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00 | The Last Day

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Twenty-seven minutes before his parents were murdered, fifteen-year-old Nolan Haynes was nearly smacked in the face by a baseball.

He ducked and yanked his video camera—a Canon 6ti—protectively to his chest. The culprit, his little brother, Caleb, stood a few feet away, wielding a metal baseball bat and a gap-toothed grin. "Sorry!" he said. He didn't sound sorry.

"You break it, you pay for it," Nolan said.

"I'm six!"

"And?"

"That means I'm broke."

Nolan snickered.

"A broke six-year-old who just fouled," their dad said. They both turned toward the "pitching mound"—a patch of grass, equally as level as the rest of their back yard—where their dad stood, clad in his backyard baseball gear: his mitt and cap, both of which he'd had since high school.

Nolan scooped the ball from the ground and tossed it to his dad. His dad caught it with ease, raising his mitt in thanks. As he readied to throw, Nolan returned his attention to his camera. Great. It was out of focus.

He shifted his lens. His dad transformed from a blurry blob to a man with wavy dark brown hair and laughter lines around his eyes and mouth.

"You can do this, honey!"

Nolan panned over to where his mom stood a few yards behind the pitcher's mound, her own glove in hand. "Hit that ball!" she cheered.

"Mom." The camera reached for his older brother, Greg. "He's on the opposite team."

She shrugged. "He hits the ball; we get to play."

Their dad threw the ball. Caleb swung—and the ball rocketed forward. In bounds this time, thank god.

Nolan was on the move: a shot of Caleb racing toward their makeshift first base, a shot of the soaring ball, a shot of Greg backpedaling, mitt raised. Caleb reached first base, raced toward second, third. Greg continued to shuffle backward through the grass, eyes narrowed.

The ball began its descent, right toward him—

—he positioned the mitt just-so—

and he tripped, collapsing into a pitiful heap on the ground. The ball fell, smacking him on top of the head. He groaned.

Nolan, Caleb, and their parents burst out laughing. Nolan zoomed in on Greg's face. "Would you get kicked off your team if I showed this to your coach?" he asked.

"If this ends up on your YouTube channel, I'll have to kill you," Greg replied, shoving himself to his feet. He was grinning, but Nolan knew that the moment the vlog went live, Greg would put him in a neck hold. Oh well.

"That's almost two for two, bud," their dad said to Caleb, who was standing victoriously on home plate.

"Sorry," Caleb said. He still didn't sound sorry.

"Well, on that note." Their mom straightened and flipped her dirty-blonde hair over her shoulder. "I guess we should get started with dinner. Did you remember to pick up milk, Ben?"

Nolan barely suppressed a laugh when his dad's eyes widened. He zoomed in, capturing the oh-crap look for all to see.

"Okay, scratch getting started on dinner. I guess I'm going to get milk."

"I'll come with you," his dad offered.

She scrunched her nose at him. "Ah, fine," she said. "I guess I can live with having you around."

He grinned and turned to Nolan, Greg, and Caleb. "We're just going to Fletcher's," he said. "Getting milk and gas, then coming home. You think you guys can keep the house from burning down until then?"

"Guess you'll find out," Greg said.

They headed inside, through the sliding door that opened into the kitchen. As Nolan and his brothers tossed off their shoes, their parents rounded up wallets and car keys. "We'll be back!" their mom said.

"Okay," they chorused.

"I love you!" she called over her shoulder as she and their dad moved through the doorway, into the dining room.

"Love you, too," they chorused.

"Bye!"

"Bye."

Nolan didn't even look up. He was too busy flipping through footage. He didn't know.

Twenty-one minutes left. Twenty-six until the news would interrupt their episode of The Big Bang Theory with an emergency broadcast. Twenty-six minutes until Nolan's world would fall apart.

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