Toran: Gateway to the Other Side

Chapter 4

Adrienne’s heart beat so loud it drowned out the cacophony of downtown Phoenix. Her husband and son were alive. She stepped forward to cross the street and join them. 

Hands wrapped around her waist and yanked her backward mid-stride. 

Yelping, she swatted at the stranger’s hold. The world came rudely into focus—the clang of the light rail, the acrid stench of ozone, and the woodsy scent of cologne. Her husband and son disappeared behind the train cars. She rose on tiptoes to catch sight of them. They were gone, vanished as if they had never been.

“Are you okay?” A man shouted over the clatter of the light rail.

Adrienne blinked away her tears and focused on Mr. Woodsy cologne.

Black-rimmed, designer glasses framed wintery blue eyes. His tailored pin-striped suit showed off his gym-toned narrow waist and broad shoulders. He cocked one eyebrow in expectation of a reply.

She inhaled deeply. Don’t mention her dead husband and son. If she saw another look of pity, she’d throat-punch someone. “I thought I saw someone I knew.”

A good, sane rational explanation. She hoped he bought it. God knows, she didn’t.

“Must’ve been somebody important if you were willing to get flattened like a pancake for them.”

She sawed air into her lungs. Just two steps separated her from the light rail—a space she’d been oblivious to since she’d focused on strangers who her mind had tricked into believing were her husband and son. If this man hadn’t stopped her, she would’ve joined them in death. Was that what she wanted? Her knees threatened to buckle.

 The man squinted at her before taking off his glasses and chewing on the earpiece. “I’m sure whoever you saw wouldn’t want you to kill yourself to get to them, would they?”

“No. No, of course not.” The words came fast and hard, spring-boarding off her tongue to slam against her teeth. She wanted to join her husband and son, God knew she wanted to, but she’d gotten past that point, hadn’t she? An ache built inside her skull from the circular reasoning, and she pressed her thumbs against her temples, ignoring the angry red welts slashing her wrists.

“I think you need to sit down.” With his hand cupping her elbow, the stranger guided her to an empty bus bench in front of an Art Deco hotel. “Deep breaths.”

She sank onto the cold metal. Maybe she had stopped seeing her therapist too soon. Perhaps she wasn’t coping as well as she thought. Darkness encroached, and stars twinkled in her peripheral vision. She gulped air to chase them away.

He plopped down on the bench next to her and shuddered. “I did not want to witness anyone getting mowed down today.”

She lowered her hands. Not even a slight tremor. That was good. “I had no plans on getting mowed down today.”

But her husband and baby hadn’t planned to die either. She shut down the thought. She needed to stop thinking about them.

“I’m Dominic, by the way.” He offered a manicured hand. 

“Adrienne.” She slid her palm against his and noted the slight calluses and two nicks on his fingers. Despite the fancy suit and shiny shoes, Dominic wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Her husband had been like that, too—hunched over a computer all day creating a client’s electronic dreams then dinking around in his workshop all evening with her as his assistant. She’d have to go in there eventually, pack away another piece of their life together. 

Dominic cleared his throat.

Right. Focus on the here and now. “Thank you.”

He adjusted his cuff. “No problem. You gonna be okay?”

 “Sure.” Maybe. Probably not. If Dominic hadn’t stopped the hallucination of her husband, she could have died. Maybe she should consider another round of professional help. Her friends were always sending her links to grief support meetings. She surged to her feet. Her friends! She was supposed to meet them for lunch. Her phone. She needed her phone. She patted her pockets.

Empty. 

Where the blazes had it gone? 

Dominic tilted his head to the side as if studying her. “Is something wrong?”

“I need to get going.” She stepped forward then stopped. Pedestrians shifted around her, slightly miffed she impeded their path. Music throbbed against the closed windows of passing cars. Her phone had been in her hand just before she saw, thought she saw, her husband. Her attention dropped to the ground. A purple rectangle lay against the pole of a parking meter. She lurched forward.

