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Our unassuming little house on Martha Road looked surprisingly different when I came home for winter break. It was smaller than I remembered it being just six weeks earlier when I'd watched it shrink out of view through the back windshield of our car. For the first time, I noticed that the shingles on the roof could use some attention, the brown paint on our shutters was peeling, and our little metal mailbox was rusting in one corner. I knew it wasn't the house but rather my perspective that had changed during the weeks I'd been away, but it was still unsettling to see my childhood home for the first time with fresh eyes.

Mom had put forth an unexpected, uncharacteristic amount of effort and had decorated the front bushes with glimmering white Christmas lights. I fought a swelling of homesickness rising in the pit of my stomach, reminding myself that there was no reason to miss home when I was right there, where I belonged. It was pointless to dwell on the fact that I'd be headed back to Michigan in just ten days.

"Nice," I commented from the front seat of the car as we pulled into the driveway. I meant it. The lights looked really cute, and it was touching to see her getting into the holiday spirit for a change. I couldn't recall Mom ever even taping up cut-outs of Santa in the front windows before. It made my chest ache a little to even think it, but maybe my being sent away had been good for her.

"They were Glenn's idea," she said, blushing a little.

Somehow, miraculously enough, Mom had struck up a bit of a flirtatious friendship with Maude's vet in the weeks since I'd been away at boarding school in Michigan. As it turned out, they had been classmates together at the University of Sheboygan in the graduate veterinary program, and Glenn was recently divorced. Considering all of the many, many laws Trey and I had broken on our little crime spree in November, I had gotten off somewhat lucky when the district judge had sentenced me to attendance at a behavior modification program, also known as minimum security prison for girls. My new school was pretty horrific, but even more than the uniforms, bad food, uncomfortable beds and strict curfew, the worst part was not having any control over my own private communications. Cell phones weren't permitted on the campus of the Dearborn School for Girls, and neither was unmonitored internet use. My only communication with Trey for the last six weeks had been ten minute phone calls on Sunday nights on the pay phone in a very public hallway in my dormitory.

While I had been sent to what boiled down to a reform school in Michigan, Trey had been sentenced to a military academy further north on the Canadian border. There literally weren't any programs for girls who had gotten into as much trouble with the law in the state of Wisconsin as I had, so my mom had been given the choice of two schools, one in Michigan and the other in Minnesota. She had begged the judge to reconsider, claiming she had absolutely no explanation for my behavior on that fateful Saturday other than the severe post-traumatic stress of suffering the loss of two close friends in just two months. The judge hadn't bought her pleas on my behalf, and even worse, the middle-aged male judge had seemed touched by Violet's overly dramatic, tearful recollection of the events of November 2nd. But there was no shortage of military-style behavioral correction facilities for boys in Wisconsin. Trey's parents had chosen the first on the list provided to them by his attorney, eager to appease the court and move on with their lives.

There were butterflies in my stomach as I entered the house, knowing it would only be a matter of hours until Trey arrived home the next morning. We had barely had time to hug goodbye before being sent away to our respective schools back in November; neither one of us daring to risk additional contact in the face of more punishment. The house smelled as it always did, faintly like coffee and toast. Maude had grown considerably; her head now almost reached my knees.

"Is there anything special you'd like for dinner?" Mom asked.

There were a million special things I wanted for dinner, anything other than the bland roast chicken legs and meatloaf served at Dearborn. It had been four weeks since my last real meal, the huge chef's salad I had enjoyed at the airport in Florida with Dad and Rhonda when they'd sent me back to school after I spent Thanksgiving with them. But even though I would have loved to answer, "Deep dish spinach pizza from Federico's," I really didn't want to travel into town and risk running into anyone. I didn't exactly have my finger on the pulse of what was going on at Weeping Willow High School anymore. Mischa had been transferred at her own insistence to St. Patrick's, and she had been writing me letters detailing her painful adjustment to life under the rule of nuns. Amanda was still at Willow since she was only one semester away from graduation, but I had a feeling she limited how much information she shared with Mischa about school gossip. Cheryl and Erica sent me long, hand-written letters covered in stickers and illustrations of things going on at the high school, but they didn't concern themselves with the lives of the popular people. Cheryl had started dating Dan Marshall, and most of her letters were about their dates and how much she liked him.

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