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Authors: Colleen Hoover

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BOOK: Reminders of Him
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CHAPTER NINE

K
ENNA

I’ve been to six different places trying to find a job, and it isn’t even ten in the morning yet. They’ve all gone the same. They give me an application. Ask me about my experience. I have to tell them I have none. I have to tell them why.

Then they apologize, but not before looking me up and down. I know what they’re thinking. It’s the same thing my landlord, Ruth, said when she saw me for the first time.
“Didn’t expect you to look like this.”

People think women who go to prison have a certain look. That we’re a certain way. But we’re mothers, wives, daughters,
humans
.

And all we want is to just catch one fucking break.

Just one.

The seventh place I try is a grocery store. It’s a little farther from my apartment than I’d like, almost two and a half miles, but I’ve exhausted everything else between this store and my apartment.

I’m sweating when I enter the store, so I freshen up in the bathroom. I’m washing my hands in the sink when a short woman with silky black hair enters the bathroom. She doesn’t go into a stall. She just leans against the wall and closes her eyes. She has a name badge on:
A
MY
.

When she opens her eyes, she notices I’m staring at her shoes. She’s wearing a pair of moccasins with white and red beads in the shape of a circle on top of them.

“You like?” she asks, lifting her foot and tilting it from one side to the other.

“Yeah. They’re beautiful.”

“My grandmother makes them. We’re supposed to wear sneakers here, but the general manager has never said anything about my shoes. I think he’s scared of me.”

I look down at my muddy sneakers. I recoil at the sight of them. I didn’t realize I was walking around with such dirty shoes.

I can’t apply for a job like this. I take one of them off and start washing it in the sink.

“I’m hiding,” the woman says. “I don’t normally hang out in bathrooms, but there’s an old lady in the store who always complains about everything, and I’m honestly just not in the mood for her bullshit today. I have a two-year-old and she didn’t sleep all night and I really wanted to call in sick today, but I’m the shift manager, and shift managers don’t call in sick. We show up.”

“And hide in bathrooms.”

She grins. “Exactly.”

I switch shoes and start washing the other one. I have a lump in my throat when I say, “Are you guys hiring? I’m looking for a job.”

“Yeah, but it’s probably not anything you’re interested in.”

She must not see the desperation on my face. “What are you hiring for?”

“Grocery bagger. It’s not full time, but we usually leave those spots open for teenagers with special needs.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t want to take a job away from anyone.”

“No, it’s not that,” she says. “We just don’t have many applicants because of the low hours, but we really are in need of part-time help. It’s about twenty hours a week.”

That won’t even pay rent, but if I worked hard enough, I could possibly work my way into a different position. “I can do it until someone with special needs applies. I could really use the money.”

Amy looks me up and down. “Why are you so desperate? The pay is shit.”

I put my shoe back on. “I, um . . .” I tie my shoe, stalling the inevitable admission. “I just got out of prison.” I say it fast and confidently, like it doesn’t bother me as much as it does. “But I’m not . . . I can do this. I won’t let you down and I won’t be any trouble.”

Amy laughs. It’s a loud laugh, but when I don’t laugh with her, she folds her arms over her chest and tilts her head. “Oh, shit. You’re serious?”

I nod. “Yeah. But if it’s against policy, I totally get it. It’s not a big deal.”

She waves a flippant hand. “Eh, we don’t really have a policy. We aren’t a chain—we can hire whoever we want. To be honest, I’m obsessed with
Orange Is the New Black
, so if you’ll promise to let me know which parts of the show are bullshit, I’ll give you an application.”

I could cry. Instead, I fake a smile. “I’ve heard so many jokes about that show. I guess I need to watch it.”

Amy rolls her head. “Yes. Yes, yes. Best show, best cast; come with me.”

I follow her to the customer service desk at the front of the store. She digs around in a drawer and finds an application, then hands it to me along with a pen. “If you fill it out while you’re here, I can get you in for Monday orientation.”

I take the application from her, and I want to thank her, I want to hug her, I want to tell her she’s changing my life. But I just smile and quietly take my application to a bench by the front door.

I fill out my full name but put quotation marks around my middle name, so they’ll know to call me Nicole. I can’t be wearing a name tag
that says
K
ENNA
in this town. Someone will recognize it. Then they’ll gossip.

I get halfway through the first page when I’m interrupted.

“Hey.”

My fingers clench the pen tightly when I hear his voice. I slowly lift my head, and Ledger is standing in front of me with a grocery cart full of about a dozen packs of Gatorade.

