Harsh pops tore the air. Nate pivoted around to spy a figure wearing a dark hoodie, his face shadowed by an orange baseball cap, dashing through the crowd. A silver object glinted in his hand. Nate didn’t have to see the object clearly to know it was a gun.
A metallic odor wafted under Nate’s nose.
Eerie silence fell over the plaza. The crowd had vanished, and he stood alone in the middle of the bandstand. Nate was dreaming, but the realization didn’t calm the hammering in his chest. Something evil had taken place, and he could taste the bitter aftermath.
A lifeless form lay in a crumpled heap on the bandstand stage. Fear swept through Nate, and his legs felt as if they were tied down by weights as he trudged toward the body. Blood leaked from the man’s chest, his head bent down, his face hidden. When Nate lifted the chin and peered into the lifeless eyes, his heart plummeted.
Nate fell to his knees, shaking Will’s shoulders, crying out his name over and over. But Will didn’t stir. The body was still as the air smothered Nate. What good was his psychic ability if he couldn’t save the man who meant everything to him?
Nate woke with a start, his heart pounding. He reached for the water glass on the nightstand and almost dropped it. Rarely did he dream of death, but when he did, he took notice. That it was Will he’d seen in his nightmare made it more complicated.
No matter. Nate had a responsibility to explore the possibility that this was a precognitive dream. Beyond that, he didn’t want to think about the consequences of taking action.
Nate grabbed his sketchbook from his nightstand. He picked up a charcoal pencil and sketched the dream images before they vanished from his mind—the gunman had worn an orange baseball cap and dark hoodie. Nate recognized the oval-shaped plaza with its pruned elm trees and classical bandstand. Will and Nate used to jog the trails throughout Golden Gate Park, and Spreckels Temple of Music had been one of their favorite places to see a concert.
There would be no reason for Will to be on a stage, especially a bandstand in San Francisco. He had moved after their breakup and now lived in London. Yet Nate couldn’t shake off the sense of dread. Maybe he had substituted Spreckels for a place in London? Sometimes his dreams were hard to interpret. Images were often metaphors.
But this nightmare… Shit.
The man with the gun could be a metaphor for himself. He did own an orange baseball cap stuffed away in the back of his closet.
No. No way was Nate the shadowy figure. Sure, at first he’d wanted retribution, for Will to suffer as much as Nate had. The hurt and anger burned for months. Then one summer morning, he had awakened with a feeling of peace. The ache in his chest had lessened. From that day forward, he’d wiped Will from his memory and gotten on with his life.
Nate finished his drawings and tossed the sketchbook and pencil on the floor.
Next to him, Lulu napped on a pillow. Nate snuggled the furry body to his chest. The cat’s warmth eased his anxiety.
Lulu meowed at being disturbed as she sprawled into Nate’s arms. He’d taken in the ginger kitten when he found her on his stoop. A bowl of milk a day had convinced her to become his constant companion.
He scratched the underside of Lulu’s chin. “What should I do? He doesn’t even live here. And if I did find his number, he’d laugh me off the phone.”
Lulu tilted her heart-shaped head and blinked those expressive green eyes as if to say Nate was crazy to even consider calling his ex-boyfriend.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I’d be insane to open myself to his ridicule.”
Will, a scientist through and through, would never listen to Nate’s warning. Will only believed in what he could prove in a laboratory.
In those empty years that followed their breakup, Nate had learned to build back his life, one piece of his heart at a time. “What if” was a waste of energy, and he’d learned from an early age how useless it was to wish for things that never could be. Like a mom who loved him despite his eccentricities and being gay.
Nate had put the memories of Will into an airtight box labeled Never to be spoken to again
. Will had the honor of sharing the box with Nate’s mom. They deserved each other. Nate embarrassed Will as much as Nate embarrassed his society-driven mother. Psychic phenomena had no place in the world of science or the New York Times
After his shower, Nate dressed and went to his neighborhood coffeehouse for his usual double shot of espresso. He took a seat at his favorite table by the window. Scanning the local news on his tablet, he couldn’t concentrate. The nightmare had awakened his gut feeling that something was wrong. Thousands of miles separated Will from Golden Gate Park and a gunman. Nate had no reason to be anxious, but dreams that vivid always held a seed of truth.
