There’s a saying in the South that if you go to heaven or hell, you have to go through the freakin’ Atlanta airport first.
For me, though, blowing off the dust of my new hometown of Radisson, Georgia, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the gateway to new possibilities. I’m setting off on my spring break adventure. Besides, with all that’s happened to me recently—going through my psychic awakening; having a near-death experience; losing my boyfriend, Jason, and one of my best friends, Taylor, to the wilds of Alaska; and now these recurring dreams of a mystery guy I call Hershey eyes—dude, I need a Total Life Break.
"You don’t have a Diet Coke stashed in your backpack, do you, Kendall? You know they’ll just take it from you," my mom says as we stand outside the nylon-strap spaghetti maze that is TSA airport security.
I pull the half-finished twenty-ouncer from my purse and hand it over to my mother. Well, not my real mother, as I just recently found out. Sarah and David Moorehead are my adoptive parents; my birth mother, Emily, my former spirit guide, died minutes after I was born, seventeen years ago. I haven’t had time to find out more info on her, but I will eventually.
Dad rubs the back of my neck as I cram my trial-size bottle of hairspray, mini toothpaste, Carmex, and hand sanitizer into the airport-approved plastic Ziploc bag. "We’re going to miss you, kiddo," he says affectionately.
"I’ll miss you guys too."
Mom sniffs the tears that are gathering. "I don’t know what to do for a week with both of my girls gone." My little sister, Kaitlin, is in Florida for soccer camp, so the Moorehead nest will be empty for seven days.
"Please don’t forget to feed the cats," I say. "Natalie won’t eat the dry food, and Eleanor won’t eat the wet food. Buckley will eat all of it, so make sure everyone gets some. And water. They need a lot of water so they won’t get little kitty urinary tract infections."
My mom the nurse clicks her tongue. "I’m perfectly capable of caring for your cats. You focus on you, dear."
I chuckle in spite of myself. Of course she knows what to do. "Check in on Loreen too, would you? Just to make sure she’s okay."
Now it’s Mom’s turn to laugh. "Honey, Loreen is in good hands with Father Massimo. Those two are inseparable." I have to admit, I saw that one coming. My episcopal priest and my psychic mentor. They make quite an . . . eclectic pair.
"If anyone deserves a nice getaway, it’s you, Kendall," Dad adds with a tug on my long hair.
"Tru’ dat, Dad."
Seeing as how my last ghost-hunting effort ended up with me in a hospital bed minus a spleen and plus a re-inflated lung and a blood transfusion from my best friend, I definitely need a break, spring or otherwise. Okay, so I got the bitter spirit at the mayor’s mansion to finally pass into the light and everything was all right in the end, but g’friend here needs a breather from both Radisson and investigating entities in people’s homes. This whole psychic awakening has finally discombobulated me with a visit to "heaven" and a chat with my dead grandma. I don’t know which way to turn anymore. I don’t know if what I’m seeing, feeling, hearing, or experiencing is from me or from someone else. I have to get control. So here I am at the airport: laptop, books, BlackBerry, and Sonoma the bear in my backpack, one extremely large rolly bag checked in, ready to board a Delta flight to Fresno, California, for . . . whatever ... awaits me there.
"Yo, K, fancy meeting you here!" someone calls out to me.
The gangly, tall black-haired girl with the familiar smiling face bounds up to me, a humongoid tote bag hitched over her left shoulder.
"Nichols! I thought you were going ahead to Tybee Island without me," I say to my best friend and fellow ghost huntress, Celia. No, she’s more than that. We’re blood sisters, now that her life-saving transfusion is flowing through my veins.
"Change of plans," Celia tells me. "Dad got a call this morning asking him to keynote at this retailers’ convention, so I decided to blow off Tybee and tag along with the parentals."
Ah, the founder of Mega-Mart—that’s a real no-brainer.
"Didn’t you get my text?" she asks. "I figured I'd run into you here."
I glance at my BlackBerry. "Nope. Nada." Hmm . . . nothing from Celia. Nothing from anyone, for that matter, although I’m trying not to dwell on the loss of Jason Tillson in my life.
