Today's Reading

She fumbled with her phone and scrolled through her contacts until she found a familiar number. She pushed it.

"Hey, you," her cousin Kristine said. "This is a surprise. I thought you had a date. Oh, Sophie, it's barely eight. You didn't dump him already, did you? I swear, you're impossible. What was wrong with this guy? Too tall? Not tall enough? Did he breathe funny? Hang on a sec—"

Kristine's voice became muffled. "Yes, JJ, you really do have to do your European history homework. The First World War isn't stupid or boring and you will need the information later in life."

Kristine's voice normalized. "You know he's going to come back to me when he's thirty and tell me I was completely wrong about the everyday relevance of World War I."

Sophie managed to find her voice. "Kristine, it's gone."

"What? Sophie, what happened? Where are you? Are you okay? Did your date do something? Do you need me to call the police?"

"No. It's not me." At first Sophie thought she was shaking, but then she realized she was crying so hard she could barely stand or breathe.

"There's a fire. Right now the whole place is on fire. There's not going to be anything left. It's gone, Kristine. It's just gone."

"Are you okay? Was anyone hurt?"

"No one works late and the cleaning crew found the fire, so they're all okay. I don't know what to do. I can't handle this."

"Of course you can. If anyone can, it's you, sweetie. We both know that. You're in shock. Look, I'm going to get myself on the first flight out in the morning. I'll text you the information. We'll figure it out. We can do this together."

Sophie stared at the hungry flames and knew she'd been bested. She'd been prepared for a hostile buyout or an all-employee mutiny, but not total annihilation.

"This is all I have and now there's nothing," she whispered.

"That's not true. You have your family and, knowing you the way I do, you have more insurance than you need. This could actually work out for the best. You've been talking about moving your business back to the island for years. Now you can. It'll be like it was back in high school. You'll see."

"I hate it when you're perky."

"I know. That's mostly why I act that way. I'll be there tomorrow."

Sophie nodded and hung up, then she opened the driver's door of her car and sank onto the seat. There were a thousand things she should be doing but right now all she could do was watch her entire world literally go up in flames.

***

The distance between Valencia, California, and Blackberry Island, Washington, was about 1,130 miles, give or take, and Sophie could make the drive in two days.

She filled her car with clothes, her laptop, two boxes of records she would need as she continued to deal with the aftermath of the fire, along with a large tote bag overflowing with pictures, blankets, a pet bed and a few treasured catnip mice and toys. The movers would pack up everything else and deliver it in a week or so. She'd sold her condo furnished, so she would only have to deal with twenty or thirty boxes of personal things. In the meantime, she would get by with what she had. It was, in fact, her new mantra.

Temporarily shutting down CK Industries had been unexpectedly easy. She'd hired an order fulfillment company to manage customer notification. Those who wanted to wait for replacement orders could do so, those who wanted their money back received a prompt refund. She'd offered to move key personnel with her to Blackberry Island and had received exactly zero takers. Still too numb to be hurt by that, she'd written letters of recommendation and offered generous severance packages, all the while prepaying four months of health insurance for everyone.

Her only friends in the area had been work-related and with no more work, they'd quickly faded away. In the end, there'd been no one to see her off, so several weeks after the fire, at seven on Friday morning, she fought her way to the freeway, then merged onto I5 north.
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