.” She moves toward the door. “Thanks, Mom.” Although what’s normal now? No more Cubs games. Or Bears, or Blackhawks, or Bulls. (Sorry, not a White Sox fan.) No more movies at Century Landmark or hot dogs from Weiner Circle. No more St. Paddy’s Day parades with the dyed-green river. No more treks to the Sears Tower to check out the views. No more ditching one day of school to go to an Oprah taping. No more Chicago Chop House with the best steaks on the planet. No more Marjorie. No more . . . Mom turns back to me. “If you don’t start getting regular sleep, I’m taking you to the doctor and we’re putting you on some medication.” She’s not saying it as a threat, more as a point of information. Bleck . . . I don’t want to be one of those messed-up kids on seven different medications for all sorts of afflictions. I want to be a normal teenager who goes to school, has friends, watches too much TV, talks on the cell incessantly, and plans for her future. Not too much to ask, right? Mom nods her head at me. “Try to get some sleep, sweetie. And remember to say your prayers.” She flicks off the light and closes the door behind her. “I always do.” Mom’s big on religion. Not in an “in tents for Jesus” sort of way, but as an important part of the fabric of the Moorehead household. I respect—and go along with—that. I wrestle with the locked-down covers until the sheets are free from their mattress prison, and so am I. The white-noise machine churns away with a staticky rhythm on my right. It’s a lulling kind of whoosh, whoosh, whooshhhhhh. I’ll admit it is sort of calming. Maybe this will work. I turn onto my stomach and get in my preferred falling-asleep position, one hand under the pillow and the other on top, cuddling it. Eyes closed, I take one of those deep, cleansing breaths Mom talks about. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. That’s what I learned in the class Marjorie and I took at the Nature Yoga Sanctuary in Chicago last summer. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. After a good long while of deep breathing, I feel myself teetering on the edge of consciousness. Ahh, yes . . . “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.” (I love Shakespeare, what can I say?) I’m settling into my fluffy pillows, spiraling down into the lovely world of desperately needed REM, when I swear on a stack of Bibles that I hear a whisper. “I’m heeeerrrrrre.” I peel one eye open. “Who’s there?” “I’m heeeerrrrrrre.” “Kaitlin, if that’s you, I’m going to beat the shit out of you,” I snap, thinking my brat of a little sister is being, well, a brat. “Is that you?” “Nooooooo . . .” Okay, what the . . . ? The hairs on my arms rise, as does my anxiety level. I sit up. “Who’s there?” I repeat more firmly. Nothing. Silence. Except for the white-noise machine. After a minute, my heart rate returns to some semblance of normal. I lie back down, ridiculously annoyed. I’m sure it was Kaitlin totally screwing with me. She’s such a PITA. (Do I need to explain what that stands for? Rhymes with Pain in the Glass.) Settling into the pillow again, I restart with the breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth when I hear the whisper once more. “I’m heeeerrrrrrre.” Bolting up, I jerk on the lamp cord. “Look! You’re pissing me off!” I glance around the room, and there’s no one there. No Kaitlin. No Mom. Just my large brown Gund teddy bear, Sonoma, sitting on the rocking chair next to my bed, looking at me like I’ve lost my marbles. The white-noise machine continues to whoosh beside me. Maybe if I turn the volume up, it’ll block out whatever it is—probably the television from Mom and Dad’s room—that I’m hearing, Just when I lift the volume level, I hear it again. “Are you hearing meeeeeeee?” I fling off the covers and sit up stiff-straight. Chill bumps dance across my skin, making tiny mountains in my sweaty flesh. The hairs on the back of my neck are at complete military attention. I swallow hard but find a massive lump of unease in my esophagus that isn’t budging. Holy Mother of Christmas Past! The whispering voice is coming from the white-noise machine! Are you effing kidding me? You’re here? Well, I’m out of here!