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My eyes watered over, and my stomach knotted, but I did my best not to cry.

She frowned. “Are you okay?”

“Truth or lie?”

“Always truth.” She walked back around the counter and sat on the barstool beside me with her hands wrapped around her mug of tea. “So what’s the story?”

I huffed out a laugh. “Honestly, I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well, I never liked a book that started in the middle,” she joked. “So let’s start from the beginning.”

And so, I did.

I told her everything that unfolded with Finn, and when the tears fell from my eyes, she was quick to wipe them away. She didn’t offer any advice, and she didn’t push me with options of what I should and shouldn’t do. No, she simply listened.

Sometimes, all a person needed was another to listen to their uneven heartbeats.

When I finished talking, she gave my knee a squeeze. “So you’re not okay.”

“I’ll get there.”

“Yes.” She nodded. “You will. But until then, if you need a safe place to escape, you can always come here. Also, we always have a spot for you on the staff.”

“You don’t have to do that for me.”

“Yeah, but I want to, and you know my mom wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though I love this town, I know how overwhelming it can get sometimes. Plus, I get the feeling that your heart needs a break. So, if you want that break, you can take it here.”

“I might take you up on that offer.”

“It’s yours for the taking.” She paused and scrunched up her nose. “I always hated Autumn,” she told me.

“I wish I could say the same.”

Right as I was about to change the subject, the front door of the shop opened and in walked Jackson. He didn’t look the least bit intrigued that Josie and I were in the shop. In fact, he moved as if he couldn’t even see us. The way he traveled made it seem as if he was bored with everything in the whole wide world. He was simply moving to get from point A to point B with no real drive to even explore the idea of a point C.

A chill ran over my body as he walked straight through the set of wooden doors without looking toward either of us.

“Well, he sure is an intriguing personality,” I muttered.

Josie laughed. “That’s just the normal Jackson Emery for ya. He doesn’t really interact with people much when he comes in here—and he’s here every day.”


“Yup. One of our best customers, too. He sits in the back room for two to three hours reading, and he always leaves with new book purchases. I swear, most of the shop’s income probably comes from that man.”

“What kind of books does he read?” I questioned, curiosity striking me. You could tell a lot about a man based on the type of books on his nightstand.

“Only one genre—young adult.”

“Young adult? Really?”

“Truly. Weird, huh? He doesn’t very much seem like the young adult type, now does he?”

“Not at all.” Interesting… “Everyone calls him the devil in town, and when I crossed paths with him, at first, I had to agree. He was awful. A really mean person. But then…then there were moments when he was just so gentle. Like a whisper.”

Josie nodded. “Yes. He’s rough around the edges, but he’s not the devil—not by a long shot. But best believe he ain’t no saint, either. I don’t know much of his story, but it can’t be that easy of a read. His father is a handful, and Jackson is the only person around who takes care of him. His uncle helps out a bit, but he has his own tattoo business outside of Chester, so he keeps busy, leaving Jackson to care for his dad. I swear Mike Emery finds himself locked up more often than not from his drunkenness, and Jackson is the only one there to ever bail him out. That can’t be easy—having to be a parent to your parent.”

Josie was so unique to the town of Chester. She saw things and people in ways that no one else quite could. The same could be said about her parents. They saw the beauty in the ugliest shadows, and I adored that quality about their family. It took a special soul to see past others’ scars.

“How do you do that, Josie? See the good in everyone and find understanding for why people are the way they are?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “My parents taught me to zoom in, ya know? It’s easy to judge others from afar. It’s easy to look at someone from outside your world and make blanket statements and judgments on who those people are. Because when you see others’ flaws, you somewhat justify that your flaws are better than theirs. But when you zoom in, when you truly look at the person beside you, you’ll see many of the same things. Hope. Love. Fear. Anger. Once you zoom in, you realize we are all similar in so many ways. We all bleed red, and even monster’s hearts can break. Just gotta remember to always zoom in.”