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By the God-given grace of ignorance. If you knew what was coming, I had my doubts you’d stick around this vale of tears to experience it firsthand. If ignorance is bliss, I was the happiest dumb fuck around that day. Christmas for a kid was always the best day of the year. Yeah, okay, Hal­ loween did have costumes and pounds of tooth-rotting candy, but at fourteen, I’d been far too old for that; not that Lukas and I’d ever had much of an opportunity for trick-or-treating. Our home, the one we’d lived in all our lives, wasn’t the kind that rubbed shoulders with its stuc­ coed neighbors.

When I ran into her three years later, we had picked up where we’d left off without missing a beat. There was the same banter; Nat had a wit sharper and more delicately cutting than glass. There were the same habits of late-night pizza and early-morning runs, which was one helluva sacrifice for me. Sleeping late wasn’t just a hobby; it was a God-given right. Only Nat­ alie could’ve prodded me out of bed as quickly as my frequent nightmares did, but her way tended to be much more pleasant. Long red hair, that natural kind almost as orange as a carrot, laughing blue eyes, and freckles CHIMERA 31 that bloomed like tiny scarlet poppies across the tops of her milk-pale breasts, she was beautiful, intelligent, quick-tempered, and honest to the bone—so honest, in fact, that she became the first woman I lied to.

I knew because as we had walked back to the car, Saul kept telling me so—repeatedly. I think he was concerned that I might have a psychotic break and try to scale the wall with my bare hands. Maybe it was an exaggeration, but truthfully he wasn’t far off the mark. All those years. I clenched the steering wheel until my knuckles blanched bone white. All those years, and the best I could manage was slinking around in the dark. Lukas was there; he was right there. But he might as well have been on the moon .

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