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"Did you remember to pack enough pairs of socks?"
"Yes, mother. Seven pairs. Underwear too."
"Bible?"
"Brought it."
"Tablet and phone?"
"In my bag and pocket, respectively."
"Engagement ring?"
"MOOOM!"

Gwen batted him upside the head. "Don't mom me, cheeky boy! But I jest. Study hard, be good, and don't marry anyone until you graduate. Can you do that for me?"
Ed nodded. "Yes mom."
"Good. Get going. You don't want to be late, or I'll have your father personally head down there to whoop your butt. Love you, kiddo."
"Love you too, mom!"
Ed got in the taxi and waved as his mother disappeared from view. A pang of loneliness struck his heart. He was in for a very long four years. Would he find any friends there? Could he handle the work? Doubts filled his mind, and he shook his head to clear them away. He would succeed because he had to succeed. There was no question. Ed pulled out his phone and distracted himself with inspiring music by Tom Bergsen until the taxi came to a halt.

"We're here," droned the cab driver.

Ed paid the man and stepped out. Before him, the shimmering glass towers of Purcell University stretched out before him, while thousands of aspiring students crowded around the entrance. Butterflies formed in his stomach as he took his first steps toward the future. With the school map loaded on his tablet in one hand and his travel bag in the other, Ed weaved his way through the crowds to the stadium, where the entrance ceremony would begin shortly.
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Sofie settled down on one part of the isolated bleachers within the stadium, her small brown knit bag beside her and suitcase cradled between her knees. She sat with a certain nervousness, hugging her belongings in close and twitching every time someone sat down in her general vicinity.
"Lonely?" A smooth voice drifted down to her ears. She startled and whipped around to look at a boy around her age, arms crossed and smirking.
"I...No?" She responded. Her voice tinkled softly like chimes, almost seeming to silence the stadium racket for a millisecond.
"Bergson Somerset. It's nice to meet a pretty girl like you." He held out his hand.
Sofie quickly clasped his hands with her own, giving it a soft shake before letting her palms fall from his.
"I'm...Sofie." She cradled herself. He emanated a sort of danger, a sense of trouble that she had learned to detect before.
His hand reached out in the space between them before they made contact with a stray strand of blonde hair hanging in front of her eyes. He brushed it away while she stood stock still, afraid of any harm to come to her.

She needed help.

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Ed moved up the stairs in the stadium, with long lines in front and behind him. Finding a seat would be difficult. His eyes rapidly scanned each passing row, estimating how many people would take up each row to determine whether a seat would be available. Suddenly, one showed up, and he moved for it. Ed narrowly cut off someone going for the seat and sat down next to a girl. As he settled in, he angled his head to look at her from the corner of his eye.

She was beautiful. With soft golden hair glimmering in the light, a kindly face whose eyes spoke of intelligence beyond her years, and a figure to die for, there really wasn't anyone else he would rather be sitting next to.

Writers who go on about "love at first sight" don't really capture what a man feels in that moment. Reality is sillier, yet at the same time more poignant. The emotional side of Ed decided that sitting next to such a lovely girl could only be Destiny. Coincidences didn't happen; she was Fated to be his girlfriend someday. But his rational side slapped him upside the head and ten ways to Timbuktu for thinking such ridiculous nonsense. She probably already had a boyfriend. Who was he kidding? Pretty girls never stayed single for long. And even if she didn't, she probably wouldn't like him, or they wouldn't be a match. Chances were slim to none that he'd ever sit next to his Soul Mate by chance.

Still, it couldn't hurt to be friendly with her, right? You never know. Maybe it is destiny, and you just gotta seize it by the horns. Test the waters a little. He was about to strike up a conversation with her when he observed the boy sitting on her other side make a move on her. The boy reached out and touched a lock of her hair, an intimate gesture that she did not immediately repulse.

As I thought. She does have a boyfriend. He was about to give up when it occurred to him that chances were also slim that she'd find and sit next to her boyfriend in a crowd like this. He did a double-take. Her body language was closed off, not receptive to his advances at all. Could it be? This was his chance! He could be her Knight in Shining Armor and save her from the nasty man! Maybe this was Destiny after all!

