Read from the beginning of Part One here
Read from the beginning of Part Two here
John was drowning in debt. There was no way to run from it now. Jenny’s medical bills were over a million dollars, and his insurance covered barely half of that. He considered selling the house and moving back to California to live with his parents until he could get a handle on his finances. He didn’t want to declare bankruptcy–not yet–but it was going to take some serious intervention to keep him from the inevitable lawsuits. Creditors could be vicious.
He didn’t want to leave Tulsa; it was a great town. He liked his job at the World and had lots of friends. Julie would be devastated, naturally. She shared such a bond with Noah, and he flinched at the thought of pulling them apart. She was not your average girl, he knew this, and while he did not know the full extent of her power, he was well aware that she was blessed with unusual abilities.
It was Jenny who brought it to his attention, of course. The Absent Minded Professor, she called him affectionately. She said he’d forget that they had five children if she didn’t remind him.
She had played a memory game with their youngest on the office floor one night when Julie was three years old to show him what she called Julie’s “mind games.”
He never forgot the image of the small girl, tiny fingers flipping over the square cards with animal pictures on them to make matches within seconds. She was never wrong, finding the mate each time without hesitation. Jenny’s eyes were wide, staring at him with a small smile on her face. He shook his head, disbelieving, until Julie played the game three times in a row, never missing a match.
Since then, they had tried to impress upon Julie the importance of keeping her talents somewhat hidden, making sure she understood just how special they were. Jenny told her to stay out of peoples’ minds, that it was rude to go poking around uninvited, and Julie had nodded soberly, a serious child with dark, fathomless eyes. He worried about her.
Until she found Noah. He marveled at how perfectly suited they were for each other, and thanked god for the gift of such a friend. He knew from Miranda that Noah had secrets talents of his own that increased the depth of their bond, and he feared the consequences of separating them. He didn’t know how to tell her they were moving.
In the end, of course, he didn’t have to.
Tears pooling in her eyes, she confronted him after school one winter day, saying she had been hit with the knowledge while she was eating lunch; it hit her in the middle of her bologna sandwich. She told Noah, and together they agreed that such a thing must not happen.
He tried to explain to Julie the depth of his financial distress but she wasn’t really listening. How could she understand? At nine, she knew only one thing, and that was that her only friend was going to be taken away from her. Even promises of a German Shepherd puppy and visits to the beach didn’t help; she was destroyed at the thought of moving. She ran from the room and across the street to his house.
She poured the story out to Miranda. She, too, was shocked and horrified at the idea of the Millers moving away, and immediately began to wonder just how bad the situation was.
“Dad said it was over a million dollars,” Julie sniffled. “That’s a lot, really a lot, I know. But maybe we can raise some money somehow. Maybe we could have a garage sale.”
“Or a car wash,” Noah added.
“I’m sorry sweeties,” Miranda said. “But car washes and garage sales don’t make half a million dollars.”
Noah ran and got his piggy bank, which was nothing more than an old pickle jar filled with nickles and quarters and a few dollar bills.
“Come on, Julie,” he said. “I’m going to give my money to your dad.”
As they crossed the street hand in hand, Miranda realized that financial security resided in the brains of the two children. She had known it, of course, ever since Noah picked Mr. McGraw’s winning lottery numbers, but she usually couldn’t think of it without bile rising in her throat. Its association with greed and death was indelibly imprinted upon her mind.
Now, however, everything was different.
This wouldn’t be money for gain. This wouldn’t be money used for despicable purposes by despicable people. This was a crisis situation—an opportunity to use Noah’s powers for something really important and good.
Still, she hesitated. Actions have consequences, that she knew well. A butterfly flapping its wings over Paris might cause a mudslide in Peru.
Or maybe this was fate. Their children weren’t part of the spectral order, they were subject to, and part of, all the machinations that created the ever-unfolding tapestry of life. They were woven into it, as much as she, John, and everyone else was. The only thing that made them different was an acute sensitivity to initial conditions. They didn’t know the future; perhaps they simply felt the present better than anyone around them. Better, but not perfectly.
And that wasn’t fate. She liked that idea. Despite his powers, Noah couldn’t possibly know everything. Things evolved and changed, and he wasn’t a supercomputer. He was just a little boy. He and Julie, they were children with gifts, and it was time to use them for something good.
She headed across the street to talk to John.
“Miranda, no.” John said. “This is unconscionable and I think you know that. We can’t use these children like that. It seems abusive somehow.”
“I know how you feel; believe me, I do,” Miranda said. “I wrestle with the ramifications too. I’m the one whose kid was kidnapped for this very thing, remember? But why the hell should they have these powers at all if it can’t be used for something good?
“Start toying with fate, and everything gets messy; really messy,” John said, pacing the floor. “If we are meant to move to California we shouldn’t try to change that.”
“Because you’re broke? Maybe Julie and Noah found each other so that they can help you stay; what are the chances they wound up across the street from each other? I can’t believe these things are accidents.”
“Everything we do affects something else,” John said. “The kids need to understand they can’t be using their…their…”
“It’s OK to say ‘powers’,” Miranda interrupted. “That’s what they are.”
“Powers, then. Powers. They can’t use them to get out of any jam that comes along. They need to have a normal life.”
“They’ll never have a normal life,” Miranda said. “And there’s a reason for that, I believe.”
“Chance, fate, destiny,” John sat on the couch wearily. “That’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? What’s the point?”
“I was a philosophy major. Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed. I loved the whole free will vs. fate thing. I think neither one is right. Fate is only a suggestion – a strong suggestion at times – but what’s the harm in trying? Maybe it won’t work. I don’t think it’s wrong to try.”
“It’s wrong because it will get the kids’ hopes up. If it doesn’t work, it will destroy them.”
“They’re already destroyed by the thought of you leaving,” Miranda insisted. “I don’t think it can get any worse.”
“Maybe you’re right,” John said. He sat for a long time, and the room was silent. “Let me think about it a little more, Miranda. I need to think about it.”
John thought. He grappled with the issues of right and wrong and ethics and principle. And he still could not fight his way out of the quagmire of gray he found himself in.
“I don’t know what to do,” he told Miranda. “I wish I had some powers to tell me if this is a good idea, but I don’t. I think Julie got her gift straight from her mother.”
“None of us can know what will happen,” Miranda said. “Ultimately, whatever you believe fate is, it still wins, doesn’t it? It’s not like we can outsmart it.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
They gathered Noah and Julie and asked them, taking turns, what numbers they felt were due to fall that Wednesday as the Oklahoma lottery was run. The jackpot was up to $1,420,000, and it would be enough—plenty—to get the Millers out of the hole. Julie and Noah thought carefully, faces somber, and gave their guesses.
They were correct, of course. John deposited the money into his bank account, stunned. Miranda and Noah steadfastly refused to take a penny of it, no matter how hard he insisted that part of it was theirs.
The Tulsa World ran a story on John, recounting the details of his wife’s death and the terrible state of health care in the U.S. that left him with such debt. He told the tale of how his daughter and her best friend had picked the winning numbers but her friend, a little boy named Noah Griffith, gave up his portion to keep them from moving away. It was a special piece, a heartwarming human interest story that had the newscasters dabbing at their eyes.
Mr. McGraw, watching it from his prison cell, teared up more than once.