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Random Acts

Random Acts

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Random Acts

Lunghezza:
436 pagine
6 ore
Pubblicato:
Jun 10, 2018
ISBN:
9781386679714
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Have you ever gotten a friend request on social media that you suspected was fake? Have you ever wondered where those scammers get the pictures? It's from everyday people just like you.

 

Victor lived in his mother's basement and dreamed of finding fame by producing a viral video.  His only outlets were computer gaming and watching online videos. Then CamaroChick19 appeared in Victor's life, bringing support and encouragement to his online inbox.  

 

She was beautiful and friendly.  

 

She was also fake.

 

When an obsessed Victor uses image search software to learn more about his new friend CamaroChick19, he finds the pictures belong to a teenager named Amanda and he's determined to meet her.  He stalks her only to have his advances rebuffed because Amanda has no idea her pictures are attached to thousands of online accounts. Victor is devastated by the rejection and the frayed thread connecting him to reality snaps.

 

Victor's life begins to unravel with increasing violence.  He's determined the people in his life will pay for their cruelty and emotional abuse.  He's also determined that Amanda will pay the highest price of all.

Pubblicato:
Jun 10, 2018
ISBN:
9781386679714
Formato:
Libro

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Anteprima del libro

Random Acts - Franklin Horton

Content

1

The thick hood over his head prevented Mohammed Karwan from seeing anything, but the dank smell reaching his nose convinced him he was standing on the earthen floor of one of Frankfurt’s ancient buildings. He suspected his two other roommates were there with him but when he tried to ask in the back of the van he had been struck in the head with a fist. Although not an injurious blow, it was substantial enough to clarify that conversation would not be tolerated. He would have to wait as patiently as a hooded man could wait to see what fate lay ahead of them .

Mohammed and his roommates each received a text message several hours ago asking them to be at their flat by eight P.M. Fifteen minutes after the appointed time, a man they did not know arrived at the flat and instructed them to be at the mosque in thirty minutes. There was no confusion as to which mosque. There was only one mosque to which they were ever summoned.

Do you think something is wrong? Machmud asked. He was the most high-strung and nervous of the roommates, always concerned that he was in peril. Perhaps he was not cut out for this business of theirs, but that was irrelevant. This was their life. This was where they found themselves.

Mohammed, the senior of the men, shook his head at Machmud’s question. I don't know, my brother. I assume we will find out in due time. He was the stoic one, his fatalistic attitude the result of a life filled with brutality and violence.

Machmud did not speak again. The men filed onto the street and loaded into the used Renault Megane they shared when a vehicle was required. When they reach the mosque, they parked in an alley and entered through a side door. They were met by four men who gestured for them to turn around and face away from them. These were strong, menacing men dressed as laborers. They were not men to be argued with.

The laborers placed a hood roughly over each man’s head. Mohammed was startled.

Machmud tried to twist away and face the laborers. But why?

The man attempting to place the hood on Machmud’s head twisted his mouth in anger. He let loose with a powerful jab that sent Machmud staggering into the wall. The man twisted Machmud’s stunned body and shoved him face-first into the wall.

That was not a request, he growled.

The man made another attempt with the hood and this time Machmud did not protest. Mohammed was grabbed roughly from behind, his wrists clamped together by a strong hand before being bound with flex-cuffs. From the ratcheting sounds surrounding him, he could tell the other roommates were being cuffed also. Mohammed knew he’d done nothing wrong, but he still found the circumstances to be terrifying. He was also painfully aware that innocence was no guarantee he would return home this night. People in his line of work disappeared all the time and no one ever asked questions.

They were marched out the back door and shoved into the rear compartment of a windowless work van. Mohammed heard Machmud protest again. It was followed by the dull thud of a physical reprimand and the accompanying cry of pain.

Mohammed apparently failed to learn from Machmud’s treatment. Is everyone okay? he asked. Are you all here?

He was rewarded with a blow to the head that rattled his brain and made his eyes water.

Mohammed chose to remain silent from that point and focus on the right and left turns. He was familiar enough with this area that, for a while, he was able to keep track of their direction of travel. It became clear the driver was attempting to confuse them, and he eventually succeeded.

The drove aimlessly for hours before Mohammed found himself standing on the packed dirt floor somewhere in the city. He assumed the location to be an abandoned factory or warehouse. The city was full of them. All he could tell with his senses muted by the hood and the noise of the van was they’d entered through a pair of rolling doors and parked inside the structure. When the engine was turned off, the van doors were opened and they were shoved out into a heap.

