Raelyn’s Last Shot

Need to climb higher! I only have two hours left.

Raelyn stretched her leg up to the next limb of an old oak tree. The evening breeze tickled her nose with the scent of autumn leaves and tangled her long wisps of brown hair together. Thankfully, a glow from the stadium’s bright lights lit the branches above. She climbed higher with confidence, until one cowboy boot scuffed against a loose piece of bark, sending her flailing into the air. Darkness rushed around Raelyn and her heart beat wildly.

“Aahh!” At the last moment, Raelyn caught herself against the trunk and wrapped her arms around it tight, clutching on with all her might. A sliver stuck into her pale skin creating a tear in her thin wrist. The camera had ricocheted around on its strap onto her side, but otherwise it seemed undamaged. She took a big gulp, then stepped higher again. Bear barked below, but she couldn’t see him as his golden fur blended into the darkness.

Raelyn laughed. “You try getting up here, boy. It’s not easy.”

The cheers from the stadium’s crowd rose as the scoreboard clock decreased with each passing second. Finally, at the top of the tree, Raelyn steadied herself. Grabbing her Canon camera, she held it up to her eye. Her heart rate accelerated while trying to balance, teetering back in forth in the breeze. Everyone in the stadium stood on their feet, half jumping up and down. The center snapped the ball between his legs. Out of focus, students in red jerseys smashed into purple blobs.

Ten seconds left.

The quarterback of her high school arched his arm behind his head.

Eight seconds left.

He threw it hard to the ten-yard line.

Six seconds left.

Matt caught the ball and squeezed it tight to his chest, then started sprinting.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

Raelyn photographed Matt racing toward the endzone. A player from the opposing side drew closer. Raelyn gasped.

Two seconds left.

Matt dove into the air. From the treetop, Raelyn clicked another picture as he soared over the line.

Touchdown!

The team rushed onto the field just as Raelyn lowered her camera and smiled. She released a big sigh as her gaze settled on the stars speckling the inky night sky.

That better be the winning photograph. All the others haven’t been good enough.

Bear barked again below.

“I’m coming. I’m coming.” Carefully, she descended until her feet were back on solid ground.

Bear wagged his fluffy tail and shoved his nose between her knees, making her legs give out. She toppled to the ground and kissed his forehead, right between his big brown eyes. Her ripped jeans were now stained with brown and the white tanktop would have to be washed with extra soap during the next laundry day.

Bear flopped next to her on his side, dirt speckling his golden coat as he rolled around with his tongue sticking out.

Raelyn brushed off her hands in his soft fur. “You want a cheeseburger, don’t ya?” She rubbed his soft belly. “Okay. One second.”

She turned her camera back on to check the images she had taken of Matt’s victory moment. It had to be good enough to win the photography contest. Upon looking at the football images, her heart sank.

No! No! Why do I even bother!

A strong beam from the stadium lights shone right through the focal point of her photograph, blocking the entire view of Matt rocketing through the endzone. Raelyn kicked the dirt, sending pebbles rolling down the hill. Bear ran a slobbery tongue over her face, and his sour breath flooded her nostrils. At ten years old, his yellow teeth needed some work.

“Ew! Bear, gross.” Raelyn scratched behind his ears. “Okay, I’ll try again, I’ve got less than two hours until the contest deadline closes.”

Bear jumped up and trotted down the steep hill. She followed the scent of warm pretzels, hot dogs, and hamburgers wafting through the night air. Raelyn shivered, unwrapped her blue plaid shirt from around her waist, and threaded each arm through the soft sleeves. Back when Ma was alive, she used to have the same shirt.

Wish Pa had kept some of Ma’s things.

A few shirts or jewelry, really anything would have sufficed.

Parents swarmed around the outdoor concession stands. Bear roamed between them, begging for a bite from those willing to share. Raelyn’s stomach twisted in hunger. A knot of students collected near the food stand and Raelyn’s best friend, Amy, waved her over. Raelyn tilted her head, rose her camera to her eye quickly and snapped a picture of Amy in her element, surrounded by friends. Her pearly whites shone bright in the darkness. Even though Raelyn had known each of the teenagers since they were all in diapers, she still wasn’t comfortable in large groups. Crossing her arms tight across her chest, she trudged over to Amy with her chin down.

Amy bumped her hip into Raelyn’s. “Where have you been? You missed my Matt’s big win!”

