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watchb1 12 2001 revision


A Note From Alan December 14th, 2001 ---------------

I wrote this story long ago, or so it seems. It was back in 1996 that I
first posted this story, and to be honest, it changed my life. I don't
think my life would be anything like it is now if it hadn't been for the
people I met after posting this in on Usenet back in the
dark days of November of the mid-1990s. I'm stunned that the "5 year
anniversary" of the first posting of this story has come and gone. It
makes me wonder at how long it will be before I'm an old man squinting at
the computer screen and cursing small fonts.

The 'net was different in the middle of the last decade of the previous
millennium. There was less spam and less traffic. For those of you newer
to, you could not imagine how it was back in the first days
when I started reading it in 1994. You could post there with a real e-mail
address and not end up with your inbox full of porn spam, you could
download a header list and not have half of them scream about "free xxx
pics", you could even find more than 50 line "Bobby gets a blowjob" stories more often than not. Hell, I remember doing a search for "sex" on using an early version of Netscape and mostly only finding
articles on gorilla genitalia. Seriously! Now, bordering on 2002, it is
little more than a spam-filled mess.

But I digress.

Many of you wondered where I disappeared to over these last few years.
The truth is, I've been lazy. I let the stories just sit, book three still
floating in my mind. The images of what I want to write float in and out
of my mind while I lay in bed alone at night.

So, you ask, "Why Alan, why haven't you finished it then?" The problem
is getting myself in front of the computer to do so. I also need to
recapture some of what made "Watching" special to so many people, and in
doing that, I decided to edit the first two books again.

This brings us to what this "special edition" of Book One that follows
is all about. Some of you may not like the new form of it; I toned down
the sex for one thing. My goal was to make this something that a wider
audience could appreciate, and to modify it so that the sex scenes fit the
overall 'tone' of the book. Not to mention I also fixed some glaring
errors that I winced at not spotting sooner.

How much you like this version I suspect will depend on what you liked
it for originally. If you read it for the sex, you'll be disappointed. If
you read it for the love story, I think you'll be pleased with the
modifications I've made.

Reading your own writing over again several years later makes you
realize how much you've grown as a writer. If you compare the first
chapter of Book One to the last chapter of Book Two, you'll immediately see
the difference in writing style. This was the first time I ever attempted
to write anything of this length, and I learned a hell of a lot doing so.

I'm currently in the middle of editing Book Two, which hopefully will
appear soon in a revised state as well. And yes, Book Three is still going
to appear -- just don't ask me when. When it does arrive, it will be a
long one, I promise.

Meanwhile, enjoy this. Perhaps you've not read it for a long time;
perhaps you've never read it. Either way, it's a story about a couple
falling in love, a story about the importance of family, and a story about

For those of you with a wife or a husband and kids, you probably have no
idea how lucky you are, or if you do know, maybe you've not spent as much
time with them as you should. Considering we're in the middle of the
holiday season, I hope this makes you think more about your own family, and
how you can bring them closer to you. Too many of us (myself included)
don't have the joys of marriage, or the joy of having children in our
lives. Of course there are trials, but as someone I once knew said, "Boy
it's hard, but it's a whole lot of fun too!" As I spend more time with the
children of my friends, the more I realize how important such things are in

Just remember that in the end all we have are the good times, and those
are frighteningly rare. Enjoy them while you can.

Merry Christmas,


Original Authors Note For Watching Book One: The Meeting

This is the first story that I've posted to a.s.s. This work has taken
over a year to write. It was written for myself, and no one else.

You see, I write because I get a story line in my head and I can't get
it out until it's on paper, or in this case, on a computer screen. If I
don't get it out it haunts me, floating around in the back of my head until
I'm trying to fall asleep or just waking up. Damn annoying sometimes,
having a story line pop into your head at 1am and not being able to fall
asleep until you've let it run it's course by writing the idea down on
paper to be worked on at some later date. Or in the case of this story,
compelling enough to drive you out of bed and in front of the computer at

As I said, I write for myself. I write the way I like to read. And
it's long. Just like my favorite books and stories are. If you like
short, to the point,
fuck-screaming-orgasmic-mind-boggling-never-stopping-sex type stories,
you've picked the wrong story. Sure it has sex, but (gasp!) it also has a
plot. (At least I like to think it does.)

Why has it taken over a year for me to get even book one out? Well,
editing for one. I hate it, but know it's necessary. But the story is
better for it. Two, I wrote it when I wasn't busy, or had an idea for the
plot line that just couldn't wait. Sometimes it came in 50 line bursts
every other night, sometimes a chapter a night. One memorable time was
when I wrote five chapters in one night. Some chapters I agonized over.
Others seemed to flow from my fingertips. Some chapters are full of pain,
some full of joy. Just like life.

The first words of this story were written late at night, in late
September of 1995. My Grandfather had just had his first heart attack.
The kids were barely settling into the new school year, and I was dead
tired, laying in bed, alone, when the old memories of one of my few
schoolboy crushes came to the surface. I do remember the name of the girl,
which, of course, has been changed. I was eighteen, she was fourteen. We
rode the same bus. I was very shy (I didn't go out on my first date until
I was nearly 23), and a self admitted nerd.

She, on the other hand, was what I would call 'normal'. She was pretty,
and mostly matched the physical attributes of the girl named Jenny in this
story. She caught my eye literally, and the memory stays with me even
after the years that have passed.

She was sitting in the seat in front of me, and dropped a piece of paper
on the floor. It drifted until it lay at my feet. I picked it up and
handed it to her. Our eyes locked for a second, and I froze. She had the
kind of brown eyes that were so dark that you had to look closely to find
where the iris and pupil met. She smiled and said thanks, and I nodded
politely, pulling my eyes away from hers. I sat back and thought, only
being pulled out of my reverie by the bus pulling up in front of the junior
high. (I was a Junior in High School, she an eighth grader) I watched her
leave the bus, but before she turned to climb the path to the school
entrance, she turned and our eyes met again, just for a few seconds. Then
she turned and walked up the path. I watched as she entered the building,
then the bus pulled away. That was the beginning.

For the next two years -- until I graduated, that is -- I would live for
the moments I had to sneak glances at her when she wasn't looking. She
caught me looking once or twice, much to my embarrassment. I never did
anything about it. (Now you know why I call this story "Watching".)

High School ended, I went to college, and I never saw her again. That
was what I was thinking about that night in late September, wondering about
how my life may have turned out if I had actually spoken to her. I was at
a low point in my life, and I wrote to try to help myself feel like there
was hope somewhere, even if it was in a fantasy world. Before I knew it,
this story was in the preliminary stages of forming. It soon departed from
that initial fantasy and grew into something much more important to me. I
have no one to share this with; it deals with issues that I would most
likely be condemned for, especially with my highly religious family. (A
religion that I don't share.) The few friends I have simply wouldn't
understand. So I post this for you, in hopes that someone will read it,
enjoy it, and maybe even learn something from it. Enjoy.

Alan Mathews ( November 1996

Watching By Alan Mathews

The Watching Trilogy Timeline -----------------------------

(January 1995)

o Book One: The Meeting begins

Book One The Meeting ----------

Chapter One ----------

I heard someone crying quietly toward the back of the bus as the cold
January wind seeped in through the loose panes of the school bus windows.

The trip home from school had taken a turn for the worse when the engine
of the old bus had finally ground to a halt. We were stuck on a dark back
road as night fell.

Our bus driver had left thirty minutes before to see if he could find a
phone to call for help. Our small, poor school district wasn't even able
to afford proper maintenance of their busses, much less pay to put CB
radios in them. No help had come, and I was beginning to fear that he may
have gotten lost in the swirling snow and encroaching darkness.

The temperature had dropped rapidly after the sun had disappeared behind
the dense foliage of the surrounding forest, and now even the children in
jackets were beginning to shiver. I had a heavy winter coat and was
decently comfortable thanks to the foresight of my grandmother, who had
given it to me as a Christmas present. (One of the few presents from her
that I had ever found a use for.) I heard teeth chattering from the seat in
front of me. Leaning forward, I peered over the back of the seat.

One of the girls I recognized from school was shivering in the seat in
front of me in a light jacket that wouldn't keep out spring weather, much
less the deep freeze of January.

I had noticed her before. Hell, I had been watching her on the bus for
well over a year, sneaking glances at her when I could get away with it,
appreciating her long dark brown hair and slim form, as teenaged boys are
prone to doing to attractive members of the opposite sex.

Of course, there are a lot of pretty girls wandering around, but
something about her was special, unique; I seemed to be drawn to her.
Something about her made me want to hold her close, to be near to her.
Perhaps it was something in her large, dark eyes that brought out the
protective instincts in me. I had never felt that way about anyone before,
and frankly it frightened me a little.

I had never spoken to her, although I'm certain she had caught me
looking at her once or twice. I'm not all that talkative to anyone, much
less girls. I suffer from the classic problem of stuttering, cold sweats,
and blushing most "shy" people face when around the opposite sex.

Mustering up my courage, I spoke.

"Are you cold?" I asked.

"Just a little." she replied, looking up at me. She was huddled in a
ball with her legs curled up beneath her, body shaking visibly from the
cold. I caught her eyes for a moment and made up my mind.

"Just a second." I said. I unzipped my coat and pulled it off my
shoulders. "Put this on." I said, holding it out to her.

"I...I can't." she said shyly. "Then you'll be cold, and it's your

"Well, I can handle the cold better than you can. If you don't get warm
soon you'll end up with hypothermia. Then we'd need an ambulance to get
you out of here, and I'd end up giving the coat to you anyway once you
slipped into delirium." I stated, with my best attempt at a smile.

She grinned, and reached for the coat. "Ok, I'll take it," she said
while slipping the coat on. "But won't you get hypothermic too, although
I'm not entirely certain what that means?"

"Not for a while. After all, I'm male. Males are stronger than
females." I joked.

"Oooooh! Sexist pig!" She flashed me a smile and huddled up under my
coat, her teeth no longer chattering and her shivering fading slowly as she
warmed up.

I slouched back in my seat, enjoying the afterglow of that smile. But
after a few minutes I started to feel the cold, my body beginning to shiver
as the temperature continued to drop. I managed to keep my teeth from
chattering for a few minutes, but soon I could no longer contain it, no
matter how hard I gritted my teeth.

Her head popped over the top of the seat back, and seeing my obviously
chilled state, gave me a concerned look.

"Are you all right?" she asked, a concerned look on her face.

"Fine, fine." I said, making a superhuman effort to stop my shivering. I

She looked unconvinced. "Well... maybe we can share it, that way we'd
both be warm. It's big enough I think." she said, looking nervously at me.
"Are you sure?" I asked, uncertain. It certainly was big enough. It
was slightly to big for me, even on my 6'2", 210 pound frame. While it
reached slightly above my knees it looked like a long dress on her, as she
was barely over five feet in height.

"Yes." she said and got up, moving to my seat. She took off the coat,
and all business, told me to get up.

"Now, if you put it on and leave the zipper open..." I followed her
instructions and we ended up comfortably situated, me with my arms in the
sleeves of the coat, her huddled up against my side with the excess
material wrapped around her. She moved a little closer to me, sharing body

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Jenny. What's yours?"

"Alex." I replied, trying to relax; difficult to do with someone you've
had a mild crush on for over a year huddled against your side.

"Hmmm, Alex. You're a comfortable pillow." she said, resting her head
against my shoulder.

I laughed, and the conversation continued from there. We talked about
school, and people we knew. Well, actually, she talked, I listened. I
didn't much know anyone at our school, despite my going to the same school
district from kindergarten up to my current grade.

"What are you going to do after you graduate?" she asked.

"I was thinking about going to college... there's a pretty good school
down in New Mexico I was planning on going to. After that, hopefully a
good job. I really just want to get out of this town. What are you
thinking about doing after high school?"

"I have no idea what I'm going to do tomorrow, much less three or four
years from now." she sighed.

"You have plenty of time. Don't worry about it. Don't push yourself
into anything, pick something you like." I suggested.

"Maybe." she said noncommittally.

We spoke for a few minutes longer, until the conversation finally died
out into a comfortable silence.

"Boy, I'm tired." she yawned.

"Go ahead and sleep." I said.

"Thanks, but then I couldn't keep the coat closed." She paused and
considered. "Hold still." she said, moving herself until she was sitting
on my lap leaning against my chest. She grabbed my arms and wrapped them
around her again. I was surprised at her boldness, but it felt
surprisingly good, feeling her warm body pressed against mine. She managed
to zip the coat up somewhat, keeping us pressed closely together whether we
wanted to or not.

"There. Now it'll stay closed." she said, shifting slightly in my lap.
I said nothing, too stunned to do more than sit there.

She rested her head on my shoulder again, her soft hair brushing my
cheek. She sighed, and a few minutes later her breathing evened out to the
whisper of her even breathing.

I watched her sleep, the ghostly light from the bus window illuminating
her face. I knew that I had a crush on this girl whom I barely knew, I had
for months. And here I was, holding her as if I had known her for years.
In fact, it had been the only real physical contact I had had with anyone
in years. I was in shock, to put it mildly, but managed to decide not to
overanalyze the situation and just enjoy it while it lasted. I hugged her
tighter against me, relishing the heat of her body contrasting to the
freezing air of the bus. Then I drifted off into sleep as well.

End Chapter One

Chapter Two -----------

I awoke to the glare of headlights shining through the grime covered
windows and the muffled creak of tires rolling through fresh snow. The
driver had managed to get through, evidently. I found myself almost
wishing that he hadn't.

I gently shook Jenny, and she slowly came awake and looked up at me.

"Good morning." she said with a lazy smile, and stretched as much as she
could in the confines of my coat.

"Hardly morning. The new bus just pulled up, finally."

"To bad, I was just getting comfortable." I could tell she was smiling,
even without being able to see her face.

I chuckled, and she slowly got up. I thought I had never seen anything
so beautiful as her standing in the dim light of the bus, shivering in the
cold, hair slightly out of place from her hour or so of sleep in my arms.

"We'd better go." I said, noticing that the bus was now nearly empty,
everyone else having boarded the other bus. She nodded, and we clambered
down the steps of the old bus, walking slowly over to the new bus together.
We boarded the bus, the powdery snow already having left a thin coat of
snow on our heads. We took separate seats again, her in front of me, as
always. We rode until her stop in silence.

When she got up to leave, she paused for a moment and leaned toward me.

"Thanks for letting me share your jacket." she whispered.

"You're welcome. You kept it at just the right temperature." I grinned.
She grinned back, and suddenly leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the

"Bye." she whispered again, and climbed off the bus. I watched her run
toward her house, rushing to get out of the cold again.


I spent the couple of weeks thinking about what had happened, trying to
figure out how I had somehow fallen in love with a fourteen year old girl.
Yes, I felt I loved her, no matter how odd it seemed that a person could
love someone after a single hour of holding them. Don't ask me to explain
it, I couldn't explain it myself, much less anyone else.

She was four years younger than I was, for god sake! Four years might
not make much difference to someone in their twenties, but a senior dating
an eighth grader was considered criminal by many, dubious at best. My
father was among the first category, despite the six year age difference
between my mother and father when they were married. I was sure that
Jenny's parents also fitted the "criminal" category. The morals of people
seem to run in all the same directions in a small town, and the one we
lived in was no exception.

I still saw her every day on the bus, but now when she saw me she would
smile at me and say hello. I began to watch her more, and she caught me
more often, each time greeted with a warm smile. I started to recognize
her moods, when she was happy, when she had had a bad day... it was
driving me crazy thinking about her all the time. I couldn't go on the way
I was going. I knew I had to do something about it, but was stopped by the
fear of the reactions of her or my parents, as well as the general public.

Hell, I was just scared that she didn't feel the same way I did and only
saw me as a friend, or possibly just the nice guy who shared a coat with
her once.

I was buried in a book one day when Jenny boarded the bus. I didn't
notice her until I happened to glance in her direction.

The look on her face tugged at my heart. She was curled up in one of
the seats across from me, looking alone and forlorn. She had her knees
pulled up to her chest, head resting on her arms, eyes hidden from view. I
could tell she was very close to crying just by looking at her.

Knowing what it would look like but finally not giving a damn one way or
another, I stepped across the aisle and slid into the seat beside her. I
gently placed a hand on her shoulder and asked, "Jenny? Are you all
right?" I could feel her body shaking under my hand. The shaking grew
worse as my words registered and she fell apart completely, loud sobs
wracking her body. I slid closer with concern. She wrapped her arms
around my neck and buried her face in my chest, her tears soaking through
my thin cotton shirt in seconds. I was surprised, but reflexes kicked in;
I picked her up and wrapped my arms around her, trying to comfort her.

"What am I going to do?" she sobbed. "I can't go home, not now... not
now that she knows."

"Don't worry, it'll be fine. We'll work something out." I said, not
knowing what she was talking about, but being more concerned about getting
her calmed down than dealing with what her problem was at the moment.

"But how? What will I do?"

"What will we do." I said firmly. "I'm not leaving you like this." I
definitely wasn't. I wouldn't leave anyone in the state she was in, much
less someone that I felt as strongly for as I did her.

"Why? You don't even know me... if you knew, you wouldn't even want to
be near me, much less help."

"I've helped you before, haven't I? Trust me. We'll deal with whatever
is wrong." (Taking on a lot for someone I barely knew? Sure, but I've
always been a soft one for someone in tears. It's gotten me in a lot of
trouble over the years. But usually it ends up being worth it. In this
case, it certainly was.)

She didn't reply, but her sobs began to slow some, and soon faded to an
occasional gasping shudder. She stayed huddled in my arms as if trying to
avoid the world.

We rode the rest of the way to my house like that. When we approached
her stop I waved the bus driver on, thankful that Jenny's younger sister wasn't on. Within a few minutes the bus slowed to a stop in front of the
driveway to my house, and I helped Jenny up. She got shakily to her feet,
gripping my arm for both physical and mental support.

Ignoring the odd looks from the driver and other passengers, we climbed
down the steps of the bus, and walked slowly to the front door. Unlocking
it, we stepped into the relatively warm living room from the cold January

I led her to the overstuffed couch that sat near the large fireplace,
and she slumped into it, staring blankly out of the bay window and into the
woods beyond. I quickly piled a few logs onto the few embers left of the
morning fire and soon the room was filled with warm flickering light.
Night was beginning to fall in the early January fashion, making the
shadows of the furniture grow slowly longer.

"Just a second, I'm going to make us a little hot chocolate." I said.
She didn't respond and just kept looking out the window. I looked at her
worriedly, and hurried to the nearby kitchen. I was a bit nervous about
having her in my house, so few people had been there in the years prior to
then, but at the moment I was more worried about her than about how I felt.
I quickly microwaved some water and added the instant cocoa mix. Not as
good as homemade, but I was in a hurry.

When I walked back into the living room I saw that little had changed,
other than her gaze had shifted from the window to the fire. I sunk slowly
on to the couch beside her, balancing the nearly full mugs in my hands. I
offered one to her, but she didn't seem to notice, so I took her hands and
wrapped them around the mug. Her fingers were cold, and she made no move
to drink.

"Just drink a little, please? You might feel better." she turned
towards me, and I felt a tearing sensation in my chest as I saw the look in
her eyes, wondering what could make someone feel so alone. But she took a
sip, then a long drink as it warmed her insides.

"Look, I meant it when I said 'we', Jenny. Whatever is wrong, I'll help
you through it."

"Help me? If you knew what this was about, you'd hate me... everyone
else who knows does. My mom won't let me come back because of it..."

'Ah,' I thought to myself. 'No wonder she can't go home, her parents are angry with her.'

"I doubt that. I've heard and read a lot of weird things in my time,
and I've never hated anyone for it. Just tell me and see."

"NO!" she almost yelled. "You're the only person who... has been nice
to me. No one at school... and especially not her..." she trailed off. I
was wondering who "her" was, but I obviously couldn't ask her now, not
while she was in this state of near panic.

"Ok, ok," I said soothingly. "You don't have to tell me anything." She
at least relaxed somewhat upon hearing this.

"Well, since you say you can't go home, you'll just have to stay here
for a while." I said matter of factly.

"You'd let me stay?" she said hopefully, a glimmer of hope shining in
her eyes. "What about your parents?"

"Well, Mom... left... years ago, and my Dad's out of town for a few
weeks. Even if you need to stay longer than that, I can arrange it. My
Dad pretty much leaves me alone, and since he's only here about a month
total a year..."

Her immediate problem solved, Jenny seemed to liven up a little.

"Thank you so much, Alex." she said and hugged me. I basked in the glow
of her hug. "Ok, now that that's taken care of!" I said cheerfully, that
simple contact with her raising my spirits considerably. "Let's get
something to eat and turn in early. I think we both need it." I stated as
she gave a wide yawn.

"Yeah, sure." she said sleepily, the warm cocoa having it's desired
effect of relaxing her a bit.

"I'll go dig out some leftovers or something, then."

"Let me help, I'm at least good at using a microwave." she smiled, and I
was glad to see she was cheering up.

"I'm not sure about this microwave. My Dad bought a new one after he
blew up the old one, and it's pretty complicated."

"Blew up the old one?" she asked, wide eyed.

"Yeah, he wanted hot apple pie, and forgot that the tin was made of
aluminum. Walked away to read in his study, and left it until he was
reminded when the smoke alarm went off." I was trying to keep a straight
face, but her expression was to much. I burst out laughing.

Her open-mouthed look of surprise faded. "You're joking!" she yelled,
and punched me lightly in the shoulder. I continued to laugh as I held my
shoulder, and she started laughing as well. She jumped on me and it turned
into a free-for-all, my six foot two frame easily holding her off. We
ended up a giggling, laughing tangle on the couch, her on top of me, my
hands gripping her wrists. We locked eyes, and froze.

We were stuck like that for a few seconds. Then I cleared my throat and
sat up, easing her slowly back onto the couch.

"Yes, well, let's get dinner. I'm sure you can operate the microwave
without blowing anything up." I grinned, trying to cover up how flustered I
actually was, and the trembling I felt inside at being so near to her.

"We'll see." she said, giving me another playful punch in the arm.

I tried to help her, but she insisted on figuring out the microwave
herself. My Dad had destroyed the old one, but not by blowing it up. He
managed to somehow spill a cup of coffee into the innards of the microwave.
It was an old one, and rather than have it repaired, we replaced it. The
new one, as I said, was complex. When she figured it out within ten
minutes, I was impressed. I had played with it for half an hour, and still
had to look in the manual in the end.

She heated up some leftover spaghetti while I hunted around for the
silverware. With one person in the house most of the dishes tend to go
unwashed, and silverware disappears over time. I managed to hunt down two
chipped plates and a couple of forks by the time she had finished, and we
sat down to eat.

"How can you handle living way out here, alone so often?" she asked
between bites.

"You get used to it. I've been doing it since I was ten. It's nice,
you don't have any parents telling you what to do, when to clean up your
room, or what to wear."

"Don't you get lonely? I mean, it can't be easy to be away from your
friends, and have no one to talk to."

"I don't have many friends." I said flatly, trying to keep my voice free
of emotion. Friends? Me? Ha! But I wasn't going to tell her that. "If
you haven't noticed, I don't talk much." I took another bite of spaghetti
and smiled.

"Yeah, I noticed, but I figured that you just didn't want to talk to a
bunch of kids years younger than you. Besides, you're talking now, aren't

"Yes, well, I know you better now. It's easier to talk to someone you
know. Otherwise, I just don't say anything. It's easier that way."

"Easier, yes, but it sure makes it hard to make friends, especially
girlfriends." She said, spearing a meatball.

"Well, that would probably explain why I've never had a girlfriend,
wouldn't it?" I forced a light tone into my voice as I looked down at my
plate, swirling the strands of spaghetti around my fork.

"You've never had a girlfriend?" she said, incredulously. "How old are
you anyway?"


"You need to get out more." she said bluntly.

I shrugged. "I'm happy the way I am."

"Every lonely minute of it?"

"I'm not lonely... just alone." I said defensively.

She sighed, and continued to eat.

I finished quickly, and sat watching her eat. She would wind the
spaghetti around the fork like a little kid, and then scoop it into her
mouth. After each bite she would wipe her mouth daintily on a paper towel.
She looked up at me.

"What's wrong?" she asked innocently, giving me a questioning look.

"Nothing." I said quickly. "I was just thinking about how long it's
been since anyone besides myself or my father had been in this house."

"How long has it been?"

"Oh, I'd say seven, eight years." I said offhandedly, leaning back in my

"That long?"

I nodded, and noticed that her plate was empty.

"Want a refill?" I asked.

"No thanks, I'm full." she said, patting her stomach. I got up and
grabbed the plates.

"Wait a sec, and I'll grab you some towels so you can take a shower
before you go to bed." I said.

"That'd be great." she smiled, looking haggard, at least as haggard as a
fourteen year old can look.

I tossed the dishes in the sink and walked back to the dining room where
she was sitting with her head on her arms resting on the table. I paused
for a moment, enjoying the scene and the contrast of the scarred surface of
the light pine table against her dark hair and fair, pale skin. I moved
over to her and touched her on the shoulder. She gasped in surprise and
almost jumped out of the chair.

"Easy! It's just me." She relaxed. "Come on, I'll show you where
everything is." She nodded and followed me.

I climbed the stairs with her close behind me. Stopping at the
cupboards where I kept the clean towels, I pulled out a couple for her.
Then I headed for my Dad's room.

"You can sleep here. It's my Dads room, but he won't be around for a
while. We have a guest room too, but it hasn't been used in a long time.
What I don't use, I don't clean." I grinned. "Besides, this bed is a lot
more comfortable."

"It'll be fine." she said, looking around the room. I walked over to
the chest of drawers and pulled out one of my Dad's T-shirts.

"This should work for something to sleep in." I handed it to her, and
she held it up against her chest.

"I see your Dad is as big as you are." she said, as it drooped to well
below her knees.

"Actually, he's a couple inches taller." I said as I led her across the
room to the master bath and opened the door.

"Take a shower, bath, whatever you like. My Dad always hated running
out of hot water, so we have five times as much as we've ever needed.
Don't worry about running out. Oh, and toss your clothes out, I'll put
them in the washer so you have something clean to wear tomorrow. We'll
worry about getting you more clothes later."

"OK, Thanks."

"You're welcome." I smiled. "I'll be in my room if you need anything.
It's just down the hall, first door on the left." She nodded and walked in,
shutting the door. I wandered back to my room, looking for a book to take
my mind off the current situation.

Five minutes later I walked back into the room and grabbed her clothes,
which were lying on the floor just outside the bathroom door. Wandering
down to the laundry room in the basement, I chucked her clothes into the
washer, added detergent and started it up, slamming the lid and returning
to my book.

I lost track of time, and it was nearly eight thirty when I heard Jenny
walk in. I looked up and immediately my mind went numb.

Jenny was, in a word, beautiful. Her long, freshly brushed dark hair was glistening from the shower, and I caught a whiff of the soft lavender
soap that my mother used to use that she must have found somehow. The long
white T-shirt billowed around her, falling from there to a few inches above
her knees where it revealed the rest of her legs. I felt a blush coming
on, and tried to fight it with little success.

"Something wrong?" she asked, leaning against the door frame.

"Oh, nothing, nothing." I stammered. "What can I do for you?"

"How do you work the heater?" she said. "It's a little cold in there,
and I wanted to turn up the heat a bit."

"Oh, it's on full. My Dad might have planned ahead for hot water, but
he underestimated how cold it could get around here. I'll get you an
electric blanket."

"Ok, that'll work." she said with a shrug.

Walking past her to the hall closet, I tried to shake the image of her
from my mind. I grabbed the blanket, and she followed me back to her room.
It was amazing how quickly I had come to think of it as 'her' room.

"I can put it on, no problem." she insisted.

"Yeah, but you'd never find the outlet. It's a little tricky."

She shrugged an motioned me towards the bed. I pulled back the
comforter and spread the blanket out on top of the top sheet, and then
pulled the comforter back over the blanket. Grabbing the control box and
the plug I got down on my hands and knees, fishing under the bed for the
outlet that was built into the wall behind the headboard. I fished for a
few second, cussing mentally to myself at my Dad for putting the bed in
front of the only outlet in the room.

"See, I told you it was hard to find." I smiled weakly up at her, then
finally found it and plugged it in. "There." I said triumphantly, pushing
the plug home. Turning on the blanket, I pulled back the covers.

"Climb in, and I'll tuck you in." I said. She smiled at me and climbed
into bed slowly, giving me a flash of leg that dazzled my eyes and almost
made me loose what little composure I had left. Pulling the blankets up
over her, I tucked her in tight. "Comfortable?" I asked.

"Very." she said sleepily, and yawned.

"OK, I'll see you in the morning then." I walked to the door and turned
out the lights, drawing the door closed until it was open just enough to
let a little light from the hall in.

Walking slowly back to my room, I decided to skip the shower. I was
drained from the day's events, and I nearly fell asleep while stepping out
of my clothes. I opted to wear the bottoms of an old pair of pajamas,
considering the company in the house. I turned out the light, climbed into
bed, and fell asleep almost immediately.


"Alex, can I sleep in here?" a voice said, ringing through my dreams as
the light clicked on.

"Huh?" I sat up groggily, blinded by the bedroom light. "What did you
say?" I could see her blush even through the blinding light.

"Well, I was wondering if, well... I don't really want to be alone..."
her voice seemed to choke off. She seemed near tears.

"Bad dream huh?" She nodded. "Sure, sure." I said, still not quite
thinking straight, still trying to shake my sleepiness off. Looking back,
I don't know what I would have done if I was fully awake when she asked me
that. But I wasn't, so I said, "Climb on in."

"You... don't mind?" she said hesitantly, taking a step towards the

"No, I don't mind. It's cold, come on. Turn out the light first,
though." I added, still squinting against the light. She turned off the
light, and I was blinded again as my semi-adjusted eyes had to adjust to
full darkness again. I heard her padding towards me, and then a squeak of
bedsprings as she sat down. She leaned back to lie down, and discovered a
quirk of my bed.

"Woah!" she squealed as she rolled toward me, then bumped against me,
the front of her body pressed against my side. "Interesting bed." she
said, breathing hard from the adrenaline rush.

"Yeah, fascinating what happens to a mattress when you sleep in the same
spot every night for fifteen years." I chuckled.

"I like the result, though." she said, laying her head on my chest and
draping her arm across my stomach. "I don't know how I'm going to sleep
with that heart of yours beating all night long, though." she giggled.

"I sure hope it'll keep beating, even if it keeps you up." I joked.

"Don't bet on it." I could almost see her grin even in the dark.

"Maybe I made a mistake here!" I said, feigning terror.

"Don't worry, I won't kill you in your sleep... but I might do
something else."

"Like what?" I asked, interested.

"Like THIS!" she cried, and tickled me in the stomach. I rolled over in
uncontrolled laughter, and she followed. Once again, I don't know what I
would have done if I had been fully awake, but... I grabbed her arm, and
quickly but gently pulled her hand away, quickly twisting myself to face
her, counterattacking with a tickle to her side. She rolled away laughing,
then fought back. We wrestled for a while, then she ended up on top again,
both of us breathing heavily.

"We seem to end up in this position a lot." I said.

"Probably because I always win." she said triumphantly.

"Ok, so what did you win?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow at her, even
though we could hardly see one another in the dim light from the hallway.

Then she kissed me.

I was caught by surprise, but quickly responded with equal intensity. A
few seconds later she broke the kiss, both of us breathing hard, but this
time not just from physical activity.

