Teaser Thursday- Ball Caps and Khakis

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“Who’s here?” A short woman with black-and-gray curly hair walked out of the back room. She wore leopard-print framed glasses and a top that matched. “Jim, everything okay?”

“Yeah. This is Manny. He’s in here a lot.” Jim motioned toward me. “This is Olivia, Delia’s friend. And my babysitter.”

Olivia swatted his arm. “I told you to knock it off. You know damn well Delia and I don’t think this is necessary. We’re only doing it because we have to. No one thinks you need a babysitter except the legal system, and they aren’t always reasonable.”

“It’s better for me anyway. No one can accuse me of anything if someone’s watching my every move.” Jim pulled a spiral notebook out from under the counter. “Which reminds me. I have to write down what that girl said yesterday so I can let my probation officer know about it.”

“What who said?” I asked. No one else had been in the shop the day before when I showed up, so whatever had happened must have been after I left.

“Some girl who looked around Jae’s age.” He opened the notebook and took a pen out of the cup beside the register. “She asked me for help reaching one of the watercolor sets, then said I touched her when I was getting it. Which was crap. I didn’t even accidentally bump into her. I made sure of it.”

“And Delia and I both saw you weren’t anywhere near her, so make sure you write that down too.” Olivia frowned. “Can’t believe people are being so… actually, no. I can believe it all too well. I know how assholistic some people can be.”

I snorted. “New word.”

“We learn stuff in Detroit.” She studied me. “Korean? Sorry. Sometimes I’m a little rude.”

“It’s okay. My grandparents were all from Korea. My parents were both born here.” I was used to questions about my background. There weren’t a whole lot of people from any Asian country around Ludington. I was pretty surprised she’d guessed my family was from Korea, though. Most assumed we were Chinese or Japanese.

“I have neighbors from Korea,” she said. “Moved to Detroit about five years ago. They got me hooked on TV shows they used to watch over there. I’ve actually figured out some of the language.”

“Cool.” I spoke Korean because my mother insisted Jae and I be fluent in it. Even though Mom was born in the US, her parents wanted her to keep at least some things in our lives as Korean as possible. Right down to our names, Man-Shik and Jae-Shik. Dad had gone along with pretty much all of it because he wanted to impress my grandparents.

“So you must be the artist Delia mentioned,” Olivia said. “She told me you’re very good at drawing.”

“I guess. Thanks.” I glanced at Jim, who was scribbling in the notebook. “Is your probation officer going to be able to read that?”

“Are you hassling me? Seriously?” He looked up. “I write like chickens, okay?”

“Huh?”

“Hen scratch. Isn’t that what people call writing like this?” He looked confused.

Teaser Thursday- Work Boots and Tees

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“Manny told me he hopes you and he can become friends,” she said.

“I just said I don’t need friends!” I looked at her. “Think about it. We become friends, and then he sees something online. He gets worried about his sister or decides I’m evil or something. Then we aren’t friends anymore. I’d rather not be friends in the first place than have it end that way.”

“You don’t know for sure what would happen.” She held up her hand. “Let’s get today sorted out first, and then if you still want to talk about the other stuff, we can. I just want to make sure we’re good first.”

I didn’t have a clue whether we were “good” or not. It wasn’t up to me. She was the one I’d bailed on. And the one who’d gotten the phone call from Pat.

“Like I said, I’m going to double-check what restrictions you have as far as working at the shop,” she said. “If there aren’t any, good. If there are, I’ll find something else for you to do. Jim, I’m sorry today went the way it did.”

“Me too,” I mumbled.

“Next time, please don’t run out on me.” She paused. “I was worried. I didn’t know where you’d gone until Manny came into the shop. And even then I wasn’t sure where you ended up until I heard from Pat. How’d you manage to walk so far without freezing?”

“I wasn’t so cold when I was walking.” I tapped my fingers on my legs. “I got cold sitting here, but I don’t have a key.”

