Three Little Girls

Mars Redding came into the convenience store one hot April evening with a handgun and a switchblade. Mars, who was twelve, had visited the store once or twice before. It was a creepy place, in a bad part of town, and attracted the shifty and shady kinds of men she’d come to recognize as the true villains. Never mind the evil stepmothers from fairy tales, the vampires and witches from fantasy novels, it was these men that gave her nightmares.

She remembered the convenience store with a sharp prominence because it was there, standing outside in a pair of shorts and T-shirt the summer before, that a man had offered her forty dollars for her body. She ran away from him faster than she had ever run anywhere in her life.

Thinking back on it now was enough to make a cool sweat start to drip down her back, between her shoulder blades. She wasn’t very nervous, though, despite that. After all, she had her weapons this time, the gun and the blade. She felt strong walking in, and as the blast of air conditioning hit her face, a cocky certainty took over. She knew what she was going to do, and there was no question in her mind that it was the right thing.

“You need some help?” the man at the cash register called, out of obligation and boredom more than genuine interest.

He didn’t know about her weapons, hadn’t seen them. She had the gun tucked into the waistband of her pants, her oversized shirt covering the bulge, and the blade was hidden in her hand—the hand which didn’t face the cash register. The one that did was busy playing with her hair, all innocent and childlike.

“I’m fine,” she answered, heading for the secluded candy aisle in the back. She broke open a pack of Jolly Ranchers right there, letting the candies fall to the shiny floor and using the packaging to wrap the blade in. She then tucked it gingerly into her sneaker. Satisfied, she used her newly-freed hands to grab as many packs of Reese’s, Snickers, Hershey bars and M&Ms as possible. She put some down her pants to free up her hands a bit, but made no effort to hide the goods. Then, stiffly, about ready to burst with all she was carrying, she made her way to the front of the store—toward the cashier. Her free hand was resting on the gun.

He looked up, his eyes going wide when he saw her. “Do you plan on paying for all that?”

“I don’t got any money.” She pulled out the gun. She didn’t think, just fired. One two three. It was quick, too quick. She expected the moment to be more cinematic, to stretch out in black-and-white slow-motion—the gun firing, the cashier jerking back with each shot, eyes bulging. She expected it all to be more lasting and pleasant. But all that happened, after she fired (one two three), was the cashier’s blood exploded (she hadn’t anticipated that part) and he was knocked off his seat after the second shot, and the third one fired into the wall behind him instead.

She didn’t even fully realize what happened until afterwards. It was then, as she blinked repeatedly, that she could feel the blood on her face and shirt. There was some on the cash register too. She didn’t want to walk around to see if he was really really dead, even though the others had told her to—the idea of inspecting his corpse disgusted her. His blood was already bad enough.

Anyway, she was confident that he was in fact dead (hadn’t heard a peep, and both shots had hit him square in the chest), so she felt okay to leave. Tucking the gun back into her waistband, she walked out of the store, arms full. She grabbed a few additional items on her way out—a bag of Doritos, Cokes, some Oreos. Then she waddled through the sketchy parking lot to the only car in sight.

Avril was in the driver’s seat, even though she was a mere thirteen. She was smoking a cigarette, her feet up on the dash and pair of sunglasses pulled down low. “What’d you get?” was her first question.

From the passenger seat, Jun inquired more pressingly, “Is he dead?”

“Yeah,” Mars said. She broke out in a grin. “Look at me.”

Jun leaned around Avril to get a better look. When she saw the blood, her eyes got wide. “Wow. That’s cool.

“Get in,” Avril said. She hadn’t glanced at Mars once the whole time. Didn’t need to, Mars supposed—she’d shot enough people to know how blood worked.

Mars hopped in the backseat and started spreading out everything she’d stole. Her mouth watered at the sight. Jun peered around the seat with hungry eyes and started pointing to things. “Can I have that? Wait, no, hand me that one instead . . .”

“Ration it,” Avril advised. “We don’t know when we’ll get this kind of opportunity again, so we should make this count.”

Mars handed Jun a Snickers bar and Avril a Coke, then started tearing into a Kit Kat bar. “I’m shaking even though I’m not scared. Is that normal?”

“It’s just the adrenaline,” Avril said. She knew everything. “It’ll wear off.”

“Did you go through that when you killed those boys?” Jun asked. Mars winced in the backseat—it was the wrong question. Avril didn’t like to talk about that.

So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to Mars when, instead of answering, Avril just said, “Time to go.” Then she pushed her glasses up and slammed on the gas. The car lurched forward unceremoniously, and a few of the stolen items slid off the backseat.

“Careful!” Jun said, her mouth full.

Avril shrugged. “You try driving this thing. It’s harder than it looks.”

She pulled out of the convenience store parking lot and back onto the road. She was tall for her age and could easily pass for sixteen or seventeen, so she didn’t look terribly out of place behind the wheel. She wasn’t even that bad of a driver—only sometimes, like when she was pulling in and out of places. Still, she cautioned Mars and Jun, “Keep an eye out for cops and tell me if you see any. If they don’t pull me over for my driving, they might for the body count.”

“You think they know?” Mars asked. “Already?”

“Well, they will soon.”

There was a heavy silence.

“What’s next, then?” Jun asked, her voice soft.

“Your house,” Avril replied, as if it was no big deal. “It’s time to earn your stripes. Mars, throw her the gun.”

Mars tossed the gun to the passenger seat. Jun caught it, reluctantly. She stared down at it and ran her hands along the sides, up and down, mulling it over. “I don’t think I can,” she said.

“Of course you can. I did. Mars did.”

“It’s different—you didn’t know those guys. They didn’t live in your house. You didn’t have to go home to finish them.”

“Okay. But you hate him, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“You want him off the face of the planet? You want to stop him from hurting your siblings?”

“Of course I do, but it’s not that simple.”

“Why? What makes it so difficult?”

“Avril, c’mon, give it a rest,” Mars said. She could tell Jun was getting flustered, and Avril, of all people, should’ve known how it felt.

“I just want her to tell me why she can’t do it. That’s all.” She looked sideways at Jun. “Well?”

There was a pause.

Then: “I don’t know if I can go back to that house.” She was speaking barely above a whisper. After a moment, Mars realized she was crying. Through her tears, she added, “I just got out, I . . . it’s hard for me. It’s so hard. I’m not sure I can face . . .” She trailed off.

Avril nodded. In a softer tone, she said, “Okay. Okay, I get it.”

“Thank you.”

“But, Jun, hear me out on this . . . you can’t pick and choose based on bad memories. If you always avoid triggering places and triggering people, instead of nipping them in the bud, you’ll let rapists and predators slip through the cracks—like that man.

