CHAPTER FOUR

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I'd never been so cold in all my life.

As bad as it was on the outside of my body, though, the inside was worse.

It was unusual to feel like this when I lost my temper or made a fool of myself. Not that I did it often in such a public way, but on the rare occasions I overreacted in front of an audience, I was always boiling mad afterward, every nerve sizzling, every muscle seizing up, every heartbeat magnified.

But not this time. This time I was numb all over, hollow and shriveled. When I breathed, the inhalation of air almost seemed to knock around in my lungs, emphasizing the emptiness that consumed me.

Many of the cars had already disappeared from the parking lot, but the two on either side of where I was crouched remained, and I was grateful that they blocked some of the wind that perpetually sliced through me like a paring knife.

When I heard footsteps nearby, someone jogging or running, I drew my feet ― blistered and blue in Carene's kitten heels ― closer to my butt. Sitting on the frozen ground, my back leaning against the bumper of Sherry's car, wasn't exactly comfortable, but I was out of sight, and that was my main objective.

"Oh, Krissy...."

Startled, I looked up in the direction of the voice. Carene stood over my hiding place, her peacoat buttoned up all the way to her neck, eyes round with worry.

So, not out of sight.

"You probably led him straight to me," I hissed.

Carene frowned. "I didn't have much choi-"

"Carene!" My dad's voice. Far away, but not far enough. "You found her?"

Sorry, Carene mouthed to me. Then without deviating her gaze, she nodded, devoid of enthusiasm.

I flinched and turned my face the other way, squeezing my eyes shut with embarrassment.

More footsteps, heavier ones.

My stoic heart roared to life, erratic in its rising rhythm.

The footsteps stopped, and I felt Carene move away.

"Kristina," he said in his rumbly voice.

I didn't know what response he was looking for, so I gave him none besides an increase in my shivering.

"Are you all right?"

This stilled me. I'd anticipated a tirade since the moment I'd seen his face in the alley. Was it possible he might handle the situation calmly? That we'd just talk, and he wouldn't rail at me and berate me and turn me over his knee like a grade school kid?

Hope flared in my chest.

Shifting just until I could see him in my peripheral, I answered, "Not really."

He released a weighty sigh and held his hand down to me. "C'mon. Let's get you warmed up."

When he hoisted me to my feet, my joints creaked and popped painfully. I stumbled into his side, prompting him to wrap his arm around me to keep me upright.

"You poor popsicle," Carene commented, and although I would have expected a note of sarcasm, there wasn't one.

As we trekked toward my dad's designated parking spot on the other side of the lot, I could see exhaust billowing out from my mom's parked minivan ahead. Sherry stood outside the driver's door, her arms laid across the open window as she talked to my mom.

I wanted to fade away into vapor, never to be seen or heard from again. Had I ever done anything before to humiliate myself this much? Nothing came to mind.

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