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The months I spent doing the right thing weren’t a waste, exactly. Today they let me rent a car and now I’m going to prove to James that I’m not just leaving this mess to him. Feels weird to drive after not being behind the wheel for a very long time. I was surprised that all it took was my license and the credit card I’d earned doing the right thing. Now there’s open road in front of me. I’m driving like an old lady with everyone passing me like streaks of stars in the sky, but I’m feeling it.

Up and over the mountains a couple of times and our old neighborhood is in sight. I remember every street here. The dead palms are still there. In other parts of LA, they’d have taken them down. But here they just let nature decide what stays up or what comes down. I slow as I turn onto our old street. The street lights cast a yellow over everything. Hard to tell which lawns are green and which have been left to die. There it is.

I pull into a spot in front and turn off the car. A dog or two bark somewhere not far from here. But mostly it’s quiet with only the ever-whispering freeway nearby. The house is boarded up. A big sign is nailed near the front door. The city has taped Do Not Enter and No Trespassing signs on the door. I get out and squeeze through the low chain-link fence meant to keep people out. Around the back all the windows are covered in plywood too. A dead house. But I’m going in.

I pry open the backdoor. I’m surprised no one has done this before me. Maybe they come along every so often and clear out the squatters. But no evidence of that. I turn on the bright flashlight, having come prepared. Dust, a wrecked kitchen, stuff everywhere. I step carefully and take my time getting to the hallway where I saw my mother last. The attic hatch is in the darkest part of the house.

I freeze. Something moves near me.

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