I checked my phone again. There was a text from Brian telling me to have fun, but nothing else from Knox. After my blowup last weekend, he’d sent one text, ‘We should talk.’ That was it. I hadn’t responded, afraid I’d run right over there to him again and not be able to walk away this time. He was my addiction and this time away was my treatment.

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Meditation was pointless. Every time I closed my eyes, it was Knox’s face that I saw. Every time the instructor told us to focus on something that made us happy, I thought about cuddling on the couch with Knox’s littlest brother, Tucker. But I trudged through the lectures and seminars, intent on wiping my memory of all those stolen moments.

Chapter Three

Knox

A week had passed without any word from McKenna and I was starting to regret letting her walk away last weekend. At the time I figured she needed to cool down, take some time to process things, but now I saw that she’d been running. Away from me and my messed up pile of baggage just like I knew she’d end up doing eventually.

While she’d been wrong about Amanda, she’d been right about me. Even if I wasn’t comfortable with the label, I had a problem with sex. I used girls to escape. I needed the pleasure to numb my feelings of pain and sadness. I just didn’t know if I was capable of changing it.

I tucked a box of cereal under one arm and grabbed a gallon of milk before heading into the dining room. “Come on, Tuck. Breakfast time,” I called to my youngest brother who was stumbling in from the living room sleepy-eyed. I just needed to get the boys on the bus then I could set out on my mission.

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There was a line out the door and wrapping around the side of the building when I arrived. I took a chance and headed around to the back, hoping to find another entrance. With only an hour to spare before I had to be at work, I couldn’t afford to waste time standing in a line. The heavy steel door at the back of the building was propped open by a large trash can. I was in luck.

I slipped inside, stepping into a huge commercial kitchen. I pulled a white apron over my head from one of the hooks on the wall. Unless I wanted to get thrown out of here before I found her, I needed to look the part. The kitchen bustled with activity – several apron-wearing volunteers were stationed behind a steel countertop, chopping and mixing, and a man with a white chef’s hat was cooking something on an eight-burner gas stove. No sign of McKenna, though.

A dark skinned woman stepped in front of me, blocking my path. “Are you cooking or serving today?” She propped a hand on her ample hip, seemingly annoyed by the sight of me.

“Ah, serving,” I said. Since I didn’t see McKenna in the kitchen, I was hoping that meant she was in the dining room.

“Then where are your gloves and hair net?” she questioned, narrowing her eyes.

I glanced around the room and spotted a box of plastic gloves and hairnets on a table behind her. “Sorry.” Shuffling past her, I grabbed my supplies and headed toward the dining hall. Shoving the net over my hair and slipping on the gloves, I searched for McKenna.

I spotted her several yards away filling little plastic cups of orange juice at a banquet table. She was deep in concentration and she’d yet to notice me. A line of tension creased her forehead and she looked tired. When she hadn’t shown up for group on Saturday, I hated thinking it was because I’d driven her away.

She’d once told me that she came to this soup kitchen most mornings to serve breakfast, so I’d taken a chance coming here today. A chance that had paid off. Now I just needed to get her talking to me again. The doors opened and people began lining up with their trays in hand. I stationed myself at the table next to McKenna’s. I felt her eyes on me, but rather than glance her way, I picked up the set of tongs and set an apple on each person’s tray as they passed me.

“What are you doing?” McKenna hissed over at me.

Picking my head up, I glimpsed over at her, flashing a guilty smile. “Oh, hey. I’m just volunteering. You?”

Her eyebrows drew together and she let out a huff, obviously not buying my story. She was angry. Good. At least I was getting a reaction. Indifference would have been worse. Anger I could work with.

“Here you go, Mr. Bronson.” Wiping away the scowl meant only for me, McKenna smiled at the older man in front of her, and placed a cup of orange juice in his trembling hands. We were at the end of the line, and by the time they made their way over to us, their plates were loaded with oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and sausage links. It looked pretty damn good for a free breakfast. It smelled good, too. I would have never imagined there were so many people here in line so early for this. Of course McKenna had known, which was why she donated her time and efforts here. A quick glance at my watch told me I only had forty minutes left before I had to leave for my shift managing the hardware store. I needed to speed this process up.

I didn’t grovel. I didn’t beg, but shit if this girl didn’t make me want to drop to my knees and plead for forgiveness. I must be getting soft. An elderly guy pushing a walker approached my table next. One of the staff members was holding his tray for him. “Apple?” I offered, picking up a fruit with the plastic tongs and holding it out to him.

“With these false teeth?” He smiled, a big gap-toothed grin. “I better not. I’m not feeling real adventurous today. But thanks for asking.”

“Anytime, man.” I set the apple back down on my table, feeling useless once again. “I could always go back to the kitchen, see if we have something else. A banana maybe?” I had no idea what they had back in their kitchen, but I was willing to try. This guy was someone’s grandfather most likely. I didn’t particularly like the idea of him going hungry.

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