Annie grumbled as she hastily painted over a large AD symbol on the side of the building. It had been popping up everywhere since that night; she didn’t know what it stood for and doubted anyone else did, either, other than Paul. Maybe.

“Whatchadooin?” asked one of her girls, about fourteen. Her name was May.

Annie forced a smile. “Hey, sweetie. This mark is dangerous. We can’t have anything that might make people too curious.”

“But it’s all over the place,” May said.

“What is?”

“That. AD. People are making that mark all over town. There was even some kids putting a great big one on the barrier last night.”

“Were you outside the building?” Annie asked.

“Just up on the roof. It was clear out, and I wanted to see the stars.”

“May, please, you’re smarter than that. Girls are getting scarce on the streets. If anyone spots you, half the damned town could be peeking in the windows in an hour.”

May pouted for a bit, then: “What does it mean, anyway? AD?”

Annie sighed. “I don’t know, and I’m not gonna ask.”

“Do you think it’s Paul?” May asked.

“I hope not,” Annie said with a crease in her brow. “If anything happens to him, I don’t know what the rest of us are going to do to stay alive.”

A look suddenly passed over May’s face, and she gasped.

“What?” Annie asked.

“Annie, don’t erase any more of these.”

“Honey, I have to. It’s too suspicious.”

May shook her head. “Won’t it be suspicious to be the only building in town without that mark? Maybe more so?”

Annie stopped. She rested her hands on her hips and looked at the ugly brown smudge of paint where the symbol used to be. “Fuck,” she whispered to herself angrily. There was no way to win. She sighed and wiped her forehead with a rusty rag.

“Okay,” she eventually said in resignation. “We’ll leave it be from now on.”

“Oh!” perked up May. “You’ll want to know about the new recipe you wanted me to test.”

Annie nodded her head, welcoming the change of topic. “You were extra careful? Only tiny samples?”

“Like you said. Good thing, too. It did something weird.”


“It didn’t burn,” May explained. “It was more like a pop! Loud one. If we’d used any more, it would’ve woke everybody up.”

Annie brightened up a little. “Okay. I’m gonna give you a few more samples later on. Same recipe, just little differences. You let me know which one gives you the biggest pop for the smallest amount.”

“Okay. Is this for Paul, too?”

Annie smirked, “Now what do I always say to those questions?”

“‘You don’t know, and you’re not gonna ask’,” groaned May with a roll of her eyes.


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