If only Amy knew all the poems Raelyn had written about Matt—the boy most off limits to her. In one hand Amy held a cinnamon roll and ripped off pieces, then licked her fingers after each bite, as if it wouldn’t get sticky again.

Raelyn forced a smile. “You know sports aren’t really my thing.”

“But boys should be your thing! Did you see the tight end on the other team? Hot damn!” Amy’s blue eyes danced with excitement.

Raelyn shook her head. “There’s no one to date in this tiny town. I may as well wait until college.”

Amy moved closer and twirled Raelyn’s long, silky hair between two fingers. “There’s that one boy who keeps coming to the town library every time you work. I think he’s got a crush on you.”

Raelyn waved her off. “Nah. Hey, remember how I switched library shifts with you as a favor?” She poked her best friend’s thin waist. “Well, guess what. You owe me, now.”

Amy stuck out her hip, making her blond curls bounce. “Owe you? Since when do we keep track?”

Raelyn sighed. “Please! I need your help. I only have an hour and a half to get a good photo for the contest.” A group of freshmen accidentally nudged into Raelyn’s shoulder as they tried to squeeze through the crowd. She naturally protected her camera with both hands. 

“What contest?” Amy peeked behind Raelyn’s back, most likely hunting for any sign of Matt. 

“Focus. Come on. You remember, right? The most important photograph contest of my entire life?”

Amy shrugged. “Oh, that. Yeah. I can help tomorrow.” She shoved a bite of the cinnamon roll into Raelyn’s mouth. “Here, try this.”

Raelyn moaned and closed her eyes, savoring the sweetness on her tongue. After swallowing, she sighed. “Are you listening? I said I’ve got an hour and a half left.”

“What happens in ninety minutes? Your carriage turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of twelve?”

Raelyn had sacrificed so much for Amy and didn’t receive anything in return. What was the point of friendships if Raelyn couldn’t rely on her in a time of desperation? Bear re-joined them, having munched a full meal from all the scrap handouts from strangers. He laid at Raelyn’s feet and rested his chin on his golden paws.

Amy stepped around Raelyn and started hopping up and down. “Hey, Matt!” She swerved between bodies and raced across the parking lot.

Matt flicked a few droplets from his freshly showered mohawk onto his muscular shoulder. Raelyn’s heart fluttered at the sight of him, but Matt didn’t notice her as he held out both arms, letting Amy rush in. She jumped up and wrapped both legs around his waist, smothering his neck with her lips. Raelyn groaned and turned away, then checked the time on her phone. Only eighty minutes left. Thought I had more time.

Excited chatter surrounded her as teachers and parents shook the hands of the team emerging from the locker room. Raelyn slowly backed away from the chaos. She slapped her thigh for Bear to follow and hustled away to her red truck in the lot, the dog’s pitter patter paws clicking on the blacktop. But then the soft sounds turned into fast footsteps thudding behind her. Raelyn turned and looked up to meet Matt’s hazel eyes, sparkling with security.

“Ouch!” Matt grimaced and gripped his leg. “Cramp!” 

“You okay?” 

“Yup, all good. You?” 

Raelyn giggled. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She didn’t need to unlock her truck; the locks had never worked anyways. She let Bear hop in, then slid into the front seat and started up the engine. Bear attempted to wriggle over her lap to reach Matt’s hand through the open window.

She tried to fight the blushing sensation on her cheeks, knowing it wouldn’t work. Raelyn peeked in her rear view mirror, where round amber eyes stared back with the basic cream colored eyeshadow and chapstick. There wasn’t any need to bring attention to her button nose or high cheekbones when everyone always gawked at the chocolate colored hair that stretched down to her waist.

“Uh, congrats on the game.”

His wide smile stretched up to his ears. “Thanks! Amy wanted me to chase you down and ask if you’re coming to Zach’s party tonight.”

Amy knows I don’t go to parties. Is he lying?

Raelyn scrunched her nose. “She couldn’t have texted me?”

He looked off at the stars, probably able to name more constellations than she could, which wasn’t common. “You know Amy, she lost her phone—again.”

Raelyn glanced at the clock on the dashboard out of habit, though she knew it was pointless. The time had been stuck on 2:22 for years. “There’s something I need to do first.”

