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Ass

Chapter 1
Karly and I laid together in the bed. I was on my back, her lovely body pressed against mine. Comfort and relaxation poured from her and into me. Something about her always made me feel at peace. Safe, and warm and comfortable.

Her head was pillowed on my chest, her hair pressed to my face, bathing me in the sweet vanilla scent that I now always associated with her and only her. Her hair tickled my nose, but I didn’t care…

Well, I didn’t care too much, at least not even close to enough to move her.

I was in that magical place, not quite asleep, but just starting to nudge over the edge.

“I’m sorry.” She murmured at me.

Her voice shocked me awake, pulling me away from that relaxing place where we all lost ourselves to oblivion at least for a small time.

I jerked, in that way we all do when wakened from the edge of sleep, like a small slap on the back of the head.

“Did I wake you?” She whispered.

I put my hand on her head and pulled her closer to me. “Just a little baby girl.”

Her hand tangled in my shirt, right above my heart. “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”

I kissed the top of her head. “Stop apologizing. I can never be mad at you for long.”

She moved away from me suddenly, sitting up on her stomach and looking at me.

She was beautiful, as always, but a cloud of worry was laid bare over her face.

Concern pounded through me and I put my hand to her face, my fingers resting over her elven ear. “What’s wrong baby girl?”

She just shook her head and laid back down on my chest. She clung to me tighter.

I considered pressing her on it. Pushing her to tell me what was wrong. I decided that it would be better for her to come around to it on her own. To work her way around to telling me. We all have secrets, and worries. Some we want to share, some we feel like we owe sharing and some we dare not let see the light of day.

I put my face back to her head, “It’s okay. You can tell me, or you can keep it to yourself. It’s up to you. All you have to know is that I’m here if you want to talk.”

I could feel her shake her head on my chest.

Finally, she broke the silence. “I’m sorry we can’t have sex.”

The comment was so stupid I couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t make a big deal out of it.” I kissed her head again. “I’m not worried about it.”

I expected the comment to calm her, to allay her fears. Instead she only curled up more…

I put my hand to her face, “Hey. What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “I just don’t want you to be mad at me.”

The curling of her body had caused her to start to stray away from where I could properly wrap my arms around her. I decided that I didn’t want that, and it also wasn’t good for her, so I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her up higher.

Kissing her head, I assured her, “I’m not mad at you.”

I sighed. I didn’t understand. This wasn’t that big of a deal. At least to me it wasn’t, to her though, there seemed to be something deeper here that I didn’t understand, something that I knew was desperately important.

I finally decided she was the only one that knew the answer to that question…

“Okay. I don’t get it. This isn’t that big of a deal. It’s going to happen. I mean I’m not an expert on women’s physiology but from what I understand you all shut down for repairs monthly. Something I better get used to, I figure, considering I plan on being with you a good long time.”

She shook her head again. “It’s just…”

She hid her face from he, burying it against my chest. “It’s nothing. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

I pulled her face up so I could see her wonderful eyes. They were portraits of pure sorrow.

It was my turn to shake my head. “You can always talk to me baby girl. I don’t understand, but I want to. What’s going on in that pretty, stupid head of yours?”

My small cutting comment made her smile, a brief slash of happiness in her unhappy face, like a lightning bolt splitting the dark night, there for a moment and then gone.

I figured I wanted to see that bolt again, so I quickly ducked in and kissed her nose.

She giggled and this time her smile was more lasting.

Her hand came up to my face, tracing her fingertips from my forehead down to my lips. Sighing, she looked to have come to a conclusion. “If you don’t want to hear about this, just tell me to stop. I’ll understand.”

Worrying a bit, I forced myself to smile at her, “You have my word.”

She laid her head back down on my chest. “Mike used to get really pissed at me when I was on that time of the month and we couldn’t…”

She seemed to be trying to figure out where the line was in being graphic with her descriptions of her time with Mike. Hell, I was trying to figure out where that line was…

I gave her a few seconds to work it out. “have sex?”

Something about her tone, and her lack of confidence and the weird line of conversation hit me as funny and I started laughing again.

She sat up and smacked me on the chest. “What’s so funny?!”

I pulled her in and kissed her. I figured it was the easiest way to make her forget she was mad at me…

She was intoxicating against my lips. Heaven given form. As my lips touched hers I could feel the blood rush through my body, my breath catch in my chest. Just being able to kiss her made me feel weightless…

I finally forced myself to stop and look into her emerald eyes, “You don’t have to be a prude about it.”

Feeling a stab of jealousy jolt through me, I forced myself to say, “I know you were with Mike before me, and while I can’t say I love the thought of you with anyone but me, I know the nuts and bolts of what went on.”

I shook my head at her, finally bringing my hand up and laying it back on her face. “Tell me what you think is important. Leave out what you want, but talk about the things you need to. Be as descriptive as you need to.”

I kissed her again. “I want to know everything about you. Every inch of your beautiful mind, and I know there are going to be some dark corners. I’m okay with that. In fact, knowing about those dark corners only makes me love you more.”

She smiled and put her head back on my chest. “Anyway, he used to get really pissed at me. He’d say things like, ‘You have two other holes don’t you?’, he’d get pissed, he’d ditch me and refuse to hang out with me. He’d flirt with my friends…”

I shook my head. How could a person be so fucking stupid? How could they be so selfish?

I wanted to feel angry at him. I wanted to feel as if I should have wanted to go find the piece of trash and rearrange his face. Instead I just felt sad.

I felt a little sad for him, at being that person, at losing out on such a great opportunity for happiness with Karly…

Mostly I felt sad for Karly.

She was perfection. She should have never have had to deal with that bullshit. Never have had someone treat her that way.

Don’t you ever be that person… my mind warned me. You may get frustrated, but don’t you ever treat her that way.

“I always felt like that was his way of reminding me I was replaceable.” She finally continued.

I put my face against the top of her head and murmured into it, “That’s stupid. You’re not replaceable. Not by anyone.”

She let out a sarcastic chuckle. “I know I’m replaceable Gabby. Sweet as it is for you to say I’m not.”

That made me angry, and I forced her face up. She needed to understand the truth here. I looked into her eyes to make her understand the words came from the bottom of my heart and were not some empty platitude. “You are not replaceable. Never. Nobody could be you, and you are perfect for me.”

She pulled her face away from me and laid back on my chest, squeezing me tighter. “If you got rid of my today Jacky could easily be laying here within the hour.”

I pulled her tighter to me and put my hand on her head, rubbing my thumb in lazy circles on her temple. “Jacky isn’t you. You aren’t her.”

It pained me to admit it. I had hurt Jacky. I had created a debt there that I could never repay, that I could never make right. I had wanted Karly, and I had hurt Jacky in the process. That would never go away. It would never get any better. Looking back now I could see how I had made excuses. How I had called her stupid, or immature. Even wanting to take responsibility I had made excuses that it was her. The reality was it is never them. It’s always you.

The thought made me realize that every person is special. Every person deserves to be loved in their own way. In a perfect world, we would all find that person that could love us just the way we needed to be loved. That person that didn’t need to change themselves, that you didn’t need to change yourself for. That would grow in exactly the same direction as you. Most of us will never find them, but we all deserved to.

I kissed Karly’s head. “Neither of you is replaceable.” I felt her tense a little bit at that.

