The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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TWENTY-ONE | Crossed Wires

He sat in the darkness, waiting. It was easy to be still at first, but then the medicine wore off and he began to feel anxiousness bleeding through the fog inside his head. The pressure subsided, leaving a void. He felt empty, bruised, and cold. The heavy rainfall had softened to a drizzle, maintaining a dampness in the air that had already begun to fill his lungs by the time he saw the lights. They cut through the black like a knife, pinning bright, hazy beams onto the tops of the trees. Something rumbled—a familiar sound. He’d heard it before when he was in the box. The growl, the red eyes. E7 shuddered, curling against the log, clinging to it. The cut on his cheek, numb from the cold, began to sting as he rubbed his skin against the moss, compressing it. He’d done this for a while, momentarily calmed by the repetitive movement. But then he would remember that he was alone, in the dark, swallowed up by angular shapes that pierced the sky above him, and the panic returned.

Mud slid between his fingers as he pushed himself closer to the log. It rocked a little, cracking under him in places he couldn’t see. It felt like the ground—now a pool of brown slime underneath him—would swallow them both up. By the time James came to get him, he would be gone. A noise, quiet and low, emanated from his chest. A cry, or a moan, or some unintelligible combination of the two, came next. Then there was silence. He was too tired now to do more than breathe, his head resting on a pillow of wet moss.

Two lights became three. The third beam was not stationary like the others. It moved, bouncing around the trees and off the ground, scattered and frantic at times. When it fell on E7′s leg, he jerked away from it, unsure what was on the other end. He heard James grunt angrily, and then call out. “There you are,” he panted, feet following the pattern of rocks down the hill, each one illuminated by the beam of light. When it shined in E7′s eyes, he turned toward the log, burying his face in the damp, cold dark.

James stepped off the last rock and onto the ground. Mud splashed up, coating his pants and adding to the layer of moisture already soaking E7′s clothes. The foul smell they’d carried when he first put them on was somehow even stronger now. “Ugh,” James exclaimed as he tucked the flashlight under his arm and bent over E7. “You’re utterly rank,” he grunted and stepped back, looking away to take a fresh breath.

The smell.

The sour, sharp, pungent odor.

It was all over him now. The richness of the soil and the tangy spice of pine sap had only compounded the problem. Underneath all of that was the worst smell of all; the musk of fear. It had begun to seep into his clothes the moment he put them on, getting stronger as time moved forward. Hours had passed since then. Now, curled into a ball at James’s feet, terrified of where he’d be taken next, the stench oozed like sweat from his clammy skin.

“Come on.” James sighed. “Get up. Here we go,” he grunted and looped his arms under E7′s shoulders and around his chest, dragging him to his feet. “That’s it. Now walk up the rocks—steady, steady. I don’t have time for broken bones.”

One shaky foot planted, E7 hoisted himself up, only to fall back against James when his knees buckled. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, fear taking his breath. James hadn’t let go yet. Despite the smell, he stayed close.

“Don’t apologize. Just keep going. It’s not that far...”

“I can’t f-feel my feet,” E7 mumbled. His right shoe was gone, lost hours ago in the parking lot before James had put him into the box with red eyes. When the beam of light found the ground again, a dark red smear across the rock became visible. His bare foot was covered in grime and blood.

“Where’s your...” James turned and shined the light behind them, searching for the missing shoe. E7 opened his mouth to say he had lost it, but the thought of admitting that—of making James angry—pulled his jaw tightly shut.

“S-sorry,” he stuttered quietly, shaking his head. James shot him a glare, his lips pulled into a thin line.

“There will be consequences for that,” James muttered angrily.

Consequences...E7 thought. Please don’t leave me here.

Visibly shaking, E7 clung to James as they climbed the hill. It took longer than it should have to reach the top and required more effort from James than he had expected. E7 was weak and thin, but still heavy enough to be a burden. By the time he had walked the boy to the shiny black sedan parked behind their previous vehicle, they were both out of breath.

Click. The trunk lifted, revealing a space even smaller than the last one.

E7, leaning against the side of the car, took a shaky step back. “No, I don’t want to—”

Thump.

James shut the trunk with one hand, a blanket in the other. He made a face, annoyed. “You don’t want what?” It was more of a dare than a question.

