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by J. J. Howard

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In the vein of great box-office blockbusters, the high-stakes romance here sizzles within this page-turning thriller that will leave readers feeling like they are flying through the streets of New York.

Cam has come to accept the rhythm of his life as a bike messenger: racing up and down the streets of New York City from one run to the next. With no family to rely on and a mountain of debts, at least it’s an honest way to help pay off his dangerous debtors. Cam’s whole world comes crashing down on him one day when he runs into a beautiful stranger. After falling out of the sky and wiping out Cam and his bike, she disappears before he can find out anything about her. When he starts to see her around town, he quickly realizes that she is part of an underground group of teens who have turned NYC into their own parkour playground—running, jumping, seemingly flying through the city like it’s an obstacle course. Cam becomes fascinated with the sport—and the beautiful stranger, Nikki. He falls in with the group, and they offer him the chance to make some extra money. But when the stakes become life or death, Cam is torn between following his heart and sacrificing everything to pay off his debts.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698188990
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/08/2015
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 832 KB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

JJ Howard (www.jjhowardbooks.com) grew up in York, Pennsylvania, obsessed with music, movies, television, and pop culture. She graduated from Dickinson College with a BA in English and Tiffin University with an MH in Humanities. She currently lives in Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @jjhowardbooks

Read an Excerpt

HE KNEW the stars were up there somewhere, but with all the lights from the city, Cam couldn’t see them. He sat on the edge of the roof waiting for her. Looking down at the little toy car he held, Cam realized he didn’t even remember bringing it with him, but there it was, clutched in his hand—so hard that the small wheels made indentations in his palm. Once, long ago, his father had given him the toy, a miniature of the black GTO he drove, along with the promise that one day Cam would inherit the real thing.

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the picture—one of the only ones he had of his family. The photo he did remember bringing up here. He’d had to search around for it—wasn’t like he carried it around with him. Why would he? Just like the seemingly starless New York City sky, the picture was a lie. There, frozen for a moment in time, was his family: his father, smiling, with an arm slung around his pregnant wife. They stood leaning against the life-size version of the toy Cam held in his hand. Anyone looking at his parents’ hopeful faces in the photo would think they were going to be together . . . build a life. Maybe even be happy.

A lie.

“You look like your dad,” said a voice in his ear.

Nikki sat down beside him.

Cam didn’t answer. He closed his eyes, for that moment just feeling the warmth of her next to him.

She went on, her voice low. “I don’t even know my real dad . . .” She trailed off, and her hand found his. “I don’t even know what he looks like,” she told him, a catch in her voice. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

With his free hand he held the picture out to her and she took it from him. He exhaled, then felt the words start to escape from him. For some reason he felt the urge to go confessional around her. It was a new and uncomfortable feeling.

My dad was a guy I talked to on a phone through a glass window . . . he was a lowlife thrill seeker.” Cam swallowed hard, ignoring the voice in his head telling him to shut up.

Not that he was one to share much of anything, but he never talked about his father to anyone. Ever. With Nikki around, suddenly never had started to turn into sometimes.

When it came to Nikki, what he really wanted, though, was always.

He went on: “When I was ten, my dad panicked while he was robbing a liquor store in Queens.” Cam felt Nikki’s hand tighten around his. “He shot an old man for fifty-seven bucks and change. Someone stabbed him to death in prison because he stole their cigarettes.”

Cam took the picture back from her and shoved it in his pocket. Nikki had pulled her head away from his shoulder. She was staring at him. Her eyes were wet, but she didn’t cry.

“Sometimes it’s better not to know,” he said.

The toy car was still there in his hand. He stared down at it, thinking about the real GTO. Thinking about escape. And though for the moment he’d mastered the urge to spill every thought and hope and fear he’d ever had to her, she still figured it out.

“You’re leaving,” she stated, her voice flat. “Aren’t you?”

Cam let go of her hand, only to put his arm around her waist and pull her closer. He stared at her for a few seconds. Her eyes were almost silver in the moonlight, and still full of tears. One blink and she’d be crying. He nodded slowly.

She blinked.

Cam pulled her even closer to him, and lowered his forehead to hers, hearing her breath, as ragged as his own. “Come with me,” he whispered.

“I can’t . . .” she whispered back, another catch in her voice.

“Don’t think. Just . . . come with me.”

Nikki pulled a little away from him. She wiped her eyes and opened her mouth to speak—but before she could tell him all the reasons she couldn’t leave this place, he needed to tell her one more thing.

