CHAPTER TWO

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     Bram and I head to the parking lot and through the rows of vehicles. Assigned parking spots go fast during open enrollment, so we requested spots in the most vacant area of the lot to up our chances of being near each other.

     After unhooking the vehicles from the charging docks, he climbs into his truck, and I plop into my ancient piece-o-crap after kicking the door to rattle it open.

     When I turned sixteen, my parents bought me this car. Back then, it was already six years old and poorly maintained. Fast-forward another six years, and here I have a car quickly coming to its demise.

     Newer vehicles typify the much-needed upgrades people have waited years for: lighter batteries, quicker charge times, and a much longer range per charge. Mine, on the other hand, still features many of the cumbersome traits of older electric vehicles. And, needless to say, she's quite temperamental because of it. On a good day, it takes at least three attempts to start her up with the programmed voice activation.

     "Start."

     Nope.

     "START!"

     Nada.

     "Start? ... please?"

     Negative.

     "Start, start, start, start!"

     Not a chance.

     "Starrrrrrrt." I roll my tongue behind my teeth.

     At last, the motor hums.

     Seriously? Is she partial to the trill of "r" now? Ugh. She also likes it when I deepen my voice and add "boss" to the request, too. Whatever.

     I glance over at Bram's truck, knowing he always waits, and see him laughing at me... jerk. Without satisfying him with a reaction, I back out and head home.

     ONCE INSIDE, I take the stairs two at a time to my room, eager to start the weekend. I opt to change into sleep clothes for the sake of carrying fewer items in my weekend bag. I slide my jeans and underwear off and put on my granny panties and favorite gray, jersey drawstring-shorts. Let's be honest, who can actually sleep in a thong? This girl is on the cotton/full coverage team when it comes to my precious beauty sleep. I ditch my top, too, leaving my bra on since I would have to add it to my bag anyway. Then I grab one of Bram's old white henleys, pull it on over my head, and push the sleeves up to my elbows. I'm gonna have to go into straight stealth mode on my way out since my jersey shorts are more than shy of the fingertip rule, and Bram's henley is almost to the edge of the shorts. Thanks to Florida's winters, I can get away with shorts; winters in the south are temperamental and unpredictable. Even in January we still have some warm days.

     I stuff some lazy weekend clothes and a thong — just in case — into the bag along with essential toiletries, slip on ballet flats, and start back down the stairs.

     A couple steps down, apprehension takes root at the base of my spine. With a glance over the banister, I can see the front door wide open. Did I leave it open? I rack my brain, trying to recall my journey through the house and up the stairs. No, I'm sure I shut it. I tiptoe down a few more steps, dread seeping in, the chill inching up my back the further down the steps I venture. The leeches wouldn't stoop to the level of breaking and entering, would they? At the bottom, I put down my bag and pick up the umbrella Dad left leaning against the wall in the corner of the foyer.

     The sounds of muffled voices from the living room startles me. One of our two couches is visible from where I stand a few feet from the entryway, and no one is there. But I feel certain that's where the talking came from. Assuming the voices are in the part of the living room I can't see, I take a deep breath, raise the umbrella, and walk in that direction.

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