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Nothing but Trouble
by J. Time
Brody Macnair, feared by some and loathed by most, looked the epitome of exhaustion as he shoved his feet into his boots, laced them one at a time, and went through the motions of preparing to leave the house.
However, as the high school senior backed his hand-me-down and gas-guzzling Ford down the driveway, it wasn't to pull an evening shift. This time, it was on what he referred to as, and his mother insisted wasn't, a blind date.
"You're just doing her parents a favor," Mrs. Macnair had insisted, leaving no room for argument. "The whole family's new to town and she needs a friend."
"I don't have time for friends," he insisted. They both knew it all too well, but she wasn't budging. "She's expecting you, Brody."
He shoved a hand through his dark hair and navigated the winding blocks of town to find the address his mother had given him. It was a nicer part of town, which bothered him, for a family better off than his own, which bothered him. In fact, everything about this 'favor' had bothered him since his mother had mentioned it.
Nicole Simmons cast her gray eyes up the empty road one way, back down the other way, and then checked her wrist for the time. Upon her parents' insistence, the seventeen-year-old blonde was perched upon the front steps of her new home's wrap around porch, yet not entirely certain of who she was waiting for.
"Friends," they had told her, "You just need to make some new friends."
Her mother, in her usual meddling fashion, had gone on to convey a long-winded story of the pleasant woman she'd run into at the local market and the son of said woman who was 'just Nicole's age'. Nicole didn't know whether to be stunned that her mother was allowing a perfect stranger to take her out in a still-unfamiliar town or insulted that she felt it was necessary to intervene in her social life.
Nicole was a smart girl and she knew well enough that her mother was trying to set her up, but she also knew that it was better to swim downstream than fight the current when it came to dealing with her. All she needed to do was spend some time with this boy, report back on the new friend she'd made and the issue would be at rest long enough for Nicole to settle in at a more comfortable pace.
When Brody's truck slowed, he spotted the girl and muttered a curse. He hadn't expected her to be waiting outside. Not in forty-degree weather. Warm for the season, but it didn't invite people to linger outside like it were spring.
Throwing the gear into park, he leaned back between the bucket seats to do a quick clean-up of the interior cabin. He could have used five minutes, but he did his best with the ten seconds he had.
When it was clear he wasn't emerging, he saw she had begun to approach.
"Nicole, right?" he asked as the passenger side window slid down. "Hop in."
She was pretty, that wasn't lost to him. But, he reminded himself, pretty had gotten him into trouble before.
"Yeah," she confirmed, flashing an almost surprised smile. "Brody?"
It was then that she realized she'd been expecting someone unlike the boy who had just pulled up outside her house. He was a little rough around the edges, much like his truck, but he was rather attractive and a stark contrast to the boys she was used to associating with. She curled her fingers under the door handle and hesitated outside the open window.
He regarded her with slate eyes, wrist hanging over the top of his steering wheel limply. "Problem?"
Nicole shook her head, climbed into the truck and pulled the door shut behind her. She tugged the fraying seat belt across her lap and raked her fingers back through her long, golden waves, a nervous habit her best friend relentlessly pointed out to her. "So," she began, glancing over at him as the engine continued to idle with a loud rumble, "Nice truck."
He smirked, unamused. "Yeah."
Without warning, he eased them into the street. "I'll run us past the school, a couple places kids hang out, and then we'll swing through Mayer's for coffee."
He wasn't sure how much she knew about the area and tacked on as an afterthought, "It's like a drive-through Starbucks with Sonic-like parking. Locally owned."
She laughed to herself and turned her attention forward. "Is your mom paying you by the hour right now?" she asked. He was practically radiating how badly he didn't wish to be playing tour guide that afternoon and Nicole didn't particularly blame him. She hadn't exactly been excited for this herself.
He gave her a sideways and calculating glance, almost missing a stop sign in the process.
After a halfhearted tapping of the brake, he cruised through the empty intersection and seemed to relax a little.
