Three

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Anna climbed out of Derik's car and stood next to me in his driveway. The California heat clung to us with the help of the sun's relentless rays as we stared up at the vaguely familiar two-story, Spanish colonial. The only difference now was that this was our new home.

I looked at Anna who seemed unsure. I took her hand.

"Hey, look on the bright side..." I said. "You get your own bedroom."

She wanted to be happy but her eleven-year-old mind was confused. She had been for a while, and now that mom was off at rehab, it was just her and I.

I led her into the house and up the stairs where the two extra bedrooms were. She followed tentatively.

Her room was basically empty. A bed with a plain white comforter and sheets stood in the middle, two very boring looking lamps on each bed-side table and a dresser on the far wall.

"Like a blank canvas," I encouraged. "You can do whatever you want."

We stepped inside and set our bags down. I watched her pace over to her bed and run her hand along the comforter. Then she looked back at me.

"What about mom?" she wondered. "When she comes back?"

"We'll figure it out," I reassured.

Honestly, I hadn't had the chance to think that far ahead.

She sat on the bed. Her tangled brown hair fell over her childish shoulders as her sad hazel eyes stared down at her pink converse, one of which was untied.

"What if you have to leave too?" Her voice was small and fragile. "Will I have to stay here alone?"

I rushed to kneel in front of my sister. Our gazes met.

"I'm not ever gonna leave you, Anna," I promised. "Never. You understand?"

Finally, a small smile broke through her pout.

"Okay," she whispered.

"Alexa?"

I snapped out of my memory and focused back on the road. The burning in my eyes clouded my sight, but I blinked away the haze. Now wasn't the time.

Melissa's hand slipped into my free one that sat on the center console.

"You okay?" she asked.

She was worried about me losing focus before we stepped into the NIA building. I couldn't blame her. We were about to break the law. Again. I needed a level head when the time came.

"Yeah," I lied. "Just thinking."

It was such a generic response, but by now Melissa was used to it. Her hand squeezed mine as I felt the guilt choke me.

I parked down the street where one of the streetlights were out and exited the safety of the car. The dark colored Hyundai Derik had given me was hidden well in the night. We paced quickly down the street and towards the employee entrance.

Melissa cut down the dark alley and jogged up the stairs. I followed silently.

She swiped the card in front of the censor and the bright red light turned green. A quiet click indicated we were free to enter.

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