Alcoholic parents treated Margarite as an unwelcome stranger, then left her at fourteen with her thirty year old autistic brother. At sixteen, things really sour, thanks to her brother. A medical researcher, Reggie engineers the ultimate plague. Fanatics seek to control him. The government pursues them as terrorists. Margarite witnesses ruthlessness, compassion, and competence she couldn't imagine from her brother, but the world needs a miracle. The best she and Reggie can do is wing it.
6 Ways to DieChapter 1~Margarite peered at the time on her clock radio and slugged the mattress. The discussion downstairs hadn't stopped all night. The inconsiderate jerks never made any effort to dampen either their voices or the periodic slam of the hallway bathroom door. And now that they were apparently leaving at five-fifteen in the stinkin' morning they sounded like a herd of prancing bison. She threw off her sheet, grabbed her robe, and headed for the stairs. She managed the tie around her waist by the time she reached the middle landing. The four men below quickly fell to a whisper, but their collective baritone resonated from the entryway. Margarite stomped to a halt and wrenched the angriest expression she could muster onto her face. One of the men with her brother gave her a glance over his shoulder but ducked as he turned away. She got the impression the men skulked, pulling the front door out of Reggie's hand and rushing outside."Reg!"He snapped the door closed and looked up. For an autistic unable to demonstrate emotion, guilt edged his face. "Using Dad's lab doesn't mean you can turn this house into an all-night frat house.""My lab now. Dad's dead.""Is he now? When did that happen? So you have the right to keep me up all night?"He triple blinked. Sarcasm soared over the man's head. Freaking genius, but he couldn't understand anger if you painted it on his chest and tagged the colors with numbers. "We got involved," he said. "Forgot you were upstairs.""Forgot!" Mar had to swallow away the pain her shriek caused. He isn't a moron. He can't empathize.She took two slow breaths."You're taking deep breaths," he said. "You're angry.""What gave it away?" Crud! No point in throwing sarcasm in his face."I explained that I noticed you took deep breaths."Mar walked down the final five steps to give her time to compose herself. Not fair I have to be reasonable. I'm sixteen. I'm not supposed to be reasonable.Reggie tilted his head back as she took her last step toward him. She grabbed his shirt at both shoulders and he flinched. That alone made her want to slap him—made her want to scream bloody mayhem. She hated he couldn't stand to be touched. All she wanted in the world was someone to hold her. "I love you, Reg." I hate you too. "But you can't invite strangers in the house for all-nighters." She tugged at him. He closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders in a flinch. "Please, don't.""Promise me you won't do this again." She looked directly into his eyes. He had to look up sharply to meet her glare. She got all of their parent's physical genes while he got all the intellect. The jerk."It was important," Reggie said, opening his eyes in a grimace. "They aren't strangers.""They're strangers to me. Mom wouldn't have put up with it and I won't either.""Mom's—""Don't say it." She didn't mean to shout.He flinched and pulled away, pressed his shoulder against the door and stared at the wall. It wasn't because he was afraid of her. Confrontation was the only thing he dealt with worse than emotion. The pain level rose in her chest and her throat burned. Her body vibrated with the old anger. Her hands shook. She needed to kick the stuffing out of crash dummy. "Doesn't matter anymore," he said. "At least it won't in a couple weeks."His pronouncements were always inappropriate. She continued to glare at him, her anger rising, knowing in ten minutes he wouldn't remember the intensity of her rant. The next time would be like the first, and he'd do it all over again. "I don't want to hear your excuses," she said. "I want to go to my room." She wanted to reach out and stroke his fuzzy cheek. No she didn't. She wanted him to take her in his arms. Wanted him to understand how he made her feel. An apology would be nice. She wanted to lash out. The welling anxiety made her flesh crawl. "I'm going to go for a run." She pivoted and rushed upstairs. Taking in a run with little sleep was the last thing her body wanted, but it would give her a way to temporarily expel the demons—if she ran hard enough. She owned all the emotions that existed in what remained of their family, and the responsibility dragged on her. Caring for Reggie the last two years made her feel older than she deserved. She hated that she acted like such a witch. Couldn't stop, step out of the role for a single moment. Why had she become such a hateful person? It made her despise her mom and dad even more. They had never cared about anyone but themselves. They sat on some flaming-hot rock in Hell laughing their arses off at her.In her room, she pressed the back of her hand against the glass of her window, though she read the exterior reading of her thermometer on her nightstand. Fifty-nine. Not cold, but if there was a breeze coming off the bay it would feel more like thirty-nine. She slipped out of her robe and pajamas, pulled on a sport bra, a tank, and a long-sleeved tee over that. She dug in her bottom drawer for a pair of shin-length tights. She'd rather sweat than shiver.Brassy snorted. The old Rottweiler's head hid under the bed. A hind leg jerked. She must have been having a good dream because her stub of a tail twitched. "No need to see me off," Mar said. The dog could sleep through a category five. But she was the sweetest, hundred-pound lap dog in the world. She barked once five