I really couldn't believe my damn luck.

It was like my phone was suddenly a ton of bricks, weighing my arm down to the point that I needed to bring my hand up to hold my elbow. My heart was pounding in my chest and I couldn't exactly breathe, even though I couldn't stop the shallow air from quickly coming out of my mouth.

"Matt, are you there?"

There weren't really words to form, but I licked my lips and tried my hardest to figure out a sentence. "Yeah."

Kyle came back out of the house, hurrying to the car. "Matt?" She went past me and opened the back door to put Chloe in her car seat, then shut it and stared at me when I hadn't moved. "Matt, are you coming?"

I turned to face her, phone still pressed to my ear, and gaped at her.

"Matt, I need you here. Please. I... I need you here."

She needed me. Oh, fuck. I couldn't stand that tone in her voice, pleading for me, wanting me to come to her rescue. She'd never spoken like that before, it was all about her independence. It was finally my time to be the man I wanted to be in her life.

But then I heard the scream in the back of the car and I knew where my loyalty lay.

"I can't, Darcy." I moved quickly, opening the passenger door. "Jill is on the way to the hospital. She was havin' contractions or somethin' like that. I'll try to be over as soon as I can, but I can't make any promises on when that'll be. Just sit tight, okay?"

"What? Are you... Are you serious?"

"She's my sister, Darce." I fumbled with my seat belt, then let it flap behind me when I gave up. Kyle started the car and I stared out the front window blankly, cringing whenever Jill let out a muffled scream.

"Matt, I don't know if you understand what I'm saying to you. My. House. Burned. To. The. Ground."

"I know, Darce, I heard ya loud and clear. Take a left, Kyle, it's quicker," I said, pointing.


"Nothin', Darce."

"Matt, I can't be here by myself. I'm so scared."

"Darcy, I know, darlin', it's hurtin' me real bad to hear you so shaken up. But my family's in trouble, so I'm gon' stick around just for a few hours to see what can be done."

"Matt, you don't understand—"

I sighed. "Darce, listen. I know you're probably angry at me, I would be too, but I can't come over right now. Jill needs me."

"Jill needs Jeff!"

"Jill needs her family, and I'm her family."

"I can't fucking believe this. Do you hear what I'm telling you? My house burned down! I have nowhere to go! There are police crawling everywhere, questioning me, suspecting me. I can't do this alone, Matt."

"Ya gon' have to, Darce. Just for a couple of hours."

"Matt, please." She whimpered. "Please."

I rubbed my forehead with my fingertips. This was too fucking hard. "Go to my house, okay? I left the door open. Just wait there."

"Matt, your house is in the middle of nowhere. I don't feel safe there when I'm with you."

"Everywhere is the middle of nowhere in North Carolina, sugar. The lights are on, just make yourself cozy. Get a drink—you sound like ya need it."

She was silent for a second. "I can't believe you're ditching me for your family. The one time I need you most."

I tapped my fingertips against my lips. She was scared, she was upset, I knew she didn't mean what she said, but that didn't stop me from pressing end before I dropped my phone into the cup holder.

Kyle looked at me quickly. "What was that about?"

"Darcy's house burned down."

The car was silent.

"Is that some kind of sick joke?" Jeff hissed.

"Nah, she's serious, man. To the ground, I guess. She wanted me to be with her but I told her my family needed me."

Kyle smiled slightly and leaned over to pat my hand. "Good for you."

I nodded weakly and tried to smile. "Yeah."

The rest of the ride was quiet, except for an occasional cry from Jill, who's face was pressed against Jeff's stomach. When we finally got to the hospital and the paramedics came out to whisk her away, there weren't just tears staining Jeff's shirt, but blood too.

And so we sat, for the next two hours, waiting, pacing, biting our fingernails, anything to pass the time.

Jeff had his head in his hands. "What if she dies?"

"Don't say that," I snapped.

"What if she does? What if I have to go through the rest of my life without my wife and my kid?"

Kyle patted Jeff's shoulder, and he jerked away from her, startled. "She's not going to die, Jeff. I guarantee you that."

Jeff shook his head. "Stop with ya fuckin' optimistic ideas. This is real life, not some fuckin' movie. She could die, the baby could die, and if either happens, my whole life will crash down."

I put my hands in my pockets awkwardly, just watching Jeff crumble farther and farther into his arms. He pulled his knees up and dug himself into them, arms over his hair. It was a few seconds later I saw him shaking, a few seconds later I heard his breathy sobs.

"I can't handle this," I muttered.

Kyle looked up, frowning. "Maybe... Maybe you should go."


