Kody Walsh’s large mahogany hands gripped the basketball, the tiny bumps creating friction on his sweaty fingertips. A titan of an athlete, in center position, stood in his way. Kody couldn’t take his shot.
Together, the crowd chanted, “Two!”
Their voices matched the rhythm of the basketball’s thump, thump, thump against the gym floor. Kody pivoted. His sneakers squeaked on the sweaty gym floor. He exhaled, jumped, and released the ball into the air.
The ball soared through the net. The sound of the buzzer couldn’t compete with the volume of cheers echoing off the walls. Kody’s teammates stampeded onto the court, surrounding him with wide grins, but Cali reached him first, rushing over from the Slate High School’s sophomore section. His sister hopped on his broad back, making the beads from her long tight braids dangle onto his cheeks.
Cali screamed over the chaos. “Effin chocolate pancakes! My big brother! State Champion!”
He shook his head as thoughts rushed in.
Wasn’t just me. Team effort.
Kody grinned and wiped his brow. He rolled his sister off his back and bent over with both palms on his quads until his heartbeat slowed back to resting rate. He drew a deep breath and took in the scene. The smell of popcorn and sweat filled his nostrils.
A scout with a blue Duke University polo pushed between the sea of bodies and stuck out a business card. “Walsh! Congrats!” She nodded.
He bowed his head slightly, as someone jostled his shoulder by accident. “Thank you.”
“I bet we can offer a full ride with some perks Chapel Hill can’t afford. I’ll be in touch.”
He forced a half smile.
Kody read the handwritten message on her card. The curvature of his lips faded into a frown.
I need to tell them all—tonight. Cali won’t like it.
Kody met his brother’s gaze over the heads of the crowd, easy to find with his afro. Coop pointed to him with both hands, then gave a thumbs up.
The opposing team shuffled off the court with their heads hung low.
I didn’t even get to shake their hands.
His coaches chatted giddily among a circle of parents, including his mom. Her cornrows were pulled into a bun at the base of her neck, but no one would notice her new hairstyle while her dimples danced on her cheeks.
Someone bumped into Kody, sending him staggering into other bodies. He spotted Cali again and tapped on her shoulder.
Cali didn’t seem to hear him over the roar of the crowd. She nudged his shoulder playfully.
Kody cupped his hand around his mouth, prolonging each word. “Have you seen dad?”
She shrugged. “Work?”
“Eight o’clock on a Friday night?”
She didn’t seem to hear him.
Without his teammates, Kody raced into the locker room. He dug in his red gym bag and pulled out his phone. He texted his dad: ‘You okay?’
Dad hasn’t ever missed one basketball or football game.
Ellipses popped up, then disappeared.
Did Dad find out my plans somehow? Is this punishment?
Kody’s phone buzzed. His girlfriend’s text showed a dancing cat image, followed by, ‘‘You did it! I need you here in one hour, or I may have to punish you! P.S. Don’t listen to Avery or whatever his plans are. I need you.’
Kody’s heart pounded in his chest. He tore off his damp, red jersey and threw it into his locker.
The shouts and clatter from the gym grew in volume as the percussionists started their fight song. Rumbling bass vibrated the walls. Leaning against the wall, Kody slid down the coldness, feeling the remnants of the February temperatures from the exterior.
The dingy carpet under his burning calves itched his skin. Groaning heavily, Kody massaged his aching legs. A single ant scattered along the dingy carpet, carrying a piece of cracker. He hovered his thumb over the ant. It froze. Kody tilted his head and pulled away.
Other teammates filed into the locker room, followed by rambunctious chears and endless smiles.
Kody sprung to his feet and kept his head low.
Coach Stevens stood on a crate. He sneezed and rubbed a finger over his thick mustache. “Boys! You did it! State champions!”
A round of hoots shook the room and Kody’s best friend, Avery, playfully slapped everyone with a towel, instigating a towel war.
“Okay, okay now! MVP this game goes to—the one who keeps y’all in line and hasn’t missed a single practice since freshman year—your captain!”
Kody forced a smile.
I did it for my dad. Where is he?
His teammates started throwing their red jerseys at him, shouting, “Kody! Kody! Kody!” Rotten sweat fumed throughout the air.