“Um...I...” E7 didn’t know what to say. Confused, he pressed his fist to the side of his head, raking his knuckles against his scalp. No box. No red eyes. What now?

"I tell you what you want, understand?” James snapped, shaking the blanket out as he approached. It was dark in color and soft. He threw it around E7, ignoring how violently the boy flinched, and turned him around. “That should cover the smell for a while.” He reached over and pulled open the front passenger door.

E7 stared at the inside of the vehicle, eyes wide. The space was clean and dry. Tiny blue and green lights lit up the dashboard and warm air blasted through the vents. The hand on his shoulder made him jump and he backed away without thinking, stumbling against the side of the car with a small thud.

“Get in,” James ordered impatiently.

“I-in there?” he repeated in a small voice.

"Now,” James grabbed the back of his neck and pushed him inside with enough force to make his shoulders ache. E7 fell into the car, still clutching the blanket with both hands. He pulled his feet inside just before James slammed the door shut. The lights above his head switched off, leaving nothing but the soft blue glow from the dashboard.

Sitting up straighter, E7 leaned toward the warm air pouring from the vents and let out a small sigh of pleasure. His fingers trembled as he pressed them against the slits, hot air stinging his icy skin. On the other side of the car, the door suddenly opened. E7 shot back with a jolt against the seat, head down, hands knotted into fists against his chest.

“Don’t touch anything,” James ordered.

“...okay...”

“Put your seatbelt on,” James reached for his own belt, pulling it forward and down until it clicked.

E7 watched his movements and then reached for his own belt, hand shaking as he pulled it forward and down. When he tried to buckle it in place, the metal piece resisted. It wouldn’t lock, clinking against the plastic instead as he trembled.

“Just—it’s like this—let me do it!” James grabbed the belt and shoved it into the buckle before E7 had a chance to let go. His skin got caught, pinching him hard. He cried out and yanked his hand back, turning his whole body away until he was pressed up against the door. “That’s what happens when you don’t listen to me,” James snapped. Thump. He shut his door.

The light went out.

E7 cried silently in the dark, biting his lip to keep quiet. The side of his hand ached fiercely where it had been pinched. He pressed it to his mouth, sucking the wound and waiting for the taste of blood. Instead, he tasted mud and pulled back, wiping his tongue on the blanket. It wasn’t a bad taste. It was a new taste. And there had been too many new things already.

“Keep your head down like that,” James said, referring to E7′s slumped posture. “We’ll be there soon. Just be patient,” he ordered, voice hard as a rock. E7 didn’t move, his body pressed as tightly against the door as it could be, head down.

Patient, he repeated the word in his head. That means wait.

A low growl emanated from his stomach, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten in...he didn’t remember. This was the kind of hungry that hurt. Wait, he thought, letting out a soft grunt of discomfort. Just wait.

***

Light poured in through the bedroom window, shocking Lisa awake. She opened her eyes and sat up, only to shield her face with her arm. It took less than a second for her to realize what was happening. Someone had driven up to the house in the middle of the night.

Scratch that. It was morning already. Very early in the morning.

Shoving the blankets aside, Lisa padded over to the window and tossed the curtain aside. The lights shifted away from her window and onto the front door, then switched off. She recognized the car immediately.

“No freaking way,” she breathed, voice scratchy from sleep. Anger bubbled up inside of her—an irrational, heated monster coiled in the pit of her stomach. Whirling away from the window, she stalked over to the closet and pulled her clothes from the hamper. Ripping off the oversized t-shirt she’d been sleeping in, Lisa put her clothes from yesterday back on. “Of course he would come back tonight,” she muttered, searching for her other sock. She found it behind the hamper and yanked it on before grabbing a pair of sneakers from her suitcase.

James had changed his mind. That was the only reason he’d be back early. He had realized that he couldn’t control her from the city. He wanted her close enough to boss around, to watch, to criticize. But there was no way she was going to let him take her back this soon. No. Way.

Grabbing her purse from the night table, Lisa crossed the bedroom to stand in front of the window once more, pushing it open as quietly as possible. The car was off now, the engine ticking with heat as the cold night air forced it to cool again. The covered porch extended just below her window, offering her an escape. She waited until she heard the front door open before putting one leg through the open window.

“What are you doing? It’s early.” Pam’s voice, low and worried.

“It rained. I had to change the plan,” James replied with his signature impatience.