When the hoods were yanked from their heads, the roommates found themselves staring at six robed men seated in folding chairs. Propane lanterns were scattered around the room, providing a bright yellowish light that created long shadows and did nothing to reduce the grave appearance of the seated men. Mohammed recognized two of them. One was their handler, the man who came to the roommates for progress reports and updates. He was the man who brought them their instructions, the man he assumed carried news of their progress–or lack of it–to the leaders of their organization. If he were a betting man, Mohammed would assume these unfamiliar men in front of him were part of that senior leadership, fellow Syrians from back home.

The other man he recognized was the Imam, the prayer leader from the local mosque. Dressed in traditional robes and with a long gray beard, the Imam kept his hands folded in his lap, his eyes moving between the faces of the roommates. To the side of the seated men was a crude wooden table. A cast iron kettle sat atop a small stove, flames spilling out around it as the kettle heated. Mohammed did not expect they were going to offer him a cup of tea.

A man Mohammed had not met before addressed him. Do you know who I am?

Mohammed nodded, a slight bow of deferral. We have not met, but I think I recognize you. He thought the man was a leader within his organization. Perhaps a man named Miran.

Do you know why I am here? Miran asked.

Mohammed shook his head.

Miran stood. He appeared to be in his forties, beginning to gray but still dangerously strong. He moved like a soldier, efficient and powerful. He walked to the wooden table and lifted the wire bail from the lid of the kettle, peering inside. He appeared to be satisfied with what he found as it brought a slight smile to his face. He looked from the kettle to Mohammed.

Did you know an apartment with four of our brothers was raided yesterday?

Mohammed nodded. I saw the story on the news.

Miran left the table and stood directly in front of him. Mohammed didn’t feel as if he’d done anything wrong but this man made him question that. This was a man who would not hesitate to kill someone who had failed him.

"Their arrest makes you our most senior group in the field. That’s unfortunate for us because you've not produced any fruitful results. It’s unfortunate for you since the pressure of a successful mission now lays upon your shoulders."

Mohammed did not know how to respond.

We do not have the deep pockets some organizations have, Miran said. We cannot support people living in expensive city apartments and not producing results. Many men work hard to allow you to live this life in the city, to allow you to work with computers instead of stone and concrete.

We are working hard too, Mohammed said. Work is all we do. Exactly as we were instructed. As we were trained.

Miran tilted his shoulders in a gesture that indicated he thought the sincerity of the statement was questionable. He gave Mohammed a disbelieving look. "Well, I think not all of you work as you should."

We do, Mohammed assured him.

Are you willing to stake our life on that? Miran asked.

Mohammed looked down. I assume it to be so. I do not look over every shoulder.

Wise decision, not staking your life on it, Miran said. Your fellow man will disappoint you as often as he will impress you.

A pop from the kettle drew everyone's attention. Miran smiled at Mohammed and rubbed his hands together. Ah, it’s ready. Finally.

Miran went back to the table, peering into the top of the kettle again. He reached into a pocket of his robe and drew out a potato. From a sheath on his belt he drew a traditional dagger, its point curved and wicked. He placed the potato on the table and cut it into slices. All eyes were on him, some curious, some terrified.

Miran stabbed the tip of the dagger into one round slice of the potato and dropped it into the kettle. There was a hiss and pop.

Oil, he explained. If you thought I invited you over for tea, you are to be sadly disappointed.

Miran walked back around the table and faced the three roommates. Which of you is Machmud?

Why do you ask! I’ve done nothing! Machmud burst out.

Mohammed turned and regarded his roommate. Why was the man so agitated?

Miran approached Machmud and smiled broadly. Why are you so upset, my brother?

I feel like I’m being accused, Machmud sputtered. I’ve done nothing.

Perhaps that feeling is the jagged edge of your guilt sawing against your guts? Miran said, leaning close to Machmud. Perhaps your body betrays what the mind tries to cover up?

Miran walked back to the table and used the blade of his dagger to fish the potato slice from the oil. It was browned to a crisp. Miran looked past the roommates to the silent row of laborers who’d delivered them here.

Bring him to me.

There was no hesitation on their part. Instantly, a man was at each side and they dragged Machmud forward. He protested and kicked at the men. This was not well-received. One laborer stomped his heavy steel-toed boot sadistically across Machmud’s calf, forcing a scream from the man.

