A/N: At some point in time-a few years ago-I had posted this chapter here on as a pilot tester. It was first written in 2007. A really long time ago, yeah. But I've decided to bring it back, along with a few other stories of mine since inspiration has returned at full force. Well, that's about all I have to say for now. Please read on, and enjoy!


IN STORE

Chapter One

As usual, he came into the store and left, one candy bar richer. As usual, I paid for it out of my own wallet, straight to the cash register.

"Why do you always let him do that?"

"Do what?" I innocently inquired the male who addressed me. He donned the standard issue green smock that all who worked in the convenience store were forced to wear. It clashed somewhat painfully with his brilliantly dyed crimson hair. I thought I saw a faint highlight of copper mixed among the color today, but then again he switched hair colors more often than a famous punk rock musician. He leaned his elbows on the counter before me, his face creasing into a stern, semi-perplexed frown.

"You know 'what,' Ansel. That kid comes in here everyday and nicks some candy or chips and you let him go free. He's a shoplifter, why don't you do anything about it?"

My eyebrows drew in and I exhaled an annoyed hiss. "Don't worry about it Broderick, this is my family's store, and doesn't concern you."

"That's 'Brody'—see the name tag? And just whose paycheck does the stolen merchandise come out of?" Brody quirked up his pierced eyebrow, challenging me.

"Nobody's." I fell back against the ratty chair and pushed the back support back as far as it would go while I stretched, trying to convey the message that it wasn't up for discussion.

"Are you saying you pay for him every time?"

"Mmhm. Pass me some gum, will you?" I brought my legs up onto the patchy, olive-colored cushion and held one hand out to Brody without looking at him, keeping my eyes instead on the yellowing ceiling and fluorescent lights.

A skeptical snort came from the redhead, but he complied and tossed an unwrapped package of watermelon flavored bubblegum onto my lap. "You're unbelievable. You don't even know the guy; he could be some thug who does that to every other store he comes across. Hell, he probably takes stuff from Wal-Mart like it belongs to him! You're supporting a thief, Ansel, how does that feel?"

Watermelon-flavored gum didn't suit my taste buds at all, I discovered. Nasty. Nevertheless, I suffered through it and shot Brody a scathing look. "May I remind you that you did the exact same thing up until just a year ago? I'm not even sure if you're completely reformed, but I put in a good word for you to my parents and got you this job, didn't I? I don't know whether you've been stealing, but I trust you, don't I? Show a little gratitude, you snot. I saved you from being kicked out onto the streets by your mother." I had to admit, the acerbity in my tone was mainly caused by the acrid taste on my tongue.

He remained silent for a minute. "If that gum is really that disagreeable with you, spit it out. Don't take it out on me." Well, I'll be damned, he knew me better than I thought he did. Not that the new little fact shocked me; we go way back.

My family, surname of Elliot, moved here when I was ten years old. Mom and Dad took over this little corner store known as 'Rosie's Grab 'n' Go', formerly owned by our grandfather, in order to support me and my little sister Terra. Before ol' redhead here came along, this place was thoroughly family-oriented, with my uncle and his three sons helping out. We lived in their same apartment complex, in a crummy two-bedroom, one-bathroom living area, called Sunny View. That was where I came to be friends with Broderick. In fact, I met him first more out of curiosity than anything. The walls of Sunny View wore pretty thin, so even level voices tended to carry. And more often than not, rather loud conversations carried through to my and Terra's room. I asked my mom about it, and she told me our neighbors were a rather…interesting…single mother and her son. In other words, she thought of them as the equivalent of trailer trash in an apartment.

I got the adventurous notion to meet this next-door boy and made a habit out of lingering on the front deck where the two house's front doorways intersected. I figured if I waited it out long enough, he would surely come out right in front of me. Right? Right. When I met him, he had his original brown hair—streaked with blue. Even then he liked to dabble in different hair colors.

I found out he went to the same school as me, albeit two grades higher. He told me his father left them, and his mother was a drunk and blamed him for her lost husband.

