“Of course.”

When his head rose and our eyes locked, I swore he somehow squeezed my heart with his stare. When his lips moved, I drank in every word that spilled from his tongue. “I felt anger. I felt so much anger at him. He looked at you as if you were unworthy of his attention. He insulted your clothing all night long as he introduced you to people. He discussed you as if you’re not good enough, and for the love of God, he gawked at other women whenever you turned your back to him. He was insensitive, rude, and a complete idiot.”

He dropped his head for a split second before bringing his eyes back to mine, his once cold stare now soft, gentle, caring as his lips continued to move. “He was a complete idiot for thinking you weren’t the most beautiful woman in that room. Yeah, I get it, Lucille—you’re a hippie weirdo and everything about you is loud and outlandish, but who is he to demand that you change? You’re a prize of a woman, rose petals in your hair and all, and he treated you as if you were nothing more than an unworthy slave.”

“Graham—” I started, but he held a hand up.

“I do apologize for hurting you, and for offending your boyfriend. That night just reminded me of a past I once lived, and I am ashamed that I let it get to me in such a way.”

“I accept and appreciate your apology.”

He gave me a half smile and turned to walk away, leaving me wondering what had happened in his past that upset him so much.

New Year’s Eve

“It hit the New York Times bestseller list, on today of all days. You know what that means, Graham?” Rebecca asked, spreading a new tablecloth on the dining room table.

“It means another reason for Dad to get drunk and show off his house to people,” he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear.

She snickered and grabbed the fancy table runner, handed him one end, and took the other in her hands. “It won’t be that bad this year. He hasn’t been drinking as much lately.”

Poor, sweet, na?ve Rebecca, Graham thought to himself. She must’ve been blind to the whisky bottles that sat in his father’s desk drawer.

As he helped her set the dinner table for the sixteen guests coming over in two hours, his eyes traveled across the room to her. She’d been living with him and his father for two years now, and he’d never known he could be so happy. When his father was angry, Graham had Rebecca’s smile to fall back on. She was the flash of light during the dark thunderstorms.

Plus, every year, he had a birthday cake.

She looked beautiful that night in her fancy New Year’s Eve dress. When she moved, the gold dress traveled with her, slightly dragging on the floor behind her. She wore high-heeled shoes that stretched out her small body, and still she seemed so tiny.

“You look pretty,” Graham told her, making her look up and smile.

“Thank you, Graham. You look quite handsome yourself.”

He smiled back, because she always made him smile.

“Do you think any kids are gonna come tonight?” he asked. He hated how the parties always had grown-ups and never any kids.

“I don’t think so,” she told him. “But maybe tomorrow I can take you to the YMCA to hang out with some of your friends.”

That made Graham happy. His father was always too busy to take him places, but Rebecca always made time.

Rebecca glanced at the fancy watch on her hand, one his father had given her after one of their many fights. “Do you think he’s still working?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He nodded. “Uh-huh.”

She bit her bottom lip. “Should I interrupt?”

He shook his head. “Nuh-huh.”

Rebecca crossed the room, still glancing at her watch. “He’ll be mad if he’s late. I’ll go check.” She walked toward his office, and it was only seconds before Graham heard the shouting.

“I’m working! This next book isn’t going to write itself, Rebecca!” Kent hollered right before Rebecca came hurrying back into the dining room, visibly shaken, her lips now twisted in a frown.

She smiled at Graham and shrugged. “You know how he is on deadlines,” she said, making up excuses.

Graham nodded. He knew better than most.

His father was nothing more than a monster, especially when he was behind on his word count.

Later that night, right before the guests began arriving, Kent changed into his brand-name suit just in time. “Why didn’t you get me earlier?” he shouted to Rebecca as she set up appetizers in the living room. “I would’ve been late if I hadn’t seen the time because I had to use the bathroom.”

Graham turned his back to his father and rolled his eyes. He always had to turn his back to mock his father, otherwise his father’s backhand would mock him right back.

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca replied, not wanting to dig any deeper and upset Kent. It was New Year’s Eve, one of her favorite holidays, and she refused to get into an argument.

Kent huffed and puffed, straightening his tie. “You should change,” he told Rebecca. “Your outfit is too revealing, and the last thing I need is for my friends to think my wife is a floozy.” His voice was short, and he didn’t even look at Rebecca as he spat out the words.

How did he miss it? Graham thought to himself. How did his father not notice how beautiful Rebecca looked?

“I think you look beautiful,” Graham voiced.

Kent cocked an eyebrow and looked over at his son. “No one asked you for your thoughts.”

That night, Rebecca changed into something else, and she still looked beautiful to Graham.

She still looked beautiful, but she smiled less, which simply broke his heart.

During dinner, Graham’s role was to sit and be quiet. His father preferred when he blended in, almost as if he weren’t in the room. The grown-ups talked about how great Kent was, and Graham internally rolled his eyes repeatedly.

“Rebecca, what a delicious meal,” a guest commented.

Rebecca parted her lips to speak, but Kent spoke before her. “The chicken is a bit dry and the salad a little underdressed, but otherwise it’s edible,” he said with a laugh. “My wife isn’t known for her cooking skills, but boy does she try.”

“She’s better than me,” a woman chimed in, winking at Rebecca to ease the sting of Kent’s passive aggressive comment. “I hardly make macaroni and cheese from a box.”

The meal went on with a few more undercuts from Kent, but he stated his grievances about Rebecca with such humor that most people didn’t think he was serious.

Graham knew better, even though he wished he didn’t.

When she reached for more wine, Kent placed his hand on top of hers, halting her. “You know how wine affects you, my love.”