“I’ll get you one tomorrow. Should have done it already.” She stood. “I’m going to make cocoa. Do you want some?”

“Sure.” I didn’t, but since she was trying to be nice, it wouldn’t hurt to go along with it.

She went over to the kitchen and took out two mugs. “What did you think of Pat?”

I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times. Pat was Delia’s neighbor, so she probably was friendly with him. I didn’t want to say anything bad about him, but I wasn’t going to lie, either.

“He was kind of weird,” I said finally. “He said a bunch of stuff about history. He was ticked off at me first, because I guess I freaked him out by sitting out here. But then…. You didn’t tell him anything about me, did you?”

Delia shook her head. “Only that you’re a relative who came out from Massachusetts to live with me. I didn’t say anything about why.”

“He sounded like he knew something more.” I bit my lip. “I mean, like I said, he was talking about history, but it was junk about how history doesn’t make you who you are.”

Delia nodded and emptied packets of powdered hot chocolate into the mugs. “Sounds like something he’d say. I don’t know his whole story, and even if I did, I wouldn’t share it. Not my place. I only know a long time ago, he was accused of something. I don’t know what, and I don’t know if it was true or not. It’s taken him decades to come back from it. That’s why he lives alone. I’m the only one he really talks to most of the time.”

“That sucks.” I would probably end up the same way. Living alone in a crappy park, in a crappier trailer, with no one caring if I dropped dead.

The idea should have made me feel bad, but it didn’t. At least if I lived that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about people’s opinions. My name wouldn’t be on the registry forever, but that didn’t mean much. Once something went online, it was there forever.

“Yeah. It does.” Delia put the mugs in the microwave. She didn’t do the whole kettle thing. “Anyway. I accept your apology for scaring the hell out of me the way you took off. Do you accept mine for the way I acted?”

I didn’t have much choice. I couldn’t stay mad at her because I had to live with her. And she hadn’t really done anything wrong. I didn’t blame her a bit for making me get away from the kid at the shop.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Thank you. And you aren’t a monster, so quit saying it. I was looking out for you, not thinking anything bad.”

“Okay.” She could tell me all she wanted that I wasn’t a monster. I wouldn’t believe her.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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We finished lunch and went off to finish the day. Things seemed to be going pretty well until I walked into my last block class and found a note on the chair where I usually sat.

Dear slut, hope you’re happy that Jim’s going to have the same thing done to him in jail that you claim he did to you. Way to destroy someone else’s life.

The moment I read the note, my throat tightened and the little I’d managed to eat for lunch threatened to come back up.

Whatever happened to Jim wasn’t my fault, though. I had to remember that. No matter what anyone else said, I wasn’t the one who’d broken the law. I’d turned him in, but he was the one who’d chosen to plead guilty. The judge was the one who’d decided Jim should go to juvenile detention.

It wasn’t my fault. None of it was my fault.

I took a couple of deep breaths. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so the room was still mostly empty, and there was no way to guess who’d written the thing. I didn’t recognize the handwriting. The only thing I could tell was it looked more like a girl’s than a guy’s.

The teacher was at her desk. I picked up the note and walked over to her. I refused to break down this time. The note was harassment, and I was going to take action. Even if no one ever found out who wrote it, at least I was taking control.

“What can I do for you, Chastaine?” she asked.

I held out the piece of paper. “I just found this on my chair.”

She took the note, and her eyes widened. Without a word to me, she picked up the intercom phone and asked whoever answered in the office to send Mr. Lawrence to our room.

“We’re going to find out who did this,” she said. “This isn’t acceptable by any stretch. We can’t prove it was meant for you, though.”

“We kind of can,” I said. “Aside from the ‘slut’ thing that half the school’s been calling me lately, it directly refers to Jim going to jail for what he did. The only people he did anything to that’s sending him to jail are me and Maryellen Rourke, and I think you’re aware she doesn’t go to school here anymore, so the note can’t be for her. It’s probably someone in this class, because I don’t think anyone in your other classes would know where I sit.” As I spoke, the lump in my throat melted away.

