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He gave me his best puppy-dog eyes, and he knew how much I hated when he did that.

Alex was my uncle, my mother’s older brother, and he’d moved to Chester a few years back when Dad wasn’t in any shape to take care of the shop or me. He was pretty much the only person in the whole town I gave a damn about.

We were close, at least as close as I allowed people to get, which wasn’t saying too much.

His body was coated in tattoos, and if you found a spot that wasn’t, he’d be quick to fix that issue. He spent all his free time working at a tattoo parlor right outside of town. He had dark black and gray hair that he always combed back and piercings all over. If you passed him on the street, you might jump out of your skin in fear until he started talking to you about the latest avocado mask he’d discovered.

He was one of the most positive people in the world, and I was the complete opposite. But, at the same time, our connection made sense—we balanced each other out.

“My dad’s going to throw a fit if he finds out a Harris’s car is in his shop,” I warned. If anyone hated the church more than I did, it was my father.

“He won’t even know,” Alex said, shaking his head back and forth. “I promise I’ll keep our dirty little secret.”

“Your dirty secret. I’m not working on that car. I want nothing to do with it or that family.” The only reason I agreed to let the car stay was because I knew he wouldn’t give it up until he got his way. “But just to be clear, I’m not happy about this.”

“Just to be clear, you’re never happy, so I’ll take that as a good thing. Anyway, I know you and your pops got your issues with that family, but I liked her.”

“You like everyone,” I remarked.

“Yeah, but you gotta admit, she was beautiful in a way—even with the puffy eyes.”

He wasn’t wrong; Grace Harris was beautiful. She had long blond hair and wide blue doe eyes that were filled with fear and wonderment all at once. I’d have been lying if I’d said I hadn’t noticed that her curves fell in all the right places, but that wasn’t shocking. All the Harris females were easy on the eyes. They walked and talked as properly as a Southern belle could—except for Grace when she was falling apart. For the most part, they stood for beauty, charm, and elegance—on the outside, at least. On the inside, they had the ugliest souls, and I wanted nothing to do with them or their piece-of-shit cars.

I still wasn’t sure why I’d stopped to help her in front of the pizza place.

It made no sense whatsoever except for the fact that her breakdown reminded me of my mother.

“Hey, Jack-Jack?” Alex called out, and this time when I looked over at him, I saw the worry in his eyes. It was the same worried look he always gave me when he thought I would fall overboard. “How are you doing? Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said. That was what I always said when Alex asked me that question.

Even after I overdosed and almost lost my life over a year ago, I replied in the same fashion. I’m fine.

I was always fine, even when I wasn’t.

“All right. Well, hey, if you don’t want this car to be your new project, you should still find yourself a hobby or something to keep your head on straight. You still doing art and stuff? Maybe you should pick that up again. Are you dating? Maybe go out on some dates, or hell, knit a sweater—anything, really.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“I’m really proud of you.”

“I haven’t done anything,” I replied dryly.

“Exactly.” He nodded. “You haven’t gone off track and fallen back into your old habits. I’m just proud of you, and if you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

I shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Anytime, Jack-Jack.”

“Oh, and Alex?”


“Stop calling me Jack-Jack.”

I went back to the break room and grabbed a few slices of pizza to take over to my dad’s house. When I walked into his living room, I found him passed out drunk on the couch. Sometimes, I pretended he’d passed out from exhaustion, but the truth of the matter was the whiskey lullabies were what put him to sleep most of the time.

I tossed the pizza into the fridge and grumbled as I cleaned up a bit. Dad stayed knocked out on the couch, and every now and then, I’d wander past to check that he was still breathing.

There had been a time in my life when I believed my old man would live forever. There had been a time when he was my hero, and I had thought he could defeat any villain in the whole wide world.