Back then, Brody was the type of kid I'd never want to be seen around or want to be around, much less. I was the naïve, perfect little delight that all the teachers adored, while he was the constantly truant kid who smoked cigarettes behind the building with the older students.

He did a lot of things that were worse than that, too. Not exactly an ideal influence for a straight-A schoolgirl, was he? Of course not. But, I learned things from him, like how to smoke a cigarette (though I didn't do it often) and how best to shoplift simple little things. In turn, I taught him that he should at least stay in school and put forth enough effort to pass into the next grade or else end up like the wino hobo on the street corner.

As the years passed, his actions became worse, and he got mixed up with some bad drugs and gangs. In fact, I wasn't completely sure he wasn't still involved in those things today…

When his mother found out about his illegal interactions, she threatened to kick him out if he didn't shape up and get a job to support his family, or namely, her. The perfect opportunity arose when my uncle's oldest son decided to enroll in the army and left an open spot in Rosie's. I convinced him the best I could that this was his chance to redeem himself, and set it up so that he would be ensured a spot in our lovely family-operated community.

Was I a little too trusting, hiring a hoodlum like him? Well, for a year, he's been clean of anything, and even began saving up some money for college. That trust was rather well invested, if I do say so myself.

I rolled my eyes and waved a hand dismissively. "I do trust you, damn it. Will you bring me a slushie from the machine now, if it's not out of order?"

"You like changing the subject, don't you? I don't know...maybe you have a soft spot for people like me. That's…not really good, Ansel."

"It'll all be good once you bring me my slushie."

"You're too bossy." He spat at me.

"Well yeah, I am your boss." I raised my head just enough to let him see my smirk. After an eye roll and a few, choice, swear words mixed with something that sounded suspiciously like 'Nazi bitch', he stomped off towards the break room. He may have exceeded me by two years, but he knew better than to set me off by ignoring me and prodding at subjects I deemed taboo. Life was good when you had the power to give people minimum wage. "Hey you, forget about the slushie. When your shift ends, let's go find a party to crash, okay?"

Brody's face peered at me from around a rack of variously flavored potato chips. "You'd just leave the store…aren't you supposed to be the responsible one?"

My shoulders lifted in a half-shrug. "I'll ask my cousin to take over. Come on, it's a Friday, there should be some good parties at some peoples' houses that you know of, right? I mean, you're college age and should know some college people who like to party, right?"

"Not anywhere you should be…"

"Why not? We used to do this kind of stuff all the time. I'd rather drink at a party than mooch off the supply back in the freezers as usual-wouldn't you?"

His eyebrows furrowed. "If your mother knew what you just said, you'd be in some deep shit…"

"Are you threatening me? Threatening your boss?" He played the mother card on me; Mom never knew about what we did together, and if she did, I'd be grounded for life. She still pictured me as her perfect little schoolgirl angel who knew no wrong. Dad, though, I think he might be catching on, especially since he found the opened box of beer in the freezer unit last week.

"I absolutely refuse to let you step foot near a party."

"What's with the sudden big brother attitude? You do it. Why can't I?"

"Well for one, you're underage, and for two, do you know what kinds of things happen at a party?"

"Duh, we used to go to them, and I'm not that clueless."

"You haven't been to these kinds, the ones we went to were like…PG-13. Besides, why the sudden urge after two years?"

"Um, I dunno, maybe because I wanna be a rebel?" I teased lightheartedly, smiling at his deep-set frown. My shoulders slumped. "It doesn't matter. If you don't want to come with, I'll find one by myself. I am a big girl now, you know." I knew he definitely changed his mind after those words left my mouth.

Sure enough, he grudgingly muttered a few words of agreement, accompanied by a jerky nod. Then he disappeared towards where I figured to be the back room. I was looking at about a week of pissy, irritated, ignore-Annie attitude from Brody for what I'd just pulled. But strangely enough, I didn't mind.