“What about—”

“I’ll tell you everything in the morning. Right now, I need sleep.”

Lisa lowered her foot onto the wood shingles below, the dampness causing her to slide just a bit before she put her weight onto that foot, anchoring her in place long enough to draw her other leg out the window.

“You can have the couch. Just be quiet, okay? Lisa is still sleeping upstairs.” The concern in Pam’s voice was heartwarming. Lisa ignored the small bubble of guilt that surfaced when she thought about how worried the woman would be to find her gone in the morning.

I’ll be back, she thought silently as the front door closed. Later.

Lowering herself onto her hands and knees, Lisa crawled toward the edge of the roof before swinging her legs over the side. She clutched the shingles for dear life, muscles straining, as she forced her body into a controlled drop. Her feet hit the ground with a dull thud, ankles stinging momentarily. “Parkour,” she groaned, rolling over.

The kitchen light was on, shadows moving around the room. James and Pam were just inside the door, still talking. Their muffled voices drifted outside, quiet, impatient, annoyed. Almost like they were fighting.

Brushing herself off, Lisa headed down the driveway. She wasn’t sure where she was going. It was barely four in the morning—the sun wasn’t even up yet—and she knew there wouldn’t be anyone out at this hour. Despite this, she knew of one place that would be open. A place she hadn’t been to since she was twelve. A place that could very well have closed down by now. If memory served, it was about an hour’s walk down the road. If nothing else, at least it would buy her some time in this place.

The road had turned into gravel a while ago. Lisa kept walking; not entirely sure she knew where she was going but pretty confident that she could find her way back to Pam’s house if this “road” happened to lead to a dead end. She watched the sky get lighter and tried to guess the time. Half past five, maybe? Perhaps even six? Somewhere in there, at least. It was tough to guess on a clear day, and this wasn’t one of those. Clouds filled half the sky, dark and gray and swollen with rain. Lisa walked with her arms crossed, trying to block out the cold. She should have put on a coat instead of her thin, green sweater. But, despite the chill, she was glad to be outside and alone. No one knew where she was, and no one could force her back. The taste of freedom was sweet.

Speaking of sweet, she thought as her stomach let out a loud, embarrassing gurgle. I could go for a coffee right now. Or a muffin. Or literally anything edible. Honestly, the gravel was starting to look like candy by the time she saw the rundown bait shop in the distance. It was standing exactly where she remembered, between a pine tree and a maple, with a parking lot big enough for about three cars. Peeking out from the back was a rusty old boat on wheels. The weeds growing up the side told her it hadn’t been taken out in a long time. In fact, it looked like the place hadn’t been visited by anyone in years. The only sign of life was the flickering OPEN sign above the door.

Bells jingled as she entered, a whiff of dust and stale sunflower seeds filling her nose. Rows of shelves stocked with snacks, magazines, and bait lined the interior of the store. The entire back wall was dedicated to fishing rods and gear. At the other end of the bait shop was a cracked old counter with a stool on one side and a crusty old man on the other.

“Hello there.” his voice sounded muffled. Probably because his untrimmed mustache hung over his lips like a thousand little white spider legs. “What’s got a little girl like you up this early?”

Lisa blinked. “A little girl like me?” she repeated. “What makes you think I’m not here because I want to be?”

The man pursed his mustache. “Well...are ya?”

“No,” she said, then, “yes.”

“Alright then,” the old man gave a shrug and Lisa was sure she saw dust fly off the wrinkles of his shirt. “What can I do fer ya?”

“Um...” Lisa grabbed the first food item she saw—a bag of potato chips—and brought it over to the counter. “I want this,” she said, placing the chips on the counter and pulling out her wallet. The cooler a few feet away caught her eye and she grabbed a bottle of water—the only non-alcoholic beverage in sight—and placed it next to the chips. “This too.”

“Well alright then.” The man pushed a few stiff buttons on a retro-looking cash register before telling her the total. It was less than she expected. Handing over a few dollar bills, she didn’t wait for her change before yanking open the chips and stuffing them into her mouth. They were caked in salt and grease. She’d never tasted anything better.

Reaching for the bottle of water, she practically tore the cap off by sheer force before guzzling the liquid so fast that it began to dribble down the front of her shirt. The old man watched, her change still in his hand, as she finished off the chips and a good two-thirds of the water. “You been lost at sea for a while?” he asked it as a joke. Still...it felt right.

