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I rub my hands up and down my face, attempting to relieve some of the frustration I’m feeling. I exhale and calmly place my hands on my hips. “Negatively affected?” I say. “How can he be negatively affected by his own mother tucking him in every night?”

“He needs consistency, Auburn—”

“That’s what I’m trying to give him, Lydia!” I say loudly. As soon as I raise my voice, I stop speaking. I’ve never raised my voice at her. Not once.

Trey walks back into the room and Lydia glances from him to me. “Let Trey give you a ride home,” she says. “It’s late.”

She doesn’t say good-bye, or even ask if the conversation is over. She walks out of the room like she just brought it to an end, whether I was finished or not.

“Ugh!” I groan, completely unsatisfied with how that conversation went. Not only did I not tell her I want my son to live with me, I couldn’t even work out something in my favor. She always brings up “consistency” and “routines” like I’m trying to drag him out of bed at midnight to eat pancakes every night. All I want is to see my son more than she’s allowing me. I don’t understand how she can’t see how much it’s hurting me. She should be thankful I want to fill my role like I do. I’m sure there are people in her situation who would love for their grandchildren’s parents to give a shit.

I’m torn away from my train of thought by Trey’s chuckle. I face him, and there’s a smile on his face.

I’ve never wanted to punch a smile so bad in my life, but if there were a more inappropriate time to laugh than right now, I’d hate to see it.

He can see I’m not amused by his laughter, but he doesn’t hide it. He shakes his head and reaches into the entryway closet for his things. “You just yelled at my mother,” he says. “Wow.”

I glare at him while he attaches his holster to his police uniform. “I’m glad my situation amuses you,” I say flatly. I walk past him and out the front door. When I reach his car, I climb inside and slam the door. As soon as I’m alone in the darkness, I break into tears.

I allow myself to cry as hard as I can until I see Trey making his way out of the house several minutes later. I immediately stop the tears and wipe my eyes. When he’s in the car with the door shut, I stare out the window and hope it’s obvious that I’m not in the mood for conversation.

I think he understands that he pissed me off, because he doesn’t speak for the entire drive back to my house. And even though there isn’t any traffic on the way home, twenty minutes is a long drive when it’s this quiet.

When he pulls up to my apartment, he gets out of the car and follows me inside the building. I’m still pissed when I reach my door, but my attempt to escape inside my apartment without telling him good-bye is thwarted when he grabs my arm and forces me to turn around.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I wasn’t laughing at your situation, Auburn.” I shake my head and can feel the tension settling in my jaw. “I just . . . I don’t know. No one ever yells at my mother and I thought it was funny.” He takes a step closer to me and lifts a hand to the door frame. “In fact,” he says, “I actually thought it was kind of sexy. I’ve never seen you angry before.”

My eyes meet his in a flash. “Are you serious right now, Trey?” I swear to God, if there was any chance of my ever finding him attractive, he just completely ruined it with that comment.

He closes his eyes and takes a step back. He holds up his hands in surrender. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” he says. “It was a compliment. But you obviously aren’t in the mood for compliments, so maybe we can try this again another time.”

I welcome his departure with a quick wave as I turn around and close the door behind me. A few seconds pass before I hear Trey call my name through the door. “Auburn,” he says quietly. “Open the door.”

I roll my eyes but turn around and open the door. He’s standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest. His expression has changed to one of regret. He rests his head against the frame of the door, and it reminds me of the night Owen stood in this exact same position. I liked it a lot more when Owen was standing here.

“I’ll talk to my mother,” Trey says. Those words make me pause and actually give him my full attention. “You’re right, Auburn. You should be spending more time with AJ, and she’s just making it hard on you.”

“You’ll talk to her? Really?”

He takes a step closer until he’s standing in the doorway. “I didn’t mean to upset you earlier,” he says. “I was trying to make you feel better, but I guess I went about it the wrong way. Don’t be mad, okay? I don’t know if I can take you being mad at me.”

I swallow his apology and shake my head. “I’m not mad at you, Trey. I just . . .” I inhale and exhale slowly. “Your mother just frustrates the living piss out of me sometimes.”

He smiles agreeably. “I know what you mean,” he says. He lifts himself away from the door frame and glances down the hallway. “I need to get to work. We’ll talk later, okay?”

I nod and give him a genuine smile. The fact that he’s willing to talk to Lydia for me is worth a smile or two. He backs up several steps before turning around and walking away. I close my apartment door after he disappears around the corner of the hallway. When I turn around, my heart jumps into my throat when I see Emory standing a few feet in front of me.

Holding a cat.

A very familiar-looking cat.

I point at Owen-Cat. “What . . .” I drop my arm, completely confused. “How?”

She looks down at the cat and shrugs. “Owen stopped by about an hour ago,” she says. “He left this and a note.”

I shake my head. “He left his cat?”

She turns around and walks toward the living room. “And a note. He said you’d know where to find it.”

I walk to my room and immediately drop to my knees and climb inside the tent. There’s a folded piece of paper on one of the pillows. I pick it up and lie down, and then I open it.

Auburn,

I know it’s a lot to ask of you to keep Owen, but I didn’t have anyone else. My father is allergic to cats, which may be why I got Owen in the first place. Harrison won’t be back in town until Tuesday, but if you need to, you can drop her off there.

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