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Grabbing the piece of toast from the toaster and dropped it onto the paper plate, I began to slather a copious amount of peanut butter onto it. My mom always said peanut butter works magic for the body, heart, and soul, and that was what I needed today. I needed to be stronger today than I ever had been before.

"Honey," my mom called softly from behind me.

"Hmm?" I responded, not turning away from the toast.

"Do you want me to come with you? I know this is going to be hard."

The lump of emotion in my throat finally absolved itself after three weak swallows. Sniffling, I shook my head. I licked the extra peanut butter off the end of the butter knife and placed it in the sink. When I turned around, lifting the toast to my mouth, my mom was standing right there. Her face was drawn in sadness.

"Mom," I whispered, voice shaky.

If she started crying, I wouldn't be able to stop myself from doing the same. I had to be strong today. Rachel needed me, and there was no way I was going to let her down like I had in the woods. No way.

"I love you, Hazel," she told me. "Be safe. Give Rachel my love."

"I will," I promised.

By the time I made it to the front door, keys and purse in hand along with the toast hanging out of my mouth, most of the burning in my eyes had subsided. I slipped out the door and locked it behind me. As I turned around to head for the car, my eyes widened. Mateo's car was parked at the bottom of the driveway, completely blocking my exit. He waved from where he leaned against the hood.

"Mat?" I asked, surprised.

The mid-morning sun shined off his teeth as his lips pulled back in a smile. His arms opened in greeting. In spite of how mad I was that he hadn't come to see Rachel in the hospital or even to come sit with me, I realized right then that I needed his hug. Tears sprung into my eyes again as I stumbled down the driveway and into his arms. He fastened a tight grip around me, applying just enough pressure for me to feel safe.

"I'm sorry, Haze," he said quietly. "I was wasted yesterday when you called...I would've come to the hospital if I was in my right mind."

"It's bad," I whispered while a trembling working its way down my body. "It's so bad."

"Shh, hey. Everything is going to be okay." His hands smoothed down my hair and rubbed my back.

"I know," I whispered.

But I didn't really know. The only thing I could do—and would do—was to be right there beside my best friend through whatever came next.

"Are you headed to the hospital now?" he asked.

I nodded, limp against him.

"Okay." Gently pulling me upright, he smiled sadly down into my eyes. I didn't flinch when he pressed his lips to my forehead. "Let me drive."

The drive passed quietly, the music playing softly in the background. My gaze remained fixed on the window, which was easier to look at then his sadness. He felt guilty for not being there yesterday. Rightfully so, I might add. Still, I was thankful he had come with me today. Today would be harder.

After we'd parked and had started for the hospital's main doors, Mateo grabbed my hand. I glanced up at him, torn between my anxiety and knowing I should shake him off. As much as I knew I should, I didn't move his hand. He was lending me his strength. We could talk about our boundaries later, but right now I needed to be focused on Rachel.

I led the way to her hospital room. When we reached it, the door was propped open and several nurses dressed in gray scrubs crowded the room. We waited outside until Rachel's dad emerged from the cluster, shaking his head. He seemed startled as he noticed us, only to crease his forehead in worry.

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