I’ve done nothing! Machmud sobbed.

Miran ignored the protests. He walked around the table. Stand him up! he ordered.

The men pulled Machmud to his feet but his injured leg would not support his weight. He was weaving and leaning onto his captors.

Where were you when you received our text message tonight? Miran asked. Where were you when we asked you to return to the apartment?

I was with a contact, Machmud said urgently. He was sweating profusely and tears cut paths through the dust caked on his face. I was cultivating a relationship.

What type of relationship? Miran persisted.

A contact. That’s all.

Miran grabbed Machmud by the hair and raised the dagger to his throat. Do you think we are so stupid as to turn you loose with no way to monitor you? Did you not realize you were always on a virtual leash? That we tracked all your movements both in the city and on the internet? That we know every website you go to and every message you send?

Machmud’s panic rose another notch and he tried to protest. I’ve…done…nothing…wrong.

"Your job was to make inroads we could exploit. Your goal was to cultivate relationships and nurture those relationships into assets we could manipulate. Instead, all you’ve done is pursue your own deviant pleasure." Miran drew the word deviant out, relishing the way it sounded on his tongue.

I did nothing.

Do I need to read the transcripts out loud? Miran yelled, getting in Machmud’s face. Do you I need to read the messages aloud? Do I need to show the pictures you exchanged?

Machmud sobbed and went limp. The men supporting him allowed him to drop to the ground. His hands still flex-cuffed, he curled up and sobbed. I am sorry. She tempted me and I could not resist.

Did she tell you things you liked to hear? Miran mocked. Was she a temptress?

Machmud moaned. Yes. Yes!

Then we will make certain you do not hear things that tempt you again, Miran spat. Hold him down!

The men at Machmud’s side slid on thick leather welding gloves which they used hold Machmud down. One of them, a thick man with arms like tree trunks, placed one on Machmud’s neck and another on his forehead, crushing his cheek into the dirt floor. Miran went to the kettle of boiling oil and returned with it. He crouched over Machmud’s ear.

Machmud whimpered and cried, still not completely certain what was about to take place. He could not see what Mohammed saw. He struggled but he could not gain ground against the strong arms holding him. Miran tipped the kettle to Machmud’s ear.

Machmud screamed. He kicked and fought like an animal, but Miran continued pouring until the ear was full.

Flip him over, Miran ordered.

The gloved men did as they were told. As they rolled him over, Mohammed could see Machmud’s eyes wide with pain, shock, and terror. He tried to scream again but no scream could release the explosion of pain inside his head.

Once rolled to his other side Miran leaned over Machmud and whispered into his ear. Remember my voice. It is the last you'll ever hear.

Then he poured the other ear full of the burning oil, deep frying everything within the canal. Miran returned to the table and placed the kettle beside the burner. Take him away!

The gloved men grabbed Machmud by his arms and dragged him away into the darkness. Mohammed wondered what would become of him. Would they kill him? Would they return him home? When Mohammed returned his eyes from Machmud to Miran he found the man staring at him.

Have I made myself clear? Miran asked. Are you aware now of how serious and how urgent our mission is?

We understand, Mohammed replied.

I will return in two weeks. You have that long to develop an actionable plan. Should you have nothing for me, what you saw tonight will look like the easy way out.

We will not disappoint you, Mohammed said.

Miran’s look indicated he was not convinced. Get them out of here, he hissed.

The hood was thrown back over Mohammed's head and he was shoved from the room. He felt a sickness deep inside that made him want to throw up, though to do so with the hood on his head would only increase his suffering. He had not known Machmud well and had not known of his activities on the computer.

He also had not known they were being monitored so closely. That concerned him. There were times he watched a stupid video to blow off steam and relax. One thing was certain; he would type each word now with the understanding that he might one day have to stand before Miran and explain it. He would type each word with the understanding his life may one day depend on it.

2

Amanda Castle burst through the heavy double doors of the funeral home and stood on the sidewalk, sucking in air and trying to get her emotions under control. She was losing the battle. Tears burned their way from her eyes and her chest was heaving. She didn’t feel like she was getting enough air. She was a hair's breadth from completely losing it. She looked desperately around the parking lot for a refuge, for some place where people weren’t staring at her .

The door opened behind her and in a moment she felt a reassuring arm wrap around her. She knew it was her dad from the strength in the arm.

