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The Distance Between Us
  • Текст добавлен: 26 сентября 2016, 17:55

Текст книги "The Distance Between Us"


Автор книги: Kasie West






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Текущая страница: 9 (всего у книги 14 страниц)

Chapter 28

I wait on the curb. Every minute that passes after two o’clock feels like an eternity. I think that maybe he’s changed his mind. Maybe Sadie Newel told him he couldn’t talk to friends late at night and take them on “career days.”

At 2:07 his car rounds the corner. He parks and steps out.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi.” My body still reacts to him like it always has, my heart picking up speed, tingles spreading through my arms and up my neck.

He looks over my shoulder to the shop and then back to me. “You ready?”

I nod.

He lifts a hand to my elbow. “Are you okay?”

I meet his eyes and want to say, “No, I still feel like crap. My mom is keeping secrets, I’ll probably be homeless in a month, my dad ran out on me, and you have a girlfriend we’re both pretending doesn’t exist.”

I just say, “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

He must not believe me because he pulls me into a hug. I close my eyes and breathe him in.

“I’m here,” he says into my hair.

“For how long?” I want to ask. “You’re a good friend,” I say instead, and then untwist myself from his arms.

The ride is a quiet one until Xander pulls into the airport.

“Um . . .” I watch a plane take off then turn my shocked gaze on Xander. “Are we flying somewhere?”

“You’re not afraid of flying, are you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’ve never been on a plane before?”

“No.” And maybe I am afraid because my palms start to sweat.

“Really?” He studies me for a moment as though trying to figure out a puzzle.

“You know I told my mom I’d be back tonight, right?”

“Yes. You will be.”

“Okay.”

It wouldn’t have surprised me if Xander stepped into the cockpit of the private jet we boarded and started up the engines. But, thankfully, he didn’t. There was a pilot waiting for us.

We settle into seats that face each other. He grabs a bottle of water from a cabinet beneath his seat, takes a sip, and hands it to me. Then he retrieves one for himself.

“Pre-sipped beverages? This flight is so accommodating.”

I’m rewarded with a smile. It doesn’t last long enough, though, and I try to think of something else to say to bring it back. It’s a good distraction, and I’ve missed his smile. I should tell him that. I don’t.

His attention is on the screen of his cell phone and he starts texting or writing an email or something. I slip off my shoes and bring one foot beneath me, trying to get comfortable, trying to forget I’m sitting on a plane that’s about to be airborne.

He shifts over a little and pats the space next to him. “You can put your feet up here.”

“You don’t have a feet phobia?”

“Does such a thing exist?”

“Sure, it’s a real condition. There are groups, therapists, the whole nine yards.” I slide my feet onto the seat next to him, my ankle brushing against his thigh. “No shallowness of breath? No rapidly beating heart?”

He rests one hand on my foot as he continues to mess with his phone. His eyes meet mine in amusement. “Are those the indicators? I might have an issue after all.”

Why does he have to say stuff like that? Before him, I thought I knew if a guy was flirting with me. But he says things so subtly, so smoothly, that it’s hard to tell if it’s purposeful or if he’s just playing along with my jokes.

Maybe I should just ask him, straight out. What does your girlfriend think of me? That’s a fair question. “Xander?”

“Yes?”

“What . . .”

He puts his phone down and gives me his full attention.

“What are you doing on your phone? Words With Friends or something?” I’m such a wimp. Once it’s out in the open, maybe he’ll start treating me like he has a girlfriend.

And that’s not what I want. This is a problem.

He laughs a little. “No. I’m looking at some proposals for the website before I lose my connection. I’m sorry, though. I’ll get off. I’m being rude.”

“No. It’s fine.” The engines outside the window start up and I go tense.

He puts his phone away and grabs hold of my ankle. “The worst part is taking off. Once we’re in the sky it’s painless.”

“What about landing?”

“Okay, the second worst part is taking off.”

The cabin lights dim and the plane lurches forward, heading toward the runway. Xander’s thumb draws patterns around my ankle. I should be nervous about the plane, but all the nerve endings in my leg are buzzing with his touch. I watch the lights go by as the plane picks up speed, then close my eyes as the pressure of the takeoff pushes me back against the seat. As we level off in the air I relax.

