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“Basically, if he were giving me my chances to live, I’ve got a 50/50,” I said, taking a seat on one of the barstools. The cleaner smelt like a nauseating combination of vinegar and bleach. “He also wants me to have someone walk me through my life. Places I went, things I liked.” I leaned forward and bit my bottom lip, “What do you say?”

Nadine smiled. “Baby girl, I’d love to help you, but I don’t think walking you through how I make breakfast and watching me fold laundry is really what he had in mind. If you want to talk to the person who knew you best, you would need to talk to…” She paused and folded the rag, placing it over the faucet of the sink, setting her hands flat on the counter. She looked out the window like she was reflecting on something.

“Nikki?” I offered.

“Who told you about her?” Nadine asked, refocusing on me.

I shrugged. “I think my mother mentioned something about her being my best friend and a bad influence.”

“She was much more than that,” Nadine said. “She was like a sister to you. The two of you did everything together.”

“Including run away?” I asked. “Right?”

Nadine looked away thoughtfully and turned back to me. “Gone after her? Maybe. But never run away. You wouldn’t leave Samuel and Tanner. You wouldn’t leave me. That I know.” She tapped me on the tip of the nose. “Tanner, he’s the guy you want to talk to. Besides Nikki, you two were tighter than the lid on a jar of pickles.”

“I might have messed that up. He came to talk to me and he got mad. Instead of being understanding, I kind of yelled at him.” Nadine shook her head and offered a small smile.

“Girl, there ain’t nothing that boy wouldn’t forgive you for. Go find him. I’m sure he’ll help.” Nadine shooed me off the barstool. “Now get girl, I gotta mop these floors. Whoever decided that dark wood was a good look was the devil himself ’cause I’m having a hell of a time trying to keep them clean.”

Tanner only lived a block or two over. Nadine pointed me in the right direction. But just like I knew where the boat house was, my feet knew the way to Tanner’s.

A large woman with chubby cheeks and bright red lipstick answered the door and informed me that I’d just missed Tanner.

Feeling defeated, I made my way back to the house, but I wasn’t ready to go back inside. I made my way out back to the abandoned houseboat. I carried my shoes as my feet sunk into the soft sand. I’d just rounded the mangroves when I spotted Tanner, sitting on the edge of the pier with his feet hanging off the edge of the dock. He was wearing a plain white T-shirt and blue basketball shorts. He appeared to be lost in concentration, focusing on his flip-flops that dangled off of his toes.

“Hey,” I said as I approached him. “Where’s Sammy?”

He looked up and shielded his eyes from the sun. “Hey. He’s with my parents at the club. Grandparent/grandkid square dance.” He laughed, but it fell flat, his smile never reaching his eyes.

“This seat taken?” I asked.

“All yours,” Tanner said, softly, scooting to the side to make room for me.

I sat down next to him and looked off over the water, unsure of what to say, nervously fidgeting with my hands in my lap. Thankfully, Tanner spoke first. “This was kind of our place, you know. We spent hours here fishing off the back of the boat or watching the storms roll through. When your dad told you it was a safety hazard and wanted to have it hauled away, you cried for a week.”

“He doesn’t seem like the kind of person who wouldn’t do something just because it upset me.”

“Oh, he’s not.” Tanner agreed.

“Then why is it still here?”

Tanner smiled. “The senator doesn’t see emotion, he see’s reason, and more than that, he sees legalities.” He laughed and his bright brown eyes lit up. “I wish you could remember the look on his face when you handed him the survey you printed out online. When you pointed out that the houseboat wasn’t on his property, so technically wasn’t his to remove, I thought he was going to pass out. Then when you informed him that you’d filed documents to declare it a historical landmark…I think it was the only time I’d ever seen him actually laugh. He looked almost…proud.”

“So the houseboat stayed,” I said.

“Yeah, he had the walls reinforced with steel piping so it wouldn’t fall down around us, but it stayed.” He turned to face me lifting his foot up onto the dock, resting his chin on his knee. “Because of you.”

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