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Her eyes bulged out at that one. Her mouth puckered. Her lips moved, but no sound came. Then, quietly, “You think so?”

It was like basic math. I only smiled softly. “I’m pretty sure. I thought he was your boyfriend.”

“Oh my God.”

“Whad’s going on over thrd?” Emily yelled from the couch.

The slurring had commenced.

“You’re going to have fun tonight with that one.” From me.

“Hey.” Her tone got serious. Her eyes went past mine, and I was pretty certain it wasn’t on her roommate, but instead lingering on the patio. “From before. Are you okay?”

I shrugged that off.

The anger and resentment and all that annoying stuff was locked up tight. It was just carefree me who enjoyed teasing a new friend. I could do these next two years like this. Nothing would get in and hurt me that way.

“It’s nothing. Just someone from back home.”

“An old boyfriend?”

I could almost hear Stone’s growl again. It would’ve been erupting at volcanic decibel levels at hearing that from her.

I swallowed over a lump. “No. Just—family stuff.”

“Oh.” Why did her smile turn sad after that? That wasn’t my intention. “Okay, but I know you’re new here and I don’t have a lot of friends myself, so I’m here. For anything. You know?”

I knew. And I reached forward on an impulse, giving her a hug.

She hugged me back, surprised at first, then clasped me back.

“See you tomorrow then?” I stepped into the hallway.

She nodded. “Yeah. I usually go around nine in the morning. Is that too early?”

I had an empty house and I was usually knocked out by midnight. “I’ll probably already be up for an hour before that, so it’s perfect.”

“Okay. I’ll text you where to meet me? Or I can pick you up?”

Oh, shoot.

Would she recognize the party house for who lived there? I didn’t think I was going out on a limb to worry about how Siobhan would think of my roommates. People like them and people like us didn’t mix, not if we had a healthy self-preservation instinct.

My smile was tight. “I’ll meet you there. And then if you really want a tagalong tomorrow night, I’ll come, too, but only if you want a remora fish to tag along.”

She laughed. “Okay. Sounds good. Though, that makes me the shark?”

I began to walk down the hallway. “We can figure that out tomorrow.” I waved.

“Okay. See you. I’ll text you in the morning.” She waved back.

The house was dark when I got back, but for some reason it felt right to me. It was peaceful. And when I slid into bed, I was more than a little excited to see some seahorses in the morning.

Then a text came through, and I rolled over, grabbing it.

Unknown: This shit has to stop.

Unknown: image attached

I sat up, dread sinking low in my gut, and I clicked the image. It was a screen shot.

Gail: We know what your family did to mine. If your son doesn’t reach out and make things right with my daughter, I’m going to the press. We have nothing to lose now, but you do, and your son does. How do you feel about that, Barb?

I cursed. Even typing a threatening and crazy text and my stepmother was using perfect grammar. There had to be a joke in there.

I hadn’t put Stone’s number in my phone, but I knew it was him, and I hit the call button.

He answered with, “Call off your crazy stepmom. We will sue. And I don’t know what the fuck your stepmom is talking about, but my family did nothing to yours.”

A surge of fury was rolling in my belly, but I waited. I counted to ten, and then I said through gritted teeth, “One. That’s not true. Two. I will call her, but not because you’re telling me to. Three. I also don’t know where she’s getting this idea from because trust me, dealing with you is the last thing I want.” After a beat. I clipped out, “Do me a favor? Lose my number.”

I hung up on him. Again. And it felt damn good.

Chapter Six

The history with Stone wasn’t completely between him and me. It was more between his father and mine, or to be more accurate, between my dad’s employer and my father. The timing was all suspect, but my dad was the manager for their grocery store. Then my mom was diagnosed with cancer and we tried to keep it under wraps, but rumor got out, and within a week my dad was served his walking papers.

