Disclaimer: Not mine, leave off.

Author's Note: O.k, even I can't believe how slowly this thing is plodding along, fingers crossed, it should start to pick up in the coming chapters. As always, thanks for the reviews and keep 'em sidling in.

"Do you eat, sleep, do you breathe me anymore? Do you sleep?" -Lisa Loeb -Do you sleep?

I had the optimism to think that maybe when we reached Texas and nothing happened, things would go back to normal and I would go back to Seattle and a Washington summer and friends- life in general. It turned out I made appalling miscalculations on the scale of how bad things could get.

We finally trundle into El Paso about a week after The Announcement, which always but always has capital letters when running through my head, much like The World Wars, or The Plague. My parents are intent on sailing on through and breaking the road up in good time, but I realise that since The Announcement, since before that, in fact, my existence has been a blur of night and day and fear and worry, and I have a sudden, undeniable need to know what the day and date I am living in is.

The odd couple are pretty lenient and pull over. It would appear that after the drunken escapades of Salt Lake, the parental guilt has increased threefold; my guess is that the social services thing has occurred to them too. Aunt Nina screeches her battered Toyota to a halt a little behind and, after a look from my mom, nudges Uncle Denny awake in the passenger seat.

We hit this almost deserted shopping mall, where I find a morning broadsheet and exhale in relief. It is Sunday, which makes it ten days since my mother and I first blew into Bakersfield. More than I thought.

I'm still chewing the latest news items like pieces of Normal Pie, when I catch up with my dad and Uncle Denny at an ice cream stand. They're talking about baseball, well; shouting about Baseball would be more accurate, yet I enjoy the hum of their voices and the familiarity of the topic as I slurp on the cone my dad hands me. My dad's a Cubs fan like my grandpa and great grandpa, my grandma says she can't figure out how I became such an ardent Mariner, try Seattle born and raised, grandma. Thinking of my grandma makes me wonder if I could get a spare second to dash off to a phone booth, place a call to Missouri, and explain the thing to her so she can understand. Then I remember she's deaf in one ear, refuses to miss even one night of bingo and most likely can't do anything to help me anyway.

My ice cream begins to take up most of my concentration, so I swing myself around awkwardly to find somewhere to dump the paper that has fulfilled its purpose of reminding me the world is still functioning outside my disaster area. My dad, still highly engrossed in a soliloquy listing the reasons why the Cubs will forever dominate the majors, broke off when he saw me flailing.

For a lifetime he just stared, and it took me a minute to realise it was the back of the paper that had caught his attention. I folded it toward myself to see, but my dad leapt forward and swept it to him with such force that I had to balance myself afterwards. His eyes scanned the print frantically and his forehead notched itself into deep creases. I manoeuvred to read over his shoulder, but uncle Denny held me back with a hand, I looked at him and opened my mouth to protest but my mom and Nina interrupted, strolling in arm in arm.

Apparently finished reading, my dad, eyes still on the paper but unmoving, began to speak in a way that sounded as though his mouth was swimming in dry hay.

"Lisa, you should.. have a look at this."

My mom, suspiciously un-uptight, smiled at him.

"Don't tell me, the Cubs lost again."

My dad raised his eyes from the page and cut off her good mood at the root.

After a frantic scan of the mysterious article, the adults moved off slightly and began to talk in hurried whispers. Even straining my hearing as best I could, they were inaudible. It had only just occurred to me that I could slip off and buy another paper when the war council broke up.

"Come on, Reagan, we better get a move on."

Alternate bursts of rage and disbelief ripped through my head- there was no way they could act like nothing had just happened. No. Way.

"Yeah, sure, we can go.. as soon as you tell me what that was all about. Seriously."

My mother reached out a hand to touch upon my shoulder, but I twisted myself away from her grasp- human contact had become somewhat foreign and unwanted to me of late. An alien concept, if you will.

"No- no! Don't try to pat my arm and tell me it'll be okay! Don't do that- stop doing that! I just can't.I just.."

Whatever I was planning to say, that is if I had planned what was coming out- my memory is a little hazy about it- was drowned out by the sound of my own sobs. My breath began to come out in those short rasps and my head grew dizzy- a feeling matched by disgust at my own, newly discovered, weak emotional capacity.

The two women looked on in sympathy, but to my relief, not one made a gesture that bordered on reassurance. My dad and Denny had their hands stuffed deep into their pockets and made a forced effort to look every which way other than at me.

Trying my dandiest to collect the itty-bitty pieces of my sanity that were now strewn across the beige floor tiles, I fled to the bathroom. When I had composed myself- a condition that came about only after five minutes of chanting "I'm me- I'm fine" at my mirrored reflection, and verified that no one had followed me- I slipped out again.

Suffering from an acute sense of pride at my undercover skills and a larger, more bloated sense of repulsion at what I had been reduced to- I somehow manoeuvred myself to that same newsstand and bought another paper. At suspicious glances from the disgruntled Texan behind the counter I managed to rip out the page that began the controversy and ditched the thick excess.

When I finally had the courage to ease the folded sheet from the back pocket of my jeans, we were a halfaways from El Paso, our destination. I was stretched out as much as was possible in the back of Aunt Nina's rust machine of a car- that wasn't really stretching at all- and curled up with my head facing the musty seat cushions.

It took a bit of straining, yet Aunt Denny was too immersed in a local rock station and Aunt Nina a little too asleep to notice. Worried that it mightn't stay like that, my eyes raced across the smudged print and accompanying photos trying to locate. well, I had no idea, anything that might seem catastrophic enough to conceal from a much beloved family member.

It didn't take as long to find as I imagined it would. Considering one side of the page was covered in cinema listings and times and the other nearly engulfed by an editorial on school meals, it was a bit of a no-brainer. After reading the small rectangle of print twice, slowly and staring at the blurred caption until my pupils burned in protest, I folded the parchment carefully and placed it once more in the safety of my faded Levis.

I closed my eyes, because it tempered the stinging sensation a little, and because they had been open for what could only be described as much, much too long.

I didn't sleep.

My body bounced softly along with the Toyota's tires as they cut a path through the dirt roads and disappeared in and out of potholes. My ears throbbed gently from the effect of Kurt Cobain and Uncle Denny's tuneless imitation of him. My head whirred and thrummed with the questions taking part in a procession across my frontal lobe- at the head of which, twirling a baton and blinding onlookers in a harsh, vivid display of colour- what in under God do my parents have to fear from a woman released under false manslaughter charges in Maine? Closely followed by an equally distracting- who in the hell is Mary Crawford?