My house is small, so when you go through the front door you're already in the living room. That's one of the things I liked about it, the way it's all cozy and warm, everything there waiting. The lights and TV were on when I got home that night, the room filled with the voice of Olivia Pope. And there was Elodie, standing at the door, greeting me with a nervous smile. Something was up.

I hadn't known Elodie that long, but I felt I knew her well. I'm not sure how much we had in common, other than being the same age. And even that, well, I felt older somehow. I looked older, too. Elodie had this way about her that made her appear younger than she was, especially when she smiled. And when she was nervous or sad she looked about sixteen. Younger even. That brought out the protector in me.

Elodie tried her best to be the perfect young Army wife, but she was already at the center of so many petty rumors. The wives in Phillip's platoon made little jokes about her accent and called her a "mail order bride." She was hardly the only one. Tons of soldiers met their wives online, but that didn't seem to matter to these women. Maybe they should talk to Stewart. I bet she had some statistics about how many members of the military met their spouses on sites like MilitaryCupid.

Anyway, that's how a lot of military posts were—everyone bickering and jostling for position. Elodie's neighbors were bitches who spent their days selling pyramid schemes on Facebook and bullying her over her grass being an inch too long. That's not an exaggeration. I was with her once when the "mayor" of her housing department pulled up, tires screeching, and scolded Elodie for letting her grass grow half an inch too long.

Yes, the "mayor" measured.

No, she didn't have anything better to do.

That's why Elodie preferred to spend her nights on my couch, or my bed, depending on where she fell asleep. I got the feeling she liked the couch the most. She didn't wake up asking for Phillip when she was on the couch.

I planned on asking Elodie about the guy from earlier. Obviously she knew him—but how? She didn't have many friends, as far as I was aware, and she didn't spend much time socializing. Maybe Phillip had buddies outside of his platoon. It wasn't too common, but it wasn't impossible either.

Elodie sat down on the couch and tucked her feet under her. Her petite body was changing, her belly starting to swell. I wondered where the baby would sleep in my little house.

Elodie's favorite American show at the moment was Scandal. She was binge-watching it for the first time.

"What season are you on now?" I asked her.

"Two," she said softly.

She was being so quiet. I pulled my shoes off and it wasn't until I dropped one on the floor and something moved in my peripheral vision that I realized another person was in my house.

A noise, a little like a shriek flew from my mouth when I saw him. He was staring at me, the one-syllable client from earlier. He was sitting in my chair—the dark pink, used to be red—one that my nana gave me before we moved to Georgia.

"Uhm, hey?" I said when my heart stopped doing little flips from the aftershock of surprise. How did I not see a whole human in my living room? I was feeling spaced a lot the last few weeks, but that day was another level.

"How was work?" Elodie asked, looking at the TV, her fiddling fingers in her lap, and back to me.

"Good . . ."

I stared at this Kale guy and he stared back at me. When I would recall this later, the first time he was inside my little white house, the memory would change from a burning pain to pure bliss and back—again and again and again. But when it happened in real life, it happened fast. Before he was anything to me—before he was everything—he was just a quiet stranger with a blank face and distant eyes. There was something indomitable about him, something so closed, that I couldn't even begin to make up a life for him. He hated peppermint oil and hadn't wanted me to touch his leg—those were the only clues to who he was.

I smelled the popcorn right before the popping actually started. "I'm making popcorn," Elodie announced. She was nervous. What was going on here?

"Okay . . ." I started. "I'm going to take a shower. I have to be at my dad's at seven."

I walked down the hallway. Elodie followed, chewing on her bottom lip.

"Well?" I asked.

"He just got home last night. He was with Phillip." Her voice was low and I could tell she was gearing herself up to ask me something. My mom was like this too, when she wanted something. "Can he stay here for a day until he can get ahold of his . . ." She trailed off, stopping for a second. "Until he can get into his place. Sorry to ask like this, I—"

I held up my hand. "How do you know this guy?" I wanted to make sure this was on the up and up.

"Oh—I met him right before they left. He's a good guy, Karina. Honest. He's Phillip's closest friend over there."

"What's he doing back?" I asked her.

She shook her head. "I didn't ask. Should I ask?" She peered into the living room.

"I wouldn't," I told her. "He can stay here, but if he ends up being a creep, he's out. So are you," I teased her.

She smiled at that and touched my arm. She was always so affectionate. Me, not so much.

"Thank you. You're the—"

I held up my hand to stop her. "I know, I know. I'm the best. Now I have to shower so I'm not late to my dad's."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you should thank me."

We both laughed and I shut the bathroom door in her face.

'

The Brightest StarsRead this story for FREE!