"Seriously." Kyle ran her hand up and down Jeff's back, letting it fall when he tore away from her, scooting two chairs down. "I don't mean it to be mean, but if you can't handle it, you shouldn't stay here. Jeff needs us to be strong for him."

"I am fuckin' strong, Kyle. Don't fuckin' write me off just because I don't like seein' my brother hurtin' so bad."

"I'm not, Matt, I'm just..." She sighed. "You look... conflicted."

"Of course I'm conflicted! My brother's over here gettin' his heart ripped out and I can't do a damn thing!"

"I wasn't talking about that."

I stopped and just stared at her. "What are you gettin' at?"

"You want to be with Darcy."

"Oh, fuck you, Kyle—"

"No, hear me out. You want to be there for Darcy right now, I know you do, because she's never needed you like this. She's vulnerable, and she wants you to make her feel safe, and you can't do that."

I just blinked at her. "How the fuck do you know that?"

"You're like an open book, High Voltage."

I ran my hand down my face. "She needs me so bad right now, Kyle. I never seen her like this before. She was always so strong and capable of takin' care of herself."

"This isn't your problem to fix, Matt." Kyle looked at Jeff, who was still curled up in himself, now shaking silently. "This is your brother's problem. Jeff doesn't even notice we're here."

"I can't just leave him, though..."

"I'll explain the situation to them. Really. And if anything happens, I'll call you straight away. I promise."

I sighed irritably and turned away, crossing my arms.

Her hand touched my back. "Go, High Voltage. Unlock your destiny."

I snorted out a laugh and turned to her smiling face. "You really just say that?"

"I did. Now, giddy up."

I pulled her against me by her neck, wrapping my arms around her tightly. "How did Shan ever end up with a chick like you?"

"I sometimes ask myself the same question." She smacked my back. "Go. I'll call you if anything changes."

I rolled up to my house and everything was dark. But Darcy's car was parked right near the porch, so at least she took my advice and headed over here. I knew I was gonna have to do some apologizing, but I'd done so many lately I was almost used to it.

I opened my front door and flipped the switch, but nothing came on. What the fuck? I went into the kitchen and tossed my keys onto the counter. "Darce? You here?"


I headed down the hallway, into the bedroom. She was huddled up underneath the covers, staring at the wall. She moved her mascara-stained eyes toward me.

"Hi," she said weakly.

I tried to smile. "How ya holdin' up?"

"Okay, I guess." She sniffled, wiping her hand against her face. But her mouth twisted and quivered, and her eyes welled up as she folded into herself.

"Aw, Darce." I crawled up next to her and just held her bundled up against my chest. She just cried and cried until her breaths were shallow and she was almost hiccuping.

She pushed back and looked up at me. "Thank you."

I really don't know what it was. It might've been her eyes, or it might've been the tears, or it might've been the way her voice was hoarse because she'd been doing nothing but sobbing for the past three hours, but right then and there, I took Darcy by the chin and kissed her.

And said the three words that had been bouncing around in my chest since the day I met her.

"I love you."

Then that vulnerability turned to something else. Her eyes clouded and no longer looked weepy, and her mouth tightened. Her hands fell from my chest and even though she was close, I felt extremely alone.

She didn't love me back.


"I better..." I moved away, off the bed. I took out my cell. "I better get back to the hospital. See how Jill is."

"Matt, wait—"

"Just... uh, make yourself comfortable. I guess. Or... leave. Do whatever you want, really. I can't stop you."


I left before my heart exploded.

I hustled down my hallway and bumped into the wall. I didn't have any coordination, I was just walking on a cloud, a cloud that was dissipating, disappearing right beneath my feet.

Then I tripped over something and fell onto my stomach, making my phone drop from my hands and skid across the linoleum.

It was really one of those moments where you just want to put your head down and cry. The straw that broke the camel's back. After everything that happened to me, I still got fucked up the ass.

I turned and glared at the object that tripped me.

A worn book, cover faded and dog-earred.

"What the fuck is this?" I growled, sitting up. Some stupid fucking random book that Darcy probably dropped, that fucking English school teacher. I snagged it.

Dante's Inferno.

Her and her stupid fucking elite shit. Why'd she have to be so goddamn pretentious? She never read anything that wasn't from a hundred years ago, something that used language no one could understand with plots about the plague.

She was a fucking snob.

What would a fucking snob want to do with me? Some goddamn hick from North Carolina.

My phone started buzzing, ending the silence, and I was almost glad, because I was sick of fighting with my thoughts. I reached for it, and chucked the book over my shoulder, reading Kyle's name as I brought it up to my face.

That's when I bucked forward when something hit me from behind. The book flew over my head as I hit the floor again, and I turned around just in time to see a foot hit my back.

And a gun press against my head.