“I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me your brother needs you, that Miller won’t let the two of you—won’t let any of us—go.” Cam pulled her back to him, holding on tight. She didn’t push him away. “But Nikki, I’m telling you. I don’t care. I don’t care if any of that’s true—or if it’s all true. Because ever since you fell out of the sky and crashed into my life, the only thing I care about is you. I’m not leaving without you.

He let her go, stood up, and held out his hand.

They both knew that they could never be together, that they’d never find a way out. But Cam told himself it didn’t matter.

If everything else in his life had been a lie, she was the truth. The way he felt about this girl, in this moment. That was true.

He took a deep breath and waited . . .

AND A MOMENT of silence for the bike.

Crushed under a bus: what a way to go. This wasn’t how Cam’s day was supposed to play out, although he’d stopped expecting much of anything—good, anyway—a long time ago. The morning had started like any other: hot run, bike whizzing through the cars and taxis like they were standing still, back to Lonnie for another pickup.

As usual, Cam had sailed right through the wide door at the front, past the other messengers jockeying for a pickup.

“You got a run?” one of them asked Lonnie. It was probably Mitchell—sounded whiny enough to be him. But Cam didn’t stop to find out.

“I got a run for Cam,” Lonnie shot back, and held up the slip. “Express run. Uptown. I need . . .” But Cam had already grabbed the slip. He was back on the pavement, legs pumping, air rushing past him as he pedaled.

Cam put in his earbuds and cued up some music on his phone. The volume was cranked to the max, but he could still hear the sounds of the traffic he sailed through. Somebody like that Mitchell kid would probably have those noise-canceling earbuds—that guy didn’t actually need to work for Lonnie. Not when his shoes cost more than Cam’s rent. The guy just liked to be able to tell his hipster friends in Brooklyn that he was a bike messenger—even though he spent most of his time sitting around on the couch in the break room.

Don’t think about money. It wouldn’t help anyway. All Cam could do was keep riding faster. Sometimes it felt like that was all he ever did.

Cam rode through the chaos of morning traffic without slowing—down the center, riding right between the yellow lines, weaving his way between the cars and people, then jamming a left, catching the slipstream of a crosstown bus. He caught onto the side, taking a rest and letting the bus do the work. Most of the passengers were reading, headphones on, tuned out. But one old lady’s eyes widened. Cam grinned.

He spotted a yellow light just ahead, let go of his free ride, and then it was a slingshot through the intersection. Cam jumped a curb for the next shortcut, and hitched another ride with a beat-up old Civic.

And then a guy in a hoodie dropped out of the freaking sky, smack in the middle of the traffic snarl. He must have jumped from above, but it sure as hell looked like he’d just dropped out of nowhere. He landed on the roof of a car, then jumped down into the street. A cab swerved to miss him.

Over the music blasting through his crap headphones, Cam heard the cab’s tires squeal. Smelled the burning rubber.

The cab was sliding sideways toward him, fast. He was boxed in; with nowhere to go, Cam turned his bike sideways at the last second, sliding over the back end of the cab, his body crashing into the metal. It wasn’t his first full-body slam into a moving vehicle, but it was the hardest hit he’d taken so far. He could feel the impact of the metal jar his bones, and his body was twisting in midair, 180 degrees and then down, landing with a thud on top of the guy in the hoodie.

No, wait . . .

It definitely wasn’t a guy. Cam froze. She froze. Her face was inches away from his. They were both breathing hard. Her silver-blue eyes locked with his for what must have been just a few seconds, but it seemed longer.

The sound of the bike’s final moments broke the spell—it had skidded sideways out from under him, landing in the perfect spot to be crushed under the wheels of the M14 bus—and Cam realized she was struggling to push him off her. He rolled away, lying on his back on the pavement and cradling his left arm, which felt like it was on fire.

“Are you okay?” she asked, as she struggled to her feet. Her hood had slipped down. Cam looked up and took in his first full view of her: long brown hair, ripped jeans.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” he managed to say.

But she’d already turned away. Her eyes were on the ground—she was searching for something, and still breathing hard. Maybe dropping out of the sky hadn’t been quite as easy as she’d made it look.

Cam managed to stand, avoiding putting any weight on his damaged left arm.

He forced himself to stop staring at her. She was insanely pretty, which made it difficult to tear his eyes away. But pretty girls weren’t anything new. They were always chasing after him. This girl was something else, though. Something more. Or maybe he was just impressed with her dramatic entrance.

He spotted a messenger bag in the gutter that must have belonged to her, and went over to pick it up.