“Yes.” She took the change out of his hand and slipped it into her wallet. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

The old man looked startled. “A phone?”

“You know...the thing you use to call people. Invented a long time ago. Digital telegraph.”

The old man gave a rusty chuckle and shrugged. “Well sure I do.”

“Great.” Lisa glanced around. “Where is it?”

“Broke.”

Her shoulders fell. “Great,” she said again, this time with significantly less enthusiasm.

“But you’re in luck,” the old man said, raising a finger. “Got the phone repair boy coming to fix it this morning. Should be here in a few hours.”

Heaving a sigh, Lisa continued perusing the room with her eyes, gaze drifting over the stock. Everything appeared to be covered in a layer of dust. Fuzz bunnies drifted under the shelves as she walked by. Hand extended toward the merchandise, she let her finger graze various items of interest. “How about a cellphone?” she called over the top of one of the shelves. “Got one of those?”

“I ain’t buying one of them new-fangled things,” he replied with a wave of his hand.

“Of course not.”

“Hear you can’t get a signal this deep in the woods anyhow.”

“Really?” Lisa raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t realized she’d walked so far. “What time is it?” she suddenly asked, curious to know how long it had taken her to get here.

The old man twisted his wrist to glance at his watch, bringing it closer and closer until it was about an inch from his nose. “Quarter after seven,” he said. The look of surprise on her face caught his attention. “Got somewhere to be?”

Sticking her hands in her pockets, she shrugged. “Not really.” Now that she’d eaten and had something to drink, there was nothing for her to strive toward. She’d reached her destination. All that was left would be a homeward journey, and she wasn’t ready for that just yet. “You know, this place looks exactly the same as it did when I was younger,” she said, feeling a little nostalgic.

It was the old man’s turn to look surprised. “You been here before?”

“Yeah. A few years ago. You probably don’t recognize me,” she said, pushing her hair over one shoulder. “I was just a kid.”

The old man let out a bark of laughter. “What are you now?” he snorted.

Lisa rolled her eyes and ignored him until the laughter quieted down. “You probably remember my dad, though.” She peeked at him around the side of the shelf. “He’s a doctor.”

“Is that right.”

“A very good one.”

“That so.”

“He used to come out here every summer. My mom too, before they split up. And me.”

“Lots of folks come out here for family vacations. Seen quite a few over the years.”

“Dad used to buy bait and rent fishing poles.”

“Quite a few people do that, too,” the old man noted.

Lisa frowned. She wasn’t sure why she wanted to jog his memory. Maybe because those family vacations seemed like nothing more than an old recurring dream at this point. It would be reassuring if there was someone else on the planet who remembered them. “You lent us your camera, once,” she said, feeling like this was the memory-jogger she’d been hoping for. Lisa kept sneaking glances at the old man’s face, searching for some sign of recognition. He was leaning both elbows on the counter, staring at the ceiling.

“Ain’t ringing any bells,” he mumbled. Then, as if a light went on behind him, his eyes brightened. “Hold on, now. A doctor, you said?”

Lisa froze in place. “Yeah.”

“I think I...hold on, just hold on.” The old man hobbled out from behind the counter and disappeared through a door she hadn’t noticed before. It was next to a shelf of books. Most of them were old hunting magazines and bird encyclopedias, but there were a few novels as well, and some hard-cover books for little kids on the bottom. She browsed the titles, feigning interest as she waited for him to come back. Drawing closer to the door, she heard things clatter and thump on the other side. It seemed like the old man was looking for something. Lisa jumped back when he whipped the door open again, a small black tube in his hand. “Here it is,” he said, holding it out to her with a triumphant smile.

Lisa stared at the little black tube without moving. “What is it?”

“Your pictures,” he replied.

“Um,” she bit her lip, “I don’t think that’s—”

“You said your daddy was a doctor, and he borrowed my camera, didn’t ya?”

“Well, yeah but—”

“I ain’t loaned my camera out to any but one doctor. He kept the darn thing for over a year, so I guess I’d remember. Had a funny-sounding name...like some kind of bird...Hawk or Sparrow or—”

“Crane.”

“That’s right,” the old man said with a nod. “Dr. Crane. He borrowed the camera alright, held onto it, and then he forgot to take out the film.” He pushed the little black tube at her. “Take it,” he said. “Go on. Take it.”