“Right.” Dominic checked the clunky black watch on his wrist. “I’ll be late for a meeting if I don’t hurry. Perhaps, we’ll meet again, Adrienne.”

She bit her tongue to stop from crying no. She didn’t want to be rude; besides, it wasn’t his fault she noticed his hands. She backed away from him. “Thank you again. You know,” she jerked her head toward the street, “for saving my life.”

Turning, she faced the corner. She was surprised her friends were not waiting for her, checking again to make sure she hadn’t stood them up. A cartoonishly evil laugh swelled in the air. She recognized that ringtone.

Dammit, she hadn’t picked up the stupid thing. She pivoted about and collided with a solid lump smelling of expensive leather and woodsy cologne. No, not him again. She bounced off his chest. Despite the fancy suit and manicure, he definitely spent time keeping himself in shape.

Stepping back, he flashed her a set of dimples in his smooth-shaven cheeks and held out her phone on his palm. “I believe this is yours.”

“Yes. Thank you.” She moved to grab it.

He shifted it away and examined the purple case when it fell silent. “Not a crack in sight. I may have to get myself one of these cases. My screen is constantly cracking.”

“You can find them everywhere.” She gritted her teeth. “Look. I really have to go and meet my friends.”

There. She’d said it. Others were waiting for her. And she’d be damned if she thanked him again. That was getting monotonous. 

He handed over her phone.

She snatched it up. A green bubble meant one missed call and a voicemail—probably both of them ripping her a new one for blowing them off. Spinning around, she strode toward the corner. She could play the message in their company. Jenna would blush, but Cathy would loudly defend their actions. Telling them that she’d seen her husband and son would shut them both up.

A whisper of sound behind her caused the hair on her neck to stand on end. For fuck’s sake, why was the man following her? Stopping, she turned around.

Dominic stopped an arm’s length away. A white business card dangled from his fingers. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but obviously, it’s something major.” He offered his card between two fingers. “If you ever feel the need to talk…”

She braced herself for the rest of the line, the date or hookup part. Nothing. She plucked the card free and glanced at it. A soothing green color highlighted two silhouettes slumped on chairs. Bold black lettering marched across the bottom—Dominic Buchanan, Therapist.

Well, fuck. How high was her crazy flag? “You’re a therapist?”

He shrugged. “Therapy doesn’t hold the same stigma that it used to. And it helps that we meet in groups. Hearing that other people have experienced a similar trauma helps.”

Stigma? He thought she was worried about stigma? She opened her mouth to set him straight then stopped. She didn’t have time. Her friends were waiting. Her phone cackled evilly again. She tucked the card in her pocket. “Thanks again.”

“You’re welcome.” He didn’t move.

Good. Adrienne thumbed on her phone and headed for the restaurant. “Hello.”

Jenna’s voice cracked across the connection. “I’m telling you if she blows us off one more time, I’m going to agree with her parents.”

Cathy snorted. “We can’t agree with her parents. We are her friends.”

“Guys?” Agree with Adrienne’s parents about what? But she knew, according to her parents, a year was long enough to grieve. “I can hear you.”

“You know what she’s gonna say, don’t you?” Jenna lobbed back.

“I just hope she showered and changed out of those sweats.”

Adrienne bit her lip. Jenna had obviously butt-dialed her. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have with them. She hung up the phone. Oh, she would still meet them, but she damn sure wouldn’t tell them about seeing her husband and son. She slid her phone in her pocket, and her fingers brushed the card. Maybe she would see Mr. Buchanan after all.

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About Linda Andrews

Linda Andrews lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, Arizona. When she announced to her family that her paranormal romance was to be published, her sister pronounce: "What else would she write? She’s never been normal." All kidding aside, writing has become a surprising passion. So just how did a scientist start to write paranormal romances? What other option is there when you’re married to romantic man and live in a haunted house? If you’ve enjoyed her stories or want to share your own paranormal experience feel free to email the author at www.lindaandrews.net She’d love to hear from you.
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