He releases my ankle. “See. Easy as can be.”

“Now we just have to land.”

“Exactly.”

I look around. “There are bathrooms on planes, right? That’s not just in the movies?”

He points behind me. When I stand and start to move past him the plane hits some turbulence and sends me off balance. I catch myself on Xander’s shoulders.

“I pay them well to do that at just the right time,” he says. His not-flirting is really irritating.

I am inches from being in his lap. I’d just have to relax my legs a little and I’d be sitting on him. The temptation to do just that is very real. He steadies me with a hand to my waist, only he doesn’t push to help me back up. He just leaves it there against my waist and meets my eyes.

Now my throat is tight for different reasons. And then the plane jerks again, and it might have been my imagination, or my weak legs, but I could’ve sworn that instead of bracing me with that hand on my waist, he actually pulled me forward. Because now I am in his lap, my hands still on his shoulders.

“Hi,” he says.

“Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For the fact that you are such a big flirt.”

He laughs. “You’re the one in my lap. I was just sitting here minding my own business.”

“Just the plane, then?”

“Of course.”

I try to stand up, but he pulls me back down again.

“Man, the plane is really bumpy today,” he says.

“Funny.” Only it’s not funny at all. A surge of anger goes through me. He has a girlfriend and he is a huge flirt. I don’t want to be the dirty little secret. If that’s what he thinks I am, he has another thing coming. “Let me up.”

He must sense the seriousness that has taken over my voice because this time he helps me stand. I shut myself in the bathroom long enough to regain my composure. After tonight I need to be done with Xander Spence. I say it in my head and then again out loud to the mirror. “I am done with Xander Spence.” I’m so convincing that I almost believe myself.

I return to my seat.

“Are you cold? Hot? Hungry?” he asks.

“No, I’m good.”

“The seat leans back if you want to sleep or anything.”

“Is this a long flight?”

“No, about an hour.”

I can’t figure out how far an hour will take us from our current location. In a car that wouldn’t get us past Oakland, but in the air it’s different.

“Any conclusions?” he asks.

“What?”

“Have you figured out where we’re going based on your amazing observation skills?”

“No.” It bothers me that he knows me well enough to know I was evaluating that very thing. I lean my seat back and pretend to sleep the rest of the flight. Due to my newfound determination I have to suffer the landing without his help.

“That’s my brother,” he says, pointing to the guy waving at us as we exit the plane onto the tarmac. I turn around and try to get back on the plane. “Oh stop,” he says, grabbing my hand. “You’ll like him.”

“Lucas.” They embrace with a single pat to the back. “This is Caymen Meyers.”

Lucas turns to me and shakes my hand, a sincerity in his smile. And that’s the other thing that’s weirding me out. Friend or not, why does his family act like this is so normal? Like they don’t care that Xander picked up some girl off the street and is now hanging out with her, flying her around in the family’s private jet? Something isn’t adding up.

Lucas and Xander start catching up on life as though they haven’t seen each other in months. Maybe they haven’t.

“Is Dad making you fly home for the benefit?” Xander asks as we come to a black SUV parked on the street.

Lucas sighs. He doesn’t look at all like Xander. His hair is blond, while Xander’s is brown. His complexion is fair, while Xander’s is olive. But they both have the same air about them. “Yes. Do you think I could hire a body double?”

“You know this is Mom’s baby. I talked once at the breakfast table about how I was dreading it and she almost broke down in tears. Now I pretend like it is the most exciting thing ever. That works better.” Xander opens the passenger-side door and waits like he expects me to get in the front. I smile. “You can sit by your brother.” I open the back and climb in.

“Mom just stresses,” Lucas says when we’ve all taken our seats.

“I know.”

“Is Scarlett going because I don’t know if I can put up with her this year?”

“I don’t know. She was at our house last night and didn’t say anything. I’m sure Mom tried to convince her. She talked to Mom and Dad without me for a while.” Xander glances my way and smiles, and I realize Scarlett must’ve been the girl who interrupted our phone call last night, not Sadie. “But I’m sure she’ll have some gossip about everyone at the benefit. She’s like our own personal source of awful information. It wouldn’t be the same without her.”