Lisa hesitated, then grabbed the tube from his hand and stepped back. “Why didn’t you just throw it away?” she asked, examining the small gray cap.

“Why would I do that? Little thing like that don’t take up much space. Might as well hang onto it. Never know when folks will come on back here, even after a few years have gone by.”

“Thank you...I guess,” she said hesitantly, slipping the tube into her bag. She wondered what sort of pictures were on it, and whether or not the film had gotten damaged over time. “Do you know where I can take this to get it developed?” she asked suddenly.

“There’s a print shop in town. They’ll get ’em done for ya.”

Lisa nodded, smiling a little. “Thanks.” she meant it that time.

The old man smiled back, revealing a set of dentures that were too big for his mouth. “Weren’t no trouble. Just had it lying around in the back. No trouble at all.”

Turning, Lisa went back to her perusal of the shop. “What time is it now?” she asked, glancing back at the counter where the old man had planted himself on the stool.

“Only been ten minutes,” he replied quickly, without turning around. “By the way,” he said, and shifted to look at her. “I’m Albert, but folks call me Bertie.”

She stared at him for a moment, wondering why he’d told her his name. She hadn’t asked for it. Then it hit her. “Lisa,” she muttered quickly, feeling stupid.

“What’s that? These old horse ears don’t work like they ought to.”

“I’m Lisa,” she repeated, louder this time. The man nodded and swiveled back around on his seat; his curiosity satiated. She glanced away, feeling awkward. She hadn’t spoken to anyone this much since Amber came over to her house. And before that...probably never. Talking wasn’t really a family activity at her house, even when she was younger. The kids at school talked way too much about everything—especially things they had no business mentioning. Long conversations used to wear on her. They were exhausting. But Bertie seemed to know just how much to say, and when to go quiet. I like the old weirdo, she thought, a small smile on her lips.

Lisa was sitting on the stool in front of the counter, reading one of those terrible looking romance novels from the bookshelf when the phone repair boy arrived. The bell above the door alerted both her and Bertie to the newcomer’s presence. He looked younger than she expected—although the “boy” part of “phone repair boy” should have been a clue. His sandy blond hair was too long, portions of it hanging in front of his eyes. He wore a red baseball cap backward, and a pair of tan shorts that revealed muscular calves. He looked like a runner. Maybe a quarterback for the local football team. The sort of boy that girls would “ooh” and “aah” over at her old school. Exactly the kind of boy she had no trouble ignoring.

“Howdy, Bert.”

“How’re things, Chuck?” Bertie replied.

Chuck, Lisa thought. Better name than “thick-calf boy."

“So-so. Who’s this?” Chuck pointed at Lisa shamelessly, a smile pulling half of his mouth upward like there was a string attached to one side.

“This here is—”

“Nobody,” Lisa interrupted quickly.

Chuck and Bertie blinked in surprise.

“Hey...do I know you?”

Lisa turned back to her book, rolling her eyes at the pages. Does that line ever work?

“No—I mean it,” Chuck persisted. “You look real familiar.”

“Leave her be, Chuck,” Bertie said and dropped a very old phone onto the counter. It had a rotary dial and a heavy, brown handset. The thing was ancient. No wonder it was broken. “Go on now and do your job.”

Lisa concentrated on the book for about a minute before she realized that it was just as trashy as it looked, and got up to find something else to read.

“Just wait until you get to the end of that one. You’ll never see the Duke’s secret coming.”

Lisa whipped around to stare at Chuck. She held up the book, surprise etched across her features. “You’ve read this?” she asked, not sure if she should be impressed or disgusted.

“Sure. Not much else to do around here while Bertie goes fishing,” he replied without looking up. He attention was on the frayed wires clutched between his fingers.

“Chuck here watches the shop for me on Saturdays so I can practice what I preach,” Bertie put in. “Probably read all them books.”

“Not all. Just a lot.”

“I’m not invested,” Lisa mumbled, tossing the book on the shelf and grabbing a magazine instead.

“He’s actually her long-lost brother,” Chuck stated, twisted two of the wires together.

“What?” Lisa raised an eyebrow.

“The Duke and the miller’s daughter are half-siblings. You sort of think they’re going to get together—” he shot her an embarrassed smirk, “but then you find out they’re related, so it’s a no-go.” He chuckled.

