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“So are you, Day Jones,” she said, knocking him off kilter. “What’s holding you back?” Those brown eyes searched his face.

Trystan tensed. “That’s different.”

“Is it? ‘Cause it looks kind of the same. You get a choice. You’re beyond exceptional. You’re pure magic, Trystan, and yet, you hide it from everyone. No one really knows who you are. For some reason you let me see, and I can’t look away. I can’t understand why you’d leave your musical talent hidden. It’s a solid future, enough money for college, and a solid way to get your life started, but you won’t take it. Why won’t you take it? What are you afraid of?” Mari said these things looking into his eyes. She spoke softly, like she was afraid he’d run.

Trystan’s heart beat harder and harder as she spoke. Every truth she struck rang out with pristine clarity. She saw him clearly, which was both amazing and terrifying at the same time. He felt his hands shake and slipped them in his pockets. He wanted to tell her. He wanted to say that it was his father, that he’d been beaten and neglected his entire life, but he couldn’t. Trystan’s sardonic smile laced across his lips.

Mari’s gaze narrowed in response. “Don’t say something witty right now. You’re asking me to do the same thing, to tell them that the life they picked out for me isn’t the one I want, but you won’t do it yourself. You’re not a hypocrite, Trystan, so there’s got to be another reason for it, one you won’t tell me—one I can’t figure out on my own.”

Before Trystan had a chance to respond, Mari’s front door opened and a man stood there. He was tall and thin with waves of dark hair slicked back neatly. He had on dress slacks the color of caramel and a dark silk sweater that did nothing to block out the cold. The man was covered in subtle status symbols. From the way he looked at them, Trystan knew this was Mari’s father.

“Mari! Get in here!” His tone was clipped. Trystan watched him go back into the house, instantly disliking him. He snapped at Mari like she was a dog.

Mari looked over her shoulder when she was called, then said to Trystan, “I have to go. Come later, okay? After 7:00pm.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

Trystan avoided his home at all cost, but he needed a shower and clean clothes. When Trystan arrived, his dad wasn’t home. Thank God. It was still too early, but you never knew with him. Some days dad would show up early and Trystan didn’t know why. The way Trystan figured it, he had just enough time to take a shower and get out.

Trystan washed quickly, happy to get clean before seeing Mari again. He pulled on the same pair of jeans he wore earlier, but he had no shirt. Rummaging through his dad’s closet, Trystan pulled out a tee shirt and put it on. Trystan combed his damp hair, pushing it out of his eyes. Thoughts about Mari and what she said kept drifting through his head. When Mari spoke like that it was contagious. She believed he could make it as Day Jones. Her confidence made Trystan feel like he could do anything, be anything, that there were no limits.

The Day Jones phenomenon was still raging and getting more insane by the day. Rabid fans wanted more. They wouldn’t let it die, and since Trystan’s computer was gone, he didn’t know what level of insanity things had grown to. Last he looked, the number of comments had more than tripled. Agents and record labels were begging him to contact them. There was no way Trystan could read the comments all in one sitting. It would take days.

Maybe Mari was right. Maybe confessing that he was Day Jones was the best option, the best way out of this hell hole. Trystan liked the idea of performing, of singing on a stage, and of everything that goes with being in the limelight—except the paparazzi. They’d dig into his past and find out everything. It was too much to even think about. Mari was right. There was something holding him back, something that prevented him from ever coming forward as Day Jones. His father.

As if he conjured the old man from thin air, Trystan heard the front door slam shut. Trystan swore and ducked into his room quickly. His dad wasn’t supposed to be home for another hour, at least.

His father’s garbled words rang out. “I busted my ass with the company for twenty years!” There was a loud crash, the sound of something heavy hitting the wall. “And how do they thank me for it?” Another crash, followed by the sound of shattering glass.

Trystan’s eyes grew wide. He knew he had to get out now, but his father was blocking the exit. Trystan turned toward the window, wondering if the bars falling to the ground would make too much noise. Looking back at the door, Trystan decided that it was too risky. Besides, his father would know that he’d left his room if the rusted bars were on the ground. Like it or not, Trystan was stuck here for a few more weeks. He had to make it through. The sounds of things being destroyed suddenly stopped. The apartment was silent. The hairs on the back of Trystan’s neck stood on end as a shadow stretched across the floor. His father stepped into the doorway, irate. His muscles were corded tight, ready to explode.

Glaring at Trystan, his dad growled, “You little shit, you’re home? You hear me yelling and screaming and you didn’t bother to come see what was wrong?” His father’s bloodshot eyes locked on his. Dad was still wearing his dress shirt, but the tie and jacket were gone. It was unlike him to get plastered before heading home. That kind of awesomeness was reserved for Trystan alone.

