A.N.: A very long chapter! You must profess your undying love for me in thanks for me writing it! Lily gets a job; and an application for another job; and she spends a little time with Garrett, and with Kirsten.

I am loving that now keeps data available for perusal on who's Alerted this story! I can track you all down!

Please review!

Lilium Inter Spinas


Lily knew her and Ryan's presence in the Cohen house had disrupted their normal flow; she knew they had caused tension between Seth, who wanted to keep them around, and his parents, who were looking at things logically and doing what was best for his safety and wellbeing. Ryan leaving had only caused them more problems.

Wherever Ryan was, Lily wasn't afraid that the police would pick him up. She was terrified but resigned that Ryan would be discovered in a hospital somewhere. Like most of the men Lily had ever known, Ryan couldn't use his brain where his fists would work just as fine and far easier. He had a volatile temper, a very short fuse, and had never before won a fight. He jumped into situations with his fists flying, instead of taking a step back to gauge the situation and look at a solution from every angle. Being smart wasn't something that got you anywhere in their neighbourhood. Being a smart-mouth was even worse, but she and Ryan had learned early to keep their mouths shut and hide under the bed when things got rough and the insults and fists were flung like glasses filled with cheap alcohol.

He hadn't even said goodbye.

After everything they had gone through—not just this last weekend, but their entire lives, being jerked around by Trey, pushed and shoved by their passive-aggressive, angry drunk mother's boyfriends, ignored and neglected by their mother—he had just left her.

Suddenly she didn't know her brother at all.

She could have believed this of her mother—she expected it from Dawn. But Ryan? He was a troublemaker, but an honest one, and he was smarter than he gave himself credit for. He was better than Dawn and Trey combined, the go-to guy in their neighbourhood for kids who needed help. Taking care of people, looking out for them, had somehow been hardwired into his brain.

Lily had never believed Ryan capable of looking out only for number one.

Feeling drained from her breakdown earlier, she sat in the cab of Garrett's truck, silent and upset.

Last night she had felt…almost invincible. Things had been…good. She had had ice-cream with a beautiful boy who was as kind as he was good-looking, Mr Cohen had given them his word that he would help them, and…for the first time in ages, people saw. It had been less than twelve hours ago that Garrett had picked her up for ice-cream; they had spent the evening walking the beach and talking. Today was such a different day, it felt like a month ago she had enjoyed that ice-cream.

Last night, Garrett had seen she wasn't happy. Mrs Cohen, a complete stranger, had witnessed her breakdown, when nobody in her family even realised she cried in the shower every day. She had hugged Lily—something Lily hadn't experienced since…the last time she'd seen her dad. Atwoods weren't huggers, but she had been her daddy's little sweetheart, and he'd always cuddled with her in his lap, reading to her. She was the only one in her family who took pleasure in reading, and it stemmed from the comfort she had once gained from cuddling in her dad's lap, listening to his warm voice at her ear, his rough large hands with his grease-stained fingers holding her.

She sat, reflecting: her mother had abandoned them, her brother was missing, her other brother was in jail and Mr Cohen was searching records to find out which prison her father was in. It felt surreal to sit in the truck, listening to Jimi Hendrix, the blistering sun caressing her skin as the breeze played with her hair, on her way to meet a prospective employer while she waited for word of her runaway brother.

She was stuck. This weekend, she had been in limbo, she knew it; a paradise-like limbo, one that contrasted the rest of her life so acutely, she would remember it for years to come. Seeing Mrs Cohen's house, her family, Lily knew she would strive for that her entire life, that warmth, that safety, the companionship. But she now had to wait for news of Ryan, as well as wait for her emancipation papers to go through, and with Mr Cohen focused on finding Ryan, she knew that, with her sleeping in the pool-house, safe, her emancipation would take the back-burner while they tried to sort things out with her brother.

Ryan was the reason she had come to Newport Beach in the first place. Had he not stolen that car, had Dawn not gotten loaded and kicked Ryan out of the house, Lily wouldn't have made her escape with him. She wouldn't have ended up here, far from Chino, in a wonderful place by the sea where a young boy craving friendship had bonded with her, and with Ryan. She wouldn't have met Garrett, who was pushing her toward a new job, who had talked with her. The first person to do so in months. But now Ryan was gone.

She could do nothing to find him in a place she knew so little about, without knowing what her brother had planned. So she just sat in Garrett's truck, trying not to worry, or dwell on the hurt that was carving pieces out of her chest with a dull spoon.

"Wanna tell me what's happened?" Garrett asked, one hand on the wheel, his gold-framed Ray Ban sunglasses on as before, looking incredible in a plain, threadbare white V-neck t-shirt that hung lopsidedly off his broad shoulders, his tan glowing a burnished dark-gold. She sighed softly, leaning her elbow against the window.

"Ryan left," she said quietly, glancing out of the window, watching the waving palms.

"Did he tell you where he was going?" Garrett asked quietly; Lily shook her head. "Leave a note?" Another shake of her head, her throat and eyes burning. Garrett sighed heavily, glancing at here. Gesturing to her, he said, "C'mere." He patted to the seat right beside him. As if he wanted her to move closer so he could hug her. She shook her head, clenching her eyes shut.

"I c-can't—if I l-let you hug m-me, I'll b-b-break d-down again," she said, touching her face with her fingertips, realising how tired she was all of a sudden. Garrett nodded, giving her a concerned glance, but turned back to the road; they drove on in silence, listening to Garrett's playlist, Jimi replaced by ELO, Tim McGraw and Johnny Cash singing 'Hurt'. Lily loved the song; it fit her mood, the atmosphere, the heat.

As Garrett drove, she took in her surroundings, memorising the route he guided them through. Busy intersections choked with luxury cars gave way to sandy streets a little more ruggedly kept, palms waving in the breeze as dawn-patrol surfers schlepped surfboards and soggy wetsuits to their cars. Cars gave way to pedestrian traffic in the no-car zone on the boardwalk, shops and enormous palm-trees lining a wide promenade filled with benches and colourful flowerbeds. All along it, exclusive boutiques and luxury bakeries were open, restaurants and cafés having put out tables, folding chairs and umbrellas; in the distance, a pier spread out into the crystal blue of the Pacific Ocean, colourful little flags quivering in the breeze along it. Colourful umbrellas were unrolled over shop windows, sprinklers had watered the flowerbeds, pots and plants littering the promenade, and Garrett parked near a small, red-roofed two-storey outdoor mall with open courtyards filled with urns overflowing with flowers and benches. It was a completely pedestrian zone, and people wandered around the second-storey gallery between shops, and Lily saw an apron-clad woman rearranging potted plants and posies amongst decorative urns, obelisks, garden benches and tall flowering roses and potted herbs outside a florist with two very pretty window displays.

