"I thought you were going to put a movie on?" Lauren asked as she grabbed a handful of popcorn without looking up at him.

Josh got the movie from the shelf near the television and loaded the disc in the DVD player. Then he returned to the couch to lay behind Lauren. The video started with the usual stark warning messages about copying, but Josh ignored them like he did the louder one ringing in his mind. On impulse he reached out to run his fingers through Lauren's ponytail. Her nut brown hair was surprisingly soft.

"Stop it!" Lauren shrieked as she batted his hand away and gave him a confused look. "What are you doing?"

"Tickling you?" Josh laughed.

"So you noticed I grew boobs and suddenly you think it's okay to tickle me?" she asked in an annoyed tone.

"Why not?" Josh asked as he gave her a cheeky grin.

Lauren rolled her eyes and mocked him, "Why not?"

Irritating Lauren was more fun than messing with his sisters. They eventually ignored him, but Lauren always got more frustrated. Growing up as an only child had her acting like a little adult instead of a kid. Having no brothers or sisters also meant she had no experience with the kinds of harassment siblings regularly gave and endured.

He reached over to run his palm up her back to see if he could get another rise out of her. The thin lines of her bra were detectable through the fabric of her t-shirt. Her ponytail left her neck exposed, with delicate curls escaping at her hairline. A subtle perfume tickled his nose. A minty, apple scent that urged him to lean closer and take a deeper breath of her hair.

After initially tensing at his touch, she relaxed a little while he continued to rub the center of her back. Then he pressed a bit deeper to give her a one-handed massage across her shoulders. There was good muscle tone under his fingers. By the time she turned her head a little to look back at him, he felt a stirring in his shorts.

"What are you doing?"

"Can't a guy rub someone's back?"

"Not you," she whispered. A pained look flashed across her face. "Not me."

"Why not you?" he asked with a matching whisper. He knew it was tormenting her. She'd had an obvious crush on him when she was younger. He knew he ought to stop, but kept rubbing the muscles on her shoulders anyway.

Her eyes narrowed and she sat back, pushing his hand away. "I've got to finish this report tonight. I don't have time to work on it this weekend."

"I'll help if you want," he offered with a cheeky smirk.

"It's Friday night. You're doing laundry and offering to help a high school girl with her homework. Has anyone told you that you suck at college, dude?"

"Good one," he chuckled at her dig. "Maybe I'm just trying to be nice."

"Oh no, I don't think that's it at all." She turned back around and picked up her pencil.

The movie had gotten past the trailers and credits at last, but Josh found himself leaning closer to read her report over her shoulder.

Lauren's thesis was that Jane Austen took a young and lively Emma Woodhouse and turned her into the dutiful wife of a wealthy older man. In the process, she lost what made her interesting and unique in exchange for love and security with a father figure. She went on to give good examples from the book that supported her thesis. Josh remembered reading the story and found himself fascinated by her analysis and insight.

Lauren shivered, then shoved his face away from her shoulder. "Stop breathing on me," she hissed in genuine anger.

"Sorry, I was just reading your report. It's really good, Lauren."

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