Warm fingers touch my chin and turn my face. Declan’s forehead lightly bumps mine and his arms go around my shoulders. Breath with a slight scent of coffee glides over my skin.
“It will be okay, Reg. You have to trust me.”
Trust. I don’t even know what it means. “What can you do?” I pull away from his hug and press my back against the wall. “No one can do anything.” A coil of fear unwinds like a snake inside me. I’m afraid of this fear snake. It’s mean, and when it shows up I say things, do things to people and hurt them. “What can you do, really?” His face shows surprise at my reaction. The snake uncoils, raising its head to strike.
“I’ll go with you. If you want to talk to the social worker lady, the police, whoever.”
My turn to snort. “Right, like I can trust them. I tell Brenda some stuff, and she blabs to Angela when I told her not to. Where does that get me? Brenda gets fired, and now Angela’s working her revenge on me. I count on Aunt Soph to help me, and she’s too afraid.” The kids in the next booth cheer when their food arrives. I look at my plate, at food I’ve hardly touched. “Even Cory turned on me.”
This isn’t true. I know that. I turned on her. Because I didn’t believe she was a real friend. One who would stick with me through everything. A friend who wouldn’t judge. Before she rejected me, I pushed her away first.
Declan is rigid beside me, his hands on the table, framing his half-eaten burrito. I catch the waitress looking at us.
He talks down into his plate. “You have to start trusting someone, Reg. Let someone in.”
“I do. Me.” I take a gulp of lukewarm coffee and shoot him a confident grin.
“I’m serious. You know what I mean. Someone who can help you.”
“Like who?” My eyebrow shoots up my forehead. “Trusting people hasn’t worked out so great for me in the past. I can’t even trust my mother to be a real mother.” My nose is running, and I can feel that tightness building in my throat.
“It takes time. You have to build trust. Give people a little chance, maybe ask them for something small, then when they come through, ask for more.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. People are either going to help me or they’re not. Usually not.”
“Sometimes you have to let them prove you can depend on them a little at a time. That’s what I mean. Like training Rosie. I gave her a chance to trust me for little things—flying to my hand from her perch for a treat—long before I took her outside to fly off her line.”
“Hawks and horses are easier to train than people. People let you down. They don’t follow the same rules. You can’t trust people, that’s what I’m saying.” A hangnail I’m picking at blooms red blood. I sit on my hand.
“Do you trust me?”
Declan’s blue eyes are paler, grayer than usual this morning. Gray sky, gray tabletop, gray day. I look down. Do I trust him? Trust him not to leave? What if he decides I’m too much trouble, too many bad connections? Do I trust him to stick with me if I tell about Wade? Will he still like me when he finds out I’m really a coward? I don’t even trust me.
“Reg? You didn’t answer me. Do you trust me at least?”
His hands grip my forearms and shake.
“You could leave, too. You could decide you’re better off—”
“I could. If I were an A-hole.” His hands drop to his side. “I hope you know I’m not.”
“You’re not. I’d never think that. It’s just that, well, I can never rely on what someone else will do. Or not do.”
He pushes his plate away, rocks onto one hip to pull out his wallet, and drops some bills on the table. “To trust someone, you have to take a risk. Believe in them. But to do that, you’ve also got to believe there’s good in the world. I don’t know if you believe that anymore, Reg. Do you?”
His eyes shift back and forth, searching for something in my face. He sighs, stands, and grabs his coat. The air is heavy with bacon grease and unspoken words. Right now, I should stand up and hug him and tell him of course I trust him. He’s the only one I’ve come close to trusting. The waitress is hovering with a pot of coffee. Declan waves her off. He’s waiting for me to say it. To say of course I trust him, I believe in him, I love him. But I don’t say those words. I say safe words, armored words, ones that protect me.
“You sound like a guy who should be on Oprah.”
Declan heads to the door. With one hand on the handle, he turns to where I’m still sitting in the booth and calls, “Good luck today.” It doesn’t sound like he means it. He crams his hat down low over his ears and disappears into grayness. When the door closes, a waft of cold air, smelling of snow, washes over the room.
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