Raylorian Dawn
Author: Othello Gooden Jr.

Chapter 1
Blast from the Past

The Sun's rays shined through the domed city of Lunar-2, coming across Rliur City and first hitting a section of condominiums near the city's town square. There was a two story building on the corner. The light bled through the top floor of a small window overseeing the street.

 

Kayla grunted as the light hit her eyes and rolled over away from it. The girl fell back to sleep with a muffled snort, burying her face in her pillow. She felt something climb up into her bed with a panting. When Kayla turned her head toward the sound, she was licked in the face by a dog.

 

“Liz!” Kayla yelled at the dog in disgust while pulling it away from her face.  She dropped Liz on the ground and shooed it out her room.

 

The Border Collie whimpered. Kayla ignored the dog’s whining as she jumped back in bed.  Liz’s whimpering stopped a moment later.

 

Another sound woke Kayla. The sound was coming from under her pillow.

 

Kayla pulled her phone out and opened it to a text message from an unknown number on screen.

“Hi Anedra!” the message read.

“Who's this?” Kayla replied.

 

“My, you've forgotten me already! It's Makoto.” The reply read seconds after Kayla sent her message.

 

Kayla dimmed her eyes at seeing that name. The name Makoto brought back bad memories. She started typing her reply.

 

“What do you want?”

“To see how you're doing. It's been a few months since we've talked!”

“What makes you think I'd want to talk to you now?”

“Kayla, I said I was sorry, didn't I?”

“Sorry doesn't cut it, bub! After what you put me through—apology not accepted!”

“Say what? Just because you saw me with that one girl, you're gonna say its over?”

 

“That's not what this is about! I'm talking about that little trip to Del Rico you forced me to go on last year?”

“Forced you? HA! You came willingly!”

That answer angered Kayla. She gripped her phone tightly, grumbling.

 

So, he wants to play dumb, I see…” Kayla thought to herself, pausing from her texting.  She started typing again.

 

“And you almost got us killed if it hadn't been for Tai finding us! Why didn't you tell me Del Rico was that bad?”

 

“We came out in one piece, didn’t we?”

Makoto’s arrogance made Kayla angrier.

“Quit evading the question, jerk!”

“Calm down, Kayla, you're too emotional!”

“Emotional my foot—you and your sinful, evil tendencies!”

 

“Ha! Sinful? So he's finally persuaded you to live that rigid Neo-Victorian way of life! Look Kayla, you need to get out and experience life—stop living in that small world he's trapped you in!”

 

Kayla just looked at Makoto's message in dismay.

“My father once said Man knows nothing beyond his life experiences.”

“And what is that mumbo jumbo supposed to mean? Babe, stop speaking in riddles!”

 

Kayla paused, gritting her teeth with a sinister smile. Makoto’s ignorance always seemed to amuse her. “What's the matter? Can't solve them?”

“LOL! What has Crazy Man Earl turned you into?”

 

Kayla suddenly laughed at Makoto’s jeering.  She had heard that line from most of her peers in high school.  Makoto was one of them.

 

“He’s still using that pathetic attempt of pressuring me… I’ll fix him!” Kayla mumbled to herself as she typed her reply.

 

“Into a person that has reached maturity. While you’re satisfied with jumping from girl to girl, and just being a bad boy, I've turned my life around! There's a lot more to life than following your emotions, jack!”

 

“Look, baby, just forget all that and chill, okay? I just wanna make amends for any hurt I've caused you! I'm a changed man now!”

 

Kayla’s grin widened. “Gotcha sucka!” Kayla mumbled with a sarcastic laugh.

 

He never could recover from my cut ups!” Kayla then thought after remembering all the lame comebacks, excuses, and seemingly stupid replies Makoto use to make back when the two dated in high school.

 

When Kayla exposed Makoto for doing something stupid, he had nothing to say.  Yet he always tried to say something but it was to his detriment.  His alleged fake apologetic attitude made himself look like an idiot in front of Kayla and her female associates.  Kayla knew Makoto had an ulterior motive behind his apologies. She wasn’t buying any of it this time around. She gonna let him have it—it was going to be her revenge for all the times he’d wrong her.

 

“Changed as in what—Your physical age? I know what kind of person you are Makoto. I hope you get what's coming to you! Just don't try and drag me down with ya!” Kayla replied. She quietly laughed maniacally to herself.

