We are not stupid.

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"I gave so much of my life into this relationship," Jacks says, shaking his head, his eyes glassy. "I should have given her the ring that night, no matter how surprised I was."

"We can't control anything that happens," Gil says, patting my brother's shoulder. "What Karissa chose to do, it has nothing to do with you. You did your part by remaining faithful. It was up to her to keep her side of the unspoken deal. Did she do that? You don't know yet, because you're not ready to hear her explain things. That is okay. She hurt you and it is going to take time for you to heal."

"I know, but . . . what could she possibly have to say that could explain what she was doing with that guy?"

"It was bad, man," I say, nodding. "She was all over him."

"But even so," Gil goes on, nodding as he makes Jacks face him. "Wouldn't you want Karissa to let you explain things, if the roles were reversed?"

Jacks nods, "I would," he says, sighing. "I would want her to know my side of the story . . . but looks are always so deceiving."

Gil grunts, nodding in agreement. I glance over at Annie and my sister. They are smiling and talking. I smile softly when Annie catches me looking at her. She sticks out her tongue and pretends vanish behind a table of flowers. I chuckle, shaking my head when Annie's red hair pops out to see if I can still see her. Jacks and Gil glance at me.

"You got whipped," Gil says, shaking his head.

"Badly," Jacks adds, nodding. "But in a really good way."

He shoves me in Annie's direction and I chuckle when she pulls Sabrina in front of her. I grin and stalk towards her, hands out like claws. Sabrina laughs and jumps out of the way, just as I lunge at Annie. She squeals, but does not get away. I wrap my arms around Annie's waist, feigning attack on her neck while making munching noise. Like when I chase after the twins and pretend I am eating them. Annie's squeals of laughter seem to echo off the surrounding apartment complexes.

"I can't breathe, Eric!" Annie laughs as I tickle her to the ground.

"Alright," I say, kissing her cheek as I release her. "Go ahead and breathe."

I sit on the ground, crossing my arms with a smile. Annie smiles back and sits next to me, resting her head on my shoulder.

"What do you think of all this?" I ask, motioning to where Jacks, Gil and Sabrina are standing. "You were somewhat getting close to Karissa."

"To be honest," says Annie with a sigh. "I want to hear her explanation. What she did was cold, don't get me wrong. But every girl has her reasons . . ."

"Hmm . . . Yeah, Gil said the same thing to Jacks a moment ago."

"All that is left is for Jacks to see if he wants to give her a chance to verbalize her reasons . . . Girls don't always know how to say things. We don't have all the answers either."

I nod and pull Annie on my lap, close to my chest. I sigh into her hair. I love how she molds perfectly into me. I tighten my arms around Annie's waist as a thought enters my mind. A thought that I have not been really thinking about . . . Annie could be gone tomorrow. As if she senses my sudden discomfort, Annie twists and wraps her arms around my neck.

"Why are you thinking about that?" she whispers, resting her forehead against mine. "I thought we were going live like there's no tomorrow."

"I know . . ." I whisper back. "It just came up . . ."

Annie kisses my lips softly before moving to rest her head on my shoulder. I pull her yet closer, if that is even possible, and let her hair cover my face. I love Annie's hair, especially when she leaves it slightly curly. I bring my hand up and twist her hair in my fingers. I sigh, closing my eyes while surrounding my mind with Annie.

***

I have just dressed after taking a cold shower. Annie is asleep in my room. Gil and Sabrina took the boys home. Mom and Dad went to a movie, and Jacks is playing videos games. I am going to join him and be around. If he wants to talk, he will.

Jacks and I have been playing for a little over two hours now. Mom and Dad will be home soon. Jacks is wearing headphones, bobbing his head to whatever music he is playing. Which means he is completely deaf to the pounding on the front door. I motion for my brother to keep playing the game as I get up to answer the door. Who could be knocking at ten o'clock at night? When I open the door, my mind goes on full alert. I should just close the door, but . . . Gil's advice to Jacks enters my conscious, keeping me from slamming the door in this girl's face.

"Is he here?" Karissa asks in a small voice and red eyes.

"Yeah," I reply, nodding slowly. "Would you like me to go get him?"

She hesitates, rubbing her arm and licking her lips nervously.

"I shouldn't have left him," Karissa whispers, hanging her head. "I shouldn't have pushed Jacks away like that . . ."

"Why did you push him away?" I ask, stepping out of the apartment and closing the door behind me. "From what Jacks told me, you just tossed the last several years out of the window."

"I know . . . I just . . . I got pregnant on purpose. I thought it would speed up the process and get Jacks to pop the question. I know he was . . . excited about the baby the moment I told him . . ."

"I'm not the one you should be telling this to," I stop Karissa before she uses all of her words. "Jacks needs to hear you tell him this . . . and he was going to propose after the game. Just don't ask me why he held back."

I open the door again. I lead Karissa into the living room and pat my brother's shoulder so he can pause the game.

"What?" my brother says, taking off his headphones and looking at me.

"You got a visitor," I say, because only Jacks can decide to talk to Karissa.

When his gaze falls on Karissa, Jacks jumps to his feet, and I can see that he is wondering whether he should pull her into his arms or not.

"Hell with it," he mutters and I step aside as he grabs Karissa and pulls her towards his room. I listen as the door closes and I sigh. Let them work it out, man. I walk down the hallway and head to my room. I gently close the door and grin when Annie turns over to look at me.

"What are you doing up?" I ask as I climb onto the bed next to her.

"I heard the door," Annie replies, sighing as she tucks her hands beneath her head. "Who was it?"

"Karissa . . . she's talking to Jacks right now . . ."

"I hope they work things out . . . Eric? Would you cuddle me?"

Annie starts to pout, tilting her head to look sad. I chuckle softly and roll onto my back, bringing Annie with me. I hold her to my chest and kiss her hair.

"Again with the cherries," I whisper, craning my neck to see Annie's face. "So . . . I was wondering . . ."

"What were you wondering?" Annie whispers back; she yawns, which makes me chuckle.

"I was wondering if I could take you to dinner tomorrow . . . Just you and me. I know of this pizza place . . . ."

I trail off when I hear Annie's gentle breathing. She's fallen asleep. I smile and gently roll Annie to my side so she can be more comfortable.

I watch her peaceful face for a moment, moving the stray hairs that have escaped the bun on her head. My mood sways from content to distraught in a matter of seconds. This beautiful girl could be gone tomorrow. I know Annie and I agreed not to think about it, but now that I actually have her at my side . . .

"I don't want to lose you," I whisper, kissing Annie's forehead.



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