"What was that?" I gasped.

"My prize."

"Really?" I said, considering. "I think you're forgetting something."


"I came in second place." This time, I kissed her. I felt her jump
slightly in surprise, then her tongue came into play, pushing between my
lips and dancing across the roof of my mouth, then entwined with my mine.
She started to subtly grind her body against mine. My hands slid down to
her waist, holding her gently as we continued the kiss. A few seconds
later she relaxed, letting herself settle against my side, letting the kiss
slide into a warm, easy motion. Finally she broke away, settling back and
laying her head on my chest. I hugged her against me, feeling the rapid
in-out of her breath slow as she recovered. We lay there for a few
minutes, resting, while I slowly ran my hands up and down her back.

"How are you feeling?" I asked tenderly, pushing strands of her hair
back from her forehead.

"Sleepy, exhausted, and happy." she murmured.

"Quite a list." I murmured back. She just lifted her head and kissed my
chest, then settled back down, holding me like I was the last thing keeping
her from drowning in the ocean of life.

I lay there, running my fingers through her fine, straight hair, and
reflected on all that had happened that day, and the weeks before. I still
hadn't figured out how I had managed to come from longing for her whenever
I thought of her to her laying with me in my bed in only a few hours. But
who was I to question my good fortune? It was about time that I had some
type of good luck.

Then I started to worry. What would happen if her parents came looking
for her, or called the police when she didn't show up at home? I was
significantly older than she was. What would they do if one of us let slip
that we'd slept in the same bed all night? After all, I was eighteen, and
people being what they were... My heartbeat quickened in panic. What if
she woke up in the morning and regretted what had happened? I was actually
considering getting up and calling her parents and having them come pick
her up. And then she wriggled in my arms, waking from her half-sleep.

"Alex, is there something wrong?" she asked, concerned, feeling how
tense my muscles were beneath her.

"Nothing." I responded. "Just thinking."

"About what?"

"What's going to happen when your parents call the police and have me

"What!" she pulled out of my arms and turned to face me, eyes wide.
"What do you mean, 'arrested'?"

"It's just that I think that most people would think the worst if they
knew we were here together like this."

"I don't _care_ what the idiots who made up that law think. I know I
like what happened, and I intend to continue to be with you." her eyes
flashed angrily, and then faded. "That is, if you want me to." she added
softly, looking into my eyes.

"Want you to? Of course I want you to... I'm just worried."

"How can they arrest you if they don't know what happened or where I'm
at? I'm not going to tell them."

"Okay, I trust you. But can you do one thing for me? Call your parents and tell them that you're ok and staying with a friend?"

A look of fear washed over her face, her eyes brimming with tears. "I
can't do that! They'd... they'd..."

"Easy." I said, not wanting to get her any more upset. "Can you just
call an aunt, or something? Then they can pass on the word."

"But what if they trace the call somehow?" she said. I thought that was
a little paranoid, but hey, you can never be to careful.

"Don't worry. I know a few tricks from some... earlier activities I
was involved in a few years ago. They won't be able to trace it."

"Okay. I'll do it, if you want me to." she hugged me, then gave me
another deep kiss.

"You sure know how to change the subject, don't you?" I said after
coming up for air.

"Do I?" she asked innocently and sliding up to give me a quick peck on
the lips, then snuggling up again, her head tucked under my chin.

I sighed, pulling the covers up tighter around us to ward off the chill,
my first lesson in learning never to argue with a woman complete. I
settled back into enjoying her presence, not knowing how long I'd have her
in my life. I felt her breath disturbing the hairs on my chest, a tickling
sensation that was yet another new experience for me. She fell asleep
quickly, her exhaustion catching up to her. I raised myself up slightly
and looked down at her, lying peacefully in my arms.

You don't know true loneliness until you've been close to someone after
all you've ever known is being alone. Jenny and I were closer than I had
ever been to anyone, despite our short amount of time together, and now I
could see how lonely a life I had led before she had stumbled into it. I
didn't know how I would deal with it after she left.

I loved her. I came to that conclusion and accepted it, no matter how
silly or sudden it may have seemed to anyone else. She was part of my
life, the only person that had been in it for a long time. I sighed and
brushed her hair back from her forehead and ran my hand across skin of her
cheek, tracing the graceful arc of her jaw. I lay my head next to hers and
eventually fell asleep.

End Chapter Two

Chapter Three -------------

I awoke the next morning to the sun shining though the blinds on the
window beside my bed. It was one of those crystal clear but freezing cold
days, the type only the northwestern states can provide.

It was cold enough in the room for me to see my breath, but I was lucky
enough to have a delightfully soft bed warmer cuddled up next to me.

Lying there, I appreciated her warmth. Running my hand over her
shoulder and down her torso, I let my hand rest on her stomach, feeling her
breath move in and out. She fascinated me like no one I had ever known.
Not that I knew many people.

Her lips were slightly parted; I kissed her lightly. Eventually she
kissed me back slowly coming out of sleep. By the time we separated she
was blinking sleepily, smiling up at me. I smiled back.

"Good morning." she said and stretched, breathing deeply in the cold

"Definitely good, I think."

"I think so, too." she agreed, moving closer to me and rested her head
on my chest. She started to play with my sparse chest hair, roughing it up
and then smoothing it out again. "Let's just stay here all day."

"I like that idea." I smiled. "But we'll have to get up sometime."

"As long as it's not right now." she sighed, closing her eyes. We lay
there for a few minutes, enjoying one another's company. My mind wandered
to the question that had been bothering me me since she kissed me the night

"Jenny, you don't have to answer this, but I need to ask you."

"What?" she asked. I felt her muscles tense.

"Why are you here? I mean, why did you stay? You could have left..." I
sighed. "What it boils down to is this: why did you kiss me last night?"

She was silent for a moment, staring at the half closed blinds on the

"I kissed you because you're the only one who has ever seemed to care
about me, or what happened to me. You gave me your coat, you comforted me.
And if that wasn't enough, you gave me a place to stay. You're just so
kind and I just felt I had to repay you for all you had done somehow." she
trailed off. Then I realized the implications of her words.

"You mean last night... all of it, was just payment?" I asked slowly,
anger and pain rising in my chest, threatening to choke off my throat.
"Here I was, thinking you actually felt something for me, and all it
was..." I couldn't think about it anymore. I jumped out of bed, only
pausing long enough to grab my robe, then walked swiftly out of the room
and down the stairs. Sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, I
stared at the cold ashes of the fire, shivering in the freezing air.

All I could think about was her, my mind buzzing with thoughts of last
night, not being able to believe that all of what had happened had no real
love in it. It was just pity for some lonely nice guy who had never been
kissed before, much less had a girlfriend. Now something I had cherished,
even for just that short time, was gone, taking her with it.

I heard the bed squeak upstairs, then the pad of feet on the hardwood of
the stairs. I closed my eyes and put my head in my hands as she approached
the couch, not wanting to look at her, not wanting her to see the pain and
the tears in my eyes. She stopped a few feet behind me and stood there
silently hunting for the right words to say. I didn't give her the chance.

"Why?" I asked her. "Why must everyone who ever gets close to me have
some other reason for being there?" I raised my head to stare at the wall
as tears blurred my eyes. "No one really cares. My Dad doesn't, we barely
speak to each other even when he is here. My mom didn't. My relatives?
They don't even like having me around, like I'm some burden to them. You
don't care either. I let someone in and they leave, or hurt me in one way
or another. People wonder why I don't have friends. This is why. It's
just not worth the pain."

I heard a sniff behind me. I turned to see her standing behind me in my
father's old robe, tears running down her face.

"I didn't mean it the way it came out!" she sobbed. "I do like you, a
lot. I've had a, I guess you could call it a crush on you for a long time,
and then all this happened. It just seemed so right. I didn't mean to
hurt you. I'll get my things and leave." she turned and ran back up the

I was numb for a few moments as her words sank in. I considered what
she had said. If she really meant what she said, it meant I had been a
total ass, jumping to conclusions because I was so sure that anyone who got
close to me would only hurt me sooner or later.i

Getting up, I climbed the stairs. I could hear her crying and followed
the sound to my room.

I couldn't see her when I walked in the door and looked around for the
source of the sobs. I found her huddled in a corner, the robe pulled
tightly around her. I walked over to her.

"Jenny?" I said gently. She didn't respond. "I'm sorry for what I
said. I misunderstood. Please don't leave."

She looked up at me in surprise, her eyes red from crying. "You want me
to stay?"

"Yes. You're... very special to me." I said with difficulty. "You are
the only one who's ever actually wanted to touch me, or be near to me for
as long as I can remember. I hadn't even had so much as a pat on the
shoulder in over a year before you shared my coat. When you've been alone
as long as I have, you become afraid of letting anyone near you. I let you
in against my better judgment. I've been attracted to you since the first
day I noticed you when you climbed aboard that bus almost two years ago,
but was afraid of what would happen if I talked to you, what you would
think, what others would think. What I'm trying to say Jenny is that I
think I love you."

"You what?" she said in shock, looking up at me with her face streaked
with tears. I collapsed against the wall and slid down until I was sitting
a few feet away from her.

"I... love you. Don't ask me how I could come to love you in such a
short time, but I have." I said while staring at the floor, afraid to look
at her. Afraid of rejection.

"Really?" she got up and sat down next to me. "You love me?" The tone
of her voice was was a mix of amazement and disbelief.

"Yes." I sighed, finally looking at her, expecting to see rejection and
incredulity. Instead she started to cry again, wrapping her arms around me
and burying her face in my chest. "Thank you." she sobbed.

I hugged her to me, amazed but happy to not have been rejected. I
stroked her back, tears dripping out of my eyes and soaking into her hair.

"So you'll stay?" I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.

"Stay? I couldn't have left if I wanted to. I don't know where you put
my clothes." she said through the tears. I tried to keep my face straight,
but I couldn't help myself and burst out laughing. She joined me and soon
we were a laughing, crying heap in the corner of the room. I never wanted
it to end.


Fifteen minutes later, she was still cuddled up in my arms, still
sitting in that same corner. It was cold and uncomfortable, but neither of
us wanted to move and break the warmth and love flowing through our
embrace. When we both began to shiver despite our shared body warmth, I
decided it was time to move.

"What do you say we get up and catch a quick shower, and then eat
breakfast?" I asked her.

"Sounds good to me." She hopped up, and I followed.

"You get take the first shower. I need to toss your clothes into the
dryer so you have something more to wear than just that ratty old robe."

"What, don't you think I look beautiful?" she said, doing her best to
pose provocatively.

"Well, when you wear it that way..."

"If I wore it like this in public I'd be arrested for indecent
exposure." she cut me off and grinned.

"I'd visit you in prison." I said, hugging her against me. We kissed. I
held the embrace for a few seconds.

"I love you too." she whispered into my ear, then ran off in the
direction of the master bathroom, her hair flying out behind her.

I stood there, stunned. I knew she meant it. I could sense that she
did. I almost danced my way to the basement. Tossing her clothes into the
dryer, I ran back upstairs. I got a fire going, stoking it high with wood,
trying to beat back the cold in the house. After I had a good roaring fire
going, I headed upstairs to see if Jenny was finished yet.

I could hear the water running as I approached the bathroom; I sat on
the bed, waiting for her to finish.

Five minutes later the water was still running. Finally I walked up to
the door and knocked, yelling playfully above the sound of rushing water,
"Hey you, fish girl! Some of us are freezing out here and would like
showers too!"

Apparently she had heard me, as I heard the shower door slide open. A
few seconds later, the door opened, revealing Jenny in a manner of dress,
or rather lack of it, that made my jaw drop open, my face flushing bright

Jenny noted my look, obviously restrained an urge to laugh, and said,
"Well? Do I look like a fish to you?"

I tried to say "Certainly not!" but what came out was more like,
"Unganagah" as my mouth was refusing to work correctly.

She giggled. "Alex, you didn't strike me as a prude." she said, her
tone of voice obviously teasing.

I finally managed to stammer something. "I'm not a prude, I'm just
surprised is all."

She sighed. "Alex, if we're going to live here together, and if you
really mean what you said about loving me, why should I worry about what I
wear or don't wear around you?"

I was quickly learning that Jenny had no idea what "body shyness" and
"modesty" meant.

"I'm not complaining Jenny, this is just rather sudden, and, umm..."

"You mean you've never seen anyone nude before." she stated flatly.

"Umm, no, not really." I admitted, blushing.

"Then it's time you learned that nudity doesn't always imply sex.
Sometimes skin is just skin."

I nodded dumbly.

"So," she continued, "Come in here with me, or stay out, but I'm
freezing!" She held out her hand to me. I took it hesitantly, and she
started to pull me into the bathroom. I gave little resistance, my mind
still not quite fitting around the attitudes of this person who had just
stumbled into my life.

With the bathroom door closed, we were immersed in a steam bath. As I
soon learned, Jenny liked her showers scaldingly hot. She walked over to
the shower and climbed back in, stepping under the shower nozzle. The
water slicked back her hair, and she turned to look at me.

"So are you going to come in or are you just going to watch?" she asked.

"Uh, I'm not sure." I mumbled, trying to keep from blushing again. She
sighed and looked up at the ceiling as if thinking 'What am I going to do
with this guy?', then stepped out from the shower, and gave me a hug,
quickly soaking the clothes I wore.

"Now," she said firmly, "You either sit there in your wet chilly
clothes, or you come join me in the nice hot shower. I don't bite and I
won't laugh at you. So come on."

I stood there for a moment, then giving in to her looks and prodding,
undressed slowly and shyly.

As she promised, she didn't laugh, though she did give me an appraising
look up and down. Apparently I met her standards since she smiled and
pulled me into the shower with her. I quickly learned that having someone
to wash your back in the shower was a pleasant experience, and ask she
said, nudity didn't always mean sex. Even if the person in the shower is
the most beautiful person you've ever seen.

A few minutes later we stepped out of the shower. We dried each other
off, and I tossed the towels in the customary corner of the bathroom to be
picked up whenever I got around to doing a load of laundry.

"I see I'm going to have to house train you." she said, eyeing the
sizable stack of mildew covered towels. I shrugged and walked out the door
and turning into my room and began to get dressed while she stood watching
me. It's amazing how quickly body shyness can disappear around the right

"Where are my clothes? I can't just walk around nude all day." she said

"Why not? I prefer my women to be nude and barefoot. Makes them easier
to manage." I said, fighting to keep a straight face while stepping into a
pair of jeans. I could almost hear her teeth grinding from across the
room. I guffawed as I turned and saw the expression on her face.

"That's twice I got you." I laughed. I stumbled as I tried to pull up
my pants and fell backwards onto the bed, still laughing.

Up until then she had just stood there glowering at me, but when I fell
over her face melted into a grin. She walked over and lay down beside me.

"You may be a clumsy sexist pig, but I still love you." She laughed and
kissed my cheek. She rested her head on her arm and looked at me. I gazed
back, aglow inside at her saying she loved me, memorizing every detail of
her face.

My eyes drifted into hers and stopped. We stared at each other,
enjoying the closeness and the quiet of the moment. Then my stomach
rumbled, breaking the silence.

"I guess we'd better go get something to eat." she said, smirking and
looking at my stomach.

"And get your clothes." I reminded her.

"Yes. I have to admit that this is pretty comfortable, but damn cold."
She rolled onto her back and stretched, then relaxed with her hands resting
above her head. Once again I shook my head at her brazenness.

"How do I look?" she asked with a lazy smile.

"Just wait a second while I roll my tongue back in."

She laughed and rolled off the bed.

I was amazed at her change in attitude, though later I realized that she
was pushing my limits, trying to figure out when or if I'd crack and call
her names or hate her for her attitudes. I don't think she was doing it
consciously, and despite her maturity for her age, she was still scared of
rejection, the same as I was. She'd been hurt badly in the past by people
who didn't understand her, and she was scared to death I'd end up the same
way. But at the time, I didn't know her well to understand this, so I just
shook my head and kept going.

"Let me get my pants up." I stood up and almost fell over again. Jenny
giggled. Eventually I managed to get my pants on, and we headed for the

End Chapter Three

Chapter Four ------------

A few minutes later I was thumbing through a cookbook looking for the
pancakes recipe. Jenny was fishing through the fridge searching for eggs.

"You know that the expiration date on your milk was two months ago?"

"Really?" I asked, "I don't drink much milk. Does it smell sour?" She
grimaced at me, and I grinned. "Don't worry, I don't get much of a chance
to shop around here, so I buy in bulk. There's a freezer out in the garage
that I keep it in until I need it. I took that gallon out a few days ago."
I dumped the needed ingredients into a bowl and turned on the mixer, then
leaned against the counter.

"Ah. So when do you go shopping?" She grabbed a carton of eggs from
where it had been hiding behind an empty jar of pickles.

"Every couple of months. I eat a lot of canned stuff. Meat and other
stuff that goes bad goes in the freezer."

"So how old are these eggs?" she asked as she opened the carton.

"Not too old. A farmer down the road a ways drops off a dozen or so
every couple of weeks."

"Nice setup you got here. No wonder you don't see many people. You
never get out."

"Just the way I like it. The wonders of mail order. Toss me a couple
of those eggs." She did so and I cracked them into the mixing bowl. Then
she broke a couple more into a frying pan and turned on the burner. That
done, she turned and looked at me.

"So, you've been pretty much alone out here for almost ten years. You
have no friends. You don't have any family you care for. How can you love
me? I'm surprised you know what love is."

"A person knows. At least I know. I've been loved before, just not for
a long time." I turned off the mixer and plugged in the waffle iron.

"Your father doesn't love you?" she asked.

"How can he love someone he hasn't seen for more than two days at a time
in eighteen years? Besides, I don't love him."

"What about your mother?" she asked gently. My hands gripped the
counter edge tightly and it became hard to talk.

"My mother... left... when I was ten. She couldn't take having him
around so rarely. She left one night when my father was away. I woke up
the next morning and she was gone." I managed to choke out. I couldn't
manage to admit the truth to myself, much less to her at that point.

"She just left you there, when you were ten?" she said, horrified.

"It didn't matter much to me. I had been taking care of myself since I
was eight, anyway. All she was interested in was her soap operas and talk
shows. My Dad found me a couple weeks later, sitting in the living room
reading a book." I stopped and sighed, releasing the counter. "It doesn't
matter. It's all in the past now."

She turned off the burner and hugged me. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's pain so old it's little more than an ache now."

"It's still there, though." she murmured into my chest.

"Pain like that never goes away entirely. You just learn to live with
it." I let her go and turned to the waffle iron. "Let's get this finished,
I'm starving."

We sat down to breakfast a half hour later; it was more of a brunch than
anything else since it was well after 11am. The sun was shining through
open curtains on the window beside the table. The sun reflected off
Jenny's hair, making it shine in different patterns as her head moved in
rhythm to her bites.

"You know a lot about me Jenny, and I know next to nothing about you." I
asked, watching her eat.

"There's nothing much to say. I have a younger sister. My parents are
really religious, but I never cared much for it. I guess I saw my parents blindly following an old book and a myth and decided it wasn't for me.
They're pretty strict. I'm kinda the black sheep of the family, to tell
you the truth. I'm always off in a corner doing my own thing, with friends
my parents don't approve of because they aren't religious."

"I'm sure they'd be thrilled with me." I said wryly. "My grandparents
tried to get me to go to church with a them a few years back. Let's just
say that the other church members and I didn't get along to well. I ended
up taking a swing at one of them when they tried to force me to do
something I didn't want to do, and that was that."

"If I did something like that, my parents would disown me. With what
happened, I wish I had slugged a few." she grinned at me.

"So what did happen?" I asked, trying my best to ask casually. Her face
fell immediately and she set down her fork as if she was no longer hungry.

"I'm sorry. You don't have to answer that, I shouldn't have asked."

"No, no. I think you have a right to know, with all that has happened.
I just hope you understand. No one else has. But if anyone can
understand, it will have to be you." She leaned back in her chair and
looked at the ceiling, avoiding my eyes.

"I was staying the night over at a friends house last weekend. We were
ready for bed, and we were both laying in bed talking and watching the tv she has in her room. Well, we started talking about some boys at school,
and we started talking about kissing and such. My friend had kissed
someone before, I hadn't." she looked down at me and smiled, "Well, at
least until last night." she turned back to looking at the ceiling. "So I
was curious about it, and was worried about doing it right whenever it
happened, so she offered to show me how to do it. I thought she meant
she'd show me using a pillow or something, so I said sure. But she leaned
over and kissed me on the lips. I was shocked of course, but she's a
really good friend so I let her show me how. We were really getting into
it when one of her little brothers walked in without knocking. He stared
at us for a second, and then turned around and walked out without a word.
We panicked for a few minutes, but when her parents didn't come barging in
yelling and screaming, we figured it was OK and he'd not tell anyone.

"Then a few days later rumors about me and her being lesbians started
floating around school. We of course denied it, but rumors get around.
Then yesterday morning at school my mom called the school and demanded to
talk to me. So they called me up.

"When I got on the phone she started screaming at me..." She choked up
and couldn't go on, tears were dripping down her face. I got up and hugged

"There was nthing wrong with what you did Jenny, no matter what your
parents may think. I don't think what you did was wrong. It was perfectly
natural, something a lot of girls do. If anyone needs to be yelled at, it
should be your parents and the others for making you feel this way."

"You don't think I'm sick, or need help, or anything like that?" she
gasped through her tears.

"Just because a lot of people think something is wrong doesn't mean that
it is." I told her firmly. "Besides, if you're looking for proof that you
aren't a lesbian, remember last night, or this morning. You obviously
enjoyed kissing me, after all."

"Tell that to my parents." she sniffed.

"I doubt it would help. Your parents don't seem to trust you very much,
considering they took a rumor like that at face value."

"You wouldn't believe the names she called me. I didn't even think she
knew those words." she shivered.

"Hate or fear of someone or something different is a failing of our
species, especially in the overly religious and the uneducated. It brings
out the worst in people."

"So what am I going to do?"

"Stay here, I'm not going to throw you out. Wait for your parents to
cool down, if they do. I doubt there is a way to get through to them,
though. If they care more about you than their religion or moral beliefs,
they will accept you as you are. Or at least what they think you are. If
not you're better off without them, at least if they continue to be as
abusive as your mother has."

"But I can't stay here forever. Your Dad will come back eventually."

"Don't worry about my father. I can deal with him, I have before.
We'll work something out. I'm not turning you over to child protective
services, especially not in this town. You'd be tossed in a foster home
until you're eighteen, and I couldn't bear that."

She wrapped her arms around me, "One more thing I want to know." she
said, looking up at me.

"What's that?"

"How did I get lucky enough to end up with you?"

"I don't know. Not many guys are as intelligent, witty, or as handsome
as I am." I joked.

"Oh, and you're not self-absorbed or egotistical in the least." she
giggled, laying her head against my chest. I slowly started to stoke her

"I see you're feeling better." I said.

"A little. Just hold me a while longer."

It was the least I could do.

End Chapter Four

Chapter Five ------------

By the time we separated the food was long cold. Since neither of us
were hungry anymore, so we cleaned up. When I started to dump the dishes
into the sink, she stopped me.

"There's a dishwasher there, why don't you use it?" she asked.

"Out of soap. Besides, if we need dishes we can just wash some of the
ones over there." I said, waving my hand in the direction of the molding
stack of dishes on the counter.

"You are a true bachelor." she said, wrinkling her nose at the smell of
rotting food emanating from the dishes.

"You look cute when you wrinkle your nose like that." I said, taking her
up in my arms and kissing her.

"No way, you're not getting out of it that easy." she smiled up at me.
"But I enjoyed your attempt." I let her go in defeat and began loading the

"From freedom to marriage in less than 24 hours." I groaned

"I wish I'd brought my whip." she said thoughtfully. "I guess I can
make do with a belt." she grinned at me.

"No thanks, I'm not into bondage. I don't mind water sports though." I
grinned back at her.

"Water sports? What are... Oh!" realization dawned on her. "Don't
even think about it." she warned. I just snickered.

"Don't worry Jenny. Your naiveté is one of your best features."

"Oh, and you aren't naive? You probably read all you know about sex in
your Dad's old Penthouse magazines or something."

"No fair peeking under my mattress." I said, scraping what looked like
semi-alive fried chicken off of a plate.

"You do have some?" she asked in surprise.

"Used to. I got bored with 'em." I said offhandedly. She nodded,
looking almost disappointed.

"Well, let's hurry up and finish those dishes." she said, turning back
to the task at hand.

"Why?" I groaned.

"Because if we don't that pile of dishes is going to spawn a new strain
of bacteria that will wipe out half the people in Oregon."

"Sounds good to me." I yawned.

"Oh, come on." she said, looking at me exasperatedly. "Then after this
I want to get all the dirty clothes and things and put them in the washer."

"Because I grew up in a clean house and this one is driving me nuts!"
she growled in frustration.

"Why didn't you just say so?" I said with a grin, reaching for more
dishes to be scraped clean of half-dried, half-rotted food.

"Men!" she sighed, plopping down on a chair and putting her face in her
hands. I pulled up a chair next to her.

"Listen Jenny, this is different for me. I've never had to worry about
anyone else. Be patient and put up with my quirks. I'll try to adjust,
but I won't put up with someone controlling my life."

"I'm not! I'm just trying to... straighten you out a little."

"Ok, ok. I admit that I'm not the cleanest person in the world. I'll
try to change that. Besides, I can't have you go nuts on me. If you did,
I'd have a lot more leftovers of my cooking again. I don't think I'd be
able to stand it." I grinned at her.

She snickered. "I don't want to put you through that torture again."

"Neither do I. Let's get the dishes, and I'll see if I can figure out a
way to get some soap for the damn dishwasher."

It took only a few minutes longer to load the dishwasher, and I quickly
figured out that I was low on more than just dishwasher detergent. I had
two people to feed now, and my supplies were already somewhat depleted
since my last shopping trip had been quite some time before.

"How about a shopping trip?" I asked as we loaded the last of the dishes
into the washer.

"Great. But how do we get there? Do you have a car?" she saw the look
on my face, then amended herself quickly, "Never mind that, do you even
have a license?"

"Who needs a license? I just borrow the neighbor's car every few months
to pick some things up. I think I can handle a twenty mile round trip on
back roads."

"This car has seat belts, right?" she asked nervously.

"Your confidence in me is reassuring."

"My confidence in you as a person is strong. My confidence in you as a
driver is a little limited."

"Don't worry, I rarely top a speed of 120." I grinned.

"I think I'll stay here." she said flatly, taking the sting out of the
statement with a smirk.

"Aw, come on. You can't wear those clothes forever. I don't mind you
running around nude, but I think other people would start to notice." I
winked at her.

She rolled her eyes at me, but I ignored her and went to call Mr.
Walker, the farmer a half mile down the road. We weren't the best of
friends, but we got along. His wife felt sorry for me and was always
dropping off things, a casserole, a pie, things like that. The eggs were
partly because of this, although I always paid her. They were willing to
loan me the car as long as I didn't wreck it and filled up the gas tank
before returning it.

After the customary greetings, he said it was fine for me to borrow the
car as he and his wife weren't planning to use it until that Sunday for
church. I thanked him and told Jenny I'd be back in fifteen minutes with
the car. I don't know what they would have thought if I had shown up with
her, but I didn't want to find out.

When I arrived at the Walker's house, I was greeted warmly as usual by
the elderly couple. I turned down a piece of pie, saying I had to get into
town and get everything I needed before sundown, as I didn't want to have
to drive in the dark. I hopped in the clunky old 1970's era Ford sedan and
drove back to pick up Jenny.

She walked out after I honked, looking unsure in her jeans and jacket.
She had pulled her hair back in a ponytail, making her look even younger
than she actually was. She opened the door and climbed in, moving an old candy wrapper from the passenger seat.

"Are you sure this thing will make it there and back?" she said, eyeing
the cracked windshield and 8-track stereo.

"Made it before. Of course, we can't go into town. If we're seen
together your parents will hear about it within hours, and I think it's a
little too soon to let them know where you are."

"So where are we going?"

"It's not much further to Sandfield. I go there when I don't feel like
being eyeballed by half the people in town." Jenny nodded and fastened her
seat belt, pulling it tight around her waist.

"I'm guessing this car doesn't have airbags?" she asked.

"Only when Mr. Walker gives Mayor Jackson a ride to church." I said,
pulling out of the driveway onto the main road.

She laughed. "If you think he's bad, you should see Judge Williams."

"I've never seen him. I only saw the Mayor last 4th of July during one
of his speeches. My Dad dragged me out for one of his 'I'm guilty for
being away so much' father and son outings."

We spent the rest of the thirty minute drive swapping family stories. I
had relatively few to tell, but she easily filled in the gap. I was almost
in tears by the time we crossed the Sandfield city limits after she told
one particular story about how her Grandmother had chewed out the Mayor in
the middle of a speech for using the word 'hell' in front of 'the
impressionable children'. We slipped into a comfortable silence as we
drove down the streets of downtown Sandfield. With over 100,000 people,
Sandfield was the largest city or town within a two hundred mile radius.
This also meant it was the only place within two hundred miles that you
could see one of the big chain retail stores. I pulled into the parking
lot of one of the larger shopping centers and quickly found a space to

"First up, getting you some new clothes." I said, opening the door.

"Are you sure? What about the money?" she asked worriedly.

"Don't worry. Joint bank account. I balance the checkbook as well. My
Dad keeps his credit cards and check book, I take care of the bills when
his paycheck arrives. Besides, I haven't used any of my allowance in the
last two months. I think I can afford it."

She still looked uncertain.

"Come on, I don't know of any better way to spend it. If you don't,
you'll end up naked, and I'll end up with a mattress stuffed with money.
Not that I don't mind you naked, but it'd be a little embarrassing for you
to go out in public." I grinned.

"Ok." she sighed resignedly, climbing out of the car. I walked over and
wrapped my arm around her shoulder.

"Come on, it'll be fun." I said, walking toward one of the clothing
stores. "Besides, I need new clothes too. We'll both suffer."

We spent the next few hours wandering the stores. Jenny picked out a
few pairs of jeans, blouses, and skirts. She's the only female I've ever
heard of that doesn't like looking through clothes. Of course, it might be
one of my misconceptions of the female side of our race. But I doubt it.

I went to look for some slacks for myself. (I hate jeans.) She was
leaning against one of the displays with her eyes closed, waiting for me
outside one of the dressing rooms.

"How are you doing?" I asked, concerned.

"I'm fine." she said, opening her eyes. "I was just thinking about
things. People. The future. The past."

"Few people seem to these days. I'm glad you're not one of them. Most
people seem content to watch the world pass by and never think about

"I've noticed. People just don't care anymore."

"I don't know if it's so much people not caring anymore. It's more
about people not seeing things for what they are. People see a sitcom on
television and think that's how life is, or should be. They forget that
life is more than some zany plot some writer thought up at two in the
morning. Simpler things like 'will I have my job tomorrow' or 'how am I
going to pay the next rent check' are foremost on most people's minds."

She sighed. "We're not like everyone else, are we?" she asked quietly,
staring blankly ahead at the lime green wall.

"No, we're not." I admitted.

"It's lonely."

"It is. Alone in a crowd. Watching people walk past, all with their
own friends and family."

"This is depressing."

I nodded, "Yeah, it is. I've got what I need, let's go get something to

Twenty minutes later we were sitting at a small diner in downtown
Sandfield. After ordering we relaxed for a moment, the smell of French
fries and car exhaust filling our noses.