 

“Woe, Kayla, don't call all that unnecessary evil down on me! If you didn't want to go, why did you?”

 

Kayla dimmed her eyes once again at Makoto’s reply.  He somehow forgot how she ended up going with them.

 

Kayla sighed, shaking her head. “Here he goes playin’ dumb again.”

Kayla continued. “Cuz ya kept bugging me!”

“So you gave in?”

 

“Seriously, I thought everything was going to be okay, and then the Elaine boys started lightin’ up the place with their guns and robots! You knew they lived in Del Rico all along didn't you, stupid?”

 

“Would ya just quit with the insults, babe? Just calm down and hear me out!”

 

“Nope!” You have a habit of breaking promises! Don't you understand I don't like you anymore? Go away!”

 

Kayla closed her phone up and threw it on her bed. She was awake now, but irritated. What ticked her off the most about Makoto was how he always evaded answering her questions. Especially if it was about something he did wrong.

 

“Not what I had in mind...” Kayla said depressively as she stepped into the bathroom that was a few feet away from her bed.

 

“Kayla!” Earl called from the foot of the stairs.

 

After hearing no response, he began ascending up the narrow staircase. The tall heavy set, Caucasian bald man stopped at intervals, out of breath while slightly panting. Liz barked, scurrying up the stairs passed Earl.

 

“Liz, move!” Earl yelled, grabbing hold of the banisters, staggering.

 

Liz turned to Earl, looking up at him in confusion. She started whimpering again as she tried scratching at Kayla’s door, trying to wake her.

 

“Kayla!” Earl repeated, this time banging on her door.

 

Kayla still didn’t answer. Earl pressed his head up against her door and heard water in the background.

 

“You takin’ a shower?” Earl yelled louder.

 

Kayla popped her head out of her shower’s metallic sliding doors while standing on her toes. “Yessir!”

 

“I made breakfast… Yours is getting cold!” His loud voice carried into Kayla’s steamy bathroom.

 

“Okay!” Kayla answered. She stood flat on her feet again and let the warm water run on her face. She closed her eyes. The water soothed her, making Kayla almost forget the pain of the psychological war she had with Makoto earlier.

 

That’s when a gust of icy cold water bombarded Kayla in the face, breaking her meditative silence. Kayla gasped for air, staggering to stay upright. She grabbed for her shower’s door handle but missed.  Kayla hit the ground with a thud with the floor rattling violently.

 

The stream returned to the warm flowing water a few seconds later. Kayla laid there on the ground, quivering with her eyes closed while curled up in a ball. The nightmare she had last night repeated in her head. She slowly rose, recovering from the traumatic recollection.

 

“Kayla, you okay?” Earl’s voice boomed from the bottom of the steps.

 

The sudden sound of his voice made her jump. She poked her head out the bathroom and answered him.

 

“I'm okay! I uh…” Kayla paused to clear her throat, “tripped on a bar of soap!” She laughed nervously.

 

Earl shortly laughed at Kayla's answer. He went back down the stairs and rejoined Marion at the table.  She was nibbling at a piece of toast with jelly. Earl returned to his plate with eggs, bacon, and grits. Kayla's plate had two giant pieces of waffles on it. A bottle of maple syrup sat adjacent to it on the table.

 

“If Kayla doesn't come down and eat her food, can I have it?” Marion asked with a grin. She tried hiding it from her father.

 

“Then what would Kayla have to eat?” Earl gave her a scolding look. He wasn’t in the mood for her joking. Marion had an appetite, even more so than Kayla.

 

“She doesn't eat breakfast anyway! Why—”

 

That’s when Earl backhanded her.  She looked away from him, ashamed from the slap.

 

“Don't you dare lie like that! Got that?” Earl yelled, pointing his right index finger at her viciously.

 

“Yessir.” Marion said apologetically. She slumped over in her seat and took another bite of her jelly toast. She was looking at him strangely between bites.

 

“Lord have mercy!” Earl said, looking heavenward.

“What?” Marion sounded innocent.

“Nothing.” Earl answered, shaking his head.

He gulped down a spoon full of grits and washed it down with a glass of orange juice.

 

Upstairs in her room, Kayla came out of the bathroom with a long towel wrapped around her body. Making her way into a walk-in closet, Kayla was looking for something to wear. After dressing in a pair of blue jeans and a thick white T-shirt, Kayla searched for something else but above her on the shelf. Her eyes shot open in panic as she found something out of place.

