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Oct 18

Parasitic Souls – Chapter Five

ParasiticSoulsFinal-FJM_Mid_Res_1000x1500 Parasitic Souls Chapter Five

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Fiona got a ride back to the Applebee’s parking lot where she’d left her car the night before. It felt like a week earlier. She was getting hungry, so she asked around until she found a Whole Foods where she could buy some decent ingredients. It cost too much, but Fiona had picked up food snob tastes at cooking school that couldn’t be squelched by such a little thing as lack of income. Besides, judging by Sophie’s breakfast, she was an instant-ramen kind of eater, and probably wouldn’t mooch too much of the good stuff.

In the frozen pasta section she weighed the choices between butternut squash or portabello mushroom filling. The latter made her think of Marcello Porto, which made her think of Sophie, and wonder whether Sophie drank milk and if she were vegetarian or had any other picky eater habits. She’d better call and find out.

When Sophie answered her cell phone, it sounded as if she were driving.

“Where are you?” Fiona asked, sounding sharper than she had intended as she put two and two together and figured out why it sounded like Sophie was driving. “Are you driving to Berkeley? You are, aren’t you? You are moving back to your parents. I thought we were gonna figure this out together. You’re dumping this on me?”

“I’m not dumping this on you.”

“You’re running away. That’s just like dumping this on me. How are you going to find out what’s wrong with Carlotta when you’re three hours away?” Fiona grabbed both kinds of ravioli and headed towards the aisle with the olive oil. She had to assume that Sophie had nothing in the way of staples. They had olive oil for sale that cost more than perfume, but she remembered her tiny checking account and got the cheaper version. “Don’t you care about Carlotta?”

“I’m not running away. And the research I need to do is all on the internet. I just need to get my window fixed, and then I’m coming back.”

“They have mechanics in Clementine,” Fiona said. Her gratitude at having a nice roommate evaporated into ire. “We were gonna figure this out together, partners, like Lucy and Desi, or Velma and Daphne or maybe Scooby and Shaggy, and now I’m gonna be all alone in your apartment, trying to solve a magical mystery with zero knowledge of magic. I hate being alone almost as much as I hate using cheap knives.”

“I’ll come back when I can, it’s just … it’s complicated.”

“Your parents are bullying you into coming home. That’s not complicated, that’s cowardice.”

Sophie didn’t say anything. Fiona wheeled her cart to the cheese section and grabbed a beautiful crumbly wedge of Reggiano that had a cost approaching that of refined cocaine. She might as well. She wouldn’t be sharing it.

“Are you even going to come back to get your stuff?”

“Yeah, of course I am. It’s just for a few days. I just need to reassure them that everything is all right.”

“You could call them. That’s what phones are for.”

“When they heard about the car window being smashed, they insisted.”

“Here’s another option: don’t tell them everything.” Fiona turned around and put the cheese back and exchanged it for a smaller one. She didn’t know how long she was going to be in Clementine. “Parents are really much happier if they don’t know about every little thing going on in your life. Speaking from experience here.”

“I left you my key. It’s under the doormat. I should be back on Tuesday.” Sophie said something else, something that sounded like lame excuses, but she was getting out of range and her voice kept cutting out, so Fiona just hung up. She put her phone back in her purse.

In the fish department she was deciding whether she could afford a piece of salmon for lunch when she saw Carlotta. She almost didn’t recognize her. Even though Carlotta was wearing clothing Fiona recognized, she walked differently. Worse than that, she glanced past Fiona without so much as a blink of recognition, which cut Fiona worse than Alex Porto’s snub.

“Carlotta,” Fiona said, stepping in front of Carlotta’s cart. She laced her fingers through the wires and held it still. “Why are you being so cold to me?”

“I’m not married to your father anymore. It’s been years since you were my step-daughter,” Carlotta said, as if she were reciting facts recently learned.

“You don’t divorce kids,” Fiona said, just as Carlotta herself had said to her back in high school, when Fiona had sobbed uncontrollably upon hearing her dad was moving out. “You always said that. You said we’d always be family.”

“You’re not a child anymore,” Carlotta said. “You’re what, twenty-three? Twenty-four? You can take care of yourself. Or talk to your father if you need help.”

“Dad’s in Singapore. You know that. He doesn’t want me around.”

