A psychic on the verge of stardom who isn’t sure she believes in herself and a cynical journalist with one last chance at redemption are brought together by secrets from the past that also threaten to tear them apart.
Psychic-medium Sylvie Young starts every show with her origin story, telling the audience how she discovered her abilities. But she leaves out a lot—the plane crash that killed her parents, an estranged adoptive family who tend orchards in rainy Oregon, panic attacks, and the fact that her agent insists she research some clients to ensure success.
After a catastrophic reporting error, Thomas Holmes’s next story at the L.A. Times may be his last, but he’s got a great personal pitch. “Grief vampires” like Sylvie who prey upon the loved ones of the deceased have bankrupted his mother. He’s dead set on using his last-chance article to expose Sylvie as a conniving fraud and resurrect his career.
When Sylvie and Thomas collide, a game of cat and mouse ensues, but the secrets they’re keeping from each other are nothing compared to the mysteries and lies they unearth about Sylvie’s past. Searching for the truth might destroy them both—but it’s the only way to find out what’s real.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The outfit is the easy part. It was chosen by a style consultant hired by my agent to create an image. I slip on a sleeveless black silk jumpsuit with crystals along the edge of a plunging neckline, fasten strappy heels and diamond hoop earrings, and slide a platinum ring whose sapphire stones form an infinity symbol on my index finger. On cue, my stomach cramps and I rush into the bathroom, grip the cold porcelain, and lose a late lunch. Moose whimpers then rests his blocky head on my shoulder. He's a 145-pound Great Dane, but despite his size, he's a big baby. "I'm good. Promise."
A kiss between Moose's eyes; swish of mouthwash then I return to the mirror, sweep my dark brown hair into a glossy chignon. On goes a light coat of foundation, blush, eye shadow, dark gray liner, false lashes, and red lipstick. One final look confirms everything is in place. I swivel my chair and rifle through last-minute reminders. When the phone rings, there's no need to check caller ID. My agent always calls before a show. "Hey, Lucas."
Lucas crows, "We have a deal!"
The news shoves me back in the chair.
"Sylvie? Why aren't you jumping up and down and screaming? We've been working toward this for years."
"Are you jumping up and down?"
"I might've shot a fist in the air when Jackson phoned to say we had the green light. Syl, it's a guaranteed ten episodes, more money than we'd hoped for, bonuses, and if we get the numbers, which I'm sure you will, we can push E! for a two-year run. This is huge."
"I don't know if-"
"I do-that's why we make a great team."
While we talk, I wander around the dressing room, past a long mirror, a chipped wooden table and mismatched chairs, and a dusty shelf with a drip coffee machine that looks like it belongs in a 1950s diner. My rider-a set of requests fulfilled by each venue-is pretty basic. I ask for a well-lit mirror, a private bathroom, a few bottles of water, and lots of coffee, but don't demand anything fancy, like an espresso machine.
"Connections don't always happen. You know that."
"Then you build a bridge."
"When I started-"
"Syl, what you do? It's incredible. You make people feel better. There's no harm either way. I've told you that since the day we
met. You're one of the good guys."
I rest my forehead against the cool wall to quell a nervous heat. "I'm not consistently filling theaters at the shows."
"Your numbers have been climbing fast."
"I've never been on TV."
"I negotiated approval for each episode."
"Who will I read?"
"A mix of celebrities and regular people. Sylvie, if you don't take this opportunity, someone else will. That's just the way things work in this business."
I run through my options. No family support. No real friends. No college education. And this fits. At first it was about survival, money, so I never had to go back home. But over the past few years, I've realized that this is the only thing that gives me some semblance of peace. "I'm in."
"Of course you are. It'll take a week for the lawyers to comb through the contract. When it's signed, we'll announce in Variety, Page Six, too. Sylvie?"
"I believe in you."
The first time he said that was my third show after I moved to LA-just a basement club in Venice, but Lucas made sure it was packed and that a few small entertainment papers were there. I was on fire, hit after hit. Finally, I felt like I might be in the right place. After the show, he drove me back to the studio apartment in West Hollywood he'd rented for me. He turned off the engine and said, I believe in you. Then he added, I'm going to make you a star.
"You still there?" Lucas asks.