“You’re probably right.” She looked around the room at the other students who had shown up so far. “Why don’t you go sit down? Mr. Lawrence will be here in a minute, and then we’ll take care of this.”

There were a few other things I wanted to say, but I stopped myself. Throwing a fit about people putting me down all the time wouldn’t change anything, and I would probably end up getting myself in trouble for swearing. So I went back to my seat.

Teaser Thursday- Nail Polish and Feathers

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While I was sulking at the kitchen table and ignoring Mom’s attempts to joke me out of my mood, the landline phone rang. Mom went to answer it. Her “hello” sounded okay, but after that her voice rose. “Why do you have to start this now? He’s getting ready for school. I’m getting ready for work.”

As soon as I heard that, I knew Dad was on the phone. And I knew I would rather die than talk to him. But when Mom walked back into the room and held out the phone, I took it. “Hello?”

“What the hell am I hearing about you wearing a dress?”

Dad was practically yelling, which immediately sent my temper soaring. Whoever had blabbed to him deserved to be shot. At the same time, my stomach turned inside out and I felt like I was going to puke. I forced myself to speak calmly. “I went to the Homecoming dance wearing a dress. And a wig.”

“What were you thinking? What kind of kid are you?”

I held the phone away from my ear. Mom reached for it, and I shook my head. I could fight my own battle with Dad. “I’m the kind who isn’t afraid,” I said. “And if you keep yelling at me, I’m hanging up. I don’t deserve to have you talk to me that way.”

“I am your father! Show me some respect.”

“I’ll show you the same amount of respect you show me.” I felt cold all over. He could cause a whole lot of problems for Mom and me if he chose to. But I was done letting him be a jerk to us. He’d pretty much given up on me when he’d met his current girlfriend, and he didn’t have the right to barge in and play concerned parent now. “I told you at the hospital, I’m gay. And yeah, sometimes I wear things that wouldn’t exactly be considered guylike. That’s who I am. It doesn’t mean Mom’s doing a bad job, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It just means I’m who I am. You can accept it or not.”

“Don’t you dare talk to me that way.” In spite of the words, his voice got quieter. “Your mother lets you get away with murder.”

“No. My mother loves me and accepts me, even when she doesn’t agree with me. Say one more thing like that, and I’m hanging up.” I suddenly realized he was afraid. Afraid of what, I wasn’t sure. Of losing me, maybe, even though he pretty much already had. Or of me getting hurt again. An awful lot of people seemed to be telling me what to do because of fear.

“I’m taking your mother to court,” he said. “I thought you should know. I don’t approve of the way she’s bringing you up.”

“That means you don’t approve of me,” I said. “And in that case, I don’t have anything more to say to you. Do what you have to do, and I’ll be sure to tell the judge how you stopped having visits with me because your girlfriend didn’t like me, and how you spend all your money on her kids now.” I hung up and dropped the phone on the table, because that seemed like a better thing to do than throwing it across the room like I wanted to.

Teaser Thursday- Shoulder Pads and Flannel

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Holly and a few of her friends were sitting near the window with coffees and various types of food. Evan wasn’t there yet, which worried me. I hadn’t texted him to let him know I was on the way as I usually did. I’d been trying to help Mami deal with Ernesto pitching a fit about not being able to find the homework he claimed he’d done the night before.

I went over to the table but didn’t sit down. “Hear anything from Evan this morning?”

“He said he left his house,” Holly said. She glanced at her phone, which was on the table beside her. “That was fifteen minutes ago. I lost track of time. He should be almost here?”

The way she said it told me she was just as worried as I was. Evan still walked alone almost every morning, right past the corner where Jim Frankel had smashed Evan’s head into the sidewalk. Some days, I walked with him so he wouldn’t have to go past that spot alone. Some days I couldn’t make it, but I always at least texted him. I should have made sure to text him today, but I’d been so pissed at Ernesto I’d just blown out of the house and stomped off to the shop.

