...and found myself back in the attic. I blinked and swayed, a little disoriented. Then I noticed Joe camped out on the settee. “You okay?” he asked. “You look like you seen a ghost.” He smiled.
“I did,” I said.
“Well, yeah. ‘Course you did. That’s why what I said was funny.”
I shook my head and went to sit down beside him. “What do you know about a little blonde girl?”
I thought I saw his jaw tighten for a second. But if it did, he recovered it pretty quickly. “Nothin’,” he said.
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “Except for Sarah and the Feldman boy, there haven’t been any children in this house as long as I’ve been in it.” I still eyed him suspiciously when he looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but that’s the God’s honest truth.”
I sighed and leaned back in my seat. “I don’t know how much more I can take of this.”
“All of it.”
Shaking his head, he leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. He studied his clasped hands a moment before saying, “Would it help if I told you that you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, in this or any other life?”
I just stared at him a moment in wonder as his words sunk in. But then I waved it off in my typical, self-deprecating fashion. “It would if that were even the least bit true.”
He looked back at me. “It is. I mean it. You’re definitely the strongest out of all of us.”
I leaned forward. “Okay, by strong, you’re talking about the things I can do, right? Because I’d have to give that title to Lilly.”
“I’m talking about your character. You’re stubborn as a mule and about as frustrating sometimes, but I’d be lying if I said that don’t make me respect you even more.”
I just smiled awkwardly. I never did learn how to accept a compliment.
Joe pointed at the box on the table. “You looked in there yet?”
“Yeah. It’s just Ed’s family photos.”
“Hm. Might be worth looking at.” He reached forward to pop open the latch and lift the lid. I watched him in amazement. He glanced back at me and smiled. “Been practicing ever since I managed to tackle you. I figured there must be something to your idea about strong feelings.”
“Yeah. They can be hard to manufacture on demand, though.”
“So far, I’ve managed okay.”
“Thinking about my dad usually gets it done for me. What about you? What do you think about?”
He looked at me for a long moment before he said, “You.”
I didn’t expect that answer. “Me? Really? Do I frustrate you that much?”
“Kissing you,” he clarified. “I think about kissing you.”
Oh. “Oh. Really?” I stood up and bumped into the table. It moved.
Joe looked at it and smiled. “You thinking about kissing me?”
“Well I am now.”
He got up and came toward me. “Good.” He reached for my face. His fingers brushed my cheek and sent tingles all through me. I shuddered.
So did he. “You feel that?” he asked.
I nodded. Words weren’t really my friend just then.
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