Spirit Page 85

He left her hand there. She had bracelets just like his, only hers were strung on ribbons and braided leather instead of twine. He might have made one of hers when he was little—he couldn’t remember.

He didn’t move away from her touch. But he made his voice hard. “I think you did enough crying for both of us.”

“Is that what you thought? That I missed him too much to care about you?”

“Didn’t you?”

“No! Never.” Now both her hands were on his arm, and her voice was so soft. “Is that what this is about? Are you angry with me for missing him?”

“No. Yes. I don’t—yes.” He pushed her hands away.

“Is that why you hit that girl? Because you were angry at me?”

“Goddamn it, I didn’t hit Calla!”

She flinched from his anger. He didn’t even regret it. His breathing was fast, almost to the point that he couldn’t catch it.

Then his night caught up with him again, and he put his face in his hands. “Forget it.” His voice was thick now. “Just go away.”

It took everything he had to keep tears from falling again.

She touched his wrist, her fingers light against his skin. “I do miss him, Hunter. I do. But I’m your mother—”

“No!” He flung her hand off. “No. A mother wouldn’t have just sat there.”

Her eyes were wide. She didn’t have to ask what he meant.

She cleared her throat, but the words still sounded strangled. “I am your mother. But this has all been difficult for me—”

“You’re right,” he said, sharpening his voice with sarcasm. “I’m the one being selfish. I probably should have left earlier.”

She sat there looking shocked. He felt vindicated for about three seconds.

Then she started crying.

He hated her for it. Hated her.

And he hated himself for it, too.

“I miss him,” she said, and her voice was full of tears, but anger, too. “I loved him, Hunter. Do you understand that? I loved him. He understood me. He was my best friend. And can I tell you how much it hurts me that you look at me with such resentment every time I express any grief? Do you have any idea?”

Hunter went absolutely still.

No. He had no idea.

“I am your mother,” she continued, her voice still shaky, but strong. “I lost my husband in that car crash—thank god I didn’t lose my son. But you came home from the hospital with nothing but hatred for me. Every time you looked at me, I felt it. So then I wasn’t mourning one loss, but two.”

“I didn’t hate you,” he whispered.

But she was right. He had.

“Yes,” she said. “You did. And I knew you were grieving, too. I tried to understand it. I thought we could come here and start over. But it just got worse.”

“You wouldn’t even look at me!”

“Because every time I looked at you, you looked at me like I was the one who caused that accident! You’re getting in fights at school, hanging out with a rougher crowd, staying out all night—do you really think it was that far a jump to think you’d hit a girl? Especially knowing how you felt about me?”

“Yes! It was!”

But no. It wasn’t.

He felt so much guilt about Kate that it was impossible to think his mind could handle any more. But here it was, piling on.

He was my best friend.

“He was my best friend, too,” said Hunter, and it wasn’t until he spoke that he realized he was crying again.

His mother put her hand over his. He didn’t deserve it, but she left it there and squeezed. “I know,” she said quietly. “I know.”

“And I don’t hate you. I just—I just—”

She touched his face. “You just what?”

Hunter brushed her hand away. He didn’t deserve her kindness. Not with what he was about to say. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“He was using you,” Hunter said, almost choking on the words. “You’ve spent all these months crying over a man who was using you. He wasn’t your best friend. He wasn’t mine.”

Then he couldn’t hold on to the emotion anymore, after weeks—months—of trying to keep it at bay. He was crying in earnest.

His mother shifted closer and put her hands on his face again. “Hunter, your father was not using me. And he definitely wasn’t using you.”

“He was. He told me he was.”

She sighed, and then her mouth set into a thin line. “Your father and I had a lot of disagreements about the things he was telling you.”

He frowned and wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

She continued, “He’s not here to defend himself, so I won’t criticize the choices he made. But I loved him, and I never doubted his love for me.” Her hand went over his. “Or for you.”

His throat felt tight again. “He never thought I was good enough.”

“That’s not true. He didn’t want you to have to do the things he did. When your abilities became clear, he didn’t want to send you off to have the compassion beaten out of you. He trained you himself so he could claim that he did a better job. He told you that I knew nothing so I’d be safe if anyone ever found out about you. Do you understand that? Do you know enough now?”

He felt like he understood nothing.

She squeezed his hands fiercely. “He told you to use people so you’d protect your heart, Hunter.” Her voice broke again. “Because love always carries the risk of loss.”

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