Jeez. That man sure knew how to make me feel uneasy. I was so confused by the whole interaction between us. It was as if he was still his rude, grumpy self but also . . . nice? Offering someone a place to stay seemed nice, but I couldn’t help but think that it came with strings attached. I’d vowed to never take something from a man. That way he’d never be able to hold it over my head. For years I’d watched Charlie throw in our faces the fact that Mama and I lived in his house. Ate his food. Slept in his beds. Nothing we had was our own, and I hated how he used that against us, making it seem like we were worthless without him.

From here on out, whatever I had, I’d get on my own.

Well, except for the shed I was squatting in. I’d have to pay Big Paw back somehow for the time I was spending in Betsy.

Yup. That was right. I’d named the shed Betsy. And boy, oh boy, if those walls could talk, I bet they’d have a lot of stories to tell.

Christ. I was getting so lonely that not only was I making friends with horses, I was making friends with objects.

I needed to stop being a loner as soon as possible.

I hadn’t always been this way—lonely. When I was younger, I’d had a best friend named Riley—not a horse or a shed. An actual living, breathing person. Riley was the daughter of one of Charlie’s clients. Sometimes they’d come over to the house for business, and the adults would kick us girls out into the backyard to get us out of their hair. Some days during those times, Riley and I would pretend we were witches and created magical potions to take us to magical worlds. Other times, we’d pretend we were an all-girls band, and we’d make up our own lyrics and sing to the squirrels.

Riley was so good for me. She was my best friend and the first person to make me feel as if I belonged in Eres. When her father finally got clean and moved away, Riley wrote me for a bit of time, but the letters began getting shorter and shorter until they completely stopped. I supposed she’d found a world outside of Eres, and I couldn’t fault her for it. Once I got away, I wasn’t planning on ever looking back either.

One in a million.

That was what Riley’s friendship was to me. I’d never made that connection with anyone else, and it broke my heart to think that a friendship like hers was a one-in-a-million type of situation.

I was certain I’d never find that level of connection with another again—besides Garrett. But to be honest, what Garrett and I had wasn’t a friendship. Sure, we’d dated for a while, but we didn’t talk about things. We’d mostly just make out, and I’d watch him get high and play video games for hours. Nothing to write a love story about.

So that left me with talking to walls and hoping that the wood was thick enough to hold all my secrets.

When I woke the next morning, I walked out of the shed and found a basket filled with a few goodies. Bottles of water, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a box of cold cereal, and a small jug of milk with a spoon and a bowl. Beside that was a twin-size air mattress with a set of sheets and a comforter.

There was also a note that read:

If you want to be stubborn, then be stubborn.

But don’t sleep on that damn floor without a bed.


PS: Stop being a fool and take the fucking spare bedroom.

Never in a million years had I thought it would be Ian Parker who saved me during some of the hardest days of my life.

I had a bit of free time before I had to head into the stables that morning. I sat cross-legged on the inflatable bed eating a bowl of cold cereal while I wrote in my journal. I’d been writing every day of my life since I was eight years old. I used to write spells and other stupid kid stuff in the books with Riley, but over time it had just become a collection of things on my mind. Poetry and prose. My hopes, wishes, and dreams were all in one place.

One of my biggest dreams was getting into college. It was my dream to achieve a life the complete opposite of the one I was raised in, and college seemed like the first step to that future. I was going to do everything in my power to make that dream come true too.

I can’t become my mother. I can’t become my mother.

I didn’t want to turn into the person my mother had become. I wanted more. I wanted to get away so bad that my bones ached from the idea of staying in Eres forever. If I stayed, there was a chance I’d end up as sad and depressed as my mother was, in a relationship with a man who had no respect or love for me, losing every shot at living that was brought my way.

As I wrote in my journal, I thought about Ian. The grumpy boy who’d given me a bed. I couldn’t help but wonder what his angle was or why he was helping me. Truthfully, I was a bit surprised he hadn’t kicked me out of the shed and fired me on the spot when he’d found me squatting. I knew he’d been looking for a reason to let me go, and trespassing seemed like a stellar reason to send me packing.

During the day at work, Ian didn’t sass me like he usually did. He didn’t push me harder than he pushed the others and didn’t scold me for mediocre work. What was his deal? Why was he not treating me the way he had been for the past few weeks? Ian Parker went out of his way to make me feel terrible, but now, if I didn’t know any better, it seemed as if he was being . . . nice. No, not nice. That would be ridiculous. But he was being much tamer than usual. It made me both pleased and uncomfortable. It was a warning sign when someone went from cold to hot so quickly.

I tried my best to not overthink his shift, even though it was so blatantly obvious that a change had occurred.