The computer beeps
An increase, decrease, constant
She’s a flatliner
The computer beeps
An increase, decrease, constant
She’s a flatliner
I watch as diamond dust
falls to the ground.
Softly and silently,
beautiful to the eyes
but chilling to the touch.
It’s scintillating shimmer
is out of place
with the dead trees around it.
The wind whispers in my ears,
nipping at my toes
as it blows into the distance,
leaving as quickly as it arrived.
Only a faint reminder is there
that it even existed.
The frosty air fills my lungs.
The snow freezes my bare feet
as I trudge along
this icy path.
I may slip,
and I may fall.
But this ice ignites passion,
and I will get up.
I will always get up.
immortal, infinite, endless.
But I know this isn’t true,
for in the divine desert of diamonds
lies a vivid patch of emerald.
Although feeble and frail,
it will outlast this boreal winter.
For when snow melts,
it is not water that is made.
It is spring.
Before the events in this tale took place, creatures of differing species only united with others of the exact same species. Other than trading and other necessary interactions, the association of different breeds was considered to be a nefarious sin among all.
However, this was the only similarity in rule that they shared with one another. Their cultures diverged upon many paths, from advanced to modest, from religious to atheistic, and from communal to solitary.
And the species most known for isolation were the dragons.
They were humongous, serpentine beings with wingspans that could block out the balmy rays of light and cloak the land with shadows, sending shivers down the spines of the sacred. Slits peering from underneath lids of scales glinted ominously with some mix of vexation and loathing, and, as the ophidian beast let out a roar of inferno that scorched the surrounding terrain, it exposed its prolonged fangs that were more often than not stained with crimson. Even among their own kind they remained isolated from one another, as from the very second their mother deemed that they could survive on their own, they would be exiled from the nest with no more than a hostile glower.
Thus was the story of Aeron, who was taught from the moment his first breath was inhaled that love was something that did not exist. Fleeing from his brethren at a youthful age, the young dragon had taken refuge in the murky swamp where trees long since barren loomed from above. The few forest sprites the woodland had left were driven out with the wings on their backs slightly singed.
It was only then that Aeron had what he had always longed for: solitude and silence.
But then why was this silence so ear-splittingly loud?
That was the particular question the rung through his scaly chest on that gloomy evening. The dragon had been attempting to shake off his insomnia and drift into slumber, when he heard a sound. This faint sound would have gone undetected by others, but Aeron had long since trained his ears to pick up this distinct noise.
It was the sound footsteps.
Immediately the dragon’s eyes snapped open and his claws were instinctively unsheathed. He glowered at the rustling bushes and tried to recall which striking points were most fatal.
And that was when his life had changed completely. Forever.
For Aeron’s hostile glare, for the first time since his feet had touched the earth, faltered as a scrawny fawn stumbled into the clearing.
This young deerling was no bigger that the crooked claw on his smallest toe, yet it foolishly sauntered up to him and sniffed his hide. Although it trembled on its four legs, Aeron had a suspicion that it was not out of terror.
What was wrong with this creature? Did it not know that a dragon such as him could easily swallow her up in a single gulp?
Determining that this feeble creature needed a reminder, Aeron tilted his head to the heaven and released the conflagration building up in his lung, roasting the nearby forestry until they became the color of obsidian.
Though this would normally send grown centaurs scuttling away with their stony eyes brimming with tears, the fawn that stood before him did not even so much as flinch, but rather nuzzled closer to the drake. Letting out a somnolent yawn, her brown eyes disappeared under her furry lids.
Stunned utterly speechless, Aeron could only gaze upon the tranquil sight in awe. Not only was it inconceivable that this frail deerling did not tremble in terror before him, but their was this feeling of warmth swelling inside of his chest, but it was not because of the fire in his stomach. It was something hotter than hatred.
“Perhaps you were not mine to begin with,” Aeron thought as for the first time in years the animosity within him dispersed and warmth settled into his heart. “But now, you are my family.”
Brandon could hear the sound of footsteps, silently creeping up the stairs. He could just imagine his Bethany now; a mix of alarm and trepidation clouding her eyes as his girlfriend tried to silence her heart that continued to thump in a rapid, erratic pattern. It had beaten in a similar manner when they had first met. However, instead of her regular anxiety, her heart was fueled by the butterflies fluttering gleefully in her stomach. He knows this because he had felt the same sensation: a sensation of love and adoration so strong, that even with his own mother he had never felt this way before. So on that very day, the day when his life first intertwined with hers, he decided to make a vow. A vow he swore he would never break till the day he took his final breath.