I flip the application over, hoping he didn’t already see my name across the top of it. I swallow and attempt to appear to be in a more stable mood than all the moods he witnessed from me yesterday.

I gesture toward the Gatorade. “Special at the bar tonight?”

A subtle relief seems to wash over him, like he was expecting me to tell him to fuck off. He taps one of the packs of Gatorade. “T-ball coach.”

I look away from him, because for some reason that answer makes me uneasy. He doesn’t look like a T-ball coach. Those lucky mothers.

Oh, no. He’s a T-ball coach. Does he have a kid? A kid and a wife?

Did I almost sleep with a married T-ball coach?

I tap the pen on the back of the clipboard. “Are you, um . . . you aren’t married, are you?”

His grin tells me no. He doesn’t even need to say it, but he shakes his head and says, “Single,” then motions toward the clipboard on my lap. “You applying for a job?”

“Yep.” I glance toward the customer service desk, and Amy is eyeing me. I need this job so bad, but I’m afraid this might make it look like I’m going to be distracted by sexy bartenders while I’m on the clock. I look away from her, wondering if Ledger’s standing here talking to me is hurting my chances. I flip the clipboard back over, but tilt it so that he isn’t able to see my name. I start writing in my address, hoping he walks away.

He doesn’t. He pushes his cart to the side so a guy can get around him, and then he leans his right shoulder against the wall and says, “I was hoping I’d run into you again.”

I’m not going to do this right now.

I’m not going to lead him on when he has no idea who I am.

I’m also not going to risk this job by fraternizing with customers. “Can you go?” I whisper it, but loud enough for him to hear it.

He makes a face. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, I just really need to finish this.”

His jaw tightens, and he pushes off the wall. “It’s just that you act like you’re mad, and I feel kind of bad about last night . . .”

“I’m fine.” I look back at the customer service desk, and Amy is still staring. I face Ledger and plead with him. “I
really
need this job. And right now, my potential new boss keeps looking over here, and no offense, but you’re covered in tattoos and look like trouble, and I need her to think I’m not going to give her any issues at all. I don’t care what happened last night. It was mutual. It was fine.”

He nods slowly and then grips the handle of his shopping cart. “It was
fine
,” he repeats, seemingly offended.

For a moment, I feel bad, but I’m not going to lie to him. He put his hand down my jeans, and if we hadn’t been interrupted, we probably would have ended up fucking.
In his truck.
How spectacular could it have been?

But he’s right—it was more than
fine
. I can’t even look at him without staring at his mouth. He’s a good kisser, and it’s toying with my head right now because I have so many more important things going on in my life than his mouth.

He stands silent for a couple of seconds and then reaches into a sack in his cart. He pulls out a brown bottle. “I bought caramel. In case you come back.” He tosses the bottle into the cart. “Anyway. Good luck.” He looks uneasy when he turns and walks out the door.

I try to continue filling out the form, but I’m shaking now. I feel like I’ve got a bomb strapped to me and it ticks down in his presence, getting closer and closer to exploding my secrets all over him.

I finish filling out the application, but my handwriting is sloppy because of my trembling hands. When I return to customer service and hand it to Amy, she says, “He your boyfriend?”

I play dumb. “Who?”

“Ledger Ward.”

Ward? The bar is called Ward’s. He owns the bar?

I shake my head, answering Amy’s question. “No, I hardly know him.”

“Shame. He’s a hot commodity around here since he and Leah broke up.”

She says that like I’m supposed to know who Leah is. I guess in a town this size, most people know most people. I glance back at the door Ledger disappeared through. “I’m not in the market for a hot commodity. Just a lukewarm job.”

Amy laughs and then browses my application for a moment. “Did you grow up here?”

“No, I’m from Denver. I came here for college.” That’s a lie—I never went to college—but it’s a college town, and my intentions were to eventually go. That just never happened.

“Oh, yeah? What’s your degree in?”

“Didn’t finish. That’s why I’m back,” I lie. “Registering for next semester.”

“This job is perfect for that; we can work around your classes. Be here Monday at eight for orientation. Do you have a driver’s license?”

I nod. “Yeah, I’ll bring it.” I leave out the fact that I just got my driver’s license last month, after months of working to get it reinstated. “Thank you.” I try to say that with as little eagerness in my voice as possible, but so far things are working out. I have an apartment and now a job.

Now I just need to find my daughter.

I turn to walk away, but Amy says, “Wait. Do you want to know how much you’re making?”

