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I PARKED ON the side of the gas station next to Gina's green Windstar. I rubbed my eyes as I got out of the car. It was going on five. As I trudged across the parking lot towards the entrance of the building, I pulled my hood up over my head and crossed my arms tightly in front of myself. The wind stripped heat and energy away from me in strands. My adrenaline high from meeting Rick was fading, and I needed to get inside.

When I reached the front of the shop, I slipped through the door carefully, only opening it far enough to fit my body through. The bells rang faintly and halfheartedly, like they didn't give a fuck that I was there.

I pulled my hood down as I passed the rows of candy bars and gum. I was a few feet away from the register when Gina finally looked up from where she sat.

"Harper!" she exclaimed, her hand going to her chest in shock as she drew a few quick breaths in. "I didn't even hear you come in. You startled me."

"Sorry," I said.

She scooted out from behind the register and came over to me, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me into a tight hug. The thick flowery scent of her perfume filled my head, cutting off my oxygen. My vision darkened around the edges and then went completely black for a second before fading back into color when she finally pulled away.

"I was so worried about you, honey." The faint wrinkles on her face shone in the light of the overhead florescents. Her makeup had run into them, highlighting the creases like tiny streams. "I looked for you for an hour." She frowned as she pushed back a stray strand of brown hair that had escaped her braid.

"I'm sorry for running out," I said.

"There's no need to apologize." She placed her hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. "I was just scared. Are you okay?"

"I'm all right," I said lowly. I held eye contact with her for a second before looking down at my feet.

"Where did you go?" she asked, keeping her hand on my upper arm like she was afraid I might try to run away again if she didn't hold on to me.

"I just drove around for a while," I said. "I did some thinking... too much thinking." I put my hands in the pockets of my jeans. "I need something to take my mind off... things." I made eye contact with her again.

"Harper," she started out slowly, "I don't think you're in a state to be working right now..."

"Please, I need to do something," I cut her off.

She breathed out between her teeth and looked me in the eyes, shaking her head slightly.

"Please," I repeated myself when she didn't say anything in response. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it lightly before letting go. "I can't spend another night like last night." I looked out the front window of the shop, scanning the empty gas station for a few seconds before pulling my eyes back to Gina. "I need something normal."

She bit her lower lip and turned from me, heading back behind the register. "Okay," she finally said. She sat down and let out a heavy breath. "Okay. Your shift starts at nine."

I nodded. "Thank you, Gina." I turned to leave the store.

"Where are you staying?" she called after me before I got to the door.

I paused and leaned against the wall, turning back to face her. "I got a room at the Super 8," I lied. "Just for the time being, until I can figure something else out."

She nodded. "Try to get some rest before you come back. You look like you haven't slept."

"I didn't sleep well last night," I admitted. "I'll try." I pushed the door to the shop open and headed out.

After a single look back over my shoulder, I put my head down and shuffled over to my car, trying not to favor my injured leg too badly. When I reached the Camry, I swung the door open and sat down in the passenger seat. I ran my hands back through my hair, staring out the windshield and thinking about what I was planning. As I examined the chipping white paint on the side of the building in front of me, my mind began to drift. My eyes slid shut and my head nodded forward. With a quick jerk, I snapped myself awake.

Gina was right—I needed sleep. Probably food too, but I didn't have any cash to spare at the moment. I'd stopped at the CVS on my way over and bought a pack of cigarettes. My lighter had also decided it was a good time to finally shit the bed, so I'd had to buy a box of matches as well, using up the last of my money—other than what I was saving for tomorrow, of course.

A bit of rest would have to do. I turned the key in the ignition. With a shaking groan, the car's engine rumbled to life, and I backed out of the gas station. I turned onto the road, not knowing exactly where I was going. Somewhere I could park that no one would find me for a few hours while I slept, I supposed. Other than that, it didn't really matter.

• • •

I sat behind the register at the gas station, trying to keep myself occupied by reading a magazine, but I couldn't get past the first sentence on the page. It was a recipe for butternut squash, which I was pretty sure I didn't like, although I couldn't actually remember ever eating it.

Hearing the door to the back office creak open, I stood up and turned around. Gina came out, locking up behind herself and buttoning up her jacket. She walked up to me and placed both hands on the counter, gently clicking her tastefully manicured finger nails against the wood finish.

"Are you sure you're all right by yourself?" she asked, eyeing me carefully.

"Gina, I'm fine." I leaned against the counter. "Really."

"I can stay here if you want, you know."

"No, get some rest," I told her. "You've been here all day, Gina, I'm okay."

"Please call if you need anything, Harper," she said. "Jack will be in at five."

"All right."

She smiled faintly and nodded as she turned and headed out of the shop. The door slammed shut behind her as she walked across the parking lot, the wind tugging wisps of brown hair out of her braid. She got into her minivan, and after sitting there for nearly five minutes, she finally pulled out of the gas station.

I was alone.

I looked up at the clock on the wall. It was already nine forty five. Gina'd kept herself busy for nearly an hour "bookkeeping" in the back, or whatever that meant. Jeremey probably would have told me it meant keeping books.

I felt like she wasn't actually doing much bookkeeping, though. She kept poking her head out of the back office the whole time, asking me if I needed anything. Checking on me. She'd even asked a couple of times if I wanted her to stay there, but each time I'd told her I was fine. I'd gotten the feeling she was worried I might do something once she was gone.

I'd say her suspicions were accurate... I did have plans to do something that night, but I don't think the things she was worried about me doing came anywhere close to what I actually had in mind.

While the ghost of a town slept, seemingly safe in their beds as the wind tore past their homes, I was awake.

I was outside in the wind.

I was making my preparations.

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