Coach Stevens raised a plaque. “This goes to the player who will have to choose between a wrestling and basketball scholarship—the kid who managed a 4.0—”
“Boo to school!” Avery chimed in, laughing. He ran a hand through his wavy chestnut hair.
“Okay, Kody, here ya go.” Couch Stevens passed the plaque to Kody with a proud smile. “Good job, son.”
Kody bowed his head, then met the eye of each of his teammates, irises of each shade, blue, green, hazel, and Avery’s last—dark brown like his own.
Kody rose on his tip toes, and propped the plaque on top of the lockers, against the wall, and said, “This is staying here. We earned this as a team.”
Avery winked and whispered. “I’ll do Christine with you as a team.”
Kody pointed a finger in his friends’ face, trying to hold back a smile. “Hey! Watch it.”
Avery and his teammates walked off to the showers. They’d expect him to go to a party and celebrate, just like Cali and Coop and his mom would want a movie marathon at home.
I can tell Dad all about the game.
“Walsh? Are you listening?” Avery’s deep voice came from within the steam.
“Mhm,” Kody grunted.
“We’re all going to Opal South. How many of us can you fit in your Jeep? Seven?”
Kody couldn’t help but laugh. “Naw, man. You and two others.”
Avery almost slipped on the tile floor. “Hold up! You’re finally coming out with us!”
“First time for everything.”
“We’re eighteen. We won’t get caught.”
“You okay, man?”
Kody didn’t meet his eyes. “Yup. I just need to stretch. Lactic acid and all.”
“I bet Christine will stretch you out later.” Avery snorted.
Kody narrowed his eyes. “I’ll text ya about my plans later.”
Avery smiled. “Don’t do one of your marathon sessions with her again!”
Kody shook his head. “Grow up.”
The coaches left, leaving Kody alone with some needed space. Before he could enjoy the peaceful quiet, Coop strolled in, sporting his polo work shirt and flashing his pearly whites. “My hero! My little bro’s gonna be on ESPN!” He wrapped an arm around Kody’s neck.
Kody shook him off. “Naw, I only averaged one point higher than Avery. Team effort.”
Coop shook Kody’s hand. “I saw the scout from Duke! Did she say if you’d get a full ride?”
Kody swallowed and rubbed his temple.
How much should I say?
“Mom and dad have probably saved up enough for tuition, but think of the opportunities. If I hadn’t messed up my shoulder—”
Coop needs me to live out his lost dream.
“Wanna go for a run?” Kody lightly punched his brother’s arm.
Coop’s jaw dropped. “Uh—bro, your legs should be dead.”
“I need to think. Come on.” Kody bent down to double lace his size thirteen sneaker.
“Now? It’s dark.”
Kody couldn’t help but grin. “You’re afraid of the dark?”
“Shut it. I know a way where the reporters won’t see you.”
Coop glanced in each direction, heading to the final row of lockers. He climbed on the locker and flipped open a window. “Come on!” He crawled out to the pavement of the parking lot.
Kody chuckled and followed his brother up and out. The scent of burning firewood wafted through the night air as they began to jog. The rhythmic flop, flop, flop of Coop’s steady pace next to him calmed his racing mind. His brother’s afro swayed back a bit from the breeze.
“Go easy on me this time,” Coop’s breathing already sounded labored.
Kody slowed, letting his mind whirl. “How did you decide your future after high school?”
His big brother panted between words. “I’m…going…back to college…someday.”
Kody shook his head. “I know. I might do that too.”
Coop’s footsteps stopped. Crickets chirped over the thrum of faraway traffic. Kody stopped, but didn’t face his brother.
“What?” Coop’s voice cracked.
Kody stood still as a statue, eyes locked with Coop.
Just tell him.
A flash of blue lights knifed through the darkness as a cop car drew nearer. Kody’s heart rate spiked. They were only three blocks from Slate High, but he couldn’t let his guard down. He placed himself between the car and Coop. Kody tightened his fist into a ball, clenching his jaw until the car passed. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“What the hell did you do that for?” asked Coop.
Kody froze. “Do what?”