“I promise I will always treat you like the princess you are.”
And he did. At first. He always came to her rescue, saving the poor damsel in distress all while maintaining his dazzling, charismatic smile. He slayed all of her dragons, whether it be something as severe as financial issues or something as insignificant as a growling stomach. To her, he seemed perfect; like a prince in shining, steel armor.
It’s too bad she didn’t realize how quickly steel rusted.
For on one fateful day, inside of Brandon’s head, a voice appeared. It was nothing more than a sound; echoing and reverberating against the walls of his mind. When it came, it came bearing the title of ‘Common Sense’ and claimed that it would enlighten Brandon with its philosophy of rationale and logic. Brandon didn’t think much of it at the time; after all, it seemed like only good could come out of his new companion. But then, right when he had started to trust this newfound associate, the accusations began to emerge.
“Hey, I’m going out with my friends tonight to see that new movie. Is that alright?” Bethany had told him with a elated expression flaring in her eyes as she gleamed down cheerfully at the electronically lit phone in her hands.
Brandon had opened his mouth to say “Of course!” when Common Sense decided to interfere and assert its own opinion.
“She’s a liar.”
“She’s going out with another guy.”
“Don’t trust her; She’ll leave you.”
Bethany’s gazed whipped up to meet his infuriated glare. “Huh? What do you mean ‘no’?”
“I mean, you’re not going. You’re going to stay here with me. We can go see that movie later this week together if you want. But it’ll just be me and you; no one else.”
Although she looked rather disturbed by his vindictive response, she reluctantly agreed. And as the days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into eternity, this became embedded into the foundations of their relationship: an unspoken rule between the two of them that she wasn’t allowed to leave the house unless she was beside him. For a while, all was good. Bethany was a very obedient girlfriend: constantly submissive to his every command. Tonight however, it seems like she gained a streak of defiance; as if she thought she could break the regulations and expect to get away with it.
If he weren’t so furious, he would think her naivëty cute.
“Where were you this evening, Bethany?”
Bethany froze as she felt a chill run up her spine from his irate, acrimonious question. She began backing up when she saw the enraged expression haunting his eyes.
“Brandon! I didn’t know you would still be up.”
When Brandon saw her trying to escape back down the stairs, he reached out and aggressively seized her wrist.
“She was out with her friends again.”
“You were out with your friends again!”
“She was trying to make you angry.”
“You were purposely trying to make me angry.”
“She’s a liar.”
“You lied to me!”
Bethany, unable to take the accusations thrown at her, raised her voice to match his volume. “What was I supposed to do? You don’t let me leave this house without you! I can’t see my family, my friends, anyone anymore! I just can’t do this anymore, Brandon! I want to leave! I want to—”
Brandon couldn’t remember what happened next. All he could recall was that a white-hot wave of rage overtook his senses until all he could see, smell, think, and do was anger. When the heat began to dissipate and the darkness began to disperse, the sight that was revealed to him made him recoil in horror. Bethany stood in front of him, her eyes wide with disbelief and betrayal. Her wrist was stained with a grotesque, yellow bruise in the exact place where his vice-like grip was mere moments ago. She was protectively caressing her cheek, which was tarnished with a flaming red mark that was dubiously in the shape of a handprint. It didn’t take long for him to piece everything together.
He wasn’t even able finish his sentence before Bethany ran out of their apartment, the door slamming shut with a resonating crash.
Brandon felt his brain shut down and his emotions run rampage as, once again, anger hijacked his senses. Only this time, his fury was intertwined with another emotion: regret. He felt a burning, desperate desire in the depths of his stomach to turn back the hands of the clock; to take back his mistake. And his rage increased tenfold when he realized he couldn’t.
Swearing horrid, obscene words that made his mouth feel disgustingly vile, he unleashed his rage on a nearby mirror, shattering his reflection so severely that it became unrecognizable. Although crimson blood trickled down his clenched fist, he found himself unable to stop, because the pain from the shards of glass that lodged into his skin was a pain he was able to endure. Losing the one and only person he had ever loved; being alone; that was a mental anguish he wouldn’t ever be able to sustain.