“That man” meant Jun’s adopted father. He didn’t deserve the title of “adopted father,” and he didn’t even deserve a name, so that man was what they were stuck with.

Jun nodded. “I know, I know. Maybe in a few weeks.”

“We’ll be gone within a few days. Our next opportunity will probably be in a few years, when we return to this place to finish whoever we missed the first time around.”

Desperate to take the heat off Jun, who was only just making sense of things after a childhood spent being menaced by her “father,” Mars said, “So Avril, what’s next on the list? I forget.”

“I scouted a place to park for the night. One town over, kind of a woodsy, secluded area, away from the city. We go there next. We’ll park the car, get some rest, make plans. Get rid of . . . well, you know. And,” she added, “on the way there, we’ll be taking care of some people I know. They hang around this area every night. Won’t be hard to find them.”

“Taking care of?” Jun asked.

“Yeah. One of you take that job, the other can watch for cops.”

“I’ll shoot ’em,” Mars volunteered, even though her hands were still shaking slightly from her last go. Mostly she wanted to give Jun some time with her thoughts before thrusting her into the action. Avril would disagree with that approach—she was more of a throw-them-in-the-pool-and-let-them-figure-it-out teacher, save for the gun training, which she delivered with slow, meticulous care—but Jun seemed like she’d be more receptive once she adjusted to her new life. A life which had very quickly gone from a big stately house and tennis lessons to being on the run, in a stolen car, with two girls from the wrong side of the tracks. All things considered, she was handling it quite well.

“Okay, then I’ll watch out for the police.” Jun smiled. “You know, this is almost like a video game.”

“No,” Avril said, “it’s much more important. This isn’t a party, this isn’t just a lot of fun and hijinks. Our fate is in our hands for once. You two remember the goals?”

“Deliver justice, eradicate those who deserve it, avoid the police, stay low and get out of town,” Jun said. “Then we start anew somewhere better.”


Simple enough, Mars figured. And if there was one thing they all could use, it was a new life somewhere better. Away from this place, away from these people . . . no one deserved that more than them.

“Mars, up ahead,” Avril said, nodding toward a man walking down the street.

“Who’s that?”

“No one good” was her cryptic reply.

Mars knew better than to ask anything more. She wasn’t very good at blind trust, but Avril had earned her reverence and loyalty. And Avril, she knew, wouldn’t have her shoot just anyone.

Jun handed Mars the gun and she scooted to the other side of the car, so she was close to the street. Rolling down Mars’s window, Avril slowed the car slightly, lingering where the man had paused. He was absently checking his phone, probably scrolling through his messages.

Mars took aim, the barrel of the gun pointed right at his head. She inhaled, the nerves starting to hit.

“Go, Mars, before another car comes—” Before Avril could finish the thought, Mars fired. One two three.

He collapsed to the ground. There was so much blood, so much. Jun covered one eye but continued to stare with the other, unable to stop herself. Mars exhaled, a big breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. The gun went limp in her hand.

In the driver’s seat, Avril merely smiled a satisfied smirk before pulling away with another lurch. One down, a few dozen to go.


Avril was good at allure.

She was flash and substance both. With her leather jacket and fingerless gloves, she was a rebel, with or without a cause. Right then, she had a cause—a clear, well-defined one. Some would call it “revenge.” She called it justice.

She’d made clear from the start: “I have some people I want and need to take down. I’m not bloodthirsty. I’m not a violent person by nature—in fact, I am, in general, opposed to violence. But the way I see it,” she’d said, dropping her voice to a sly, conspiratorial purr, “there are some battles best fought with intelligence, persistence, and peaceful change, and others where all you really need is a gun.”

Jun had nodded, wide-eyed, rapt. Everything Avril said was smart in a casual sort of way, like her wisdom just came naturally and wasn’t something she had to work on.

Perhaps best of all, Avril had a quiet understanding with Jun, even if she didn’t like to discuss it. She knew her plight, she related to her turmoil, and in their shared misery came a commiserating bond. Those not in their sad club, those who were not sisters in shame and brothers in burden, wouldn’t quite get them. Not their pain, not their strength, not their thoughts. But that was perfectly fine, because they had, at least, each other.

“We’ll take care of those who’ve done us wrong, wrong in ways that are irredeemable. We’ll finish off our enemies before leaving all our suffering behind here, and going to a place much better for us, where we can live and be free.” She’d paused, smiling at her own words. “Now doesn’t that sound nice?”

It was a lovely idea. No surprise, really: Avril was a visionary, a genius. It was Avril, not any social worker or teacher or adult in general, who helped get Jun away from that man.

Both that man and his wife were deeply religious. They were the type who enjoyed voluntourism because it made them feel like wonderful people, doing their part and saving the world, and being perfect Christians. It was in that same spirit that they went to China and adopted Jun, their oldest child. Others soon followed, from all different countries, all different races. They aspired to have a child from “each color of the rainbow.”

Things were okay, for a time. They had that nice house in a pleasant, high-end suburb outside the city. Jun had toys and a big, beautifully-decorated bedroom, those tennis lessons, and Spanish lessons, and church every Sunday. They were a shining, wealthy, prosperous family on the outside—a cheery facade that hid something ugly.

It wasn’t immediate, and it didn’t start out as something overtly wrong. A lingering hug; a brief touch that seemed accidental. Jun had been a little girl. She didn’t know better, and he was so subtle and coy the way he built up to it. But when things came to a head, she’d known it wasn’t normal. She had a strange, primal sense of it. This is not right. This should not be happening. Still, she said nothing. She waited like a princess in a tower for someone to save her, to notice, to ask the right questions.

No one did.

Avril was the first person she told. It had been raining that day, a sheer drizzle that turned into an angry downpour. God must be upset, her parents would’ve said—only half-jokingly.

She’d confided in Avril as God’s tears pooled around them, as trees trembled and leaves danced in the air. She’d spoken softly, afraid to hear the words, and it wasn’t until she neared the end that she started to cry. Avril had put her hand on Jun’s shoulder, but said nothing. She didn’t need to.

That was five weeks ago.

In the time since, Mars had found out the truth as well, and her and Avril took turns carrying the burden for Jun. They felt anger and resentment and righteousness on her behalf; they plotted and schemed against him when she couldn’t.

“Aren’t you mad at him?” Mars had asked once.

She had paused, considering, searching inside herself to find a scrap of well-earned fury. “I don’t think so,” she’d said at last. “I think . . . I think I feel more sad than angry.” She couldn’t adequately describe her feelings, the stirring, silent, insidious devastation that had taken up room in her mind and soul and now refused to leave. Anger would’ve been preferable, a much-needed change of pace—but she had none. Her feelings were messier, more complex. They could not be summed up by a three-letter, one-syllable word.

