The weight of the burden Annie had been carrying was starting to feel way too heavy on her shoulders. She still had trouble letting go of Liam (though honestly there was some progress), the image of Vanessa with her ex-boyfriend constantly flashed through her mind and to top it all off, Austin had just pestered her into getting Bree to confess about the arson she committed a few months ago. Annie was glad though, that despite the hostility she had been showing to her friends, they were still largely understanding of her position and were always willing to sit by her side and offer a listening ear. Even Adrianna, whom Annie had dismissed back at the Offshore 3 days ago when she discovered Vanessa's purse and all of her fake IDs.

Annie dropped by Dixon and Austin's house, knowing that Ade would be in as well. She had called her friend earlier, asking if they could have some time to talk. Adrianna had made plans for dinner with Dixon, but they were definitely willing to squeeze in some time before that.

"I'm so glad you guys are not mad at me," Annie began, the moment Adrianna opened the front door to let her in. "I know I've been saying the wrong things to everyone for who knows how long, but ugh, I don't know what to think anymore."

Annie made herself comfortable on the couch and began releasing her frustration all at once. She was convinced that Vanessa's story about having a bad past was just the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who had been badly hurt by their past and was ready to move on would not keep that many evidences of their old days, right? The Wilson girl was almost sure Vanessa had something bigger to hide - something really serious that left her running around with a new identity each time she moved. Was Vanessa even her real name?

"You may be right, Annie," Dixon began. "But you may be wrong too. And if it's the case that your theory is seriously off, then you'll end up hurt and Liam will think you're crazy."

"Just let it go," Adrianna advised, her words echoing that of Austin's from a few days ago. "Perhaps your epic love with Liam just happens to have a tragic ending and there's no way out."

Annie could not entirely fault whatever Ade and Dixon had said. In fact, she knew they were right to a certain degree. It was just that Annie had trouble grasping the concept of just throwing away her relationship with Liam.

With little else to add on to the conversation, Adrianna and Dixon got up to leave for dinner. They invited Annie along, but the brunette was sensible enough to know that her brother and his girlfriend only did that out of courtesy. Who wanted to bring Miss McBroody along on a date, right?

"I'll leave when I feel like it," Annie told them, with a small laugh. "Have fun, guys."

It did not feel like it was that much long when the front door opened again, but this time, it was Austin who had just returned back home. Needless to say, he was a little surprised to find Annie lying down on the couch, who was almost oblivious to the fact that he had walked in. He greeted her and asked why she was here all alone, seeing that Ade and Dixon were nowhere in sight.

"I came over to talk to them before they went out and I fell asleep afterwards," Annie groaned sheepishly as she sat up and began bundling her hair back up into a ponytail.

Annie talking to Dixon and Adrianna, being all mopey ... Austin pretty much understood the equation. He reached for two bottles of beer from the fridge, a bowl and a box of cereal from the kitchen. Pretty much the exact same things he reached for when he felt pathetic after his breakup with Naomi.

"You're doing this whole depressing thing wrong, Wilson," Austin said, offering Annie the drink.

Annie laughed at his comment. "I promise I'm not ... depressed. In fact, what you guys have said is right. I should walk away. My time with Liam is done."

"Well, then this calls for a celebration."

Annie raised an eyebrow, not exactly sure what Austin meant by that. But she was not one for overanalysing things at the moment, so she took the bottle without another word. Perhaps he was simply glad that Annie was out of her funk.

For Austin though, he really was feeling celebratory that evening. For some reason, he could not help but feel heavy-hearted the last couple of days seeing Annie all conflicted and miserable. It was good to see her in a slightly livelier mood, but even better when she explained the change in her expressions compared to the last few days. Austin could not explain it; he didn't know why he cared so much about what the girl was going through and how she was feeling. He just did.

A few days passed, with Austin occasionally dropping by at Naomi's mansion on the pretext that he wanted to make sure that Annie was not lying to him about being fine, that she was not going to explode from containing all her emotions quietly or do anything stupid to herself.

"I like a good show," he teased Annie, as he helped himself to some soda. Austin leaned against the door of the fridge with a smug look on his face. "So, I'll stick around just in case you might lose it and start throwing plates out the window. That'd be fun to watch."

Annie, of course, insisted that she was feeling good, and she was honestly feeling that way. So there was absolutely no need for him to worry about her sanity. Her positivity even peaked to the extent that she was now willing to come clean about her and Patrick, if it meant getting Bree to confess about the arson. Annie knew consequences had to be paid and she hated knowing that Austin was in rough waters with his dad because of her and Bree. However, Austin was shocked to hear this from Annie and he was not having any of it.

"Hell no," he argued, immediately walking towards her, his voice serious and almost urgent. "Listen, I meant what I said before. I don't want to get you into trouble - just ... Bree, for bringing you into this."

"I don't see how I can get her to confess about the fire without bringing the entire story into the picture. I was in the wrong too, with the whole... escort thing."

"We'll figure it out. But don't even think of doing something stupid like that."

Annie sighed. "I'm sorry I dragged you into this," she apologised after a while, shaking her head. "I didn't know how fast, how bad things could turn out. Why do you insist on protecting me anyway?"

"Because," his voice still quite as urgent as it was, though there was a really slight pause initially. "I'm crazy about you, Wilson. You just don't see that."

Truth be told, Annie was surprised to hear that from Austin. She had never thought that he felt that way about her. All this time, Annie really did think he was just trying to be a friend, though she had to admit it he did pay her a lot more attention than before. It was definitely a nice surprise, however. Because in the midst of her confusion as to whether she was ready to brush her feelings for Liam aside, she had dismissed her chemistry with Austin as well. Annie did not know what those feelings were - like the urge she had to kiss him sometimes whenever he came over to see her - but now that Austin had spelled it out...

Annie pulled herself close to Austin - the closest they had been yet with virtually no distance between them - and pressed her lips to his, rather cautiously and almost hesitantly at first. But Austin needed no other invitation. He instantly wrapped his arm around Annie's small waist and deepened the kiss. Despite the small voice at the back of Annie's mind protesting against this embrace, she found herself unable to let go from Austin. This felt so... good; way better compared to all the emotional turmoil she had been going through the last month or so. Forget about all her inhibitions; Annie had been feeling lonely for a long while and at that moment, she was with a guy who was giving her all his attention.