“The cop didn’t even notice us. But you used yourself as a human shield, man.”
“Don’t make the ultimate sacrifice for anyone, Kody. Not even me. Of all the people in this world, you’re the one who needs to live.”
They jogged back in silence. The pounding of Kody’s heels on the sidewalk released an ounce of tension at each drop. Once reaching the school building again, only a few cars remained scattered across the lot. Coop saluted him and he jogged off to the front, where parents gathered. Steam poured out of the low window to the locker room. Kody snuck back through, barely managing to squeeze his wide frame through the opening.
Alone in the stale locker room, Kody crouched and tore off each shoe. He chucked them at a red bench and they resonated off of it with a satisfying clang. Kody checked his phone for a message from his Dad, but instead found one from Christine, including a selfie only half dressed paired with: ‘Sugar plum. I’m so proud of you, but I don’t want to argue about Avery stealing you away again. I need you here in 45 minutes! Please choose me this time!’
He walked into the misty showers while thinking about Christine’s soft curves. Readjusting the shower nozzle higher, he closed his eyes and dropped his head back into the refreshing, cool water. The droplets dripped from his sore shoulders, down his side and onto his toes. The fruity smell of the soap Christine gifted him overtook his senses, reminding him of the last time he had been tangled up in her sheets. He held a palmful of white bubbles in his palm, then slammed his hands together, spurting water into the air.
Christine would expect to celebrate together later. He could imagine her blonde curls bouncing. Her thin lips would curl over a straw of a milkshake, purposefully insinuating her plans for later that night.
She could clear my mind.
He shook his head.
No—I need to tell them tonight.
In the empty locker room, he didn’t bother with a towel and walked across the messy floor, littered with Gatorade bottles and granola bar wrappers. He stopped in front of the mirror, scanning his reflection as water dripped down.
Just like Dad. Cali and Coop only look like Mom.
Kody yanked his clean clothes from his bag and threw them on, making small water spots on his jeans and extra-large Cubs shirt. The strap of his gym bag dug into his shoulder. He braced himself before opening the door. Photography flashes blinded his vision and microphones crowded his face. Questions roared from a sea of reporters.
“It’s been reported that Chapel Hill offered you a full ride with an early admission to their summer basketball camp. Did you sign?”
Kody ignored her.
I have to get home. My family needs to know, before the news finds out.
A large tv camera bumped his shoulder and stranger’s bodies surrounded him.
“Kody, I’m journalist Cavington from ESPN. Is it true you’re also enrolling into the honors program at Duke? Prelaw?
He turned, looking for an exit. Cali magically appeared, grabbed his hand and whipped him out the side door. It clicked shut and a fresh breeze blew up his soft shirt.
The scent of oak trees wafted through the wind under the crescent moon. A message chimed on his phone from Christine. “Kody, At least answer me. Get here within 30 minutes or…’
A tight knot built in his chest.
I can’t keep this from Christine any longer.
Cali skipped across the lot. “Hurry up, slow poke! It’s not like your muscles should be sore or anything.” She bumped his hip and pranced around Kody in a circle. “Frickin snickerdoodles and tornadoes! How are you not flipping out! You won! By two points! I mean, at the very end, a three pointer? That was meant for a movie!”
Kody ignored the congratulatory honks meant for him as cars rolled by. “Yeah. We did good. Did you drive?”
“No, I get my license next week, remember?”
“I don’t have my Jeep. Is Coop with mom?” asked Kody.
Her charm bracelet jingled with her every movement. Cali never stopped, or slept, since the day she was born. “Probably.” She turned up an Ariana Grande song on her phone and sang along. Cali’s magical voice flooded the streets, harmonizing with even more skill than when she had performed in the church choir.
“So you’re probably skipping our movie marathon then? It’s my turn to pick, so I chose ‘Into the Woods.’ But because you’re famous and all, I’ll let you choose.”
Kody dropped his gym bag on the pavement, sending a puff of dirt whirling in front of his face. “I need to see Christine and Avery. Wanna come with? I need to talk to you about something.”
Cali jumped around on one foot as if there were a hopscotch chalked onto the pavement. “Naw. Seniors don’t want me around.”
