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“I’m so—”



“Don’t say you’re sorry. I’ll see you soon.” I hung up the phone and turned to Judy, who still had a look of worry in her eyes, but I knew it was for Mr. Emery’s life. She cared about everyone equally because that was the only way her heart knew how to beat. “You can head home, Judy. I’ll be there soon.”

“Are you sure? I can stay and help…” she told me.

“No, really, it’s fine. Jackson will be here soon, and then I’ll head home.” She gave me an uncertain frown, and I reached out and lightly squeezed her arm. “Really, Judy. We’re good here.”

“Okay, but call me if anything changes.”

“I will do. And Judy?”


“Can you not tell Mama about this?”

“Of course, I won’t.”

I thanked her for that, and then she left.

I shut off the water and began to dry Mr. Emery’s hair, but he kept pushing my hands away and calling me names. That didn’t stop me from trying to help.

After I dried him the best I could, I went searching for dry clothes for him to change into once Jackson made it home. I walked into his bedroom and I paused at his dresser. A dusty framed picture sat on it of Jackson, Mike and his late wife. They were all laughing in the photograph. A beautiful memory snapped into a forever keepsake. I moved my fingers across it lightly and studied the family.

They once looked so happy and full of life.

It was amazing how tragedy could change a person forever.

I shook off the feeling of sadness and gathered Mike’s clothing.

Then I went back to the bathroom and waited on the floor, making sure Mike didn’t get sick and choke on his own vomit. He leaned against the tiled wall with his eyes closed, and his mouth parted. Every now and then, I waved my hand in front of his mouth to make sure I could feel his breaths.

The moment the front door opened, a wave of relief hit me. Jackson rushed through the house, calling for his dad.

“Over here, in the bathroom,” I replied.

He stepped into the room, and his eyes fell to his father. “Jesus, Dad…” he softly spoke, disappointment dancing through his sounds. He raced his hands through his hair.

“He pissed himself?” he asked.


He cringed. “I got it from here. You can go.”

“Are you sure…?”

“Yes,” he said, uninterested in any more words. “Go.”

I stood and gave him a broken smile. “If you need anything…”

“We won’t.”


I walked past him and then felt a small touch to my forearm. My eyes fell to Jackson’s hand against my skin, and my stomach flipped.


I forgot what that felt like—to be touched ever so gently.

I looked up and found his hazel eyes staring into mine. As his lips parted, his words somersaulted off his tongue. “Thank you for bringing him back here. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I did.”

As I walked away to allow Jackson to help his father change into clean, dry clothing, I had a feeling I shouldn’t leave him alone to deal with everything on his own. As he took care of his father, I helped clean up around the house, tossing the dishes into the dishwasher and throwing the empty beers into the trash can.

After Jackson helped his father to bed, he came out with such a look of distress on his face.

“He’s knocked out. I placed a garbage can next to him. Hopefully, he won’t need to use it.”

“I hope he’s okay.”

“Why are you still here?” he asked, and I wasn’t very certain. He glanced around the space. “Did you clean up?”

“Only a little. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. Are you okay?” I asked, nodding in his direction. After the words left my mouth, I realized how stupid the question was. Of course, he wasn’t okay.

“I’ll be fine,” he replied with knitted brows. He was repeatedly snapping a band on his wrist. So much so that his skin was turning red.

I hugged my body with my arms. “It has to be hard living in a place where you feel like you don’t belong. I’m sure your reasons for staying are valid, but that doesn’t make it any less hard. Plus, with the shape your father is in, that can’t be easy.” He didn’t reply, so I kept talking. “I know you don’t know me, but if you ever need a person to talk to—”

“I don’t,” he snapped, and when the words harshly fell from his tongue, his mouth twitched.


His bottom lip twitched. “It’s not you. I don’t talk to strangers, and it just turns out that everyone’s a stranger.”

“Except Alex.”

“Yes. Except Alex, and even then…”

I nodded in understanding, then swayed back and forth a tad bit. “I, uh, I’m Grace. I love puzzles, but I never finish them. I’m the worst person to take out to eat because I can never decide what to order. I think bananas are weird, but I love banana cream pie. I can’t do a cartwheel, but I can eat a whole pizza in one sitting, which some might find gross, but I find impressive. I still have my wisdom teeth even though they bother me during full moons, and—”