Before he could make the most of his white-knight moment, she snatched the bag out of his hands and turned to go.

“You’re welcome,” Cam said, and she met his eyes again. After hearing how not-welcoming his voice sounded, she frowned.

Unfortunately, frowning didn’t make her any less hot.

She’d killed his bike, and to top it off: rude.

But still. Hot.

Cam realized she’d just asked him a question.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” she repeated.

He stared at her. “I don’t know.” And it was true. Between her dropping out of the sky, turning out to be a gorgeous mystery girl, and the small matter of his body getting slammed into a cab—hard—Cam was dazed as well as confused. He glanced up at the five-story building behind him. She must have jumped down from the roof. (How? was a good question—and also why?)

Cam shook himself and saw that the girl was still staring at him, but then she spotted two cops headed toward them. “Sorry about your bike,” she said, as she whipped her hood back on and ran off.

Crazy girl ran a few steps up the side of the nearest building, barely avoiding a gaggle of tourists, and dropped down into the subway entrance.

One of the cops actually shrugged. Chase over.

Cam stood staring at the entrance to the F train, closing his own mouth. He didn’t want to look like one of the tourists. After all, he’d lived here his whole life.

But he’d never seen a girl drop out of the sky.

• • •

Cam made his way back to work—walking, thanks to a very strange girl and a last-minute assist from a crosstown bus. When he got back, he looked around Lafayette Messenger Service. He wasn’t sure he’d actually walked in since his first day on the job—the messengers’ entrance was a wide garage door, with a concrete floor so the riders could coast right in without wasting any time. Since Cam was moving at about a tenth his usual speed, he noticed things he usually ignored. And, wow, the place was a crap hole when you really slowed down to look. The floor was crisscrossed with spray paint and various other stains. A couple of armchairs, probably from the seventies, were held together with duct tape. A bank of yellow lockers filled the back wall, some with missing doors, the rest scribbled over with doodles and curse words. The remaining walls had been “decorated” by Lonnie’s ex-girlfriend, who liked to take extreme-close-up photos of completely random things like artichokes or dog noses. Word had it she’d left him for a Williamsburg hipster who managed not to roll his eyes when she called her stuff “art.” Lonnie had been in a rotten mood ever since.

The other messengers were giving Cam curious looks—no doubt because he was carrying the remains of his bike. Or maybe this was how they always looked at him, but he was usually moving too fast to notice. Cam ignored them. He walked up to the front counter and handed Lonnie the envelope he’d been sent uptown to deliver. When Lonnie opened his mouth to complain, Cam laid what was left of his Fantom on the front counter. Lonnie swore under his breath and took the envelope back from him. With a sigh, Cam pushed open the door to the break room. He threw himself down on the couch and closed his eyes.

“Are you just gonna leave this mess here?” Lonnie yelled after him, but Cam didn’t respond.

His arm was still on fire, and the rest of his body ached as well, but he couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d seen that girl do.

He might have assumed her first dramatic jump was a failed suicide attempt or something. But the way she’d moved like a cat, or maybe a monkey—up the wall, over the bench, and down into the subway—that had to be parkour. He pulled out his phone to look it up. Spelling it was a whole other issue. But even when he missed the u, hundreds of results came up on YouTube. One of the first ones showed two guys dressed like Mario and Luigi running around like they were inside a video game, but Cam clicked past it. Their movements were jerky, not fluid like hers had been.

The next guy was full of advice. Like: don’t snap your Achilles tendon. Okay, good tip.

Cam went searching for a new clip, since this guy mostly seemed to want to talk for half an hour about a move rather than actually doing the move.

He kept clicking. The running-up-the-wall move was called a tic-tac, Cam learned.

He watched two tiny figures running through a park, vaulting up and off trees, leaping over benches. It looked like Riverside Park, but the image was too small to be sure. The wild tricks the tiny figures were performing might have seemed unreal, except Cam had seen with his own eyes—the girl had performed several of the tricks that very morning.

One of the clips Cam clicked on had a tagline: “No equipment necessary.” Sounded like the perfect sport for him, since he couldn’t afford any. He also found out that the sport was called, variously, parkour, tracing, or free running. He liked the last one best: anything with free in the name sounded great to Cam. He’d felt trapped for so long.

Then it hit him that, given the way his life was turning out, learning how to run faster and more efficiently through the obstacle course of the city could actually come in pretty freaking handy someday.