Downstairs, two very large bay-windows were filled with displays of posters, record-players and vintage memorabilia, iTunes gift-cards, CDs and fliers detailing gigs at nearby clubs; the wide double-doors to the music store were thrown wide open, and Lily could hear music playing as she followed Garrett closer. As they reached the store, a beanpole with vibrant red hair and glowing red eyelashes stalked after two young girls in flip-flops, braids and vibrant beach-ware, both of whom looked highly terrified.

"—and stay out!" the boy shouted after them, and the girls scuttled off, red-faced. Garrett just chuckled softly, gripping the skinny boy by the shoulder and guiding him into the store.

"Another two for the Wall of Shame?" he asked, grinning.

"I'm worried, G," the boy said, eyes wide. "I'm worried about the future of America. I may need you to hold me and tell me everything's gonna be okay."

"Everything's gonna be okay," Garrett said, patting the redhead on the back.

"Sam?" he said, glancing at the raised dais where the cash-registers were located.

"World's going to shit," a skinny dark-haired older boy said from a shoulder-high counter raised on a platform, at which several cash-registers and a computer set up, the counter pasted with concert fliers, posters, CD-release signs, stickers, blank CDs, earphones, iTunes gift-cards and protective iPod cases. "I mean, take this guy for example," he said, gesturing at a customer in front of him, "Look at his selection: Metal, rap—and Miley Cyrus."

"It's for my little sister," the customer frowned.

"Sure it is," Sam said disgustedly, sighing as he tossed the CDs carelessly into a translucent red bag, flinging it at the customer, who stalked out of the store, looking surly. The guy caught sight of Garrett, and Lily lingering nervously behind, and shook his head.

"Why does Joe even stock that Disney shit?" Garrett asked with a sigh, leaning his elbows on the counter, and Lily gazed around the store. Like the TARDIS, it was bigger on the inside, no floor separating the ground-level with the upper-storey. Waist-high display cabinets filled with vinyl records stretched to a back wall featuring swinging double-doors, beneath a mezzanine balcony filled with little red-painted booths; a sweeping staircase carpeted in purple spread upstairs, leaving a large cosy-corner under the stairs filled with a squashy sectional and an upright piano painted vibrant turquoise; a little polished-wood booth strung up with fairy-lights featured a hand-stencilled mural with the words 'Garrett's Rare Records'; cabinets lined the side walls, filled with CDs; audio sampling machines were set up at intervals around the store, and vibrant, enigmatic artwork had been hoisted up above the cases on the high walls, above hand-painted signs indicating music genres. A few dozen people were checking out the new releases and the extensive vinyl selection. Loud music blared, a blue police-light flashed, and several teenagers with metal nametag lanyards danced around, sweeping floors, straightening up music-magazine stands, dusting counters and replacing light-bulbs.

"Hey, is he around?" Garrett asked.

"In his office," Sam said, jerking his head down the store at the double-doors beneath the mezzanine balcony. "He just got in."

"What kinda mood is he in?" Garrett asked quietly.

"Pretty good, considering," Sam shrugged. He caught sight of Lily and canted his head to the side thoughtfully. "This the girl you called in about earlier?"

"Yeah, uh, Sam, this is Lily," Garrett said, gesturing to his colleague. "Lil, my friend Sam. He's judgemental and venomous without provocation."

"It's better you know now," Sam said, nodding, looking solemn but at the same time, amusing. "What's your opinion on Miley Cyrus?"

"She doesn't even know who Justin Beiber is, Sammy," Garrett said proudly. "I think she's safe."

"Don't call me Sammy, Garrett," Sam remarked. "Sammy is a pudgy fifth-grader."

"You were pudgy?"

"No, I'm saying the name Sammy implies a pudgy fifth-grader."

"Hm. Come on, Lil, I'll show you to Joe's office," Garrett said, latching on to the hem of Lily's t-shirt and striding off, tugging her behind him, toward the swinging double-doors. They featured little porthole windows, and above and two feet either side of the doorframe, someone had painted the wall with chalkboard paint; song lyrics, prices, arrows indicating a bin filled with sale items and sayings were chalked on it.

"Oh, he's put a new one up," Garrett said thoughtfully, pausing in front of the doors and gazing up just above the doorframe. Lily read the quote; 'Arguing with a woman is like being arrested. Everything you say can and will be used against you'.

"Very wise," Lily smiled.

"Joe has much knowledge," Garrett said thoughtfully, shooting her a grin before bursting through the swinging double-doors, into what looked like the employees' lounge, which featured a few worn-in sofas; an armchair; a licence-plate coffee-table loaded with junk-food; a huge stereo and a television with numerous games consoles; and a counter filled with art-supplies running parallel to the back wall, which was stacked with paintings on canvases, sheets of metal, bits of wood and drywall, even a bicycle frame taken apart and painted like a Cecily Brown painting; a cabinet of boxes had been hand-made and featured little embossed labels with different names, some of the cubbies filled with stuff, and on the top of the cabinet was a collection of bongs, liquor bottles, board-games and a cardboard box labelled 'Lost & Stolen'; there were doors leading off the room, each of them decorated with stickers, posters, photographs, and random stuff; one led to a room featuring a rumpled bed and a fire-door open to a porch, where Lily glimpsed a grill. Garrett jumped up several steps to a windowed door—the white blinds featuring an order in red tape; 'Work!'—and rapped his knuckles against the glass.

"'Min!" someone called in response, and, still tugging Lily by the hem of her t-shirt, Garrett entered the office. The first thing Lily glimpsed was a huge drum-kit, then a worn-in sofa on which a fluffy white Husky lay curled up, and a desk cluttered with CDs, takeout containers and accounting ledgers.

"Hey Lucy," Garrett said, and the Husky raised its fluffy blue-eyed head to sniff interestedly at Lily, then lick Garrett's outstretched hand affectionately. He scratched her nose, leaning down to kiss her head, before straightening up.

"Garrett, babe, what's happening?" Lily glanced at the man sitting at the desk—behind which was a glossy red jukebox and a low cabinet filled with records—and felt a little stunned. If she had been alive in the Seventies, she wouldn't have looked twice at him at a rock concert, but his face was young, unlined, and a broad grin splashed across his face when he caught Lily's eye. "Hey, you must be Lily. Welcome to the Empire!"

"Hi," Lily said, suddenly feeling bubbly. This man's grin was infectious, and she couldn't help feeling…comfortable around him.