Lucas looks over his shoulder at me. “We shouldn’t talk about it like this or we’ll scare poor Caymen. Don’t worry. You’ll like it. Lots of creepy old men who will want to dance with you. Lots of food that looks like it might crawl off your plate. And the band is so exciting they don’t even need a lead singer.”

“I’m in that band. I’m glad you like it,” I say.

Lucas stutters. “No. I mean, yes. The band is great. I was just being stupid. I’m sorry.”

Xander laughs. “She’s just kidding, Luke. She’s not in the band.”

Lucas shakes his head and meets my eyes in the rearview mirror. “You said it with such a straight face I thought for sure you were serious.”

“She’s really good at sarcasm.”

I tap the back of Xander’s headrest. “I thought we agreed on the word ‘exceptionally.’”

“I’m trying not to encourage you.”

“And does it work?”

Lucas smiles. “Maybe the benefit won’t be as boring as I thought. She’s sitting at our table, right?”

“Caymen is smart. She refuses to go with me.”

“What?” Lucas punches Xander in the arm. “Has that ever happened before? Do I need to write this down somewhere?” He looks around and then ends up grabbing his phone from the center console and holding it to his mouth like a recording device. “A girl refused to go somewhere with Xander. Alert the media.”

“Whatever,” Xander says.

“And while we’re on the topic. Two weeks in a row? Pretty impressive, bro. I must be too boring for them to care about these days.”

“What are you talking about?” Xander asks.

“Starz.” He rolls his eyes with a sigh when Xander looks oblivious. If I didn’t know exactly what Lucas was talking about I might look oblivious, too. “The magazine. You. Front page.”

“Seriously?” He sounds more angry than surprised.

“Yes. They have you dating Sadie again.”

“What?” He points past the light where we’re stopped and to the Quickie Mart on the opposite corner. “Stop there.”

Lucas shrugs and obeys the directions, parking the car. Xander barely waits for it to stop moving before he jumps out and disappears into the glowing store.


Chapter 29

While we wait in the car Lucas turns all the way around in his seat, resting his arm across the back. “What’s that about?”

My heart is racing. The girlfriend “secret” is out, and I wonder what Xander is going to say or do now. “He must be mad that they printed something about him and Sadie.”

“You’re probably right. I just thought he knew.”

“Me, too.”

Minutes later a Starz magazine is slapped against the window next to me, making me jump in surprise.

“You read this?” he yells through the window. I can barely hear him.

He opens the door and climbs in next to me without waiting for me to scoot over. “You read this, didn’t you?”

He’s practically on top of me. I slide down the seat to make room for him.

“Drive, Lucas,” he says, pulling the door shut. Then his eyes are back on me and there’s fire in them.

“Are you mad at me for reading an article? Mason showed it to me last week.”

“Last week! Caymen, why didn’t you say something?”

“What did you want me to say? ‘Wow, your girlfriend is hot?’ Wasn’t feeling that generous.”

Lucas laughs and Xander shoots him a look that shuts him up.

“That’s the point, though. She’s not my girlfriend.”

“But the article . . .” I point to the magazine he’s clutching in his fist.

“This”—he flicks the face of Sadie on the front of the magazine– “is an old picture.” He studies it closer. “Last year.”

“And she called you the other day. . . .”

“She called me? No, she didn’t.”

“I may have answered it. . . . She said she’d call back.”

He pulls out his phone and scrolls through some screens. Then he grunts as if to say, Oh look, there she is.

He presses the speaker button on his phone and a message left by Sadie Newel broadcasts in the car. “Hey, Xander. Where are you? Did you see Starz magazine? Those idiots. What’s the plan? I need you to work your magic to make that disappear. Tell me your father will hit them hard.” She sounds irritated.

Xander hangs up then slowly turns his gaze to me, one eyebrow raised.

“Oh” is all I can think of to say.

“Oh?”

“What do you expect me to say? I saw an article. I knew you were in LA that weekend. I’m sorry I thought all journalists were honest.”

“What I expect,” he says, leaning close, “is for you to ask me.” His eyes are so intense I want to look away . . . or never look away, I can’t decide.

My heart is pumping fast, and I’m so relieved that he is not with Sadie Newel that I almost throw my arms around him. Joke. I need a joke. Fast. “Maybe you should give me a list of all the actresses you’ve dated and in what year. That way I’ll know if it’s an old picture or a new one.”

