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Twenty Five - Walking Away

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Haley

I hate dad.

Okay, fine, I really don't. But I hate what he did today.

As soon as we enter the house, I make my way quickly towards the stairs leading up to my room. The entire way home, I didn't talk to dad. Even when he asked me questions about random things, I didn't answer. If he thinks he can just do whatever he wants and I'll pretend I'm okay, he's got another thing coming.

"Haley!" he calls after me when I start ascending the stairs.

"I'm not talking to you," I answer him without looking back.

"Oh, stop being a child, Haley," dad says.

His exasperated tone hits me hard and I spin around, grabbing onto the wooden railing to balance myself so I won't topple down the stairs.

"I'm not being childish," I say, sounding not very convincing at all.

I sound like someone who is on the verge of breaking down in tears. It's actually not very far from the truth because my eyes are stinging and I can feel my throat clogging up. I'm going to cry if I say another word and I know it. That's exactly why I don't want to have this conversation with dad. I'll just end up making a fool of myself by ugly-crying in front of him.

Dad shoots me a bored look, his expression telling me how much he disagrees with me.

"You should be supporting Xavier," he says, his voice even as he turns away from me and takes off his coat. "He just lost his mother."

"Exactly," I say quickly. "He needs me right now. He shouldn't be sitting in a cemetery alone, dad, he should be here where I can --"

"Where you can what?"

"Where I can be sure he won't hurt himself," I spill.

Dad's eyes meet mine and he freezes.

My breathing is uneven and my shoulders sag. I want to slump down on the stairs and curl up into a ball, letting myself cry. Even though I want to, though, I won't. I won't show dad how distressed I really am that Xavier has pushed me away when all I want to do is help him get through his loss. He might think I'm being selfish, but Xavier doesn't have anyone in his life and he needs me.

Who knows what he might do?

The image of Xavier standing at the edge of the roof of that building where he said he goes to think flashes before my eyes, his words 'what would you do if I jump?' echoing in my ears.

My heart jumps into my throat and I pull my phone out of my pocket, quickly scrolling through to find Xavier's number. With dad's gaze fixed on me, I dial Xavier. His call goes straight to voicemail and I huff out a breath, fighting back my tears.

Before I know what I'm doing, I race back down the stairs and look around to see where dad has out his keys. I see them still in his hand and lift my eyes to his face, hoping he won't resist.

"Please, dad," I almost plead.

He sighs sadly. "Haley, Xavier just needs time."

"What if he hurts himself?" I whisper, wiping away the first tear that slides out of my eye and begins to roll down my cheek. I lower my gaze, embarrassed that I'm crying in front of my dad yet again, and all because of Xavier, but I don't know what else to do. I want him to be okay. I want him to be somewhere close by so that I can get to him if he needs me.

"He's a smart kid, Haley, he won't," dad reassures me.

I remember how he had distracted the guys at the warehouse from me by provoking them so they would attack him. I also remember how he hadn't stood up against his stepdad and tolerated all his abuse because he didn't want his mom to get in trouble. Or how he knew Dray Carter mocked him behind his back but never retaliated, not lifting a finger to teach him a lesson even when he crossed the line by talking bad about his mom.

Xavier never hurts anyone. But he can hurt himself.

My shoulders sag and I stumble back against the wall, closing my eyes and bowing my head.

"I won't be able to forgive myself if he does," I whisper, speaking less to dad and more to myself.

He comes toward me, putting a hand on my shoulder.

"You have to trust him," dad says. "You can't force him to be okay, honey. He needs time to himself, time to sort out his thoughts and figure things out. Even if you get him to come here now, he'll slowly drift away. No matter how much we want it, Haley, we can't keep people with us unless they want to stay."

I open my eyes and look up at dad, reading more into his words than he says.

"Is that why you didn't stop mom?" I ask. "You never asked her to stay or give you another chance?"

He forces a small smile. "She was gone way before she actually left. I could get her to stay for a while, but she would have left eventually. It was only a matter of time."

"But I don't want to let Xavier go," I confess, my voice so small.

In any other circumstance, I would not be able to tell my father this. No girl can talk to her father about her insecurities. But my dad isn't only my father. He's my entire family. My best friend. My life.

Just as Xavier's mom was his.

As much as I want to, I can't put myself in Xavier's shoes. I can't because it's too painful, imagining his loss. Sure, his mom was an addict. Sure, she wasn't really there for him like my dad has been here for me, my home, my anchor, my guiding light through life. But she was still his mom. To him, she was everything.

I didn't get it, why Xavier said his mom loved him even though I couldn't see it. A woman who was too busy using drugs and watching her son get beaten by her husband to care about his well-being. I didn't like her when I heard about her, but I didn't say a word. I didn't tell Xavier how bad of a mother I think she was. She should have been stronger. She should have gotten up and healed herself after her husband died. She should have kept going for her son and made sure he didn't lose his mother after he'd lost his father.

She should have done what my dad did.

But Xavier ... he didn't care.

I don't know how he does it, but he sees the best in everyone. I've never heard him talk bad about anyone, not his stepdad who abuses him, not his mom who never put him first, not my friends who talked bad about him, and not Dray Carter who treated him like shit. He never complains either about life or how unfair it has been to him.

Sure, he's quiet. But when he talks, it's nothing but good.

Like him.

"He'll come back," dad interrupts my thoughts, unaware of which direction my thoughts have wandered.

"I can't lose him," I confess. "Or you."

I don't know where the thought comes from, but maybe I'm not only afraid of losing Xavier. Maybe seeing Xavier lose his mom has shown me that I could lose my dad too, and just as easily. Yesterday, his mom was there, and now she's gone. My dad could leave me just as easily. He could be here one day and gone the next, leaving me in a world so foreign to me. I don't know what I'd do without him. I don't know how I'll handle anything.

Tears leak out of my eyes and I cover my mouth with my hand to stifle my sobs. They come all of a sudden and without warning, causing my shoulders to shake and my heart to ache.

I've already lost mom. The only ones left in my life are dad and Xavier, the only two people I care about. The thought of losing either of them hurts too much and I can't even begin to imagine how it would feel to have one of them walk away.

Dad wraps his arms around me, his strong arms holding me while I sob and cry over things he doesn't even know are on my mind.

"He'll be okay," he keeps telling me, not knowing that I'm as worried about him as I am about Xavier. "I promise, Haley, he'll be okay."

He has to be okay. And so do you.

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