years ago, and it scared her. She decided after that she didn't need to do that anymore. "Be back in a bit, sweetie."Mar pulled her hair together with a twin-bead-tie, grabbed her phone, a pair of socks, her Nikes, and headed downstairs. A muffled sound to her left made her glance over the banister. Reggie was in hislab. Didn't go to his room after all. She shook her head. He needed sleep. But she couldn't micromanage the man. He was thirty-two, held a job, and managed his own responsibilities, for the most part. As it was, she kept tighter control of him than their mom ever did. Why did that woman have one child, much less a second? Mar knew the answer, but it didn't soothe her anger. Reggie's autism should have ensured he'd be an only child. A decade and a half later, along came the big oops, Margarite Lynne, more responsibility than either parent wanted, and a serious distraction to their careers. Though neither of them ever changed a diaper. Full time nannies always covered that responsibility. Her sinuses burned in that way that threatened tears, which torqued her anger up another notch. Pathetic witch, feeling sorry for yourself again. She closed and locked the door and stowed her house key above the door ledge. She shivered from the chill of the deck on her bare feet. Turning for the steps, a flash of light caught her eye. Actually, it looked as though a light turned off, in a car in the street, a house up on the left. Curb-side parking wasn't allowed on their narrow street. Two cars could barely pass as it was without mirrors kissing. She studied the dark sedan as she sat to put on her socks and shoes. It wasn't her brother's visitors. She had heard them park in the drive along the side of the house when they arrived."People do whatever the heck they want," she muttered, wiping the bottom of her feet. "Better be out of there before Mr. Atherton wakes up. He'll call the Gestapo on you."Mar got her Nike's on and stepped back on the porch to stretch. She worked on her left Achilles when the front screen next door opened. The shadows hid whoever exited, if anyone did. Five-thirty in the morning. Who got up that early except irrationally emoting sixteen-year-old girls? She finished stretching and headed for the street. "I didn't know you ran in the morning."The air rushing out her lungs generated a squawk. Mar spun around and faced the shadow that spoke. "Geez! You trying to give a girl a heart attack?" The muffled bark of a neighbor's dog made her catch her voice. "Sorry," he said. "Thought you saw me stretching.""Shh," she hissed, looking at the Martinez' second story windows for signs of a shotgun sticking out. Their Boston Terrier stopped barking and Mar let out her breath. "I didn't know you ran." Watching Kory approach, a warm sensation ran between her shoulder blades. He wore a long-sleeve, gray sweatshirt, pants to match, but they were cut off at the knees. He didn't have to dress cool. It exuded from every pore. He was a senior at Plant, drove a ragtop, dark-blue Mustang GT. He might as well sing in a rock band. Short-cropped black hair, dark-blue eyes. Granite shoulders with gluts as tight as a knot. "I ran with my mom every morning since I was ten," he said. "Kept the routine after. Good cross training."He was a double-sporter too, wrestling and basketball. "After what?"He paused, before following her into the street. "Sorry. Forget everyone doesn't know."They stepped off in a slow, warm-up jog toward the bay together."Know what?" Mar asked."My mom was killed in a car accident about six months before we moved here."Mar jolted to a stop, anger ripping down into her fists. She took a deep breath, and told herself, he's not making a sick joke.Kory stopped two steps ahead of her and turned around. "It's no big deal. I'm over it, if it's something you ever get over. You know. Been almost a year.""Wasn't that," Mar mumbled. "Guess you don't know either." In the gloom, she saw him tilt his head back in a wazzup-motion. She pushed back into a jog and he fell alongside. "I lost my dad and mom the same way, two years ago.""Oh, man."Mar looked left and right, worried about stirring up more dogs. He said, "I assumed the dude I see you driving around in that antique Volvo was your dad.""My brother." She extended her stride and he kept pace."We talking about the same guy? Old dude. Forehead to the back of his head. Grumpy. Won't answer you if ya shout out a hello?""That's Reg—Reggie. He has socialization issues."He snorted. Sounded a little bit like something Brassy would do. "I'm Kory, by the way. We haven't spoken since the holidays when we were moving in."Like every girl at Plant doesn't know your name. "I remember. I'm—""Margaret, right?""Margarite. But everyone calls me Mar." Well they would, if anyone cared enough to call me by name.He stumbled."Gotta raise your feet on these old brick pavers," she said."No kidding. Stuff's horrible.""I'm glad they restored it instead of paving it over like they did in some neighborhoods. I think it's pretty, nostalgic."They ran without speaking for a half-block."Mmm. So—two years, huh? Sorry. My mom was hit by a drunk, July fourth weekend."The old, hot guilt shot through her chest and her eyes rimmed with tears. She blinked them away quickly. "Damn drunks.""Yeah.""At least my parents only killed themselves," she said through a tight throat.Nothing but their footfalls interrupted the early morning quiet as they neared the boulevard. With her admission of alcoholic parents, if he caught her reference, Mar figured any chance of being Kory's friend was in the toilet. They crossed Bayshore and picked up their run in the grass.Kory finally said, "So they were, uh—"Yep. He picked it up."Blitzed, as usual." Both stinking surgeons. You'd think they'd know better.Or give a damn.She extended her stride, lifting