“Maybe I’ll come home early if you can convince Mom to make her cookies, and—”
Cali rolled her eyes. “What? Why me? You’re mom’s favorite!”
“No way. She’s always happy around you.”
Cali whispered, “Well, she might not be anymore.”
Kody leaned closer. “What’d you do now?”
Cali sighed. “I didn’t DO anything.” She paused. “I’m gonna tell her about Tasha.” She didn’t look at him, but sat on the curb, tucking both her hands under her thighs. She didn’t make any joke—for once.
He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Mom won’t mind.”
Cali looked at the stars speckling the sky. She grumbled unintelligible jargon, until he turned her chin toward him. A tear rolled down Cali’s cheek and she lowered down the music blasting from her phone.
A tingling sensation went up his spine at the sight of her upset.
“But what if Mom does care?” Cali’s eyes widened after the words spilled out.
“Just be honest. But what I DO need to know is do I need to have a word or two with Tasha?”
Cali laughed, then punched his shoulder. “Stop it. I initiated it.”
He reached over and wiped a tear from her cheek, then glanced over. “Don’t ever be afraid to tell me something. Got it?” He wrapped his arm around her tight.
I’m deserting her when she needs me the most.
Kody’s hands grew clammy. “I’m always here for you. Even when I’m—away.”
Cali faced him. “I’m glad you’ll be local for the next four years. I can bother you in your dorm. Are you gonna pick Duke or Chapel Hill?”
Kody dropped his chin low. “Dad wants Duke,” he said casually.
Cali linked her arms to his on the way inside. “What do you want?”
He stopped, accidentally breaking their connection. He shuffled his feet.
“Um, that’s what I needed to talk to you about.”
Avery bounded out from behind a row of cars with a handful of concessions hot dogs. “Cali! Did you see my boy’s winning shot! I can’t even be jealous. It was just—” He mimed a chef’s kiss in the air. “Come on, Kody, where’ve you been?”
Maybe he’ll be okay with my choice.
Kody pulled out his phone to call Christine, but two messages were already waiting for him. One from her: ‘Be here in 15 minutes or maybe I’ll find someone else. Mr. Big shot doesn’t have time for his girlfriend.’
Kody sighed. Even if he left that very moment, he wouldn’t get to her on time. The second message was from his dad, just a map with his exact location.
This is downtown, not by dad’s office.
He looked up where the address led.
A hotel? What the?
“Yeah, I’m ready. Let’s go.” Kody snapped the car keys off Avery’s belt loop in one swift motion. “I’m driving. You eat.”
The engine growled to life. Kody sped through each yellow light straight to the address. Each click, click, click, click of the turning signal felt like a countdown to destruction.
Why is dad at a hotel?
Kody called his dad. It rang, then he was sent straight to voicemail before the message started.
He blocked my call.
Avery chewed, spilling crumbs onto the floor while rambling about the basketball game as the headlights reflected off a window of a hotel.
Avery glanced around. “Wait, this isn’t Opal South. You meeting Christine here?”
“No. Stay here. I’ll be back in ten.” Kody hopped out, leaving the keys in the ignition.
He spotted his dad’s 2015 Honda CRV and picked up the pace.
Is Dad okay?
Swiping open the front door, a little bell jangled above his head. Kody lowered his chin and addressed the front desk clerk. “Can I have a new key for Walsh. Mine doesn’t work anymore.”
The woman didn’t even lift her gaze from her phone. The bottom of a stool scratched against the hardwood floor as she scooted it out and rose slowly. “Right, Mr. Walsh left a spare key for his guest. But oh no, where’d it go? No problem. I’ll just scan you a new one. Room 111, sir.”
“Thank you.” Kody took it and slipped around the corner. The hallway smelled like burnt vacuum. He sprinted, his heart thundered in his chest.
He lifted his hand and hovered his knuckles over the thick door. Laughing came from within. Two voices.
No. Dad wouldn’t.
Kody knocked. A tightness formed in his chest as footsteps approached. He moved out of view from the peephole.
The lock unclicked. A sliver of light started growing as the door crept open slowly. His father’s laugh boomed, but he wasn’t facing forward, rather entranced by whatever—whoever was inside.
