chapter 2

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The email never comes, and I find myself torn up inside, wondering if it was just a sick joke. I walk home from the library with a nervous buzzing in my stomach. I'm so upset by the whole situation that I don't even eat dinner. There's no way that life can possibly be that easy—that someone would be willing to buy me and make all my problems go away. For someone who looks like a nerd, I'm pretty damn stupid.

I sleep in the next day. My mom is working a double, so I don't bother going to the library. She'll never know that I didn't go job hunting. It makes me feel kind of guilty, but some days I just don't have the motivation to do anything, and this is one of them.

I lounge around in my nightshirt and underwear, eating a bowl of cereal while I sit on the sofa watching what few local channels we get on our small television. Court TV is one of my favorite things. I've always found listening to the cases fascinating. I once thought that it might be fun to be a court stenographer. Maybe if I had the money...

Just as I begin thinking about the bullshit website, the doorbell rings. I'm so startled by the sound that I jump, though I quickly settle, frowning as I set my nearly finished bowl of cereal down on the coffee table. I pull myself off of the sofa and walk over to the front door, briefly thinking I should grab a robe but then deciding against it. The shirt is long enough to cover my unmentionables, and maybe if whoever is at the door sees that I'm still in my night clothes, they'll go away faster.

I open the door and find a delivery man standing on the other side. He doesn't make eye contact as he asks for my name, then makes me sign before handing a small package over.

"But I didn't order anything," I mumble as he starts to walk away.

Reading my name on the parcel, I close the door and take it inside, noting that there's no return address. The box is relatively light, and as I tilt it over, I hear no noise coming from inside. There's only one place it could be from, but I dare not hope. The website was a scam, after all.

I sit on the sofa and begin peeling the tape that's sealing the box. After I unfold the flap, I tip the box onto its side, and a tray falls out. Inside is a small cheapie cell phone and a card. I set the phone down on my lap and pick up the card, my eyes scrolling across the print.

Dear Miss Althea Ellis,

You should find within this box your new cell phone, which you must keep on you at all times. Your buyer's number is already programmed in for your convenience. You will also find a picture of him in the photos folder.

Your buyer requests that you contact him as soon as you receive this package. Failure to contact your buyer within 72 hours will result in termination of your contract.


The Team

My eyes flit from the card to the phone, and my heart skips a beat when I realize that unmasking my mystery man is just moments away. All I have to do is turn on the phone and look at the photo.

I inhale deeply as I power on the phone, having a hard time believing that this is starting to seem legit. There's still a part of me that feels like I might have been had—that as soon as I flip to the photos, I'm just going to find a meme calling me an idiot. I doubt many people would go this far for a prank, though.

My hands shake slightly as I navigate through the phone to the photos app.

"Don't be disappointed, Althea," I tell myself. "You can't be upset if this is a scam, and you can't be upset if he's not the man of your dreams."

I close my eyes as I tap the bottom to launch the photos app, knowing that Mystery Man's picture is going to be the only thing on it. One at a time, I open my eyes, expecting to see some grotesque creature whom I couldn't even imagine laying his hands on me.

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