The thing about owning a motel is that you can’t turn people away.

If someone can’t afford the nightly rate, of course you have to tell them no, that they can’t have a room. Or if they want to bring their dog (no pets, not even the iguana someone tried to sneak in once), or if they are staggering around the front office, too drunk to produce their credit card—these are all things that have actually happened at the Duffy Inn and they are all a good reason to say no.

But you can’t tell someone no just because they’re an asshole. Lord knows my mother has tried.

She owns the motel—not me. But I work the office a few times a week after school and on weekends, so sometimes I have to make decisions like that.

My head says no no no as soon as Vince walks in.

As if he knows the word I’m dying to blurt out, he hangs his head. Sheepishly, like that can make up for the past five years.

I barely let my eyes light on him before they flick away, back to the computer screen in front of me. And instead of no, I say, “Are you lost?”

Vince laughs, but I don’t recognize it. Maybe I shouldn’t, after all these years. I’ve heard him in the hallways and in class, laughing with his friends. But that one doesn’t sound like the one I used to know—his true laugh, the one that had an unmistakable honking sound at the end. It was super noticeable and it went on forever and I loved it.

This laugh isn’t his old one or his cool one. It’s one that says he’s wholly uncomfortable standing in front of me, like we didn’t used to spend hours playing each afternoon in his backyard.

“Not quite,” he says, running a hand over his head. He glances at me with his light brown eyes. The first time they’ve looked directly at me in I don’t know how long. But there’s something in his gaze that makes me stop, just for a moment. Something that isn’t right. I blink and it disappears. “How you been, Angelique?”

I hate him saying my name. I consider telling him to call me Angie, but it would be wasted breath. I’m Angelique to everyone now, even my mother.

“What do you want?”

He shoves his hands deep in his jeans pockets, his stare drilled down into the floor. “My …” He lets out a breath in a quick, loud whoosh. “My mom died.”

The world freezes.

Except that behind him, the front door jingles. I look up, startled, wondering who could possibly be here. It’s a Sunday afternoon and we’re a two-star motel on the edge of a small town near St. Louis called Duffy. It’s usually the same crowd—truckers, businessmen who work for cheap companies, the occasional family on their way to Six Flags.

But when I look past Vince, I see that it’s just Danny, coming in for his evening shift. We don’t really need a security guard. Not most of the time. Sometimes a guest gets too belligerent or starts asking me too many personal questions, but I can usually handle them. Usually. I guess that more often than not, I’m glad Danny is here. He’s nice and quiet and spends most of his time reading Philip K. Dick novels, but he’s tall and large, which scares off anyone who needs it. Part of me—a terrible part—wishes I were Danny right now so I wouldn’t have to confront the awful truth of what Vince just told me.

“Afternoon, Angelique,” he says, his eyes crinkling warmly. He nods at Vince before heading back to put his dinner in the fridge. He brings the same thing every day—two sandwiches, a baggie of potato chips, another baggie of carrots, and an apple.

I try to say hello back, but my lips won’t form the words. I manage to nod at him before he disappears. When I look back at Vince, I wonder if I imagined what he said.

He clears his throat, his voice weak when he speaks. “Fucking crazy, right?”

“What … Vince, what happened?”

I stand up from my chair behind the counter, but I don’t know what to do. The only reason I’ve even been this close to him in the past few years is because we have to see each other at school. Go to the same classes. Eat lunch in the same cafeteria. All while pretending we didn’t used to spend more time together than apart.

“Car accident.” His voice cracks and he shakes his head, as if it’s just one more thing that’s gone wrong in his day. “She went out to get doughnuts this morning and some drunk asshole smashed right into her. Just plowed into her car while she was waiting to turn—”

This time, when his voice breaks, I go to him. It’s instinct. Because he’s a human being and he’s upset—but he also used to be my best friend. I used to know his house and life and family almost as well as I knew my own. It feels wrong to just stand here while he’s hurting.

I put one arm around him, and then, when he doesn’t shrug away from me, I slip the other one over his shoulders. His breathing quickens then slows, quickens then slows. I wonder if he is crying, but his eyes are dry when he brings his head up.

“I didn’t know where to go, or what—” He shakes his head again as he pulls away. “I don’t know.”

