Who Are You, Jace Hetcher?

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I did something I never imagined: calling out of work. I had a little bit of sick time accrued since I started back in June, so I used it. I just hoped everyone would keep my secret from my mom.

If she found out I wasn't at work, it would lead down the slippery slope of telling her where I was really going. Julia and Darnell said they'd cover for me, so hopefully that would be enough.

I drove Smushy to Oak Falls Preserve. It was a peaceful and quiet place that had lots of woods and hiking trails. Poppy loved coming here, but I was never really an outdoorsy person, just more of a homebody.

I went down the path to the picnic area. I could see someone sitting on one of the benches facing the water, where the actual Oak Falls, the small waterfalls our little town was known for, were.

I sat down next to Jace and listened to the waterfalls in the distance. The boys seemed to be feeling what I was feeling. They both went still as statues when I got into Smushy to drive here. I hugged myself. I wasn't sure if I was just cold or completely terrified of what was about to happen.

Jace looked into my eyes and sighed. Now that his sunglasses were off, I could see his black eye healing. It was like the bad boy persona he had was completely washed away.

His hair wasn't slicked back and he didn't stink of weed or cigarettes. Jace seemed relaxed, but also upset. He just looked...defeated.

"I'm sorry, Chrys," he finally said. "I'm sorry for the way I treated you all these years. You didn't need that. You didn't deserve it."

"And you don't deserve whatever has been happening at your house," I said, somehow finding the words. Jace looked away. "You don't deserve it, Jace. No matter what they tell you."

"I've never been told otherwise," he said, looking out towards the water and twiddling his thumbs.

"I don't know exactly what's going on, and I don't know how I can help, but I want to," I said.

"That's why I wanted you here. Because I'm tired of running away on my bike and being alone and banging random chicks. I want to have two boys in my life who love me unconditionally, who I can love the same way back," he said, looking down at my massive bump.

"Can you get out of there? Is there someplace you can go when your parents are home?" I asked. "I'd offer for you to stay at my place, but it's packed enough as it is. You can always be at my house after school or something, maybe only go to your house to sleep?"

He shook his head. "They'll know where I'm at. That's the whole problem. They're dead set on me not seeing the twins. Ever. The old hag, my mother, says it's because of my uncle committing suicide from being a teen dad, but it feels the same as everything else. Chase always got to do things that I couldn't. It's torture. They'd always give him extra presents and do special things right in front of me, when I wasn't allowed to."

I held my baby bump as Jace continued to stare at it. My two innocent little boys weren't even born, and those wicked people were using them as pawns in their game of manipulation for poor Jace.

"And they're doing that with the twins too. That's why Chase was at my gender reveal and you weren't, wasn't it?" He didn't answer. "Chase seems like a really sweet guy. I'm surprised he's letting them get away with this."

"Because they do it all in secret! They're nice to me when he's around and then as soon as he leaves the room I'm getting tortured! My SOB of a dad just stands there and watches! He's a scared little pussy!"

I gasped. "Wait...the one doing all this is...your mom?"

"She's a crazy bitch. I hate her. I hate my dad just as much."

"Have you thought about telling Chase?" I asked.

"A zillion times. Every time I used to tell him he said I was making shit up. He knows the two of them aren't the best people, but he doesn't believe anything about the hag wailing on me or the both of them monitoring my every move—which they didn't do until I told them you were pregnant. I tried to get you out of my life but you just kept coming back," he said, a smile forming across his lips.

"They're tracking you?"

"They have a gps and all kinds of monitors and shit on my iPhone. They see every text. They know everywhere I go. It's why I got the burner phone. They'll be gone for a long time while Chase films, so they won't know I have this," he said, holding out the little flip phone. "I just...I don't want to be without the boys. Unless I'm sneaking around, I know I can only see them when Chase is around, because they let him have anything in the world, including my kids."

"I'm sure we can figure something out," I said. "We'll find a way for you to be in their lives, and you'll be safe too. We can meet in public places so they're not suspicious."

He reached out his hand. "Can I?"

"Of course," I said. "They're wiggling around a little bit."

I scooted closer to him and unzipped my jacket, then placed his hand right near my belly button, where one of the boys was rolling around.

Jace chuckled. "I don't feel anything. I guess I'm just not good at this."

"I think my big sweater is in the way," I said, lifting it up. "Try now. Don't mind all my ugly stretch marks."

"You're fine. You still look great," he said.

Shivers went down my spine when he put his hand on my belly. Something about the touch of his palm was electrifying. I found myself putting my hand on top of his. We moved closer until the both of us were right next to each other. Our faces were getting so close. My heart was pounding.

"I can't believe I made something so amazing," Jace said.

"No, we made something amazing," I said.

We leaned towards each other and connected in a powerful kiss. It felt so genuine and real: the complete opposite of the night I got pregnant. Everything was happening so fast, but whatever path life was taking me on with Jace, I wanted to follow it.

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