“Are you making out with the floor?” someone asks, and I open my eyes to see Cole Sanders standing over me with his glass of straight vodka and an e-cigarette he put the good juice into. He gets away with smoking pot all over the place with that thing. Lucky.

“Maybe.” I grin, holding both my hands in the air. “Or maybe I can’t get up.”

“Maybe I need to come down there and join you,” he says, not reaching for my hands, then winks.

I’m high, but I’m not high enough to let Cole Sanders down here with me. He’s slept with so many girls he’s bound to have an STD by now. No way. I shake my head and sit up quickly. “Not happening,” I say just before struggling to stand up.

He acts as if he were pouting. “Ah, Willa, that hurts.”

Rolling my eyes, I reach for my drink. “Not as much as the herps you’d give me.”

“SLAM!” Bo hollers, laughing hysterically at my comeback. I join him in his laughter and so does Cole.

Life is funny. Everything is just hilarious. I love it here. I love pot and vodka and Bo’s brother.

I love—

Then Poppy’s screams fill the air, and fear consumes me.

I bolted up in bed and placed my hand on my heart, trying to catch my breath. The screaming was still there. In my head. It would always be there. I’d never forget it as long as I lived. Tears slid down my face, and I buried my head in my hands as the pain that came with this nightmare returned. I hated remembering, yet I had to. It was only fair that I did.

Forgetting meant living, and was that even fair? No. Nothing was fair. It never would be again. Just like nothing would ever be normal. Especially me. I was broken in ways that could never be fixed. My life would always have the shadow of pain, guilt, regret, and loss.

Dropping my hands, I swung my legs over the bed and stood up. I had to see her. Remember her and allow the searing heartache to run its course. There would be no more sleep tonight. I was afraid to close my eyes now. I didn’t want to see the rest. I lived it. I tried like hell to block it and unsee it, but I couldn’t. It was there in my mind, burned deeply into me. As it should be.

I opened the dresser drawer and moved the photo albums I had there over until I found the one picture I had kept. The others I’d left behind. I was sure my mother had thrown them out by now. I didn’t want them anyway. Too many memories. This was all I could stand. Seeing this one.

Flipping it over, I saw Poppy’s strawberry-blond hair first. It was teased sky high, and she was laughing at me. My hair was equally ridiculous. The bright colors we wore went beyond hideous, but the pink lipstick and blue eye shadow were the best parts. It was homecoming week last year, and this had been our outfit for Eighties Day. Our mothers had grown up in the eighties, so they’d both been very helpful with the wardrobes. We had nailed the look.

As awesome as we were dressed up, that wasn’t why I had chosen this photo. It was the laughter on Poppy’s face, on both our faces. It was what I remembered most about Poppy. The laughing and the feeling like I had someone who cared. When I had left Lawton at eleven, I’d thought I would never have a friend again.

Then Poppy had shared her peanut butter sandwich with me because my mother had forgotten to make me a lunch. It had been instant friendship.

My chest clinched tightly until it was only pain. Tears blurred my vision, and I slipped the photo back in the drawer and covered it with the albums. That was a life I’d never have again. Laughter I’d never feel. Even now when I smiled, I felt guilty for being able to. I didn’t deserve to smile and definitely not laugh. Ever again.

I often wished I was physically unable to laugh and smile. It felt good when I did, until I remembered why I shouldn’t. The guilt was consuming. It ate at me. It destroyed me.

Looking around the dark room, I wondered what life would have been like had my mother never sent for me. If I’d stayed here in Lawton. Lived this life instead. Gunner and Brady both seemed okay. They weren’t unstable. It was safe in this small town. But hadn’t it been safe in the one I’d lived in too?

Bad decisions could have been made anywhere. Like me. I was a product of my mother’s bad decision. She’d made that in this small town, and I’d been nothing but disappointment.

I’ll Collect When the Time Is Right

CHAPTER 14

GUNNER

I stopped by my father’s office door on my way downstairs for breakfast. It was closed as always. When I was five, I had wanted to show him a turtle I had found and went barging in that door unannounced and invited. He’d been on the phone while I’d been jumping back and forth on my feet with the thrilling news of my new pet. Trying hard to keep quiet until he was off the phone so I could show him. Ms. Ames had been happy when I had shown her, so I thought maybe I could make my father equally happy.

It was something I did often back then. Try to please the man. Make him smile at me. The eternity of his phone conversation had been enough of a reason to praise me, because I was rarely quiet. When he had ended the call, he’d leveled his dark brown eyes, very different from my own, on me and glared with fury.

“Why are you in here, Gunner?”

I held out my turtle, who I had named Charlie Daniels because Ms. Ames listened to music by that name often and I liked to dance to it in the kitchen. “I found a turtle!” I announced with great pride.

My father looked down at the turtle and then back at me. The rule was I wasn’t supposed to go in his office. He didn’t like me in here the way he did Rhett. Sometimes I wondered if he even liked me at all. But I’d found a turtle, and he needed to see it.

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