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He narrowed his eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Telling you about myself so I’m no longer a stranger to you. Therefore, you won’t feel weird talking about things to me.”

He almost smiled, or at least, I pretended he did. Every now and then, I imagined what it would look like if his lips curved up into a grin. I bet a smile would look so good on him.

“Why are you so set on trying to get me to open up?” he asked.

“Because, even though you don’t see it, I think we have things in common. Plus, you’re the only person in this town who makes me feel like I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not.”

“What are you pretending to be?”

I swallowed hard and shrugged my left shoulder. “Perfect.”

“I know what that’s like.” He spoke low, unease in his tone. “To have to pretend to be something you aren’t.”

He was opening up, slowly, quietly, softly…

Please stay open.

“What are you pretending to be?” I asked.


“But what are you really?”

“Lost,” he truthfully confessed, and I felt his words deep in my soul.

“Me too,” I told him. “So much, me too.”

His shoulders rounded forward, and his stare dropped to the floor, but no words escaped him.

I stepped toward him. “If you need anything—”

“I don’t. We don’t.”

“But if there ever is a time you do need anything, I’m here. Even if it’s just loading the dishwasher.”

He appeared so perplexed by my offer—almost angry that I’d say those words—but he didn’t say anything in response to my offer, which made me grow a bit uncomfortable.

“I should get out of your hair, though. I don’t want to take up your night.”

He nodded in agreement and walked me out to the front porch.

“I’ll walk you home,” he offered, his voice intense, but I didn’t take offense to it. It seemed that intensity was all that Jackson really knew how to be.

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”

He grumbled, and the corner of his mouth twitched. “It’s late.”

“We’re in Chester,” I joked. “It’s pretty safe.”

“You never know what kind of weirdos there are in small towns.”

“I think I can handle it.”


“Really,” I cut in. “It’s fine.”

“Are you always this stubborn?”

“That’s funny.” I grinned. “I could ask you the same thing.”

He almost smiled, and I almost loved it.

“Well, if you’re sure,” he told me, his deep voice still uncertain.

“I am but thank you for the offer.”

As I turned to leave, his sharp voice sounded once more. “Why didn’t you call the cops?”


“On my father. Why didn’t you call the cops on him like everyone else in town does?”

My eyes locked with his, and even though his words were hardened, his stare wasn’t. His eyes simply looked sad. Oh, Jackson. He was way too young to be that sad, that angry, that broken.

“That’s simple,” I replied. “Because I’m not like everyone else in town.”



He stuffed his hands into his pockets and released a small breath. “You’re nothing like your mother.”

That both broke my heart and healed it all at once.

We didn’t say another word. He turned and went back into his father’s house, and I walked down the steps of the front porch. As I made my way back to my sister’s, Jackson Emery and his father both stayed on my mind.

I said a small prayer for their hearts and hoped somehow their souls could find some kind of healing.



She helped him when she didn’t have to.

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t process what had happened the night before. Grace Harris, from the family I despised, helped my father last night. Why would she do that? Why would she reach out a hand to him and take him home? Shower him? Clean up his home?

She could’ve easily just called the cops on him. I should’ve been bailing him out of jail last night, but I didn’t have to do that.

Everything I knew about her family proved the opposite of her actions, yet still…

“Where’s the damn coffee?” Dad muttered, walking into the auto shop, scratching his beard. He looked like shit, but that wasn’t surprising. I was actually shocked he was up before five in the afternoon.

“In the break room where it always is,” I stated dryly.

He walked into the break room and went to pour himself a cup. I tried my best to ignore the small bottle of whiskey he dumped inside before he began to sip.

“How was your night?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Fine. I just passed out.”

Blacked out, you mean.

“Did you hang out with anyone?” I questioned him, wanting to know how much he remembered.

He cocked an eyebrow and sipped his “coffee.” “Who the hell would I hang out with?”

“No one. Forget about it.”

“Already forgotten. Also, clean up this room. It looks like shit in here. Are we running a business or a fucking dump?” he grumbled.

We weren’t running anything. My father hadn’t worked on a car in years. He used to be the best at it, though. I used to really look up to him before the liquor made him too far gone.