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He stumbled over his lies, frustrated. “I can get you all paid back next month. I just need to get on my feet, son. After everything I’ve done for you, you can’t help out your old man?”

“What have you done for me?” I said, trying to keep my voice at a whisper.

“What did you say to me?” he asked, his voice low and menacing.

“You heard me. Mom was the one paying your bills. You left her for someone who doesn’t, and now you’re borrowing money from your seventeen-year-old son. You beat the shit out of me and Mom, you left, you never worked . . . your contribution to my life ends at accomplishing something guys think about twenty-four hours a day. That doesn’t qualify you for anything, Dad, especially not a loan. Stop calling me . . . unless it’s to apologize.”

“You little motherfu—”

I hung up, letting my head fall back. I silenced my phone, and seconds later it buzzed. I pressed and held the button, swiping to turn it off completely.

Catherine hugged my arm tight.

I looked out the window, cussing my dad under my breath. My entire body was shaking, and I couldn’t make it stop.

“I didn’t know,” she said, squeezing me. “I’m so sorry.”

“Hey,” I said, smiling down at her. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. I’m sorry I woke you.”

She looked around, noticing my new letterman jacket over her lap. She handed it back, sad. “He hurt you?”

I brushed her hair back from her face, then held my palm against her cheek. “It’s over. He can’t hurt me anymore.”

“Are you okay?” she asked. “Is there anything I can do?”

I smiled. “It’s enough that you care to even ask.”

She leaned against my hand. “Of course I do.”

The shakes slowly vanished, the anger melting away. Catherine didn’t talk about her feelings very often, and any crumb she dropped for me felt like a huge gesture.

She looked around, trying to figure out where we were. “How long have I been asleep?”

I shrugged. “A while. Twenty-Ninth Street. When you get good and woke up, we’ll switch places.”

“You know,” she said, sitting up, “we don’t have to do this today.”

I breathed out a laugh. “Yeah, we kinda do.”

“I was having the best dream,” she said.

“Yeah? Was I there?”

She shook her head, her eyes glossing over.

“Hey,” I said, squeezing her to me. “It’s okay. Talk to me.”

“My dad came home, but it was now, not before. He was really confused, and when he realized what Mama had done, he was angry. Angrier than I’d ever seen him. He told her he was leaving, and he left, but he took me with him. I packed a few things, and we left in the Buick. It was like new. Started right up. The farther we drove away from the Juniper, the safer I felt. I wish . . . maybe if we had really done that, Dad would be alive right now.”

“I can’t fix that, but I can drive you away from the Juniper. We can get in the car, and just . . . drive.”

She leaned against me, looking at the gray sky through the blurry windshield. “To where?”

“Wherever you want. Anywhere.”

“That sounds . . . free.”

“We will be,” I said. “But you’ve gotta learn to drive first. It’s not safe for you to go if you can’t take over if you need to.”

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