***Chapter One***
Word Count: 4,653

Just how long was he going to kiss her? How did he find them anyway? Didn't she care that not only were they likely watching, but Joe had to be wondering what was taking her so long?

Brad's eyes darted to the station wagon where Joe was hiding out. He wouldn't realize what was holding Chris up. Judging by the way she wasn't pushing Dan away or reaching to slap him, she obviously didn't mind being held up. Would Joe move from where he was hiding to see what was going on? That was all they needed! Dan they could probably explain away, but not Joe.

These thoughts were getting him nowhere. Nowhere closer to being able to go to sleep as he knew he was supposed to anyway. It was bad enough finding out, after the fact as it turned out, she was going with Mike Toddwell. Maybe Toddwell hadn't gotten to kissing her yet.

Yeah right.

Guys like Toddwell didn't wait until dates out to fancy restaurants to kiss girls.

Toddwell was a douchebag of the worst kind. He probably went for way more than first base on a first date. He wondered why he'd stayed with Chris for so long if like he said at the restaurant she didn't have sex with him. He understood the challenge guys like him would enjoy, but it seemed a little extreme when there were other girls who would be willing to go all the way with him.

"Hey, at least they're better than Toddwell," Darryl said when Brad backed away from the window overlooking the driveway. He couldn't bear to watch any more. It seemed wrong somehow, like spying, and he was a lot of things but he wasn't a pervert. He left that to Darryl. Never mind seeing her kiss another guy made him feel as though his heart had been ripped out. After everything they'd gone through tonight why would she do that in front of his house?

"Yeah," Brad said, not really hearing what he was agreeing to right away. "Wait. What?"

"What? What?"

"What did you say?"

How had his best friend known he was even thinking about Toddwell?

"When?"

"Just now, Darryl. Who's better than Toddwell?"

"Them," he said, gesturing to the window. He was looking at Brad as if he'd grown a second head. Maybe he had, but he wasn't sure who Darryl was talking about.

"Who them?"

"Well, there are two guys out there with her right now. Right? I mean, it's not as if Joe hasn't thought of kissing her. He just didn't have the opportunity until now like Dan does. Probably he was just waiting until she took him to the train station to try. Not that I blame him for not wanting to make a move in front of us. I mean, Sarah's just a kid. That would stop anyone from making a move on someone as hot as Chris. Don't you think?"

Brad closed his eyes, leaning his head against the window. Darryl laughed, patting him on the shoulder. As if that would somehow soothe him, make things better. The idea of both guys out there wanting her hadn't occurred to Brad. Dan, sure, but he hadn't counted on her ever seeing him again. Obviously, someone had a different idea in mind.

"Oh come on, you didn't really think he punched out his boss and wanted to come here with us just to be nice, did you?"

"Well, he did promise he wouldn't hurt us, Darryl."

He laughed again. The way Darryl did when he said something he knew Brad didn't want to hear.

"Oh, right, and that would really stop him from letting someone else hurt us. Or worrying about the four of us getting home safely. Come on, Brad. He digs her. I mean, can you blame him? He saw her under the worst possible of circumstances and she got all of us out alive."

"I just never thought."

"Obviously. Like I said, they're both better than Toddwell."

"A car thief is better than Toddwell?"

"Well, yeah, and, come on, think about it. He's probably not a car thief after tonight. I mean, I don't know, but I doubt punching out your boss is going to pave the way to him getting a good reference or anything. How would that work? I wonder if he has a resume or just street cred. I wish I'd thought to ask him."

Brad rolled his eyes. Leave it to Darryl to focus on something like Joe's job possibilities after tonight.

Joe had insisted on riding with them once they'd left his dad's building to ensure they got out of the city and back home safely. Chris was going to drop him at the train station on her way home. That hadn't alarmed Brad. Until now. They'd be alone in her car. He'd not only done a good deed in seeing to it they got home safely. He'd done something heroic to boot.

What if he wasn't as nice a guy as he seemed?

What if he was?

Brad wasn't sure which idea was worse.

He was doomed.

He peered through the blinds, watching Chris talk to Dan.