"Well, get this," Celia says, lifting her eyes to mine. "I thought I’d take advantage of the locale of Daddyo’s conference to do some more research. I’m going to plop my paranormal-investigator self into the Windy City and continue trying to find out just who Emily Jane Faulkner was, other than your birth mother."
I swallow hard. "You’re going to Chicago?" My Chicago? Man, I wish I could refresh myself at the altar of the Mag Mile, go to Navy Pier, get an authentic red-hot, and take a walk along Lake Michigan. With all the things that have happened since my psychic awakening, there’s a part of me that longs for the simpler days of when I lived on the Gold Coast. When I didn’t see and hear spirits. When I wasn’t physically harmed by them. And when my heart wasn’t broken by a guy with gorgeous blue eyes. I shake loose from feeling sorry for myself and force a smile. "Where are you staying?"
Celia shrugs and says, "The Fairmont."
I quirk a smirk at her. "Welllll . . . excuse me," I say with a laugh. She smiles.
"That’s how we Nicholses roll."
Dad puts his hand on my shoulder and tells Celia, "You must have dinner at the Chop House. Best steaks in town."
"Cool. I’ll remember that, Mr. David."
Celia’s mother appears behind Celia and turns a smile on me. "Where is it you’re going again, dear?"
A deep sigh escapes from me. It’s not like I don’t want to go on this trip. It’s just more of the fear of the unknown and unexpected. You’d think a psychic could see more clearly into her own future, but that’s not the case with me. I’m much more in tune with other people’s lives. I get snippets and clues of things in my dreams—like meeting Jason and even being pushed down the staircase by the mayor’s ghost—but I never know what’s a premonition and what’s just a brain dump or an overactive imagination.
I adjust my bag on my shoulder and shift my weight between feet. "Mom registered me for this exclusive-like Enlightened Youth Retreat in Oakbriar, California, that’s hosted by that guy Oliver Bates, from TV."
Celia’s eyes pop wide. "Ethereal Evidence," she interjects, nearly breathless. "You know the show, Mom. I’ve got every episode on my DVR."
Mrs. Nichols waves her hand. "Oh, now, Celia. I can’t keep up with all the TV programs you kids watch."
Celia rolls her eyes at her mother and then turns to me. "I told you, the guy is amazing. He nails everything on that show. Nothing gets past him. You’re gonna have an awesome time!"
I haven’t watched nearly as many paranormal shows as Celia—who can keep up with all of them—so I just lift my brows at her in recognition. "Yeah, that’s what the brochure says."
"So what do you know about the week’s agenda?" she presses. "Are you sleeping in tents and toasting marshmallows while singing ‘Kumbaya’?"
I stick my tongue out at her for her cheekiness. "No, I told you, it’s for kids like me with ‘special abilities.’ it looks a little chichi from the brochure, so I’ll just have to wait and see." Everything’s happened so quickly that I haven’t really had a chance to tell her more than the basics. We’ve barely had time to accept that Jason and Taylor Tillson have moved off to Alaska, and our sun-and-sand time in Tybee together had to be canceled. "Dr.Kindberg, the shrink I saw in Atlanta, pulled some strings and got me into this latest session just under the wire."
Celia winks. "Gotta love those strings."
"I suppose so," I say with a snicker. "Looks like we’ll have all sorts of sessions with counselors to discuss our abilities and hone them. Mostly, it’ll be good to meet other people who are . . . like me." What exactly would that be? Psychic? Adopted? Confused? All of the above?
"Well, you totally have to get me Oliver Bates’s autograph," Celia says. "Oh, and tell him I love his show and I’m his biggest fan!"
Mr. Nichols arrives and interrupts us. "We need to get through security if we’re going to make our flight, Celia."
"Sure thing, Dad."
"Me too," I say.
Celia and her parents move toward the security line after saying goodbye to my folks. I wait a moment, standing stock-still as my heart beats a hundred times a minute. This is a big step for me. I’m seventeen and flying by myself for the first time—I hope the airline doesn’t, like, have an escort for me, a Delta coloring book, and wings for me to wear. If I can deal with seeing, hearing, and speaking to spirits, I think I can handle a six-hour flight west on my own without incident. Thing is, all I’ve known for these past seventeen years has been turned topsy-turvy and I feel like I’m at a point of starting over and really finding myself.