But this was not the time for grandstanding gallantry. He had to handle this situation with care, lest he create more enemies out of thin air. Ed shivered when he thought he could see himself in the other boy's shoes. Had not he, as this boy had, got excited by the prospect of meeting a pretty girl? Could not nervousness have prompted such indelicate behavior in any other person? Armed with a modicum of empathy, Ed concocted a plan to rescue her without arousing enmity in his opponent.

"Joe?" Ed declared, pretending to recognize the boy.
"Um, what? Me?" The boy looked behind him, thinking Ed was addressing someone else.
Think fast. Ed "realized" that this wasn't a friend and feigned embarrassment. "Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else. My name's Edward Valentine. Call me Ed."
The boy laughed. "No harm done. My name is Bergson Somerset. Nice to make your acquaintance."
"Likewise."
The two guys offered a mutual two-fingered salute. Ed turned to the girl and introduced himself. "And may I learn your name, Miss?"
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Sofie startled when the other boy sitting close by decided to intervene.
Thank the stars that it had happened when it did. She immediately relaxed herself and decided she would find another place to sit, even if she had to sit on the floor. As she made to get up she heard the other boy say something. He was asking for her name.
"I'm Sofie." She responded abruptly, halfway out of her seat. As she scanned the bleachers to see if she could get another seat she decided that leaving would be rude. Should she sit back down or...she shook her head. Why was she so indecisive? She had just been here for a few minutes and she was already creating trouble.

Sofie had wanted to start again at Purcell but look at what she was doing. She was not going to be weak and silent anymore. She'd had enough of that in her past. She would make good choices and she wouldn't care about what people thought of her. She nodded to herself and slowly sat back down. She's fought so much to get to this point nothing in hell was going to lose her chance at staying here.

She fell quiet and thought for a bit. She couldn't do it. She couldn't even look at both boys, choosing instead to glance at them every so often. She was so weak. She hated herself for it.
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"I'm Sophie," the girl replied.
She has such a beautiful voice, too!
Ed saluted. "Nice to make your acquaintance, Sophie." He turned his gaze forward, happy that he got to talk to her, and that she talked to him.

And then never again.

She made no effort to speak to either boy beside her. Ed instinctively picked up on her terse response as a signal that no further conversation was to be attempted with her. Bergson Somerset, however, either didn't notice or deliberately ignored it.
"What brings such a pretty girl to a place like this?" he asked, eyes roaming around her body. "You could be a model if you wanted."
Ed winced. She came here to learn. Duh. And that model comment is so cringe-worthy. He glanced at Sophie to gauge her reaction. Considering her earlier silence, he surmised that talking to Somerset again wasn't a good course of action - she might not like two guys talking over her, and if one of the boys started getting aggressive, fighting over a girl they barely knew who was sitting in between them would be very awkward.

The best course of action was to wait and see how she handled this.

Maybe his concern was unwarranted.
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The silence between the three of them was unbearable. God it was so bad. Sofie usually had no problem with silence but the space between them was loud with a flurry of thoughts. She couldn't bear noisy thoughts, all that energy buzzing around aimlessly made her think back to her past.

"What brings such a pretty girl to a place like this? You could be a model if you wanted."

She'd worked to get here. She had worked so hard to earn herself a place at Percell, to brush off all of her past and to get to a point where she could finally be free and now this guy was suggesting she didn't come here to learn? That she wasn't capable of learning?
It made her mad and she knew what she would've done if this was happening a year or so ago. Her fingernails clacked against the bleachers as she tried to keep her anger in. Each vibration in the metal below her grounded her. She had to calm down. Her hands itched to get the swiss knife she'd buried within her boot but she kept still. Sofie could not blow up. Sofie wouldn't risk her future like that.
Slowly, carefully she responded "Thank you for complimenting me, but I came here to learn."
Then she faded into silence.

