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By:Amanda Lance

“Small steps, huh?” Charlie sighed as he slid his fingers up my wrist and brought it to his mouth. Right where my pulse throbbed, he laid a quick, feather-like kiss, making my heart quake with a throbbing sensation.

I counted to ten and reminded myself to breathe. “Exactly.”

“What about that busybody cop, then?” Charlie practically spat the words.

I knew this was coming. I had felt the tension coming since Dad started inviting Agent Harpsten over for dinner on a semi-regular basis. Being assigned to the mystery that was my kidnapping case, Harpsten kept Dad updated on the latest on statistics of missing teenage girls and possible leads. More frequently, though, they talked about fantasy football, the stock market, and golf. I was grateful since Agent Harpsten seemed to provide Dad with something I couldn’t.

I shrugged. “I have to be nice to him. He wrote me a really great recommendation to the political science advisor at SSU.”

He hesitated, but released my wrist and enclosed his arms around me. “I don’t like it.”

I laughed at his pout. “Adam isn’t so bad. He doesn’t really ask questions about California anymore. I don’t think he’s even filed a report in a few weeks.”

“That ain’t what I mean.” He pressed against me, and I was afraid I might have to brace for impact. “He’s been hanging around you an awful lot lately—”

“They transferred him to the Newark office, and he doesn’t have anyone around here. Since they promoted him from probationary to special agent, he’s eager to ‘solve my case.’” I laughed as I waved with the air quotes, failing to realize right away that Charlie couldn’t see them in my mittens.

“He’s real eager, all right,” Charlie scoffed, but I bit the inside of my lip. I could hear the anger in his voice rising without any steadiness. This anger was abrupt and harsh, ragged with that edge that always made me conscious of him. “People go missing every day. You’re too smart to think that he comes over all the time just to ask you about me.”

I turned back to him and jammed my shoulder into his chest. “I don’t let things slip out, okay? You know you don’t have to worry about me talking to the police, right?”

“If you went running off to the cops right now, I wouldn’t blame you. But there ain’t no reason why that Fed has gotta be around all the time.”

“My Dad likes him. Maybe it’s good for him to have another son-like figure around. And when I leave, I don’t want him to be lonely.”

“I hate that guy,” he said abruptly. “I hate the way he looks at you.”

He was being petty and I wanted to scold him for it, but I was too focused with using his hands to warm mine. “Who cares as long as he doesn’t know who you are? As long as no one in law enforcement knows who you are? Or who I am to you?”

“He wants you and I hate it, Addie.”

I looked up at him and smiled. “I think you’re wrong about that, Charlie. And even if you’re not—who cares? Let him want me—he’s not going to get me.”

I hopped off the root and began wandering on the path towards the greenhouse. Without hesitation, Charlie stood and followed. I could feel his brooding behind me as his heavy steps silently caught up to me.

“I’m sorry, Addie.” I stopped as Charlie took my elbow. He sighed into the crook of my neck and rested his head into my shoulder. “All this waiting is just making me crazy.”

“Waiting for what?”

“For t-that day when you figure out how bad I am for ya. Or maybe when you get bored with me.”

I twisted his wrist at an unnatural angle. “You big jerk! Don’t you know you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me? If it wasn’t for you, I think I’d have my nose stuck in a book for the rest of my life. And I could never be bored with you.” I began to laugh and was glad to see him crack a smile at my dramatic imitation.

“Honestly, Charlie, bored?” I turned and watched his expression change. “What a terrible word.”

Despite my consolation efforts, I cringed. The closer the day came to me leaving for school, the more anxious Charlie was about one thing or another. First it was the logistics of the situation. For example, while I originally opted to live on campus, Elise threw a fit at the idea, insisting that I stay at the house and keep her company amongst the miscreants. And while I didn’t particularly enjoy the idea of being indebted to Ben and Elise, Charlie was hell-bent on providing the payment for a dormitory, which I also didn’t want.

Given the unspoken ultimatum however, I signed up for a dormitory anyway, doing my best to convince Charlie and Elise that it would provide the look of normalcy, and because neither of them wanted to hear that it was actually mandatory. For awhile I thought his fears were relieved, but he often found new things to fret about: how I might commute, my class schedule, the time difference…then I wondered if maybe these ‘fears’ were just a token excuse for something else. Charlie seemed to be perpetually worried that I would leave him, that I would flake out on him at any given moment. However, it was only now starting to occur to me that maybe I should be the worried one.