Plus he had a background in martial arts, which a few of the videos mentioned as being helpful. He wasn’t afraid of heights, or falling, or much of anything really. After all, he’d seen his share of trouble—even spent six months in medium security up in Otisville. Maybe he’d take a crack at it himself when his arm got better. Why not?

He was distracted by Lonnie’s voice, booming from the garage. “Washington Heights. Express run.”

Mitchell stuck his head into the break room and grinned down at Cam before going up to the front desk. Cam snorted when he saw the guy was attempting dreadlocks. “Later, Cam,” he said with a smirk. His blond wannabe-dreads bounced as walked back toward the counter.

Cam rolled his eyes, closed out of YouTube, and leaned back against the ancient couch cushions, closing his eyes.

A bike messenger with no bike. This was the best day ever. There weren’t many people who would hire a guy with a record, so his options were pretty limited. Sometimes he felt like he’d never be done paying for the mistakes he’d made when his mother got sick.

“You want your check or not?” Lonnie’s voice pulled him back from the edge of sleep.

His boss was standing in front of him, his frown looking even more pronounced than usual. Lonnie’s light brown eyes looked tired, and the black Lafayette Messenger Service polo he always wore hung loosely off him. Cam felt bad for Lonnie—his ex had really done a number on him.

Cam sighed and heaved himself upright, grabbing the check. And then he went from feeling bad for Lonnie to feeling bad for himself. The envelope, once opened, contained a check for a disappointing $493.

He waved the envelope in front of the dispatcher’s eyes. “This is it? I need more runs, Lonnie.”

Lonnie sighed. “Uh, Cam? You need a bike. You’re my best rider. What am I gonna do?” He nodded toward the remains of his bike, which were still decorating the dispatch counter.

“Yeah.” Cam frowned. “It really sucks . . . for you.

Cam’s eyes followed his boss’s to the bike corpse. Wasn’t like he’d been expecting a banner day or anything. But still.

“Got a friend who can loan you one?” Lonnie asked.

Cam’s eyes ran over the crew of messengers ignoring him and the remains of his dearly departed Fantom. Not likely they’d be sympathetic about this one. More likely they’d be psyched about not losing any more runs to him.

“What’s it look like to you?” Cam said, hearing the bitterness in his own voice. He scooped up the broken bike frame, hoisted it over his shoulder, and walked out.

He joined the throng of people moving on the sidewalk, and his thoughts shifted to the guys jumping and running in the last video. That seemed like an infinitely better way to get around. But he still needed a bike to make runs for Lonnie, and get paid. Cam started mentally doing the math on how much he owed . . . and what he wasn’t going to make over the next few days, bikeless.

It was all hoodie girl’s fault. Maybe he could find her, let her know how screwed he was now because of her.

He passed a Dumpster and threw the remains of his bike inside; it was broken beyond repair.

Now he could just go find hoodie girl. That was a solid plan. Start on the F train and then walk all over the city looking for a girl with silver eyes who ran up walls, so he could give her a piece of his mind.

At least he’d gotten the walking part right. Because now: pedestrian.

Cam swore under his breath and kept walking.

THE SIGN said CHECK CASHING but it probably should have said check swiping. Because infesting the sidewalk right by the entrance were Cam’s two least favorite people: Jerry and Hu.

Chinatown’s finest: Chen ran the books, but Jerry and Hu were the ones who finessed the situation. Finesse—that’s what Jerry liked to call it. Hu mainly just grunted—he was the muscle. Built like a tank.

Cam stared at Hu in his sleeveless black shirt and imagined the guy trying to run up a wall. Then imagined him hitting the pavement. Hard. It was almost a comforting thought.

Except for the fact that Jerry had just grabbed the paycheck right out of his hands.

“How did you . . . ?” Cam sputtered.

“How’d we know it was payday?” Jerry grinned and tapped his forehead. “I did some research, my friend. Your boss was pretty chatty.” Jerry gave Cam a pointed look. “As for the rest of it, this is the closest and most convenient check-cashing place. Didn’t take a rocket scientist.”

“Luckily,” Cam spit out, before he had time to think it over. He was pissed off about being ambushed. He would have turned most of his pay over to them anyway. But it might have been nice to hold on to a few bucks for, you know, food.

Jerry responded with a smile, but it wasn’t a nice one. “It’s your fault, me having to play Sherlock, Cam. Where have you been hiding?” Hu just glared and cornered Cam against the building. Jerry stepped closer too, still smiling his oily smile. “You didn’t forget about us, did you?”

Cam met Jerry’s eyes. He kept his voice even. “I didn’t forget. I didn’t have the money.”