The Swiss blade's handle scratched against her skin as she moved her boot and she shuddered. It was so hard keeping it all back. What she wouldn't do to feel the blade slicing against skin.

She closed her eyes and breathed in deep.
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"Thank you for complimenting me, but I came here to learn."
The corner of Ed's mouth turned up slightly. Knew it. You tell him, girl. Of course she was offended; who wouldn't be? And while Ed wasn't the greatest at picking up nonverbal cues, even he could work out that her long sigh was supposed to be a punctuation mark on the conversation.

Somerset ignored that too.

"Yeah, me too," he replied. "I came here to study as a star trader, and it's amazing that you-"
Ed rose from his seat. He had to put some space between them, and Somerset had provided him a convenient excuse. "You're going into star trading too?" he cried.
"Yeah- yeah, yes, I am," he stammered. A scowl began to form. He did not appreciate his romantic overtures being interrupted.
"That's SO cool!" Ed crowed. "I didn't think I'd get to meet anyone from my upcoming class so early! Miss, do you mind if we switch places? I wanna talk to this awesome guy."

Bergson Somerset felt conflicted. On the one hand, he really hated this kid putting space between him and his conquest. Under any other circumstances, he'd have flat-out said "no." But a compliment like "awesome" wasn't a reward to so casually throw away. He took the bait and waited for Sophia to respond. Bergson prayed she wouldn't.

Edward prayed for her to take the hint and move.
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Sofie smiled a tight smile as she watched the exchange happen before her. And then the offer to switch places with Ed came.

She moved, touching Ed slightly on the shoulder as she did so as a kind of thanks. Acts of kindness had never been extended to her much before and she had vowed to herself that from her past on out she would make sure she’d give thanks to any good thing she came across, as they were helping her live one day longer.

Sofie sat down on the warm seat beneath her and rubbed the cloth of her sweatshirt between her fingers. She had still not taken off her coat yet but she was cold. She hoped it wasn’t rude not to take it off. She knew nothing much of formalities anyway.

As she sat there silently she let herself take in Ed. He held himself in a very noble manner yet seemed quite humble. He was handsome, she supposed but what really striked her was his eyes. Deep dark red. He was important she guessed, someone who was really distinguished from the common folk like Bergson.
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When Sophie touched his shoulder, he felt a pleasant tingle all the way down his spine. I was touched by a pretty girl! Yay! Perhaps it was silly, but for a smitten young man, it was reward enough for the effort he was putting in for her. Ed's arm grazed hers as he sat down beside her.

He immediately launched into excited conversation to hold the boy's attention as long as possible. "So, Mister Somerset, what got you interested in the star trading business? Was it freedom, adventure, a dollar, or something else?"
Bergson shrugged. "My father wants me to someday inherit the family business, a shipping conglomerate operating out of the Neutral Zone. He thinks I need to learn how to be a star trader before I "can properly understand what it means." He's a jerkwad, let me tell you. I don't see why I can't hire someone else to pilot things. Isn't that what money is for?"
Ed disagreed, but he knew better than to say so. "You have a point. Some of the greatest rulers in history got that way by having great advisors, not necessarily by being all that great themselves."
Bergsen splayed out his arms. "See? You get it! Exactly! That's what I've been telling my father all along, but he doesn't listen. Piece of work, that one."

As the two men conversed, a male speaker in an extravagant uniform took the podium. Silence fell over the crowds.

"Is this thing on?" He tapped the mic, producing an ear-piercing shriek from the speakers. "Yep. My bad." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and sighed.

"My name is Trace Wellborne. I'm a star trader. You're not. But if you work hard, you can be. That's what it's all about, see. Working hard. Can't make anything of yourself otherwise. Y'know what I mean? See, I'm a lazy man. I hate work. If I could, I wouldn't work a day in my life. Know how to make that happen? Work smart. Do it all at once so you never have to do it again. Procrastinate on procrastination. Think to yourself, "I'll procrastinate later." It's great."

