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When I turn I lose my footing, falling backwards onto the grass. I look up as Tanner stands over me. “Like what you saw, did you?”

“You’re…you’re a monster.” I say, using my hands and feet to crawl backwards, away from the boy who only minutes before I thought I loved.

“Oh, Ray. You have no fucking idea.”

“Are you okay, Ray?” Tanner asked, when I’d pulled back abruptly. I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.

“No, it’s okay,” I lied. “I’ve got to go pack.” I nervously twisted the hem of my shirt in my hands. I plastered on a fake smile and took a step back.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tanner asked, taking another step toward me.

I held up my hand. “Of course. I’m just, you know, overwhelmed,” I said as I backed off of the dock. “And I haven’t even told the senator yet that I’m leaving, not like he cares.”

“He’s not home. Nobody is but Nadine,” He reminded me.

“So, I should at least call him then, right?” I asked in a much higher pitched tone than I intended.

Why did I have to be such a bad fucking liar?

“Sammy should be up from his nap soon. Go pack, and then I’ll drive you guys,” Tanner offered.

“No, I mean, you don’t have to do that. King’s…”

“Oh, come on,” Tanner said, continuing to advance toward me. “Besides, you said we’re still a family right? No harm in a little car ride together.”

Except there was.

I tripped over the spot where the dock met the soft ground, falling backward on my ass. “I’m such a klutz.” I was about to stand up, but Tanner startled me by moving quickly to my side, hoisting me off of the sand.

“I’ve got you,” he said, and when I turned toward him and my eyes caught his, I saw a quick flash of the Tanner from my memory. I took a steadying breath.

“Thanks,” I said, trying to appear casual by brushing the sand off of my legs. “And yeah. You’re right. A ride sounds great. Just let me get cleaned up and get Sammy’s stuff together.”

Tanner smiled and pushed a strand of hair behind my ear. All the little hairs on my neck stood at attention and not for the same reasons they did with King. There was something cold behind his words. Haunting.

Sinister.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Doe

Gone was the boy next door. With that last kiss he’d been replaced with the monster from my memory. That kiss brought it all flooding back and, what I saw, shook me to my very bones. “I’ll run to my house and grab the truck. I’ll meet you out front, on your porch in say, thirty minutes?”

“Thirty minutes. Yes,” I nodded. With a little wave I turned and jogged up to the house, practically falling again, this time over the threshold of the back sliding glass door. I flailed my way up the stairs and ran into my room. I ripped open the top dresser drawer I’d hidden the burner phone in that King had given me, tearing it from its hinges, sending socks and the phone sliding across the room. I dove for the phone and hit the speed dial button. It rang several times.

“Come on, pick up,” I prayed, nervously tapping my fingers onto the carpet. When there was so answer I shoved the phone in my back pocket. I was going to grab a duffel bag to toss some essentials into, but looking around that room, there was nothing there I needed.

Nothing I wanted. The only essential things to me were Sammy and King. And one of those was sleeping down the hallway. I’d try calling King again after I got Sammy from his room. “Nadine!” I called out down the hall. The only sounds were coming from downstairs, the hum of the refrigerator and the spinning lull from the running dishwasher. “Nadine!” I called again. “I need you to pull your car around. I’ll explain when we’re on the road, but we have to leave now!”

I opened the door to Sammy’s room. I turned the knob as quietly as I could, closing it again behind me with a soft click. I’d hoped Nadine had heard me and was pulling the car around. I tip-toed over to Sammy’s crib. Leaning over the railing I expected to see my sleepy man with his hair pointed in a million directions, clutching his favorite motorcycle blanket.

Sammy wasn’t in his crib.

It was empty.

The light clicked on and every hair on my neck and arms stood on end.

“It was that fucking weak kiss that gave you away,” a voice said, startling me so much I jumped and knocked into a pile of Sammy’s toys, which came to life in a burst of music and flashing lights. “Tanner. I thought you were meeting us out front? Where’s Sammy?” I tried to hide the shakiness in my voice. I fell backwards and landed against something soft but unmovable. When I turned around to see what it was, I eye to eye with a motionless Nadine. Her eyes unfocused and staring straight ahead. Her mouth still opened as if she’d been surprised.

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