"Boy am I tired." she said, stretching against the cracked vinyl seat of
the booth.

"Well, we've just been running around for the last three hours looking
for clothes. We still need to stop for the food supplies. Oh, and your
dishwasher soap." I smiled lazily, ignoring her playful kick to my shin.

Our food arrived and we dug hungrily into the greasy fries and greasier

"What's your idea of a perfect woman?" she asked, biting into her
burger. I almost choked on a gulp of my soda.

"Where'd that come from?" I started, my eyes watering from carbonation
going up my nose from my coke.

"I was just curious, that's all."

"Well..." I said, thinking. "She would be around five feet tall, a slim
athletic build, with long dark hair and soft white skin. She would have
deep brown eyes that I would loose myself in whenever I looked at her.
She'd be intelligent, and think about things few people think about. She
wouldn't be afraid to say what she thought about me or anyone else. And
when she would smile, I'd see no one else in the room but her."

I was treated to one of those smiles as she reached out across the table
and grabbed my hand. Her small fingers blended with mine.

"How can you bee so sweet?" she asked. I was about to reply when the
waitress coughed.

"Are you ready for your bill?" she asked gruffly, glaring at us. Our
hands quickly drew back to their proper sides of the table.

"Sure. I'm almost done. How about you?" I asked Jenny.

"I'm full." she said, looking nervously up at the waitress.

The waitress slapped down the check and walked away.

"We need to be more careful." I said, pulling out my checkbook.

"I wish we didn't have to be." she said.

"So do I. Come on, let's go. I want to get back before it gets too

We drove home in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. We unloaded
our purchases and I went to drop off the car. I jogged back to the house.
I had never enjoyed being in the woods after dark, even on the road. Too
many horror novels I suppose.

I was greeted with a blast of warm air as I walked in. Jenny had
already built up the fire. From sounds coming from the kitchen, was now
putting away the groceries we had picked up on our way out of Sandfield.

"How's it going?" I asked as I walked into the kitchen.

"About as well as it can be, especially since I don't know where
anything goes."

"Nothing goes in any particular place. Shove the non-perishables into
the cupboards. I'll work on putting the meat into the freezer." Pulling
out one of the ten pound shrink wrapped slabs of hamburger, I went to work
spitting it into meal sized chunks. A few minutes later I washed my hands
and turned to watch Jenny as she stacked cans of tuna into one of the
cupboards. I watched her stretch to reach the top shelf, her T-shirt
riding up just enough for me to see an inch or so of her midriff, her jeans
pulling tighter against her firm little behind. I crept up behind her and
wrapped my arms around her waist. She lowered the can onto the counter and
turned to face me.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked, putting a hand on my chest.
"Kissing you." I said, and pressed my lips against hers. We kissed
hotly for a few seconds then broke for air.

"You've been in the candy bars we bought." she said, eyes twinkling.

"Uh oh, she's caught me with my hand in the cookie jar again."

"I'm not complaining, I just want another taste."

"Oh certainly, madam. Only the finest for you." I kissed her again.

"We'd better stop before we end up rolling around on the floor of the
kitchen. I don't recommend it, I haven't swept in several years. Let's
get this done. Then we can sit in front of the fire and...enjoy

"Just make sure you eat more candy before then." she smiled impishly at


The fire licked at the logs as Jenny and I cuddled on the couch,
enjoying the warmth. She relaxed against me while I traced the length of
her arm idly, feeling the fine hairs brush against my fingertips.

"I don't think I've ever felt this relaxed around someone." Jenny said,
bringing her arms up and wrapping them around mine.

"I've never been around anyone long enough to find out what it's like to
be comfortable around someone." I chuckled. We slipped into silence for a
few moments.

"I feel like some hot chocolate, how about you?" I asked.

"Sounds good to me."

I walked from the kitchen a few minutes later to find her standing in
front of the big bay window. The snow covered the trees in a coat of snow,
causing their branches to droop towards the ground. It was a cold night,
no clouds in sight with a partial moon shining brightly.

"Beautiful how the moonlight reflects off the snow like that, isn't it?"
Jenny said absently as I walked up behind her. Wrapping my arms around her
waist, I handed her a mug. She wrapped her fingers around the warm

I sat mine on the sill and hugged her against me. Kissing her on the
top her head, I breathed deep the musky scent of her hair. I watched her
in the reflection of the firelight off the plate glass window. She had a
look in her eyes, far off and haunted.

"What are you thinking about?" I asked her softly.

"Us. How long this will last. I know I'll have to talk to them
eventually. I just don't want this to end, and it scares me."

"Everyone has something to fear. Yours is just a little more real than

"Why is mine more real than someone else's? Do I deserve this? Not
being able to go home, having to be afraid of my parents for what they
might do or say." A spark of anger and defiance flared into her eyes, then
was dampened again by fear.

"I don't know. Sometimes I wish I believed in god, so that I could deal
off things that happen as 'gods will'. But I don't. So I don't have the
answers, as much as I wish I did."

She sighed heavily and turned away from the window. I turned her
towards me. I knelt so I could look into her eyes without her looking up
at me.

"Jenny, I have come to know you as well as a person can know another in
two short days. You are more than just a pretty face, as pretty as your
face may be." I took a deep breath and went on. "I've come to appreciate
you for your intelligence and insight into things I never knew anyone
besides myself ever thought about. I've never met anyone like you, and I
love you very, very much." I kissed her gently on the lips, and she hugged

"Thank you." she whispered. I felt a tear jump from her face to my
neck, running down and soaking into the cotton of my shirt.

I held her until she drooped limply in my arms. I picked her up and lay
her on the couch. She whimpered as I lay down next to her, then rolled
over and snuggled herself up against me. Reaching down, I grabbed the worn
quilt draped over the couch arm. Her hair fluttered in the gust of air,
the ends flipping up to tickle me on the nose as I drew it over us. Her
warmth soaked through my clothing, washing over me. As I slipped slowly
into sleep, I wondered how I was ever going to handle sleeping alone again.
End Chapter Five

Chapter Six -----------

The next morning I woke up to the sound of a door slamming. I figured
Jenny had gotten up early, and groggily sank back into the couch, figuring
on getting a few more minutes sleep. Then a few things registered in my
mind. One, the fire was out. Two, there was a warm, cuddly something
laying next to me, and I didn't have a cat.

"What the hell is going on here!" a voice demanded.

I recognized that voice.

"Dad!" I said in shock and fairly leapt from the couch, turning to where
he stood in the doorway of the kitchen. His face was glowing bright red,
and I swore that I could see wisps of smoke coming out his ears.

"I leave for a few days, and I come home to find you, on the couch, with
a girl! Is this what you do every time I'm gone? Answer me!"

"Dad, I..."

"Shut up! I want this whore out of this house RIGHT NOW!" He roared.

A cool wash of rage flowed over me. My hands trembled with the
intensity of it, balling into tight fists. Years of anger and frustration
overcame me, building up behind that wall of rage. Jenny was still lying
on the couch, looking too afraid to move, much less speak.

My father waited for me to make a move. When I didn't, he took a step
toward Jenny as if to throw her out himself. I stepped in front of him.

"Don't you dare touch her." I said icily.

"If you're not going to throw this bitch out, I will!" He pushed me out
of the way and went for Jenny again.

The wall snapped.

The anger and frustration vented through my fists, as I launched a punch
into my father's face. He stumbled backwards and took a feeble swing at
me. I tried to duck it, but his fist still skimmed the side of my face. I
landed a punch in his stomach, causing him to double up and fall against
the wall. He slid into a sitting position, a dazed look in his eyes and
blood trickling from his nose. I stood over him panting, fists still
clenched at my sides. Jenny stood behind us, looking from my father to me,
eyes wide, wondering what would happen next.

"Jenny, go grab a washcloth from the kitchen, and soak it in cold
water." I panted, trying to keep my voice from wavering. She nodded ran
for the kitchen. I knelt in front of where my Dad lay, dripping blood on
the floor.

"Are you ok?" I asked, regaining my composure. He nodded, looking at me

"Good, because if I ever hear you so much as say a bad word about her, I
will do it again, only next time you won't be conscious. If you ever hurt her in any way, I will kill you in the most painful way I know how." I said
coldly, my eyes rock hard, finishing just as Jenny walked back in. I took
the washcloth from her and tossed it to him.

"Clean yourself up. Jenny and I are going upstairs. I'll come back
down in a few hours, when we've both had time to cool off." He didn't
respond. "Let's go." I told Jenny, and wrapped an arm around her.

Once we were in my room with the door securely locked, I slumped against
a wall and closed my eyes. My fists ached as if I had just punched them
through a plate glass window.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I said, shaking all over as the adrenaline wore off.

"You don't look like it." She stepped toward me and ran her hands over
my face, stopping at my left cheek. "I don't think you felt it, but he
managed to hit you once before he fell." She stood on her toes and kissed
the developing bruise gently. "All better?" she asked with a small smile.
I chuckled and hugged her against me. I couldn't tell who was shaking
more, her or me.

"I'm sorry that that happened. I didn't expect him home so soon. He
didn't catch us in the best position, either."

"No, he didn't." she paused. "I should thank you, really. He might
have hurt me, even if only in anger."

"Blind rage can come in handy sometimes."

"Hmm. Why am I so tired? I just barely got up."

I glanced at the clock on the dresser. "Well, it is only six thirty in
the morning."

"That could be it. We seem to have gotten into the habit of sleeping in
until ten or eleven."

"Well, let's get a few more hours sleep. He's probably down there in
his den getting drunk as we speak. He'll be passed out within an hour and
sleep longer than we will."

She agreed, and we tumbled into bed.


I opened my eyes slowly, feeling warm breath blowing over my face,
rustling my hair. Jenny was lying a few inches away, and smiled at me as I
opened my eyes. She didn't say anything, but pursed her lips and playfully
blew air across my face as my eyes focused on hers.

Lifting a hand, she stroked my cheek with her fingertips, then let it
drift slowly down to my neck, across my shoulder and down my side. Her
gentle touch sent sparks skittering across my skin. Halting at my thigh,
she reversed direction and traced the lines of my back. All this time she
continued to stare into my eyes, her slight smile staying on her lips.
Suddenly she stopped and looked at me expectantly.

Taking her cue, I touched her cheek, then let my my fingers drop,
tracing jaw line, down across her neck and shoulder, finally ending up with
my palm gliding over her waist. From there on, it was a free for all. We
caressed, tickled and massaged, our breathing becoming deeper. The
coldness of the room seemed to disappear the more we touched one another.
Finally we kissed one another deeply, holding our lips together until lack
of oxygen made us break apart, only to kiss again once we caught our

Our arms wrapped around one another; the kisses, the caresses, the
loving sighs all faded into a dreamlike blur. A minute became ten, ten
minutes became half an hour, half an hour became two.

Jenny and I made love for the first time that morning. Perhaps the
tension of the situation we'd been placed in had pushed us into it; perhaps
it was the intense need for one another stemming from being alone in a
world that didn't accept either of us for what we were.

I don't know, I didn't want to analyze it then, nor do I now. I do know
that neither of us regretted the spur of the moment decision, knowing that
both of us had been ready or neither of us would have let the other go
through with it. Even in the beginning of it all I knew Jenny would never
intentionally do something to hurt me, and I know she trusted me in the
same way.

When it was all over, we lay together under the warm comforter, wrapped
up in one another's arms and legs, caressing each other in the way only
lovers can. My face was nuzzled into the nape of her neck, enjoying her
shivers every time I nibbled at the sensitive skin with my lips, inhaling
the shampoo-clean smell of her fine hair. My hands stroked up and down her
smooth stomach, doing my best not to tickle, though I did let my finger
wiggle into her bellybutton from time to time, just to enjoy making her
giggle and squirm.

The warm, comforting glow of holding someone you love unconditionally
has caused many a poet and songwriter to write countless words on the
subject. Anyone who has felt that sensation firsthand knows that none of
those words could ever come close to properly describing the sensations of
safety, comfort, and belonging that simple skin contact causes between two
people who truly love one another.

"How are you doing?" I asked after several minutes of this, lifting
myself up onto an elbow and stroking her hair.

"So... intense." she murmured, twisting around to face me, making sure
not to break skin contact.

"You liked it?" I grinned.

"What do you think?" she asked, sounding amused. Shifting upward, she
kissed me and settled back, nestling her head against my chest.

"You tired me out." I teased.

She smiled. "Well, you tired me out too."

I smiled back, then glanced at the clock on the wall opposite the bed.
"By now my Dad will be nursing a hangover and wondering where we are."

"Then we'd better get up."

"You first."

She groaned and separated from me, sitting up then tumbling limply onto
the bed.

"I think I'm still a little trembly." she giggled.

"Better than me. I can hardly move." I glanced at her, then looked down
at myself. "One thing is for sure, we both need a shower."

Stretching in a way that would make a cat jealous, Jenny agreed.

Groaning, I got up and stumbled heavily across the room to where my robe
hung on the wall on a peg. I pulled it on as Jenny stretched and climbed
slowly out of bed I grabbed my father's borrowed robe and wrapped it around
her. She squealed as I playfully picked her up. "What are you doing?" she

"Taking you to the shower."

"That's sweet, but I can walk."

"Ah, but it's so much more fun to carry you." I grinned as I managed to
open the door, despite having to fumble with the lock. The tub in the
bathroom thankfully doubled as a shower. I didn't really want to risk
running into my Dad if he had decided to use his room to pass out in.

Jenny took off the robe and waited patiently as I got the hot water
running, then climbed in with me.

By the time we left the bathroom Jenny and I were wide awake, but not
looking forward to dealing with my father any more than before. We dressed
when we got back to my room, her putting on a light cotton blouse and a
knee length skirt that she had bought the day before. When she was ready
she walked over and hugged me tightly.

"Ready to go and see if my Dad is any more cooperative?" I asked.

She nodded, giving me one last squeeze before letting go. "Let's go."
she said quietly.

We didn't say anything as we walked out of my room and down the stairs.
The smell of coffee reached my nose. My father was sitting at the kitchen
table, a newspaper spread out in front of him. He looked up as we walked
in eyes flicking from me to Jenny, and back again. His eyes were slightly
bloodshot and he had the woebegone look of a man who was definitely nursing
a hangover.

"Morning." he said, wincing at the volume of his own voice.

"Morning." I answered, not sure what to say. Jenny stood slightly
behind me and didn't say anything.

"There's coffee in the pot if you like." he said uneasily. I nodded,
and walked toward the counter. I pulled a mug from the cupboard and poured
a cup for myself. I didn't usually drink coffee, but I did so in the
interests of diplomacy. Jenny took a mug and went about making herself a
hot chocolate. A few minutes later we were all sitting uncomfortably at
the table, keeping as much distance as possible while trying not to seem
hostile. Unable to keep up the tense silence, my Dad spoke first.

"I'm not sure what's going on here, but I do know I over reacted this
morning. I said some things I shouldn't have. Especially to you." he
said, looking at Jenny. She continued to stare down at her mug.

"I shouldn't have hit you like I did. You made a move towards her that
I could have dealt with a bit better." I admitted. "I care a lot for
Jenny. You weren't the only one who over reacted this morning." I looked up
at him. "But I meant every word I said."

He nodded thoughtfully. "I can tell you care for her. I have the
bruises to prove it." He grinned wryly. "You're not the little kid I left
here all those years ago, are you?"

"No, I'm not." I affirmed.

"Fine. I'll abide by what you said. And you, Jenny; you're welcome to
stay as long as you need to."

"Thank you." she replied softly. My father smiled briefly at her and
stood up, the chair legs scraping against the linoleum floor.

"I need to get some work done, so if you'll excuse me." He walked to the
kitchen door and paused. "Alex, can I see you for a minute in the den?"

I nodded and got up. Jenny looked at me questioningly. I gave her a
reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, and followed my Dad into the den. A
half empty bottle of scotch sat on the heavy, old fashioned oak desk.
After sitting down in his chair, he poured himself a glass, then looked at

"Her first name is Jenny, I've figured that out. What's her last name?
How do you know her? Why is she here?" He shot off the questions in rapid
succession. I took a moment to think my answers through. He waited
patiently, nursing the glass of scotch. He was always patient -- when it
suited his needs.

"Her last name isn't important. I met her on the bus to school, and
she's here because she has no place else to go."

"What about her parents?"

"Her parents... aren't to fond of her at the moment."


"Why doesn't matter. She's here."

"It matters to me. A runaway? She steal something from her parents?"
He paused for a moment, then said, almost fearfully, "Or is she pregnant?"

I stared at him in shock. My teeth grated. I was having a hard time
trying to keep from hitting him again. "Pregnant? Dad, what do you

"I don't think, I know." he broke in. "It was a little hard not to
know, considering the sounds that were coming from your bedroom just an
hour or so ago."

"What, were you spying on us?" I said angrily.

"Spying? Only if you consider not having earplugs in spying." he said

I glowered at the floor, staring at a knot in the hardwood floor. "It's
none of your business what goes on between us." I said stubbornly.

"Alex, do you know you could go to jail for what you two are doing?
Just looking at her I can tell she's no where near your age!" "Yes, I know.
We know. I think it's idiotic that two people that care for each other
like we do can't be together, whatever their age. But she's not going to
tell anyone." I looked up sharply at him. "Are you?"

"You haven't answered my question yet. Is she pregnant?"

"No." I sighed. "This morning was the first..." I trailed off. "Well,
that's none of your business either."

"Then why is she here?"

"I still say that's no concern of yours. I'd be betraying her trust if
I told you. And frankly, I don't think you'd understand.

"But she didn't steal anything, and she isn't a runaway, she was pretty
much kicked out. For the time being at least. I couldn't just leave her
to live on the streets. We've only really gotten to know each other in the
last couple of days." I took a deep breath. "I love her, Dad. She feels
the same way. Otherwise, what happened this morning never would have

He look surprised, then his expression hardened more, if possible. "How
do you know you love her? As far as I know, you've never even gone out on
a date with another girl. You sure don't have the base of experience you
need to be able to know."

I sighed, thinking to myself that perhaps I would have had some part of
that base if he had actually been home more than he was. Or at least
showed that he gave a damn every once in a while. I fought back the
bitterness I'd thought I'd gotten over years before, and didn't voice my
thoughts. Instead, I turned toward the wall, staring, thinking. Thoughts
blurred in my head. My eyes focused on a picture hanging on the wall. It
was an old picture of my family, before it fell apart so many years before.
I remembered the occasion clearly; it had been taken during one of the few
times when my father was home and my mother was in a good enough mood to
move from the couch. We had gone fishing on one of the local lakes.
Slowly those blurry memories came into focus. Memories of happiness and
belonging rolled across the surface of my mind, then faded as it quivered
and sank below the surface again. 'So brief are moments of happiness in
this life.' I thought to myself.

Bracing myself, I turned toward him again, where he had again been
patiently waiting, looking at me and swirling his scotch around his glass,
but thankfully not drinking any more of it.

"There have been few times in my life where I have been truly happy.
One or two of them even involved you, or Mother. I loved you once, and I
loved Mom. Loved you, despite the fact that you were home no more then
three or four weeks a year; despite that mom saw me as little more than a
person to change the channel on the tv for her when the batteries in the
remote went dead. Now I've realized over the last few years that I don't
love either of you anymore.

"I can't remember a single time in my life when I was more happy than
I've been these last few days with Jenny. When I look into her eyes, I see
someone who loves me, not for what I look like, or who I seem to be on the
outside. She loves me for who I am, not for what she wishes I was.

"When I look at you, when I look into your eyes, I see nothing more than
a flicker, a flicker of what once was. Something that I don't think can
ever be again." I turned and strode toward the door. He didn't stop me,
seemingly frozen in space, unable to move or speak.

As I slid the door closed, I felt the emotional chasm between us widen.
Then the door thumped against the doorjamb, signaling of a final parting
between two people. A parting long overdue.

End Chapter Six

Chapter Seven -------------

I walked slowly back to the kitchen where Jenny was still sitting,
staring out the small window above the kitchen sink. Outside it was
lightly snowing, the flakes falling from dark gray overcast skies.

'Peaceful outside, tormented within.' I thought to myself.

Jenny looked at me as I plopped tiredly into the chair next to her.
"What did you talk about?" she asked.

"Me. You. He asked why you couldn't go home." I took a deep breath.
"He asked me if you were pregnant. He knows about us, Jenny. Seems we
weren't as careful as we should have been this morning." She looked
panicked. "Don't worry. I don't think he's going to tell anyone." I
reassured her. "At least I hope not. It depends on how he deals with the
last few words I said."

"You told him how you felt about him? What happened after that?" she
asked, wide eyed.

"He didn't say anything. He just sat there, looking stunned."

"I'm sorry I caused all these problems for you." she said sadly,
swirling the lukewarm hot chocolate around the mug, watching the milky
froth swirl around the rim.

"It wasn't you. All this has been a long time building up. I'm a
little relieved that it's over."

"What's this 'pregnant' business?" she asked.

I snorted. "It was the only way he could figure out why I would let you
stay here. I told you he doesn't know me very well."

"Obviously not. He doesn't know how sweet you are." she said with a
fond smile.

"Yeah, well I don't let it get out much. Might ruin my reputation." I
grinned weakly.

Jenny got up and slid onto my lap, wrapping her arms around my neck,
then kissed me softly on the lips. "Wouldn't want that to happen. Some
other pretty girl might come along and steal you from me."

I hugged her then kissed her back. "To late for anyone else, my heart
is already snagged by a dark haired girl who's just a little too smart for
her own good."

She smiled and lay her head on my shoulder, her warm breath tickling the
fine hairs on my neck. I heard the door to the den slide open, and Jenny
looked up at me with a questioning look. I held finger to my lips. She
relaxed, eyes falling to half mast, then closed. Footsteps paused outside
the door, and I could feel my father's gaze roll over us. I thought I
heard a faint sigh, and then the sound of heavy feet on the creaky stairs.
A few seconds later I heard the door to his bedroom close.

"I think that's a good sign." I said. Jenny didn't answer, but
tightened her grip on me. I felt as if I was a balloon, held to the ground
only by a thin string tied around a little girl's wrist. The wind was
rising, and god help me if that string broke, or worse, if she let go. The
last thread to my family had been broken. No matter how much she needed
me, I needed her more; if anything, just to keep my sanity.


The next few days were awkward between Jenny, my Father, and myself. He
said little to either of us but was always very polite, especially to
Jenny. He left two days after the initial confrontation, off on another
business trip, or so he said. I thought it was more likely that he
couldn't take the tension anymore, and decided to move on to greener
pastures. I figured it was just as well.

We returned to school the next day. We were afraid that if we stayed
out any longer that the principal would start asking uncomfortable
questions. I wrote Jenny a note excusing her absences, forging her
father's signature. I didn't have to worry about myself. Most of the
staff knew about my living arrangements, so I was left alone on the few
occasions I was absent. It helped that I was considered rather strange as

Jenny told me that I could have a very intense, impassive expression on
my face when dealing with people I didn't like very well; I suspect that
this was the expression I had when dealing with the administration of the
school. Either way, I nurtured this freedom and tried to avoid skipping
school, just in case someday I had a reason to stay home without being
sick. I was sure I wouldn't be questioned.

Jenny and I boarded the bus together, much to the amazement of Jenny's
little sister. Her eyes went wide as saucers as she saw me climb the steps
into the school bus, followed closely by Jenny.

Jenny sat down beside her sister Amanda, who immediately began talking a
mile a minute. I took my usual spot and stared out the window, trying to
ignore the few whispers spreading through the moist, overheated interior of
the bus. A few minutes later Jenny left her sister's seat and moved over
to mine, bringing a fresh round of whispers.

She had a blank look on her face, obviously trying to keep her emotions
in check. Leaning over, she turned and whispered in my ear. "She said
that my parents didn't seem to care that I was gone. When she asked them
where I was, they ignored her. She said they act as if I never existed."

I glanced up at her little sister, who was staring at me, eyes still
wide. Figuring that I had best be on good terms with Jenny's little
sister, I smiled and winked at her. I got the expected reaction; she
blushed and turned away from me.

"Well, at least they didn't call the police and report you missing. If
they had, it wouldn't be long before they got around to picking you and
most likely me up after the word gets around that we're back in school.
How much did you tell her?"

"Just that I was staying with a friend."

"Do you think she's guessed who that 'friend' is yet?"

"She's not dumb, of course she's guessed. She won't tell my parents though, even if they would listen. I have a little dirt on her. She'd
rather keep quiet and let me be the only one in trouble."

I chuckled. "Then everything is fine for right now?"

"I guess so." She grimaced. "But I'm not sure about the future."

"We'll worry about the future when it gets closer."

She nodded in agreement, and we sat back for the rest of the bus ride.

Our school was a combination of the seventh through twelfth grades, the
population of our small town not warranting a junior high. The school was
named after the town founder, Jesse P. Clark. No one ever called it that,
though. Most just referred to it simply as 'the high school'. It housed
no more than five hundred or so students. Having been built back in the
1930's it was, although clean, perpetually too hot or too cold, depending
of course on the weather at the time. There was no air conditioning, so in
the spring and summer months it was stifling. In the winter it
occasionally got cold enough to see your breath, but usually it was so hot
you felt close to heat exhaustion just sitting in class. Sports were
nearly nonexistent. The academics were almost as bad as the sports. Most
of the children were of the offspring of fifth generation loggers and would
most likely follow in the footsteps of their mothers and fathers, marrying
out of high school and having the children that would make up the seventh
generation of loggers and their wives.

We walked into the old building together, drawing a few curious looks.
'More fodder for the school rumors.' I thought to myself.

Jenny followed me to my locker, then I followed her to hers. Before we
parted to go to our different homerooms, I glanced around quickly to make
sure the coast was clear. Seeing no one else nearby, I gave her a quick
peck on the lips. We smiled at each other, communicating our desire for
more than just a quick kiss, but we both knew that under the circumstances
it was impossible.

"See you at lunch?" I asked.

"Of course." she said, doing her best to sound cheery; it seemed forced.
I gave her one final hug and we jogged off for homeroom, both of us looking
wistfully over our shoulders until the other could no longer be seen.

That day of school was hell for both of us. The first hour was the
longest amount of time we had been apart since Thursday of the previous
week. My mind wandered constantly to her and how she was handling the
rumors. I was in all the 'gifted' classes, but gifted in this school just
meant you could read better than average, and the average was pretty bad.

The teachers didn't notice how distracted I was. I usually just stared
out the window, so that wasn't too surprising. They pretty much left me
alone, as they had learned was prudent over time. I was famous among the
teachers; I was adept at making them look stupid. As if it was that
difficult to do. The most recent science books in the building were from
1976. The history books were even worse; they had been published five
years before the Vietnam war.

It didn't matter much, the majority of the books were so battered you
were lucky if the page you needed hadn't fallen out years before. Most of
the teachers hadn't bothered to keep up on current events, either. Faces
tended to turn red when I started discussing the climate of Venus, or the
composition of a neutron star. Forget Darwin and the theory of evolution.
Creationism ruled supreme.

"If you believe that anyone but god almighty created this universe, you
may as well get outta my classroom right now, boy." as one 'science
teacher' had told me once. Genetics was referred to as "Those ungodly
experiments" and sex-ed was blasphemy reserved for the "big city" schools.

Consequently, I found that it was easier to stare out the window and do
nothing. That suited the teachers just fine. We had an unwritten
understanding: I gave them no trouble and they gave me an A, whether or not
I turned in any work or not. (Years later I would list myself among the
"home schooled". In effect I was, despite spending six hours a day in
classrooms for most of my childhood.)

When lunch period finally rolled around I grabbed my sack lunch from my
locker and headed for the cafeteria. I found Jenny sitting at a table near
the rear of the room, some distance from the main mass of kids. Sitting
beside her was another eighth grade girl. They were talking quietly
between themselves, but stopped as I pulled out a chair next to Jenny and
sat down, resisting the urge to kiss her. I could tell that she was
resisting the same urge. If we hadn't it would have caused quite a stir
among the student population and even more of a stir among the teachers in
charge of supervising lunch that day.

"Hi Jenny, how was class?" I asked.

"Fine, as far as school goes I guess. This my my friend, Kallie." she
answered, nodding toward the other girl at the table.

Kallie was of medium build, with white-blonde hair cut to shoulder
length. She was pretty, and would have been beautiful if it wasn't for her
sharp, slightly oversized nose and the cool, calculating look in her green
eyes. She was a sharp contrast to Jenny, with her dark walnut colored,
nearly waist length hair and eyes of equal color. Where Jenny was somewhat
short, slim and athletic, best described as petite, Kallie was tall, almost
six foot, with slightly overdeveloped breasts for her age and a pronounced
figure. Jenny was dressed in a pleated navy blue skirt that fell just
short of her knees and a forest green blouse. Kallie was dressed in worn
jeans and a flannel shirt, giving her a tomboyish look.

"Nice to meet you, Kallie." I said politely.

"So you're the guy Jenny's been sleeping with the last few days, eh?"
she said bluntly. Jenny and I both blushed in embarrassment.

"I'm guessing you told her most, if not all about us?" I stammered to

She nodded. "I trust her. She was the other person involved in the...
incident that brought up the rumors that started all of this."

I nodded. "If you can trust her, I can trust her." Leaning back in my
chair, I turned to Kallie. "So how did your parents deal with the rumor?"

"They haven't heard it yet. They're to busy with keeping my four
younger brothers in line."

I whistled. "No wonder you two got walked in on." Now it was her turn
to blush.

"It's hard to have any privacy when you're the oldest of five kids."

"I've never had a problem with privacy."

"I'll bet. That house all to yourself. You don't know how lucky you
are." Kallie said, looking at me enviously.

"I see Jenny has told you quite a bit about me. Nothing to embarrassing
I hope."

"Yup. I haven't been able to get a description of what you look like
naked, but now that I've seen you I can make a pretty good guess." she
said, looking me up and down appraisingly with a grin.

"You're very straight forward, aren't you?" I said, face flaming red again.

"You have to be to live in a three bedroom house with six other people."
she retorted. "Otherwise you'd never get anything done."

"Ah." I nodded, doing my best to look understanding, and turned to
Jenny. "So no troubles so far?"

"I missed you." she said, smiling longingly at me, scooting her chair
closer to mine.

"I missed you too." I reached out and took her hand, running my thumb
over the skin on the back of her hand.

"Sheesh, cool off you two before I hafta go get a bucket of ice water."
Kallie grinned. We just looked defiantly at her, and continued to hold
hands under the table.

"So when you going to go home?" Kallie asked Jenny curiously.

"I don't know. Alex says I can stay as long as I need too, and his Dad
agrees." She grimaced. "My parent's aren't exactly thrilled with me, and
once the word gets around that I've been staying with a guy who's four
years older than I am, it won't get any better."

Kallie turned to look at me speculatively. "You're *four years* older than she is? That would make you eighteen! You don't look a day over
sixteen to me."

"Want to see my ID?" I challenged.

"Maybe later. I love the deer in the headlights look people get when
they have their pictures taken for that kinda thing. Speaking of deer,
what're you going to do when her Dad finds out and starts after you with a

"I can handle myself." I said defensively. "If I were you, I'd worry
more about your parents finding out your part in these "lesbian" rumors."

