Chapter 1

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 On most Christmases — Mom and her new husband would drag me to Granddad's old cabin on the outskirts of Yakima, Washington

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 On most Christmases — Mom and her new husband would drag me to Granddad's old cabin on the outskirts of Yakima, Washington. Mom was sober than—not like now. Before he died, Granddad told me stories, as I sat before him, eating cookies and warm milk, of his time in the army, some true, others not so true. When he died last fall, he left me the cabin. I'd had a rift with my parents for twenty years, so this cabin was a godsend. My dad wanted me to be just like him: a businessman. I didn't. Anyway, I'd finally had something to call mine. Something no one could take. No more evictions. No more hearing my father tell me he's cutting me off—no more none of that.

The pine needles had blended to gold and brown. And the birds got the fuck out of dodge for the year. It used to be a quiet getaway until a girl moved in three doors down. I didn't know her name then—but I do now: Francis. She left her window open at night to filter the fresh air through the screen, falling asleep to MXPX. I could see her cherry wood chiffonier, stripped bedsheets, and flat-screen TV, facing my front window. I fluffed my pillow, staring at the ceiling to echo her thick breathing through my window. Even shutting the window didn't drown out the snoring, so I left it open, wondering what she was dreaming about and what she wanted out of life in a cabin. I'd begun to forget what it felt like to get a full night's rest.

She'd DVR the Steve Wilkos daytime talk show. I'd catch glances through the window screen, pretending to read a Bible (a Playboy magazine tucked behind). She'd laugh and drink wine from the bottle at the expense of other people's misery.

A man helped her finish unpacking. Whoever the man was, he was a man of few words, but his eyes appeared to communicate paragraphs as she knew what to do or not do when his eyes met hers. Francis reminded me of Lucky, our family dog. Lucky would have his tail between his legs when he tipped over the water bowl or broke mom's favorite vase—that's the aura I got from peering through the blinds at their discussions or lack thereof.

I noticed them carry boxes to the basement, including a large dog cage. I hadn't seen a dog and thought Francis must be getting one once she's settled. When the man wasn't there, she'd drink and puff on a white stick she held between her lips. Whatever the man did or said made her dap her eyes with a tissue when he left. Even from the distance that I stood, I could see terror shake her being.

TWO WEEKS LATER, still no dog for the cage, but Francis spent a lot of time in the basement. Surely, there must be bedrooms downstairs, right? I have to go and see what the hell is going on over there. I pulled a sweater over my shoulders and headed to the door. I traveled the distance to the cabin with my hands shoved in my pockets. Anxiety riddled my body as I knocked on the door.

"Who's there?" Francis shouts.

"It's your neighbor," I said louder than I needed to.

"Gotta name?" she said, slicing the blinds with her fingers.

"Ben," I said. I'm no genius, but it's clear something isn't right. Ordinary people don't peek through the blinds, not like this, not unless they have something to hide.

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