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Five. Actually, not quite five. But by the time I turned ten, I was back at home in the public school system. Let’s just say, I didn’t fit in at the private school.

The mourning period was over.Those others in the group last night—Leo losing his pregnant wife, poor Bree with the little ones, Janette watching her husband waste away, George after forty-three years—they had it rough. They had processing and stages and stuff.

Me, let’s face it. I’d known Nathan only nine months. It was deeply sad, but it didn’t have to be crippling. I’d be noble and, um, clean, that would be great. I’d get back to showering every day, and I’d go back to enjoying single life again.I’d be so good, so kind, such a role model. My ex-cons (who’d sent a joint card, by the way) would love me all the more, and teenage girls would look up to me as an example of a life well lived, a person worth knowing. I’d be dignified yet also the life of the party (not that I’d ever been that, but it could happen). People would hear that I’d been widowed and be amazed. Kate? But she’s so happy! She’s so giving and wonderful and fun!I lay there a minute, picturing this, feeling better for the first time since Nathan died.

Then I felt the familiar warm rush and accompanying cramps in my upper legs, flung off the covers and ran into the bathroom. Jazz hands didn’t work. I flapped, jumped, the lights finally went on and I yanked down my sock monkey pajama bottoms.My period. And not just any period, either, the Biblical period, the is this a period or did I accidentally sever my femoral artery period, the pajama-destroyer, the burn-the-mattress, and God! It was so unfair!

I wasn’t pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant. I really wasn’t pregnant, and the throat-squeaking began. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Oh, little nonbaby, I’m so sorry! My breath slammed in and out of me, hehn-hehn-hehn-hehn. My arms and legs buzzed with tingling so intense it hurt.

I was probably dying. My heart raced and zipped, and my vision started to gray, and I knew, I just knew, my life was ending, and anxiety and fear engulfed me in a cold wave. What about my nieces and nephew? Sadie wouldn’t remember me! Would I see Nathan in heaven?I will pay them, Andrew said sharply, grunting as he took an elbow to the gut. If they let us go, I will pay them.

Senhor Farias translated, and Poppy’s blood ran cold when the leader threw back his head and laughed. Once he’d wiped his eyes, he said a few words, and Senhor Farias turned back to Andrew.He says he will take you. He will get more that way.

Only if he releases—The leader cut him off with a few barked words.