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Ch. 1

July 16, 2009, San Francisco

Sixteen-year-old Emmy Burdick wandered into her living room and plopped down on the soft, red couch situated in front of the large double-paned window overlooking the front yard. She was overflowing with happiness; Josh Massey, the cutest guy in school, had kissed her! Oh my heck, she thought, dazed from the kiss. She didn't notice her mother's laundry hamper sitting next to the wall on the tan shag carpet, or the new pictures hanging on the beautiful, white walls; her mind was too preoccupied to notice any subtle changes to the living room. She did notice, vaguely, that the cream-colored lay-z-boy was on the other side of the room, as well as the reading lamp that was always next to it. A small square stained-glass table sat in the middle of the room, bearing a white vase with a small bouquet of carefully arranged pink and white lilies. Warm evening light from outside lit up the room, making everything seem cheery and welcoming and causing the table and vase to sparkle.

"Emmy?" her mother, having heard the front door close, called as she came into the living room. She smiled as she saw the smile and light in Emmy's eyes. "How was your date?"

Emmy's mother, Janice, looked like her daughter. She had the same cinnamon-colored hair and blue-gray eyes, and they sounded almost exactly alike; Emmy's voice was slightly deeper than Janice's, though. They were both five-foot three, though Janice always said Emmy would be taller than her someday. Like her mother, Emmy had a good sense of humor and loved to laugh.

Emmy smiled happily. "Josh Massey kissed me on the front porch." She sighed happily, reliving the moment. Josh's car was idling by the curb as they walked up to the small, white Venetian-style porch. Before they reached the door, he held her close, looked down into her eyes, said, "I love you," and kissed her gently on the lips. I will never forget that kiss, Emmy promised herself.

"I take it your date went well, then." Janice smiled gently, watching her daughter's face. They sat together a while longer, then Janice broke the silence.

"We should eat," she said gently.

Emmy sighed. "Ok, Mom." Still slightly dazed, she pushed herself off the couch, crossed the living room, entered the hallway and continued toward the kitchen.

The kitchen was similar to the living room; it had white walls and a large, square stained-glass table in the center, with another white vase containing pink and white lilies as the centerpiece. Two elegantly carved cherry-wood chairs were across from each other. A small window set in the wall above the stove allowed the last dying rays of sunlight to penetrate the room, seeming to make everything glow with orange warmth.

Emmy felt her stomach rumble. "Mom, what are we having for dinner?"

"Shrimp casserole," Janice replied from the living room.

Mm, yummy, Emmy thought, already tasting the hot, spicy shrimp, the soft, steaming broccoli and cauliflower, and the Cream of Chicken soup that was always drizzled over everything. Her stomach rumbled even more as she contemplated dinner, so she started making it.

A short while later Janice came in, helped her daughter finish making shrimp casserole, set it in the oven, and set the stove timer for thirty minutes. She then turned to Emmy.

"I need you to clean your room while dinner is cooking. You've put it off for days now, and it looks like a pigsty."

Emmy looked at her mother, her eyes questioning. "Mom, a pigsty is worse than my room," she stated. "Why should I clean it?"

Janice sighed. This argument again… "Because I asked you to, and you need to develop the habit now, while you are young."

"But Mom-"

"No 'buts,' Emmy. If you don't clean your room, you won't be seeing Josh Massey for two weeks," Janice stated, looking her daughter in the eye. "Please don't argue with me."

Emmy knew that look in her mother's eyes: no arguments or you will be grounded. She opened her mouth to object, then closed it again as the impact of Janice's words sank in. Emmy glared at Janice, anger seething inside her like a serpent preparing to strike. "Fine," she spat, turned sharply on her heel, and marched back through the hallway to her room.

Emmy stopped and scowled at her floor. Mom's right, she thought grumpily. I do need to clean. Clothes, books, and papers littered the bedroom floor, making it difficult to see the carpet underneath. Emmy's twin bed was pushed against the far wall, with the headboard touching the right-hand wall. A rumpled light blue quilt lay on the bed, evidence that she hadn't made her bed that morning. Her accessories rested on the cream-colored sill of a long, rectangular window just above her bed; the window itself had a thick white curtain partially covering it. The uncovered part of the window showed an orange-and-blue vista, with the yellow-orange sun sinking slowly beneath the waves of the sea and coloring the sky a vivid orange.

Emmy cleaned up her room, put her dirty clothes in her laundry hamper, and then took them through the hallway and the kitchen to the laundry room. The washer had her mother's clothes in it, so she placed them in the dryer. She then put her clothes and some soap in the washer, started it, then grabbed the vacuum from its place next to the washer and exited the room.

"Honey, don't forget to vacuum your room," Janice called from the kitchen.

"I'll do it after dinner," Emmy grumbled to herself, still angry at being told what to do.

Just then the timer beeped, announcing that the casserole was done. Emmy deposited the vacuum by her bedroom door, entered the kitchen, saw her mother removing the casserole from the oven and the table already set, sat down, and stared at her plate. She couldn't help tracing the intricate silver patterns with her eyes and, despite herself, feeling the anger trickle slowly away.

They ate dinner in silence. After she was done, Emmy rinsed her dishes and set them on the sideboard, vacuumed her room, then gratefully lay down on her bed.

"Emmy, did you start the dryer?"

Emmy's head turned toward the door. Janice was leaning on the doorframe, surveying the room. "Much better, Emmy, much better," she added with a smile.

Emmy stared at Janice in a tired daze. "What?"

"Did you start the dryer?"

Emmy thought back, trying to remember if she had started the dryer or not. "Uh…no, I don't think I did. Sorry, Mom; I'll go do it." Why did she have to say that right when I lay down? She sat up slowly, swung her feet over the edge of the bed, meandered to the laundry room, and started the dryer. In her tired daze she forgot to check the dryer screen, therefore she didn't notice the thick mat of lint on the it or think of the possibility that a fire might start.

Emmy wandered back to her room, exhausted from the excitement of the day and her anger at her mother. Wow, I can't believe how tired I am, she mused as she flopped down on her soft, warm, inviting bed. She smiled softly as she thought back on her date with Josh, and a giggle escaped her lips. Oh, crud. I forgot to vaccume... no, I did it, she thought with relief just before sleep claimed her.

Emmy woke in the middle of the night to searing heat and the sight of yellow-orange flames covering her walls. The fire roared all around Emmy, scorching her hair and skin with its intense heat. Smoke and burning air filled her lungs as she tried to breathe, causing her to cough violently as she flung her quilt over her body to shield against falling embers, staggered off her bed, and worked her way toward her bedroom door. She reached her hand out through the quilt and grasped the doorknob, but yelped in pain and pulled it back, nursing it briefly; the doorknob was unbelievably hot. Panic and adrenaline controlled her mind as she desperately searched for a way out of her room. The window, she thought suddenly. Emmy made her way back through her burning room to her window and crashed through it, heedless of the few glass shards that cut through the blanket and embedded themselves in her skin as she broke through it and landed on the hot sand beneath the window.

Emmy got to her feet and staggered away from her house. She collapsed on the beach after twenty yards, devoid of the energy to go any further. Darkness crept across Emmy's vision, and just before she passed out she heard sirens wailing somewhere close by. An image of her mother, with her amber hair and blue-gray eyes, flashed before her mind's eye and she thought, Mother, before the darkness overwhelmed her.

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