The first hint of the terrible events that would change everything came in the form of a police vehicle parked beside our front door. Dance practice was cancelled that day, so I was home from school earlier than usual. The black and white sedan stopped me in my tracks. Visits from the police were not an uncommon occurrence in our household, but my feet itched to backpedal toward the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden where I could finish my algebra homework wrapped in the bloom and scent of living things.
Puberty had swept in like a tsunami two years earlier, bringing with it a new and terrible sensitivity to my mother’s private consultations with the police.
I’m used to ghosts; I was raised among spirits. But I’ll never get used to victims.
Pressing my hand to the K-9 unit lettering on the fender of the Palo Alto police cruiser, I took three measured breaths and focused on calming my skittish heart. Then I counted backward from ten, slowly, as a commercial jet sliced through the perfect bowl of turquoise sky above my head. The afternoon sun painted everything with a buttery light. Blue scrub jays and a variety of mottled brown sparrows chittered and sang around the birdfeeders in our small community of townhomes. It was a picture perfect day. It was definitely not the sort of day for a Hollywood ghost story. Then again, Hollywood usually gets it wrong and every day of my life is a freaking ghost story.
I could have walked away. Mother didn’t expect me home from school for another hour. Maybe I should have walked away. Instead, I forced my feet to shuffle closer to the front door. I knew this police vehicle. This wasn’t just any officer; this was my mother’s cousin, Detective LaShawna Simmons. And if LaShawna was here, it was a safe bet her partner Kota had also come to visit. I loved LaShawna; she was our only family in this part of the world, and Kota was my favorite police officer on the planet. I never missed an opportunity to visit with either of them, even if they were here on official business.
When I opened the gate and caught sight of our tiny front porch, I stopped again. The front door was slightly ajar, which should have made it easy to slip in quietly. But there was an unnatural shadow around the door—a roiling, boiling sort of gloom. I clenched my teeth. Nothing about this visit was going to be easy.
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