Matt cocked his head. If he wasn’t dating Amy, Raelyn knew he was the only guy at their school she would’ve considered dating. Not because he won MVP at each game, or was the senior captain of all the sports, but because in fifth grade he volunteered to be her lab partner when no one else wanted to. In sixth grade he was the only boy who didn’t slam a dodgeball into her shoulders during P.E. In seventh grade, Matt showed up to her first co-ed party with her favorite book in hand, which he wrapped himself. And last year, he brought her an application for a poetry show, encouraging her to sign up. 

Matt leaned both forearms on her window and one bushy eyebrow rose. “What do you possibly need to do at 10:45 at night?”

“It’s not a big deal. I need to take a great photograph in the next…seventy-four minutes.”

He flashed his toothy grin again. “No problem. I’m a natural model. On the count of three, I’ll say cheese.”

Raelyn gently pushed him through the window and laughed. “Move back. I gotta go.” She reversed slowly, unable to check her side mirrors, for lack of any.

“Wait!” His smile disappeared. “I know a good place.”

Raelyn’s heart sped up for a moment. “Isn’t Amy waiting for you?”

I can’t like him. He’s Amy’s boyfriend.

“I’ll catch up with her soon. Scoot over,” he said.

Raelyn chewed the inside of her lip. “Seriously? It’s my truck. I’ll drive.”

“Fine! Move, Bear.” After Bear jumped in the backseat, Matt clambered in through the open driver’s window, crawled over Raelyn’s thin frame, while purposefully shoving his butt in her face.

Her stomach hurt from laughing. “What are you doing?”

Matt buckled up and pointed north. “Adventure awaits my lady.”

“Where to?” Raelyn didn’t dare turn to check if Amy was staring her down across the lot.

“Turn left and go about two miles. I know the perfect spot.”

This contest held her entire future. Her photography club teacher swore up and down that Raelyn had a natural gift, and that she just had to let loose and be more brave with her angles. That was precisely why she climbed a twenty-foot tree—to prove herself. Nothing could stand in her way.

Matt pushed the radio button but… again—pointless. None of the stations worked, which only intensified the awkward tension lingering in the air between them. When had she last alone with Matt? A school project her freshman year? His fresh shower scent and a woodsy smell filled her car. Her skin tingled from the thought of running her lips over that newly cleaned skin to taste his chest. Raelyn bit her lip and rolled the window down, hoping to eliminate whatever enticing scent radiated from him.

They passed no cars since most people in town were still at the game, even though it was late. As she watched the road, Raelyn could feel Matt’s gaze on her chest. Her tank top didn’t show much cleavage, but she unconsciously pinned her shoulders back straight.

This is new. What is he thinking?

Raelyn gulped hard and hoped he didn’t notice her boot jittering on the floor. A shiver spiked her entire body as Matt ran a large hand through his mohawk. From the corner of her eye she noticed he popped in a stick of gum from his pocket.

“Left here.” Matt pointed to a creepy looking entrance where branches that had been struck down from lightning hung from a dead tree.

Raelyn turned and followed a narrow, shadowed street that opened up to a wide prairie full of wildflowers. For a moment, a feeling of stupidity washed over her that she hadn’t thought of this location before. Raelyn had often visited this field as a child, back when Ma was still alive, but most traditions stopped when Pa took over. Things just weren’t the same after her death.

When she parked, Matt pretended like he was going to crawl back over her lap to escape the truck but she swatted him away. He chuckled and seemed to purposefully lower his voice. “You look good tonight. Maybe I can take your picture?”

Raelyn purposefully seized that moment to jump out of the truck and avoid his eyes, pretending like she didn’t hear.

He circled around the back of her truck. “What are you gonna do for lighting?”

“I’ve got stuff in the back.”

Matt helped her unload fast, hauling out the lighting with his firm arms. She couldn’t help but stare at the curves of his biceps, but when Bear barked in the prairie, Raelyn focused on setting up her equipment at record breaking speed.

Just over an hour left! What if I don’t make it?

Raelyn climbed atop the hood of her truck and pointed her camera at the flowers, searching for the best option. Nothing. She huffed and palmed her forehead. “Ah! This isn’t going to work.”

“It’s okay, we have time.” Matt offered his hand and she hopped down, sending a puff of dust into the air.

When she turned away to find a better angle, Matt didn’t let her hand go. He pulled her body into his chest, causing her breath to stick in her lungs. Their faces were only inches apart. Those hazel eyes she had spent years studying were now within reaching, looking back at her with the same intensity. Matt lifted Raelyn’s chin assertively.

