Sorry I haven't updated for a long time. I've been busy, but that's not a very good excuse, is it?

Disclaimer: I don't own anything, except for my own characters and plot.


Chapter 15 - I Just Want You To Know

She felt so ashamed. How could she have done such a thing? Haley longed to throw something or hit a wall, with all the emotions that coursed through her. The privacy of her room seemed so far away as she entered the house. Ava, Johnny, and Nikki all turned to stare at her. She threw them a fake smile before walking swiftly upstairs. Her breath came in little gasps, which only served to increase the pain in her ribs. Her eyes stung with scalding tears. If only she could take it all back. Bradin must hate her now. After all, she had practically thrown herself at him down on the beach. Why did she have to be such a screw-up? Haley let the self-deprecating ideas run wild a long while.

The gentle pounding on the door didn't help her unhappy thoughts. "Who is it?" she called.

"It's Jay."

She swallowed hard. How was she going to explain this to him? "Come in." He walked in.

"Mind if I sit down?"

"Sure," she said, not very enthusiastically. Jay sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to figure out what exactly to say to his sister. Bradin had come to him earlier, his only words being an apology. What for, Jay didn't know, but he was sure it had something to do with Haley.

"So, do you mind telling me what's going on?"

"Nothing."

"Haley," he scolded lightly.

"What do you want to know?" she asked, somewhat annoyed. "I made a mistake. A big mistake, Jay."

"What happened?"

"I did the stupidest thing in the world." She rolled over and stared at her brother, her eyes bloodshot and puffy.

"You can tell me. What'd you do? Rob a bank?" he joked.

"No, I kissed him," she told him very seriously. Jay wasn't exactly surprised, but he wasn't thrilled either. "Before you ask why, I'll save you a few words. I don't know why."

"I wondered if something like this would happen."

"I'm sorry," she said, bursting into fresh tears again. "I'm sorry for disappointing you."

"Haley," he tried to calm her down. "It's okay. You're not a disappointment."

"How am I going to look at him again?" she wailed.

"How long have you known him?" Jay interrupted her.

She paused to think. "Since…first grade? But we haven't been friends since middle school."

"Is there any chance that you might…like him?" Jay watched as her face changed from pained to wonderment, and then defeat.

"Like him?"

"Yeah, you know, you get the butterflies and funny feelings when you're around him kind of a thing?" he said amusedly.

"This isn't funny," Haley muttered.

"It's not funny. I was just wondering how you felt."

"I don't know."

"You've liked him for years," Jay stated. She hung her head.

"I was young then. And stupid."

"He's a good kid. Of course, there's been the usual teenage drama, but he's come out on top."

"And what if I did like him?" she asked tentatively.

"I'll go have a 'talk' with him."

"Jay!"

He raised his hands in surrender. "I want you to be happy. But I don't want him to hurt you. He's been with girls before. I don't want you to be just any other girl."

"I don't know exactly where we stand," she sighed, finally starting to calm down. The feeling of relief was sweet. Jay wasn't angry. He was actually concerned about her. Somehow, that knowledge made her feel secure.

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, Bradin came and apologized to me earlier."

"He did?" Her eyebrows shot up. She longed to ask more questions, but stayed quiet.

"I think he feels pretty bad."

"I can't talk to him." She sat up next to him buried her face in her hands.

"Haley, you can't hide up here forever," he said patiently.

"But can't I at least stay up here for a little while longer?"

He gave her a gentle hug and stood. "Tell him soon. It'll be fine"

"Okay," she said resignedly. Jay was almost out the door before her voice stopped him.

"Jay. Thank you," Haley said, "for everything."

"Hey, what else are big brother's good for?" he gave her a reassuring wink before softly closing the door.

Haley lay on her back, cradling a pillow on her chest. She tried to focus her mind on something to distract herself. The thought of talking to Bradin filled her with dread. The impending confrontation didn't take long. A soft knock on the door jolted her from her reverie. "Haley, may I come in?" It was Bradin. She opened the door a crack and peered out. He stood there, hands jammed in his pockets. To her surrpise, he looked almost embarrassed.

"Hey." She let him come in. They sat down on the bed, almost awkwardly.

They spoke at the same time. "I'm sorry," Haley said.

"I just wanted to say I was sorry," he said. They paused.

"Sorry. You go first." Bradin told her.

"I'm sorry for what happened earlier," she said, willing herself not to blush.

"I'm sorry too," Bradin admitted. Haley wanted to cry all over again.

"I'll understand completely if you don't want to be friends anymore," she told him.

"Haley, Haley," he soothed. "Don't think like that. It wasn't exactly one-sided. I kissed you back, you know."

"What?" she couldn't believe her ears. "Uh, you did?"

"I did," he replied. Haley thought for a minute.

"Why?" Bradin had to choke back a laugh at her question.

"Because I like you, that's why."

"You…like me."

"Yes." She felt as though the breath had been knocked out of her. Was he joking or actually being serious?

"Bradin Westerly, you'd better not be lying to me right now," she said, her voice trembling.

"I'm not," he said, taking her hand in his. "It just took me a long time to figure things out."

She sighed deeply. "Do you know how long I've liked you?"

"Maybe for as long as I've liked you?"

"You're not lying." She wondered if her heart was going to beat out of her chest. Bradin smiled almost tenderly at her.

"I wouldn't do that." His words were her undoing. More tears began to trickle forth. He pulled her closer to him, and for once, she didn't fight. Their foreheads touched.