Approximately two hours later, right when my watch beeped nine p.m., I took off to find my cousin who was supposed to be helping keep shop anyways but usually just slacked off somewhere in the proximity, to tell him to actually do his job. The nice thing to do would have been asking him to go with us, but the thing was, we never really got along, and he especially wasn't too fond of Brody. Besides, someone had to watch the store…

I found Redhead near the non-perishable foods (AKA the ramen section) restocking, still looking upset and liable to lash out at anyone other than me. He was great for business, he was.

"Come on, leave that for my cousin to finish. Let's go!" He fixated me with a cold glare while I trailed him back to the break room and chattered about irrelevant topics. "Oh, and are you going to go home and change, or are you going as is?" I wondered innocently as he folded his smock and stored it in a cabinet.

"What's wrong with this?" He gestured his clothes with a sweep of his hand. Grungy old jeans and a black hoodie over a plain (and slightly dirty) wife beater. I snorted.

"Nothing, nothing…" I just thought that maybe guys were supposed to clean up a little and not have a five o' clock shadow before they headed out to a party, is all. Nothing important, really, he was just contradicting all of my personal beliefs. I watched his face slowly dawn an idea, and I realized what he was thinking before he shared his thoughts.

"What about you? I'll drive you home and you can go change into whatever you want! Take as long as you like." Yeah, and then he'd lock me in a closet or bathroom until the morning.

I shook my head and gave him a patronizing stare. "Nah. This is fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Mm. Yep."

"Your hair looks oily."

"Oh, ouch. That one hurts. Nice try! But my hair only gets oily if I don't wash it after two days, and—oh yeah, I washed it after school before I came here. Again, nice try."

Score: Annie: 2, Brody: 0. I was on a roll tonight!

Eventually, after much more arguing and digression, we made it out to his beat up old Ford Ranger. I wasn't a big fan of trucks, now, since they seemed a bit too crowded and stuffy, but I didn't mind his because it was a nice shade of shiny navy, outside and in. I would have preferred riding in the bed, but for some reason or the other it was always packed with random junk. And anyways, it got us from point A to point B, so what could I complain about when I didn't even own any type of vehicle?

Turns out there weren't any parties in the neighborhood, but word on the street was that someone or other was throwing one at a beach house that may or may not have belonged to him. The beach at night? I was all for that idea. There was nothing better than watching the stars from the sand. Admittedly, the weather was a little chilled since it was mid-autumn, but as long as I had my jacket I would do fine.

After parking by a group of other cars, Brody was intercepted by a couple of guys he knew from high school. I took the opportunity to sneak into the house by myself. He was right. This party was nothing like the ones we used to go to. The people were older, the music was better, and there was more alcohol. Maybe even drugs, but I didn't look in on that too closely. I did recognize a few people from school, but they were mostly seniors. I wondered why Brody never let me go to one of these before; it was…exhilarating. Maybe it was because I wasn't supposed to be there. Maybe it was because people I didn't know said hi to me, and a random person who looked like a server shoved a tumbler full of a brown liquid at me. It looked like cola and smelled a little like cola, but didn't really taste all that much like the soda. Brody had told me not to drink anything, but he was just trying to keep me from drinking alcohol, right? He was a party pooper.

After depleting half of the drink in the glass, I made my way to the kitchen to get more. I didn't know what exactly it had in it, but it was good. I passed by a couple of people I'd seen when I first got here and we exchanged a few words, then stumbled over to the counter where a variety of bottles were set out. Stumbled, for the reason that there was already a guy passed out on the tile that I didn't quite see. There were types of liquor I'd seen my parents drink but never been allowed to taste myself. Stronger, I guessed, but I could hold my alcohol pretty well, I liked to think. I tracked down the one that smelled roughly like what had been in my drink and mixed it with what was left in my glass. It was even better than before.

When I returned to the other room, Brody was standing around with an expression akin to a mother who just realized her child had gotten lost in the grocery store. His eyes landed on me from across the room and he all but vaulted over one of the couches to meet me where I stood.

"What's that? I told you to not drink anything. Can't you ever listen to me, Ansel?"

"Don't worry, I can handle it. This is only my first one." I lied with a half-grin-half-smirk. "I won't drink another, promise," with fingers crossed behind my back.

