Chapter 1

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New York City was magical, some said, energetic in a way unrelated to the megawatts lighting up the skyline in a panoramic glitter. This electric feeling would beat in the hearts of ten million souls a day.

Sometimes.

At seven a.m. on a Monday in September, this magic was harder to find. Summer was over, grey skies loomed, but early-morning workers had to clock in anyway. They trudged through the streets with the collective disillusionment of being ghosted by a Sunday night, and their eyeballs revealed a need for caffeine that outweighed any earthly pleasures.

The rare individual with a brightened expression always stood out amongst these temporary zombies, and today that individual was Sheera Oden. She didn't have flashy headphones like the typical teen, but bopped along anyway to some tune in her head, mouthing the words as her jet-black hair flowed behind her.

As she turned a corner in the increasingly gentrified Hell's Kitchen, she bumped into a towering well-dressed man. A moment later she felt the 'smush' of a sandwich pressing against the sleeve of her old plaid shirt.

"Sorry!" she said instinctively.

A groan escaped from the man's thin-lipped mouth, and as they pulled apart he studied his now destroyed 'egg 'n cheese 'n hot sauce croissanwich' with a sneer. The sneer lasted long enough to travel over to Sheera. "Are you blind?!" he spat.

She was tempted to suggest that a croissant was best enjoyed plain, but he stormed off and left her to deal with the greasy remnants. She pulled a napkin out of her canvas bag and dabbed it onto her sleeve, absorbing as much of the hot sauce as she could until a damp spot remained. She sniffed the sleeve and shook her head. "Mass-produced hot sauce packet with cartoon pepper logo..."

She glanced up ahead at the convenience store, a crusty old shack that was sandwiched between two shiny condo developments. She skipped across the street and made her way inside.

"Morning Roy!" she exclaimed with a grin.

The middle-aged man behind the counter nodded his head. "How about a large today? It's Monday, you know." He turned towards the pathetic excuse for a coffee machine behind him.

Sheera pulled out her wallet and went straight for the zippered coin pouch. This store was one of the only places left in New York where you could still get a seventy-five-cent coffee, and as she scrounged for her last three quarters it was exactly what she'd be having. "Small is fine," she said smiling.

He filled the paper cup and handed it to her. "Probably a good idea," he said. "You already seem a bit too amped."

She handed him the money and set off for the day. "Only amped on life Roy, only amped on life!"

***

Sheera sipped her coffee as she stood outside the quaint little bakery with the sign that said 'Dee-lightful Donuts.' Artisanal hipster establishments in Manhattan were in no way fading out, but the only difference now was that they were sprawling north out of Chelsea and into the streets of Hell's Kitchen.

Sheera was only a hired hand at this particular shop, but she'd loved her last year of rolling out dough and stirring simple syrup and arranging strange toppings like candied ham cubes or caramelized basil leaf. The delicate care that went into each concoction reminded her of rainy childhood afternoons, when she and her mother would flip through gorgeous pastry books they'd taken out from the library. It might have seemed like a torturous practice for a family that could only afford a box of Twinkies and only when it was on sale, but Sheera's mother had always been intent on showing her the beautiful things that could exist. This beauty was reflected through countless books on travel, art and other cultures, so pastry cookbooks were a natural transition.

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