“My Karly is perfect for me. Hopefully Jacky finds the person that is perfect for her, but neither of you is replaceable. We can all lie to ourselves and pretend that all we care about is sex, or money, or whatever other stupid fucking reason we get together with someone else, but the truth is I think as humans we are born without a piece of ourselves, and we spend a long time trying to find that piece and put it back right where it goes.” I pulled her tight into me. “Mine is a Karly shaped piece. There is no other piece out there that fits exactly the same, so there’s no way to replace it.”

She shook her head against me. “I don’t think that’s true. I think you could push me out the door right now, and have her here, and she’d be so happy to have you back in her life she’d do anything you wanted her to.”

I sighed at her. She wasn’t getting it. I wasn’t explaining it well enough to her. “I could put someone right where you are, that’s true. That doesn’t mean that you’re replaceable.”

She sniffled, and I knew it meant that she was weeping. That tore my heart apart, but I knew that saying something wouldn’t make her tears stop, they would just be driven beneath the surface.

“Mike found a way to replace me. As soon as he couldn’t have sex with me he found something else Karly shaped.”

I shook my head at her stupidity.

The thought hit me then. “So, you could replace me, just like that?”

Her head snapped up, her eyes locking on mine. “No. Don’t you ever say something like that!”

I smiled at her as I saw the thought dawn on her. The realization of what she was saying.

I gave her a smartass turn of my head, “See? That’s what you are to me. I have to total package here in my arms. Do I want to make love to you? Fuck yeah. Can I refrain a bit because you can’t?” I ran my thumb over her cheek. “I’ll do anything in the world to make sure you keep remembering that I’m just as irreplaceable as you are.”

She smiled and crawled up so she was sitting on me, her hips on mine, her chest pressed against mine. She wrapped my head in her delicate hands and shook her head at me. “I love this big ol’ stupid teddy bear. I may have found him beat up and discarded…” She shook her head and tears dropped from her eyes. “But he’s all I ever wanted.”

I felt a stab of pain and love course through me. She was so perfect and what she said made me somehow found a deeper love for her right there in that moment…

Chapter 2
We were making dinner together. She had picked up supplies on her way over and was showing me how to make something she called pinwheels. They were a mix of meat, cheese, olives, jalapeños, and cream cheese inside a tortilla. They were delicious. After dinner, we sat at the table and worked on homework together. Being in the same classes made the process so much easier…

We were working on the Calculus equations. Well, she was working on the Calculus equations. I had finished them up about twenty minutes ago. I was really just quietly staring at the book, letting my mind wander. I didn’t want her to feel self-conscious about how long it was taking her to get done…

She looked up, “What did you get for number 5?”

That was about midway through the assignment and I had to flip back a couple of pages to find it.

She stopped me, “Let me see that.”

I handed her my spiral notebook and she paged back through it, shaking her head. “You’re done?”

I was embarrassed. I looked at the table and nodded my head. “I think they’re right. They look right. I mean, they look right in the way that school math always seems to look right. You get all these crazy inputs and you do all the miracle math and the answer comes out as five… it’s always five and never like, four-point-zero-seven-six-three-four… you get the point…” I trailed off.

She set the notebook down beside her own work and started to compare our answers. She hissed in frustration and took an eraser to her own work.

Panic surged through me, and I started to reach over and stop her pencil, “Don’t do that. I went too fast, I’m probably wrong.”

She looked through her eyelashes at me. “You’re not. I can see the mistake I made.”

I hated my brain. People saw me do things, thinking things and they always looked scared. People expected it out of some skinny kid with horn-rimmed glasses. Seeing out of one of the biggest kids in school seemed to intimidate them more, like I had no right to be smart and strong at the same time…

I didn’t want Karly to see me like that. I nibbled at my lip and refused to meet her gaze.

She stood and came to me, spreading her legs over me and sitting in my lap.

I wrapped my arms around her more from a sense of obligation than anything else.

She smiled at me, a twinkle in her eyes as she ran her hands up my body, starting at my stomach…

They ran up my chest, on to my neck. It felt so good… my trepidation forgotten.

My eyes drifted closed as her fingers found my face, her nails prickling over my skin. Finally, she flattened her hands out and ran them over my short, stubbly hair.

I opened my eyes and looked at her, nibbling at my lip, nervous once again…

She shook her head at me, smiling on one side her of mouth.

“Your mind…” She started to say.

I reached up and grabbed her hands, pulling them away from my head. “I feel like a freak.”

I was still holding her hands so she darted in and kissed me on the forehead.

“You are a freak, freakboy.” She smiled and took the sting out of the words.

Then her lips were on mine, and I forgot all about my worries. I let her arms go and wrapped my arms around her once more. There was no obligation about this hug, I simply needed to feel her beneath my arms. She wrapped her arms around me once again, pulling me tight to her. When she finally broke from our kiss, she looked at me, a sense of wonder in her eyes. “I love the way your mind works.”

I sighed and let my head drop back. “I don’t. Most of the time it won’t shut up. I worry all the time, and it just seems to run and run. People look at me like I’m a freak, and I hate that, because I know it’s true.”

She kissed me on the end of the nose. It was still sore from the breaking it endured down in Reno. She knew that so she was gentle.

Then she nodded, “It is a little freaky. It scares me some times.”

Her hands came up and rubbed once again into my hair. “I get the sense if you wanted to be a bad person, between that beautiful mind…”

Her hands ran down and settled on my shoulders, “And this body, you would be a really scary person.”

I chuckled at her. “Most people think I’m pretty scary.”

She smiled that electric smile and lit up my world. “Only until they get to know you, the really real you.”

She kissed my nose again, “Then they figure out you’re a big ol’ teddy bear.” She smiled at me. “I love that about you.”

I let my head drop. I really wanted to be a good person. I wanted to be the person she saw when she looked at me.

She pulled me in tight. “I wouldn’t change anything about you.”

Finally, she slid back, “Now get your freak brain over here and help me figure this shit out.”

Chapter 3
Karly took me to practice the next day on her way home. She had stayed the night with me. It was nice to have her in my arms all night long, even if I couldn’t make love to her. Practice was long and hard. It was still enjoyable, however.

I rode the bus home after practice. Joe offered to take me. I was kind to him about it, but I declined all the same. I was done being a drain on people, and I was especially done with people pitying me.

Bustling about my house I made myself busy cleaning. I put on some music and cranked it loud to entertain myself. The knock on my door came as a surprise.

Karly had plans with her mom through the afternoon, and plans with Tish in the evening. She wasn’t due back today. Maybe things had changed…

I opened the door and was shocked to see Jeremy standing there. He wasn’t on the team, and I hadn’t talked to him since my “friends” had ditched me. I was sure he was in on it. I had specifically called him and his phone had gone straight to voicemail.

My eyes narrowed and I started to close the door.

“Wait!” he put his hand on the door and stopped me.

My jaw set and I had the very strong impulse to slam it in his face.

“I had nothing to do with what happened the other night!” He shouted.

That brought me up short. I stopped trying to close the door in his face.

He smiled at me, a nervous, anxious smile. “I was out with my parents. They made me go to dinner and a movie with them. I had nothing to do with them ditching you.”

I wanted to hope… it just hurt too much to though…

I shook my head, and a thought occurred to me. “So, you’re saying you would have, what, talked them out of it? Gone against the group and insisted?”

