Counting Cans (PG-13)

The only requirement for the job was to be able to count quickly and remember the tally no matter how many cans and bottles he tossed into the dozen long cardboard boxes with huge plastic bags separated out by brand names.

That was Jacoby Richardson's job at Romano's Market, manning the recyclable redemption center. It was not a glamorous gig but it was a pay check to help support his college education along with whatever tips he made from the jar he left on a stack of boxes by the redemption station. There was a long trough bench to dump the cans and bottles into for separating and counting and an electronic adding machine for the final tally. The area was difficult to keep clean and Jacoby had to wear gloves when handling the returnables. Jacoby worked as many hours as he could and his little world at Romano's was where he spent most of his time when he wasn't in class.

The Hillsboro Romano's was the original family business, now in its third generation. The family added two more modern and larger markets to its inventory, one in Riverside and the other in Miller City. Jacoby assumed Hazel was the store manager for the Hillsboro market. She's the one who interviewed and hired him (on the spot) when he answered the newspaper advertisement. She was a large middle aged woman with orange hair and red fingernails with a wad of Double mint gum in her mouth, a single mother of three who lived across the street from the business. Hazel was the store's "Sheriff" assuring law and order was maintained. She also knew everybody who entered the store by their first name and she was a natural greeter and conversationalist.

Jacoby worked at the store for more than a week before he realized that the serious, quiet, mousy girl named Annie was actually the store manager! Hazel laughed when Jacoby first asked what role Annie played since she always seemed to be hanging around the store and he couldn't believe the answer.

"But you're the one who hired me!" Jacoby said with surprise.

"Yeah, I was just filling in for her that day," Hazel revealed. "She had a class. Besides, she doesn't like interviewing people."

Annie was the twenty year old Romano daughter left to run the Hillsboro market.

She was part time student at Blue County Community College and she lived in the old apartment above the market. Annie's parents or one of her brothers stopped in from time to time but she was the store manager, responsible for scheduling shifts, ordering inventory, and making sure the daily transactions balanced.

Jacoby noticed that Annie didn't spend a whole lot of time socializing around the store. She was a no nonsense lets get the job done type of boss who did her job and expected the rest of the workers to do theirs. Most of the staff consisted of part time high school and college kids which made Annie's scheduling tasks a challenging proposition. The only real full time employee was Hazel.

Jacoby had barely had more than three conversations with his boss Annie who liked to be left alone. She was customer service friendly to those who came into the store but she didn't waste a lot of time on unnecessary babble and she certainly wasn't interested in pal-ing around with her employees. Jacoby figured out early on to show up, do his job well, and leave without getting involved in Annie's business.

Still, Annie was an attractive woman for being such a shy introvert. She usually wore jeans and a red "Romano's Market" tee shirt underneath a white smock. Her brown hair was long and straight and she still had acne along the top of her forehead and on one of her cheeks despite her age. She could be funny when she wanted to be (usually unintentionally) and she was a good manager who kept the store running smoothly.

Kids came in for soda and snacks, workers stopped by for the paper and a cup of coffee (three pots were always on the burners), neighbors appreciated the inventory of groceries offered and there was a small selection of pre-made grinders and sandwiches (plus a hot dog machine and a crock pot of soup for lunch selections) but Romano's bread and butter was the redemption center, the lottery tickets, and the cigarettes it sold.

Jacoby was new to the area attending nearby Green College so he didn't know many people. Actually, he was lost and lonely on campus and he enjoyed the friendly, neighborly small town feel of Romano's. He tried to be a good mentor to the high school kids working there and he enjoyed learning about the area listening to the stories told around the store. It was fun being a part of the Romano Team and Romano's was the one place the newcomer felt at home in his new environment.

Aside from her quiet shyness and borderline anti-social attitude, the only other strange thing about Annie that Jacoby noticed was the man who frequented the store several times a day. He was an overweight guy in his late thirties with a receding hairline and dark horned rimmed glasses. He wore penny loafers, polyester pants, goofy ties, and a pen clip in his shirt pocket. He had a stupid sense of humor and was always cracking flat jokes. He was geek from central casting as far as Jacoby could tell.

The geek showed up for coffee in the morning, a hot dog at lunch, and sometimes he'd stop in for another coffee at the end of the day and if Annie wasn't standing at the counter he'd ask after her and she'd come out from the office or wherever she happened to be in the store to chat with him. Sometimes they'd step outside and have a private conversation and there were a few times when Annie led the guy up the backstairs to her apartment. Jacoby wasn't sure what Annie saw in the weird geek but he knew it wasn't any of his business.

