Annie's sleeping. Again. The nurses keep giving her sedatives and painkillers. I want her eyes open. I want her to smile as she usually does. Since the day I met her, things have gone downhill for her health. She is fading faster than when I didn't know her. Angela, Annie's mom, muttered that a couple times, when she thought I wasn't listening. Hearing that tore me up inside. But I'm ignoring it and focusing on my promise to Annie. To Farrah.

I watch her sleep. I'm kneeling beside the bed, resting my cheek on my arms while trying to hold myself together. Yes, it pains me to see her like this. But there's no place I'd rather be than here. She stirs, moaning softly. Her face contorts.

"Eric!" she cries, shooting up while panting.

"I'm here," I tell her, wiping my eyes as I get into the bed and pull her close. "It's just a nightmare. It's okay."

"She tried to keep you away," Annie says, sobbing into my chest. "My mom tried to push you away. She wouldn't let me talk to you or see you . . ."

She trails off, sobbing softly as she clings to my. I cling back to her. Her nightmare was her mother telling me to leave. Did she hear our conversation?

"I won't let that happen," I tell her, turning my gaze to Angela, who was sleeping in the chair but now she's watching us. "I'm not going anywhere and I won't let anyone push me away. Only you can tell me to leave, and even then, I won't leave."

I say all this while holding Angela's gaze. I feel Annie relax, but she's not sleeping. I turn away and kiss the top of Annie's head. I cradle her close and rock her gently.

"I love you, Farrah," I whisper, so her mother won't hear. "I'm going to do everything I can to stay with you. I promise."

She nods and a few minutes later, she's sleeping again. My mind wanders to my conversation with Angela earlier. She had said that she hadn't seen Annie sleep as peacefully as she was in a long time. And at the same time, she was trying to discourage me from hanging around. A two-edged sword of contradiction. Guess that means I'm gonna have to prove myself.

***

I'm standing next to Coach Taylor while we wait for Annie and her mom to come down from the room. I left to give Annie privacy so she could change and freshen up.

"You're good for her," Coach says, patting my shoulder. "I don't know what my wife was thinking when she was drilling you, but I think she should leave it alone."

"I appreciate you telling me that," I say with a slow nod. "I don't know if she told you what I said, but I didn't any offence by it."

"I know you didn't, which is I'm telling you to stick to your choice. You made my little girl a promise; I'm holding you to it."

"Only Annie can make me break that promise."

I meet Coach's gaze and he nods. A moment later, Annie comes out, pushed in a wheelchair. Her mother is holding all of her stuff while the nurse pushes the chair. Without thinking, I walk towards her, smiling when Annie looks at me. Relief fills her expression and she puts out her arms the moment I am close enough.

"Much better," she whispers when I bend to hug her. "My mom is being a queen bee."

"She's talking about me, huh?" I reply, kissing her cheek before pulling away. "You going home with your parents, right?"

She gawks, "Heck no!" She glares at her mother before. "I am going back to Eric's house and finishing the weekend. Federal holiday, mother."

"Annie," Mrs. Taylor releases an exasperated sigh. Yeah, I'm not going to call her by first name until she accepts me better.

"You need to rest and take it easy," she says, touching Annie's hair gently. "You can't do that i-"

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