She jogged back to her bedroom, scanning the surfaces for any miscellaneous items that may have been left behind. A crinkled up photograph caught her eye, wedged in a corner underneath her desk. Pushing her chair out of the way, Emery crawled underneath the wooden structure, extending her arm as far as it would go. As her finger made contact with the edge of the photo, she tightened her grip and snatched it from the carpet.

She sat back on her heels, smoothing the photograph in her palm. It was a picture of her father, decked out in army gear from head to toe. He'd been deployed when she was just an infant, so memories of him were scarce. When she was just six years old, they'd received news that her father's assignment would be permanent.

She hadn't heard from him since.

Emery wiped a tear from her eye as she folded up the photo and stuck it in her back pocket. She pressed herself up off the ground and took a deep breath, pushing the thoughts of her father to the back of her mind, then made her way into Alexis's room, checking for the fourth and final time for anything her sister may have "borrowed" in the past and "forgotten" to return.

Just as Emery was about to head downstairs, something on the television caught her eye. The headline at the bottom of the news channel read: Testing in Progress for New Biofuel. She plopped onto the bed, turning up the volume as the director of the program gave his report.

"We're in the third and final phase of testing . . ."

Emery sat back in disbelief as the director and the reporter bantered back and forth. Nothing had moved forward in the way of science or technology for years and years. Twenty-eight years to be exact.

No advancements. No breakthroughs.

At just twelve years old, Emery had asked her mother about it, to which she'd simply replied that the government had stopped funding any and all exploration related to science or technology for tax purposes. Which meant that for over two decades, they'd had the same cars, the same medicine, the same phones and televisions.

Of course, Emery attempted to research the topic further, only to find that the internet was full of conspiracy theories and a whole lot of junk. Why the government had stopped the funding was the one overarching question of her generation.

And no one seemed to know the answer.

A deafening clatter sounded throughout the house. Emery clicked the television off and darted out of the room. From the landing, she could see her jewelry box and all its remnants splayed out on the tile. Alexis stood at the foot of the stairs, corners of a damaged box in hand. She looked as though she were about to burst.

Before her sister could make a scene, Emery rushed down the stairs to gather the array of earrings, necklaces, and bracelets that had spilled onto the floor. They each scooped up a pile and then headed toward the front door, their mother hot on their heels, surveying the house to make sure nothing had been left behind.

Alexis unlocked the doors of her sister's black Volkswagen Jetta and slid into the passenger's seat. Emery opened the driver's side door and dropped the remainder of the jewelry into the center console, then turned around to face her mom.

"Make us proud," Sandra fussed as she opened her arms for a hug.

Emery met her mother's warm embrace. "Do I really have a choice, being a Darden legacy and all?"

A wry smile crossed Sandra's face. "Ah, yes. Above all, I'll miss your sarcasm the most." She winked. "I can only hope that your experience at Darden will be longer lived than mine was." She paused, as if suddenly remembering something important. "Wait here just a second."

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