Spirit Page 16

He had to get out of here. Hunter turned, hunching his shoulders, keeping his hands tight at his sides.

His grandfather grabbed his arm, and it was like pulling a trigger. Hunter whirled and struck.

The man wasn’t ready for it—or maybe he just didn’t expect Hunter to hit back. His grandfather hit the counter and fell.

His grandmother cried out. Casper was barking, bouncing on his hind legs, waiting for Hunter to give some direction.

His mother was crying again. “Hunter, stop.”

As if he’d started this.

You made your bed, kid. Now you lie in it.

Maybe he had started this. His breathing was too fast.

His grandfather was struggling to his feet. There was blood and a murderous expression on his face.

Hunter had no idea how to fix this. And all he could think about was his father’s final lesson, how he’d had the opportunity to employ lethal force, and he’d failed.

Just like he’d failed with Calla.

His thoughts were spinning in a dangerous direction, and he couldn’t rein them in. He needed to get out of here, before he did something he couldn’t undo.

You already did something you can’t undo.

Then his grandfather was coming after him again.

Hunter ran. He was through the front door before registering that he’d grabbed one of the bags by the door, and then his jeep tires were spinning gravel from the driveway. Casper was in the back, his head hanging between the seats, his tongue rasping against Hunter’s cheek.

Hunter brushed him away and yanked the wheel to pull onto the main roadway. His heartbeat was a roar in his ears, his lungs grabbing for breath. He needed to slow down. He needed to get hold of himself.

He drove to Quiet Waters, the only county park he knew. He’d come here once before, with Becca. It felt like a lifetime ago.

Kids were attacking the playground equipment, so he drove to the other side of the grounds, stopping his jeep by the pond. The sunlight was dying in the west, but there was still enough to warm his face.

His cheek felt hot and sore where his grandfather had hit him.

Hunter killed the engine and focused on breathing.

In. Out.

His mother had let him go. She’d let her father throw Hunter out of the house.

She’d let his grandfather hit him. He and his own father had scuffled, sure. But his dad had never hauled off and decked him.

But his mother thought he’d hit Calla. She thought he was involved in illegal activities. She hadn’t even asked for his side of things, hadn’t waited for an explanation.

He’d barely been able to get eye contact out of her in months, and now she thought he was—


More breaths. He could do this. He could figure it out.

He picked up his cell phone. No messages. His mother hadn’t tried to call. Should he call her?

She’d stood there and watched his grandfather belt him, then told Hunter to stop.

More breaths. He needed to slow down. He rubbed at his eyes.

Finally, he opened the door to let Casper out of the car. He pulled the duffel bag onto the front seat and unzipped it. Clothes, all clothes. Not a lot, but enough for a few days. The only shoes he had were the ones on his feet. It had been windy today so he was still wearing a hoodie under a denim jacket, along with the jeans he’d worn to school. No soap, no razor, but it wasn’t like he had access to anywhere to use those things. He could go to school early and shower there. Maybe things would look different in the morning.

He checked his wallet. Seventeen dollars. He had half a tank of gas in the jeep. He hadn’t eaten dinner, but the rest of his money was in an envelope in the top drawer of his dresser—if his grandfather hadn’t already confiscated it during the “search.” Seventeen dollars wouldn’t last very long, especially if he burned through the rest of his fuel.

All he had to feed Casper was a baggie of milk bones in the glove box.

Suddenly it seemed cruel to have brought the dog.

Hunter swallowed. Wind whipped across the pond to lace through his hair and make him shiver.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

He looked at his phone again, wanting to call . . . someone. He just couldn’t think of anyone who wouldn’t hang up on him. Explaining what had just happened—he couldn’t take it. He already felt guilty enough. He didn’t need someone else to add to it. No way he could ring up Becca or the Merricks and say he’d been thrown out of his house.

Gabriel would probably laugh in his face.

It would be dark soon. He could go one night without eating. Hunter fished the milk bones out of the glove box, divided them in half, and tossed them in the grass for Casper.

Then he lay back in the grass and stared at the darkening sky, attempting nothing more challenging than filling his lungs with air, until a park ranger came around and told him to leave.

After writing him a citation for his dog being loose.

Hunter shoved the citation in the glove box and started the ignition. His fingers felt like icicles, and his empty stomach was starting to protest this whole not eating thing.

The headache was back, clawing at his temples.

Hunter didn’t want to drive far, because he didn’t know how long he’d need to make his fuel last. He settled on the parking lot behind the twenty-four-hour Target on Ritchie Highway, parking in a row of other cars that probably belonged to employees. He blasted the heat as high as he could tolerate, until his breath fogged the windshield and even Casper was panting. Then he pulled an extra pair of sweatpants over his jeans and climbed into the backseat, cramming his legs into the small space and resting his head on the duffel bag.

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