"Are we interrupting?" Garrett asked, peering around the office.

"Nah," Joe said, running his hands through his hair. Rings glinted on several of his fingers, and like Ryan he wore a leather wrist-cuff. "Just distracting me from the accounting ledgers I've been trying to straighten up for the last three hours. What's up?"

"Er—" Lily blurted, inching closer to the desk to glance at the ledger. She had been in charge of the accounting for several of the places she had worked at, chief among them her mother's ex-boyfriend's contractor business. "I—if you want, I c-could take a look at them."

"You know business finance?" Joe asked, raising his eyebrows. Lily took her backpack off, reaching into it for the document portfolio she kept her certifications in. One showed that she had taken and completed with distinction an accounting class at the Chino Hills Community College.

"I d-did the accounting for several of the businesses I've worked for," Lily said quietly. Joe stared at her, then at the certificate she had opened her portfolio to, and she felt herself blushing as Garrett raised his eyebrows. "I…I'm good at m-math. Th-there are r-recomm-mmendations from m-my p-p-previous employers…" Joe skimmed the typed, signed recommendations from her past bosses, each of whom had used her for their book-keeping.

"I need someone to work the afternoon shift three days a week," Joe said, scanning the list of past employers' references. "The pay's fourteen bucks an hour, one p.m. till six, on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays." Lily committed that to memory and nodded. "Depending on my other staffs' schedules, I might have to call you up and ask to cover their shifts, but if you're on the midnight stretch, you won't be by yourself. Any questions?"

"Would you mind if I t-took on another job alongside this one?" Lily asked, and Joe shrugged.

"Nope," he said, smiling, and Lily couldn't help smiling back. "Fact, if you get another gig with conflicting shifts, I'll let you trade up with someone." Lily smiled shyly. "Rhett, sort her out a time-card and some coffee."

"Am I showing Lil the ropes?" Garrett inquired.

"Not yet," Joe said, giving Lily a grin. "I need my books looked at." On his desk, Joe piled up ledgers, stacks of receipts, a calculator and a handful of pens, a battered Dell laptop, and, standing up, he dumped them in Lily's arms. "Hey, Rhett," Joe said, upturning an ancient red coffee-can; several coins and balled up wads of cash fell onto the desk; he fished out a twenty-dollar bill and a ten, and handed them to Garrett, "Order's in your studio."

"Yeah, I'll go grab that now," Garrett said, tugging on the back of Lily's t-shirt, and Lily stumbled backwards out of the office while Joe plucked a quarter from the desk and sunk it into the jukebox; Aerosmith spewed from hidden speakers, and the office door remained open as Lily was guided to the long counter at the back of the office; a door onto the fire-escape stood open despite the In Case of Emergencies Only sticker, and a gentle sea breeze caressed her bare skin as Garrett pushed a swathe of art materials, sketches, half-completed paintings, vinyl sleeves and magazines aside and tugged a torn red leather-topped stool from beneath the counter, patting it and darted off, calling to an invisible girl named Maia to "pour me a pint!" when Lily heard a noise like an opening soda-bottle issue from the open door tucked by the enormous stereo console.

Stunned, Lily perched on the stool Garrett had dragged out for her, and set out the ledger, calculator, laptop and all of the receipts. She had never been plunged into a new job so quickly, and while she was good at adapting, the record-store wasn't like any place she had ever worked before. Music blared, a siren sometimes wailed (preceding an abrupt stop in the current choice of music), the people who worked there alternately introduced themselves, by perching their chins on her shoulder and peeking at the ledger, then at her (in red-eyelashed Brock's case) or wandered past her in a marijuana haze carrying a pizza-box, pulling a t-shirt on over still-sopping board-shorts, stashing a suspicious-looking baggy in one of the employee boxes marked 'Sasha', jumping when Maia, a twenty-something girl with dark curls bouncing around her chin and a collection of silver piercings, clapped him on the shoulder and pointed Lily out.

"This is Sasha," Maia remarked, and the pretty-looking guy with beach-blonde hair longer than Lily's gazed at her with sleepy blue eyes. She had experienced Trey in a drug haze more than enough times to know there wasn't much Sasha was able to process at that moment, and waved over her shoulder as she turned back to the ledger, which she first had had to decipher then clean up before starting any of the actual math, which would take her moments, at the longest.

"Where's Rhett?" Sasha murmured, peering around the employee lounge.

"In N' Out," Maia replied. Sasha nodded, slung his nametag over his head and dawdled out onto the shop-floor, calling for Garrett.

"He has the attention-span of warm cellophane," Maia sighed affectionately, banging around in the kitchen, producing the lid of an old cake-tin filled with bottles of different condiments, which she placed on the coffee-table after using her foot to kick free a space on it, a bag of Cheetos and a bucket of quarters skittering across the threadbare carpet. Lucy the Husky padded around the room, trying out a spot on the sofa, then the sunspot from the open escape-door, then sat with her head resting on Lily's leg. Lily scratched her nose idly as she worked through the accounting ledger. Maia kept her in Dots candies, and Lily remembered Kirsten's snacks and perked herself up with a few gulps of her blueberry iced-tea; Sam approached her with advice never to accept any of Sasha's 'special' brownies unless she was used to getting high, and demanding to know what kind of music she listened to. Discovering that Lily owned three CDs, Sam stared at her for a full five minutes before Garrett returned bearing recycled-card boxes filled with wrapped burgers, bags of fresh fries, cups of milkshake, soda and iced-tea.

"FOOD!" Garrett bellowed out the swinging-doors, and Lily helped him set the boxes down on the coffee-table as numerous people emerged in the lounge; Garrett handed out burgers, bags of fries, the drinks, and when he handed her a "Double-double. Because you're skinny, Lil. If you don't eat all of it, you won't get any of Sasha's special brownies."

"You can't do math without a buzz on," Sasha remarked, going cross-eyed as he tried to drink his chocolate milkshake.

"That is very wise, Sash," Garrett said, giving Sasha a pat on the head.

"Thanks," Lily said quietly, glancing at Garrett, who smiled, and gave Sam an odd look; he was still staring at her as if she had just told the Pope that the Bible was fake.