"I don't mind," he assured, waving it off as a few fingers lifted lamely from the wheel. "So you came here... why?" he ventured.
Nicole willed her pulse back down to a calmer rhythm and took to watching the houses whipping past her window.
"My dad was transferred to the plant an hour away from here," she replied, "He's the new head of the chemical engineering program. I didn't really have a choice." She supposed she should have been more grateful for her father's promotion. She wouldn't have to apply for student loans once she started college, she'd been promised a new car for her eighteenth birthday and though they had moved to a smaller town, they had upgraded to a bigger house with more property than three people would ever need. "It's only until August, at least."
He nodded, noting they were in the same year. "There," he offered, easing into the bus lane in front of the looming school building. He cruised at five miles an hour, letting her have a good look. "You have a schedule yet or anything?"
"I have to get one at the main office on Monday," she said a bit distantly as her eyes swept the ornate brick building, complete with a bell tower. She would have to make friends at this place, halfway through the current school year, when every other senior had already found their niche in high school hierarchy. It was going to be a long six months.
She turned to him with a hopeful smile and scrunched features. "Are you available for school tours, too?"
He cracked a small smile, offering a single deep nod accompanied by a flash of white teeth. "Indeed I am."
When she seemed to have gotten enough fill of the school's dark windows and lack of landscaping, he turned them back onto the street. "The spots kids hang out at aren't far," he said. "Basically you've got a movie theater, arcade/restaurant, taco place and a bowling alley. Fun, right?" The sarcasm dripped from his voice and as he'd promised, they came up on the eclectic strip after his next turn.
"Well," she challenged, arching her brows curiously, "Whatwould you consider fun?" She was laughing as the question left her lips. He was different, that was for sure, but she was actually enjoying herself so far. "You don't like eating? Or movies?"
Sure, he liked the movies just as much as the other highschoolers, he just lacked the time for such trivial things. And the money to afford them.
Instead, he identified where he was typically found in the area, if ever. "There's a park back there," he indicated, making an illegal u-turn to pull in through the exit. Sure enough, there was a row of swings, balance beams, thick concrete crawl tube and a giant Geo-dome climber. At the moment they were completely empty.
A more curious smile curved across Nicole's lips this time. "You know, I think it's called 'loitering' once you're in high school..." Yet when he briefly slowed the truck to a halt, she unfastened her seat belt, opened the door and hopped out. In the distance, above a flatter horizon than she was used to, the sun was beginning to set, casting long, black shadows that made the swings look more like a giant spider on the dirt ground. She turned back to the truck and squinted to see through the glare reflecting off the windows, waving an arm to draw Brody out from behind the wheel.
He eased down the window again, his expression curious and bemused. "It's cold," he replied, sounding tired. Is she serious right now? His smile grew steadily.
"It's nice," she remarked as she backed away towards the climber. When he made no move to leave his truck, she shrugged and turned with a laugh to approach the play piece.
He killed the engine and it gave out with a sputter of protest. Wrenching the door shut, he tugged a hooded sweatshirt out of the back and a spare and started to follow her in defeat. He smirked at the thought of returning home, explaining calmly that he'd left the new girl at the park by school.
When he approached, he tossed the gray pull over at her head, worming his way into the darker one he still held.
"Huh," she considered playfully, pulling on the chilled sweatshirt and prying her hair free with a hand, "Didn't take you for the chivalrous type."
She climbed through a metal hexagon and swung her way up through the bars overhead to perch atop the frame. A moment later, she was dangling upside-down from the center with a bar hooked behind her knees. "God," she laughed, "I haven't done this since I was twelve."
He pocketed his hands and watched her from what he considered a safe distance. "Because you're not a child," he smirked, sitting on a low balance beam. "And you look ridiculous."
Nicole pulled herself back up to sit at the top of the climber and fixed her hair. "Is my face all red?" she grinned, rubbing her cheeks with her fingertips.
