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“Baby girl,” she said, rocking me ever so slightly from side to side. She pulled away and held my cheeks in her hands. “What are you doing here? You can’t work like this.”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go!”

Frankie held me again, making soothing hush sounds like most mothers did. Except for mothers like Gina, who probably wasn’t sure what she was more indifferent about—knowing she raised someone else’s child, or that her biological child was dead.

The road was quiet, and not many people must have felt like ice cream, because we had only two customers by the time baseball practice let out, and Frankie waited on them both.

“He’s going to drive straight over here. I bet he’s been so distracted and dying to see you he could barely stand it,” Frankie said.

I chewed my thumbnail, staring at the red Chevy parked across the street. “No way. Not after the way I treated him.”

“Honey, if he can’t understand that you had just gotten the shock of your life, then he doesn’t deserve to see you.”

The driver’s side door of the Chevy opened and shut. The truck quickly backed out, paused for less than a second, and then surged across the street, not stopping until it was behind the Dairy Queen. I rushed to the back door, but Weston had already opened it.

I practically lunged for him, and he caught me, letting me squeeze the life out of him without complaint. He made the same soothing sounds Frankie was before and I cried again.

Frankie stood in the doorway, staring at me like I was dying. “Take that girl home, Weston.”

“I don’t . . . have a home,” I said, bawling.

“I’m taking you home with me,” Weston said. He placed me on my feet just long enough to lift me into his arms and carry me to the passenger side of his pickup. Frankie opened the door for him, and he set me in the seat and closed the door. Frankie’s muffled voice buzzed and then paused as Weston spoke. After they hugged, he jogged around to the driver’s side.

He held my hand firmly in his as we drove to his house, and again as we walked inside. He led me straight to the lower level and watched me as I sat on the couch.

“I’m going to run upstairs and grab some drinks and . . . what are you hungry for?”

“I’m not, really.”

Weston sighed and nodded. “No, I imagine not.” He pushed a button on the remote and started the last movie on the list, then hurried back up the stairs. I was glad he turned on the television before he went and didn’t leave me alone with my thoughts.

Less than two minutes later, Weston was sitting next to me, placing the various boxes and packages he’d brought with him on the coffee table, including tissues. Then he twisted the cap on a bottle of Fanta, handing it to me.

“I figured you probably didn’t need the caffeine.”

My hand shook as I held the bottle to my lips and took a sip. Weston took the bottle from me and set it on the coffee table. When he settled back to the couch, I leaned against him, letting myself sink into his arms.

He touched his lips to my temple. “Tell me what to do, Erin. Tell me how to make you feel better,” he whispered.

“This,” I replied. “Just this.”

Chapter Eleven

At five thirty, the garage door hummed above us. We could hear the door open and close, and other sounds that signaled both of his parents were home. Before long, the door at the top of the stairs opened, and two sets of footsteps descended the stairs.

Weston didn’t move, and neither did I. Peter and Veronica each sat in one of two recliners on each side of the coffee table. Peter rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands, reminding me of the principal right before he told me the news.

“We heard,” Peter said, his voice low and calm.

Veronica leaned forward, pure sympathy in her eyes. “Peter and I have been discussing this since we heard, and when you’re ready, we’d like to offer you some legal advice. However, we’ve also spoken to Sam and Julianne Alderman, and they’re hoping to speak with you at your earliest convenience.”

“Like when?” I asked. I was lying against Weston and probably looked like an ill-mannered sloth, but I was emotionally and physically tapped.

“They live right around the corner from us,” Peter said. “They’re waiting at their home, now. They just want to make sure you’re okay. It doesn’t have to be tonight.”

A door slammed upstairs and footsteps stomped all over the kitchen. “Veronica?” A female voice called. She sounded desperate.

Peter ran up the stairs. A calm disagreement ensued, and then several people came down to Weston’s space, where no one was supposed to be bothering us. Weston and I both stood when we saw Sam and Julianne standing at the bottom of the stairs.

Peter was breathing hard. “Julianne, I don’t think this is a good idea,” he warned.

Julianne’s eyes were bright red. She began to walk over to me, but her husband stopped her.


Julianne held her hands in front of her chest. “I’m so sorry. I know you’ve had an upsetting day. I just . . . I’ve had one, too. An upsetting week, actually, and I . . .” a tear escaped her eye and fell down her cheek. “I heard that you didn’t have a lot of support at the school when you were told the news, and I . . . just needed to make sure that you’re okay. That’s all I wanted to do.”

I took a few steps until I was a couple of feet away from them: my parents. They were gawking at me like a precious gem. Sam held on to Julianne’s shoulders, and she nearly leaned forward.

She held out her hands, and then made them into fists, clearly fighting with what she wanted and what she should do. Her voice broke when she spoke. “Would it be okay if I . . . I would just like to hug you, if that’s okay. I don’t want to upset you.”

Everyone watched me for my response.

Almost too subtly for anyone to see, I nodded once, and Julianne reached for me, pulling me against her chest. Her body shook as she sobbed.

“Julianne, honey,” Sam begged. “Please don’t scare her.”

I looked up at him from her shoulder. “It’s okay. She can cry.”

Sam’s lips trembled, and he reached out, hesitant and nervous, and touched my shoulder. Tears streamed down his cheeks as well, and the corners of his mouth curled up as he watched his wife hold me while she cried.