I’m just as surprised as he is that he came to me instead of one of his real friends, but I guess, in a way, it makes sense. There are still times I forget that Vince and I aren’t close like we used to be. Sometimes I still want to tell him good things that happen to me, like when I aced all my exams sophomore year, or when I got the volunteer gig at the hospital a few months ago. And then I remember the way he looks at me now—or through me, really—and that feeling fades as quickly as it came.

So I can’t believe he’s here now, that he chose to come to me. I don’t know what I’d do if my mom died, but I’m pretty sure showing up at Vince’s job wouldn’t be my first instinct. Not with our recent history.

“It’s okay,” I say, blinking back tears. He isn’t crying, so I shouldn’t be, either. “What do you need? I mean, do you want to lie down in an empty room? We have a couple open. Or the diner next door is—”

“I want to finish her plans.” His voice is so matter-of-fact that I almost don’t question it. Almost.

“What do you mean?” I ask slowly.

“She was going out to get breakfast, but … she had a whole day planned after that and, I …” He clears his throat again. “There’s nothing I can do that feels right. But this … finishing what she didn’t get to … that feels like something I can do, you know?”

“Okay.” I nod, even though I can’t stop thinking about how bizarre this all is. That he’s standing here, telling me this. He should be with his father or his younger sister or—well, anyone but me, I guess. “What was she … what are you going to do?”

His face falls, even more than when he told me his mother died. “You’re not coming with me?”

“I wasn’t sure if—I mean, yeah. If you want, I’ll come with you.”

Not even the tiniest ounce of me wants to go with him. But I know how badly he is hurting, how I need to do this for him. It’s uncomfortable for me, but his life has changed forever. He’ll never see his mother again.

“It’s just … you knew her, Angie. Almost as long as I’ve known her. I can’t be with my family right now …”

But he wants to be with someone who used to be like family. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Because I did know her. For many years of my life, I saw her every single day.

“It’s okay,” I say. “Let me grab my bag. I’ll get Danny to cover for me.”

Danny is none too pleased about covering for me. He’s nice, but he doesn’t like talking to people if he doesn’t have to. Lucky for him, probably no one will even come in while I’m gone. Maybe someone who misplaced their key or wants fresh towels, I assure him. But, really, he only agrees after I promise him overtime. I’ll worry about clearing that with my mother later.

Vince drives one of the nicest cars in the school parking lot, a two-year-old BMW that his parents handed down to him instead of trading it in when his dad got a new sedan. It looks new enough inside, with smooth leather seats and a complicated-looking stereo system, but the new car scent has long faded, replaced by the lingering smell of corn chips, gym socks, and, faintly, weed.

I’ve seen Vince behind the wheel countless times, but I never thought I’d ride with him. Which is absurd, because we used to talk incessantly about what we’d do when we got our driver’s licenses. He named all the places we’d go, like friends’ houses and the movie theater and the county fair in the summer. But those always seemed like such small aspirations to me—even back then, before I worked in the same place I live, all I could think about was driving to get away from everything I know in Duffy. Just driving to drive, driving so far without stopping that I’d run out of gas.

“Where to first?” I ask, trying to push from my mind how morbid this really is.

Vince ties his dreads back in a low knot at the nape of his neck. They’re new enough that he didn’t have them when we were still friends, but not so new that I feel the need to comment on them. I just can’t believe how fast they grew. One day he showed up to school sporting baby twists, and then it seemed like they’d grown to his shoulders in almost no time.

“Doughnuts,” he says. Then, when he feels my hesitation: “She never made it to the shop. It happened on the way there.”

“Oh.” I don’t have to ask exactly where she died. It will be all over the local news tonight, tomorrow, probably through next week. It feels good not knowing now, as if it makes Mrs. Baird’s death less final. There was a time when she was my second mother. Even though I haven’t said more than hello to her in years, only seeing her in passing, it doesn’t erase all the afternoons and sleepovers spent at Vince’s house while she doted on us. She was a good mom—attentive and kind and quick to laugh.

There’s something comforting about watching Vince’s brown hands turn the key in the ignition and then grip the steering wheel. They are the same deep shade as my own, and that’s something that we still share.

The stereo is blasting Prince and he curses under his breath, immediately fumbling to hook his phone up to the stereo. I don’t say anything, but I wonder if he remembers how his mom used to play Prince for us when I was over at their house. How we listened to “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life” on repeat until we knew all the lyrics, even though most of the kids in our class barely even knew who Prince was. The thumping bass of a hip-hop song I don’t know comes pumping through the speakers.

