“They were the last thing my mom bought for me,” she confessed, and for some reason that confession seemed so out of character for her to share with me. “I love those boots. Sure, they’re dirt cheap, have holes in the soles, and pinch at my toes, but they’re mine. And they hold a special memory.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I still had articles of Mom’s and Dad’s clothing sitting in a box in my closet. But dammit, those boots smelled so bad.

She cleared her throat and crossed her arms. “During one of Mama’s stints of getting clean and away from Charlie, she took some cash from him, and we stayed in a motel for two weeks. It was the best two weeks of my life. We crashed the vending machines daily, watched Pretty Woman on repeat, and laughed about anything and everything under the sun. It was the longest amount of time I ever had my mom to myself. One afternoon, she took me shopping, and we came across those combat boots in the Goodwill store, and I fell in love with them. She said if they fit, they were mine. I remember sliding them on, wishing and hoping they were mine.

“When they moved up my legs, I gave Mama a big smile and spun around in them. They were crushing my toes, but I didn’t want to tell her that. I wanted those shoes too much to pass them up. She bought me the boots, and I’ve worn them every day since then. That was over three years ago and the last thing Mama bought for me. Those boots stand for happiness to me, and now they are coated in pig manure, which seems like an appropriate metaphor for my life. Happiness is shit,” she joked.

I gave her a lopsided smile. She probably didn’t even notice, because her eyes were fixated on those boots.


That was a good enough reason to keep shitty boots around.

I didn’t say anything. I left her room, collected a few items, and returned to her with a pile of things in my hands.

“What is this?” Hazel asked.

“Plug-in air fresheners and air freshener spray. If you’re going to have those in here, then you’re going to need all the help you can get.” I started plugging them in around her room, and then I gave the space a nice spritz of lavender air freshener. I left again and came back with two pairs of shoes.

“You can go with the white or the black running shoes. I’m sure both pairs will be way too big for you, but it’s better than crap-covered shoes.” I smiled, and I think she noticed because her lips curved up, too, and who fucking knew? Hazel Stone had a beautiful smile.

She reached for the black ones and took them.

I chuckled. “I had a feeling you’d go for the black ones.”

“I have an image to uphold,” she joked. “I can’t really be sporting white shoes when my soul is black.”

Why did I get the feeling that there was nothing black about her soul? It felt more like her soul was simply battered and bruised—something else we had in common.

I turned to leave her space and paused when she called after me. “Thank you, best friend,” she said with a hint of sarcasm and a dash of gratitude.

Whenever the Wreckage held a concert at the barn house, everyone in town showed up. There weren’t many opportunities for people to get together and eat and drink for free, but this was one of them—thanks to Big Paw providing food and beverages. Before a show, I’d always get a stomach of nerves, and they wouldn’t go away until I set foot on the stage and fell into the character of Ian Parker—the rock star. There were so many days I felt like an imposter, and I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop before me.

Eric finished setting up the livestream equipment, and right before the band went on stage, Grams came out and introduced us. I swore, there was no one in the world more adorable than my grandmother. She had a smile that could make the grumpiest men happy—Big Paw and I were living proof of that fact.

“Now, I just want to say how proud I am of these boys right here. For the past few years, they haven’t missed one practice, and they show up day in and day out to make their music. Now, maybe I don’t get the music of today—I’m more of a Frank Sinatra kind of gal. Oh, and Billie Holiday. And, oh, let me tell you about this one time when I went and saw Elvis in Mississippi and—”

“Grams,” I called from the side of the stage, knowing she was about to go into one of her big monologues that would last all night if possible.

She smiled and smoothed her hands over her floral dress. “Right. As I was saying, please welcome the Wreckage!”

The crowd went wild, and every fear I had evaporated as my bandmates and I rushed to the stage. Performing felt like the biggest high I’d ever chased. I wasn’t into the drug scene. I knew what they’d done to my parents, and I chose to not go down that line in life no matter what. But when I sang in front of a crowd, it felt like the best natural high I’d ever received.

Watching people lose themselves in the music made me want to fucking cry like a damn baby. They were rocking side to side, singing my songs, and that blew my damn mind. I remembered a time when the only people showing up to that barn house to watch us perform were Grams and Big Paw. Now, all of Eres was standing in front of us, singing, dancing, and getting happy drunk. Also the fact that thousands of fans were tuning into Instagram Live was fucking insane.

Every song we performed made the crowd excited. Watching them swallow up our performance should’ve made me the happiest man alive, and trust me, I was happy, but still, there was something sitting in the back of my mind that kept me from truly feeling completely euphoric.