Carlotta gave her a blank look, as if she, too, didn’t want Fiona around. Fiona had seen that expression a hundred times in her nightmares, but never in real life. It hurt so badly that she felt dizzy, an emotional vertigo.

“Would you excuse me? I’m running late,” Carlotta said, trying to pull the cart out of Fiona’s grasp.

Fiona looked down. Carlotta’s shopping cart had a baguette, some steaks, brie, and a bag of Oreos. “Fat, sugar, gluten, meat? It’s like you’re not even the same person anymore.”

“Goodbye,” Carlotta said, yanking the cart free.

Fiona let go of the cart and watched Carlotta walk away.

She decided not to get the fish. It didn’t look as delicious as it had earlier.

Fiona regretted abandoning everything in her old apartment when she saw how much it cost to check out. The olive oil and the tarragon vinegar and the Dijon mustard and her tin of Indian spices she’d left in LA had probably been bedbug free. Why had she left them? Stupid. She could hear her dad scolding her in her mind, “Think twice, act once, Fiona.”

She regretted abandoning everything even more when she got back to the apartment and remembered the lame state of Sophie’s kitchen. Fiona could have used her salt and her flour and her pepper grinder, the sesame seeds, the bottle of soy sauce, and the saucepans she’d left in the LA apartment. Judging by the state of Sophie’s shelves, Sophie ate nothing but canned soups and saltines—the kind of food one ate alone.

Fiona hated canned soup. It reminded her of her mother.

Fiona made her lunch and ate it, then washed the dishes and quickly put them away. The silence of Sophie’s apartment oppressed her. She could hear the muffled sounds of barking dogs, television, and a vacuum cleaner from the apartments around her, but it only served to highlight that she was alone in the apartment. She had only lived alone a couple of times in her life, and she’d hated it. She’d rather have fights about wet towels and messy sinks than have an apartment to herself, because she couldn’t stand having no one to talk to.

Fiona made a few phone calls. One was to the cops (they couldn’t help her) and one was to her friend Leslie, who was a waitress at the restaurant they both worked at in L.A. (Leslie was at an audition, but her voice mail asked callers to wish her luck.) Finally, Fiona called her dad. She didn’t really like to talk to him, but at least he’d be someone to talk to. His phone went straight to voicemail. Was he screening his calls? Probably. She texted him three times, then left a voicemail saying she needed help.

What would he say? “Think twice, act once.”

Fiona didn’t like sitting and thinking. She wanted to be doing something. She wanted to make sure Carlotta was okay, first of all. That’s what she wanted the most. That meant she needed a mage, probably, and one that wouldn’t bail on her. But what she needed the most was a job. One or both of those could be solved by going back to Lupe’s house.

She grabbed the resumes she’d printed on Sophie’s computer, and headed out the door.

She got lost a couple of times, but still managed to find Lupe’s house in Clementine Valley. There weren’t really any parking places, so she just left her car in the dirt patch in front of the cacti-surrounded wall.

When she walked in through the gate to the courtyard, she saw that old skinny hippy sitting at the metal bistro table. He looked like he was drilling holes in beach pebbles with a Dremel tool. He had earplugs in and his braid tucked into the back of his shirt.

“Whatcha making?”

“Amulets.” He turned the Dremel tool off and set it down. “Hey, you’re that pink-haired girl from this morning.”

“It’s magenta,” Fiona said. “I came to see Lupe and ask her about magic. Is she in?’

“She’s not taking any new apprentices. Or is this about the favor chit? Don’t worry about that, she’ll call you soon, within a month or so.”

“It’s not about either of those it’s—” Fiona saw the cute young guy with the Indian features walk past, carrying a jug of drinking water. She waved to him and smiled. He stopped, staring at her as if stricken, then hurried inside. “I have another problem. I want to see if I can hire her to fix it. It’s my step-mom, Carlotta. She’s not herself. Lenny the parrot says that she’s been possessed by another soul.”

“A demon? Lupe doesn’t dig on Christian mythology.”

“I didn’t say a demon, I said a soul. Anyway, that’s Lenny’s theory. I want to get her back to normal, and I was hoping Sophie could help me, but she left, and I’m really worried about Carlotta. I tried to call the cops, but they said if she’s not injured and she’s not missing, I can’t do anything, and even if I thought she was mentally incapacitated, which I can’t prove, because she’s able to take care of herself, I couldn’t do anything anyway because I don’t have guardianship.”

