Sister

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Alice hated her parents. She hated the way they tried to connect, how they would place curfews on her, how they had to meet every friend. They were like some sort of boa constrictor, tightening further and further until—

"Don't take that tone with me," Melissa said, standing in the doorway.

Alice whipped around, snarl on her lips. "Well, maybe if you would stop talking to me! Just leave me alone!"

She knocked over a jar of pencils, cursing as she scrambled for her headphones in the dark. Her mother continued to chatter from the doorway, but Alice managed to get her earphones in. Music—any music, loud music—flooded her ears and everything was a little better.

Melissa stalked toward her, but Alice retreated, and she said don't touch me, but she didn't hear a word of it.

It was all Alice could do to text Val.

Alice grabbed a change of clothes, hunching her shoulders as Melissa's volume increased. Into the bathroom, the toothbrush—

Melissa grabbed Alice and turned her around—

"Shut up! God, just leave me alone! Just leave me the fuck alone!"

Desmond withdrew like she had bit him. Alice looked at her father, at her mother, standing in the doorway, still.

"I'm going to Val's."

Melissa immediately opened her mouth, but Alice was already trudging down the stairs. Her father probably said goodbye, but Alice was too close to screaming to say anything. She slammed the door shut behind her, winced at the wind.

But then she took a deep breath, the cold filling her lungs, and she ran. She ran past the turn, past the pier, until her legs were aching and even then. Only when the headlights picked her out did she finally force herself to stop, muscles trembling.

Alice nearly ripped the door of its hinges, and she fell in, into the warmth and the soft leather.

"Please don't hurt my car."

Alice didn't have the patience to sit up.

Val turned around in her seat, frowning. Alice groaned before Val could even say anything.

"I don't want to talk about it."

Val nodded, turning back around. They drove in silence, the streetlights flashing through the windows, giving Alice a headache.

"So," Skulduggery began; Alice prepared herself. "We're not getting hot chocolate."

"What?" Alice glared at the back of Skulduggery's head.

"Come on, you really think I'm going to spill it?" Val cut in. "I love it, Skulduggery, you know I do, but I'm not going to spill has this car been through that a little stain remover can't fix, anyways?"

Skulduggery shook his head. "Do you know 'The Last Supper?'"

Val raised an eyebrow. "The Jesus painting?"

"Yes, the Jesus painting. One of the finest pieces of artwork or our time. One of the most recognizable, the most revered, the most symbolic. While da Vinci was painting it, he chose to paint on dry wall rather than the tradition wet plaster."

"That's... That's fascinating, Skulduggery."

"If you visit 'The Last Supper' today, you'll notice that the image is faded. Simply put, wet plaster holds paint better. Such a simple action, just a slight miscalculation, a deviation of the accepted norm, and now one of the most defining pieces of artwork in human history is fading."

Both Alice and Val stared.

Val's mouth twisted. "Did you just compare the Bentley to 'The Last Supper?'"

"Both amazing pieces of artisanship, Valkyrie."

"I just wanted to stop for a hot chocolate!"

"We don't eat or drink in the Bentley."

Alice sat up. "You know, you could ask me why I ran away from home."

Val turned around again, elbowing Skulduggery in the process. "You told us not to. We were just continuing our conversation."

Alice opened her mouth, then shut it. "I hate them."

Val didn't answer. It was just the sound of the engine, of tires on asphalt. Alice still had one of her headphones in, and the song switched over to something with a man screaming over guitar riffs.

"There's, like, no way they were like you with how they are with me. They're everywhere. They don't let me do anything. And they're on me about grades, too. How did you live with them?" Alice buckled her seatbelt.

Val turned back around, and for whatever reason, Alice wished she had waited until Skulduggery wasn't in the car to bring this up.

Alice crossed her arms and slumped in the seat. "No wonder you ran away."

"Just... try and cut them a little slack," Val finally answered.

"Yeah, says you, you're living in a mansion."

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