Jeremy was a decent enough guy, but he was not a leader. He wasn’t one of those guys that was going to go out and stand on his own. He was usually right there in Sep’s shadow. Sep told him to jump and he was in the air before he asked how high. There was no way he was going to go against what the group wanted.

Jeremy took his hand off the door and shook his head. “I really want to say that I would have spoken up… I really do.” He looked me in the eye and I found a new respect for him. “I probably wouldn’t have.”

He sighed and looked at the floor. I had hurt him and while I wanted to think I was a good enough person to feel bad for that, a part of me was thrilled.

He looked at me. “But I didn’t.”

His jaw set, and he nodded at me. “And I’m here now. And I’m telling you, I won’t ever do that to you.”

Finally, he smiled at me.

I wanted to close the door in his face. I didn’t want to let anyone into my circle. If they never came in, they couldn’t hurt me. Let no one stand behind you, and you never have to worry about a knife in the back.

I stood there for a second, trying to work out what I wanted.

He sighed, “I get it. I wouldn’t want to be around me either.” He shrugged, “I just figured you might want someone to talk to.”

He started to turn and I shook my head at how stupid I was being. “Get your ass in here.” I finally said.

He turned to me and smiled. “Thanks man.”

We went into my bedroom and sat down. I gave him my big old comfy chair and sat on my bed, cross-legged.

I scratched my nose while I tried to think. I really didn’t know what to say. He looked every bit as uncomfortable.

His eyes roamed the room, as if he were trying to think of something to say.

I chewed on my lip while I decided how much to tell him, how far into my defenses I wanted to let him slip…

I finally decided that if I was going to make this work, I just needed to be honest. “Look, man.”

I shook my head, trying to will myself to speak. I scratched my nose again.

“So, here’s the deal. I know all of this seems really grade school. It seems like I’m just throwing a fit.” I looked at him, watching him sit there patiently, listening. “Anyway. I’m going through a bit of a rough time. You know a lot about what happened with me and my dad.” I stopped, shaking my head, “Actually, I want to say that you know a lot about what happened with me and my dad but the truth of the matter is, I’ve hidden most of even that from everyone…”

He shook his head, and I could see pity come into his eyes. It hurt to have someone that I cared about pity me…

“Things are a lot worse than I let on.” I looked him in the eyes and decided right there that I would just trust him. “If you share what I’m about to tell you, with anyone, you and I are going to have real trouble. Do you understand me?”

He didn’t make any false promises to me. He just met my eyes and nodded, very solemnly, nodded.

I sighed. “My dad was always really freaking hard on me. I guess people would call it emotionally abusive. When it got to be physical I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore and I bailed. Before him, my mom was even worse. I was terrified pretty much all my life. Starved, abused. Worse of all, was the isolation. The loneliness. I was alone all the time.”

I ground my teeth. This wasn’t going to be easy for him to hear. “After this latest dustup, I started to realize that I was never a part of our group. I was left out all the time. I had to cling on and attach myself constantly. I’m not like the rest of you. I’m not normal. None of you really wanted me to be around. All of you made sure that without me pushing my way in constantly I wouldn’t be welcome. I’m sure I brought that on myself, but it was still something that was really hard for me to realize.”

I could see him arguing with me in his own mind. He really was a pretty decent person, and I could see he wanted to argue with me. I could also see that he knew he would be lying to both of us if he did.

I gave him a wry smile. “See how much it hurts to realize? Now imagine you’ve been the one pushing at that for as long as I have. Imagine the shame you would feel having had that realization about yourself.”

He shook his head at me. “Look, this is going to sound hollow, but that really isn’t something you should blame yourself for.”

I started to argue and he pulled me up short, “No. Stop and listen. You’re not a bad guy. Yeah, you needed rides, and you were always less well off than all of us.” He shook his head at me, “What all of us should have realized though was, we are not well off. Our parents are. It isn’t your fault that your parents aren’t well enough off to give you the things we’ve been given, and frankly it was an asshole move on our part to look down on you.”

He shook his head and looked at the floor. “I have to own my part in this.”

His eyes snapped up and looked at me. “I’m not very proud of the person I was until I decided to come over here today. I just did what people told me to do. If I had been there that night when they ditched you, I would have joined in. I wouldn’t have argued, I wouldn’t have stood up for you. I would have just went with the flow, all so I didn’t have to think for myself. I’m done with that.”

I smiled at him, shaking my head. “Look man, I appreciate you coming over and trying to make things right, but right now, I’m not going to be a very good friend to you.”

His face scrunched up, “What do mean?”

“I’m kind of freaking out.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Over us being assholes?”

I chuckled. “No. Look. I let a lot of stuff stack up, and then things kind of boiled over. I’m having trouble keeping everything under control.”

He shook his head, “Look, I’m not that smart. Maybe you could explain this all to me. Use little words, and I’ll try to understand.”

I again chuckled. Jeremy wasn’t stupid, far from it in fact, he just saw the world different than the rest of us…

“Putting it plainly. I’m having panic attacks. Depressive episodes.” This one stung to admit…

“If it wasn’t for Karly, I’d probably be thinking about hurting myself…”

There. I said it.

“What happened the other night left me really isolated and alone. If it hadn’t been for her… things might have turned out really badly.”

He was white as a ghost.

I sighed and slapped my knees, “None of that is any fault of any of the guys. They made a choice. It just happened to come at a time that could have been really bad for me.”

I shrugged, “If I just patch some plaster over that hole and pretend me and the guys are okay it doesn’t make the problem go away. It will happen again, and maybe next time Karly won’t be there to pull me back from the edge.”

I met his eyes, “I can’t afford that to happen. It’s easier to be on my own than it is to count on people that aren’t going to be there for me.”

His eyes roamed the room, “We’re not going to hug now are we?”

It made me laugh.

He shook his head at me. “Maybe you should tell the guys what you just told me?”

My face went still. “I don’t want people to be around me because they pity me. The only reason I told you is because you reached out to me, and I took that as a sign of you genuinely wanting to be around me. If that happens you need to understand what’s going on with me. I’m not going to be an easy person to be around. That means I need to depend on the kindness of others. If I expect that kindness, I need to be open.”

My eyes narrowed at him, “And I was serious. If you share this with anyone… I’m going to be pissed.”

He laughed and raised his hands. “Don’t need to be told twice. I get it.”

He paused a second and thought about it. “So, I’m going to assume you don’t want to hang out with the other guys?”

I shook my head at him. “I can’t afford to.”

He nodded. “I get it now.”

I suddenly felt really bad for him. I had laid all of this on him, and then put him in the spot where he essentially had to pick between them and me. It was a really unfair thing to do…

“Look, I get it.” I told him, “I’m not asking you to choose between them and me. Frankly, where I am right now, you should choose them. I won’t be a good friend to you, not right now. I won’t hold it against you. I can get through this on my own.”

He laughed and shook his head. “This is a no contest issue for me.”

I didn’t get what he was talking about, so I shook my head at him. “I don’t understand.”

I smiled. “It’s going to sound stupid, but how many times in your life do you get to really be there for someone? I mean when it really matters?” He paused for a second. “Also, I’m tired of being treated like the family dog.”

His eyes met mine, and I saw a fierceness there. “Look man, I’m treated like a joke. People look down on me, and I end up being the clown to keep them entertained. I’m tired of that shit. I’m tired of feeling like I’m tolerated. You want to know why I’m sitting here right now?”

I shook my head at him. “I really don’t.”