“I can get you that list,” Lucas says.

I drag my eyes away from Xander and on to Lucas. “Could you include any heiresses or billionaires’ daughters as well? Anyone newsworthy, really.”

“It might take me a while. That’s an extensive list.”

I know he’s joking with me, but the words hit home, reminding me that I wouldn’t come close to making that list.

Xander sighs and leans back. “It’s not that long.” He puts his hand over mine on the seat between us. I try not to smile too big.

We pull up to the redbrick buildings of an expansive campus and I’m confused. “Where are we?”

“UNLV.”

“Is this your pitch for college?”

“No. You’ll see.” It’s so funny how excited Xander gets to take me on these career days. Maybe Xander should be a life planner or something. Does that career exist?

It takes me the whole walk through the sprawling campus to realize something. “You go to school here,” I say to Lucas.

“Yes, I do.”

It surprises me. Not that UNLV is a bad school. I just thought he would be at an Ivy League. I still haven’t figured out why we’re here, though.

After passing a lot of buildings that look similar to one another, we finally enter one. At the end of the hall he knocks on a door. A man with glasses answers with a smile. “Hello. Come in.”

I take in the room. Microscopes, burners, vials, glass cases, petri dishes. The science department. The man—a TA maybe?—says, “I hear you might be interested in studying science.”

My lungs feel close to bursting. “Yes.”

He goes on about all the different careers a degree in science can lead to. Medical, crime-scene investigation, research analysis, and on and on. Almost every one he mentions sounds interesting to me.

“Follow me,” he says, and leads me to a microscope. “I was just getting ready to analyze this blood sample. What I’m looking for is to see how many white blood cells per square unit there are. If you’ll just look through the scope and count for me I’ll see if my number matches yours.”

I do as he asked and relay my number. He writes it in a box on the paper next to the microscope. Then he goes to a glass case and pulls out a vial. He lets me inject a needle into it and drop a different drop of blood onto a slide and analyze that one as well. Next he shows me some different bacteria they were growing in dishes and tells me what each was taken from and the results. He also shows me some old police files that the students were working on to assess DNA and cause of death.

I know I must have an awestruck look on my face because when I glance over at Xander he has the biggest smile I have ever seen.

“Are you majoring in science, Lucas?” I ask.

“No. I’m an architecture major. This is just one of my classes. And Rick here is my roommate. He’s the TA for Dr. Fenderman.”

“Has Dr. Fenderman lured us here for future use as test subjects?”

“Yes, the next stop on the tour is the cage.”

“Cool. Does he happen to be testing any vaccinations? These boys need to catch some debilitating illness to get out of going to a benefit.”

“My sympathies,” Rick says. Has everyone in the world gone to a benefit besides me? Rick clips another slide in place and I peer through the microscope. Lucas and Rick start talking, and as I’m studying the slide I feel a tickle on the back of my neck.

“Are you having fun yet?” Xander asks. I feel him now, close behind me, the heat from his body sending a chill up my spine.

“Yes. This is amazing.”

“I’ve never seen you so happy.”

I’ve never felt so happy. I’m still looking through the lens at the slide, but I’m not seeing anything because Xander’s breath lightly touches the back of my neck. My body reacts to him, almost involuntarily, leaning back against his chest.

He wraps his arms around my shoulders. “You should major in science. Not necessarily here, but the field suits you. I could see you looking all cute in a white lab coat.”

I smile. “It’s a good idea. Maybe in a year.” I’m definitely taking at least a year off to help my mom.

“Caymen.” His voice is disapproving, like he knows what I am thinking. “That’s a mistake.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have many options, Xander.”

“You have as many options as you give yourself.”

I laugh a little. He has as many options as he gives himself. The rest of us are stuck with what’s given to us. “Why do you care?” I whisper.

For a second I think he didn’t hear me because I’m facing away from him, his arms still wrapped around my shoulders, but then he says, “Because I care about you.” I close my eyes for one second and let myself feel those words, feel him.

I want to let this happen, but something is still holding me back. I thought it was his girlfriend. But that’s obviously not an issue anymore. It’s my mother. I haven’t told her. And I feel terrible for that. I didn’t want to be his dirty little secret, but I have made him mine. I’m glad my back is to him because I can feel the disgust for myself written all over my face. I wiggle my arms, forcing him to drop his, and look at the clock on the wall. “Is it really eight already? We better go, Xander.”

