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He shifted around in his running shoes. “I just wanted to apologize for snapping. I took it out on the wrong person, and it was idiotic of me to believe you had anything to do with Karla and her evil plan.”

I smiled, but I was sure he saw the sadness in the curve of my lips. “Thank you for the apology.”

He nodded and lifted the cup on the railing. “I made you coffee. Two sugars, one pump of vanilla, extra cream.”

My heart skipped a little as I stared his way. “You remembered my favorite coffee from when we were younger?”

“No. I just notice you making it every morning in the kitchen.”

Oh. Of course. What an odd thing to even think, Eleanor. Of course he didn’t remember my favorite coffee. The fact that he noticed me each day hadn’t gone unnoted, though. Even more so, him handing me that mug felt a bit like a peace offering.

“Thank you,” I said, taking the mug from his hands.

“No, thank you. I know I can…” He paused and released a weighted breath. “I know I’m hard to be around.”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not. I’ve never been the best at this stuff—being a father. I work hard, and long, and whenever I come home, I’m checked out. It was like that before the accident, but at least then, I had Nicole there to balance me, to be the calmness to my storm. Now…without her…” He brushed his thumb against his nose. “It’s just that I don’t know how to do this,” he confessed.

“Do what?”

He lowered his head and when he looked back up, I witnessed the saddest expression I’d ever seen in all my life. His face was pale as if all life had been sucked out of him.

He parted his lips and softly spoke, “Live in a world where she doesn’t exist.” His eyes looked as if his whole world was set on fire. They watered over and he shook his head once, trying to pull his emotions back together. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. What you went through—what you’re going through is one of the hardest things anyone ever has to deal with. And it’s still so fresh, Greyson. Those hurts are still so new. It’s not shocking that you feel completely lost,” I said, reaching out to him. I placed my hand on his forearm, and I felt his body slightly shaking from his nerves. He was so far from okay, and I was almost certain he wouldn’t be all right for a very long time.

“It’s fine, I’m fine,” he lied as he removed my hand from his arm. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I just wanted to say sorry for being so rude toward you. You don’t deserve it, Ellie, not at all.”

He’d called me Ellie, and I didn’t think he’d even noticed the slip of his tongue.

I smiled. “It’s okay, really. I get it.”

“Even though you get it, you don’t deserve it.”

I didn’t know what else to say, and it seemed neither did he.

He turned to walk back into the house then paused for a moment before turning back toward me. “Every single day…I worry about Karla every single day of my life.”

That morning, everything went back to the normal routine, except this time, I personally walked Karla into the school building. She definitely wasn’t thrilled about the idea, that was for sure.

“This is humiliating,” Karla whispered, hunched over, trying her best to make herself disappear.

“Yeah, well, you should’ve thought about this before planning a make-believe trip,” I replied as we stepped through the front doors.

“Yeah, whatever. Can you go now?” she muttered, grumbling under her breath. “This is so uncool, Eleanor.”

I’d never been happier to be labeled as uncool in my life. “No. First we are going to stop by the front office to clear up a few things.”

“Everything has been cleared up,” a voice said, making us both look up to see Greyson walking out of the main office.

“Dad,” Karla groaned, slapping her hand to her forehead. “What are you doing here?”

“Doing my job as a parent,” he commented back to her.

“That’s a first,” Karla sassed.

Harsh, yet perhaps true…

“Everything’s in order. Plus, I signed you up for some extra credit in every class,” he told her, standing tall.

“Extra credit?!” she hissed, her nose flaring wide. “But I did the homework!”

“Yes, you did—after lying for weeks to do God knows what on your own time. You made a choice the moment you forged that paperwork, Karla. Now I’m making a choice to keep you from thinking about ever doing something like this again. Unless…”

“Unless what?” she asked.

“Unless you tell me where you’ve been going every day,” Greyson said.

Karla’s eyes watered over and she shook her head. “This is bullshit!” she shouted.

“Language,” Greyson and I said in union.

I smiled at him.

He didn’t smile back.

It seemed things were back to normal.