He snatched the glass out of my hand and took a swig before fixing me with another one of his patented, pissy death glares. "You don't get this back. Don't think of making another, either." I had the feeling a threat was next, but an arm slung across his shoulder, connected to none other than one of his old high school buddies.

"Hey, you two know each other?" The brunette asked curiously, waving a beer bottle vaguely between us.

Brody gave off a grudging nod and opened his mouth to speak, but I beat him to it.

"I'm his friend Annie." I hated it when he introduced me to strangers by using my full name; I only allowed family and close friends to get away with that. God, it was a boys' name for heaven's sake.

"Nice to meet you, Annie, call me Josh. Mind if I steal this guy away from you for a few minutes?"

"No, go ahead. He needs to loosen up a little." I grinned.

Before he could say more, the guy dragged him away, mentioning something about meeting a 'hot classmate' from one of his courses. After they were both out of sight, I made it a point to return to the kitchen and pick up another drink.

After I made my way through two-or maybe three?-more mixed drinks, the room was starting to get a little too hot and crowded and spinny for my liking. The beach was a lot cooler, and seemed less populated. I didn't know or care if it really was, but there was more room outside. And it was calm.

I strayed away from the bonfire someone must have set up a couple of hours ago, judging by the way the flame had diminished, and towards a space where a few cars were parked. I wanted to be away from dense groups right now, and those cars looked deserted. How could I tell? Well, for one, they were dark and completely stationary, and for two, there was a strangely familiar boy perched on the hood of one of them, seemingly asleep. I figured he wouldn't be there if he wasn't alone.

Then, I realized with a small shock that he was completely awake. A bright red ember glowed from just inches away from his lips, and smoke rose in characteristic spirals around him. He was sitting with his back against the windshield and his face uplifted towards the sky. The moonlight reflected off of his blonde hair, giving it something of an ethereal, silvery glow I've seen described in fantasy novels…usually towards elves or something. I approached him slowly and stopped just short of the car he sat on. He didn't look like an elf…He was, really, very, quite human.

"Whatcha doing out here all by yourself?" I asked with a ghost of a smile playing on my lips, folding my arms and tilting my head in a slightly inquisitive manner.

"I could ask you the same question." His eyes stayed glued to the sky. It sounded like a defensive question, yet his tone hadn't seemed unsettled at all. Just…smooth. Smooth, like that liquor I'd gotten so fond of all night.

"Could you?" I got the audacity to draw nearer and soon was leaning against the edge of the hood, partaking in his stargazing activity.

"You look kind of familiar. Do I know you?"

"Do you?" I decided to keep quiet about the little fact that I watched him steal candy bars from my store quite often and let him get away with it.

He took his cigarette from his mouth and blew out a swirl of the unpleasantly scented smoke. "Nah, I don't think I do. But you do look familiar. Pretty sure I've seen you before …Turn around real quick."

"What? Why?" I obliged nonetheless.

A quiet chuckle left his throat. It was a pleasant sound. "That funky hair, those glasses…you're the girl who works at Rosie's, right?"

My hand shot defensively up to my hair. I wouldn't classify it as funky, but I did like to experiment with hair colors, a habit I developed from being around Brody for so long. I hated the original blasé brown color, so over time, I'd added in blonde, lighter brown, black, red, and even some highlights of pink for the occasion-though temporary. My hair's condition was probably a wreck, but I sacrificed silky smooth for flashy. Even if most of that flashy had faded. As for my glasses, what did he mean by those glasses? They were actually normal compared to my hair. If pink horn-rimmed glasses could be considered normal. Whatever.

"Am I?" I countered with a raised eyebrow.

"Definitely. I don't know any other girl who looks like you. And I go to that place a lot, haven't you seen me?" There was a certain smug, proud air about the way he asked that, and I didn't bother to guess why.

"Wait, come to think of it, I might have. Maybe once or twice. But I never, ya know, stopped you to talk or anything." I could almost feel his ego deflating and couldn't help but smirk. "…Actually, I've wanted to talk to you for a while."