Joe had to still be hidden in the backseat underneath the blanket they'd found in the back of the station wagon. Chris' mom kept it back there in case of emergencies. It was the type of thing Chris' mom would do in the winter knowing Chris was driving the car. It came in handy tonight because if his parents saw Joe they'd be full of questions.

At least Dan wasn't kissing her any longer. He hadn't seen who'd stopped kissing who though. Or just how deep the kiss had gotten. Hopefully, knowing that Joe was in the car prevented her from Frenching him.

Oh God. She probably had the softest tongue ever.

That thought was getting him nowhere closer to being ready for bed.

"Oh come on. At least she knows who you are now and will say hi to you in the halls on Monday."

Brad rolled his eyes.

"That's not helping, Darryl."

"As if you really had a chance with her. I mean, she's a senior. And she's totally hot. Not to mention, if I got my hands on Dad's Playboy, you know others have and are going to be looking at Oak Park's Chris Parker in a whole new light from now on."

"That's gross, Darryl. No one's going to think it's her. I know I didn't have a chance with her, but it doesn't mean I want to know who she's going out with, let alone see her kissing them."

"She's not going out with either of them. Yet," Darryl said.

"Not helping."

"Yeah, yeah," Darryl said. "Come on; let's see what's on TV."

Brad backed away from the window again once he saw Dan's Jeep back out of his driveway. Chris stood there for a minute, watching as he pulled onto the street. Was it possible to fall in love in a night? If it was, Brad imagined there was a chance she had. Too bad they couldn't have met a drunk, idiot of a frat guy who just happened to have fifty bucks to spare. No, they had to meet a nice frat guy who was good looking on top of it.

Offering to wait outside of Dawson's Garage.

Chris had said no, but the gesture wouldn't be forgotten just because she didn't take him up on it. No way. She'd remember he offered and that he'd gotten them out of a huge jam. Oddly, probably the biggest jam of the night. If they hadn't been able to get the Parker's station wagon out of the garage, they would have been stranded downtown. Someone's parents would have been called for sure, leading to them getting busted and Chris getting in huge amounts of trouble for bringing them downtown to begin with.

And Joe.

She had taken him up on his offer. What did that mean?

The people they were running from were scary. For sure. They had their Playboy back, so there wouldn't really be any reason to follow them.

Except.

He gulped as Chris got into her station wagon. She wasn't alone in the front seat anymore, so Joe had come out of hiding. He hadn't seen him move to the front seat, but she must have told him it was okay to come out.

They knew about their operation, not that Brad remembered where they'd been. He thought the others had been as freaked out as he was at the time. So, things like physical addresses weren't high priorities to any of them. Chris was more familiar with the city, though, and might remember where they were.

Did his boss get Chris' license plate number?

It wouldn't be hard for them to get even if they hadn't. Dawson's Garage.

They could go back to his dad's building.

If his parents found out they'd been downtown tonight.

"Stop worrying, Brad, everything will be fine," Sara said.

"You should be in bed. If Mom catches you still awake she's going to ground you."

Sara just rolled her eyes at him.

"Besides you don't even know what I was thinking about."

"You were worried about Chris," she said, as if it should be obvious to anyone.

"Those guys."

"Are not going to come to Oak Park on the chance we're going to turn them in," Darryl said.

"You don't know that," Brad said as Chris backed out of the driveway.

"There's nothing else we can do. And, hey, at least we're safe," Darryl said with a shrug.

"What's that mean?"

"Well, the only way they could find us is by tracing the license plate. Right?"

"Yeah," Brad said.

"Well, obviously the plate's going to go back to the Parker's not your house or mine. So, we're fine."

"Darryl," Sara said, as if knowing how well that would sit with Brad.

"And that makes me feel better?"

"Well, I mean, think about it. They go after Chris, but there's still three witnesses left. If something happens to Chris they'd have to think we'd go to the police for sure then."

Brad nodded a little; Darryl was making some sense. Scary as that thought was, he was probably right. But did the guys know that the four of them weren't a family. He supposed it had to be somewhat obvious at least Darryl and Brad weren't since they were the same age and looked nothing alike to be mistaken as twins.

There really wasn't anything he could do. He just wished he could talk to Joe. To find out how seriously he should be worried. Darryl was right, if they went after anyone it would be Chris, and that thought made his stomach churn. He was stuck, though.

