Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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An Autumn Rain Novel
Copyright ©2010 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
My breath came faster as I stared into the shoe box sitting on the counter at my
antiques shop. Not one of the items inside was exceptionally valuable or
remarkable in any waya kaleidoscope of bric-a-brac and childhood keepsakes that
had once made up a young woman's life.
A missing young woman.
I met Mrs. Fullmer's swollen, tear-stained eyes, small and brown inside the fine
scattering of wrinkles that were evidence of her suffering. Her hands tightly
gripped the edges of the box holding her daughter's possessions, though the box
sat on the counter between us and needed no support.
I didn't want to do this. I didn't have to. If I refused, Jake would escort the
couple quickly outside and make sure they didn't return. I was very near to
fainting as it was, though more with fear of what I would discover than of what
the box contained.
"You okay, Autumn?" Jake's voice was both worried and curious. He smiled
tentatively, his teeth white against his brown skin.
"I'm fine," I said.
A soft snort came from Mr. Fullmer. "Maybe we should be going."
An unbeliever. I didn't blame him. I didn't believe it myself for the first six
months, and I hadn't told anyone about my strange gift for a month after that.
I'd confessed to Tawnia first, and that my practical sister believed me was a
testament to the connection between usdespite our having spent the first
thirty-two years of our lives apart.
Jake Ryan was the second person I'd told. Solid, reliable Jake, who was gorgeous
despiteor perhaps because ofhis chin-length dreadlocks. When he was at the
counter in my store, women bought more of my antiques just to see him smile or
to have an excuse to talk to him. He had increased the sales in the Herb Shoppe
considerably since I'd sold Winter's business to him. Winter Rain, my father.
Silently, I met Mr. Fullmer's gaze and saw him notice my eyes, his mouth opening
slightly in surprise. People are always surprised when they look at me long
enough to actually see my eyes. I didn't give him credit for seeing, though, as
we'd met already once before and because he'd been staring at me for the past
five minutes, searching for obvious flaws. He took a step back, which I took as
"If there's any chance Victoria left a clue," Mrs. Fullmer said in her
breathless voice, "we have to try. She's been gone for months."
When no one spoke further, I slowly removed the oversized antique rings from my
fingers and handed them to Jake, the comforting, pleasant buzz they gave off
ceasing the moment I released them. I reached for an object. A hairbrush. I held
it in one hand, running the fingers of my other hand over the polished length,
pushing at the hair-entwined bristles.
I saw a face in a mirror, a narrow, pretty face that I knew from the pictures
they'd shown me as belonging to Victoria. Her hair was long and blonde. There
was a sound at the door and a flash of an angry man staring down at me, words
falling from the lips: "You are not going tonight, and that's final!" The urge
to throw the brush at the face, an urge at least nine months old. Nothing more.
I shook my head and set the brush back in the box. I'd recognized the man as Mr.
Fullmer, but the scene hadn't told me anything except that once last year
Victoria had been angry enough to want to throw the hairbrush at her father. She
hadn't done it, though, and the memory was already fading. Mentioning it now
wouldn't help them find her. I moved to the next item, passing purposefully over
the new-looking socks and worn swimming suit.
I'd learned by touching everything of Winter's that distinct feelings remained
intact only on belongings connected with great emotion: objects a person
treasured most; items held while experiencing extreme levels of joy, fear,
worry, or sadness; articles that weren't often washed or forgotten.
For Winter that meant the colorful afghan my adoptive mother, Summer, had
crocheted, the first vase I'd made on my wheel when I'd gone through my pottery
stage, his favorite tea mug with the sad-looking puppy on it, his plain wedding
band. And of course, his cherished picture of Summer, the one I'd dropped in
shock and surprise on the day of his funeral, causing the glass to shatter. It
was the first object that had "spoken" to me.
Other objects gave off a muted sensation, a pleasant low hum, but no clear
images or scenes I could relive when the burden of missing Winter became too
great. I never found anything among his possessions that contained angry or
hateful imprints. He must have long ago come to terms with those feelings. My
adoptive father had been an exceptional man.
My hand settled on the journal from the Fullmers' box, but I could tell right
away this hadn't been a real journal for the missing girl. No emotional
imprints, except perhaps the barest hint of old resentment. If she'd written in
the book at all, it hadn't been willingly. I picked up the prom pictures
instead. Victoria was a slim, pretty, vivacious girl, and her date equally
attractive, but though he was nice enough, the girl hadn't been attracted to
him. The feeling had been strong enough to leave a faint residue of distaste on
the picture when she'd held it in her hands as recently as six months earlier,
which would have been mid-December, several weeks before her disappearance. I
set it down.