"Who is that guy?" Jacoby asked Hazel one morning after Annie walked the geek to his car with his morning coffee.

"Oh, that's Harold," Hazel said, rolling her eyes.

"Harold?" Jacoby almost laughed at the name.

"Annie's CPA," Hazel said.

Jacoby frowned. "Her business CPA or her personal CPA?"

"Well, he's the family's business CPA but I would have to say that he's Annie's personal CPA if you know what I mean," Hazel clarified as she glanced out the window and watched the two conversing on the sidewalk.

"You're kidding!?" Jacoby said with a shudder.

"You're telling me," Hazel commented with disapproval before Annie returned to the store.

Jacoby was much closer to Annie's age than the geeky CPA and he couldn't understand why a girl like her would be seeing a dweeb like that guy. Jacoby had met Ronnie on campus a few months earlier and they were spending time together so it wasn't as if Jacoby was looking to put the moves on his boss but still…..a geeky CPA?

### ###

Jacoby was manning his redemption station faithfully as usual. It was slow on this day and from his vantage point on the left hand side of the store that led to the cellar where all the cans were stored for transfer, Jacoby had a clear view of both the front counter where Annie often stood and the small office behind the counter where she often worked. Today, Annie was assisting Hazel at the front counter.

Harold the CPA stepped through the door with a huge smile on his face. "Good morning, Ladies!" He announced loudly. "How's it going this fine Hillsboro day?"

Annie cleared her throat. "Everything's fine, Harold," she answered.

Harold smiled seductively. "That's good! That's Good! Will you have time for a lunchtime quickie?"

Annie blushed and Jacoby shook his head at Harold's knack for embarrassing his girlfriend.

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that," Annie sighed, wiping her hair away from her face while waiting for her blush to fade.

"Ah, lighten up, Sweetie!" Harold laughed as he poured himself a cup of coffee. (Jacoby noticed that he never paid for it). "What's the difference between a bad golfer and a bad skydiver?" Geek-Guy waited a beat. "A bad golfer goes, whack, damn! A bad skydiver goes damn! Whack!"

Harold laughed at his own joke as usual. Jacoby squinted at the CPA who he found to be annoying and a nuisance. Harold circled around the counter and gave Annie a pat on the ass and she physically recoiled from the demonstrative show of affection.

"I'm working here, Harold," she said seriously. "Could you please act responsibly?"

"Why did Pilgrims' pants always fall down?" an amused Harold asked. Annie didn't answer so Harold did for her. "Because they wore their belt buckle on their hat!"

Harold tried to goose her but Annie moved further away. Harold laughed with amusement and stepped back in front of the counter. "You're always so proper,' he complained while taking a sip from his coffee cup. "I'll see you later," he added with a wink before heading for the door.

"That guy's a perverted mental case," Jacoby spoke up from his station causing Annie to look at him with surprise but she didn't say anything in reply.

### ###

Sometimes on slow days, Jacoby helped out around the store – when deliveries were made, heavy boxes need to be moved, or when tall shelves needed to be stocked. Hazel figured out that he was a team player willing to do anything to help so she often called upon him for assistance. Occasionally, Annie asked him to lend a hand if he wasn't busy counting cans and he was always happy to help.

Jacob was lying on the floor underneath the front counter trying to adjust a faulty cable from the cash register. Annie was on a ladder stocking some stuff behind the counter and she stepped down from the ladder just as Jacoby started to stand up from where he was lying. His head pretty much landed hard right between Annie's legs and he almost knocked her off the ladder.

"Ouch!" Annie yelled as Jacoby felt her muff on the top of his head and he reached up and grabbed her before she lost her balance.

"Sorry," Jacoby said, feeling as embarrassed as Annie. "I didn't see you."

She half-stumbled down the ladder and instinctively reached her hand to her groin like she was a baseball player before realizing how that looked and she quickly dropped her hand away.

"Are you okay?" Jacoby worried.

"Never mind," Annie mumbled, trying to recover her dignity.

Luckily, nobody else was around to witness the awkward incident as Annie leaned over the counter to catch her breath.

"I'm really sorry," Jacoby said with sincerity.

"It's okay, let's just let it go," Annie replied curtly as she finally stood up straight.

"Why don't you sit down?" Jacoby gently suggested.

