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Chapter 2

The return trip to my Aunt Libby's apartment is not a pleasant one. Adrenaline still overloading my system, I jump at the slightest movement or sound. It takes every ounce of self-control not to throw my pride to the wind and sprint the rest of the way home. Even after I'm safe inside the massive studio apartment, my jitters don't dissipate until the lights are all on and I've done a quick scan over the bottom level.

The floor down here has swirls of red and blue on it that reminds me of both outer space and a retro bowling ball. Not much is on this first floor except for a black futon, a few tables and chairs, and a guest bathroom. I scan the area for my missing phone and upon not finding it, I walk across the obnoxious linoleum to the staircase.

Upstairs, there's a stainless steel kitchen with a bar that goes around the staircase. There's also a dining area and balcony. On the other side of the kitchen is the little bedroom with a twin bed, a computer, and a master bath tucked into the back.

When I find my phone laying on the bed I remember my mom asking me to call her when I landed in Seattle a week ago. The screen flashes up at me, saying it's almost 2 in the morning. This would be a good time to call since it should be daytime in Italy, but I'm not going to.

My mom and I haven't had the best relationship since she left my dad to be with her current husband, Federico, a young (like, 19 years young when they met) Italian wine maker straight out of a bad soap opera who swept mom off her feet and away to Italy when I was 14.

Obviously, running away to be fed grapes by a rich piece of jailbait in faraway lands is more important than petty things such as raising your child. I hated her, but just recently I was starting to get over it. I was maturing in my old age and whatnot. But then she showed me what's even less important than being a mother to your daughter: Flying home to be with her at her father's funeral, apparently.

When my grandma called me the day after my dad's fatal heart attack to tell me mom wasn't coming, I hung up on her before she could give me any excuses. I didn't feel bad for snubbing grandma then, but I do now. Kind of. But then again, she birthed that thing so there must be some evil hidden somewhere in dear sweet grandma, too.

I sent a text to my mom that day and said:

You couldn't have burned what was left of our bridge faster if you took a flamethrower to it.

February 24th

Three days later, all I got as a response was:

Mommie Dearest:

Call me when u get to seattle

February 27th

Homeschooling is a joke. It takes me an hour at most to click through all the lessons that are assigned to me online. I do this every day, hiding out in the apartment and doing little else in my rank fog of depression. I've grown comfortable here in this bubble and I'm not ready to leave it yet (or ever).

I don't have any family in Los Angeles (where I grew up) and I refused to move to Italy to live with Mother of the Century, so here I am in my Aunt Libby's apartment. And for now, it's my bachelorette pad. Libby's one fourth of the way through an eight month around-the-world adventure tour, exposing herself to disease and filth in the name of becoming “cultured”. She won't be home until September.

Another week crawls by, and I've still managed without leaving the apartment. But I found upon taking inventory this morning that the cupboards and fridge are completely bare. All that's left is a lifetime supply of multivitamins stashed on top of the refrigerator. The thought of living off pills is more endearing than going to the store. How long can you go? Has anyone actually tried, I wonder?

I sigh and look away from the stash of supplements. Food. I need food.

I spend five minutes psyching myself up in front of the door before forcing myself down to the street where I hail a taxi to the nearest grocery store.

I return home unscathed and upset with myself. I'm pathetic. Almost a month has gone by, and the only human interaction I've had since moving here is a trip to the store – where I'm sure everyone I came across will remember me as the tweaker with a top ramen problem – and a date in an alleyway with a thug and Kick-Ass 2.

I need a life. I'm surprised to realize I actually want one. A week ago, I was cool with being a hermit. I still kind of am...but maybe only 75% of the time would be more okay. More healthy. I mean, I can't overcome grief if I keep wallowing in it and I can't get away from feeling alone if all I do is isolate myself.

It's three in the afternoon, the mid-March sun is shining enough to dull the chill of Seattle's early spring, and tons of people will be around no matter where I go. I look up local parks on my phone and find one about a block away in the opposite direction of Pike Place (a very important factor) so I go there after stashing the groceries away.

A few homeless people sleep in far off corners of the square, but they're harmless. Seeing no visible threat, I sit on a free bench and pull a book from my bag. Looking around once more, I reassure myself of my safety before my eyes are drawn to a pair of statues across the park.

A bald man, bent at the knee and arms outstretched toward a man with the head of a jackal, hands held as if he were praying.

I stare for a long time, trying to figure out what the hell it's supposed to mean, but my art appreciation is interrupted by the feeling of cold steel through the back of my shirt. My breath catches. I'm no expert on the feel of any particular weaponry on skin, but I'm pretty sure there's the barrel of a gun pressed between my shoulder blades.

“Lead the way, Miss Fischer,” he says. I peel my eyes away from the jackal head to glance back. He's tall and has sharp features, much like the ones that had been dramatized by the shadows in the alley last week.

“Ryker?” I whisper so low that I'm almost mouthing it.

“I wasn't aware we were on a first name basis already,” he digs the gun deeper into my back, “Start walking – slowly,” he adds when my nerves act like springs, catapulting me up from the bench. When I obey, he says through gritted teeth, “Not that slow.”

“How 'bout you set the pace, then?” I snap back at him. He responds by shoving me forward and guiding me with the gun wedged in my back. I don't know how he's concealing the weapon, but no one gives us a second glance as he pushes me through the square, across the street and into a wide alley.

After parking me between a dumpster and a recycling bin, he tucks the gun into his black slacks. He's wearing a forest green button-down shirt and a deep red tie that gives me conflicting thoughts of Christmas and blood-stained grass. His nose and neatly stubbled chin are pointy, his dark blond hair wavy and parted to the side, his eyes an eerily light shade of blue.

He crosses his arms and looks to the left and to the right as if to scope out our surroundings. After several seconds of silence, I say, “So what is this, an abduction?” He turns his gaze back to me but doesn't respond. “Are we waiting for your getaway van or what?”

He gives an irritated look and goes back to watching the alley.

“What are you gonna do? Kill me? Rape me?”

His expression turns to one of disgust and he says, “Don't flatter yourself.”

“Well then what do you want from me?” I demand.

He whips the gun out of his slacks and into my face. “I want you to shut the fuck up.”

I blink at the barrel hovering centimeters in front of my nose and don't utter another word. Seeming satisfied by this, Ryker tucks the gun back out of sight and I stare at him warily as he steps away. He turns again to look for whatever he's waiting for, and the blur of a girl comes hurtling at us in my periphery.

She crashes into Ryker's side feet-first, knocking him onto his stomach and landing on top of him. She pulls his gun from his pants before he's able to throw the tiny girl off. When he stands to face her, she's already pointing the gun at him.

“My dear, why have we been running into each other so much lately?” the girl says with a mocked fondness. I think she's Super Rude Guy's sidekick from Pike Place.

“I believe it's you who keeps running into me,” Ryker snaps as he brushes the dust from his shirt.

“You look fine, honey. Now run along,” she orders.

Ryker moves toward me, but she stops him with a, “Nuh-uh,” the gun clicks as she cocks it. “Play time's over.”

Ryker steps back, glaring at her. “Give me my gun before you hurt yourself, midget.”

“Not with those loving eyes you're giving me,” she smiles. Ryker sneers. She winks back.

He looks to me with the same malice he had given me upon our first encounter. After he holds his glare for too long, I raise my eyebrows in confused disbelief. His eyes narrow, but he doesn't cause any more trouble before walking away in swift strides. Once he's gone, my savior tucks the gun in the back of her skinny jeans and says, “He and I go way back,” before looking up at me and adding, “Let's go have a chat with the boss, shall we?”

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