“Confession time,” she said, as I lay against my pillow with one hand resting against the back of my head. “I didn’t sleep that well without you next to me.”

“Confession time. I’ve been hugging my pillow each night thinking it’s you.”

“Confession time. I miss your smile.”

“Confession time. I miss your laugh.”

“Confession time . . .” She took a deep inhalation and released it slowly as each word fell from her lips. “I . . . miss . . . you.”

“I miss you more.”

“Not possible.”

“Always possible.”

“When you get back, can we kiss some more?” she asked.

I chuckled. “Hazel, when I get back, all we are going to do is kiss. In the pigpens. In the house. In the barn house. In the streets. I’m going to steal so many kisses from you to save up for while I’m gone in Los Angeles.”

She went quiet for a second. “You’re really moving to LA, huh? This is really happening.”

That was the first moment it hit me that we were really moving on to Los Angeles. That our lives were truly about to change forever. Shit.

“You realize how big this is, right, Ian? This is the biggest opportunity of your life, and it’s Max Fucking Rider,” she dramatically exclaimed, somehow sounding more excited than I did.

We stayed on the phone that night until Marcus and James came back to the room to crash. After they were asleep, I asked Hazel if I could call her back. She said of course, and I slept with the phone pressed against my ear. We were going to fall asleep with one another, even though we were miles apart.

When I heard her small snores, I let my eyes go heavy too.



While the guys were in Los Angeles getting the keys to their dreams, I was back in Eres trying my best to stomp out my nightmares. I’d been writing Mama letters nonstop, looking to get an idea of how she was doing. I assumed they took care of the pregnant inmates to some extent, but based on the knowledge I had on the subject—a.k.a. watching prison documentaries on Netflix and crying real tears during every single one—I had a heavy set of fears.

Was she getting her vitamins? Was the baby healthy with her past drug usage? Would the child really go to Charlie once he got out?

As far as I knew, Charlie was still locked up, and I was thankful for that. What I wasn’t thankful for was the fact that I had no way of knowing how my mother was doing. If she was being cared for, if she was scared.

Of course, she had to be scared. How could she not be?

When my thoughts became too loud and every terrifying thought passed through my mind, I built up enough courage to take myself to my old neighborhood and to knock on Garrett’s door.

I wore one of Ian’s oversize hoodies and had the hood up. I’d been sleeping in his hoodies each night since he left. I liked how they still smelled like him. It almost felt as if he were there with me each night.

My eyes kept darting around the trailer park with hopes that no one would notice me being there. Garrett’s past words kept playing in my head.

You know what happens to snitches?

When he came to the door, he grumbled as he pushed the screen open. A cigarette hung from between his lips, and he huffed out a cloud of smoke. “You got a lot of fucking nerve coming over here,” he muttered.

“Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t think of what else to do. I’ve been trying to get in contact with my mom, but she won’t reply to any of my letters. I’m not allowed to go visit anymore, and I’m worried about her.”

“Oh yeah? You’re worried about the mother you got locked up? How fucking thoughtful of you,” he sarcastically remarked, blowing more smoke directly into my face. He looked wrecked—as if he’d been using more than normal. When we were together, he’d never looked as strung out as his current state. He’d lost a lot of weight, it seemed, seeing as how his jeans were sitting so low against his hip bones. Had he been eating? Was he taking an inch of care of himself?

I swallowed hard and did my best to push the thought away.

Not my concern anymore.

I grimaced. “I just want to know that she’s all right. Have you been in contact with her?”

“Like I’d ever tell you shit.”

“Please, Garrett,” I pleaded. I wasn’t above begging. I needed answers to the questions shooting through my head day in and day out. “I only want to know that the baby is okay and what will happen when it’s delivered, since I don’t know if Charlie is going to be out of prison to take care of it. Do you know any of that, Garrett? Do you know anything?”

Garrett gave me a smirk that sent unnerving chills down my spine. “Maybe I do.”

“Please,” I begged again. I sounded so desperate, but I didn’t care. If he wanted me to drop to my knees in front of his freaking trailer, I’d do it and grovel at his shoes.

“You need to get the hell out of here before I let people know you’re back around these parts,” he threatened, making my chest tighten with fear.

I took a step back. “Okay. But please . . . can you just make sure the baby is okay? I know you hate me, and I can’t blame you for that. I hate myself enough for the both of us. But if you care anything about that child, please make sure it ends up cared for. You know what it’s like growing up in these parts, Garrett. You were luckier, because your mom is actually a good mom, but you know the lives that most of the kids in these parts grow into. You know the world I grew up in. This child deserves more than that. It deserves more.”