Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)

Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)
by Kiersten White


To Erin, Lindsey, Lauren, and Matthew—siblings, friends, partners in crime


Seven Years Ago

MY DRESS IS BLACK AND ITCHY AND I HATE IT. I WANT to peel it off and I want to kick Aunt Ellen for making me wear it. And it’s short, my legs in white tights stretching out too long under the hem. I haven’t worn this dress in two years, not since I was nine, and I hated it then, too.

Annie’s dress is just as stupid as mine, but at least she can’t see how dumb we look. I can. I don’t want to be embarrassed today. Today is for being sad. But I am sad and embarrassed and uncomfortable, too.

It should be raining. It’s supposed to rain at funerals. I want it to rain, but the sun bakes down and it hurts my eyes and everything is sharp and bright like the world doesn’t know the earth is swallowing up my parents.

My parents. My parents. Mom and Dad.

Annie cries softly next to me, her head bent so low we’re nearly the same height. I’m glad she can’t see any of this, can’t see the caskets, can’t see the mats of fake green grass around them. Just show us the dirt. They are going in the dirt. I would rather see the dirt.

I reach out and take Annie’s hand in mine. I squeeze it and squeeze it because she is my responsibility now, and no one else’s. I’ll take care of her, I promise my parents. I’ll take care of her.


Monday Morning

THE MOMENT HE BENDS OVER TO HELP THE SORROW-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him.

This, of course, ruins my entire day.

I tap my fingers (tap tap tap them) nervously against my jeans. He’s still helping the puppy, untangling the leash from a tree outside the bar. And he’s not only setting it free, he’s talking to it. I can’t hear the words but I can see in the puppy’s tail that, however he’s talking, he’s talking just right, all tender sweet cheerful comfort as his long fingers deftly untwist and unwind and undo my entire day, my entire life. Because if he doesn’t die today, Annie will, and that is one death I cannot have on my conscience.

Why did he have to help the puppy? If he had walked by like he was supposed to, I could have crossed the street, followed him into the alley, and ended his life as anonymously as possible.

Now he is more than a photo and a location. He is panting-puppy salvation. He is legs that stick out at grasshopper angles as he gives the spaniel one last ear rub. He is shoes scuffed up and jeans worn thin and dark hair accidentally mussed. He is eyes squinting because of forgotten sunglasses and heavy backpack throwing off his balance. He is too-big ears and too-big smile and too-big eyes and (too-big too-big too-big) too real for me to end.

I stay in the shadowed recesses across the street. Why did they send me on this one? Why couldn’t it have been stealing bank account information from a CEO or blackmailing a judge? I could have done those. I do those. All the time.

I haven’t messed up this bad in two years. I’ve done everything James asked me to, everything Keane wanted me to. I’ve kept Annie safe, and so what if how we’re living is no way to live, at least it’s alive. James let me come alone on this trip, and I know it’s a test to see if I’m really theirs, if they can trust that my need to protect Annie cements me to them forever, no matter what horrors I’m doing. I can’t mess up.

Technically I haven’t yet, I could still do it, I could still keep Annie safe and sound in her room where she sees nothing but fractured visions of life. Maybe she’s already seen this, maybe she knows it ended for us the moment this boy helped that puppy and became a person to me.

That dumb dog has killed us all.

But the decision is made and I have to cross the street and finish what I’ve begun. Now. I can’t plan it. Planning isn’t safe—it begs for Seers to spy on you. I have to just go.

My feet step onto the asphalt, carry me across, and I don’t know what to do. For so long my brain has been trained to ignore the wrong pulsing constantly, trained to work in spite of knowing everything I’m doing is always bad. Now I am thinking only for myself, using my instincts for my own good.

Which, for whatever reason, means this guy needs to come with me now, somewhere I don’t know yet, but I feel like north is the right direction. I am about to become the grateful owner of the silky-eared engineer of my destruction.

“You found my puppy!” A voice that is not my own but what he needs to hear slips out of my mouth, and the instant his eyes meet mine (gray, he has gray eyes, I would have closed his gray eyes forever), I know I have him for as far north as I need to go, and after that I will figure it out.

Planning is not my friend. Impulse is.

“This is your dog?” he asks, and his voice is deeper than I thought it would be and as kind and warm and untainted by violence as I knew it would be. He takes me in, my wide blue eyes, china doll lips, long brown hair: I am the picture of teenage innocence.

I lean down and pull the dog toward me. No tag on the collar, I get to name it. “Yes! Thank you. My dad—” I hesitate and look toward the bar. His gaze follows mine and then snaps back, sympathetic color flooding his face on my behalf.

Guys are so easy.

I stand, keeping my eyes on the dog as though I can’t bear to meet the boy’s instead. “Well, uh, he was supposed to be back two hours ago. I got worried. Chloe needs to eat.”

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