“Because you never treated me that way.” His look took on a fierceness I had never seen from him before. “You never tolerated me. When I got on your nerves you told me to knock it off. You always treated me with respect, and I always knew that the way you treated me was exactly where I stood with you.” His eyes narrowed. “I also realized that if they can do that to you. Sooner or later they’ll do it to me.”

I chuckled.

He sighed, “You know my mom tried to kill herself last summer?”

I was horrified. “What? I mean, no, I didn’t know that.”

He looked out in to the distance, his eyes going out of focus. “I didn’t tell anyone because I was ashamed.”

I shook my head at him, “Why?”

He looked at the ground and sighed. “My dad is a real piece of work. He just gets under your skin… makes you feel like you’re less than human. I feel it too sometimes…”

I suddenly felt very selfish. How had I not known this about him? How had I not sensed it?

It made me feel like I wasn’t a very good friend…

He smiled at me. “I get where you’re at… because most of the time, I’m right there with you…”

Then he shrugged, “So how about we try being alone, together?”

Chapter 4
Karly was laying in my arms…

I kissed her, laying my kisses over her face, her neck… down her chest.

She giggled and shivered. “You make me feel so good when you do that.”

I reluctantly let her skin fall away from my lips, brushing a stray strand of hair away from her face, so I could see her eyes. I shook my head at her…

“You are so perfect.” I told her for the thousandth time.

Her hand came up and pulled my head into hers, her lips meeting mine, her tongue sliding into my mouth. When she came up for air, her eyes met mine. “Back to school tomorrow. You ready?”

I smiled at her. “Yep, I’m ready.”

Her eyebrows shot up, “Did you do all your homework?”

I laughed. “Yes mother.”

She smiled at me. “Don’t take that tone with me mister.”

I chuckled and shook my head at her. “I love you.”

She preened like a peacock in my arms. “I know.”

Giggling I wrapped her in my arms and pulled her over on top of me. “Goofball.”

She leaned in and kissed me, “So, when am I picking you up tomorrow morning?”

I pulled my face away from hers. “You’re not.”

She raised her eyebrows at me. “What do you mean I’m not?”

I put my hand on her face. “You are not getting up early and driving across town to pick me up. I’m riding the bus in the morning, like I always do.”

She looked crushed at first, then, really, really angry.

I gritted my teeth at her. “I need to stop being that person that depends on other people for everything. I want to do this for me. My pride couldn’t take it if I knew that every morning I was making you get up early to drive all the way across town and pick me up because I couldn’t provide for myself.”

She shook her head at me. “That’s stupid. And you need to know it’s making me angry.”

I took a deep breath. “Baby girl, let’s be honest. You don’t want me on that bus in the morning because Jacky is going to be on it.”

She stopped dead.

“You don’t want me on that bus because you don’t trust me to make the smart choice and avoid her.”

I saw panic steep into her eyes. “It’s not that I don’t trust you…”

I raised my eyebrows at her. “So, what, you think she’s going to throw me down and rape me?”

She looked desperate. “I know you. I know you well enough to know that you’ll be nice to her. She’s going to take that as her still having a chance with you.” She paused and looked down. “I just don’t want her worming her way back into your life.”

I sighed at her. I had this coming. I had left Jacky for Karly, Karly had to expect the same behavior out of me with her.

“Look, I get it. I have no right to demand that you trust me…”

Sorrow clouded her face, “It isn’t that.”

I smiled at her, “I know it is. It’s not that big of a deal. I’m going to show you.” I put my hand on her face, “You can trust me, because there is no way I’m messing up something as perfect as what I have with you.”

Her eyes narrowed and she growled at me…

Her face came in close to mine, and I reached for her to kiss her. Her mouth landed on mine, hot and full of life. Her hands went into my shirt, her nails raking down my flesh…

Her hips ground on mine and I found myself very excited by her…

For the first time, I was suddenly very frustrated with the thought of not being able to have her…

I felt her hands on the button of my shorts…

My hand caught hers… “No, no…”

My breath came in ragged gasps. I licked my lips… “No way I can handle you digging around in there right now…”

Her tongue nipped out and she actually licked the tip of my nose…

“I just figured that you’d like to unwrap your present…” She told me playfully.

My breath sped up…

“You mean…?” I asked her.

She raised her eyebrows and nodded her head… “Yep…”

I grabbed her and pulled her to me, kissing her hard and doing my best to take her breath away…

Her hands were back into my shirt and I could feel her breath speeding up, keeping pace with mine. It felt delicious to feel her want me as much as I wanted her…

She made a frustrated sound, “Off please. Take it off.”

I laughed and pulled my shirt off.

Her mouth found its way to my neck and the sensation rolling through my body was so intense it was all I could do to keep from rolling her over and taking her right there.

It was weird though… I wanted her to drive. I wanted to see her in action.

Her hands rolled and roamed over my chest, working their way up to my shoulders. Her lips traced their way down my neck and onto my chest. My eyes rolled back in my head it felt so good…

Her hands were back onto the button of my shorts…

I didn’t stop her this time.

Her mouth was hot upon mine… She had her hands in my pants. I kissed her neck, breathlessly whispering into her ear, “Shirt off please.”

She smiled and pulled her shirt off. The bra was next.

My hands found her breasts, massaging and tweaking her most sensitive spots. She covered my hands with hers, her head lolling back.

She was panting with desire, and it was driving me insane.

She raked her nails across my chest, once again heading down my pants.

I shook my head at her, “Lose the pants. I need you right now.”

She smiled wickedly at me, “Patience is a virtue.” She panted as she pulled my shorts down.

I had to kick my shoes away quickly to help her get my shorts off.

And then her mouth was on me.

I had to use every ounce of my willpower not to pull her down on me. “Or that works too…”

Her head lolled on me, driving an insane amount of pleasure into my body.

I could feel her working her pants off while she was down there. I very much wanted her right then… “You. I want you.” I hissed at her.

She looked up at me, her smile flashing bright. She crawled up my body, her skin rasping against mine. Her mouth found mine as she pressed her body down on me. She was so warm and inviting…

“Oh god…” I moaned as she pushed me into her.

Chapter 5
That first day on the bus seeing Jacky was the hardest. She got on the bus about five stops after me. She was obviously extremely pissed. She walked straight to her seat and dropped into it, glaring at me the entire time. While a part of me wanted very much to keep her mad at me, a part of me knew that I had wronged her, and that in turn kept me civil. I let her get off before me, and I kept a good distance from her. I wanted to apologize for being a dick, but I also wanted to keep my distance from her. Sometimes the best thing you can do to make up for hurting someone is to help them remember that you should be forgotten…

I tried to not look. I kept my headphones on, and a book in my lap. I kept my focus on those things. I went out to lunch with Karly that day. She was not having it…

“How’d this morning go?” She tried to keep it casual, like she didn’t really care. I knew that was bullshit. In her mind, she probably saw Jacky rush onto the bus with me and dive straight into my lap…

I looked up from my sandwich. “Tensely. Is that a word? It doesn’t sound like a word. Did I just make that word up?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “How are you in AP English? Yes, tensely is a word.” She snapped her fingers at me. “Now stop trying to change the subject.”

She was kind of pissing me off…

I gave her a dark look. “There’s nothing to talk about. She hates me. I don’t intend to disabuse her of that notion. Problem solved.”

“Look, I just want to know.” She told me defensively.

I pushed my anger at her down. I loved her, but she was making it tough… “Please stop.”

