Soldier Mine (Chapter Four: Claudia, page 2 of 4)

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"Come on, Claudia. We should both know basic self defense anyway."

"It's not the karate I object to. It's us being separated for a couple of hours," I remind him quietly.

"But I'm tired of this." He puts Snickers on the floor. "I'm tired of not being able to have a life or go out with friends or anything."

"You don't have any friends."

"But if I did, I'd want to go out with them!"

I consider him. I know very well it's fear that makes me keep a stranglehold on him. I had hoped this kind of discussion would wait for a few more years. Maybe until he was eighteen or something.

Totally unrealistic. I rub my face with a sigh.

"And … maybe I do have a friend," he adds.

"Invite him over."

"It's a her."

"You have a girlfriend?" I ask, surprised. I stare at him. My first instinct is to tell him he's too young for a girlfriend, but I know that's wrong. I went on dates when I was his age, usually with other kids our age. We'd go to the mall, the movies or restaurants.

"No. She's just a friend." Despite his denial, red is creeping up his neck.

"I thought I'd have to give you the pregnancy speech when you were sixteen or seventeen. I'm not ready now, but I can draw you pictures or something."

He drops his head to his hands on the table melodramatically. "Why are you making this so hard?"

I laugh. Maybe I shouldn't, but the older sister in me enjoys tormenting him a little bit while the motherly side of me seizes up at the thought of my sweet little brother growing up too fast.

"What's her name?" I ask.


I'm quiet. Two people have entered my life unexpectedly today, and I'm starting to panic at the thought of letting Todd go to be with either. Clamping down on the emotions, I do my best to look at the situation logically.

I wanted Todd to have a chance at normal. This is what that looks like: a hobby and a girlfriend.

It scares me.

But Todd is my world.

"Okay," I murmur. "We'll get you a phone, so you can go out with your girlfriend. You MUST stay in contact at all times. If you don't answer, I'm coming for you, and if I catch you in some sort of compromising situation, I'll never let you live it down."

He lifts his head, listening. "And … karate?"

"Let me think about it. A girl I can understand. I don't want Tampa to happen again," I say and shudder.

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