She looked over at Avril, staring at her profile. She was strikingly beautiful—dark skin and big, brilliant eyes, long-limbed, with black hair as dark as Jun’s. She carried herself with such poise and confidence that it was intimidating. It made Jun desperate to impress her. But, at the same time, there was an underlying darkness to Avril—something in those eyes, a forlorn look that came out from time to time; an expression of pain and wistfulness—that spoke to her own trauma.

“Hold up,” Avril said, her eyes laser-focused on a shadowy figure to the right of the car, idling on a street corner with a cigarette hanging from his lips. Jun squinted; she could only make out his outline, his sturdy, thick frame and the stark-white flash of his sneakers. “Him,” Avril said, nodding. She slowed the car to a crawl as her eyes glazed over. “I know him.”

“And?” Mars asked, gun at the ready.

“He’s on my list.” Her voice was sharp as a knife, rueful and certain.

Still, Jun was incredulous. She rarely doubted Avril, but now seemed as good a time as any. “How you can you see him? It’s so dark. And if you’re not completely sure—”

“I’m sure.” She glanced at Jun, her eyes full of certainty and knowing and that raw confidence that had first attracted Jun to her. “Trust me. I know.”

Jun nodded. She did trust Avril. In fact, in that moment, she felt undeserving of her, unworthy to be in her presence and on this journey with someone so far above her, someone with such a knowledge and understanding of the world. She wanted to communicate that to Avril, but couldn’t find the words. Instead, she sunk lower in her seat as Avril ambled up toward the man, and Mars cracked her window and aimed the gun.

She shot him.

It was quick and—Jun hoped—painless. Not that she should sympathize with these men, but it was hard not to, at least for her.

Jun didn’t want to watch the man get shot, but she did—albeit through her fingers as they clamped over her eyes. Her mouth dropped open at the moment the shot was fired, and her ears rang, and it was terrible and compelling all at once. She couldn’t turn her head or close her eyes, not just because it was too morbidly fascinating, but also because she didn’t want to look weak in front of Avril. Still, she jumped slightly at the moment the gun was fired. No matter how many times she heard that sound or how prepared she was for it, it always surprised her.

Avril pushed down on the gas and sped away, leaving yet another body in their wake. Jun closed her eyes and imagined the man’s pool of blood spreading wider and wider around his stiffening corpse, his eyes fixed up at the stars in an expression of frozen shock. Even with the disturbing vision in her mind, she felt a thrill, the sheer euphoria of having her first taste of freedom, of daring to escape her old life and hope for something more, something better, something right. She wanted to start over with these girls. Avril and Mars were perhaps the first true friends she’d ever had. She could picture them living out their days like characters in an action movie, gun-toting vigilantes moving from place to place and seeing the world. A floaty feeling overtook her—sheer, undiluted joy—and she closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the seat, knowing that, for the first time in quite a while, she was safe.


It was sometime later that they reached the woodsy, secluded area that Avril had found, on the outskirts of the city. “We stay here one night, and that’s it,” she said. “The trick is, you have to keep moving—always. Like a shark. One of the few ways we have to lessen our chances of capture.”

She parked the car beneath a canopy of trees. The sky above them was a dark bluish-purple, the color of a bruise, and stared down with menacing foreboding. Jun swallowed; she suddenly felt scared. The idea of sleeping there, in a car, in seclusion, reminded her of the plot of a scary movie she wasn’t allowed to watch. It was surreal to think that this was her life now, that she’d given up her warm, cushy bed and nice house for a transient lifestyle of sticking to the shadows and sleeping under the stars. Not that she was second-guessing her decision—she knew it was the right one, the only one—but a part of her still yearned for the comfort of her room.

Mars, on the other hand—already used to a transient lifestyle, to not having a proper house—took their accommodations in stride. She set about folding down the car’s back seats, until the entire rear of the car was flat. Then she and Avril threw down the blankets and pillows that all three of the girls had brought with them when they’d first set out, and made themselves a fort of sorts, a strange backseat bed.

Jun watched them from the passenger seat, wanting to help but being waved away by Mars. “We really only need two,” she said, though Jun suspected neither girl wanted her help because they thought Jun—naïve, wealthy Jun—wouldn’t know the first thing about making a bed, especially not one so shabby and offbeat. Or maybe they felt sorry for her, after what she’d been through, and wanted to give her a break.

Regardless, the bed—dare you call it that—was made, and at that point, Jun crawled out of the passenger seat and into the back, and she and Avril and Mars all laid down beneath the covers together. They stared up at the ceiling of the car, none of them tired, each of them lost in thought and not entirely comfortable.

For her part, Avril was thinking over her plans for the next day, and for the future at large. What the three of them would do, how they’d avoid the police, the prospect of starting over . . . these were thoughts that rarely left her brain, plots that she’d been over a thousand times and yet still couldn’t let rest.

It was having Jun and Mars that made her feel so obsessive about it. They were her responsibility, her charges; if her plan failed, it wasn’t just Avril who’d be in trouble. So she simply couldn’t fail.

Mars and Jun believed in her with feverish dedication and loyalty. Avril knew that, and knowing that was nice, and their company and support was helpful—both in executing her plans and keeping her sane—but it had its drawbacks, too. Certainly, it could be frustrating at times. There were moments when it seemed like Jun and Mars constantly had their hands out, begging for pearls of wisdom and guidance, begging for a life raft. They could be rebarbative to a fault—needy and clingy, following her around every day. “I can’t fix all your problems,” she’d once told Mars. “I don’t have all the answers.” But they thought she did. And them thinking that—annoying as it was—emboldened her. She started to believe it, too. And admittedly, it was flattering. It was. She always had that unique trait, that charisma and confidence, that cult leaders had. Only she planned to use her influence for good, to lead her flock of sheep to a promised land, and to free them from their damage. Her goals were altruistic.

I’m a good person, she told herself. Sometimes she needed that reminder. Sometimes—as she was killing people, or telling Mars to kill people—it was easy to get lost in a fog of nihilism. It was easy to become hardened, desensitized and cynical, and easy to forget the value of human life. She couldn’t let that happen—it was her biggest fear. She prided herself on her strong morals, her belief in equality and need for justice. Losing that would make life so bleak, so bitter, and she knew she couldn’t allow herself to transform into something so horrible.

I’m only doing this because I have to. Because it needs to be done. And the fact of the matter was, she was only killing people who deserved it. That was the truth. All human life has value, but some humans don’t deserve that life. What Avril was doing—and what she was dragging Mars and Jun into—seemed wrong on surface level, but was really for the greater good. How could Avril, with her need for justice and strong sense of right and wrong, allow terrible people to go unpunished? To keep committing their crimes, to hurt others? She couldn’t.

The boys she’d killed, they would’ve hurt someone else. They would never have spent a day in jail.

