Chapter Two

"Hey Brody, enjoying the party? Did you finally let loose a little?" I teased, oblivious of the obvious anger radiating off of him. "This is Gavin. We were just about to go…somewhere." I didn't really know where. Did Gavin even know…? I figured he did.

"So were we. It's time to go, Ansel. Tell your…friend goodbye." Brody ordered me strictly, his jaw set and his face carved into an uncharacteristic leer.

Gavin shook off my clingy hand and nodded a little reluctantly, grimacing. "Yeah, I have to go meet my girlfriend anyways. See ya around, Annie." My brain was so clouded that I didn't fully comprehend the magnitude of the sentences he'd just spoken.

"Okay, Gav, have fun." I waved cheerily at his retreating back and turned my half-grin towards Brody, whose expression was a mix between outraged and confused. "I didn't want to bother you while you were having fun, so I came out here for some fresh air and met Gav. Isn't he great? We talked for a while, and then he kissed me." I unnecessarily informed him, my grin never failing.

Brody shook his head and grabbed the hand that Gavin abandoned before dragging me back towards the beach house. "Just how much did you drink?" He asked with a disgusted tone, but whether he was disgusted with himself or me I was unsure.

"Oh, three or four or maybe four-and-a-half or five…? I lost count after the second." I explained easily. "It was only…rum, I think Gav said."

"With coke?" He asked sharply.

"Nah, I left out the coke after a while. Oh, there's the kitchen, let me mix one to take—hey, wait, that tickles!" I gasped when I felt Brody wrap his arm around my waist to forcibly haul me out of the kitchen and out of the house.

"Jesus, An. Open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle are illegal-you know that. God, you're never drinking again, and that includes whatever's in Rosie's freezer. I really hate you right now." Brody grunted. He effortlessly secured me in the passenger seat of his pickup and slammed the door a little harder than necessary, then appeared at the wheel in no time flat. "Damn good thing I didn't drink tonight." He started the truck and shifted gears before peeling out onto the street more recklessly than he should have. He cooled down a little once we were blending with the traffic, though he still uttered swears under his breath and shot me several reproachful looks when he could safely divert his attention from the road. I mentally kept track of how many times he spoke a holy figure's name just for the fun of it.

"What the hell were you thinking? I told you not to drink anything and I thought I said don't go off with anyone too, but maybe it slipped my mind, and…and—is that smoke? You were smoking with him?" Brody took the entire stop light wait and longer to rant at me, only letting off the brake when two or three backed up cars beeped their horns. "What were you thinking? No, what was I thinking? I let you talk me into it…your mom is going to kill me. Maybe I should do it myself and save her the trouble…goddamn I'm an idiot."

I snapped my attention towards the redhead and pulled against the constraints of the seat belt to move a little closer. I would have ignored his self-deprecation if not for the fact that he mentioned that one, singular word I hated. "No, don't tell me you're going to tell her, Brody. I'll never forgive you. This was only a one-time thing, I promise! There's no reason to go off and tell my parents since nothing bad happened to me!" His face stayed grim and he kept his eyes glued to the street. "I swear to God I'll fire you if you tell."

He let out a stream of nice expletives when he couldn't make it past the next red light. He slammed the heel of his hand against the steering wheel and turned to me. "I don't care. Go ahead and fire me, that won't stop me. I can't believe you were with him. Why him, Ansel? He's the guy who steals from the store and you go off and almost do God-knows-what with him. And did you hear what he told you? He was using you!" He floored it a second before the light turned and missed a crossing car by a hair. I shifted in my seat to where I was fully facing Brody and didn't bother hiding the knowing smirk on my face.

"I see now. You're jealous, aren't you? Because I was going to leave you alone to go with Gav. And you didn't want me to go to the party because other guys would see me too, right? You sure are selfish, but it's awfully sweet…"

"I'm not selfish and you've got it all wrong! You don't even know the guy and you talk about him like you two are long lost buddies. You're my best friend and I was looking out for you, that's all."

I shimmied closer and rested my chin on his shoulder to get a better look at his eyes. Eyes betrayed emotions, from what I'd heard, and I wondered if I could see his giving anything away.