Jimmy nodded like he wasn’t surprised. He stood and brushed dust off his pants. “I’ll ask her.”

Lupe herself came out of the house a few minutes later. She had changed into jeans, and wore a bright turquoise peasant blouse with a denim vest over it. Fiona explained the problem, that Carlotta was really mean, wasn’t herself, and gave away the robe, and how she didn’t seem to recognize Fiona.

Lupe listened without comment, her face so stern it was almost a scowl.

When Fiona finished repeating her story, she put her hands in her pockets. “So anyway, I came here to see if you could help her.”

Lupe pursed her lips and grunted once. “Is her aura different?”

“What? Uh, I don’t know. How could I tell?”

“You look at it. What kind of a mage did you say you were?”

“I’m not, I mean, I set Sophie’s wards, but that was only for one day. That’s not what I normally do. I’m a cook. Sophie’s the mage.”

Lupe grunted seriously and folded her arms.

“So, anyway,” Fiona continued, not sure if she was getting anywhere. “I want you to fix her. I mean, Lenny says there’s another soul in her. He says he knows the guys who did it. That seems kinda plausible, like, I dunno, maybe someone can do that? See, she’s not herself and I’m really worried about her.”

“Lenny lies.”

“Does he? Then what’s wrong with her? Can you find out?”

“I can’t tell without looking. Can you get her here?”

“Um, maybe?” Fiona didn’t think she could. “I don’t know, it would be hard.”

“Get her here first. Also, I don’t work for free, and I won’t accept another favor chit. Cash only.”

Fiona rubbed the hair on the back of her head. “I know, but see, the thing is I’m kinda broke, and I don’t have a job, and—”

“I accepted favor chits because it was an emergency. This isn’t an emergency. And you owe me for talking to you too.” She named a consultation fee, and a per-hour rate which even some lawyers and plumbers might find unreasonable.

Fiona swallowed heavily. She didn’t even have more than two sets of clothes, and she had no dishes or sheets or even a pillow, and her car was crappy, and she didn’t have a job.”It’s gonna take me a while to get that money.”

Lupe nodded, her face stern. “Contact Jimmy when you’re ready.”

***

Fiona dropped off her entire stack of resumes on the way back to Sophie’s apartment. She wanted to blow off the job search for a few days, since she wasn’t entirely broke, but she couldn’t bear the thought of being there alone. When she ran out of resumes, she stopped at a secondhand store and bought some kitchen equipment to replace the stuff she’d left in LA. She went back to Whole Foods and bought some flour and sugar, eggs and butter and a few condiments she’d wrongly assumed Sophie had (who doesn’t keep vanilla on hand?)

When she was feeling this lonely, she liked to bake. When she was really upset, she ate everything she’d made, which was likely to happen this time because Sophie had abandoned her. She turned on the television for noise, and started mixing batter. She’d just gotten the first batch of cupcakes out of the oven, and was about to start making frosting, when she peered out the security door and saw Marcello on the landing.

“Hey, girl!” he called through the screen door. You couldn’t see in from the outside. “Smells good. What’s the occasion?”

Fiona opened the door. “The occasion is that I’m stuck with a problem I can’t fix, and I’m broke and jobless and lonely. Cupcakes make it better. Want some?”

Marcello was wearing black slacks and a dress shirt with that tiny leather bag dangling around his neck instead of a tie. He wore shiny black army boots instead of dress shoes. “Fiona? Oh, that’s right. Sophie said you moved in. Is she here?”

“No, she left. Went back to Berkeley. Apparently her mommy was worried about her.”

“What are you up to?” Marcello took a cupcake, then tossed it from one hand to the other, gasping “hot, hot.”

“Nothing.” Fiona looked at him, considering. “At least, nothing but baking, but now that you’re here, I’d rather hang out with you. You know something about magic, right? Can you see auras?”

“With the right equipment. You want to see auras?”

Fiona nodded. “Lupe, that’s Xavier’s grandma, she’s a witch. Anyway, she asked if something was wrong with Carlotta’s aura. Can you teach me how to see it? And maybe after that we can go get dinner? I hate eating alone.”

“Sure. Sounds good. I was hoping to go out tonight, but my cousin didn’t say she went back to Berkeley. We’re not that close.”

