"Just say you love me and leave it at that."

Start from the beginning

"Angela," Coach Taylor cuts her off as he appears next to us. "Leave her be. She wants to go hang out with her boyfriend. Let her go."

"I know what she wants to do, but she's already with him more than she's with us."

"She's not fourteen anymore, hon. She's a grown woman who has made the best choices without our help. Eric is one of my best players, not to mention I trust him the most over majority of them. When Farrah – sorry sweetie, you'll always be Farrah to me. When Farrah was not feeling well and told Eric not to tell us, he told me anyway. Not because of anything other than he didn't want you or me worrying over not hearing from our daughter."

"Are you not worried about him dumping her like that other kid?"

"Stop," Annie says, closing her eyes while shaking her head. "Don't argue in front of me. Wait until I'm out of your hair before you fight. Drop off Eric and me at his parents' place. Then you two go to dinner or something and work it out. I don't want to hear any of it right now."

"Eric," Coach hands me a set of keys. "I'll drive with the missus. You take my truck and bring it back to campus with you."

I look at the keys, puzzled but I go with it. Annie's mom drops the stuff into my arms with a huff before walking away.

"What is her problem?" Annie asks, putting her head back as she looks up at the sky.

"I'll bring the truck over," I say, pecking her cheek and thanking the nurse before heading out through the parking lot.

***

Annie is talking a lot on the way back to my parents' house. She's smiling, laughing, making jokes. I've got the good-old, warm and fuzzy feeling in my stomach. I haven't seen her like this in a while. I like when she's happy. This only makes me want to make her even happier. But how?

"Oh," she says suddenly. "I've wanted to ask. How's your brother doing?"

"He's okay," I reply, parking the truck on the street in front of my parents' building. "He won't be getting back with Karissa right now, but I think he'll be okay. Gave me some of his wisdom right before . . . all this happened."

"What wisdom was that?"

"Nothing I would want set in stone, but it helped . . . Jacks' basically told me that I'm the type of guy who needs something, or someone, to protect. That you have become someone I have to protect. Not because you need actual protecting, but because . . ."

"Just say you love me and leave it at that."

Annie smirks and I can't help chuckling. I reach for her hand and give it a gentle squeeze.

"I love you, Farrah," I say, kissing her knuckles.

"I love you too," she replies, her smile reaching her eyes.

I kill the truck's engine and hop out. When I reach Annie's side and open the door, her smile is gone.

"What's the matter?" I ask, wrapping my arms around her waist as I step closer. "Baby, talk to me."

"I want to enjoy being with you," she replies while hugging my neck. "Completely."

"You have me completely."

"No, I mean completely, completely."

I pull back just enough to look in her eyes.

"Don't you want that?" she whispers, biting her lip. "You know, be with me like that."

I grin, "To be honest," I whisper back with a chuckle. "I haven't actually thought about it. I've only thought about being near you, holding you . . ." I tighten my arms and draw her closer. "Making you smile . . . and being there when you need me most."

I kiss her cheek, her nose, her other cheek and then her lips. Annie giggles as she returns my kiss, cupping my face in her palms.

"Can we have pizza with your brother?" she asks after pulling away.

"Of course we can," I tell her, kissing her nose before back up to let her out of the truck. "He won't mind being the third wheel. Told me so himself."

Annie steps out of the truck, swaying a bit to the side. I slip an arm around her waist, helping her steady. I don't move until she nods and I lock the truck. She still has a bag of stuff in my room, so I'm leaving her other stuff.

"I'm so glad there's an elevator," Annie says, sighing with relief. "I don't I would have the willpower for stairs right now."

"I'd carry you," I say, hugging her waist with her back against my chest as I press the button for my parents' floor.

Annie leans her head back, closing her eyes. I kiss her cheek. The elevator doors open and we find my brother standing there. With Karissa. She's shouting at him. He has his arms crossed. He looks pissed. But he smiles when he realizes Annie and I are here.

"Hey," he says, pulling Annie into a hug as we step out. "You gave us a scare, girl."

"Sorry," she grumbles, "I didn't mean . . ."

"Not your fault. I'm just glad to see you better."

"Are you in the mood for pizza? I mean . . ."

Annie glances at Karissa, who has backed away holding herself. I only look at her once, nodding a greeting. I don't know whether to speak to her or not. And Annie must think the same.

"I'm in the mood for pizza," my brother replies, looking at her then back at Annie and me. "I'll pick it up. What toppings do you want?"

"Whatever she wants," I say, placing my hands on Annie's shoulders. "Well . . . Not that we want to be rude, but Annie needs to take it easy. So, we're going to watch a movie. See you around."

I guide her towards the apartment. I hand Annie my phone and tell her to text Jacks' the pizza choice.

"Conflict of loyalty?" she asks once I close the door.

"Yeah," I say, nodding as I move pillows to one side of the couch. "C'mon, get comfy. I'll even massage your feet."

She gives me a quizzical look, approaching the couch slowly. I pat the pillows, indicating that I want her to lie down.

"Foot massage?" Annie asks, raising an eyebrow. "You're not afraid of my cooties?"

"On the contrary," I reply, sitting on the opposite side of the pillows. "I'd be more than happy to catch cooties from you."

"Stop it!"

I put out my hand, patting the couch with the other. Annie rolls her eyes, but smiles as she sits and kicks off her shoes. She settles into the pillows and I pull her feet into my lap. But I don't do anything, because Annie flinches.

"You're ticklish?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.

"Possibly," Annie replies, preparing to pull her feet away.

"I won't tickle you."

My phone rings. She looks at the screen and answers it.

"Hey man," she says, winking at me. "No, I'm sorry. You must have the wrong number. I'm Farrah . . . Oh! You mean Eric Dominguez? The one who can run circles around you and has a higher scoring rate than the entire team put together . . . That's what I thought. One second."

She hands me the phone and I can't stop laughing.

"Who's your girlfriend?" Charlie asks, howling with laughter on the other end. "She's stroking your ego, man."

"You know Farrah man," I reply, crawling on my knees, one-handed, to kiss my girl. "What's up?"

"Not much. One of the guys saw you at the hospital today. Is everything alright?"

"Oh, I was waiting for someone. Let me worry about that. It's nothing."

"If you're sure . . . You would let me know if it were something serious, right?"

"I would, it's just not my story to tell."

Using my elbow for support, I settle into Annie's embrace. I kiss her stomach before letting my head sit there. I chat with Charlie a little while longer. Annie clicks through the channels, her fingers in my hair. When I hang up, my brother enters with the pizza. He smiles when he sees us, setting the box on the coffee table. 

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