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Bound by Guilt by C.J. Darlington
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you ever feel guilty?” Roxi Gold cracked open her icy can of Dr Pepper
and took a long sip.
Diego fell into the seat across from her at the RV’s dinette table, opening his own can. Fizz erupted over its side. He licked it away and took a big gulp. “Not like we’re hurting anybody.”
"No, we’re just stealing thousand-dollar books.”
Diego eyed her. “You getting cold feet?”
She bent the silver tab of her soda can back and forth until it broke off in her fingers. A warm breeze blew through the window screen and filled her nose with the scent of dry pine needles. Could that be it? She just didn’t have the guts?
"Any idea how lucky you are?” Diego leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head. “Nothing but the wind at our back, the open road before us . . .”
Roxi managed a smile. He was right. For the past three weeks she’d been traveling with her seventeen-year-old second cousin and his mom, Irene. The thirty-foot RV was like an apartment on wheels. She’d been to places other people only saw on the Internet, experiencing things she’d never forget. Not all of them were earth-shattering, Grand Canyon moments, either. In Flagstaff, Arizona, she’d seen her first bald eagle perched high in a rustic pine, majestic and totally unreal. She even rode in an Amish buggy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
"This is our life,” Diego said, raking his hands through his black hair. “And it sure beats standing in line at a book sale for three days like we used to.”
"Doesn’t it ever bother you?”
He chugged down more soda, then belched. “Nope.”
"What if we get caught?”
"Come on, Rox.”
"They’d send me back to juvie.”
Diego leaned forward, both hands holding his drink. “Listen, we’re okay. We’re not gonna be caught. Ma’s careful.”
She downed half of her Dr Pepper in one shot just to keep herself from blabbing. She didn’t want Diego to know how she really felt.
"Why the change?” he asked. “I thought you were into this.”
"I am; it’s just . . . I don’t know.”
"Well, you better get a hold of yourself before Ma comes back.”
Roxi blew air out of her mouth in frustration. Why couldn’t she be more like Diego? Hungry for adventure. Strong under pressure. More than anything she didn’t want to disappoint Irene. Because of her, Roxi had seen half the country this summer. How many sixteen-year-olds could say that?
"I’ve got a surprise for you,” Diego said.
"You’re making dinner?”
"Surprise, not shock.” He pulled a slip of paper from the back pocket of his Levis, handing it to her with a grin. “I was gonna wait till your birthday, but I think you need it now.”
"Wow. I’ve always wanted a piece of paper.”
"Just read it.”
Roxi unfolded the sheet. Marie Greeley. 1264 Poplar Lane. Amarillo, TX. She looked at Diego. “Is this supposed to mean something?”
He got serious. “Remember when we were talking about your mom? how you wished you knew where she was?”
Marie. That was Mom’s name.
"I did some searching online, and I think I found her.”
"But her last name . . . ?”
"Looks like she married a guy named Tom Greeley.”
Roxi’s mouth went dry. She hadn’t heard from her mother in eight years, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to now. Mom was married? Roxi didn’t even know who her bio dad was, and now she had a stepfather?
She got up from the table and rested her back against the fridge a few feet away. The RV was designed to utilize every inch. Even the table where Diego still sat folded down to become her bed at night.
"She ditched me. Why would I care where she is?”
"Because she’s your mom.”
"Like that meant anything to her.”
"Hey, people do dumb stuff.” Diego crumpled his empty can with one hand and pitched it into the plastic trash bag they kept rubber-banded to a cabinet knob.
Roxi crossed her arms. “Not even a phone call?”
"You don’t have to do anything with it now, Rox.” He slid out from behind the table and opened the microwave, pulling out a bag of chips. With space at a premium, they used it more for storage than for cooking. And Irene never used it. She swore microwaves were bad for their health and mutated food.
Roxi stuffed the paper into her back pocket. Sometimes Diego could be annoyingly macho and cocky, but other times he surprised her. Like now. She’d tried to dig up this information herself a few years ago and found nothing.
"Thanks,” Roxi said.
Ripping open the chips, Diego held them out to her, but she shook her head. She definitely wasn’t hungry anymore. “I’m taking a walk.”
"Ma should be back soon.”
Which meant Irene would want to talk to both of them about tomorrow’s plans, something Roxi didn’t want to think about. She’d get some fresh air. Maybe things would look better after that.
She swung open the RV’s door, bounded down the three metal stairs, and slammed the door behind her. This was one of the nicer campgrounds. No screaming kids or low-life slobs leering at her from their lounge chairs. The Fall River was within walking distance. Up here in Rocky Mountain National Park, late August was usually the height of tourist season, but for some reason, today there weren’t many other campers. Just a few full-time RVers with satellite dishes mounted on $200,000 rigs. The place would probably be packed over the weekend.
She headed for the river and sat at the water’s edge, knees to her chest. Living with Irene and Diego was better than any of the foster homes she’d been placed in over the years. The last one had two other guys her age living in the house. One afternoon she’d come home from school to find they were the only ones home, as usual, since both parents worked. The moment she walked into the kitchen and saw their faces, she knew what they planned to do to her. That split second of intuition saved her. She dropped her backpack right there and ran away. Never went back. Three days later the cops picked her up for shoplifting from a grocery store, and she’d spent a month in juvie. Finally her caseworker placed her in a group home. Only after she got beat up for the third time did they manage to find a relative willing to take her in. Irene Tonelli was her mom’s cousin, and Roxi thought living with the Tonellis was the best thing that ever could’ve happened to her. Diego wasn’t like those other guys, and she finally felt like she belonged somewhere.
Roxi heard the trill of a broad-tailed hummingbird’s wings, then caught sight of the bird diving toward the rushing stream. All her life she’d prayed for a family. She used to imagine she’d wake up one morning and find everything had been a dream, and she really did have a mom and dad who loved her. Straightening her legs, she stared at the deep blue sky visible through the treetops. But no, this was her life. She shouldn’t complain. Irene needed her to be a team player.
Swallowing back her emotions, she unbuttoned the cuff of her left sleeve and slowly rolled it up. With each flip of the fabric, more of her scar came into view. From wrist to elbow, a thick purple line wormed across her arm. She’d been eight when the glass had etched her with this eternal reminder of the night she lost Mom.
The night that changed her life forever.
Copyright 2011 C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House Publishers
All rights reserved. Do not duplicate without permission.