I knew it was because of Charlie.

Mama always whispered when she didn’t want Charlie to hear her.

“Now come on, and be as quiet as you can, okay?” she asked.

“We’re really going?” I asked, my voice timid.

Mama had talked about leaving Charlie before, but we’d never really packed our bags to go. I’d started to believe we’d always be under Charlie’s control, no matter how much we wanted to go. He was mean to Mama, and I didn’t like how he made her cry.

“Yes, honey, really. Now, grab anything you need, because we aren’t coming back.”


She bent down in front of me and combed the hair away from my face. She had tears in her eyes, and that made me sad. I hated when Mama cried, and she cried too much lately. “Never ever, baby. This is it. We are getting away and never looking back at this town. Okay? Just you and me. Just the two of us.”

I grabbed my stuffed animal on my bed and hugged it close to me as I put my free hand into Mama’s. “Okay.”

“Ready?” she asked.

“Ready,” I replied.

I’d been ready for so long that I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of running away with Mama.

“Just the two of us,” I murmured to myself as I walked off with Mama holding my hand.

That was all I’d ever wanted.

“Are you crying because you’re sad?”

“No, honey. These are happy tears.”

Happy tears.

I didn’t know people could cry when they were happy.

When I found that out, I started crying too.



“Are you boneheads done rehearsing? If so, I can give you a lift home, James,” Leah said, walking into the barn house with the same smile that was always plastered against her face.

“You can give me a ride home? Didn’t you take my car today?” James asked. “Therefore, wouldn’t it be me giving you a ride home?”

“Potato patahto. Come on. I need to binge You on Netflix and stuff my face with popcorn.” She waved to me and the other guys. “You guys are sounding pretty good.”

Eric nodded. “We could sound better. Are you following us on all social media platforms, Leah? We’d really love the support.” Eric was like a social media hustler—always after that next like and follow.

“Sure am.” Leah beamed and walked in my direction. She stuffed her hands into her shorts pockets and swayed back and forth in her flip-flops. “Hey, Ian. How’s living with Hazel going?”

I shrugged. “We don’t really cross paths that much.”

“I graduated with her. She’s a really cool person. Quiet, but nice. You know, I think she’s pretty interesting once you get to know her. She was always really smart in school too. I bet she gets lonely sometimes.”

My eyebrow arched at the overly sweet Leah. I knew she was getting at something; therefore, I wished she’d just spit it out. “What are you trying to get at, Leah?”

She smiled bright as always and shrugged. “I’m just saying—it wouldn’t kill you to get to know her. She’s been through a lot of terrible things. It would be nice if she had someone nice to talk to sometimes.”

“I’m not a nice person,” I told her.

She rolled her eyes in the most dramatic fashion and patted me on the back. “Yeah, okay, Ian, and I’m not addicted to the Kardashians. Don’t think for a second I forgot who showed up for two weeks straight to play tic-tac-toe with my grandma when she was in the hospital after breaking her hip.”

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for tic-tac-toe.”

“Just be nice to her, dumbo. I get the feeling she could use a friend.”

“Then you be her friend.”

“That’s in the works, but for the time being, she needs a roommate friend. Someone who’s around her enough to crack open her shell.”

I grimaced, still unsure, and Leah gave me yet another dramatic eye roll.

“Fine! Be a jerk, but just be a lesser jerk, okay? Stop being so hard on her around the ranch.”

“I’m hard on everyone around the ranch,” I muttered, a touch annoyed by what Leah was getting at. I treated everyone the same around these parts, and I didn’t like how she made it seem as if I came down harder on Hazel than any of the other ranch hands.

Leah sighed, growing tired of my responses the same way I was growing tired of hers. “Whatever, Ian. You treat Hazel worse than the others. I’ve seen the way you boss her around when she’s probably one of the hardest workers at this place. I mean, hell, she puts in more work than my bozo brother.”

“Hey, leave me out of this!” James shot out as he packed up his things. “But she’s not wrong. Hazel is a damn good worker, and you do sometimes come down hard on her.”

Well, there was nothing as grand as being tag teamed by the Scout siblings. The shitty thing about it was that they were two of the nicest people around. So if they had issues with the way I was treating Hazel, they were probably spot on about it. True, my judgments based on Charlie might’ve affected the way I’d treated Hazel at the ranch, and having Leah and James point that fact out to me made me feel like a big ass. I’d do my best to keep it in mind to take it a little easier on Hazel.