“Your amber eyes are gorgeous.” Matt leaned in, his smooth lips moving dangerously close.

Raelyn lurched backwards. “What are you doing?”

An owl hooted nearby, otherwise only silence encompassed them as Matt simply rolled his lips in tightly.

“Amy is my best friend! What are you thinking?”

Matt shuffled his sneakers in the dirt and looked down. “I don’t want to be with Amy.”

Raelyn’s heart thumped wildly. “Then why are you dating her?” She spat out the words a bit too harshly.

“Because you’re always hanging out with her.”

Throwing both hands up into the air, she yelled. “That doesn’t make any sense! Why wouldn’t you just ask me out?”

Matt crossed his arm. “Right, like William Bell would ever let his precious daughter go on a date.”

Raelyn froze.

He’s right. But is that why no one has ever asked me out?

Matt walked closer and held out both hands as a peace offering. “Listen, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”

“It’s okay.” She didn’t take them but backed away.

Matt rubbed the stubble of a half beard forming. “Can we still hang out? I don’t want to mess up our friendship.”

Raelyn avoided his eyes and hustled around. “I don’t know. Let me think.” She rushed to her equipment to pack up.

“You don’t have to pack up because of me, I’ll walk back to school. Stay here and get your shot.”

He started backing away toward the street as she packed her materials in the truck. Raelyn knew she should offer to drive him back, but couldn’t tolerate the energy between them in her truck. She pressed a finger into her temple, hard, creating sharp pressure. “Let’s pretend this didn’t happen.”

Under the moonlight, his cheeks noticeably flushed. “Got it, okay. I’ll see ya at school Monday.” He ran off into the distance, making Bear scurry after him.

Raelyn hollered. “Bear! Come!”

He pivoted and sprinted to her side.

“Bear, we have to get home. Maybe one of my old photographs will be good enough.”

Bear growled playfully in agreement. Back in the truck, she stepped on the gas pedal faster as she turned out of the wildflower prairie. The wheels jumped over potholes on the way. Regardless of every effort to not look behind her, she caught a glimpse of Matt jogging further away, back from where they had started. She sighed at the lost chance. How could he have considered doing that to Amy?

Focus! Thirty-five minutes left.

After only a mile down the deserted country road, she cruised into her long driveway. Long white curtains blew out from the open windows, but all the lights were off in the farmhouse. She parked next to Pa’s old blue Chevy with a dent in the door.

Racing inside, Raelyn darted to her room. She dropped to her knees and dug under her bed—but her box of pictures wasn’t there. Out her window, the bright lights of the barn revealed a moving silhouette, the broad shape of Pa working with his tools. The alarm clock on her desk showed 11:17 pm. While staring up at the crescent moon, an idea clobbered her mind. With Bear on her heels, she slammed the door to her room and skipped every other creaky step down the stairway, then hurried outside to Pa. The screen door snagged her long hair in the process, pulling her back.

“Ouch!” Raelyn unhooked her chestnut hair from the hinge and massaged her neck.

“Hun?” The tall and broad figure of Pa exited the barn. “Is that you?” He raised one hand over his eyebrows to peer out toward her.

Breathing heavily, she called out, “Yeah. Pa! I need your help!”

He dropped the toolbox by his boots and charged to her side. “What’s wrong?” His emerald eyes were wild and full of concern.

Raelyn looked around. “What? No, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

He clamped his hand over his heart. “Jeez, Hun. You sounded like something blew up.”

Between ragged breaths, she squeaked out. “Where’s my box?”

Pa rubbed his brown beard, peppered with gray. “What box?”

“The one under my bed, with all my pictures.”

Pa shrugged but didn’t meet her eye. “I don’t know, Hun. You always keep things so organized. It couldn’t have gone far.” He tugged on the gold compass hanging from his belt-loop.

The circular shape reminded her of a pocket watch. The image brought a clock to mind, which in turn sent a thrill of anxiety singing through her veins.

Thirty- minutes!

Raelyn stumbled on her words as she leaped forward to Pa, grabbing his wrist. “I need your help with a contest.”

His eyes softened and he stroked her hand. “Hun, calm down.”

“I don’t have much time!” Tears started to pool behind her eyelids. “It’s for college.”

“You’re only a junior.”

Raelyn whispered. “We can’t afford tuition otherwise.”

He stepped forward. “I can get you money. Whatever you need.”

