Chapter 1

“Where’s Corbin?”

I opened my eyes to the commotion coming from the front the apartment and groaned. Picking up my phone from the end table, I checked the time. 7:13 am. The resident judge and jury of the Bell Pine building was raising hell early this morning.

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I looked over at the woman lying next to me. I didn’t understand how she could sleep so deeply. Maybe her snores kept the yelling from penetrating her ears. Grabbing the remote off the table, I turned on the TV hoping for the same reprieve with the volume turned up. The set clicked on but only a blank black screen greeted my eyes with the words “No Signal”.

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Why was the satellite out? Sighing, I rolled out of my bed and yanked on a pair of sweatpants and a yellow tee shirt from the collection of clothes I had on the floor. Tip toeing to the door, I quietly opened it and looked out.

“I know they’re here, Teo. Stop covering for your lazy friend.” Avie’s voice said.

Avie and Matteo were in the kitchen. Matteo sat at the counter eating cereal. Luckily, Avie’s back was to the hall and, therefore, to me.

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“You know how I feel about this, Teo. Why don’t you stop him?”

“Avie, they’re both grown ups.” Matteo said, with too much patience in his voice. “They can make their own decisions without your approval.”

“You wouldn’t say that if it was one of your sisters.”

I stepped out of the bedroom, gently closing the door behind me. My intention was to make it to the bathroom across the hall, lock myself inside, and run the shower until Avie left.

“That would never happen.” Matteo said. “We have an understanding.”

“An understanding?” Avie asked.

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“Neither of us would ever mess around with the other’s family or close friends without permission.”

“I am your friend.” Avie slammed her palm against the counter. “There’s nothing closer than your girlfriend. That more than qualifies.”

You’re my girlfriend. Not your sister. Friends of friends are fair game.”

“That’s stupid. I want the same respect he gives you.”

“Then find a way to make Evelyn less hot.”

I heard the sharp sound of flesh smacking flesh and Matteo’s yelp confirmed that Avie had hit him hard. Nearing the bathroom threshold, I grinned in victory. Lock the door and I was scott free.

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Footsteps rushed down the hall.

“Don’t do anything you’ll regret!” Matteo shouted.

I don’t know if he was speaking to me or her. It didn’t matter. She was closing the gap between us fast. I tried to slam the bathroom door shut, but it was too late. Avie had her foot with her old lady orthopedic shoe and forearm through. I considered forcing it closed on her. She was half my weight. I’d either send her to the hall wall or crush her limbs between the jamb. But then I’d have to deal with Matteo. He was normally laid back which made him all the more dangerous when he actually reached pissed level. I had only fought the man once and that wasn’t even over a girl.

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Backing further into the bathroom, I put on my biggest smile as the door swung into the wall. She stood with her feet planted apart, her grey eyes on fire, and, I swear, her dyed red ponytails floating about her head to form into devil’s horns.

“Avie!” I said. “What a pleasant extremely early morning surprise.”

“Shut up, Corbin. Where’s Evelyn?”

I didn’t answer the angry little bridge troll that had blocked all hope for a peaceful existence during the past eleven months.

She stomped her foot. “Answer me!”

“Which is it? You told me to shut up.”

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She rushed into the bathroom and pushed me against the cold tile wall. She was small, but her ogre rage made her strong. I might have winced slightly, but not because I’m scared of her.

She pointed a finger in my face. “Leave my sister alone. There are plenty of tramps in the city for you to mess around with.”

“But only one of them is your sister.”

She swung her foot. Her stone hard shoe smacked my left shin. “I’m warning you, Corbin Pern!”

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“It’s not much of a warning if it doesn’t hurt,” I shouted as she stormed out.

She marched straight to my bedroom. “Evelyn! Get up!” She slammed the door behind her.

As soon as I knew she couldn’t see me, I limped into the kitchen. Each footstep sent a shock of pain up my leg. Matteo watched me not hiding the amusement in his dark eyes.

“I thought it didn’t hurt,” he said, smiling.

“She got the bone, man,” I moaned sitting in the other stool at the counter. “Why’s your girl so abusive?”

“She’s not abusive.” He lifted a spoonful of cereal from his bowl. “She’s passionate.”

I rubbed my shin bone. “Passionate about making my life miserable.”

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Matteo munched his frosted flakes and rolled his eyes. From my bedroom the shouting got louder.

“Stop wasting your life on lazy good for nothing men, Evelyn!”

“I will when you stop wasting yours worried about mine.”

“So I’m the bad guy just because I care?”

“You don’t care. You can’t stand not being in control of every detail of everyone around you.”

“That is not true!”

