Authors: Amanda Lance
By Amanda Lance
Copyright © 2013 by Amanda Lance
. All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: October 2013
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
This one is for the readers. The threats to write this book were both encouraging and frightening. Thanks guys.
Table of Contents
Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,
But, oh, what damnèd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts—suspects, yet soundly loves (Othello-III. III. 170-175)
Did you know that weeping willows have healing properties?
At night, they are particularly beautiful, creating shadows when the moon is nearly full and making the entire arboretum look haunted and mysterious. Often, after a storm, the heavy branches will tease the face of the fish pond, creating fantastic ripples like miniature waves in the sea. If the weather is decent, I would sometimes crawl up the roots of the largest willow, and while leaning against the sturdy trunk, I’d try to make out particular images in the wrinkled swell.
When Charlie first suggested we meet here, I was beyond reluctant. Other than the fact that the arboretum closed at dusk, and we were breaking and entering, it felt strange to go back to a place that had been such a staple of my childhood. Mom frequently took Robbie and me there in lieu of teaching science or history from a textbook. I’d look at the Reeves-Reed estate house and daydream about fairies and princesses instead of listening to stories about the Lenni Lenape Native Americans or photosynthesis. She probably knew I hadn’t been paying attention, but now I regret not listening to Mom more, not asking her more questions when I had the opportunity.
I’d like to think she’d like Charlie. I want to think that she’d approve of our relationship and maybe even excuse our daily misdemeanors. But the frustration is that I’ll never know.
Now that we came so frequently, my attitude was evolving. The first few times Charlie had jumped the stone wall—pulling me over with him—I felt a bell of moral ineptitude going off in my head, telling me there is a reason the deer gates automatically stop opening to its visitors at dusk.
“You know I can probably find a way around that.” Charlie laughed as I tried to scale the stone wall by myself.
He planted his hands around my waist while I made my way off the other side of the wall. Charlie’s grip didn’t relinquish. In fact, instead of releasing me, he pulled me closer and secured the bomber hat on my head.
“No thanks. It’s bad enough we’re breaking and entering. Don’t go and make it worse by doing something to the security fence, okay?
We began our usual walk along the pedestrian path. And although it was overcast tonight, without a moon, we both knew the trails well enough that a small flashlight provided an adequate amount of illumination.
In the dark I heard him laugh. “It ain’t breaking and entering if it’s city property. ‘Sides, I’d just be reversing the outlets for the gate. It wouldn’t hurt nothing.”
“Until someone realizes that people have been sneaking in here these last couple of weeks. What if they install security cameras?”
Charlie laughed freely and closed his entire hand in mine. I rubbed my fingers against the calluses of his palm, amazed that his bare hands were still so warm in late November.
“Nobody is gonna know you in that ridiculous hat.”
being recognized that I’m worried about.” I nudged his elbow with my arm, trying not to think about the possibility of security cameras or the state police being called when they saw Charlie breaking onto taxpayer property.
He scoffed. “You should be. What’s your school gonna think if you get caught out here with me? You could lose your scholarship or something.”
I tangled my arm around his and tried to ignore the chill in the air. Though I couldn’t see beyond the scope of the flashlight, my eyes adjusted to the dark easily. Wearing my favorite white mittens, I traced the outline of the red oaks and the European breech, naked now except for a few straggling leaves. Those first fallen leaves danced around my sneakers and along the trail to the greenhouse. Like something flimsy, they crunched beneath Charlie’s feet noisily and scattered to the wind.
“My scholarship is academic; as long as my grades stay, I stay. So please don’t worry about stuff like that.”
I felt his eyes on me, skeptical as always when I encouraged him not to worry. “Think of it this way,” I offered “If I could sneak out of my house every night without my Dad being suspicious,” I pinched my fingers together in his face for emphasis. “Then I think I could deal with the academic counsel.”
I was lying, of course, but I hoped to alleviate Charlie’s anxieties anyway. Since he had returned to me and promised to stay, things moved more quickly than I would have liked. My sudden change in disposition was helpful when Robbie was re-deployed to Iraq. Dad was glad to see me ‘back on my feet.’ Though he blamed my happy attitude completely on my acceptance to Sonoma State University
the University of San Francisco, and frankly, I was okay to let him think that. I detested lying to Dad, but I tried to reason that I was leaning less towards a lie and slightly closer to some kind of half-truth. I knew applying to colleges so close to where I was found was risky, but since living on campus was mandatory for most undergraduates, if there was any suspicion, me living in a dorm could drown it out.
I also thought acceptance to some prestigious universities might make Dad okay with me living so far away from home. Plus, with Sonoma State being less than an hour from Ben and Elise’s house, I knew I would never have to be far from Charlie.
His hearty laugh echoed on the path. I tried not to laugh along with him, though it was almost irresistible not to smile when he did. “I think that says more ‘bout the police work around here than your abilities as a liar.” Though I could hear the mockery in his voice, it was clear it wasn’t meant for me.
I rolled my eyes and tried to focus the topic. “I’ll have you know that I have become an accomplished artist in the lying sub-genre. If I ever got caught sneaking in here, I have a bunch of lies saved up that are
“Oh yeah?” I felt Charlie grin in the dark, and reached out to his face for confirmation.
“I’ll say I’m collecting samples for my horticulture class. I could say I’m star-gazing, or I’m looking for a lost dog. Maybe I was here earlier today and lost something important I can’t live without…”
I could hear myself trailing off as I explained my list. Though Charlie might not have wanted to admit it, I had become something of a success as a liar. All of my half-truths could be added or multiplied to equal whole lies, and I could only deny that so much. Deceiving Dad about
why I wanted to go to SSU and letting him believe my strange, budding happiness was the fluctuating emotion of an excited teenager was okay because it was keeping him safe. While my safety was secured with Charlie, I didn’t know how Ben and the others would feel about my Dad being let in on the criminal aspects of our lives and if they would feel the need to intervene.
