Chapter Seven

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I CAME HOME exhausted, climbed the stairs to my room and crashed into bed.

I exhaled and faced the ceiling. High school was... incredible. I'd never known what it was like to be surrounded by teenagers, for your ears to be constantly filled with chattering or laughter or to walk by cliques. It was... destabilizing--tiring, in a way. The public scrutiny seemed to suck the energy out of me after so many hours of enduring it. 

Emma and the girls had been welcoming, and Adam was nice. It was like I melted into their group, and I didn't feel awkward or left out. Luc and his boys, on the other hand, were plain annoying. I'd seen so much in one day and got approached by many extracurricular invitations. There was even a book club I considered joining. My brain was on overload.

By the time Dad got home, I was reading a story to cool off. He gently pushed open my door, sweeping my room with a glance before smiling.

"Hey, kiddo. How'd you survive your first day?"

I lowered my book, unable to find words to accurately describe my day. "It was... interesting. Lots of things happening at once, I guess." I thought of all those missing teens again and their pictures taped on the front doors. I straightened up. "Did you know how many kids disappeared around here? It's insane."

A shadow darkened his face. Dad crossed the doorway and sat at the edge of my bed.

"Yes, I recently became aware of that. I can't imagine what those families are going through. Sadly, it happens worldwide." His brows furrowed, then he switched subjects. "Did you make friends? How were the classes?"

"Well, yeah. They're nice people." I told him about Emma, Sam and Jen. "They actually invited me to a soccer game tonight, but I figured I'd had enough socializing for now. I don't know them that well."

He laid a hand over my sock. "Riles, as your father, I think it's my job to tell you my opinion." He gave a light squeeze. "I feel like you should go and have fun. I know you. You tend to minimize and deal on your own, but you've never known what it's like to actually go to an event. It could be eye-opening, and we promised ourselves we'd try new experiences here."

His smile turned reassuring. What he said was true.

"Then come with me. We can go see the game together."

He sighed, and I knew what was coming. "I'd love to, Riles, but tonight I can't. I have to wait for this phone call from my co-worker and sort out a few things at the lab. It's not something I can take on a soccer field. I'm sorry."

I stared at my Dad and shrugged. It wasn't a big deal. I always knew he was a busy man and his job was very important. We'd catch up later.

"It's okay. Soccer matches aren't a rare phenomenon. We can go to another one some other time."

He let go of my foot. "Now, that doesn't mean you can't go without me. On the contrary, it'll be good for you if I'm not there." He winked. "I wouldn't want to embarrass you in front of your new friends."


Veery short chapter, or more like paragraph. I definitely could work on consistency, length-wise. Consider this an interlude between her first day at school and what happens from there on, because I've put together something to stress my beloved protagonist. There's nothing I like more than stressing Riley, and the first incident in the forest wasn't enough for me. I don't like to make things easy 😝

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