The shell hinted at the ebb and swell of the ocean, the girl's possession of it
not long enough or felt deeply enough to make an imprint. An old compact mirror
with jeweled insets radiated a soothing tingle. Most of my antiques were like
that, the emotions clinging to them soft and old and comfortable. I believe that
feeling is why I went into the antiques business. Perhaps the objects had
quietly hummed to me all along, though I hadn't yet understood their language.
Even in the old days there had been attractive items I'd never pursued, and now
that I was conscious of my paranormal gift, or curse, as I sometimes thought of
it, I think those were the antiques that had fresher, negative imprints, perhaps
even violent ones. A cast-iron statue at an estate sale last month had flashed a
terrifying image of crushing a human skull. No way did I want that statue in my
shop. I didn't care that my markup would have been phenomenal.
I let my hand glide over several more objects in the Fullmers' shoe box,
scanning for emotions that might be clues for Victoria's mother. The letter
(contentment long faded), the porcelain figurine of a ballet dancer (sleepy
dream of the future), a book of poetry (whisper of an old crush). To tell the
truth, I wasn't positive any of these weak impressions were real or if my mind
showed me only what I expected to find. These items had obviously been important
to the missing girl at one time, though, or she wouldn't have kept them all
Not until I reached the black velvet jewelry box did I feel a jolt. My hand
closed over it, my palm covering the small object completely. Even through the
box, the emotion was strongtoo strong to come from even my active imagination.
"What is it?" Mrs. Fullmer asked. "That's my daughter's" She was hushed by her
husband, who probably thought I would make something out of whatever information
she might let slip. But I didn't need anything from the mother to tell me the
girl had loved whatever was inside.
I opened the box and took out a fine gold chain with a heart-shaped pendant that
sported a diamond at the top where the heart dipped in the middle. A beautiful
piece, though decades outdated in style. Not outrageously expensive but worth
more than many girls in their first year of college could afford. I knew
Victoria had loved it because it had been her grandparents' high school
graduation gift to her mother and then her mother's to her. Yet the overall
feeling emanating from the piece was not love but guilt, one emotion overlying
I gently rubbed the heart between my fingers, my eyes closed. Jewelry often
retained the best imprints, which was why I'd saved the velvet box for last.
"She wants to take it with her," I said aloud, "but everything she has will
become theirs, and she knows it's not right to give them her mother's necklace.
It should stay in the family. She thinks you will give it to Stacey when she's
gone." I very clearly felt Victoria replacing the necklace with a sigh. She
hadn't wanted to pass it to her younger sister, and that's where the guilt came
in. She'd wished there was a way to follow her dream and keep both her family
and her necklace.
Several other flashes of memory rushed like water through my hands to my brain:
a college campus, a park, a man dressed in a flowing, button-down shirt with a
wide, pointed collar and elaborate cuffs turned upward, the tails of the shirt
untucked. He had kind eyes and longish black hair, and he was surrounded by
younger people wearing white T-shirts.
"Yes, I'm going with you," Victoria said to him, her hand going to the pendant
at her throat. "But I have to go home first. There's something I have to do."
When I opened my eyes, everyone was staring at me. "She left on her own," I
said. "Or at least she was planning to leave with a man in an old-fashioned
white shirt. He had blue eyes, black hair down to his collar, a short beard. She
wasn't the only one to go with him. Did you ever see her wear a white T-shirt
with navy blue lettering that says Only Love Can Overcome Hate?"
Mr. Fullmer paled noticeably, but Mrs. Fullmer was nodding. "She had one."
"A cult then," Mr. Fullmer sputtered. "That's what you're saying."
I shrugged. "Maybe a commune."
"Same difference," Mr. Fullmer said.
"I can't say for sure. I do know that she believed anything she took with her
wouldn't be hers anymore. She wished she didn't have to choose between them and
you." Almost as an afterthought, I added, "They were selling Christmas cakes at
a park. Near a university, I think. That was when she met them."
"She came home early on break," Mrs. Fullmer whispered. "She'd been having a
hard time, but we didn't know until later that she missed all her final exams.
She never registered for the next semester."
That explained the despair Victoria had left imprinted on the necklace. "She was
more hopeful when she met them," I said, meaning it as a comfort.