"It wouldn't matter much to my parents one way or another. I would be
more worried if I were you. If anyone in this town found out an eighteen
year old guy was messing around with a fourteen year old girl, you'd be
lucky to make it to the county limits without having a few shotgun pellets
stinging your hide."

"Can you say it any louder? I don't think cooks in the kitchen heard
you." I said sarcastically. I knew I should have been controlling myself
better. After all, she was only afraid of losing what was most likely her
best and possibly only friend to me. It was no wonder she was a little
hostile. 'Any more hostile and she'd be pulling a gun on me.' I grumbled
to myself.

"Just settle down you two." Jenny cut in, glaring at both of us. "Now
both of you are important to me. I'd rather have you two friends than

Kallie and I looked guiltily at each other.

"Truce?" Kallie asked.

"Truce. Now we'd better eat before lunch period runs out. I'm

"Doesn't look like it to..." Kallie's voice died off as she was nailed
by a glare from Jenny. She dropped her eyes to her sandwich, and we ate
the rest of the meal in silence. When the bell rang, Kallie ran off for
fourth period, waving a quick goodbye. Jenny and I lagged behind, waiting
for the cafeteria to clear out enough for us to be alone.

"Sorry about Kallie. She's pretty... standoffish to other people."

"I can understand that. But she sure knows how to get under your skin,
doesn't she?"

"You should see her when she's at home."

"I don't think I want to." I grinned, slipping an arm around her as the
last of the students hurried out of the room. The cooks had already slid
down the stainless steel doors that separated the kitchen from the
cafeteria. "We'd better get going. A kiss before we go?"

"Always." She kissed me gently on the lips, then we parted slowly. I
waved to her as she jogged off, then went in the opposite direction to
suffer through history.


When school let out, I met Jenny out in front of the building. Kallie
had already boarded her bus, and as usual, our bus was five minutes late.

"How was your day?" I asked.

"Boring. One of these days Mr. Greene is going to figure out that the
demonstration of what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda gets a
little old after you've seen it twenty or thirty times."

I groaned in sympathy in remembrance of eighth grade chemistry as our
bus finally pulled up, and the semi-frozen children slowly climbed aboard.
The heater seemed to be on the fritz again, so Jenny cuddled up against me
for warmth. I didn't dare put my arm around her, we were drawing enough
stares as it was.

It was nearly dark when we arrived home, the days being short this time
of year. After starting the customary fire, I went into the kitchen.
Jenny took off her jacket and stood in front of the fire for a moment,
thawing out.

"Sit down for a while, do whatever homework you need to, or just relax.
I'm fixing dinner tonight." I called.

"Let me help. I'll just feel useless out here if I don't."

I heard her walking towards the kitchen. I quickly dropped what I was
doing and blocked her entry into the kitchen. "It's a surprise." I told
her. "Don't ruin it. Let me do this, eh?"

"Okay." she said suspiciously. "But I'm going to find out in a little
while, right?"

"Of course. It wouldn't be any fun to prepare a surprise and then never
surprise you, now would it?" I raised an eyebrow in my semi-famous 'Spock'

She laughed. "All right, I'll wait. It better be good, though."

"It will be." I kissed her on the forehead and pushed her back toward
the living room. I heard the springs on the couch squeak as she sat down,
and I returned to preparing my surprise.

End Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight -------------

Jenny was staring at the fire when I walked in an hour later, curled up
in a tight ball on the couch, legs tucked under her.

"You're finally ready?" she asked, peering at me from the couch.

"Yes. Just put this on." I gave her a towel I had folded to make a

"Why?" she asked curiously.

"Because if you don't, it won't be as much of a surprise. Come on,
humor me." I pleaded.

"Oh, fine." she sighed, sliding off the couch onto her feet. I helped
her put the blindfold on, tying it tightly enough so that she couldn't see
anything. Turning off all the lights, I led her into the dining room, then
took off the blindfold. She gasped.

"This is wonderful!" she exclaimed. I had laid out a dinner for two,
complete with candles and champagne glasses. "What's it all for?" she
asked, looking over the food spread across the table.

"Don't you remember our one week anniversary?"

She looked stunned. "Oh, you're so sweet, I'd forgotten!"

"No, the dessert is sweet." I joked. "I'm just a guy that has a little
less on my mind than you do."

"Still, thank you." She hugged me, reaching up and massaging the nape of
my neck in a way that she knew made me shiver every time.

I kissed her appreciatively and sat down across from her. "Now, for the
main dish." I announced, then lifted the lid of a large bowl in the center
of the table.

"Spaghetti! You even remembered that!" she cried.

"It's my cooking, but it should be edible. I talked Mrs. Walker into
making the French bread though, so that's edible for sure. The woman
nearly broke into tears when she finally pressured me into telling her I
wanted it for a special dinner with a girl. She wanted to come over and
help, but I told her I wanted to do it myself, but didn't think I could
manage the bread."

"It's wonderful. I can't believe you did all this!" she exclaimed.

I just smiled across the table at her. "It was worth it." I lifted my
champagne glass. "To us, and another week." We clinked glasses, and took a
sip. "Be careful with that, it's real champagne. I could drink a few
glasses before I got drunk, but for you it'll be quite a bit less,
considering your size and weight."

So we ate dinner, idle chatter about the day passing between us. Before
long the champagne started to get to both of us, and the glimmer of her
eyes in the flickering candlelight began to draw more and more of my
attention. Finally I stood up and walked over to her. "Now for the second
part of the evening." I announced.

"There's more?" she asked.

"Of course!" I took her hand and led her into the living room. "What
romantic evening would be complete without dancing?" I walked to the old stereo system in the corner and put on some soft music. Taking her into my
arms, I held her gently against me.

"Now, I don't know how to dance, so I apologize if I step on your toes
once in a while." I said with a smile.

Jenny laughed softly, and we began to sway gently to the music. She
moved closer to me, pressing close, resting her head on my chest. We said
nothing for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of being close to one
another, the music weaving on slowly in the background.

"Jenny, I have something for you."

"Really?" she raised her head off my chest and looked up at me. I
fumbled in my pocket, and finally found it, drawing the small gold locket
and chain from my pocket. It glimmered in the dim firelight. Jenny drew
in a sharp breath. "For me? But where did you get it?"

"It was my mother's." I fastened it around her neck for her as she
pulled her long hair out of the way. She fingered it, clicking it open to
reveal two empty picture sockets. "It was the only thing she left behind.
I found it on the kitchen table the morning after she left; she had taken
the picture of my father out of it. Her way of telling my father that it
was over, I suppose. I tried to give it to him when he came back, but he
told me to keep it, as a memory of my mother. I did. Now I want to give
it to you, and maybe put a little happiness into it. When we next go to
Sandville I'll have our pictures put into it."

"Thank you." she said tearfully, embracing me tightly. I hugged her

"Hey, I didn't mean to make you cry." I said, pushing her hair back over
her ear, then wiping a tear off her cheek.

"No, I'm sorry. It's just the nicest, most beautiful thing anyone's
ever given me."

"I love you, Jenny." I said seriously.

"I love you too. Always. I'll keep it forever. I'm just sorry that I
don't have anything to give you."

"You've given me more than you know. Someone to talk to, someone to
love. Someone I can depend on, and be depended on by. That's much more
valuable than any little trinket that I could ever give you." Having said
this, I kissed her. Her body molded itself to mine, in that perfect
embrace that all lovers seem to share. We settled onto the couch, and
spent the rest of the evening together in front of the fireplace, bathing
ourselves in the warmth of each other's company. Eventually we both
drifted off to sleep, the fire dying slowly in the hearth.

I woke up a few hours later, my back freezing. The fire had died to
dull coals, letting the cold air encroach on where we lay.

Jenny was cuddled up against me, shivering violently. Untangling myself
from her, I lifted her into my arms. She barely stirred as I cradled her
body against mine, her long hair tumbling over my arm, swishing back and
forth across my stomach as I stumbled my way up to our room.

'Funny.' I thought, 'I wonder when it became "our" room?' I decided that
it had become our room that first night, when I held her in my arms as she
fell asleep.

Lying her down gently on the bed, I watched as she lay there, like an
oversized doll, arms and legs limp. Kneeling on the bed, I kissed her
softly on the cheek. Pulling the blankets over us, I held her against me,
rubbing her skin where it had been exposed to the cold air of the living

Laying there, sharing body heat, I reminisced about what had happened in
the last seven days or so; a time span that seemed like a lifetime to me.
It was as if I had never lived before I met Jenny. Life before her seemed
infinitely distant in the past, and I found myself wanting to forget those
days of isolation and distrust.

'The here and now is all that matters,' I thought as Jenny squirmed
against me, unconsciously pressing her body tighter against my warmth in
her sleep. Still, as I fell asleep, I worried about what tomorrow and the
next day might bring.

I dreamt of the ghosts of people I had known in the past chasing me. My
mother, my father, my grandparents, and every bully, teacher, or other
adult who had ever threatened or hurt me. Off in the distance I could hear
Jenny screaming, crying out my name. As I ran in slow motion from my
pursuers the screams grew louder, until I could see Jenny off in the
distance. Two figures were standing over her; they laughed horribly, an
awful screeching, grating laugh, like wrenching metal or fingernails being
drawn across a blackboard. They pulled on her arms, legs, hair, anything
they could get their hands to grip, pulling her away from me. I tried to
scream for them to stop, to let her go, but no words escaped my mouth.

I looked around quickly for a weapon, anything to beat their thin,
stick-like arms and twisted claw hands from Jenny, but found nothing. As I
watched, they started to move away, dragging her with them. She kicked,
ripped, tore at the grip of her captors, screaming my name, begging me to
help her. I ran harder, my heart pounding in my throat. As I came within
an arms distance to them I leapt, grasping at anything that would hold her
to me, save her from the ghouls that were taking her from me. I felt cool
metal touch my palm, and grabbing it, pulled. For a moment it strained
against my hand, then with a jerk fell loosely into my palm.

As suddenly as they had appeared, they vanished, taking Jenny with them,
her screams fading into the distance as if she had fallen into a deep well.
Stopping, I fell to my knees, the sharp rocks that covered the
dust-scattered ground dug painfully into my knees.

Her final cry echoed in my mind, the desperate plea falling onto my
helpless ears. Looking down, I opened my hand. The gleam of gold
glittered in my palm in the dim light. A sob escaped my throat as I
realized it was her locket, the delicate chain broken, the final link
between us broken with it.


A hand shook me violently. The dreamscape faded to darkness, and I
opened my eyes. The dim gray light of early morning spilled in from the
bedroom window.

"Wake up, Alex, wake up!"

"Wha...?" The nightmare fading, but the image of the dream still
violently fresh in my mind. "Jenny!" I cried, sitting up and hugging her
tightly. "Oh god, I'd thought I'd lost you!" I sobbed, holding her in a
death grip, never wanting to let go. Her arms wriggled free of my grasp
and she hugged me back, reaching up to stroke my neck.

"Alex, it was just a nightmare, a bad dream. I'm not going anywhere."
she soothed.

I slowly relaxed under her soft words and touch, enough to finally lie
down again. I didn't let go, but she lay down with me. As my breathing
returned to normal she pulled herself up, propping herself up on one elbow
until she was looking directly down at my face. She brushed my hair off my
forehead then cradled my chin in her small hands, her slim fingers
massaging my temples. I closed my eyes again as the clenched muscles of my
arms relaxed around her. The small gold locket dangled from her neck, it's
small weight pressing into my breastbone, the chain intact. I let out a
deep shuddering sigh as I told myself that it was all just a dream, a
random firing of synapses during REM sleep. The logical side of me
believed it. The emotional side didn't.

I opened my eyes and looked into her concern filled eyes.

"Sorry." I mumbled.

"For what?"

"For waking you up."

She smiled, and leaned down and kissed me lightly. "Let's go back to
sleep. We don't have to get up for another two hours."

"All right." I said as she relaxed, laying her head on my chest and
stroking my stomach, a now familiar position for us. She closed her eyes,
and soon her hand slowed then stopped. Her breathing evened out into the
soothing rhythm of deep slumber, but I still couldn't fall asleep. The
image of the shadowed figures still hovered on the edge of my mind. But
soon the relaxing feeling of her soft body pressing warmly against mine
took it's toll, and I managed to fall into a fitful sleep.


I groaned when the alarm went off two hours later. I felt like I'd
hardly slept. I kissed Jenny good morning, and we climbed slowly out of
bed. My back popped as I stood upright and stretched. We stumbled toward
the shower, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes.

Half and hour later while at the breakfast table I grumbled about having
to get up so early. Jenny just smiled brightly and forced me to eat
another piece of toast. I harumphed in response, mumbling about how
annoying morning people are to the people who aren't.

The school day went by slowly, as it seemed to every day. I slept,
read, or stared out the window during classes. I lived for the evenings
and weekends, when I was able to get to know Jenny better.

I introduced her to classical music, and she introduced me to the
pleasures of conversation with another intelligent person. We would spend
many an evening sitting in our favorite spot in front of the fire, talking.
I think I said more words to her in the weeks we were together than I had
in my entire life up to that point.

Things that I had previously believed only I thought about popped up
frequently in our discussions of anything and everything. We found out
more about each others pasts, and what we wanted in the future.

We also discovered something that I've never seen anyone duplicate, even
in the closest of couples. We had virtually the same reading speeds.
Sometimes we'd just sit down, pop a Bach of Handel CD into the stereo, and
read a good book together. It was a little eerie finishing a page in a
book, only to have someone else turn the page at just the right moment.
Jenny would usually lay back against my chest, with either her or I holding
the book. The only time we would loose synch would be when one or the
other fell asleep, which seemed very easy to do with some of the books we

Kallie and I developed a tenuous friendship over time. We would most
certainly have never of been friends if it hadn't been for Jenny; we were
just too different. She was loud, brash, and would say most anything at
any time. I was quiet, reserved, and would only say something with careful
consideration, if at all. Jenny was middle of the road, quiet but straight
forward, but outgoing when in the mood. In other words, we both clicked
with her, but clashed with each other.

Jenny's parents didn't seem to be loosening up much, if at all.
According to Jenny's sister they still said nothing about her. I didn't
really want them to, we were both happy the way it was, despite the
constant hovering of our problems outside the protective wall of our

Rumors started getting around about Jenny and I, though. Getting dirty
looks from teachers and other students at school wasn't an uncommon
occurrence for me. I pointedly ignored them, as did Jenny. Someone had
apparently seen Jenny and I kissing in the hallway, and spread it around
school. Considering how much attention we paid to our surroundings when we
kissed, it wasn't really surprising that we'd been seen. At least the
rumor that had alienated Jenny from her family, and that had started the
whole affair between Jenny and I had been forgotten, except by Jenny's

The house was looking better than it had in years, thanks to Jenny's
insistence that I no longer leave dirty dishes to rot, or soiled clothing
to lay around on the floor until I felt like doing a load of laundry. We
shared the housework, each of us participating in making the meals and
cleaning up afterward. Having another person there that cared about you to
help made it almost enjoyable. Almost.

Then, when all was quiet, we'd cuddle up together under the blankets and
fall asleep in each other's arms. I had never been so utterly satisfied
with the way my life was going. I had someone outlet my thoughts to,
someone to share my interests, and most importantly, someone to love more
than anything for the first time in my life.

Then life changed on both of us, and our time together at that point in
out lives came to an end.

End Chapter Eight

Chapter 9 -------

One Saturday morning I awoke to someone rapping on the door. I stumbled
out of bed, only half awake as Jenny and I had been up late the night
before. We never got up much before noon on weekends; we preferred to stay
in bed, curling up together and chatting sleepily.

Pulling on my robe I stumbled down the stairs, wondering blearily who it
was. Jenny never stirred as I got out of bed. She could sleep through
almost anything, and I didn't have the heart to wake her.

I pulled open the door, shivering as the February wind cut through the
thin material. Standing at the door was a man and a woman. The man was
slightly shorter than myself, somewhat of a fine build. The woman was a
little over 5'4", her head even with the man's shoulders. Both wore heavy
winter coats and jeans. Both also looked a little uncertain.

"Can I help you?" I asked, holding the robe closed with one hand, the
door with the other. The man spoke first.

"Sorry to bother you, but we were told that our daughter, Jenny, might
be staying here. Is she?"

I paused, shocked for a moment. I had thought that we would have to go
to them, yet here they were, looking for her. I figured that if they were
willing to come out here to a stranger's house to find her, they would most
likely be willing to talk reasonably to Jenny and I.

"Yes, she is."

"Could we... speak to her?" the woman asked in a whisper-soft voice. I
made a decision.

"I don't know. That's up to her. Come in, and I'll go see if I can
wake her up." I held the door open for them to open. I motioned them
toward the couch and jogged up the stairs.

Jenny was still sleeping, her back to me. The thought that this might
be the last time I'd see her sleeping like this cross my mind, so I looked
upon her for a moment, memorizing the way she looked, long hair spread over
the pillow, her face relaxed, eyes closed. The covers had slipped down
when I had climbed out of bed revealing one pale shoulder, her slim arm
reaching under the quilt, the contour of her body showing through the heavy
comforter. For a moment I seriously considered turning around and telling
her parents that she didn't want to talk to them. But I told myself that
it was selfish to think that way. I knew what it was like to be alienated
from my parents and I loved her too much to not give her the choice of
making up with them.

Resigning myself, I walked over and sat on the bed. I gently shook her
bare shoulder, memorizing the feel of her skin as my fingers trailed over
the smooth surface.

Jenny turned over and smiled at me sleepily. "Good morning." The smile
faded as she saw the look on my face. "What's wrong?" She sat up on one
elbow, causing the comforter to slide down to her hip. I looked at her
longingly, wishing for more time together.

"Your parents are downstairs in the living room. They want to talk to
you. It's up to you, if you want to talk to them, do. If not, I'll show
them the door."

Shock registered on her face. "They came here?" She fell limply back on
the bed. Thinking quickly, she made her decision.

"No, I'll talk to them. We always knew that I would have to face them
eventually. I guess now is the time." She slowly got out of bed. "I'd
better get dressed."

"Me too." I replied.

"I don't know if I want you to go down there. It's between me and my
parents. You don't have to get involved."

"I already am. I told you in the beginning that I'd be there for you,
and that includes now." I said firmly.

She nodded and smiled at me gratefully. "I hoped you'd say that."

We dressed quickly and walked into the living room a few minutes later.
Jenny's parents were sitting patiently on the couch. When they heard us
come down the stairs they stood up and turned toward us.

"Hello Jenny." her mother said.

"Hello, Mom, Dad. What are you doing here?"

Jenny's mother spoke us. "We heard that you were staying here, and were
wondering when you were going to come home."

"Come home? You made it pretty clear that I wasn't wanted when you
called me at school a month ago."

"Your mother heard some rumors that we should have known better than to
believe." Jenny father said. "Then we heard that you were staying here,
and that you were... close to this young man over here." He nodded in my
direction. "We finally figured out that the rumors were just rumors. We
want you to come home, and your mother is sorry for what she said over the
phone." Jenny's mother bowed her head guiltily.

"So will you come home?" her mother said.

Jenny looked uncertain. "Let me talk to Alex in private for a minute."
Her parents nodded, and Jenny took my hand, leading me into the kitchen.
"What do you think?" Jenny asked anxiously.

"I don't trust them. But the main question is, do you want to go with
them? Do you trust them? You would be the one living there, not me. But
don't go because you think you're a burden on me. You aren't, and I meant
it when you could stay as long as you liked."

"But what about when you go to college? What then? You'll be
struggling for money, even without an extra mouth to feed."

"We'll work something out." I said stubbornly.

"Alex, I'd love to stay, but I can't. I've over stayed my welcome as it
is. Your Dad still isn't thrilled with me."

I sighed. "But I'm afraid that they're going to not let me see you, or
even hurt you."

Jenny stepped closer to me, reaching up and caressing my cheek. "They
won't hurt me. And I'll see you no matter what, they can't keep us
separated all the time."

"Are you sure?" I said, unconvinced.

"Yes, I'm sure."

"I guess I'm just afraid that I'm going to lose you." I sighed.

"You aren't going to lose me. I love you Alex, and nothing is going to
change that." She emphasized what she said by standing on tiptoe and
kissing me softly.

I hugged her tight against me. "God, I love you too. I wish you
weren't going, but I know you think you have to." I took her by the
shoulders and looked into her eyes. "I want you to come to me if anything
happens. You mean more to me than anything else in the world. I want you
to remember that. You'll always be welcome with me. I'd rather you stayed
here, but it's your life, and your decision. I've never told you what to
do with your life, and I'm not going to start now."

"I know, and I will." she said, eyes bright with tears, and I know mine
were the same way. Holding hands, we walked back into the living room.

"I'll come home with you." Jenny told them. They smiled, their posture
slowly relaxing from the stiff-backed positions they'd been in.

"Do you have anything you need to take with you?" her mother asked.

Jenny reached up and felt the gold chain that held the locket I had
given her around her neck. "No. I have everything I need. At least
everything I can take with me." she said, looking at me with a smile.

Jenny's father nodded. "Then you're ready to go?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

I didn't say anything, but led them to the door.

"Thank you for letting Jenny stay with you." Jenny's mother said as I
opened the door to let them leave.

"It was my pleasure." I smiled, and they walked out the door, Jenny
lagging behind.

She paused, then turned to me. Standing on her toes she kissed me on my
cheek. "Now don't let this place go down the tubes without me here." she

"I won't." I said, my throat constricting. She smiled and walked to
where her parents were waiting beside a beat up sedan. I watched as they
got in and drove away, Jenny waving at me from the back seat. When they
disappeared from view, I stood there for several minutes, gazing down the
road in the direction they'd gone, chest feeling tight and painful.

Finally, I turned to go back to the house. It seemed empty, silent now
that she was gone. Usually there was some sound of her activity in the
house, whether it was the sound of her breathing as I held her, or her
happy humming emanating from where ever she was. Now all I could hear was
the sound of the wind beating at the house, and the sound of my heartbeat.
I felt hollow and numb as the person who had become part of me, and myself
part of her, drove away from me. My eyes stung with tears as I sat and
stared at the cold ashes in the fireplace for a long time.

End Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten -----------

I didn't sleep well that night, my thoughts constantly turning to Jenny,
wondering how she was, if she was getting along with her parents. I missed
her warmth pressing against my side, the comfort and relaxation of holding
her in my arms, hearing her even breathing as she slept, her sweet scent of
her hair teasing my nose. It took three hours for me to fall asleep, and
only then because I took a pillow and hugged it against me, trying to
pretend that it was Jenny. It let me sleep, but it was no substitute for

I woke up the next morning dead tired. The only reason I even bothered
to get up was so I would be able to see Jenny on the bus and at school.

The morning seemed drearier than usual; but then again everything had
seemed dreary to me since Jenny had left. The bus pulled up and I climbed
aboard. I spotted Jenny sitting alone three seats back, and the day seemed
to brighten as I saw her smiling face looking at me, those dark eyes
connecting with mine. I almost ran down the isle and took her into my
arms, not caring what anyone thought, just wanting to feel her against me
again, to feel loved.

"I missed you too." Jenny laughed, and hugged me back. I held her at
arms length and looked her over, running my hands over her as if looking
for broken bones.

"You're all right? They didn't do anything to you?" I said worriedly,
then hugged her against me again.

"I'm fine, Alex. I told you I would be."

"Nothing happened?"

"Nothing much. I'll tell you when we can talk in private." She motioned
toward the other people looking on, most scowling, some smiling. I relaxed
against the seat, and Jenny repositioned herself so she was leaning against
me, my back to the wall of the bus. The bus driver kept looking up at us
in his mirror, most of the other kids kept stealing glances at us as well.
We rode the rest of the way to school, almost oblivious to the people
around us, locked in our own small ball of warmth. We skipped first period
and headed for one of the store rooms I knew of; you learn the hiding
places when you're bullied as a kid. I hadn't been bullied in years, ever
since I had suffered through my growth spurt. Bullies don't bug you much
when they know you can hit harder than they can.

Once we were safely locked in the storage room we cuddled up on a pile
of old gym mats stacked in the corner. One dim sixty watt bulb illuminated
the ten foot square room, most of it claimed by fifty years of discarded

"You look exhausted." she told me.

"You don't look too wide awake yourself." I told her. "You have bags
under your eyes at least as big as mine, and you're a lot smaller than I
am." I teased.

"Well, I couldn't sleep. I'm to used to feeling your bear of a body
holding me. Plus my parents made me sleep on the couch. Apparently they
aren't entirely sure that the rumors weren't true, since my sister and I
usually share a room. It's like they don't want to risk 'infecting' their
only other daughter."

"That's dumb. Of course, knowing them it's not so surprising. Anything
else happen?"

"Nothing much else. They treated me pretty nicely, except for making me
sleep on the couch. I don't know if my back will ever recover. I never
realized how lumpy a couch could be until I slept on that thing. It should
be thrown in the dump."

I laughed. "Turn over and I'll see if I can work the kinks out of your

She rolled over gratefully. Pulling her shirt up, I started working on
her back, hoping some janitor wouldn't walk in on us.

She let out little groans and sighs of contentment, her tense muscles
loosening under my touch. Soon she stopped making noise, and the steady
rhythm of her breath indicated that she had fallen asleep. I pulled her
shirt back down and lay next to her, watching her sleep. At some point I
must have fallen asleep as well.

We didn't wake up until halfway through lunch period. We cursed as we
hurriedly straightened out our clothes and hair, and snuck out of the
closet. Kallie was sitting at our usual table. We hurriedly told her what
had happened, finishing right before the bell rang. Jenny and I parted
reluctantly, each heading for our separate classes.

The next few months progressed rapidly. Jenny's parents loosened up
more as word of our romance spread through town. I received more dirty
looks than ever, but I was happy if it made Jenny's life easier at home.
Her parents made no move to stop us from seeing each other, apparently glad
to have her seeing someone four years older than she was rather than
another girl. I became disgusted more and more with school as the teachers
and administrators got it into their heads to punish the 'cradle robber'.
Finally I just took the test for the GED and quit high school. A month
later I left for college, just in time to catch the beginning of spring
quarter. Jenny saw me off in a tearful goodbye. Leaving her there was
probably the hardest thing I'd ever done, but she still had several years
of school left.

I flew down to New Mexico, having my few possessions sent down after me.
Jenny and I wrote every day without fail. college was tough, but I
struggled through it, flourishing in a school that finally challenged my
intelligence. For a while it was school, study, write to Jenny, and work.

Things at home degraded for Jenny as her parents apparently came to the
conclusion that she had no where to run to now that I was gone. More than
one letter had tear stains on it as she wrote about her latest fight with
her parents. They had her sleeping in her room again, but now her sister was sleeping on the couch instead. Her sister and Kallie were the only
ones she could talk to or depend on, except through our letters.

Then one day the letters stopped. One moment we were going full bore, a
five to ten page letter every day; the next, my mailbox was empty. I
prayed that it was just a disruption in the mail system, that one day I'd
get a load of letters in the mail. I sent letter after letter back to her,
begging her to write back. I never got an answer.

I worried that she had met someone else, that she had forgotten about
me. I tried to dismiss that, thinking she would have still told me or that
there would have been some hint in her letters, but I read our old letters
over and over searching for a hint as to why she'd stopped writing.

My mind dwelled on her, my school work began to degrade, and one night I
was almost fired from my job. A week passed where I somehow drug my feet
through the day. The teachers asked me what was bothering me; one day I
was one of their brightest students, the next I was in a nose dive and
failing miserably.

Worse, the dreams returned, lasting longer and seeming more clear than
ever before. I would wake up screaming, twisted in my sheets, dripping
with sweat. The dark faces of Jenny's captors haunted me, blurred in my
mind, but now I knew them; they were the faces of Jenny's parents. Twisted
and distorted with a horrific quality, but their faces just the same.

Two more weeks passed, and I pulled myself up and threw myself into my
work. I stayed up all night, took a second job when school let out for the
summer, and began to drive myself toward exhaustion and most likely
eventual breakdown. My eyes were constantly bloodshot. Bags perpetually
hung under my eyes, and I began to consider flying up to see her, just to
have some closure.

One night when I was studying, the doorbell rang. I stood up wearily
from the chair and trudged toward the door. Pulling it open, I stared,
open mouthed.

Jenny stood there in the doorway, looking more haggard than I had ever
seen her. Her hair was in tangles, her grimy-looking clothing torn. She
stooped, leaning against the door frame. When she looked up at me, the
look in her eyes tore at my heart, the look of someone who has had her soul
ripped out and stepped on.

"Alex?" her voice quavered.

"Jenny?" I gasped. She stepped toward me and stumbled on the door
frame. Rushing forward I grabbed her before she could fall to the floor. I
picked her up, feeling how light she was, much lighter than I had
remembered her to be. I carried her to the couch and sat down, cradling
her in my arms. She began to cry, clinging to me like I was the last
strand in a fraying rope. I held her and cried with her.

She kept saying Alex, Alex, over and over, sobbing, tears running down
her face. I held her for a long time, gently rubbing her back, brushing
away her tears. Eventually she calmed down enough to tell me how and why
she had come to me. She told me the story, breaking into tears at the more
difficult parts.

"I stopped writing because my parents wouldn't let me. It got so bad
that I was a prisoner in my own home, not allowed her to leave except for
school, and eventually, they didn't even let me go to that. I fought with
them, but when I did, they would stop feeding me. When they thought I had
been really bad, they locked me in the shed out back, sometimes for only an
hour or two, sometimes longer. Once they locked me in there in the dark
for three days, with only a little water and bread.

"My little sister slipped me some things but she couldn't do much,
because if she told she probably wouldn't have been believed, then they
might have done the same thing to her. Then one night my Dad caught me
looking at the locket you gave me, and demanded that I give it to him. It
was the last thing I had to remember you by, the only thing that kept me
sane. And he wanted to take it away from me!

"I refused, and he started to threaten me. I still said no. Then he
grabbed me, and tried to tear it from around my neck. I still have the
marks." she paused, pulling down her t-shirt, showing the still purple
bruises on her shoulders and neck.

"I fought back, kicking and screaming. I scratched his face, then he
started cursing. He hit me hard, in the chest, making me fall to my knees,
then he slapped me, hard. I collapsed down onto the floor, crying. Then
he kicked me in the stomach, and I threw up. Not wanting to be hurt anymore, I stayed on the floor, crying. He reached down and pulled the
locket off my neck, and stomped off to his room. I managed to get up, and
ran out the door when no one was watching."

She was crying so hard at this point that she could hardly catch her
breath, much less talk. I had her stop until she calmed down. After a few
minutes of me quietly rocking her, she managed to continue.

"I ran down the road, crying. A woman in a car saw me running and
pulled over. She got me into the car and wanted to take me to a doctor,
thinking I'd been raped or something. But I said no, and convinced her to
take me to Kallie's instead.

"I didn't want her family to see me like I was, so I climbed in her
bedroom window, and waited for her to come in. She was surprised to see
me, since she hadn't seen me in weeks. I told her what had happened, and
she started to cry, too. She got me cleaned up some, but couldn't loan me
any clothes that fit, so I had to wear these.

"She got me to the bus station and onto a bus to you, since she couldn't
hide me. After all, she can barely change clothes without being walked in
on. I was scared to death that my parents would come after me, anyway. It
took her life savings, but she did it for me, to get me safe. I rode the
bus for three days, sleeping either on the bus or in the station. The
police almost got me once, but I ran away and hid until they gave up.
Finally I got here, and managed to find your apartment. I don't know what
I would have done if I hadn't had your address memorized."

