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The wall beside the door exploded as a bullet tore into the hundred-year-old plaster. My mother was laughing as I leapt down the porch steps. One of the laces of my shoes caught on the railing and I sailed forward through the air, landing on my chest. The air whooshed out of my lungs and I turned on my back, desperately gasping for air.

“You talked your way out of that trip to Nana’s last year, you’re not getting out of this,” my mother said as she looked down at me from the porch. In my peripherals I spotted my father’s old rifle against the front of the house. He used it to scare the critters away from eating the oranges. I don’t think it had been used since the previous harvest. It had been out in the elements for months.

Chances were that the thing didn’t even work.

“I’m not talking my way out of it, Mom,” I said, as I could finally draw in a breath. Slowly, I crab-walked on my hands and feet, sideways toward the house.

Toward the only shot I had of surviving.

“I just thought that maybe we could do it together, you know, go at the same time,” I said, mirroring her cheery voice as best I could.

“Oh, Cindy that’s a lovely idea. You were always my sweet one, you know. Headstrong. And a holy terror at times, but you could also be very sweet. I loved the way you used to play with my necklaces and earrings when you were a baby.” Mom set the gun against her chest and sighed.

“Can you do me a favor though, Mom? Can you use Dad’s old rifle? That way I have something to talk to him about when we get there. And I can use the gun you sent him to Jesse with. It will be fun and you know it’s hard for me to find things to talk about with Dad.”

“You know,” she said, picking up the rifle off the house. I climbed to my feet and wavered, holding onto the chipped siding so I wouldn’t fall. “I wish your father would have thought of something nice like this. It would have been so much easier. You should have heard him screaming and yelling.” She let out a quick burst of laughter. “Begging.” She inspected the gun to make sure it was loaded then tossed it to me. I caught it and made sure it was loaded just as she had. “Can you believe it? Your father…begging. It was quite ridiculous.”

Under the moonlight my mother’s ivory skin glowed. I’d always envied her long dark curls and naturally pink lips. To me she’d always looked like Snow White. I used to watch her pick oranges in the grove for her famous orange marmalade and wonder why I got stuck with pinkish hair, green eyes, and freckles, instead of her good looks.

Snow White stood tall in her satin blood splattered nightgown and aimed the rifle at me. With my heart hammering in my chest I raised the pistol at her. “I love you baby, see you on the other side,” she said. Tears welled in my eyes. I would only have a split second. Even if the gun jammed like it often did on the first pull of the trigger, it wouldn’t on the second.

My mother smiled manically at me with wide eyes.

Then Snow White pulled the trigger.

I held my breath, but nothing happened. She tapped on the side of the gun as she’d seen my father do a million times before and just before she was able to get her finger around the trigger again, I fired.

Blood splattered against the siding, turning peeling white paint to shiny red.

Mom had been right about one thing.

It was quick.

I dropped to my knees and clutched my chest. My mind blanked. I couldn’t form a coherent thought. Both my parents were dead and I didn’t know what I should do. Who I should call.

Both my parents were dead.

You killed your mother.

I wailed into the night; lost, afraid, and utterly alone.

I reached under my shirt and sought comfort the way I often did when my parents had been fighting, by clutching the ring I wore on a chain beneath my shirt.

I rubbed the cool metal between my fingers. A bolt of lightning hit the water tower and it was at that moment when the answer came to me. I knew where I had to go.

Who I had to go to.

CHAPTER THREE

Thia

It was raining.

It was summer in Florida.

It was always raining.

Somewhere during the forty minute bike ride from the farmhouse in Jessep to Logan’s Beach I’d lost all feeling in my feet as I pedaled wildly against the force of the sideways rain.

I’d tried to take my dad’s old Ford. The key rack by the front door was empty, which left only one other place they could’ve been. I willed my legs forward and back into the room that held my father’s lifeless body. Seeing him earlier didn’t lessen the impact of walking around the bed and finding my father splayed out at an awkward angle against the wall, his hair still wet with his blood.

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