"Stupid child." Mr. Fullmer's gruff voice was tinged with pain. "She should know
better than to talk to crazies."
"She could be in danger," Mrs. Fullmer protested. "She's too young to know
I didn't respond. I didn't need to. There was nothing more I could give them. I
stood back from the counter and waited for them to leave. Jake handed me my
rings. As I slid them on, his warm hand touched the middle of my back, and I was
grateful for the support. Last September I'd begun entertaining the thought that
we could be more than friends, but our relationship remained mostly linked to
business. I didn't mind too much. After my sister, he was my best friend, and
since Tawnia had married and was now expecting her first child, her attention
was divided. At this point I needed Jake's friendship more than I needed a
The Fullmers were leaving, and I watched them go. Mr. Fullmer, his rigid back
clad in a dark suit, was carrying the box of his daughter's belongings. His
sandy hair was thinning in the back. Jake had a natural remedy that would halt
the hair loss, but that wasn't why he'd come, so I remained silent. Next to him,
Mrs. Fullmer looked shrunken, her shoulders hunched forward, her blonde head
bowed. She clung to her husband's arm, staggering more than walking. Below her
dress I could see a run in the back of her nylons.
Before she reached the door, she paused, stepped away from her husband, and
retraced her slow steps to the desk. "Thank you," she whispered. She looked
around somewhat frantically before her hand shot out to grab the Chinese
thirteenth-century Jun Yao vase that sat in glory next to the counter. It was
wider than it was tall, a dark, glossy red piece with bright blue highlights.
The sale price was seven hundred dollars and a steal at that because it was in
extremely good condition. I'd found it in a basement in Kansas when I'd
sheltered with some people during a tornado.
"I want to buy this," Mrs. Fullmer said.
I arched a brow. I didn't think she really wanted the vase, but business had
been slow, and I wasn't going to turn her down. I took it from her, enjoying the
pleasant tingle of the thoughts that surrounded the piece. Not an image I could
see but nice and comforting feelings. At least one person who'd owned this vase
had cared for it lovingly and had lived a life of quiet contentment. I wrapped
the vase as Jake rang up the sale. Mr. Fullmer waited by the door, impassiveness
and impatience alternately crossing his stern features.
As I passed the bag with the vase to Mrs. Fullmer, she caught my hand and
pressed something into it: the velvet box with the necklace. "Keep it for a
little while. Maybe there's something more."
I shook my head. "There's never anything more. I'm sorry." The last words felt
ripped from me, not because I didn't mean them, but because I knew they wouldn't
help her suffering.
She made no move to take back the box. "Please."
I nodded, sighing inside where she couldn't see. It was a false hope, and I
didn't want to give her that, but I wasn't strong enough to refuse.
She smiled. "Thank you for the vase." She turned and joined her husband.
I didn't feel guilty about the vase because they could obviously afford it, but
I did feel bad that she might think buying it could help me see something more.
"That was nice of her," Jake said.
"Buying the vase. I told her when she called that you didn't accept money, but I
did suggest that she might want an antique for her house. This way you earn
something for your trouble. That's important, especially if it makes it so you
can't work the rest of the day." As he spoke, he was pushing me onto the tall
stool I kept at the counter. Then he disappeared into the back room and returned
with a small book of poetry that my parents had written for each other for their
wedding. I took it willingly, grateful for the positive emotions that flowed
into me. Touching it, I could see them as they held the book in turn and
exchanged their flower-child vows in the forest, Summer with a ring of flowers
on her head and Winter with his prematurely white hair in a long braid down his
back. Though this session hadn't been all that draining, I felt full of life as
I witnessed their silent, love-filled exchange. I hoped these feelings would
never fade from the pages. Almost, it was like having them with me again.
I kept the book at the store because not all imprints were as relatively easy to
stomach as Victoria Fullmer's. Last month I'd been asked to touch the bicycle of
a ten-year-old girl named Alice, who had vanished while riding her birthday
gift. At first there had been only elation at her new toyuntil the dark-haired
man had stood in her path and torn her from the bicycle. I'd fainted with her
fear. Later my description of the man had allowed the police to make an arrest
and had eventually led them to little Alice. Too late. The memory still haunted
me sometimes when I was alone. I'd had to sleep with my parents' book for a
weekand the picture of Summer as well. I tried not to do that often, afraid my
parents' imprints would be overwritten by my own.
Jangling bells told us someone had entered the Herb Shoppe. Jake looked at me.
"You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Go ahead."