Her eyes locked with mine. I could tell she was looking for something to say. I could tell a part of her wanted to argue with me, a part wanted to apologize, a part wanted to smack me in the head.

I didn’t wait for Karly roulette to land on a number. “I didn’t cheat on you, so stop treating me like I did. I get it, but please, knock it off. I love you, but you’re pissing me off right now.”

Rage flashed across her face. She managed to push it down before she opened her mouth…

I was really proud of her for that.

She ground her teeth and shook her head. “It isn’t you, it’s her. I just.” She shook her head and sighed heavily.

I cut her off before she could start talking again. “Don’t lie to me, and certainly don’t lie to yourself. You don’t trust me. I can’t say I blame you, but I can tell you right now, asking me is fine. When I tell you and you keep pushing it starts to feel a hell of a lot like you’re calling me a liar.” My eyes narrowed at her. “That’s going to get real old for me, real fast.”

She sighed and nodded. “I get it. I’m sorry.”

I reached across the table and took her hand. “Don’t be sorry. Nothing to be sorry for. I just need you to know where the line is.”

She scooted from her chair across mine to the one next to me. She put her head against mine. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to be neurotic girlfriend… I just can’t help it.”

I gave her all too close lips a quick peck, “It’s okay. We’ll work through this together.”

The next day, still the silent treatment.

The same the day after.

On Friday, she sat in front of me. Midway to school she turned around and said something to me. The headphones Karly had bought me for Christmas were really nice noise canceling ones, so I didn’t catch what she had said. I looked up, pulled them out and asked, “What?”

She shook her head angrily and turned back to face the front of the bus. “Fuck you.”

I just shook my head, sighed and put my headphones back in.

Part of me wanted to say something. The smarter part of me realized that she was trying to provoke me. To get me to say something stupid. The entire thing seemed so petty. I really wasn’t interested in getting involved. This entire thing seemed so fucking pointless. I realized the best thing I could do was just ignore her. She would work herself up to the point that she finally started hating me and that would be the end of it. She would get her closure, I would get peace, and Karly wouldn’t have to worry anymore.

After about two weeks she turned and started talking to me again…

I was really hoping she would just let it go…

I sighed and took my headphones out. For a split second, I considered talking to her. Trying to explain it to her. Trying to figure out a way to make her understand that she wasn’t a bad person. That it wasn’t something she did, or something she wasn’t. That it was just a matter of Karly being a better fit for me.

I looked into her pixie face and felt very sorry for her. “Look. I’m sorry about what happened. I shouldn’t have done that to you, but I did. I can’t help it. I can’t make it change, and if I could the only change I would make would be to break it off with you before I got together with Karly.”

She started to talk and I held my hand up to her, shaking my head. “Just stop. All you are doing is rubbing salt in your own wounds. Just stop doing that to yourself. You win. I’m a lousy person and you get to walk out of this whole thing realizing that you did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Tears started to well in her eyes. “I just wanted to be friends again…”

I sighed. It hurt to hear her say that. I felt bad for her. I knew her home life was shit, I had seen that first hand, and for the briefest of moments I considered working out some way we could make that happen.

My common sense kicked in though…

I shook my head. “I think that would be a mistake for both of us. You need to move on. I need to make sure…”

I didn’t want to say I need to make sure I stay loyal…

But I did want to make sure I stayed loyal. It wasn’t that I felt that there was any chance of Jacky tempting me away from Karly, but I figured closing that door and not testing the theory was probably the smartest way to ensure that I never stepped over the line. There was also Karly’s feelings to be considered.

While a part of me railed against the idea of Karly picking who I spent time with and who I didn’t, a very strong part of me realized that in this case being friends with Jacky would hurt Karly and no friendship was worth that.

“I need to make sure that I take care of Karly better than I took care of you.” I finally settled.

She shook her head at me, something like panic seeping into her features, “We can be friends. Just friends. I can move on with us just as friends. I just get so lonely…”

I sighed. “I’m sorry. We can’t be friends.”

The look of sorrow on her face turned to one of despair, leaving me feeling like a monster. Leaving me feeling like I was the one turning my back on someone. I realized then, in that moment that there were times when you had to turn your back on someone, even when you didn’t want to, even when you knew it was the absolute wrong thing to do…

With that, I put my headphones back in and went back to my book, I felt like a total asshole…

Chapter 6
I found myself sitting on the floor in the team hotel room the night before the State tournament started. Karly sat in front of me, my arms wrapped around her. Coach stood in front of the biggest group he had ever taken to the State tournament. Pride beamed across his face, but I could tell he was tense. The team had never won a State championship, and I could tell, in his mind he had already decided that with the raw number of guys he had in the tournament this was the best chance he ever had.

He was nervous, and under a great deal of stress.

He looked at all of us with intensity, his eyes landing on Karly in front of me. I could see those eyes narrow just a bit. He let it go, but I could tell he was not happy with it.

I decided that he could deal with it. I had been good. Karly was my girlfriend, and she had not been a distraction. She, if anything had kept me functional. I had had several panic attacks in the weeks leading up to the State tournament and she was the only thing that was keeping my mind straight. Coach didn’t know about that, and I decided that he didn’t need to know.

His eyes moved away from us and started ranging over the group again. “All of you have earned your spot here. Look around you. Each of you deserves this.”

He put his beefy hands on his hips. “I won’t lie to you. This is the biggest group that we have ever taken to the State tournament. It is the best chance we have ever had at walking away with a State Championship. Wrestling is an individual sport, and I know each of you is interested in placing the best you can for yourselves, but I also want you to all know that I’m counting on all of you to represent the team and do your best for your school.”

He met each set of eyes in turn. “Some of you,” his eyes landed on mine, “are ranked extremely highly in this tournament. I want to remind you, this isn’t a regular tournament. There will be no easy matches. Your first match out of the gate is with either a District Champion, or with a runner up. I need you to remember that there is no coasting here. Every guy that you wrestle in the next two days will be your equal. Does everyone understand that?”

I looked around the room and saw a lot of heads nod. Sep was there. Joe had won his own district championship. Nick had come in second and had gotten a place at the table. The one that made me proudest was that Shawn, the other heavyweight on the team had come in second… he was sitting beside me. Our weeks of wrestling had put a shine on him. I had watched with pride as he used one of the moves I had shown him to put away a kid that had beaten him every time they had wrestled.

He looked at me and I smiled at him. He elbowed me. We had struck up something of a friendship over the past few weeks. One that I was extremely proud of. He was a good kid, and had worked really hard. I was proud to have him at my side.

“Let’s go over some rules while we’re here. All of you will be there for the entire tournament. I expect you to stay in our team’s section.” He looked over at the four parents that had agreed to come as chaperones. There were more parents that were traveling to watch their kids, but these four were the official team chaperones. We knew, their word was just as strong as coach’s. Karly’s mom and dad were there, as well as one of the other kids on the team, Todd. “I want to thank Karly’s parents, Mister and Missus Kay, and Todd’s parents, Doctor and Missus Benjamin for helping out. There are enough of you here this year that the coaches will have a hard time keeping up with matches. They are going to be watching out for you during our off time. What they say goes.”

His eyes narrowed, “And remember, while practices may be over for those of you who are seniors… I still control your Varsity letter.”

I laughed. Some of the guys could get a little rowdy on normal trips, so a trip at the end of the season, with no consequences… that could be a quick nightmare.