Lily discovered that at one o'clock every day, Joe would put up the 'Back in 30' sign, lock the front-doors, and they would all sit down and eat lunch. Whether it was In N' Out or sandwiches made in the kitchen, or a huge vat of pasta or a barbecue outside, there was always food prepared for lunch, and dinnertime included pizza from Sasha's other job, or Thai takeout, Mexican food from El Pavo Guapo across the plaza or fresh fish from The Crab Shack on the pier: the video-games consoles were turned on, the stereo played loudly, beers were passed around after one of Sasha's joints, they all caught up on gossip and made plans for the end of their shifts, traded burned mix-CDs and in Liz and Maia's case, dirty erotic novels. When the burgers and fries had been consumed—the best Lily had and her first ever In N' Out—nearly everyone went back to work; Joe sat on the sofa, playing a video-game with Garrett, talking quietly, while Lily went back to the ledgers.

Sitting in the employee lounge, listening to the music being played on the surround-sound stereo system, with Maia, Sasha, Sam, Garrett, Brock and Liz taking breaks to play on the Wii, PlayStation and Xbox, scarf down junk-food, paint, goof off on Garrett's laptop trying to Facebook-rape him and download clown porn, and chug mugs of sugary coffee; Lily witnessed Liz disappearing into the copy-room with a handsome customer, Brock giggling as he ate one of Sasha's brownies while watching VH1 Classics, Joe putting on an AC/DC record and drumming along to it in his office, and Garrett, in all his broad-shouldered, tousle-haired glory, mixed a drink ready for Joe, when he got back. He had left for a meeting with his lawyer; according to Liz, his wife had left him for another woman and was trying to sue him for everything he had.

"Don't you need the calculator?" someone asked, and Lily jumped as she glanced up, having been focused entirely on the ledgers. Garrett had his long arms taut against the top of the table, head canted to the side as he watched her interestedly, a streak of paint smudged from his temple through his artfully tousled hair, which Lily hadn't noticed before was slightly longer at the nape of his neck, brushing the collar of his t-shirt, which hung off-centre on his shoulders, revealing one sun-drenched collarbone that she had the strangest urge to nibble.

She then noticed a hickey, conspicuous just under his ear, and glanced instead at his eyes, wetting her lips. "I like d-doing the math in my head."

"You okay?" Garrett asked gently, canting his head to one side as he swept his sapphire eyes over her. Rubbing her eyes, she nodded. "What's wrong with your eyes?"

"N-nothing," Lily said quietly, her temples pulsing, belying her words. "I just…I keep g-getting headaches when I've b-been reading." Garrett made a thoughtful noise, and while she bent over the ledgers, she could hear him clattering around. When he returned, he handed her a pair of reading-glasses.

"Try these," he said. "They're from the Lost & Stolen box. Maybe they'll help."

"Thanks," Lily said quietly, taking the glasses and putting them on; they weren't perfect, but they were better. She could see clearer, wasn't squinting and frowning. When Garrett had set Joe's drink in the office, ready for when Joe returned, he went to work out on the shop-floor, leaving Lily to work steadily.

"How's the math coming?" Garrett asked interestedly.

"I'll be d-done in a little while," Lily said, smoothing the page she was working through. "J-Joe d-doesn't keep very neat records."

"Yeah, I think that's why his accountant quit," Garrett said sympathetically, glancing at the almost-illegible numbers. He grabbed several items from the art table, dubbed his "studio" by Joe, and disappeared out onto the shop-floor.

Within another hour, Lily had finished the accounting ledgers, and a spreadsheet on Excel. Joe had returned from his meeting, heavy rock music pounding from the jukebox in his office, and he sat pounding on his drum-kit with his t-shirt off, Lucy the Husky hiding out on the shop-floor at the counter. Knocking on the door had no effect, but Joe nodded at her as she entered the office, indicating the ledgers, and when the song ended, Joe set his drumsticks atop one of the drums and tugged on his t-shirt.

"Hey, Lily, what's up?" he asked, panting softly, and he offered her a Gatorade from his mini-refrigerator.

"No, thank you," Lily said, shaking her head at the Gatorade. "Um, I've f-finished going through your books." Joe stared at her, his cheeks pouched full of Gatorade, and Lily offered him the ledger. Taking it from her, Joe sat down, opened it, and spent the next five minutes going through Lily's math. When he glanced up, there was pure wonder and delight sparkling in his eyes.

"How old did you say you were?" he asked.

"Fifteen," Lily blushed subtly, and his eyebrows flickered upwards.

"You really are good at math," Joe laughed easily. Lily couldn't help smiling, feeling pleasantly flushed, happy that someone had noticed her abilities and appreciated them. Joe dug into his desk drawers and withdrew an envelope, handing it to her. "This is for you, for the accounting work." Lily took the envelope curiously, opening it, and quickly counted the cash.

"B-but I've got my t-time-card punched," Lily said, glancing at Joe, who shrugged, grinning.

"My last accountant charged twice that per hour," he said, giving her an unimpressed look. "Keep it. Garrett told me about your situation; and, in fact… I would be willing…to kick Sam out of the cot for you." Lily smiled, flushing shyly.

"You d-don't have t-to do that," she said quietly.

"But he's been here three months!" Joe exclaimed plaintively, gazing at her with puppy-eyes. "I've made this place too comfortable for him." He sighed, resigned. "Well, if you need a sofa to crash on, you're welcome."

"Thank you," Lily said quietly.

"I came here with nothing once, too," Joe said, and for the first time all day, he looked sombre. Biting her lip, Lily went and tucked the envelope filled with one hundred dollars in cash into her backpack, tucked under Garrett's 'studio'. "Hope you're prepared for working in this place," Joe called from his office, and Lily smiled.

"I'm s-s-sure I'll manage," she replied, and Joe chuckled, before punting his door shut, sinking a quarter into his jukebox, lighting a cigar and kicking back on his leather sofa for a lie-down. Though how he could doze off while Brock's choice of mosh-pit metal was scaring the customers, Lily didn't know. Having been told by Joe to take it easy for a few minutes before going out onto the shop-floor, Lily ate some snacks, finished her iced-tea and refilled the bottle with water from the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. When she peeked out into the store, Brock and Sam were having an argument over whether 'metal' was really music at all, and standing behind the cash-register, ringing CDs and vinyls through, Garrett's deep laugh was rumbling through the store as Sasha exacerbated the situation by pelting the two boys with colourful peanut M&M candies from the big plastic barrel of them kept on the counter by the computer.

"Hey, Lil!" someone called, and by the deep, rich timbre of the voice, and the fact that only one person in the entire world called her 'Lil', Lily knew instantly who it was. Garrett vaulted over the back of the sectional under the stairs, almost tripping over the low table pressed against the back of the sofa, buried under DVDs and some of Liz's books, and he whipped something over her head. "Check it out; I already made you a nametag."

A white plastic rectangle with a CD logo and Empire Records printed on it in black, Garrett had used a label-maker to print out Lily's name and stuck it above the words 'I work here'.