“Oh. Yeah, of course.”

“Minimum wage. Ridiculous, I know. I don’t own this place, or I’d raise it.” She leans forward and lowers her voice. “You know, you can probably get a job at the Lowe’s warehouse. They pay twice that starting out.”

“I tried online last week. They won’t hire me with my record.”

“Oh. Bummer. Well. See you Monday, then.”

Before I go, I tap my fist on the counter and ask a question I probably shouldn’t ask. “One more thing. You know the guy I was talking to? Ledger?”

She raises an amused brow. “What about him?”

“Does he have kids?”

“Just a niece or something. She comes in here with him sometimes. Cute girl, but I’m pretty sure he’s single and childless.”

A niece?

Or could it be his deceased best friend’s daughter?

Does he shop here with my daughter?

I somehow force a smile through the onslaught of emotions suddenly spiraling through me. I thank her again, but then I leave in a hurry, hoping by some miracle Ledger’s truck is still outside and that my daughter is in the truck with him.

I look around the parking lot, but he’s already gone. My stomach sinks, but I can still feel the adrenaline disguised as hope running through my body. Because now I know he coaches T-ball, and Diem more than likely plays on his team, because why else would he coach if he doesn’t have children of his own?

I debate going straight to the T-ball field, but I need to do this right. I want to speak with Patrick and Grace first.

CHAPTER TEN

L
EDGER

I’m in the dugout pulling the equipment out of the bag when Grady slips his fingers through the chain-link fence, gripping it. “So? Who was she?”

I pretend not to know what he’s talking about. “Who was who?”

“The girl you had in your truck last night.”

Grady’s eyes are bloodshot. It looks like the night shift change is taking a toll on him. “A customer. I was just giving her a ride home.”

Grady’s wife, Whitney, is standing next to him now. At least the rest of the mom brigade isn’t with her, because I can tell immediately by the way she’s looking at me that everyone on the T-ball field is already talking. I can only be confronted by one couple at a time. “Grady said you had a girl in your truck last night.”

I shoot Grady a look, and he holds his hands up helplessly, like his wife yanked the information out of him.

“It was no one,” I repeat. “Just giving a customer a ride home.” I wonder how many times I’m going to have to repeat this today.

“Who was she?” Whitney asks.

“No one you know.”

“We know everyone around here,” Grady says.

“She’s not from here,” I say. I might be lying; I might be telling the truth. I wouldn’t know since I know very little about her. Other than what she tastes like.

“Destin has been working on his swing,” Grady says, changing the subject to his son. “Wait’ll you see what he can do.”

Grady wants to be the envy of all the other fathers. I don’t get it. T-ball is supposed to be fun, but people like him put so much competitiveness into it and ruin the sport.

Two weeks ago, Grady almost got into a fight with the umpire. He probably would have hit him if Roman hadn’t pushed him off the field.

Not sure getting that heated over a T-ball game is a good look for anyone. But he takes his son’s sports very seriously.

Me . . . not so much. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because Diem isn’t my daughter. If she were, would I get angry over a sport that doesn’t even keep score? I don’t know that I could love a biological child more than I love Diem, so I doubt I’d be any different when it comes to their sports. Some of the parents assume that since I played professional football I’d be more competitive. I’ve dealt with competitive coaches my whole life, though. I agreed to coach this team specifically to prevent some competitive asshole from coming in and setting a bad example for Diem.

The kids are supposed to be warming up, but Diem is standing behind home plate shoving T-balls into the pockets of her baseball pants. She’s got two in each pocket, and now she’s trying to shove a third in. Her pants are starting to sag from the weight.

I walk over to her and kneel. “D, you can’t take all the T-balls.”

“They’re dragon eggs,” she says. “I’m going to plant them in my yard and grow baby dragons.”

I toss the balls one at a time to Roman. “That’s not how dragons grow. The momma dragon has to sit on the eggs. You don’t bury them in the yard.”

Diem bends forward to pick up a pebble, and I notice she has two balls stuffed down the back of her shirt. I untuck her shirt, and the balls fall to her feet. I kick them to Roman.

“Did
I
grow in an egg?” she asks.

“No, D. You’re a human. Humans don’t grow in eggs—we grow in . . .” I stop talking because I was about to say, “
We grow in our mother’s bellies
,” but I’m always careful to avoid any talk of mothers or fathers around Diem. I don’t want her to start asking me questions I can’t answer.

“What do we grow in?” she asks. “Trees?”

Shit.

