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“Well, I guess that hasn’t changed,” I said, finally taking a seat. “I’ve been told I ask too many questions a lot over the last few months.”

Nadine cracked an egg into a bowl. “But you have changed. I can see it.”

“And I guess that’s a bad thing?” I sighed.

“No.” She came over to me and rested her elbows on the other side of the counter. “Actually…I think I kind of like it.”

“How am I different though?” I asked.

Nadine pursed her lips. “I’m not a hundred percent sure yet, but I’ll tell you what, as soon as I do figure it out, I’ll be sure to let you know.” Reaching out, she tweaked the end of my nose. With a wink she turned back around to the burner where she started mixing ingredients together with a wooden spoon.

“It’s not fair.” I said, coming off a lot whinier than I intended. “Everyone knows me, but everyone is a stranger to me. I’m practically a stranger to myself.”

“Child, I hate to break this to you, but did your father somehow give you the impression that he’s the warm and cuddly type?” Nadine pulled a ladle out of a drawer.

“No,” I answered immediately.

“Well, in a way, the two of you have always been strangers. So, in that way, things are exactly as they were before,” she announced with a smile.

I bit my bottom lip. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

Nadine shrugged.

“And my mother? Who goes to the spa when their missing kid is on the way home?” There was no hiding my bitterness, because I was bitter.

Nadine winced, like she’d been hoping I wouldn’t ask about my mother. She kept her attentions on whatever she was mixing up. “Spa is a code around here. It either means she’s holed up at a hotel somewhere or she’s drying out at a rehab or a desert retreat or whatever it is she does to clean out her abused liver.” She wiped her hand on the towel on her shoulder. “I mean. I just…”

I was already over hearing about my mother so I cut Nadine off when I felt like she was about to make an excuse for her behavior. “What are you making?” I asked, leaning forward on my elbows.

“Your favorite; breakfast for dinner!” My heart sputtered when she scooped up some batter and poured it onto the hot griddle. When she used a spatula to flip the contents of her pan over I saw Preppy, standing in her place, wearing his favorite red lacy apron.

“Pancakes,” I whispered, my heart sputter turning into all out seize. I felt suddenly light headed. Stars danced in front of my eyes. I braced myself on the counter so I wouldn’t fall off the stool.

Nadine came over and set down a plate in front of me with three perfectly circular pancakes in the center, dripping with syrup. A square pad of butter swam around on top before completely melting and falling to the plate. The sweet smell assaulted my senses; dragging out every ounce of hurt and pain I felt the night I watched my friend die.

“You don’t like pancakes anymore?” Nadine asked, misinterpreting my reaction.

I shook my head. “That’s not it,” I said, struggling to make the words come out of my mouth.

“Then what’s the problem, baby girl?” Nadine asked, placing a concerned hand on my shoulder. I didn’t answer.

I couldn’t.

So when she pulled me into her soft chest and cradled my head I didn’t bother resisting her hold. I was so concerned about King in the weeks after Preppy’s death that I never realized I hadn’t properly grieved for my friend. I didn’t realize I was crying until I felt my shoulders shaking. “Why the tears?”

“Because,” I managed to spit out on a short exhale.

“Because, why?”

“Because…pancakes.”

Chapter Three

Doe

Nadine held me until I calmed down. She pushed away the plate as if it really was the pancakes that had been the source of my little episode.

We both agreed that what I needed was a good night’s rest. Nadine led me up the stairs to a door at the end of the hallway.

My room.

Lacey white curtains, soft blue walls, and a poofy pink comforter. A small off white chandelier with electric candles hung above the bed, which was lined with stuffed animals. Looking around, I couldn’t help but think of another small bedroom in another town not too far away. One with a flat mattress, the most comfortable faded blue blanket, and a broken fan blade from when Preppy’s head connected with it after enthusiastically jumping up and down on the bed.

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