"I wasn't aware knowing a kid was against some mysterious and totally bogus set of rules!" Charlie snapped before she could stop herself. This was not at all the way she wanted to handle things. She thought she had her temper under control back in the apartment, but clearly not.
Then again, it was almost the end of the month, which meant that in a few days... she'd be worse.
Charlie took a deep breath, calming herself down. This technically wasn't his fault- not like he could control when she'd begin to PMS- and if she had any chance of making him understand, she'd have to do it without raising her voice or using snide comments, which was all she secretly wanted to do at the moment. But again, that wasn't his fault.
"Look, I'm sorry for snapping," she began, "but you have to admit that that back there was totally uncalled for. I can probably guess why you're upset, but don't take it out on the kid. I'm the one who let him in, and I'm the one who's letting him stick around. He..."
Inwardly, Charlie sighed. I'm certainly two for two with Royce and emotional break downs today, aren't I?
"Royce, I don't think he has any parents," she said softly, looking up at him. "I asked him about it and he went quiet- I don't think he's lying and I don't think he just... ran away." Like I did she added silently. "I can't... I'm sorry, Royce, but you can't ask me to just leave him alone. There's a lot of good stuff in that little guy, and being on his own, by himself, will ruin it. Trust me."
Here, she had too look away. It was getting personal again, and looking at him would only make her resolve (and her calmness) crack. "For all intents and purposes, I really don't have any parents either. So yes, I feel for the kid, probably more than any random stranger should. But at least I sort of hit a serious stroke of luck when my bus money ran out right here in New Hope, and I got a simple little job doing something I started to enjoy, that inevitably put me in my little desk where I sat in the day I met you."
"It's sort of not a surprise that you're currently the best thing my life has got going for me. And thanks to you, I'm making it okay, without being ruined too much."
"But that kid?" she continued, looking back at Royce and joining him on the stair. "He doesn't have anybody. He doesn't have his own Royce. And I won't let him go down the path I could have taken if I wasn't at that reception desk the day you sort of became a rather big part of my life."
Yes, Duncan, just go ahead and confess how obsessed with the man you are. I'm sure that'll go over well. Cheeks bright red, her eyes fell to the step below, unable to meet his eyes that would undoubtedly reveal more than he'd ever say. Royce was a gentleman, and if he didn't want her trying to shove too much of her feelings on him, he'd never say as much, but she knew she'd be able to see it in his face.
What if she said too much? What if what she feared earlier while crying on the couch was actually a foretelling of the truth? If she expressed any real interest, that he would push her away? The thought of a potential future without her warm, happy Royce terrified her, and her hand shot out from her side to grab his hand, dangling below his folded arms, without thinking.
No. You can't make things worse, or you'll push him away for sure. Give him his space.
Hand shaking, she let go of his hand and muttered a quiet, "Sorry", and silently waited for his verdict. Whether the verdict was about Noah or about her, she was no longer sure, but she waited anyway, scared of the answer she feared the most.