"I never doubted you for a second," Garrett said, and he flashed her a grin that made her stomach do back-flips. His big grin was brilliant and white, his eyes so sparkly a sapphire. "Let me grab some sodas, I'll show you the ropes." Disappearing beyond the swinging-doors, Garrett returned with two mason-jars of soda. Dodging M&M fire, and Brock staggering around in a headlock from Sam, Lily caught the M&M Sasha launched at her with a playful grin, and she popped it in her mouth as she climbed up behind the cash-registers, which were left unmanned as Sasha drifted off to the lounge, Garrett motioning that he was going to smoke up.

The record-store had steady business throughout the afternoon, but it was fun working there; Lily had rarely worked with people nearer her own age, and despite Joe being in his mid-thirties and evidently the boss, he spent most of his time in his office on his drum-kit; and on the shop-floor, as long as they manned the registers in shifts and prevented shoplifting by any means necessary, Joe let his employees do as they wished, whether it was standing at the counter reading supernatural erotic novels, moshing by the stereo system, or arguing about music genres in the cosy-corner under the stairs, painting in the employee lounge and berating customers for their choice in records.

Having used a similar model before, Lily quickly got a handle on the cash-register, and the computer system; instead of bringing her soda or milky coffee chock full of sugar when it was handed round to the others in the battered lid from a cake-tin, Lily's preference of a little glass of milk was quickly discovered, and, undeterred by Sam's smirk, expecting her to be a straight-edge and forgo the offering, snacked on half of one of Sasha's brownies, sharing it with Garrett; the brief period of munchies making her scoop out handfuls of M&M candies. Luckily she was so used to Trey hot-boxing their garage that although she felt herself loosening up and laughing at the boys' antics, Sasha's pot-brownies didn't seem to affect her too badly. While Liz sat cross-legged on the counter, reading her sex novel, absent-mindedly eating the candy, Garrett played solitaire on the counter, despite the customers, before bringing out a box of pretzels and Lily's packet of Goldfish and dealt out a hand of poker, using pretzels, Goldfish and M&Ms as currency, Sam joining them when the customers he had been ridiculing for their love of country music had left.

She had to ask Garrett for help when dealing with gift-certificates, but other than that Lily quickly got the hang of working at Empire Records. The only thing she didn't like about her job was that she had to answer the phone sometimes. 'Empire Records, open till midnight' was easy enough to say, if only she didn't have her stammer, and her aversion to the phone made it worse. The others noticed this and if the phone rang, they answered it rather than force her to, for which she was grateful.

Working took Lily's mind off things. She wasn't exactly living in the moment, the way she had last night on the beach with Garrett, but she wasn't dwelling. On Ryan. That wasn't to say she didn't think about him; she just didn't allow herself worry, or let the burning feeling in her chest overwhelm her and force her into the bathroom to sink her face in cold water before she burst into tears. Working meant she wasn't worrying, wasn't letting herself acknowledge how…how devastated she was that Ryan had left. Abandoned her. Without even saying goodbye.

If he hadn't wanted to go into foster-care, he should have said something; he knew Lily was pursuing emancipation. If he took on a full-time job and got his GED, he could take classes after work the way Lily was planning to. They could find a small place to live, split the cost of living between them, save money and…support each other. Be a family. They could invite Seth over to hang out, when Lily started doing experimental cooking the way she wanted to learn how to cook different things. They could watch Catwoman together and have Balboa Bars on the beach… Maybe Ryan could have shadowed one of Mrs Cohen's architect employees, to motivate him to getting that GED, taking those evening classes…

Maybe Seth could have kept Ryan out of trouble. They could have given Seth someone to hang out with; he could have taught Lily how to sail. Maybe he still could; Lily didn't have any intention of leaving Newport Beach. It was as different to her neighbourhood as she could get, but that wasn't why she liked it. She knew there was no way she would be going to canapé-and-tie parties at the country club wearing a multi-thousand dollar dress; but there was…there was Seth. And Mr and Mrs Cohen. And Garrett.

The boy who had befriended her: the lady who had taken the time to get to bond with her: the man who had taken her in when nobody had bothered: and the boy she really, really liked to look at, who'd talked with her, gotten her to open up about things and talk and…hadn't ridiculed her for her stammer.

He strode over to man the second cash-register, casting her a smile before handing her another glass of milk and logging in to his computer. After they had helped three customers, Garrett retrieved a new Dell laptop from the lounge, setting up on the counter where Liz usually sat reading Pleasures of a Dark Prince, reading the good parts aloud.

"So, you still don't want to talk about it?" Garrett asked, glancing over his shoulder, as she peeked at what he was doing. He had some software on his computer on which he was going through photographs; from the look of them, they were the ones he had taken at the fashion-show. She glanced up, and Garrett leaned his hip against the counter, folding his arms over his chest. She sighed softly, straightening up fliers on the counter and rubbing the side of her hand against her jaw.

"N-no…n-no matter what was going on…my m-mom…Trey…Dawn's b-boyfriends… It was always us," she said, glancing at Garrett, trying hard to put eloquently what she had been churning over all afternoon. "Me and…Ryan. The t-two of us against the world… Now he's g-gone." As a customer approached, she gave them a tremulous smile and took the two records they wanted to purchase. Ryan was gone. They had always gone through the worst of it together.

Now, when it could have started to get good, Ryan had run.

He had just…packed up and left. Like Dawn.

"I remember when I was…eight, when we still l-lived in Fresno," Lily said quietly, sadness settling on her features and her shoulders. "Ryan d-decided he wanted to run away." Trey had been beating them up, twelve years old and angry about their father's arrest, lumped with babysitting duty while their mother worked extra hours to save up cash so they could move for a better life, and a few extra bottles of whisky and cigarettes… "I wouldn't let him go b-by himself, b-because I was worried he'd…he'd never come back."

"What happened?" Garrett asked curiously. Lily sighed softly, ringing through another transaction.

"Our babysitter d-didn't let us cross the street b-by ourselves," she said hoarsely, clearing her throat. "So we spent hours j-just walking around the block… In the end, we w-went back home," she said, remembering the day perfectly. Her dad's old truck had still been parked in the driveway, the hood open. He and his buddies had been working on it just before their botched robbery attempt. The night before, her dad had put them all in the truck and taken them to the drive-in movie theatre, for a night-showing of The Shootist. She still couldn't see that movie without thinking of how she had fallen asleep, bundled up in the truck on her dad's lap while Trey and Ryan dozed in the backseat and her mom and dad exchanged popcorn and kisses.

"Was your mom or Trey worried?" Garrett asked solemnly.

