Page 17 of Coercion

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I whirl around and drop to my knees next to my dad.It’s still chaos in the warehouse.Too many men are shouting at each other, their voices strained with adrenaline and irritation.

My dad has a hand up to his shoulder.

There’s a lot of blood.

I put my hands over his, my own pulse loud in my ears.My heart is still working.I didn’t get shot, and neither did Mia.My eyes burn with a fresh wave of tears.This isnothow I expected things to go.If anything, I thought my dad would go with the guy in charge, not throw himself into the path of a bullet.

He’s really pale.“Oh, honey, don’t cry.”

I can’t help it.My bloodstream is mostly freak-out chemicals and what feels like carbonated fear.I’ve never seen someone bleed this much.My dad has come home with plenty of black eyes and, one time, a long, thin cut on his side, but it was never this bad.

“Thanks for doing that.”I sound as shaken up as Mia.“You didn’t have to do that.”

One corner of his mouth goes up in a smile, but he can’t hold onto it for more than a few seconds.“Of course I did.”This time, he grimaces.“That’s what fathers are supposed to do, right?Protect their kids.”

“Let’s just get you—don’t you want to sit up?This floor’s too hard for you to lay on.”

It’s too bloody for him to lay on.I have no idea what the plan is from here.I don’t want to take my hands away from his to call 9-1-1.Will would have done that, though.Or Evan.One of the million people in here had to have called an ambulance when my dad got shot.

I lever him up off the floor and into my lap.He grits his teeth so tight they scrape together like the lock on our first apartment after Mom died.

“Listen.It’ll be fine.You’ll be okay.”


“I just can’t, Dad.I can’t do this today.That’s a really selfish thing to say.I know that, I just—I can’t lose you today.”

He blinks, his eyebrows going up a little, like he’s surprised to see me.I didn’t think it was possible for his skin to lose more color, but it keeps happening.Every second, there’s less life in him.

“Hey.”The pause goes on too long.He shakes his head.Blinks again.“Don’t cry.”

“No, Dad, it’s going to be fine.I think you just need to stay awake for a little bit longer.”

He nods, the skin around his eyes crinkling.He doesn’t have enough energy for a full smile, and he’s been shot.It has to be so painful.The fact that he’stryingto smile makes more tears run down my face.

“What’s going to happen?”Ben, from behind me.I can’t concentrate enough to hear Will’s answer.

“What’s going to happen?”I don’t know the answer.I keep talking anyway.My dad looks into my eyes, his brow furrowed, expression falling into seriousness.“The ambulance is going to show up and take you to the hospital, and you’ll be fine.We still have to talk.You know that, right?We have to have a discussion about all this and make some decisions.Mia and Ben are your kids.Plus, there’s me and Sean.Don’t you think we should decide this together?You did a good thing tonight, protecting Mia, so we should—”

“I’m sorry.”My dad’s eyelids get heavy.This faint, small voice can’t be his.It’s practically a whisper.“I’m sorry, Bristol.”

“For what?”

“That…” His eyes close, and he forces them back open.It’s a losing battle.My heart beats even faster.It can’t beat for him, too.That’s just not how it works.“I didn’t protect you, too.”

Then he slumps against me, his body dead weight.



The sterile,flat white of the hospital hallway hurts my eyes.We were pretty much guaranteed to end up here, given the hostage situation, but if I had my way about it, we wouldn’t be inthishallway.We’d be in the private wing of a better hospital at minimum.

There wasn’t any choice.Paramedics arrived to the shitshow at the warehouse, loaded Bristol’s father onto an ambulance, and left with the sirens on.

Bristol went with him, her hand in his, and I got into Evan’s SUV with the twins to whatever public hospital this is.The closest one to the warehouse, I guess.

Waiting around like this is my least favorite thing.Evan hovers midway down the hall, checking out everyone who walks by with blank suspicion.He catches my eye and raises his eyebrows.What?

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