Eventually, his anger began to ebb away, leaving him to face the bitter disappointment that plagued his heart head first. Gasping for breath (as in his heated moment of outrage, he had forgotten to breathe) he assessed his damaged fist, carefully trying to remove a reflective shard that was embedded into his knuckle. Moving his gaze from his hand to his mirror, he howled in horror. For the thing where his reflection should be was most certainly not him. Instead, a gargantuan behemoth was glowering at him, hostility gleaming in its sickly pale green eyes. The beast growled, baring wicked, razor sharp teeth that were coated in a repulsive yellowish plaque. It eyed Brandon hungrily, as if contemplating devouring him whole, all while flashing his wicked, deformed claws that gleamed under the moonlight filtering in through the open window.
Brandon could hardly believe the atrocious deformity in front of him. Trying to convince himself that this is and only will be a dream, he closed his eyes, inhaling a deep breath all while silently praying that when he reopened them, all signs that this mutant ever existed would vanish.
He opened his eyes. His voice hitched in his throat. For peering at him from behind the shiny, reflective mirror wasn’t that grotesque, green-eyed demon, but something much, much more horrifying. They way it looked into his eye caused his heart pump dread and terror into his veins and his blood to run ice-cold.
For staring back at him wasn’t some kind of hellish leviathan or freakish mammoth, but a man. A man named Brandon Smith. A man who has now harmed the one and only person who has ever mattered in his life.
And that was more horrifying than any monster could ever be.
“What do you mean you’re cutting me off!?”
An outraged roar echoed through the living room as a man hastily jumped to his feet. He was either so absorbed in his anger that he did not notice, or so absorbed in his anger that he did not care, but as he rose, he had knocked over a photo of a man offering a elegant golden band to a woman overwhelmed with joyful tears, causing a jagged crack to abruptly split the couple apart.
Jacqueline cautiously placed her delicate hand over his, and he could feel her hand trembling like a sole leaf in a hurricane of horror.
“Kale, sweetheart, I know how hard it will be to quit, but we can’t afford to keep doing this anymore. If you’ll just consider rehab, I know that‒‒”
Kale let out a cacophonous wail as her forcibly thrusted Jacqueline away from him, not even sparing a second glance as she let out a yelp of pain.
“No, no! You can’t do this to me, Jacqueline! You can’t, you can’t, you can’t!”
His eyes, filled with the hysterics of addiction and outlined with the dark rings of insomnia, captured hers as her seized her by her shoulders and hauled her to her feet.
“Honey, baby, you can’t do this to me!”
“Kale, you’re hurting me. Please stop.”
“Please, baby, don’t do this to me! You can’t do this to me.”
Kale’s unrelenting pleads consisting of the words “Can’t,” “Don’t,” and “Baby” slurred together in a dissonance of despair as his grip on her loosened somewhat, exposing dark, purple discoloration on her gaunt skin, dubiously in the shape of a handprint.
“Kale…” The discordant uproar was silenced by her words, trailing off with on a tender, harmonious note.
“Kale, we really can’t do this anymore. Look at the state were living in! Shambles of what could have been and still could be a brilliant life. We just need to pick the pieces up together. After all…” She inhaled a breath of courage before continuing. “We want the best for our little Junior, right?”
The silence that hung in the air threatened to suffocate her. Her knees trembled more than before and threatened to collapse under the constant pounding of her heart beat.
Her throat was too parched to respond, so instead she gave a slight nod of her head.
“I don’t understand why that means I have to quit.”
It took a long time before the meaning of his words finally registered in her mind.
“What do you mean you don’t understand?” She croaked, forcing the words through her constricted throat.
“I shouldn’t have to stop smoking just because you’re having a child.”
Something inside of Jacqueline snapped. She wasn’t sure what it was, desperation, hormones, maternal instincts. Maybe a combination of all three. Nevertheless, nothing at that moment could stop the tsunami of thoughts from flooding out of her mouth.
“This isn’t just my child! This is our child; this is your child! Does that not mean anything to you? We should be discussing names or education plans now, not about your addiction! I know you had a rocky start with awful parents, Kale. We both did. But this is a chance to succeed where our parents failed. Don’t you want to give this child an opportunity, a chance?