That man—the one posing as a lovely Christian father, adopting unwanted little orphans of color—would hurt his other kids.

Some people just didn’t deserve to live. And if she was the only one with the vision and the guts to realize that and do something about it, well then, so be it.


Mars knew the story of the boys. Avril had only told it to her once, the first and last time she’d ever recount it. But she didn’t need to say it again—it would stick in Mars’s head forever, etched in the walls of her skull as horrible, lurid cave drawings.

They were prep school boys.

White. Wealthy. Blond. Big smiles. Something malicious in their eyes, in their mannerisms, in their walk—a sense of entitlement so strong that it seeped through, from the inside out, apparent as their money.

They didn’t belong in Avril’s neighborhood, but there they were. They wanted to walk on the wild side, the dark side, the side where they assumed trouble and excitement lurked, hand-in-hand, calling to them at a time in their lives where they were miserably bored and desperate to wreak havoc.

“I saw them from across the street, and right away, I had a bad sense,” Avril had said. “Of course I did. I mean, they didn’t belong there, clearly—these were private-school blond boys from families that made seven figures a year, boys who’d want for nothing, who’d grow up spoiled and ignorant and arrogant. I tried to avoid them, because I didn’t want trouble and that’s clearly what they were looking for, but they called out to me.”

In twisted singsongs and lustful purrs, they shouted catcalls in Avril’s direction. Their private school uniforms—blue, matching and neat—made them stick out against the gray gloom of the city streets. But it was their smiles and their words that Avril most vividly remembered, the air of smugness and a false sense of superiority, an evilness that made her blood run cold.

“I hurried home that day, thinking I’d never see them ever again,” she’d said. “But they came back the next week.”

This time, they weren’t in their uniforms, but instead the crisp clothes well-off boys wear, the marking of status and sophistication. To Avril, they looked ridiculous, they looked strange and stiff and pretentious, ugly stereotypes dressed up like dolls and parading through her streets to observe her neighbors—her friends—from their little waspish bubble.

And it was as they were walking down her street, during one otherwise ordinary evening, that they met. She’d stepped out from her building and, as if materializing from thin air, there they were. In front of her now, up close—still with leering looks and cocky smiles—and she was by herself, on a desolate street.

She didn’t need to say what happened next. Mars could figure it out.

But it ended in an alleyway, with Avril bloodied and bruised, with her clothes torn off, with her pride ripped from her and pocketed by some prep school white boys looking for fun. And they ran away like cowards, leaving her there, in pain and turmoil.

She didn’t cry. She just began to plan.

“I knew they’d get away with it,” she said, and it was when she said this that—for the first and last time in the entire story—her voice wobbled, however slightly. She quickly recovered and continued, “They’d get away with it because they always do. Wealthy boys like that, against me? No, I didn’t stand a chance. I could’ve gone to the police with a video of the entire thing, and they still would’ve shrugged their shoulders; the boys would’ve walked without a scratch. I knew that. And I also knew they’d do it again—because why wouldn’t they? So, I had to get creative. Not just for me, but for everyone else they’d hurt someday.”

She borrowed a neighbor’s gun and waited for them to make their return. “Somehow I knew they’d be back,” she said. “And when they came back around, I wanted to be ready.” She planned and planned, and when they did return—two months after it happened—she killed them all.

“I didn’t feel good about it, but the idea of them doing it to someone else—a girl like me—was enough of a motivation.”

Mars had marveled at her bravery, her strength, her courage. It was perhaps that day, when Avril had opened up to her and shared this story, that she truly became loyal to her. More than just a friend, she was Avril’s fan, impressed and amazed by her at every turn.

But it was risky, what she’d done, and they both knew that. It wouldn’t be long before the police closed in. And Avril would go to jail, simply for eliminating some human scum, some criminals who almost certainly would repeat their crimes.

For that reason, above all else, Avril needed to leave. She could’ve tried to do so on her own, and likely would have, but then Mars and Jun became entangled in her plans, and suddenly it was an escape attempt for all three. And Mars and Jun were, of course, thrilled to no end that they became a part of the scheme, that they could latch onto Avril’s genius and go along for the ride. Each had their own reasons for wanting to start over, but one thing they had in common was a desperation—a strong, urgent desperation that would not be sated until they were out of town and out of harm’s way.

And admittedly, Avril was glad to share that feeling with someone else.


Jun slept little that night, her head filled with thoughts—worries, fears and hopes, some good and some bad, some that scared her and others that excited her, and some that did both. She was making decisions in that odd, wordless way, letting her thoughts and her thoughts alone carve a path, choose her fate. And by morning, she’d reached several conclusions that now weighed heavily on her shoulders, filling her with a prickly anxiety—but she didn’t dare change her mind.

Instead, she told Avril during the quiet, dewey hours of early morning, as both laid awake and Mars slept in between them. “I want to kill him.” The words were clipped and cool, a coil of snake-like smoke that filled up the car with a dusky, dreamy haze.

Avril nodded. For a long moment, that was all she did. Jun—desperate for her approval—began to panic, worried she’d made the wrong choice, that she’d already missed her opportunity.

But then Avril spoke, in that smart, knowing way of hers, putting Jun instantly at ease: “I think that’s very brave.”

“It’s for them,” Jun explained. “My . . . my siblings.” She didn’t have to say who “they” were, of course. Avril already knew.

Moments later, Mars began to stir, and then her eyes fluttered open. She looked between Jun and Avril, certain something had transpired between the two, that a secret had been shared or a meaningful conversation exchanged. There was just something different about the air in the car, and Jun was changed—she was both lighter and heavier somehow. A lesser girl might’ve asked what had gone on, but Mars kept her questions to herself, trusting the answers would come in time.

And they did. “We’re going to kill that man,” Avril told her—later on, as they prepared to leave.

“Really.” The word was flat, less a question than a stale, brittle statement, flecked with vague concern. She glanced over at Jun, checking to see if it was her decision or Avril’s, if she’d been persuaded or pressured at all—but Jun just smiled. A light, sure-of-herself smile.

“I want to,” she added. “I do. It’s going to be hard, but that’s no excuse.”

“Okay,” Mars said. She smiled, too, and wrapped her arms around Jun in a quick, awkward hug. “I’m real impressed, you know,” she told her. The words fell into Jun’s head with a satisfying thud, and she replayed them over and over during the drive to her old house, the one she was so gladly leaving behind.

Mars was impressed; Avril said she was brave.

That was all the reassurance she needed.


During the drive to Jun’s former home—and current, long-time residence of that man, his doting wife, and their defenseless collection of young children, arranged like ornaments on their perfect life illusion—Jun bided the time by staring out the car window, her face so close to the glass that her breath fogged it up; she drew circles and stars in the white glaze it created, a faraway look on her face.