A woman giggled and asked, “Walter, did you order me room service? More wine?”
Kody’s heart stopped. He shoved the door open.
His father turned and met his gaze—in just his boxers. Walter’s eyes widened.
Kody lunged inside, scanned the woman laying under the covers and swiveled back on his heels. Not just any woman, his current calculus teacher, Ms. Brown, fresh out of college, only four years older than him.
She squealed and ducked under the covers.
Kody’s voice boomed. “What are you doing?”
Walter didn’t move a muscle.
“Is Mom meeting you here? She knows about this right?”
Walter’s jaw dropped and he looked down.
The room spun and Kody tripped over his own feet.
He pointed in Walter’s face. “How could you do this?”
Walter extended his palms out. “Son!”
Kody stepped back quick. Don’t ever call me son again.”
“Wait.” Walter clung onto his wrist.
Kody twisted away. “Don’t touch me!”
A whirl of beige paintings on the hallway’s walls flashed in Kody’s vision as he stumbled back to the parking lot. Dizziness overtook him. He leaned on the back of a bench and glanced in each direction. Avery’s car was gone. Kody’s fists clenched.
He growled into the wind and took a deep breath. Closing his eyes didn’t help anything. He could only picture Ms. Brown’s bare shoulder. If the blanket was just an inch lower…The smell of lavender would forever be toxic in his mind.
I can’t tell anyone my plans now.
His phone buzzed from Avery, ‘Sorry, man. Party can’t wait. I sent Christine to come get you. Her ETA 5 min.’
Kody slammed his phone to his forehead and paced in front of the hotel’s entrance.
Walter can probably see me from the window.
He moved to the side of the building.
What do I do?
Kody dropped to the ground. Tiny pebbles pushed into his palm as he rose up and down. A light post’s bulb flickered, casting dancing shadows on the pavement.
Kody mumbled to himself between heavy breaths. “Twenty-two fuckin years of marriage. TWENTY-TWO! Ms. Brown is twenty-two.”
His shoulders burned as he pushed himself up, down, up down. Sweat dropped from his temples.
Maybe mom knows and she’s okay with it. Maybe they’re in a different ‘lifestyle’ and mom was about to join?
He clenched his jaw and pushed up. Pausing at the top, headlights flashed into the lot and Christine’s car pulled in. Her long manicured pink nails tapped the outside of her car through the rolled down window. Kody jolted upright.
Her car door clasped shut just as the hoot of an owl echoed. Christine’s heels clicked and clacked quickly toward him; each step swung her hips left to right. Her blonde curls lost themselves in her cleavage and the black tank top left no imagination to how thin her waist was. Christine tilted her head and wrapped her hands behind his thick neck.
“I knew you’d surprise me!” She smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t just ignore my messages.”
Surprise? What surprise?
“I mean, I wish Avery wasn’t in on it.” Christine raised on her tip toes and kissed him. “A hotel room? That’s so romantic.”
No. No. No. I need to get home. I need to tell—what the hell am I going to tell them?
Kody stepped back, causing her hands to drop, when he said, “Actually, I need to go.”
She tilted her head to the side and said, “What? This doesn’t make any sense.”
“I just need a ride home,” he mumbled.
Christine shivered in the cold but forced a smile. “Kody! You’re State Champion! This should be the best night of your life. I’ll give you a massage. What room number did you get?”
She put a claw-like finger in his face. “Kody Walsh, you listen to me. I told Becky and Susie and Kylie and Megan that you got me a fancy hotel room. You did get one, right? Don’t you love me?”
Kody opened his mouth and paused. “Of course, I got a room. I hope you’re surprised.” He pulled her in and wrapped his arm around her waist, kissing her forehead. “Just wait in the lobby and gimme five minutes to finish signing for it.”
I need to keep someone on my side.
At the counter, the clerk didn’t recognize Kody. He handed over cash from his job as a martial arts coach at a local gym, where they taught honor and teamwork above all else.
Am I setting a good example for the boys I teach?
She handed him his key card. Room 109.
No! Not next to Dad.
Kody interlaced his fingers between Christine’s and hustled to the room, raising his shoulder slightly to block his face in case his Dad came out.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as he stuck the key card in.
