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Copyright © 2021 by A.J. RIVERS

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

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

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Author’s Note

Staying In Touch With A.J.

Also by A.J. RIVERS


Remember who you are.

Remember where you come from.

Always remember.

Nothing will ever matter more.

She kept the words running through her head as she made her way across the coarse, dry grass. The sun dropped toward the pale blue horizon as if it was sagging under the heat of the day. It stung the back of her neck; made sweat drip down in beads that rode the ridges of her spine pressed up against skin pulled taut over her bones.

She couldn’t let it slow her down. She was exposed. The field stretched around her at every angle. Her tunnel vision made it feel as if it went on forever. There was nothing else but the grass, made crunchy and painful against her feet by that brutal sun.

Remember who you are.

Remember where you came from.

Always remember.

Nothing will ever matter more.

The words kept running through her mind and occasionally tumbling down into her mouth. The further she made it away from the building behind her, the faster the words fell through her throat to become sounds dropping from her lips.

The sun was trying to do to her what it had already done to the building. Once-pristine bright white paint shriveled in the unrelenting glare until it curled in on itself and flaked away, exposing the wood beneath. Shutters that had been deep, rich black now looked rubbed with charcoal, barely clinging in place on their hinges.

It wanted to dry her up and break her down. It was in good company.

Remember who you are.

Remember where you came from.

Always remember.

Nothing will ever matter more.

That was true. Nothing had ever been as important as grasping hard to those thoughts and keeping them tight against the hollow of her chest. She scraped the corners of her mind and brought out everything she could.



Fireworks over the picnic grounds.

A black cat and a pink sweater.

Sandcastles connected with a path of shells and surrounded by a deep moat.


Pumpkin pie.

Those words would protect her. The field wouldn’t swallow her up if she kept saying them. She would never have to see it again. Not if she didn’t want to. Not without her say. Never again would people take her mind from her; make her mind their own. Never again would she let anyone tell her who she was. Where she came from.

That was for her to say now.

She wasn’t theirs. She was her own.

If she could get through the field. If she could get out of the sun.

They were behind her somewhere. She wouldn’t look over her shoulder to see if they were coming. She wanted to listen for the sound of their feet on the dry grass, but she stopped herself. If they were coming for her, let them come.

She wouldn’t cower. Not this time.

This time, she knew who she was. She knew where she was going.

She only needed to get there.

Time passed, but she didn’t know how much. The sun was traveling down the second half of the sky. The white-hot pressure of the temperature had broken, breathing softer on her skin as she made her way beyond the fields and onto a road. She’d seen the road before. She didn’t know what it was called or which direction she was going, but it would bring her somewhere. From there, she would find her way.

Night came, bringing with it the same fear it always did. Only this time there was nothing to fulfill it. It was shadow fear, the kind cast by something horrible but that could only darken her eyes and make her skin tingle. It couldn’t touch her. Nothing could. Not anymore.

She fought the fear with more of the tumbling words.

Remember who you are.

Remember where you came from.

Red checked curtains pulled back with a wide red ribbon.

The favorite blanket. Beautiful shades of cream and taupe folded over the arm of a chair. A book hidden in the folds.

Banana splits with extra pineapple.

Paul Charles Middle School. Soccer Field. Noon.

She walked through the night until she couldn’t move her feet anymore. Until she could do nothing but sink down onto the ground and feel grateful that some of the day’s heat still warmed the moss and soil beneath the trees. She’d ducked away from the road when piercing headlights caught her eyes, but none stopped.

The morning had to catch up with her. She was already moving again before the sun lightened the path in front of her. She walked by the force of sheer will rather than memory. She didn’t think she had come this way before. Maybe she had.

A car slowed beside her. She wouldn’t let herself be afraid to look through the window. That fear belonged to them. It wasn’t hers.

The face that stared back at her didn’t register. She hoped she’d never seen it. She climbed into the seat beside the driver and closed the door, blocking out the world behind her.

Paul Charles Middle School. Soccer Field. Noon.

She closed her eyes to feel the wheels move beneath her. It felt as if they were creating the road. As if nothing was there until she was.

They could only take her so far, but it was far enough. Any distance was far enough.

She was drawn across softer grass, toward the

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