"What can I do?" I ask, closing the door swiftly and stepping towards her.

Annie has a bunch of tissues, soiled in blood, scrunched at her nose and mouth. She merely shakes her head, drops the tissues into the trashcan and grabs a new handful before the blood drips from her nose again.

"Oh Annie," I whisper, moving he hair away from her shoulders. "Are you sure I can't do anything?"

"Just be near me," she replies; the tissues muffle her voice. "When this happens, I am usually alone, but I never want to call someone."

I place my arms around her, planting a kiss on her temple as I pull her close. I turn my face away from the mirror so Annie does not see my horror and concern. How could she never want to call anyone?

"It's stopping now," Annie whispers, tossing the tissues to get clean ones. "I'm sorry you have to see this."

"Annie," I whisper back, kissing her hair. "Why would you not call anyone if you were alone?"

"I told you," she replies, her shoulders rising in a deep sigh.

"Well, you're gonna have to be calling me. I am not going to let you be alone like that anymore. What if something worse happened and no one was there to help?"

"I don't want people smothering me for the wrong reasons. Some people take it too far, like my parents. Other people can't wait for the chance to escape because they can't handle it."

"Well," I say, turning to look at her in the mirror. "You're going to have to get used to it. I am not going anywhere."

I kiss the side of Annie's head. She closes her eyes and leans into me. Without letting go of her shoulders, I help Annie clean up and I damp a cloth to clean the dry blood around her nose and mouth. Her expression is grateful as I go to open the bathroom door. I feel Annie's shoulder go limp and decide not to make her walk the next five feet. I place my hand behind her knees and lift her feet off the ground. Annie locks her arms around my neck as I secure my other hand behind her back.

"I can walk," she whispers, but she does not make any move to get her feet back on the floor.

"I take it no one has ever swept you off your feet," I whisper back, smiling softly as I carry her back to my room.

"Only by my dad and my uncle," she replies as I set her in the middle of the bed. "Uncle Blake is . . . he's my favorite person in the world . . . until you came along. Now he's got to compete with you."


"Yeah . . . you have set a high standard and you deserve to be at the top of the list. Especially with everything you've done for me in the last week."

I smile and sit next to her on the bed. Annie curls up against my side as I place my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

"Before Karissa," Annie says with a slight yawn. "Was there any other girl you liked? Or maybe a girl that liked you?"

"My sister's roommate," I reply, nodding. "My sister shared this apartment with a girl named Casey, while she was taking classes at NYU. I had no interest in her, but every time I went to see Sabrina, she was always gawking at me. I honestly don't know why, because I am not something to look at for very long."

Annie rolls over so she can look at my face, and stares for a long time without blinking. I chuckle at her intense gaze, but she does not crack a smile.

"Who said you were not something to look at for long?" she asks softly, reaching a hand to touch my cheek. "I . . . I think I would feel honored to look at you for a long time."

I chuckle as Annie begins to stare again, smiling softly. I kiss her forehead.

"Rest," I tell her, rubbing her arm gently. "I'll wake you up the moment your uncle gets here."

Annie nods, closing her eyes as I pull her closer to my chest.


"You look just like your mother," Annie's uncle, Blake, says, wagging his finger at Jacks' and me. "I can see your father in you, but you've got your mother all over the place."

"Heard it all before," Jacks' says, shrugging. "It's nothing new. We are, in fact, our mother's sons."

Gil swats the back of Jacks' head, making him rub it and give him a puzzled look. I press my lips in a thin line, avoiding a smile as I turn and head towards the kitchen where Annie is talking with my sister and Karissa.

"Talking about me?" I ask, standing behind Annie's chair as I place my hands on her shoulders.

"You wish!" Sabrina says, standing from her seat to shove my arm playfully. "Even if we were, I doubt we would tell you."

"That's what you think," Annie laughs, putting her head back to look up at me. "Yes, Eric; we spoke about you briefly about how we look forward to watching you play in the championships."

"Ah, well . . . that still depends on whether the team wins next week's game."

"The Panthers are going," Karissa says, waving it off. "It's in the bag, trust me."

I nod and sit in the chair next to Annie, taking her hand into mine. I keep our hands hidden beneath the table, but I know Sabrina and Karissa are smart. I'm not worried about it. Both Karissa and Sabrina keep encouraging it.

"You know what you should do, Eric," Sabrina says, smiling while she wiggles her eyebrows. "You should bring Annie to that special spot in the park. The best place to watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve, and 4th of July."

I narrow my eyes at her. Her smile becomes innocent, but the gleam in her eyes tells it all. My sister wants me to do something nice for Annie, something she will always remember.

Karissa sighs, "I will be right back," she says, pushing away from the table.

Sabrina's eyes follow her out of the kitchen, filled with concern, as does Annie. I look between them, wondering what they might be thinking.

"She's not okay," Sabrina says, slowly shaking her head. "Something is bothering her. Did you notice, Annie?"

"I did notice," Annie replies, nodding. "But I feel like she will talk about it if she wants . . . when she's ready . . . I know that's how I felt when I told Eric . . . that thing."

I move my arm to her shoulders as she heaves a sigh. Sabrina nods, understanding without asking. Did Annie tell my sister? Did she tell Karissa? Does anyone aside of her family and me know? I pull her close and kiss her cheek. The sound of a muffled crash comes from the hallway, making us all jump from our seats. We run out of the kitchen towards the hallway, but Jacks' bolts passed us, and slides to a stop outside the bathroom door.

"Karissa," he says; his voice sounds the way mine did when I was checking on Annie. "Baby, what happened?"

The door opens and he slips inside. Before the door closes, we hear soft sobs.

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