Page 3 of Coercion

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The twins are ten, so they don’t have much to email anybody about.Ben’s inbox has homework reminders, sent every Friday.There’s one generic welcome email from when they sent out the laptop.

All the other emails are from my dad.

“You asshole,” I whisper at his name.

He started emailing the week I was sick.

Dear Ben,

Sorry I haven’t been home in a bit.I had a few things to take care of after that storm.I know you’ll understand.You’ve always been so smart and responsible!Wanted to check in on you and make sure you’re doing okay.Love you, can’t wait to see you.


Ben waited a couple days, then wrote back.

Hi Dad, everything is fine.I hope you’re fine too.Love you, Ben.

The next couple messages from my dad try a little harder.He asks Ben about his grades in math, which are always perfect.When Ben tells him that, Dad sends three paragraphs about how proud he is.

On Thursday of this week, Dad asked about Mia.

Is she reading any new books?

If he bothered to be here, he’d know that she’s not reading any new books—she’s reading The Dark Is Rising sequence over and over again, and has been since we moved.

Dad also asked about me.

Tell me what Bristol’s up to.Is she happy with her job?

Ben wrote back on Friday.From the time stamp on the email, he was still at school.Will was at the retirement party for Finn Hughes’s father.I was at my desk, thinking about Will.My plastic palm tree was there that day, too.I brought it with me so it could witness our beach weekend.It’s in my purse, in the bedroom.It hasn’t witnessed any of this.

Maybe that’s for the best.

Will moves past the bedroom door but doesn’t look in.“Send a separate team there, too.I’ll let my brother know.”

Hi Dad, Bristol’s really good.She has a boyfriend that she met at her old job.He has a lot of money but he’s really nice about it, he lets us play Minecraft on really nice laptops and he always has tons of food at his house and Mia can eat as many Eggos as she wants.And he buys those coffee things Bristol likes, but he doesn’t drink that kind, so it’s just for her.I hope they get married, I think Bristol would be happy if she got to stay with him forever.

Oh, Ben.

I close my eyes, shutting out the email so I can keep it together.This is the longest email Ben’s written and it’s painfully innocent.Painfully hopeful.My ribs feel like they can’t quite keep my lungs in place.Will passes by the door again, heading downstairs.


The email continues.

We miss you so much, but if you’re busy, that’s okay.We are okay where we are, and if Bristol stays with her boyfriend maybe we could stay too.That would be fine, and you could come visit us when you have some free time.I got an A on my math test today.Ok gotta go, Ben

The most recent email, the one at the very top of the inbox, came in at just after three in the morning.


I’m so sorry to do this, buddy.I have to ask for your help.It’s really serious this time.I don’t want to scare you but I got in too deep and if I can’t figure this out, they’re going to kill me.I can’t do it alone.You have no idea how sorry I am.I never should have gone this far, but I wanted to make things right for you and Mia and Bristol.It all went wrong.Can you and Mia come and meet me?I know you two can solve anything you put your minds to.There’s nobody else I can ask.Come as soon as you can, okay?


Below his signature is an address.

I’m on my feet so fast that my brain feels off-balance.I take one second to get my bearings and grab Mia’s book from under her pillow.She’ll want this when we find her, and now that I have this address, we cango.

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