CHAPTER ONE: DISAPPEARANCES

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS.
PRESENT DAY.

I grimaced at the sound of Emilia's loud cries and halted before the last stair. Every inch of me hoped they went away quickly before I got a headache. It was the third time in a row that she whined all night and didn't let anyone sleep. I loved her—I really did—but the outbreaks were getting out of control.

Early to bed, early to rise—makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Emilia was bound to be one hell of a wise kid if she kept on with those horrible habits.

Along with her constant crying, I heard Mom's hushed singing and Dad tossing pans in the kitchen. The scent of bacon and eggs was already filtering through the walls.

"Nora, breakfast is ready," Dad announced.

My mother's voice followed, coming through the living room tiredly. "Do you have Em's bottle there? I want to see if she'll eat now."

"Yes. It's still warm."

I treaded all the way to the kitchen to find Dad uncapping Emilia's favorite bottle, the one with a big, fat bear holding a lollipop printed on it, and Mom walking in with the most exhausted face I'd ever seen. Sadly, Em hadn't stopped crying. If anything, she'd started screaming louder. "What's happening to her lately?"

Dad glanced back at me, probably unaware I was already awake. It wasn't a secret: I didn't enjoy early mornings. "You had the same outbreaks as a baby and look at you now. I'm just hoping your sister goes down the same road."

"Having high hopes is never a good thing, Dad." I took the bottle from his hands and moved toward Mom, my eyes fixed on Emilia. "Hey, look at me. You haven't let me sleep for the past three days, and that's unacceptable. Throwing fits won't get you anything, so I suggest you drink this bottle and take a nap."

She'd stopped whining halfway through my words, her puffy eyes letting out the last tears in them. Of course, baby logic. Mom took the bottle from my hand and drew it close enough so that Em could reach out and grab it herself. She began to suck on the nipple almost instantly.

"How do you do that?" my mother asked, seemingly baffled.

"If she's acting like a brat, all you have to do is snap her out of it."

"I'll give you twenty bucks if you babysit her next Friday night."

"Mom—"

"Make that forty if you do it tomorrow," Dad offered.

"How about no money and no babysitting? I have a party tonight and I have to finish studying, so don't even think about it."

I took a plate after hearing Mom sigh and head back to the living room, where she could leave Emilia in her baby walker. Dad walked up behind me while I got myself some bacon and put two bread slices in the toaster. "Your mom and I could really use some time alone, Liv...."

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