Mars remain fixated on her throughout most of the drive, her brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of Jun’s expression. But Avril, in typical fashion, paid little attention to Jun, her mind on other matters. The planning and plotting and meticulous thinking, as usual, trying to scheme her way to freedom. And then were the other usual thoughts, the contemplation of the gray areas of life, the moral dilemmas she found herself in so often—that she actively invited in rather than resisted—and dark, haunting questions she’d prefer not to answer. I’m a good person, she reminded herself. Her fingers tightened around the steering wheel.

The car was stolen. An artifact of a man she’d killed, she knew it was a bad idea—driving around a dead man’s car was like wearing a scarlet letter connecting you to the death, after all—but she didn’t see many other options. And anyway—as with everyone she’d killed—he was a bad person, selfish and cruel, and he didn’t deserve to live.

That, she told herself, was the main reason he was now dead. The car was just a bonus.

Even more of a bonus was that this man had a habit of disappearing for long stretches, leaving his ex-wife and children alone to simmer in their wordless rage; he had few friends, no job to speak of, and was known to take trips to Vegas on a whim, go off on benders . . . in short, no one would be worried about him. No one would call the police. And, provided no one found his body for a few more days, no one would have the faintest clue he was dead, his car now being driven by a thirteen-year-old vigilante runaway.

It’s fine. It’ll all work out. Avril took a breath; she had to tell herself these things to keep going, but the doubts lingered. Of course, the doubts were good, too—they kept her sharp, kept her poring over her plans and looking at things from all angles. But they also made her worry, made her clench the steering wheel till her knuckles turned pale, made her bite down on the inside of her cheek until she drew blood.

Just keep driving, she told herself. You’re almost out. You’re almost done.

Jun stirred beside her. She was getting restless now, tossing around in the passenger seat, straining against her seatbelt.

“Are you okay?” Mars asked her.

“Fine,” she said, but she mustered little certainty.

Avril glanced at her sideways. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“No. No, it’s not that. It’s just—well, the closer we get to my house, the more real it feels. And it’s . . .”

“Unnerving,” Avril finished for her. She nodded. “I know. But, listen, you can do this. Okay? For your siblings.”

“For my siblings. Right.” Jun knew she had to—no part of her even contemplated backing out—but as they drew nearer, her stomach churned, and every part of her ached with the desperate desire to be somewhere, anywhere else.

“Breathe,” Avril told her. “Just breathe.”

Jun nodded and turned back to her window. She saw the neat row of canary-yellow houses that she’d passed by her entire life, houses she knew like the back of her hand, even though she’d never been inside them. There was the park, the playground where she liked to sit on the swings and pump her legs furiously, desperate to fly away into someone else’s life. There was the hair salon, the candy store, the boutique with the impossible-to-pronounce French name. All of it was fairly close to the dingy gray city where Mars and Avril lived, where the three of them had just spent the night and robbed a convenience store, and yet it felt like a whole other world—one that was cleaner, sweeter, more innocent and attractive. Safer, too, at least on surface level.

Jun had been giving Avril directions during the drive, and now she told her to turn a corner. Her voice quivered as the words left her lips, and both Avril and Mars could hear her fear and hesitation, but neither said anything.

Avril turned the corner. They arrived on a shiny residential street, full of cute littles houses that led into sparkling McMansions. It was a sunny, beautiful morning there, in suburban utopia—but the sight of it made Jun feel sick.

The car edged closer and closer to her house; she pointed out which one was hers, and Mars made a comment, but she wasn’t paying attention. In her mind, she was seeing his face—that man—and his poisonous smile, his soft-spoken words of reassurance. She thought of his big, bearish hands, and the creaking sound of the floors underneath his feet as he moseyed down the hallway, always pausing outside her door.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” she said.

Avril stopped the car. They were two houses down, idling in the middle of the empty street, outside the house of Jun’s neighbor, Ms. Rux. Mars leaned forward and put her hands on Jun’s shoulders; Avril’s eyes found Jun’s and the two shared a long, understanding look.

“Just roll down your window,” Mars advised. “Puking in the car’s a bad idea.”

Jun shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut. “It’s okay,” she said, with a long, ragged shudder of a breath. “I . . . I’m okay.”

“False alarm,” Avril explained, pulling her eyes from Jun’s to meet Mars’s gaze. “This just brings up some bad memories, and the queasiness goes along with that. She’ll be fine.”

“Oh,” Mars said. She sunk back in her seat, a shyly sympathetic look taking over her face. There was a pause before she added, “So maybe we should wait a while—like ten minutes—before we do anything. Give her some space. And, you know, enough time to feel better.”

“No,” Avril said, without hesitation. “We do this now. Better to get it over with, before she has time to back out or before we miss our chance. And anyway, we’ll attract suspicion, sitting here in the middle of the street. You can never get too comfortable.” She glanced over at Jun. “You ready?”

Inwardly, Jun was screaming no, no, no. But she knew she had to. For her siblings; for Avril; for herself.

She took another deep breath, then nodded. “I’m ready.”

And Avril handed her the gun.


Jun had left her home only the day before, but it seemed like forever. She felt so different now. Calmer, clearer. Older. It was like she’d aged a year in a day’s time.

She had left the note in her father’s office. It was a magenta Post-It, and her hand-writing had been neat and precise, just as they’d taught her. Staying over at Beth’s house, she’d wrote—just as Avril had told her. Will hitch a ride with her to school tomorrow. See you afterwards.

She’d felt a strange guilt as she’d written out the lie. But relief, too. It was like writing her ticket to freedom.

She’d left the Post-It on her father’s desk, then walked out of his office with a newfound tranquility, certain that would be the last time she’d ever step foot in that office again.

Of course, Avril had other ideas.

As Jun stepped out of the car and onto her street, her confidence was once again sorely tested. Being there made her feel small and weak, lightheaded—the mere prospect of pulling off any sort of plan, never mind a murderous one, was daunting.

Avril urged her onwards: “Go, Jun—you have to hurry.”

So she did—reluctantly at first, her feet shuffling down the sidewalk in a swaying, seasick way. She glanced over her shoulder just twice, staring back at the car with forlorn wistfulness. Avril stared back, stone-faced and unmoved.

It was serene that day, the sound of her neighbor’s sprinkler system and the distant pangs of a barking dog the only noise. She smelled fresh-cut grass and pool chlorine—smells of summer, and of home. It was in moments like these that the homesickness took over, as it had the previous night, when she’d dreamt of her old bed—but she knew there was no turning back, that all the nice smells and warm beds in the world couldn’t make up for the wrongness of her old life. “You need to get away from him,” Avril had told her before they’d first set out, with that unshakable sureness of hers. “You need to get away from him now, Jun, because it will only get worse. He’ll never stop. And you’ll get more and more miserable, every day that goes by.”

