“Who’s Kellen West?” I asked.

“My ex-boyfriend.”

My shoulders stiffened. Max also looked slightly perturbed, though it was always impossible to tell thanks to his consistently stoic expression. To most people, Max was harder to read than Ancient Greek. The only reason I had a smidgeon of understanding was because I’d known him for so long. Even then, I was sometimes known to read him incorrectly. Was he angry? Was he happy? Was he sad? I sometimes wondered if even his mother could tell.

Alice cleared her throat. “A-about a month ago, I broke up with him and… He didn’t take things very well.” I clenched my fist and tensed my jaw. I could hear the fear in her words.

Max reached out and placed his hand on the back of hers. “Go on,” he encouraged.

“Kellan had… He had a history of committing arson. The night I broke up with him, he tried setting our apartment on fire. He just kept… He just kept screaming at me. I don’t even remember what he said anymore. Luckily nobody was hurt, and he was arrested.”

“Please tell me he got what he deserved,” I grumbled. Something inside me turned over in my stomach, something dark and sticky and wholly unpleasant. I didn’t like to feel angry. It was an ugly emotion that only caused more problems. Nobody liked to be around that guy, the one who was so pent up with frustration that they became insufferable to be around. I always tried to keep things lighthearted, fun. So this disgusting feeling that was welling up inside me was genuinely concerning.

To my bitter disappointment, Alice shook her head. “Kellan’s parents are really well off. They could afford a pretty decent lawyer, so all he got was ninety days in jail and was assigned community service. Needless to say, I moved as soon as possible. I grabbed the first train out and wound up in the city. I figured he’d have a hard time coming after me with so many people around.”

I looked to Max. “Do you think it’s him?”

He shook his head slightly. “There’s no way to be sure. It’s probably just a coincidence.”

Alice’s shoulders were trembling. There was something hollow in her eyes, something distant and detached. I hated seeing her so upset. First the fire, now her crazy ex might be back? I couldn’t blame her for being a little out of it.

“I think you should tell the police,” I concluded. “It might help point their investigation in the right direction.”

Max nodded. “I agree. We wouldn’t want to take any chances.”

“And until we know for sure that you’re safe, you can stay with me and Max until the coast is clear. How does that sound?”

She forced a smile. It felt empty and a little cold, like the ember of hope inside of her was slowly dying. The poor woman was clearly exhausted. I just really wanted to wrap her up in a massive pile of blankets and tuck her away, keep her safe. “Thank you, guys,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I’d do without the two of you.”

“We’re kind of great, huh?” I joked, attempting to lighten the mood. I was delighted when she let out a little giggle. I stood and declared, “Let’s go shopping.”

“W-what?”

“It’s called retail therapy. Let’s go buy you some new clothes, some other essentials. Take your mind off things.”

“But I can’t afford to–”

“We’ve got you covered,” said Max in an instant.

I snapped my fingers and pointed finger guns at him. He’d taken the words right out of my mouth. “Beat me to it. Seriously, Alice, let’s go for a bit of a walk. Get some fresh air. I guarantee you’ll feel better. And on our way, we can drop by the police station and you inform them about Kellan.”

Alice slowly rose from her seat, straightening her hair by combing her fingers through it. “Okay,” she breathed. “That sounds like a plan. But only if you promise that I can treat you two to a beer.” I was about to open my mouth to protest, but Alice raised her hand and pressed her fingertips to my lips. “I insist,” she said.

I looked to Max and smirked. “The lady insists.”

He simply nodded, wearing the smallest of smiles. It was a rare sight. There must have been something seriously special about this girl.

6

Max

Contrary to popular belief, a big guy like me wasn’t that big of a fan of bars. They were too loud, too crowded. It was a weird pet peeve of mine, but I hated when people bumped into me –either by accident or on purpose. Skin was sweaty, sometimes rough. And there was never any telling where people’s hands had been. And because I was a big guy, I took up too much space. I didn’t like feeling squished into already tiny spaces. But if Alice wanted to take us to a bar and treat us to a beer, I wasn’t going to say no. Mainly because I didn’t think I could say no to her.

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