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I grab a tissue and take a few deep breaths in an attempt to hold back the rest of my tears. I'm really sick of crying.

I feel my mother's arms go around me so I turn into her and hug her. My heart aches for her. For us. She eventually starts coughing and has to turn away. I watch her as she continues to cough, gasping for breath. She's so sick. How did I not notice? Her cheeks were even shallower than before. Her hair is thinner. I hardly recognize her. I've been so focused on my own misery that I haven't even noticed my own mother being swept away right before my eyes.

The coughing spell passes and my mother returns to her seat at the bar. "We'll tell Kel tonight. Brenda will be here at seven, she wants to be here since she'll be his guardian."

I laugh. Because she's joking. Right?

"What do you mean his guardian?"

"Lake. You're still in high school, soon you'll be in college. I don't expect you to give everything up. I don't want you to. Brenda has raised children before. She wants to do it. Kel likes her."

Of all the things I have been through this year. This moment, these words that have just come out of her mouth-I have never been more enraged.

I stand up and grip the back of the chair and throw it to the floor with such force that the seat comes loose from the base. She flinches as I sprint toward her, pointing my finger into her chest.

"She is NOT getting Kel! You are not giving her MY brother!" I scream so loud my throat burns.

She attempts to subdue me by putting her hands on my shoulders but I spin away from her.

"Lake, stop it! Stop this! You're still in high school! You haven't even started college yet, what do you expect me to do? We've got no one else," she walks after me as I head for the front door. "I've got no one else, Lake," she cries.

I open the door and swing around to her, ignoring her tears as I continue to scream.

"You aren't telling him tonight! He doesn’t need to know yet. You better not tell him!"

"We have to tell him. He needs to know," she says. She's following me down the driveway now. I keep walking.

"Go home, Mother! Just go home! I'm done talking about it! And if you ever want to see me again, you WILL NOT TELL HIM!"

I hear her sobs fade as I slam the door to Will's living room behind me. I run to his bedroom and throw myself on the bed. I don't just cry; I sob, I wail, I scream.

***

I've never used drugs before. If you don't count the sip of my mother's wine when I was fourteen, I've never even willingly had alcohol before. It's not that I was too afraid, or too straight laced. Honestly, I'd just never been offered anything. I never went to parties in Texas. I never spent the night with anyone who ever tried to coerce me into doing something illegal. I have frankly just never been in a situation where I could succumb to peer pressure. I spent my Friday nights at football games. Saturday nights my dad usually took us out to a movie and to dinner. Sunday I did homework. That was my life.

There was one exception when Kerris' cousin had a wedding and she invited me to go. I was sixteen, she just got her license and the reception had just ended. We stayed late to help clean up. We were having the best time. We drank punch, ate leftover cake, danced, drank more punch. We realized pretty quickly that someone had laced the punch when we both noticed how much fun we were having. I don't know how much of it we drank. Too much that we were already too drunk to stop when we noticed we were even drunk. We never even thought twice when we got in the car to go home. We got a mile down the road before she swerved and hit a tree. I got a laceration above my eye and she broke her arm. We both ended up being okay. In fact, the car was still drivable. Rather than do the smart thing and wait for help, we turned the car around and actually drove back to the reception to call my dad. The trouble we got into the next day is a different story.

But there was a moment, right before she hit the tree. We were laughing at the way she said 'bubble'. We just kept saying it over and over until the car started to glide off of the road. I saw the tree, and I knew we were about to hit it. But it was as if time slowed down. The tree could have been five million feet away. That's how long it took for the car to actually hit the tree. The only thing I thought about was Kel. The only thing. I didn't think about school, the boys, the college I would miss out on if I died. I thought about Kel, and how he was the only thing that was important to me. The only thing that mattered in the seconds before I thought I was about to die.

***

I somehow fell asleep in Will's bed again. I know this, because when I opened my eyes, I was no longer crying. See? People can't cry forever. Everyone eventually falls asleep.

I expect the tears to return once the fog clears from my mind, but instead I feel motivated, renewed. Like I'm on some sort of mission. I get out of bed and have an odd urge to clean. And sing. I need music. I head to the living room and immediately find what I'm looking for. The stereo. I don't even have to search for music when I turn it on, there's already an Avett Brothers c.d. inside. I crank up the volume to one of my favorites and get busy.

Unfortunately, Will's house is surprisingly clean for two male inhabitants, so I have to search hard for something to keep me busy. I hit the bathroom first, which is good. I know nine-year-olds don't have very good aim so I start scrubbing. I scrub the toilet, the floors, the shower, the sinks. It's clean.

I move on to the bedrooms where I organize, make beds, re-make beds. Next, I hit the living room where I dust and vacuum. I mop the bathroom floors and wipe down every surface I can find. I end up at the kitchen sink where I wash the only two dirty dishes in the house; mine and Eddie's glasses.