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Matteo draped his arm over the back of his stool and looked over at me. I could read on his face what he was saying without him speaking a word. “You’re making trouble for everyone just to piss Avie off.” It was true, but it was all I had to live for.

“You’re going to make up for this mess tomorrow evening,” he said.

I sighed. I’d stupidly promised to help Matteo with a surprise dinner for Avie on his night off Thursday. Anything to make Avie’s life happier was instinctively against my nature. Still, it was worth it. Matteo has gotten me to do many things just to have the last of his mom’s double chocolate brownies. Hands that can bake such heavenly goodness should receive sainthood. How could I say no when he offered me an entire pan of Mrs Juarez’s God blessed brownies?

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“I don’t want to hear any complaining,” Matteo continued. “Just because Evelyn’s helping, too, doesn’t mean you can slack off and leave all the work to us. You’d better come straight here from work.”

“I’ll be here. Don’t worry, Admiral. Your orders are my life.” I saluted him as a sign of good faith.

He shook his head with a smile. “Really? Should I have you swab the deck– clean the bird poop off the balcony?”

“Only if you want mutiny on your hands.”

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He chuckled and finished off the milk in his bowl. I remembered my engagement for this evening and silently cursed my bad luck. I had two dinners two nights in a row that I wanted nothing to do with. Friday couldn’t come soon enough.

Matteo yawned and stretched his arms over his head.

“Late night?” I asked, glad for a chance to change the subject from all things Avie related.

“Later morning thanks to you.” He said, picking up his empty bowl and going to the sink.

Two sisters– even behind a closed door– screaming at each other is not the kind of background noise anyone can fall asleep to. Matteo worked part time as a valet in the arts district and then all night as a bartender at a nightclub. I felt a slight pang of guilt, but how was I to know Avie would storm in here like a banshee so early in the morning. If he wanted to sleep, he should get a better girlfriend.

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The door to my bedroom slammed shut again. Avie stomped past us without a word. Matteo leaned against the counter. I thought he was going to say something, but he was silent, dropping his gaze to the green and white checkered floor. That was his problem. He let Avie do whatever she wanted and she walked all over him.

“We’re still on for riding to work together, right?” I asked her.

She put up a rather rude finger before walking out of the apartment.

“Is that a maybe?” I turned to Matteo who shook his head. “Teo!” I did my best high pitched whine impersonation of his girlfriend. “I need to borrow your motorcycle.”

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Matteo pushed off the counter and walked toward his room.

“Just this once. I need to get to work.” I pleaded. “Think of the rent. Already, it suffers.”

He turned and crossed his arms. “Only because you didn’t pay your half for the last three months.”

“Really? I don’t recall not paying… I can’t remember actually paying either, but that’s beside the point. If I’m late I could lose my job and if I lose my job I’ll never have half the rent.”

“You also won’t have half an apartment.”

I clutched my chest with both hands as if I’d been shot and fell over the back of the couch that I knew was behind me, bouncing on the cushions in an ungracious landing. “We’ve been roommates through thick and thin and now you want to base our friendship on money?”

“Just get the bills paid, Corbin. This month.” Matteo turned and walked to his room, yawning.

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That. Was Avie talking. I’ve known Matteo since we were kids and he’s never cared about who paid what as long as bills got taken care of. Between the two of us, we always pulled through. Always.

As he closed his bedroom door (which was directly across from the kitchen/living room), I remembered something I could throw back at him.

“Guess you two aren’t doing such a good budgeting job. Satellite’s out!” It was a cheap shot, but I grinned with pride over it anyway.

“Take care of it.” Matteo ordered, shutting his door.

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Exuberance gone. It was like he walked around in the same body, but alien parasites had taken over his brain. I can’t believe he’d stoop to ultimatums with me.  There were times when I had to spot the rent for him in the past. He hasn’t always had a steady legal job.

Nah. He wouldn’t really kick me out. We were too close for that drama. But Avie would. She’s got her claws deep in him; playing him like a puppeteer. I needed her out the picture more than ever before. It was time to turn up the heat.

cropped-memgam21.jpgNOTE: I finally got this show on the road! Just an fyi, the description doesn’t fit the story exactly (it didn’t when I first posted it, but at the time I was thinking of going in a different direction). It still centers around games both physical & of the mind, but won’t follow the whole “everyone around him is infected” type thing. I can’t figure out a way to keep the current plot with that story line. I realized I’d need to rework everything and I don’t wanna! I’d rather get this version of the story out and then if I still think the other works maybe I’ll rewrite it that way. I haven’t decided on how I want to update the description just yet so I wanted to give a heads up in case anyone starts thinking “that’s not what this is supposed to be about”. Details will be different. However, it’s still a thriller mystery with the same basic plot line. Hoped you enjoyed this chapter! ~Sharae

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