She agreed, taking a seat on the stool behind the counter and neither said anything for a moment while the color returned to Annie's face. Annie was too embarrassed to look at him and Jacoby sheepishly stared at the floor to avoid her eyes.

Finally, Annie turned and frowned at him. "You're an oaf."

He could tell by her tone that she was trying to be lighthearted so he smiled in return. "I just hope you can still have kids," he remarked as he returned to his redemption center post.

Jacoby glanced over his shoulders as he walked away and he saw Annie making a face at him with a smirk on her mouth.

Following that awkwardly intimate collision between them, the relationship between Annie and Jacoby changed slightly. Annie spoke to him more often and she was friendlier towards him. Jacoby finally felt like he was an accepted and valued member of the Romano's Market team in Annie's eyes.

### ###

Jacoby's first year of college was coming to an end and Annie asked if he would be interested in working at the market through the summer.

"I can guarantee you as many hours as you want," she offered. "You're a great worker and we'd hate to lose you."

"I don't have a place to live with the dorms closing for the summer," he sighed.

"There's a room upstairs," Annie let him know. "It's a dump but you can rent it cheap if you're interested."

"Could I stay there next semester too?" Jacoby asked hopefully. "That would really save me on the cost of the dorm."

"Sure," Annie replied easily.

Jacoby's family was disappointed to hear he wasn't coming home for the summer but he decided that working for Annie at Romano's was a better proposition than returning to his old high school summer job of picking cucumbers underneath the hot sun and he was happy to stay in Hillsboro.

Jacoby had never been upstairs before and Annie showed him where he would be living. She occupied the main apartment which was the first door on the left at the top of the stairs. She walked him down the narrow dark hall to a second door near the end, opening it to reveal a two room dump that looked like it hadn't been occupied in years.

"My grandparents used to live in the apartment I'm in now," Annie explained. "This was originally part of the same layout but my father made this into a separate apartment about twenty years ago. He was going to rent it out after my grandparents moved but that never really caught on."

She stepped through the first room and into the smaller second room which had a small bathroom in the rear of it. "The problem is there's no kitchen so who in their right mind is going to rent an apartment with no kitchen?"

"I don't need to eat," Jacoby replied.

Annie stepped to a door in the first room. "This is locked from the other side but it leads to my kitchen," she explained. "Maybe we can work out some sort of system."

"It might be awkward with the CPA over there," Jacoby mumbled.

"He has his own place," Annie answered quickly, sounding offended. "He's not here all that often," she added with embarrassment as if she was humiliated to realize that Jacoby knew about them.

Jacoby spent a few days cleaning the apartment and airing it out. There was already a busted old couch in the first room and a squeaky old bed in the back room. He bought a new shower curtain and scrubbed the bathroom as best he could. He found some second hand furniture at the thrift store – a dresser, a coffee table, a couple of wood chairs, and a beat up old lazy boy, plus he hauled all the crap from his dorm room into the place.

It was still a dive but it was much quieter than the dorm and lonely Jacoby liked the idea of Annie living on the other side of the bolted door. He didn't see Ronnie all that much and he found Annie more interesting anyway. Annie started leaving the deadbolt on the inside kitchen door unlatched and sometimes Jacoby would slip into her kitchen to quickly use her stove. He had a small microwave, a hot plate and a mini-frig from his dorm room so he didn't have to intrude on her that often.

On the few occasions he was in Annie's apartment, he noticed how attractive and well-maintained the place was. One day when he knew she wasn't there, Jacoby walked through the entire five room apartment and saw how well decorated it was with cheerful pleasant wall paper, light color paint on the door frames, cuddly rugs, and comfortable furniture. Annie's bedroom had a queen sized iron rod bed, a huge dresser, and a make up table plus its own bathroom. The living room had a wide screen television, two comfy couches and a couple of chairs. A third room acted as a combo dining room/office space and that led to the kitchen that was big enough for a table and a hutch along with the cupboards, sink, refrigerator and stove.

Ronnie didn't think much of Jacoby's apartment when he finally had a chance to show it to her.

"I was hoping you'd help me decorate it," Jacoby pouted.

"What for?" Ronnie asked blankly.

"Your womanly touch?" Jacoby asked, staring at her firm figure and attractive face.

She rolled her eyes as she flipped her blond hair out of her face. "I'm heading home for the summer anyway," she said with disinterest.

Jacoby's relationship with Ronnie was pretty much undefined. They got along and the sex was good (when they could find the time and privacy in their respective dorm rooms anyway).

"I was hoping my new apartment would present new and frequent opportunities for gratuitous sex," Jacoby teased.