Brody's eyes were a shade between gray and blue—something kind of steely. They were resolutely kept on the stretch of road in front of us. His jaw was still set and his thin lips were almost white from being pressed together in a frustrated frown. I examined his profile slowly, and realized just how perfect his angular face was. He had a flawlessly straight nose that wasn't too big or too small, neither curved nor upturned. I couldn't see his forehead because of the overhanging fringe of wispy red hair, but it was no doubt in perfect proportion to his other features. When my eyes stopped on his lips, I became aware of the rising urge to touch them. I figured the previous stirring of my hormones from their usual catatonic state caused all of these thoughts to well up in my muddled mind. Without thinking twice, I raised my hand to the other side of his face, admiring the natural peachy complexion he sported, and tried to turn his face towards mine so I could act on my thoughts.

"An? Ansel, what are you doing now?" His eyes nearly drifted towards me, but they faltered halfway and he kept them on the road.

"Shut up and kiss me." I murmured to the side of his face. He visibly tensed and pulled out of my hold, almost shrinking against the door.

"How much did you drink again…?" There was a nervous catch in his voice; he was edgy around me.

How cute.

I exhaled a frustrated sigh, but didn't give up. My hand persisted and made its way up to his neck to take note of how smooth the skin was. Amused giggles bubbled up inside me when I pondered his reactions to various things I could do to him. I gazed up at his widened eyes, then to his hands that were gripping the wheel so hard his knuckles were pale, and carried out my idea.

In the back of my mind, where logic was being buried, a little voice protested that doing this while he was driving probably wouldn't be in our best interests. But the part of my brain that largely dominated my decisions tonight disagreed and cheered me on.

Brody skillfully ignored the mouth that was lightly pressing to his neck, and ran a stop sign. I prayed there weren't any cops around. I felt his throat move when he swallowed uncomfortably.

"What do I have to do to get you to kiss me?" I groaned in defeat. Inspiration struck me like lightning.

I snaked my hand up his thigh.

Brody choked out a strangled gasp and the car jerked to a sudden halt, just short of a yellow light that had switched to red.

"Ansel. Stop."

After that brief incident and awkward silence that ensued, the ride back to the store was quite uneventful. Brody had stopped speaking and looking at me altogether and I sat against my seat restlessly, bored with sitting and ready to get out of the stuffy car.

"Hey, Ansel…" Brody put the car in park and turned off the ignition. I supposed we were finally back at Rosie's.

"Hm?"

"Does Rosie's look…a little off?"

"What?" I sat up straighter and flipped my head towards the window. "What about it? Why does it look off? Aren't you just imagining it?" I grinned sardonically, moving to unbuckle my seat belt.

"Wait—the glass on the door is broken!" He hurried to get out of the car and didn't even bother taking his keys along. I followed after him with my eyes for a second, eyebrow raised, before what he said sank in. I threw my door open and ran towards the entrance.

As he'd said, there was a sizable break in the door, the edges jagged and forbidding, and the rest of the glass was strewn across the sidewalk.

"What the hell?" After moving past the door, I saw the mess that awaited us inside. Merchandise and shelves were awry on the tile, the cokes were smashed and bleeding soda in a large, sticky puddle, my cousin standing in the center, and the freezer doors were bashed in, along with the bottles held inside. "Kyle! What the hell happened here?" My hands clamped onto the black-haired male's shoulders and shook him slightly to jar him out of his daze.

Kyle's stunned expression stayed in place as he moved his eyes slowly down to meet mine. "Annie?"

"What happened?" I demanded in a louder, more panicked voice.

"An, the cash register's been forced open, but the safe in back is in tact…maybe we should let Kyle sit down." He rolled the chair that usually stayed behind the check out counter closer, but far enough away from the crashed store. I nodded and led my cousin towards it, careful to avoid slipping on the mess.

"Annie—I don't…I don't know what happened, one minute I was in the back answering a call and then I heard noises—no, I heard crashes, so I came back out to see what was going on and found the place like this—then some kids were running and driving away—it wasn't my fault Annie, but I didn't know what else to do…I called your mom and dad and my dad, and, oh God, I'm dead. They're going to kill me! Kill me, Ansel! I'll get fired—a-a-and Dad'll send me to a military school like he did with Isaac—and I won't last a day there, you know I won't!" I held up my hand to silence his distressed rambling.

