“Huh?” Tyler and Jeremiah said at once.
“Solar plexus, instep, nose, groin. Damn, haven’t you ever seen Miss Congeniality?”
“No,” they said together.
The nurse muttered something about men and left the room. “So, I stopped by to tell you that Sergeant Sparks is in a meeting with your mom, discussing other options for you after you’re released from the hospital.”
“What kind of things?” Jeremiah asked.
“Well, for starters, if you really aren’t ready to leave Alpha Dog, you can stay and finish the remainder of your sentence. We’d be happy to have you.”
“And after?” Jeremiah asked.
“Well, you could still go home with your mom and stepdad—”
“I’d rather live on the street than go back there.” Jeremiah’s pointed chin jutted out stubbornly, as if he was afraid Tyler would make him go back.
“Relax, no need for it to come to that. If you’re open to it, there’s a couple I know who are really good people. They’re both veterinarians and have a small ranch just outside of Folsom. Their kids are grown, and they’re fostering another boy from the program but offered you their third bedroom, if you want it. Sparks is discussing them taking over temporary guardianship of you until you either turn eighteen or decide being with your mom would be safe for you again. It’s up to you.”
Jeremiah sat thoughtfully playing with the hospital blanket. “Can I still see my mom, even if they’re my guardians?”
“Absolutely, but we can get a restraining order against Neil. After the stunt he pulled today, I don’t want him showing up when you’re alone.”
“Even if I said yes, my mom is never going to go for it.”
“Which is why I think you should write a letter telling her everything you want and need and the future you see for yourself . . . and why that won’t happen if you move back in with her and Neil.”
“Do you think that will really work?” Jeremiah asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot.”
DANI, TYLER, AND Noah stood outside her parents’ home the next day, and Dani swallowed down the nervous bile rising up in her throat. She really wanted her parents to like Tyler, but considering her dad had never liked any of her boyfriends in the past, she wasn’t holding out a lot of hope.
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay,” Tyler said, squeezing her hand.
“I know. I’m good. I’m ready.” She caught his smile, which clearly said sure you are. “I am.”
“Okay then, I’m ringing the doorbell.”
The chimes erupted inside the house, and Dani took another breath. Thanksgiving with her parents. It wouldn’t be so bad sitting around all day while her dad watched football and her mom asked Tyler if he liked every dish on the table.
“Okay, real fast, don’t talk politics and who’s your favorite football team?”
“The Raiders,” he said.
Before she could tell him not to mention that to her dad, the door swung in, and her mom, dressed in a brown sweater with a giant beaded turkey on the front, said, “Finally! I told you that dinner would be ready by three!”
“Which is why we’re here at one, Mom,” Dani said.
Tyler held up the grocery sack in his other hand, a large bouquet of flowers poking out the top. “Hello, Mrs. Hill. I grabbed the crescent rolls you requested and a bottle of wine. I hope you like red.”
“Please call me Laura,” she said, reaching her arms out to Noah, who stood next to Dani, holding her other hand. “Wanna come see all the goodies Mapa is making?”
Noah launched himself into her arms, and the two sauntered off, leaving Dani and Tyler alone on the step.
Dani pulled him along behind her. “Later on, when you’re gazing at the door longingly, looking for a means of escape, I want you to remember that you chose this.”