The heavy door creaked when he held it open for her to enter first. “Nothing.”
His ears were on overdrive, like a hawk, noticing any muffled sound on the other side of the wall, trying to depict the conversation. Kody moved closer and sat as close to the voices as possible, leaning toward the white walls. Ms. Brown laughed. An ‘Usher’ song started to play. Ms. Brown squealed.
No. No. Stop. Please, stop. This is a nightmare.
Kody placed both his hands over his ears and turned to face Christine, who was staring up at him with bright blue eyes—topless. His gaze dropped to those mounds and his body responded immediately, ready to go.
Christine licked her lips. “It’s my turn to be the Champion.” Her hands circled his pecs over his Cubs t-shirt then traveled to his zipper.
Kody’s heart drummed hard against his ribs as his body warmed, blood flowed to every inch of his body. Their skills only improved in quality each time together. He hovered his hand just over her dark round—
He looked away and took a deep breath. He stopped her wandering hands.
“Christine, how about we watch a movie. It was a long game. My body’s worn out.”
She shook her head and kneeled in front of him. “No. I’ll do all the work. You just have to keep it up. That’s never been a problem for you before.”
Her fingers slowly unzipped his pants. He gently lifted Christine up and zipped back up. Tossing Christine her shirt, he swallowed, then said, “Not tonight.”
Christine refused to put her shirt on. She flailed her arms, sending her breasts bouncing, “Then why did you get this room? Why are we here?”
He guided her to the bed and sat her down. “I have something important to tell you. About next year.” He slowly looped her shirt over her head, and stretched it down over her stomach.
She nodded and said, “Chapel Hill and Duke are both close to State. We will be fine.”
“No, Christine, I’m—”
Moans began from room 111. A loud bang thundered against the wall. And then another. And again, in a rhythmic pattern. Thud. Thud. Thud. The grunts grew louder—the sounds felt like a bullet wound, piercing into his heart.
Christine rolled her eyes. “At least someone’s having a good time.”
Kody couldn’t feel his lips, sensation drained out of him. “I need to go.”
“What? We just got here.”
He wouldn’t look at her and jumped toward the door. “I’ll explain later.”
Her eyes expanded. “You’re just gonna leave me here?”
I could call an Uber.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The bedframe on the other side slammed against the wall like a hammer in Kody’s head.
He stared at a painting of an endless sandy desert on the wall, losing all sense of reality. “Can you drive me home?”
She pouted, sticking out her pretty pink bottom lip.
His voice dropped to a begging whisper. “Please, this is important.”
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Christine’s voice turned harsh. “You owe me.” She handed over her keys. “Can you drive, though? I’m in heels.”
Ice carved a spot into his chest, freezing a part of him. Kody grabbed the dangling keys without a word and turned on his heels. She followed.
During the drive home, drizzle began to fall. Christine sat with her back angled toward him, staring at the drops trailing down the window. A thick blanket of fog in front of him made him squint the whole way home. By the time they pulled into his drive, his temples had pressure prickling deep that he wasn’t used to. Kody leaned over and kissed Christine.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said.
“I may not pick up.”
He sighed. “I understand. But I hope you do.”
Kody hopped out. The scent of his mom’s rose garden sent shivers of comfort that turned to goosebumps along his forearm. Their windchimes clinked in the breeze above the porch. In a daze, he walked past the neatly trimmed yard, the garage basketball hoop and his mom’s car.
His mom walked right in front of him. “Finally! You’re home.” His mom ran over and wrapped both arms around Kody, unable to clasp her hands together behind his back.
He jumped and clutched his heart. “Jeez!”
She laughed. “Wow! Remind me not to play paintball or lazer tag with you. We wouldn’t do too well with that response.”
“Congrats! State champion! That was an exciting game.” Her grin spread from ear to ear.
Kody took both her hands in his but froze for a beat. “Mom, I need to tell you something.”
Her dimples disappeared. “Soon. I need to show you something first. Inside.”
“No, this can’t wait.”
She pulled his wrist and swung open the door with so much force that it slammed against the kitchen wall.
