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An excerpt

Ben pulled up next to the Odyssey in the double-wide driveway and took a moment to study the house before getting out. It was a big yellow house of the kind found throughout New England. The front seemed to be a traditional farm house, but over the years additions had been pushed onto the house until it jutted out here and there, running back through nearly 50 feet of various heights, widths, and roofing styles to connect to the big garage. It seemed to Ben that all of New England had spent the last 100-plus years trying to extend the house to the barn or garage – why they couldn’t have just built them closer in the first place was a mystery to him. Still, it certainly made the old New England houses a great deal more interesting than their modern suburban counterparts (which came with rather uninteresting pre-attached garages).

Ben was stepping out of the car and popping the trunk to retrieve his bag when a sudden, high-pitched shriek startled him and he looked up in time to see a little girl come running – sobbing – from around the side of the house. Ben, who’d never spent much time around children (with the exception of the kids Emily used to bring to campus) was immediately terrified.

Bleary eyed from her cyring and mad as hell at her sister, Lydia came careening around the house and smack into Ben. It would be a lie to say that Lydia was the only one who shrieked like a five-year-old girl. Ellie rounded the corner of the house as Ben and Lydia sprang apart. All fights forgotten, she marched over to stand by her sister. “Who are you?” she demanded.

Ben, having little experience being challenged by a five-year-old, replied with less than his usual confidence. “Ben? I mean, Mr. McShane? I don’t know. Look, I’m a friend of your–I’m a friend of Jake’s.” Just then, Abby came bursting out from around the house, her eyes locked on the two girls (Ben briefly wondered who else might be hiding around the corner). “Girls!” she said, “I told you to stay in the backyard – what are you doing — oh! Hi! You must be Ben” she exclaimed, reaching her hand out to shake his.

“I am,” he responded, shaking her hand. “But who are you?”

“I’m Abby, of course, Jake’s cousin. I think we met at your graduation, but I was like twelve, so it’s okay if you don’t remember me. Well, you’ve probably had a long ride, and even with summer sun it’s still going to be dark soon. Why don’t we get you inside and see where Jake’s hiding, huh? Come one girls, let’s help Mr. McShane get his things inside. You two can open the front door and go find Jake.” With a little push she sent the two girls on their way and then turned brightly to Ben. “Okay! So where’s your stuff?”

A little dazed by the pace of her conversation, Ben managed to indicate the trunk. “Don’t worry about it, though,” he said, before realizing it was already too late. “Geez, what do you have in here, feathers?” Abby asked, lifting his backpack with one hand to test the weight. “Just a change of clothes or two and a toothbrush,” he shrugged. “I’m only here for the weekend. I don’t need much.”

“Well,” said Abby, snapping the truck closed and heading towards the house, “you’ll definitely get a call to do the packing for this group’s next trip. Especially since it will be a cold day in hell before Jake’s allowed near packing again.” Seeing Ben’s confused look Abby flashed him a smile. “Jake did not put in a gold medal packing performance on the move. I’ll tell you some of the horror stories when he’s around to be embarrassed by them. Speaking of which — JAAAAKE! Ben’s here!”

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