She laughs, which is incongruous with her tear-stained face but somehow attractive at the same time. “You don’t say,” she mocks, and I have to laugh.


“I have a question,” he says, just before we leave for the day.

We’re moving the painted boards inside so we can start instal ing the shelves in the morning. I know him wel enough by now to know he’l insist on using the dril tomorrow—

something I understand. The first time Dad agreed to let me wield a power tool, I jumped up and down. Reid’s not as enthusiastic as that… but he’s close.


“Why social work and not music?”

This is far afield from the subject of power tools, so my brain has to redirect. “What?”

“You told Trevor you’re going to Berkeley, right?” he asks, and I nod. “So, why, with your voice, are you studying social work instead of music?”

While I thought he was doing nothing more than regaling the others with corrupt Hol ywood tales, he was listening to my conversation with Trevor. Before I can compose an answer, he adds, “Seems like a waste of time.” What? “Is that how you feel about this project, after three weeks of working here? Can’t you see that these families need what we do for them?”

He holds his hands up. “Yeah, sure. But you seem to feel some guilt complex for being born smarter, or having a better life. And you’re planning to spend your life beating your head against a wal trying to help people who don’t bother to help themselves.”


I do feel accountable for my blessings—but he seems to feel nothing but entitlement. “These people didn’t do anything to deserve being born into poverty, any more than I deserved to be born into a family that can afford to give me food, decent health care, or an education.” He stacks the final board against the others. “Why does it have to be about deserving something? So it’s luck of the draw, and granted, their hand sucks. I mean sure, there are things you can do—and here you are, doing them. But there’s only so much. Why live your life feeling guilty?”

“It isn’t guilt—it’s a social conscience.” I try to suppress my defensiveness. “I can’t just stand by and do nothing.

Because my life is easy in comparison, and that isn’t fair.”

“Don’t, you know, fly off the handle or anything—but doesn’t the fact that you think it isn’t fair make you distrustful of the idea of a ‘higher power’ orchestrating everything?”

“No.” His eyebrows rise at my quick reply, and I can’t let him know how close to my doubts he’s come. “Because people like my Dad exist. Because faith is part of who I am, and a measure of faith is being wil ing to do what’s needed.

I just want to make a difference. I have to believe I have a purpose. Maybe you don’t understand that, but that’s how I feel.”

He’s quiet for a minute, and I’m thinking I’ve wasted my breath and gotten worked up for nothing. “You’re right, I don’t understand,” he says. He tilts his head like Esther does when I talk to her and I use words outside of her canine experience. “Your principles seem real, though.

Usual y there’s something deceptive about people who throw words like faith around. Like they’re using it to mask ulterior motives or baser desires…” He smiles a wicked little smile and my heart flips over. “The sorts of values I do understand.”

Chapter 22


The camaraderie lasted al morning. We ate lunch separately— she sat with Roberta, and I sat with Frank, Darlene and Gabriel e —but I don’t think that’s what changed her mood. She was on the phone again after lunch, and though she was standing too far away for me to hear anything specific, her tone was on edge. She’s been bitchy since she hung up.

She’s instal ing brackets in the closets, and I’m adding the shelves and bolting them in. Since we’re working on the same closets at the same time, we’re almost on top of each other. The third time she criticizes something I’m not doing perfectly and then takes over and does it herself, I can’t take any more of this shit.

“Look, just because you had a grisly breakup yesterday doesn’t mean you can take it out on me today. I wasn’t responsible for it.”

She glares at me. “What. Are. You. Talking about.”

“The phone cal yesterday? The crying?”

Her mouth drops open and snaps closed. “Were you listening to me?”

We’re standing inside a closet having this conversation, and the harsh resonance of our voices ricochets around and through us, unable to ful y escape the confines of the space. “You were outside, in public, talking on your phone.

It’s not like I fucking wiretapped you.” Her jaw sets. “First, you shouldn’t have been listening to what was clearly a private conversation. And second, there was nothing to break up. We just agreed to never actual y start… whatever we might… flippin’ flapjacks. It’s none of your darned business.”

Once I start laughing I can’t stop. “Flipping what?” Where the hel does she get these things?

“If you were capable of doing any of this without assistance, it would be a joy to leave you to it,” she says, glaring.

“Oh, please. This isn’t rocket science. It’s screwing a bunch of boards to a wal . Big fucking deal.” Side note: I love how much it bothers her when I say fuck. She winces every time, like she’s being jabbed with a needle.

“You don’t even know how to use the studfinder to find the studs first.”

“Pardon me?”

