“I’ll stop pushing once you open up.”

“Well, you’ll probably be here forever.”

“I don’t work today, so that’s fine.”

He sighed as he hefted the ax and slammed it into the piece of wood in front of him. “Dammit, Hazel. What the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t you just leave me be?”

“Because you want to be more.” I shrugged. “And last night something happened to you when you asked me to get rid of that woman. Something ate at you deep down inside, and I’m just letting you know you don’t have to keep it to yourself. I grew up keeping things to myself. I know how hard and heavy that can be on one’s chest.”

“Yeah, well, you and me aren’t the same.”

That was the truest statement ever spoken.

I stood from the porch swing and nodded once. “Okay. Fine. Be that way. But don’t blame me when it all becomes too much for you.”

“What makes you think it will become too much?”

“It always becomes too much, until your emotions go into overdrive and you break down.”

He huffed. “Personal experience?”

“Something like that.”

I turned around to walk inside and paused when I heard Ian release the most dramatic sigh in the history of sighs. “She brought up my damn parents. Called them junkies and went on and on about them as if she knew them. It takes a lot to get under my skin—like you said, I have brick walls built—but the comments about my parents always get to me.”

Looking back toward him, I saw the heaviness in his eyes as he rested his hands on the handle of the ax. “And why’s that?”

“Because the comments always seem to be true. My parents were junkies. My parents did abandon me. My parents did choose their fucked-up habit over their own child. They left this place and left their kid with his own set of fucked-up issues. Okay? That’s why it bothers me.”

My chest tightened listening to Ian talk about his parents. I knew there was a drug problem in Eres, and I knew a lot of that problem was caused by one man in particular. “Was Charlie their dealer?” I asked, the words stinging as they fell from my tongue.

He brushed a thumb against the bridge of his nose and nodded. “Yes.”

“And that’s why you hate me?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I don’t know you enough to hate you. I just don’t like what you stand for—the memory of what happened to my parents.”

I understood that concept. Maybe more than he could’ve imagined. “I don’t like what I stand for either.”

“What do you mean?”

“I also lost a parent at the hand of Charlie. It’s because of him I was living in that shed. My mama kicked me out because he wanted me gone, and if it weren’t for her drug habit, I doubt she would’ve done that. She used to be my best friend, but drugs had a way of changing that. I wished I hadn’t known her before the drugs because it just . . .” I sighed as my words fumbled away. I wasn’t even sure how to explain it, but Ian seemed to understand.

“It just makes it harder, remembering a time when drugs weren’t an issue,” he finished for me.

“Yes. Exactly.”

He started swinging the ax again, huffing and puffing as he spoke. “It pisses me off,” he confessed. “How parents could just allow something like drugs to separate them from their children.”

I looked at Ian—really looked at him—and saw the broken kid that lived in his anger. There was something so raw and real about how he chopped the wood, swinging that ax with all the pent-up aggression in him.

I walked into the house and came back outside with a pen and paper in my hand. I took my seat back on the porch swing and gave the sweaty, exhausted man a smile. “Okay, let’s do it.”

“Let’s do what?”

“Use your anger to create music.”

He grumbled a bit as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not interested.”

Before I could reply, he walked off, leaving me looking like a silly girl who’d wanted to break down the wall made of stone.



It’d been four weeks since Mama and Charlie had kicked me out, and I hadn’t been able to really come to grips with it all. Each day, I still worried about Mama’s health and well-being. Each day, I thought about her and prayed that she was okay. When it all became too heavy on my heart, I headed for their house to check in on how she was doing after I finished my work shift.

I knew there would be hell to pay if Charlie caught me stopping by, but I didn’t care.

I showed up with groceries for Mama’s fridge, and when I knocked on the door, I heard her shuffling around.

“Who is it?” she called out.

“It’s me, Mama. It’s Hazel.”

The movements sounded more hurried, and when she opened the door, I gasped at the sight of her. The groceries in my hand crashed to the ground as I stepped forward. “Mama! What happened to you?” I breathed out, taking in her battered and bruised face. Her left eye was almost sealed shut, and her wrists were black and blue.

“Don’t make a fuss,” she warned, waving me off. “Charlie and I just got into an altercation. I made a mistake with his business, and I should’ve done better.”