"They hadn't even n-noticed we'd been gone," Lily whispered softly, gazing at the floor but not seeing it. She gave the next customer a bleary smile before ringing through their purchases. She had worked in several retail stores, and it became second-nature to offer credit/debit machines and check cash handed over. "He just left. Just like she d-did. He d-didn't even… He knew I was looking into emancipation. But he left anyway."

"D'you think he might've gone looking for your mom?" Garrett asked. Lily shook her head.

"He's mad at her; he won't want t-to find her," she said softly. Garrett rang through a transaction, showing Lily how to do gift-certificates, and glanced at her thoughtfully.

Feeling sorry for herself was a waste of energy, when it could be put into changing her situation, but at that moment, she allowed herself to wallow. Ryan had abandoned her. She never had thought he was a Dean Moriarty, abandoning Sal when he got dysentery. Or in their case, abandoning his fifteen-year-old kid sister because she might slow him down, or because they would be more conspicuous to the authorities, and easier to identify.

"So, are you still gonna stay here? In Newport, I mean, even without Ryan?" he asked; Lily glanced at him, taking in the slant of his strangely elegant nose, the deep burnish of his tan glowing against the white of his t-shirt, how his blue eyes blazed.

"I'd like t-to," she said softly. "Without Ryan, I… I'll n-need to t-take another j-job t-to cover costs."

"Maybe I could share a place with you," Garrett remarked, and his tone was strange; she glanced at him, frowning bemusedly.

"Why would you n-need t-to?" she asked softly. Garrett shrugged, straightening up his t-shirt and adjusting the chain of his nametag.

"Way things are going for my family, it might come to it," he sighed, and Lily frowned, wondering what he meant. Garrett glanced up, saw her expression, and gave her a sad smile. "My parents are always fighting, and, uh… I don't know, my dad's having trouble at work… I've kind of been thinking lately, if I… If I move out on my own…it's just one less thing for my dad to worry about, taking care of me."

"Would your p-p-parents let you do that?" Lily asked curiously. She had seen Garrett's parents, briefly, at the fashion-show; his mother had worn an incredible dark-red leather dress. His dad had been kind-eyed and polite to her when they had briefly crossed paths, introduced by Mrs Cohen.

Garrett gave a hollow sort of half-laugh, sighing as he shook his head, looking almost glum. "Probably not… But it'd be nice to get away from Marissa and my mom."

"D-do you spend much t-time with Oscar?" Lily asked. Garrett's grin flashed dazzling and handsome.

"As much as I can," he said, sighing, looking almost sad briefly. "Now. He's kind of…the brother I should've had. But, I've been in Mexico for six weeks, he's just gotten back from England."

"Is he English?" Lily asked, remembering Oscar's slight accent.

"His mother was," Garrett said, something flashing across his features briefly. She noticed he'd said 'was'. "She was nobility, or something; he was in England for the Jubilee, watched some of the Olympics. His cousins went to the Royal Wedding."

"She was so beautiful," Lily sighed, letting her head loll back as she closed her eyes, remembering Kate's gown, the lily-of-the-valley, the way she had reacted to the crowd outside Buckingham Palace, their kiss…

"Everyone was going on about Pippa," Garrett said, shaking his head, "but I thought Kate looked stunning."

"You watched it?" Lily asked, knowing it was over a year since the Royal Wedding.

"I have two sisters," Garrett said drily, glancing at her, and Lily smiled. "It's too bad Marissa won't take fashion advice from Kate."

"She's incredibly elegant," Lily said, nodding.

"Very Grace Kelly, Jackie O fabulous," Garrett smirked, teasing, and Lily smiled.

"You c-can't really h-have English sophistication on a C-c-California beach," she pointed out.

"A longer hemline, maybe?" Garrett said, looking anguished. "Less bronzer, more…food." He rolled his eyes; apparently, Garrett didn't like ultra-skinny girls. Lily had an excuse; she worked herself to exhaustion. His sister Marissa was disgustingly thin, ill. Lily didn't wonder that she had passed out from drinking so much.

"You're very c-c-critical of your sister," Lily observed.

"Someone should be," Garrett sighed. "My mom doesn't care how ill Marissa might be, just that she can fit into anything size-zero she picks up from Saks. Where Marissa's concerned, my parents are clueless."

"How so?" Lily asked.

"Well, as you said, Marissa drinks till she blacks out; she doesn't eat; she hot-boxes her boyfriend's car; she shoplifts and…and pretends to be misunderstood and hard-done-by and listens to my punk," Garrett sighed, shaking his head, glancing at her. "Maybe she could take a walk in your shoes for a week, shock her out of all her bullshit."

"If she c-can't handle life in a Newport mansion, my l-life m-might k-kill her," Lily said quietly, and Garrett gave a soft chuckle.

"I'd guess so," he acquiesced. Glancing at her, he said, "But your life doesn't have to be like that anymore."

"And I d-don't want it t-to be," Lily said, glancing at Garrett. "I'm making changes. Just like you did." Garrett gave her a quirky smile, before helping a customer. Clearing her throat softly when she had helped someone, she gestured to the laptop. "So, what are you d-doing with this?"

"Oh, I, uh, I pick out the best photos I take at each event, and I format them, clean them up and then I burn them onto custom CDs," Garrett said, glancing at the laptop. "I've got a few to catch up on."

"Country-club events?" Lily asked.

"Some," Garrett shrugged, smiling as he took a CD from a customer. "But, I, uh, I photograph weddings, and Christenings, birthday-parties, engagement announcements, that sort of thing. Kind of something I started doing around Christmastime for a little bit of cash. It turns out I actually really enjoy it."

"I looked through the p-p-pic—photos you gave me," Lily said, glancing at Garrett. "They were stunning." Garrett grinned.

"I'm glad you liked them," he smiled warmly. "You're incredible to photograph." Blushing, Lily smiled at a customer, charging up twelve CDs and an iTunes gift-card while Garrett tsked under his breath about vinyls being the way forward.

"I embarrassed you," Garrett said quietly, bumping his hip gently against hers as he shuffled the deck of cards, nobody approaching the counter. Lily shook her head, but blushed again, and Garrett gave her an incredibly sweet smile. "It's true; you're the most photogenic person I've ever met." He pulled his laptop over, and while they played poker, waiting for customers to approach them, he went through several photographs he'd been cleaning up and cropping. "Oh, and—here. I thought you might like to see these," he said, tapping away at his keypad before opening a folder and clicking on several thumbnails. Two photographs morphed onto the screen, and Lily set her mason-jar of milk down on the counter before leaning closer.