Lights flashed on and dozens of red balloons floated toward the ceiling. Bodies popped up behind the countertops as if a dance was choreographed.
His mom bustled around the kitchen, rattling pots and pans as she looked for something in a cabinet. “So, tell us all about it! What did it feel like to shoot the winning point?”
“Good.” Kody picked up one of her fresh cookies from the counter and jammed it into his mouth. It crumbled and fell apart into pieces as if it weren’t fully ready.
Cali became lost in another world, the bright rectangle of her screen reflected in her dark iris’ as she scrolled. Coop collapsed onto the couch. Avery clinked silverware together as he pulled out a fork from the drawer. The house layout was open concept with almost every room being visible from one corner. The white mantlepiece in the living room held photo frames of their family—a false image—a lie.
His mom turned on the stove. “Well, Kody, at least, give your dad a play by play when he gets home. He was stuck at the office all night and was broken hearted that he couldn’t make it.”
Kody cleared his throat and projected his voice. “I need to tell you all something, right now!”
Cali looked up from her phone.
Coop poked his nose over the back of the couch cushion.
His mom stopped clattering dishes.
Avery froze from raiding the fridge.
“I’m not going to Duke,” said Kody plainly.
His mom clapped her hands together. “So, you decided on Chapel Hill? That’s so exciting. They have so many good programs. I was thinking pre-med, but it’s your choice… I’ll just.” She zipped her lips.
Kody looked at each. His stomach twisted. “Is it really my choice?”
“Yes, dear. Always will be. Always has been.”
It’s now or never.
Kody pushed his shoulders back. “I’m joining the army.”
Now they know. It’s done.
The plate his mom held onto slipped through her fingers and glass shattered across the floor. She placed one hand on her heart. “Oh!”
Kody bolted to her side.
Her eyebrows knitted together, then she looked up at him with a stern face. “Kody—I—” She placed one hand on the counter, steadying her swaying motion.
“Here, come sit.” Kody guided her to a kitchen chair at their wooden table. She lowered herself and took a deep breath.
“Engineering or desk job?” His mom asked.
“No. Infantry. I want to specialize in artillery.”
Cali lurched out of her stool, and kicked it down, letting the metal stool tumble to the ground, over the broken glass. “No!” She yelled. “You can’t be shot at! I won’t let you!”
Hid mom placed her hands on either side of his face. “Is this what you want?”
He nodded silently.
“Okay. I support you,” she said sweetly then kissed his nose. Her flowery perfume overtook his senses.
His heart stopped for a beat while searching his mom’s dark eyes. Her pupils grew and she didn’t blink once.
She nodded and let go of his face. “Let me get a broom.”
Kody crouched down and picked up the larger glass pieces, careful not to slice his skin. “I’ll be safe. I’ll be trained and professional. Plus, I probably won’t even be deployed. Things are good under Obama.”
“No!” Cali stomped.
“College isn’t for me—right now,” said Kody.
Coop grasped his shoulders and spun him upright again. “What are you talking about? You have a 4.0. You already have college credits! If I had your brain—”
Kody stood taller. “I’ll take classes in between training.”
Coop’s shoulders dropped. “How long have you been considering this?”
“A year. But I’m not considering. I’ve already registered. I’ll have Boot Camp and AIT.”
Coop sighed and grinned. “You’re already using acronyms. That’ll get annoying fast. What’s AIT?”
“Advanced Individual Training.”
“No!” Cali ran into Kody and started punching his gut, making no impact on his brick-like stature. “I won’t let you join the army!”
The door clattered open.
Walter’s calm voice quieted Cali’s protests. “I think it’s a great idea.”
His mom returned, broom in hand. “You do?”
Walter spoke slowly, his eyes hardened on Kody. “Yes, our son has always been responsible and honorable. He knows how to protect others. Kody knows what needs said and done, and what needs silenced.”
He wants me to keep it quiet.
Kody followed Walter’s movements like a panther stalks its prey.
I’ll tell them— but when?
Pre-Order Cassie Swindon’s novel, ‘Break the Stone’ kindle on amazon.
Break the Stone is Book One of the Golden Chains series
Launch date is May 10th, 2021.
www.CassieSwindon.com has bonus scenes and more information.
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