“I’ve been calling,” my mother says, and I can hear the drunken twinge in her tone even over the phone.

“Been busy.”


“Too busy for your family?” she asks snidely, and I grit my teeth. There was a time I wanted nothing more than to help my family, to fix what was broken between us, but I learned early on that shit was impossible. “Your brother is in jail,” she informs me, and that anger I felt when I watched the tapes of him pawning June’s shit comes back, coursing through my veins.

Seeing her sitting on JJ’s couch, wrapped in nothing but a towel, holding a pair of scissors in a death grip—it’s a vision that will haunt me for a long fucking time.

“And?” I ask, as Ninja bumps my leg with his nose then looks at the ball he dropped at my feet, telling me to pick it up.

“You don’t care?” she asks.

“He broke into June’s house, stole her shit, and pawned it. So, no, I don’t give a fuck.”

I hear her enraged huff on the other end of the line. “He’s your brother, your blood!” she cries, and I imagine her pacing the small living room of her house, ripping her hand through her hair in aggravation, or going to the kitchen and pulling down the bottle of vodka from the cupboard.

“He’s my blood, but he’s not my brother,” I say low.

Silence from her, and then, “He’s had a hard time. You… you were gone. And your dad is hard on him. He’s always been hard on you boys.”

“Stop making excuses for him,” I grit out. “Yeah, I know Dad can be hard. I know he’s mostly an asshole, but I also see why.”

“You’re agreeing with the things he’s done, how he’s treated your brother and me?” she asks in quiet disbelief.

“You’re a drunk,” I whisper, hearing her sharp intake of breath over the line. None of us has ever said it out loud, but we all know it’s true. A dirty secret. Something everyone’s been denying or avoids talking about since I can remember. “Jay’s a drug addict, and you denying your problems along with his isn’t helping. I don’t agree with Dad taking a hand to us in anger when we were younger, but you’re a part of the problem, part of his problem, part of Jay’s problem. You guys are all toxic, and together, you’re a fuckin’ deadly combination.”

“Oh, now you’re too good for us? June took you back, so now you don’t care about your family?”

Fuck. For as long as I can remember, it’s always been the same shit—guilt, and manipulation until they get what they want, whatever that might be.

“I’m starting my family with June,” I say quietly.

“I can’t believe you would do this,” she whispers. “I can’t believe you’re turning your back on us.”

“I don’t want my kids around your mess. You, as my mother, should have protected me from Dad, and Dad should have protected me from you and your drinking. Neither of you did that, but I’m going to protect my kids from all of you.”

“I’m not a drunk.”

“You drink every fucking day, every fucking day. You don’t even know what it’s like to be sober.”

“If I was a drunk, how would I keep the same job for the last fifteen years?”

“Why the fuck am I even doing this shit right now? I’m not debating this shit with you, and honestly, Mom, you need to admit that shit to yourself. You need help.”

“So this is it? You’re just done with us?” she asks, and fuck me, but I wish it didn’t come to this. I can’t have their kind of poison in my life, though. I may not’ve been able to do anything growing up to shield myself from them, but I won’t let June or any kids we have, have contact with their toxic way of life. I won’t let them suffer the way I did, believing it’s okay for people to show up only when they need something, and then disappearing until they need something else.

“You get your shit together and we’ll talk, but I’m not helping you bail Jay out, and if you’re smart, you won’t help him either. He needs to grow the fuck up.”

“I liked June, but now I’m seeing I shouldn’t have,” she hisses, and my stomach knots.

“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, the one fucking thing I have in my life that’s good and pure. You should want that for me,” I say, then pull the phone from my ear and press End.

Fuck.

Putting my hand to the back of my neck, my eyes drop to my boots, and then I feel hands slide around my waist and June’s warm body press to my back. Dropping my hand from my neck, I cover hers.

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