Haley struggled to form words. "I pushed you out of my mind when we moved…after what happened back in Kansas. I didn't think you would want to see me again."

"What happened wasn't either of our faults."

"Maybe not, but I still feel responsible."

"He's a monster, Haley, that's just what he is. Don't blame yourself."

"Maybe if it hadn't happened. Just maybe life wouldn't be the way it is now," she sighed.

"You mean, you wouldn't be here."

"No, I guess not. Don't tell Jay, but at first, I didn't want to come. My grandma had to talk me into it."

"I never did find out, why can't you stay with her?"

"Her health is bad." Haley's face fell. "She doesn't want me to be there when she…dies. I knew when I came here that I probably wouldn't see her again." Bradin took her hand in his and gently rubbed his thumb back and forth across the back.

"It'll be okay."

"I know." She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "I just don't want to be alone again."

----------

Jay hunched over a board in his shop, his sandy-colored hair covered with dust. He carefully shaped another edge and examined his work before turning off the sander. "Hello?" a voice called from the front of the shop. He peeled off his mask and tossed it in the trash.

"How can I help you?" he asked, walking behind the counter. He finally looked at the customer, who only stared at him with mirth filling her eyes. "Oh, Erika. Sorry about that. I couldn't tell who it was." He self-consciously ran his hand through his hair, a cloud of dust wafting across the room.

"It's okay," she teased. "I did work here, I'm practically a part of the place. You could just put me in the corner as a display."

"The customers would never believe that you were fake. You're too pretty for that," he joked back. She threw him a smile. "So, what can I do for you?"

"I was just stopping by before work. Wanted to know how you were doing."

"I'm doing pretty good," he said nonchalantly. Her perceptive gaze missed nothing.

"Jay. Don't lie to me."

He took a deep breath. "It's not too bad. I'm still getting used to this whole family thing."

"You're doing a good job of it," she said. He shook his head.

"No, I'm pretty sure I'm making a big mess of it."

"I think you're doing fine."

"How do you know?" She grinned at him and rolled her eyes.
"You forgot where I work." He shut his eyes.

"Oh, right. You work for Johnny."

"And Ava comes in a lot."

"So, they tell you all about me?"

"No, of course not!" she exclaimed. "They say stuff here and there, but nothing personal. I just know you too well to know something's bothering you. So, what's up?"

"You were a teenage girl once. Did you ever like a guy that was probably not a good person to like?"

"Let me see. I think there was one. His name was Jay."

He colored slightly. "You did start hanging out with my crowd when you were just a kid."

"You trained with my dad. Of course, I was going to have a big crush on you. It was a natural thing."

"I just don't know what to do sometimes with Haley. She's so grown-up. Way different from when I was her age. Not to mention…." His voice trailed off.

"Her and Bradin?"

"How'd you know?"

"Like you said, I was a teenaged girl."

"You know what he's been like. I don't want him to do anything that would hurt her. She's been through enough already."

"Bradin's a good kid. He's made some dumb choices, but overall, he's got a good head. Don't forget, they've known each other for a lot longer than we have."

"Thanks for reminding me."

She winced. "I'm sorry."

"It's fine."

"He likes her."

"How can you tell?" he asked.

"Just the way he's been acting. It's different than the other ones. He's taking it a lot slower."

"Saturday morning, I find them both in Haley's room. She's black and blue, looks like she's been through a war. And he's being super protective. What am I supposed to do with him?" he asked, exasperated. "With the way he's done things before, I'm worried about what could happen."

"He's also had to grow up a lot more in the past year."

"It's just different this time."

"She's your sister. That makes a lot of difference. You want to protect her. But, she's old enough to make her own decisions."

"I know. I just don't like it." He made a face.

"That's why I say you're doing fine with her," Erika said triumphantly. "You're just trying to protect her."

"You know me too well," he said affectionately. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Enough about me. How are you doing?" Jay asked. She shrugged.

"Life's okay. I've been busy working at Mona's. I have a few students that I'm teaching. Other than that, I haven't been doing much. Nothing exciting, anyways."

"I'd give a lot for a boring day."

"The shop's keeping you busy?"

"With the competitions coming up and all the new people coming to town, I've been so busy. Bradin's been helping out on weekends, but since he's in school, he's been working fewer hours." Jay rubbed a hand across his face, leaving a trail of grime. Erika smothered a grin. He really did look tired.

She decided to take a stab in the dark. "Since it's been slow, I could come back and work part-time." He immediately perked up. "That is, if you want the help."
"Erika! You're a lifesaver!"

"I take that as a yes?"

He clapped his hands together, releasing another cloud of dust. "When can you start?"

"Anytime you want," she said.

"How's today?" he threw her his most charming smile.

"Sorry. I've got a lesson in an hour. But I could come in tomorrow"

"Tomorrow it is. I guess I'll see you then," Jay said in relief.

"No problem."

"Well, I've got to go. I need to get my gear before heading down to the beach." She turned to leave.

"Erika?" his voice stopped her.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. For coming to say hi. You're a good friend."

"You're welcome," she replied. With that, she exited the shop, pausing at the window for a moment. Erika laughed quietly to herself at him furiously trying to scrub away the dirt that coated his face. An indescribable expression crossed her face, but she swiftly covered it and purposefully walked away. There was no way she was taking that road again. She'd been down there too many times before.


That's all I have for now! Thanks for reading!