Mom must sense this, even though she’s not psychic like I am. She pulls me to her chest and squeezes me tightly. I wrap my arms around her waist and close my eyes. She may not have physically given birth to me, but she has raised me and she is my mother. She chose me. That has to mean something. "I love you, Kendall. I hope this trip helps you, sweetie."
I cling to her safety and warmth as I gather my strength. "Thanks, Mom. Me too."
Dad nudges us apart and places a peck on my forehead. "Call us when you touch down in Fresno, kiddo."
"Will do, Dad. Love ya; mean it!"
I blow kisses and hustle forward to join Celia and her parents going through security. Remarkably, the line moves quickly and I pass the ultraviolet flashlight test over my driver’s license done by the guy in the royal blue shirt. I strip off my belt and my footwear at the TSA checkpoint (ewww—how many viruses and fungi live in that allegedly disposable antimicrobial carpet that doesn’t appear to have been disposed of since 9/11?) and place my laptop in a separate bin. Celia does the same and then calls over her shoulder to me.
"You have to text and e-mail and call and keep me posted on your retreat."
"Oh, you know I will," I say, re-zipping my backpack so Sonoma the bear doesn’t fall out going across the belt and through the scanner. "And you have to keep me posted on what’s going on in Chicago."
Celia’s dark eyes grow serious. "I’m going to find out all I can about Emily, K. I promise. My cousin Paul is still working on leads from the Wisconsin plate you had in your vision."
"Thanks, Cel." I swallow the sudden emotional lump in my throat as I think of my real mother, who died so young on a cold, rainy December night in Chicago. "I appreciate your diligence."
"You’d do the same for me if I were in your shoes," she says. Then she looks down at our feet. "Well . . . your bare feet."
We laugh together and it feels really good. I’m blessed to have a neighbor and friend like Celia Nichols, a girl who welcomed me to Radisson with open arms and accepts me for who I’ve become. What that is, I’m still trying to find out. This retreat has to help.
"You’re the best, Cel."
She nods. "Yep. I am."
We reassemble ourselves after our bags clear the belts and head down the escalator to the tram that will take us to our respective terminals. When we near Concourse B, I announce, "This is me."
Celia loops her long arm over my shoulder and squeezes. "You go get enlightened, Kendall, and I’ll find out what I can about your family and piece together who the players are: John Thomas and Anna Wynn Faulkner, and whoever this Andy Caminiti was . . . or is."
My chest aches at the names of my possible grandparents, who I saw in a vision, along with the Wisconsin license plate of Emily’s destroyed car. And who is Andy Caminiti? The name I got in a vision. Did he die in the car crash with Emily? Is he alive? Is he my father? Does he know my father? Does he know anything?
I sigh. So many questions. So few answers. But at least Celia’s trying for me.
The tram stops and the electronic voice announces my terminal. With a final grip of hands, Celia and I separate, and I step off. The doors close between us and she waves at me, then continues on her way.
I follow the stream of passengers up the slow-moving escalator, all of them going to different destinations for various reasons. My psychic senses suddenly click in with awareness of the people around me. A near buzz of information encircles my head. The woman in red in front of me is going to a Mary Kay conference in Buffalo. The fat businessman in the custom-made suit is flying to see his mistress at the airport Holiday Inn in Louisville—classssssssssy; not, especially since I know he’s got a wife and three daughters at home. The older couple behind me is going to the funeral of a friend in Dallas who died after a failed triple bypass. So much sadness, remorse, guilt, and anxiety. Emotions fly around, as thick in here as the airplanes are outside.
And then there’s me. The psychic girl who’s gained and lost so much and needs direction in her life. The one who is off to California where she hopes to find . . . meaning for her psychic abilities and how she can move forward from a freaky near-death experience.
Okay . . . so it’s not a funeral or an affair, but it’s emotional enough for me.
I take a deep breath as i step off the escalator and turn right in search of my gate and the plane that will wing me to the left Coast in search of answers. I need to tamp down the angst and be open-minded about what lies ahead for me. Particularly, about meeting other people who are like me. Kids who are like me. And experienced adults who want to help, teach, and counsel. Enlightened guides who want to lead me in the direction I’m meant to go in. Whatever that is.
In six hours, when flight number 1518 touches down, I’ll find out.