Disclaimer: Thank you to Janet Evanovich for creating wonderful characters and letting us play. Not mine.

A/N: This is my first FanFic. Please review!


Chapter 1

Date/Time Stamp: Friday, 14SEP18 0700-0830

Stephanie POV

Drive. Just drive. It was the dominant, all-consuming thought in my brain. I stood in my low-rent apartment, and I knew I had to leave. The rooms felt smaller as my breathing became heavier. Focus. I can't just leave. Everyone will think I'm running away, and I don't want people following me. I'm not running, but I can't stay here. I need a break, a chance to break down without an audience. To do so, I need to leave with at least an attempt at peace in my wake.

I numbly walk into my bedroom, grabbing a duffel bag, tossing in random clothes and shoes. Stopping in the bathroom, I am surprised by my own reflection. My curly brown hair is more askew than usual, the bags under my eyes darker and my skin paler. I sigh but make no attempt to fix any of it.

Stepping back into the bedroom, I give the room one last cursory glance. My eyes land on a familiar t-shirt. I shut them quickly, trying to close out the flash of memory I am trying so hard to forget. I need to drive.

I stop in the kitchen and decide to leave a cursory note. Grabbing a ripped envelope from a junk solicitation, I quickly scrawl,

If you've broken in, you realize I'm not here.
I'm taking an impromptu vacation.
I'll be back when I get back.

Good enough. Upbeat enough. Or maybe I'm just hoping it's enough.

I take out my cell phone and send a text to work, letting Connie know I have no outstanding files and I'll be unavailable for a few days. I don't wait for a reply before turning my phone off and stowing it in my purse. Frankly, I don't even care if I have a job when I get back. It doesn't matter.

I sling my bag over my shoulder, tuck my hamster Rex's aquarium under my arm, and lock the door behind me. I already feel my breath evening out. I'm doing this. I take a quick glance around my parking lot, breathing a further sigh of relief I see no one familiar. Starting up my early 2000s silver Honda Civic DX, I head towards my parent's house. This is the latest car in a long line of cars. I owned the previous one for a whole 38 hours before it went all fireball. I've owned this one for a whole 38 days, practically a personal record.

I can do this. I can do this. I repeat the words to myself as a feeble pep talk. It's my last obstacle.

The Burg radar is fully-operational, and my mother and Grandma Mazur are waiting on the front stoop as I pull in. I love my home, and I hate my home. Mostly, I am resigned. It's a brick and paneled side by side duplex typical of the post-WWII building revival that spurred suburban neighborhood development in Trenton, New Jersey and elsewhere.

"Stephanie Michelle Plum," my mother, Ellen Plum, begins before I've even entered the door. "Why are you here so early? Is it with any good news? Things I hope for every day are 'Mom, I've quit my job,' 'Mom, I've accepted Joseph's proposal, and we set a date,' or 'Mom, I've managed to go an entire day without bringing embarrassment to my family.' Edna Marino's daughter gave her mom great news today! She's pregnant!"

I look down at my feet and count to five. I have to face them to take this break. I can do this. Before I can reply, Grandma pipes in. "Why would Stephanie want to settle down with Joe Morelli when she can court that Ranger as well? They both have great packages!" My mother and I sigh in unison. Grandma Mazur came to live with my parents when Grandpa Mazur went to the never-ending all-you-can-eat buffet in the sky. My mother and I don't agree on much, but we do agree that Grandma's complete lack of inhibitions and filter make having a normal conversation, well, difficult. This entire visit has my heart rate up and my thoughts are narrowing. I want to leave. Mom glances at the cupboard over the sink, but I can see her resolve that 8 am isn't 5 o'clock somewhere.

Ignoring them both, I attempt to extricate myself from the conversation by getting straight to the point. "Mom, I've decided to take a long weekend. I didn't want you to worry. Would you mind watching Rex for a couple of days?"

She gives me a hard look. "What's this? Are you going with Joseph? Not by yourself? What will everyone think?"

I look her in the eye for the first time since my arrival and quietly say, "Please."

It's out of character for us. We usually fight, talk, and cajole in the loudest of terms with flailing arms and people stomping out. It gives her pause, and she thankfully, mercifully stops her relentless nagging.

"Of course I'll take Rex. Call us with updates. I expect you for dinner when you get back."

I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. "Thank you." I place Rex on the counter, hugging my mother and grandmother, and leave.

With each step, I feel an equal measure of relief and nothingness wash over more. I can be free. Now I can drive.