“Yeah, right. Uh huh. I should tell you, I’m hip to your secret forbidden love,” Fiona said, as they walked down the stairs to the parking lot.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Marcello’s voice got a little higher pitched, and lost inflection.

“Oh, come on. I know what I saw. You two? At the restaurant? So pointedly not looking at you? Plus, she threatened to stab me in my sleep with an icepick if I seduced you.”

“Sweet little Sophie threatened you?”

“Okay, not in so many words, but I could tell you two were into each other. You driving?”

Marcello nodded and unlocked his car. “So what is going on with Carlotta? Sophie thinks she’s been hit by something magical.”

“Lenny does too,” Fiona said. She explained what had happened when they went to see Carlotta the night before. She tried to impress upon him how weird it was that she’d put the robe in Fiona’s bag, but Marcello frowned as though he didn’t get it.

“Are you sure she didn’t just have a bad streak and didn’t want houseguests?”

Fiona shook her head. “Even if she was angry at me, she’d at least let me sleep on her couch. Can you take a look at her and tell me if there’s a hex on her?”

“You don’t put hexes on people, those are for fixed locations, like simplified versions of wards, and—”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I got the crib note version. Tell me, if you saw her, could you tell if someone had altered her magically?”

Marcello shook his head. “It might not be magical in origin. She might have just wanted to cut ties with you. You don’t know what’s going on in her life.”

“No. That’s not how we are. Besides, why would she have given me the robe then?”

“As a memento?”

“No. She’s a completely different person. I talked to her a few months ago, and she didn’t say anything about not wanting to see me again. Of course, she hadn’t said anything about getting out of the real estate business and into magic, but I’d been in a crazy relationship so I mostly wanted to talk about this guy I was dating and I kinda didn’t give her a chance to talk. But she didn’t sound that different on the phone. Not like the way she was the other day. Something happened to her. I’m sure of it. Can you take a look at her and see?”

Marcello drove without speaking.

“Ohh. Silence. Ominous. Are you thinking about how to solve the problem, or figuring out how to blow me off?”

“I have these glasses at school. We used them in the lab to see each other’s auras. I could bring those and we could see if her aura’s different. Hang on. We’re not too far.”

Marcello drove to a building that looked like it used to be a slump block warehouse. A faded spot on the wall said “TPS Industries” but a newer sign read “Clementine Preparatory Academy for Magic and Technology.”

“Is this where you teach? This wasn’t here when we were in high school. Is it private?”

“Charter school.” He let them in with a key.

She sniffed deeply. “Ah, eau de high school, that lovely combination of hormones, books, and poor hygiene. That’s bringing back a lot of bad memories.”

Marcello led her down a hallway, past extra-large cubicles that served as classrooms and offices. His own room looked like a science lab. He had stainless steel tables, Bunsen burners, and a large chart on the wall explaining the scientific method. Hanging from a hook above the periodic table was a pointed blue wizard’s cap with silver stars on it. The room smelled pungently of clove and powdered bone.

“What’s that smell? It smells like a dentist office.”

“I know,” he said. “We’re testing protection amulets for our magic-science crossover project.”

“I didn’t think magic and science went together.”

“Oh, they do.” He ruffled through a box under one of the tables. “Same principles. Hypothesis, data analysis, testing. Magic still has rules, it’s just that no one really knows the rules because they’re so new. It’s very exciting. It’s almost like we’re living at the beginning of the atomic age, or the beginning of the industrial revolution. A whole new frontier. Here they are.”

He pulled out a pair of glasses and handed them to Fiona.

“These look like the glasses they give you at the eye doctor when they put those drops in.” They felt flimsy, thin cardboard and tinted mylar. She put them on. “It doesn’t look any different.”

“Look at my aura.”

“Oh, hey! Yeah. I can see something around you. A lighter area, like someone took a picture and cranked up the dodge on photoshop.” She took them off and he looked normal again. “Now what?”

“Now we find Carlotta.”

Fiona and Marcello got back in his car and started driving around. She didn’t know how long it would take to find Carlotta, but this proved easier than they had feared, because as soon as they got to Carlotta’s house, they saw her walk out the door with two fluffy white dogs on leashes. Fiona put the glasses back on. She could just barely make out the faintest glow around Carlotta and the dogs.

“Hey! It’s working! These are really cool,” she said. “And the dogs have auras too.”

“Yes. All living things have auras.” Marcello drove down the street and parked the car.

