3. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die

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No one ever saw you moving through the dark. - David Bowie

6:45 a.m. Thursday, September 23, 2021

As the clock reveals it's past 6 a.m., Michele cranks up the music. Since today she has put on her vintage Bowie t-shirt, she scrolls Spotify and finds a playlist that strongly favors his music. Shaking her hips as she kneads the second round of dough, she sings along to Heroes while bobbing her head, which is likely why she doesn't hear the back screen door to the bakery open.

Footsteps cautiously approach, and a tap on the shoulder startles her, causing flour to go flying in the air.

"Patrick!" she admonishes the teen. "What the f----" Interrupting herself when she spots the five year old at his feet, a tattered and worn stuffed bunny tucked under her right arm while wrapping her left hand around the boy's leg. She leans on him, blinking her eyes a few times, clearly exhausted.

Kneeling down, Michele makes eye contact with the young girl. "Oh, sweetheart. Could you not sleep again? More bad dreams?"

The only response she gets is when the child rubs her nose on her brother's jeans.

"She was curled up outside my door this morning when I woke up," he explains.

Looking up at him, Michele spots the way he's aged. He's lost the baby-faced look he had just a few months ago. There's stubble on his chin, and she wonders how she's missed the signs that he's become a man.

"I swear she wasn't there when I left this morning," Michele feels defensive, and a wave of sadness washes over her like the wake of a boat on Nowhere Lake.

"I know," Patrick sighs. "She doesn't seem to want anyone but me these days. But I've got to get to class."

"Come on, sweet baby girl. Why don't you help me put the raisins in the cinnamon rolls?" Michele coaxes, but the five-year-old stubbornly shakes her head and holds onto Patrick more tightly.

Patrick takes a knee so he can be level with her. "You stay here now, and I'll pick you up from kindergarten this afternoon. Okay? We can play Candyland. Or Hi Ho Cherry-O. You like that one. But right now, I have to go to school. You want me to graduate, right?"

Sticking her thumb in her mouth, she regards him carefully before giving a slow nod. "Then I have to go to school," Patrick reminds the wee one. "I'll come pick you up today even though it's Phoenix's turn. I'll meet you at our special spot right after school. Now give me a giant squeeze."

She throws herself into the arms of the protective teen, hugging him with both arms, her bunny flopping on his back as she pats him. Tears well up in Michele's eyes at their bond. Had she and her brother ever been that close? She doesn't think so.

Standing up, Michele wipes her eyes with the corner of her apron. When Patrick rises, the young girl silently walks to a chair in the corner of the kitchen, climbing into it, watching Michele warily.

"Thank you, Patrick," Michele whispers, moving to wash her hands. With a sad smile, the teen leaves through the back door. Turning down the music, Michele returns to the dough, slicing it into even chunks to make her cinnamon rolls.

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8:15 a.m. Thursday, September 23, 2021

Harry runs until he's completely exhausted, hoping it will help him sleep. The nighttime hours moved by glacially while he lay awake, watching the clock on the wall tick away the minutes. Having run five miles before breakfast, his leg muscles are sore and his stomach growling like a bear who has just awakened from hibernation.

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