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“No.” I was thinking, concussion be damned. “If you take the house back, what do they still owe?”

He hesitated again, the second time acting like a human. “They still owe us a hundred thousand. They took out a second loan to pay for some items for her son, I believe.” His mouth pressed in before he said, “There’s no money for you. There was a small amount they set aside for Jared, a fund that Gail had separate. His father’s not in the picture, correct?”

I nodded. “Uh. Yeah. She never talked about him. I don’t think he had parental rights to him. But I wasn’t around that often. I was at college, then I moved here. Jared never mentioned him either. It was a secret. I guess. I never thought to wonder about it.”

He frowned, pulling out some papers from his briefcase. “Paternal rights were taken away when Jared was two. There was a domestic abuse issue.”

Jesus. My chest stopped working for a moment.

Two? What happened to my stepbrother and Gail?

I whispered, “Two years old?”

“Hmmm, yes.” He put the papers back. “The file’s closed. I don’t believe Jared even knows what happened, but in my career, if rights were taken away at that age, it’s with good reason.”

I needed to call Jared. I’d been putting it off for too long.

“So.” He read through the last of his papers and handed me the last one, along with a pen. “As for your father’s personal effects. They’ve been put in a storage facility and I have the key for you. Mr. Reeves has said you’ve been ill yourself. The storage’s been rented out for the next three months. Once those months are done, you’ll have to take over the payments, or his effects will be sold. All rights revert back to the storage owners.”

He reached into his pocket, pulling out a key on a keychain, and slid it over the table to me.

Stone took the key, asking, “You have their business card?”

“Oh, yes. Here it is.”

Stone took that, as well, standing up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

I already knew what he was doing. He was taking over payment after the ninety-days were up, but once I was better, I was traveling there and going through everything. I’d have to do it over a weekend because no matter what, I wasn’t missing out on any more college classes.

“If you can sign here, Miss Phillips?” He pointed to the bottom of the paper. “This just says that I’ve gone over the last will and testament of your father.” As I signed, he stood and collected the rest of his stuff, putting it into his briefcase. “I truly am sorry that we met under these circumstances. Your father spoke very highly of you the few times I met him. I looked up to him as a man, and as the kind of father I’d like to be one day.”

The words sounded nice, but after signing, he almost bolted for the door.

“What a dick.” Came from the side.

I grinned but looked down. It was all so neat and tidy. He’d left me a copy of everything and told me the extent of my father’s belongings were in a storage shelter.

“I took care of the payments, and what was still owed. I’ll set up everything tomorrow.”

I had nothing to even fight him on that. A hundred thousand was too much, and I knew that it would take me probably my entire life to pay him back. But I would. I would.

“Thank you.”

Stone didn’t respond, and I was grateful.

I could hear my mom’s laughter. It was faint, but I heard it and I was back there. “She liked to twirl sometimes.” I looked up. “When she was baking with us. She’d wear that yellow apron, especially when she was making something for you. I don’t have those memories of him.” Those memories were the hard ones. “We survived together after she died. We were roommates in that apartment. I went to school and worked. He worked. We just survived side by side. Then he met Gail three months after we buried Mom, and he was with Gail after that.”

Then I graduated. Then I went to community college, but I had to take time to work before starting classes.

There were other memories. Had to be. “I don’t have those same memories of him. He taught me to ride a bike. And throw a baseball.”

Stone said, “I taught you to throw a baseball.”

“Oh.” That was right. “Yeah. He went fishing with me—”

“I took you fishing. I hated the worms, remember? You didn’t care. You hooked the bait for us.”

Another memory I got wrong. I flashed him a smile, feeling the back of my neck heating up. “My concussion. Fucks with the head.”

He grunted. “That’s the definition of a concussion.” Checking his phone, he looked up. “I should head in. You ready to go?”

Change of subject. Thank God. Someone else might’ve done it to save me from the embarrassment of remembering how little I had with my father, but I could tell with Stone, he was done with the conversation. Sometimes he was thoughtful. This giving side was a throwback to our childhood, to the friend I used to remember, but right now, knowing he truly wanted to get going, this was the newer Stone. And his change of subject had nothing to do with me and was completely all about him.

I almost loved him for it, too. Almost.

“Yes. Let me change clothes and I’m ready to go.”

I started for the guest area, but he caught the back of my jeans. “You’re good. You look hot anyway.” He nodded for the back door. “Let’s go. I told my coach I’d be there by now. I know he’s waiting.”

Stone thought I was hot. What. The. Hell.

I paused, that thought flashing through my body, but then it was numb again. Gone. That brief spark vanished.

So, we left. I had time to grab my phone, then dash out to the garage.

Stone powered his window down. “You set the code?”

I backtracked, setting the code he told me earlier, and then dashed out to his truck. The drive there was actually peaceful. For some reason, I liked riding in the passenger seat with Stone driving. He wasn’t too reckless, but he drove how he played. Wild at times. Reckless. But also smart and controlled, too. Efficient. When we were at a stoplight, I half expected the people right next to us to recognize him.

They didn’t.

“You have tinted windows?”

He nodded, easing forward as the light turned green. “Yeah. I had a scary incident last year, and since then, I’ll never not have tinted windows again. Only reason that one photographer got you was because you hadn’t totally shut the door yet.”

“Good to know.”

We went to where he worked.

He parked in a back lot, and we walked in through an off-door. A few other workers were around, and they raised their hand up, saying hello to Stone as he walked by. The orange and brown colors from the Kings displayed everywhere.

We went down one hallway and he paused outside a door, pushing it open. He stuck his head in, then backed up. “You can hang out in here.” It was a waiting room. There were couches. A television. A kitchenette area. He went to the fridge and opened it. “You can help yourself, and I’ll be about an hour. Two, tops. That okay?” He went to a closed door and toed it open. It was a bathroom. Then he went to the exit and glanced back. “You’re going to still be here and alive when I come back?”

I had my phone. I waved it. “I’ll call 911 and give them your credit card number if I need anything.”

He stared at me, gauging my intent, then rolled his eyes. “Har, har.”

Yeah. Har, har back.

It was a weird dynamic between us. Moments of kindness, moments of caring and then moments of strain and sarcasm and bitterness. This time it was all on me. I knew the next would be his. Cursing me as I’m in the hospital, totally something Stone would do. And me being bitter when he’s bringing me into this sanctum, where I knew so many would pay in blood to switch places—yeah. That was Stone and me.

I made some coffee while he was gone. I drank some of the water. I ate a yogurt, and had settled in, an HBO movie on when my phone started blowing up.

I picked it up, hitting one of the alerts.

Childhood Sweethearts? Mystery Woman Identified!

Say It Isn’t So! Is Reeves Off The Market?

And another headline, this one with a bigger kick than the others.

Recent Trauma Brought Them Together?

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I could repeat that forever and ever and ever and etcetera here because fuuuuuuuuck. Every single article had me tagged, and the last one brought up my car accident. I was skimming, but none of the others had the information about my dad and Gail.

I didn’t know if this could get back and affect Jared’s life, but I was hoping it wouldn’t.

Then my phone started ringing, and my stomach really did turn inside out. Jared’s name was flashing on the screen. Wow, that was quite the coincidence, him calling me at same time I’d just thought about him.

I hit accept and stood, already instantly nervous. “Hi.”

He was quiet on the other end, just a second. “You kidding? That’s the first thing you have to say to me?”


“Mom and Dad died a week ago, and nothing. Apollo’s mom and dad told me that they’re adopting me today. Where are you? You don’t want me?”



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