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We need a backup plan. So I text Mike Lustig. Hate to ask you for another favor, but what are the chances you can give me some backup?

Mike’s reply is, Pretty good, but your debt is earning compound interest, my man. I fucking hate Wichita.

How the hell . . . I stare at his words, then text back, simply, ???

Did you really think I didn’t know where you were, Sam? Come on. I’ve had eyes on you the whole time. How’s that Rivard jet? Smooth? Hope so. Had to buy a goddamn economy-class middle seat. Flight out in half an hour.

I don’t know whether to be angry that he’s spied on us, or relieved that he hasn’t kicked us loose. Right now, probably the latter. Where do we meet you?

You don’t, Lustig says. After that, I get no response at all.

In ten minutes we’re in the air, traveling as smoothly as gliding on ice, and the sky outside the oval windows is a fresh-washed blue, all the clouds below us.

I don’t tell Gwen what Rivard has said in the letter, and I don’t tell her about Mike Lustig. I let her enjoy the temporary peace, the expensive steak dinner, the fancy dessert, because I know that when we land, the peace will be over.

And the war may never stop.

 

 

13

LANNY

When I asked for the Internet, I really just wanted to check social media, see how everybody was doing. I wasn’t going to post or anything, just lurk. Because I was bored.

And then I saw Dahlia’s picture, and all of a sudden, I felt something crushing me inside. I missed her so much it hurt. I wanted to call her. I wanted to hear her voice and tell her what’s happened, and I wanted . . . wanted all kinds of things, wild things that raced through my head while staring at her picture that made me uncomfortably warm inside. I’d been feeling that way before everything blew up out at our old house, and I’d been trying to figure out what it meant, and what to do about it. Now I think I know. But I can’t do anything.

I’m so close. But not close at all.

Connor making fun of me is the last straw, and when I blow up at him, I mean it so hard. I race off to my room and cry into a pillow for a good fifteen minutes. By that time, I still feel wretched and alone, but I also am too exhausted to care. I curl up hugging my damp pillow and stare off into the distance. Outside the window, it’s a cold afternoon, and it’s chilly in here, too. I turn on the space heater and put on fuzzy socks and climb under the covers on my bed. My lower abdomen is aching. I check my calendar, but it’s still a week until my period. I have enough tampons for this time, but I’m going to have to ask Kezia to get me more. I can’t ask Javier. God, no. Number fifteen million of things my brother doesn’t have to put up with.

It’s an hour later when I get up, shuffle across the floor, and pick up the piece of paper that’s been shoved under the door. I know it’s from Connor, and his sharp-pointed printing makes me smile a little.

Dahlia’s picture makes me want to cry all over again, but I put it on my nightstand, propped up so I can look at it. Maybe I can find a frame for it.

The lure of Rice Krispies peanut butter chocolate treats finally gets me to unlock the door and slump into the kitchen. Javier eyes me from where he’s working on the computer. I can tell he’s thinking about what to say, but I don’t want to talk to anybody. I get my snack fast and start back to my room. But not fast enough.

“Hey,” he says, “your brother’s asked for more stuff to do. How do you feel about learning to shoot at the gun range?”

I nearly forget about feeling bad. “Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Mom hasn’t taken us.”

“I’ll clear it with her first. But would you be interested if she agrees?”

“Hell yes, I would!” The idea makes me feel about ten thousand times more in control. “When?”

“When I get her okay. Slow your roll, gunslinger, you’re not shooting anything for a long while even if she says yes. Tell you what: we’ll go to the range after it closes, and you’re going to pick out a gun. I’ll give you a choice of three. Then you’re going to learn how to take it apart, clean it, and put it back together.”

“Wait, that’s all? I already know how to do that!” I’ve watched my mom clean hers a hundred times. He doesn’t reply. I nibble on the treats. “Oh, come on. Really?”

“That’s all we’re going to do at first. Choose, disassemble, clean, reassemble. Okay?”

“But I want to do target practice!”

“I know.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because this is how I do it. If you don’t like it, we don’t have to go at all.”

He’s as bad as my mom. I seriously think about saying so, but I don’t, because I don’t see how it gets me anywhere except staying here for another round of Monopoly.

“Fine,” I say, but I say it in a way that makes it clear it isn’t. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Great.” Javier shuts the laptop. “This isn’t a game, Lanny. You understand that, right? A gun is a responsibility. The second you touch one, you assume the power of life and death, and you can’t take that lightly.”

“I know that!” His look says he doesn’t think I really do. I try to look calm and adult, because I know that’s what he wants. “Okay. I’ll pick a gun. I’ll learn how to do what you want. Then can I get to shoot?”

“When your mom says you can,” he tells me. “But not tonight. One step at a time.”

He’s carrying a gun on his hip right now. It looks like the one Mom carries, so it’s probably a 9mm semiautomatic. Mom’s extremely careful with her guns, but every once in a while, I’ve been able to pick one up, feel the weight of it. He’s right. There’s something that changes when you have a gun in your hand. It feels reassuring and exciting, sure. But there’s something else, too. I’ve never quite been able to say what it is. Maybe when he finally lets me fire one, I’ll know what I’m trying to tell myself.

It’s a start, I tell myself. Stop pushing.

I don’t like to be patient. I think I got that from Mom.

I lower my voice and say, “Have you talked to Mom in the past couple of days?”

“Yeah, for a little bit. She had to go before I could pass the phone on to you. She’s okay.”

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