Dealing with Brady’s nosy ass this morning hadn’t helped after my interaction with Rhett and his father. Rhett was currently in his father’s office being told the truth. I’d started this, and now they all had to finish it. I knew the truth now. Didn’t mean I still didn’t want to run away, but knowing it made me feel more powerful. Not complete or a part of this family, but I still felt in control. It was the best I could do with this situation, though a part of me still ached for the family I never had, and would never have.

When I made it outside the house, I ran back near the tree house and used the wooded area for cover so no one saw me headed to Ms. Ames’s house. Especially Ms. Ames. Seeing Willa and hearing her talk would make my morning better. She was the only thing that could. Once I got to the back door, I knocked and waited. After a few minutes I knocked again. Nothing.

Where could she be? Just before I walked away to go knock on her window, a letter fell through the slot on the door and bounced on its corner when it hit the porch, before flopping on its back at my feet.

Gunner was clearly written on the front in Willa’s handwriting.

“Willa? Open the door,” I said loud enough so she could hear me.

Nothing.

What in the hell was going on? She was in there. Proof was at my feet in some silly letter. Bending down, I picked it up and opened it to pull out a handwritten letter folded neatly inside. “Willa! What is this about?” I called out, my heart sinking. Letters from girls who won’t speak to you are never a good thing. I needed her to talk to me. I didn’t need a note! Dammit!

When she said nothing, I unfolded the letter and began to read.

Gunner,

I’m sorry that this has to be done in a letter. Believe me, this is not my way of being afraid to face you. It’s the only way I can protect myself. Not from you but from being sent away. Again.

Nonna was waiting on me last night when I got home. It didn’t look good, and it was similar to what had happened with my mother when she was this age. Nonna is afraid I’ll end up like my mother, and she is worried about me.

I had no one and Nonna took me in. She deserves more from me than my sneaking around. She asked me to not spend time with boys, and I broke that rule within the first week of my being here. It isn’t fair to her. She is giving me a home when no one else will.

You have a lot of hurt inside you that needs time and space to heal. Going off to college next year will give you that. There’s this whole world outside of Lawton that you can conquer then. I can’t give you the healing you need. I’d like to think that loving you is enough, but it isn’t. You can’t love yet. Our timing is off, and for both of us this is better.

I’ll be homeschooling the rest of the year and staying in this house. No social outings or contact with anyone. It’s for the best. I need to heal too.

I’m sorry I can’t be there for you, but I have to take care of me.

Willa

I didn’t reread it. I didn’t have to. The words were clear. I folded the paper back into the neat little rectangle it had been in and placed it back in the envelope before slipping it back through the slot.

Then I walked away. There was no reason to argue with her. I was tired of begging the world to love me. I was exhausted from trying to be good enough for someone to want to fight for. Willa was no different. I should have expected that. Something was wrong with me. That was the only explanation.

She hadn’t loved me. If she loved me, she would have opened that door and faced me. Explained this to me. Given me more than a piece of paper. I had come to her house. Knocked on her door and called out her name.

That was as close to begging as I was going to do. Ever again. I should have known better than to love someone and trust them to love me in return.

Be Safe, Gunner

CHAPTER 48

WILLA

Standing in my window, I held the letter he’d read, then slipped back to me. His retreating form was stiff, and I wanted to call out his name and run after him. But I couldn’t. Nonna had made it clear I had to stay away from Gunner or I’d be going to a Catholic school in Nashville.

He hadn’t said anything else to me through the door or even tried to ask me questions. I had been prepared to respond if he had. Ignoring him was too hard. It hurt me to not respond to him. The letter was the only way I could think of and not get in trouble with Nonna. She didn’t understand that Gunner needed me. She was worried about me.

When I could no longer see him anymore, I set the letter on my nightstand and walked back to the kitchen where the phone was. Calling him was tempting, but it wouldn’t help. It would make things harder.

So I stood there alone in the kitchen. Wishing things were different. Knowing they never would be.

Two days later Nonna had supplied me with a laptop and gotten me signed up for homeschooling online. She wasn’t that great with technology, but I was, so I had been able to research it and show her what she needed to do. Monday I had thought I might get to sleep late since we weren’t set up for online classes yet, but Nonna had woken me up at five in the morning with a list of things she wanted done in the house.

From before the sun rose to after it set I worked on that list. Only took a break to eat lunch. I didn’t complain though. I’d much rather be cleaning Nonna’s house than that of some strange woman I didn’t know in Nashville.

Tuesday morning I was relieved to have my computer and classes ready so I wouldn’t have to do another of those lists again. Not that there was anything left to do in this house. It was spotless and completely organized now.

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