“What do you call this?” Jerry waved the paycheck in front of Cam’s nose. “So what else you got?” Jerry put out his hand. Cam resisted the urge to spit his gum right into Jerry’s waiting palm.

Jerry was taller than Hu, and skinnier. He also seemed to be pretty obsessed with his hair: he wore it long in the front, but gelled into perfect waves. Jerry took another step forward, reaching into Cam’s pockets.

“Come on, man . . .”

Soon Jerry had his wallet. A few seconds later he’d emptied it of its contents: two fives. Jerry flung the empty wallet back at Cam.

“That’s it? Where’s all your money going?”

Cam spoke through clenched teeth. “To you.”

“You came to us for a loan, Cam. You accepted the terms. Remember? Fifteen hundred on the first of the month. Every month.”

“You’re right. My bad. I’m sorry I missed the payment.” He swallowed hard, still staring into Jerry’s eyes. “It won’t happen again.”

“No, it won’t.” Jerry pulled a pen out of the interior pocket of his jacket. The lining was a shiny red material printed with little gold dragons. Cam’s eye roll was automatic, no stopping it.

Jerry didn’t catch it, or pretended not to. “Sign this.”

“But, Jerry . . . I gotta pay rent.”

Jerry was shaking his head. Looking almost like he gave a damn. Almost.

“Think I’m doing this for fun, kid? This is my job. I got a boss just like you do. Sign it.”

Hu grunted as if to add his encouragement. Cam took the pen and endorsed the check. Jerry folded it, put it in his pocket, and stepped away from the wall. Cam followed, and Jerry put a hand on his shoulder. “We like you, man. We really do. But this is the second time you’ve been late.”

Hu made another sound—this one more of a growl.

Jerry fixed his eyes on Cam. “Second time,” he repeated. “And that makes us nervous.”

Cam frowned as Jerry gave him one more shoulder pat. “You owe us fifteen thousand dollars, Cam. Plus interest. Don’t miss another payment.”

“I won’t.”

Cam watched them head inside.

Jerry turned back to Cam and mouthed through the glass: “Don’t miss another payment.”

Yeah, because watching Jerry cash his paycheck was really making it easy to forget.

• • •

The L train wasn’t late, which was his first piece of “luck” all day.

But then there was the fact that the left side of his earbuds had crapped out—no doubt more fallout from the madness that morning. Cam pulled the cord out of his phone and threw them across the almost-empty train.

He rode in silence, staring at the subway map above his head. The L went from Eighth Avenue to Canarsie, and back again. It seemed like a perfect metaphor for his life: riding a train that didn’t actually go anywhere—just an endless loop.

Like the tattoo of an infinity symbol he’d gotten after his mom died. It was inked in stark black on his left shoulder. At the time it had seemed like a comforting idea—that maybe everything in life was some kind of continuous loop, a cycle of birth and death, happiness and suffering. But now the ink just seemed depressingly symbolic.

When had everything started to go so wrong? What if his dad had picked a different store to rob? Or never pulled that gun? What if his mom hadn’t gotten sick?

Was there a moment when he could have gone left instead of right? If he’d never taken the loan . . .

Cam thought back to the time when Chinatown was just another neighborhood to him—before he’d even known what the name Tong meant. Of course he’d always known that Chinatown was organized, but until he’d been desperate to borrow money fast, he hadn’t needed to know anything more.

He’d been making deliveries to a restaurant on Canal Street every few days ever since he started working for Lonnie. It had been obvious from the start that the well-dressed guys who met every night in the back weren’t waiters or cooks, so one night Cam worked up the courage to ask about a loan . . . and the rest was history. The Tong, he found out later, was a particularly well-organized group—especially when it came to making sure all debts were paid in full. If only he could go back and do things differently . . .

But it was no use wondering about that. The fact was his mom had gotten sick. And they’d needed the money—period. Just like he needed money now.

An image of the girl with the silver eyes appeared in his mind, seemingly from out of nowhere, just like she’d shown up that morning. Cam shook his head to banish her from his brain.

Even if he found her—and decided to forgive her for ruining his day, and his bike—right now he didn’t even have the funds to buy her a hot dog.

None of it mattered. Thinking about the mystery girl was just a waste of time, like showing up for work tomorrow (bikeless) would be. She’d made him curious was all. He would never see her again.

• • •

Cam trudged the five blocks from the L station to Angie’s row house. Home sweet home: peeling gray paint, rusted bars on the windows. But all this luxury wasn’t for Cam—since it was the garage he rented from Angie, not an actual room.

