Ethan and Micah knock out for a nap on the car ride back to the house. Annie seems to be more herself again, but I am curious to know what happened back there. It was as if she was in conflicting pain. When I looked into her eyes that was all I saw. Pain and conflict. What kind of pain is she in? Why is she at conflict with herself?

"Earth to Eric," Annie says as she waves a hand near my face. "Are you in there?"

"Sorry," I say as I offer a small smile. "How long was I zoned out?"

"Just a few minutes," she replies, shaking her head. "You seem troubled . . . My offer to be a good listener still stands."

"Virgin ears."

"Excuse me?"

I look at Annie and sigh. "What I mean is you have not heard about my story as much as my family has," I explain as I pull into my sister's driveway. "My entire family has had to listen to me complain about this so much that . . . I really don't think you would want to hear about my six years worth of baggage."

I park the car and take out the key, unbuckling my seatbelt.

"You might be surprised," Annie says as she takes off her seatbelt. "I think the best way to really let go of baggage is to talk about it and let it out . . ."

"It's kind of my secret," I say as I lower my voice. "I mean, my family knows, but I have begged them to keep it among us . . . Karissa doesn't even know and she's . . ."

"Part of the secret?" she asks, which makes my head snap in her direction. "It was kind of obvious you were a bit uncomfortable being around her. You kept to yourself mostly, but I caught you glancing at her . . . do you not want your brother with her or something?"

"Or something," I reply, looking away.

We stay quiet for a moment. The only sound that we hear is coming from my sleeping nephews in the back seat. Annie touches my arm, making me look at her, but she quickly pulls away at the shock we both feel. My heart starts to hammer in my chest. What the heck?

"How 'bout this?" she says softly, meeting my gaze. "I will tell you . . . my secret . . . if you tell me yours. Deal?"

I look into her green eyes for a moment; my heart is still hammering in my chest from when she touched my arm. Should I tell her about my crush? I do want to know what her secret is, and how she has those bruises.

"Okay," I say, nodding as I clear my throat. "Does it involve that bruise I saw?"

"It does," Annie replies softly, nodding. "I would offer to help carry one of the boys inside, but . . . I am not allowed to lift anything heavier than six books."

I nod and open my door before pushing my seat up to get in the back. I unbuckle Ethan from his seat and gently rest him against my shoulder. I offer a small smile to Annie before walking towards the front door. After leaving Ethan in his room, on his bed, I return to the car for Micah. Once Micah is out of the car, in my arms, Annie gets out and follows me inside.

"Your sister has very nice house," she says as I place Micah in his bed, across from Ethan's.

"Yeah," I say in a low voice. "Gil worked hard to get it before finally asking her to marry him. Well, they were already planning to get married, but my sister was a little hesitant about starting a family. She was older than my mom was when she had her, but she . . . I do not know for sure. Sabrina does not like to talk about it. She and Gil split for a while and it was hard on both of them."

I lead the way out of the room, closing the door behind us, before heading to the kitchen. I motion to stools at the counter, Annie sits on one.

"Tell me your secret first," she says slowly, placing her hands on the counter. "Don't leave anything out; you will get more of my secret if you do."

"Where do I start," I say, sitting on the stool next to her. "High school, I was sixteen years old. Karissa was in our class and was a cheerleader, but extremely down-to-earth and always went out of her way to be friends with others. She was always smiling and . . . I had a crush on her for a long time . . . A few days before Thanksgiving that year, she came up to my brother and me and started talking about something school-related. It was then that I thought I might get to talk to her, but with my brother there, I was too nervous. He knew I liked her and would tease me all the time. Karissa noticed Jacks' earring and commented on it, saying that she liked it when guys wore earrings . . ."

I pause, looking at my hands before Annie motions for me to keep going. I glance at her; she offers an encouraging smile.

"A couple days later," I go on, shaking my head. "I went and pierced both my ears, hoping she would notice."

"You, wearing earrings?" Annie asks, laughing softly. "I am sorry; I cannot even begin to imagine you with earrings."

"It was a stupid move," I reply, chuckling at Annie's amusement. "Thanksgiving day, my sister came back from her uneventful, few days at Gil's apartment, and I decided to ask him for some advice. Best advice I ever got too. He had just starting to date Sabrina and pointed out that he was not changing who he was to make her like him more. They were best friends growing up, despite the age gap . . . Anyway, I took out the earrings and decided I would try to get Karissa to notice me without changing who I am. Some months later, Jacks invites Karissa to come over and that was how I learned they were dating. I felt betrayed by my brother. Like he was disloyal to the fact that I clearly told him I liked her . . ."

I stop there, not wanting to go too much further. Annie is quiet for moment, her expression thoughtful.

"I think you are holding a grudge," she finally says. "From personal experience, I can say that holding a grudge is not good for your health. Both physical and mental . . . You need to forgive Jacks and let it go. Obviously, Karissa did not see the awesome guy called Eric, and went after Jacks because he was who she was looking for . . ."

I shake my head, clenching my hands into fists. Anniehesitates before reaching to cover one of my fists with both her hands. I lookup at her, shocked by her touch. Like before, my heart starts hammering in mychest. How can a simple touch make me react like this?    

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