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Chapter 1

It was a hot, balmy day in Louisiana, the sun was beating down and all the students and faculty members at ULM were sticking strictly to the shade. Every window in Adelaide’s dorm room was open but she still needed the fan on.

Her room-mate, Dawn, lay sprawled on her bed, fanning herself lazily with a bunch of papers, her long tanned legs dangling languorously over the edge of the metal frame

“Seriously Addy,” she drawled in her thick Texan accent, “I do not envy you having to drive in this, that truck of yours is going to be like a sauna.”

“Tell me about it,” Adelaide sighed, shoving the last few bits of clothing into her weekend bag. To tell the truth, she wasn’t much looking forward to driving home, but it was her mum’s birthday so she had no choice. Her mother had died twelve years previously, when Adelaide was only eight, leaving her father to care for her and her then five year old brother, Josh, alone.

George West had never spoken about his wife’s death to either of his children, but Adelaide could remember that it was very sudden. Whenever she tried to bring up the subject he had clammed up and it looked like his heart was breaking all over again, so eventually she had stopped asking. Every year, however, on the night before her mother’s birthday her dad would wait until his kids had gone to bed, grab the car keys and go to the cemetery, usually stopping off at the local liquor store first. The next morning Adelaide and Josh would wake up and go and get him. It had become a lot easier the past few years since Josh had passed his driver’s ed, not to mention that he was a footballer, so he was big enough to pick their dad up and carry him to bed if he was out for the count.

Her mum’s birthday was tomorrow, which meant that her dad would go out tonight. They never mentioned it after, never questioned it. It had become a sad family tradition. In her heart, Adelaide dreaded the day that she or Josh wouldn’t be there to get him and she thanked her lucky stars that her mother had been born in early summer so there was slim chance of her dad catching pneumonia.

She zipped up her bag with finality and slung it over her shoulder, taking one last glance around to make sure she had everything. For some reason she couldn’t quite put her finger on, Adelaide was nervous and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t coming back here. It was nonsense, she knew. She was just dreading the next morning and having to deal with her family dramas.

Dawn stood up slowly and stretched, her top riding up to show the jewelled butterfly belly bar that she was wearing.

“Drive safe,” she instructed, enveloping Adelaide in a big hug, “text me when you get there. Give my love to that cute brother of yours.”

“Gross,”Adelaide said, playfully swatting her back as they hugged, “he’s my baby brother, hands off.” Dawn laughed and gave her a quick squeeze before letting her go.

“See you Sunday night. We’re going out off-campus so you’d better be back in time.”

“Promise I will be,” Adelaide said as she moved to the door. Throwing Dawn a smile, she left the room, closing the door with a click behind her. She moved down the corridor, past the other dorm rooms, weaving her way through a crowd of cheerleaders that were sitting under the air conditioning unit outside the kitchens. Bounding down the stairs, she shot out of the front door and headed towards her car.

On some strange instinct, she turned and took another look at Ouichita Hall, smiling as she saw Dawn waving from their window. She gave a quick wave back before jumping into her car and setting off.

She sighed as she set out on the US-80, the sunlight reflecting like murky sapphires on the surface of the Bayou Desard, the slow meandering waters looking so inviting in the heat. Dawn had been right, her car was like a sauna, but the drive was only for a half-hour. She rolled up the windows and turned the air con on full blast, relishing the feel of the cold air against her damp skin.

Josh was shooting hoops on the front drive as she pulled up, his shirt sticking to his skin with the sweat that poured off him. Adelaide could have sworn he’d grown as she pulled on the parking break and took the car out of drive. She climbed out of the driver’s seat as he tossed the ball into the hoop and let it bounce.

“Don’t you dare,” she warned as he loped over to her, arms open as if to hug her.

“Oh come on sis, give us hug.” He went to grab her and she dodged, letting out a little scream as he chased after her.

The front door opened as she approached and her dad stood in the shaded porch, looking down at her.

“Hey Addy,” he said, giving Josh a warning look as he stopped sharply next to her. “Don’t you have a report to finish?” he asked.

“Way too hot for that dad,” Josh complained. George frowned at him and sighed.

“Fine, you can stay out here for another hour, no more. Then you come inside and finish it. I don’t want you out here at noon, it’ll be too hot.” He turned to his daughter and smiled. “How was your drive honey?”

“Hot,”she said, hugging him warmly. “I’d kill for a cold shower.”

“Don’t need to kill honey,” her dad chuckled softly, “we ain’t out of water yet.” She smiled and gave him a peck on the cheek before moving past him and bounding up the stairs towards her bedroom.

The cool water was such a relief as it washed over Adelaide’s skin, lifting away the dust and grime of the road. She had barely been out of the shower for a few moments when she could already feel herself drying in the heat. Summer in the South was always hot but this was bordering on oppressive. She dressed quickly and tied her hair in a loose bun, keeping it away from her face and neck as it dried.

By the time she went back downstairs, Josh had also showered and was now seated at the breakfast bar, glaring at his school work as if waiting for the words to appear on the page for him. Adelaide wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a loose hug before diving into the fridge and pulling out a jug of iced tea. If there was one thing her dad could make well, it was iced tea and it felt like heaven as she swallowed it, feeling the cold sensation unfurling in her belly with each swallow.

“Where’s dad?” she asked as she drained the glass and went to refill it.

“He’s outside,”Josh said with a shrug, “I didn’t really listen when he told me.”Addy came and peered over his shoulder at the papers on the bar.

“History report huh? Need a hand? I mean, I am a history major...” she smiled as a look of relief spread across Josh’s face. Grabbing a glass she poured him some iced tea and pulled a stool up next to him.

It was well past six by the time they had finished and the day had finally started to cool off a little, the sweltering late afternoon getting ready to make way for the balmy, humid night. George walked in just as Josh threw his pen down and gave his sister a triumphant high-five.

“Finished?” his dad asked, his smile a little bit strained.

“Yeah, finally,”Josh said, not noticing. “Addy helped a lot though.”

“Pretty sure that’s cheating,” George chided jokingly, “but if it helps then I’m glad she did.” He walked around the breakfast bar and picked his car keys up from the bowl where they were kept.

“Is it time already?” Addy asked, the room suddenly serious. George nodded gravely and he embraced his kids.

“Thank you in advance,” he breathed, kissing them both on the heads before turning and leaving without a backward glance.

“D’you think he’ll ever stop doing this?” Josh asked as they heard the front door click shut.

“I don’t know,”Addy confessed, sighing as the car engine roared into life outside.“I honestly don’t know.”

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