“How’s your mom?” Vince asks once we’re on the highway. He doesn’t look at me.

It doesn’t seem like a fair question. If I respond that she’s great, doing really well at her psychology classes and falling deeper in love with her boyfriend every day, I will sound like the most insensitive shithead on the planet. And if I say that she’s been getting on my nerves because she’s never around and all the free time she spends is with Samuel … I’m well aware that the most unfair part of all is that he no longer has a mother.

“She’s fine,” I say, adjusting my bag at my feet. “Staying busy with school and this guy, Samuel.”

“Samuel?” He says the name with a frown, like he’s trying to place him. It wouldn’t be hard. Duffy has a population of nine thousand.

“He lives in St. Louis. They take turns staying with each other.”

“So you get the place to yourself a lot?”

I shrug. “Kind of.”

I’m always welcome—and, in fact, encouraged—to stay at my dad’s place, but I prefer to be home. Even when it’s lonely or creepy or boring. There’s nothing wrong with my dad or his place. I just don’t know him all that well, I guess. My parents got divorced fourteen years ago, when I was three, and even though they have joint custody, it’s never really felt like I have two parents. My dad travels a lot for work, so we were always switching around preplanned weekends and holidays just for me to spend time with him. Sometimes it worked out so I wouldn’t see him for a month or two at a time.

“Shit, Angelique, we should’ve been partying at your place all this time,” he says, drumming his fingers against the dashboard in time to the beat.

I don’t say anything to that. I could’ve had endless beer and booze and tacos every single time I had the place to myself, and I still don’t think Vince or his friends would’ve shown up. Which is fine. I have my own friends now, and none of them have decided to stop talking to me.

It doesn’t take long to get anywhere in Duffy, so we’re pulling into the lot of the doughnut shop in five minutes. As we walk up to the door, I wonder what Mrs. Baird was thinking on her way here. Was she having a good day, thinking about bringing back doughnuts for everyone? Doughnuts are Vince’s favorite; he used to beg for them in the morning when I’d spend the night at the Bairds’ house.

I go inside with him, where the small shop smells like sugar, dough, and hot oil. It’s four thirty, so the glass display case has been picked over, but there’s a full row of glazed, a couple of cake, a chocolate, a few of the ones covered in pink frosting with sprinkles, and one giant bear claw dominating the corner.

“Afternoon,” says the guy behind the counter. Perry. He’s the son of the owner, and pretty much perpetually stoned. He’s a few years older than us, the age where he would be graduating college if he’d decided to go. “About to close up for the day, but still got a few left.”

I expect Vince to take his time deciding, because even though the pickings are slim, maybe one of these is his mom’s favorite kind. Or maybe he’ll choose his favorite, the ones with the sprinkles, because somehow, he thinks that can still make her happy.

Instead, he gestures vaguely to the case and says, “Give me all of them.”

Perry’s eyebrows rise, his sleepy blue eyes widening almost imperceptibly. “All of them?”

“Yup,” Vince says curtly.

Perry shrugs then looks relieved, realizing this will save him some cleanup time. He shuffles all of the doughnuts into a big pink box and Vince gives him ten dollars in exchange. I watch Perry closely the whole time, but if he knows about Mrs. Baird, I can’t tell. I wonder what he would say if he knew Vince’s mom had been on her way to this shop when she was killed.

I don’t have to wonder too long what Vince is going to do with the doughnuts. As soon as we’re outside, he stalks across the parking lot to the trash can and dumps the whole box inside.

“Vince! We could’ve given those to someone,” I say, remembering too late that he’s allowed to do whatever the hell he wants in this moment.

“They’re stale,” he replies in the same brusque tone he used with Perry. “Some of those have been sitting there all day.” His voice softens, though, as he says, “I’m finishing what’s on her list, Angelique. That’s it.”

I don’t say anything. Just follow him to the car and get back in the passenger seat.

Vince and I probably had no business being friends in the first place. He’s adventurous where I’m timid, extroverted when I’d almost always rather be observing people than talking to them. But there was overlap between us, and not just the fact that we were the only two black kids our age in Duffy.

