By Berneta L. Haynes and Lornett B. Vestal
Once again, Valerie and Grayson were the guests of honor for dinner, but Mia was nursing a hangover, according to Bom. “Mia’s still resting in Sage’s quarters and won’t join us,” Bom told Grayson. She joined them at the head of the table as they waited for Sage’s performance.
Grayson cast Valerie an uncertain look but shrugged.
Everyone turned their attention to the stage in the middle of the dining hall. Sage had arrived. After a microphone check, she looked at the audience and smiled. Breaking the thick silence, she began singing an Acappella version of one of her old hits.
As she sang, she fixed her eyes on Valerie. Valerie felt the same strange connection she’d had with Sage that morning, and it fascinated her.
She’s a much better singer than her shitty pop hits made me think. I hate this song, but her voice is lovely.
When the song finished, everyone stood and applauded, while Sage blew a kiss toward Grayson, Bom, and Valerie’s table. Two songs later, she descended from the stage amid applause and proceeded to the head table. On her way, she stopped at the other tables to shake hands, giving every person she interacted with her full attention.
By the time Sage arrived at the head table, Valerie was in the middle of eating and on her second glass of wine. Sage sat next to her and they talked about all manner of things—life, family, and faders.
Time flew and by the time Valerie looked at her watch, it was approaching midnight. With a dramatic yawn, Sage announced that she was retiring for the night and invited Grayson and Bom to join her.
Before he left, Grayson hung back and whispered to Valerie, “I’m glad Sage has grown on you.”
Although Valerie retired to her guest room not long after that, she couldn’t sleep. Her mind lingered on her family and the possibility of connecting with them telepathically again. Lying in bed, she tried to use her ability again as she had this morning.
But it was fruitless. Maybe Sage has to train me some more. I’ll ask her to give me another session tomorrow.
Sighing, she got up, retrieved the vape pen from her purse, and went to the window. After taking a puff of the pen, she opened the drapes and looked out, marveling at the stars blanketing the clear night sky. It reminded her of the night sky at Eve’s farmhouse.
A knock came at the door, and she spun around. A frustrated Grayson entered and locked the door behind him. “Mia’s missing.”
“Wait…I thought Bom said she was in Sage’s quarters. You didn’t see her there?”
He shook his head and paced, rubbing his fingers through his beard.
“Bom told me that Mia wasn’t feeling good and went to the infirmary. She said the family doctor is looking after her.” He kept his voice low and approached Valerie. “But I slipped out after they fell asleep and went to the infirmary. Mia’s not there. Something is wrong.”
Valerie turned off the vape pen, grabbed the water bottle from her nightstand, chugged it, and tried to sober up from all the wine. She guided Grayson to a seat near the window as she watched him suppress tears. He avoided looking at her. She’d never seen him in this emotional state. He was always so positive despite everything, she thought.
“Look, I’ll go to Sage and ask her myself where Mia’s at. You stay here.” She slipped her shoes on and hurried to the exit but turned to him before opening the door. “If I don’t come back, you get the hell out of here. Steal one of their cars, since the Jeep still isn’t fixed. Get out of here and go directly to Eve.”
“Valerie?” He met her worried eyes. “You don’t think she’s hurt, do you? You don’t think they’ve done something to her…?”
Valerie thought about her first reaction to Eden’s Paradise and her initial instincts about Bom and Sage. But then she recalled her morning interaction with Sage on the knoll. She grabbed her purse, retrieved her Glock, and slid it inside her pocket. “I don’t know, Grayson. I hope not. I…just promise me you’ll get out of here if I’m not back in twenty minutes.”
He nodded, wiping his eyes.
She opened the door and looked down the empty hallway. Please let me be wrong about this place, about Sage.