 

“No, No, No! Where is it?”

 

Kayla tugged hard on another box above her on the same shelf. It fell on her after she pulled a black scarf from underneath it. Clothes fell on the floor around Kayla.  The capsized now covered her damp hair. Kayla hit the ground with a loud thump and shortly yelled as the cardboard box fell on her. She sat there on the ground, stunned. Kayla started laughing as she recovered from the bombardment.

 

Earl came to the stairs again after hearing another loud thump coming from her room.

“What's going on up there?” Earl shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

Kayla stopped laughing with a fake cough and poked her head out her closet to answer him, “Nothing! Something just fell on me in my closet.”

Earl harrumphed upon hearing her. “You need to clean out that dirty closet o’ yours anyway!”

Earl returned to the table and finished eating his breakfast.

Kayla shook her head with a grin at Earl’s statement as she removed the box from her head. She began picking up the stuff that fell on the floor from the box and stuffed them back into it.  Kayla stopped again to peek at its contents. At the bottom of the box was a conglomeration of circuitry intertwined with a slender, full body leather suit. The memory of how she started this project came to her in an instant.

The voice of her mother, Mariana, echoed throughout her mind. “Kayla, I know you can!”

“But Taizo took me nearly a year and a half to build! You're asking me to build something beyond my—”

Mariana interrupted Kayla by placing a finger on the child's lips.  She smiled warmly at Kayla and said, “You doubt your potential my dear.”

“What do you mean?” Kayla asked with blinking, confused by Mariana’s statement.

 “If you can engineer a 9 foot tall robot, then you can do something quite like it again!” Mariana answered with her grin widening.

“How will I know, if it will be enough?” Kayla stuttered, overwhelmed with fear. The tall woman knelt down to Kayla’s level.

“A time will come when you'll be on your own, Kayla. Earl and Marion won’t be around forever.” She answered.

Kayla started crying after interpreting Mariana’s words.  She lowered her head at the fear of being lonely.

“I can't bear being alone again!” Kayla cried.

Mariana lifted Kayla's chin and looked deep into her brown eyes. She wiped Kayla's tears away with her free hand.

“Kayla, be strong, okay?” Mariana asked in a soft tone.

“But—”

“You've survived this long, don't let them win!”

“But without you I'm—”

“Have faith in yourself.”

Kayla started to panic—she wasn’t convinced one bit.

“How can I? What if you and Taizo fail? Then what are we—”

Mariana interrupted Kayla again by grabbing hold of her, shaking the girl slightly. “Kayla, listen to me!” Mariana yelled.

Kayla looked up at her with a grief stricken face.  She didn’t answer, averting her eyes elsewhere.

“Listen to me, please?” Mariana repeated, but this time in a consoling tone.

Her voice sounded more sad than usual. Yet there was a hint of disappointment in it. Hearing Mariana’s words in that manner got Kayla’s attention. Kayla looked up at her again yet still crying.

Mariana drew Kayla closer and whispered in her ear, “I know fear is a natural feeling but you have to trust me and in yourself… you have a rare gift!”

Kayla was puzzled at Mariana mentioning her rare gift. “What is that?”

Mariana chuckled at sensing Kayla’s confusion in her questioning. “Remember in your 9th grade history class and how you use to tell me about your favorite people in history?”

“Yeah, what about them?” Kayla pulled away from Mariana, looking at her strangely.

“Can you name them?” Mariana asked. Her warm words made Kayla stop crying. She wiped her eyes with her left sleeve.

”Archimedes… Da Vinci… Einstein… Dr. Warwick and… the Evanstons.” Kayla was confused. “I still don't get what you're trying to say.”

“What do they all have in common?” Mariana shortly laughed. Her daughter’s sudden lapse in memory was a bit comical.

“All of them were geniuses!” Kayla smiled.

“Do they not add to that list of people with a technologic affinity?” Mariana was patient. There had to be a way to boost Kayla’s confidence.

“They do, but I'm just a girl out of high school! I'm nothing compared to them!” Kayla said, still confused.

That’s when Marion broke Kayla from her trance-like state loudly yelling, “You know, I don't mind eating food that's icy cold!”

“You ain't touching her food even if it is!” Kayla heard Earl yell in the background.