Holly picked up her phone. “I’m going to text him again.”

“I’m going to go find him.” I couldn’t have said why, but I had the horrible feeling something had happened to Evan. Again.

My stomach twisted when I remembered the way I’d found him the day he’d been beaten up. Lying on the sidewalk, face bloody, with Frankel on top of him still taking swings. I wouldn’t let anything like that happen to Evan ever again.

I dropped my backpack on the floor beside their table. They would keep an eye on it. I didn’t run out of the shop or up the street, but I badly wanted to. If Evan had left his house fifteen minutes before I reached the shop, he should have been there already. Or at least I should have been able to see him walking up the street. But he was nowhere in sight.

He had to be okay. Maybe he’d left something at home and had gone back for it. Heart racing, I walked up the sidewalk as fast as I could.

I found him standing on the corner where they’d beaten him up. Just standing there staring at his phone, which lay on the ground in almost the same spot where it had landed that morning. He looked up at me with wet eyes when I reached him.

“What’s wrong?” Without thinking, I put my arms around him, and he leaned into me. “Evan, are you okay?”

“You’d better let me go.” He sniffled. “Someone might see you hugging the gay kid.”

“Shut up.” I hated hearing him talk that way, and it was even worse because it was my fault. I’d asked him to hide that we were together. But he needed me, and I didn’t care if people saw me hugging him right then. “What happened?”

He pulled away and nodded at his phone. “Pick it up. I can’t.”

I did. The screen had gone black, so I pressed the button on the side of the phone and unlocked the screen.

You’re going to die, fag.

Work In Progress

I’m in the final stages of writing a new YA urban fantasy novel.

Well, sort of new. It was actually originally part of my series The Dark Lines, either book 21 or book 1 of section 3, depending on how I decided to count. (Yes, it was confusing.) It was not one of the Dark Lines books that got published, since the series only was published up to book 4.

As originally written, The Dark Lines was a series of 30 books, broken into three 10-book parts. The first part, Dark Portals, is the one that contains the four previously-published books, and introduces readers to Topher James and Blake Walker, who, along with their friends, are drawn into the universal war between light and darkness. The second part, Dark Path, bounces back in time to before Blake’s birth, beginning just before Topher is born, and follows three of the Dark Portals adults as teens who were also drawn into that war.

The third part, Dark Incarnation, begins about two years after the final Dark Portals books. It introduces some new characters, including an incarnate force of darkness who is trying to destroy Blake–and will succeed if the characters don’t find out who it is.

I wrote the original series before I’d had any fiction published, and for almost four years I was completely immersed in that universe, so much so that my other urban fantasy series, Reality Shift, ended up sharing the world and several characters with The Dark Lines, although it took place about five years after the end of Dark Incarnation.

I’ve never really stopped wanting to explore that universe more. Even though I had completed first drafts of all 30 Dark Lines books and all 10 Reality Shift, since they weren’t all published and are now out of print, there are many ways I can twist and turn things to bring back those characters and enjoy reworking their stories.

Turnaround is book 1 of Dark Incarnation… but as I sorted through it and the rest of the Dark Incarnation and unpublished Dark Portals books, I realized it shares some common themes and plot devices with my recent novel Where No One Knows. Since Dark Incarnation is destined for Harmony Ink Press, home of WNOK, and because a couple of reviews I’ve seen of WNOK have asked for more about those characters, I’ve decided to combine the two universes.

That took some work. I had to eliminate some of the DI characters and replace them with characters from WNOK. I had to combine some characters into one because of similarities between them and the roles they play in the overall DI plot. And I had to completely relocate DI, which has some action taking place in Boston but is primarily based in Maine, while WNOK ends in Winthrop, a town just outside Boston. (Winthrop, although not named in any of the books, is also the setting for the first four Deep Secrets and Hope novels.)