I sat in shocked silence for a few seconds after she finished her story.
I hated myself for letting this happen to her; I should have flown up these
as soon as I stopped getting her letters. But who I was especially mad at
was her parents, particularly her father. Any parents who could treat
their child this way deserved anything that happened to them.

"God, I'm so sorry Jenny. I should never have left you with them,
never. I should have known something like this would happen after I left."

"No, Alex, don't blame yourself. I was the one that went back with
them. I could have stayed with you, but I didn't. It's my fault." she said

"Jenny, don't ever blame yourself for this." I said vehemently. "No one
deserves to be treated the way you were treated by those people. I
shouldn't even call them people, they don't deserve it. I promise you that
I will never let them hurt you again, no matter what."

"How? They'll be looking for me. They have the letters, they know
where you live."

"Well, I'll just have to get to them first. I'll think of something.
But right now we need to get you something to eat, and then get you to a

"I don't need a doctor, Alex. All it is are a few bruises."

"Still, I'll feel better once we get you checked out, if anything just
for evidence against your parents."

She sighed. "Okay, as long as I get something to eat first. I haven't
eaten more than a candy bar in three days."

"Three days? No wonder you're so weak! Just a minute, I hope I have
something in the fridge."

I carefully slid her off my lap and got up, leaving her to rest on the
couch while I went to the kitchen. First I whipped up some sandwiches for
starters, then put a big pot of soup on. I watched her demolish the plate
of sandwiches while I called my doctor. I knew him from the few times I
had seen him, and hoped I could convince him to see us on such short
notice. I also hoped to get him to not say anything about it to anyone.
God knows I couldn't take her to the hospital, child protective services
would get their hooks into her and I'd lose her to the system. A plan had
begun to form in my mind, and I'd have to be careful to carry it out
successfully. If I did, Jenny and I never needed to be separated again.

Jenny finished the sandwiches and three bowls of soup before she sat
back, full. I let her rest for a few minutes, and then helped her to the
used car I had bought to get to and from work and school. Jenny fell
asleep in the passenger seat during the thirty minute ride across town. I
let her sleep, figuring she needed it.

Doctor Sampson met us at the door, and we both helped her into an
examination room and onto the table. He appeared as shocked at her
condition as I had been. I left the room, telling Jenny that I'd be right
out in the waiting room if she needed me. She protested, but Dr. Sampson
and I managed to put her at ease. I waited nervously in the waiting room
as the doctor examined her.

A few minutes later he walked out of the examination room looking grim.
He sat next to me in the empty room, looking at me sternly.

"How is she?" I asked anxiously.

"She's malnourished and has numerous bruises all over her body. She
hasn't slept well in weeks, and she shies away from anyone who tries to
touch her. There's nothing seriously wrong with her, but psychologically
it's going to take a long time to recover. Now who did this to her? Where
is she from? What's her name? How do you know her? God help me, if you
did that to her..." he said angrily.

"I didn't. I could never do that to anyone, much less her. It was her
parents. The bruises came from her father. He beat her when she refused
to give something to him. They kept her locked up for weeks, feeding her
very little or not at all if they felt like it.

"We're close... friends, and her name and where she's from is no
concern, at least until I'm sure you're not going to tell anyone until I've
had time to make sure that she won't be put back with her parents, or taken
away and put in a home."

He sighed, leaning back and looking at me speculatively. "Tell me what
you're planning on doing. If I agree with your plan, I won't tell anyone,
at least not yet. I've seen kids go through foster care. Some of the
homes they put them in would be almost as bad as the one she came from."

I nodded. "I was planning on using what I know against them, to get
them to turn over guardianship of her to me."

He made a face, "That's risky, you know. They might not give in, or
worse, they could say you did that to her. She's young, and her court
testimony could be considered questionable."

"Still, I have to try. If I can scare them enough, I'm sure they'll do
it. Do I have your cooperation if it falls though? Would you testify on
my behalf?"

"I think you're telling the truth, yes. I've seen how she clings to
you. I don't think she would do that if you had done that to her. I'd
testify to that."

I let out a sigh of relief. "Thanks Doctor."

"I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for that little girl in there
who's been through a hell of a lot. I want you to take her home, clean her
up, make sure she's well fed, and put her to bed. I don't want her moving
anywhere until she's strong enough and has gained some weight back."

"I understand." We stood up, and walked back to where Jenny was sitting
on the examination table, staring idly at the wall. She brightened as I
walked into the room. She tried to jump off the table, and almost fell as
her weakened knees buckled under her weight until the Doctor and I held her

"Can we go now?" she asked, looking up at the doctor.

"Yes, you can go. But listen to me, young lady. You're to stay in bed
the next few days, and let Alex here take care of you. You're to eat when
he tells you to, sleep when he tells you to, and pretty much do anything
else he says within reason. Then you need to come back and see me in a

"Yes, sir." she said, taking my arm in her hands and holding it against
her, huddling up against my side.

"Fine, then. Go home and get some rest."

We helped Jenny out to the car, and I drove her home. She fell asleep
again, so I carried her into my apartment. I undressed her, amazed at how
thin she had become. Where once had been a smooth, sleek body with a trace
of baby fat was now so thin that I could count her ribs plainly. Her pubic
bone stood out, and I winced at the purple and black bruises on her arms,
chest, and stomach.

I undressed myself, and filled the tub. We soaked for half an hour, her
dozing and me cleaning her gently and washing her hair, working out the
dirt and tangles that had accumulated over the last few weeks.

I woke her when it was time to get out, and rubbed her softly with a
fresh towel until she looked almost like she had when we were living
together. Hopefully she would begin to look like that again, as long as I
could keep her out of her parents' grasp.

Pulling back the covers on my bed, I lay her on the clean sheets, the
first clean bed that she had likely been on in weeks.

Climbing in after her, I tugged the covers over us. She cuddled against
me, sighing happily as she sank into my protective embrace.

Her breathing deepened, and she fell into relaxed sleep as I held her, a
small smile gracing her lips, contented. I swore again to protect her
against anything that might try to hurt her ever again. Eventually I too
fell asleep, the first sleep in months that was not tormented by horrific

End Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven -----------

Jenny woke up screaming many times that first night, her experiences of
the last few months coming back to haunt her. She would shake like a leaf
for a few minutes until I managed to reassure her that she was safe, then
drift off, only to wake up screaming an hour or so later. Finally, she
settled down around four a.m.

I woke a little before two in the afternoon, Jenny still sleeping beside
me. Slipping out of bed, I prepared a big brunch for the two of us.
Loading a tray, I carried it into the bedroom. I set it on the night
stand, then sat on the bed next to her and gently shook her shoulder. She
slowly opened her eyes and looked up into my face hovering over hers.

"Please let this be real." she whispered. She reached up and touched my
face, her hand sweeping down from my ear to cradle my chin.

"It is real!" she sighed happily, and kissed me.

"Feeling better?" I asked, smiling down at her after the kiss ended.

"Yes, a lot better. I'm starving, though."

"Ah, but I've already thought of that." I reached behind me and set the
tray on her lap. Her face brightened and she dug in, almost as ravenously
as the night before.

"Slowly, Jenny. There's more where that came from. We need to fatten
you up."

"If you keep feeding me like this, I'll have to roll out of bed just to
get up!"

I laughed. "Better to have you over nourished than undernourished."
Settling back, I watched her eat. I wasn't particularly hungry, and she
was eating enough food for the both of us. A few minutes later she began
to slow down, however. I coaxed her to eat a few more bites, but finally
she just fell back against the pillow, groaning.

"Full?" I questioned, rubbing her stomach.

"Very. I haven't felt this good in a long time."

"Neither have I." I paused. "Do you know how much I missed you, Jenny?"

"No, but I know how much I missed you, and I'm sure you missed me just
as much." she smiled.

"I dreamt about you every night. When your letters stopped coming, I
just, well, fell apart. I couldn't work, I couldn't concentrate at school.
My mind just kept drifting to you. I was worried sick, but I didn't come
to see you. I was worried that you had found someone else, someone closer
to your own age, and didn't want to hurt me any more than you had to." I
took a deep breath. "I guess I just want to say that I'm sorry. Sorry for
letting them hurt you, and sorry for doubting you."

"Why?" she asked gently. "This is the second time you've taken me in,
both times when I felt things couldn't get any worse.

"You've fed me, taken me to a doctor, and cared for me when no one else
was able to. You couldn't have stopped my parents from doing what they
did, and it wasn't your fault that I went back there when I knew what they
were capable of."

"But I should have shown up earlier, stopped them before your father could hit you, before they could abuse you like they did..." I trailed off
as Jenny sat up took my head between her hands, staring urgently into my

"Alex, I love you but you can be so thick headed sometimes! Listen to
me. It wasn't your fault. They did it to me, not you. There wasn't a
single thing you could do about it, you were thousands of miles away at the

"I still feel guilty."

"I don't know what I'm going to do with you." she sighed.

"Keep me?" I asked with a small smile.

She smiled back, "I wouldn't sell you for anything, much less give you

"That's good to know."

She rested her head on my chest and listened to my heartbeat, as if she
was still on some level unsure of whether or not I really existed. I
played with her hair as I thought.

"If I told you that I had an idea that might let you stay with me
permanently, if it worked out, what you say?"

"I'd say that would be perfect. I can't remember a time that I've been
happier than I was for that month living with you."

"Well I think I might know how."

She sat up and looked at me in surprise. "Really? How?"

"We have enough evidence to convict them on child abuse charges,
assault, child neglect, and whatever else a lawyer and I can dream up. I
was thinking about blackmailing them into signing custody of you over to
me. I'm over eighteen years old. I could be your legal guardian, and you
could live with me until you're eighteen. Or longer." I added shyly.

"Oh Alex, I'd love to! It would be perfect, I'd never have to leave you
again!" She hugged me tightly, giving me a big kiss.

"Wait, wait. We don't know if it will work yet or not. Your parents might refuse. But I'm going to make it damn difficult for them to do so,
and if they don't... well, I'll deal with that if it happens. Legally or
not, I'm not letting them take you back there again, ever."

"Whatever you want to do, you have my consent, as long as I don't have
to see them."

"You won't. I promise."

Jenny cuddled up next to me again, closing her eyes sleepily. Dr.
Sampson had said that she'd be sleeping a lot over the next few days as her
body healed itself. I stroked her hair, my fingers tracing down her back.
The hard knobs of her vertebrae were easily felt with my fingertips through
her skin. Anger over what they had done to her, the only person I had ever
truly loved, filled me again. How they could treat someone the way they
had treated her amazed me. It amazed me even more that they had done it to
their own daughter, someone that they were supposed to protect and love,
not starve and beat.

She eventually fell asleep under my loving touch, and I held her and
stared at the ceiling, wondering about the future of humanity. If we
couldn't even care properly for our children, how were we ever going to get
along without wiping ourselves off the planet, like some bacteria being
wiped off the surface of a dirty petrii dish by a high school biology

My mind also wandered to the reasons why people fall in love. Was it
some instinct, driven by the chemical reactions in the brain we call
emotions? Why did we get so much pleasure from another's touch? Simple
hormones, or something more, something deep in the consciousness of every
human, even in the minds of the most horrific people in human history?
Hitler had children, a wife. He likely loved them, despite his atrocities.
Then why couldn't two people in a remote town in the western United
States simply love their daughter, the way that I loved her?

Why did they have to do such horrible things, even though they claimed
to follow "The teachings of God"? Why did the Crusades happen? Why the
holy wars in the middle east, over something as simple as a few square
miles of territory that was said to be "Holy"? Why did people desire power
over other people, at any cost, even the lives or the happiness of those
you love? Strive for what you think is right, no matter if it's right or
not or interferes with what others think is right. Opinions are
everything, and yours are always the best for you, your family, and all of
humanity. "The grand future awaits us, just follow me, and all will be
saved" they say. They, as in the politicians, the religious leaders, the
dictators, and the leaders of the large and small nations of the world.

The smart over the stupid, the powerful over the weak. Then we look
back, and try to see the whole picture, beyond this tiny speck in the
universe we call home, to the great beyond. Then you look back and see
nothing can be more important than two people in love, two people that care
for each other more than anything else in that big black void we call a

More than anything in the universe, you say? How could anything be more
important than the universe? What binds together life? Proteins, amino
acids? What use is the universe if no one is able to observe it,
happenings great and small? What's the point if we destroy ourselves in
the process of worrying about what will happen the next day, over mere tiny
fractions of a micron of mass in comparison to the universe, mass we happen
to live on, which we call "land"? What is the point in killing one another
over political power, which is simply another name for control over our
fellow human beings?

When it's all simplified, all we have are a few minute chemical
reactions in an organic mass that we call our bodies; the thoughts, the
emotions, the ideas. That is what we need to guard, not land, not
happiness, not freedom. Certainly, freedom and happiness are important to
life. But what use is happiness when your mind is empty? You might as
well be a well fed house cat. What's the use of freedom if you have
nothing more to do than swim in circles until you die, like the salmon?

Thoughts and ideas are the fabric of consciousness. Those seemingly
random electrical impulses racing along nerve paths, the hormones flooding
the brain in response to a simple touch. When two people connect, share
consciousness in however rudimentary way, ideas grow exponentially.

Our greatest assets are not the national forests, the mineral reserves,
or glittering metals and chemical compounds. Our greatest asset is each
other. No one person can put together the most complex space mission, no
one person can save wildlife from being destroyed, no one person can stop
the violence. No one person can save humanity.

Jenny and I had connected all those months before, during the cold
winter months in northern Oregon. Even if humanity wiped itself out
sometime in the future, we would have shared those thoughts, those ideas,
those feelings. Chemical reactions, yes. But have they made a difference
in the long run, those few billionths of a second in comparison to the eons
of time?

I hope so.

End Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve --------------

Jenny spent the next week in bed, being fed the most fattening foods I
could find. She enjoyed everything from chocolate cake with ice cream to
strawberries and whipped cream. She had gained several pounds by the end
of the week, her ribs receding under a healthy layer of body fat.
Thankfully, her dreams seemed to fade some. She began to sleep better,
only waking once or twice a night. The only time I left the apartment was
for groceries. I had taken time off work, wanting to be sure to be there
to take care of her through the first few weeks.

We visited Dr. Sampson the following week, and he announced Jenny to be
progressing satisfactorily. He told her to get out and get a little
exercise so that the gained weight wouldn't turn into fat with no muscle to
back it up. Jenny and I laughed about the later, her days in bed were a
combination of rest, food, and periods of intense activity. I'm sure you
can guess what was going on during those periods of intense activity; our
passion for each other hadn't declined in the least since we had last been

We began to take morning walks, morning being the only suitable time to
do any sort of exercise outdoors, at least until Jenny had adjusted better
to the climate. We used the time to talk, discussing any of a million
topics. It still amazed me how much information she had managed to jam
into her head in the short span of fourteen years. She did well in history
and English, while I excelled in science. While she enjoyed poetry and
Shakespeare, I enjoyed philosophy and science fiction.

We had a lot to learn from each other, and about each other, mentally
and physically. We had thought we had known each other's bodies well
before, but one of us had never been stuck in bed for a couple of weeks

I talked to a few lawyers, and found one willing to write up the papers
for what little money I had. At then end of the second week I was certain
that Jenny was well enough for me to leave for a few days. Then I spoke to
Dr. Sampson, and he agreed to let Jenny stay with his wife and himself for
the few days that I was gone. I didn't want to leave Jenny alone,
especially if someone showed up at our apartment.

Jenny protested, saying she could take care of herself, but I didn't
budge. She was a little huffy when a couple of days later I dropped her
off at the Sampson's house, but I knew she understood my reasons.

I caught an early flight to Portland, and then caught a smaller plane to
Sandville. Renting a car, I drove to the house and picked up the clothes
Jenny had left behind there when she went home with her parents. Jenny had
been forced to wear some of my clothes during the few times she had been
dressed over the last couple of weeks. The last of my money had gone to
the lawyer and the plane tickets so we couldn't afford new ones, especially
when we had some already, provided we wait until I could get back from

Signs that my father had come and gone a few times since I had left
remained in a small stack of moldy dishes next to the sink. The house had
taken on the musty smell a building gets when it hasn't been lived in for a
while. It was summer now, and a family of robins had nested in the chimney
judging from the constant chirping emanating hollowly from the fireplace. I
dared not stop to rest, fearing I might loose my nerve completely.

I piled the clothes into a few boxes and tossed them in the back seat of
the car. Thinking fondly of my old friends, I stopped by the Walker's
place for a moment to say hello. Mrs. Walker tried to get me to stay for
lunch, but I refused saying I had business that I had to attend to before
anything else.

"Maybe dinner." I told her, since my plane didn't leave until the next
day. I hoped that dealing with Jenny's parents would take a small portion
of the time I had until then. Mrs. Walker pushed a fresh cinnamon roll
into my hand as I said goodbye and climbed into the car.

My nervousness increased with every foot the car traveled closer to my
confrontation with Mr. and Mrs. Baker. I had the documents securely in a
manila envelope on the passenger seat.

As I drove up the driveway, I composed myself and put a professional,
take-no-crap look on my face. Mr. Baker came out the front door as I
climbed out of my car in of the small, slightly run-down house. When he
saw who it was, he got a surprised look on his face and called back inside
for his wife. She came out, wiping her hands on her apron. I walked up to
them, manila envelope under my arm.

"I need to talk to you about a few legal matters, Mr. and Mrs. Baker."
I said coldly. "Can I please come inside so we can talk this over more

"What do ya want to talk to us about exactly?" Mr. Baker asked, a
suspicious look on his face.

"Let's just say it includes one of your daughters that no longer lives
with you." I let a little of the hatred I felt for both of them leak into
the look. Mr. Baker's face hardened, while Mrs. Baker's paled slightly.

Mr. Baker thought it over for a second, and then nodded. Climbing up
the creaky stairs, they ushered me inside through the dark front hallway
and into the slightly brighter living room. It smelled of stale cigar
smoke, and most of the furniture looked as if it had been sitting there
since the early 70's, and was about as clean. They sat, and I took a chair
across from them.

"So where's our daughter?" he asked.

"Where she is is of no consequence to you. I'm here to let you know
that you are never seeing your daughter again. You will also sign over
legal guardianship of Jenny to me."

"And why would we want to do that?" Mr. Baker scoffed. Mrs. Baker
just sat, her fingers gripping the arm of the sofa so tightly it looked as
if the bright orange material was about to tear off in her hands.

"I think you know why. I have evidence against you and Mrs. Baker that
would convict you both of various forms of child abuse, ranging from simple
neglect to physical and psychological abuse."

Mr. Baker laughed. "What do you have, boy? The word of a fourteen
year old against her parents? I doubt that would stand up in court."

"Oh, I have more than that, Mr. Baker." I reached into the envelope and
pulled the pictures that had taken of the bruises on Jenny's neck and torso
the day after she had arrived, as well as the clear malnurishment. I
handed them to Mrs. Baker, who looked at them and turned white as a sheet.
Still silent, she handed them to Mr. Baker, who looked at them momentarily
before tossing them on the coffee table.

"You still have nothing to prove that either of us caused those bruises.
You could have caused 'em yourself." He said, and edge of uncertainty
slipping into his voice.

"I also have the testimony of a doctor who will testify that the bruises
were caused days before she ever arrived at my home. I can also get the
testimony of her friend who helped her onto the bus to my home, as well as
the testimony of the woman who gave her a ride to that friend's house, only
a few thousand feet from here, minutes after she was beaten by you, Mr.

"That, on top of Jenny's testimony will be more than enough to put you
and Mrs. Baker behind bars for years. You will lose everything, including
your one remaining daughter, most likely your house to legal bills, and the
little respect you now have in this community.

"If you do not sign these papers, I will turn all evidence I have as
well as the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all witnesses over to
the police and child protective services. Jenny and I will disappear.
Either way, Mr. and Mrs. Baker, you lose. You just lose less if you do
it my way."

They sat in silence for a few seconds, each knowing they were pinned
down with no place to run.

"I'll sign the papers." Mrs. Baker said quietly.

"Samantha!" Mr. Baker said sharply.

"Shut up, Bryan! We can't do anything about it, and I'm not going to
jail for your idiotic pride!"

Mr. Baker sat back, defeated. I pulled the papers out of the envelope,
and handed Mrs. Baker a pen. She signed the papers, handed them to Mr.
Baker, letting go of them as if they were scalding hot. He also signed
after a few seconds under the 'do it or else' gaze of Mrs. Baker. I took
the papers and stuffed them and the pictures back in the envelope.

"One more thing, Mr. Baker. I want the locket you took from Jenny the
night she ran away."

He nodded wearily and walked into another room, returning a few minutes
later with the locket.

"Thank you." I said, standing up and taking the locket. Then I hit him,
putting as much power behind my fist as I possibly could. It landed on his
jaw, snapping his head back. I followed it with a punch to the stomach,
causing him to double over and retch. He fell to the ground, moaning.
"Next time, don't hit your children." I growled.

I turned to where Mrs. Baker was still sitting, gaping at her husband
who was still curled in a ball on the worn green shag carpeting.

"I'll be in touch with my contacts here in town. I will be watching.
If you mistreat your youngest daughter in any way, I will make sure your
lives become a living hell. I'll show myself out." With that, I marched
through the door and out the car, Mrs. Baker moving over to help her
husband as I left. I continued to hold the bottled up rage and fear in
until I was down the road a mile, and then pulled over and allowed myself
to relax, my body shaking in repressed emotion. I sat there for several
long minutes, shaking and trying to keep from bursting into tears. I'm not
a violent person, but everyone has their limits, and I'd been pushed far
beyond mine. Even so, that knowledge didn't make me feel any less ill

When I felt well enough to drive, I headed for Kallie's house. It was
only four in the afternoon, but it felt like hours had passed while I was
sitting in that grungy living room.


Kallie's house was one of the bigger houses in town, for good reason.
Her father was the manager of the only bank in town. Five kids couldn't
fit into a two bedroom house very well, especially when one of those five
was female and the eldest child to boot.

When I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted by all four of Kallie's
screaming little brothers, ranging from the youngest who appeared to be
around five, to the eldest at eleven. They swarmed around me, bombarding
me with questions. When they found out that I was there to see Kallie,
they all squealed and ran inside, whooping and chanting "Kallie's got a
boyfriend, Kallie's got a boyfriend!" in classic sibling-torturing style.

'God I hope I have all girls when I have kids.' I thought to myself.

A few minutes later a red faced Kallie appeared at the front door. She
looked surprised to see me there, leaning against the white rental car with
my arms folded.

"Annoying, aren't they?" I said, smiling slightly.

"Try living with them." she said in her usual blunt manner.

"Want to go for a quick drive? I need to talk to you about a few

"That will only make it worse, but what the hell," she shrugged.

I nodded and walked around to the drivers side. She took the passenger
side. A few minutes later I was driving aimlessly around the back roads of
my childhood town.

"I'm guessing Jenny got to you okay?" Kallie said.

"It depends on what you define as 'okay'. I took her to a doctor. She
was malnourished. The bruises are still there. Faint, but you can see the
traces of where they were."

Kallie took a deep shuddering breath. "I know. I was surprised to see
her. If I had known what they were doing to her..." she blinked back the
tears that were flooding her eyes.

"I know how you feel. I'm still kicking myself for not coming up when I
stopped getting her letters. But I was scared that she had found someone
else, and didn't want to have to break it to me."

"That's nuts. She's dedicated to you, Alex. After you left, you were
all that she talked about. Half the time I was with her she was off in her
head, daydreaming about you."

"I know that now. But at the time, we hadn't seen each other in
months... it gets to you."

She nodded understandingly. "So she's staying with you? And why did
you come back? I figured the last place you'd want to see again would be
this hole in the ground."

"I came back to talk to Jenny's parents."

"What? Are you crazy? They'll call the cops on you, or worse! He
might just shoot you on sight!"

"I've already been there." I handed her the manila envelope. "Look at
the documents. I don't know if you want to see the pictures."

She opened it up and dumped the contents on her lap. She gasped when
she saw the pictures of Jenny. "I didn't know that it was this bad!" she
exclaimed. "I should have just called the cops!"

"It was better this way. Read the documents, they're in legalese, but
you should be able to get the gist of them."

Kallie pulled the papers from under the pictures, scanning them quickly.
She gasped as she realized what the implications of them were, and who's
signatures were on them.

"You got them to let you take custody of her? How the hell did you get
them to sign them?"

"Blackmail. That's what the pictures were for. I told them that I had
the eye witnesses of the woman who picked her up and you, as well as the
testimony of the doctor who saw her. You should have seen their faces when
I threatened to call the cops and CPS if they didn't sign them."

Kallie giggled. "I can guess. Wish I could have been there to see the
bastards faces."

"It was nothing compared to when I belted Jenny's father."

"You hit him?" she said, wide eyed.

"Well, he deserved it." I said defensively.

"Yeah, he sure did, hitting her like that. Her mother could use a smack
or two herself."

"I don't hit women."

"Yeah, I suppose not. Jenny always said you were to much of a
gentleman. So what are you two going to do now?"

"Well, I figured that I'd finish college, and Jenny would get enrolled
in the local school. Maybe learn something for once in a classroom. After
that, I don't know. Just play it by ear. I just know we're happy.
Jenny's been scarfing down food for the last two weeks, and has gained a
lot of weight back. The bruises have faded, and she seems happy."

"Good. I might have kept her at my house, but I don't know how my
parents would have handled it. It's crowded as it is. Plus I figured that
she'd be happier with you anyway."

"Thanks for sending her to me, Kallie. I don't know what we would have
done if you hadn't helped her when she needed it."

"We're best friends. She's really my only friend. I wanted what was
best for her, even if it meant that I wouldn't be able to see her much

"Well, you can always write, call each other." Looking up, I realized we
had come back full circle, and were now back on her street. I pulled into
the driveway, ignoring her little brothers who were making faces at me
through the windshield and reached for a piece of paper, writing Jenny's
and my address and phone number on it. "Call in a couple of days, collect.
I'm sure Jenny will be glad to talk to you." I reached for my wallet and
pulled out what had amounted to Kallie's life's savings before she had used
it to get Jenny to me. "Here's your life savings back. Thanks." I said,
then tried to hand it to her.

She pushed it away. "No, tell her I wanted to help. It seems like if I
took it back it wouldn't mean as much. She's helped me a lot, too. I
consider it kinda a pay back."

I nodded, and stuffed the money back in my wallet. "You're smarter than
you look, Kallie."

"Tell that to my parents." Kallie laughed. "That's my mom glaring at is
from the front door. I'd better go."

"Good talking to you. I'm leaving tomorrow morning at nine. I'll tell
Jenny that you said hello. If she'll talk to me when I get back." I
grimaced. "She didn't appreciate it much when I left her at her doctor's
house while I was gone. Said that she could take care of herself, but I
didn't want to leave her alone."

"Sounds like Jenny to me. Don't worry, she'll come around." Suddenly,
she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I looked at her, stunned.
"Well, if I'm gonna get teased, I may as well give it a little substance."
she grinned at me. I grinned back.

"Take care." I called as she got out. She slammed the door and waved as
I backed out of the driveway, her brothers swarming around her, no doubt
nagging her to find out more about me.

Turning the car around, I headed back to the Walker's house. I figured
I'd be just in time for dinner.

End Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen ---------------

I had dinner with the Walkers that night. They managed to drag out of
me that I was living with someone, then I had to spend the next hour trying
to describe her without telling them who she was or her age.

Finally I went back to the house, went up stairs and collapsed on the
familiar bed. It was a little dusty, but by then I didn't really care. I
just wanted to sleep.

Getting up early the next morning, I took a quick shower and did some
last minute packing. My plane left at nine that morning, and I still had
to drive to Sandfield.

The plane trip was hell. It came complete with the standard screaming
kid sitting behind me and the in-flight movie from Portland to Sacramento
was a corny G-rated movie with talking animals. By the time I landed I was
in a thoroughly bad mood. Then I picked up my car and noticed it had a new
dent in the rear bumper.

'Just one more of many.' I grumbled to myself as I tossed the boxes of
clothes into the back seat.

The clasp on Jenny's locket was broken, so I stopped by a few jewelers
before I could find one that would fix it while I waited. To do so wasn't
cheap, but I figured it was worth it to see Jenny's face when I gave it
back to her. I was looking forward to seeing her again; this trip was the
first time I had been apart from her for more than an hour at a time since
she had moved back in with me.

Jenny ran out to meet me when she heard the rattle of my car pulling
into Dr. Sampson's driveway, obviously having been sitting by the front
door waiting for me to arrive. Jumping up, she hugged me around the neck
as I climbed out of the car. She had a fresh, clean scent about her, and I
noticed that her hair was slightly damp. I gave her a big hug, holding her
tightly. Kissing her wasn't an option, as it was curtailed by Dr. Sampson
walking out the front door, smiling.

"So, how'd it go? Did they sign the papers?" Jenny asked excitedly.

"Wait a minute. Dr. Sampson's has a right to know, too." I said,
letting Jenny down as he walked up to us.

"Welcome back. I'm guessing it went well." Dr. Sampson smiled and
shook my hand. Smiling back, I reached into the car and pulled out the
manila envelope and pulled the papers out, handing them to him. He scanned
them quickly, and nodded in satisfaction.

"Well, Jenny, looks like you have yourself a permanent place to stay
from now on." he announced.

Jenny squealed in a way only women can and hugged me again, this time
forgetting about being careful around Dr. Sampson. She kissed me full on
the lips, and started crying. I held her as she let out the tension that
had been building up over the past few weeks as she waited to find out what
would happen to her, and to us. I looked up, praying that he hadn't seen
Jenny kiss me the way that she had. But, judging by the look of surprise
on his face, I could tell he had. I could almost hear the gears spinning
and clicking into place as he sorted out what had been going on for the
last few weeks.

"I'm sorry." Jenny said a few minutes later, wiping the tears out of her
eyes. "I didn't mean to start crying, I'm just happy, that's all."

Dr. Sampson nodded. I could see what was coming. He looked me
straight in the eye and dropped the bomb.

"You two are more than just good friends, aren't you?" he said slowly.
Jenny gasped and looked at Dr. Sampson as she realized what she had done
to bring that question on.

"Yes, Dr. Sampson. We are." I replied, looking defiantly at him.

"I should have guessed from the beginning. If I had known when you
brought her in... well, let's not discuss that. But I know you and Jenny,
now, especially Jenny after her staying here the last few days. I can look
at you and see that you care for each other. Jenny has been recovering
nicely, and I don't think that it could have happened as quickly as it did
if it hadn't been for you, Alex. I can't say I approve, but I can't
condemn you, either."

"You're a bit more open minded than other people, Dr. Sampson. Thank
you for your help with Jenny and I." I put my arms around Jenny again,
looking at the doctor solemnly.

"My pleasure. I hope that the two of you will be as happy living
together in a permanent arrangement as you seem to have been in the last
couple of weeks."

"I know I've been happy the last few weeks, and I think Alex has been,
too." Jenny said with a smile.

"Well then, good luck. Remember you have another appointment with me in
two weeks, Jenny. I'll see you then. I'm sure you two want to get home,
and Alex here looks like he could use a few hours of sleep."

"I sure could." I admitted. Thanking him again, Jenny and I climbed
into the car. We waved as I backed out of the driveway, heading for the
place we could now truly call home.


I pulled Jenny into a deep embrace as soon as the door to our apartment
was closed.

