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I hadn’t known there was some on Gail’s part.

And the next day, after I went with Siobhan to check on some seriously cute seahorses, I knew the time for my phone call had come. I would’ve signed up for anything else instead of having to call Gail and deal with this. Even spending time with Stone. Gasp. Shrinks in horror, but yes. Even spending time with Stone would be preferable than doing this.

All that said, I couldn’t stall anymore.

If they were threatening a lawsuit, I knew they’d go through with it. They had money. We did not. They’d already almost buried us. I didn’t want to give them another chance to dig that shovel down any further into our despair. I wasn’t sure how much more we could take, so I was sitting in my car, in my parking spot behind the house, as I made the call.

The house was still empty and I was assuming it would be until everyone returned the next day, or tonight, but I still didn’t want to chance being overheard.

“Honey! What a pleasant surprise.”

God. I ached inside. She was so happy.

“Your father and I are just moving out to the patio with a cup of coffee. I know you’re off, pursuing your dream, but I was just wishing you were here. A phone call is the best surprise yet.”


This was going to be hard.

I closed my eyes, readying myself. “I got a phone call from Stone.”

She was quiet on her end.

I waited.

I heard my dad ask, “What’d she say?”

Still, she was quiet. Then, a soft, “Oh, honey. I didn’t want you to have to deal with that.”

My voice was low, gravelly, like Stone’s had been. “He sent me the text you sent to Barb.”

“Oh, dear.”

That was so not what I wanted to hear.

“Oh, dear?” I repeated her words to her. “What were you thinking?”

“I thought since Stone is down there, and you’re there, and I’ve heard so many stories about how close the two of you were—”

I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

Her words were twisting around in my head, mixing with my own memories, and all of it was bad. All of it was tainted. I could feel my mom. I could feel when her hand went slack. I was back there instead, in the room when she died, and Gail was on the phone instead of her.

“Stop,” I yelled, my voice hoarse. I was so raw, so fucking raw. “Just. Stop.”

My mom.

She’d been there.

Then she was gone.

The chemo hadn’t worked. The cancer progressed too fast.

I watched my mother die.

“Dusty, honey.”

My dad’s rough voice broke out, “Let me talk to her! I’ll handle this.”

“No!” Gail snapped back with a voice I had never heard before from her. She said harshly, “You’ll make it worse.” Then she was back, and quieter, soft again. “Honey. I’m sorry. I just thought he’s down there. You’re there. I’ve seen you both suffer so much, and his family owes us. His family owes you.”

“No!” I couldn’t stomach anymore. Gail came into the picture after my mom was buried. She heard the stories, and I was now realizing she’d been getting ideas that I did not want her to have. “Let me explain this.” I was speaking in a voice I had never heard before myself. My skin had been turned inside out. There was nothing to hide behind now. I felt like everything was scraped off of me. That’s what enduring that year had done to me. “You really need to hear me.”

I waited. I needed a moment to gather myself.

I felt like I was crumbling.

“I hate Stone Reeves.”

I heard her gasp on the other end.

I kept on, “I hate him with a passion I didn’t even know I possessed, and I was already hating him long before what his father did to us. I moved down here because my mom told me to reach for my dreams. I moved down here because I went through something; well, something that taught me life is actually short and I need to be making decisions for me. And saying that, it was something that I hadn’t already learned through losing my mother. But having said that, life is not short enough where I would ever want Stone Reeves back in it.”

She was sniffling now.

I refused to. “Let it go. Let whatever notion you have in your head about how this is going to resolve itself because it’s not going to happen.”


“He called me. He texted me. He said they’ll sue if you don’t stop. Gail, please. Don’t put my father and me through more pain.”

I was there again, holding my mom’s hand.

“I can’t survive another round with that family.”

I felt her hand go, again. It was always again. Over and over again, and I worked so hard to push that memory away, but it was back.

It was going to haunt me.

“Please.” A whisper from me.

I heard more sniffling on her end, and then a pause before she said, so quietly, “Okay.”

I felt dead inside. “Tell my father I love him.” Then I hung up and texted Stone.

Me: It’s done.

I didn’t give him a chance to respond. I blocked his number.

As far as I was concerned, Stone Reeves was out of my life for good.

Chapter Seven

Studying with Siobhan and Trent was more about drinking beer and avoiding the television because it was set to the football game. And watching the two of them flirt without really flirting, but both totally knowing they were flirting.

It was fun to watch, but I was also cold to it.

I didn’t like that I was like that, but I was. Romance. Sexual chemistry. Even the fun at the beginning, like what they’re going through right now, I was turned off to it. There was a firm wall built in me, and Siobhan whispered at one point that Trent had a roommate and if I was interested, he’d invite him out for me. She asked and nothing. Stone cold—crap. Wrong phrase. Deadness inside.

That’s what I was, but I knew that wasn’t normal. I mean, it made sense to me why I was like that. The event I went through before coming here…yeah, my throat was swelling up. Emotions that I didn’t want to deal with swept up at a startling rate and I felt my throat choking up.

I pushed it down. Another firm shove, just like with all the other uncomfortable and painful stuff.

Fine. I’d be this way. But I’d fake it. I’d have to. Give me a course in marine mammals and I’d be happy as a clam. Offer to set me up, and full on arctic blast inside of me. No one likes someone who is apathetic to the excitement going on in their lives, though. That’s the problem. That wasn’t a good way to make and keep friends, and I wanted Siobhan to be my friend. I almost needed it, desperately. If I didn’t have one friend, then who was I and what was my purpose?

I’d have to travel back to the worry from before that there was something truly unfixable about me.

I gripped my glass just thinking about that, and glancing down, I thought belatedly that I needed to loosen my grip. My fingers were white. I was either going to shatter the glass, or I was going to break my fingers. One or the other.

Expelling a harsh breath, I forced myself to stop thinking. That’s how I’d get through life right now. No thoughts about personal stuff. Just academia. Marine biology. I could recite the forty-four species of dolphins frontwards and backwards in my sleep, and I salivated over learning more. That was my goal. Eye on the prize. That’s what I’d do, and clipping my head in a firm nod to myself, feeling all rallied from my own pep-talk, I crossed the bar back to where Trent and Siobhan were leaning with their heads angled toward the other.


Maybe I should make my exit? I told her I would if she gave me the word, but we’d never discussed what the code word would be.

I tried to wordlessly ask Siobhan as I slid onto my stool, but she lifted her head up with a welcoming smile. And some relief. The lines around her mouth slackened at me coming back from getting a refill. Okay. I’d be staying a bit longer.

“It’s picking up in here.”

Trent was looking over my shoulder toward the door and the rest of the bar. We were in a corner, but I noticed the expanding crowd as well on the way back. A surge of customers came in just as I was getting my beer.

Siobhan frowned. “Well, it is eight, and it’s the campus bar. The game probably finished and everyone’s making their way back into town.”

Trent cursed, shoving up his glasses. He frowned. “You’re right. I forgot the first official game was today.”

Siobhan explained to me. “The other bar is the normal hang-out when there’s an off campus game, and now this one will be at full capacity. The team usually comes back after and sometimes they stop here before going wherever they go. Both places will be swamped the rest of the night.” She was looking around. “I forgot. I mean, I knew, but I forgot.” Her eyes lingered on Trent a moment, almost apologetic.

He looked, caught her, and both turned away quickly.

I would’ve been amused, or felt I should’ve been amused, if I wasn’t thinking about how my house would probably be party central tonight. If the team was coming back, I knew my roommates would be, too.

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