There’s the whole Prince thing. I don’t know why sharing a love of a certain musician, especially when you’re young, means so much. But it does. And he was almost more vigilant than I am about my gluten-free diet. Anytime someone rolled their eyes, challenging my celiac disease, he would immediately come to my defense, educating them on something they knew nothing about or didn’t want to acknowledge. He understood because he has type 1 diabetes, another condition where you have to monitor your diet closely.

I was staring out the window, completely zoned out as we drove to the next stop. Now that we’re here, I shake myself back into the present. It’s a dry cleaners, located in the next town over. The parking lot is empty, and as we pull up right in front of the door, I see that they close in five minutes.

Vince’s fingers are on the car door handle when I stop him.

“How did you know where she was going?”

He taps the cover of a leather-bound book I didn’t even notice sitting in the center console. It has the year on front, stamped in faded gold script.

“My mom’s planner. She kept an old-school paper one, next to the bills on the kitchen counter.”

I go into the dry cleaners with him, even though the front area is cramped and hot, and the girl working behind the counter looks irritated at our just-before-closing arrival.

She steps in front of the register and sighs. “Name?”

“Lucy Baird,” Vince says clearly.

The girl stops, frowning like she knows the name. “Baird,” she mutters, heading to the back, where she disappears among the seemingly endless racks of plastic-wrapped clothing. I hear her murmuring with someone we can’t see. Then there’s some movement and rustling, and when she returns, she has several hangers in her hand and a bright red face.

“Um, it’s no charge.” She carefully hands the clothing to Vince.

He frowns. “Why? She already paid for it?”

I didn’t know how it’s possible, but the girl’s face gets even redder. “No, it’s just … Lucy Baird, right? She was the one who … we heard about that terrible accident this morning. She was a regular customer, and we’re just so sorry.”

Vince doesn’t say anything. I open my mouth a couple of times, but I don’t have anything to say, either. Why are awkward moments so damn quiet? It seems like there should be something to distract us in this place full of machines that hiss and steam and press. But it’s the end of the day. They’re closing up shop in a few, just like Perry. There’s only the ticking of the clock and the repeated kick of Vince’s sneaker toe against the floor.

If this is awkward for me, how must it feel for him? He’s going to have to hear this for the rest of his life—people saying sorry for the loss of someone they only knew in one capacity. Customer, co-worker, neighbor. It’s not going to stop for a while, and everyone in Duffy and around it knew his mother.

“It’s okay,” he says. Not curt, but a little shell-shocked. Like he’s just realized everything I was thinking. “But I’d like to pay you.”

“No,” she says. “Really. My mom is back there and—it’s on the house, okay? Please? She really was a good customer and we’d like to do something for you all.”

Maybe she doesn’t know that the Bairds aren’t lacking for money. Ten dollars is such a negligible amount to them. Vince doesn’t have to think about money, when most kids in our class are scraping by on whatever we can scrounge up between part-time jobs and begging for cash from our parents.

“Thank you,” he says, nodding at her before he turns around and walks out the door.

Outside, I look at the clothes sheathed in plastic. Two dresses, one black and one a soft lavender. A men’s striped dress shirt, a patterned scarf, and a pair of gray trousers. I let out a breath as Vince lays them carefully across the back seat. After the doughnuts, I wasn’t sure the clothes would make it home with him.

Back in the car, I’m tempted to open up the planner and look at the rest of Mrs. Baird’s day, but I don’t dare. Not with Vince’s face like that. It’s not sad or confused or twisted in pain. He is pure anger—brown eyes flashing, jaw set tight, knuckles squeezed even tighter around the steering wheel.

“What about—” I stop myself before I get the question out because again, I don’t want to piss him off even more.

“What?” he grunts.

“Your dad … and your sister? Are they …?” I look pointedly at his phone, which is sitting next to the planner. I figured it would be blowing up with texts and calls from everyone who’s heard the news, but it’s been silent the whole ride.

“Turned it off,” he says, following my eyes. “I don’t want to deal with anyone right now. Plenty of time for that later.”

I nod. Fair enough. I can’t imagine how long it would take before I could talk to another human being if my mother had just died. I don’t know how he has the strength to do this with me, right now.

So I don’t ask where we’re going and instead try to be okay with the silence. Vince and I used to be able to sit in the same room without talking for an hour and it was fine. Comfortable, even. We knew each other so well, we didn’t have to speak. Body language was usually enough, but our eyes had entire conversations all their own.

