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I STOOD OUTSIDE the pharmacy, waiting for Vee to use the ATM inside as I smoked my third to last cigarette. Once I reached the end of it, I set it in the metal ash tray on top of the green trash bin. As the cigarette smoldered, I walked back over to the building and leaned against the white-painted cement wall. I crossed my arms tightly over my chest for warmth. A single car trundled down the street in front of me, passing the parking lot and turning left at the next intersection. Other than that, the town was dead. Wind tore though it like a reaper during the harvest.

The automatic door to the shop groaned open with a mechanical wheeze. Warm air plumed out, offering a few seconds of relief from the cold.

"Hey," I said, turning to Vee as she came out.

"Sorry for taking so long." She pushed her hair out of her face as the wind tugged at it. "The ATM would only give me a maximum of four hundred dollars. I had to buy a stick of gum and get cash back for the other thirty."

I shoved my hand into the back pocket of my jeans, reaching for my wallet. "Thanks," I said lowly.

She frowned at me, still holding the wad of twenties in her hand. "What are you doing with it, Harper?" she finally asked. "It's a lot of money. Not just that... it's specific. You and Jeremey, when you came to the shop the other day, what were you two getting into?"

I breathed out heavily between my teeth. The cold air stung them like biting into ice cream. "I don't want to tell you too much." I didn't want to involve anyone else in this more than I had to. Asking Vee for money was going too far as it was, but I was at a loss for other options.

"What are you buying?" she asked. "It's my money, and it doesn't sit right with me, just giving it to you like this. I need to know."

I looked away from her for a moment, staring at the still-smoking cigarette in the ash tray. "It was arson," I finally said. "What happened to Jeremey... the fire. I don't want to tell you too much, but I think I'm in danger." I paused, exhaling heavily and shuddering. "I need a gun." I didn't bother to lie anymore. Vee knew something was up—twisting the truth around any more than I needed to would only lead to trouble. "For protection," I finally added.

She let out a heavy breath, averting her eyes from mine and staring down at the cracked cement. Finally, she nodded once and looked back up at me. "Okay," she said lowly. "Okay." She held out her hand, and I took the cash, quickly placing it in my wallet. "Please, be careful."

"I will."

• • •

I flipped down the car visor and glared at myself in the mirror, practicing my best don't-fuck-with-me face. Red capillaries stood out around my dark blue irises, but it was no surprise. I hadn't really slept last night. I hadn't shaved in a day either. My appetite had been poor at best and nonexistent at worst since Lydia left, and the weight loss was not insignificant. All in all, I figured I looked pretty grim.

Flipping the visor back up, I opened the door to my car. The wind attempted to slam it shut on my face, but I was prepared and held it as I got out. Trying my best not to limp and partially succeeding, I headed up to the porch of the beige ranch house. I knocked on the thin wood door with the back of my fist. I could hear movement inside, so I took a step back, putting both hands in the pockets of my sweatshirt. I leaned my weight on my good leg and stared at the dead plant in the cracked ceramic pot next to me as I waited.

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