Ronnie seemed bored with the suggestion. "We're just friends with benefits, Jacoby," she said bluntly. "Let's not get too overly excited about your new living arrangements."

"Okay," Jacoby agreed with a disappointed sigh.

Harold the CPA was not exactly thrilled to learn that the can counter had moved into the old apartment next to Annie and he started throwing Jacoby dark darting glares whenever he was in the market.

One evening, Jacoby was sitting on the ratty couch in his dumpy apartment when the door leading to Annie's kitchen opened from the other side. Jacoby looked up to see Harold the CPA standing there glaring at him.

"Can I help you?" Jacoby asked as the geek leaned against the door frame.

"Just checking," Harold stated.

Jacoby chuckled. "Checking what?"

"Any particular reason why the door was unbolted?" Harold asked suspiciously.

"No," Jacoby answered.

"I left it open, Harold."

It was Annie's voice and the CPA turned and looked at her with disapproval.

"In case Jacoby needs to use the stove or wash his dishes or something," Annie explained.

"Keep it locked," Harold ordered brashly. "He can wash his dishes in his toilet."

"Harold!" Annie protested. "Don't be crude."

"Just do as you're told," Harold barked as he slammed the door.

Jacoby heard Harold's raised voice continuing to yell from the other side and he shook his head with disgust. What was Annie doing with the geeky jerk anyway?

"Why don't blind people like to sky dive?" Harold asked as he headed for the door the next time Jacoby was working a shift at the market. Nobody answered, of course. "Because it scares the dog!" Harold laughed as he left.

"Why are you dating that loser for?" Jacoby asked Annie.

She was surprised by the question. "It's really none of your business, Jacoby," she answered calmly as she checked inventory behind the counter.

"You know he's a geek, right?" Jacoby complained, slowly walking around the side of the counter to face her.

Annie's cheeks blushed red. "He is not," she said defensively.

"Oh really?" An amused Jacoby asked, his arms folded across his chest.

"You don't like him," Annie deduced unhappily.

"He's all wrong for you," Jacoby told her.

"He's not that bad," she said.

"Is that why he's not living with you?" Jacoby tested.

"No, he doesn't live with me because he's married," Annie blurted out.

Now she really looked embarrassed as she plowed past Jacoby and hid out in the office. Jacoby's jaw dropped but he quickly recovered and he stepped into the office doorway.

"That's not right," he said quietly.

"You're going to have to deal with him because he's not going anywhere," Annie said, looking up from the desk to give him a hard stare.

"Come on, Annie, you can't really be that desperate can you?" Jacoby asked.

Annie scowled but she didn't answer.

"You deserve better, Annie," Jacoby said quietly.

"Who says?" She sighed without looking at him.

"What are you doing with this guy?" Jacoby wondered.

"I've known him forever."

"Do you know his wife too?" Jacoby asked.

She looked like he had slapped her and he felt horrible for saying it.

"I'm sorry," Jacoby sighed. "It's none of my business."

Hazel returned from the bathroom and Jacoby went back to the redemption station to greet a customer who had come through the front door with four trash bags full of cans at the same time. Jacoby tried to figure out what Annie was thinking as he counted the cans. Having an affair with a married geek was about as pathetic as it could get for Annie.

### ###

It was easy to work long shifts living twenty feet away so Jacoby racked up the hours as the summer progressed. He went home a few times for family gatherings and he took one day to go see Ronnie in her hometown although he wasn't quite sure why he wasted his time doing that when she seemed preoccupied with her life and almost annoyed that he was there. He met a guy he deduced was her old high school boyfriend and Jacoby began to realize that he had no future with Ronnie.

Jacoby was happier working at Romano's Market and being around Annie as stupid as that struck him. She was having an affair with a married CPA loser so what was the point of him being attracted to her? Jacoby noticed that Harold the CPA was paying more attention to him than he liked. One morning, Harold told him not to park his car on the grass behind the market.

"What's it to you?" Jacoby asked.

"Just do what I tell you, you shithead," Harold growled.

The CPA was old enough to be Jacoby's father but Jacoby had no respect for the guy. Still, he didn't want to get into a pissing contest with the jerk so he began parking the car in the empty lot a few doors down from the market.

Jacoby was sitting in his dumpy apartment one night reading a book when the door to Annie's kitchen opened, revealing her standing in the doorway.

"You really should get out once in a while," she observed. "You're always either here or working."

Jacoby raised an eyebrow. "And do what, exactly?"

