Chapter 1: Josh

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Josh backed through the door from his parents' garage, wrestling his overflowing laundry hamper after him. The washer and dryer were in the narrow hallway between the garage and the kitchen, so he dropped the hamper with a thud.

"Hello?" Lauren called from the living room.

Josh recognized her voice instantly. She was the teenaged babysitter his parents had always used when they worked late or went out. She came over from across the street to care for his three younger half-sisters. When Dad remarried and started his new family, Josh had been a busy high schooler and Lauren had been a responsible pre-teen. Now that he was finishing his first year of college, she was in high school and had become a family fixture.

"It's just me. I ran out of underwear."

Josh began tossing in clothes while the washer filled with water. When it was full of clothes, he dumped in a capful of soap and dropped the lid. Lauren was leaning against the doorway in khaki shorts and a pink babydoll tee when he finished.

"You must not care if your whites come out gray," Lauren said with a smirk.

"I don't have any whites. Even my boxer-briefs and socks are colorful."

Josh leaned against the noisy washer and crossed his arms. Lauren had grown up. Her head was still a few inches below his chin, but her hips had filled out those tight shorts. As his eyes drifted back up to her face they paused when he noticed the mosquito bites on her chest had grown into nice little teacups.

Lauren's smile slipped as she raised an eyebrow. "When did you become a pig?"

Busted. "Can't help noticing," he shrugged.

After a loud huff, Lauren turned away to walk back through the kitchen. Her shorts looked even better from behind, then he reminded himself she was still a kid. A barefooted, red toenailed, slim legged, very shapely kid.

Josh shook off the illicit thoughts and made his way to the pantry, happy to see his mother still stocked his favorites. He grabbed a bag of buttery popcorn and tossed it in the microwave. While the bag spun and the noisy fan blew, Josh leaned over the counter to see Lauren's school books spread out on the coffee table. She was writing in a three-ring binder.

"Whatcha workin' on?"

"Book report," she mumbled without looking up.

"What book?"

She shot a snotty look over her shoulder. "Don't you have something better to do than bug me?"

"Nope." The popcorn began popping. The buttery scent made his mouth water.

"Emma by Jane Austen." She returned to her report and continued writing.

"You ever see the movie?" Josh asked with a grin, knowing he was irritating her. "We've got it if you want to watch it with me." She sat up but didn't turn around. "I'm making popcorn."

"I can hear, dumbass," she growled.

"So, you wanna see it?" Josh asked with a chuckle. She had spirit, he had to give her that.

"Will it make you shut up?" she asked over her shoulder. Her eyes shot sparks at him.



Josh dumped the popcorn into a large bowl and grabbed a couple of sodas from the fridge on his way to the living room. Lauren was sitting on the floor in front of the couch at the coffee table. After putting the bowl down on the floor next to her, he popped the tops on the cans and placed them on the coffee table.

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