The look in Garrett’s eyes told me that he was getting pretty fed up with me asking him questions, but I didn’t know who else I could’ve gone to in order to get more information on Charlie. I knew he was in communication with him, and I needed to figure out a way to get Charlie to agree to me having the little girl.

“Listen, Hazel, I’ve given you more than you deserved already, and I’m getting pretty sick of you showing up and making demands.” Whiskey wafted off his tongue, and his eyes were bloodshot red. It was clear he was drunk, based on the way he stumbled side to side, and he was obviously high on some kind of drug. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

“It’s not a demand, Garrett; it’s a request. I want you to try to convince Charlie to let me keep my sister with me. I couldn’t imagine her going to grow up in a stranger’s home when she has family right here.”

“You ain’t got shit to offer that kid. An adoption family could, though. You’re being selfish.”

“Maybe, but it wouldn’t just be me. Big Paw and Holly are planning to help too. We have a whole family unit ready to back up this little girl, and she deserves to stay with family.”

“Just let it go, Hazel. Drop this whole thing,” he muttered, turning to walk back into his house.

I reached out and grabbed him by the arm. “Garrett, wait. Please. I don’t get it. I know you hate me for all your reasons, and I get it. But I know you also know me. You know how important family is to me. If you could just reach out to Charlie—”

“It won’t help,” he snapped.

“It might.”

“Trust me, it won’t. Charlie can’t do shit for that kid.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Of course he can. As the father—”

“Jesus, Hazel! Use your fucking context clues, will you?” I stepped back, completely astonished by Garrett snapping. “It’s not his fucking kid. Okay? Drop it. Let the kid go. Just leave it alone.”

My stomach tightened as I was struck by an unbelievably strong sense of fear. “What did you just say?”

“I said drop it.”

“No.” I paused, raking my hands through my hair. “You said Charlie wasn’t the father.”

He lowered his brows and brushed his thumb against his nose. “What? No, I didn’t.” The crinkle in his nose showed his perplexed thoughts.

“Yes, you did. You said Charlie isn’t the father.”

“Shit,” he muttered, rubbing his hands over his face. “Listen, you have to go, Haze.” He went to close the door, but I stuck my foot in the way.

“Garrett,” I begged. “Please.”

He sighed, tossing his hands in the air. “You’re not going to be fucking happy about this.”

“It’s okay. I just want to know what’s going on.”

He grumbled and stuffed his hands into his pockets as he leaned against the doorframe. “Charlie can’t have kids. He had a surgery years ago to keep it from being a thing. He said he couldn’t run his business if he had little shits running around. He always said you were already too much of a headache.”


“Then who is the father?”

His bottom lip twitched, and he shook his head. “Listen, Hazel, I get why you think you want to know this, but—”

“Tell me.”

His head lowered, and he muttered out, “It’s me.” Those words flipped the whole situation upside down. “Why do you think I cared so much about checking in on your mom these past few months?”

My chest tightened as the wind was knocked out of me, and I stumbled back a few steps. “What?”

“I didn’t mean for that shit to happen, all right? One night, your mom and I were getting high together. You were at the library studying or some shit, and well, one thing led to another. And then another and . . .” His words trailed off, and to be honest I couldn’t keep up with the thoughts shooting through my mind. That was the last thing I’d expected him to say.

My mother had slept with my ex-boyfriend.

If that wasn’t beyond disturbing, I didn’t know what was, but there was a silver lining in all of this mess. Charlie wasn’t the father. I didn’t need his approval at all over my sister. I needed Garrett’s.

Even though rage rushed through my soul and I had the desire to punch him in his jaw, I held my composure, because I still needed his help.

“You don’t want to keep the kid?” I asked through gritted teeth.

“Shit, Hazel. There isn’t anything about my life that has room for a kid. My mom wanted me to take her in, because, well, responsibility and crap. But your mom and I decided the real responsible thing would be to give this kid an actual chance at life.”

“With me,” I said, holding my hand to my chest. “She could have a real shot at life with me, Garrett. I don’t just want her—I need her. She’s my family.”

He lowered his head and kicked his shoes around. I knew he was drunk and high, but there had to be a part of him that understood how I was the right choice for her.

“I don’t do drugs. I hardly drink and won’t anymore. I took care of my mom all my life. I took care of you when you couldn’t, Garrett. I’ve always been there for you, even when I shouldn’t have, because that’s what I do. I take care of the things I love. I’ll take care of her forever.”