"Come on, TV," Darryl said.

Brad knew his friend was just trying to distract him. Sara jumped onto his bed, leaving enough room for him as he made his way there.

"There probably isn't anything on Sara should see."

"Oh come on, Brad," Sara said in protest. "There's got to be something on I can watch."

"We'll see what we can find."

"Thank you," she said with a smile.

Brad realized that despite the smile and how brave she'd been throughout the night that his little sister was probably still pretty scared. He was and he wasn't the eight-year-old girl who'd been hanging outside a skyscraper just a couple of hours ago. Yeah, she annoyed him with all of her Thor pictures and leaving her toys and crap all over the place, but she was his baby sister. If it kept the bad dreams at bay she could crash in his room tonight.

"Thank you again, Joe. For everything," Chris said as she started driving in the direction of the train station.

"Hey, it's really no problem. I couldn't let you leave there not knowing you got home all right. It's kind of my fault they found you, you know."

"Well, we wouldn't be if it weren't for you. All right, I mean. We'd probably be dead back at Mr. Anderson's building with no one to know where to look for us. I don't even want to think about where Brenda would be. We ran into a hooker tonight, same age as us who'd run away."

"I suspect you'd have been just fine. Brenda, too. She would have ended up calling her dad or something after enough time had passed and you hadn't come. She didn't seem like she really wanted to run away when we got to her, but you're welcome."

"Her relationship with her step-mom is complicated. I guess who's is simple, right?" She shrugged. "Anyway, you're probably late, but I hate thinking about it."

"It's okay, Chris, nothing happened to her. She's fine, probably going to sleep as we speak."

"I hope so. She wanted to spend the night at my place, but I couldn't risk it. My mom would ask questions because I tried to use hanging out with Brenda as an excuse not to babysit tonight."

"She ratted you out, huh?"

Chris laughed. "Yeah, something like that."

"Well, I'm glad she did."

She wasn't sure what to say to that. She was, too, in an odd sort of way, but saying so aloud seemed wrong somehow. It was a crazy night, one she'd managed to get out of alive but she wasn't sure how she'd feel about the whole thing tomorrow or a month from now. She was glad she'd met Joe, though.

They were both quiet for a minute or two when something occurred to Chris she hadn't thought to ask him about until now.

"Do trains run this late?"

He chuckled, glancing at her with a shake of his head. He wasn't used to talking to people so ナ clueless, though that really wasn't the right word. She just hadn't grown up on the street as he and his friends had.

"Yeah, they do. Not as often, but one should be by within the hour."

"An hour? Really? That's a long time to sit and wait in the cold."

"It's no big deal. It's not even that cold. And maybe it'll be thirty minutes in this neck of the woods, I'm not sure. I don't usually have much reason to leave the city."

"I suppose not."

"You seemed to know your way around the city well enough."

She shrugged. "I get down there. You know, shopping, Cubs games, the beaches, museums, and stuff."

"I bet you're a sight on the beach."

"No."

"Yeah, right," he said with a soft laugh again. "At least you're not conceited, I'll give you that."

"No, I'm not. I mean, I guess I wouldn't know. My luck with guys isn't that great. After tonight I'm not sure I'll trust one again for a long time."

"Maybe you're just choosing the wrong kind of guy."

She shook her head, but didn't say anything after that. He could tell she was thinking something, though. Her tight grip on the steering wheel was one clue as was the look in her eye that told him no matter what she'd been through that night with the kids she was watching she was still hurting.

"Why do guys do that?"

"Do what?"

"Drop girls like me for ones that will have sex with them."

He gave a shrug, regarding her as she drove. He had no answer for her. Not one she'd like anyway, because he'd done it, too. Guys were guys, just some grew out of it and some never did. Sounded like she'd gotten mixed up with one who hadn't, and that sucked.

Wisely, or so he thought anyway, he said nothing. He didn't want to lie to her and he didn't want her to begin to distrust him because of something he'd done back in high school. She was still there. It'd been a while ago for him now.

She didn't seem at all afraid to be alone with him, which was odd to say the least considering she'd probably never met someone like him before tonight. Then again, he hadn't really known until tonight he could care about people he didn't even know as he did Chris and the kids she was babysitting.