"Oh? Then why not start with an introduction."

"Sounds fair enough. Annie."

"Gavin. You smoke?" He asked while proffering the hand that held the cigarette.

"Nope."

"I bet you haven't even tried to before. Most girls I know haven't, but the minority made a habit out of it."

"Oh, I've done it before, so I won't fit into either category." My airy nonchalance on the subject must have instigated suspicion, because he let out an incredulous snort.

"You're not lying, are you Annie?"

Just to prove myself and defend the skill I absorbed from Brody, I accepted the offered cancer stick and took a drag before exhaling out a puff of smoke in Gavin's direction. "I can exhale smoke through my nose and make smoke rings, too, just incase you're curious. But don't ask me to display that." I hoisted myself up onto the yellow hood and copied his reclined pose, sighing. Secondhand smoking was what I used to do with Brody when he managed to get his hands on a pack, but I tried to not make a habit out of having one when they were in my reach. Nevertheless, I was learned in the art of smoking and wouldn't let anyone tell me otherwise.

Gavin laughed a little. "You don't seem the type. And is that rum you have there? You drink too, surprise, surprise. I guess you really can't judge a book by its cover, can you?"

I swirled around the remnants of the saccharine liquid before downing the rest. "Oh, is that what this is? I thought it tasted familiar." An amused giggle slipped past my lips, unbidden. "Why don't I seem the type?" I asked with a slight lilt.

"Well, aside from your wild hair, you seem to have all the makings of a bookworm, or a goody-goody little schoolgirl." He elaborated with an indistinct wave of his hands. I still had the cigarette, so his hands were free.

"Seems a lot of people think that. But when you get to know me, you'll end up changing your mind, trust me." I muttered after exhaling another cancer cloud.

"You make it sound like I want to get to know you." He replied with an amused expression, stealing the cigarette away.

I ran a hand through my hair and sighed out a somewhat snarky snicker. "Well, of course you do. If you didn't, we wouldn't be here talking." I made a grab for the little tobacco stick and returned it where I thought it should be—with me. The stars seemed a lot brighter and the embers from the nearby bonfire were dying down. My sense of time had briefly been misplaced; I had no idea what time it was, but it must have been late since the beach crowd had thinned out considerably. It was like we were the only ones.

"You're right. You're interesting, Annie. I like you."

A wide grin broke out across my face. Somewhere in the non-fuzzy depths of my mind, I knew I'd developed a crush on this blonde-haired shoplifter since day one, and hearing him say that sent my heart into a flutter. I took another drag to mask my expression. "I like you too, Gav." And the smoke found its way out of my mouth again.

"Gimme the cigarette." Gavin had shifted from his spot and leaned towards me, half over me, and plucked it from my hand. I just played it cool, shrugged, and waited for my next turn. But he flicked it over the side of the car onto the sandy bank—it had been near its end, anyways. No great loss. I didn't need anymore after all; the feeling of smoke on my tongue wasn't too pleasant. The windshield wiper was digging into my lower back, too, leaving me quite uncomfortable. I made a move to sit up, and then realized I was unable to do so for the sole reason that Gavin had leaned even closer…

…and kissed me.

My body and mind completely froze over as he moved one of his hands to my neck and persisted with the kiss. After the initial shock of it, I reacted and slid my arms around him. Any other time, I would have minded the fact that he'd been smoking before he did that, but since I had been doing the same thing, I really didn't care. Any other time, I would have cared that I barely even knew the guy and he was a total stranger that just randomly decided to kiss me, but I wasn't exactly in the right state of mind to think logically and push him away. The only things that registered in my mind were that he was extremely attractive and phenomenally gifted with his tongue.

After he felt the need for air, Gavin pulled away and slid off the car, grabbing my hand and taking me with him. "This isn't my car, let's go somewhere else."

"Okay," I simpered, still star struck from the event that just took place. He bent down to place another, lingering, peck on my lips before leading me somewhere by our linked hands.

Or we would have gone somewhere, had there not been a livid redhead in our way.