I think I’ve gotten things pretty well put together, and although I’ve had to give up some of my favorite bits of The Dark Lines, I’m excited about what has become partly a new series. Next week, I’ll share a little more about it.

Teaser Thursday- High Heels and Lipstick

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Out of the three of them, Holly was the only one I wanted to talk to at a time like this. She was the one I wanted to talk to most of the time. And now I really needed to talk to her. I didn’t want to bother her, because she was in most of my classes, so I knew how much homework she had. But I had to talk to someone, so I pressed her name.

“Hey, Chastaine.” Her warm voice pushed away some of the dark cloud over me. “Do you think the teachers get paid extra if they give us so much homework we don’t have time to sleep?”

“Who knows?” I tried to laugh and failed. I usually enjoyed Holly’s sense of humor, but tonight, nothing struck me as funny.

“Are you okay?” Paper rustled. “I guess you aren’t calling about the chemistry assignment.”

“Not really.” I hesitated. I spent way too much time whining to Holly.

“Tell me,” Holly said.

I took a deep breath and let it all out without giving myself time for second thoughts. “Jim pled guilty. He admitted what he did to me and Maryellen. The court’s going to sentence him. I don’t know when, and I don’t know what, but he’s going to pay. But people aren’t going to believe it even if he’s the one saying it. They’re still going to say Maryellen and I lied.” The words poured out of my mouth.

“Whoa. Slow down.” Again I heard rustling at her end of the phone. “He said he did it?”

“Yeah.” Tears started running down my cheeks, and this time I didn’t manage to hold back the sobs. I had no clue why I was crying. Jim pleading guilty was good news.

I was ruining my makeup and going back on my promise to myself to not let the jerks win. But now that I had someone listening to me, I couldn’t stop.

Holly didn’t say anything until I managed to calm down. “They’re going to send him to jail or something?”

“I don’t know yet. Whoever talked to my dad said Jim hasn’t been sentenced yet.” I didn’t even know for sure who Dad had talked to. The prosecutor, I guessed.

I started crying harder again, and my nose got all stuffed up, which annoyed the hell out of me since I didn’t have any tissues. I grabbed a shirt off the floor and held that against my nose. Holly’s breathing on the other end of the phone became a rope I held onto for a few minutes. Proof that someone was there for me.

Finally, she said, “Relief? Is that why you’re crying?”

“I don’t know.” I sniffled and tried to convince myself I was through with the tears. “Probably. Plus you’re listening to me. Most people don’t.”

“I’m not most people.” She paused. “All the crap you and Maryellen deal with. Maybe it’ll be over now. People will find out he pled guilty, and they’ll stop saying you’re lying and all the other stuff. And it’s about damn time. It isn’t right that you and Maryellen are getting the consequences for what Jim did.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want me to come over?” she asked.

“Um.” I had to think about that one. Having her sitting beside me would make things a little easier, but it was getting late, at least by my parents’ standards. I wasn’t supposed to have company or leave the house after eight on school nights, and if I was already out, I had to be home before ten. Those had always been my rules, even before all the shit hit the fan. For some stupid reason, my parents thought being strict would keep me from doing things they considered wrong.

They’d pretty much figured out otherwise once the whole thing about Jim and my sex life came out, but they hadn’t let up on the rules. And I didn’t dare to ask if they would consider it.

“I can’t,” I said finally. “My parents.”

Teaser Thursday- Blue Jeans and Sweatshirts

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“Drink some juice,” Dad said, pointing at the glass of orange juice beside my seat.

“Um….” I looked at him.

He looked worried. Not angry or anything. Just worried.

I took a tiny sip of juice to make him happy. “What’s going on?”

“We’ll talk when your mother sits down.”

“Breakfast is almost ready,” Mom said in the fake cheerful voice she used when she was so frustrated she wanted to throw something.