“Before we leave, there’s this little Mexican joint on The Strip that I have to take you to. It’s not far. Amazing food.”


Chapter 30

So he took you on a plane and flew you to a science department to give you a taste of college life and your rebuttal is . . . ?” Skye is trying to make me do something over the top for our next career day, but how am I supposed to top that?

“Um, actually, he’s coming over tomorrow night because my mom has this business associations meeting. . . .” I don’t know how to finish that thought and grab a small jewelry box off a shelf. It has fake jewels glued all over the wooden lid and is a perfect example of why I call this place Obvious Garbage.

Skye is busy arranging old books on a shelf, her back to me. “I don’t get it. How is that a career day? Are you going to take him to the meeting? Let him see how small business owners argue?”

“No.” I put the jewelry box down. “No, actually, I think my mom isn’t going to the meeting. I think she’s going out with some guy. A behind-my-back date.”

She turns around now, hands on her hips. “Wait. Are you saying that you and your mom are both dating people behind each other’s backs?” She laughs.

“No. I’m not dating Xander.” Yet. Not until I work up the courage to tell my mom. I’ve given myself one week to do that.

She rolls her eyes. “You two are the most in-love not-dating people I’ve met. Hold on.” She walks toward the back of the store and calls to Lydia, the owner. “The books are in order and the sign is flipped. Do you need me to do anything else?”

“No. Have a good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Skye hooks her arm around my elbow and leads me out the back door, cutting across the alley to the back of the doll store. “Where’s your mom?” she asks, pointing to the empty space where our car is normally parked.

“She ran to the store after we closed.”

“So anyway, back to career day. I don’t get what you’re going to do with Xander.”

“Neither do I. I was planning on spying on my mom. But I can see it’s a bad idea.”

She laughs.

“I had one other idea for a career day.”

We walk up the stairs to my apartment.

“I talked to Eddie last week and he said he’d teach us how to make his famous muffins.”

Skye makes a face. “Why?”

“Because Xander likes them. He likes all food, really. Everywhere we go we end up at his favorite restaurant. I thought maybe he could talk to Eddie, see if owning his own restaurant is something he’d enjoy.”

“Aww,” Skye says. “Now that’s thoughtful. And sweet.” She walks to the fridge once we’re inside. “And you pretend not to love the guy.”

I smile as she digs through the contents of the fridge. The light on the answering machine is blinking. I hit the button. “One new message,” the robotic voice says, followed by a lady. “Hi, Ms. Meyers, this is Tina from Dr. Saunders’s office. We went ahead and scheduled that ultrasound for you on the fifteenth. Please show up half an hour early and make sure you drink all the water we talked about. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call.”

I hear the fridge close behind me.

“I didn’t know your mom was pregnant,” Skye says.

“Pregnant? What?”

“Ultrasound. That’s what they do for pregnant people.”

My brain is just barely registering the words she said. “No, she’s not.”

“Oh, then why is she getting an ultrasound?”

There have to be other reasons people get ultrasounds. “I don’t know.”

“Has she been nauseous? Tired?”

I think back. She hadn’t been eating very well lately. Maybe it’s because she’s been sick to her stomach. And she has definitely been tired. I nod.

“So she’s probably pregnant.” She nods her head toward the answering machine. “Plus they asked her to drink all that water. That’s what they tell pregnant people to do so they can get measurements.”

I shake my head back and forth over and over.

“It’s kind of exciting, though, don’t you think? You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”

“Exciting? Yeah, right. No. She’s not pregnant. That’s ridiculous. She doesn’t even have a . . .” I realize I was about to say “boyfriend.” It’s very possible that she does have a boyfriend. “She’s not pregnant.” But if she’s not pregnant then what is she? Anxiety washes over me. Is something wrong with her? People don’t get ultrasounds just because. . . . Do they? Maybe once you’re older that’s a standard procedure.

Skye moves in front of me and pets my shoulders. I must’ve gone completely catatonic. “It’s probably not a big deal. Even if she is pregnant it’s not a big deal.”

“She’s not pregnant,” I insist. “She’s too old to be pregnant.”

