"Of course."

"Thank you so much." The line goes dead with a click.

* * *

Nash is playing in his room, when Merritt's truck rattles into the driveway. I unlock the door and wait.

Merritt hurries out of the truck and to the door. "How long was he here?"

"I'm not sure."

He tosses his hat onto the chair and goes to the hallway.

I stay in the living room to give them a moment. Now that Merritt's home, I could probably leave. But it would be strange just to walk out, and I'd rather stay and make sure they're both okay.

When Merritt finally returns to the living room, he tosses his coat over the back of the chair and drags a hand over his face.

"You all right?"

He nods. "Just stunned. I probably shouldn't be."

"Do you want something to eat? Coffee?"

"At the moment, no. But thanks anyway."

He starts picking up the dirty dishes from the table and carries them into the kitchen. I follow.

"It's my fault. We got into a fight. That's got to be it."

"You can't blame yourself for what your dad does or doesn't do."

"But I am responsible for what I do. Every time he's here we get into an argument over something. And I knew better. For Nash's sake."

The dishes clink against each other in the sink.

"If I'd just kept my mouth shut..."

"What was the fight about?"

He braces his palms against the edge of counter. "Everything. I mean, he just shows up first of all and starts making promises he knows he has no intention of keeping, and I'm the one who has to deal with the fallout. And then he says he wants to take Nash out on the road with him. But I told him that wasn't happening."

"And what did he say?"

"I'm not Nash's father and it's not my decision to make. And he's right. But it's not like he's doing anything for him." He takes a deep breath. "So he makes all these threats about selling the house and taking Nash anyway and stuff like that, because he knows I can't do anything. And that's the only reason he does this stuff—because he knows it gets to me."

"That's no excuse for him though."

"No, but it doesn't make explaining things to Nash any easier."

"Do you think he'd really do all those things?"

"Honestly, I don't know. But this house, this place, is the only stable thing Nash has."

"And you."

He scoffs. "A lot of good it does him."

I wish I knew what to say, but everything that comes to mind seems hollow. So I grab the coffeepot, fill it with water, and start the coffeemaker.

Merritt turns and leans back against the counter, staring at his feet. "I left Belden to get away from them. I counted the hours and got out of here as soon as I could. No plans at all to come back. I left him too, Lydia, just like they did."

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