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Walking out of the airport in Oklahoma City, Quinn was caught off guard by a strange quiet, which permeated even the passenger pick up-lane at the airport.  Bird song warbled delicately over the drone of cicadas, humming the sound of the heat from tall prairie grass that rippled in waves around the airfield. 

Daniel's hand was uncertain against her back as Quinn climbed into the shuttle that waited to transport their group.  She pressed her forehead against the window; wishing more than anything that she was already home.

"I feel like I could sleep for an entire week."  She said.

Ali nodded, knowing her comment was not intended for him.  "It will be good to get some rest.  I'll schedule an appointment to follow up on our trip a few weeks from now.  Please just be sure and respond."  

"Why wouldn't we?"  Daniel asked.

They drove on in silence.  The shuttle stopped at Quinn's house first, and Daniel collected her bags from the driver, wheeling them behind him as he walked her to the door.

"I'll call you,"  he said.

She nodded.

"Get some rest,"  he murmured.  

He brushed the hair out of her eyes before he turned and walked back to the shuttle, leaving her alone.

Quinn leaned against the front door as she closed it behind her, the emptiness in the house echoing in her bones.  She had messaged Hampton hundreds of times over the past few weeks, but never received any response.  It was obvious he had not been at home in the time that had lapsed since she received the last message he sent.  The house felt just like one of the many hotels she had stayed in during her trip.  She didn't remember straightening up before she left, but the house was clean now, which made it feel even more vacant.

She walked slowly through the kitchen, sliding open the back patio door.  The summer heat hung heavy on the air, which barely stirred the surface of the water in a full bowl that sat beside a brightly painted doghouse in the middle of the yard.  

"Alvin!"  Quinn called.

The little house shuddered under the force of a wiry red nose bull dog, who bolted out in a fit of whining and shot across the yard to where Quinn kneeled on the porch, arms outstretched.  She was bowled over by the weight of the dog as he hit her lap, licking her face furiously. 

"Ugh," she groaned.  "You'll need a good long walk before you're ready to lay down and take a nap."

She found his leash, and hooking it to his harness, opened the gate.  The little dog pulled her up the street behind him, and she found it oddly amusing to be jogging once again, when all she had hoped to do was sleep.  There was a convenience store located a few blocks from her house, and Quinn decided to stop in for some flavored water.  She tied Alvin's leash to a post that stood a short distance from the door.  He whined as she walked away, and she laughed.

"Don't worry, Hoss, I'll be right back."

Quinn heard a bell as she walked into the store and headed toward the refrigerated aisle.  She opened an oversized glass door that stood guard over rows of chilled bottled water.  She paused to consider the selection, and experienced the sensation of being watched.  She looked up, and in the fog that had condensed on the open glass door she could just make out the shape of a face on the opposite side.  She slowly let the door close, clutching the bottle of water she had selected in her hand.      

A middle aged man she had not noticed when she walked in stood just over the dividing line that the refrigerator door had formed a moment earlier.  He had a slight build, and smiled at Quinn politely, the expression in his eyes unreadable.

"Excuse me," he said.  "I was just waiting for you to make your selection before I opened this door."  He gestured at the door next to the one Quinn had opened, and she saw then that she had blocked his access. 

She showed him the bottle of water she held in her hand.  "I'm finished."  She said, "Sorry I was in your way."

He waved as if to brush the comment aside.  "You weren't in the way at all.  Is that your dog out front?  He looks like he'd appreciate a drink."

Quinn blushed.  "Yes, he's mine, and I always share my water with him."  She went up to the register to pay for her drink without saying anything else to the stranger. 

When she walked out, Alvin looked up at her eagerly, shifting his weight between his two front paws in an apprehensive dance.  Quinn took a long drink from her bottle of water, and poured some in her open palm for the little dog to lap from her hand.

"It's strawberry; your favorite."  She smiled, scratching behind his ear with her free hand.

################

Everatt Neilson had taken to stopping regularly at the corner store that sat at a crossroads in the neighborhood where the Moore's home was located.  He purchased a small cup of coffee and a packet of aspirin each day, washing the aspirin down with the coffee before throwing the still nearly full cup away in the trash before he returned to his car.

On this particular morning he had parked, but had yet to leave his car when he saw a girl walk up, pulled behind a brusque little dog on a leash.  She tied the dog up before entering the store, and catching a glimpse of her profile before she disappeared inside, he felt his blood jump.  She was standing with her back to him when he walked in, surveying rows of refrigerated bottled water. 

He slowly made his way to the other side of the door she held open as she considered the selection.  Condensation was just beginning to fog over the glass when he caught sight of her face, and the hard knot in his chest grew tighter by degrees when he saw the girl he was staring at was Quinn Moore.

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