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By:Amanda Lance

“You do still want me to come out, right?”

He squeezed me tighter until the air was expelled from me; something he did that was startling but at no time unpleasant. “I’ve never wanted anything as bad as I want you.”

“Then what is it, really?”

“What happens when you get out there and you hate it? I could put up with a lot, Addie, but if you decide you hate me for making you come out there, I’ll hate myself a lot worse.”

I circled back around and slid off his lap, taking refuge on the root beside him. “This is what I want, Charlie. You are what I want.”

I felt his fingers clumsily reaching for my pocket. It was hard to tell if he was letting go intentionally, or if I was just getting better at detecting his tricks, but I loved the grin that grew on his face when I batted his hand away.

Charlie shook his head. I watched as large puffs of breath emerged from his lips. “I’m losin’ my touch.”

Before he could respond, I fixed my lips to his own, excited that I could hold onto something that was both humbling and essential at the same time. After a second, I felt him deepen the kiss, taking my face in his hands and electrifying me with the shocking temperature difference of our bodies.

When we finally did part, I rested my head against his shoulder and double-checked the security of the cigarette. Sure enough, it was gone.

I huffed out the words, barely capable of breathing through my laughter. “I beg to differ.”

Chapter 2

It took longer to get to the airport than it should have. Dad was driving unbearably slow. Then when we got there, he insisted on going through my supply checklist for the seventeenth time.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything else?”

“Just my laptop, some clothes, and the shoes on my feet.”

Dad shifted the weight of my duffle bag from shoulder to shoulder. I saw his eyes wandering around the crowded terminal and the many unfamiliar faces that moved around escalators and corridors. In the moment, I felt bad for him. He reminded me of the same protective parent he was when Robbie and I were too young to go places by ourselves or understand why we shouldn’t talk to strangers. But as long as ‘they’ were out there, these mysterious, evil people who I couldn’t remember and had taken me away in a split second, he might always be wary of the world. Would Dad always be looking into the faces of strangers and wondering if they had been the ones who had abducted me? Would he constantly be on the lookout for Charlie?

“You will call me when you land?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Do you have your phone?”

“Phone? Phone? What in the world is a phone?”


“Yes, Father. Calm down, I do, in fact, have my telecommunication device.”

“And who is this person picking you up?”

“Elise, Dad. A friend of mine, remember? You talked to her on the phone a couple of times…” I let myself fade out. Once again, I figured this wasn’t a complete lie since Elise and I were friends; I just avoided Dad’s questions about the details pertaining to that friendship.

“Yeah, she seems nice.” Dad coughed into his hand. “No drinking, no drugs.”

“I don’t even like wine, Dad.”

“Stay focused on your studies.”

“Really, Dad? Which one of your kids are you talking to right now?”

“Addie, just let me pretend like I’m the parent here for a minute.”

I laughed and went in for a hug; obviously, the regular coffee I had inconspicuously switched for decaf wasn’t being as effective as I’d hoped for, his nerves were as jittery as ever. “Stop worrying, Dad. Everything is good—I promise.”

The familiar set of numbers that identified my flight were announced over the intercom, telling me I could now board.

“If you get homesick or anything, you can come home, okay?”

“Un-huh. You are aware that I’d still have to pay that $20,000, right?”

“Seriously, Addie. If things get to be too much, just pick up the phone.”

I still wasn’t used to seeing Dad in serious mode. But looking at it from his perspective, the last time he said good-bye to one of his kids, he almost lost the other one for good. I tried to put my own happiness aside for a second and focus on his needs. “Dad, are you going to be okay?”

Dad coughed again. “Just call when you land.”

“I love you, Old Man.”

“You too, Missy.”

I kissed him on the cheek and made a run for it—wearing what I considered my lucky sling bag as a carry on. Though it had been confiscated and run through forensics, returned, washed, and secretly thrown away by Dad, I had saved it, and it was still my favorite carrier.