Spirit Page 21

Hunter stared at him for a second. Lack of sleep and food was making him stupid. “I don’t—what?”

Michael looked up. “It’s easy work, it just takes a long time, and I don’t want to lose the light.” He paused. “If you’ve got somewhere else to be, don’t sweat it.”

Hunter stared at him, waiting for the other shoe to drop. There had to be a trick here. Had to be. “You want me to help you?”

“Sure. I mean, I’ll pay you. Fifty bucks fair?”

Hunter almost choked on air. Fifty bucks? That would probably carry him into the weekend. If Michael wanted him to cut grass by pulling up individual strands, he’d do it.

But then he remembered Casper. “My dog is in the car.”

Michael slid the credit card back into his wallet. “Bring him. As long as he doesn’t dig up the landscaping, he won’t bother me. Meet me at the truck.”


Michael made for quiet company. Aside from giving Hunter a ball cap with their company logo on it and saying, “This way you’ll look official,” he didn’t say anything. Hunter curled the hat in his hands and wondered if this was a mistake—but they were already driving, and he’d feel like an idiot backing out now. The truck windows were down, air streaming through the cab. Casper sat in the backseat but hung his head over Hunter’s shoulder to let the air blow his ears.

Hunter’s cell phone was in his pocket. No new messages.

“I don’t have any idea how to build a retaining wall,” he finally said.

“Then you’d better get out of the truck right now.”

Hunter figured he was kidding, but Michael’s voice was so flat he wasn’t sure.

Michael glanced over. “Can you keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you?”


“Then you’re an expert at building retaining walls.” Michael hit the turn signal. They were pulling into a Wendy’s parking lot. “Hungry? Tell me what you want.”

Hunter hesitated. The thought of food was almost making him dizzy—but he didn’t want to spend his last nine dollars until he was sure Michael would be good for the fifty he’d promised.

But watching someone else eat would be the worst form of torture. Hunter reached into his pocket for his wallet.

“It’s on me,” said Michael. “Since you’re doing me a favor.”

“Whatever you’re having, then.”

It wasn’t until ten minutes later, when he had half a grilled chicken sandwich left in his hands, that his suspicion fully kicked in. “Why are you being nice to me?”

Michael pulled a handful of fries from the bag but didn’t glance away from the road. “Nice?”

“I thought you were all pissed at me because of what happened with Bill Chandler.”

Michael shrugged.

And then he didn’t say anything.

Hunter scowled at the windshield. Pride was pricking under his skin, trying to convince him to climb out of the car at the next stop light.

The promise of fifty bucks was keeping his ass right here in the passenger seat.

But really . . . the atmosphere in the car wasn’t tense. He had a task, something to take his mind off his mother and his grandfather and the mess of a situation he was in.

Michael hit the turn signal and eased the truck onto a gravel driveway that led back to a sprawling ranch-style house on the water. “Look,” he said. “I’m not upset about the Bill Chandler thing. I get where he was coming from, asking you to watch Gabriel.”

“I wasn’t—it just—” Hunter stopped himself and sighed. “It wasn’t like that.”

Michael stopped at a curve in the driveway and threw the truck into park. “Put the hat on and grab those rolls of landscape fabric.”

So they weren’t going to talk about it. Fine.

Hunter slid out of the cab. He pushed his hair back from his face and tucked it under the cap, breathing in the air off the water. The house sat alone on a few acres of land, and even here, in the driveway, they were a good hundred feet away from the front door. He felt better now that they were outside, with the sun on his skin. Casper bounded out of the truck to sniff at pallets set off to the side of the driveway, stacked with cut stone and sacks of soil and mulch.

Despite the breeze and the water, the whole place had a quiet stillness. It felt nice against his senses.

“Is anyone home?” said Hunter.

“Nah. They don’t need to be.” Michael pointed inside the curve of the driveway where the manicured lawn was broken by an eroded slope. “We’ll build a wall to match the curve today, then I’ll come back next week to plant stuff on top. Here. I have a sketch.” He reached inside the truck to grab a clipboard.

Hunter took a glance at the rough drawing. It was probably a good thing Michael was paid for landscaping instead of artwork. “Got it. What’s first?”

Michael was looking at him a little too closely. “Did you get in a fight at school?”

“What? No.”

“Then what’s with the bruise?”

Hunter wanted to pull the hat off and let his hair fall across his face again. He hadn’t noticed a mark this morning, but then he’d been hustling to get out of the locker room before the first bell since he wasn’t sticking around for classes. “It’s nothing.”

For a second, he thought Michael was going to push. Hunter didn’t look away, but inside his head, his brain was spinning out trying to think of some excuse to give.

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