"You called Mom and Dad?" Kyle nodded and licked his lips anxiously before muttering under his breath. I felt sick. "No…" My hand dropped onto his shoulder. "No, it's okay, it wasn't your fault and they won't fire you. It was my fault, I shouldn't have left…" I was the one they were going to kill. I smelled like smoke and liquor, I was sure, and I'd been out partying with Brody, something my parents forbade me to do until I was of legal age and out of the house. My insides churned violently. The very thought made me sick. I removed my hand from his shoulder and pressed both against my stomach. "I feel sick," I repeated quietly, rushing to the bathroom.

Turned out I couldn't hold my liquor all that well after all.

After what seemed like hours later, I returned to the front of the store with my inner system pretty much cleansed of alcoholic substances. However, when I saw the three extra figures standing around, I froze mid-step and made to flee back into the women's room and lock the door.

"Ansel. Catherine. Elliot." A lethally quiet voice hissed from across the puddle of spilled sodas.

I was dead.

Mom stood with her hands planted firmly on her hips, face set in a scowl and eyes shooting daggers—if looks could kill, I'd be dead ten times over. I hoped to God Brody managed to keep his mouth shut about where we'd been. Redhead shied his gaze away from mine and wandered off to another area to evaluate the damage when I mentally pleaded for his help. "What the hell were you thinking?" At that point, Kyle and my uncle disappeared outside, and Dad hurried into the back room to check the safe again. "Leaving your cousin here to manage this place all by himself during the night shift and taking off early?" Another dramatic pause; she was far from done. When she had a lot to say concerning the reasons I was going to be murdered, she tended to break off into small sentences at a time. Possibly because she wanted to sound more like a strict parent than a furious maniac.

Towards me, Mom had generally been pleasant and doting because I'd never gotten in serious trouble or done anything worthy of a homicidal scolding, but when Dad ever screwed up and Mom caught on, I really considered calling the police sometimes. She could get that angry. And I wasn't too keen on being on the receiving end of her rage.

She would never trust me again. The image she had of me was shattered, and I was probably going to be fired (not that I minded) and shipped off to a boarding school in England where I would be beaten if I messed up—so I gathered from a rumor one of my friend's sisters decided to share when she researched boarding schools. Or worse, a military school like Kyle had mentioned. And he thought he wouldn't last a day there? I was most certainly not a Cadet Kelly.

"U—uh, um, Mom…how about we look at it this way: if I actually had been here, I could have gotten seriously hurt. I mean, they could have been wild maniacs brandishing baseball bats, or even worse, guns. What means more to you, the shop or…me?"

My words went unheard. "Not only that, but you let people just waltz in here and take things right from under your nose without doing anything? Is that how we've raised you? What else do you do—steal beer from the freezers when no one's looking?" I cringed. She shook her head in disbelief and sighed. "Grounding won't even cover your punishment, Ansel. You lose all privileges we've ever allowed you, and then some. You're under parental-issued house arrest. For a long, long time." She added to my blank expression.

"Does that mean I'm fired…?" I asked hopefully, not able to contain that last little drop of desperation.

"No. You keep your job, but you're demoted. You obviously can't be trusted in your position now, unlike Broderick. He's the new manager, and you are back where you started. But that's not all," Mom paused to catch her breath. "You are going to be working unpaid; all of your funds are going towards the store until the damages are accounted for."

My mouth fell open in shock. Could she really do that? Wasn't there something called child labor law that prevented that?

Dad stepped in before any more damage could be dealt, and I had the tiny notion that he might defend me and counter Mom's methods of punishment. But to my dismay, all he said was "Honey, should we call the police now, or in the morning?"

Mom pursed her lips, still fixating me with her death-inducing glare, before replying. "It's late now. We'll wait. In the mean time, we should all go home and get back to sleep. Part of her punishment is cleaning up this mess and covering up the door."

Without so much as a goodbye, they all left me standing alone in the middle of the store. Kyle got to take off early, and Brody was already off so he could do whatever. To top it all off, one of the flickering lights went out, leaving me in dim despair.

"…Need help?" Brody asked from the counter.

Traitor, I felt like saying. "No, you're off the clock. Go home."

More than the shop had been broken that night.