"I missed you." I murmured into her ear.

"I missed you too. But I've barely had any sleep in the last two days.
The dreams kept waking me up, but I didn't have you to hold me." she
admitted. Looking closer, I could see the bags under her eyes caused by
lack of sleep.

"Well, I should be around now. You won't have to wake up alone again.
Eventually the dreams will go away." We moved to the couch and sat in the
dim light leaking from around the curtains on the windows.

"I hope the dreams will go away. They aren't as bad as the were when I
came here."

"They won't disappear overnight. They have to fade over time, as the
memories of what happened fade."

Jenny sighed and lay down, her head on my lap. I began to idly trace
her face, feeling the familiar curves and lines under my fingertips.

"So they just signed the papers? It doesn't sound like them to me."

"They argued a little bit. Your father growled, but your mother made
him sign. That reminds me, I got something else from them." I reached into
my shirt pocket and pulled the locket out, the chain jingling.

"You got it back! How? I thought I'd never see it again." Jenny
exclaimed, taking it from my hand and holding it in front of her face,
watching it glimmer in the dim light.

"I can be very persuasive. I had the chain fixed before I picked you
up. I figured you would want it back."

"Yes! You don't know how important it is to me. I haven't felt right
without feeling it hanging around my neck."

"I know. That's why I got it back." I kissed her forehead fondly.

"I seem to be saying thank you a lot these days, but thanks." She
fastened the chain around her neck and lay down again, opening the locket
to display our photos. "What do you think will happen in the next few
years? Now that I'm legally supposed to live with you until I'm eighteen?
Somehow I don't think that it would last that long if the 'authorities'
knew that we were sleeping in the same bed."

I laughed. "We'll deal with it as it comes, Jenny. That's really all
you can do in life, anyway. I'll finish college, you'll finish high school
and go on to college if you like, and we'll see where we end up."

"Will we end up together?"

I looked down at her face, seeing the love in them, the trust. "I think
we will, yes. I can't think of anything that would separate us, as long as
we're careful and keep loving each other."

"Good." she said, sitting up and wrapping her arms around my neck. "I
can't think of anyone I'd rather be with than you."

I kissed her and said, "I can't think of anyone I'd rather be with than
you, either. So I think we'll be together for at least a little while

"Do I really need to go back to school?" she groaned, nuzzling her face
into the crook of my neck.

"Yes, I think so. Schools down here aren't like the schools back home.
Maybe you'll actually learn something here. You can't just sit around here
all day. You might get addicted to bon bons, and then when you're twenty,
where will you be? Sitting on a couch unable to move, that's what."

"Why would I not be able to move?" she asked, puzzled.

"You wouldn't be able to move because the cute behind you have on you
now will stick out half a foot, and your belly will have swelled to such
proportions that you'll have to have your clothes custom made." I teased.

I wasn't quite fast enough to dodge the pillow that thwacked into my

"What was that for?" I complained, rubbing my nose and blinking.

"I think you know." she giggled.

"Really? Well, I think I know what you need, little girl."

"Little girl? I'm not a..." I put my hand over her mouth, muffling her

"Yes, I know exactly what you need. A good tickling lesson!"

Jenny let out a muffled squeal and began to struggle, shaking her head
against my palm.

"Yes. Where shall I tickle her first? Ah, this looks like a good
place!" I grinned, tickling her in the stomach. She thrashed and pulled
her mouth free of my hand, laughing.

"Stop! Stop!" she begged, trying to catch her breath.

"Do you apologize for hitting me with a pillow?" I demanded playfully.

"Yes! Just stop!" she laughed, trying to pull my hand away from her

I thought for a moment, continuing to tickle her. "Apology accepted." I
said, letting her go.


With strength I kept forgetting she had locked away in that small body,
she wriggled up and managed to get her fingers into my sides, tickling

"Nyaaagh!" I laughed, trying to pull her arms away. I got away by
rolling onto the floor, only to have Jenny jump on top of me, pinning me to
the floor.

"Conniving wench!" I laughed, resisting weakly as she pinned my arms
above my head.

"Wench? Who's on top again, tickle-man?" she grinned down at me.

I grinned back up at her. "You are. But who says I don't like you
being there? Or even let you be on top?"

She laughed. "Let's see you get free then."

"You sure?"

"Stop stalling and do it if you can. Otherwise, I'm going to have to
take advantage of your position." She winked at me.

She shrieked in surprise when I lifted my arms and grabbed her wrists,
pulling them back against her body. I rolled over and pinned her in the
same position she had just had me in a few seconds before.

"Do I get to take advantage of your position now?"

"How do you know I didn't let you get free so that you could take
advantage of me?"

"Try to get free now." I challenged.

"I don't want to."

"You don't want to, or you can't?"

She lifted her head and kissed me, putting plenty of effort into it. My
grip weakened and suddenly she was on top again, still kissing me.

"Can." she said triumphantly, breaking the kiss

"No fair! Taking advantage of a man's weaknesses that way!"

"Brains always outdo braun."

"Really? I could roll us over and end up on top again, you know."

"Not really. You see, I have a little more control over you than just
my strength."

"I could just roll you over and take what I wanted, you know," I

"No, you can't." she purred, burying her face against my neck, kissing
down along my collarbone.

"Why not?"

"You're not that kind of person, and I know you would never do something
like that to me."

"You think you know me pretty well, don't you?"

"Yes, I do." she said, pausing to look down at me, fire gleaming in her
dark eyes, dark hair rolling over her left shoulder, tickling my face. "I
also know that you won't resist when I let your arms go." She lifted her
hands that were holding my wrists to the floor, and began to unbutton my

So I gave in to the inevitable, the only doubt crossing my mind being
that I hoped that I could someday end up as good of a man as Jenny seemed
to think I could be.

End Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen ---------------

Jenny called Kallie the next day. They talked for over a half hour,
much to my dismay when I saw the phone bill for that month. I went back to
work to get enough money to pay for it and the rent.

Meanwhile, Jenny leveled out at a little under her old weight and seemed
to have twice as much energy as when we first met. Or perhaps I was just
getting older.

I finally convinced Jenny to enroll in the local public school, which
wasn't too bad as far as pubic schools went. She struggled for the first
few weeks, unaccustomed to actually having to work at getting good grades.
I helped her out, and she soon climbed to the top of her class. Jenny also
turned fifteen that September, and I nineteen when December rolled around.
No one seemed to question us living together, or the fact that I was her
legal guardian, though we were nervous about it the first couple of months.

Kallie kept us updated on Jenny's little sister Amanda; so far
everything seemed fine. No one from our old home town seemed to miss us
except for Kallie and Amanda. I hadn't heard from my father since he had
left after our last confrontation, and Jenny's parents certainly weren't
about to call us just to say hello, either. An occasional letter managed
to slip through from Amanda, who gave the letters to Kallie to send. Not
wanting to risk getting Amanda in trouble, Jenny had Kallie also forward
the letters to Amanda for her.

Three, then six months passed. We slipped into routine, myself
attending college from seven A.M. until noon. I'd work for six or seven
hours, then come home to Jenny. Then we'd make dinner and do our homework
together, finally relaxing and reading a good book or listen to some music,
as we had always enjoyed doing together. It never seemed to get dull or

We became closer if possible, only separating during school hours.
Jenny and I had made a few friends who jokingly referred to us as the
Siamese twins, since we were always "joined at the hip".

We celebrated our first anniversary that January. This time Jenny
cooked and I was pampered. The spaghetti was definitely of higher quality,
the French bread store bought. Our last attempt at bread making during our
semi-weekly "try something new night" had failed miserably, resulting only
in some very flat overcooked bread and two people covered in flour and

Having very little money was one of our big problems, but we managed to
scrape together small gifts for each other. I gave her a pair of earrings,
she gave me a new watch to replace the one I had lost to a wad of bread
dough, another of the causes for the demise of our bread making

We spent the evening talking of old times, old friends, and old problems
now solved. The one year hump had passed, and we were more in love than we
had been in that first rush of emotion a year before. Then we made a toast
to ourselves, hoping for another year together, but planning for much

We made love that night, two candles replacing the fireplace we had lain
in front of so many times in the past. Finally we slowed to soft caresses
and murmurs of contentment afterwards, watching the flames lick at the wax
of the candles, slowly burning down their wicks. Our eyes closed before
the flames petered out, holding each other and dreaming of our future.


"Alex, can you come down to my office as soon as possible?" Dr. Sampson

"Why? Is Jenny all right?" I asked, fear freezing my heart. Jenny had
gone to see him earlier that day as she hadn't been feeling well all week.

"Oh, she's fine. More than fine, actually. I just need to discuss
something important with the two of you."

I glanced at my watch. "Well, my lunch break is in thirty minutes.
I'll see if I can't get my boss to let me out a little early." That is what
really worried me; that he had considered it important enough that he had
actually called me at work.

"Good, I'll see you in a few minutes then." He hung up. I set the phone
back on it's hook slowly, my mind whirling with worry despite the doctor's
reassuring me that everything was fine. So I went and talked to my boss,
who let me go when I explained to him why I needed to go early. I think
the look of fear on my face was his main motivator for granting me the

I had to force myself to drive safely and without attracting police
attention on my way to Dr. Sampson's office. He met me in waiting room
and led me back to where Jenny was sitting on one of the examination

"Are you all right?" I asked, rushing over to her and giving her a hug.

"I'm fine. At least that's what Dr. Sampson said, I don't know why he
called you down here. He just said it was important that we both hear this
at the same time."

I wrapped my arms around her waist, trying to be comforting, and turned
to where Dr. Sampson was standing in the corner. He looked more than a
little uncomfortable.

"So, what did you need to talk to us about?" I asked.

"Well, I don't really know how to say this. You could take this as a
good or a bad thing." He took a deep breath. "Jenny, the bouts of nausea
you've been having aren't the stomach flu, it's morning sickness. You're
four weeks pregnant."

I could feel the blood drain from my face. Jenny let out a little gasp
and suddenly fainted, going limp and nearly rolling off the table before I
caught her. Frankly, I felt like joining her. I lifted her back up onto
the examination table, and sat beside her still unconscious body. I looked
over at Dr. Sampson, trying to pick my jaw up off the floor.

"You're sure? It's not a mistake?"

He nodded. "I ran the test three times. She's absolutely pregnant." he
walked over and helped me hold Jenny up, since I was obviously struggling
with the task considering my current frame of mind. "Here, let's see if we
can bring her around. We need to discuss this." Reaching into one of the
cupboards he brought out some smelling salts. I took them from him,
wanting her to see me when she woke up. I held it under her nose, and she
woke up with a start. Pressing her back down into the cushioning of the
table, I told her to relax.

She looked as frightened as I'd ever seen her. "Oh god Alex, what are
we going to do? I'm not ready for this!"

"Shh." I hushed her, putting a finger to her lips. "We'll deal with it.
It's our responsibility. I should have realized this would happen sooner
or later, we weren't exactly intelligent about precautions."

Dr. Sampson coughed. "So, I'm guessing that you're the father?"

I nodded slowly, the words almost overloading my mind. 'Father? Me, a
Father? I don't think I'm ready for this, either.' I thought.

"I figured that you were. That's the main reason why I called you down
here. Now, you two have some choices to make. You don't have to make them
right away, but as time goes on, it'll be tougher to make them."

I nodded that I understood and Jenny agreed.

"Well, you have three decisions. Abortion..."

"No!" Jenny and I said simultaneously. While neither of us were
adamantly against abortion, neither of us felt it was a good solution for
us, as we had discussed in the past when the issue had come up.

The doctor nodded amicably, "Okay. Abortion is out. That leaves
adoption and of course, keeping the baby. I'll give you some papers, and
some literature for you to both read. Call me when you make a decision. I
suggest that you both go home and have a long talk about this."

We nodded numbly, shock settling in I think, and took the stack of
papers on the way out of the office. We drove home in silence, each lost
in our own thoughts.

I called my boss and told him I wouldn't back in that day due to a
family emergency. Then we sat on the couch. We held each other, then
Jenny began to cry. I stroked her hair and rocked her, trying to calm her
down. I felt a few of my own tears mix with hers.

"I'm scared Alex." she sobbed.

"I'm scared too, Jenny. But we'll work it out. We always have in the
past, and we can deal with this."

"But I'm, we're not ready for this! We talked about it, but never this
soon. Maybe a few years down the road, but not when I'm only fifteen!"

"Yes, I know. But it's happened now, and the question is, what are we
going to decide?" I already knew what I wanted, but I wasn't going to force
my opinion on Jenny, no matter how important the issue was to me. It was
an important decision for both of us. If she chose to give up our child
then I would go along, and never tell her how I felt. But I knew that I
wanted this baby. I wanted to know the child I had fathered, whether it be
a boy or a girl. But she had to carry it for nine months, she had to
suffer through delivery. I'd helped make the baby, but I wasn't the one
who would labor to bring it into the world.

"I don't know. I just don't know." She placed a hand on her belly, as
if trying to feel the child growing inside her.

"It's okay, Jenny. Don't decide now. I think we both need to sleep on
this. It's too difficult to make a decision now. But I want you to know
that I'll go with what you feel is right. I'll support you as I always
have, but I think this has to be your decision. I'll be ready to be a
father if you decide to keep the baby, or not to be if you decide you want
to give it up."

"I'm just so confused... I can't even think straight. All that keeps
swirling through my head is 'I'm pregnant. Oh my god, I'm pregnant'."

"I can understand that, I'm not much better. Let's just go to bed.
Maybe it won't be so hazy tomorrow."

Jenny agreed and we went to bed, even though it was only a little after
eight in the evening. We were both exhausted, the shock draining us. We
barely managed get out of our clothes and flop onto the bed. Curling up
together, we passed out.

I slept soundly for the first few hours, dreams of babies of all shapes
and sizes floating around my head. Babies with rattles, babies in diapers,
babies smiling, crying, cooing, smelling of talcum powder.

Suddenly I was woken by Jenny shaking my shoulder violently. I reached
over and clicked on the light, looking over at her, bleary-eyed. She had
an excited, bright look on her face.

"Alex! I had this dream... she was talking to me! Telling me, telling
me..." She stopped, confusion settling on her face like a mask, covering
the excitement of a few seconds before.

"Jenny, it was just a dream! Relax."

Light fired up in her eyes again, and a determined look surfaced. "No,
it wasn't just a dream. Our baby, Alex, our baby told me in my dream that
we should keep her... and Alex, I agree."

I sat up at the realization of what she had said. "Jenny, what are you

"I'm saying I think we should keep the baby," she said firmly.

"Jenny, I don't know if you should base your decision on a dream." I
said seriously, trying to keep my feelings bottled up.

"Alex, I knew that I wanted to keep the baby. I just didn't want to
admit it to myself. I was worried about what would happen if I decided to
keep it, and you really didn't. I was also scared about being a mother,
but now I know that I need to do it. Not only for the baby, but for us,

"You're sure?" I asked, staring into her eyes so I'd know she wasn't
holding anything back.

She took a deep breath. "Yes, I am."

I smiled and hugged her. "Good, because I want to keep the baby too."

"You do? Really? I was afraid that you didn't want to be a father yet.
You never seemed too sure about it when we talked about it."

"I wasn't, until I was sitting in Dr. Sampson's office with you.
Somehow I knew I wanted to be a father as soon as the news was out of his
mouth." I looked at Jenny. "I love you more than anything, Jenny. I'll
love this baby just as much as I love you."

Jenny smiled. "I'm glad that you want to keep her as much as I do."

"So am I. But what's all this business about 'she'? We don't know if
it's a boy or a girl yet."

"It's a girl." Jenny said, certainty in her voice.

"But how do you know?" I insisted.

"I just do. Trust me."

"Okay. If you say it's a girl, it's a girl." I gave in, knowing her
mind wouldn't be changed when she took that tone of voice.

Jenny curled up against me. "What do you think it will be like when my
belly starts getting big?" she asked.

"Well, I'm guessing you'll get the standard 'pregnant woman' courtesy
from anyone you run across. Your feet will start to hurt. Your bladder
will fill to capacity every couple of minutes. And you'll be more
beautiful to me than you've ever been."

"You always did know how to sweet talk me." Jenny laughed.

"Well, I have to practice dealing with those upcoming mood swings."

Jenny groaned and swatted me in the shoulder playfully. Then we looked
into each other's eyes, seeing our excitement and fear reflected in them.
Suddenly she grabbed my hand and rested it on her stomach.

"Feel anything?" she asked.

I shook my head no, but kept my hand where it was. It still amazed me
to know that our child, our daughter if Jenny was correct, was growing
inside her. And somehow, lying there with my hand on her belly, I knew she

End Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen --------------

Dr. Sampson looked surprised the next day when we stopped by his office
and told him that we were keeping the baby. He didn't say anything, but I
knew he had expected us to decide to give the baby up. We had thrown off
his assumptions about us once again, and I think he was beginning to see
how deep the relationship was between Jenny and I.

He sat us down and talk to us about what would be going on over the next
few months, and the legal problems we might have to face. He told us it
was best if Jenny didn't say who the father was, since it could mean quite
a bit of trouble for us if the more conservative members of the community
found out. It's not every day that a fifteen year old girl gets pregnant
by her 19 year old legal guardian.

We already knew this, and planned to keep the fact that she was pregnant
secret as long as possible. Rumors can get ugly, and we had no doubts that
people would be suspicious of us, especially our friends. He also went
over nutrition changes she would need to have a healthy baby and gave us
the approximate due date. September twelveth, almost a week before Jenny's
fifteenth birthday. That put the date of conception pretty much right
where we figured it would be, our first anniversary.

Dr. Sampson ended his lecture, telling Jenny to come see him at least
every two weeks, if not more often if she felt the need. He wanted to keep
a close eye on her considering her age.

Jenny and I did feverous research, learning all we could about pregnancy
and raising a child. More than once we fell asleep on the couch while
reading a particularly boring book, but kept at it.

We resisted the urge to go out and start buying baby items, knowing that
if we did it would be likely to blow the secret wide open. But when
Jenny's belly began to swell noticeably, it became difficult. Her or my
friends started commenting on Jenny's sudden weight gain, good naturedly
joking with her or I about 'weight watchers' or 'Better start buying that
low fat ice cream'. Jenny and I just took it all in fun.

Kallie was the only one we told. She kept quiet when we asked, but I
knew it was a strain on her. When we called her and told her she was going
to be a godmother, she laughed as if we were joking. When we told her we
weren't there was a long pause, something quite unusual when you were
talking to Kallie. When she finally recovered from the shock, there was a
classic Kallie remark.

"Haven't you two ever heard of something called a rubber?" When we
didn't reply, she just said "I thought so. Next time, think of it." Then
she laughed and said congratulations, and to send her plenty of pictures.

Jenny had Kallie tell Amanda and swore her to secrecy. I could imagine
the look on Amanda's face when she found out.

Dr. Sampson viewed our belief that the baby was female with skepticism
until he confirmed it after we were able to tell the sex of the baby by
ultrasound at 20 weeks into the pregnancy. He jokingly asked us if we knew
anything else about the baby that he as the doctor should know. We told
him we'd get back to him if anything popped up.


About four months in one of Jenny's friends commented that Jenny looked
more pregnant than overweight and started laughing. At least until she
noticed that Jenny hadn't joined in, and who in fact turning bright red and
looking more than a little scared. Then our secret was out.

Still, we managed to keep it in our small circle of friends, who were
surprisingly supportive. More than one guessed that I was the father.
They knew that Jenny and I were inseparable, and they also knew she hadn't
been seeing anyone in the last few months, and had repeatedly turned down
date offers. It was only logical, and they told us. We didn't say
anything to confirm it, but that proved it to them almost as much as if we
had come straight out and said it. But there comes a point where you just
can't hide it anymore.

We thought we were doing pretty well, and the one evening Jenny met me
at the door, pale as a sheet. She fell into my arms and started to cry.
Hugging her, I wondered if this was just another mood swing or something
serious. But she didn't usually fall apart like this, unless something
really bad had happened. I led her to the couch and sat down, taking her
with me. I finally got the story out of her after she had calmed down

"I got called down to the counselor's office today. I was scared, since
you know how I look now, it's pretty noticeable. Mr. Simmons took me into
his office and sat me down. From the grim look on his face I knew that he
had figured out that I was pregnant.

"He said I knew I knew why I was down there, and told me he wanted to
know the father's name, when I became pregnant, and if I had seen a doctor
yet. I told him it was none of his business. He got a little angry, and
demanded to know, or he said he would put me in detention 'until I had the
baby on the floor' if he needed too. Then I told him to go to hell and ran
out of his office and left school. I came home and waited for you to get
back from work."

I had listened to her story patiently, holding in my anger so I wouldn't
upset Jenny.

"You're not going to school tomorrow." I said, in what I hoped was a
calm voice. "I'm going to have a visit with Mr. Simmons."

"What are you going to do?" she asked, almost fearfully.

"I'm just going to have a talk with him, that's all." I said grimly.

"Alex, please don't hit him like you hit my father. He might press
charges, and I don't want to take the chance of you getting in trouble."

"Who told you that I hit your father?" I asked, surprised. I had 'left
out' the part about my punching him when I had told her what had happened
after my visit to Oregon.

"Kallie did. What did you think? That you could hide it from me?" She
giggled nervously, though obviously feeling a bit better.

"Well, yes." I stammered.

"If you didn't want me to know, you shouldn't have told Kallie. She
tells me everything."

I grunted. "One of these days I'll figure that out."

"But then I'll never find out any of your secrets." she laughed.

"I think that's the point."

She just smiled and mumbled something about being tired. I glanced at
the clock, which read a little after nine. Over the last few months Jenny
had been going to bed progressively earlier. She seemed to tire easily and
I attributed it to her pregnancy. Helping her up, I led her into the
bedroom. We undressed and got into bed, me leaning against the headboard
with Jenny reclining against me. I traced the curve of her stomach. What
had been the flat surface of a firm belly now bulged gently outward a few
inches. The date four short months away seemed to loom in front of us. We
had known sooner or later that the word would get out about Jenny's being
pregnant, and it seemed that it had finally happened. In a way I was glad.
But the people at Hawkins Junior High School, in particular Mr. Simmons,
would find out it wasn't a good idea to threaten Jenny. If they upset
Jenny, they upset me, and when I'm upset, you had better watch out.


The next morning I drove up to Hawkins Junior High around nine am. I
was dressed to intimidate. I looked every bit the banker, from the
expensive tie down to the shiny black leather shoes. Marching in the door
to the front office, I stared down the secretary that sat behind the waist
high counter blocking the rest of the office from visitors.

"I'd like to see Mr. Simmons." I said, looking down at her with an
expression as condescending as I could manage.

"Yes sir. What is the reason for your visit?" she asked politely.

"Just tell him I'm here to talk about Jenny Baker."

She nodded and picked up the phone. After talking rapidly for a few
seconds, she set the receiver down on the hook.

"He'll see you in his office. It's just down the..."

"I know where it is. Thank you." I walked stiffly down the hall,
keeping my face expressionless as a few children walked by me.

The counselor's office was a small room, split into four offices for
each of the guidance counselors. I picked the one with Mr. Simmons name
on it and knocked. Someone called out 'come in' from the other side of the
door. I opened it, revealing a tiny office, a desk situated so that the
window back lit it, emphasizing the shiny bald spot on top of Mr. Simmon's
rather pudgy head. When he heard me walk in he spun around slowly in his
chair from where he had been looking out the window. He looked at me, the
expression on his face that of a king looking down on a lowly peasant.

"Ah." he said. "I'm guessing you're the one who has come to see me.
Please, sit down."

"I'd rather stand, thank you. I won't be long."

He nodded. "Fine, then. Let's get to why you came to see me. The
secretary told me you came to talk about Jenny Baker. How do you know

"I'm Mr. Braxton, Jenny's guardian. I understand you called her down
here yesterday. When I came home I found her there, very upset about what
you had said to her."

"I see. What did she tell you that I said?" he said carefully.

"That you had asked her about her pregnancy. When she refused to answer
your questions, you threatened her with, what was it, 'Detention until she
had her baby on the floor'?"

He snorted. "I said nothing of the sort. I simply asked her who the
father was, and if she had seen a doctor yet."

"Are you saying, Mr. Simmons, that Jenny is lying?" I glared at him
with barely concealed hatred.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. Just a small untruth. Children tell them
sometimes." he said soothingly. I felt greasy just talking to him.

"Mr. Simmons, I don't think Jenny is lying, I think you are."

His nostrils flared and he lurched forward, rolls of fat rasping against
the leather upholstered arms of his chair.

"Are you calling me a liar?" he sputtered in rage.

"Yes, I am." I said coolly. I stared at him, slowly lowering my hands
to the desk in front of me until my face was no more than six inches away
from his.

"Jenny is pregnant, yes. But it is none of your business. I have no
faith in you so called 'guidance counselors'. I have a firm belief that
you often do more harm than good. Now, you upset Jenny. I want you to
know something very important. If you upset Jenny, you upset me. And
trust me when I say this, Mr. Simmons. I'm not a good person to be around
when I'm upset. Especially when that person near me is the cause of my
being upset.

"Don't touch her, don't talk to her. Leave her alone. If you don't,
you and this school will find itself at the wrong end of some extensive
litigation, where your record here would be thoroughly investigated. Do I
make myself clear, Mr. Simmons?"

He nodded slowly.

"Good. That was the only purpose of my visit here. Good day." With
that, I turned on my heels and walked out. I could feel his gaze drilling
into my back as the door closed.


Jenny never asked me what I said to Mr. Simmons. I could tell she
wanted to when I came home that night, telling her that she could go back
to school and not have to worry about being bothered. We were both glad
when the school year ended. Word had of course gotten out about Jenny
being pregnant, and she was soon the center of school gossip once again.

Jenny and I kept up on our morning walks, the distances becoming less
and less as the baby grew within her. Her choice of meals got a little
odd; I had heard of this in various books. I had never thought that lime
Jell-O with olives suspended in it would appeal to even a pregnant woman,
but Jenny loved it, eating huge bowls of it at a time. She couldn't tell
me why, nor did she ever eat it again after the baby was born.

June rolled into July and then into August, and Jenny became very
obviously pregnant. As time went on she rarely left the apartment unless I
was driving, preferring to stay inside by the air conditioner with a good
book. There is no one more miserable than a woman almost eight months
pregnant sitting out in the sun, the thermometer topping off at a hundred
and five degrees.

I did what I could to make her comfortable and to support her, but it
wasn't easy. I rubbed her feet, massaged her back, and made her Jell-O.
The mood swings were disorienting for both of us. One minute she would be
telling jokes, the next she'd be crying on my shoulder. But we worked
through it.

Then our daughter arrived a bit earlier than we had planned.

End Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen --------------

It was early morning in late August when Jenny woke me.

"Alex, think it's time." she panted, holding her stomach.

"Time?" I asked groggily. "Time!" I said, as realization of what she
had just said hit me. "But she's not due for another two weeks!"

"I don't think she cares!" she groaned in pain as a contraction rolled
over her.

"Okay, okay!" I said, jumping out of bed and running back and forth at
it's foot aimlessly, starting to panic. "How far apart are the
contractions?" I asked, frantically searching for the suitcase Jenny had
packed weeks before.

"About five minutes."

"Five minutes? How long have you been having them?" I asked, shocked
that they were already that close.

"Half an hour. But I thought it was just cramps. But now I'm pretty
sure it isn't." She gasped as the next contraction started.

"Well, remember to breathe! I'll call the hospital and Dr. Sampson,
you... well, just stay here and yell if you need me."

"Okay." she gasped. I ran out of the bedroom, wondering at how calm she
seemed to be. I knew I wasn't as I hit the speed dial button for Dr.
Sampson. Jenny had put it there, along with the hospital's number.

'She always thinks of these things, thank god.' I thought as I listened
to the line ring. Dr. Sampson picked up.

"Hello?" he said groggily.

"Dr. Sampson! This is Alex... I think Jenny's gone into labor!" I
almost yelled into the receiver.

"Calm down, Alex. Let's make sure it's for real. How far apart are the

"Jenny said five minutes. She just woke me up a couple minutes ago."

"All right. What did she eat for dinner? Are you sure it's not just
stomach pains?"

"Uh, I don't know...." Then Jenny cried out from the bedroom. I dropped
the phone on the floor with a clatter and rushed into the bedroom.

"Oh my god!" I said, seeing the wet spot spreading across the bed where
Jenny was laying.

"I think my water just broke." Jenny said, fear clear in her eyes as she
looked at me, as she realized that this was really happening. I ran out of
the room, only to screech to a stop and rush back in.

"Are you all right?" I asked her, my eyes likely as wide as saucers.

"Besides the fact that I'm having a baby, I'm fine!" she growled as
another contraction started. I nodded and ran back out to the living room,
grabbing up the receiver again.

"Her water just broke!" I cried, dancing from foot to foot like a little
kid who needed to use the bathroom.

"Well, that generally means that it's for real. Get her to the
hospital, and I'll head out now."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll do that. See you there!" I slammed down the phone,
then ran for the bedroom. I nearly got rug burn on the the soles of my
feet as I slid to a stop on the carpet and ran back to the phone to call
the hospital, thankful again for the speed dialing. After that was done, I
raced in and told Jenny we were going to the hospital.

"About time!" she groaned. Quickly, I dressed then helped her out of
bed and down to the car, glad that I had parked so close. I had climbed
into the drivers seat and inserted the key into the ignition before I
realized that I had forgotten the suitcase. I leapt out of the car and ran
back into the apartment, remembering to lock the door this time on my way

My tires squealed as I drove out of the parking lot. Jenny screamed for
me to slow down, telling me we still had time. So I kept it at only ten
over the limit, thankful for the light traffic of early morning.

The sun was just peaking over the horizon as we pulled into the parking
lot. I ran in and got a nurse with a wheelchair to help Jenny inside. A
moment later Dr. Sampson drove up. He smiled at us as he walked in.

"Well, it seems that she decided to come out a couple of weeks early,
eh?" he said, the usual jolly twinkle in his eye.

"Will she be all right?" Jenny asked, worried.

"Oh, a couple weeks early shouldn't be a problem. We'll get you checked
in, and take a look."

We got Jenny into her room, helping her onto the bed. The room was
nondescript, typical white hospital walls, a couple of generic chairs, and
a fetal monitor to the right of the bed. The window looked out across the
street at an office building, where the early morning sun was just
beginning to reflect off the tint-darkened glass. I pulled up a chair and
sat next to Jenny, holding her hand as she tried to crush mine every time a
contraction hit. I did my best to smile, wishing I could do something to
help her with the task she had, but I knew there was little I could do.

Soon the contractions were only two minutes apart. Dr. Sampson was
surprised that it was going so quickly, especially on a first birth. I
stayed rooted next to Jenny, the contractions being painful to the point
that she was sweating profusely, screaming every time one came on.

I helped her best I could, wiping her brow and looking into her fear and
pain filled eyes with what I hoped was a comforting, confident look.

The time finally came, and Dr. Sampson lifted Jenny's legs into the
stirrups. When the next contraction started, he told her to push. I
encouraged her as she strained, pushing hard. Our daughter's head started
to emerge as I gazed on in rapt astonishment. He told her to push again,
and out popped the rest of her head, then her shoulder. One more push, and
she slid out with a gush of fluid. A few seconds later, I heard the scream
of a newborn baby girl crying for the first time.