“Okay, Hold on!” Kayla yelled toward the stairs.

“Just zap in the microwave!”

After quickly stuffing clothes over the suit, Kayla moved to the furthermost corner of her closet with that box and sat it next to a pile of old MCLT uniforms.  She continued searching for the thing that was missing earlier.

Kayla searched through the stash of silver colored shirts with the MCLT holographic logo on the chest area near the left shoulder blade. When turned to the side, the acronym was spelled out in small letters reading, “Madam Curie Lunar Tech.” That’s when Kayla saw it—a solid gray hoodie.

 “Here it is!” Kayla laughed. She smiled as she slipped it on over her T-Shirt.

By far it was her favorite article of clothing. Kayla wore it everywhere she went. Unlike Earth, the Lunar Colonies could control their climate conditions at the power plant in each “home sector”. Rliur City was the capitol of Lunar-2. Therefore, any complaints from any of the surrounding sectors about the weather were forwarded first to City Hall. If approved, the mayor relayed those concerns to the power plant’s Economic Control Department (ECD). Yet the ECD had undergone many layoffs in the past few years.

Kayla remembered a couple months ago about the ECD in the news. The Lunar Colonies came to a unanimous decision to terminate the ECD position and further stated that all citizens should regulate a favorable temperature in their homes. Outside, the temperature was always below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below that was a temperature too cold for Kayla. However, Marion, Earl, and Liz had no problem with it. Kayla pondered over this fact, stopping at her room's door to open it.

Liz was still at the door waiting for Kayla to open it. When the door opened, Liz leaped up at her with barking. The two walked beside each other, scurrying down the stairs and into the kitchen. Liz stopped at the entrance as Kayla made her way to the microwave. Earl had zapped it in the microwave a few minutes ago.

Liz was at the foot of the kitchen entrance, resting her head on floor while looking up at the three eating. Her eyes switched to Kayla heating her food up in the microwave. When Kayla’s food finished heating up, the girl removed the warm plate of waffles from it and sat next to Marion who was sitting across from Earl. Kayla began eating her food silently, looking back and forth between Earl and Marion between bites. Earl watched Kayla's eyes roam. As they met eye to eye, she quickly looked away.

“What's wrong?” Earl looked at her suspiciously.

“Nothing!”

“You wouldn't be pacing with your eyes if nothing was wrong!”

Kayla took another bite of her waffles, staying quiet.

“He's going to find out sooner or later, Kayla.” Marion instigated.

“Shut up, Marion!” Kayla said between bites.

“I know you're hiding something!” Earl assumed.

Kayla darted her eyes away from him and took a sip of her orange juice.

“Maybe… you got some disturbing news from Mr. Mackey?”

“Oh no… Here we go again… He's going down the list!” Marion yelled, faking her excitement.

Kayla began to chomp down on her food much quicker than usual as Earl continued in his speculating. She had to think of something to take his mind off the matter. “The album isn't finished yet.”

“That's not the problem.” Earl said, shaking his head—he looked deep into her eyes as his and hers met again.

Kayla quickly blinked, then dimmed her eyes at him and sighed.

“Why don't you tell me?” Earl sounded demanding.

Kayla stayed silent.

“She had a nightmare last—”

“OW!” Marion yelled after Kayla kicked her in the shins, shutting her up.

Kayla looked away from her father, trying to evade eye contact.

“Nope! I see something deeper in those eyes! More like… a too embarrassed to say, borderline lovesick, trying to hide it in silence.” Earl said, shaking his head again while trying to look into Kayla’s eyes.

Kayla dropped her fork and sighed. Earl figured it out. The thought of his near perfect detective skills always made her shudder. Earl had a way of telling if his daughters were hiding something, but mostly picked on Kayla for being quite the sneak. By trial and error, Earl would list the many possibilities to find out the truth. Sooner or later, one of his speculations would make his daughters crack. If they flinched or made some kind of nervous gesture, verbal or not, Earl knew he had them.

“Makoto called me again.” Kayla said in a flat tone, defeated.

“What did I tell you about him?” Earl looked at her with a frown.

“I know what you told me… But he just won't get it!” Kayla explained.  She took her phone out from her hoodie's front pocket and held it up in Earl’s face, showing him the texting between her and Makoto.

“See?” Kayla continued pushing her phone in Earl’s face.

