CHAPTER ONE: DISAPPEARANCES

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"I understand that you want to unleash your inner teenager all over again, Dad, but—"

"Please," he muttered. This was ridiculous. Was I seriously having this conversation with him? "I can give you money. Like, that's what your generation is into these days, right? Money?"

"This is not a matter of extortion. I just don't want to be held responsible if anything bad happens."

"Nothing bad will happen," he said, and it almost felt as if he was whining about it. He was Emilia, all over again. "You can call Jared. I'll leave you enough cash for pizza and whatever you want to buy, but please, do this for us."

"Are you really that desperate to get laid, Dad?" I asked, and the toaster went off in unison. Three knocks on the door followed. He was giving me a funny look—like he didn't really know what to say back to me—but another familiar voice came over his before he could speak.

"Excuse me, I'm letting myself inside."

"Jared," Dad said, his eyes pinned on him as he walked through the entrance. "Olivia was just talking about you."

"Was she, now?" He looked at me with a goofy smile, and I simply shook my head.

"Yes." I saw my father taking something out of his pocket: his wallet. Oh, he wouldn't dare. "I hope you two have fun tomorrow. We'll be back around midnight. I don't really need much time."

"Dad!" I snarled, but he disregarded me and handed Jared a fifty dollar bill.

"Tomorrow...?"

"Liv will explain everything, Jared." Dad smiled, walking out the kitchen with probably the biggest smile I'd ever seen. "Honey? Did you hear that? Olivia just offered to take care of Em!"

I heard him proceeding to explain the rest of their plan, but I was too focused on my best friend's confused face. He didn't seem that bothered about the bill in his hand, though. "I swear I told him not to—"

"I don't mind. I'm just trying to get the image of your parents fornicating like wild animals out of my head. You could just see the desperation..." he whispered, and I couldn't help the chortle from escaping my throat. His eyes went elsewhere, though. "Uh, Liv?"

"What?"

"I think you forgot something," he said, his finger signaling somewhere behind me. As if on cue, I felt the burning smell filter into my nose.

"Shit." I pivoted quickly. The slices of bread were now black—not crispy black but charcoal black—and I burnt myself a couple of times in the process of taking them out. "I don't know where my head is." I left the plate aside and looked back at him.

"Well, that's not the only thing missing," he said, his face becoming serious this time. "Did you hear the news?"

There was just something awfully unsettling about those words that I couldn't bring myself to think of anything good. "No—why?"

"The Harris boy is missing," he deadpanned. "David."

"What? How?" I had seen the kid at school just two days ago. The idea of David missing simply didn't fit to what I knew about him. He got good grades, didn't really have that big of a friends group.... He was too average. You couldn't think of anything like that happening to him.

"I don't know all the details, but Dad got a call at around eleven last night from Glenda. She was panicking because she said David hadn't come home yet from playing at the park."

"Kidnapped?"

"Maybe." He sighed. "But with cities as big as this one, nobody really cares."

"It's the third disappearance in less than a month, Jared."

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