"And you know, half the fun in business is getting others to do the work for you. Like, I mean, if you hate working so much, why not find someone who likes working and have them do it instead? And we all got something we like doing. I like games. I like them a lot. So you know what I trade in? Games. I play them, and I sell them. I sell them by advertising them. Like, "Hey man, I played this game, and it's awesome, so you should play it too." And then they do. Then I get their money. But clothes? Can't stand 'em. Hate the folding and the hanging. Hate the washing and the drying. Hate it all. But they make money. Know what I do? Pay a guy to do that stuff for me. Buy games for the out-trip, buy clothes for the in-trip, make butt-loads of cash, it's awesome. You should try it sometime."

"Heck, you could probably get away with not going to college for this at all. My handler will probably chew me out for saying that, but I'm still gonna. Yeah, screw you. You don't need to be here to make a buck. Got money? Pay someone to figure it out for you. Or don't. Learn it yourself. Tons of stuff on the 'net these days. That's what I like about this place, though. Cheap, good teachers, great experience. Take advantage of them so you never have to work again. Work smart. Okay, I'm done. This speech sucks. Bye."

He got a standing ovation.

With that, ushers directed students to the dorms. Room assignments were given out shortly after registration in the weeks prior, so the only thing students needed to know was where the dorms were located. Ed remembered his room number. B2224. The usher directed him to block B, building 2000. The ambient crowd noises dimmed as he got closer and closer, until all he could hear were sparse conversations.

2210, 2212, 2214... At length, he reached 2224, unlocked it with a wave of his phone, and stepped inside.

It was a window dorm, offering a great view of the the spaceport and the urban city beyond it. Unlike most dorms, the ones at Purcell were more like hotel rooms, each having a full-service bathroom, a microwave and fridge, and a TV (Holo-Vids were a bit expensive). The bunkbed stood against one wall, a desk on the other, a nightstand under the window, and the bathroom door in the corner.

Cozy.

The dorms had no cleaning staff, so students were expected to clean up after themselves before leaving college. While most complied, not everyone did, so Ed took it upon himself to inspect the room for any unpleasantries. After a few minutes of exploration, he located:
* a used condom under the bed
* a lone sock
* a plastic Ramen cover
* two candy wrappers
* three wads of hair
* and a chewed-up army figurine.

All of it went in the trash can by the door. The bathroom, too, was in very poor shape - he was evidently unlucky enough to get a dorm used by students who chose not to clean up after themselves. Ed located a brush, cleaning spray, and rag, and got to work. He'd finished wiping down the sinks and just started work on the shower when he heard someone enter the dorm.
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She listened to the both of them talk about star trading for a while before deciding to stop doing so. It was obvious that they both were privileged young men who probably just wanted a degree because their fathers had sent them to do so. If they failed they could still go home to their families and still inherit the family business.

If she failed... Sofie shook her head. She was going to maintain her scholarship, she was not going to fail and then when she finally got out of here she would make a name for herself. She would rise up among all of the other spoiled students and show them that somewhere out there was someone who became a star trader not for a family business but because she had enough abilities to. Sofie would beat them, would make them jealous of her for a change. All her life she had wanted to be them, live like them, talk like them, have enough power like them but she had knew it was impossible. Now she actually had the chance to.

An ear piercing shriek from the mic made Sofie stop her train of thought as she listened to the speaker for a bit. She stopped after a few seconds, choosing instead to check her orientation packet. Trace was spouting nonsense, that only resonated within people like him. It didn't apply to her.

When the standing ovation ended she followed the other students out of the stadium, checking her map and the usher ahead of her every so often to make sure she was going in the right direction. As she reached block B, building 2000 she stood outside of it for a moment, admiring the clean, modern architecture and the stream of well dressed students entering it. She let herself give a tense smile and then with a step forward she continued on into the building. She needed to find 2224.

As she stepped up to the door she realised it needed some kind of new laser detection smart phone to unlock. She didn't have one. She fiddled around with the scanner for a second, referring to her packet every so often. She needed some sort of AR code, one that was to be sent to her laser detection smart phone, if only she had one. Oh well. She let herself into an app on her phone and typed a few string commands

> ar request
>~ request activated; enter key?
> 1a56g63!74TY9hd!jsiw9289!heichenback
>~ key confirmed; location key?
> purcellu#"$754
>~ room number?
> B2224
>~~ Processing ~~~<
>~ accepted.