He tried to imagine what kind of guy she'd go out with. He didn't get a good look at the guy who'd made an appearance at the kids' house. He'd heard their conversation, though, and knew what was going on when it got quiet. He couldn't deny feeling a little jealous; in part figuring she'd never let a guy like him kiss her to begin with.

"Not all guys are like that."

"Could have fooled me," she said, but Joe got the idea that it was the anger talking more than vast amounts of experience getting hurt on her part.

"The worst part about it."

She grew quiet then, as if she wasn't sure she should say anything.

"What?" he prompted.

"The girl Mike was with. Sesame Plexor. I mean, her name alone tells you what kind of girl she is. She goes to the same school I do, knows the same people I do. We have a couple of classes together. When I go to school on Monday; it's going to be around the whole senior class that I was not only dumped and cheated on but got stuck babysitting for the Andersons."

"Who cares what she says?"

"I care! I mean," she turned to look at him once she'd stopped for a traffic light. "What if he'd been seeing other girls the whole time?"

"Chris," he said, reaching for her hand closest to him. He didn't try to hold it or anything, just touched her to settle her down. "He's an idiot."

"You don't even know him."

"I don't have to. I know you."

"No, you don't. I mean, you've known me for a few hours, most of which I spent trying to keep from getting the kids I was babysitting kidnapped or killed."

"And you're here to tell about it, aren't you? You think that guy or the girl he was with could say the same?"

"What?"

A car honked behind them as the light turned green and she wasn't quick to step on the gas.

"Come on, most people would have given up at just one point of your night. I can't even imagine what you went through seeing Sarah hanging out that window."

"Oh God, I'm going to have nightmares about that for months, I'm sure."

"Shh, she's fine, Chris."

"Yeah, now. Who knows what tonight will do to her?"

"You mean, seeing that she can count on someone to get her through anything safely? Looking back at tonight when she's older and realizing that you got through something so maybe when she's going through something bad she'll know she can get through it, too."

"Or be so permanently scarred she doesn't do anything."

"I doubt it. She seems pretty resilient. And she said she got to meet Thor out of the deal."

Chris couldn't help but smile at that as they pulled into the small parking area her local train station offered. There weren't any other cars around, which didn't surprise him at this time of night. He couldn't say he'd ever been to Oak Park before, not any reason to come out here before now.

"I sometimes wish I was that age again," she said.

"How do you mean?"

"Didn't you have a hero? Someone like Thor?"

"Nah, not really. I mean," he shrugged. "Nobody was coming to save my neighborhood, I caught onto that at a very young age. Not much point in thinking someone like Batman or Superman is real."

"Wow, cynical even as a kid."

"Different lives, I guess," he said.

"I'd say."

"I bet you dug Wonder Woman."

"Well, sure, she had those bracelets, an invisible plane, and that lasso."

"The outfit."

"Yeah, that, too."

He didn't want to get out of the car, but knew he had to. She had parents who worried about her and would call over to the kids' house if she wasn't home soon. He reached for the handle.

"So, why don't you go check the schedule and see when the next train comes before I leave?"

"Huh?"

"Well, I can't just leave you standing out here for an hour if the train just came. I know you said you'd be fine, but it's cold enough I'd worry."

"Of course you would," he said with a shake of his head.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, honest, I just wouldn't expect any less from you, I guess."

"I didn't insist on riding home with you because I wanted to be sure you were safe," she said.

He opened the door then and got out without saying anything else. He had plenty he could have said. She didn't know the people he'd worked for up until tonight. They had people on their payroll that went pretty deep. It wouldn't surprise Joe if they had not just Chicago cops in their pocket but state troopers, too. Someone who could have been on the lookout for Chris' station wagon and pulled her over on the way home. She would have stopped because that was the type of person she was. Trusting.

"Should be about forty-five minutes," he said.

"I can wait with you."

"I'll be fine, Chris, really."

"I know, but the car is warmer."

"Your mom?"

"Won't know for sure what time the Anderson's are going to get home and might assume I went to Brenda's or something afterward."

To the boyfriend's was probably the or something.

"Did your mom like him?"

"Mike?"

"Yeah."

"No. Well, at first I think she did, but then he stopped coming to the door every time he picked me up."

"Ah, yeah, Mom's go for that sort of thing."

