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Hunter stirred. I’d never seen him do that in all my time of knowing him. I arrived at the bar and grabbed the bottle he’d used.

Whiskey? No wonder it burned.

Hunter cleared his throat. “I missed you too, Zuzu.”

I poured another glass, unhappy that the liquid courage effect hadn’t rained down on me yet. There was a huge elephant in the room, shitting all over the carpet and bumping into us. We had to talk about the real problem between us or these next days would be even more uncomfortable.

So, I blurted it out, tired of tiptoeing around the one question that had been burning in my mind, since he returned in my life. “If you missed me, then why haven’t you emailed or called back?”

He didn’t say anything.

One of the beautiful things about Hunter was that he couldn’t lie to me. He made excuses to Mom and York, but with me, he steered the conversation another way or outright ignored it.

I won’t push too hard, but you have to tell me something.

He was injured in many ways. Hunter didn’t tell me a lot about what his mother did to him, but I would console him when he woke up screaming at night. I watched over him the few times he had to escape to his room and be alone. I would sneak in there, sit on the bed, be as quiet as I could, and watch.

In some ways, I stalked him.

Either way, I couldn’t push Hunter on his lack of communication like I would anyone else. Whatever made him avoid me was serious and internal. I didn’t know if I’d done something. Perhaps, I’d done things to remind him of his mother. My stomach twisted at the thought.

No. It’s something else.

“Maybe, I’ll be at Christmas this year,” Hunter offered.

It wasn’t a sure thing, just a half-assed possibility. He was doing what he did, sliding out of dealing with the situation. It worked with Mom, but it wouldn’t with me.

“Did I say or do something to you?” I asked. “You can always tell me.”

“What?” He took a sip of his drink. “No, Zuzu. You could never do anything. Not like that.”

“What does that mean?”

“You could never say anything to make me want to hide from you.”

Damn it. He’s lying. It’s all over his tongue.

I eyed him. “Nothing?”

“No.”

“Then, let’s talk about this.”

He clenched his jaw. “We are.”

“Not really. I’m holding back.”

“Holding back what?”

“My anger.” I poured a little more into the glass.

He scowled. “I think you’re good on the whiskey.”

“Not yet, but almost.”

I swore he growled over there as he took another gulp. When I finished pouring, I put the bottle up. I gestured to the couch and walked over to it. “We…we should just get it out.”

“Get what out?”

“Whatever is bugging you about me.”

“It’s not about you.”

“Ha!” I yelled and pointed at him. “Another lie. It’s totally about me. I can see it all over your face. So, tell me.”

He frowned and sat across from the couch instead of closer.

I crossed my legs.

Just like in the dressing room, he drank in my legs. That shiver hit me. He snapped his attention up to my face as if he knew what I was wishing—that his fingers could touch every place his eyes did.

Maybe, I should just leave this alone. This is really about me feeling butthurt about him ignoring me.

He took a sip from his glass but didn’t offer any words. Yet, the whole time he watched me with an intensity I couldn’t explain. It was that same effect of looking through and inside me, but there was more to the gaze.

No. I can’t leave this alone.

I had to be very careful with Hunter. Careful of his feelings and gentle with my questions. But regardless of that, I couldn’t let this go on anymore. Something had to give. I needed him back in my life, and his coming to help me had shown this.

“So?” I asked.

Annoyance laced his voice. “Yes, Zuzu.”

“I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” His words came out dark and dripping with some other emotion. I couldn’t help it, but I licked my lips.

Not a very sisterly thing to do, but it was hard to see him as my brother. From the moment he walked into our house playing with York, I thought he was a god. I followed them around just to get longer glimpses of Hunter. He became my real-life superhero, often sticking up for me at the playground.

Later, when puberty kicked in, my superhero dreams of him became naughtier. I knew he could never be mine. I knew I would never force it. But I also knew that the past five years without him could never happen again.

It wasn’t just that I missed him. Part of me withered away. Without him, I felt lonelier even though I was surrounded by people every day. And when I was alone, I spent those moments wondering about him.