I walked straight over to Gam and opened my arms, but like a football player, she straight-armed my chest and stopped me dead in my tracks. “Don’t ‘Oh, hey’ me,” she said angrily. “I want to talk to you, and how you respond will determine whether or not you get a hug.”

Wow.

“Uh . . . okay.”

“Let’s sit.” She motioned for me to follow her into the kitchen.

I stopped in the doorway as soon as I saw Kat standing at the counter cutting something. “Why don’t we go in the living room? I want to sit on the couch.”

Gam turned and stared at me for a second. “Fine. Not that I give a rat’s ass about you being comfortable right now, but fine.”

We walked to the living room and she sat in her usual chair, me across from her on the couch.

My eyes darted around the room, avoiding hers. She wasn’t talking or doing anything else, she just sat perfectly still, glaring at me.

After I minute, I took a deep breath, “So—”

“What the fuck is the matter with you?” she interrupted immediately.

I exhaled heavily on the other side of her sentence. I knew damn well what she meant, but I needed every second I could buy. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb and stall with me,” she said, shaking her head. “What the hell is going on in that puny little brain of yours?”

“You don’t understand,” I started to defend, but she cut me off again.

“Oh, I understand just fine. You had the best thing that ever happened to you tightly in your grasp, and you let her go.”

“I didn’t let her go—”

“You sure did. You walked out of that house.”

“She told me to get out!”

“Because you were acting like an asshole. I would have told you to get out, too. Hell, I would have told you a lot more than that.”

I didn’t respond. There was no point. Gam was severely ticked off at me, not letting me get a full sentence out, and I needed a breather. “I’m gonna go get a drink. You take ten deep breaths while I’m gone and when I get back, we’re going to talk like normal people, got it?”

I stood up and started my way to the kitchen.

“You sure you’re coming back, right? You’re not gonna just leave and then not call me for weeks on end?” she called out.

I gritted my teeth and kept on walking. My head throbbed and I just wanted to get in my car and go, but I knew that if I left, the next time I saw Gam it would be five hundred times worse. Pausing halfway across the kitchen, I gripped the back of the kitchen chair tightly and lowered my head, sighing loudly.

Michelle hated me.

Gam was mad at me.

Even Brody was pissed at me.

Every part of my life was a fucking mess, and I didn’t even know where to begin cleaning it—or if I even wanted to.

“You okay?” Kat asked softly from somewhere behind me.

“Not really,” I said quietly, shaking my head.

She took a step to the side of me. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Without taking my hands off the chair, I turned my head and looked at her. Her jet-black hair was the same, her tattoos were the same, and her eyes were the same. Other than that, I hardly recognized her. She chewed nervously on the corner of her dark red lip as she waited for my answer. The old Kat would have told me to shut the fuck up and get over whatever it was that was pissing me off, but this Kat looked timid and sweet . . . softer.

“Uh . . . no. I’ll be fine,” I grumbled as I straightened up from the chair and went to the fridge.

“Congratulations, by the way.”

“For what?” I bent down and reached way in the back of the fridge where Gam kept my bottles of root beer.

“Your baby.”

Baby. Baby. My baby.

My hand closed around the bottle and froze. “How did you know about that?”

“Michelle was here yesterday, with Gam. They were talking in the kitchen, and there isn’t exactly a lot of room in here, so I overheard.”

I grabbed the bottle and shut the fridge. “Gotcha. Well, thanks.”

“You’re going to be a great dad,” she added, peeking up at me from under her long, dark bangs.

I twisted the cap off of the root beer and took a long drink, the carbonation stinging the back of my throat.

As I lowered the bottle from my mouth, I leaned against the counter and stared at her. “Doubtful.”

“No it’s not.” She shook her head.

“Sorry about my text the other night,” I said, changing the subject. “I was really drunk and don’t even really remember doing it.”

She rolled her eyes and cracked a smile. “I figured. It was pretty random.”

“Yeah . . . anyway, sorry about the text. Sorry about being a jerk.”

She wrapped her arms around herself nervously. “Thanks. I appreciate the apology. I get it though. I’m sure it was weird for you to show up to your grandma’s house and see me here, of all people. Then again, I know you’ve had a lot of . . . people . . . in your life, so I’m not trying to say I was memorable or anything.”

I let out a quick laugh. “By people you mean women?”

She shrugged. “Kinda.”

“I’ve definitely had my fair share of “people” but you weren’t like all the others. It was different with you.”

Her face flushed as she looked away shyly. “Thanks. That means a lot. I’m not the same girl I was back then, but I do have some really good memories of us . . . together.”

“Lawrence! Quit being a chicken shit and get back out here!” Gam called from the living room.

I raised my eyebrows and gave her a tight smile without saying anything as I left the room.

I set my root beer on the coffee table.

“Okay. Where were we?” I said with a sigh as I sat back on the couch. “Let me have it.”

Her shoulders dropped and her face relaxed. “I don’t want to let you have it. That’s not what I want at all. I do want to understand why you’re acting like this though.”

“Acting like what? Maybe I’m not acting like anything.” I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees, looking her straight in the eye. “Just like I told Brody, maybe this is the real me. I’ve been the same guy all my life, then for the last year, I was someone else. Maybe that was the act.”

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