Moose leans against my leg and stares up at me. "Is Moose part of the TV show?"
"He even has his own contract."
I kiss the crown of Moose's head and his tail thumps. My first therapist was the one who suggested I get a dog. The young woman who took me around the shelter walked right past Moose, like he was invisible. He ran forward, put a massive paw on the chain links. I pressed my hand to his pads, can still recall their warmth. We chose each other that day. I kept Moose but let that therapist go. Lucas said I could hire a new therapist if needed. Even in the early days, he was aimed at the stars. Celebrities can be ruined by all kinds of past relationships and unethical practitioners. Lucas was determined to keep skeletons out of my closet. He also quickly understood that I didn't want to dissect a past that left me feeling like a disappointment.
Now Lucas is right again-a TV show is the next step. It doesn't matter how I fell into this profession. Before, I always felt like my shoes were on the wrong feet. This fits, despite my fears. And the bottom line is that what I do helps people.
There's a knock. "It's time," a muffled voice says.
I grab a black marker and slip it into my pocket. "Gotta go."
Moose mouths the enormous, stuffed fuzzy bone he loves and carries it out of the room. On the walk from the dressing room to the wings of any stage, I go through the guided imagery the last therapist I quit designed. It helps me overcome the anxiety that began when I first started going onstage and became crippling as my success grew. Today an image slips through the carefully constructed peace . . .
Pale sand beneath my feet, a blue-green ocean, foam nibbling at my bare toes. Behind me, a castle-ornate turrets dotted with pale pink shells, a drawbridge made from delicately curved driftwood, beneath it, a moat where tiny paper boats rock in the breeze. A wave gathers on the horizon. It grows taller and white horses gallop across its face. When the wall of salt water strikes, the castle will be destroyed and with it a treasure, something precious . . .
The vision disintegrates. Ghostly lips brush my cheek. I know what's coming next. A whisper I've heard intermittently my entire life. When I tip my head, the unintelligible slides away. I crunch an antacid to quell my burning gut then wait for the cue to step onstage and begin my show . . .
Music flows through the theater's surround sound-a symphony of instruments that slowly builds. An intricate dance of multicolored laser lights traverses the empty stage then dry-ice vapor rolls across wooden boards and spotlights turn curls of smoke violet, azure, and emerald. The smoke dissipates, frenetic lights slow their search; the symphony strikes its crescendo. I walk to the center of the stage just as the last notes fade away, wait for the applause to thin and people to take their seats.
One hand on my dog's sleek, black head, I start. "Thank you for coming. I'm Sylvie Young and this handsome guy beside me is Moose. I get a bit nervous before each show and he helps with that, so I hope you don't mind him being here?" There are murmurs of encouragement. "Every psychic has an origin story that reveals when and how we first recognized our abilities. That might be when we predicted a grandparent's passing, delivered a message to the living only the dead could possibly know, or found a lost object, pet, or child. We must then choose whether or not to use our gift." My eyes scan the theater. Almost every seat is taken. "I never planned to be a psychic or stand on a stage. Sometimes where I've landed is overwhelming. Truly. But what's most important is that when someone asks me to connect with those they loved and lost, I will do anything to make that happen."
I let this promise settle then continue. "My gift appeared when I was eighteen, living in San Francisco, and had just worked a double waitressing shift, food stains on my T-shirt, the smell of fried food in my hair. On the long walk back to a basement apartment, I stopped in the funky Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to rest on a bench. A few feet away, outside a magic shop named Abracadabra, a young guy read tarot at a rickety metal table. He was flying by the seat of his pants, but he had a gift for weaving stories. After a funny reading, I giggled. The tarot reader laughed, too, we chatted for a bit, then he scribbled a sign that read psychic $5 on a folded piece of cardboard and dared me to sit in the chair beside him. I took the seat, assumed no one would waste money on me.
"My first customers were sisters. The pregnant one was Bethany. I guessed she was almost nine months along-it wasn't a psychic thing, it was obvious that she hadn't seen her feet in a while." I wait for knowing laughter to subside then go on.
"Am I having a boy or a girl? Bethany asked.