I put my hand on Diem’s shoulder and completely ignore her question because I have no idea what Grace or Patrick has told her about how babies are made. This isn’t my wheelhouse. I wasn’t prepared for this conversation.

I yell for all the kids to go to the dugout, and luckily Diem is distracted by one of her friends and walks away from me.

I blow out a breath, relieved the conversation ended where it did.

I dropped Roman off at the bar to spare him a trip to McDonald’s.

And yes, we’re at McDonald’s even though Diem didn’t wear her cleats at all during the game, because she gets her way with me more often than she doesn’t.

Choose your battles,
they say. But what happens when you never choose
any
?

“I don’t want to play T-ball anymore,” Diem says out of the blue. She’s dipping her french fry into honey when she makes that decision. The honey dribbles down her hand.

I try to get her to eat her fries with ketchup because it’s a lot easier to clean, but she wouldn’t be Diem if she didn’t do everything the hardest way possible.

“You don’t like T-ball anymore?”

She shakes her head and licks her wrist.

“That’s fine. But we only have a few more games, and you made a commitment.”

“What’s a commitment?”

“It’s when you agree to do something. You agreed to be a part of the team. If you quit in the middle of the season, your friends will be sad. You think you can make it through the rest of the season?”

“If we can have McDonald’s after all the games.”

I narrow my eyes in her direction. “Why do I feel like I’m getting swindled?”

“What does
swindled
mean?” she asks.

“It means you’re trying to trick me into getting you McDonald’s.”

Diem grins and eats her last fry. I put all our trash on the tray. I grab her hand to lead her out of the store and remember the honey. Her hands are as sticky as a flytrap. I keep wet wipes in my truck for this very reason.

A couple of minutes later, she’s buckled up in her booster seat and I’m scrubbing her hands and arms with the wet wipe when she says, “When is my mom getting a bigger car?”

“She drives a minivan. How big of a car does she need?”

“Not Nana,” Diem says. “My mom. Skylar said my mom never comes to my T-ball games, and I told her she will when she gets a bigger car.”

I stop wiping her hands. She never brings up her mother. This is twice in one day we’ve brushed the conversation.

I guess she’s getting to that age, but I have no idea what Grace or Patrick has told her about Kenna, and I have absolutely no idea why she’s asking about her mother’s car.

“Who told you your mom needed a bigger car?”

“Nana. She said my mom’s car isn’t big enough and that’s why I live with her and NoNo.”

That’s confusing. I shake my head and throw the wipes in a sack. “I don’t know. Ask your nana.” I close her door and text Grace as I’m circling around to the driver’s side of my truck.

Why does Diem think her mother isn’t in her life because she needs a bigger car?

We’re a few miles away from McDonald’s when Grace calls. I make sure not to answer it on speaker. “Hey. Diem and I are on our way back.” It’s my way of letting Grace know I can’t say much on my end.

Grace sucks in a breath like she’s getting ready for a long explanation to my text. “Okay, so last week, Diem asked me why she doesn’t live with her mother. I didn’t know what to say, so I told her she lives with me because her mother’s car isn’t big enough to fit all of us. It was the first lie I could come up with. I panicked, Ledger.”

“I’d say so.”

“We plan on telling her, but how do you tell a child her mother went to prison? She doesn’t even know what prison is.”

“I’m not judging,” I say. “I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. We should probably come up with a more accurate version of the truth, though.”

“I know. She’s just so young.”

“She’s starting to get curious.”

“I know. Just . . . if she asks again, tell her I’ll explain it to her.”

“I did. Prepare for questions.”

“Great,” she says with a sigh. “How did the game go?”

“Good. She wore the red boots.
And
got McDonald’s.”

Grace laughs. “You’re a sucker.”

“Yeah. Tell me something new. See you soon.” I end the call and glance into the back seat. Diem’s face is full of concentration.

“What are you thinking, D?”

“I want to be in a movie,” Diem says.

“Oh yeah? You want to be an actress?”

“No, I want to be in a movie.”

“I know. That’s called being an actress.”

“Then, yeah, that’s what I want to be. An actress. I want to be in cartoons.”

I don’t tell her cartoons are just voices and drawings. “I think you’d be a great cartoon actress.”

“I will be. I’m gonna be a horse or a dragon or a mermaid.”

“Or a unicorn,” I suggest.

She grins and looks out her window.

I love her imagination, but she definitely didn’t get it from Scotty. His mind was more concrete than a sidewalk.

BOOK: Reminders of Him
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