The nurses cleared the baby's nose and mouth and cleaned her off, then
wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to me, smiling as I gazed proudly
down at my baby daughter. I carried her over to a tired, sore but happy
Jenny and handed the baby to her.

She immediately cradled her in her arms, seeming to smile brighter than
I had ever seen her smile before, her face fairly aglow with pride and
relief. Tears began to roll down her face.

"She's beautiful." I whispered to her. I gazed down at our daughter's
face, admiring her tiny, perfect features, a small patch of dark brown hair
dusting the top of her head. Then her eyes slowly opened, and I looked
into the deepest blue eyes that I had ever seen.


Jenny and the baby stayed at the hospital for the next few days.
Thankfully there were no complications; the baby was healthy, weighing in
at seven pounds, three ounces. Five toes on each foot, four fingers and a
thumb on each perfect little hand.

Jenny and I couldn't figure out where she had gotten her blue eyes from,
until I remembered that my mother had had blue eyes. But that, it seemed,
was the only feature that seemed to come from my side of the family. She
looked very much like her mother, from the dark brown of her sparse hair to
her pale white skin.

After much debate, we decided on a name only a few hours after her
birth. We named her Skyla, a name from a book we had both read. With her
sky blue eyes, it seemed to fit her well.

Her birth certificate read "Father unknown". That stung me. Over the
last few months and particularly the last few days, I had come to love
Jenny more than I had ever thought possible. Now I had my daughter to love
as well, but legally she wasn't my daughter. Her father was 'unknown', and
that hurt me much more than I had thought it would.

I set up Skyla's crib next to Jenny's and my bed. The only other place
to put it would be the living room, and we figured it would be easier if
she was in the same room as we were. The room was small enough that you
could practically reach her by just sitting up in bed and reaching over the
crib bars. We planned to get a two bedroom apartment in the future if we
could afford it, but for now it was perfect.

Jenny and Skyla came home a few days later. We put her to bed in her
new crib, then watched her sleep, sleep being the thing that newborns seem
to do an awful lot. I wrapped my arms around Jenny and hugged her.

"Can we procreate or what?" I joked.

Jenny smiled. "We sure can. We're very lucky."

I kissed her on the head. "Jenny, let's go into the living room. I
need to talk to you about something."

"What?" she asked, curious.

"You'll see. Just come on." I walked toward the living room, pulling
her with me away from the crib. She looked back once more, double checking
that Skyla was all right, then followed me into the living room. Motioning
for her to sit on the couch, I sat down facing her.

"Over the last few months, I've been thinking a lot about us. Pretty
soon we'll have been together for two years. We've been living together
for more than one, and now we have a daughter. I saw her birth
certificate, and noticed where it was supposed to say the fathers name. Of
course it didn't have mine, but instead said 'unknown'. I knew that it
wouldn't, but it bothered me. It bothered me a lot."

"What are you saying, Alex?" she asked, looking a little curious.

I took a deep breath, feeling a little shaky. "I need to ask you

"You know you can ask me anything. So go on." she prodded.

"All right." I reached into my pocket, holding my hands together so she
couldn't see what I had pulled out. "This is the most important question
I've ever asked you, Jenny. I've loved you I think since the day I first
saw you shivering in the cold on that bus. I think I'll always love you.
And that's why I'm asking you this now." I opened my hands, revealing a
black velvet covered case. I pulled it open, reveling the glittering ring
inside. "Jenny, will you marry me?"

She gasped, her jaw dropping open in shock. For a few seconds she just
stared at me, and at the ring. My heart stopped for those few seconds,
more scared in that moment that she would say no than I had ever been at
any other time in my life.

"Oh Alex!" she whispered. "You mean it? I didn't expect you to..." she
stopped, at a loss of words.

"I mean it, Jenny. All you have to do is say yes or no. But I hope
with all my heart you'll say yes."

"Yes." she whispered. "Yes. You know I love you and Skyla more than
anything. I would have said yes two weeks ago, six months ago, a year ago.
I'll marry you." We sat in silence for a couple of seconds, letting what we
had just said sink in. Then we nearly leapt into each other's arms, and
hugged one another tightly. She began to cry, and I could feel my own
tears dripping off my cheeks and soaking into her hair.

My hand shaking, I took the ring from the case, and slid it slowly onto
her finger, doing my best to burn the memory of that moment into my mind
forever. I kissed her, and she melted into my arms. Looking down at her,
I realized that she was the girl I was going to marry. If you had told me
before I met Jenny that I would be engaged to a beautiful, wonderful woman
by the time I was nineteen, I would never have believed you. Now I was
engaged to be married, and I had a child to boot. A shocking turn of
events for less than two years by anyone's definition. But, finally, we
would be together, with no one able to separate us. Finally, we would both
have a real family.

Just Jenny, Skyla, and me.

End Chapter 16

Chapter 17 -------

A few seconds later we heard Skyla crying from the bedroom. Jenny and I
got up and went into the bedroom to check on her.

"She's hungry." Jenny said, beginning to unbutton her blouse.

"How can you tell?" I asked, confused.

"I just can, that's all."

She picked up Skyla and sat down on the bed. I put a couple of pillows
behind her back, propping her up against the headboard. She tickled
Skyla's cheek with her nipple, then led it to her mouth, letting her
suckle. I watched with interest through the entire routine. Somehow I had
managed to never see Jenny nurse Skyla in all the times I had seem them at
the hospital, being busy with work I wasn't usually around until the
evenings at the hospital. I sat next to her on the bed so I could watch,
and Jenny shifted position until she was leaning comfortably against me.
Wrapping my arms around her waist, I helped her support Skyla, not that
Skyla weighed enough to make it a two person job.

"Why does this fascinate me so much?" I said, taking Skyla's hand in
mine, running my thumb over the skin on the back of her tiny wrinkled hand,
feeling her grab it in reflex in fingers no thicker than a matchstick with
fingernails to match.

"Because she's your baby daughter. I think you'll be fascinated by most
everything she does for a while." Jenny smiled indulgently.

"I still can't believe how small she is. What if I hurt her by
accident? I have no experience with babies, only what I've read in books."

"Dr. Sampson said to do what comes naturally. He also said he had
faith that we'd be good parents to her. You're a gentle person, and I
think that you'll be as gentle as you can possibly be with her. Don't
worry so much about it."

"I'm a father. I'm supposed to worry."

"It's going to be interesting to see how you react when she goes out on
her first date." Jenny said with a laugh.

"First date? She's less than a month old, and you're talking about
first dates? My god, and here I was worried about changing my first
diaper!" I shook my head woefully.

"Alex, relax. Her first date won't happen until she's at least six."
She started laughing again when she saw the look on my face. Skyla was
having a hard time keeping her mouth in place.

"Okay, okay. You can stop laughing now. I realize you were just
joking." I grumbled. Jenny just laughed harder, until it stopped abruptly
when I leaned over suddenly and kissed her. I'd found out long ago that
that was the quickest, easiest way to quiet her down when she was needling
me. She pulled back a few seconds later, still smiling.

"The nurses were right when they said new fathers are the most gullible
people on the planet when it comes to their children."

"Conniving women. Can't trust any of them." I grumbled. Jenny laughed
some more.

"Conniving? Us? We're just innocents, here for you strong men to
manipulate and take care of us, and to raise the children," she snickered.

"Hey, if you keep laughing like this, we're going to have to start
bottle feeding Skyla." I said, ignoring her last remark and pointed down to
where Skyla was still struggling to keep Jenny's nipple from escaping her

"Oops, sorry Skyla. I think she's almost full anyway." Still, she
managed to keep from laughing until Skyla finished a few moments later.

"Do you want to hold her?" She asked.

"I've love to." So far I'd only been able to hold her every once in a
while for a few minutes until the nurses came and stole her away from me.
Skyla whined a bit when Jenny handed her to me, but relaxed again when she
settled into my arms. I leaned back against the headboard. Jenny lay
down, head propped up on one arm, looking at us with a small smile on her

"You look so proud you could burst." she said, watching me look
adoringly down at Skyla, who had fallen asleep in my arms, much to my

"I am. I've never helped create anything so perfect in my life."

She smiled, understanding how I felt.

"You wanted to keep her from the moment you found out I was pregnant,
didn't you?" she asked.

"Yes." I said absently, not really paying attention to what she was
saying. I was too busy watching Skyla's chest rising and falling
rhythmically, again amazed at the amount of body heat such a small person
could generate.

"And if I had told you I wanted to give her up for adoption, you would
never have told me that you wanted to keep her, would you? You would have
let yourself be miserable, never knowing who your child was, just to give
me that choice?"

I sighed, closing my eyes and letting my head fall back and thump
against the wall.

"Jenny, I told you that it was your choice, one I felt you had to make
for yourself. If I protested and insisted that we kept the baby, I might
have pushed you into something you weren't ready for. I might have
alienated you, and you might have left, no matter what you say you would
have done now. I would rather have lost the baby to adoption than to run
the risk of loosing you and the baby. Losing the baby would have hurt, but
losing you and the baby would have destroyed me."

Jenny considered this, and slid up next to me resting her head on my
shoulder and looking down at where Skyla slept in my arms.

"I'm glad I decided to keep her."

"So am I. More than you'll ever know."

Jenny looked up into my eyes. "I think I know, Alex. Just by looking
at you when you're near her, or even when you're just thinking about her. I
also know that you'll never hurt her, just as you've never hurt me. You
will be a wonderful father."

a"And you will be a wonderful mother." I said, kissing her.

The dry southwestern wind billowed out the curtains on the open window
as two new parents lay together, watching their newborn daughter sleep in
their arms, the soft whisper of her breathing filling their ears.


The first month Skyla was home was a blur of crying, sleeping, wedding
preparations, phone calls, and visits from friends. Most of said friends
asked me why it took me so long to ask Jenny 'the big question'.

Kallie, of course, was the first one to hear. Jenny called her the same
night I asked her to marry me.

"About time." she said, voice crackling hollowly over the speakerphone.
"You two have been all over each other for almost two years now. 'Bout
time you actually got married, especially with a kid around."

"You could be a little more ecstatic about this, you know." I said

"Why should I be? It's more fun this way; it makes it easier to get
under your skin, Alex dear." she said sweetly.

Jenny snickered. "So are you going to come down here for the wedding,
and see Skyla while you're at it? I know you've been drooling over those
pictures we sent you for the last few days. Don't bother denying it."

"I wasn't going to, she's beautiful. You two do good work, even if it
was accidental. When's the wedding so I can start planning my escape?"

"Well, we haven't talked about a date yet..." Jenny said, looking at me.

"Let's set one then. Your birthday's coming up here in less than a
month. What better way to celebrate your sixteenth birthday?"

"What a great idea! But how will we manage to get it all set up in less
than a month? Especially when we have to take care of Skyla, too?" Jenny

"We'll figure something out." I told her, and kissed her for what seemed
the hundredth time in five minutes. It was just as sweet as if it was the
first time.

"All right, all right, you two. You gonna go for a second kid while
paying long distance just so I can hear?"

"No, Kallie," I said. "I think she's just jealous." I whispered loudly
into Jenny's ear. She barely stifled a giggle.

"I heard that, Alex!"

"Well, I can't keep anything from you, Kallie. Ears so big they can
pick up a whisper thousands of miles away." I grinned.

"You're going to earn yourself a fat lip on your wedding day if you keep
saying things like that." Kallie growled.

"Sheesh. One baby in the bedroom, one in the living room, and one two
thousand miles away." Jenny sighed.

"Baby? Me? I'm thwee yeaws owld, not a baby." I pouted comically.
Jenny nearly fell over laughing when she saw my face.

"Just as long as you're potty trained. We've got enough dirty diapers
to go around now, without you adding to the load."

I couldn't help but grin. Then Kallie broke in again.

"If you two loons would stop laughing, we could get around to planning
this. Also, you need to send me another set of pictures. I made the
mistake of showing Amanda the pictures of her niece. I was barely able to
tear them away from her, and now whenever she sees me she begs for another

"We didn't think about that. We'll send you some more tomorrow." Jenny

"Also, don't you think she'll want to come down with me when I tell her
you two are getting married?"

"We didn't think of that, either." I sighed. "We'll work something out
there, too."

"Good. Well, it's getting late, I'd better go. Keep me updated."

We both said good bye, and Kallie hung up. Then we went to bed, at
least until Skyla would wake and demand another feeding or diaper change.

Skyla woke up crying in the middle of the night three times. Once she
was hungry, once it seemed she was just lonely, and the third time with a
dirty diaper. I got my first lesson in diaper changing that night.
There's nothing quite like changing a smelly diaper at four A.M. Jenny and
I, like most new parents, were living off micro-sleep. We fell asleep
reading, I fell asleep at work. Once or twice I even fell asleep on the
toilet. It wasn't so much the waking up that was draining us, it was
getting Skyla back to sleep.

One night I was walking around the bedroom, trying to get Skyla to stop
crying. Jenny was passed out in bed, it being it was my turn to get her to
go back to sleep. She'd been quick to learn the parenting skill of being
able to sleep through anything, I hadn't had much luck with it yet.

Finally in exhaustion I lay down on the bed, resting her belly-down on
my chest. I was bare chested, it being much too warm still to sleep with
much of anything on. Skyla only had on her diaper, so we were fairly skin
to skin, as much as could be done without risking a mess on the bed.
Magically she stopped crying, and within a few minutes was fast asleep.
Apparently the sound of my heart beating and the warmth of my chest made
her relax to the point that she would fall fast asleep. Having her lying
on my chest seemed to have the same effect on me, since I passed out soon

I woke up the next morning to the motion of Jenny sitting up in bed. I
glanced over through bleary eyes, only to see her looking at Skyla and I in

"You slept like that all night? How did you keep from moving?" she
asked, stroking the back of a still passed out Skyla.

"I have no idea. But I haven't slept that well in weeks." I yawned,
trying to stretch while disturbing Skyla as little as possible.

"Well, it looks like I'll just have to share your chest with Skyla,
then. Like mother like daughter." she said, referring to the fact that her
favorite position to fall asleep was cuddled up against my side, her head
resting on my chest.

"Well, you could always put your head on my stomach." I joked.

"What? With your stomach gurgling all night against my ear? I'd dream
that I was being chased by the blob!" she laughed.

From then until Skyla started sleeping through the night I would often
wake up with Skyla sleeping on my chest, whether I put her there while I
was awake or if Jenny put her there after her two A.M. feeding. I was
scared to death of rolling over and crushing her, but I never seemed to
move much while sleeping, at least when Skyla was asleep on my chest.

Jenny bounced back quickly after she had Skyla. To look at her, you
would never be able to tell that she had ever had a baby. A few weeks
later Dr. Sampson told her it was all right to 'engage in all your old activities', and Jenny went on birth control immediately. Skyla was
wonderful, but we didn't think that we wanted to take the chance of Jenny
getting pregnant again. At least not for a few more years.

Jenny took the first semester of school off, wanting to stay home with
the baby. I tutored her every night after work so she wouldn't fall too
far behind. I had advanced in my studies far enough to be able to get a
better job at a local software company, working as a programmer part time.

Eventually I was able to talk my boss into letting me telecommute so I
could stay home with Skyla during the day. It paid only slightly more for
longer hours, but I was happy to be able to stay home with Skyla. I
switched to night school so I could handle it. It would take longer for me
to graduate, but I felt the new job and the baby required it.

We planned a small wedding, only inviting a few of our friends,
including Kallie and Amanda of course. At the last minute we managed to
get Amanda to come down for the wedding by her telling her parents that she
was going on a school trip for a few days. Why they bought it I'll never
know, perhaps they just wanted some time alone badly enough to believe

There were a few legal hoops to jump through due to Jenny's age. It
took a couple of lawyers and a loan from Dr. Sampson to do it, but we
managed. He was shocked that we were going to get married, but was all for
it once he recovered. Then he was again shocked when Jenny and I asked him
to walk Jenny down the isle, since we obviously couldn't ask her father to
do so. He accepted with enthusiasm, but his wife had to prod him once or
twice until he shook out of his daze.

Kallie and Amanda arrived three days before the wedding. They spent the
entire trip from the bus station teasing me with questions like 'Are you
nervous?' and 'You aren't getting cold feet, are you?' I got Amanda to shut
up when I started calling her 'little sister to-be'. Kallie was of course
as unstoppable as always. I was glad to get home, where their attention
was immediately riveted to Skyla. They spent the next hour cooing over
her. Jenny and I just sat back and watched amusedly as they made faces and
talked baby talk. Finally Skyla decided that she had had enough and
started crying. They both watched wide eyed as Jenny started nursing
Skyla. I started to crack a joke but stopped myself, realizing that I must
have looked the same way when I had first seen Jenny do it.

Jenny was very open and nonchalant about nursing in public. She was
adamant about it being a "perfectly natural function of the female body
that had been done in public for centuries" and "nothing to hide or be
ashamed of". Anyone who got on her case about it quickly learned how sharp
a tongue Jenny had when she needed to use it. I had to agree; there is
nothing lewd or "indecent" about a woman nursing. The people who thought
otherwise, in my opinion, were so uptight that they probably showered with
their underwear on.

The next few days were exhausting, what with the wedding plans, Skyla,
and especially Kallie and Amanda. Whenever they heard Skyla starting to
cry they rushed in to see what was wrong. Not only did Jenny and I never
get any privacy, but it made it harder to get Skyla back to sleep.

Jenny and I had wisely chosen to wear pajamas to bed while Amanda and
Kallie were staying with us, making both of us uncomfortable. (Try
sleeping in the nude for ten years, and then switch back to wearing
pajamas. Then move to New Mexico into an apartment with less than adequate
air conditioning. See how comfortable you are.) I was also reluctant to
pull my trick of letting Skyla sleep on my chest, I didn't want to deal
with the comments from Kallie and Amanda.

The second night Kallie and Amanda were with us, Skyla woke up and
wouldn't fall asleep after thirty minutes of constant crying. The entire
crew was there, cooing over her, trying to quiet her down. Personally I
thought that was half the problem, Skyla wasn't used to having a lot of
people around.

Finally I gave in and pulled my pajama top off. I blushed bright red when Kallie whistled and said "Oh yeah, take it off!" and started laughing.
Jenny and Amanda started to laugh as well until I glared at them. Even
then I could still hear them giggling as I took Skyla from Kallie and lay
down with her on my chest. I blushed again when the inevitable "Aww, how
sweet!" came from Kallie and Amanda. Living with four girls, for any
period of time can be destructive to a man's macho image. I could feel it
crumbling as I heard the click of Kallie's camera.

"I just had to get that on film." she grinned. I grumbled and gave her
the finger when Jenny wasn't looking.

"You should have taken it when he's wearing his normal pajamas." Jenny

"Jenny, please don't." I pleaded.

"What does he normally wear?" Amanda asked curiously.

"Nothing." Jenny said and grinned.

I groaned and covered my eyes as the room filled with high pitched
female laughter and whistles again. Then Skyla started to cry again,
waking from her temporary silence on my chest. 'Thank god.' I thought.

"Everyone out!" I growled. "I want to get some sleep, and all of you
squawking in here isn't helping me or Skyla get any!"

"Aww, spoil sport!" Jenny laughed. But Kallie and Amanda obeyed for
once, filing reluctantly out of the room, one more wolf whistle trailing
after them.

"Did you have to tell them that?" I complained to Jenny after they had
left, shutting off the lights and closing the door after them.

"No, but I wanted to show off my fiancee." She smiled and cuddled up
next to me, giving my cheek a quick peck.

"Well, I guess I can forgive you then." I chuckled.

"Good." she mumbled, then fell asleep. Skyla was already asleep, her
small body rising and falling with my breath. I trailed a finger down her
back, and she made a little noise and shifted herself a little. I kissed
her on the top of her head, the soft fuzz of her hair tickling my nose.

'I never imagined my life could be so wonderful.' I thought to myself.
'Now if I could just get those two out of my living room...' I smiled to
myself. 'The next few days are going to be very interesting.'

End Chapter 17

Chapter 18 --------

I woke up the next morning to Skyla's weight being lifted off my chest.
I opened my eyes sleepily, Jenny hovering over me.

"She was awake, so I thought I'd give her breakfast." she whispered,
leaning over a peck on the lips. "Go back to sleep, we don't have to get
up for another couple of hours."

I stretched and yawned. "No, I'll never get back to sleep now. I think
I'm more addicted to Skyla sleeping on my chest than Skyla is."

Jenny smiled at me and shrugged off the straps of her nightgown and
started to feeding Skyla. "Tomorrow's the big day. Got cold feet yet?"
she teased.

"Cold feet? Me? As long as I'm marrying you, I could never get cold
feet." I scooted up on the bed next to Jenny and wrapped my arm around her
waist. "How do you feel?"

"Good. Nervous, though. But I'll be fine." She leaned her head on my
shoulder and kissed my neck. "I'll bet you look good in a tux."

"I look even better out of a tux," I joked.

Jenny laughed. "From what I see, you do. But I'm too busy at the
moment to get a closer look. But give me a minute and we'll see, she's
just about ready to fall asleep again."

Leaning over, I kissed her forehead, "No rush, it's nice just laying
here with you two." We cuddled together quietly for a few moments, just
watching Skyla nurse.

"You think they've got back pain yet, sleeping on those lumpy couches?"
Jenny asked idly, running a fingertip over Skyla's cheek.

"Mmm." I said noncommittally, "I don't know, you've never made me sleep
on it yet, so I can't say."

Jenny smiled, sitting up slightly, moving over and laying Skyla in her
crib, fast asleep. "Well, you've never given me reason to, have you?"

"Not really." I agreed, taking her back in my arms and giving her a soft

"Well, I definitely don't want you sleeping on the couch right now," she
murmured, giving me a deeper kiss. Our hands wandered, enjoying ourselves.
We forgot all about our house guests in the process, unfortunately.

We were in a particularly awkward position when Amanda knocked and
walked in without waiting for an answer.

"Time to wake up..." she stopped in mid-sentence, her eyes bulging from
her head at a sight which few girls her age have ever seen.

"S-s-sorry." she stuttered, backing slowly out of the bedroom. She
turned and ran, the door clicking shut behind her.

"We have to get a lock for that door." Jenny said.

I stifled a laugh, then we both cracked up, trying to keep out laughter
low enough that the other two in the living room couldn't hear it.

A few minutes later, when we were sure no one else was going to walk in
on us, we slid back into what we were doing before the rude interruption.
At one point I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye,
and for a moment I could have sworn I saw the door open a crack. I ignored
it in the rush of what Jenny and I were doing.

A few minutes later left Jenny and I curled up together, catching our
breaths. I stroked her back as she cuddled up against my side, laying her
head on my chest. She lay there listening to my heart pound, while I was
listening for the sound of the door clicking closed again. I wasn't
disappointed, it clicked closed almost silently a moment later.

"Jenny, I think Kallie and Amanda just got an eyeful." I chuckled a few
minutes later.

"What?" Jenny said in shock, looking up at me from where her head rested
on my chest.

"I saw the door open a little a little while ago. About two minutes ago
it clicked shu again."

"Why, those two peeping toms! I'll... I'll..." she paused, thinking.
"I don't know what I'll do to them, but they won't like it."

I grinned at her. "Just follow my lead." I got up and pulled on my
robe, walking to the door and waited while Jenny pulled hers on hurriedly.
"So what do you have planned?" she asked with a grin.

"You'll see." I grinned back. Opening the door, I walked into the
living room. Kallie and Amanda were sitting on the couch whispering. When
they heard the door open they turned and looked at us guiltily.

"Good morning." I said jovially. "Get a good look, you two?" Jenny just
leaned against the wall and smirked at them.

"You saw us?" Amanda gasped.

"Jenny didn't, but I saw you both."

Kallie and Amanda both blushed and looked at the floor. It was the
first time I'd ever seen Kallie blush.

"We don't really care if you two peek." I held a finger up to silence
Jenny before she could say anything. "But I think turnabout is fair play.
Now, if we catch you watching us again, we consider that an agreement to
some new house rules."

"What rules?" Kallie asked suspiciously.

"They're simple. Actually, there's only one. If you watch us, we get
to watch you two... how shall I say it? 'Get it on'?" I watched in
amusement as shock spread over the faces of all three girls. The looks on
Kallie and Amanda's faces confirmed what I had already suspected. "Yes,
I've guessed that you two are 'involved', so to speak. So, think about it.
Jenny and I are going to go take a shower." With that, I turned and walked
toward the bathroom. Jenny followed me, obviously deep in thought.

As soon as the bathroom door closed, the flood of questions came from

"How did you know?" she asked.

"I didn't. I just guessed by the way they acted around each other.
Plus I thought I heard noises coming from behind the door while they were
peeping. Just logic."

"Logic, huh? Male logic, I think."

"Maybe I'm just naturally suspicious." I gave her a kiss. "So you ready
for our shower? If they peek in on us while we're in here, they've
accepted the rule. If not, we'll be left alone."

"If they accept it, what will we do?" Jenny said worriedly.

"I don't think they will."

"More male logic?"

"No, just knowledge of how shy Amanda is."

We climbed into the shower and took our time. The door never opened,
and we were left alone for the rest of Amanda and Kallie's visit. Well, at
least as far as we could tell.

That night we thought we heard "interesting" noises coming from the
living room. We did our best to ignore them, though Jenny couldn't help
but shake her head and mutter about her little sister growing up almost as
fast as she had.


Our wedding was a small affair. No more than fifteen people came,
including the justice of the peace and his wife. The cake was small and
simple, one of Jenny's friends had made it for us. It had two tiers at
least, with a bridge and groom on top, but it was plain as far as wedding
cakes went. Neither of us minded, it was the symbolism that counted.

Jenny nor I were religious, though we were still in the process of
making plans for where to hold the ceremony when Mrs. Sampson had insisted
we hold it in the church that they attended. She was so insistent that we
finally agreed, figuring it was more for tradition than anything. We also
owed so much to the Sampsons, and it could hardly hurt to follow their
wishes as far as this issue went.

I stood at the end of the isle, waiting for Jenny to appear down the
isle. I was nervous, at least as much as any bridegroom on his wedding
day. I didn't have cold feet, I had a solid feeling that "this is the woman
I'm going to marry". Really, I hadn't had a doubt since the first two
weeks we had been together, much less after the two years since then.
Still, I was worried about goofing up the ceremony. Weddings don't mean as
much to men as they do to women usually, and I knew this was a huge deal
for Jenny. It was huge for me, but I'd never had dreams as a little boy of
the perfect wedding like many little girls likely do.

Jenny had gone out with Kallie and Amanda the day before to buy a dress.
They made me sit out in the car for over an hour before they came out, and
then refused to let me see it, saying it was 'bad luck'. I wrote it off to
'typically odd female behavior', as my few male friends and I called it.

Still, I have to admit that Jenny in her wedding dress when she finally
walked down that isle had an effect on me that I doubt it would have had if
I had seen it beforehand.

She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her, the long white dress
flowing around her ankles as she was lead down the isle by Dr. Sampson.
He looked as proud as if she had been his own daughter. The dress fit her
perfectly, emphasizing her slim waist, dark hair cascading down in loose
curls over her shoulders and the low cut back of the dress, contrasting to
the brilliant white of the material. She looked every bit the bride, and I
felt more than a little underdressed as she stepped up next to me, smiling
brightly. I couldn't take my eyes off her.

Finally the justice of the peace decided I was too mesmerized to move,
and began the service. Somehow I managed to pull my eyes away from Jenny,
but still watched her out of the corner of my eye as he went through the
service. Finally we reached the key points, the place where mothers and
grandmothers hold their breaths or dab back tears.

"Do you, Alex Braxton, take Jenny Baker to be your lawfully wedded wife,
till death do you part?"

I turned to Jenny. "I do."

"And do you, Jenny Baker, take this man to be your lawfully wedded

"I do." Jenny whispered, looking up at me, eyes shining.

"Well then, I pronounce you man, and wife. You may kiss the bride."

I bent over, and kissed Jenny tenderly. When we finally parted, we
continued to hold hands, not wanting to let go of the moment. Then people
surrounded us, giving us their congratulations, the men of the group
slapping me on the back and shaking my hand, the women crowding around
Jenny and talking a mile a minute. In the mass of people Jenny and I were
separated. We didn't see each other again except for longing glances
across the room until everyone piled into the cars for the trip back to our
apartment for the reception. I met her at the door, and we walked slowly
out to the car, Jenny leaning against me, looking more happy than I had
ever seen her. Kallie, who had been holding Skyla, had handed her over to
Jenny sometime during the flurry of activity.

"You look incredible." I said, wrapping an arm around her waist and
hugging her against my side.

"Thanks. Now you know the secret purpose of the wedding dress."

"What's that?" I asked.

"To stun the groom into going along with the ceremony, no matter what."
she grinned.

"Really? I would have gone though with it if you had been wearing a
pair of cutoffs and a torn T-shirt."

"I know. But some girls aren't as lucky as I am." She stood on her toes
and kissed me once more before we got into the car.

"Remember that when I forget our first anniversary." I joked, opening
the passenger side door for her.

"I don't think you'll forget. I'll give you plenty of hints before
hand." she giggled as she got in. I closed the door and climbed into the
driver side, after I put Skyla in the child's seat. She was sleeping, as
she had thankfully done during the entire ceremony.

"What if I become one of those dense husbands that you always see on

"I don't think you will." she said, looking back to check on Skyla.
When she was satisfied that her car seat was properly fastened, she turned
back around and leaned against my shoulder as I started the car.

As I pulled out of the parking lot of the church, I noticed a clinking,
clanging sound of cans on string hitting pavement coming from the back of
the car.

"Sounds like Kallie and Amanda's handiwork to me." I chuckled, realizing
what it was. I kept driving, hoping some obnoxious cop didn't pull us over
before we got home.

Jenny and I had decided to stay home for our honeymoon. We couldn't
think of anyplace we wanted to go, and we had to take care of Skyla anyway.
Neither of us wanted to leave her with anyone. She was barely a month old,
and we felt that we shouldn't leave her, however much we trusted the person
we left her with. We both agreed that a honeymoon is a honeymoon, anywhere
it might be, as long as we were together.

When we got home our apartment was packed with people, all talking,
joking and laughing. Everyone had brought something for everyone else to
eat. There was roast beef, chicken, and casseroles of every type

We were greeted with cheers and clapping, causing us to both blush.
Jenny broke away to put Skyla in her crib, so we wouldn't have to worry
about where she was. By now she was wide awake, looking around crankily,
probably wondering what everyone was yelling about.

Jenny came back a few minutes later, shutting the bedroom door until
just a crack remained so that we could hear if she started crying. After
that the party picked up. Someone had brought champagne, so we poured it
in the odd assortment of glasses we dug out of the cabinets in the kitchen.
Kallie pushed through the crowd, her loud voice topping everyone by a few

"I want to toast this young couple." Everyone faded to silence, looking
at Kallie. "I've known Jenny since we were in kindergarten together. I
can tell you I've never seen her happier than she is with Alex and their
baby daughter, Skyla. I've only known Alex for less than two years, but I
know he's a good man. Jenny's lucky to have him, and he's lucky to have
someone as sweet as Jenny. So, I toast them, to a long and happy
marriage." With that, everyone clinked glasses and took a sip of their

After that, someone turned on the stereo. Everyone danced, trading off
after every song. Jenny and I danced as best we could, but we had found
out early on we were both mediocre at best when it came to dancing.

Jenny disappeared into the bedroom once to check on and feed Skyla. I
couldn't get away, and a few minutes later I saw her come back into the
living room, only to be asked to dance by one of my friends before I could
get to her.