I'm sorry, Amanda, honey.

Part of Amanda wanted to wrap her arms around her dad but was aware that would not help her regain control of her emotions. Back in her dad's arms, she would feel like a child again and probably start acting like one. In seconds she'd be reduced to a sobbing mess, clutching at him like a kid who'd fallen off a bicycle. She was seventeen years old, practically an adult, and felt on some level like she should be handling this better, but she wasn’t.

She couldn’t respond to her dad. Couldn’t find the breath to do so. She buried her face in her hands and took deep breaths. The door opened again and she felt another reassuring touch on her back.

I'm sorry, Amanda. I wish there was something I could do for you.

Amanda’s dad, Cole, glanced over her back at the newcomer. I think I got this, he said, his voice oozing venom, jagged in its implied violence.

Amanda’s stepfather, Fox, didn’t respond but Amanda did.

I can’t fucking deal with this right now! She shrugged from beneath both supportive hands and stalked off, the full force of her emotions slamming into her like a wave.

She wanted to just get in a car, any car, and hide out, but she didn't even know which car to get into. Her father's? Her stepfather’s? Her mother had been the pillar of stability in her life and without her she felt vulnerable and rudderless. How could her mother just be there one day and dead the next?

On the steps of the funeral home, Fox wasn’t letting this opportunity pass. You see that? That's why she needs to stay with me. We've become a family. You’re just tearing her away from all of the comfort and stability in her life.

Cole turned toward the taller, thinner man and squared up. "Amanda and I never had to become family. We were a family until you came along and fucked things up."

Fox shook his head in a dismissive and condescending manner. Life happens, Cole. Get over it. That was a long time ago.

Five years doesn't feel like such a long time ago when you wake up every fucking day missing your daughter. Missing the life you used to have.

Fox shrugged. She's my daughter too. You think I'm not gonna miss her?

Cole lowered his voice. "She is not your daughter. She was never your daughter. She was just something that came in the deal when you started screwing around with my wife."

Listen, I'm not going to get into the reasons your marriage fell apart, Fox said, suddenly on the offensive. But it wasn’t just because I came along. It was over way before then.

Cole felt his body surge with adrenaline. His muscles were tensing. He felt like he was going to punch Fox and he wasn't sure if he could stop himself. It wouldn't even be a fight. Cole worked with his hands every day as a building contractor. Fox sat at a desk. One punch and it would be over, Fox bleeding on the funeral home steps, and Cole forever remembered as the guy who beat up a widower at his wife’s funeral.

Fox started to say something else but Cole cut him off. I’m done talking to you. You keep running your mouth and I’m going to stick my fist in it. Amanda will be out of school in two weeks. When she finishes her last class, I'll be here the next day with a truck and she's coming home with me. That’s the end of it.

Fox sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. I wish you wouldn't be so vindictive and unreasonable. She’ll be going into her senior year of high school. She has friends. She has activities she enjoys doing.

It was then, from the corner of his eye, Cole noticed his daughter sobbing hysterically beneath a Dogwood tree in a distant corner of the parking lot. She looked heartbreakingly pitiful, her shoulders heaving with the violence of her grief. She clearly didn't know what to do or where to go. It was the saddest thing Cole had ever seen in his life.

Cole jogged down the steps. We'll see you at the cemetery.

Immediate family is riding together, Fox called after him. That’s how they do this.

Cole flipped a middle finger back over his shoulder, then rushed to his daughter. After a long hug, he ushered her to his Jeep Wrangler and held the door while she got inside.

When Cole joined his daughter inside it was on the tip of his tongue to start tearing into what a dick Fox was and how he was sorry Amanda had to spend part of her life with him. His better judgment won out though. He reached over and put his arm around her.

Though Amanda visited him as much as she could, the visits were always a little awkward with the awareness there was a clock ticking and a point where she would have to leave him. She hadn’t needed him this way since she was a child and he felt a degree of guilt that he enjoyed her needing him. It was another thing he would have to blame Fox for since it was pointless to blame his deceased ex-wife, Christina.

Amanda wilted under her dad’s arm, giving up what little control she’d had. Cole began crying too. He cried for what had been lost between him and his daughter, for those years he’d never get back. He also cried for the loss of the woman he’d never quit loving and to whom he hadn’t even been able to say goodbye.

Dad, I love you but I want to stay here. I want to be with my friends. I don’t want to change high schools.

