By: Allie Juliette Mousseau

Chapter One



All my shit is packed and ready to go for me, I think with sarcastic malice, seeing the two fucking suitcases at the bottom of the stairs, right by the door.

You’re welcome to get the fuck out.

I’m furious with my parents. “How could you do it? How could you send me away?”

“Because you’re in trouble, son … and it’s a kind of trouble even our love ain’t fixing. Cade is family and he deals with this kind of thing every day. He’ll be able to help you through this pain, Josh.”

Fuck my pain! Fuck Uncle Cade. “It looks like you’re giving up on me, that’s what it looks like! I’ve heard of the kids who get sent to those places—no parents, no families who care about them—they get dumped! Because their parents don’t want them anymore! And why would they, after they fucked up so bad they can’t be forgiven!” A tornado of fury tears me apart from the inside out.

My dad firmly holds my shoulders straight and makes me look at him. “Joshua Levi North, we are family. There is no stronger bond than that. We love you and want you more than our own lives, boy! This is temporary, so you don’t have to be surrounded with it every day—it’s here at home, at school, the arcade, the skateboard park, every street you walk on in this town— the memories are only making you angrier.” My dad’s eyes soften. “It wasn’t your fault, Josh.”

“I wasn’t there when he needed me! If I’d been there he would’ve talked to me, he would have let me know what happened. HE WOULDN’T HAVE DONE IT!” Rage I have no control over and can’t stop pours out of me. “IT WAS MY FAULT!”

My dad looks calm … and sad. I hate that I’m putting him through this, and my mom and everybody else in my family. It makes me hate myself more.

He doesn’t stop the discussion. “We all have our own choices in this life. He chose a direction—you had nothing to do with that decision, and you couldn’t have stopped it once he decided it.”

I don’t buy it. It’s too fucked up! He was my best friend. I could have stopped him. I could have changed it. I could have made it right! I could have reminded him what he meant to me …

“Fuck this shit!” I hate my dad for doing this to me. “I’ll just be like the bastard son you all don’t talk about.”

Dad grabs my chin in his big hand—it’s a strong hand, powerful, just like the man it’s attached to. I’m being a mouthy, sixteen-year-old asshole and I know it; this isn’t how I speak to my father.

But I’m not me anymore, am I? Isn’t that what this is all about after all?

“We love you, Josh,” he assures me.

It’s true, love radiates from his eyes. But I can’t feel it. It doesn’t touch me.

“But I’m trash now,” I say. “The kind you take out to the curb on a Sunday night and never see again.”

“Colt, maybe this isn’t the best idea.” My mom has been listening. She comes around the threshold and stands to the side between us. She’s looking at me—her face is tear-streaked, and her hand shakes next to her mouth.

I’m hurting my mom. I’m. Hurting. My. Mom! I might be sixteen years old and have already had a string of girlfriends, but I don’t love anyone as much as my mom. I’m hurting too many people. Me. I am. I don’t know how to stop!

And that brings out the son-of-a-bitch kid. “And what about the other kid, Dad?” I ask quietly. “Is there forgiveness for that, Dad? ’Cause I don’t think God forgives for that! That I did on purpose. I threw the punch, and I can’t go back and undo what I did.” I laugh and it’s maniacal. “I can’t even feel sorry about it! How fucked up is that? And don’t you lie to me! I hear people talking. I’m a big, ugly stain on the North name and reputation in this town … maybe that’s the real reason you want to get rid of me.”

Mom breaks down crying. My dad’s eyebrows press down—they always do when he’s thinking hard. He nods and then says slowly, “People talk. They can be ugly, and judgmental, and just plain hypocritical. Truth is we’ve all had our struggles, son. Them, me, your mom. And your struggles, for a young man of your age … not one of those people can talk because I’m sure none of them has dealt with what you’ve had to. If they’d shut their mouths and understand …” My dad puts his hand on the nape of my neck—it’s loving and affectionate. “I can understand a portion of your struggle, but I dealt with mine differently. Uncle Cade, on the other hand, dealt with it just like you are.”

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