"Something besides sitting here alone reading," Annie determined.

"Where's Mr. Personality?" Jacoby asked

"I'm not his night tonight," she admitted openly.

"Sorry."

"Let's not talk about him," she requested, stepping further into the room. "Everything working out okay for you here?" She asked.

"Sure, everything's great," Jacoby answered.

"I guess it's my job as landlord to make sure you're doing okay," she said. "I'd feel bad if you weren't happy."

Jacoby smiled. "Don't worry about me."

She nodded and glanced around the room. "You've fixed it up," she noted.

"A little," he muttered, standing from the couch and tossing the book aside. "You okay with it?"

"Of course," she smiled. "Ghosts lived in here for far too long."

"Just making sure the boss isn't mad at me," Jacoby grinned.

Annie nodded. "You're the model employee."

Jacoby laughed. "Oh, I doubt that."

"So what are you studying at Green?" She asked.

"I'm undeclared so far," he said. "Still trying to figure out my major."

"I'm taking some business classes at BCCC," she told him.

"Cool," He replied.

"I figure it will help me running this place," she explained.

"You think this is your future?"

"I suppose," she replied with a shrug. "What else would I do?"

"Anything you want," Jacoby answered.

"Wow," Annie muttered, surprised by his response. "Everybody just assumes I'm here for life."

"In the family business you mean?" Jacoby guessed.

"Yeah," she answered, shoving her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. "I've been working for my parents since I was twelve."

"Do you like it?" Jacoby asked.

"I'm good at it," Annie replied honestly. "This is the smallest of the three stores but we hold our own compared to the other two."

"That's good," Jacoby remarked, eyeing her with interest.

"But I am the youngest daughter running the smallest store," she sighed. "I think they're just placating me mostly."

"I think you're doing a fabulous job," Jacoby gushed.

"Thanks," she blushed. "I just want my parents to have faith in me."

"I'm sure they do," Jacoby assured her.

"I hope so," she muttered.

"What's wrong?" he asked, picking up on her doubt and insecurity.

"Nothing," she sighed.

"You sure?"

"I'm just tired, I guess," Annie replied.

"You work a lot of hours too," Jacoby noted.

"It's my store," she said with a shrug.

Jacoby stepped closer to her and he noticed her swallowing a large lump in her throat.

"Jacoby," She whispered.

"Annie?" His eyes were boring into her acne covered forehead as she kept her eyes down at the floor.

"Yeah?" She asked.

"Want to go for a ride somewhere sometime?"

"Okay," she agreed tentatively, sounding like an elementary school kid being asked to the ice cream parlor for the first time.

Jacoby grinned with amusement. "Great."

"I'm glad you moved in," Annie said softly.

"Me too," he replied honestly.

"Well, goodnight," Annie said, stepping away from him.

"Good night," Jacoby muttered in reply.

Annie stepped through the doorway and quickly closed the door behind her as tears welt up in her eyes. She wasn't sure why she was suddenly getting so emotional except that after years of being Harold's doormat it was nice to have another guy paying attention and being nice to her.

Jacoby sank onto the couch and rubbed his face. He wondered if he was being unfair to Ronnie even if they were just friends with benefits and she was barely giving him the time of day anyway. And then there was Harold the geeky CPA. Would he go postal if he caught wind of Jacoby being attracted to his girlfriend? Did the CPA really deserve to have dibs if he was a married man?

### ###

Jacoby could hear Annie's voice in the store no matter how loud things were or how busy he was counting and tossing cans. He could clearly hear her voice carrying through the store above all the others. It was a sweet melody that soothed him and he felt his heart skip at the very sound of her. He tolerated Harold the geeky CPA with his dumb jokes although he had no idea what Annie was doing with him.

It was late at night and Jacoby was laying in his bed thinking about Annie when he heard a soft knock at the door and it opened slowly as Annie peered in.

"Are you awake?" She asked softly.

"Yes," he said in the dark. "Something wrong?"

"Harold just left a few minutes ago," she sighed. "We had a fight."

"I didn't hear," he replied truthfully. There were some nights when he could hear Harold's loud voice booming through the walls.

"Oh," she said with relief.

"You two fight a lot," Jacoby observed.

"It's usually my fault," she sighed.

"Yes, you're totally in the wrong all on your own," Jacoby said sarcastically.

"Please," she groaned. "I feel guilty enough as it is, Jacoby."

Jacoby frowned as he sat up in the bed. "End it with him," he advised.

