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I remember the first time I saw him. The family lived across the street from my aunt and uncle. I had been uprooted from the dry town of Tucson and dropped in Groveton. I didn't particularly like the town, population two thousand and continual wet.
But I had no choice in the matter as a minor.
My uncle was a deputy and my aunt a nurse. The local sheriff had been serving for at least ten years now. He was equally loved and hated. By the time I was twenty one, he was on his third divorce.
My uncle was a good deputy and Don always said he'd make a great sheriff. He loved people, it was simple as that.
My aunt and uncle were friends with Jack and Avery's parents. Well, the mother, at least. They didn't like the father, for understandable reasons. No one in town liked Jackson's old man. One day, I came home from the arcade to find Jack and Avery in the living room. Jack had a fresh cut over his eyebrow and a bruise forming across his cheek. Avery stood by the window, but he was untouched. They were both unusually quiet, especially Jack.
My uncle came home later that night, but the boys' father did not. He never returned. Years later, he told me he had threatened him to leave the family alone.
I've loved both of them since I was a teenager and though I'm younger than Jack, I've always felt protective of them. More than once, even though his father was gone, Jack would sneak over to our house in the middle of the night and we'd stay up until the early morning hours talking and whispering about our favorite movies, our favorite bands, our favorite books. He asked me if I missed home, if I missed my parents, my friends back in Richmond.
While I missed my parents every day, I had become used to the weight of grief and now simply felt a dull ache.
I don't think Jack particularly cared for his mother or vice versa. I've never understood why some people become parents if they neglect their children.
What should I have done?
"Why didn't you come to me?" I asked through gritted teeth. After I'd personally cuffed Jack and placed him in the back of the cruiser, Don had given us a few minutes alone. I stared out the window and at the back of Hart's ash-blonde head.
I heard Jack shift forward and felt his hot breath on the back of my neck. I didn't dare turn to look at him for fear of punching him or worse, caving and forgiving him for all of his stupid decisions over the years.
The question has haunted me and kept me awake for weeks. I've asked myself, What if, what if, what if. Since Jack's arrest - since I arrested him - everyone stares at me. It began as quieted murmurs, everyone from the precinct to the courthouse to the bar. I'd given evidence against my own husband and so did his own brother. I think Avery was more than willing, however. He'd given up on Jackson a long time ago.
I beat myself up for not seeing it and for not trying harder. For not... helping them, helping their relationship. I'd give anything to have a sister or brother.
"I was trying to protect you," Jackson finally answered, and I laughed bitterly.
He sighed and leaned his forehead against the partition. "I don't-" at his hesitation, I moved to get out of the car but he stopped me with a sound. "I got involved with Vaughn," he confessed.
I finally turned to look at him, speechless. "What the fuck are you doing with Vaughn again?"
"It was just one last ti-"
"Yeah, that's what you said last time. I covered for you," I hissed. I opened the door of the cruiser and stepped out before he could say anything more. I didn't want to hear it.
You give each other your heart. When you're in love, you think it's forever. But is it all an illusion? Can you really trust anyone?
My boss assured me that I had no other choice. Didn't I? I could have... simply looked away, again, covered for him. Again. Or... let someone else arrest him.
"You can't look away. It's not who you are." I'm a fraud, that's who I am. And I open my mouth to tell him, but he continued with: "It's not who we are. We have to keep our self-worth and self-respect because people are watching us.
I hated the darkness. I hated how it engulfed the light and the blue mountains beyond the town. When I was seventeen, maybe eighteen, I went hiking up into those mountains. I spent a whole weekend camping with Jack and Evie and Hart. We lied to Evie and told her we were all going to Vegas. When we rolled up outside her house with a car full of camping equipment, she immediately started yelling and spitting curses at us.
Jack and Hart loved the trip. I think they bonded during the disaster: a powerful storm swept through the area that Saturday night and continued throughout the rest of the weekend. Although the wind speed was not as bad as the 1962 storm, the Gale was unprecedented in terms of long duration and flooding. When we finally made it down the mountain and back into town, we found out forty people had died and over three hundred people had been hospitalized.
We found our families at the hospital. The sheriff took me and Jack aside and I instantly knew something was wrong. First, he was a man of few words and we rarely spoke to each other. My uncle was, as I designated him, The Carter. Second, he had a serious look on his face. Solemn, sympathetic. I'd seen it before on law enforcement.