Trystan didn’t answer. There was nothing he could say that would make this better. His father’s gaze swept over his son’s damp hair and clean T-shirt. Recognition formed on Dad’s face. “Who said you could take my shirt?”

Trystan knew his silence was being taken as defiance. Everything in his body told Trystan to run, but he was trapped in his hell-hole of a room with his dad barring the exit. “All my clothes seem to have been thrown out.”

“So you steal my stuff? That’s your solution to everything, isn’t it? You see what you want and take it. There’s no talking to you. Even now, with the way you look at me like your better.” As his dad spoke, he walked into the room. With every step his dad took forward, Trystan took a step back.

Fuck. He was going to get trapped in the corner. Trystan had to get out of there. Every muscle in his body tensed, waiting for the old man’s fists to start flying. Trystan had not seen his dad this irate before, not during daylight hours anyway. “I’m not better than anyone,” Trystan breathed the words through his teeth, his chest tightening as he spoke.

“You’re a goddamn lair and a thief.”

Trystan stepped away again. “What happened today? Why are you even here?”

His father’s face pulled into a grim smile. “That f**king company that I spent my entire life working for let me go. They merged with another office and decided to downsize. Did they bother to tell any of us that? No. We walked in today and guess what? Surprise! After working my ass off for two decades, I have no job.” He ranted, anger surging through him as he spoke. His gaze narrowed on his son. “And then, I come home and find my kid stealing my stuff. What the f**k gives you the right?” He was yelling now, his hands flying through the air.

Trystan’s back was nearly against the wall. He’d rather fly into his dad’s fists than get trapped in the corner. Don’t fight back, he chanted in his mind, over and over again. Get around him and run. But Trystan couldn’t see how.

Swallowing hard, Trystan said, “No one gave me the right.” Trystan grabbed the shirt and pulled it over his head as fast as he could and threw it at his dad. The shirt hit his father in chest and fell to the floor.

The anger in his father’s face exploded. Dad’s normally nice features contorted with rage. He lunged at Trystan, his hands open like he planned on strangling him.

Trystan dogged to the side at the last second and darted past his dad into the hallway. Quickly, he reached for the door and pulled it shut. His dad started screaming profanity at him. It was the worst verbal assault he’d ever had. It combined every failure, every short coming, and every fear that lurked inside Trystan’s mind. Trystan tried to let the words slip past him, but every single one lodged into his skin like darts. By the time his dad tried pulling on the door, Trystan had the knob in his and was twisting the lock. When Trystan heard the metallic scrape, he knew the door was locked.

Resting, Trystan pressed his head to the door for a second, thankful that he made it away without getting hit, when something slammed into it and shook the frame. The plaster on the ceiling cracked and sprinkled on his bare shoulders like baby powder. Looking up, he saw thin lines spidering away from the doorframe.

Trystan stepped back before the second blow came. That shot was harder and shook the wall. A picture frame crashed to the floor and shattered. His father was cracking the doorframe. Trystan turned to run. He thought he was safe for a second, but he wasn’t. From the look of it, Trystan only had one more hit to get himself out of harm’s way. That door was coming down.

Trystan ran for the front of the apartment, cutting down the narrow hall as fast as he could. A loud cracking noise came from behind, as Trystan reached for the front doorknob. His father bellowed and fell through the rubble. He stumbled to his feet fast for a drunk guy. The expression on Dad’s face was beyond livid, more like psychotically angry. Trystan never pushed his dad that far before. He never fought back, he never intended to. Locking the door didn’t count, but the expression on his father’s face said otherwise.

Fear snaked through Trystan, strangling him. This was something he couldn’t undo. What happened tonight couldn’t be changed. Trystan didn’t mean for it to happen. He wished he never came home. Before Trystan could think another thought, his dad came barreling down the hall like a rabid bear, practically foaming at the mouth, with a thirst for blood in his eyes. Part of him wanted this to be a nightmare, to believe that his father wouldn’t hurt him, but he’d been alive too long to think that.

Trystan yanked the door open, intending to run through and escape into the cold night air, but when he jerked the door open someone was there.

“Mari?” he gasped, taken by surprise.

Mari stood there with a red nose and eyes like she’d been crying. Huffing like she’d run to him, she looked past him and then back at his eyes, “Trystan, what’s wrong?” The look on Trystan’s face said everything was wrong. He couldn’t believe she was at the door. Now.

“Run, Mari. Go. Don’t come back.” Trystan turned away from her just as his dad barreled into him. Their bodies collided smashing the door shut before Mari could blink. A bloodcurdling scream erupted from her throat, shattering the still night.