"Those are…"

"Yeah. They're from last night," Garrett smiled warmly, eyes on the screen. "The two I took on my phone." Lily gazed at the photographs. One featured just her, almost at profile, her eyes on the viewer, gilded by the dying sun; the sunset was inimitable. The second photograph was of her, smiling gently, her head cradled against Garrett's shoulder as he sat with her back against his front, an incredible grin illuminating his face. Behind them, the sunset was even more staggering.

"They d-don't look real," she said softly, glancing at Garrett. "Th-they look like a b-b-backdrop has been p-p-painted." She gazed at the photograph with the two of them. The pose was so casual, so…intimate. They looked…they looked as close in the photograph as Lily had felt they were last night. "D-did you finish that other roll of f-f-film?"

"Yeah, I did, actually," Garrett nodded. "I need to scan the negatives, but I processed the film last night. The pictures look great."

"Where d-did you process the film?" Lily asked.

"Oh, I, uh… I have a dark-room in my workshop," Garrett said, blushing a little bit, as if he didn't really want her to know that his family had enough room on their property to build a home dark-room to support his hobby. Lily had to pay $5 to go and use the dark-room near where she lived. "Why d'you ask?"

"I have some f-film th-that needs d-developing," Lily said, and Garrett checked his cards, folding.

"Well, I've got the chemicals and equipment to process films," Garrett said. "If you want, you can come over and borrow my dark-room. I can show you, if you don't know how to do it."

"Oh, no, I—I d-do," Lily said, half-smiling. "It's…what I enjoy."

"It's satisfying, huh," Garrett said, and Lily smiled, nodding. "Well, if you have a free afternoon, come knock on my door, I'll show you where I keep all my stuff."

"Thank you," Lily said, smiling softly, feeling comfortable enough with Garrett that she thought she might actually take up his offer.

"Hey, Lily," Joe called, smiling, from the swinging-doors, and Lily glanced over inquisitively. "Almost six. Your, uh—someone called Kirsten Cohen called for you, said she'd be outside at six to pick you up."

"Oh… Okay," Lily nodded, checking the clock above the front-doors, and she logged out of her setting on the cash-register, glancing at Garrett. "I'll…"

"I'll see you soon," Garrett said, with a warm smile, and Lily nodded. Making her way into the lounge, she punched her time-card, collected her things, scratched Lucy's nose in goodbye, and checked in on Joe, who was smoking a cigar and reading Rolling Stone magazine with his ankles crossed on his desk; he gave her a smile in goodbye, and she made her way outside.

As she made her way through the little outdoor-mall, Lily noticed the linen-apron clad employees of the florist boutique carrying in the potted plants and garden furniture arranged by the windows. Hoping she wouldn't keep Mrs Cohen waiting, she made her way over to the shop.

Hurrying across the fragrant flower-filled courtyard to the shop, she glanced at the shop: the cream trim to the windows and above the door were painted with the shop's name—Posie—and the telephone-number, website and online ordering information. Peeking in through the front-door, she saw that all the obelisks, potted plants and garden-furniture had been stored in the front room, among pretty, natural wood tables, clean, modern white tables, and a large potting-bench bearing a display of tall cream enamel buckets filled with the flowers she could scent even standing outside. One of the women who worked there exited the shop, caught her eye and smiled, before turning to a decorative ladder on which were arranged pretty little potted plants and bulb-flowers, the prices chalked on a little notice.

"Do you need any help?" Lily asked, watching her attempt to lift the thing by herself.

"Thank you," the woman smiled. "That'd be great." Taking one side of the potting tower, Lily helped the woman navigate it into the shop, tucking it out of the way so that an easy path wound from the front-door between two tables arranged with pretty trinkets, outdoor lanterns, tall orchids, gourmet soaps and candles, past a counter topped with a cash-register and chocolate-brown tissue-paper used to wrap gifts and floral arrangements.

"I'm sorry—did you need anything?" the woman asked. "I'm about to lock up, I've already turned off the cash-register."

"Actually, I—I was…wondering if I c-could p-possibly have an application," Lily said, making eye-contact with the woman, something she always found helped a lot during job-interviews. "I've h-had experience in several other florists', and I'm looking for work. Even if I c-can just hand in my résumé for c-consideration in future if a position b-becomes available."

"Oh!" the woman exclaimed, beaming. "Well, actually, Kathryn, the owner, is looking for someone. Busiest season, you know, we've got a lot of weddings, Christenings, a lot of garden-parties, and a few wedding-expos in LA to prepare for, for the fall season. Let me just…" She navigated around the obelisks, tables and buckets filled with made-up posies for customers to grab if they didn't want to pause and build a customised bouquet with the cut flowers. While the woman searched for an application-form, Lily took the time to look around the shop from where she stood, taking note of the kinds of things that were sold there. There was nothing artificially-coloured or tacky: everything seemed luxury. Handmade soaps, scented candles, soft shawls, wide-brimmed summer-hats, prettily-patterned beach-mats; cream and sage-green garden furniture. Highest-quality flowers would turn Lily into a flower-snob in no time, they were so exquisite. There were collections of succulents, fragrant herbs, very pretty potted plants and dainty, flowering cacti; delicate hand-blown vases, cookbooks, pretty diaries and stationery sets of handmade paper, handmade cards and vintage-style postcards, glossy shaker-style boxes, hand-sewn jewellery rolls and pretty little compact mirrors; sweet little clocks, wall-decals and elegant cake-stands. The scent of the flowers in the buckets was heady, beautiful, and there was not a carnation in sight.

"Can I just ask… You seem very young," the woman said, glancing at her. "How old are you?"

"Fifteen," Lily said, glancing at her; she knew her age worked against her, but she soon overcame people's apprehensions with her work-ethic and polite manners. "I h-have an album I k-keep photos of all the b-b-bouquets I've p-put together, so I c-can show you my work."

"Oh, that would be great," the woman smiled. "So, you learned through experience?" Lily nodded.

"I've worked at this last florist for a year," Lily said. "I survived t-two Mother's Days."

"Always the worst," the woman beamed. "Everybody always thinks it's Valentine's Day."

"Christmas wreaths," Lily said, and the woman chuckled, nodding, as she handed Lily the application.

"Sorry, what's your name? So I can put your face to it when I give Kathryn your application?" the woman asked.

"Lillian," Lily said, then blushed a little. "Lily. Lily Atwood." The woman smiled warmly.

"Lily, it's lovely to meet you. If you can just give a few good references, I'll give Kathryn your application," the woman smiled. "And remember to bring that album of your previous projects when you meet with Kathryn." Lily nodded.

