Prologue

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        Samantha’s room was quiet.

        Too quiet, thought Grandma Marie, especially for a thirteen-year-old who’d just spent two days whining about missing her best friend’s party.

        Grandma Marie put her book aside, crept up the stairs, and quietly pushed the door open.

        There were three huge lumps on the bed. The lumps were too large to be mistaken for a girl, and too still to be a breathing human being. Grandma Marie pulled off the blanket, and met nothing but pillows.

        Within minutes Grandma had taken the house keys, grabbed her purse, and locked the front door behind her. She knew Andy probably wouldn’t approve of her leaving the house at night. But she also knew that Andy would definitely make things worse for Samantha if he found out she’d disobeyed him and snuck out of the house. Their father-daughter relationship was already strained enough as it is. Besides, Grandma knew where Libby’s house was, and it was only a few blocks away.

        The street was quiet, and the air was cool.

        The faint sounds of music and laughter came from somewhere near.

        Grandma Marie walked briskly along the sidewalk, as briskly as she could without straining herself. She made sure to keep her breathing normal as she walked. That’s what Andy would’ve told her.

        The sound of squealing tires got her attention. She stopped and looked around to see where it was coming from.

        The headlights shone right into her eyes, blinding her. Before she could even move, she felt her breath knocked out as something hard violently hit her waist, and for a brief moment she felt like she was flying.

        Then she heard the crunch of her own bones as she collapsed into a heap, felt the sudden crack of her skull as it hit the pavement, and smelled the thick blood that spurted and seeped through her scalp, spilling onto the concrete within seconds.

        The pain was instant, and it was horrible. She didn’t know which part of her hurt the most.

        Her body started to shake, and her eyes began to dim.

        Vaguely she heard the sound of car doors opening and slamming shut.

        A young woman’s muffled voice was saying “Oh my God, oh my God!”

        Somewhere near her, a male voice said, “We better call 911.” But his voice was shaking.

        Grandma Marie tried to open her eyes, but the world was quickly growing dimmer around her.

        She tried to speak, but her body was shaking too much.

        “Samantha,” she wanted to say. “Please take care of Samantha.”

        She didn’t know if anyone heard her. She couldn’t even hear the young people’s voices anymore.

        The darkness was clouding her eyes. The pain came in long explosions, inside her head, inside her chest, overpowering her.

        Three blocks away, at a dining table littered with red paper cups of varying amounts of soda and beer, Samantha stood, trying to decide what to do.

        She held one of the paper cups in her hand, and beside her Eric Taylor stood smiling.

        “Come on Sam. It’s just a sip. It’ll help you relax.” He tilted his head as he looked at her with those clear blue eyes, the irises slightly hidden by a thick fringe of blond eyelashes.

        Sam smiled back, then raised her cup towards him in a toast. “Okay.”

        She casually brought the cup to her lips.

        “Samantha,” said Grandma Marie.

        Sam was so startled by her voice, she dropped her cup and spilled beer all over Eric’s pants and shoes.

        “Aw, shoot Sam!” Eric glared at her, and his twisted expression surprised and disturbed Samantha. She’d never seen him angry before.

        On top of that she was already panicking, looking to her left and to her right. She knew there was no way she was getting out of the punishment waiting for her. But where was Grandma Marie? Was she hiding somewhere to spare her the humiliation? Or was she standing somewhere conspicuous, about to embarrass her in front of her friends and ruin her life forever?

        She didn’t see her anywhere.

        Samantha moved past the still-angry Eric and a few other people in the dining room. She went out the open sliding glass doors that led to the pool.

        Libby was standing next to Mike at the edge of the pool. She was laughing at something Mike said, and as she threw her head back she saw Sam approaching.

        “Sam!”

        “Hey.” Sam paused in front of her, and gave Mike a brief smile. “Sorry Libby, but I gotta bail. I think my grandma’s here.”

        “Here? Are you sure?”

        “Well, I haven’t really seen her, but I heard her call me. I think she’s around, maybe outside. Maybe she doesn’t want to embarrass me.”

        “Let’s hope.” Libby’s mouth twisted into a slight frown. “Okay, I’ll see ya.”

        “Bye.”

        Sam made her way around the pool area to the front of the house. Just as she was stepping onto the sidewalk, an ambulance sped by in front of her, moving towards the direction of her street.

        “Samantha,” Grandma Marie’s voice said.

        Sam whirled around. But she was alone.

        Her heart was suddenly gripped by a strange fear. She didn’t know why. She just knew something was horribly wrong.

        Sam started to run.

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