That wasn’t much of a surprise. She didn’t enjoy cooking, and when she did it, she often messed things up. Judging from how much trouble she was having with the pancake, I guessed she hadn’t had a whole lot of luck with breakfast in general.

Which gave me even more of a reason to wonder why she was cooking, especially on a weekday when she and Dad would have to leave soon to catch the train into the city for work.

She finally finished attempting to cook and set a plate of pancakes and one of bacon in the center of the table. “Dig in. We don’t have much time. Holly, your dad and I wanted to talk to you, and we thought it would be better to take care of it right away rather than wait until the weekend.”

“Oh.” That sounded even more ominous. My heart sped up a little, and my stomach started rolling again. “What are we taking care of?”

“You’ve lost quite a bit of weight lately.” Dad took a couple of pancakes and dumped syrup on them. “Losing weight isn’t a bad thing, but it’s happened very fast.”

“And you don’t eat,” Mom said. “You argue with me when I make supper, and I come home and there’s the same amount of food in the cupboards and fridge as when I left, which makes me think you aren’t eating during the day.”

“What do you do, take inventory?” I rolled my eyes, trying to act like I had no clue what their problem was.

But my chest was tight, and I couldn’t look at either of them. They’d figured out what was going on. I couldn’t let them know they were right, or they would force me to eat or something. Maybe they would actually start taking inventory.

They would make me stop losing weight, and I couldn’t let that happen. When I’d tried on my clothes the other day, some of the things Chastaine had given me that were too tight at first had fit a lot better, and some of the things I’d wanted to hold onto had been way too big. I liked that. It was proof that even if I only saw a fat girl in the mirror, I was actually making progress.

Teaser Thursday- Work Boots and Tees

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Then I noticed something on the screen. While I’d been doing the crybaby thing, someone had sent me a private message. The name on it was Smith Jones, which was pretty obviously fake. As soon as I saw the name, I knew I shouldn’t read the message.

I read it anyway.

Welcome back, rapist. We’re going to find out where you went and make sure everyone there knows what you did. Stay tuned for further developments, unless you can’t handle the heat.

A chill shot right through me, and the breaths I’d been taking suddenly didn’t bring in any air at all. My hands shook.

I set the tablet on the table before I dropped it again and stood there staring at it.

Someone knew I was reading the posts on my wall. They would tell others. All the people who’d said that crap would know I’d read it, and they would keep posting.

According to my account, I still lived in Massachusetts. But that didn’t mean much. It was way too easy to track someone down online and find out their location, phone number, whatever someone wanted to know. Smith Jones wasn’t just blowing smoke. He, she, whatever would eventually learn that I was in Ludington, and they would tell everyone here about my past.

I almost answered the message to try to find out who was threatening me. But he or she almost definitely wouldn’t tell me who they really were. I’d done the same kind of thing to Guillermo months ago, when I tried to out him to pay him back for turning me in for beating up Evan. I’d sent him messages from the “Honesty Police” threatening to tell everyone he was gay. He might have guessed it was me, but I hadn’t told him.

If Smith Jones told me their identity, it would kill their whole purpose. They wanted me to be afraid.

Besides, answering them would give them what they wanted. They probably hoped I would start asking questions so they could yank me around. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. They could keep right on hiding behind their keyboard. Even though they’d be able to see that I’d read the message, I didn’t have to give them anything else.

Another message popped up, and this time my entire body went numb. It was the link to the sex offender registry.

So far you and I are the only ones who know I have this. But I’d be happy to share it on your wall.

I couldn’t control my hands to pick up the tablet or type anything. Not that replying would have made a difference. They wanted me to beg them to keep the link to themselves, but even if I did, there was no guarantee they wouldn’t spread it around anyway.

My brain kept spewing gibberish. Smith Jones would make sure everyone saw my name on the registry. I’d get more hate. More death threats. For all I knew, people would come to the trailer or the shop and drag me outside to beat the hell out of me.

