Chapter Twenty-Nine--Blanks

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 Against my better judgment, I wake up my roommate at three in the morning. When that fails, I flip on the light and watch him roll over to belt out an agonized scream into his pillow. "John. What is your problem?" He hisses, turning again to chuck a stress ball as hard as possible at me.

"Will you do me a huge, huge favor?" I slowly make my way over to sit on my bed, trying to act nonchalant and not like I'm aching to leave. I am.

Ben swings his legs over the edge of the bed and pulls a pair of shorts on that he always "strategically places" on the floor. "Oh gee, Johnny, if you weren't so darned cute--" he hisses at me, glowering from beneath sleep-heavy eyelids. "No! You wake me up at three in the morning on a Saturday, no. I will do nothing for you."

"Here's the thing," I begin to bargain. "Josephine--the girl I video call--her father died. I have a huge need to be back down there for her." I need to make sure that Jo isn't dying and just hiding things. I need to make sure that Jairus is keeping far away from both of his sisters. I need to make sure that she has nothing to do with Adam. "Here's the thing. If you drive me over, I will hook you up with an old friend of mine. She's super cute and if you play your cards right, she will totally make out with you." The only friend I have that's single is Josephine, who would bite him sooner than kiss him, but that's beside the point. Whatever it takes to get him to drive me.

Ben actually seems to be weighing this in mind. "I did break up with Levvy a few days ago... It is about time that I hopped back on the wagon, isn't it?" Then his voice drops lower and he appears to be more calculating. "Do you have a picture of this girl?"

I groan on the exterior, but inside I'm celebrating. If Josephine will cooperate, at least it'll keep him occupied while we're there. And I'll have a nice trip home to make sure that everything is still in order with the most important people in the world to me. I pull up a picture of her from one of her social media sites. The one I find is of her is a one Jenna sent of her drawing, when Josephine looks her most beautiful. And when I put a filter on it quickly, you couldn't even tell that she was sick from her complexion. Ben nods with calculating agreement, taking her in. "A high school girl. Easy prey. What sort of thing does she usually go for?"

"I don't know. She's only had one boyfriend. But I'll bet if I tell her a college boy is interested in her, she'll head right on over." No way in the entire world, but whatever. We can cross that bridge when I'm back home.

Ben just nods and stumbles over to the sink to jam in his contacts--it involves a lot of jabbing his eyes and squirting wasted saline solution. "Wait, do we really have to leave now?" He turns to look at me, running a hand through his crazy hair.

"It's about fifteen hours away, Ben," I begin, "and the funeral is tonight at seven. We are hardly going to get there."

As he grumbles and shoves some random wrinkly clothes into a drawstring sports bag. While he's distracted, I shoot a quick warning text to Annabel telling her that I'm coming back, but not to tell the girls. I want to surprise them.

As we stumble down the flights of stairs to the ground floor of our dorm, I just barely survive the agonizing search for Ben's car in the unlit parking lot. All I want to do is jam in my earphones and think about what's going to happen when we get home. Of course, he insists that he has to make a stop to stock up on energy drinks. When we finally actually head out with a questionable GPS, I don't even make it five minutes before falling asleep.

~~~

"You can't tell anyone, Jo," a girl of about nine mutters in her high-pitched voice while she sits cross legged on a bare mattress next to an even younger child. Her dark hair has a life of its own, matted curls taking over the air like an overgrown plant.

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