Every guy in the place seemed to want to dance with Jenny, and I really
couldn't blame them; she was radiant and it rubbed off on everyone she was
around. I danced once with Amanda, and then with Kallie, who surprisingly
wasn't half bad at it.

Soon it was getting late, and we began the last dance of the night. I
hunted around and found Jenny, pulling her into the circle that had been
cleared of furniture for dancing. A slow song was put in the stereo, and
we began to dance slowly, holding each other close, Jenny's head against my
chest. Other couples joined in soon after, everyone watching us as we
closed our eyes and ignored everything but the music and our gentle

There were no fancy dance steps, no flashing lights, no grand live
music. Just the somewhat tinny sound of our rather cheap stereo set, Jenny,
and I, surrounded by our friends and loved ones; those people who cared for
us and wanted us to be happy above all else. Although we were relatively
poor in money and belongings, we were rich in the priceless things that are
most important in life. Without saying a word Jenny and I realized this,
cherishing the moment for what it was worth.

Sadly, the song soon ended. We parted slowly with a kiss, and people
began to leave, each one leaving with a handshake to me and a hug to Jenny.
Kallie and Amanda had gone home with one of our friends they'd gotten to
know, saying they wanted to leave us alone on our wedding night. When
everyone had left we found the couch pushed off in a corner and sat down,
cuddling in the afterglow of a day neither of us would ever forget.

"So how does it feel to be Mrs. Alex Braxton?" I asked her, giving her
ear an affectionate nuzzle.

"Different, but good. I've waited a long time for today," she said,
obviously exhausted but happy.

"So have I. I never imagined that I'd be married this early. I always
expected to be a bachelor until at least my thirties, if I ever got
married. Of course that all changed when you entered my life. It changed
for the better, I can tell you that." I said with a chuckle.

"I certainly never imagined I'd be married at fifteen. But I'm glad I
am." She moved up for a kiss, and I obliged her.

"Want to go to bed?" I asked, waggling my eyebrows at her.

"Yes. I've wanted to all day." she said with a sparkle in her eyes.

I kissed her forehead and stood up, pulling her with me. Leading her
into the bedroom, I kicked the door closed with my heel.

An hour later, she was limp in my arms, her eyes closed, her head laying
against my chest, listening to my heartbeat. It seemed that I was the one
who needed the most recovery time, as I fell asleep, exhausted from the
day's activities.

I woke up some time later to the feeling of a warm mouth pressing
against mine. I kissed the warm mouth back, and slowly let my eyes open.
Jenny stopped when she saw that I was awake.

"Well, you're finally awake. I said I needed a rest. I didn't mean
that you could join me!"

I chuckled and pulled her up onto me, then kissed her again. "That make
up for it?" I asked.

"I suppose. As long as you keep doing it regularly," she teased.

I chuckled and kissed her again, "I promise to continue to kiss your
regularly, sweetheart." I looked over at the crib, where Skyla was sleeping
peacefully. "I'm surprised Skyla isn't awake now, considering the way you
screeched earlier."

"Screech? I did not screech!" She pouted a little, then added,
"Besides, she did wake up. You've been asleep for over an hour."

"An hour? Where does the time go?" I sighed.

"I don't know. You were snoring so loudly that the bed was shaking."

"I don't..."

"I know. You don't snore. You don't do it very often, but when you do,
it sounds like a plane is about to crash into the apartment building. You
talk in your sleep, too. But I don't mind that. You say many interesting
things in your sleep. You never told me you'd like to go to bed with my
little sister."

"Go to bed with..." I sputtered indignantly, "I never said any such
thing, even in my sleep!"

"Well, you did last night. I was feeding Skyla, and you distinctly
yelled 'Amanda, oh yes! Yes!' very passionately in your sleep!"

"I didn't say anything of the sort! She might be developing very
nicely, but I didn't say anything like that!"

"Ah ha! Gotcha! So you admit it, you're attracted to my little
sister!" she rolled off me laughing.

"I am... wait a minute. I didn't say that at all, did I? You tricked
me! Is this what I have to look forward to in the next few years of
marriage? Trickery and deceit?" I said in mock anger. But I couldn't help
but grin after I said it.

"Trick you, yes. But I got you to admit that you think my little sister is sexy!"

"I did not say she was sexy. I said she was developing nicely."

"In male talk, that means sexy. Or should I say 'hot'?" she laughed
again and rolled onto her stomach, burying her face in a pillow to muffle
her laughs so Skyla wouldn't wake.

I leaned over her and kissed the nape of her neck, nibbling lightly at
the sensitive skin.

"And what if..." I paused to kiss her between the shoulder blades --"I
said that I was attracted, just a little bit, to your sister?"

Jenny was sighing softly as I kissed my way slowly further down her
back, teasing the knobs of her vertebrae with my tongue. "I'd say that
that was fine. She's turning into an attractive young woman. But I don't
think I have to worry to much about her stealing you away from me."

"Really? And why is that?"

"Because I know you love me and Skyla, and would never leave us. Even
if it was to my pretty little sister. Besides, I'm not exactly ugly
myself." she said, wriggling a little as I kissed up and down her back.

"I'd say you know me pretty well. And yes, you are very attractive.
Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing this, would I?"

"Probably not," she admitted.

She rolled over slowly, and suddenly we weren't so exhausted anymore.

Another uncounted span of time later, Jenny and I were coming back down
to earth slowly, relishing the afterglow. She kissed my chest, too tired
to move enough to kiss me on the lips.

"It's better when you're married." she murmured contentedly.

"It sure seems like it. Should have done it sooner." I chuckled.

"Mmmmhmmm." she mumbled, her breath evening out quickly into sleep. I
glanced over to make sure Skyla was still asleep. 'Good thing she's a
sound sleeper.' I thought to myself, and let myself fall off into sleep,
the light of early morning streaming through the curtains on the bedroom

End Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen ---------------

The next day we saw Kallie and Amanda off at the bus stop. The three of
them all hugged and cried, as women always seem to do on occasions where
someone is leaving for a long time. Finally they broke it up, and Amanda
walked up to me shyly. She gave me a hug with a quick kiss on the cheek.

"See you, Sis." I joked.

"You can call me that, now that you and Jenny are married." she
conceded, smiling. Then of course Kallie had to have her turn.

"You take good care of her, you lousy bum." Kallie said, a few tears
leaking from the corners of her eyes as she hugged me.

"I always have, and always will. Don't worry, we'll do great. Just
keep calling every once and a while to keep up with us, eh?"

"You bet. I'll keep annoying you if it's the last thing I do." she
winked at me.

"That's good to know." I said dryly.

"You're always so serious." she laughed, sniffing and wiping her eyes.
"Smile once and a while."

"But that might crack my face." I said, fighting to keep my face

Kallie just laughed and waved as she and Amanda climbed aboard the bus
for the long trip back to Oregon. Jenny and I watched the bus pull out,
Jenny leaning heavily on my arm, still wiping tears out of her eyes. I put
my arm around her shoulder and waved as the bus pulled out of the station,
my other arm occupied with Skyla, who was once again asleep.

"Are you okay?" I asked as Jenny and I walked back to the car.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just going to miss them both. At least I get to
talk to Kallie, but I never get anything but letters from Amanda. You've
seen how much she's changed in the last year. What's going to happen in
the next couple of years?"

"Well, get her to send pictures. I'm sure Kallie can get Amanda over to
talk on the phone once and a while. It won't be the same as seeing both of
them in person, but it will help."

"Yes, but what if my parents find out about what's going on between
Kallie and Amanda?"

"Well, then we'll just have to get a bigger apartment." I grinned.

Jenny laughed and kissed my cheek. "Well, that would solve a few
problems. But we'll have to do that in a year or so anyway. Skyla can't
sleep in our room until she's eighteen."

"Yeah, but I'm pretty happy the way it is now."

"So am I. But she's not going to be a baby forever, Alex."

"Maybe not. But she'll always be a baby in the back of my head, even
when I'm eighty and she's sixty one."

Jenny just rolled her eyes and gave me her "what am I going to do with
you?" look, taking Skyla from me and buckling her into her car seat.


The rest of our honeymoon was almost pure relaxation. I hadn't really
had a vacation since Jenny had moved in as I had been too busy working to
support us while we both went to school. We enjoyed the time that we had
and were disappointed when I had to continue with school and work a few
days later. But we still saw as much of each other as before; it was just
that for eight hours a day I was busy working on the computer. I couldn't
really stop for fear of falling behind, in either work or school.

Skyla grew rapidly over the next few months. It seemed like no time
before she was sitting up, then she was crawling. Jenny and I quickly
learned to keep the few valuables we had higher up, as she was a very
curious baby, always touching whatever was in reach. Of course she had the
natural baby tendency to put everything and anything into her mouth. She
loved to be carried around to anyplace new; she got bored easily sitting in
the same room and would make it widely known she was bored by wailing
loudly until she was moved someplace less 'dull'. Fortunately (or
unfortunately, depending on your point of view) she had inherited my crazy
imagination, and almost always managed to get at what she wanted to see,
wherever we put it.

Skyla was a happy baby as well, a ready smile for anyone she met, those
big blue eyes grabbing immediate attention from anyone who looked at her.
Jenny and I had no tv set to sit her in front of, so we actually had to pay
attention to her instead of just sitting her in front of the tv and letting
the Teletubbies raise her.

Jenny's time was spent keeping Skyla busy and otherwise out of things
she wasn't supposed to be in. Despite her attempts, it seemed that more
often than not she was over by my chair. She learned early on that a tug
on my pant leg would get her my attention. I learned to type around her
while she sat on my lap, watching everything I was doing with baby-like
interest. It became much more common to see her perched on my lap when
Jenny went back to school in January. I didn't mind, she usually feel
asleep after a bit, bored with the symbols flashing across the computer
screen. If we weren't in front of the computer screen, we were cuddled up
on the couch, where I'd read aloud to her whatever book I was reading. I
don't know if at that early of an age if she understood any of it, but I
hoped it would at least help her learn the language easier.

Jenny was reluctant to go back to school and leave Skyla, but I
convinced her that it was best. I didn't think she wanted to spend her
life as a housewife, as much as she loved Skyla, and Jenny agreed. So, as
soon as school let out she would come home as quickly as possible every day
to see her and to let me get ready to leave for school. Skyla, once she
started crawling, soon learned that her mother would show up around the
same time every day, and would wait for her by the door when she knew it
was time for her mother to come home.

It appeared that my tutoring had helped Jenny more than we had thought.
When she took placement tests to see how far she was behind, we found out
that Jenny was actually ahead of schedule, as much as a full year in
English. She was ahead a full semester for everything else but math. This
resulted in her managing to almost skip more than a semester entirely, but
gym and math classes held her back. She was still happy despite this since
she'd at least be able to graduate that much sooner.


It was a shock to me when one day Skyla crawled over to me, pulled
herself to her feet on my chair as she had been doing for several weeks,
and very plainly said "Up." I just stared down at her, my mouth gaping
open. It was a slurred "Up", but definitely a word, not baby talk babbling.

"Up!" she said more insistently, holding up her arms. So I picked her
up, still stunned. She hugged me the best she could with her short arms.
"Daddy." she gurgled happily. I hugged her back. After a few seconds I
recovered slightly. It's not every day that your daughter, at ten months,
says her first word before she even starts walking.

"So, you can talk now, eh? Bet you think you're pretty smart, huh?" I
said, looking down to where she sat happily playing with the buttons on my
shirt. She just smiled up at me, that angelic baby smile that could melt
the most cantankerous old man's scowl into a smile. "Well guess what, you
are smart." I kissed her forehead and smoothed her hair, feeling the fine
dark hairs, so similar to her mothers, run through my fingers.

After some thought, I let Jenny find out for herself that Skyla was
talking. I wish there had been a camera around when she came home after
school that day. The look on her face when Skyla crawled up to her and
said "Mommy!" would have thrown Kallie and Amanda into convulsions of
laughter. As it was, I could barely control myself.

Jenny picked Skyla up and received her welcome home hug. I just stood a
few feet away from her, grinning.

"She talked!" Jenny said in amazement.

"Sure did. She said "up" this morning, and then "Daddy" when I picked
her up. That's her third word, and I think she has more in store for us,

"This is great! I have to call Kallie!" she said, rushing to the phone.

I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise, since Skyla had heard Kallie,
Jenny and I talking over the speakerphone quite a few times over the last
few months. But it shocked Kallie even more than us when we put her on
speaker phone without saying a word when Kallie picked up. Apparently
Skyla recognized the voice, or possibly even thought that the phone was
Kallie; but when Kallie's voice came from the phone, she shouted "Kallie!"
into the phone.

"Who's this?" Kallie said, confused.

"It's Jenny, Kallie." Jenny said, grinning as widely as I was, trying
not to snicker.

"Hi, Jenny! Who's there with you? I didn't recognize that voice."

"It's just me, Jenny and Skyla." I said, winking at Jenny.

"Then who said... wait, that couldn't have been Skyla! Are you two
trying to pull another prank on me?"

"Nope. She just started talking today. Jenny just found out. So far
she's said 'up', 'Daddy', 'Mommy' and now your name." I said proudly.

"But she's only ten months old! Babies don't usually start talking at
ten months, much less three or four words in one day!"

"Apparently Skyla didn't hear about that rule." Jenny said.

"I guess not. But I don't think I'll quite believe you until I see it

"What, you want us to rent a video camera and send a tape to you?" I

"Well, I wasn't thinking about that, but that would be great. I haven't
seen her except in pictures in ten months. Maybe put Jenny in it, too.
Alex, you hold the camera. I don't want to see your ugly mug on my TV."
Kallie teased.

"I love you too, Kallie." I snickered.

"Humph. Well, next thing you know she'll be doing quadratic equations
on the kitchen floor in crayon."

"I doubt it. Alex isn't very good at math, and I'm not much better."
Jenny said with a laugh.

We spoke to Doctor Sampson the next day, since we were a bit curious as
to why Skyla had started speaking so soon, much less with the range of
vocabulary she seemed to have. He told us it wasn't unheard of to have a
baby say their first word as young as ten months, but the only really odd
thing was again, the number of words she seemed to be able to use already.

My personal opinion was that since she had me reading to her every day,
and had spent her entire life around adults who talked to her like she was
a real human being instead of a creature called an "infant", she had picked
up the words more quickly than usual.

Dr. Sampson said perhaps it had contributed to it, but more likely it
was just that Skyla was a bit more advanced in general compared to other
babies her age in the area of language.

Skyla picked up new words quickly, and was talking with reasonable
clarity with a number of words in the form of monosyllables two months
later when she began taking her first unsteady steps. Our friends teased
us that she learned to walk later than she learned to speak because we
carried her more often than not.

It was very difficult to keep her out of things now that she was
walking. She could get across the apartment many times faster than she had
when she was crawling, and once she began running it was hard to keep up
with her. While Jenny was at school I did my programming on the fly,
getting a few lines in between chasing her around the apartment. I "kissed
better" quite a few minor injuries the first few days after she began
running. She had figured out how to get going fast, but hadn't quite
mastered stopping and avoiding objects in her path. I'd be typing away,
and all of a sudden I'd hear a thump, and then her crying.

Finally I just cleared a path for her, told her to run at me as fast as
she could, then try to stop before she hit me. She would manage one time
out of five. The other four times she would hit me full speed. I'd wrap
my arms around her and let myself fall backwards, absorbing the extra
motion, bringing her to a stop without hurting either of us. Each time she
hit me she would squeal as we fell over backwards, giggle, and go for
another run. By the time both her and I were exhausted she had improved
her stopping ability to being able to stop one time in three. After a few
lessons like this, we soon had her able to stop almost every time she ran.
Which meant we went through a lot fewer Band-Aids, thankfully.

She would dance to anything I put on the stereo, from Bach to rock. Her
favorite was Handel's Allegro Moderato. She would twirl around the floor
like she was in a ballet while it was on the stereo, her eyes closed as she
moved to the music. For a long time she wouldn't fall asleep at night
unless she heard it first.

Skyla was an affectionate child, always giving hugs to everyone she met,
which was a little embarrassing when we went shopping. Once she began
talking, she was unstoppable, always asking questions about this or that,
so many questions that there were many I didn't know the answers to. As a
result we both learned something when I looked it up in an encyclopedia or

With all these questions, we figured it was a good idea to move her crib
out into the living room for the time being, until we could find a two
bedroom apartment. Skyla didn't like this at first, and more often than
not she ended up in bed with us anyway, not used to sleeping in a room
without her parents nearby.

Luckily for us one opened up in the same building we were in, so moving
was as simple as making a few hundred trips up and down the stairs since
the new apartment was a level above our current one. Probably the biggest
difficulty was convincing Skyla everything was all right during the moving
process. She spent most of the time we moved things sitting in the middle
of the living room, eyes wide as saucers as she watched us carry our
belongings out the door.

It was no surprise that both Jenny and I were exhausted at the end of
the day. Lucky for us, Skyla's energy seemed to peter out around eight.
It became routine for Jenny and I to read or tell Skyla a story every
night. Jenny and I would take turns reading, each of us making the voices
to match the characters in the book. Skyla insisted that we do this, she
said it made the story better. Personally I think it was only so she could
laugh when her father tried to mimic how Mama Bear in the 'Three Bears'
would sound.

As I've said before, Skyla's smile would light up a room the size of a
small football stadium, and her laugh could make even the most cranky of
people smile when they heard it. She had me wrapped around her little
finger, and she knew it. All she had to do was look up at me with those
big blue eyes and say "Please Daddy?" in a pleading voice she had been
working on perfecting since she had begun talking. She would put out her
lower lip in a pout if she needed extra firepower, and I would melt. Jenny
quickly learned to take Skyla out to the car while I went through the
checkout stand at stores for that very reason. I could shoot the person
who came up with the idea of putting candy on shelves, just the right
height for little kids to get at, right where they would be standing to
wait in line, bored.

Of course, I loved playing with her. It may sound odd for a man, now in
his twenties, to want to play games with his year and a half old daughter more than most anything else he could think of. But she and I would spend
hours (usually when I was supposed to be working) playing games of some
sort, whether it was a game on the computer, or just something Skyla had
dreamed up on the spur of the moment. These spur of the moment games were
usually the most fun. More than once I found myself trying to make the
scariest face, or having her riding on my shoulders around the apartment,
singing the theme song of 'The Lone Ranger' while Skyla laughed and urged
me to go faster.

By nap time after lunch, we were both exhausted. I'd try to drag myself
to the computer to get some work done, but more often than not we both
collapsed for an hour on the couch. Jenny would come home from school and
find Skyla cuddled up next to me, both of us fast asleep. Happily, more
often than not she would join us. There's nothing quite like waking up
sandwiched between the two people you love more than anything in the world.
I'd recommend it to anyone.

End Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty -------------

One day someone totally unexpected showed up at our door. I was in the
bedroom working on debugging a program that was giving me fits. Jenny was
in the kitchen fixing us lunch while Skyla played in the living room; I
could hear her happily humming and coloring with her box of crayons when
someone rang the bell.

"I'll get it!" Skyla yelled, and ran for the door.

"Skyla, what did I tell you..." Jenny called. To late. The door
creaked open.

"Hello." came Skyla's voice.

"Hello, little girl. I'm sorry, think I have the wrong apartment," the
person at the door said. Jenny ran out of the kitchen, ready to scold
Skyla for opening the door when someone rang the bell without one of us
being there with her, something we had told her not to do a hundred times.

"Skyla..." her voice trailed off as she recognized who was at the door.

"Jenny?" the voice said incredulously. A voice from more than three
years in our past.

"Alex, I think you should get out here." Jenny called weakly.

I got up and walked out the bedroom door, rubbing my eyes as I recovered
from staring at the computer screen for the last three hours.

I stopped in my tracks as I realized that the man who was standing at
the door was my father; looking a bit older and a bit more bald than I
remembered him, but definitely my father.

"Son?" my Dad said, a look of shock still registering on his face.

"Hi Dad." I said, not able to think of anything else to say. I walked
forward and scooped up Skyla. She wrapped her arms around my neck,
steadying herself, still looking at the 'stranger' at the door.

"Who's that, Daddy?" she asked, looking at her grandfather.

"Daddy?" my father gaped at us, his jaw hanging open slightly.

"I think this will take a little explanation." I said nervously. "Come
in and sit down. Jen, could you grab something to drink?"

Jenny nodded, and hurried back to the kitchen, looking a bit relieved to
have a chance to recover from her shock, especially considering her last
and only experience with my father.

My Dad finally nodded a bit numbly after a few seconds and stepped
inside the door. I shut it behind him and moved to the couch and sat down
with Skyla on my lap. My father sat down in a recliner across from us.

Skyla continued to look at him curiously, knowing that I would
eventually get around to answering her question, as I most always did. A
few seconds later Jenny emerged form the kitchen, holding cans of cola for
the three of us and a glass of milk in a special mug for Skyla. She sat
down next to Skyla and I, setting the drinks on the coffee table. My
father took one and opened it, drinking deeply. Thankfully his color
improved slightly; I had been beginning to worry about him having a heart
attack in the middle of the apartment. I took a deep breath.

"I guess I need to explain what's happened over the last few years.
Jenny and I have been living together for nearly three years. She came to
me one night, having traveled by bus for three days to get here. She had
escaped from her parents, who had abused her in rather extreme ways that I
won't get into. I of course took her in. We lived together for a year,
and then she got pregnant with Skyla." He lost his color again at the word
'pregnant', but I continued anyway. "Yes, Dad, you're a grandfather."

My Dad shook his head, obviously trying to take it all in.

"He's my Grandpa?" Skyla said questioningly, figuring out at least in
part what was going on.

"Yes honey." I said. Before I could stop her she wriggled out of my lap
in an eel-like movement toddlers perfect early on. She stepped over to my
father, climbing up onto his lap with the skill formed from long practice.
He was too surprised to do much more than just stare down at her.

"Now I have two grandpas!" she said, giving him a big kiss and hugging
him tightly around the neck. To Jenny and my surprise, he hugged her back.
Skyla settled down into his lap and began to play with his tie, liking the
way the silk slid between her fingers. My father took it pretty well,

"Two grandpas?" he asked me, raising an eyebrow.

"Our doctor, Dr. Sampson, is sort of a godfather to her." Jenny

"Ah. So you two are still living together, even after three years? I
didn't think it would last a month."

"It's a bit more than that, Dad. Let me continue with the story."

"Well, then, get on with it. So far it's been quite... informative."

Nodding, I continued. "We decided to keep the baby, which is obvious.
We're glad we did." I wrapped my arm around Jenny. "I proposed to her a
couple of weeks after Skyla was born. We were married a month later. So,
you not only have a granddaughter that you didn't know you had, but you
also have a daughter-in-law."

"Married? But she's so young... you're both so young!" he exclaimed.

"I'm almost twenty one, Dad. Jenny will be eighteen on our next
anniversary in September."

"When did I get so old?" he sighed, looking down at his granddaughter,
who looked back up at him and gave her one of his famous smiles. Of course
he smiled back; I still had yet to meet someone who could resist Skyla's

"You're not old, Mr. Braxton." Jenny said softly. "It's just that a
lot can happen in three years."

"Call me Dad, Jenny. You may as well, you're my daughter-in-law, and I
won't have family calling me 'Mr. Braxton'. And why didn't you two invite
me to the wedding? Or even tell me about any of this? I'm difficult to
get a hold of, but it's not impossible."

"We didn't think you cared. You haven't exactly contacted us a lot over
the last few years either, Dad," I pointed out.

"Well, it looks like both of us are to blame. Sheesh, I come down here
to see the son I haven't seen in three years. First it seems like he's
moved without telling me. Then I find out he's moved into a different
apartment in the same building for some reason. Then I knock on your door
only to find out I've got a lot more family in New Mexico than I thought I

"You're taking it very well." Jenny smiled.

"It seems that I'm going to have to stop by more often. Get to know my
Granddaughter. And my daughter in law." he said, looking at Jenny. "If he
sees enough in you to stay married to you for two years, I think I can find
something." He stood up, taking Skyla into his arms as he did so. "I don't
know about you two, but I'm starving. How about lunch? I'll buy."

"Well, we were going to eat here, but I guess we could go out for once.
If that's all right with you, Jenny." I said, looking to my wife.

"That's fine with me." Jenny confirmed.

"So where should we eat?" my Dad asked.

"Well, there's only one restaurant you can really go to when you have a
toddler with you."

"Where's that?" my father asked.

"McDonalds." Jenny said. "The finest food in the general area of their
parking lot."

My father shrugged. "McDonalds it is, then."


McDonalds was busy as it usually was around lunch time. We ordered and
then found a booth near the back.

"So how's school going?" my father asked me.

"Pretty well. I've gotten a better job that lets me stay home and watch
Skyla while Jenny goes to school. Another year and a half of night school
and I should be finished."

"Good, good." my father said lamely. The conversation puttered along,
at least for a few minutes, one of us asking one question or another. Then
Skyla finished her 'happymeal' and begged us to take her out to the
playground. My grandfather caved and said he'd take her. Skyla cheered
and ran for the door, my father in tow.

"Do you trust him with her?" Jenny asked quietly.

"If I didn't, I wouldn't have let them go. I don't think he'd dream of
hurting her. In fact, I think he's still in shock. Somehow I don't think
he expected what he got when he came to visit."

"I didn't get what I expected either." Jenny giggled.

"No, but I think it turned out for the best." I said, hugging her
against me and watching Skyla and her "new" grandfather play through the
plate glass separating the play area from the rest of the building. Skyla
was climbing up onto the slide, and my father was catching her when she hit
the bottom. "I think he'll make a good grandfather. Grandparents are good
at stopping by once or twice every few months."

"Maybe. Just as long as my parents don't decide to come for a visit."
Jenny said with a shudder.

"I somewhat doubt that. If they did, I'd just slam the door in their
faces. I still remember what happened last time I let them in the door,
and I really don't want that to happen again."

"They couldn't convince me to, either. I'm perfectly happy where I am.
Very happy, in fact." she said, snuggling up to me as well as she could in
the hard plastic seat of the booth.

"That's good to hear. I haven't seen you as much as I would have liked
to over the last few months. School is time consuming. I would hate to
end up like those couples with workaholic fathers who neglect their wives
and children."

"I don't think you're anywhere near to neglecting Skyla. If anything, I
feel like I'm neglecting you, not the other way around. I'm gone all day,
only to spend a few hours with her on weekends and before she goes to bed.
As for me, well, let's just make sure we spend a lot of time together over
the next few weeks and this summer."

"Don't worry. I'm taking summer quarter off. I have the credits to
spare, and I really want to spend some time with you and Skyla without
school getting in the way. I still have to work, but we have all that time
between when I stop working and when Skyla goes to bed. And then after she
goes to bed, we have a little more private time, with neither of us having
any homework."

"I have a different kind of homework in mind." Jenny murmured in my ear
with a wicked smile, and kissed me. I kissed her back, pulling her closer
to me.

"Mommy! Daddy! Stop kissing!" Skyla scolded, seeming to appear out of
nowhere with my father still firmly in hand.

"You two sure you've been married as long as you told me? You act more
like newlyweds than a couple that have been together for almost two years,"
my father teased.

"Well, it keeps it interesting. Especially since Jenny is so creative
in..." I let out an oomph as Jenny elbowed me in the stomach. "In her...
cooking." I stammered. Jenny smiled sweetly up at me.

"That's it Jenny, get him trained while he's still young." my father grinned.

"Thanks for the support Dad." I grumbled, rubbing my stomach.


My father took Skyla, Jenny and I around to see everything from the zoo
to a great little Italian restaurant that we hadn't heard of, even though
we lived only fifteen minutes away from it. Apparently he came down here a
lot in his work, but had only gotten up the courage to stop by during this

After the first couple of days he began to notice the way we hung back,
holding hands and looking at each other longingly. The next day he came by
to take Skyla to a children's concert he had heard about in the city.
Jenny and I sighed, since we were hoping to get a little time together to
talk like we used to without Skyla interrupting. We loved her, but she
could talk for hours about anything and everything. This still surprised
us since neither of us ever really talked very much, always being the shy

"Why don't you two stay here, and let Skyla and I go? I don't think
you'd enjoy it very much, and you both look like you need some, er, sleep
anyway." he chuckled.

"That would be great. We've needed a little time alone for quite a
while." Jenny said, smiling gratefully.

"No problem." he said, then took Skyla out to his car, a little two seat
sports car that she loved since it was bright red, her favorite color.

The remaining three days of spring break were wonderful, thanks to my
Dad taking Skyla out for three or four hours every day. It was almost a
replay of our honeymoon except we didn't have Skyla's crying to interrupt
us. By the time my Dad had to leave, we were grateful beyond words. I
walked him out to his car the night he had to leave for Phoenix. He was
driving the distance since his expense account at the company he worked for
had been cut recently by "some beancounter in accounting" as he phrased it.

Skyla had given him a tearful goodbye; she had grown attached to him
over the week he had been in town. Small wonder considering that she was
pretty much spoiled rotten whenever he was with her. After all, that's
what grandparents are for.

"You have a great family there, Alex. I'm proud of you." he said as we
walked into the parking lot outside the building.

"Thanks. I've been very lucky to get Jenny and Skyla like I have."

"I'm sorry that I could never give you a family like you've given
Skyla." He sighed heavily, "Over the last couple of years I've come to
realize how much I must have hurt you, to be away as much as I was. I
drove your mother away from me because of it, and was too stubborn and set
in my ways to realize I was losing you in the same way I lost her. Then it
was to late. You met Jenny, and left for college, started a life of your

"I should have stopped by the many times I've been in town. Then I
could have seen you get married, and Skyla be born. I've missed a lot.
Not just the things since you left, but almost everything that has happened
in your life since you were a small child.

"Now I'm in my late forties, and I realize that I've never really had a
family. But you Alex, you have one. Cherish them. It will never be like
this again after Skyla goes on to college, or even after she goes to her
first day of kindergarten.

"But what am I saying? It's obvious that Jenny loves you, and so does
Skyla. You two have something very special; something that few married couples seem to have these days. I can see it in your eyes when you look
at her, or when she looks at you. It's a special bond, more than love,
more than family. You're best friends, and you can tell each other
anything. That's what makes a marriage last. Your mother and I had it,
but even that couldn't hold us together, as much as I was gone.

"Don't ever get distracted from what's really important. A career can
be destroyed, as can possessions. But a family will always be there, as
long as you keep up the maintenance on it."

We had reached the car, despite our slow shuffling.

"Thanks Dad, for everything," I said, not sure what else to say.

"Hey, no problem. Just learn from my mistakes, would you? God knows
I'm just starting to." He shook his head sadly.

I put out my hand and he took it, pulling me into a hug. The first hug
I had gotten from my father in a long, long time.

"Drive carefully, would you?" I sniffed, blinking back the 'unmanly'
tears I felt flooding my eyes.

"I will, son, I will." He pulled away and climbed into his car. I
watched him drive away with one last wave out the window.

As I walked back to the apartment, I thought about what had just
happened, what had happened over the last few days. Then I had to stop,
the tears blurring my eyesight to the point I could no longer see. I stood
there for moment, composing myself. Then I went in to see my family. But
I still couldn't get the image of my father's face as he had climbed into
his car out of my mind.

An image of him with a single tear trickling down the side of his face.

End Chapter Twenty

End Watching, Book One


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