I asked anyway. "Do you want to watch a movie or something?"

"No, I'm tired."

I followed her back to her room. "Do you want some pizza? We can-"

She stepped into her room. "No."

I tried to follow her in. "Oh, is this your room? Can I see-"

"Tomorrow," she said. Then, she slammed the door in my face.


Daddy died sometime between 3:16 and 3:42 am. Every year, I hoped to God that it was as close to 3:16 is possible. And every year on June 19th, I watched the clock around that time, a twisted little game that my mind liked to play on me: Daddy's Still Here to Daddy's Gone.

Having Peyton around helped distract me. The first year, we were in the canyons watching the stars. The second, playing video games in his room. Last year, we were driving home from a trip to the Lone Star Observatory in Dallas.

This year, I was alone, alone, alone.

And he was with his Alice.

I glanced at the clock. Only 2:12.

Sighing, I wiped the sweat from my brow. The air conditioner didn't work, and the ceiling fan made this awful creaking noise that wasn't worth the tiny bit of relief it offered. I paced back and forth in the dark, caged in this foreign little room in this foreign house, the heat so bad that it felt like I was being roasted alive. My skin felt too tight for my body and I itched all over, my throat closing up to a point where I could hardly breathe.

Like daddy's probably did. I'd read that's what happens in fires.

Uncontrollable tears streamed down my face as I resumed my pacing, counting down the seconds, when something brushed against my hair.

Stupid flies. I swatted at it, but it was followed by another, then another.

What the... I hit the lights and looked up at the ceiling to see if the plaster was crumbling around the fan. No, it was stained and sagging, but intact.

This time, an entire swarm of somethings hit my back before clattering to my feet. I yelped, then looked down to see pebbles.

I ran over to the window and stuck my head out.

Jake Waites stood beneath my window amid the overgrown, yellowing grass, his guitar strapped to his back. He grinned. "Layla."

I smiled so big and so wide that it hurt. I dragged the heels of my palms against my eyes and wiped the snot off my nose with the back of my arm. "Jake!"

A fickle heart was the only constant in this world. Daddy all but forgotten, I ran to the mirror and cringed at the creature reflected in it - bloodshot eyes, puffy red face, hair plastered against a sweaty forehead. And I still hadn't showered since Motel 6. So gross.

I killed the lights and ran back to the window. "Go away, Jake." I slammed the window shut and drew the curtains. Back flat against the wall, I watched to see what he would do.

He sat on the ground and placed his guitar on his lap. With his brows furrowed in deep concentration and the tip of his tongue clamped in between his teeth, he painstakingly started to play a few cords. Off key and off pitch, he strummed a horrifically mangled, barely recognizable version of "Sweet Caroline."

I laughed through my bloated ugliness.

"Because I'm not a circus monkey who performs on command."

He'd looked so cool and so smooth laying there with that guitar and his stupid cigarette, painting himself to be some kind of lone-wolf-cowboy-outlaw-Marlboro-Man who only played the guitar for himself to ward off the lonely nights in a rugged outback country far beyond civilization. When really, he was just a silly boy using a stupid prop to impress the girls. I laughed until I'd forgotten that I'd been crying. He was so ridiculous and awesome at the same time to have the balls to pull off such a stunt.

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