After seeing Dylan with the redhead, I sunk deeper into a depression. Even working at Lark’s house did nothing to distract me. I simply went through the motions. Fortunately, Lark was especially tired and slept most of the day, so she never noticed my bad mood. Harlow wasn’t as oblivious as we washed dishes after dinner. “What’s up, stinky pup?” I rolled my eyes at her nickname for me. “Nothing.” “She doesn’t want to deal with the leaves,” Jace said from behind us. Our ten year old brother crossed his arms like Dad often did when suspicious. “See, she got spooked last night and bailed on raking the leaves. They ended up blowing around the yard and now she’s trying to get out of raking them again.” “That’s not it.” “Sure, it is,” he said, his dark hair covering his narrowed eyes. “What else could it be?” Grumpy, I decided to punish him. “It’s about a sexy guy.” Jace’s face twisted into horror. “Eww!” he cried, running out of the room. Harlow and I laughed at the sound of him telling on me to Mom. “In a few years, girls will be all he thinks about,” I said, returning to the dishes. Harlow leaned her head against my shoulder. “Sexy guy, huh?” “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your fight?” Harlow glanced at the clock. “Yeah. When I get back, I want to hear about the sexy guy making you sigh so much.” As my sister dressed to go, I finished the dishes and struggled to stop sighing. I was still grumpy when Dad got home. In this living room, he told Harlow to be careful. She said something and laughed. When Harlow started fighting at the Thunderdome, she called herself Joy and hid it from our parents. She didn’t think they’d approve and she was right. Harlow and I were naïve to assume they wouldn’t find out long before she told them the truth though. Dad might be a pastor, but he learned about the Lord in prison. As a member of the Reapers, Dad had eyes and ears all over Ellsberg. He likely knew Harlow was fighting before she threw her first punch. Entering the kitchen, Dad smiled at me. “Stop talking about cute boys around your brother. He has a sensitive gag reflex.” I laughed as he got himself a beer and joined me at the sink. “Mom said we have leftovers. Mind warming them up for me?” Shaking my head, I filled a plate and set it in the microwave. “Are you okay?” Dad asked, frowning at me. “You look worn down.” “I had a long day.” “You sure that’s it?” We watched each other and I remembered the first time he asked if I was okay. Five years earlier when I was brought to this house and met my new family. I didn’t remember a lot from that day besides thinking these people were too good to be true. I figured they’d wait until Kirk was gone then hurt me. I couldn’t remember when I knew Dad was a good man who loved me. Not like my real dad loved me. Tad felt the kind of love a person died to protect. I saw the love in his eyes as he waited for his food to finish warming. “I wish I was stronger.” “So do I,” he said softly. “Everyone does. They just don’t admit it. That’s what makes you so brave. You can admit your fears.” Even thinking he was full of shit, I smiled. “Thanks, Dad.” Taking his plate out of the microwave, he inhaled. “Mom makes the best meatloaf.” “I made it.” Grinning, Dad nudged me with his hip. “If you make this meatloaf for the boy you’re hung up on, you’ll own him.” “I’ll remember that.

~ Bijou Hunter