The silences at school were nothing like those. Once we got to middle school, Vince stopped talking to me. Suddenly, I wasn’t cool enough for him, and he was hanging with all his soccer buddies, who were obsessed with ogling girls who didn’t look like me. Well, none of the girls look like me, since the black population here is practically nonexistent. But I wasn’t hanging out with the girls his friends were into—the ones who knew how to do their makeup and how to flirt and how to make people interested in whatever they were doing, no matter how mundane.

I wasn’t involved in anything except French club, and I guess that wasn’t good enough for Vince. I think I would have had more respect for him if he’d simply talked to me about it, or even iced me out from the start. But he was slow in removing himself from my life; first, the random visits stopped, then he was too busy to come over at all. Then the texts tapered off, and, finally, he stopped saying hi to me at school. I didn’t understand what was happening the first time he walked by me in the hallway with Jason Williams and wouldn’t meet my eye. I practically lunged in front of him to make sure he’d seen me, and when he looked over, I wish he hadn’t. The derision in his eyes was unmistakable, but the pity hurt more.

I shift my gaze from the road ahead to my window, watching the trees and brush fly by in a melting green blur. I think the part that hurts the most, though, is that sitting here next to Vince—finishing these tasks with him—is one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me in a while. I hate that I think that. I hate that he probably knows it, too.

“What’s been going on with you?” he says now, and his voice seems especially loud as it cuts through the quiet.

“You don’t have to ask about my life just because I’m sitting here.”

“Maybe I care?”

I don’t believe that. I think he’s asking to fill the silence. But if it makes him feel better to get his mind off his mother, I’ll keep talking.

“I’ve decided to study French in college. Sarah Lawrence has a good program, and you can study in Paris your senior or junior year. Ms. Lamba says I should be a shoo-in with my grades.”

“You’re already thinking about college?”

“Aren’t you? We’re juniors.” I’ve been thinking about it since elementary, and not just because I actually like school. College is the best opportunity to get out of this town—really out of it, not just moving a few miles away to St. Louis like half our class will do.

He shrugs, then asks, “What’s up with you and that dude?”

“What dude?” I know exactly who he means, but I want him to say his name.

Vince rolls his eyes as he obliges. “Matt.”

I shrug. “We’re hanging out.”

Matt and I are friends who make out sometimes, but we’re not together and neither of us wants to be. We bicker too much to actually be in a relationship; he thinks I’m too uptight and I wish he’d take something seriously besides his never-ending quest of where to find the next party.

“Hanging out, huh?” He laughs a little. I don’t.

“Is it so hard for you to imagine someone wanting to spend time with me?” I shoot back. “You weren’t my only friend.”

“What, I can’t tease you anymore?”

I stare at him. “We haven’t talked in years, Vince. So, no, ex-friends don’t usually tease each other.”


I change the subject. “What about you and Sloane?”

“What about her?” He sighs when I just look at him. “We broke up.” Then, under his breath but still loud enough for me to hear: “Guess that makes you happy.”

I frown at him as we pass the sign announcing we’re twelve miles from Bunton. I wonder what errand Mrs. Baird had out here. “What?” I say to Vince.

“I know you don’t like her.”

“Sloane? I don’t even know her.”

Vince shakes his head. “Come on, Angelique. Even she said you don’t like her.”

I rest my head against the seat and close my eyes. “Did she say why she thinks that?”

I mean, maybe because I never smiled at her or talked to her and looked away immediately when we had to choose partners for group projects in class. But why would I have done more? She was always with Vince, and when she wasn’t, she was constantly talking about him. I didn’t want to be reminded that she knew everything about him when it was becoming harder and harder to believe Vince and I had ever been friends, let alone best friends.

“I saw the way you looked at her,” he says, pushing down on the gas pedal.

You weren’t talking to me! Why did you expect me to be best friends with your girlfriend?”

Vince sighs again. “Not best friends. It’s just … would you have treated her that way if she wasn’t white?”

I swivel around in my seat to stare at him head-on. “What?”

“I heard my mom and Aunt Beth talking one time …” He hesitates. “They were talking about white women. About how there are so many here in Duffy and not enough black women, and then … my mom said she was worried about me. That she wished I had black girls around to date, because she was afraid I’d grow up to be ‘one of those brothers who turns his back on black women.’”