“So, if one of you kicks a hole in the wall, and finds the need to replace it with say… toothpaste…? You’ll be hearing from me.”

I eyed Joe and Sep as they nervously laughed…

They had kicked a hole in the wall of the hotel room at the Reno tournament this year and had hastily patched it with toothpaste. Apparently, coach had heard something about it…

Coach put his hands back on his hips. “All I can say is that was not a fun phone call, and we are all lucky the hotel couldn’t prove the wall wasn’t like that before we got there…”

Coach gave me a stern look and I shook my head at him. “We won’t have a repeat performance. Am I clear?”

There was a raucous, “Yes coach!” that ran through the room.

We all got to bed early that night…

Emotions were high. People were nervous.

I ended up sharing a bed with Shawn… not my preferred sleeping partner, but Karly had her own room down the hall…

I considered asking coach if I could sleep with her.

I don’t think he’d have thought the joke was funny.

We woke in the morning, had breakfast with the team, and headed over to the tournament. Coach caught me as I got off the bus. “You have a number one seed. You get that doesn’t mean much once that whistle blows, right?”

I smiled at him. “I know coach. Doesn’t matter where you start the tournament. Only matters where you finish.”

He smiled at me, “Good boy.”

I destroyed the first kid I faced. As the number one seed I faced the last placed seed in the tournament. It was unfortunate for him. I took him over in an arm throw in the first thirty seconds of the match and pinned him in under forty-five seconds.

I thought my second match was going to be exactly as much of a joke. The kid was aggressive, but clumsy. As soon as the whistle blew, he charged me like an enraged bull. He had weight on me, but no control. I could tell he was strong, and used to using that strength to beat on guys he wrestled. I was his match in strength, knew I had technical skill on him, and was much faster than he was.

I had this match in the bag.

His first charge pushed us both out of bounds. The ref brought us back to the center, reset us and blew the whistle again. He charged me hard, and I ducked underneath his attempt to lock up with me. My arms circled around him in a bear hug. As soon as I had him set I knew the match was over.

Apparently, nobody sent him a copy of the memo. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he almost instantly tried to hit me with a head and arm throw, only he really only got hold of my head…

It didn’t stop him from throwing both of us hard to the side. Not a big deal. Just hold on to the bear hug, and once we hit the mat, readjust and pin him.

As we hit I felt my right wrist pop…

It stung a bit, but my hand popped right open. He squirmed and like that he was free. He didn’t press it. He knew I had him and it caused him to back off fast.

Coached screamed at me for letting him go. I cussed myself for letting him loose. I had him goddamn it!

I stood with him, shaking my hand as the pain started to bleed in.

Must have given me a stinger when he landed on me. I thought, trying to get the burning in my hand and wrist to go down. Just roll with it. Give it a chance to calm down.

We circled. My hand started to really hurt. I tried to buy some time, circling around him and testing how good his shoot defense was. He charged me a few times and I started to realize that the best way for me to put him out of my misery was going to be to go back to the bear hug. It was obvious from his first reaction that he had no defense to it, so if I could just get it locked in I knew he was doomed.

He charged hard again and like textbook, I wrapped him in a bear hug. I could tell for some reason he was thinking he was in a good position. He thought he had me in a double underhook. What he was too stupid to understand was that with my hands locked around his back he had zero leverage.

I was more conservative this time. This time, I wasn’t going to try to take him over hard. I was going to pick him up, squeeze the life out of him and then put him straight on his back.

My hands tightened and my right hand screamed in agony…

I forced myself to ignore the pain and lifted him off the ground.

Once again, my wrist popped and this time the pain was so intense my knees went weak, and my grip turned to water. He felt my grip slip and like that he threw another head and arm. This one was far more successful than the last. Instinct was the only thing that kept me from getting pinned. I felt him shift and threw myself into the roll.

Had I reacted a blink faster I would have taken him over the top of me and ended up on top. A blink slower and I would have ended up on my back, fighting to keep myself from getting pinned.

My reaction was just good enough to put us both in a shitty stalemate. My right hand was useless, so I used my left to attempt to get loose. He continued to try to pull me in, not realizing that there was no way he was going to get enough leverage to get me into a takedown, much less a pinning position. We lay on the mat for the last thirty seconds of the round. Too tied up to get loose, but both in too awkward of a position to leverage for something better.

The whistle blew, signaling the end of the round.

I would have been disappointed had the pain in my hand not been blinding. I tried to put my weight on it to get up and it was like I was trying to cut my own hand off…

Finally, using a centering technique my dad had shown me I managed to get my mind calmed and got to my feet. The hand hurt, but I could do it. I could gut through it. This guy was a loser. He was overzealous, he was clumsy. I just needed to wrestle better than him. I needed to be clever and use my speed. A little rest between matches, maybe get coach to tape my wrist to make it a little more stable and I’d be fine.

I looked over at coach and he was screaming at me to get my act together. He seemed really pissed…

I worked my way over to the center while the ref flipped the coin. It came up red. I was green…

Please don’t take top. Please don’t take top. I pleaded inwardly…

“Top.”

Fuck!

Having to go down meant I had to go to all fours, hands and knees. Worst of all, that meant I had to put my hands flat on the mat, and that meant that I had to support not only my own weight, but my opponent’s as well.

Well, this is going to fucking hurt… I told myself as I cradled my wrist to my body and dropped down, both knees and my left hand to the mat. Be tough. It’s only for a second. Once the whistle blows, pull your weight off of it and get the hell out of there.

I put my right hand on the mat and agony screamed up my arm. I meant to put it all the way down flat, as you were required to do, but all I could manage was a curled hand. It wasn’t legal… I wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

My opponent wrapped his arms around me. I thanked god himself he set himself on my left side…

I prayed for the fucking whistle…

Be tough. It’s coming. I promised myself.

Instead of the one short whistle that would have signaled the start of the round there was one long whistle. My opponent twitched anyway, sending a shiver of the most grinding pain I had ever felt driving through my body…

“Warning, green, false start.”

Fuck! Wait, what? I’m fucking green!”

I looked at the ref, agony in my face, trying to convey my confusion…

“Green. You have to put your hand flat on the mat. Your right hand is cupped.”

Fuckfuckfuck!

Coach was screaming at me for not paying attention. I just ignored him…

I reset myself. Laying my right hand as flat as I could I felt the pain shoot up my arm. I had to do this. I had to. Another false start and I’d lose a point. Eventually I’d get dq’d. I had two choices. Get my hand down flat or give the match.

“Green, set!”

I forced my hand flat on the match. The pain was agony. I had never felt anything like it in my entire life…

My jaw clenched and my teeth chattered.

I forced my mind into a calm place…

I can do this… I promised myself.

My opponent got himself on top of me.

I swore to myself that if the ref called me again I would quit… I couldn’t take this again.

“Top set?” I could feel my opponent shake his head.

“Bottom set?”

Just blow the fucking whistle you fucking cunt! My brain screamed.

I shortened it to just nodding my head.

The whistle blew and I was out of there like a fucking meteor. I hipped out to my right side, curling my right arm back, flipping my left leg beneath me and sliding out from beneath him like a shot. I was way too fast for him to hold on to me and I could tell once again he had no chance against me.

As I spun from his grasp I lashed out with my left hand and palm struck my opponent out away from me.

Escape! That puts me up by a point!

