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Jared jumped so hard in his sleep, he almost fell out of bed. He lay there, disoriented, sweating, tangled in his sheets, his heart beating so hard it was knocking on his ribs. There was a hard crash and a muffled sound—a cry?—that seemed like it had come from the kitchen, if not farther. The garage? Wherever, it couldn’t have been the first crash, because something had already snapped Jared awake.

He tried to listen over the pounding of his heart and rushing in his ears. Was their house being broken into? Had Dad come home or was it still just Gran in the house, babysitting even though they were too old for it? Gran was half deaf, and Emily could sleep through a nuclear explosion. If it was only them, then it was up to Jared to protect the house, protect them. But if Dad was home …

He didn’t hear anything else. Did that mean there were no intruders or that the breaking part was done and they were now entering? Jared had an aluminum bat in his closet from his little league days, but it wouldn’t do anything against guns except maybe get him killed.

He had to decide what to do—and fast, if he was going to get the jump on them.

He had one foot on the floor, apparently already decided, when he heard the door from the garage into the house swing open and a muffled curse. It sounded like his father. Had he come back angry from his dinner with Mom? Drunk? Both? Whatever, there was no way Jared was going out there now. He pulled his foot back under the covers and strained to listen. He heard the water go on in the kitchen and stay on for a while. Shortly after it shut off, he heard footsteps coming down the hall.

He could have opened his door and asked his father what all the noise was about, but some instinct made him close his eyes and pretend to be asleep instead. Maybe self-preservation. If Dad had come home angry and Jared questioned him … He didn’t know exactly what would happen, only that the thought made his heart beat so hard he was afraid it would give him away if his father opened his door. The Telltale Heart, like the story they’d read in language arts. Only that heartbeat had come from beyond the grave.

The footsteps stopped right outside his door, and Jared did his best to calm his breathing. In through his nose, out through his mouth. Deep, long, slow breaths. He felt like they weren’t getting him any air, but he couldn’t help that. His knob turned. His door opened. He snapped his eyelids shut, made his breathing as regular as he could. Nothing to see here. Sleeping. Just sleeping. His father stood there for a minute. Jared could sense him watching, but he didn’t know why.

The feeling of not getting enough air was heightening. Any moment now he was going to gasp like a fish out of water, desperate for oxygen. Then his Dad would wonder why he pretended. He wondered why he pretended, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. If he had to, he could mimic waking up to see his father standing there. And then what?

But he didn’t do it. An instant before he would have blown the whole thing, his father backed out of the room and closed the door behind him. Jared pulled the blankets up over his face and exhaled hard, then gulped in air and more air. So hard he almost choked on it.

He had to get a grip. What was it he thought he’d heard? If not a break-in, then what? His father letting off steam, slamming things around? Something toppling off one of the storage shelves in the garage? He’d have to check in the morning. There was no way he was getting out of bed now. Not with the weird vibe his Dad was giving off and his own crazy reaction.

He froze as he heard the door to the garage open again. Maybe Dad was going out to clean up whatever had fallen? But then he heard the automatic door open and a minute later close. Had Dad taken the car back out? He wasn’t sure. Dad’s new Beamer was so quiet. Maybe he was just running something out to Mom, but why hadn’t he left the garage door open if he was coming right back?

It didn’t make any sense, not Jared’s reaction and not the fact that he listened for his father’s return for an hour or more, which was how long it took his heart to settle down and the fight or flight response to drain out of him. He never heard Dad come back. Maybe he’d missed it. Maybe he’d fallen asleep and hadn’t realized it. He could walk down the hall and peek into his father’s room, see for himself. But he didn’t. His father was as light a sleeper as he was, and if Jared checked on him, he might wake up. He’d want to know why Jared was in his room. And Jared wouldn’t have an answer.

He lay there forever more, waiting and listening, but it was hard to keep up the vigilance when there was nothing to hear and his brain kept spinning on nothing at all. Weird. That was the word that kept going around and around in his head. Everything—the night, his reaction, Dad checking on him. Not the others, who slept like rocks. Just him. Weird. And eerie.

Finally, he pulled his phone off the charger and texted Aaliyah, You up? Sometimes she was. She had insomnia on a pretty regular basis. But there was no response.

He turned on his TV, hoping a plotline or something would supplant the non-thoughts buzzing his brain like bees.

Eventually, it must have happened, because he woke in the morning to silence. Either the cable box had automatically shut off after a time or someone had shut it off for him.

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