22 | A Glitching Simulation

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Shane moved the car into a lively compound of old, terracotta buildings. Crowds of people were seated in open terraces under bright yellow canopies. Wind whistled through palm trees that had fairy lights entwined around their trunks. Sizeable screens stood in the open spaces, waiting for dusk to fall to come alive.

After a long minute of circling, he found a vacant parking slot and reverse parked into it.

"Shane, maybe we should head straight to Rind's place. What if it gets too dark when I get back?" Evanna asked, pulling off her seatbelt. "My mom might kill me."

He paused with his hand on the door. "I'll drive fast."

"Oh, even faster than before?" She rolled her eyes. "Like, okay—if we crash and die on the spot, it wouldn't be so bad, but what if we end up in a coma?"

He shook his head and got out. She pouted and followed suit.

Shane had insisted that they grab a proper meal before going after Rind and had picked out the place since it was tucked away from the dismal traffic jams.

Heat rolled over her the instant she stepped out, along with a salty tang that suggested the sea.

"There's a beach nearby?" she exclaimed when he sauntered up to her.

"You like the beach?"

"Yeah! I hardly ever get to go..." she faltered when he came to a stop right in front of her.

She blinked up at him. Wait, he's so tall. I mean, I'm too bloody short. I'd have to stand on my tippy toes just to—the heck are you thinking, Ev!

Her breath hitched when he leaned towards her, hand reaching up to her face. She clamped her eyes shut. What's he doing!

His fingertips brushed her cheek like the gossamer touch of feather-light ferns, which stirred up a rabble of butterflies inside. She felt his hand remove something from her hair. She emitted an audible exhale and opened her eyes in time to see him flicking away a pine needle.

Her cheeks kindled red-hot. "Where was I? Oh, yeah, I don't mean go now. Obviously. To the beach, I mean. Maybe another day—next time I pass by these parts or whatever."

"Choppy seas here—and rip currents. It's also congested and far from clean." Shane cocked his head and surveyed her with his ghost smile. "I can take you to a nice beach further away. Nothing in sight but calm seas, white sands and forest..."

Evanna cleared her throat and aimed her gaze at the crowded terrace in her line of sight. "You...used to go to beaches a lot?"

He motioned for her to follow him and led the way out of the car park. "I lived near one before moving to Komoreby."

"Oh." She fell into step with his relaxed gait. "Your family moved so you can go to Kom High?"

"No, my dad had other reasons."

"I live with my mom and Aunt Jan," she offered, hoping to hear more, though his impassive mask that was now in place gave her no clue of his thoughts.

"Your parents are separated?"

"No, my dad passed away in a car crash."

He shot her a look, forehead creasing into a frown. "I'm sorry."

"I was only two—I don't remember him." She twirled a lock of hair as she ambled along. "So, you live with your dad? What about your mom?"

He took a good moment to reply, which came out in a low voice, "I don't feel like talking about it right now..."

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