“Your paychecks from the Hardware store won’t cover half, even if you work overtime.”

Pa looked away, into the abyss of the woods behind her. “I have other ways.”

Raelyn laughed. “So you’re a magician now?”

“Then we can find a cheaper school.”

“I don’t want to leave Ash Mountain. If I go to classes just down the road, I won’t have to move out.”

His voice turned soft. “Hun, you’ll eventually leave home.”

She froze. “That’s what you want then? To get rid of me?”

“No.” He paused. “What do you need?”

Raelyn pointed to the peak of Ash Mountain. “I need to take an amazing picture, one that could win awards. I need your help.”

The thick head of wavy hair tussled back and forth as Pa shook his head. “Well, you know I’m not good at that type of thing.”

“So you won’t help me?”

“How will you have time to get the picture submitted anyway from up there?”

“My camera is digitally connected to an app on my phone. I can transfer it over and send it in.” Raelyn groaned. “If you won’t help me. I need to go. I’m wasting time.”

Frustration turned to fury. The three people she assumed she could count on were all letting her down. Rage began to boil in her veins and despite always following the rules, being responsible, and helping others, her tolerance finally snapped.

“Why won’t anyone help me?” Raelyn poked Pa’s chest. “Who cooks you dinner every night? Who helps pay the mortgage with a part time library job? Who cleans all Bear’s shit from the yard? Who scrubs the counter, cleans the bathroom, organizes your medicines?” Her heart hammered in her ribcage and her chest heaved up and down.

Pa raised both hands in the air. “Woah, where is this coming from?”

“Who doesn’t ask for anything in return? Me! The one time I need you—” She choked on her words.

Pa’s jaw dropped and his shoulders slouched. “That’s what you think of me?”

Raelyn growled louder than her golden retriever would and sped past Pa to the forest. Bear pranced by her side as the long grass tickled at her ankles. As she stumbled along, the dirt shifting under her feet, resentment soared in her blood. Pa hadn’t shown her any love. He provided the basics—food and a roof. Whenever she asked to play board games, like they used to, he’d complain about being too tired. Their hunting and fishing trips have decreased too. Raelyn stomped closer to the trail.

“Everything’s fine, Bear. I have you.”

He didn’t look at her this time, completely in the zone and fixated ahead on their destination. Tall trees loomed under the mountain straight head. With each thunderous step forward, the camera bounced against her side while hanging from its strap. She weaved around trunks and bounding over logs. Small animals scurried over leaves nearby as her boots crunched loudly, announcing her intrusion of their nocturnal life.

Knowing the woods like the back of her hand, Raelyn found the trail that threaded toward the treacherous ascent to the top of Ash Mountain as the moonlight lit her path. As long as she stayed away from the cliffs’ edge, Raelyn could reach the peak in twenty minutes. The wind twisted her hair and stung her eyes as she pounded her boots on the rough ground.

Faster. Faster.

Raelyn pumped her arms. After only a bit, sweat beads dripped from her temple.

A stone bridge creaked below her feet, then she zig zagged in the darkness around the thorny bush. The familiar rushing sound of the stream to her right made her wonder if she’d ever be brave enough to go skinny dipping at night.

Maybe if Amy and Matt ever broke up.

She heard the faint rumbling roar of the waterfall ahead making her grin. That used to be her spot with Pa, but every passing year washed away more time with him.

Pa let her roam the woods, the creeks, and the prairies alone with Bear since she was seven, but the waterfall was the furthest she was allowed to explore alone. She might not be able to get there in time at night. The elevation wasn’t the problem, just the severe incline near the top that even an experienced rock climber could have trouble with if they made a wrong move. Not to mention, the splashing of the falls onto the rocks made it too slick. Pa always had to help her in the past. But if she could make it in one piece, the view of the canopy of trees would be priceless.

Midnight was approaching and thousands of clocks in the valley below marked the seconds.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

The air turned colder, and wind whipped her face fiercely. Raelyn’s calves burned from digging into the soil. The flare of soreness crept up into her hamstrings and hips. The slopes abruptly turned sharp and slippery.

“Bear, lay down.”

He whined but followed her directions. As she continued on, Bear crept closer to her side.

“No, Bear.” Raelyn pointed to the ground.

