11. Nick

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Ian drives Nick to his house the next day, and it's the first time Nick has been outdoors since he was at the hospital. The cold air feels good on his flaming skin—a combination of his injuries and anxiousness.

"Do you want me to stay with you?" Ian asks as he pulls into Nick's driveway.

"No. I'll be fine." When Ian gives him a cautious look, he adds, "Ken's not here. It's just my mom and brothers."

"Okay, man. I'm going Christmas shopping with Bailey and my mom, so I'll be looking for an excuse to get out of there anyway. Call me if you need me."

Nick's chest burns at the mention of Bailey's name. He regrets how he acted last night, but he's not sure what to do about it. He resolved that nothing can happen between the two of them again. Not only is Ian against it, but Bailey's dad said he trusted him. He can't betray that in order for Bailey to live out some bad boy fantasy, and he knows that's all it would be. She could never actually care about him like he cares about her.

In a way, it's a relief to go back to how it used to be when she hated him. At least then he knew there was no chance.

As Nick gets out of the car, his mom steps out of the front door carrying a large garbage bag, and his thoughts of Bailey vanish—well, they don't vanish but just get pushed to the back burner.

His mom meets him next to his truck parked on the street and hands him his keys. Nick catches the moment that her eyes meet his face.  They instantly fill with shock. His swelling is gone, but he still has two black eyes and stitches across one of his cheeks. She places her hand gently on his uninjured cheek.

"Oh, Nicky, I'm so sorry baby."

He takes her hand and pulls it away from him. He's heard it all before. Her apologies mean nothing anymore.

She takes a deep breath. "Are you going to tell the police?"

"No," Nick responds immediately. Of course that is what she's the most concerned about. "I thought about it, but I won't...on one condition."

Nick can tell she's trying to conceal her happiness. Her precious husband is safe for another day. "What is it?"

"I want to see my brothers...at least once a month. I don't care where or when, hell, I'll even babysit if you want. But I want to make sure that dickhead won't start using them for punching bags since I'm gone."

She thinks about it for a moment. "Okay. I really don't think that he will do that. He loves those boys. But if you promise not to press charges, I'll figure out a way. I think your brothers miss you already."

Nick takes a deep breath, suddenly fighting tears. His mom is clueless. How could she not know how hurtful those words could be?

"Ken can't know," she adds.

Nick nods. He'd assumed Ken would do everything in his power to erase Nick from their family.

Nick's mom hands him the trash bag filled with all of his belongings. He doesn't have much. He'd had to start buying his own clothes when he got his first job at fifteen, and when you make minimum wage working part time, you can't afford much. His entire paycheck usually goes toward his truck and cellphone bill.

"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve," she says. "What are your plans?"

Nick sighs deeply. "I don't know, and, Mom, that's this least of my fucking concerns right now."

She nods and looks down, avoiding eye contact. If he didn't know her better, he'd assume she felt guilty. He knows that's not it, though.

His tone is harsh when he speaks again. "You have no idea the shit I want to say to you right now, about abandoning your son or staying with an alcoholic child abuser, but I won't waste my breath. I've tried it all before. So I'll just say good luck."

Nick takes the bag and tosses it in the bed of the truck. He climbs into the drivers seat and prays that it starts. He never knows for sure with this junker. Thankfully, the ignition turns over, and he looks at the house one more time, hopefully for the last time.

He rolls his window down since his mom is still standing next to it. "Merry Christmas, Mom."

And he drives away.

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