"I can't," she moaned.

"Why not?"

"I just….." She fell against the door frame with her shoulder and sighed.

"Come closer," Jacoby whispered.

She drifted across the room and slipped onto the bed. He wrapped his arm around her and brought her into a hug. "Leave him," he said softly while giving her hair a kiss. Annie felt her face heat up.

"I can't," She said nervously.

Jacoby leaned into her and his lips grazed hers. "Yes you can," he said quietly.

He rubbed his finger along the skin between the top of her pajama bottoms and her shirt top causing Annie to arch up. She swallowed the lump in her throat and leaned into him to kiss him.

"Jacoby," Annie whispered. She cleared her throat and then gently pushed him off of her. "I should go," she said suddenly as she rolled off the bed.

"You don't have to," he told her.

"Yes, I do," she sighed as she disappeared from the room.

### ###

Sometimes in the mornings, Jacoby would find the door to Annie's kitchen open and he knew that was a signal that it was okay for him to come into her side of the apartment without fear of Harold the geeky CPA.

The door was open on this sunny summer morning and Jacoby stepped into Annie's kitchen to have a fresh bowl of cereal at the kitchen table which is where Annie was seated drinking a glass of orange juice and eating a banana.

"Hey," Annie greeted him.

"Good morning," Jacoby replied.

He shook himself a bowl of corn flakes, dumped some sugar on it, poured in the milk, and took a seat across from her.

"Summer's almost over," he sighed.

"Yup," She agreed

"You excited?"

"I guess," she replied. "I've only got a couple of classes left. You?"

"Anxious to get another year done," he admitted.

"You'll be losing some hours," she noted.

"I know," he sighed.

"But you can still work as many as you want," she told him.

"Thanks," he said with appreciation.

"I'll be lonely without you," she teased.

"Oh, don't worry, I'll be around," he grinned.

"I know," she smiled.

The two finally managed to go for that ride somewhere sometime – grabbing a cone at Red's Tastee Freeze and on another night Annie took Jacoby to his first ever Serguci League amateur baseball game at historic Beano Field in the flats section of Hillsboro.

"We're one of the league sponsors," she explained as they sat in the stands watching the Riverside Royals beat the Miller City Mudhens 8-6.

Jacoby had already met most of the Romano family during their visits to the store but they seemed surprised to see the employee sitting with the store manager outside the work place when several of the Romano's attended the game. Harold the geeky CPA was also present but he was with his wife so Jacoby didn't have to worry about hearing one of his idiotic jokes as he stayed away from Annie. If Annie was upset or bothered seeing her boyfriend with his wife she didn't say anything.

The next time Jacoby saw the door to Annie's kitchen open, he stepped through it and noticed her standing at the sink washing dishes. She was wearing nothing but panties and a tee shirt and for a moment he hesitated. But then he went up behind her and put his arms around her waist, gently kissing her neck.

"Good morning!" Annie purred.

"Hello, Boss," Jacoby said with a chuckle.

She tried to steady her breathing. "Don't tempt me," she sighed.

He turned her so that she was facing him and he kissed her gently on the lips. "Why not?" He grinned.

"You know why," she said.

"Should I really care?" He wondered.

"Probably not," she admitted with a blush.

He kissed her again and she kissed him back more passionately than ever before but then she pushed him away.

"Oh, Jacoby, I can't," She whispered.

But he started kissing her neck and she shook in response. "Don't worry," He told her, kissing her all over.

"That's all I do," she cried before pushing him away again and bolting from the kitchen.

Jacoby sighed and returned to his own lonely apartment.

### ###

Ronnie returned a few days before classes started but she didn't seem all that concerned about his summer activities so Jacoby didn't feel guilty about his attraction toward Annie.

Annie and Jacoby worked up a new schedule around his classes and the new school routine started. Harold the geeky CPA continued showing up at the market with his dumb jokes but Jacoby didn't worry about it anymore. What was the worse that could happen? The CPA had a reputation, a wife, and a career to be concerned about and Jacoby wasn't concerned about him doing something stupid to risk any of it.

Annie was pleased to have Jacoby's attention and interest. She respected him for not giving her ultimatums about Harold and she was glad that he wasn't pressuring her into a relationship. She enjoyed his affection and his company and she looked forward to seeing him at work. She was also happy that he lived right next door and all she had to do was open her kitchen door if she wanted to see him.

She knew that her affair with Harold had been a losing proposition for a long time and she came to see just how much of a loser the CPA really was but how could she bring herself to end the affair and jump into bed with Jacoby?