I glare at him. “That conversation was between your mom and Beth, not me.”

“So you don’t think that, too?”

It’s not right to tell someone whose mother just died to fuck off, and that is the only reason I hold my tongue.

“If you think every single black girl and woman on the planet believes the same thing, I can’t help you, Vince.”

I look back out the window, though, because he’s not totally wrong. It’s not that I wanted Vince to date me. I don’t think of him that way, and I would’ve been shocked if he’d had those types of feelings for me. But he used to be the person I could talk to about black things. Race things. He was my age, and he wasn’t my parents, and he understood because he knew all the people I complained about. He took away that refuge when he stopped talking to me, so I guess it’s hard not to hate the people he replaced me with.

“Angelique, you know I don’t think that. But if you won’t even talk to my girl—”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” I say, fully regretting being here for the first time since we left the motel.


“And please call me Angie,” I add, my voice even stiffer.

“I thought everyone called you Angelique now,” he mumbles.

“Yeah, well, when you do, all I can think of is your friends saying it was a stripper name and you laughing your fucking head off next to them.”

Finally, I’ve rendered him speechless. Not for long, but enough to be sure he knows exactly what I’m talking about.

“I didn’t say that,” he says, glancing over.

“I didn’t say you did. But you laughed, Vince. The hardest. Like you’d been wanting someone to knock me down a peg your whole life.” I swallow hard. “And it was shitty because you guys know Aaron’s mom used to dance at the Flamingo Club to support them, but you laughed anyway. Which means he laughed so you guys wouldn’t feel like the shitheads you were being.”

Vince and I used to talk about that sometimes, how bad we felt when people made jokes at our expense—always something about our skin color or hair or culture—because they acted like the “jokes” meant nothing. Like it was something we signed up for because we happened to be black kids living in a white town.

“It isn’t that deep,” Vince says, rubbing his neck beneath his dreads.

“Maybe not to you,” I say back.

“Look …” He trails off and doesn’t speak again for so long that I wonder if he’s going to finish. His words are softer than they’ve been all day when he says, “I didn’t plan to stop talking to you, okay? It just sort of … happened. And then, when we hadn’t talked for a while, it wasn’t like we could just pick back up where we left off.”

But you could’ve tried. You never tried.

That wasn’t really an apology, so I don’t see the need to respond.

I resist the urge to turn on some music—something, anything to cut through the tension and pain in this car—and sit with my hands on my knees, staring straight ahead. Whatever we’re doing in Bunton, I hope we get it over with soon, because it’s clear why Vince and I are no longer friends.

But as we drive through downtown, past the steakhouse and the library and the tiny Bunton courthouse, I wonder what we are doing here. As we drive farther into Bunton, where the businesses end and the houses sprawl, I wonder where exactly we are going.

And then, when he takes a left on Pitt and a right on Carroll Street, I look over at Vince. He doesn’t look back at me, which is my first sign that something is wrong.

The second sign is when he pulls into the driveway of my father’s house and shuts off the car. My heart picks up speed.

“Why are we here?” I ask Vince, not quite looking at him. I focus on the face of his stereo instead. My voice is shaking. Did he decide to drop me off because he couldn’t stand being in the car with me anymore? Would he do that?

Without a word, Vince picks up the planner, thumbs it open to today’s date, and drops it in my lap. I look down at Mrs. Baird’s day.

There, in blue ballpoint, she’s scrawled in an appointment with my dad. But why would they be meeting at his house? Why does it say Michael instead of Mike, which is what everyone else calls him? And why is it just Michael instead of Michael Pearson? I didn’t even know Mrs. Baird knew my father outside of the fact that Vince and I used to be friends.

I look over to the driver’s seat where Vince is staring hard at the house. My stomach feels instantly sick. His face tells me everything I need to know about why we’re sitting in my father’s driveway. But still—I want to hear him say it.

“Why are we here?”

He laughs his cool laugh, the mean one that I heard above all the others in the hallway that day. “You’re not stupid, Angelique. You really don’t know?”

And there it is: the same look in his eyes from when he first showed up at the motel. That look I couldn’t recognize, but I suddenly realize means he had this planned the entire time. It flickered away before, but now—it lingers. He’s been waiting all day for this, and I feel so low I could sink into the driveway.

