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Table of Contents

Title

Also By

Copyright Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Day 87

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Day 8

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Day 1

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Day 1

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Outside the Courthouse

Emily's Other Books

About the Author

 

Emily Kazmierski

Also by Emily Kazmierski

Embassy Academy Trilogy

Deadly First Day

Lethal Queen Bee

Killer Final Exams

Ivory Tower Spies Series

For Your Ears Only

The Walk-in Agent (a Julep Short Story)

The Eyes of Spies

Spy Your Heart Out

Spy Got Your Tongue

Over My Dead Body

Other Novels

Malignant

All-American Liars

Life Among the Ashes

Copyright © 2021 Emily Kazmierski

California, United States

Cover Design: Parker Book Design

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof

may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever

without the express written permission of the publisher

except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2021

www.EmilyKazmierski.com

For Adam.

There’s no one I’d rather

watch Seinfeld with.

Chapter 1

Day 91, Monday

Most people find orchids to be finicky plants. Their requirements for growing shiny new leaves and sprouting arching branches of blooms are too difficult to reproduce. People plant them in dense, smothering soil and complain when the plant withers to nothing but a dried, brown husk. What they don’t understand is that most orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow hanging suspended from a tree branch or a slick cliff. They bloom only if precise conditions are met, or not at all. I know all of this because I used to grow them. Gently bowed green leaves on mossy chunks of cork bark, suspended near the perfect window by clear fishing line stretched taut.

I was always drawn to their particularity and resilience.

Not anymore. Not now that I’m the one clinging to life as a shriveled, nearly dead stub of brown in an airless, smothering situation.

I left every single one of my plants behind when I moved in with Aunt Karen.

After.

The newly purchased loose blouse still has the tags hanging from the back collar. Its sharp edges are making the tender skin between my shoulder blades itch. I bend awkwardly, trying to reach it, and only manage to pull out a few strands of my overlong, hickory brown hair. What I wouldn’t give for a broken-in tee and jean cutoffs.

Helplessness threatens to overwhelm me, making me collapse on to the edge of the too-small twin bed, pawing at the bright red comforter with black polka dots. I’d have deemed it too childish to use if Aunt Karen hadn’t told me she’d purchased it because it reminded her of my favorite anime show about a teenage girl whose superhero alter ego is a ladybug. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m not interested in it anymore. Or any of my other former hobbies.

None of it makes me light up like it did Before.

The old house creaks as someone moves down the hallway.

I look up, my pulse skittering.

“Does everything fit all right?” Aunt Karen stands in the doorway, her perceptive brown eyes skimming over me. Her dyed red hair is starting to grow out, leaving a stripe of gray at her scalp.

I bite my lip, nodding. “This outfit okay?”

“The blouse looks nice on you. Feminine.”

Not like my old clothes.

The older woman moves into the room, dressed for her new job at the grocery store in a slouchy green polo and khaki slacks. Her eyes glance over my face and away. “Where’s your bracelet?”

“Oh. I—”

“Your parents would have wanted you to wear it,” she encourages, picking up the sterling bangle from the top of the dresser and watching with keen eyes as I snap it on to my wrist.

The clothes tag rustles when I move, sparking Aunt Karen’s continued scrutiny. “What is that?”

“Tag. Would you mind...?” Presenting her with my back, I pull my hair forward over my shoulder. My skin prickles at the exposure, but I hold myself still.

Aunt Karen excuses herself to get some scissors from the kitchen, returning with a bright red set that ironically also still has the tag on. The older woman gives half a smile as she yanks it off and tosses it in the wastebasket under the small desk in the corner. “It’s amazing the things you have to buy when you move. Being back in this house feels like going back in time.” Her eyes take in the room around me before she moves closer.

I’m grateful she doesn’t see me flinch as she draws closer with the gleaming shears.

Carefully, as if she’s afraid I’ll collapse if she touches me, my new guardian cuts the tag out of my blouse and tosses it.

“How are you feeling about your new school? You know how you’re going to introduce yourself yet?”

I shrug. I’ve been dreading this, so instead of making a mental plan like I normally would, I’ve kept putting it off. I guess I’ll figure it out if anyone asks. Probably no one will.

“Practice makes permanent. You should run over what you want to say in the car on the way over. Want me to role play it with you?” The woman crosses her arms, studying me.

“No, thanks. I’ll manage.” Shouldering my backpack, I follow her out on to the landing. The door to the master bedroom has been shut tight. In the short time I have resided in this place, I have never trespassed there.

The temperature drops as we descend the stairs. Under her breath I hear Aunt Karen grumbling about how inefficient the old house is with its minimal insulation and seventy-year-old windows. While the upstairs is near too warm, the downstairs feels like a freezer. I consider going back upstairs for a sweater but don’t. The second I step outside, I’m slammed by a wall of air so hot it steals my breath. It’s not even 8 AM and already almost 90 degrees. The jean skirt I’m wearing chafes, the blouse tacky against my skin. It’s got to be twenty degrees

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