FOURTEEN

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After the dreadful meeting with Chapman, Melissa and I ended up at a bar in downtown Los Angeles. I was palming my drink and watching the condensation roll down the glass while wondering how I had ended up here. How could my life spiral so much out of control in such a short amount of time? I knew I was thinking too much on it because I was tipsy and with no entertainment. Melissa was quiet next to me, granting me silence I no longer desired. Usually I would've hated her talking to me about these things but right now I needed her to distract me.

But instead she just stared. It was beginning to annoy me because I understood it was out of fear of ripping my wounds back open. She was pitying me and the thought alone was enough to provoke me to break the silence.

"Why are you always staring at me? It makes me more anxious than my dad," I confessed, taking a large sip from my drink.

"Is that a compliment or an insult?" she asked.

"I don't even know."

I heard her take a deep breath. "I don't mean to," she paused. "I just... you worry me."

"I worry you," I repeated. A mocking smile spread on my lips. Did I worry everyone nowadays? I was a walking disaster. My whole life revolved around bad decisions that were fueled by horrible events that had happened in my childhood. I took another sip. "I apologize for becoming a burden then."

"You're not a burden, Alexa," she admitted.

All I did was shake my head. In all honesty, that's exactly what I felt like now. I had been a burden to my father, who had to fake my death to do his job right. I was always the obstacle between mom and her next drink before rehab. Derik probably thought the same when he took in a kid and her sister he didn't know because he felt obligated when my father saved his life. I was nothing but a burden, and it was no different sitting here being babysat by Melissa.

"My dad... he died when I was almost sixteen," she began. Why was she confessing this? "He had been on his last deployment actually, and had promised me he would be back for my birthday."

The tone of her voice almost made me believe her dad wasn't dead. She talked about him like he was still alive, like she still went home every night and kissed him on the forehead while he watched his favorite TV shows. It broke my heart, because that meant she wasn't quite over it. But how was anyone ever supposed to accept such a thing? The death of a family member would cripple me. I was sure of it.

"I'm sorry," I answered.

"I just want you to know a bit about me," she continued. "And to know that it's normal to feel the way you feel. It's normal to feel Alexa. You're only human."

"I know what I feel is normal," I said. "I just don't want to feel it at all."

"Why?"

"Because it makes me weak."

A lump formed in my throat then. I sipped more of my drink to wash it down but that didn't work. Nothing really ever worked.

"You can't be strong all the time." I watched Melissa shift in her seat from my peripheral vision. "That's impossible."

I couldn't accept that answer. Being strong had become necessary of me the day my father walked out because my mother couldn't. And I wouldn't allow my walls to crumble now. Not after years of holding not only myself together, but my family as well.

"I don't have a choice," I answered after sipping the last of my drink. Maybe I should slow down.

Breaking so close to the finish line would ruin everything. Tomorrow night I would be the one going into the highly restricted section of the Bureau with Melissa. A weak mind meant weak judgement, and that would only put us in danger.

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