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“Come here. No one is taking you away.” Running to him I leap into his arms, crawling on him like a monkey. He wraps strong arms around my legs and I bury my face in his neck as he carries me back to my room and sits on my bed.

“She’s not going to stand up to him.” I clutch at his neck. “This is bad, Reed.” My throat is getting tight, that feeling like something is stuck in it, making me panic. My eyes dart around my childhood room. It’s my sanctuary. I love it. I can’t leave it.

“Reed… I can’t breathe.”

“Come on, baby. Breathe with me slowly… in and out.” Taking my hand, he puts it on his heart. “Take it, Tess. It’s yours. Take it and keep it.” Air fills my lungs and brain; my throat opens up.

“That’s it… like that. It’s almost over. Breathe with me.”

I’m sweating, but at least I can breathe. Sagging into his chest, I lean back as he holds me tight.

“Better?” His turquoise eyes, search my face. “We have to stay calm, Tess. It’s going to be all right.”

My father walks into my room smelling fresh from his shower and cologne. His blue eyes narrow on us.

“Tess, if you have anything that you can’t live without, I suggest you pack it. We will be leaving within the hour.” His eyes sweep my room. “Actually, just take some clothes. Svetlana, can help you pick out your room.”

I spot my mom in her robe, crying. “Do something,” I plead, my eyes boring into her. She looks horrible. Her good eye is so puffy from crying, you almost wouldn’t notice the other.

“Robert… Please don’t leave me. We can work this out.” Her skinny arms reach for him.

“Don’t touch me, Claire. The mood I’m in… for your own safety stay the fuck away.”

“You have been gone so long. I thought it would be fun redecorating. If you hate it, we can change it back.”

It’s as though I’ve been stabbed. She’s talking about redecorating?

He swings around to her. “You have absolutely no motherly instincts, do you? Your daughter is sleeping with Reed!” If he wasn’t taking me away from Reed, I would be cheering him on. At least he’s interested in me.

“Jesus Christ, Claire. She needs guidance, discipline, something you know nothing about. It’s not in you. You’re worthless and you look like a monster.” My mom flinches as though he hit her.

Stalking toward her, he points at her. “I will not have a teenage daughter pregnant. I did not go through sixteen years of my life with your repulsive ass to watch her become a whore,” he roars.

Reed steps forward. “Watch it, Robert.”

“You sorry-ass punk, that’s Mr. Gallagher to you.”

“Tess and I are not having sex.” My dad’s face reddens even more. I can practically see the steam coming out of his ears.

“You have nothing to be worried about. I understand that you are upset.” Reed’s calm voice sounds menacing against all our screaming.

My dad cuts him off. “You have no idea what I’m going through Reed! You are not a father. Maybe one day, when you have your own daughter, you will understand. But it won’t be with my daughter! I’m taking her away from you.”

My mom picks that time to interrupt. “Robert, please… I’m begging you, do not divorce me. Think of the scandal. I will tell everything. I will tell everyone about your new whore.” She sobs.

My attention slams to her and I almost slap her. “Mom, you are unbelievable! Dad is threatening to take me away, and all you are concerned about is that he’s divorcing you. You are so selfish.” Now I’m screaming. Tears run down my cheeks. I don’t bother to wipe them away.

My dad shakes his head, repulsion all over his handsome face. “Take a good look, Tess.” He motions at her. “This is your mother. Do yourself a favor and don’t have kids. You don’t have good genes.” And that truth will stay with me forever.

“Everyone stop!” Reed yells, turning on my dad. “Robert, Tess is not leaving. She has school. If you care about her, you will walk away.” I’m clutching his hand, my legs shaking, my room vibrating with angry energy.

Slowly my dad faces us. “I don’t give a shit what you think. She has exactly ten minutes to grab her things because we are leaving.”

“No!” I scream. “Daddy, please… I can’t leave Reed! Please, I promise he will not stay over ever again. Just don’t do this to me.” I’m hysterical. It’s my last stand.

“Get her ready, Reed. Ten minutes. Make sure she has her antianxiety pills. This is happening, and there is nothing you can do to stop it, so man the fuck up.”

Moving toward my door, he stops. “You will thank me someday, trust me. You’re not going to want to be with the same woman forever. I take Tess out of the picture, and you’re free. Be young, have fun, screw around. Only never forget, you’re not good enough for my little girl, you spoiled, entitled shit.”