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The way the words fell from her mouth hurt me, because she’d spoken the word “nobody” as if she truly believed it.

“You’re somebody to a lot of people. Especially your sister, Emery. I’m here because she probably believes she can’t be. I just didn’t want to do nothing while her world was falling apart.”

“What do you have to do with Emery?” she asked, looking baffled. “I mean, I know she works for you, but . . .”

I narrowed my eyes. “Your parents didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Emery and I have been dating for a while now. Your parents were planning to use me against Emery to take her to court over Reese.”

“You’re . . . Emery’s dating you? You as in Oliver Smith? No way.”

I smiled. “We were dating, until your parents, well . . . you know . . .”

Her eyes glassed over, and I noticed so many parts of her sister that lived in her features. “I don’t get why they would do that, though. They promised they wouldn’t fight dirty. They just wanted what they thought was best for Reese. They promised . . .”

“How many promises have they broken to you?” I asked.

She remained quiet.

“How many promises has Emery broken to you?”

Her head lowered. “None.”

I crossed my arms and narrowed my eyes. “Sammie . . . do you want Reese back in your life? Do you want to be her mother?”

She glanced around the streets as if she was afraid of someone listening, before she shook her head. “I’m sorry, I need you to go. I can’t be talking to you. This is too much. I can’t do this.” She turned to reenter her house as I called out to her.

“It wasn’t your fault.” She paused her footsteps yet didn’t turn to face me again. Her shoulders deflated, and I repeated those same words once more. “It wasn’t your fault.”

With the slowest movement, the broken girl had enough strength to turn around and face me. Her shoulders were rounded forward, and the heaviest part of her soul sat right there in her eyes, which matched Emery’s. I didn’t know how, but I knew right then and there that guilt had been the thing eating her alive each day. I knew that she’d been swallowed whole by demons.

I’d been swallowed, too, yet nowhere near as long as she’d had to face the darkness. I was lucky to have stopped falling before I spiraled too far. But Sammie? She’d been spiraling for five years. Her life had been stolen from her, and then she was told that she was to blame by the ones who were supposed to protect her, by the ones who were supposed to cover her with love.

I would’ve spiraled hard too. I’d lose myself in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I’d fucking snap and hate the world to its core.

Yet that wasn’t what I was seeing when I stared at Emery’s sister.


I saw guilt.

I saw blame.

I saw her holding on to shame that never should’ve been placed against her shoulders.

“What did you say?” she whispered, her voice coarse and cracking.

I slid my hands into my pockets as I took a few steps toward her. “I said it’s not your fault. What that man did to you—it wasn’t your fault. What he took from you—it wasn’t your fault. Everything that took place afterward wasn’t you playing the victim card. You are the victim of a disgusting act, and I know your parents have told you that you could’ve avoided what happened to you, but that’s not true. You are not to blame. You were abused. You are the victim, and none of this is your fault.”

Her shaky hands moved to her face, and she covered her mouth as her slim body began to tremble. Tears flowed down her face, and she shook her head. “I was wearing—”

“It doesn’t matter what you were wearing. It doesn’t matter what you said. It doesn’t matter what hour of the night it was, Sammie. What that man did to you was unacceptable and evil, and I am so sorry that you went through that, but you aren’t to blame for what happened to you. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Maybe what happened to me wasn’t my fault, but I abandoned Reese . . . I left Emery to handle it all on her own. I made so many mistakes.”

“Still, not your fault. You were dealing with a trauma, and you didn’t know how to handle it, so you did what you thought was best in that moment. That’s not your fault. Someone broke you, and fucked you up. I can’t say that I know what your mind went through, but I can only imagine the damage it caused. That’s why I want to help you. Let me get you set up somewhere so you can find yourself—really find yourself. I have some property in Texas by my parents that you can stay at, and there’s a great women’s center down there that helps with mental health due to trauma.”


“What do you mean?”

“Why would you want to help me? I’m nobody,” she repeated, shaking as she rubbed her hands up and down her arms.

I stuffed my hands into my jeans pockets. “You’re the girl who sings poorly. You’re smart. You’re kind. You care so much that sometimes it can feel overwhelming. You hate feeling like a burden to anyone. You eat tacos with ranch, and you dip your Doritos in blue cheese. You wanted to go to college to be a therapist—to help people. You cried during The Notebook and laughed during The Hangover movies that you watched behind your parents’ back. You used to write your prayers out each night and placed them beneath your pillow. You can’t whistle, and you hate the pink Starburst—which, frankly, I find highly disturbing—and when you laugh, it lights up the room. You’re not nobody, Sammie. You’re somebody important.”

“How . . .” She took a deep breath. “How did you know all of that?”

“Because your sister told me. She talks about you all the time. She loves you and misses you more than you’ll ever know, and she needs you right now. She wants to help you too.”

Sammie’s eyes flashed with sadness. “I don’t deserve her help. Not after what I did to her.”

I snickered, shaking my head. “But you know she would still want to help you. She would take you in with arms wide open, Sammie, because that’s how she loves. Unconditionally.”

She shut her eyes and placed her hands against her chest. “I’m broken.”

“Who isn’t? It’s okay.”

“How is that okay? I don’t even know who I am anymore. I look in the mirror and don’t see myself anymore.”

“Everyone breaks sometimes. It’s a part of life. Sometimes we have to fall apart before we can fall back together. I couldn’t look in mirrors for a long time. I couldn’t face my demons because they were reminders of my mistakes and mishaps. But Emery walked me through them. I didn’t have to get through it on my own. So, please . . . let me walk with you. We’re all just trying to breathe, Sammie. It doesn’t make you weak to reach out for help. That’s actually what makes you strong. So, what do you say? How about we breathe together?”

That night, when I got home, I opened my email to find a letter from an insider whose name seemed very familiar to me.

The title of the email read: “Just In Case You Need This.”

Hey Oliver,

I’m not sure if you remember me, but we met at the farmer’s market. I was the asshole following you and taking your picture. Well, I was also the asshole who saw you when you were having a conversation with Cam at the outdoor diner, and I was able to record it. The clip is attached above, and I wanted to let you know that I can pass it on to media outlets. It might help clear your name.

I know you might be against this, or not trust me, but again, a lot of us are your supporters. I won’t share it, unless you ask me to do so. I don’t want to cause you any more struggles.

—Charlie Parks

I sat back a bit, completely baffled by the email sitting in my inbox. My mind raced back and forth as I tried to figure out the best thing that I could do with the information he’d given me. I didn’t care about clearing my name as much as I cared about making life easier for Emery, and maybe having a chance to have her come back to me.

So, I hit reply.

Dear Charlie,

Please send the video out.




“I miss Mr. Mith,” Reese stated for the fifty millionth time in the past two weeks. Every time she said it, I felt like an awful mother. I’d brought Oliver into her life, only to have him ripped away from her days after she was questioning if he was going to be her father. I hated the guilt that was building up inside of me every single day, yet what I hated most was how much I missed him too.