“It isn’t very bright. What should I be looking for? Should it be brighter?”

“I have to make her aura flare up by giving her a burst of psychic energy. If you’re looking at it with the glasses when it flares, you should be able to see if she has any trouble spots.” He looked back at Carlotta, who was stopping again to let her dog sniff at a light pole.

“How are you going to do make her aura flare up?”

“I’m going to hug her,” he said.

“I was about to make a skeptical comment, but then I realized that if a hot guy like you hugged me, especially if I wasn’t expecting it, it would give my psyche a whole lot of nice energy.” She winked.

He cleared his throat. “I’m not single,” he said.

She shoved his shoulder gently. “Lighten up, Marcello. I’m not going to seduce you. Icepick in my sleep, remember?”

Fiona waited in the car while Marcello walked across the street. He stood underneath a street light, loitering, like a guy smoking a cigarette (except he didn’t have a cigarette). Fiona put on the glasses so she could see his aura. It wasn’t all colorful and bright like the psychics said they saw, but it was still cool. It had faintly concentric lines, as if someone had outlined him in bands of darker and lighter. She remembered something like this in high school, looking at light through a glass in chemistry class to see stress fractures or something. She couldn’t remember exactly what it was for, because that class had started at eight in the morning and she was always sleepy. She remembered counting bands of light, however, and cribbing notes from one of the smarter kids who understood it better.

She felt like she were in science class again, cribbing notes from Marcello. Magic wasn’t supposed to be like science, it was supposed to be like, well, like magic. Mysterious and dark and spooky and maybe artistic and glamorous. The glasses were a little disappointingly mundane. At least Lupe and her apprentice Jimmy had a bone and a ceremonial knife.

After ten or fifteen minutes, Carlotta and the dogs came around the corner. In the darkness, Fiona could see their auras even better. One of the dogs did his business, and Carlotta got out a plastic bag to pick it up. Marcello began walking towards her.

Carlotta wasn’t big on animals. She liked them well enough, and was always friendly with other peoples’ animals, but she never had any pets of her own. She said they were a burden if you had to move frequently, and they reduced the value of a house because they scratched doors, shed, and had accidents on carpets. Now she had two dogs, two old dogs, with lots and lots of hair.

Marcello exclaimed as he saw her, approaching with open arms. He had a pale nimbus of light around him, but concentric, like a topographical map or the rings of a tree. Carlotta had one as well, but it appeared fainter. Fiona almost forgot to look as he hugged her. Sure enough, her aura went from a faint lighter ring to a burst of pale light, as if she were glow-in-the-dark.

“That’s weird,” she muttered.

When he was done with his hug, he ruffled the dogs’ fur and crouched down to play with them. They chatted about something, but Fiona was too far away to hear. Carlotta’s aura damped down, and the dogs’ flared up when Marcello petted their snouts.

She got out her phone and took a picture of them, using the eyepiece of the glasses over the lens. Marcello walked off, away from her, and Carlotta came towards the parked car where Fiona watched. Fiona took a few more pictures. She got a good one when Carlotta passed under the street light, but she couldn’t tell how well the aura came through.

After Carlotta went back into her house, Marcello came back from around the corner and got in the car.

“What did you see?”

“Concentric lines around you, and a double set around her. It looked kind of like two stones thrown into a pond right next to one another. They made these crossed lines, kinda like this.” She spread the fingers of both hands and laid them in front of each other to make a grid.

Marcello was nodding. He got in the driver’s seat.

“You believe me now?”

“I called her Aunt Carlotta, and she believed I was her nephew.” He looked freaked out.

“She’s not your aunt, is she?”

“No, she’s related to Sophie on Sophie’s mother’s side. I’d never met her before. I had thought maybe that it was multiple personality disorder, but this and the crossing auras confirms it. She’s possessed.”

“Are you as creeped out by this as I am?”

He nodded.

“I had no idea that spells could do that. Before I moved back to Clementine, I never had contact with magic. I mean, it’s one thing to hear about magical stuff happening, but it’s another to—” She sighed and rubbed her face. “Gaah. This is so daunting. What am I gonna do? I wish Sophie hadn’t left. She could help me with this. Now I’m all alone.” Fiona looked out the window. Her throat was choked up, and she thought her eyes had gotten red. She didn’t want Marcello to see she was about to cry, and knew if she said anything else that her voice would give her away.

