Spirit Page 61

The way she’d acted like she cared.

He wished, for just an instant, that one moment of it could be real.


Hunter got to the top of the driveway and sighed.

Michael was waiting on the front porch.

It was almost midnight, and the brothers’ car was in the driveway already, so Michael had to be waiting for him.

Casper was on the porch next to him, but the dog bolted to Hunter’s side when he climbed out of the jeep. Hunter rubbed his muzzle absently, wondering how it was possible his dog could take to this new home so readily while Hunter felt more like an outsider now than ever.

He still had no idea where Calla was hiding.

He had no idea why her friends were drawing Guides here.

He had no idea what else they might be planning.

And here he had a whole weekend where he’d be trapped in the Merrick house.

Michael had a mug beside him on the step, and he was leaning back against the bannister. He didn’t move when Hunter approached. “Forget something?”

Hunter frowned. “No.”

“Do you remember me promising your grandfather three hundred bucks? Remember saying you’d help with jobs until it was paid off?”

Hunter flushed and looked away. He had forgotten.

It was starting to feel like he owed everyone a piece of himself.

He steeled his shoulders and looked back at Michael. What did the debt matter when they might not be around long enough for him to work it off?

“Sorry,” he said.

His voice was flat, and Michael studied him for a minute. Hunter watched him back, looking for any indication that Michael was going to get into it.

But Michael remained still. “You want to sit down for a minute?”


“You want to tell me where you’ve been all night?”

Hunter offered the only thing he figured Michael wouldn’t question. “I went by the house. Tried to work things out with my mom.”

“You know I’ve got three younger brothers, right?”

Hunter frowned. “What?”

“It means I’ve got a pretty finely tuned bullshit detector.”

Hunter turned away, his fingers forming a fist around the keys in his pocket. Michael shifted on the step, and Hunter hoped that this was it, that Michael would come after him, that he could rage and fight and come out on top, just once.

But the only thing that came after him was Michael’s voice. “Hunter.”

He kept walking.

“Hunter, come back here. Right now.”

The command in Michael’s tone stopped him, more effectively than a fist or a grip on the arm would have. Something about it felt reassuring and immeasurably painful at the same time, because it reminded him so much of his father.

Emotion coiled around his chest again, clouding his mind with memories he didn’t want right now, memories that had him turning to face Michael, to respect authority, before realizing that nothing was stopping him from just getting in the jeep and leaving.

But he’d already turned, and he met Michael’s eyes. He didn’t move back toward the porch, however.

Michael’s voice was hard. “Quit running from confrontation and sit down.”

“I’m not running from you.”

“No, you wouldn’t run if I tried to take a swing at you. But every time I try to have a conversation, you bolt. Sit down.”

Was that true? Hunter considered.

It was.

He didn’t like that.

He sat down on the stoop, leaning against the post opposite Michael. “Fine. Talk.”

“If you’re going to stay here, you can’t just disappear after school. You understand me?”

Hunter kept his voice even. “I said I was sorry about the job.”

“I don’t give a shit about the job! I care about the fact that you’re a sixteen-year-old kid who might have a target on his back.”

Hunter stared back at him until Michael looked like he wanted to reconsider taking a swing.

Then Michael sighed, a long breath that he blew out through his teeth. “Jesus, kid, I wish I could get inside your head and figure you out.”

Hunter wished the same thing because maybe then Michael could explain it to him.

Michael was still studying him. “What happened the other night? After we went to get your stuff—I thought you’d loosen up a bit. But it’s like the opposite happened.”

The other night. Michael’s promise to repay his grandfather.

The carnival. So much Kate that he almost blushed now, remembering.

The fire. Calla. The gunshot.

For an instant he wanted to tell Michael everything, just so he wouldn’t have to carry it all on his own. He just wanted to crumple on these wooden boards and let all this anxiety and worry and anger and rage pour down the steps.

But the memory of his father was still too fresh, and he could only imagine how his dad would react to him breaking down. Especially with someone he was supposed to hate.

Buck up, Hunter. It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to solve your problems.

Besides, how would that go? “Well, Michael, I’m glad you’re leaving town, because I’m about ready to screw you all over. Mind if I cry on your shoulder for a sec?”

Yeah. Sure.

He’d already lost it once, and he wouldn’t do it again.

“Nothing happened,” he said.

“Well, then, there’s a whole lot of that nothing rattling around inside your skull.”

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