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       It was fifteen minutes to ten when the sound of keys jingling against the door finally traveled through the house. Steve perked up, his entire body immediately turning to face in the direction that the sound came from, his shoulders relaxing and tensing again. This was always the worst part. Even through watching her go, through the counting of every moment as it ticked by painfully slowly towards her return, through the lump in his throat the entire time she wasn’t there, this was the part that Steve hated most: the return. Not to be mistaken, though–Steve relished having her back, oh, he did so. Every particle of tension and worry in his being dissolved as soon as she was back in his sight, as if her mere presence soothed his soul. Which it did, no doubt. No, this part was the hardest because he always had to remind her, and he hated if his tone got just a little too serious, and her face fell as a result of it. He hated being the reason for the light leaving her eyes.

      He pushed any and every thought to the back of his mind and prepared himself as she entered the kitchen, pushing the hair back from her face. Her eyes slanted slightly as she pouted at him, letting him know right away that she was aware of her misstep. He dipped his chin and gazed up at her from under a furrowed brow, waiting for her to stand up for herself.

      “Hey Steve,” she smiled, then pursed her lips hesitantly before shaking her head and continuing. “I know I’m late. I’m so sorry. I know I should have been here on time to have dinner with you. I appreciate that you’re so patient with me, I don’t deserve it. I’m really sorry, it’s just that my friends wanted to catch a movie and it went on a little longer than we expected.”

      Damn it, he thought. She just about covered everything. I can’t even be mad at her. Steve raised an eyebrow, the corner of his mouth already preparing to pull up into a smile. Thank goodness he was thickly bearded across the face, saving his smile lines from giving him away. “Do your friends help you prepare these lines while they’re keeping you away from home?” he asked, his tone witty.

      She giggled in a pout, knowing full well what her expressions did to his stern personality. “I’m just being honest. I don’t want to lie to you! And hey, I didn’t even eat all day so I could have dinner with you. See?” She grinned and he finally let himself return it.

      “You must be starving, go change quickly and I’ll set the table.”

      She smiled at him sweetly, clearly happy with the result of her efforts. “I’ll be back down asap,” she chimed, turning around and hurrying down the hall. Steve watched the sway of her skirt as her hips moved, his jaw clenching with loath. He couldn’t stand her wearing those kinds of things outside of the house, but he didn’t want to hail down on her like an authoritarian. He wanted her to be open with him, to see him as reliable and understanding. He let her wear whatever she liked, and she thankfully didn’t have too skimpy of a taste in fashion.

      Just as she reached the bottom of the stairs to the upper floor, Steve called out to her, making her turn around and look at him expectantly.

      “Yeah Steve?” she waited.

      “I’ve told you a hundred times, Mel,” he spoke with a glint in his eyes that she could see from across the dim hallway. “Dad. Not Steve.”