Chapter Four | Mall

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He'd slept scrunched on the porch swing, awash in morning sunlight, arms crossed over the shirt he'd worn the day before.

Zoë watched Adam from the dining room window, one bite taken out of a cold bagel.

She never ate in dreams.

Adam had made a point the night before of not wanting her to be hassled; posting guard was one way of doing that. Or making sure she didn't leave. She hadn't noticed him the night before when she'd broken into the house across the street.

Did I really do that?

Her parents taught her there was nothing worse in the world than opening someone's door without them giving explicit permission.

Maybe Adam had intended to come inside, but she'd locked the door.

The book she'd read about Adam in the real world hadn't been as detailed as what she saw now. The drawings that made up reality were in perfect proportion. Nothing half done. Shadows and light moved naturally. Even colors completed in her eyes, though when she really looked at something, the lines were black and white.

It scared her how easily her eyes adjusted to this new reality.

There was no getting around Adam. Even as she entertained using the back door and escaping, she wanted to go to him. He wasn't a stranger, despite having only met him the night before. Something about being in his world must have downloaded his personality to her memory.

She left the bagel on the dining room table, slipped into the pair of flip-flops she'd used the night before and opened the front door. With her arms crossed over her tight t-shirt to combat the chilly breeze and inevitable nipple pokeage, she eased the door shut, hoping not to wake Adam until she was sure she was safe.

What am I expecting, a machine gun?

Bruising circled his neck.

She frowned and knelt beside the swing. She couldn't have missed something so big the night before, even in the dark.

"Uh ... Adam?"

He sighed, opening his eyes. Once he saw her, he sat up, smiling, and croaked, "You're still ... you're still here." His hand went to his red and purple throat.

"Jesus Christ," she breathed. "What happened to you?"

After clearing his throat, he said in an easier voice, "It's nothing."

"Nothing, my ass! Let me see." She nudged his hand away to inspect the marks.

He made room for her on the swing and she sat in the warm spot where his head had been.

"Honestly, it looks worse than it is. Don't worry," he said.

She inhaled sharply through her teeth. The bruise was angry, swollen, almost black in places. "You could have at least come inside. How did this happen?"

"I didn't want to bother you or scare you. I got back late." After meeting her eyes, he blushed. "That sounds creepy. I wanted to make sure no one followed us here, and no one did."

"Who, Ashlee? Is she trying to kill you or something?"

"No!" He laughed, then coughed. "Well ..."

"Because women can be abusive bullies too. This isn't a joke."

"It's fine, really."

Zoë shook her head. She'd had guys erect a macho front for her before, and she wouldn't crack this one either. This was the eighties, after all: abuse on males always played for laughs in sitcoms. "Okay," she conceded.

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