“Are you okay? You’re not crying, are you?”

“No,” she said, but then she suddenly was. The tears spilled out under the lower cardboard frame of the aura-seeing glasses.

“Hey, don’t cry. It’s gonna be okay,” Marcello said, patting her knee. “I know a lot of people find magic confusing. It’s okay. I’ll help you. Don’t cry. I hate to see women cry.”

“I’m not usually like this.” Fiona folded up the glasses and put them on his dash. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I’m just so stressed out, and so tired.”

Her stomach growled.

“And hungry too.”

“Okay. We’ll get some dinner. I know this place near Windview that’s not too bad. Do you eat meat?”

“I eat everything, but only if it’s good.”

“You’ll feel better after you have some food and a glass of wine. You’ll see.”

Marcello drove downtown. A few minutes later, they turned up the street that led to Windview Park. Windview Park had always been Clementine’s nicest park. It was maintained by a strong crew of elderly women who fought against chaos. They picked up trash, painted benches, and allowed some schoolchildren to have a community garden (but only if they were the right sort of children). She used to come and skate here when she’d been in high school.

Fiona gasped. “It’s been gentrified!”

They had taken out her favorite rails, replaced the broken cement steps with brick, and torn down the graffittied wall that blocked access to the parking lot of the hotel next door. Now it had galleries, creperies, sushi bars, a Segway rental store, and all the authenticity of Disneyland Main Street. Above the shops were gorgeous little lofts with dainty balconies and large windows.

“Wow, looks like a bunch of yuppies attacked. I guess I shouldn’t be totally surprised. Carlotta said that Clementine was going to be the newest “it” town. Man, she used to get on my case about skating here after dark, but look at those condos! They’re so cute! Wonder what the rents are around here?”

“I guess you haven’t been here since they redid this.” Marcello parked the car next to a meter that charged as much per minute as a phone call to North Africa. He fed the change from the ash tray into it, but it only gave them twelve minutes. He frowned at it. “Stay here while I get change from someone.”

She brought out a roll of quarters from her purse, the ends taped up tightly with masking tape. She held the roll of quarters in her fist and punched the air in slow motion. “Laundry money,” she said. “It’s not just for self defense anymore.”

He looked like he was about to protest, but she tore open the roll and fed quarters into the machine before he could stop her.

Marcello led her to a restaurant so tiny that if it had been any smaller it would have had wheels and an awning. He bought them Turkish lamb sandwiches on pita bread and a couple of RC colas. She tried to pay for hers, knowing that schoolteachers made less than panhandlers, but he got insulted and told her to stop it.

They sat at a minuscule iron bistro table and ate their lamb and pita sandwiches, drinking warm cola and licking pink paprika-flavored yoghurt sauce off their wrists as it dripped. Marcello talked about the winery his family used to own, and about the kids at his school, and about the spell he’d been researching (it was to help you find things you’d lost). Fiona flirted with him, and he flirted back, and for about an hour it was a very nice date. She wondered if she had imagined the look in Sophie’s eyes, and if maybe Marcello was more single than he appeared.

And then his phone rang. He glanced at it, excused himself, and answered it. He walked away from her and turned his back, but she had good hearing.

“Bella Sophia,” he said, his voice softening.

“Oh,” he said. He stood up and turned away from the table. “Well can’t you tell them you don’t want to?”

He was silent for a while. “No, of course I don’t want you to choose between me and your parents, but you shouldn’t have to. Why did you tell them about getting hit with the sparrow drainer spell?”

Fiona finished her dinner and wiped the grease off her hands as best she could with the stack of flimsy napkins.

“Yeah, I’ve been chatting with your roommate. We went to see Carlotta. She’s definitely possessed. Double aura.” Marcello held the phone to his ear and stared down. He looked frustrated. “Don’t tell them that. You don’t want them to worry.”

He chatted with her for a few minutes, then promised to call her later.

Fiona crumpled the paper bag her sandwich had come in and threw it toward the trash. She missed, and it bounced off onto the ground near Marcello.

Marcello picked it up and tossed it in. “That was Sophie. Her parents think she should move back to Berkeley with them permanently. She doesn’t want to, but they can be very persuasive.”

“I figured that out from context,” she said. She didn’t tell him what else she’d figured out from context.

That she would never date this man. He loved Sophie.


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