Then he read the next headline and almost choked on his coffee.
GENETICIST DR. WILLIAM RYNER, KEYNOTE SPEAKER AT GOLDEN GATE RALLY.
The coffee in his stomach soured. Will was in London, not San Francisco. He had to be. Nate looked up from his tablet, half expecting to see Will walk through the door. His hand shook as he shoved aside his cup. No way was Will back in town. Somehow, Nate would have known.
He went back to reading the article.
What the fuck?
Will was the new director of SynGen, a company located on the outskirts of San Francisco. That meant Will now worked just a few miles away.
And Will hadn’t bothered to contact Nate. Not that Nate wanted to hear from him, but still, the bastard had moved back into Nate’s territory. What if they bumped into each other? How awkward and uncomfortable that would be. The courtesy would have been to e-mail Nate to let him know.
Nate stared at the black-and-white picture of Will, handsomely dressed in a suit and tie. The man looked every inch the successful professional. Nate had always known Will would go far in his career. SynGen was one of the leading research firms for genetic research. The man was smart. And his good looks and clean-cut appearance didn’t hurt, even in the world of science.
Nate smiled at the memory of teasing Will that he was creating Frankenstein’s monster in his lab. They had laughed a lot. Life had held wonderful surprises when they were together. Nate’s ability to trust in another person had been hard earned, but Will had never given up on him. And in the end, Nate was the one who had walked out the door.
One of the hardest things he’d ever done.
That relationship was behind him. Will probably had a partner, maybe was even married by now. Will had wanted to be settled down by the time he reached thirty, which had been three years ago.
Nate packed up his tablet and walked the few blocks to his office, agonizing over what to do about the dream. Ignore it? He’d never be able to forgive himself for keeping quiet if something happened to Will at the rally.
Nate strolled into the foyer of the Victorian house located on a quiet residential street. Sidney, the owner, lived upstairs and had converted the first floor into spacious offices dedicated to the psychic arts. According to Sidney, there were too many kooks giving mediums a bad name. So he’d handpicked tenants by their credentials, and Nate was one of the chosen few.
There was Nate’s best friend Sabrina, a whiz with the tarot and incredibly accurate when reading the cards. The Morelli twins, Julius and Gino, rented the remaining two spaces. They were native San Franciscans and had lived in North Beach their entire lives.
Nate was not sure which fraternal twin he admired more. Julius had the Italian Stallion personality going for him, complete with mischievous eyes and a smile that would melt steel. Gino was the quiet observer. Slighter in build, with a tight, muscular body, he modeled underwear. Gino’s nice round ass was plastered on several billboards across the city. Nate figured the ads caused more than a few fender benders.
When Nate first met them, he’d never imagined they were paranormal investigators. Ghost hunting was a thriving business apparently, because they were fully booked across the country. They tried to talk Nate into appearing in an episode of their documentary. Nate had declined. He’d been on a Morelli ghost hunt, and the experience made his hair stand on end. When he’d witnessed Gino and Julius communicating with spirits, that was enough for Nate to keep the dead good and buried. He tried not to think too much about where his visions originated.
The foyer reminded Nate of a therapeutic office decorated to put a person at ease with pale walls and comfortable chairs. Sidney insisted the tenants maintain professional offices as well. A client wouldn’t find crystals hanging from the windows or burning incenses. Not here.
Neatly dressed in a pink polo shirt, the receptionist greeted Nate. “You have two messages.”
Nate smiled at Evan’s bright attire. “Anything urgent?”
“Nah, just the usual. Hey, there’s a new Thai restaurant on Upper Fillmore. Why don’t we go tonight?”
“I’m busy.” Nate grabbed the message slips from Evan’s hand. He smelled the savory almonds and cream but resisted the pink pastry box with the Morelli logo sitting on the counter. “Shit. Jules has to stop bringing in temptation. What’s it this time?” He didn’t dare open the box.
Jules and Gino’s parents owned one of North Beach’s popular Italian bakeries, established by the grandmother who came over via Ellis Island at the turn of the century.
“Your favorite, canestrelli.” Evan pointed in an exaggerated gesture. “I know what you’re doing. Don’t change the subject. What about tonight?”