“Of course I do! But that doesn’t mean—”
“Yes it does, Kale! It means you have to quit! I’m not going to support your habit anymore!”
Kale’s fingers trembled around the trigger of the gun as Jacqueline’s, and her unborn child’s, lifeless body unceremoniously hit the floor. Since the boards were rotten and long since warped, all of her blood pooled into a vicious crimson puddle and they splashed all over his boots as he walked over to the corpse. His fingers still trembled was he searched her person, though it was neither from remorse or despair. They trembled out of relief.
For finally, finally, he would be able to get his fix: eggplant.
As I stand in front of the grandest doors
With nothing but a coin in my pocket
And the remains of a soul that I store
I enter with my cowardly courage
Blinding lights reflect off of sequin coats
Smoke mixed with cheap perfumes cloud my wisdom
And, as the alcohol runs down my throat
On the board is where I place my last crumb
I thought I saw the future in those cards
I thought that the dice roll was my heartbeat
I thought that the dealer was a blessed bard
I thought I could sit in the devil’s seat
Those gambling chips have become my hit
The scent of cash a high blessed by the gods
And yet when I stop, I know I should quit
Yet I still ask myself, “What are the odds?”
All in vain, I try again: once, twice, thrice
This is a gamble; now I roll the dice
The day his daughter asked him for colored contacts was the day that Johnathan finally decided put his foot down.
Or, at least, it was the day he tried to. After all, teenage girls can be incredibly intimidating, especially when it happens to be your only daughter.
And especially when she happens to be a vampire.
“Is there any particular reason you want blue eyes all of a sudden?” The middle aged man cocked a graying eyebrow in suspicion as he pushed away his plate, suddenly finding the steak and mashed potatoes to be less than appetizing.
“I just do.” Vanessa snapped defensively. Her ivory hands nervously ran through her hair, silver locks becoming trapped between the crooks of her long, skinny fingers. Then, as abruptly as the conversation began, she stood from her chair and left, mumbling something under her breath about an algebra worksheet.
When he heard the heavy slam of the door to her bedroom, Johnathan let out the sigh of apprehension that had been swelling inside of his chest all evening. He was never good at these kind of things, and it was on days like this that he acutely notices Sharon’s empty seat.
It was not the first time that Johnathan's daughter had been startlingly…explosive. In fact, Johnathan traced this unusual behavior back to when Vanessa walked through the doorway of their apartment after her first day of high school. She had tried to slink back up to her bedroom without attracting the attention of her father. Unfortunately for her, however, nothing escaped those omniscient green eyes, especially when it came to his child. He turned around to ask her how her day was and immediately his gaze was drawn to his daughter's skin. Once a beautiful shade of alabaster that often reminded Johnathan of the marble columns of Rome, it was now scarlet and scorched.
"Honey, what on Earth happened!?" he demanded as he rushed over to his little girl with the aloe vera pump at the ready.
Vanessa struggled to squirm out of her father's burly arms. "Dad, Dad, stop it! I'm fine, I swear!"
Johnathan did not listen to her request and refused to quit until he was sure that every inch of her skin was covered in the cooling gel before barraging her with questions so rapidly that the young vampire barely had time to comprehend them, let alone respond.
"Did you gym teachers make you run outside? I told the principal about your condition, and he said everything would be fine! The school said they were welcoming of all, human or not. What a load of bulls—"
"It wasn't the coach! No one made me go outside; I went of my own accord."
"Vanessa, you know how dangerous it is for you to be out in direct sunlight! Why did you do something so stupid?"
She brought their argument to an end the by allowing those five, merciless words that every father loathed to hear fell from her lips mercilessly.
"You just don't understand, Dad!"
Though she truly believed that her middle aged, human father could never possibly fathom or empathize with the plights of his adolescent, vampire daughter, the fact was that Johnathan observant than he let on. He had noticed the receipt for the spray tan found behind the garbage can, as if someone had haphazardly thrown it without realizing that the wind had led it astray. And the hair dye tube that was hidden behind the mountains of his unfinished architectural sketches that she insisted was for a theatre class.
While he may not have understood how Vanessa was feeling and why, he knew one thing for sure.
His daughter wanted to change the way she looked.
Although Johnathan said that the colored contacts would be the final straw for him to finally delve deeper into the mysteries of Vanessa, the fact was that he was lacking a certain, vital element to go through with his plan.