He walked around the counter and sprinted to the double doors that joined the
two stores. My father had put in those doors back when Jake had worked for both
of us. Jake and I still helped each other out, using a networked computer
program to keep track of sales so we could ring people up at either counter. We
also shared two part-time employees, Thera Brinker, who worked early afternoons
and Saturdays, and Jake's sister, Randa, who came after school and during
special weekend sales events. Thera mostly worked for me and Randa for Jake, but
they crossed over when either store had a rush of customers. It worked for all
"Jake," I called. Too late, I thought. He had disappeared, but his dark head
popped back in. "I'm going for a walk, okay?"
"No problem. I'll keep an eye on things until Thera gets in."
I knew he would, but to make it easier for him, I locked my outside door on the
way out, flipping over the sign that told people to use the Herb Shoppe
entrance. That way Jake would be aware of any customers coming to browse my
antiques, and they'd have to pass by him to leave. Only a few pieces in my
inventory were really expensive, but all together, they added up to my entire
The cement felt warm against my bare feet, and I relished the sensation. I
couldn't believe the outrageous shoes women put up with these days. In my late
teens, when I'd gone through a shoe phase, my back had ached constantly, and
once I'd spent a month in traction because of the pain, so it didn't make sense
to continue wearing shoes. But then, I didn't understand why people would
willingly take preservatives into their bodies, either. Or ruin perfectly good
food in a microwave. I liked to feel the earth under meor as close as I could
get with all the cement. There was a better connection with nature that way,
even in the city. Thankfully, not wearing shoes wasn't against the law, not even
while driving, though many people, including police officers, believed it was,
and there were no health ordinances against bare feet. I could even enter the
post office. Frankly, I was more worried about what germs my hands picked up on
doorknobs than anything my feet might encounter, and I never had to deal with
sweaty, stinky feet.
I didn't mind being different. I'd been raised that way. Other children learned
their letters and mathematics. I'd learned about herbs and human nature. I'd
called my adoptive parents by their first names, Winter and Summer, and the only
reason I'd gone to school at all was because I'd wanted to, even though every
October the principal would threaten to call child services until I took shoes
to school and kept them under my desk. Summer would have been happier teaching
me at home, and I was always glad that I had stayed with her that last year,
when I was eleven, the year she'd died of breast cancer.
My hand grazed the box in my pants pocket. I felt not the velvet but a flash of
emotion. Victoria had loved this necklace, and she'd loved her family. Yet she'd
chosen to leave them. A well of bitterness came to my heart. I'd give anything
to have Summer and Winter alive and in my life. I could no more easily have left
them than I could have cut off my own arm.
What had possessed her? Was there more to her family than I'd seen? Had her
father's anger driven her to seek people who might love her unconditionally?
It's none of my business, I thought. My part was over. They knew she'd gone of
her own will, and they knew where to begin looking. I'd even been compensated
for my trouble. In a few days, I'd mail Mrs. Fullmer the necklace so she could
eventually give it to her other daughter.
Slowly, I became aware of my surroundings. I'd walked long and far, or what most
people would consider far in these days of cars and motorbikes, and my bare feet
had taken a path I hadn't anticipated. I'd ended up near the Willamette River,
downstream from the Hawthorne Bridge, where the bombing had taken place and
where Winter had died. We'd been on the bridge in my car when the explosion
collapsed the structure. I had come up from the cold, heavy depths, and he
hadn't. Thirty others had also lost their lives in the bombing. Those
responsible had been punished, but the holes in the lives of those left by the
dead weren't easily filled.
I hadn't been this close to the river since Winter had been found a week after
the bombing, and it was strange to see the rebuilding in reality instead of on
TV. The construction area was fenced off, so I couldn't go all the way to the
riverbank, but I could see the bridge had come a long way in the past six
months. The promise to have the bridge ready for traffic in less than three
years would probably be met. Not that I'd ever had any doubts. My
brother-in-law, Bret, was the director of the project, and he was conservative
in his estimates. He was conservative in almost everything. That's part of what
my sister loved in him.
My tumbling thoughts halted abruptly as I caught sight of a man wearing coarse
brown pants and a white, old-fashioned, button-down shirt that looked all too
familiar. He stood in front of the high chain-link fence surrounding the
construction site, handing out flyers with his companionsyoung people of all
sizes and shapes, carrying baskets and wearing royal blue T-shirts with white
lettering that proclaimed Love Is the Only Thing That Matters.
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