It's almost seven when I hear Will's car pull up. He and the two boys walk in the house and come to a halt when they see me sitting in his living room floor.

"What are you doing?" Caulder asks.

"Alphabetizing," I reply.

"Alphabetizing what?" Will says.

"Everything. First I did the movies, then I did the c.d.'s. Caulder, I did the books in your room. I did a few of your games, but some of those started with numbers so I put the numbers first, then the titles." I point to the piles in front of me. "These are recipes. I found them on top of the fridge. I'm alphabetizing them by category first; like beef, lamb, pork, poultry. Then behind the categories I'm alphabetizing them by-"

"Guys, go to Kel's. Let Julia know you're back," Will says as he continues to watch me.

The boys don't move. They just stare at the recipe cards in front of me.

"Now!" Will yells. They both jerk their eyes away and start back toward the door.

"Your sister's weird," I hear Caulder say as they leave.

Will sits down on the couch in front of me as I continue to alphabetize the recipes.

"You're the teacher," I say. "Should I put 'Baked Potato Soup' behind potato, or soup?"

"Stop," he says. He seems moody.

"I can't stop, silly. I'm halfway finished. If I stop now you won't know where to find…" I grab a random card off the floor. "Jerk Chicken?" It would be that one. I throw the card back in the pile.

Will eyes the living room, then stands and walks into the kitchen. I see him run his finger along the baseboards. Good thing I thought about those. He walks down the hallway and returns a couple of minutes later.

"You color coded my closet?"

He's not smiling. I thought he would be happy.

"Will, it wasn't that hard. You wear like, three different color shirts."

He glides across the living room and bends down; snatching up the recipe cards I've organized into piles.

"Will! Stop! That took me a long time!" I snatch them back out of his hands as fast as he's picking them up.

He finally throws them back in the floor and grabs my wrists and tries to pull me up, but I start kicking at his legs. "Let me go! I'm…not…done!"

He lets go of my hands and I fall back to the floor. I pick up the recipe cards and start re-organizing them back into piles. He completely took me back to square one. I can't even find the 'beef' card. I flip over two cards that are upside down but-

"What the hell!" I scream. I'm suddenly drenched in water.

I look up and Will is standing over me with an empty pitcher in his hand. I lunge forward and start punching at his legs. He backs away as I start hitting at him, trying to get off of the floor.

Why the hell did he just do that? I'm gonna punch him in the face. I stand up and try to hit him but he steps aside and grabs my arm and wraps it around my back. I'm flailing my other arm at him as he pushes me toward the hallway and into the bathroom. The next thing I know, his arms are around me and he lifts me up, pulls the shower curtain back and shoves me in. I'm still trying to punch him but his arms are longer than mine. He holds me against the wall with one arm while he turns the faucet on with the other. A stream of ice cold water splashes across my face. I gasp.

"Jerk! Jackass! Asshole!"

He continues to hold me back as he turns the other faucet on and the water turns warmer.

"Take a shower, Layken! Take a damn shower!" He lets go of me and slams the bathroom door.

I jump out of the shower; my clothes are drenched. I try to open the bathroom door but I can't because he's holding the doorknob from the other side.

"Let me out, Will! Now!" I'm beating on the door and trying to turn the doorknob but it doesn't budge.

"Layken," he calmly responds from the other side of the door. "I'm not letting you out of the bathroom until you take off your clothes, get in the shower, wash your hair, and calm down."

I flip him off. He can't see me of course, but it still feels good. I take off my wet clothes and throw them in the floor, hoping I get something dirty. I climb in the shower. The warm water feels good against my skin. I close my eyes and let the water trickle through my hair and down my face.

Dammit. Will is right again.

***

"I need a towel!" I yell. I've been in the shower well over half an hour. Will has a shower head with a jet setting. I turned it on and focused it on the back of my neck for the majority of the time. It really does relieve tension.

"It's on the sink. So are your clothes," he yells from outside the bathroom.

I pull the curtain back and there is definitely a towel there. And clothes. My clothes. Clothes he obviously just got out of my house, and somehow put in the bathroom. While I was in the shower.

I turn the water off and step out of the shower and dry off. I twist the towel around my head and put on my clothes.

He brought me pajamas. Maybe that means I'm sleeping in his comfortable bed again. I hesitate as I turn the doorknob, assuming I still won't be able to open it, but it swings open.

When he hears me open the bathroom door, he jumps over the back of the couch and runs toward me. I back up to the wall, afraid he's about to shove me back in the bathroom when his arms go around my waist and he hugs me.

"I'm sorry, Lake. I'm sorry I did that. You were just losing it."

I hug him back. Of course I hug him back. "It's okay. I kinda sorta had a bad day,” I say.

He pulls away from me and places his hands on my shoulders. "So we're friends? You aren't going to try to punch me again?"

"Friends," I say reluctantly. That's the last thing I want to be to him right now. His friend.

***

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