Venus chose a black pleated mini-skirt and a horizontal black and white striped tank. Over the top of the tank she put on a see-through lace top in maroon. Then, over the top of that, she slid on a vertical pin striped black blazer. It’d been one of the outfits hanging on a display in the store. Chev had said she’d look perfect in it. It wasn’t bad. 

Turning back and forth in the full-length mirror attached to the bathroom door, Venus decided she looked adorable. Zaren had also bought scrunchies and barrettes. Since her hair hung to her waist, she was grateful for them. Venus made a braid and wrapped a maroon-colored lace scrunchie around the end.

Finished, she picked up a small black purse, which she’d filled with cherry-flavored lip gloss, a couple of pens and another scrunchie, and hurried to the living room, where she knew the guys were waiting.

“I’m ready.”

“You look beautiful,” Dervinias said.

“Yes, you do,” Zaren agreed. 

“Thanks.”

With a flick of his wrist, Dervinias opened the door. “We’d better go if we don’t want to be late.”

Once outside, Venus snuggled deeper into her coat. Her body longed to really inhale, take a big, deep breath, but she resisted, knowing her lungs couldn’t take it. Instead she studied the neighborhood—all of the houses crammed together in their neat little rows. Somewhere there was a fire. The smell of burning wood cut through the chill. A twinge of alarm hit her stomach until she remembered humans had fireplaces and she looked up. Sure enough, smoke puffed into the sky from the roof of a house across the street.

Hundreds of birds flew over in a large V formation. Their chirping and tweeting sounded like a room full of talking people. Venus paused to watch as they landed on a telephone wire. Grief overwhelmed her senses. Sadraden. Dead. She’d never fly with her friend again. She’d never get the chance to meet her baby.

“Ready?” Zaren asked, resting a hand on her shoulder.

Venus turned slightly to search his face. He knew what she’d been thinking about, his sorrow evident. “Yes,” she answered and they walked to Dervinias’s enormous black truck together.

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