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No job. No friends. No family. Nothing to feel pride about.

“It will come,” she said to the mirror.

It has to come.

Since her release from prison five short days ago, she’d found herself exhausted by the constant stream of choices. There were huge, life-altering choices, such as what to do with her mother’s mobile home and belongings, her mother’s ashes, and should she attempt to locate her wayward father?

Options that kept her up at night, ruminating and obsessing.

Then there were the choices that should have been easy. And they would have been before—what to wear, what to eat, what to do with her hair, what soap to buy among the five hundred varieties at the drug store. Simple everyday selections she hadn’t made for seven long years. And even then, she had barely hit adulthood or taken responsibility for her own life.

The prison had mandated societal reintegration classes for those with impending release dates. Workshops on job interviewing, banking, résumé writing, and financial management—basic life skills she and many of the other women should have gained the typical way but missed out on.

But no one had prepared her for the overwhelming task of choosing. Even the simplest choices she’d taken for granted before felt monumental today.

Earlier that morning, she’d spent twenty-five minutes standing in the cereal aisle trying to decide between Chocolate Cheerios or Honey Bunches of Oats. Ultimately, she’d purchased both, mixed them in her bowl, and cried after taking the first satisfying bite.

The overwhelming joy of freedom came at the most random times.

“You can do this,” she whispered. “One minute at a time.”

It’d been her mantra since taking her first step outside the prison.

Hell, sometimes even that felt too heavy, and she needed to take life one breath at a time.

The outfit was fine. Even if it wasn’t, it beat prison orange a million times over.

“Time to go.”

She had a job interview scheduled in twenty-five minutes and wanted to arrive early. After one final glance and nod of encouragement to her reflection, Harper grabbed her keys, locked the studio apartment she’d rented on top of a fabric shop, and headed down to the car she’d purchased with the meager money in her deceased mother’s savings account. The vehicle was a hunk of junk manufactured years before she’d been arrested, but it worked to get her from point A to point B.

If she didn’t crash, that was. Driving was another post-prison challenge she hadn’t anticipated. She’d only been eighteen when she went to jail, so she hadn’t had many years of driving experience. After seven years of never traveling in a car, she found herself tense beyond reason whenever she climbed behind the wheel.

Even though no one in this town knew her or her history, she felt like a spectacle as she walked to her car. The few people she passed didn’t bother to glance her way, yet she still felt their stares of judgment and condemnation.

Look, there’s that woman who served time.

What’s she going to do now?

Does she think we don’t know what she did?

Her internal guilt and fears were pushed to the surface.

Movement to her left caught her attention. She glanced toward the distraction, peering through the window of a tattoo shop next to the fabric shop she resided above. A heavily inked man sat hunched over a prone body, working away on an elaborate back tattoo. His client wore earbuds and closed his eyes as he endured the needle.

Maybe she should get some ink. Something to commemorate her freedom and a second chance at life. Something about starting over.

The thought had her chuckling. If she couldn’t pick between breakfast cereals, how the hell would she decide what permanent mark to leave on her body?

She whirled from the shop and made her way to her car.

Fifteen minutes later, she went down a dirt driveway with a frown.

“Is this right?” she spoke aloud. The place looked more like a farm than a women’s shelter.

“You will arrive at your destination in one thousand feet,” the GPS announced in a monotone voice.

“Guess this is it,” she mumbled, though not entirely convinced.

Sure enough, in about a thousand feet, she pulled up to a gorgeous farmhouse that appeared recently renovated.

A row of motorcycles lined up outside had her brow furrowing. This couldn’t be right. What would all those bikes be doing outside a women’s shelter? Maybe they provided some type of protection. Still, it seemed odd.

A large German Shepherd scampered around with what appeared to be a yellow lab and another one that looked like a lab mix.

Harper glanced down at the paper where she’d jotted the address. It matched what she’d entered into the GPS, so there was no mistake there. The online job advertisement clearly stated the open position for a counselor was at a women’s shelter.

She might as well find out where she’d landed. Hopefully, whoever was inside could point her in the correct direction.

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