"Thanks, Moglet" She muttered as she swung the door open. Almost instantly she heard the small scuffling sounds. Someone else was in here with her. Wasn't she supposed to have a single dorm?
A hand crept down her boot as she flipped open the Swiss knife, walking silently to where she had heard the noise. Please dear god, she hoped it wasn't Father. Her hands trembled as she thought of Father and she used her other hand to steady it. Sofie nudged the bathroom door open from with her toe and lunged inside.
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Ed looked up from his cleaning to witness a lovely girl lunge inside, knife outstretched.

He froze.

"Sophie?"

Crud crud crud, this better not be the way I die! Please God don't kill me here. I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready. Crud crud crud... Ed gently set down the spray bottle and slowly got to his feet, hands raised. He kept the rag in case she attacked - it could be useful in a pinch. "I'm not an intruder, I swear. This is my dorm. Are you- are you my roommate?"
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Sofie froze in her tracks. Oh god. She closed the Swiss knife and put it on the small closet in front of the bathroom.
"I'm so sorry! I didn't realise! I...I thought you were someone else. I didn't know we had roommates" Her cheeks heated up as she scrambled for the dorm room assignment paper. It did indeed tell her that she was supposed to be rooming with Edward Valentine.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She flustered as she looked at the boy in front of her.

God, what was she thinking?
1x Laugh Laugh
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Sophie froze too. A moment later, she deposited her knife on a nearby shelf and pleaded, "I'm so sorry! I didn't realise! I...I thought you were someone else. I didn't know we had roommates!" She flushed as she scrambled for the dorm assignment paper. Seeing the truth for her own eyes, she apologized again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

Ed exhaled and brought a hand to his chest. "Oh my gosh, I thought I was going to die. I was...just cleaning up the place. It's not- it's not a worthy abode yet."

He paused. While pure forgiveness was an appealing concept, people tended to be suspicious if no option for repayment was offered. She would have to make it up to him if he wanted her to feel on equal terms with him.

"Want to help me? I'm still a little winded from the fright you gave me."
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Sofie quickly hid the knife as she fumbled her papers, slipping it into the pocket of her coat.

"Of course, I'm so so so sorry yet again, Edward." She shrugged off her coat and carefully laid it on the dresser, making sure to grab a dirty piece of fabric that had been left behind by the bathroom door.

She walked over to the sink and rinsed the dust and black splotches off of the coarse material as she kneeled on the floor and started to scrub. The smell of lemon spray, the gleam of the white tiles and the scratch of the cloth against her palm reminded her of something...something she'd rather not experience again. She closed her eyes and squeezed them tight, taking in quick deep breaths. Her hands stilled on the cloth and she sunk down deeper onto the tiles.
Sofie had to compose herself or he would know that something was wrong with her.

She didn't know what to say, as she was not one for words and everything about the moment made her want to crawl into the corner and give up, crying. Sofie licked her dry lips and ran them between her straight, white teeth. What could she say?
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Ed resumed cleaning the shower grime. "So, Sophie, was it? What's your surname? Where are you from?
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"My surname is Heichenback. What do your parents do?"
Sofie steered the topic away from where she was from. She could've lied easily but for some reason being around the gaze of his dark red eyes made her rethink her abilities.
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"Sophie Heichenback? Great name. My mom is a part-time Ambassador for the Empire, a "cushy job," as she puts it, though considering that she often leaves with a concealed weapom and comes back with mysterious holes in her uniform, I'd say she does more than that. Dad helps run the family business in her absence. I love 'em both to death."

He finished scrubbing the shower floor and removed the drain stopper. "Be right back."

He came back with a clean stopper and a disgusted expression. "You don't want to know what was on this thing. Anyway, what about your parents? What do they do?"
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He was rich, that Sofie could guess. He was also quite close to his family and didn't feel shy to proclaim his love to them, something fairly uncommon in people of their age. She mulled this over as he went out of the room.

