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Chapter 17: The Unreal Reality

Lilly kicked out at the rat, wiped the sour slobber off her chin with her sleeve, and sprinted out onto the side street. She slowed at the intersection, peeked around the corner, and found the park and sidewalks deserted. Relieved and looking forward to home, she crossed and raced into the park. She tumbled into a clump of azalea bushes and worked her way across the park, tree to bush. There had been no sign of Tem or his gang.

When she reached the other side, she paused, looked up and down the block, and waited a full ten minutes. She didn’t think Tem capable of patience. Maybe I overestimated his anger too. Better yet, he is avoiding me. She liked the sound of that. She had no more time to spend thinking of Tem. It was time to go home.

Shielded by the towering arch Lilly rested her head against the cool stones and tensed to run. A hot shower and bed would feel awesome. As she was ready to spring, the front door of her apartment building opened. A figure dressed all in black stepped out onto the front stoop.

The man didn’t walk off but hovered at the front door. He fiddled with the locks. Was he using picks? Zilla bolted the front door at eleven-thirty every night. Residents had to be buzzed in after hours or use their keys.

Was he a thief? If so, why wasn’t he carrying any loot?

Under ordinary circumstances, Lilly would have exposed an intruder, but tonight was anything but ordinary.

The crafty crook crept down the steps. Reaching the sidewalk, he avoided the streetlamps as he darted into the shadows. He inched along in front of the Food Mart. At the corner, he slid into the alcove near the store’s entrance. He waited for a delivery truck to pass before crossing. A neon advertisement for the lottery flashed, momentarily bathing the thief in yellow and purple light.

Lilly glimpsed the side of the man’s face and her jaw dropped. Her knees buckled.

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