Johnathan knew it was pathetic, knew he was the adult in their relationship and therefore had the authority to kick down the door to his daughter's room, barge in with confident strides, and demand to know why Vanessa suddenly decided to reinvent herself.
But then he meets her crimson eyes and sees the glare.
That soul piercing gaze that petrifies his body with the power of all the serpents of Medusa's head combine until all he has the strength left to do is shudder pitifully in place. While it had been many years since he made the grave mistake of denying a certain five year old mint chocolate chip ice cream at three in the morning and had been on the receiving end of terrorizing glower, he still has not forgotten the unadulterated dread that his rampaging heart had pumped through his veins on the frigid, moonless night.
He still wakes up in the middle of the night screaming bloody murder with cold sweat trailing down his back.
So rather than pretending to be some renegade he knew very well he was not, Johnathan instead decided to read a book on architectural trends in the late 1800s, and it was only a matter of minutes before the words of the page pulled him out of his conscious mind and into a marvelous memory. It was the time when had managed to put his timidity aside for a brief, brave moment to ask out the beautiful vampire sitting across the library, elegantly flipping through the pages of the exact same book that had lulled him into this slumber. The image gradually faded out into their first date, where they had spent the beautiful summer day inside in a dimmed room to shield her delicate skin from the harsh rays of the sun. Then the scene shifted to their marriage, him standing at the altar, admiring the way the black lace contrasted against her ivory skin. Then to their countless dinners, countless movie marathons, countless embraces. Then to childbirth, where he could still hear those horrific screams and could only squeeze her hand and watch as the life faded from her crimson eyes as she—
A whimper of pain broke him out of his nightmare.
Rolling over to the side of the bed while releasing a shaky breath and reminding himself that “It was all just a dream. A horrifically real dream.” he tried to tune out the hammering beat pulsating through his ears and instead tune them into the strange sound.
When he heard it again, he wasted no time getting up as his gigantic feet struck the floorboards, resonating with a clamorous thud. He all but sprinted to Vanessa's room and, without knocking, slammed the door open.
"Dad!?" Vanessa shrieked in shock, fumbling with something before hastily throwing it in her garbage bin. “What are you doing!? Do you realize what time it is; you should be—”
Johnathan ignored her scoldings and walked over to the trash, before unceremoniously turning it upside down, the contents scattering across the pale pink carpet.
He paid no mind to the tissues and the cans, the pizza crusts and failed tests, even though Vanessa swore she had been studying harder. Rather, his eyes focused on the long, gray nail filer.
He abruptly turned towards the teenager, who gave a startled squeak in surprise.
“Vanessa, let me see your fangs.”
“Dad, I’m really tired. I’m sorry for staying up this late, but right now—”
The girl hesitated, doubt filling the same crimson eyes he saw but mere moments ago, before she opened her mouth.
“Oh, my darling Vanessa, why would you do this?”
Her two fangs, which used to protrude gloriously from her gums, were now chipped, with blood beginning to ooze from the cracks.
“Don’t worry. They heal really quickly. Last time it only took two days before they mended themselves.”
“Last time?” Johnathan stressed, cradling his head in his hands as he felt the beginnings of a migraine throb in his temples. “You’ve done this before, Vanessa!?”
“Only once or twice…maybe a bit more…” She trailed off, her gaze intently fixated on an old burger wrapper, her expression contorting into one of shame.
Johnathan let out a heavy sigh before plopping down onto her floral printed bedsheets, patting the space next to him. Vanessa cautiously sat down, unconsciously locking her jaw and keeping her shoulders stiff with tension, sneaking glances at her father’s expression as if she was gauging his anger.
All her stress evaporated as Jonathan's warms hand guided her head to his shoulder and stroked her hair, ignoring how it became stained with black streaks from old dye.
The sat there for seconds that seemed to expand into eternities before Jonathan's voice cracked the silence.
“Why would you do this, Vanessa?” His voice wavered as he tried holding back the tears welling in his eyes.
She gently closed her heavy eyelids, and her father noted how large the dark rings circling them have become. “I don’t think I belong here.”
“And where is here?”
“It’s hard to explain. I guess it’s just society in general.”
“And why do you believe that?”
