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“Well, maybe if you didn’t show up, tossing around comments about a cheating husband, people wouldn’t have anything to gossip about.”

And just like that, I was to blame once again.

“I’m not doing any of this, Mama. I don’t want to do any of this at all.”

“That’s fine,” she agreed, nodding slowly as she stood. “Keep thinking of yourself.”

“Someone has to think about me, seeing as how you aren’t.”

“What do you want me to do, Gracelyn Mae? You want me to have an outburst in town toward Finley? You want me to publicly humiliate Autumn? You want me to blacklist their families and make such a scene in public that Charlotte has enough gossip for months to come? We are not those people. We do not grab microphones and air our dirty laundry. I raised you better than that.”

“I had a moment,” I said quietly, feeling a knot form in my gut.

“We don’t get moments!” she barked, standing tall. “We aren’t allowed to stumble. How do you think your little antics affected everyone around you? How do you think it fell upon me? And okay, if you don’t care about me, at least care about your father—how do you think this makes him and the church look? People are asking how he can run a church if he cannot even control his own daughter.”

I didn’t have a word to say to her because I hadn’t thought about any of that.

“Your actions have consequences, and your choices affect others. So, you can keep throwing a fit and acting out like a five-year-old, or you can remember all you have been given, all that was handed to you by your father and me, and you can fall back into line, Gracelyn Mae.”

* * *

“Leaving so soon?” Jackson asked as he walked back into the bedroom after grabbing us two glasses of water.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I just…I have this stupid meeting at Charlotte Lawrence’s house.”

“Charlotte Lawrence? That gossip nut?”

“That’s the one.” I sighed.

He placed the glasses on his nightstand and crawled up on the bed, wrapping his arms around me from behind. “She’s batshit crazy.”

“I know, but after my outburst, my mom’s convinced I have to do damage control, which includes attending Charlotte’s events.”

“Bullshit,” he huffed, turning me around to face him. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I’m a Harris, and we don’t act out in public—that’s the rule.”

“Fuck the rules. Your husband was an asshole, and your best friend was a bitch. They deserved to be called out.”

“Maybe, but not by me. I don’t have that right.”

“Wow…” He whistled low. “Your queen really did a good job of brainwashing you into believing you have no power of your own.”

“You don’t understand,” I told him.

“You’re right, I don’t.” He dropped his hold on me and pulled back a bit. “You allow these people to control every aspect of who you are. It’s like you don’t even care,” he said, his voice sterner than I thought it should be.

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not.”

“It’s just one meeting.”

“You can’t be that naïve, Grace. Come on, you’re their fucking sheep, and you are walking into a lion’s den.”

“Why do you even care? I thought we were just sleeping together,” I asked him, narrowing my eyes in his direction.

“I don’t care,” he barked, his face red as he shifted his glance away. “Go ahead and be exactly what they want you to be. That seems to be working out great for you. You married the guy your mom wanted you to—perfect. You had the best friend your father probably pushed you toward—awesome. Everything anyone has ever done for you has worked out swimmingly. It would be a shame if you made a choice for yourself, wouldn’t it? But you must be too weak to do such a thing.”

“Fuck you,” I snapped, my eyes watering over.

“You already did, princess,” he snapped right back.

I leaped up from his bed, feeling like a fool as I collected my things. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am controlled by other people but look at this—the one time I do make my own decision, I end up with a monster like you,” I shouted, my chest rising and falling quickly.

“Yeah, that was a shitty decision. You should’ve rethought it.” He was becoming cold again; being with Jackson oftentimes felt like whiplash—first sour, then shockingly sweet, then vice versa.

He sat there snapping the bracelet on his arm, and then I looked up at his face.

“I came to you because you felt familiar,” I confessed. “I came to you because out of everyone in this town, you were the only one who made any kind of sense to me because you were no one’s puppet, but then you act like this. You snap for no reason, and I just don’t get it. You’re not a monster, Jackson, and I don’t understand why so often you find the need to act like one. I’m done trying to understand,” I told him before turning to leave. I reached his front porch, but when I heard his hard voice calling after me, I paused.