I couldn’t rest on that though. My chances of pinning this guy without being able to use my right hand were slim to none. That meant I had to go a full six minutes with him. Someone was going to have to go down in the third round, and after having done that, and escaping from it I promised myself that there was no way in fucking hell that someone was going to be me. I needed some points so I could start stalling. It was a shitty plan, but I needed to buy myself some time to get my wrist to stop hurting so badly, and I needed to win this match if I wanted to stay in the winner’s bracket…

I lashed out with an open palm strike any time he got close to me. I knew I was telegraphing that I was hurt, but I couldn’t help but keep my right hand curled up defensively against my chest.

I remembered all of the times I had practices a left-handed stance…

I had started it as a goof, like I was doing something clever. As I went on I started to realize being able to offset my body was sometimes handy…

Considering I had to use a left-handed stance in order to fend off this charging bull while I bought myself some time to think I was really glad for that practice…

I needed a takedown I didn’t have to use my right hand for…

My double leg depended on my grabbing both the guys knees.

My single depended on me being able to lock up.

Fireman’s carry would work, but was one of my worst take downs…

As I worked through and discarded moves I realized that I really had only two choices. An overhook throw, and a high crotch. The overhook had two benefits. The first, and most appealing, was it took my opponent straight to their back. The second was that I threw all my overhook throws to my left side and I didn’t have to use my right hand at all to pull it off.

Problem was, I had to pull his weight over my body, and that meant taking an impact on my right hand. I also needed to be able to close the throw out and pin him, which meant I’d have to flip and put my right hand beneath his head…

The throw was the kind of takedown that was either a home run, or a sacrifice fly… it either ended in a pin, or nothing at all. I would not be able to convert it to a takedown if I flubbed the pin…

High crotch it is…

The high crotch was going to be tough. I needed to put all my weight beneath my opponent, thread my right hand through his legs, grab my right forearm with my left hand and lift my opponent bodily off the mat…

Fuck it. I thought as I palm struck him in the forehead again.

It was the sixth palm strike I had thrown at him. He was used to it and must have figured the next one was a great opportunity to charge me again. His hands went out to grab me and I just wasn’t there anymore…

I felt my knee kiss mat, my shoulder strike him in the waist, my left hand wrapped around my right forearm…

The pain was still intense. Not as intense had I tried to lock my hands but still very bad. I had intended to lift him bodily off the mat. Use the pressure on his groin to knock him off balance but the pain broke my concentration for a split second. I settled for driving him on his ass. I made doubly sure to get my hands out from beneath him prior to him hitting. Had he landed on my hand I would have blacked out from the pain, I was sure of it…

He went to his ass and like a fool he tried to wrap his arms around me and muscle his way out of it…

His coach was screaming at him to get to his stomach.

He banged my hand a little bit as he flipped over and I nearly screamed from the pain…

I ended up on top.

Three points up! That means two full stalling penalties ahead… room to breathe! My brain screamed.

I considered my options. With only one hand there was no chance I would be able to roll him over. I had zero moves that did not use my dominant hand from the top. At least not with him flat on his stomach. If I let him get to all fours I could leg in. That put me at risk of him getting lose on my again, and if he got to his feet I would lose some of my precious lead…

I settled with using aggression to substitute for movement. I slid up his body and have him a right forearm shiver to the back of the head. Normally I’d have used it to unsettle my opponent. This time I was just making it look like I was taking a moment to settle on a move. Pain shot up my arm, but it was manageable. I came across his face with my left arm, trying to make it look like I was going for a double under.

In reality; I was stalling my ass off.

He surged up to all fours and I did the one thing that was available to me. I legged in.

He went down like a sack of bricks…

It was both a win and a loss for me. On the plus side, there was no way he could get away from me…

On the negative side, I had so much control over him that there was no way he could get out. That put the onerous on me to progress the match…

I was going to get called for stalling very quickly. With only my left hand, and a leg in, I had a chance of pinning him… had I practiced closing out pins with my left arm…

I hadn’t put that practice in though…

So, I did something crazy. I let him sit out. In order to block it I would have needed to lean my weight back on my right hand, no way I could do it…

I let the leg in go and laid a body scissor him. It was a jack move. There was no way I was getting a pin out of it, not against a wrestler of his class. One thing it did however…

It made it look like I was trying to get a pin.

I never got back points. I never got him close to a pin. It sure looked like I was trying though…

I stalled out the rest of the match. I drew my warning, and then he got his point… I managed to hold out.

I made the ref raise my left hand.

Coach caught me as I went to the side and started to grab my warm ups. “What the hell was that? You had that kid outclassed by a mile.”

I was in so much pain I could barely move, much less speak. “Hurt my hand coach…” I finally managed to croak out.

He put his hands on his hips, “Don’t make excuses. You should have put that kid away in the first round with a pin. Not embarrassed yourself with a stall out victory.”

His words stung me as bad as the pain in my wrist and hand…

I had let him down…

I had let myself down…

Karly was there then, I could feel her hand on my back as I leaned down and tried to pick up my stuff. My right hand was a blaze of agony and I kept it cradled in tight to my body. I picked everything up with my left. “What’s wrong? What hurts?” She asked me, her voice nearly in panic.

I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her I was so ashamed…

“My right hand. I hurt it.” I managed through gritted teeth and tear-filled eyes.

Coach continued to rail at me. I didn’t think he could be so cruel…

I was wrong.

Karly finally had enough. “Coach, stop. I think he’s hurt.”

“He’s not hurt. He’s making excuses for going out there and acting like he could just coast through that match!”

I looked at him and saw he was red faced with anger. I had never seen him that angry before…

“I’m sorry coach. I’ll do better next time.” I pleaded with him. I could feel panic rising in me. It was like it was with my dad, when I had pushed him too far, when the pushes, and the slaps and the choking was about to start…

“I’ll do better…” I squeaked…

He took a step forward and my she-wolf fell on him like a wounded deer. “You stay away from him! I can’t fucking believe you! You care more about this stupid tournament than you do about him!”

Coach rounded on her red faced and I felt my panic slam down into a deep cellar. Anger came rushing out.

“What did you say…” He started, but she cut him off.

“I said you care more about this stupid tournament than you do about him! How dare you! He trusts you!” She screamed.

Then Joshua was there…

He held his daughter back and stepped between her and coach. “Coach, take a step back. I’ll handle this.”

Coach pointed a finger at Karly, “It’s your fault he’s distracted! He would have never have wrestled that badly if you hadn’t have been here!”

Joshua’s voice was like a whip, “Coach! Shut your fucking mouth!”

Coach stopped like he had been slapped, his mouth working like a fish out of water.

Joshua was seriously pissed. “Now walk away, I’ll handle this.”

Coach had murder in his eyes…

He walked away though…

My hand hurt so much I could barely breathe…

The instant coach walked away Karly was there again. I was still bent over, curled around my pain. “I’m sorry baby… what hurts?”

I rocked a little, trying to will the pain away. “My hand. He landed on it when I went for that bear hug. I felt something pop in it. It really hurts now…” I mumbled.

“Dad. He’s hurt. Can you look at it?” She pleaded.

Joshua came to me with concern in his eyes. “Let me see son.” He commanded.

I really didn’t want to show him. I didn’t want to do anything but keep my hand against my body, to curl around it and ensure that nobody else touched it.

He reached in and pulled at my arm, careful not to touch my hand. Reluctantly, I let my hand away from my body.