Cole hesitated before responding, That can’t happen, sweetie. I’m not leaving you here with a stranger.

Fox isn’t a stranger, Amanda said.

He’s not your father. I’m your father. You’re coming to North Carolina and that’s final.

Amanda released her hug and looked away from him. Why did Mom have to get killed?

It was a car accident, Amanda. Just random fate. I’m not going to tell you it was God’s plan or something like that because I don’t know. It just happened, and it sucks for those of us left behind.

Amanda cut him a sharp look. Like you even care.

Cole did care. More than he could even say, in fact. For that reason, he let the argument drop. He didn’t want to get into why the marriage fell apart. He didn’t want to speak ill of Amanda’s mother while she was in this state. While it hurt him that Amanda would even say it, he knew it was the pain speaking. He would just have to remember that.

It was the pain.

True to his word, Cole was there to pick up Amanda one day after school was dismissed for summer. Cole took the day off work and made the eight-hour trip to Northern Virginia from western North Carolina. Following the route on the GPS, it occurred to him that he’d never been to Christina and Fox’s home. Every time he'd come to pick up Amanda they’d met somewhere. Christina hadn’t given him the impression she was scared of him, so maybe it was just a mental thing for her. Maybe she didn’t want him to see her new life. Maybe she wanted that to be completely separate and compartmentalized.

He wasn't surprised to find that her home was in a new subdivision of generic brick McMansions with immaculately striped lawns and manicured hedges. Cole had built homes in subdivisions like this before, though he hated doing them. The entire development was built around a half dozen different plans each homeowner could choose from. They might orient them differently to give the impression of variety but it was really just a cookie-cutter development.

The pickup truck Cole drove belonged to his construction company and it didn't have a navigation system. An inexpensive Garmin GPS was suction-cupped to the windshield and led him through the maze of unremarkable homes. When the GPS announced he’d reached his destination, Cole turned into a driveway. Ahead of him he found an open garage door with his daughter’s possessions stacked there. He eased his truck forward, watching his side mirror to make sure he didn't drop a trailer tire in the ditch. By the time he was parked and had the engine off, Amanda and her stepfather were standing on the front porch.

Seeing her belongings in a pile, like she was being evicted, caused a pang in Cole’s heart. His daughter wasn't being evicted. He accepted it was his fault, because it was his decision for his daughter to come with him. Still, seeing that pile made him aware of how little a life could be reduced to.

Fox put an arm around Amanda and gave her a hug. It seemed genuine enough but it did not deter Cole from the reason he was here. He never doubted that Fox cared for Amanda, but she was his daughter. He shoved the truck door open, slid out, and stretched his sore muscles. He was used to being active all day. Sitting in a truck didn’t agree with him. He walked around the truck, still wondering if he was doing the right thing but not knowing what else to do. He felt a little better about it when his daughter came to him. Cole hugged her tightly.

You doing okay, sweetie? Cole asked.

They separated and Amanda shrugged. I guess. Not like I have a choice.

That was not convincing.

Well, there's all her stuff, Fox said. He was wearing a polo shirt and bright green shorts with his hands shoved in his pockets. He had on boat shoes. which were something that Cole never understood, especially for people that didn’t own boats. I promised her I would send anything of her mother's she wanted. I haven’t gone through any of the personal stuff yet—the photo albums, the mementoes, those kinds of things. The wound is still too fresh. When I do I'll send it on to her. I promise.

Cole nodded in appreciation. Thank you. Those things will mean something to her down the road.

The talk of her mother in the past tense bothered Amanda. She picked up a handful of duffel bags and nodded at her dad's truck. Where do you want me to put these?

The inside of the cargo trailer is empty. You can start there.

Amanda went to work. Cole joined in with her and soon Fox was carrying loads too. With the three of them hauling, it only took a few minutes to fill the trailer. Cole helped his daughter load a snowboard into the bed of the truck.

When did you learn to snowboard? he asked.

I don’t know, Amanda said with a shrug. I just picked it up.

We took her to Snowshoe in West Virginia a couple of times. She was a natural. Maybe we can try to go again this winter, Fox suggested. If it's okay with your father.

Cole shrugged. If Amanda wants to I'm sure we can work something out.

As much as Cole hated the guy there was no use punishing his daughter for it. Kids needed all of the support they could get in life regardless of where it came from. If Fox was a positive influence in his daughter’s life he should just suck it up and allow their relationship to continue.