Jacoby still hung around with Ronnie around campus. They remain friends and one evening Ronnie announced that she was horny and she wanted to come to Jacoby's apartment for some recreational sex.

They hadn't gone horizontal together since Jacoby had moved into his apartment but somehow the thought of having sex next door to Annie didn't seem right.

"How 'bout your dorm?" Jacoby asked.

"Clara is there, duh!" Ronnie groaned. "Come on, you have your own apartment! What's the prob?"

Ronnie followed him to his apartment in her car and they shook the bed pretty good that night, so much so that Jacoby wondered if Annie could hear them especially when Ronnie began making her famous rodeo screams as she rode him. Sex with Ronnie was loud and active.

Jacoby noticed that the door to Annie's kitchen remained closed for the next several days. She was also less than friendly when they worked shifts together at the market and he knew she must have heard him and Ronnie that night. He felt guilty and embarrassed by that reality but he was flattered that she cared enough to be pissed off at him about it.

"What's Annie's story?" Jacoby asked Hazel when Annie wasn't around one afternoon.

"Her story?" Hazel asked with confusion.

"Like, why is she so shy?" Jacoby wanted to know. "And timid? And what the hell she is doing having an affair with that loser Harold?"

"That last one is a good question," Hazel said with disgust as she sat at the counter. "As for the other questions, I'm not sure of the answers," Hazel said.

"Why is Annie so afraid?" Jacoby asked.

"Look, all I know is what I observed," Hazel replied with a shrug. "I've known Annie since she was a little kid. She used to play with my Angie. But she was also working in this place from the time she was twelve. Her father can be demanding. Her brothers were very bossy and they rode her hard too. She was too busy working here to date. I don't think she ever got out of her brother's shadow. I think she feels intimidated. And she knows that she has to keep this place going or they'll ridicule her for failing."

"Jesus," Jacoby replied. "That's pretty unfair."

"She's a great girl if you ask me," Hazel concluded.

"I agree," Jacoby let Hazel know.

"So what are you going to do about it then?" Hazel asked.

Jacoby waited until he knew it wasn't one of the CPA's nights before knocking loudly on Annie's closed kitchen door.

"I'm not home," she hollered through the wall.

"Annie, please open the door," Jacoby pleaded. "I want to talk."

"Go away."

"Come on, Annie, please?"

"No!"

"Just for a minute?" he begged.

Annie reluctantly unlatched the deadbolt and opened the door, stepping back and folding her arms across her chest. "What do you want?"

"You're mad at me," he stated.

"Yes," she acknowledged, turning and leaving the room.

Jacoby followed her into her bedroom and he sat next to her on the bed, wrapping his arms around her. She tried to pull away but he held onto her.

"You heard us the other night?"

"They heard you in Greenville," she replied sarcastically.

"Annie, I'm sorry," Jacoby sighed.

"Who is she?"

"Ronnie from college," he explained. "Friends with benefits. I knew her before I met you," he reasoned.

"Good for you," Annie said snidely.

"Look," Jacoby snapped, feeling unfairly judged. "Who are you to give me a hard time? You're sleeping with a married loser."

She turned and slapped him hard across the face but he didn't react.

"What am I suppose to say?" Annie finally asked, bursting into tears.

"Say you're sorry," Jacoby said quietly. "Just like me."

"I guess we're both pathetic," Annie sighed with defeat.

"Probably," he agreed.

"You know how I feel about you," she said quietly.

"Do I?"

"Come on, Jacoby," She said sadly.

"Why don't you break up with him?" He asked.

"I can't," she replied.

"Why not?"

"Because what will I do when you lose interest in me?" she wailed, falling into him.

"I'm not going to lose interest in you," Jacoby stated as he brushed his hand through her hair.

"Nobody wants me," She mumbled as she sobbed into his chest.

Jacoby stuck his hand under her chin and lifted her face to his. He kissed her on the lips passionately. "I do," he whispered.

"You do?" She asked with disbelief.

"Were you jealous?" Jacoby asked as he wiped the tears from her eyes.

"Yes," Annie whispered.

"Now you know how I feel," he sighed. "It's torture thinking about you with him."

"I didn't know," she admitted.

"Be with me," he pleaded.

"What about your friends with benefits?" She asked with a cracking voice.

"I don't care about her," Jacoby insisted.

Annie stared at him for a long moment considering his proposition before she reached down and pulled the jersey off over her head, revealing her naked breasts to him.

