Part 2 - Chapter 17 - Alone at Last

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Inside the theater, everyone hushed as Class Games played on the screen. After the opening credits rolled, I noticed Hailee shivering. The theater was an ice box. With her strapless gown, I didn't doubt she was freezing.

I leaned close to her ear and whispered, "Ordinarily, I'd offer you my jacket. Can't do it because it covers my holster. Ask your father for his."

She took my arm and draped it around her shoulders, nuzzled her face into my chest. "I'll be all right. Just hold me until I get warm."

Only too eager to please, I massaged her arm until I felt her goose bumps flatten. A few minutes later, she went completely still.

"Hailee?" I whispered. "Hailee?" I gave her a gentle shake. She came to life after a hypnic jerk and gasped. She pushed away from me and sat up straight in her seat.

I whispered, "Tell me you didn't just fall asleep during your own premiere."

Both hands shot to her mouth as Hailee stifled a laugh. She whispered, "I can't believe I did that."

To me, it was surreal watching Hailee perform on screen while the real girl sat beside me. My attention got split between the two Hailees making it hard to focus on either of them.

The real girl leaned into me again, and I draped my arm around her, rested my face against the top of her hair, breathed in her scent. I was living a fantasy but just for this one night. This would end, I realized and tried to keep my emotions in check.

The film finished far too soon for me. I didn't want to release her from my embrace. But the house lights came up. The fantasy ended.

Everyone in the audience applauded. "Time to get back into character," I mumbled.

Hailee yawned and stretched. "The rest of the evening should be less intense. Just an informal cocktail party."

The crowd milled around and began to thin out as people exited the theater.

Mr. Morgan laid a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Hails, your mother and I are leaving. We have a late flight back to Oxnard."

Hailee pouted. "Daddy, I was hoping you could stay and have dinner with Sing and me."

I could dig that. I wanted to pepper them with questions about what Hailee was like growing up.

Her mom said, "We don't have the energy you kids have."

Hailee leaned in and kissed her father on the cheek. "I'll see you in a couple of days."

I extended my hand to her father and shook. "It was a privilege having met you, sir, you have a remarkable daughter. She's a reflection of her parents."

Mrs. Morgan rested a hand on her chest. "And you have remarkable manners, so different from..." She squeezed shut her lips and didn't finish the sentence. "Hailee, why don't you bring Sing with you? We'll have him over for dinner."

Hailee winked at me. "Would you like to have dinner with me and my family?"

"Sure, yeah, that would be great."

After exiting the theater, I scanned the crowd and stood by as Hailee hugged her parents goodbye. When they departed, she told me she could use a drink to settle her nerves and asked the cocktail waitress for a white Zin. Nobody cared that we were underage. I stayed at her side as she mingled with her co-stars, sharing jokes and gossiping with them. I drank only a bottle of water. Making an effort to include me in her conversations, Hailee always introduced me to her people, but I made a conscious effort to fade into the background in order to more easily keep on the watch.

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