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“I’m losing my mind,” Ava muttered. “No one has been in the house.” She sat down at her desk off the kitchen and fired up her laptop. She opened her email and clicked the hotel link Cheryl had sent. Ava scrolled through the images, unenthused about the gorgeous ballroom and pictures of lavish weddings. It was lovely, but not the right place for them. She didn’t even know how big a venue they needed. She and Mason had barely discussed a guest list, which, according to Cheryl, was one of the first things they needed to do.

She imagined a wedding ceremony with a few cops on one side and a few FBI agents on the other. It was a bit sad. Neither she nor Mason had much family to speak of. He had a brother on the other side of the state and a son away at college.

She had Jayne.

She couldn’t see Jayne standing beside her. She imagined the part of the ceremony where the bride hands her bouquet to her maid of honor, but when Ava turned, no one was standing there.

Emptiness swept through her, and she missed her mother. It’d been five years since her mother’s death. She would have loved Mason. He was smart, practical, egoless, and respectful. Everything she’d claimed Ava and Jayne’s father had not been. Ava’s father had never known they existed. He’d been married. After a short affair during which her mother discovered he wasn’t single, she’d left town. And then discovered she was pregnant. Pride and embarrassment had kept her from returning. Ava had searched for him after her mother’s death but come up empty. She suspected her mother had lied about his name to her and Jayne.

She focused on the pictures of the hotel ballroom. She listlessly flipped through them again. She tapped out a reply to Cheryl’s email, telling her it wasn’t the right venue for them, and that she and Mason would create a guest list by that weekend.

There. I put it in writing. Now I have to do it.

Another email flashed and Ava caught the name of Jayne’s counselor. She opened it and quickly scanned. Jayne’s trip to the mall and out to lunch yesterday had gone smoothly. Four residents and a counselor had gone on the three-hour trip and it had been considered a success.

Ava wondered what made a success. No one got lost? No one had a meltdown?

She suspected Jayne would have wanted a drink with lunch but knew the center wouldn’t place the residents in temptation’s way on their first outing. They’d probably eaten somewhere like McDonald’s. What would Jayne have to say about the trip? Her sister knew how to behave so that her keepers would be happy and believe she was getting better.

Ava knew better. Jayne lied at all times. The best defense was to keep up her guard.

She closed the laptop with a sigh and headed for the coffeepot. She smiled as she turned on the shiny faucet at her new sink. At least the kitchen remodel was finished and gorgeous. The master bath’s lavender sink, tub, and toilet could wait until Jayne was finished at the rehab center.

If she ever finishes.

She dumped old coffee into the sink and watched it disappear, wondering if her money for Jayne’s treatment was doing the same thing.


Micah was in invisible mode.

Not really. But he knew how to vanish and keep people from noticing him. It was a skill he’d perfected in case it was needed to save his life one day. When he walked down a street, no one’s gaze focused on him. If one did, it quickly bounced away as the person deemed him inconsequential. He liked it that way. Even his vehicle was nondescript, and he didn’t tailgate or speed. He was noticed only when he wanted to be noticed.

He pulled his car over to the curb, watching the man exit his vehicle and enter the coffee shop. He’d followed him here countless times and knew he’d get a venti black coffee. He’d even stood in the coffee line behind him, invisible, wondering if today would be the day he ordered something new. He never varied.

Some people were like that. And it could kill them one day.

Change patterns. Vary routines. Be unpredictable.

Don’t be the horror movie teenager who investigates the basement.

He loved horror movies. He studied them, rewriting them so the victims had a fighting chance. He also changed them so the villain always won in the end. The bad guy wouldn’t die because a teen got lucky or suddenly had a good idea; Micah liked to revise them to be true battles of strengths and smarts. This made the movies more balanced. He appreciated a fair fight. Where was the fun if the sides were unevenly matched?

The man stepped out of the shop, a venti cup in his hand, and got in his car. He didn’t even glance at his surroundings. Anyone could have stepped out and attacked him. He would have been helpless.

Micah shook his head as he took the time to scan his own surroundings. Rearview mirror. Side mirrors. Full turn of the head in every direction. He glanced in the backseat even though he’d checked before he got in the car and again when he’d pulled over near the coffee shop.

He couldn’t help himself. His doctors had told him it was part of his OCD and they could medicate most of it away. But he liked being on his toes and staying sharp. It was important. The same way it was important to always have a backup plan or two.

What if the power grid went down? What if there was an earthquake? Terrorists, both domestic and foreign, would love to see a city crumble, its people panicking. He wouldn’t panic; he had a plan.

He pulled away from the curb to follow the man’s vehicle. Micah assumed he was heading to work, but kept his attention focused in case of any changes. Sometimes there were errands or appointments.

Stupid time wasters. Why did people spend time to find the right brand of clothing or worry that their kitchen looked out of date? People should focus on the important things: a stable food source, a solid roof over their heads, and trustworthy transportation. Nothing else mattered. The important thing about a vehicle wasn’t its brand; it was its reliability. He always kept his gas tank above three-quarters. What if he had to leave town at a moment’s notice? He wouldn’t be slowed by something as mundane as filling his tank. If it was a widespread crisis, there could be long lines for gas or no gas available at all.