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“I raised my boys by myself. Ozzie is the oldest, and since I worked all the time, he had to take care of his brother a lot. It was more like he was his father than brother. Anyway, my youngest son, Kyle, got mixed into the wrong crowd. Doing things he shouldn’t. One night Ozzie went out to look for him. He came upon him in the middle of a drug deal, the cops showed up, and Ozzie claimed the drugs were his. There was so much Kyle was into, things we never even knew. And well, Ozzie went to prison for three years.”

I put my hand over my mouth. “Oh my God.”

She nods her head, her gaze almost vacant as if she’s living through it all again. “While Ozzie was in prison, Kyle got into drugs bad. He became someone I didn’t even know. The week before Ozzie got out, Kyle was high and tried to rob a bank. He’s over in Syn City at the penitentiary now. Ozzie blames himself for all of it, and he shouldn’t. I put all that responsibility on him, and I shouldn’t have.”

I reach over and cover her hand with mine. It sounds to me like she and Ozzie are dealing with a lot of guilt. “It’s not either of your fault. And I don’t know Kyle or anything about him, but I doubt he’d want either of you blaming yourselves.”

She turns her hand and clasps mine. “You’re right. I know that. And I’ll tell you like I’ve told Ozzie. It doesn’t sound good, but when you have kids of your own one day you’ll understand. I’m glad that Kyle is in prison. The drugs were going to kill him. At least in there, he’s alive.”

My mind starts to whirl thinking of Ozzie. Every scenario is in my head, and it’s only now that I have a better understanding of him. He has so much guilt he’s dealing with, and maybe he feels like he doesn’t deserve happiness. My heart hurts in my chest as I try to put myself in his place. I couldn’t imagine if my sister became addicted to drugs and was put in prison.

“So you see, Ozzie may try to push you away. Even though he likes you.” She holds her hands up when I try to interrupt her. “And don’t say he doesn’t like you. He does. All I’m asking is to give him a chance. And if you like him, like I think you do, don’t give up on him.”

What can I say? I thought before I even met his mom that I wanted him. Now I have even more of an insight of the type of man he is, and I want him even more. “I promise,” I tell her. I may not be convinced that he does want me, but I do know if he does, there won’t be anything stopping me from giving us a chance.

We laugh and joke some more, and Pearl seems even more carefree now. We make a promise to each other to do it again soon, and the no-nonsense, tell it like it is pawnbroker hugs me as we walk away from each other.



The minute Ginger walks out of the shop with my mom, I fight the urge to join them. I know I’m going to be the main topic of conversation. I should be freaked out, but I’m not. I’m actually all right with it. Maybe Mom will give her an insight into our lives. Mom will try to sugarcoat it and make it seem like I’m a decent man, but no doubt Ginger is smarter than that. I’m a felon that went to prison on a drug charge. My brother is a drug addict that is in prison for armed robbery. Definitely knowing the truth, she’ll walk away, and I won’t have this temptation to deal with because the more I see her, the more I want to give up on all my thoughts of staying away from her.

My cell phone rings, and I look at the caller ID. It’s already three in the afternoon, and no doubt my mom is calling me about her lunch with Ginger. “Hey, Mom.”

“You busy?” she asks.

“No, just finished up an appointment and my next one isn’t for another half hour.”

She almost interrupts me. She’s chomping at the bit to get her two cents in. “She’s the one, Ozzie. I’m telling you, she’s the one.”

I walk up the back stairs to my apartment. “Who?” I ask, playing dumb.

“Ozzie Cunningham, I’m not in the mood for this. You have that poor girl thinking you don’t like her when it’s obvious you do. Now you need to get it together.”

“Ma, I’m not ready to start dating. We’ve been over this.”

She huffs loudly in the phone. “Are you really that dense? She’s the ONE, Ozzie. I couldn’t have picked out a better woman for you if I tried. Now you need to quit acting like you’re not worthy or whatever you got going on over there or you’re going to fuck this up.”