While my dad was trying to find another job, my mom was about to start chemo when we lost our health insurance due to my father getting the boot. A month went by. Nothing. He wasn’t getting hired. Another month. Nothing. Three. Four. We were going on six months when finally, someone three towns over confided to a friend of a friend that word of mouth was saying not to hire Mitch Phillips.

He’d been blacklisted by Stone’s dad. Why? We had no idea.

We tried to find out the reason, but no one was fessing up until a friend of my mom’s overheard a man talking in the local bar. The guy was ranting about how Charles Reeves knew it was bad what he did, firing a man whose wife was just diagnosed with cancer, and he wanted to push the Phillips family out of town to stem any bad gossip.

It backfired.

This was all happening my senior year of school. Stone had gone on to join a D1 school and he was a rising football star, but he’d always been a superstar on the field. Another reason why Charles Reeves wanted to get my family out of town, in case media came sniffing around for a feel-good story about a local boy getting drafted by fancy colleges and maybe even the NFL down the road. He didn’t want us to give them a scandal instead, or so the gossip mill was saying.

Because we were so in debt from the cancer treatments, we lost the house.

We moved into an apartment close to the hospital so I could remain in school that last year, and then we found out three months later that the Reeves family bought our house and land from the bank for a steal. They renovated it into a local Airbnb.

Stone scored the winning touchdown for his football championship game, and that night my mom died. We had spiraled so far into debt, there was no getting out for us. I don’t think anyone could fault my family for the resentment that we held for the Reeves family. I knew there was some on my part. I expected equal amount on my dad’s part.

I hadn’t known there was some on Gail’s part.

And the next day, after I went with Siobhan to check on some seriously cute seahorses, I knew the time for my phone call had come. I would’ve signed up for anything else instead of having to call Gail and deal with this. Even spending time with Stone. Gasp. Shrinks in horror, but yes. Even spending time with Stone would be preferable than doing this.

All that said, I couldn’t stall anymore.

If they were threatening a lawsuit, I knew they’d go through with it. They had money. We did not. They’d already almost buried us. I didn’t want to give them another chance to dig that shovel down any further into our despair. I wasn’t sure how much more we could take, so I was sitting in my car, in my parking spot behind the house, as I made the call.

The house was still empty and I was assuming it would be until everyone returned the next day, or tonight, but I still didn’t want to chance being overheard.

“Honey! What a pleasant surprise.”

God. I ached inside. She was so happy.

“Your father and I are just moving out to the patio with a cup of coffee. I know you’re off, pursuing your dream, but I was just wishing you were here. A phone call is the best surprise yet.”


This was going to be hard.

I closed my eyes, readying myself. “I got a phone call from Stone.”

She was quiet on her end.

I waited.

I heard my dad ask, “What’d she say?”

Still, she was quiet. Then, a soft, “Oh, honey. I didn’t want you to have to deal with that.”

My voice was low, gravelly, like Stone’s had been. “He sent me the text you sent to Barb.”

“Oh, dear.”

That was so not what I wanted to hear.

“Oh, dear?” I repeated her words to her. “What were you thinking?”

“I thought since Stone is down there, and you’re there, and I’ve heard so many stories about how close the two of you were—”

I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

Her words were twisting around in my head, mixing with my own memories, and all of it was bad. All of it was tainted. I could feel my mom. I could feel when her hand went slack. I was back there instead, in the room when she died, and Gail was on the phone instead of her.

“Stop,” I yelled, my voice hoarse. I was so raw, so fucking raw. “Just. Stop.”

My mom.

She’d been there.

Then she was gone.

The chemo hadn’t worked. The cancer progressed too fast.

I watched my mother die.

“Dusty, honey.”

My dad’s rough voice broke out, “Let me talk to her! I’ll handle this.”

“No!” Gail snapped back with a voice I had never heard before from her. She said harshly, “You’ll make it worse.” Then she was back, and quieter, soft again. “Honey. I’m sorry. I just thought he’s down there. You’re there. I’ve seen you both suffer so much, and his family owes us. His family owes you.”