The groceries filled up the entire trunk, but Helen Parr had never really been a two trips kind of gal. She threaded her arms through the handles, though she resisted the urge to stretch even as the bags pushed against each other. She didn't want to crush the bread and the bananas, but their new neighbor, Freida Glasgow, was a regular Mrs. Kravitz, always looking out the windows and spying on their house. She'd caught Dash sprinting to make the school bus a couple weeks ago, and since then, Helen couldn't go more than a few hours without seeing her beady eyes and beehive hair peeking through the curtains. If they weren't careful, their cover would be blown again, and they'd have to move for the third time in less than a year.

Helen pushed the last bag on her arm and closed the trunk with a grunt. The new house was larger than their first, and though it was much, much smaller than the second, it had an upstairs level, a large garage, and a decent sized lawn. The long, low roof swooped at a gentle angle from the second story all the way to the ground, forming a kind of asymmetrical, geometric arch over the front door. They could have afforded something bigger, but nosy-neighbors not-withstanding, Helen was happy with their purchase. It was inconspicuous in its ordinariness, surrounded as it was by dozens of other similar, suburban homes. They were close to the schools — close enough that the buses skipped this neighborhood and Bob would be picking the kids up soon. They were also closer to Lucius and Honey's apartment in the city, and though Dash had enjoyed the spaciousness of Winston's proffered house, Helen knew the rest of the family liked the cozier feeling they found here.

Once in the garage, she extended her wrist to close the garage door and push open the mandoor. She threw her keys in the bowl by the door and set off for the kitchen.

"Hello, Helen."

The low, lilting voice startled her, and the bags clattered to the floor as Helen retracted her arms and instinctually brought her fists up to her face.

There was a man on their new sofa: tall and rail-thin. His immaculate dark suit matched his greying black hair, and narrow blue eyes peered at her through a long, hawkish face. In his hand, he held one of her wine glasses, half-filled with red wine. He swirled the liquid and took a long, nonchalant sip, seemingly indifferent to her shock.

"Xerek," Helen breathed, the blood rushing from her face.

His thin lips curled upwards in a way that — a lifetime ago — would have caused her heart to flutter, but now it brought with it only terror.

"Miss me?"