Page 22 of Coercion

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“You’re going to take a personal day.”

“Oh, yeah?And what about you?You’re just going to take more time off?People are going to freak out.”

“They’ll survive.”

He looks down at his pasta.The man is ridiculously attractive, and sometimes, when he’s like this, frustrating to the point that I’d like to…

I don’t know.Kiss him, probably.Trap him in some shadowy corner until he finally tells me what he’s thinking about.He works so hard to hide it, and he doesn’t have to.He’s a good man.I can’t even think about the way he was with Mia in that waiting room without tearing up.

I should marry him.That’s what I should do.Thinking aboutthatcauses another wave of tight emotion in my chest.He said he’d never leave again, but that could’ve been the heat of the moment.He still thinks he destroyed his own family.Stayingisn’t the same asbeing together.

“You’re worried I might freak out.That’s what this is.”

Will scowls, his eyes coming back to mine.I knew it.This is his sheepish, defensive expression.He doesn’t have anything to be sheepish or defensive.“No, it’s not.”

“What is it, then?”

Ben is still whispering to Mia.

“Your dad is in the hospital.”Will drops his voice.“The weekend was a disaster.I don’t think you’re going to freak out.You just don’t have to deal with all thisandanswering emails for Greg.Somebody else can make his copies.”

He glares down into his pasta again, but his head comes up almost immediately.

“And you know what?I don’t care if you freak out.Most people would, given—” A glance in Ben and Mia’s direction.“Given everything.But if you do, I’d rather not have it happen in the office.Cry all you want in here, where I can be with you.”


“There’s no good argument for going to work in the morning.What do you want me to say?That I care about you too much to let you spend all day doing temp work after this fucking weekend?Fine.I do.I care about you too much.Get over it.”

He huffs down at his pasta and doesn’t look at me again until I run my fingertips over his knuckles.Then I get another scowl, which would look more intimidating if his cheeks weren’t all red.

“I care about you, too.I’m glad you’re taking a day off.”

Will makes a sound that’s more of a grunt than anything.

After dinner, the twins take turns showering.Then Mia curls up on the couch, Ben next to her, Mia’s book in his hands.He reads three chapters before bedtime.

They both get up without a word when I announce it’s time to brush their teeth.

My stomach does an uneasy flip.They normally bicker with each other or put up a token argument about bedtime, but they’re just…quiet.Docile.They brush for two minutes and climb into bed.Will leans against the doorframe, far enough to give us relative privacy but close enough that he’s still part of things.I give him a look—something’s wrong—and his brow furrows.

“Sweet dreams.”I kiss Ben’s forehead and move around to Mia.She looks off to the side, not into my eyes.I smooth her hair back from her face.“I’ll see you in—”

Mia bursts into tears.

She bolts up into a sitting position, her arms flying round my neck.I half-sit, half-fall onto the edge of the bed next to her and give her a huge hug, my heart racing.

“Mia, what is it?Tell me what’s wrong, and I can—” It feels wrong to give her a guarantee that I can fix it when I don’t know whether this is abouteverythingor something more specific.“We’ll figure something out.Just—”

I glance over at Ben.He’s trying to be stoic, but his lower lip trembles.I feel like my plastic palm tree has been wedged into my throat.

“Mia, talk to me.”Mia doesn’t say anything.She just squeezes my neck, her grip surprisingly strong, and keeps crying.

“She’s…” Ben bites his lip.Somehow, it makes the trembling worse.“We’re both worried.About dad.”

“They’re taking good care of him at the hospital.”Ben doesn’t look reassured.“I talked to the nurses.I can call, if you want to make sure he’s okay.”Okay as he can be, anyway.

“No.”Ben looks down at the blankets, his face.“Not about that.We’re worried that if he—” A glance at Mia.“If he doesn’t make it, then you’ll give us away, and we’ll have to go somewhere else.”