"I will. Thank you very much for your help," she said softly, and the woman beamed. "Would you like the d-door shut?"

"Yes, please! I can start cashing up," the woman smiled. Keeping hold of her application, lily made her way to the place Garrett had parked, the nearest parking zone to the beginning of the pedestrians-only sign-postage. She spotted Mrs Cohen's Range Rover even amidst the collection of large, expensive cars. Mrs Cohen smiled out of her open window as Lily approached, and, conscious of Mrs Cohen having come out of her way to collect her, Lily hastily approached the car, quietly shutting the door as she climbed into the passenger-seat.

"Hey," Mrs Cohen smiled. "So I guess this means that you got the job?" Her cheeks warm, a little ashamed of her meltdown earlier, hoping she hadn't left Mrs Cohen worrying about her all day, distracted from her work, Lily nodded. She always kept her emotions private, never letting her exhaustion or desperation get in the way of providing for her family, as ungrateful as they were, and that she had burst into tears in front of Mrs Cohen embarrassed her.

"It's only a p-part-t-time job, b-but I d-did Joe's accounts," Lily said, a touch of pride in her voice.

"Oh, really?" Mrs Cohen smiled. "I'll bet he didn't expect that."

"Nobody ever d-does," Lily sighed softly.

"Where did you learn book-keeping and accounting?" Mrs Cohen asked.

"Chino Hills C-c-Community College," Lily said, glancing at Mrs Cohen. "M-m-my mother's b-boyfriend—th-the one who hired Ryan t-to d-do construction…he saw I was g-good with n-numbers and p-p-paid the t-tuition costs." It was the first and only time anyone had ever paid for her to do something like that. He was the first person who had ever seen anything in Lily worth encouraging her about. Of all her mother's boyfriends, he was the one who shone out in Lily's memory. He had been kind, far too good for Dawn, and knew he was in the wrong surroundings before he had moved to Texas.

"What's this?" Mrs Cohen asked, indicating the piece of paper Lily had in her lap.

"It's an app—an app…an app-p-pplication—for P-p-p-Posie!" Lily struggled, cheeks flushing hotly.

"I love that little boutique," Mrs Cohen smiled. "I get all my hostess-gifts from there. And flowers; we couldn't get them for the fashion-show, they had two weddings this weekend, but they're the best florist's in the area, better than some of the companies we'd used from LA."

"The flowers were b-b-beautiful," Lily agreed.

"I didn't know Kathryn was looking for anyone," Mrs Cohen said thoughtfully. She gave Lily a small smile when Lily glanced at her curiously. "Kathryn's a friend." Lily nodded.

"I j-just went in t-to ask for an app…an app-lication j-just so th-they have m-my n-name if they n-need somebody," Lily said, and Mrs Cohen nodded. "B-but the woman I t-talked t-to said the owner is l-looking f-for someone t-to help t-to help with weddings."

"Have you done weddings before?" Mrs Cohen asked, and Lily nodded.

"I enjoy them the m-most," she said softly. "If you get everything right, the b-bride's gratitude m-makes the effort worthwhile."

"I know what you mean," Mrs Cohen sighed. "You've just reminded me, I've got about two weddings a week for the next two months, on top of bridal showers, sip-n'-sees, engagement-dinners, Christenings and graduation parties."

"What's a sip-n'-see?" Lily asked curiously.

"It's…a baby-shower held after the baby's born," Mrs Cohen said, glancing at Lily. "So the new mommy gets to be skinny in the photos." Lily nodded.

"S-s-so P-p-Posie d-does p-pretty steady b-business?" Lily asked.

"Oh, in this town, nobody ever needs a reason to throw a party, and they all love fresh flowers," Mrs Cohen smiled. "One quirk of living here is that all your friends get married multiple times, acquire numerous stepchildren, all of whom end up moving back to live here after college and get married, and start having babies. Or Botox parties." Lily grimaced, shivering slightly; she didn't like needles so much.

"It's n-nice t-to celebrate those kinds of th-things," Lily said softly. She always liked celebrating things like weddings and Christenings. She loved children; and she loved weddings.

"It is," Mrs Cohen smiled, sighing softly.

"Except the B-b-Botox," Lily said, blushing softly, and Mrs Cohen chuckled.

"I can't say I find the idea of having poison injected into my face during a cocktail-party appealing," she said, chuckling softly. Lily couldn't help wondering whether Mrs Cohen, who was flawless at nearly forty, had ever had Botox. She seemed to sense the direction Lily's thoughts had travelled. "The thing with Botox, it wears off. If you start getting the injections, you can't really stop. One of my colleagues swears she's only gotten where she has in the Newport Group because of her Botox."

"B-because it m-makes her appear m-more youthful?" Lily asked, and Mrs Cohen shrugged. "It's n-not her hard work and intelligence that g-got her p-p-promotions?" Mrs Cohen laughed softly.

"Well, with all these parties you've reminded me of, I'll have to go shopping again," Mrs Cohen said, casting Lily a smile. "Seth would say I don't really need an excuse to splurge."

"You'll have t-to p-pick out some new hats for the weddings," Lily said, and Mrs Cohen chuckled.

"I've never actually worn a hat to a wedding," she said thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should have looked at them when I was at Fashion Island earlier… So, I was thinking about ordering Thai for dinner. It's one of Seth's favourites, and he's pretty upset with me at the moment."

"He shouldn't be," Lily mumbled.

"What's that?" Lily glanced up, biting her lip.

"He shouldn't be upset with you," she said quietly. She sighed softly, glancing at Mrs Cohen. "I'll…t-talk to him… You h-have a really n-nice family… I'd d-do anything t-to p-p-protect it t-too." Her stammer, which had become increasingly unnoticeable under the influence of Garrett, Sasha's brownies and laughing so much working at Empire amid truly eccentric personalities, was returning; Mrs Cohen made her nervous. She wasn't unkind, but she was standoffish, and nervous about Lily and Ryan being in her home, near her family, amongst her wealthy friends. Lily couldn't blame her, but besides getting ready together for the fashion-show, Mrs Cohen hadn't let down her guard.

A.N.: How did you like the chapter? Joe-Lynn, I'm sticking by your advice to have Ryan work for Lily's forgiveness; I've got things planned for the interim while Ryan's in juvenile-hall. And Kaitlin having a crush on Ryan; such a cute idea! I've actually thought of a way I can reference it later on! Oh, and the purse at the raffle idea? I've changed my mind; Lily wouldn't use the purse; it wouldn't be a practical gift/prize for her to choose. But don't worry, she still gets a cool prize.