He rolled his eyes and looked away, but there was that lingering smile on his lips as he did so.
She would have no problem finding friends at school, that much was clear. She was attractive and outgoing, maybe a little shy, but in the way guys noticed and would tease her over.
Brody cleared his throat and redirected his attention to a pair of headlights parking a little ways away to use the back entrance to the Mexican restaurant.
"Know them?" she prompted, looking towards the same car.
He didn't speak until all three teenage boys had disappeared, the heavy metal door echoing in the otherwise quiet evening.
"Yeah," he confirmed, but he made no move to suggest they were on friendly terms. In an effort to vacate the area before they returned, he stood and nodded over his shoulder. "Come on, Charlotte, tour's not over." He waited a beat to ensure she comprehended the reference.
She dropped through the web-like feature to the ground and climbed from the Geo-dome to join him. "That's one of my favorite books, you know," she pointed out, following him back to his waiting truck. She glanced down and stopped, crouching to tie her unlaced shoe. "Hang on a sec."
He leaned against the front of his truck, waiting for her to finish in silence and stared down at his keys in hand. He couldn't help but glance toward the running car outside the restaurant. He wasn't a coward, but why invite conflict? When she stood, he inhaled. "All set?"
"Coffee?" It was the last place he'd mentioned showing her but Nicole wasn't all that anxious to call it an evening just yet. Brody amused and intrigued her in some inexplicable way.
She returned to the passenger seat and secured her belt, watching him climb in beside her.
His relieved sigh was accompanied by a pang of desire at the mere thought. "Coffee," he echoed in wholehearted agreement.
When they pulled up to the drive-thru, Brody allowed her a minute to read over the chalkboard sign indicating the special blends of the day.
"Shot in the dark?" the blonde with a chin-length bob at the window asked of Brody, already scribbling on the side of a tall paper cup.
His expression was expectant, but teasing. "Do I ever order anything else?" he posed. "Nicole, this is Kayla Mayer. Her folks own this place."
"Hey," Nicole greeted with a friendly smile, leaning forward a bit in her seat. "I just moved here last week. Nice to meet you."
Kayla smiled back in return. "Trust me?" she asked, holding up the marker and a new cup.
"She's good at guessing coffee for people." He scrunched his nose. "It's this weird thing she does."
Nicole had never been too particular when it came to one of her favorite drinks. "Go for it," she agreed. "-Oh! But nothing with cinnamon. Sorry. I'm allergic."
An affirmative shake of Kayla's blonde hair was her only reply as she stepped out of view.
Left alone again, Brody fell back into the mode of tour guide. "Questions? Not sure what you were hoping for." his dismissive comment was accompanied by a pathetic wave of his hand. Across beyond the coffee shop the businesses were few and far between. Clearly, he didn't think much of their town.
"I'm not sure either," Nicole confessed. She was neither impressed nor disappointed. "At least the people seem all right so far," she added, glancing over at him with a small smile.
"I'm not the one you need to worry about," he replied automatically. He was as non-judgmental as they came, but he couldn't speak for the rest of the town or their classmates.
At that, she laughed a bit cautiously.
"What's that mean?" she asked, arching a single brow.
His need for a response hung in the air as Kayla returned with one of two drinks. "For the lady," she said with a smile, winking in Brody's direction. He sighed audibly with mild irritation, but there was a small trace of a smile on his lips and he didn't correct her.
"One mystery beverage..." he trailed off, handing it over to his passenger.
One sip flooded Nicole's mouth with mocha and caramel and she sighed contently at both the taste and the warmth it instantly provided. "Way better than Starbucks," she commented, shifting in her seat to reach inside the front pocket of her jeans. "Here. Let me," she said, holding out a ten dollar bill. "Since you've been playing chauffeur and all..."
He hadn't considered letting her pay and despite how tight money was for him lately, he was raised better than that.