Lisa sent him an impatient look. “Do you always spoil the endings for people?”

Chuck looked up, startled. “I thought you weren’t going to read it,” he said apologetically.

Turning back to the magazine, Lisa flipped a few pages. “I might have changed my mind.” Chuck laughed, drawing her attention. “What?” she snapped. She didn’t like his attitude or the fact that he thought she was some sort of joke.

He shrugged, focusing on the entrails of the ancient telephone. “Nothing,” he said, then looked up at her. “You just don’t seem like someone who changes their mind that often.”

Holding back the snide comment she’d prepared, Lisa let his words settle. “You’re not wrong,” she mumbled.

“That means I’m right.” Chuck grinned.

“I didn’t say that!”

He shrugged. “If I’m not wrong, I’m right. Pretty simple.” He held up the telephone, took a quick look at the back, then set it down again. “Got any electrical tape back there, Bertie?”

“Sure thing, sure thing,” Bertie bent feebly below the counter, grunting every inch or two. He came back up with a small, black roll of tape on his wrinkly finger. “There ya are, bud.”

Chuck took the tape and wrapped it around the wires he’d rearranged. Lisa went back to the magazine, reading words out of order. She was distracted by Chuck as he hummed quietly under his breath and continued to fiddle with the phone.

“When do you think you’ll get done with that?” she asked. “I need to make a call.”

“Oh?” Chuck slid the phone across the counter to her. “Go ahead. It’s done.”

“Already?” Bertie sounded surprised.

“She’ll test it for me,” Chuck said, gesturing to Lisa. “Then we’ll know if it’s good to go.”

Reaching out, Lisa grabbed the handset and pressed it against her ear. There was a surprisingly clear dial tone with minimal static. “It works,” she said, hanging up.

“Go on then,” Bertie said, nodding. “Make your call.”

Lisa stared at the dial, trying to figure out how it worked. She’d never used a telephone this old before. All she knew how to do was push buttons. This contraption didn’t even have buttons—just numbers painted in fancy font with a big black disk over the top filled with holes.

“What’s the number?” Chuck asked gently, easing the phone closer to himself. He picked it up, finger hovering over the dial.

“I don’t...I changed my mind,” Lisa muttered, backing away from the counter. “I’ll just, um...go.”

“Well now just hang on there!” Bertie called.

Lisa ignored him, rushing out the door as quickly as she could. The bells tangled above her head, ringing violently as she pulled the knob hard behind her. The door slammed and she released it, kicking rocks on her way back to the gravel road. The air was colder than she’d remembered. The chill went through her clothes immediately, sending shivers up her neck.

“Wait!”

Lisa turned to see Chuck jogging after her. He caught up in seconds, then slowed to her pace. “I’m going home,” she told him, annoyed.

“Want a ride?” he asked, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

She shook her head without even looking where he’d pointed. She didn’t want a ride from him. He was a stranger. Besides, as much as she hated to admit it, she was embarrassed. And that was his fault. He was too helpful. “I know how to use a phone, you know!” she snapped, unable to hide her irritation while Chuck followed after her like a stray dog.

He seemed taken aback. “You knew how to use that thing?” his brow arched in surprise. “I’m impressed. Bertie had to show me a few times before I figured it out. It’s not exactly as easy as pressing buttons, but it isn’t too hard. I guess you’re smart and pretty,” he smiled broadly, and she knew it wasn’t just a line. He was being genuine.

“I—I have a boyfriend,” she stated, halting in her tracks.

Chuck stopped too. One eyebrow drooped. “You do?”

“Yes.” Lisa started walking again. A few seconds later, Chuck was back beside her, his loping gate too much like a prance. No one is that happy. “Didn’t you hear me?” she demanded, swinging around to glare at him. “I’m not interested!"

Chuck put up his hands and laughed nervously. “Alright,” he said. “Jeez. I just thought you might enjoy the company.”

“Sure you did.”

“Do you always believe the worst about people?”

“People are the worst,” she replied. “I know you want something.”

“Well, I mean...actually...”

Lisa turned on him, her finger wagging back and forth. “I knew it!” she exclaimed, simultaneously proud and annoyed. Chuck had his hands in his pockets, shoulders forward as he smiled sheepishly at her. “What?” she demanded. “What do you want?”

His shoulders lifted into a shrug. “Your money?”

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