seventeen. The Key

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"Why didn't you tell me any of this before, Gabe? Were you hoping one of your buddies would spot me at some point and shoot me himself so that you could tell yourself you had nothing to do with this?"

"And what would telling you accomplish? Other than make you panic?" Gabe didn't even look at me as he spoke, his gaze fixed somewhere above my head instead.

"Oh, I don't know, maybe I would've been more careful? Maybe I would have stayed away from the people I love so that they weren't in danger because of me?" I was trying hard to keep my breathing in check, even though I could feel my airway constricting further with every passing second. I was determined to keep my cool in front of Gabe -I didn't need to prove his point by hyperventilating right after he dropped the bomb of my impending doom on me.

Keep. Your. Shit. Together. Girl.

"So you weren't planning on being careful all along?" He raised an eyebrow, unaffected by my anger. "Whoever is stalking you could be a psychopath. He's playing with you. He likes to see you panic and run around like a headless chicken and I don't think he'd care very much if you ended up dead." I decided to ignore his unflattering analogy.

"That's why you didn't want me to be seen around your sister. You knew that I basically had a target painted on my back." The realization felt like a slap. As much as I would have liked to believe the opposite, I knew that my safety was nowhere near as important to him as his sister's. It was normal; I wasn't really a part of his life. He probably didn't even consider me as a friend. If anything, it would've been strange for him to care this much about someone who'd been a stranger to him until only a couple of months prior to this moment, but finally coming to terms with the fact that I really didn't matter all that much to him wasn't pleasant.

And while I knew that it shouldn't hurt me, it still stung. A lot. I concentrated all of my attention on the white ceiling above me, until the burn in my eyes subsided and I was absolutely positive that I wouldn't cry in front of him.

"Isis..." he trailed off and ran a hand through his dark hair with a heavy sigh. "I don't know what you want me to tell you. Of course I don't want you to hang out with my sister, at least not until this whole mess is over."

"I get it." I was glad that my voice sounded this dull. It almost managed to convince me that I didn't care nearly as much as I actually did. I zipped up my coat and put my hat back on. "I sent you the last three digits of his license plate. I'll let you work your magic."

I turned around to head downstairs but I knew I couldn't leave things between us the way they were, even though I was still angry and hurt.

If anything, losing someone as abruptly as I'd lost my mother made me realize that you never know whether the last words of a conversation will be the last words you'd ever get to say to that person. If something happened to either of us, this would be the last thing we would remember. There would be no take-backs, no apologies -just a bitter aftertaste of regret.

Maybe that was why I could never end a conversation on a negative note without feeling terrible. Maybe that was why people always thought I was naïve and gullible -because I was always the first one to apologize after a fight. Because I was always nice, even to people who didn't extend that curtesy to me. Even T&T -though they never told me so outright -believed that about me to some extent, consciously or not. It showed in the way they always felt as though they needed to protect me, as though the real world was too rough for someone as soft as me.

"I'm sorry I put you in this position, Gabe. I'm really sorry. I'll lay low. I'll try to stay out of trouble." I managed to produce a weak smile. "Even though trouble always seems to find me. And I'll stay away from your sister. I promise."

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