“People think I’m weird, dad. At school, everyone stares at me like I’m some sort of freak. I can hear them whisper about how my hair makes me look like an old hag and how my skin makes me look like a ghoul and how my eyes make me look creepy as if I’m going to steal their soul and how my fangs make me look like I’m going to bite them and just how everything about me makes me look like I don’t belong.”
Vanessa inhales shakily, her chest heaving heavily as she tries to recover after spilling her guts.
“So I thought that if I could make myself look like them, they would treat me like them. So I dyed my hair, got a spray tan, put in blue contacts, and file down my fangs. And do you know what Dad?” She turned to face her father and for the first time, Johnathan wondered if this had started long before her first day of highschool.
“It worked. People started talking to me normally, as if I were just another classmate. They talked to me about homework, invited me to come to study groups and sports games, actually wanted to be my friend. It was the most amazing feeling in the entire world, but it also hurt me more than anything because it confirmed that I was just a monster.”
Johnathan inhaled before speaking, bracing himself before he revealed the cruel truth. “I’m going to say something kind of harsh, but those people you said started talking to you after you changed? It wasn’t you that they like; it was your appearance. If they liked you, they would have wanted to get to know the real you, fangs and all. Because, despite what you think, you can’t change who you are.”
Although she gave Johnathan a weak smile, he could still see something akin to sorrow flash from behind her crimson eyes.
“When I first laid eyes on Sharon,” He hesitated for a moment, observing the way his daughter’s eyebrows quirked upwards in surprise at the mention of her mother. “I didn’t think she was a monster. In fact, I couldn’t think all. Though your mother would argue that I didn’t have much up here,” He tapped a finger against his temples. “Like she had any room to talk. She hardly passed her ARE, and I made sure she never lived it down. Every time she tried to brag about something I would always say ‘Well, I wasn’t the one who hardly became an architect.’ The look on her face every time was priceless, but I soon came to eat my words. She decided that I would sleep much nicer in a dumpster than our bed. Even after I apologized, she said she wouldn’t let me sleep anywhere near her for another month, saying that I smelt like crap. But she eventually lowered her deal after she saw how miserable I was, trying to sleep without her. It still wasn’t in our bed though; there was absolutely no way I was getting close to her fancy schmancy sheets. She just pulled out the mattress and place her pillow beside mine. And that night was the best I’ve slept ever.”
Johnathan paused and cleared his throat, trying to mask the smile that had worked its way onto his face during his ramblings.
“The point I’m trying to make, Vanessa, is that whether it be a significant other or a best friend, you will meet someone who will find you absolutely amazing for simply being you. And I’m one of them. Because to me, you will always be my beautiful, teenage, vampire daughter.
“Now please promise me that you will never, ever, do something like this again.”
“I promise,” She paused before flashing her father the exact same smile Sharon used to.
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, darling.”
Johnathan gave Vanessa a gigantic hug, and with it managed to squeeze out all of his daughter’s insecurities.
Although Vanessa no longer was ashamed to display her vampiric traits, that did not stop her heart from leaping into her throat as she entered her first period class room.
When she sat down at her desk, she could already hear them gossiping under their breaths, quiet enough so that the teacher could not hear but loud enough for the insults to echo in her ears.
“Just look at those eyes.”
“She’s so freaky.”
“She looks like she was ripped straight out of a horror film”
“What a freak.”
She made sure to keep her stare keenly fixated onto her desk, pretending that she found the graffiti more interesting than their conversations.
She whipped her head up in shock to see a boy standing before her, fiddling with his baseball cap.
His brown eyes widened. “You know my name?”
“Of course. We do have a lot of classes together, after all.”
“Right, that makes sense. I just didn’t think someone like you would remember me.”
She felt her shoulders stiffen as she braced herself for the impact of the insult. “Someone like me?”
“You know…you’re like…cool and stuff.”
“You think I’m…cool?” She was certain that her flush would be obvious on her pasty cheeks.
“Yeah. You’re always wearing all of these awesome band merch,” He gestured to her Liquid Lagoon hoodie, which depicted a sea monster reminiscent of the one in Loch Ness peering out from a swamp. “And you just have this vibe, you know? Like you eat epic for breakfast. So I was wondering if you would like to eat lunch with me and some of my friends. We’re ditching the frozen ‘chicken’ nuggets and going to get some tacos. You in?”
She could feel herself begin to grin. “Yeah, I’m in.”