When You Were Young (Chapter 1, page 1 of 3)

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Chapter 1

The balloon zipped towards the front door as though a hurricane wind were blowing through the house. Samantha leapt down the hall, kicking the door shut in time to trap the pink balloon. She picked herself up off the floor and grabbed the ribbon attached to the balloon.

"A little dramatic, don't you think?" Joseph said.

"It got the job done," Samantha said. She tied the rogue balloon to the banister along with its brethren and then kissed Joseph on the cheek. "What do you think?"

"I think she's going to love it. You're sure she isn't going to show up before tonight?"

"Wendell will keep her busy in town. What about your dad?"

"He said he'd come in before dark. I don't know what's with him anymore. He's staying out later and later. What?" Joseph asked as Samantha smiled.

"I think it's cute that you worry about him so much."

"Someone has to look after him. Otherwise he'd stay out there fishing until he ran out of cigarettes."

"I thought he quit."

"He did, for about two days. Old habits die hard."

"Have you tried getting him some of that gum or one of those patches they have at the drugstore?"

"He'd never do it. Cold turkey is the only way for a manly man like him. He won't even take an aspirin unless he cuts his arm off," Joseph said. Behind the humorous tone, Samantha could see the worry on his face.

"He'll be fine," she said. "He can take care of himself."

"I know, but ever since, you know, the incident, I can't help worrying about him more. He's not invincible."

The incident in question she knew was Joseph putting his father in a coma three years ago using a potion he'd concocted from some relics found in a cave. The incident had almost killed Mr. Pryde as well as Prudence, Wendell, Mrs. Schulman, and even Samantha. She shivered at the memory of the monster Joseph had become-and the monster she had become.

The ding of a bell in the kitchen interrupted her dark thoughts. "That must be the cake," she said. She hurried into the kitchen to find a stream of black smoke rising from the oven. She threw open the door, coughing and squinting through watery eyes at the blackened rectangle of batter in the oven. She yanked the pan out and opened the window, fanning the smoke outside as best she could. When the smoke cleared, she plopped down on a chair to stare at the ruined cake. Three years of caring for two little girls and she still couldn't do much more than boil water. "It's ruined," she said. She turned to the doorway, where Joseph smiled at her. "What's so funny?"

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