Page 65 of Coercion

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“I’ll take it.”

The receptionist lets out a relieved breath.She’s not supposed to accept unauthorized deliveries.This one is just personal, but it’s a gray area.“Yes.Ms.Anderson would be the person to pass on your item.”

Will’s mom turns to face me, steeling herself.“You’ll take it, or you’ll make sure he gets it?”

He looks just like her, and my heart falls down from the high of the house andBristol?I love youand Will’s new job.It breaks on the newspaper-wrapped object that his mother holds so carefully.

“I’m sorry.I really am.But we need to respect Will’s wishes.I can’t let you leave a gift for him or a note or talk to him if he doesn’t want that.”

She looks at me, eyes searching, for long enough that I want to look away.“You’re protecting him.”

“Yes.He’s been hurt before, and I don’t want that to happen again.”

“I’m not trying to hurt him.”

“I believe you, but he doesn’t want to see you right now.It’s—” I don’t know how to explain that everything’s finally coming together without sounding like a jerk.“It’s not a good time.”

Her chin comes up.“Are you sure about that?”



The latest conversationwith Finn didn’t have an agenda, but after I filled up three pages of a legal pad with notes, it was safe to admit it had become a meeting.

Halfway through page four, Finn drums his fingertips on his desk.“Before I set you loose on everyone with this, we should run it by Greg.Maybe a couple of other people.”

“Let’s go down to their floor, then.Greg’s been on the elevator half the day.”

“I could stand to stretch my legs.”

This is funny, since Finn’s been pacing around most of the day while we talk, but I don’t point that out.A walk down a slightly longer hallway could help.He gets to the door first and opens it with about a hundred times more energy than he had on Sunday.

I want to put this plan in motion.I want the tough meetings.I think Finn wants to get on with it, too, so we’re both moving at a good clip toward the reception desk.

I’m writing down my last couple notes on the legal pad, so I hear Bristol before I see her.

“It’s not a good time.”Her voice is warm, but she’s firm.The authority in her tone is hot.Fuck.Maybe I will put her on her knees in my office.

“Are you sure about that?”

My mother’s voice stops me in the middle of the hall, not far from the reception desk.

She’s standing right there, facing Bristol, something small in her hands.

Finn realizes I’m missing a few steps ahead of me.“Will?”

At the sound of my name, my mom turns her head and sees me.Joy flashes onto her face.It’s only there for a second, but it’s so bright that it makes me think of the closet door opening.Only it’s not the hellish version with Dad’s fingers sinking into my shirt.It’s the version where the person on the other side saysThere you are,and she’s laughing, and it was all a game.Just a game.

I can’t tell if it’s a real memory or not, but my heart repositions itself.Has to be something wrong about that.Organs don’t rearrange unless you get into a catastrophic accident.

It must be my mind that changed.

She didn’t have it any easier than we did.I can’t be furious about missing most of my life with her if I refuse to see her now.

And, on top of that, I always knew it wasn’t really her fault that she left.It was mine.She might not have gone if it was just Sinclair and Emerson.Whatever happened to her after I was born pushed her over the edge.Who the hell am I to blame her for that?She couldn’t have known that I’d ruin everything until I actually existed.

“Will, is—” Finn looks from me to my mother, then back again.His eyes go wide with recognition.

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