Page 85 of Coercion

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“Hey, Bristol.It’s me.”

“Hi, Dad.”

“Sorry it took so long for me to call.They had a policy for the first two weeks.”

“First two weeks?”My dad ended up in the hospital with an infected gunshot wound not long after the first dinner we had with Will’s mom.Now she lives in the cottage next to the security gatehouse.She seems constantly bewildered by how her life has turned out.Thrilled, too.I know the feeling.

“I wanted to tell you before.I got into a program for gamblers and—and people who have trouble like that.Came straight here after they patched me up.I sent that letter for the lawyers, but you know how the mail is.Should get there any day now.”

“Dad.”My eyes sting with happy tears.“Dad, that’s incredible news.Are you—how do you feel?Is it good?”

“It’s great, hon—Bristol.The people here get it.When I finish up, they’ll help me get a job.A real one,” he rushes to say.“Nothing under the table.That’s what I’m going to do.But I signed all the papers so you’ll have everything squared away with the twins.”

“You sound—” I clear my throat.“You sound good, Dad.”

He sounds clear-minded.Well-rested.Determined.“I’ve been talking to a guy here.About—” Dad hesitates.“About your mom.He said something the other day that’s been on my mind.”

“What was it?”

“That maybe I never faced it.The way—oh, you remember how it was.Happened so fast.I didn’t see it coming when we lost her, and afterward, I didn’t want to see it.But I’ve been trying.It’s hard, because—” He coughs, his voice going tight.“I don’t mean that as an excuse.I miss her a lot more than I realized.I’ve been missing her.That doesn’t erase what I did, though, so I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.For putting that on you.I’m going to do better.”

“I—” I am not going to lose it on our Saturday beach day.“I accept your apology, Dad.I understand.I’m really happy for you.I hope you know that.”

“I do, honey.”I let it slide.Honeysounds genuine.I’ll give him that.“I’ll call again next week, same time?I’ll have a little bit longer to talk to Mia and Ben.”

“We’ll be here.Don’t worry about us.”

“I love you, Bristol.Tell the twins.”

“Love you, Dad.”

I stand up, tip my face to the sun, and breathe.It was good news with a solid plan for more good news.

My dad might actually make it.

The twins look up from the sandcastle when I get closer.“I just heard from Dad.He’s in a new program that I think is going to help a lot.He said he loves you, and he’ll call again next Saturday.”

Mia and Ben exchange a serious look.“Okay.”

Mia traces a curve in the sand with her fingertip.Ben glances behind me, then sets his mouth in a thin line.

“What’s wrong?”I crouch down next to them, the breeze blowing tendrils of my hair into my face.“You aren’t still worried about me and Will, are you?”

“No.”Mia makes the curve in the sand into a spiral.

“You can tell me, Mia.”

She glances at Ben, then meets my eyes.“We want Dad to get better.But when he’s done with his program, we want to keep living with you.”

I put a hand on Ben’s shoulder.“You know what?I talked to Dad about that, too.He signed some official paperwork so that you guys can stay with me no matter what.It’s all taken care of.”

Ben chews at his lip.“Are you happy about it?”

“I’mthrilled, Ben.None of us have to worry about moving, or about being split up ever again.I honestly…I couldn’t be happier.”

“But what about Will?”Mia asks.“Does he want us all to be together?”

“Will would love that.”Will’s voice comes from directly behind me, and Mia’s eyes go wide.“In fact, I’d like to make this whole thing permanent.”

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