"Annie," Jacoby sighed happily.

Annie felt his hardness pressing through his shorts against her leg and she let him explore her breasts, first with his hands and then with his tongue. Then he pulled her face into his for a long deep kiss. She gladly kissed him back and soon she was moving her hand inside his shorts, touching him and giving it a little squeeze before rubbing it up and down as they made out.

Annie looked into his eyes with passion and want.

"Okay?" He asked.

"Please," She sighed desperately before pushing him back on the bed and slowly moved her body on top of his, slipping his shorts down his legs with one swift movement while releasing his penis that popped out for air. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. She could feel his revealed dick rubbing against her stomach as they kissed one other passionately.

Annie reclaimed his penis with her hand while Jacoby continued kissing her. She slowly rubbed him up and down and Jacoby moaned with satisfied appreciation. Annie smiled with contentment and she began rubbing faster until Jacoby gave her a deep passionate kiss and flipped her over onto her back, forcing her to let go of his member.

Jacoby pulled off her shorts and panties and then he rolled on top of her. He kissed her passionately and Annie moaned happily. He then sucked on her nipples and she moaned his name. He moved his hand down between her legs and he slowly inserted a finger inside her. Annie kept on moaning and she screamed out his name.

Then Jacoby moved down her torso until his face was between her legs and he began licking her. Annie moaned and tried to push his head away but he wouldn't let her and he continued tonguing her until she exploded with an unexpected climax.

"Oh my god," she cried. "That's never happened to me before!"

"Well, start getting used to it," Jacoby replied as he moved back up her body. "I want to be inside you," he whispered.

"I want to feel you inside me," she said with tears forming.

They looked deep into each other's eyes and Annie nodded her approval. Slowly, she felt his penis moving inside of her and then he started pushing his length inside her and Annie was moaning his name. She moved along with him finding the rhythm until she hit her climax. Annie moaned loudly as she screamed in ecstasy and Jacoby kept humping until he ejaculated.

He smiled as he rolled off of her and lay against her, side by side and then he pulled her close to him.

"It's never been like this for me before," she sighed with a realization that made her happy and sad at the same time.

"I'm the one you should be with," Jacoby whispered in her ear.

Annie nodded in agreement and kissed Jacoby on the cheek. "I didn't know it could be so great," she told him.

Jacoby smiled and gave her a deep passionate kiss. "Good night, sweet Annie."

"Good night, Jacoby," Annie whispered while kissing him one more time.

They snuggled against each other and Jacoby never wanted to let her go.

Annie woke up first and she rolled out of bed looking for her clothes. Jacoby opened his eyes in time to see her lovely backside before she covered it with her shorts.

"I'll make us some breakfast," she said sheepishly when she saw he was awake.

"Great," he said happily.

Jacoby used the bathroom, dressed, and then joined Annie in the kitchen. He leaned close to her face as she stood at the stove and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Annie smiled as she turned and kissed him back.

"I'm usually a paranoid schizo the first morning after," Annie admitted nervously.

"You don't have to be with me," he told her.

He sat at the table and she served the eggs. They ate in silence as they stared at each other intently.

"Will you break up with him now?" Jacoby finally asked.

"Yes," she promised. "And you'll stop seeing your friend?"

"For benefits, definitely so," he assured her.

"Thank you," Annie said.

"How do crazy people go through the forest?" Jacoby wanted to know.

"I don't know," Annie replied.
"They take the psycho path!" Jacoby grinned.

"How do you get holy water?" Annie asked. "You boil the hell out of it!

"What do you call a boomerang that doesn't work?" Jacoby grinned

"A stick!" Annie laughed. "What do you call cheese that isn't yours?
"Nacho cheese," Jacoby answered. "What do you call Santa's helpers?"

"You got me!" Annie said cheerfully.
"Subordinate clauses!" Jacoby answered.

"What do you get from a pampered cow? " Annie asked. "Spoiled milk!

"What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches?" Jacoby asked. "A nervous wreck!"

"What kind of coffee was served on the titanic?" Annie asked.
"Sanka!" Jacoby answered.

"They sure do sound a lot funnier when we tell them, don't they?" Annie blushed.

"Yes," Jacoby agreed.

"Will you keep counting my cans?" Annie wondered.

"Of course," he replied. "And I'll be counting your can forever."

Annie laughed and then looked at him seriously. "Are you sure about this?"

He nodded affirmatively. "Are you?"

She smiled knowingly. "Can do."