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“I’m very grateful to have you,” I tell him. His shoulders straighten, and his head quickly lifts to look at me.

“I don’t know why. I create nearly every disaster in your life.”

“No, I’m equally to blame,” I assure him. I wish he thought more of himself; if only he could see himself the way that I do. “The indifference of the universe does a lot, too.”

“You’re lying”—he stares at me with expectant eyes—“but I’ll take it.”

I stare at the wall in silence, my brain running over a thousand thoughts per minute.

“I’m still angry that you ran after him like a fucking madman, though,” Hardin scolds me. I don’t blame him; it wasn’t smart. But I also somehow knew he’d run after me in my ridiculous attempt to chase Chad down and take the watch back from him. What the heck was I thinking?

I was thinking that the watch represented the beginning of a new relationship between Hardin and his father. Hardin said he hated that watch, and he refused to wear it, claiming it was outrageous. He’s unaware of the times I passed the bedroom to see him staring at it in its box. Once he even had the watch resting in his open palm, examining it closely, as if it might burn or heal him. His expression was ambivalent when he tossed it carelessly back into the oversize black box.

“My adrenaline got the best of me.” I shrug, trying to hide the gentle tremor shaking through me at the thought of actually catching up to the hideous man.

I had a bad feeling about him the first time he came to pick my father up from the apartment, but I was unaware of the possibility that he’d return. Out of all the suspicions I held relating to what exactly was happening here, slimy men selling drugs and being paid in watches was never a thought. This obviously was what Hardin referred to as “taking care of it without me having to worry about it.” If I had just kept my behind in the apartment, I could still be blissfully ignorant of the entire situation. I could still see my father in a decent light.

“Well, I don’t care much for your adrenaline, then. It obviously cuts off the oxygen to your damn brain,” Hardin huffs, glaring at the refrigerator beside me.

“Should we start the next movie?” My father’s voice sounds from the living room. I shoot a sudden panicked look toward Hardin, and he opens his mouth to answer for me.

“In a minute,” he replies, his tone harsh.

Hardin looks down at me, his height and irritated expression overpowering me. “You don’t have to go out there and fake some bullshit conversation with them if you don’t want to. I’d dare either of them to say shit to you about it.”

The idea of watching a movie with my father does not sound the least bit appealing, but I don’t want things to be awkward, and I don’t want Landon to go just yet.

“I know.” I sigh.

“You’re in denial, and I get that, but you’re going to need to face the music sooner or later.” His words are harsh, but his eyes are sympathetic as he gazes down at me. I feel the heat of his fingers trail down the back of both of my arms.

“I’ll take later—for now,” I plead with him, and he nods, not approving but accepting my denial. For now.

“Go on and go in there, then. I’ll be in in a minute.” He tilts his head toward the living room.

“Okay; can you make some popcorn?” I smile up at him, trying my best to convince him that my heart isn’t hammering against my rib cage and my palms aren’t sweating.

“You’re pushing it . . .” A playful smile tugs at the corners of his mouth while he pushes me out of the kitchen. “Go on.”

When I enter the dimly lit living room, my father is sitting in his usual spot on the couch and Landon is standing, leaning against the dark brick wall. My father’s hands are on his lap; he’s picking at the skin on his fingertips, a habit I had as a child until my mother forced me to give it up. Now I know where it came from.

My father lifts dark eyes from his lap to peer up at me, and a chill runs over me. I can’t decipher whether it’s the lighting or my mind playing tricks on me, but his eyes are nearly black, and it’s making me nauseous. Is he really taking drugs? If so, how much and what kind? My knowledge of drugs consists of having watched a few episodes of Intervention with Hardin. I cringed and covered my eyes when the addicts would push the needles into their skin or smoke the frothy liquid off of a spoon. I could barely stand to watch them destroy themselves and everyone around them, while Hardin went on about not feeling an ounce of pity for the “fucking junkies.”

Is my father really one of them?

“I’ll understand if you want me to go . . .” My father’s voice doesn’t match the look in his haunted eyes. It’s small, weak, and broken. My chest aches.

“No, it’s okay.” I swallow and sit down on the floor to wait for Hardin to join us. I hear the quiet popping of the kernels, and the aroma of popping corn has already filled the apartment.

“I’ll tell you anything you want to—”

“It’s okay, really,” I assure my father with a smile. Where is Hardin?

My silent question is answered only moments later when he strides into the living room, a bag of popcorn in one hand and my glass of water in the other. He sits down next to me on the floor without a word and places the bag on my lap.

“It’s a little burned, but still edible,” he quietly remarks. His eyes move straight to the television screen, and I know he’s holding back many thoughts. I squeeze his hand to thank him for keeping them that way. I don’t think I’d be able to handle anything else tonight.