I am awestruck as I continue to stare into Annie's eyes. They are not clouded like earlier when we were eating ice cream, but they are full of concern. She gently opens my clenched fist, applying light pressure to my knuckles as she holds my fingers in her hand.

"You need to forgive him," she whispers, nodding. "Six years, Eric? That is not . . . I think you should talk to Jacks. Let the water run under the bridge and start fresh."

"It's not that easy," I say, shaking my head.

"Yes it is," Annie raises her voice, but it is not harsh. "You will feel better once you forgive him . . . Has he ever tried to apologize for what he felt?"

"Not exactly," I reply, clearing my throat. "I mean . . . Jacks has tried to reconcile with me, but I never feel like he means it."

"I have a hard time believing your brother actually meant to push you away as his brother. If he really meant to spite you, he would have done something far worse. Again, I tell you from personal experience."

I wait a moment, collecting myself before speaking again.

"What's your secret?" I ask slowly. "That was our deal, remember? My secret for yours."

Annie sighs, nodding as she lets go of my hand and turns away. I wait for her to speak, half expecting the worse horror story. I watch as Annie has a mental battle with her conscious, shaking her head slightly and then nodding, repeatedly.

"I bruise easily because . . .," she begins to say, taking a deep breath.

"Eric!"

"Damn it," I mutter pushing myself off the stool as Gil enters the kitchen, followed by Jacks. "Hey guys."

"What's going on here?" asks my brother with an arched eyebrow. "You better not have been making your pretty friend cry . . . Sweetheart; I apologize in advance for anything my brother might do."

He flashes a smile at Annie which makes her cheeks flush. It takes most of my will power not to scowl at my brother. There is no way in the loving world that I am going to let him charm Annie too. But there is no way I am letting Jacks get a chance to tease me about her either.

"The boys are napping," I say, sighing as I try not to meet Annie's gaze too much. "We took them for ice cream and they knocked out in the car. Guys, this is Annie; Annie, you know Gil and my evil twin."

"Wait," Gil says, eyeing Annie for a moment. "I have met you before . . . But the name Annie does not match your face."

"Don't worry," Annie replies, smiling with a shake of her head. "I can never forget the Chrysanthemum story. That is stuck with me for life. The reason for the change of names is to avoid conflict in class . . . because my dad is Coach Taylor."

"I didn't know Coach had a daughter," Jacks says, obviously intrigued.

"You look like someone else though," Gil goes on, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I saw this picture in my mom's phone the other day. She met up with some old friends . . . you look more like your mother, right?"

"That's what my uncle tells me," she says, nodding. "If you figure it out, let me know. . . I was kind of hoping Eric's mom would come back to relieve us. Eric said she would sign some of her books for me."

Annie jumps off the stool and comes to stand next to me.

"We don't have to go yet," I say, shrugging. "I just feel bad that you're the only girl amongst us crazy guys. Aside of Gil, of course, because he is normal. At least, that is what my sister tries to say."

Gil chuckles, "Farrah!" he exclaims suddenly, snapping his fingers. "You were at the auditions . . . it was not you auditioning. It was your friend, right?"

Annie nods, engaging into conversation. Jacks smiles at her and then pulls me to the other side of the kitchen.

"Finally got you a girl, huh?" he says, lowering his voice, wiggling his eyebrows. "She's quite a catch, bro."

"It's not like that," I say, shaking my head. "At least, I don't think it is. Apparently, Annie is FlamingRed19, my virtual soccer opponent. When Mom asked if I could watch the kids for Sabrina, I was talking with her and she mentioned liking Mom's Christian fiction, so I invited her to come."

"Whatever the case, it's nice to see you finally backing away from Karissa."

"Have I ever given you a reason to worry about me trying to steal Karissa from you? Or do you not remember I was the one who liked her first?"

"I told you I was sorry for that . . . Are you ever going to let it go? I cannot help what I began to feel for her. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't and I was not going to lead Karissa on."

"Whatever," I brush passed him and head towards the back of the house, where I know Gil has a music room.

I close the door and sit at the piano. The very piano that used to sit in Gil's, parents' apartment before he and Sabrina got together. Gil makes my sister happy, which makes me happy. Watching them makes me want to make a girl happy that way. I thought I could do that for Karissa. I feel like I could never make a girl happy, all because I lost my chance with her. The door opens, making me look up. Annie walks in, concern in her eyes. I turn my attention back to the piano keys, though I have not the least idea how to play them. I do not say a word as Annie joins me on the bench, leaving several inches of space between us.

"Since when are you an ass?" she asks, making me look at her in surprise.

"What?" I say my surprise apparent in my voice.

Annie is completely serious, no signs of joking or teasing, nothing.

"You think I'm an ass?" I ask slowly.

"No I don't," Annie replies, shaking her head as a smile rises to her eyes. "I tend to say stupid things. But I do think you should reconsider what I said about Jacks. You would feel better if you forgive him."

"He's the one who has the nerve to think I have been trying to steal her from him."

"Hate to break it to you, Eric, but I am not your brother. You don't need to let your anger towards him come out on me. If that is how you are going to do when I am around, I don't want to be around anymore."

Annie is about to get up, but I grab her hand to stop her, not even thinking about my actions.

"Don't go," I say in a low voice. "I'm sorry; that is not how I want to treat you. You're not my brother and I should not be mad at you."

Annie turns on the bench, facing me with those green eyes. How can such a simple gaze feel like my soul is on display?

"We can catch your mom another time," she says, offering a smile. "I need to get back anyways."

"Okay," I nod slowly. "Let's go, before the miniatures wake up and then we will never get out of here."

She laughs softly, rising from the bench. I realize Iam still holding her hand. I let it go; feeling like my hand is empty. I standfrom the bench and follow Annie out of the room. Gil acknowledges us leaving,but my brother is nowhere in sight. Maybe Annie is right; though she may havebeen joking . . . I am an ass.    

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