I shake my head. My skin is hot, my stomach sicker by the second. This doesn’t even compare to that day in the hallway when everyone laughed at my name. I felt embarrassed then. A little betrayed. This … I don’t even know what this is, but I know it feels awful and it’s probably not going to get any better the more I find out.

Vince exhales, still looking at my father’s front door. “I don’t know how long it’s been going on. At least since seventh grade. That’s when one of my boys saw them … together.”

Seventh grade? That was four years ago. My stomach is churning so hard I think I might throw up right here in Vince’s car. I put my fingers on the door handle just in case. I want to ask more questions, but I can’t get them out. What if I vomit when I try to speak? What if I just never stop vomiting, because this is so fucking terrible?

“It means she was cheating on him when my dad got sick,” Vince continues, the hard look from before transferring to his voice. He pauses. “Maybe that’s why she cheated on him. I don’t fucking know. But she didn’t stop when he went into remission. Neither of them did.”

“Vince,” I finally manage to get out. But that’s it. I can’t say any more, and I clamp my lips shut, stomach still roiling.

He turns and looks at me sharply. “Did you know?”

Do I look like I knew? I’m pretty sure my face is telling him that I didn’t know any of this. But when I look into Vince’s eyes—he is so tired. And sad and hurt and probably a million other things I can’t understand right now, or maybe ever.

“No, I swear I didn’t. I would have told you. We—” We may not have been friends anymore, but I wouldn’t do that to you. “Are you sure it’s the right Michael?” I ask, my voice so soft I wonder if he hears it.

But he does. He nods. Then says, “I saw them, too. A couple years ago. One time I followed my mom and … they met up for dinner. Kissed in the parking lot and everything.”

Fuck fuck fuck. My dad isn’t remarried, but that doesn’t make this any better. He’s still cheating with a married woman. Cheating for years. My father has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but if I didn’t see this, what else haven’t I seen? What else has he been hiding?

But if Vince found out about this in seventh grade … I breathe in through my nose, looking down at my lap.

“This isn’t why you stopped being friends with me.” It’s not a question.

Next to me, I hear Vince breathing. He doesn’t say anything.

I guess I thought if there was a good reason for it, a reason other than him simply deciding he didn’t want to be my friend, I could somehow deal with the hurt and confusion of the past five years.

When his silent answer is unbearable, I look over at him. My mouth is open, ready to ask him why, because this day really can’t get any shittier, whatever his response.

But he looks up toward the house before I can speak. I follow his gaze, where the front door has opened and my father is standing on the porch, staring at us.

Vince looks at me, his eyes damp at the sight of my dad. “You promise you didn’t know?”

“I swear. I would have told you.” Even though you didn’t bother to tell me.

My father squints at the car for a minute, trying to figure out who it is. Once he sees it’s me, he waves, but he doesn’t step off the porch. And he doesn’t look at Vince again—not after he realizes it’s him. I can tell by the easy way he smiles at me that he doesn’t know about Mrs. Baird.

I swallow. “What are you going to say to him?”

“Nothing,” Vince says, starting the car again. He nods toward the passenger door, signaling it’s time for me to get out. “Figured you can handle it from here.”

“This isn’t fair. I didn’t know.”

This shouldn’t be my responsibility. And I don’t want to talk to my father. Not now, and maybe not ever, after what I’ve learned today.

Vince looks at me again; his eyes have changed from damp to wet. He’s never liked anyone seeing him cry, and I know he just wants me to get out of the car so he can do it in peace.

And then, as if I’ve read his mind: “I’m sorry, Angie. Driving you out here felt like the right thing to do, but I can’t fucking think right now. I can’t—I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. I need to be alone. Then I need to get back to what’s left of my family.”

I think of his father. His little sister, Anna. His aunt, who would babysit us sometimes. Did they know about this? Will he ever tell them? I look back at my own father.

“You don’t have anything to say to him?” I’m desperate now, not wanting to deal with this new problem Vince transferred onto me. And yet, I can’t blame him for doing it.

“I think I just said it … by being here.”

I push the door open, grab my bag, and step out. I look at Vince and I know this is the last time we’ll be in a car together—maybe it’s even the last time we’ll talk at all. I say the only thing I know to say.

“I’m so sorry about your mom.”

He backs the car out of the driveway as soon as I close the door.

I turn toward the house and look at my father.

But my feet refuse to move.

{ Edited by Denise Conejo. }