Chapter 1

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 Lara could not see the lightning. her eyes were closed and her mind was fixed on the image it had conjured; the same thing she always saw when she meditated. Space. Blackness overlaid with a gently swaying splatter of stars. She floated in nothing, and she was nothing. If you punched a hole in her chest at this moment, you would find her hollow, her insides the galaxy's vacuum.

She heard the thunder, though. It shook the little ceramic dish on the coffee table at her side where her incense burned. The unexpected rumble caused her muscles to tense, and the void of space bled away as she opened her eyes to life on earth.

Lara furrowed her brow, closed her eyes again, and hurriedly shut her chakra points. It was impossible to concentrate. She heaved a breath and uncurled herself from the lotus position, snuffing out the stick of incense with a faint pang of guilt. Mr. Norris had banned smoking and open flames of any kind in the building, and rightly so, she thought -- but there was something about this incense, shipped to her all the way from Tibet, that gave her a special quietude.

Its calming effect on her, however, was no match for what the forecasters were calling "Snowmageddeon." The city, frenetic enough on a usual day, had been swept into a bedlam frenzy for the last 48 hours as the nor'easter forayed ever closer. All eyes were on the doomsday clock as people rushed to fill cabinets, gas tanks, and prescriptions before the storm incapacitated the metropolis. Though it was against her better judgment, and the knowledge that these things always get blown out of proportion, Lara couldn't help but be caught up in the fear and anticipation that permeated everything -- her neighbors' cautious but spirited hallway conversations, her Twitter feed, Facebook wall, and every news channel on TV and radio.

Of course Lara was prepared, and the handful of people who knew her well expected no less. A few hours ago, her friend Melisande texted send pics of ur pantry loot wanna see :)

With no small satisfaction, Lara heaped her recent purchases on the table and snapped a pic. Beans, quinoa, kale, yogurt, tea, bottled water, soy milk, hummus, dried and fresh fruit, a pile of batteries, two new flashlights, and a survival kit with first aid, water purification tablets, a flashing distress beacon, and a reassuringly large can of pepper spray.

You r a freakin girl scout!! Melisande replied.

No way, you seen the nutrition labels on those cookies? she sent in reply.

Now, about four hours since the first flakes fell, Lara rose, stretched up high, and dropped into downward dog for a few moments. After aligning her breathing, she kicked her legs up into the air, performing a perfect handstand. Exhaling, she dropped her feet and righted herself, snagging her phone from its charger in one smooth motion.

Twitter was blowing up. OMG did you hear that?? her cousin's account inquired. Melisande posted @LaraW95 was that THUNDERSNOW????

She favorited the tweet and replied yeah, I heard it too! Be safe!!

Despite the dangerous combination of up to three feet of snow, high winds, and polar temperatures, Lara felt warm pleasure burn through her as she parted the living room curtains, exposing the large French-style window and gazing at the massive white flakes that assailed the neighborhood. Guilt snuffed it -- she worried for the homeless, the impoverished, those who might lose power -- but she could not deny that the cozy isolation of being snowed in appealed to her. She had every excuse now to spend the next few days in what she considered paradise: practicing yoga, meditating, catching up on Netflix, and reading and knitting, all in delicious, unapologetic, well-ordered solitude.

This time she saw the lightning flash, and listened for the thunder. She shivered, and closed the drapes. The Penelope House, as her building was called, was old and wonderfully shabby-chic, with panelled walls and intricate mouldings, and a few 1950s era updates here and there. It was adorable and unique, but not exactly energy efficient. Lara replaced the heavy drapes to trap her heat inside. Leaning over, she straightened a framed print of a Degas painting a fraction of an inch, and then headed to the kitchen. Tea and her new book, a tattered paperback to enjoy -- some sassy chick-lit Melisande had given her -- were just the thing.

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