Three months is all I need.

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"You two are cute," Jacks' says, settling into his gaming chair on the floor. "Don't lose that, okay?"

I tilt my head up, meeting Annie's gaze as she glances at me. She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes. Not this time. My arms are around her waist, my hands pressed against her back. I wiggle my fingers, letting her know I'm here. Annie nods, understanding what I'm trying to convey. She sighs, resting her head back on the pillow as she looks back at the TV. I press my cheek to her stomach, facing my brother. I tap a gentle rhythm on her back. Annie runs her fingers through my hair. I close my eyes, enjoying the sensation.

***

"Eric, honey. Come out here a moment."

I kiss the top of Annie's head before getting out of bed and heading towards the kitchen. I find Mom and Jacks' at the table, snacking on pretzels.

"How's Annie?" my brother asks as I pull out a chair.

"She's okay," I reply, shrugging. "Sleeping . . ."

"Honey," Mom says, reaching to squeeze my arm. "I wanted to know how you're doing through all this."

"Better than most; better than her douche ex. But . . ."

I trail off, knowing I will break down over whatever I am about to say. Forever ago, at this very table, I was crying in front of my sister over Jacks' dating Karissa. I shed tears at the hospital. I don't really want to shed anymore right now.

"Have you told her how you feel?" Jacks' speaks after a period of silence. "Not from last time. I mean the look on your face right now."

"You mean if I told her that I love her," I whisper, nodding. "I did tell her, I just . . . I don't want to talk about it right now. She might be gone tomorrow. I just want enjoy her while she's here."

Mom gives my arm another squeeze before pulling away. She rises and goes to the stove. I cross my arms on the table and rest my chin on them.

"Sabrina is bringing the juniors over in a bit," my brother says, sighing. "Do you think Annie would be up for that?"

"Yeah," I reply, nodding. "She would; she liked hanging out with them the other day. Do you mind me asking what she wanted?"

"I don't mind at all, actually. Karissa came over to see mom and I happened to be coming out at that moment. Apparently, she never told her parents that she broke up with me, or about losing the baby. They had come back from their trip and were asking how everything was and why wasn't I there like I usually would be. It's just a mess. She doesn't want to tell them what's really happening."

"I didn't think she was one to keep things from them."

"She keeps a lot from them, it looks like. They didn't even know about me until after we left high school."

I raise my head. "What? You two had been dating for two years by then."

My brother shrugs. "That was her choice," he says, shaking his head. "It was wrong, in my opinion, but that's how she decided to go about things. I didn't even know that until later. I had gone to her house several times already, and I assumed they knew."

"Do you feel like you hardly know her after all this?" I ask.

"Surprisingly, no. I'm just waiting for her to figure herself out. If I move on before that happens . . ."

"Things happen for a reason, right?"

I put out my fist and my brother bumps it with his.

"Eric?"

I turn around and find Annie standing there.

"Hey," I push away from the table and go to her.

"You left me," she whispers, frowning as I pull her into my arms.

"I didn't leave you," I whisper back, kissing her forehead. "It's not the same thing, you know that."

"No . . . in the nightmare, you left me."

"Another one?"

She nods, wiping her sleeve over her nose. I frown; another nightmare with me leaving.

"Do you want to nap a little longer?" I ask, twirling one of her frizzy strands around my finger. "Or do you want a snack?"

"A snack sounds good," she replies softly, leaning her cheek to my chest.

I bring her to the table. I sit and pull Annie into my lap. My brother pushes the bowl of pretzels over and Annie nibbles quietly. I lean my head onto her back, hugging her waist. And then, she's shaking. I pull my head away and find her crying into her hands.

"Hey," I turn her slightly to see her face better. "What's wrong?"

"I'm going to die before I experience anything," she whispers, sniveling as she drops her hands to look at me. "I'll never see thirty. Don't you get it?"

"Annie," my mom comes to our side and puts her hands on Annie's shoulders. "This hasn't affected you as deeply before, has it?"

"No," Annie shakes her head. "It's only been more recently that it really bothers me."

"There's nothing wrong with that, sweetie. I think it's because you've found something that makes you happy and you don't want it to be taken away. Am I right?"

Annie glances at me and I see it. I know Annie loves me because she has told me. I know she does not want me to leave her. But this is the first time I am seeing it deeper than the surface. And it makes my heart ache. I make her happy.

"Your dad knows something we don't," I mutter, leaning my head on her shoulder. "He keeps giving us all the permissions in the world."

"Why is that, I wonder," Jacks' chuckles softly.

"Give me three months and I'll figure it out."

"I might not have three months, Eric," Annie with a glare.

"You will have three months. I'll make sure of it."

Three months is all I need. Three months to give Annie every possible experience she wants. Every possible experience.

"I'm about to make dinner," Mom says, moving Annie hair behind her ears. "Would you like anything special?"

"That lasagna you made was yummy," Annie replies; she looks like she's feeling better now.

"Then lasagna it is," my mom kisses the top of her head and it surprises me. I don't comment on it though. Because Sabrina walks in with the twins in tow, and Gil is right behind them. I don't let Annie up. I hold her closer. Gil notices the mood. But my sister is too preoccupied with making the boys behave.

"How are you doing today, Farrah?" Gil asks, sitting across the table from us.

"Hey," I narrow my eyes at him. "Only I can call her Farrah. And her dad."

Annie giggles, but it's so soft I almost miss it. She leans her head against mine. I kiss shoulder, letting her hair cover my face.

"Uncle Eric!"

Micah appears next to me and swats at my arm while jumping in place. I look at him and smile.

"Hey pal," I say, pulling him into a one-armed hug. "How've you been? Behaving for your mom?"

"I'm better than Ethan," he whispers, giggling.

"I bet you are. Go say hi to Grandma while I take care of Annie."

He nods and disappears. My arm returns to my girl's waist and my mind starts working on what I will do to give her everything I can. And I will give her everything. Even myself.

***

I'm in my bed with Annie pulled close to my chest. I know what I'm going to do for Annie. I just need to build up the confidence to do it. Because I've never done something like this before. So I have no idea what to do. But will she let me?


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