“Why didn’t you tell me you were in prison?” I ask, unable to keep the question bottled up.

Dane doesn’t react, save for a slight clearing of this throat. He’s clearly been anticipating this moment.

“It never came up.”

“So you’re not denying it?”

“Not when it’s the truth,” Dane says. “I spent a year at Northern State Correctional. The food was bad, the company was worse, and don’t even get me started on the showers.”

The joke—not good to begin with—withers amid the strained mood inside the truck.

“And is it true you almost killed a man?” I say.

“Not intentionally.”

I think Dane expects that to make me feel better. It doesn’t.

“But you did intend to hurt him,” I reply.

“I don’t know what I intended,” Dane says, his voice strained. “Everything got out of hand. The other guy started it, okay? Not that it matters, but that’s a fact. Was I drunk? Yes. Did I go too far? Absolutely. And I regret every goddamn punch. I’ve served my time and changed my ways, but people are always going to judge me for that one awful mistake.”

“Is that why you didn’t tell me?” I say. “Because you thought I’d judge you?”

Dane sniffs. “That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t if you had been honest with me. I know all too well what it feels like when people think they have you pegged. I would have understood.”

“Then why are you acting so hurt about it?”

“Only because I deserved to know. I hired you for a job, Dane.”

“So we’re just boss and employee now?”

“That’s what we’ve always been,” I say, in a voice eerily like my mother’s. I hear it—that clipped formality, the passive aggressiveness—and cringe.

“It didn’t feel that way the other night,” Dane says. “Hell, it never felt that way.”

My mother’s tone again seeps into my voice. “Well, that’s how it’s going to be now.”

“Just because you found out I was in prison?”

“No, it’s because of everything I’m dealing with right now. The Book, my father, what he might have done. I don’t need another liar in my life.”

We’ve entered Bartleby proper, the town still waking up. People emerge from their houses with sleepy expressions and steaming travel mugs of coffee. A block away, a church bell chimes out the hour—nine a.m.

Dane pulls up to the curb and gives me an impatient look. “You can get out here. Consider it my resignation. Find someone else to mess up with your daddy issues.”

I hop out of the truck without hesitation, giving Dane a mumbled “Thanks for the ride” before slamming the door and walking away.

Dane calls to me. “Maggie, wait.”

I turn around and see his head stuck out the truck’s window. A hundred thoughts seem to go through his head, all of them unspoken. In the end, he settles for a quiet, concerned “Will you need a ride back?”

I almost tell him yes. That I need more than a ride—I need him to help me understand just what the hell is going on and what, if anything, I can do about it. But I can’t bring myself to say it. It’s better to end things now.

“No,” I say. “I can find my own way home.”

* * *

I can also find my own way to Dr. Weber’s office, which sits a block off Maple Street, on a tidy thoroughfare that looks residential but is mostly commercial. Craftsman-style homes sit amid compact yards, most bearing signs for the businesses contained within them. A dentist. A law office. A funeral home. Dr. Weber’s is no different.

Inside, the office is soothing to the point of blandness. Everything’s colored either cream or beige, including a woman leaning over a desk to check the calendar. Creamy skin. Beige skirt. Off-white blouse. She looks up when I enter, her eyes kind but curious. Definitely Dr. Weber. It’s the sort of expression than can only come from decades of intense listening.

“I didn’t think I had an appointment first thing this morning,” she says. “Are you a parent?”

“There’s no appointment,” I say. “I was hoping we could talk.”

“I’m afraid I don’t take walkins. Nor do I work with adults. But I’d be happy to give you the names of more appropriate therapists.”

“I’m not seeking therapy,” I say. “Been there, done that.”

“Then I’m not sure how I can help you,” Dr. Weber says kindly.

“I’m a former patient,” I say. “We had one session. That I know of.”

“I’ve had lots of patients over the years.”

“I’m Maggie Holt.”

Dr. Weber remains completely still. Her expression never changes. The only thing hinting at her surprise is a hand that makes its way to her heart. She notices and tries to cover by adjusting the top button of her blouse.

“I remember you,” she says.

“What did we talk about?” I say, immediately following it up with another, more pressing question. “And what was I like?”

Dr. Weber gives her calendar another quick glance before leading me into an inner office filled with more beige and cream, including the college degrees hanging on the wall in tasteful frames. It makes me wonder if the doctor has her own phobia—fear of color.