"I rested my hands on the swell beneath the cool silk of her dress. The baby kicked and I jumped, laughed, and the mom-to-be did, too. To give Bethany a good show, I closed my eyes. An instant whooshing sound enveloped me, followed by a river of warmth that flowed around my limbs. The warm water cradled me and I felt my body slowly roll . . . but then something tugged, stopped me . . . The next thing I knew, the tarot reader was shaking me really hard. When I opened my eyes, Bethany was on her feet, arms wrapped protectively around her belly."
The audience is quiet, caught in the story's web. "Why would you scare her like that? Bethany's sister demanded.
"Confused, I followed her pointed finger. Scribbled across the inside of my right forearm were the words I can't breathe. I turned to the tarot reader. Did you do that? But his black marker was gripped in my hand and the writing was mine." Whispers float through the audience. "By then Bethany was crying." I tip my chin and look into the balcony section. "I should've apologized. But when I was little and in trouble, always with my mom, Dad would say that there was a plant that grew inside my belly called a contrary tree. Instead of backpedaling, I said, She can't breathe."
I shake my head at the memory. "The sisters left. I eyed the water bottle that the tarot reader had given me. What the hell is in that? But it was only water. What happened with Bethany exactly? I demanded.
"He explained, You grabbed my marker, started writing on your arm. I think you have the gift.
"Of course I didn't believe him. The guy was leaving town and offered to sell me his table and chairs for ten bucks, put in a good word with the owner of the magic shop so I could still work in front of her store. He'd made a hundred and seventy-five dollars reading tarot in just two hours. After a full day waitressing, I'd only made twenty-eight bucks in tips. At that rate, I wouldn't make the month's rent. So I bought the table and chairs, figured I could try for a few hours after my restaurant shifts, vowed to keep things light and lovely, just play around.
"A few days later, I set up my table and nervously waited for customers. They actually came. After my anxiety burned off, it was surprisingly fun. I scribbled messages, hummed songs that burst into my head, and the customers were amazed. I still didn't believe the tarot guy, but I was a crap waitress and it felt good to be good at something, you know?" More than a few people in the audience nod in agreement. They understand that need to be recognized.
"Soon, there were lines just from word of mouth. People came to see me. Late one afternoon an old man named Arthur asked if I could contact someone who'd died. He looked so miserable that I agreed and closed my eyes . . . A red barn door materialized. It jumped into my head, like a kid in a classroom with her hand held high, desperate for the teacher's attention. I let the door swing wide and the tang of metal filled my mouth.
"Anything? Arthur asked.
"I felt a female energy cross the door's brink but couldn't see a face. The next thing I knew, I'd written a message in the crook of my elbow: No rush. I'll be waiting. Take that watercolor class old Tiger-M.
"Arthur told me his wife's name was Maribel and she'd nicknamed him Tiger. She'd been dead six months, and he missed her so much, he wasn't sure he could hold on. After reading Maribel's message, he said that as a young man, he'd wanted to be a painter but had chosen accounting to support his family." The audience draws in a collective breath and I shyly smile. "Arthur kissed the bend of my elbow then walked off with light steps, like he'd sprouted wings." I lower my voice to share, "His smile has never left me."
Crossing the stage, I continue, "Six months later my business was going strong. I'd sprung for a black velvet tablecloth over the metal card table and I wore a midnight blue, sleeveless dress and used a metallic silver marker to draw stars, moons, and planets on the cheap cotton. It was pretty hokey, but I made enough to cover rent, eat more than ramen, and I'd quit waitressing." I admit, "None of this is very flattering, but it's important that you know that I didn't always believe in myself." Murmurs of disagreement ripple through the theater. Each time I reach this part of my origin story and the audience reacts with understanding and belief, I get a lump in my throat.
"One day a woman sat down across from me-pretty with dark blond hair. The man resting his hands on her shoulders had a baby on his chest in one of those trendy slings.
"I'm Bethany, the woman said. You did a reading for me months ago, told me my baby couldn't breathe.
"I apologized profusely for scaring her. She introduced her husband, Matthew, and I tensed, ready for him to tell me off, probably put me out of business.
"Bethany said, I came home from your reading and insisted we go to the emergency room for an ultrasound. I was rushed into surgery. Grace's umbilical cord was wrapped twice around her neck. If I hadn't had an emergency C-section . . . She started to cry.