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By:T. R. Ragan

gh to squeeze her way inside without making any noise. Despite her niece's attempt to fatten her up by shoving Rice Krispy treats down her throat when she visited, Lizzy had lost another three pounds. She wasn't trying to lose weight. She just wasn't hungry. Food didn't turn her on. Sometimes she wondered if anything turned her on, although she did have a weakness for peanut M&M's.

She glanced at her desk. Computer was off. Papers scattered in an unorganized mess. Half chewed pencils sticking out of a weird looking jar her niece had made for her; everything was just the way she'd left it. Not even a burglar would attempt to find anything of interest in this mess.

But little did the burglar know that her sister had forced her to start writing a daily journal all in the name of catharsis, figuring if she barfed up all her emotional baggage onto paper, then she'd be restored to a better, newer, purer self. Her sister considered writing in a journal to be an emotional cleansing. All that electrifying enlightenment was right there on her computer saved under "stuff." And to think the burglar thought the goods were back in the safe.

She took quiet steps toward the back office, which was really a large closet in disguise. The rustling noises grew louder. Somebody was definitely a busy little bee.

Lizzy's adrenaline pumped in earnest now. A little adventure, a little excitement-just what the doctor said she didn't need. Yep, her sister, Cathy, wasn't too far off when they'd argued the other day and Cathy had called her "one sick puppy." But Cathy wasn't the local girl known as the "one-who-got-away" either. Cathy hadn't spent two months of her life with a sick-minded, spider-loving maniac.

Lizzy's gaze shifted to the floor. No signs of wet or muddied footprints, only ugly beige carpet that needed a good cleaning. She had her priorities though. And cleaning the carpet was pretty much the last thing on her list-right under scrub the shower tiles, shop for groceries, and take the car in for a long overdue tune-up. If anyone was going to get a tune-up it was going to be her, not an old car with a broken tailpipe and a mind of its own.

The file drawer clamped shut with a bang, giving her a start. The door to the back office/closet was ajar. She could see a pair of boots. Somebody was leaning over the bottom drawer of the file cabinet.

"Put your hands up or I'll shoot!"

Two hands shot up. Papers flew. "It's me, Jessica. Don't shoot."

Lizzy pushed the door wide.

Jessica looked relieved to see that it was only her, but even so, she kept her gaze glued to the gun's barrel while she held her arms straight up in the air.

Lizzy frowned and lowered her weapon. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were on a plane headed for Jersey?"

Jessica Pleiss, psychology student at Sacramento State and brand new intern that Lizzy didn't need or want, but who she'd "hired" because Jessica had a knack for talking people into things they didn't need or want, dropped her hands to her side and said, "Jersey didn't work out, so I thought I'd spend my week off from school organizing these files. Did I leave the door open again?"

Lizzy nodded, too tired and too cold to bother lecturing the girl.

Jessica bent down to gather the papers she'd scattered across the floor. The girl had only been working with Lizzy for six weeks-and only when Jessica's busy schedule permitted, which wasn't often. Mostly Jessica ran to Starbucks and got them lattes and mochas.

Now that Lizzy thought about it, the girl was costing her more money than she was worth...or could afford.

Jessica pushed herself to her feet. "That gun's not real, is it?"

Lizzy had already put the gun away. She nodded. "It's real."

"Cool. It's probably a good thing you carry one, considering all the weirdos you work for."

Lizzy didn't know which of her clients Jessica referred to, but neither did she care. She also knew she should probably ask Jessica why her trip to Jersey hadn't worked out-boyfriend problems, lack of funds perhaps-but she really didn't want this "relationship" to turn into some kind of girly-girl, talky-talk social thing. Although Jessica had school and homework and family, underneath it all, she was clearly a needy, lonely young woman.

It took one to know one.

Lizzy didn't want anyone looking up to her, counting on her, confiding in her, because sooner or later that person might really need her, and then what the hell would she do? She'd feel guilty, that's what. And feeling guilty was right up there with always being cold. And afraid. It sucked.

Lizzy headed back to the front room. "So, did we get any phone calls?"

"Two. Mrs. Kirkpatrick from Granite Bay High School wanted to know if you could give a talk to three hundred students. And a guy named Victor called-wouldn't give his last name. He asked a lot of questions about hiring somebody to follow his wife. I told him we didn't do that sort of thing, but he's one of those guys who can't seem to take no for an answer."

We? The girl hadn't yet clocked in twenty hours and she was already using sentences with we. "Did he leave a number?"

"Nope. He said he'd call back later."

Five hours later, Jessica was gone and Lizzy was typing in her journal for the day. She didn't like writing down her feelings, but her sister had asked, make that begged, her to give it a try. Write anything you want, Cathy had said. Anything at all. Let it all hang out. Okay, Lizzy thought, here goes.

Day Five: I hate writing in this journal. It's cold and foggy today. Not misty fog but the thick kind you can't see through. I prefer the other sort.

This wasn't a journal-it was a damn weather report.

I really like the sign my sister had professionally etched on my door. It's real nice.

Lizzy chewed on her pencil as she thought about what to type next, and then dropped her fingers to the keyboard.

There's this girl taking my defense class. Her name is Hayley Hansen. She's tough. I like her. She reminds me of me. What's not to like?

She stared at the screen and tapped her fingers on her desk. She was getting really good at making a galloping noise with her fingertips. She sighed, and forced her fingers to the keyboard.

Writing in a journal sucks big wampums. How is typing "this sucks" over and over every single day going to help me become whole again? Was I ever whole? Who knows. Until next time, Liz.

Lizzy hit the Save button, shut off the computer, and breathed a sigh of relief. Writing in a journal came just under sitting alone in the dark when it came to the list of things she didn't like to do.

The screen turned black.

Cathy was right. Lizzy felt better already. Not because of anything she'd written, but because she was finished writing in her journal for the day.

Lizzy snorted and tossed the pencil into the jar. The phone rang. She picked up the receiver and listened to a man ask for her by name. "Yes, this is her. What can I do for you?"

Hmmm. It was Victor, the caller Jessica had mentioned earlier. Lizzy propped her feet on her desk. "Yes," she answered, "Jessica told me you called. I'm afraid I'm not going to be able-three hundred dollars a day?" She raised her legs and plopped her feet to the ground, listening to Victor rattle on about his wife and his daughter. Lizzy didn't do domestic cases. Mostly because they made her feel anxious, bad, and depressed. She did car accident investigations and product liability cases. Slip and falls were her favorite-helping companies deal with people who went around the country pouring oil on the floor, then slipping and falling and pretending to be hurt so they could sue large companies for even larger sums of money.

But a girl had to eat. And she'd have to be p