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Once Beth was off doing other things, Grant returned.

“I actual y had a point to coming in here. I needed to talk to you about Beth.”


Grant flashed his mil ion-dol ar smile, and I had to physical y restrain myself from recoiling.

“Peanut, I realize she’s your friend, but it’s not exactly cost-efficient to keep her on-board during the school year.”

“Are you suggesting I fire her?” I said, raising an eyebrow.

Grant sighed. “You’re not looking at this objectively. You’re in the office, yes, but technical y you’re stil an intern until you graduate. Why would I pay someone to assist an intern?”

“Because I told you to.”

After a short pause, Grant smiled, wider than before. “You’re going to do just fine here.”

“Thank you, Grant. That wil be al .”

He shook his head, chuckling to himself as he left the way he came.

Buried under a few stacks of documents, Beth brought me back to reality with her chirpy voice. “Time to go home, Nigh.”

“Oh.” I looked at my watch, and then smiled. “Home.”

I haphazardly stuffed a few files into my brief case before rushing down the hal , and then pressed the button. As soon as the doors opened, I hopped inside, fidgeting the entire trip to the first floor. The doors slid open, revealing the bril iant late-afternoon sun gleaming through the lobby glass. Jared was waiting by the Escalade, a contrived smile on his face.

“What is it?” I asked, after greeting him with a quick kiss. My excitement to see him was infiltrated by a sense of dread. The two didn't settle wel , and I instantly fel nauseous.

He raised a pair of my sneakers. “I thought we could check out what’s left of the loft. See if anything’s left.”

I could only nod, dreading the sight of our home reduce to a heap of ash.

“Put these on,” he said. “It'l be hard enough sifting through everything, let alone in heels.”

I took the shoes in my hand, and then sat on the curb. Jared handed me a pair of socks, and I tugged those on, fol owed by the sneakers. He watched me in silence, a residual forced grin on his face. He wasn't looking forward to the aftermath anymore than I.

The drive seemed to take an eternity, yet it stil wasn’t long enough for me to prepare. When Jared pul ed to the curb, I stumbled from the Escalade, each side of my hair bunched in my fists. “Oh my God,” I whispered.

Jared mil ed about the charred remnants, bending down once in a while to inspect something not-quite destroyed.

“There’s a few boxes in the back,” Jared said. “Would you grab one?”

I took wide steps and hopped until I was clear of the debris, and then went to the Escalade, opening the back door. I brought back a large, cardboard box. There were two more, but it was overly optimistic to bother with them, we couldn’t fil up the first one. Silverware, a few brittle-edged pictures, and the monitor of my laptop were among partial y intact documents, and a set of throwing knives. Yel ow tape surrounded most of the carnage.

My hands turned black as I dug slowly, but surely through the black mess under our feet.

“What are you looking so ambitiously for?” Jared asked.

“I was hoping we’d find at least pieces of your journal, but I haven’t even seen the binding. Have you come across it?”

He smiled. “I keep it in the Escalade. It’s safe and sound.”

“Good,” I said, overwhelmed at the mountain of rubble.

“We should go. The Fire Marshal has already interviewed me twice. If anyone sees us poking around, it’s going to attract attention.”

“I guess.” I stood up from my squatted position, throwing down a charred piece of the frame that the last picture of my father was in.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Jared said. “I should have tried to get that out, too.”

“It’s not your fault. They did this to get a reaction, to see if we’d retaliate, or if it would cause dissension between us. The last thing I’m going to do is give them what they want. It’s just stuff.”

Jared walked over to me, tenderly wiping my face. “You’re covered in soot. Let’s go home.”

“That’s not home, Jared. This was home, and it's gone.” I was surprised at the tears that wel ed up in my eyes. Crying hadn't crossed my mind until that very moment.

“Maybe we should start looking for a place?” he smiled.

“So they can torch it again? No, thank you.”

Jared’s expression was pained. “It won’t happen again.”

“You don’t know that,” I said, tugging on his hand, leading him to the Escalade. “We have no idea what they’l do next.”

Chapter Ten


Summer wound down, and Beth and I undertook the process of delegation. Our schedule at Brown would make it impossible to maintain the hours we’d been keeping at Titan.

Jared made frequent call s to Claire to check on Ryan’s progress, which steadily improved. At times faster than Claire would have liked. To al of our surprise, Ryan wasn't fighting the decision to decommission him. He was focused on getting wel and getting back to the States—something none of us had anticipated.

As promised, Jared didn’t try another ambush on Shax, or Donovan and Isaac. Instead, he became obsessed with constructing a fail-safe plan, one that included a Plan B, and help. He refused to let the book get away from him a second time.

Bex grew two more inches, which was a good thing. His inflated ego needed al the room he could give it.

Jared and I spent my last day of Summer Break at our Oak Tree. We stretched out across a blanket Jared had spread over the grass, just inside the shade of the tree. I kept my eyes closed, quiet and lazy, listening to the bugs buzzing and the grass dancing in the wind.

“You’re official y a col ege junior tomorrow,” he said with a proud smile, brushing the petals of a wildflower down the line of my jaw.

“I am,” I said. “Another summer gone by. Just one more left before I graduate.”

Jared squeezed my hand, turning his attention to the carving above us. “Hmmm…where do you see yourself this time next year?”

I breathed out a laugh. “I have no idea. Why don’t we make this an annual event? We spend the day at our Oak tree the last day of Summer Break next year, too.” Jared grimaced, and my expression mimicked his. “What?”