Page 81 of Coercion

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“There are lots of fights,” she admits, watching the motel disappear in the rearview mirror.“They start when the sun goes down and stay mad all night.”

I was going to stay mad the rest of my life, but then Bristol walked in.“That won’t be a problem where we live.”

We mostly ride in silence.My mom looks out the window, watching the city fall away.It’s not awkward, just quiet.She seems relieved.

Until we’re about five minutes out, when she sits up, gripping her purse with both hands.

“Will, I can come for dinner another time.There’s no need for me to interrupt your lives.”

“It’s not an interruption.We invited you.”

“I should—” She shakes her head.“I should go back to the hotel and figure things out for myself.”

Three minutes.“Yeah, no.I’m not taking you back to that place.If you really don’t want to stay with me or Em, I’ll find you somewhere safer.”

“My budget—”

“Mom, I have so much money that it’s hard to describe it without sounding like an asshole.The budget isn’t a problem.”

“But Will.”I can’t look at her, since I’m driving, but she’s looking at me.“I don’t want you to think I came here for your money.”

I reach over and pat her hand.“I know that.”

“I really didn’t.”

There’s Emerson’s gate.“Have you ever asked anybody for money?”

We turn in, and the gate opens.The guard on the inside waves.I wave back.

“Your father.”Shame rings in her voice, no matter how soft it is.

I steal a glance at her.She’s staring at Emerson’s house.I know how it looks, because I know how it looked to me when he first bought it.A castle.A dream.

“This is where Emerson lives?”

“Yes.”I put the SUV in park and point across the yard.“That one’s mine.I have a pool.Mom.”She turns her head, and I look her in the eyes.“I was pissed at you for a long time.Really fucking pissed.Because I thought it was my fault you left, and I—” I swallow the lump in my throat.“And I missed you.But I’m not angry now.OK?”

“You don’t have to forgive me.I know I don’t deserve it.”

“I don’t have to do anything.And…I don’t know about the rest.Can’t figure that out tonight, anyway.There’s too much left to talk about.And I can’t talk to you if you’re spending all your time trying to stay safe in some shitty motel.”

“Will.”The plastic bag rustles in her lap.“I can’t ask you for this.”

“Do me a favor, then, and let me do this for you.It’s pointless to be rich if I can’t make sure my own mother has a decent place to stay.”

“But I—”

“Afavor,Mom.A huge favor.To me.”

She exhales.“Okay.”

“Thanks.I owe you one.”

My mom laughs, but when I help her out of the car with her purse and grocery bag, her hands shake on the handle.She looks over Emerson’s house with a tremble in her chin.

She’s nervous.Maybe even scared.I’m nervous, too.We’ve planned as much of this dinner as we can, but who the hell knows?When Dad showed up it was a huge fucking deal.

This isn’t the same.Nobody’s being taken by surprise.