It scared her, thinking of what she would’ve done if she hadn’t met Avril. She wouldn’t have left—that much she knew. She would’ve stayed there, in that house, with that man, living that life. She would’ve said nothing. She would’ve continued to hope for some turnaround, some improvement, some escape. Nothing would’ve come, of course. And, she feared, what Avril had said would’ve come to fruition: That man would’ve grown more bold, and Jun would’ve grown more miserable. She shuddered at the thought.

As she neared her house, the heaviness in the pit of her stomach—the fear and anxiety, the nausea—came to a head. Her heart was racing, her palms sweaty, and she felt a weird, out-of-body lightness. Avril’s gun was pressing against her back as it remained hidden, under her shirt and tucked into the waistband of her skirt. Don’t think, she coached herself.

She walked up the steps. She stood at the front door. She took a deep breath, then opened the door. It was rarely ever locked—why would it be? Their town was safe. Their neighborhood existed in a bubble of good-will, summer barbecues, and friendly neighbors.

As she stepped inside, some other smells promptly assaulted her: bacon and eggs, toast, maple syrup. Breakfast; home. Her mouth watered—she’d forgotten how hungry she was. A breakfast made up of junk food paled in comparison to her mother’s cooking. One more thing she’d miss.

But, for better or worse, her homesickness was overshadowed by the leaden weight in her stomach. She slipped the front door shut as quietly as she could, then padded down the hall, toward her father’s office. That’s where he’d be right about now, getting ready to leave.

Of course, to get to the office, she’d have to pass the baby’s room—where her mother would be.

The door to the nursery was open. It was a brightly-colored cornucopia of stuffed animals and toy trains, a blue-and-white crib and mobile of circus animals, with a window overlooking their grassy yard, pool and pool house. As Jun neared it, she heard her mother’s voice speaking and singing softly to the baby, and she felt another sharp and silly ache for home, for familiarity, and for her mother. Admittedly—and embarrassingly—a part of her envied her baby brother.

But she was on a mission, and she wouldn’t be deterred. She kept to the wall, her back pressed against it, and paused right before she hit the nursery doorway. It took her a moment to work up the nerve, but eventually, she leaned her head over to catch a glimpse inside the baby’s room—and saw her mother, standing over the boy’s crib, rocking him. Her back faced Jun, making it the opportune moment to dash across—and Jun did. Her heart was pounding, as if trying to frantically free itself from her chest. She took a big breath. Her mother’s cooking still lingered in her nose.

She should’ve been in school right then. If what she had written on the Post-It note had been true, that’s exactly where she’d be: hunched over her desk, writing something, her teacher droning on and on. From the outside, she would seem to be a polite girl, a normal child, and a perfect student. On the inside, she would be so full of dread at the prospect of returning home—but you’d never know it. There was no sign of trouble, of discontentment . . . unless, of course, you looked at her nails, which were bitten down to the quick. She chewed at them during class sometimes, thinking about what awaited her at the end of the school day. What might happen to her that night, when her mother was asleep and the house was quiet—though not peaceful. Never truly peaceful.

If what she’d written in the note had been real, it would’ve been just a typical day of schoolwork and silent, sullen thoughts. But instead, Jun found herself sneaking through her home like a fugitive, approaching her father’s office with her heart hammering and those nail-chewed fingers of hers curled into anxious, defiant fists.

She came to the closed office door—less than a foot away from it—and paused. She’d have to open it. She’d have to walk inside and look at him—actually look at him—and then shoot him. How could she shoot someone she knew? How could she shoot someone while looking at them? She hadn’t thought this through. Avril and Mars made it seem so easy, so effortless. They didn’t seem to agonize like she did. They could turn off their brains, their nagging thoughts. Hers stayed on, a constant storm of fears and doubts and guilt.

She closed her eyes. She took a deep breath.

She knew there was no way she could go back. She couldn’t show her face after having failed. She didn’t want Avril to be disappointed in her. She felt she had something to prove—both to them and herself. And then, of course, there were her siblings. The thought of them being hurt by that man made her fill with righteous purpose. She couldn’t allow that to happen. If she had the opportunity to stop it and let it slip through the cracks, all because she couldn’t face him . . . she’d never forgive herself.

She rolled back her shoulders. She put her hand on the gun—still hidden away in the waistband of her skirt—just to make sure it was really there. Then she opened the door.

He was at his desk. On his computer, his back facing her. She heard the familiar tap of the keys as he drummed his fingers against the keyboard. The air was stuffy inside, thanks to the windows rarely being opened. It smelled like him.

She took a step forward, and the floorboards made a sound. He looked up, over his shoulder. His expression changed when he saw her.

She pushed the door shut as she walked away from it—as Avril told her to—and stepped farther inside, despite every part of her wanting to turn around and run out of there. Seeing him made her feel lopsided and sick. Her stomach hurt.

“Jun,” he said. His voice was flat. His eyes were oddly, undeservedly warm and falsely benevolent, peering at her from behind his glasses. He looked kind, sweet. Non-threatening. And that was the dangerous thing about him, about men like him: they didn’t look evil.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. He formed his fingers into a steeple as he looked at her, his brow furrowed in confusion.

She swallowed. “I . . . I wasn’t feeling well. Beth’s mom dropped me off.” The lie came surprisingly easy, slipping from her mouth and evaporating into the air. For once, it left no guilt behind.

“That’s odd.” He was staring at her. Just . . . staring. She wanted him to look away—the eye contact was too much; it was as if he was seeing into her brain and reading her thoughts, her intentions. But his eyes were locked on hers, unrelenting.

“I think I’m coming down with something,” she said. Her voice wobbled, making her worry: Did he notice? Does he know? Can he hear how scared and nervous I am?

He seemed not to hear it, instead flashing her a smile. It was sympathetic. It was caring. It was disarming. “Well, I’m sure whatever it is, you’ll be good as new soon enough. Why don’t you sit down, Jun?”

She deliberated a moment, knowing she’d be better off shooting him right then and there and getting it over with . . . but, nevertheless, she sat. She obeyed. Good little Jun, always obedient. The perfect daughter. Her friends’ parents envied that man—”Jun’s so well-behaved!” they gushed.

Of course, in truth, she also wanted—needed—to sit down. It felt like her legs would give out from under her at any moment. She was weak and fragile, unable to handle stress. She wasn’t strong-willed and brilliant like Avril, tough like Mars. She couldn’t do this.

So she sat on his office’s couch—an old, dark blue thing—and listened listlessly as he listed off the possible illnesses she could have, and how some rest and some soup was likely all she needed.

