And he hoped she didn’t because he didn’t like the idea of her feeling crushed.
His eyes never leaving her, Carson wanted to call to her.
No, he wanted to go sit with her. Put his arm around her shoulders. Tell her how he felt that she took his back with the bitches who were so bitchy he didn’t get why she called them friends.
He didn’t do that.
He heard gravel shifting and looked from Carissa.
Julie Baum was headed his way under the bleachers, a smile on her face.
They were meeting there. A date.
Or the kind of dates Carson Steele got.
She wasn’t going to introduce him to her parents either. Her folks thought she was at the game with her girls. Carson would buy her a burger, find someplace to fuck her, return her to her friends, and they’d take her home.
He’d get off.
She’d get off too.
Then she probably wouldn’t think about him, except when she could arrange another meet where she could use him to get off and still do what she could to catch that football player’s eye. The one with no neck that had a dad who was a surgeon.
Which was okay with him.
It was because, not including the no-neck football player, he would do the same.
* * *
Carson’s boot connected with his dad’s face and the man didn’t even groan when his head snapped around.
Carson stared down at him, lifting a hand to wipe the blood pouring out of his nose from his mouth.
Then he spat on him.
He was two months away from eighteen. More than that from graduating.
But fuck it.
It was time to leave.
He’d never laid a hand on his father, but tonight was bad. The man had been in a rage. A frigging rage about a new oil stain on the floor of the garage.
Their house was old. There were so many stains on the garage floor, it was a wonder his old man noticed a new one.
But he did and he lost it.
And for the first time, Carson did too.
So he was done.
Carson was going to disappear.
So he didn’t get his degree.
He went to the bathroom and cleaned up. Then he went to his bedroom, changed out of his bloody tee into a clean one, and grabbed his bag. He stuffed everything he could get into it. After that, he went to the AC register, pulled off the face, and tagged the money he’d saved and the letters he’d written, preparing, getting ready for the day he would be free. He took that and anything that meant anything from his room (there wasn’t much).
Done with that, he moved through the house and nabbed whatever he could that was worth something, including the jug of change his father was always filling. He even emptied his dad’s wallet.
He put everything in the car he’d bought for five hundred dollars and Linus had helped him fix up. He then strode to Linus’s mailbox and shoved in his letter. Across the street and down to Mrs. Heely’s, he shoved her letter in hers.
Ready, he got in his car.
One more thing to do before he went and he was going to do it.
So he drove to Swedish Medical Center.
He knew why he’d snapped with his dad. Mr. Robinson was out that day and word got around. It shouldn’t have. It was no one’s business. But it did.
The man had lost a kid the day before. His wife, pregnant, had a stillborn baby.
And Carson thought that sucked. It sucked so huge, he couldn’t get it out of his head.
That shouldn’t happen to anyone, but never to a man like Mr. Robinson. If gossip was true, and he figured it was, they’d been trying for a while and getting nowhere.
And that was wrong. It proved the universe was fucked.
Because outside of Linus, Carson knew no man who’d be a better dad.
So it sucked worse for Mr. Robinson and the dead kid he lost.
Carson should have come out stillborn. Mr. Robinson’s baby should have come out bawling so he could have all Mr. Robinson had to give, which was a lot.
He went into the hospital, found where they did the baby stuff, and it took a while—nurses and doctors and other folks giving him looks as he hung around—but finally, he saw Mr. Robinson walk out of a room. He had his head down. Even if Carson couldn’t fully see his face, he could still see the man looked wrecked.
Carson gritted his teeth.
Suddenly, Mr. Robinson’s head came up. He stopped dead right there in the hall when he saw Carson.
Carson put everything into his face. Everything he felt for the man. Everything he felt for the man’s dead kid, who wouldn’t get a lifetime of knowing just how fucking lucky he was to have the seed that made him.
Then he lifted up his hand, palm out, and kept it there.
Mr. Robinson didn’t move except to lift his hand the same way.
But Carson saw his eyes were wet.
He’d give him that. Any man before him, Carson’d think that was weak because his father taught him a long time ago just how weak it was for a man to cry.
He’d been seven when he’d learned that lesson, a lesson delivered with a lit cigarette.
It was not the first or the last time his father had used that method to deliver a lesson, but he’d not even so much as teared up since.
But Mr. Robinson made it different.
He made it strong.
Carson nodded once, dropped his hand, turned on his boot, and walked away.
* * *
In the hospital parking garage, he was opening the door to his car, thanking Christ he got that fake ID, which would mean he could rent a hotel room, when he heard a familiar female voice say, “Carson?”
His body locked, all except his head, which swiveled.
And he saw Carissa Teodoro coming his way.
Cute little skirt. Cute little top. Cute little cardigan. Cute little ankle boots. Tights on her slim legs. Honey ringlets bouncing on her shoulders. Eyes aimed direct at him.
But the instant she got a look at his face, she rushed to him, skidding to a stop on the opposite side of his door.
“Oh my God!” she cried. “Are you okay?”
Anyone could see him like this but not her.
In the halls, after his dad went at him, he’d avoid her. Skip the classes they had together.
But there she was.
When he said nothing, she asked, “Are you…?” she looked toward the hospital then to him. “Are you going in to get checked out?”
“Did already,” he lied. “I’m good.”
“You sure?” she kept at him. “You look like you need an ice pack.”
“I do,” he told her truthfully.
“Didn’t they give you one?”
He lied again, “I’ll get one when I get home.”