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Twenty Seven - Hunger Strike

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The smile on the man's face tells me he's been expecting me, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners as his thin lips shoot beams of pride towards me. 

"I'm sorry I'm past the curfew, sir, but --"

"Welcome back, Xavier," he says instead, reaching out and placing a broad hand on my shoulder. He gives me a gentle squeeze, massaging away some of my worry with a single touch.

This is what fathers feel like.

I know because my own was just like this.

"Come on in, she's been waiting for you," he says, dropping his hand from my shoulder and turning away. "Oh, and please ..." he turns back to look at me, a slight smile still on his face. "... you can stop calling me sir now. Elias is fine."

"Yes, sir -- I mean, um ..." 

As nice as the gesture is, calling Haley's father by his first name isn't something I feel comfortable doing just yet. 

Thankfully, he doesn't insist, turning around and walking into his house as if expecting me to follow him. I do, closing the door softly behind me and latching it shut. I watch Haley's father begin to ascend the stairs, nodding towards me over his shoulder, and I take that as his indication that he wants me to follow him. I do just that.

Elias stops in front of the door I know belongs to Haley's room. I was here for the first and only time not so long ago.

It feels like so long has passed since that night.

So much has changed.

I have changed.

"Haley, dear?" the man next to me calls through the door, tapping his fist against the wooden surface.

"Go away," is the answer.

I don't know what to think; Haley has never spoken like this to her father before. No matter how many rules he sets or how many times he interrupts us by reminding us of his ten o'clock curfew, Haley has always been so cool about it. At least she acted cool, even if I could see her flushing red with frustration.

"Come out, you have a visitor who --"

"I'm not talking to you, go away!" she yells through the door.

Elias rolls his eyes, giving me a weary smile before knocking again. He waves a hand towards the door and takes a step back as if letting me take the lead.

My breath catches in my throat. Dealing with an uncharacteristically angry Haley is one thing, but having to do it with her father watching is a whole another level of panic-inducing. Maybe I should just turn around and leave. Maybe sleeping on the stairs outside my apartment doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all.

My plans go out the window when I hear a sniff from the other side of the door.

Haley is ... crying?

"Haley?" I speak up without putting a thought into it.

I hear a gasp, a scuffle, and the sound of hasty feet thudding softly on the carpeted floor. Within a split second, the door jerks open, revealing a bleary-eyed and clearly disheveled Haley. Her cheeks are flushed -- probably from crying -- and her eyes wet, but the widening of her eyes tells me she was not prepared to find me here.

She stares at me in shock for a brief moment, and I stare back, unable to believe she would be such a mess ... because of me?

"Xavier!" She throws her arms around my waist, burying her face in my chest. 

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