“Don’t you have a meeting or some crap to get to? Can’t you just leave me alone?” she asked.

Greyson glanced at his watch and nodded. “As a matter of fact, I do.” Then those eyes looked at me. “Thank you for bringing her to school today, Eleanor. If you could please take her to room 102 for her science class, that would be great.”

Oh, he was really playing up the embarrassing father routine.

“Of course, Mr. East,” I replied.

“It’s Mr. Ea—” He stopped his, realizing I had indeed called him by his last name. “Right, of course. Well, then, goodbye.”

He walked off and I continued walking Karla to her first class, even though she was completely against the idea.

“I hate when he does that,” she complained.

“Does what?”

“Tries to act like my father.”

“He is your father.”

“You’ve been with us for almost two months now—tell me how much parenting you’ve actually seen.”

She wasn’t wrong. Just as I was about to drop her off at her classroom, another student walked up and paused in front of us. I watched Karla tense up as he looked at her.

He was adorable, a cute boy with a curly blond Afro and blue eyes that would make any girl his age melt. “Hey, Karla. Haven’t seen you around lately,” he said. “A few people thought you switched schools.”

She shifted on her heels and wouldn’t make eye contact with him. Her left hand rubbed up and down her right arm. “Yeah.”

“Have you been doing okay?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

Before she could reply, another girl called out to him. “Brian! What are you doing?” I looked up to see a sassy girl wearing more makeup than anyone her age should’ve ever worn, standing there with both hands on her hips.

Brian turned to the girl and shrugged. “Nothing. I just thought I’d say hi. Did you see Karla’s back?”

“Saw it, don’t care,” she muttered. “Now get away from that thing and walk me to class,” she growled.

Every hair on my body stood up as the rude little demon spoke about Karla like that. “What do you mean that thing?!” I started, but Karla quickly tugged on my arm.

“Don’t, Eleanor.”


She looked up to me, with tears in her eyes as she shook her head. “Please. Don’t.”

Brian frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I guess we’ll catch up later, Karla.”

“Probably not,” she said dryly as he hurried away to walk Satan to class.

“Who are they?” I asked, and she grumbled as we continued toward her classroom.

“The ghosts of Karla’s past,” she muttered, not letting me in any more than that.

It was nice to know high school was still hell on Earth.

At least some things never changed.



“How have you been sleeping?” Claire asked as we sat down for our regular Tuesday lunch date. I didn’t have the desire to meet her every week, but Claire was stubborn that way. If I didn’t meet with her, she’d sit in the office lobby of EastHouse and play Journey songs on full blast. It amazed me how one’s mind could just snap after the third round of hearing “Don’t Stop Believing.”

So, I met her for lunch once a week, even though it was still hard to look at her.

“I’ve been sleeping fine,” I replied, biting into my sandwich.

“You’re lying,” she told me.

She was right, but it didn’t matter.

My eyelids were heavy, and sometimes in meetings I’d doze off. It felt as if my entire system was running on espresso and energy drinks. It was the only thing that kept me going. Healthy? No. Good for my soul? Probably not. But I didn’t really care much as long as I wasn’t sleeping.

She placed her fork down and sat back in her chair, studying me. She was so good at that, too, staring my way and being able to tell when I wasn’t okay. Most people learned to leave me alone and let me be, but she and Landon always kept pushing me to open up, even though I tried my best to keep them at a distance.

“Greyson, it’s not healthy, the way you’re not sleeping. You should really talk to someone about it,” she told me. “Jack and I have been really concerned.” Jack was Claire’s new husband. She’d lost Nicole’s father a few years back, and for a long time, she thought she’d be alone for the rest of her days. But then Jack kind of swept in and changed her mind.

Claire leaned forward and clasped her hands together. “I just worry about you not resting. Especially with the approaching days…”

“I’m fine,” I told her once again, cutting off her thought process.

Still a lie, and still, it didn’t matter.

The truth was, I hadn’t been sleeping. I fought against it tooth and nail each and every night. It appeared that the only time I had a decent night’s sleep was when I curled up in a bed with my daughter, who kicked in her sleep.