She hated admitting it, but hearing him talk made her feel better. His comforting, fatherly voice still calmed her. It still made her feel like everything was going to be okay. And looking around that office, a room she knew so well, she couldn’t help but feel so at home there—and, of course, that was only natural. This was her home. And that man had been—and, for all intents and purposes, still was—her father.

She looked over at him, at his warm eyes and kind face, at the shoulders she’d sat on during Fourth of July so that she could see the fireworks, at the hands that had held onto hers as they walked along the beach. My father. The words sounded strange but familiar, like a place she hadn’t been to in years or a picture of an old friend. It would’ve been so much easier to stay there, in her house, with her father and mother and siblings. It would’ve been so much easier to let them care for her, to let Avril and Mars go on by themselves and for Jun to remain there, with her bedroom and toys and friends. No more sleeping in cars; no more stealing food. No more guns. No more death. Just home, and parents, and siblings.

She reached over and pulled one of the couch pillows onto her lap, resting her hands—with those nails, bitten down to the quick—on it, allowing herself to relax into the reliable comfort of home and family. As her father continued to speak, she felt her resolve to kill him crumble away into nothingness. She wondered if there was any way she could make this work. If she could keep the home, the family, but not the bad parts. Then she wouldn’t have to go with Avril and Mars, she wouldn’t have to kill anyone. Maybe that would be best. An alternative solution. The nonviolent approach. Wasn’t that always better?

There was one option. One idea, one possible way, tucked into the back of her brain. It would be hard, but easier than killing him. Better for everyone involved, too.

But she felt obliged to let him know. To prepare him. As a courtesy, a kindness; a simple act of decorum.

So she interrupted him and said, in a soft voice, “I’m going to tell.”

There was a long pause. It made the room fill with stifling, unbearable tension. She stared at him; he stared at her. His expression changed again—going from relaxed and at ease to cagey, frightened.

Finally, he spoke: “What?”

“I’m going to tell,” she said, her voice a notch above a whisper. Her hands were trembling.

“Tell . . . what, exactly?”

“What you’ve been doing,” she said. She didn’t want to come right out and say it—and, in truth, she wasn’t sure she’d even know how. What was the word to describe his actions? How could she sum up the horror in a clear, simple sentence?

There was another pause. He glanced out the window above his desk a moment, looking out at their backyard. A shadow crossed his face. “Jun, I’ve been a very good father to you.”

“I know,” she said. Her face crumpled as the tears came, rolling down her cheeks in a wave of sudden, unexpected anguish. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m so sorry. But I have to tell.”

A part of her still wanted his approval. Still wanted to be Daddy’s girl. She didn’t want him to go away. She didn’t want to divorce herself from him, to never speak to him again, to stop being his daughter. The idea of telling the truth, of telling someone what he’d done, made her feel immense guilt—like she was betraying him. It was sick and it was bizarre, but that’s how she felt, deep down.

“Junie,” he said, turning back to her. His own eyes were filled with tears, and his voice shook. “You don’t have to, Junie. I love you so, so much. And if you tell . . . I’ll never see you again. That would kill me, Junie. You know I never wanted to hurt you, right?”

“I don’t know what else to do,” she said. She squeezed her eyes shut to try to stop the flow of tears, but she could still feel him staring at her, desperate and pleading.

“I’ll stop,” he told her. “I’ll never do it again if you don’t want me to. Okay? Okay, Junie?”

She put her head in her hands to muffle her choked, strangled sobs. In a shaky voice, she reminded him, “You’ve said that before.”

“This time I mean it. Really.”

She looked up at him, strips of hair wet with her tears falling in front of her eyes. “You don’t mean it,” she whispered. “You never do.”

There was another pause. Jun held back her sobs, and her father stared at her, quiet, a single tear on his right cheek. His eyes were hard now. Cold, resigned. They stared straight through her.

“I’ve been so good to you,” he told her, the words clipped. “I adopted you. I brought you here. I gave you everything you wanted. And this is how you repay me?”

She let out another cry, the guilt hitting her again. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“If you were really sorry, you wouldn’t do this to me, would you?” He stood up from his chair suddenly, towering over her and staring down with an awful look on his face—bitterness, disgust. “Think of what you’d be doing, Jun,” he said. “How selfish it is. Think of what you’d be doing not only to me and your mother, but to your siblings.

It was the wrong thing to say.

The minute the word left his lips, something changed in Jun. An ember from her earlier fiery righteousness and determination sparked. Not all of it returned to her, but a bit, a piece. It was enough to make the gears in her head turn. It was enough to make her remember what Avril had told her, the conclusions she’d come to, the purpose of why she was there, sitting in that office with a gun in her waistband.

She looked up at him, her hair sticking to her face and her eyes shiny with tears. She swallowed the lump in her throat and repeated the word: “Siblings?”

“Yes, your siblings. Think of how they’ll feel when you ruin their lives by sending me to prison.”

“I’d send you to prison,” she said, pausing to take a deep breath, “just so you wouldn’t be able to hurt them like you hurt me. This is for them.”

Scowling, he dismissed her claim with a simple, “I’ve never harmed them.”

“Maybe. But you will.” Her voice was matter-of-fact.

It took him a moment to respond. “You . . . you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The words were hallow.

“I do,” she said. “I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

Another pause. Neither broke eye contact—they stared each other down in a strange battle of wills, waiting for someone to blink, to disrupt the quiet.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s stop all this arguing for a moment and be reasonable. Let’s have a rational discussion about consequences and how you telling people about our . . . secrets might ruin lives. Okay, Jun? Let’s do that.” He paused again, inspecting her. “Well, actually, first, let’s get that hair out of your eyes.” He reached out, to swipe the hair from her face.

It was the wrong thing to do.

“Don’t touch me,” she wanted to yell, wanted to scream at him at the top of her lungs, for all the times she had wanted to say it but couldn’t. This time, though—just like all the others—she didn’t say it.

Instead, she reached back, to the gun in her waistband. She grabbed it before he knew what was happening. She put the couch’s pillow in front of the barrel—just like Avril told her to—and fired.

It hit him in the chest.

He fell back. There was blood everywhere, but Jun hardly noticed. Her breathing was hard. The gun felt heavy in her hand.

She sat there for a few moments, shaking. Her eyes stared at the wall across from her, refusing to look down and see . . . whatever there was to see. She didn’t know if he was dead. She didn’t want to find out.

Eventually, she stood up. Her legs felt like noodles. She approached the office door, feeling like she was floating, like she was a helium balloon being pushed by some unforeseen force. Her eyelids felt heavy.

It was strange.

The doorknob was cold in her hand, but it barely registered. There was a numbness in that moment, but she was also hyper-aware, her senses heightened . . . was it possible to be all of that at once? The contradictions stacked up in her brain like Legos. Legos—that was a funny word. Her brothers loved Legos.

She opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. And in that moment, what she’d done—what she’d had to do—began to hit her all at once. So she slipped the gun back into her waistband, and hurried out of the house.

She didn’t look back.


The car, Jun remembered, had been parked outside Ms. Rux’s house. Ms. Rux was a divorcée with bright, dyed-red hair and a face full of wrinkles, who liked to sit out on her front lawn all day with a disapproving frown and keep track of her neighbors, glass of iced tea in hand.

Today was no exception.

But as Jun approached Ms. Rux’s house, she realized that something was very wrong: the car was gone.

Her breath caught. She froze. She looked up and down her street, hoping they’d simply driven to a different location, that they were idling somewhere nearby. But no such luck: they were really, truly gone.

Beginning to panic, she rushed over to Ms. Rux’s house and ran up the front lawn to where Ms. Rux sat on her lawn chair, sipping her ever-present iced tea.

“The car,” Jun said, breathless and terrified. She pointed desperately to where it had been parked. “Do you know where it went? The car that was right there?”

Ms. Rux eyed her suspiciously from behind her cat-eye glasses. “There wasn’t any car there,” she said. She arched a brow. “Something wrong?”

“No, there was absolutely a car there,” Jun said. She sighed in frustration. “It was black! It had a girl inside, with sunglasses and a leather jacket, and another girl in the backseat. You must’ve seen it, you were sitting right here.”

“Yes, I’ve been sitting here for the last two hours, and trust me when I say there was no car.

Jun glanced over her shoulder, at where she was sure the car had been. She had that feeling again—like she was going to throw up. “I know they were there,” she whispered.

“What’s that on your shirt?”

Jun looked back at Ms. Rux, who was pointing at . . . specks of blood. Unmistakable red dots, sprinkled almost playfully across Jun’s top.

As the realization dawned, Ms. Rux’s eyes lifted off the blood and met Jun’s. “Is that blood,” she said—but she didn’t phrase it as a question. She knew. She knew with as much certainty as Jun knew the car had been parked in front of Ms. Rux’s house.

“I have to go,” Jun said. Her voice sounded faraway. She turned around and started sprinting back to her house—knowing all the while that she couldn’t go inside. Not after what she’d done.

She was lost. Trapped. Forgotten.

How could they do this? she wondered. How could they leave me?

But a terrible, gnawing feeling deep inside told her they hadn’t, that they would never. It came as no comfort, of course—because if they hadn’t willingly left her, what did that mean?

She arrived at her house and sneaked around the side yard, where she collapsed in the grass, wrapped up in the house’s shadow. She was trying desperately not to cry, not to think of her father’s blood on her shirt or the feeling of pulling the trigger.

None of it felt right. None of it even made any sense—where would Avril and Mars have gone? Had the police caught up to them? An icy fear coursed through her veins at the thought. Her hands were shaking, as Mars’s had the day before when she shot the cashier. Jun could still hear Avril’s words: It’s just the adrenaline. It’ll wear off. Knowing that made her feel slightly less confused—less alone. At least something made sense. It was seemingly the only thing she didn’t need to worry about.

But for the most part, she felt sick. Sick with grief, with fear, with panic. She didn’t feel regret per se, but she did question her choices. And she was terrified that all of it—coming back to her house, letting Avril and Mars wait in the car, killing that man—was a big mistake that would have dire repercussions.

As if on cue, a scream split through the air. It came from Jun’s house; it was her mother’s scream, an amplified, exaggerated version of the one she’d let loose the day she found a rat in their home. Jun would recognize it anywhere. It made her heart sink.

She had the sudden urge to dispose of the gun. It weighed heavy on her, a real smoking gun that represented all her poor choices and crimes—even though no one could see it. Irrationally, she felt that if she could just get rid of it, then maybe—just maybe—she wouldn’t get in trouble. Maybe she’d be okay. Maybe her mother would never find out that it was Jun who made her scream, Jun who killed that man.

So she had to get rid of it.

She reached into her waistband to retrieve the weapon, finding it sticky with her sweat. She didn’t want to look at it—just holding the thing made her feel guilty, dirty. Sinful. She needed it as far away from her as possible.

I could bury it. The thought leapt into her head out of nowhere. She played with the idea, staring out into space, at the expanse of grassy yard around her house. (Was it even her house anymore? Was she allowed to call it that?) She got on her knees and started savagely tearing her fingers through the grass and dirt, ripping up the earth and tossing it around her in piles. The gun sat by her side, a token of a friendship she now found herself questioning; tangible evidence of her misdeeds. She tried not to think about it as she focused on the task at hand. Her vision became blurred by her tears; she was breathless and wild, her movements ungraceful.

When she was satisfied by the hole she’d dug, she stopped, her hands and clothes stained with dirt. She reached over and grabbed the gun. It still felt slick with sweat, and warm from sitting in the sun. She placed it into the hole.

And then she froze.

For the first time since she fired it, she found herself looking at the gun. And she realized—to her horror—that it was not a stranger’s gun. It was not Avril’s neighbor’s gun, the gun of a shadowy figure she knew nothing about, someone she’d never met, someone whose name she’d never know. It was his gun. That man’s. It was the gun he kept in a locked cabinet—”just in case,” he always said. He didn’t know that Jun knew where the key was. He didn’t know a lot of things about Jun.

For a moment, she just stared at it. She first felt confused, and then a quiet, pervasive devastation. The kind that comes when you realize that what you’ve believed, what you’ve trusted to be right and true and real, is all just imaginary—and suddenly your world goes sideways, and you slide down, down, down . . .

She was sliding. She couldn’t catch herself. She understood now, understood why none of it made any sense. Why Ms. Rux hadn’t seen a car. Why the scattered, strange pieces didn’t quite fit together, and never had.

She couldn’t remember meeting Avril, or Mars. She couldn’t remember how they came across each other, how their paths had crossed. She could remember—and even picture—Avril being attacked by those boys; Mars being approached by the man at the convenience store.

But she could not remember how they met.

She could not remember stealing the car that became their getaway vehicle.

Avril and Mars—her closest, truest friends; her saviors, rescuers, defenders—grew distant and fuzzy the more she thought about them. They started to seem hollow, artificial. And their sudden, convenient appearance in her life was really too perfect, the more she considered it.

And now it was Jun’s turn to scream.

The sound, like her mother’s, tore through the air. It shooed birds from trees and echoed through her neighborhood. It brought a chill to the air and ruined the tranquility of the street, shattering the idyllic, perfect day.

I’m going crazy. She put her head in her hands as she cried, cried, cried. The rush of tears broke through her paltry resistance and overcame her. She was broken. She was beyond help. She was very possibly insane.

And now, she was all alone.