For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel alone.

The following day, I was more than ready to help Hazel in the pigpens. Sure, I was more than willing to get to work, seeing as how I wanted to tap into our lyrics sooner than later, but mainly my goal of the day was to make sure Hazel was all right.

She tried to deny my help at first, but I refused to back down from our handshake deal.

“Okay, if you want to start on the pens to the far left, I’ll do these ones over here,” Hazel said as we walked into the pens. “I’ll pull in the hay after we finish, and you can leave early.”

“I’ll help you with that.”

“I can do it on my own.”

“The whole point of having a partner is that you don’t have to do it alone, Hazel.”

She didn’t reply. I had the feeling she wasn’t used to getting help from people. She had such an independent way about her.

We started cleaning the pens, and Hazel didn’t say a word besides some grunting and grumbles when she stepped in a not-so-nice spot. Luckily, Grams had given her a pair of boots for ranch usage only; therefore, no more shoes would be sacrificed in the name of pigs.

Music was playing on my phone, but still, it felt uncomfortably quiet.

I couldn’t stop overthinking what had gone down with that Garrett guy the night before. I couldn’t stop thinking about Hazel and the state of her mind.

“Want to play confession time?” I asked her, trying to break up the awkwardness of it all.

She tilted her head in my direction. “What?”

“Confession time. James and I play it when we clean the pens to help time move faster.” Okay, that was a lie. Confession time was something I had made up on the spot, because I wanted to know more about Hazel, and I knew she wasn’t trying to give me any details on her own. “It’s like, I say a confession, and then you give one too.”

She narrowed her eyes. “What kind of confessions?”

“Anything, really. For example, I wet the bed until I was ten years old.”

She grunted. “That is a confession you should’ve probably kept to yourself.”

“True, but the more embarrassing or deep the confessions, the better. It makes the game more interesting.”

She suspiciously said, “And what were some of the confessions that James shared?”

“Oh no.” I shook my head. “Confessions that happen in the pigpen stay in the pigpen. So come on.” I rested my head on the top of the shovel handle in my hand. “Out with it. What’s your confession?”

She grimaced as if the game was the last thing she wanted to be taking part in. “I, uh, put ranch on my spaghetti.”

“Boooring,” I hollered. “Try again.”

“Jeez, tough crowd.” She placed her pitchfork down and rubbed her hands against her thighs. “Okay. When I was thirteen, I stole a sheet cake from the grocery store for my birthday.”

I whistled low. “We have a rebel without a cause here.”

“I had a cause. My mom forgot my birthday—again. And she forgot to have food in the house—again. I shared the cake with a few kids in the neighborhood around mine, and we had a party. It was lame, and the gifts they gave me were like rocks and sticks and crap, but it was the best party. One of my favorite memories.”

“How did you steal a whole sheet cake?”

She snickered a little and shook her head. “I knocked over a whole shelf of tomato sauce. While they were distracted by that mess, I snatched the cake and ran. I probably have some bad karma coming for me over that.”

“You shared the cake, so I’m sure that evened out the karma.”

“Is that how it works?”

“I hope so, because I’ve done some crappy things in my past as a stupid kid, and I hope doing a few good deeds nowadays would balance out the karma scale.”

“Like giving a girl a place to stay.”

“Yeah, well, I figured I owed you for being an asshole.”

“Never truer words spoken. What’s your next confession? Make it good too.”

“I, uh, I don’t think I like sex.”

Her eyes widened. “What? Everyone likes sex, Ian. Especially you, I think, based on the number of women I’ve seen you with.”

“Yeah, but . . . I don’t know. I mean, it feels good, but it doesn’t feel important. Not as important as everyone builds it up to be.”

“Doesn’t live up to the hype, eh?”

“Not at all.”

“Then why do you keep hooking up with different women?”

I shrugged. “Just hoping to stumble into the mind-blowing sex people talk about, I guess. Just looking to feel something deeper.”

“How old were you when you lost your virginity?”


“Holy crap. When I was fourteen, I was mixing potions in my backyard, not thinking about sex at all.”


“You know . . . making magic. Thinking about sex wasn’t on my mind. It still isn’t, really.” She looked up to me, and her color rose high on her cheeks. “Confession time: I’m a virgin.”

“What? No way,” I said, pretending that she hadn’t already revealed that fact during drunken-Hazel night.