Again, I wished Mom was around. Dad’s conservative attitude probably wouldn’t give way to any emotion I could express. And even if I could find a way to at least tell Dad that I was in love with Charlie, he would certainly want to meet him, and when they did, Dad would almost definitely recognize him. Would Dad panic and alert the authorities? Lock me up in a nut-house? Though by no means violent, what if Dad tried to take on Charlie by himself? I knew I couldn’t risk it. I would have to live with my fuzzy logic for a while longer. Maybe if I could show Dad that I could live alongside the guys while keeping my grades up, then it would be easier to convince him that Charlie and I had a genuine relationship.
As we reached the large sugar maple, Charlie untangled himself from me and jumped up on a root that emerged from the ground. I wrapped my arms around myself, missing his warmth, though I was too prideful to admit it.
“You might be good at it, but you hate it about as much as anything else.” After finally testing all the roots, he sat on the same one he always chose.
“I’d hate losing you more,” I confessed.
Charlie glanced up at me through his perfect eyelashes. He was making very deliberate movements as he reached for something in his jacket pocket. I didn’t need the flashlight to see what he was doing.
I lunged for him and seated myself in his lap, reaching in the empty air for the cigarette. “No!” I laughed despite my scolding, noticing how easily he gave way and allowed me to lean into him.
“It’s the only one I’ve had all day!” When he was this close, I could see his grin and every scar, both faded and fresh, that I had memorized. I was so very glad to be there suddenly, and so very amazed at how he could make me forget my troubles.
“So if you wait a few hours longer, then you went an
Reluctantly, he handed the cigarette to me, bracing his arm around me as he did so. Though he rolled his eyes, his smile didn’t falter. After I put the cigarette in my own jacket pocket, I made sure to close it completely, having been pick-pocketed by Charlie and his good intentions before.
“You shouldn’t have to lie for me.” His grip around me tightened. Since he turned the flashlight off, I was afraid he was frowning in the dark.
“I don’t think of it that way. Besides, it’s only temporary. Once Dad sees that—”
“That what? That the idiot who kidnapped you, stole you again, and made you an accomplice to a bunch of criminals, still calls you his? Something tells me that you being on the honor roll ain’t gonna change him wanting to string me up.”
I touched the tips of his fingers. Since he had all but quit smoking, he had taking to biting his nails when his anxieties were at their highest. “It’ll be okay, Charlie. Things just have to cool off and adjust. It’ll be difficult enough for Dad with Robbie and me both out of the house. Give him a little while before I introduce the idea of me dating, at least? Dad and Robbie both need that. I don’t mean to sound self-centered, but
the main girl in their lives.”
“Small steps, huh?” Charlie sighed as he slid his fingers up my wrist and brought it to his mouth. Right where my pulse throbbed, he laid a quick, feather-like kiss, making my heart quake with a throbbing sensation.
I counted to ten and reminded myself to breathe. “Exactly.”
“What about that busybody cop, then?” Charlie practically spat the words.
I knew this was coming. I had felt the tension coming since Dad started inviting Agent Harpsten over for dinner on a semi-regular basis. Being assigned to the mystery that was my kidnapping case, Harpsten kept Dad updated on the latest on statistics of missing teenage girls and possible leads. More frequently, though, they talked about fantasy football, the stock market, and golf. I was grateful since Agent Harpsten seemed to provide Dad with something I couldn’t.
I shrugged. “I have to be nice to him. He wrote me a really great recommendation to the political science advisor at SSU.”
He hesitated, but released my wrist and enclosed his arms around me. “I don’t like it.”
I laughed at his pout. “Adam isn’t so bad. He doesn’t really ask questions about California anymore. I don’t think he’s even filed a report in a few weeks.”
“That ain’t what I mean.” He pressed against me, and I was afraid I might have to brace for impact. “He’s been hanging around you an awful lot lately—”
“They transferred him to the Newark office, and he doesn’t have anyone around here. Since they promoted him from probationary to special agent, he’s eager to ‘solve my case.’” I laughed as I waved with the air quotes, failing to realize right away that Charlie couldn’t see them in my mittens.
“He’s real eager, all right,” Charlie scoffed, but I bit the inside of my lip. I could hear the anger in his voice rising without any steadiness. This anger was abrupt and harsh, ragged with that edge that always made me conscious of him. “People go missing every day. You’re too smart to think that he comes over all the time just to ask you about me.”
I turned back to him and jammed my shoulder into his chest. “I don’t let things slip out, okay? You know you don’t have to worry about me talking to the police, right?”
“If you went running off to the cops right now, I wouldn’t blame you. But there ain’t no reason why that Fed has gotta be around all the time.”
“My Dad likes him. Maybe it’s good for him to have another son-like figure around. And when I leave, I don’t want him to be lonely.”
“I hate that guy,” he said abruptly. “I hate the way he looks at you.”
He was being petty and I wanted to scold him for it, but I was too focused with using his hands to warm mine. “Who cares as long as he doesn’t know who you are? As long as
in law enforcement knows who you are? Or who I am to you?”
“He wants you and I hate it, Addie.”
I looked up at him and smiled. “I think you’re wrong about that, Charlie. And even if you’re not—who cares? Let him want me—he’s not going to get me.”
I hopped off the root and began wandering on the path towards the greenhouse. Without hesitation, Charlie stood and followed. I could feel his brooding behind me as his heavy steps silently caught up to me.
“I’m sorry, Addie.” I stopped as Charlie took my elbow. He sighed into the crook of my neck and rested his head into my shoulder. “All this waiting is just making me crazy.”