"You don't want to know what was on this thing. Anyway, what about your parents? What do they do?"

Sofie wanted to avoid talks of her parents as much as possible and now she'd been stupid enough to give him an opening. She'd have to lie and hope he didn't catch her out on it.

"They run a small bakery, I'm here on a scholarship."
She avoided his eyes as she said it, mentally berating herself for doing so. She had already lied so much in the past to seasoned professionals yet now in the presence of a spoiled teen boy she could not even look him in the eye while she said it.

Sofie was out of practice, she reasoned to herself as she stood up. She was done with her cleaning.
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Sofie averted her eyes. "They run a small bakery. I'm here on a scholarship."

Is she...being too modest? Could it actually be a major bakery chain? Now curious, Ed decided to ask her about it when they were done cleaning. Once the rags went in the laundry basket and spray bottle in the cabinet, Ed shuffled to the bed and collapsed on it.

"Unnngh it feels so good..." he moaned. A moment later, he sniffled. "Eugh, too bad it stinks. I should do the linens too." Ed ripped the sheets off the beds and piled them over his arms. He gestured to the mattresses and asked, "Can you please spray those down with the cleaning spray while I take these to the laundry room? I'll be back in a minute."

Ed closed the door behind him and smiled. She's an interesting one. Maybe I should give her another chance, he mused as he navigated to the laundry room. Unbeknownst to him, another girl watched him from the shadows while he piled the linens into a washing machine. Ed loaded detergent and set it for an hour of heavy washing before returning to the room.

This time, he made sure to knock first. "It's me! Coming in." Once inside, he sat down against the side of the bed and closed his eyes.

"I think that's everything..."
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Sofie brushed her hair behind her ears as she sprayed the mattresses with the cleaning spray. She'd have to make up the earlier knife wielding scare with Ed, but she didn't know what to do. But seeing him, she supposed it wouldn't have to be such a big trade off. She'd dealt in many different pay backs before and she had the feeling that this one wouldn't be as bad as all her others. Sofie chuckled as she set the spray down.

While Ed was away Sofie decided to call Moglet. She had to update him with everything that was going on.

"What's up, Sofe?" The smooth but raspy voice on the other end made her break into a smile.
"Hey, Mog! I've reached the school and everything."
"Yeah, I know. I've been checking the Unlocker logs. I saw your entry for room B2224. You been sneaking around? Stealing stuff?" He laughed. Oh god, Sofie missed that laugh.
"It was my own room." She grinned again, expecting another laugh, which Moglet delivered.
"Sofie, I never knew you were that smart!" This time Sofie let herself give a tiny giggle.
"The anger's come back again. I wanted to harm someone a few hours ago, it was just my instinct to want to do it." Her voice was much more serious now.
"Sofie, stop letting it take over you. I have my moments too, you know? But what do I do? I tell myself how inhumane that is and I feel guilty for thinking it. The next time I feel that anger I remind myself that I am safe and it's only my useless instincts talking and it subsides."
"Mmmmm..." She bites her nails, shifting on the barren mattress.
"Sofie? Sofie."
"Yeah, I'm still here."
"You listen to me okay? You're safe. You're safe, okay, Sofie? Nothing will hurt you ever again. You get that right?"
"Yes."
"And all that leftover anger from your past, all those things that you had to do to survive, you have to let that go because you don't need those instincts anymore. Those instincts and reactions will only hurt people who have done nothing to you..."
"Uhm, I've got to go now, Sofie."
"I miss you so much." She whispered.
"Me too, Sofe, me too. You stay safe out there okay?"
"Okay"

Sofie turned off her phone and brushed a couple of tears from her eyes. She was starting to turn weaker and weaker everyday. Sofie back then wouldn't have cried.

She startled when she heard the knock on the door and looked on as Ed came in and sat next to her.
"I think that's everything..."
She nodded and rose from the bed. She was going to unpack and get settled in.
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