"Put your money away," he scolded with a genuine laugh.
He accepted the next drink offered, featuring espresso shots, and paid for their drinks.
"See you at school," Kayla bid them both goodbye.
"She seems nice," Nicole said as Brody pulled away from the window. She took a small sip of her coffee. "Are you two good friends?"
Brody balanced his coffee in one hand and directed the steering wheel with his other. "You ask weird questions," he replied with a wrinkled brow, pulling the car into an angled parking space overlooking the two lane highway.
She laughed behind the lid of her coffee cup. "You don't let anyone in very easily, do you?"
"In," he repeated, giving it a moment of thought. He supposed he didn't. The coffee was heaven in a cup and he enjoyed it for a lengthy moment.
After a long pause, he asked quizzically, "Have you ever thought you let people in too easily?"
Nicole distracted herself with the vacant highway ahead of them. "All the time," she nodded, her smile shrinking slightly.
The silence in the truck stretched on until Brody, rather unlike himself, offered, "All right, let's try something." He gave a roll of his eyes as he shifted a bit to face her. "Yes or no questions." Then, considering her last question had, in fact, been a closed question, he supplied, "Simple yes or no questions."
He reposed her question for her, "Are you and Kayla friends?" Then, he took it upon himself to answer. "Sure." He laughed one short time at his own inability to follow directions. "I mean yeah. Yes."
"Sounds fair." She was smiling again, content with his cooperation. "All right, so you're friends. Your turn." She tucked a foot beneath her thigh as she turned towards him in return.
His lips parted to argue since he'd just asked a question on her behalf, but groaned and conceded. "Are you pissed you had to move here?"
Her answer was not as cut and dry as a simple yes or no. Yes, she was angry over being uprooted halfway through her final high school year and leaving her friends behind before prom and graduation, but overall, she honestly wasn't too upset. Was it the end of the world? No. Was it permanent? No. Why get pissed about it?
"No," she finally answered, leaning back against the door and holding her coffee against her thigh. Her features scrunched as she glanced away, sorting through her options. "Yes or no... Are you glad your mom made you take me out?"
A sly smile tugged at one corner of his mouth as Brody eyed the cup on his hand for a long minute. He couldn't help the short laugh that accompanied his response. "Sure." Again he amended, "Yes."
It was his turn and so he went for it.
"Did you leave a boyfriend back home?"
Nicole almost didn't notice her own widening smile, but when she did she drew her lips between her teeth in attempt to control it and cleared her throat. "No."
She took a deep breath and raised her eyebrows knowingly. "You know my next question."
His grin lingered and he swirled his cup, stirring up the sugar. His own life was a complicated mess, but he could at least answer on a simple level. "No."
A thoughtful sound left her. "Well then," she laughed lightly, drumming her fingertips one at a time along the side of her paper cup.
A tour around town and cruise by the school had lasted no more than twenty-five minutes. Their conversation had been brief; there was so little to show her. He sighed as weighed his coffee in hand. Maybe ten more minutes. Tops.
It was such a rarity for Brody to have a whole night off. This time when he glanced at his clock it was in regret for not stalling at the playground longer. He should have followed her lead.
"So." His eyes slid over her, his initial feelings on the evening changing. They barely knew one another, but she was new and refreshing. And he was interested.
"Can I see your phone?" she asked, suddenly.
Brody lifted his hips to retrieve his outdated cell from his back pocket and handed it over without a word.
When she started to type, he ventured with a lazy grin as he watched the side of her face, "Want to make out?"
Her gray eyes lifted, her thumb stilling halfway through keying her number into his contact list.
There was a long surprised silence before she managed a reply.
"Okay," she said, his phone forgotten in the center console between their seats as she leaned closer. "I mean, yes."
He accepted her response with a brief impressed nod. His cup found the holder between them without a glance downward and his other hand depressed the seat belt latches at the same time. "Good," he mumbled, closing the distance between them.
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