23 | A Leap of Faith

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"Feeling sick again?" Shane asked as the car thrummed along.

Evanna, startled out of her reverie, turned to look at him. "No, I'm okay."

"Tell me if you are. I can—"

"I'm okay, Shane. Really."

He glanced at her. "You're quiet."

"It's just...I'm not entirely sure what to expect." She referred to her phone yet another time. "We should be close now."

For the past five minutes, they had been driving along a potholed road in the outer fringes of Cape Valinia. Buildings and traffic had dwindled away to ramshackle houses, punctuated by the occasional convenience store or service garage. Unkempt wilderness threatened to smother the entire neighborhood, and gnarly trees formed a barrier that cut off Mardane from the rest of the city.

Evanna stared out of the window as they passed by a yard enclosed with chain-link fence, where a few boys played cricket. Stray dogs, who lounged by the side of the road, eyed them curiously as they drove by. Weeds sprouted out of cracked sidewalk, and a dry wind kicked up a cloud of dust.

Her gaze strayed to Shane.

His face was unreadable as he drove on. She dwelled on her very first encounters with him and the cool, impregnable aura that surrounded him. Except, I'm no longer intimidated by it. A beaming smile lit up her face at the memory of her lunch with him.

Then her mind's eye constructed the image of her venturing down the wooded path near Serin Drive. But I'm only just traversing the outer rim of his world.

"Wait." She straightened up and doubled-checked the map. "It's down this lane here."

They went along the bumpy lane, which seemed to delve right into the wilderness. The car protested, its subdued drone growing more audible.

Then they came upon the house. It very much resembled the picture on the rental website. If I knew last Tuesday that I'd actually be standing in front of it a week later!

It was a derelict two-story house that stood by itself against the backdrop of dry forest. Broken chain-link fence marked the perimeter of the property. Weeds and vines climbed up the walls of the house as if nature itself was impatient to reclaim the land and blot out its sorry existence.

The car purred to a stop in front of a rusted, half-open gate.

"Um, so," Evanna said, unfastening the seatbelt, "I'll just go and see if he's in."

Shane observed her. "What if he is not in?"

She put on her backpack. "Wait for me here?"

"I'm supposed to sit here...while you walk into that in the middle of nowhere?"

"Yeah."

Shaking his head, he pulled off his seatbelt and got out of the car.

Evanna groaned and hopped out herself, though part of her sighed with relief. Don't be a wimp, Ev. It's just an old house.

Heat engulfed her the instant she was out, and she fought the impulse to crawl back into the cool interior of the car. Drawing in a deep breath, she strode towards the house while Shane followed behind.

A sudden movement caught her eye, jolting her to a halt. A small, grey shape darted among the trees.

"What was that?" Evanna exclaimed with wide eyes.

"Monkeys. They're pretty common in Valinia," Shane said, coming to a stop next to her. "They break into houses, steal things..."

"Oh." She peered at the trees in fascination, hoping to catch another glimpse of one.

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