“Alright, I believe you.” Earl said as his tense facial expression returned to normal after pushing Kayla’s phone away.

“Is he still the little punk we knew back in school?” Marion’s tone was sarcastic.  She grinned while sipping on her glass of apple juice.

“He still thinks I love him.” Kayla said and then laughed.

“He probably tried to apologize for being such a jerk.” Marion said sarcastically.

“Yep!” Kayla said, laughing at Marion’s correct assumption.

“Mr. Popular himself.” Marion said mockingly.

“And the most popular often have no morals!” Earl paused with a sigh. “Girl, that kid almost made me had a heart attack after you two snuck out to Del Rico last summer!”

“He scored one but no baby!” Marion joked. “At least he wasn’t a pig about it. Ha ha!”

“That's not funny, Marion.” Earl said, looking at her with straight face.

“At least he was decent in that respect but not in the areas I wanted!” Kayla said flatly and after she finished her waffles. “I really thought he was going to be the one.”

”At that age?” Early looked at her with a raised eyebrow. He then waved his hand at the thought and scoffed. “A beautiful girl like you is always the target those slick playboy types—especially in high-school!”

“Yeah, but I was a music and technology major. Those people have tons of groupies behind them at MCLT!”

Marion turned to Kayla. “Didn’t Taizo protect you from them?”

“Unfortunately, it only ran away the newbies, wannabe playas, and people I considered to be my enemy. But Makoto came before Taizo was built.”

“You could've had Taizo—”

“Daddy, at the time I didn't want to!” Kayla interrupted with a whine. “I loved him.”

“And you almost paid a heavy price for your naiveness!” Earl yelled, countering in a scolding tone.

“Daddy, what was I supposed to do? I told him to go away and he just wouldn't!” Kayla said, sounding helplessness.

“So you gave in? That's the worst thing a youngster should do against peer pressure!” Earl said while rubbing his chin.  He had a frown on his face.

“Daddy, didn't you and Mariana argue many times about her and Makoto?” Marion asked.

Earl groaned at remembering those days. It was one of the few disagreements he and Mariana had over the years.

“Yeah, Ryn… And she wanted to leave me because I wouldn't condone their relationship! Eventually, I won. God forbid if I didn't!” Earl answered.

“So how were you able to stop her?” Kayla asked, curious about the situation.

“I didn’t. I presume Zyra had said something to her.  Mariana just came to me one day and she was sorry for her faulty reasoning… end of story.”

Kayla moved to the sink with an empty plate and glass after she finished eating.  She started washing her dishes.

“The family unit is collapsing faster and faster—like a house of cards. Zyra knew that in these critical times, family is all society has left to survive.” Earl continued after a short pause.

“Destroy the family and you eradicate a nation.” Kayla said, quoting the words of her grandfather. “That’s what they want!”

Earl shifted his head at his eldest daughter and said, “Exactly! That's how Rome fell and many nations today have followed suit. The Lunar colonies and Zyra will crumble also if someone doesn't stand up and stop the ignorance!”

Kayla turned to him from the sink and said, “So it's up to us to make sure we stick to whomever we marry?”

“You two have a long way to go before making such a decision!” Earl said after a laugh.

“How?” Kayla said drearily, turning back to the sink.

“What do you want to do in life, play music? That doesn't put food on the table!” Earl sounded skeptic.

“But, Daddy, she brings home around $500 almost every weekend!” Marion yelled, defending Kayla.

Almost every weekend! On most nights, she barely makes a $100! Gas and electric is over 25 times that amount… Which reminds me… It's going up higher next month!” Earl explained.

“Can't she just play more?” Marion asked in wondering.

“Her choices are limited, Ryn.” Earl shook his head.

At that moment, Kayla dropped a glass in the sink, hard.

“It don't mean diddly if everyone in Lunar-2 doesn't like Latin Jazz!” Kayla grunted.

“You broke another glass, didn’t?” Earl cocked his head sideways at Kayla after hearing the sound of something shattering.

Kayla looked down to see a small nick in her thumb—it started to bleed. She ran her thumb under the faucet, trying to stop the bleeding.

“I got it.” Kayla said flatly.  She turned off the water after seeing her thumb stop bleeding. She used a paper towel to remove the broken pieces from the sink, and dumped the shards into the trashcan nearby.

