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The popcorn is delicious and buttery. Hardin gripes when I offer Landon and my father some. I suspect that’s why they refuse it.

“What bullshit are we watching now?” Hardin asks.

“Sleepless in Seattle,” I answer with a grin.

His eyes roll. “Really? Isn’t that like an older version of what we just watched!”

I can’t help but be amused. “It’s a lovely movie.”

“Sure.” He looks at me, but his eyes don’t stay on mine as long as usual. He uses his sweatshirt to wipe the greasy butter off his fingers. I cringe and make a mental note to soak the shirt longer than usual tomorrow before I wash it.

“Is something wrong? This movie isn’t that bad,” I whisper to him. My father is finishing off the remainder of the pizza, and Landon has taken his seat back on the recliner.

“No.” He still doesn’t look at me. I don’t want to comment on his odd behavior; everyone’s already on edge from tonight’s events.

The movie distracts me from myself and my vicious mind long enough to laugh with Landon and my father. Hardin stares at the screen, his shoulders stiff again and his mind miles away. I desperately want to ask him what’s wrong so that I can fix it, but I know that it’s best to leave him be for now. Instead, I snuggle against his chest with my knees bent beneath me and one arm wrapped around his lean torso. He surprises me by pulling me closer and planting a soft kiss on my hair.

“I love you,” he whispers. I’m nearly convinced that I’m hearing voices until I look up into his expectant green eyes.

“I love you,” I reply softly. I take a few moments to stare at him, just to take in how beautiful he is. He drives me insane, as I do him, but he loves me, and his calm behavior tonight is just another indication of that. No matter how forced the behavior is, he is trying, and in that I find solace, a steady certainty that even in the middle of the brewing storm, he will be my anchor. I once feared that he would take me under; now I don’t even mind if he does.

A heavy knock at the door jolts me from Hardin’s lap. I’ve somehow migrated there in my near slumber, and he unwraps his arms from around me and gently places me on the floor so he can stand up. I study his face, looking for anger, or shock, but instead he looks . . . worried?

“You’re not moving,” he says to me. I nod in agreement. I don’t want to face Chad again.

“We should just call the police, otherwise he’ll never stop coming here.” I groan, wondering how this apartment could have changed so drastically in the last few weeks. The panic rises into my chest again, and when I look up to gauge my father and Landon’s reactions to the intruder, I see that they’re both asleep. The television is set on the menu screen for the pay-per-view; we must have all actually drifted off to sleep without realizing it.

“No,” I hear Hardin say. I rise onto my knees when he reaches the door. What If Chad isn’t alone? Will he try to hurt Hardin? I stand up and head toward the couch to wake my father.

I barely register the heavy click of high heels across the hard flooring, so when I turn my head and see my mother, in all her tight-red-dress, curled-hair, and red-lipsticked glory, I’m shocked. Her beautiful face is set in a deep scowl as her darkening eyes meet mine.

“What are you—” I begin. I glance at Hardin; and he’s calm . . . expectant almost . . .

He allows her to storm past him and stalk toward me.

“You called her?” My voice squeaks as the puzzle pieces click into place. He looks away from me. How could he call her? He knows firsthand how my mother is; why on earth would he bring her into this?

“You have been avoiding my calls, Theresa,” she snaps. “And now I find out that your father is here! At this apartment, and he’s on drugs!” She storms past me, too, and goes straight for the kill. Her fire-engine-red manicured fingers grip my father’s arm, and she yanks his sleeping body off of the couch. He topples to the floor.

“Get up, Richard!” she booms, and I flinch at the harshness in her voice.

My father scrambles up to a sitting position quickly, using his palms to support his body weight, and shakes his head. His eyes nearly pop out of his skull as he takes in the woman in front of him. I watch as he blinks rapidly and stumbles to his feet.

“Carol?” His voice is even smaller than mine.

“How dare you!” She waves a finger in his face, and he backs away from her only to have his legs hit the couch, causing him to fall back. He looks terrified, and I don’t blame him.

Landon stirs in the chair and opens his eyes; his expression mimics my father’s, confused and terrified.

“Theresa, go to your bedroom,” my mother demands.

What? “No, I will not,” I counter. Why did Hardin have to call her? Everything would have been okay. I’d have a way to move on from my father, probably.

“She’s not a child anymore, Carol,” my father says.

My mother’s cheeks puff, and her chest rises, and I know what’s coming next. “Don’t you dare speak of her as if you know her at all! As if you have any claim on her!”

“I’m trying to make up for lost time—” My father is holding his ground pretty decently for a man who has just been awoken by his angry ex-wife screaming in his face. I don’t know what to make of the scene unfolding in front of me. There’s something in my father’s voice, something in his tone as he steps closer to my mother, gaining confidence that almost looks familiar. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

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