She sighs exaggeratedly and fixes me with a stare. “You have to locate the studs first—”

“Studfinder? ”

“You use it to find the framework? Inside the wal ?” Her sarcastic pitch is hitting a boiling point inside me, because frankly it’s a little too reminiscent of Dad, which I can’t handle from more than one person in my life. “The skeleton to which we attach stuff that needs to be anchored—like, I don’t know, shelves?”

I stopped listening before she resumed talking. “You finish in here,” I say. “I’l do Gabriel e’s closet.” In answer, she hands me a smal gadget containing a miniature leveler and a red arrow-looking thing. This must be the wondrous studfinder. I have zero idea what to do with it, so I slip it into my pocket as I leave the room.


“I’m an idiot,” he says.

“No argument,” I say.

He’s instal ed the hanging rod and an entire row of shelves without finding the anchoring studs first. The weight of the brackets alone probably seemed fine, but when the shelves were added, the weight began pul ing the brackets out from the wal , screws and al . If Gabriel e adds so much as a pair of boots to a shelf or a couple of hangers to the rod, the whole mess is coming down.

Without speaking, we begin to angle the shelves to remove them from their unstable brackets. The boards scrape the wal s on both sides, wringing simultaneous exclamations— fucking hell from him and gosh almighty from me—which makes him laugh. “It’s not funny,” I mutter.

And then I glance at him and he grins and for no reason it is funny and we’re both laughing.

Once the boards are removed, we survey the damage.

Once the boards are removed, we survey the damage.

He sighs deeply, arms crossed over his chest. “Man. That looks like shit.”

I can’t dispute his opinion, but something about his defensive pose and his dejected inflection reminds me of five-year-old Jonathan from my VBS class. Slumping against one of the ruined wal s, I calculate that the repair and repainting wil add a couple of hours to finishing out the closets. I was hoping to leave at three, which is not going to happen.

“What now?”

I straighten from the wal . “Now, we repair the damage…

and reinstal the shelving.”

He pul s his phone from his pocket, checks the time. “I assume you have a painstakingly calculated timetable…

and the closets have to be done today.”

“Yep.” I grab a couple of the boards and haul them from the closet, and he fol ows with the brackets and the dril .

“Which means you’l have to stay later.”

I answer with a smal shrug and a nod.

“I guess I’l stay later too, then.”

This is unprecedented. “Oh?”

“Wel , it’s my fault we have to redo the whole closet, so yeah.” Hitting a speed dial number, he watches me carry the remaining boards from inside the closet and lean them careful y against the pink wal . “Hey George, can you reschedule that interview? And also let the driver know to be here at five instead of three today.”

Avoiding his eyes, I listen as he and his manager rearrange his after-hours agenda. Before now, I hadn’t rearrange his after-hours agenda. Before now, I hadn’t considered that Reid had anything else to do between filming movies, aside from goofing off.

The typical schedule everyone keeps is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I’m used to him leaving with the rest of the transient volunteers. Those of us making up the regular crew come in earlier sometimes, and hang around a bit later sometimes, finishing up projects or readying things for the next day while the house grows gradual y quieter, the sounds of an entire crew of workers fading to nothing.

Since we have to repaint the closet in Gabriel e’s room, her shelves are the last thing to be done. When Reid volunteers to instal them alone (again) while I finish up the linen closet shelving, I take a breath and ignore the threatening sense of déjà vu. Instead, I simply hand him the dril and the studfinder (his lips twist, and I know he’s repressing a wise crack) after showing him how to use it.

While finishing out the linen closet, I stifle the desire to check on him at least a dozen times. Final y, I head back to Gabriel e’s room, bracing myself for whatever catastrophe awaits.

Reid’s back is to me as he attaches the last shelf, the hard muscles of his shoulders and arms flexed and defined through his white t-shirt as he presses the dril , driving the screw through the bracket and into the wal . When finished, he leaves the dril on the shelf and steps back, every line of his body radiating pride, unaware that I’m watching. He’s not wearing the safety goggles (he never does unless I make him put them on), but I won’t chide him for it.

“It looks good,” I say, and he moves to the side as I step

“It looks good,” I say, and he moves to the side as I step in next to him. I tug on the shelves, testing them. They don’t budge. I could probably climb on them if I had to. They’re more than secure enough to hold Gabriel e’s shoes and storage boxes.

Relaxing against the doorjamb of the closet, folding his arms loosely over his chest, he glances towards the bedroom door. “It’s real y quiet in the house now. So weird.” I nod. “Everyone’s gone except Roberta and Gene, and they’re doing paperwork in the office.” His body fil s the closet doorway, and he’l have to move for me to exit.

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