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Conviction(10)

By:Amanda Lance



“He’s only trying to help, Elise.”

She huffed and stomped in her clogged heels. “Are you joking? He’s intentionally trying to annoy me and sabotage this party. You know it’s important for us to maintain good relationships with everyone in this town. I’m not just doing this for my health, you know.” I didn’t have to ask to know they were talking about Reid.

I struggled to maintain normalcy. “Has anyone seen where Charlie ran off to?”

Neither of them even looked at me. “I think he’s in the garage,” Elise said.

After securing Tyler in his jumper swing, I slipped out of the room as quickly and quietly as possible, running out past the enclosure of empty backyard gardens. The excitement of making it to California was reaching me in its entirety and I felt carefree and lively. Here, there were no police to ask questions, no Dads to keep secrets from, and no press to avoid. There was just Charlie—as if that was all there ever needed to be. School, making friends, all of it, was well and good, but it faded in comparison to what we had accomplished.

As I rounded the corner of the garage, I looked in the first set of windows but they were tinted from the inside and I couldn’t see a thing. I walked along the edge to the gate and let myself inside, where the driveway ended.

The sun gleaming off of the cars was nearly blinding and I had to shield my eyes away from the chrome detailing on the bright orange car. For a moment, I wondered which one was Polo’s and if it would have the most damage. Yet from what I could see, none of the cars, even the motorcycle, had any damage whatsoever—not even a scratch.

Before I even walked into the garage itself, I could hear a strange whistling noise coming from inside. It sounded like a squeaker toy, or a Frisbee flying through the air. As I stepped into the archway of the garage a circle of blue crossed over and floated up before I could catch it.

Another balloon trailed after it—this one was silver.

“Charlie, are you in here?” As soon as I took a step inside, I saw the skeleton of an unfinished car shielded in a thin sheet. On a workbench, there were scattered boxes and fuel cans. Some tool cabinets held speakers and an mp3 player that strangely, I mused, looked outdated.

“Charlie?”

“Hey!”

His face peeked over the edge of the second-story railing. All around him the ceiling was covered with balloons in both blue and silver.

“Where’d you wander off to?”

“Me?”

He laughed. “Yeah!”

“I was looking for you!”

I ran up the stairs, almost tripping over some of the balloons that lay around on the concrete floor.

“You’re on balloon detail, I see.”

Charlie took my hand before I could fall, simultaneously laughing and flinching at my misstep. I tangled my arm around his neck and picked up a balloon off an old table. I ran the elastic against his hair, laughing while it went crazy.

“It’s a good look for you.”

He sighed into my neck and shook his head. I was glad he was only pretending to be annoyed, and that he was also terrible at pretending.

“Never thought I could hate balloons so much,” he grumbled.

I jumped as I zapped myself with the hair on his arms. “How many more do you have to go?”

“The Empress wants another thirty before tomorrow night.”

“I’ll help.” I picked up a silver balloon and began blowing air into it. “It’ll go twice as fast this way.”

He smiled and strapped the balloon tip over the faucet of the helium tank. “Or you’ll just distract the hell outta me and keep me from getting this done.”

The balloon flew out of my mouth as I erupted in laughter.

“See?”

I felt the warmth of blush run to my face, and I instantly covered it and my laughter with my hands. Charlie started laughing too, and sat up from his stool to pull my hands away. “Don’t you ruin my view, now.”

When he kissed me, an electric current ran right through me from my lips to the ends of my fingers where we met again—fingertip to fingertip. Gasping, I reached behind him for another balloon and quietly, slowly slipped from his grasp.

“I’ll work over here,” I slid to the other side of the room, “and you stay over there.”

His brow furrowed. “I ain’t making no promises.”

I gathered up the balloons on the floor and secured them as best I could in the drop net before trying to blow up any more. I felt a little pathetic only being able to blow up about an eighth of a balloon before becoming dizzy. Worse yet, I only finished tying off three of them before Charlie began teasing me.

“You know if you want me to kiss you, all you have to do is ask. You don’t gotta make yourself pass out.”

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