"I guess. She said something about him not looking her in the eyes."

Joe laughed. Funny, how mom's had that radar going for them much like a thief really when it got down to it. Joe always knew when something was up by someone's body language. He'd spent a good many years reading the signs of not just the people he worked for but the people around him when he was searching for his next ride to boost.

They sat like that in the car for the next forty minutes or so. Joe didn't say much. She asked a few questions, which he answered but mostly he listened and asked questions in an attempt to get to know her better.

As he got out of the car to go to the platform and wait for the train, he realized he hadn't learned a whole lot really. He knew that she wasn't sure about going to college among other things. She'd needed to talk, though, and he was fine with listening. He was surprised when she turned the car off and got out with him.

"Worried I'm going to follow you home or something?"

"You have a car hidden somewhere I don't know about?"

"No," he said.

"Then no. Just making sure the train comes as scheduled."

"Thanks," he said, surprised when she grabbed onto his arm, looping hers through his.

"You saved our lives. If there's ever anything I can do to repay you."

"You could give me your number. Take the train down to see me sometime."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah, really. Or I could pick you up. I do have a car."

"Stolen?"

He chuckled, could tell by her smile she was joking. "No, not that one."

"Why?"

"Why isn't it stolen?"

"No, why would you want to see me?"

"Wow. Okay. What's there not to want to see? Two guys showing interest in you in the same night too much for you?"

"What?"

"Never mind," he said with a shake of his head. "I like you. You're cool and smart, funny and pretty. All things that lead me to want to see you again."

"I'm only eighteen."

"So?"

"You're older than that."

"Not that much older. A few years is all. I'm not asking you to move in with me or anything."

She gave a giggle, nervously putting her free hand in the pocket of her coat.

"Well, that's good because I'm not ready for that yet."

As it turned out, she wasn't reaching into her coat pocket. It had been her purse he realized when she pulled out a pen and a piece of paper. She used his back to write on, sliding the small piece of paper into the palm of his hand. He unfolded it and smiled a little at the fact she'd written her name with the number. Complete with a heart in place of the dot to top off the I. As if he could forget who she was. He didn't run across girls like her very often, if ever, and that was the reason he wanted to see her. He'd met lots of women and none had impressed him and worked their way under his skin the way she had. Maybe it was just effects of the night, but he had to see it out or he'd always wonder.

"So, a movie sound all right?"

"Sure."

"Is dinner pushing my luck?"

"I suppose not," she said. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who saw the train's headlight a bit ahead because she glanced at her feet almost nervously then.

"Next weekend?"

"Yeah. Mom's not too crazy about me going out on school nights."

"Right," he said with a nod. Moms could be pains in the asses, but as moms went it sounded like hers was pretty run of the mill. "I imagine picking you up is out of the question."

"I'm not sure how that would go over."

"I'd come to the door, look her in the eye, and everything."

"Yeah," she said, looking as if she might be thinking about it. "Call me during the week. I'll think about it."

"All right," he said as the train drew closer to the station. He doubted she'd let him pick her up, not that he could blame her. She didn't know him and the circumstances behind their meeting suggested he couldn't be trusted. He wouldn't let him pick her up either if he was an outsider looking in.

"Thanks again for everything you did tonight, Joe," she said, raising her voice as the train made its approach to the station.

"I didn't do anything really, but you're welcome just the same."

"I'm sorry you have to spend money to get back home. I could haveナ"

"No driving me back. Then I would have been worried about you driving back again. It's only money. No big thing compared to making sure you and the kids got home okay."

"Well, just the same."

He leaned in, grazing her cheek with a kiss. He debated about whether to kiss her, but decided to go the more polite route that still indicated he was interested. If asking for her number didn't tip her off to that fact. She did that glance at her feet thing again and was blushing he noticed.

"No problem. Okay," he said, moving toward the now stopped train. The conductor wouldn't wait long this time of night, he knew that much. "I'll call you during the week."

"Okay," she said.

He found a seat. The train was pretty empty so he had his pick, finding one that gave him a view of her. She stood on the platform, coat collar high around her neck, hands shoved in her pockets as if she was colder than he'd realized. She didn't head back to her car until the train had pulled away, though, and he smiled a little at that.