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“Stop it. Jackson is my world, and you know I care about you.”

“Yeah, just not enough to stay.” Ma didn’t have anything to say to that as Dad began to pace. “You’re really going to leave Jackson for some other man?”

She shook her head. “You make it sound like I’m abandoning my son.”

“Well, what are you doing? You have your damn bags packed at the front door, Hannah. You are leaving!” he snapped, which was something he never did. Dad was always pretty levelheaded and never lost his temper. He took a deep breath and lowered his head, lacing his fingers on the back of his neck. “You know what? Fine. You do whatever you want. If you want to go, go. But I swear to God, you better stay gone because I’m tired of begging you to come back to me.”

He walked out of the room, and my chest hurt so much. Ma grabbed her suitcases, making me leap up from the floor to rush over to her. “No! Ma! Don’t do it!” I cried, feeling as though everything inside me was set on fire. I couldn’t lose her. I couldn’t watch my mom walk out and leave me and Dad behind. We were a team, a family. She couldn’t leave us. She couldn’t go…

“Jackson, what are you doing out of bed?” she asked, alarmed.

I threw myself at her and began to sob into her arms. “Don’t go. Please, don’t leave me.

Please, Ma, please don’t go. Please…” I fell apart, pulling at her clothes as she wrapped her arms around my body. I shook against her and kept begging her to stay, but as she soothed me, she still pulled back a bit.

“Jackson, calm down, okay? Everything’s okay,” she promised, but her promise was a lie, because how could everything be okay if she was leaving?

“I’m sorry Tucker peed in the house yesterday! And I’m sorry I didn’t do my chores, but I promise I’ll do better, and I’ll take better care of Tuck. I swear, Ma. Please, I’m sorry. Please just don’t go,” I cried, trying to pull her closer. “Please, Ma. Please stay. Please…”

“Jackson, honey,” she said with her voice so gentle and calming, but tears fell down her cheeks, too. “You did nothing wrong. You are perfect.” She moved in and kissed my nose. “You are my world. You know that, right?”

“Then why are you leaving?” I asked, my voice cracking.

She sighed and shook her head. “I’m not leaving you, baby. I promise, I’m always going to be here. Over the next few days, you and I will talk, and I’ll help you understand. I just can’t stay here tonight. We’re…your father and I…”

“You don’t love him.”

“I…we…” She sighed. “You’re too young to understand. But sometimes parents, even though they really want to try, just fall out of love.”

“But he still loves you, so maybe you can start loving him again.”

“Jackson…you’re too young to get this. But do know that I’m not going anywhere. Not really. We’re just going to find a new normal. It might be rocky at first, but we’re gonna find our footing. I promise. Okay? You’ll see that everything will be fine. We’ll be even happier! And, sweetheart, I need you to understand that you did nothing wrong. I just need you to be strong for a little while and take care of your father, all right? Can you do that?”

I nodded.

“I love you, Jackson.” She kissed my nose once more and pulled me into a tight hug. “Always and always.”

She said those words, but then she still let me go.

She grabbed the handles of her suitcases and walked out into the thunderstorm, leaving us all behind.

As she left, I hit the floor and cried as Tucker walked over to me and licked the tears that fell from my eyes. “Go away, Tuck!” I shouted, shoving him, but he just came back, wagging his tail back and forth. He didn’t even care that I pushed him away because every time I pushed him, he came back. I allowed him to crawl into my lap because I knew he wouldn’t give up. He was so annoying. I wrapped my arms around him and kept crying as I held him.

After a while, I stood. Tucker followed right behind me as I walked into the kitchen where Dad was standing with his hands on the edge of the countertop. In front of him was a glass and a bottle of stuff that I wasn’t allowed to drink.

“Dad? You okay?” I asked. His body tensed up at the sound of my voice, but he didn’t turn around to face me. He only gripped the edge of the countertop tighter.

He sniffled a bit before downing the liquid in his glass and then pouring more. “It’s past your bedtime, Jackson,” he told me, his voice stern.