Even if it irritated the shit out of him.

When they had all of Amanda’s gear packed in the vehicle, Cole stood at the front of his truck, arms resting on the hood, and watched the two of them say goodbye. Amanda hugged the man with embarrassed awkwardness. It was probably a teenager thing. Cole thought he detected tears in Fox’s eyes. Maybe he wasn't a total tool, but Cole wasn’t ready to give the final word on that yet. He shook Fox’s hand while Amanda climbed into the cab of the truck. He didn’t even understand why he did it until their hands were already clasped.

I hope you will allow me to continue to be a part of her life, Fox said.

Cole shrugged and muttered, Of course.

What the hell else was he supposed to say?

He joined his daughter in the truck and closed the door. He looked over at her. Her elbow was resting in the window, chin propped forlornly on her hand. She was staring at the house where she’d spent the last five years of her life. Cole didn’t think Amanda’s state was particularly a reflection of the move but rather a statement on her life in general. At the moment, it probably sucked pretty bad. Cole didn't know what to say but reached over and patted her hand because it was all he had to offer.

He started the truck and carefully backed the trailer down the driveway, swinging onto the street. He shifted into drive and accelerated out of the neighborhood.

I'm sorry all this had to happen to you, Amanda. First the divorce and now this. It’s a lot to be saddled with. The world is cruel and utterly random sometimes. You have to continue going forward because it’s the only thing to do.

Amanda shrugged but didn’t respond. Cole understood that all his daughter knew was her own life and her own experiences. Right now, those probably didn’t instill a lot of faith in what the world might have to offer her. Amanda had no reason to believe life would ever be anything other than periods of calm interrupted by extremely unpleasant experiences. Cole hoped that wouldn’t be the case. Like any parent, he wanted better for her. He wanted her to have a life she would enjoy and remember fondly. It was his singular goal in life now to try to provide that for her.

My friend Raven’s parents said I could stay with her for the school year if you would let me, Amanda said.

It was clear from her tone that she didn’t expect him to say yes. She was just throwing it out as an accusation, a reminder that he didn’t have to do this. He didn’t have to completely uproot her from her old life. She wanted to make him feel bad. To make him feel selfish. He felt bad enough without her help.

Cole shook his head. You know I can’t do that.

I knew that’s what you’d say. I already told them you’d say no.

I don’t want to spend all day fighting with you in the car. Is there anything else I can do for you, Amanda? Are you hungry?

The only thing you can do for me is something you won’t do.

She was right. He was not going to leave her behind to stay with people who were not her family.

She turned to the window. A few minutes later, she put in her earbuds and listened to music on her phone. Cole turned on the GPS and they began the long drive to what would most certainly be a new life for both of them.

It was off to a pretty shitty start.

3

Amanda was disoriented the next morning when her father shook her awake. As a teenager, waking up was difficult to begin with. Then there was the added factor that somewhere in the back of her brain she realized it was the first day of summer vacation and she shouldn't have to be getting up. Someone kept shaking her and repeating her name until she couldn’t ignore it any longer .

What? she croaked.

Wake up, said a voice. Her dad’s voice.

Amanda opened her eyes, momentarily confused to find her father sitting at the side of her bed with a cup of coffee in his hand. Then the sight of her dad brought a concussive series of recollections. She remembered leaving her old home and making the long drive to North Carolina, unpacking the truck late at night, and then coming back to this bedroom, realizing that her old bedroom was now her new bedroom.

Then, as it had every day for the past two weeks, the awareness that her mother was dead fell on her like a dump truck dropped from the sky. Her life from this day forward would be different. A new place, new school, and new friends. In truth, every day had been different since her mother passed away, but grief brought a merciful blur that sometimes made it difficult to process what was going on. Although she had never forgotten her mom was dead, in the cyclone of emotions it was easy to be numbed to everything. She simply focused on what was immediately in front of her, like studying for exams and going through her daily school routine.

In bed that morning she was painfully aware that the merciful numbness was dissipating. The pain was more jagged. Dad? What's going on?

I need you to get up. I told you last night you were going to the job site with me today. You can work a little bit and earn a little money. It pays better than anything you'd make working fast food or retail. Plus, it's about the best workout you can get.

Workout? Amanda mumbled.

It wasn't like she was looking to pick up some new workout routine. In fact, she was not looking for any workout at all. What she

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