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Page 74

I stifled back a sob, letting the jealousy, and then the guilt, swallow me whole. Of course Ashley deserved to do something other than be miserable. How could I say that I loved her and then be angry with her for having a moment of peace? I slowly let myself slide to the ground and sat in the dirt. Sweat was forming along my hairline, and a drop finally fell just in front of my ear. It was like an oven, even in the shade, but Ashley and Joey didn’t notice they were baking with the sun shining straight down on them.

She was alone now, and so was Joey. They would talk about their loss, and find comfort in one another, and I would have to watch them because I had nowhere else to go. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the wall of the barn. God, I was a horrid, selfish bitch.

Joey’s and Ashley’s voices got louder, and I realized they were walking my way. I stayed very still and didn’t dare breathe, afraid they would catch me eavesdropping and crying over them like a crazy person. I was convinced they would both know why if they saw me. Thankfully, they were too busy impressing each other to see me, and continued to the house. I finally took a deep breath and let out a quiet cry. I said once that I wouldn’t want Joey if he were the last man on earth. Now I was just horrible enough to wish we were the last ones on earth so I could have him to myself.

That night at dinner, Ashley and Joey sat next to each other. They carried on about their afternoon and how awful a shot she was. For absolutely no reason at all, I was annoyed with Ashley’s voice and the entire conversation. No one else was talking, just listening to them go on and on and on about how funny that was, and how hilarious this was, and bragging about how much help Ashley needed.

“We’ve decided she needs some serious help, and this should be a daily thing until she gets better.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Nathan said, nodding.

“You’ve shot a gun before, Ashley. I don’t understand how you’d be so bad at it,” I said.

Ashley chuckled, and then when she realized I wasn’t amused, she stopped altogether. “I haven’t shot that much.”

“As much as I have. The way you guys are talking, you were confused on how to hold the damn thing.”

“Miranda,” Nathan said in his infuriatingly smooth voice.

“I’m just curious.” I tried a smile, hoping it would cover how crazy I felt, and how awful I was for being angry that my sister was happy.

Ashley looked down at the table, the light that had come back to her eyes snuffed out. “It was just never my thing.”

The corners of her mouth evened out, and she rolled her food around on her plate with her fork, returning to the same lifeless vessel that she’d been since Cooper died.

Bryce shot me a look. I didn’t have to ask him what he was thinking. I knew he was angry that I’d been so hard on her, and he should have been. I was angry with myself.

“I’m sorry, Ashley. I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine,” she said, her face devoid of emotion.

I sat back in my chair, feeling judgment from everyone at the table. I deserved it, so I sat there, letting them glare, stare, or shake their heads. I wasn’t sure who was the angriest. I wasn’t brave enough to look up from my plate.

After the lights went out, Bryce tried to tug me out of the recliner. “You coming?”

I nodded. “I’ll be there in a bit. I’m not really tired.”

He nodded back, resigned. After he disappeared in the hall and closed the door, I stood.

Joey was breathing hard but regular, facing the floor in the last half of a pushup. His face was red and moist, and as usual, he was without a shirt. The veins were bulging from his hands and arms.

Noticing my feet next to his face, Joey looked up at me.

“Can I talk to you outside for a minute?” I said, and then turned to go to the front porch. Joey came out, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Now that we were alone, and he was half naked, I fought to recall why I was angry in the first place.

“What’s going on with you?” he asked.

“I saw you.”

“Huh?”

“With Ashley. Earlier. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Joey crossed his arms across his chest and shifted his weight nervously. “Um . . . teaching her to shoot?”

I laughed once without humor. “Oh, bullshit. You’ve taught me to shoot before. I don’t remember your hands being all over me like that.”

“My . . . what?”

“You heard me. I saw you!”

Joey’s expression morphed from surprise to mild anger. “I didn’t have my hands all over her, Miranda, you’re being ridiculous. And you knew what you were doing pretty well before we went out because you’ve shot before.”

“So has she!”

“Well then she’s not as good as you are.”

“She is sad, Joey. Whatever you’re thinking? Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Maybe I’m stupid, so you’ll have to tell me exactly what you’re saying.” He was getting defensive, which only made me angrier.

“I’m saying Ashley is my sister. I love her. She just lost the love of her life, and she’s vulnerable. I don’t know how much more clear I can be, so let me just say it: I don’t want her to be taken advantage of.”

“You don’t really think I would do that,” Joey said, seething. When I didn’t answer, his expression changed again. “Do you really think that less of me that I would try to fly under the radar to get into her pants? While she’s grieving?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying, I’m—”

“Good, because if you really think I’m that big of a piece of shit, what have we been doing?”

“We haven’t done anything!”

“You know what I mean!”

“Wait, did you mean that when she’s not grieving anymore you’ll try to get in her pants?”

“What?” he said, clearly trying to remember when he’d said anything remotely close to that. He shook his head, completely flustered. “You have to know me better than that. You have to know how I feel about you. She’s your sister. I would never . . .”

“Yes. I do know you, and I know you’ve lost someone, too, so I thought maybe you felt like you two had something in common.”

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