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I don’t care about the girl.

When Bear said those words they shouldn’t have stung like a hornet to the heart. I already knew he didn’t care. It wasn’t until after they’d already pulled out that I remembered what Chop had said about the ring and about Bear’s making up the whole biker promise as a joke.

This was probably all still a joke to him. They probably weren’t going to Jessep. They were probably in the truck on their way to some sort of badass tattoo convention where Bear would tell everyone about the stupid trick he played on a kid who actually fell for his stupid lie and came back years later, still holding onto a ring that had meant everything to her growing up and nothing to him from the moment he’d placed it in my hand.

I knew he didn’t care about me. Not then.

Not now.

So why do I feel like someone punched me in the gut?

After my brother died, my dad always told me that under the weight of great tragedy, came great responsibility. I took this to heart and as the years went on I took on more and more responsibility at the grove so my dad could tend to my mother who was slipping further and further into her delirium. Before the Sunlandio Corporation cancelled our contract I was seventeen and running the grove full-time, often skipping school to meet with vendors or make sure that orders went out on time. One night during an extremely rare frost I rallied the workers and we spent all night hosing down the oranges so we wouldn’t lose them to the cold.

Under the great weight of that tragedy I took responsibility, but under the weight of the new trudges was too much, too heavy, and it was crushing me before I could make any rational or responsible decisions.

Why did I even leave town? Why didn’t I just call the sheriff myself?

I know why. I panicked. Panic and fear clouded any sort of logic, but as logic started to once again take over so did the gravity of my loss. I loved my father. He taught me how to tell when the oranges were ripe for the picking from the way they smelled. He taught me how to fish. He’d let me sit in front of him on the tractor when he mowed the field behind the house, the only space not taken up by orange trees. I don’t think losing him was something I would ever be able to move on from. My brother had died when I was young and although it hurt like hell, what hurt worse was seeing my parents hurting.

I loved my mother, but I wouldn’t miss her. Not in the same way I’d miss my dad. She hadn’t been my mother in a long time. My father picking up her slack on days she refused to get out of bed, refused to take her medication, or after Jesse died, refused to acknowledge she still had a remaining living child.

The night she killed my father she’d been more manic than I’d ever seen her. The look of death swirled in her eyes.

I had no choice and my only true regret was not getting there sooner.

Not being able to save my dad.

Responsibility meant not running away. Isn’t that what I’d done? I’d run away.

What if I went back to Jessep? What if I told the sheriff what happened. They knew my mother and although she and my father went to great lengths to cover up her mental issues they had to understand that I didn’t have a choice. Isn’t that the way justice worked?

Guilty people don’t run away. But I panicked and instead of dialing the sheriff for help, the only person who popped into my mind was Bear. Getting to him was my only focus and through my tunnel vision he was all I could see at the end.

That was a mistake.

I didn’t want to be this weak girl. I was never weak before and I hated that I was being weak now. I’d go back and face whatever I had coming to me. Hopefully, I’d get back there in time to tell my story before someone stumbled upon the nightmare back at the house.

I also imagined the relief that Bear would feel when he came back and found me gone which made my decision an even easier one.

I didn’t have a shirt and it’s not like I could walk all the way back to Jessep wearing a towel, so I grabbed a plain black t-shirt from a small pile of Bear’s clothes on the floor. Before I could register what I was doing I lifted the shirt to my nose and inhaled deeply. Laundry detergent, sweat, and cigarettes shouldn’t have smelled so good. I pulled it on over my head. On Bear it was probably tight, on me it was a tarp.

The little apartment I was in was plain, but smelled like new paint. When we built a new shed in the orange grove and the doors were installed the trim company set the door keys on top of the molding. The door was a taller one and me being only five foot three there was a problem. I slid a chair over to the door ignoring the protesting burn of my muscles as I did so. I carefully climbed the chair and felt the top of the molding.


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