“But I agree. Jazz musicians just don't make enough in this town. Why else do you think the vast majority of them live elsewhere?”  Earl nodded at Kayla’s remark about everyone in Lunar-2 not liking Latin Jazz.

Earl stopped to cough and continued, “Most of them listen to that debased Rap & Hip Hop, anyway.”

“I remember you told me about music that glorifies promiscuity, drugs, violence, and profanity was condemned back when you were little.” Kayla said, recalling a previous conversation of they had a while back.

“It was! But now, anything goes! I bet some kid could make a million dollars of a song containing every profane word in existence!”  Earl said in a joking tone.

His voice changed to a serious tone as he added, “Sad.”

“It takes skill to write a decent song.” Kayla said after a short silence.

“And unfortunately, indecency is the new decent of the 21st century!” Earl added in a tone of melancholy.

“Why is like that? Can't the mainstream let the jazz musicians have their share?”  Marion asked, looking at them both. It was something she still didn’t quite understand herself.  The unfair situation of musicians this day and age still confused her.

“HA!” Earl laughed at her naiveness. “The music industry moves also with the beat of greedy corporations! This world is all about inequality, whether you like it or not! Just look at all the hardships we've been going through… Mariana's death, my daughters not able to find a good enough job in this broken economy, the ECD is no longer in existence, the list—”

“But I like it at the Lunarian Jewelers!” Marion cried.

“Minimum wage is $10 an hour! The cost of living is three times the amount! The sacrifice is too much just to earn a living!”  Earl explained.

“But we're making it, aren't we?” Marion believed.

Earl nodded. “We are. But barely! If it wasn't for Kayla's income, yours, my SSI, and Mariana's severance check, we'd be living downtown with the homeless.”

“…And it’s super cold down there!” Kayla shuddered in a tone of shock, pausing in thought. “Can't we just move back to our old house? We didn't have to buy this place!”

“You know goodness well—we had to!” Earl argued.

“No we didn't! You sold it because—”

“What I do is none of your concern, Marion.” Earl interrupted her but then added, “But I'm sure the Lord will help us through these times.”

“There are some things he’s just gonna see if we can handle ourselves.” Kayla said, rolling her eyes at Earl's comment. He used “The Lord” and what he could do too commonly. To her, it was almost like a copout.

“But if you have faith—”

That’s when Kayla slammed her fist on the table, angered by her father’s religiousness. She felt was out of place and believed his reasoning on this matter was wrong. “Daddy, you expect him to get you through everything!”

Earl starred at Kayla grudgingly.  Silent at the moment—he wasn’t finished just yet.  He had his mind fixed on winning this battle. That’s when he thought of something, “Oh, but what about your blind passion to make it as a jazz musician—Huh, Kayla? Instead of finding a better job, your reasoning isn't too far from mine!”

Kayla raised her voice, pleading with Earl, “It's from a different perspective!”

“Don't you dare yell at me!” Earl yelled louder, pointing his finger at her and then added in a less aggressive tone, “What about you plan on applying for Zyra University on the space station?”

That’s when it hit her. Kayla lowered her head in defeat. Remembering her dream brought her back to reality.  However, after Mariana’s death, she lost sight of that goal.

“I… Just don't think I could survive up there.”

“Na, you'd do fine!” Earl said to her, enthusiastic.

Kayla shot her head up at him. “Away from you and Marion? I don't think I'd—”

Earl interrupted in a tone of confidence, “You and Marion wouldn't have a problem! Besides, there are more opportunities up there than here.”

Kayla shook her head. “Daddy, we can't leave you here by yourself!”

“I'll be okay!” Earl said fearlessly.

“You won't! Kayla and I have to force you to take your antibiotics!” Marion snapped.

“It will just be me and the Lord. I don't need no stinkin’ pills!” Earl was sure of his self. That’s when his daughters just sighed in unison at hearing the arrogance in their father’s voice.

“Look, Daddy, I don't want you in the hospital again… Like you were a year ago… And all because of you refused to take your meds!” Kayla said, concerned.

Earl just laughed at Kayla’s words as he got up from the table with his empty plate and glass, making his way over to the kitchen sink. He dumped them into the dishwater and started toward the family room.

“Yeah, so what!” Earl mumbled, turning his head back to Kayla and Marion. “Yall worry too much! I'm still living, ain't I?”

Kayla and Marion just looked at each other and then to him. They just shook their heads in disbelief.

 

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