“Hon, at least be honest with me. Come on. Get out. Live a little. When was the last time you had a date?”
“You know how I feel about dating coworkers.” Nate’s no-dating-colleagues policy was true, but Evan’s age was also a factor. Nate couldn’t see dating a twenty-two-year-old. He already felt old at thirty-three, and the thought of dating sent him into a tailspin of indecision.
“So, how’s Queenie?” Nate asked. The other day, the golden retriever had spied a male lab and darted across the street in mad pursuit. A split second later, a car had appeared; the driver had hit the brakes, the car’s bumper nicking Queenie in the leg.
“That slut, chasing after tail. But she’s better, thanks. She’s at my mom’s house, where she’ll be treated like the princess she is.”
“Glad to hear it.” Nate glanced at the closed door to the left of his office. “Does Sabrina have a client?”
Evan rolled his eyes. “It’s her ex, probably asking for money again.”
She would want to be rescued. Nate knocked on his friend’s door and opened it as she called out for him to come in. From her desk, Sabrina raised her thin reddish brows at Nate, a signal he recognized as relief.
Her ex-husband sat hunched in a chair. “Hey, Nate. How’s it going?”
Nate nodded at Joe, admiring the lovable jerk’s muscular body in his tight wool sweater and worn jeans. “I’m good.”
“Glad to hear it.” Joe stood, pocketing a wad of bills. “I’d better be off.” He patted Nate on the back, then scurried from the room and closed the door behind him.
“So, how much this time?” Nate asked.
“Don’t give me any shit. Not today.” She looked him up and down with catlike eyes similar to Lulu’s. Nate shook his head. Now he was comparing his friends to his cat.
Shit. I need to get a life.
Sabrina pursed her lips. “You don’t look so hot.”
“I had one of my dreams.” He rubbed his temple. “More like a nightmare.”
She picked up a well-worn tarot deck on her desk, one of three she used for her consultations. “Sit.”
Nate sat in the empty chair where her ex-husband had resided just moments ago. The seat was still warm. He twisted his hands in his lap, suddenly nervous what the cards would reveal.
Sabrina held the cards as she asked, “What’s your question?”
“It’s about Will. I had a dream he was shot.”
She smirked. “By you?”
“Ha-ha. By a gunman at Golden Gate Park.”
Her smile vanished as she straightened her shoulders. Her eyes took on a determined glint. “A precognitive dream?”
“Yeah, I think so, but I’m not sure what to do about it. He’s moved back here. The shit. And he’s speaking at a rally in the park. Just like in my dream.”
Sabrina got to work, shuffling the deck.
“So do I warn him or not?” he asked.
“You’ve already decided. But let’s see what the cards say.”
“I hate when you do that. But I guess I have.”
Nate concentrated on his question as Sabrina divided the deck into three piles. She stacked the piles into one. Then she laid out a five-card spread.
He recognized the cards—Emperor, the Seven of Swords, and the World cards made the top row. The Nine of Pentacles and the King of Rods were the two cards below. He had mixed feelings about the tarot but believed in Sabrina’s psychic nature. She had an uncanny ability to interpret the myriad symbols illustrated in the mystical deck.
Sabrina studied the cards, then looked up at Nate, her face composed. She had once told him that she masked her emotions so as not to alarm her clients. Nate scanned the spread but had no idea if he should be alarmed or not. At least she hadn’t drawn the Death card.
“The Emperor represents Will, a man in charge. He’s your past, but very much in your mind. The seven here”—she tapped the corresponding card showing a man carrying a bundle of swords on his back, with a few scattered swords lying at his feet—“represents how you feel, this sense of helplessness about the situation. But you must remember that your life purpose is guiding others. You must trust in your abilities. The World means you are at the right place at the right time.”
“Then I’m right. I should tell him.” As Sabrina had already said, Nate had made his decision, but to see it solidified in the cards confirmed it for him.
“Yes. The Nine of Pentacles is you in this moment, in a position to act on your decision. And the future you is the King of Rods. See how he’s looking toward the past?”
“Will is stubborn. Will he listen to what I have to say?”
“That I can’t predict, but you must confront him in order to move forward. Maybe that’s what the dream really means. It’s time for you to let go.”