her knees high so she didn't kill herself on the dark, uneven lawn. She considered sprinting ahead to give him an excuse to get away from her. He caught up a moment later but didn't speak for a full minute. "So we're both victims of alcohol. Not like it was your fault. You sound as though you still have some—"They ran without speaking long enough Mar's discomfort ratcheted up. At least Kory wasn't one of those jocks who were all full of themselves and couldn't stop talking."Issues?" she finally suggested."Yeah.""My dad was a jackass. Never said a kind word to me his whole life. My mom was as disconnected as my brother.""Disconnected?" he asked. Mar felt the tension flow out of her body, despite the topic, and extended her stride again. The cool air was perfect for running. The tide was out. The ocean mugginess and the smell from the mud flats made her feel at home, comfortable, where she belonged. Bayshore was empty of a single set of headlights and nothing moved on the water. The lights from Davis Islands reflected off the bay like a mirror. She and Kory could have been the last two on Earth. It felt—sensual."What do you mean, disconnected like your brother?" He sucked in a breath. "How far you going? Don't know if I can keep this pace for long."Mar hated to slow down, but 'fessed up to herself, she liked her neighbor's company. When he got to know her, he wouldn't share that sentiment. Though the stride felt really good, she pulled back, and Kory let out a whew."My brother has Asperger syndrome," she said."That's a form of autism, right? That why I always see you in the driver's seat? He doesn't drive?""My idiot father pushed him to drive. But since Dad killed himself, Reg hasn't gotten behind the wheel. What a relief that is.""Why?" "Accident waiting to happen," Mar said."Can't focus?""The opposite. Focus of a steel trap, but only on one mental thread at a time. I don't know how he ever survived behind the wheel—or kept from killing someone else.""Mmm.""It was going to be Dad or Reg. Dad pulled the trigger first." Would Kory catch the full meaning of her expression? They approached Howard Avenue, which she usually turned up in the mornings for her shorter, three-mile loop. "How far you running?""Oh, I usually turn around somewhere along here," he said."I don't like to backtrack. Run up Howard with me?""Sure. I'm up for a challenge."She grinned, doubting his true sentiments matched the tone of his voice."So, does Reg work or anything?" Kory asked, as they crossed Bayshore and ran up the center of Howard. "He's a researcher at the medical school," Mar said, hoping she sounded casual. "Re—searcher?""He has a doctorate in microbiology.""Oh. Wow. So, he's, uh, what they call—""High functioning.""Yeah.""You wouldn't call him high functioning if you had to live with him."He shot a grin at her. "Saw a program on cable about As—Asp—"Asperger.""It just the two of you?""Yeah," she said."Can see how it could be challenging. You have grandparents, aunts, whatever, to help?""Parents thoughtfully left Reg all to me." Mar hated how her voice shot up, partially broke. She swallowed, wishing she could say it over. Maybe keep the emotion out of her voice in the redo. Reg had no emotions, and she was nothing but.A car approached and they moved to the right curb. Mar squinted against the glare of the headlights. The car slowed and her throat constricted, until a glint made the narrow bar across the hood stand out—a police car. The officer's window was down and he called a good morning to them. She and Kory called back. "Sorry I'm slowing you down this morning," he said. "You're holding your own. Besides, I'll run again this afternoon, sixth period.""You run track?"Mar had hoped he knew. But why should he? Boys cared about themselves, their own sports, and little about anything else. But since she was a junior on the varsity basketball team, with a school record on the track— But couldn't expect much from a guy. They were lucky if they managed self-awareness. "I have an appointment to Annapolis," he continued, ignoring she hadn't answered his last question.He was definitely self-aware."Read about it in the paper," she said."Yeah? Dad almost noticed. I'm following in his footsteps, but he doesn't seem to care that much.""Sounds like you have your own issues."He chuckled. "That obvious, huh?""So he didn't frame the article and hang it in the living room?""Since Mom died all he does is work. Out of town most the time."Mar motioned to the right. "Let's take Swann home.""K.""So, we're both raising ourselves," she said.He grunted. "Never thought of it that way. Maybe Dad feels I'm already grown and his job is done.""At least your dad recognized he had a responsibility to raise you." Mar's throat tightened, again. Kory looked over at her and didn't turn away for too long, as though he expected her to explain. Or he was counting her pores in the dark. To avoid his scrutiny, Mar turned to the right and watched a man and woman running wind sprints in the ballpark's outfield. He said, "Sounds like you need a punching bag, not a run."Mar barked a laugh."What?" he asked."Wished for that very thing this morning.""Yeah?" he said. "Why's that?""Had a fight with my brother. He's so frustrating. Sometimes I could club him to death. I tell myself it isn't his fault, but that doesn't help a whole lot.""I have a bag in our garage," he said. "You can pound it any time you want.""You have a workout bag in your garage?"That's something I should have noticed. He must not use it much."His name's Bob. I study karate. It's great cross-training.""You named your punching bag?"His smile glinted from the street light they approached. He cleared his throat. "Being neighbors, and all, maybe, we can ride to school together."Mar's stomach tightened. She visualized herself sitting beside Kory