Brad Meltzer: 'The Inner Circle' Reveals Government Secrets

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Synapses fire in my brain and I'm right back in church, when I first found out that Clementine had never met her dad (her mom was nineteen and never said who the boy was). My dad died when I was three years old.

Back then, when combined with the kiss, I thought that made Clementine Kaye my destiny -- especially for the three-week period when she was home with mono and I was the one picked to bring her assignments home for her. I was going to be in her room -- near her guitar and her bra (Me. Puberty.) -- and the excitement was so overwhelming, as I knocked on her front door, right there, my nose began to bleed.

Really.

Clementine saw the whole thing -- even helped me get the tissues that I rolled into the nerd plugs that I stuffed in my nostrils. I was the short kid. Easy pickings. But she never made fun -- never laughed -- never told the story of my nosebleed to anyone

Today, I don't believe in destiny. But I do believe in history. That's what Orlando will never understand. There's nothing more powerful than history, which is the one thing I have with this woman.

"Lookatyou," she hums in a soulful but lilting voice that sounds like she's singing even when she's just talking. It's the same voice I remember from high school -- just scratchier and more worn. For the past few years, she's been working at a small jazz radio station out in Virginia. I can see why. In just her opening note, a familiar tingly exhilaration crawls below my skin. A feeling like anything's possible.

A crush.

For the past year, I'd forgotten what it felt like.

"Beecher, you're so . . . You're handsome!"

My heart reinflates, nearly bursting a hole in my chest. Did she just --?

"You are, Beecher! You turned out great!"

My line. That's my line, I tell myself, already searching for a new one. Pick something good. Something kind. And genuine. This is your chance. Give her something so perfect, she'll dream about it.

"So . . . er . . . Clemmi," I finally say, rolling back and forth from my big toes to my heels as I notice her nose piercing, a sparkling silver stud that winks right at me. "Wanna go see the Declaration of Independence?"

Kill me now.

She lowers her head, and I wait for her to laugh.

"I wish I could, but --" She reaches into her purse and pulls out a folded-up sheet of paper. Around her wrist, two vintage wooden bracelets click- clack together. I almost forgot. The real reason she came here.

"You sure you're okay doing this?" Clementine asks.

"Will you stop already," I tell her. "Mysteries are my specialty."

* * *

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