Skye laughs. “She’s only thirty-five.” Her phone chimes and she pulls it out and smiles after reading the text. “It’s Henry. The band is hanging out at Scream Shout. You want to go?”

I look at the now-solid light on the answering machine. Then I glance at the door. I can’t catch my breath. When will my mom be home? I need to ask her about this. But will she tell me? She’s been refusing to tell me anything for weeks now.

It’s nothing. My mom is fine. Standard procedure. “Yes. I’ll be right down. Give me one minute.”

She hesitates but then leaves. I scribble a note about spending the night at Skye’s and leave it on the counter. I pack a few things in my backpack and lock the door behind me.

We walk into Scream Shout and it’s practically deserted. The bartender points to the door off to the side of the stage when Skye gives him the questioning shoulder raise. Then she marches across the club and straight to the door. Music from a back room seeps down the dim hall. We follow the sound. The band is sitting on couches in a small back room and look up when we enter.

Henry greets Skye by singing a soft “There’s my beautiful girl,” accompanied by a few strums of his guitar.

She smiles and slides into the small space between him and the arm of the couch.

Mason winks at me. “Hey, Caymen.”

“Hi.” I throw my backpack against the wall, find some floor space, and settle in. I just want to melt into the floor and fade from existence for a while. It seems to work as the guys start goofing around with lyrics and music. I let the blended melodies bounce around inside me.

Derrick, the drummer, randomly sings about his day. How he drove in his car and listened to the radio. How he went to the store and picked up some milk and on and on. I stop listening until he asks, “What rhymes with ‘fire hydrant’?”

Mason gets serious and I think he’s going to say something like “Don’t be an idiot. Why are you singing about a fire hydrant?” But instead he says, “I don’t know, ‘wire tyrant’?”

“What’s a wire tyrant?” Henry asks.

“You know, someone who hoards all the wire. It’s a rising epidemic.”

I give a small laugh.

“How about ‘tired rant’?” Skye says. “If you draw it out, it rhymes good enough.”

“This is our tired rant about a useless fire hydrant,” Henry sings.

Mason laughs. “This is our tired rant about Henry the wire tyrant.”

“How can a rant be tired?” I ask. “Aren’t rants by nature lively?”

Henry strums a chord, looks up at the ceiling for a minute while playing several more chords, then sings, “I’m so tired of the same old rant when what I really need is a second chance.”

Mason points at him. “Yes. Let’s call this song ‘Fire Hydrant.’”

They laugh, but Derrick starts writing on a notepad as they yell out more lines about making up and starting over. I don’t believe I just witnessed the birth of a song that started out with the words “fire hydrant.” It’s weird to see something created from nothing. I think about myself and how Xander is trying to create something out of my nothing life. How he kind of has. He took the ridiculousness, the fire hydrant, from my song and made me realize it could be something more, something different.

After the day I had, this thought makes me happy. I start shouting out lines with them. They get pretty far on the song before ridiculousness is reintroduced when someone yells, “And why won’t you just let me eat turtle soup?”

Skye gasps in offense but then everyone laughs.

At ten o’clock the laughter has not ceased. We’ve gotten past laughter and into slaphappy stupidity. Skye is on the floor draped across me. “I better get you home, little girl,” she says. “It’s a school night for the underage one.”

“I’m spending the night at your house!” I yell.

“You are?”

“That’s what my note told me so it must be true.”

“Yay! Slumber party.”

“We should toilet paper someone’s house,” I say.

“Yes. We should TP someone’s house. Whose?”

“I don’t know.” Then I raise my hand like she’s a teacher. “Xander’s!”

She laughs. “Who wants to TP Xander’s house?”

The guys just look at us and groan.

“We don’t need you.” I stand. “Let’s go.”

Skye runs ahead, but just as I clear the door, I’m tugged back by my arm. I whirl around and face-plant against Mason’s chest. We’re standing just outside the door in the dim corridor.

He kisses my cheek. “You left without saying good-bye.”

I step back and meet his eyes. “I’m . . .”

He blinks hard. “You and Xander, huh?”

“I think so.”

“Are you sure you fit?”

I know exactly what he means, but as an image of Xander pops into my head I nod.

He shrugs a lazy shrug. “You know where to find me.” With that he disappears back into the room.


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