“Everyone at home knows what I did.” I had to say it out loud. It was the only way to cut through the noise in my head. “It won’t matter if they see the link. They know anyway. And the only people who can see my wall are people at home.”

Except my profile wasn’t private. Anyone who knew my name could search me on Facebook and find my wall. Anyone, including Manny and his art club friends. Or Delia’s friends or customers. If Smith Jones posted that link publicly, everyone in Ludington might see it, and I would pay for it. Worse, they might do something to Delia for letting me work at the shop.

My vision grayed out. I couldn’t breathe. All this time I’d thought I would be safe nine hundred miles from home. Maybe I really was an idiot. After what I’d done, I wouldn’t be safe anywhere except dead.

Being dead sounded pretty good right then. I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. I wouldn’t have to spend every single day with the memories of what I’d done and what he had done to me. The times I’d sunk this low before, I’d convinced myself living with the memories was fair punishment for hurting Chastaine and Maryellen. But this time I wasn’t trying to escape the memories. I had to escape the people who could make sure everyone in the world found out the truth about me.

I stumbled into the bathroom. Delia had a bunch of prescriptions in the medicine cabinet. I didn’t know what she took them for, but it didn’t matter. Enough medicine of any kind would do the job.

Teaser Thursday- Ball Caps and Khakis

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Regardless of what time it was, or how much homework I had, I would have to ask Dad to take me to Jim’s. Life would have been easier if I had my driver’s license, but Mom vetoed the idea every time I brought it up. As far as she was concerned, I didn’t need to be behind the wheel until college at the earliest.

I knew better than to give Jim a heads-up I was going out there, though. He would argue, and if I showed up anyway, it would give him another reason to push me away. He would be angry if I went to his place unexpectedly, but not as much as if I did it after he told me not to.

Before I even got off my bed, the phone rang. Surprised, I pressed the screen to answer. Jim never called me.

“Don’t even think about coming over,” he said before I even said hello. “I know how you are. When I say Delia’s busy, I mean she asked me not to interrupt her. And it’s none of your business.”

“I wasn’t going to ask.” I took a deep breath.

“Good.” He paused. “I’m going to tell her as soon as I can. I’ll be fine until then. I’m worried, but I’m not going to do anything stupid. I’ll call my therapist in the morning, if it makes you feel better.”

“Call me too,” I said. “Or text me. I don’t care if you even just send a blank text. At least I’ll know you’re still okay.”

“You’re a pain in the ass.” He made a noise that might have been a laugh. I couldn’t really tell. “Fine. I’ll text you in the morning. I’ll tell Delia as soon as I can. Be honest. Why did you tell me about it? You had to know I was going to be upset about it.”

“You would have been more upset if you found out I knew about it and didn’t tell you.”

“Point.” He was silent again for a moment. “Okay. I promise I’ll tell Delia as soon as I can, I’ll call Terry in the morning, and I’ll text you. And you promise me you won’t come out here. If you hear anything more about your sister’s friend or those girls who came in today, you’ll tell me even if you think I’ll get upset?”

I took a second to register what he was saying. What he was asking. He almost never asked for anything. And he sounded scared. He was actually letting me hear how he felt. That wasn’t like him.

“I promise,” I said.

“Good. Go finish your homework or whatever you were doing. I was getting ready for bed.” He made the sound again. “Like I’ll be able to. Anyway, if you don’t hear from me by…. You have school tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah. No days off until Memorial Day.”

“Thought so. If you don’t hear from me by the end of your first class, you can text me.”

“Okay.”

“I’m only saying that because I don’t get up as early as you,” he said quickly. “I keep my promises.”

“I know.” I didn’t, actually. He’d never made me any promises before that I remembered.

“Good.”

I started to say the same thing, but I didn’t quite get the word out before he hung up.

I put down the phone and picked up my book again. For the next hour, I stared at the pages, hoping somehow the words would flow from there into my brain.