A.J. tenses up and blocks Vin’s way when he tries to move toward Topher. A.J. is smaller than Topher and Vin, but his protective instincts are stronger than anyone’s strength in this room. I just always figured A.J. would be defending Vin if the situation ever arose, not Topher. I feel like I’ve missed a lot in this last year.
Reed shuffles a bit but stays firmly planted with us, ready to plead his case if Vin gives him the opportunity. I doubt Reed, A.J., or I will need to be called to the witness stand, though. This looks like a battle of the Brooks brothers.
“I’ll handle it,” Topher says. “Reed and A.J. know that. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“It’s a big fucking deal,” Vin shouts, slinging his arms out. “You skip out on your job, have someone else’s vehicle impounded, get a speeding ticket, cause someone else to get arrested, and then this store gets left in the hands of someone who doesn’t even work here while Haley and Reed have to clean up your mess!”
Vin spins back around toward the counter, leaving us right where we are in the middle of the store. Oh my God. I hope he doesn’t blast Emily for this. It’s not her fault that I left her in charge.
“Do you have a job?” Vin asks her. He’s calm and steady, like he didn’t just flip out on his little brother.
Emily shakes her head. She looks like a terrified little doe in the forest who got separated from her mom and is about to be attacked by a mangy wolf.
“Do you need a job?” Vin asks. When she nods, he says, “You’re hired. Come by sometime tomorrow morning after ten, and we can officially get you on the books. I’ll make sure you get paid for today too.”
Then Vin looks over at us and points at A.J. “That offer goes for you too. If you want onboard, come by here tomorrow, and I’ll get you on the books. I’ll need some new employees because Topher’s fired.”
Topher pushes past A.J. “You can’t do that,” he says to Vin.
Vin leans back against the front counter, crosses his arms with a typical Vin-Brooks-attitude, and smirks at Topher. “Well, little brother, I believe I just did. So now you can get a taste of the real world. You can get a real job and start paying off your debt to your friends.”
“I belong here,” Topher says. “I belong at Drenaline Surf a hell of a lot more than you do.”
Vin pushes off the counter and walks toward us. A.J. reaches for Topher to keep him from meeting his brother halfway, but that Hooligan attitude shines through when Topher is angry. A.J. lets him go. There’s no way Topher is going to back down to Vin.
“Jake would roll over in his grave if he saw how you were acting,” Vin says. “I’m not letting you drag his name or my name or Drenaline Surf’s name through the mud any more than you already have.”
Then Topher laughs. He shakes his head and holds both hands up to halt his brother’s words.
“Your argument is invalid,” Topher says, as calmly and snarky as Vin did just moments ago.
It’s insane how, at moments like this, when they’re at each other’s throats – literally – you can see how much of each other they have in themselves.
“In case you don’t remember,” Topher says, walking a half circle around Vin, “Jake McAllister doesn’t have a grave to roll over in. You see, he was cremated. Then there was this big paddle out where pretty much everyone from Horn Island and Crescent Cove paddled out into the ocean, and we talked about Shark and how much we loved him and how amazing he was. And then Joe poured his son into the sea, where he belonged.”
Vin doesn’t say a word. I’m not sure if he’s breathing. Or if I’m breathing. Is anyone breathing? Theo, where are you when we need you?
“Oh, no, that’s right,” Topher says. “You wouldn’t remember all of that because you wouldn’t go out there with us. You wouldn’t attend your own best friend’s memorial. No, you just stood on the fucking pier! And that, big brother, is what I call irony!”
Topher instantly turns and bolts out the front door of Drenaline Surf.