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“I take it Leena is picking up Jace?” I look at the clock and realize it’s about pickup time.

“Yeah, said she and Marlie were picking up a few groceries afterwards, and then they’d be back,” Deke replies.

“Alright, I take it dinner is here again tonight?” I ask the crowd.

“You’d be right about that. Looks like you’re stuck with us for one more night at least. Unless you need mommy to be your nursemaid longer.” Asa acts out sucking a baby bottle. If I had something heavy to throw at him handy, I would.

“I’m good. Thanks for everything. I appreciate it.” We fall into mindless conversation. Our parents talk about finally taking a trip to Hawaii, and we all listen. Meanwhile, I’m on pins and needles, ready for what the next few weeks bring.



It’s been two days since I’ve seen Keller. That doesn’t mean I haven’t heard about him non-stop or that he was far from my thoughts. If anything, it’s more worry now then want. You see, when Jace came flouncing in with his Uncle Tanner yesterday morning, he was talking animatedly with his hands, showing me that his dad has huge bruises along his neck, chest, and stomach. Meanwhile, his uncle was trying to hold back his laughter, and since my heart was in my throat, I’ll just bet he could figure out why.

So, when my eyes land on Keller’s this morning, my whole body yearns to run to him, but that’s not in the cards, and frankly, this whole thing freaking stinks. It’s as if Keller knows what I’m thinking by the way he tips his head to the side, like he’s asking if I’m alright when clearly, he’s the one who fell off a ladder, taking his shoulder out with a big piece of wood as massive as a telephone pole. Those were, of course, Jace’s words. I nod my head in acknowledgement, and while a part of me laments that I didn’t give Keller the time of day, in the back of my mind, I know it’s needed for me to separate myself from him, at least if he’s not willing to give me more.

“Miss. M.!” Jace runs towards me, stopping right in front of me, making sure he has my full attention.

“Good morning, Jace. How are you?”

“Oh, whoops! Good morning. I’m good. How are you?” he says without taking a break.

“I’m good, thank you,” I respond.

“Look! My dad is up and on his feet. Plus, Nana and Papa are on vacation, so it’s just him and me while he recovers.” Yesterday at pickup, it was his Aunt Leena and Aunt Marlie, both of them talking up Keller, not like he really needed it, but I for sure wasn’t saying a word.

“That’s great. I’m really happy for you, Jace.” My eyes move from his to his father’s. “I hear you’ve had quite the week,” I tell Keller as he leisurely strolls to where Jace and I are standing. He’s wearing a baseball hat with small tufts of hair peeking out, probably from him needing a haircut, a cotton shirt that’s stretched over his muscular chest, a sling holding his left arm tight to said chest, and a pair of black joggers that should be illegal for men to wear out in public because let’s face it, that man can make me think things that should be kept to my imagination in the darkness of night, and of course, the sneakers on his feet pull it all together. That’s what it is—he looks classic and comfortable. If I tried to wear something similar, I’d look homeless.

“Jace, give me and Miss. M. a minute, bud?” He looks down at his son, whose eyes are swinging back and forth between the two of us.

“Alright, see you later, Dad. Be careful today.” He hugs his leg. Keller’s big hand smooths down Jace’s back in a loving way.

“Sure will. You be good for your teacher, okay?”

“I always am. Bye.” He lets go and waves at his dad while making his way into my classroom, where other students are busy in their centers—a nice and cozy place in one area for reading, another for blocks that holds a couple of tables to help them work on buildings, and the last one sports a kitchen the girls seem to gravitate towards the most.

“Hey.” My voice comes out not sounding like my own. I swallow to try and make things better before speaking again.

“Alana, not going to lie. I screwed up. Know this isn’t the time or the place, but just know I’m coming for you, and I’m not messing up again.” Keller floors me with his admission.

“Uh,” I stammer out. The clearing of my throat doesn’t help, especially with the way Keller gives me a crooked grin. “I’m not really sure what to say about that, Keller.”

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