Not too many folks were keen on renting to someone like him—and even fewer were willing to skip the credit check and accept the rent in cash. But Angie had worked with his mom a long time ago. She was one of the few people who’d come to her funeral. When she’d asked if he had a place to stay—after the bank had taken the house—he’d been too depressed and defeated to lie. So he’d ended up in her garage. The rent was cheap; sometimes she even brought him leftovers. Angie’s stew, mac and cheese, and lasagna were the only things he ever ate that didn’t come on a stick or wrapped in paper or plastic. He never turned down her offerings. Cam hated feeling like a charity case, but he was starting to hate fast food even more.

Angie’s kid, Joey, was pulling tricks on his skateboard in the driveway—as always, he looked like he was one sneeze away from a trip to the emergency room.

Just at that moment, the kid wiped out, sent his board flying in Cam’s direction. Cam stopped it with his foot.

“You all right?” he asked as he kicked the skateboard up and caught it.

“Yeah. I’m good.” Joey cocked his head to one side. “Hey, where’s your bike?”

Not much got by Joey—the kid was observant as hell. Cam had never had a little brother, but he imagined the way he felt about Joey probably fit into the little-brother category. Equal parts affection and annoyance.

“I hit a pothole,” Cam lied, turning the board over to inspect the wheels. “Looks like you got bigger problems. Come on.” He led the way into the garage and through the maze of car guts.

The garage was perfect for Cam—just enough room for the car and all his tools. He didn’t have much else. His living space was in the back corner: twin bed covered in a flannel blanket. (In his head, his mom’s voice still told him to make the bed every morning.) He kept a plastic crate next to it, topped with a lamp, clock radio, and a couple of books. Another crate turned on its side was his “closet”; he kept his T-shirts, jeans, and cargos neatly stacked inside. His winter gear—a couple of sweatshirts and a heavier coat and scarf—was stored under the bed.

Joey perched on the edge of a stool, picking up a toy car from the workbench. He held it up and spun the wheels of the miniature ’67 GTO, but his eyes were on the life-size version that took up most of the garage. “When can we go for a ride?” he asked.

Cam stood before the workbench, tightening the trucks on Joey’s skateboard. “Doesn’t run yet, kid. Haven’t had time to work on it.” He switched screwdrivers and kept tightening. “Don’t have money for the parts I need,” Cam added, talking mostly to himself.

“Maybe you should sell it,” Joey said, still spinning the wheels on the toy.

“Maybe.” Cam looked over at the car. He didn’t have the energy to explain that even though his dad hadn’t been worth a damn, Cam wanted . . . needed to hold on to his car.

He handed the skateboard back. “You’re good to go.”

“Thanks, Cam.” Joey returned the toy GTO and Cam put it in his toolbox. He buried it a little under a hammer and a chunk of exhaust pipe.

“Joey?” Angie was calling. When he didn’t appear, she showed up at the garage door. “I told you to give Cam his space.” She frowned.

Joey rolled his eyes. “Chillax, Mom. It’s all gravy.” Joey threw down his board, hopped on, and sailed back down the driveway. Cam couldn’t help but smile.

“Seems like just yesterday he was so cute and little. And now . . . so full of attitude.” Angie turned back to Cam. She looked tired—and much older than she actually was. There were always dark circles under her eyes. “Sorry about that . . .”

She looked like she was in the perfect mood to hear some more bad news.

“I don’t mind,” Cam told her. “He’s a good kid.”

He took a deep breath and let it out. It was no use putting it off. It wasn’t like he was getting any richer sitting here fixing Joey’s board or his old man’s wreck of a car. “Listen, Angie . . . I’m going to be a little late with the rent this month. I’m sorry.” He swallowed hard; seeing Angie do her best to smile at him was like a knife twisting in his gut. He felt bad enough already. “I’ll get it to you as soon as I can. I swear . . .”

Angie sighed, and it seemed to shake her thin frame. “I know you’re good for it, Cam. But I’m having a tough month. Just . . . promise to try your best, okay?” Angie’s eyes were dark brown, but they seemed faded somehow. Like even at thirty-five she’d already seen way too much. She always reminded Cam of his mom, even though he’d never seen the two of them together, and they certainly looked nothing alike. Angie was African American, about a head taller than his mom had been. Maybe, Cam thought, it was the way Angie had about her: she was so tired and sad—but she wasn’t broken. That part definitely reminded him of his mom.

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