Craning her neck up, she clenched her jaw and kept marching up. Every step forward was an effort. Raelyn started crawling, gripping onto vines rooted in the soil to pull herself higher. Dirt crusted in her fingernails while she climbed the natural ladder. Finally reaching the side of a ridge, she heaved up onto flat ground. Her arms shook from strain. Struggling to suck in a deep breath, she stepped forward on shaking legs. Even at 11:53, the view was breathtaking under the full moon. Nature’s gorgeous curves and shadows painted a breathtaking panorama over the gorge. Raelyn raised her camera to her eye and side stepped. She tumbled to the side, twisting her ankle. Pain rippled through her as she tumbled to the side. Her palms smacked against the hard earth.

“Crap!” Raelyn rolled onto her side and hovered her hands over her ankle. She slowly pushed out a long, audible exhale from her lips then gently rotated her ankle in a circle. Exhausted, Raelyn moved to all fours, then cautiously stood. She braced herself against a trunk and put weight on her ankle. No sharp pain.

“I’m fine, Bear.”

When she glanced below, instead of spotting Bear, a crushed Canon camera lay in pieces over fifteen feet. Raelyn clenched her fists at her sides, dropped her head back, stared at the stars and screamed at the top of her lungs.

A howl from close by returned her call. Her heart pounded in her chest.

Raelyn whispered, “Bear?” Dread crept inside her heart. “Bear!”

A deep, throaty growl arose from the darkness behind her. She whirled around at the menacing sound and met the glare of two yellow eyes gleaming through the foliage. Fear swarmed her soul. Slowly backing up, Raelyn crouched to pick up a thick stick.

A newfound energy sparked in her bones.

The animal pounced forward, flinging its agile body into the air. Raelyn screamed and swiped the stick in the air, actions fueled by a wild fear. No contact. She streaked toward the nearest tree, prepared to scramble up. The creature chased her and chomped down on her cowboy boot, it’s needle sharp teeth piercing through the soft material as a low growl exploded from its throat. She kicked what seemed to be a coyote—straight in the nose. A startled yelp sounded from below Raelyn, and suddenly, the jaws around her foot were gone. Bear barked by her side.

Raelyn glanced at the treetop, then at the coyote.

She jumped between the beast and Bear just as it lunged toward Bear. The animal slammed all her to the soil. Her head thudded hard against the painfully hard earth and a dizziness overtook her vision. She shielded her face by crossing both arms in front, but nothing attacked her. Squeals and cries rang through the night, followed by deeper growls and snarls. Raelyn peeked between the slats of her fingers. Bear had the coyote pinned and his teeth bore into the creature’s neck. But it thrashed and fought and writhed.

A shot pierced the darkness.

The coyote slumped limp to the ground. Bear backed up, teeth still bared and gleaming in the moonlight. Pa’s heavy boots clomped across the clearing and with one strong kick, knocked the coyote of the cliff’s edge. The body thumped down the side until the only sounds in the air were crickets chirping.

“Pa?”

His green eyes widened, as if he hadn’t known she was there. “Raelyn!” Pa dashed to his daughter, his calloused hands lingering over her face and forehead. “I’ve been tracking you!”

Stuttering, she peeped, “I—I’m okay. Ch—Check Bear.”

“No, you’re bleeding.”

“What?” Raelyn brushed her hand over her head where warm wetness trickled down past her ear and smeared on her fingertips.

Bear frolicked up to Pa and licked his hand as he readjusted the strap of the hunting rifle.

Raelyn stood, her ankle already swollen, but her body wobbled to the side.

“What happened?” Pa said softly as he scooped her into his arms. Bear trotted by his side as he carefully slid down the steep decline. Rocks cascaded fast under his feet and he almost skidded halfway with Raelyn in his arms but stopped their momentum just in time.

Raelyn’s face flushed when Pa had to grip her tighter. “I can walk. I’m okay.”

“Stop being stubborn, Hun. Why would you come up here alone?”

“I needed a good photograph.” Her words blended together from fatigue. “What time is it?”

“12:10.”

Raelyn hung her head.

Pa cleared his throat. “Whatever you need, I can get it.”

He can’t get me into that college. No matter how much overtime he works.

Tomorrow, Raelyn could contact the photography contest and see if they’d allow her a twenty-four-hour extension. She’d also have to tell Amy during their library shifts that Matt tried to kiss her. Most likely Pa would check her into a hospital and confirm she wasn’t brain damaged. For now, she let her body melt into Pa’s sturdy arms.

Maybe someone does care after all.

Published by CassieSwindon

Fiction author

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