We looked at it together. There was a lump forming on the back of my hand, a big one…

Joshua looked at me. “I know it hurts bud.” He turned my hand this way and that.

“Is it broken?” Karly asked. I could hear the panic in her voice.

Joshua looked at her, obviously trying to calm his daughter. “Hon. Gabby’s tough, but I don’t think he could have finished wrestling that match with a broken hand.”

His eyes returned to me. “Can you move your fingers?”

I tried. I gritted my teeth and pain raked through me. It felt like someone was sawing my hand off, but I managed to move all five of my fingers. “Yes sir.”

He put his hand on the back of my neck and pulled me in for a rough hug. He whispered into my ear. “I know it hurts son…”

I felt a new stab of pain as I remembered the horrible things coach had said to me. He was right. I was a loser. I had let myself down. I had let the team down…

I had let him down.

Joshua’s arms were around me. “I’m proud of you Gabby. I can see how much pain you’re in, and you kept fighting. You did good.”

I tried to nod. I tried to keep from crying….

I felt so weak.

I had my warm ups curled in my left arm and I was just standing there standing like an asshole…

Joshua patted me on the back. “Don’t listen to what anyone says if they say differently. You did good son.”

I shook my head vigorously. I knew he was lying to me…

“Karly, get him back up into the stands. Get him some ice for his hand and go to your mom and get him some ibuprofen. He needs to get the swelling down before the next match.”

I stayed curled up on myself, my eyes glued to the floor as Karly put her arm around me and started to walk me away. I felt like shit. I was shit.

“Karly?” I heard Joshua say. I felt her turn back and look at her dad. “Keep coach away from him too. Okay?”

I felt her nod.

We stopped by the stairs leading up off the main floor so I could put my pants on. I could barely move my right hand, and Karly had to help me in pulling them up.

She laughed nervously. “First time I’m helping you to put clothes on… feels a little weird.”

My eyes met hers. She smiled at me.

She was trying so hard. She was trying to get my brain out of the fog.

“I love you.” I finally managed.

She pulled me in for a full hug. “I love you more baby boy.”

I wanted to cry.

I hurt so fucking much. The pain was so much worse now than it had been during the match…

I wrapped my top around my arm, for some reason the extra pressure made it feel a little better.

We made our way up to the stands and Karly made me unwrap it and show it to her as she knelt in front of me. Joe rushed in… “What’s wrong?”

She looked at him. I could tell she wanted to lash out at him, but she must have seen something in his face that made her forget how angry she was at him for how he had treated me. “He hurt his hand. Go find the trainer now.”

The look she gave him brooked no argument, and he leapt over the row of chairs we were seated in in his haste to go for help. She poked at my hand and I nearly screamed.

Through gritted teeth I told her. “Please don’t do that again…”

She put her hands on each side of my face. “I’m going to go get you some ice and some ibuprofen. Just sit here and rest okay?”

I gave her a pained smile and nodded, thankful just to be left alone for a second…

Karly made it back before Joe got back with the trainer. She put a Ziploc baggy full of ice on my hand, and wrapped it with my warm up. I sat in my chair and rocked, trying, unsuccessfully to will the pain away.

In about five minutes the trainer arrived. One of the other coaches was also the team trainer. He was a stern, slim man. “Coach told me you got a stinger…” he announced as he arrived. “He isn’t too thrilled with you pulling me away from the match.”

I shook my head. “He’s right. You should go back, I’ll be fine.”

Karly looked at him, pleading with her eyes. “Just look at his hand coach. He’s in a lot of pain, and he can barely move it.”

Coach sighed and shook his head. “Okay, let’s see.”

I was ashamed that she was making such a big deal out of it. It hurt. It hurt worse than any injury I had ever had, but I could handle it. Hell, I didn’t have much choice but to handle it.

I unwrapped it and held my hand out to coach. He took my hand between his and put both his thumbs on either side of the lump on my hand. He moved his fingers back and forth and I could feel something grinding in my hand.

The pain was blinding. So, painfully blinding I had to close my eyes and send my mind to the quiet place…

Next, he put his fingers in my hand. “Squeeze.”

I squeezed for everything I was worth.

My grip was pitiful. The pain made me want to pass out, and I could feel I had little more than a child’s grip.

“Is his hand broken?” Karly asked, her voice full of concern.

Coach shook his head. “I don’t think so. He wouldn’t have been able to finish the match if it was broken.” He put the ice pack back on my wrist. “Keep the ice on it. When you get called for your next match I’ll meet you by the check in area and I’ll tape your wrist. Okay?”

I met his eyes, swallowed my pain and nodded, not trusting my voice not to squeak if I answered him.

Coach left and Karly fussed over me. My mind started to go to a dark place…

She suddenly pulled my arm around her and lay her head against my chest.

I rocked myself against the pain. My brain spiraled lower. “You should go. You’re supposed to be keeping stats on the matches.” I heard myself say.

I knew she shouldn’t go. I knew where my brain wanted me to go and I knew it would find dark alleys to walk if she left. Most of me didn’t want her to leave, but a part of me felt so bad for letting coach down, that I felt like punishing myself…

“I’m staying right here. You need me right now.” She whispered.

“Coach will be mad.”

“Coach can eat my cunt on a warm slice of bread.” She hissed.

I found that immensely funny…

My hand hurt as I threw my head back and giggled my head off. She had pulled me away from it…

I wrapped my left hand around the back of her head and pulled her in close. I didn’t kiss her during tournaments, but I would rub the hell out of her nose…

“I love you baby boy.” She whispered to me.

I nodded. “I’m really tired all of a sudden…”

She nodded against my head. “Okay, get some sleep. I’ll wake you up a when they call you. Then we’ll look at your hand again.”

My hand still hurt badly, but I had developed a habit of taking a nap between matches at a big tournament and it looked like my body was in full expectation that this was going to continue to happen. Normally, tournaments were held at schools, and that made the process of dropping off pretty easy. We all sat in the bleachers around the basketball court and it was easy to just lay out between the benches and drift off. Here, in the bigger venue there were actual seats and a concrete floor. That meant in order to take a nap I either had to try to sit upright in the seat and sleep, or crawl down in the much more limited space in the aisle to make room for myself.

I laid my sleeping bag out, thankful for the extra padding it provided on the concrete floor, grabbed my pillow and laid down. I kept the ice on my hand, with my warmup wrapped around the whole affair.

Karly said, “Maybe you should take the ice off your hand before you fall asleep. I don’t want you to get frostbitten.”

I was so tired. I just wanted to go to sleep and make the pain stop…

“I’ll be fine. I need the swelling to go down so I can use my hand.”

She looked at me, the concern and love on her face apparent.

“I’ll be okay baby girl. I love you.”

She nodded her head. “I love you too. Go to sleep.”

Sleep took me quickly…

Chapter 7
“Baby boy, wake up.” Karly was shaking my foot.

I jerked awake and banged my hand against the seat in front of me…

The pain was like nothing I had ever felt before. My breathing stopped entirely and I lay there paralyzed by it as the sensation rocked and tore up and down my arm. It was like a live animal was chewing on my arm. Something strong, like maybe a bear…

I sat up, curling my arm into my body protectively.

“Shit!” I heard Karly cry. “Todd, go get your dad please. I need him to look at Gabby’s hand.”

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”

Karly was kneeling on the cement in front of me. “Todd’s dad is a doctor. It won’t hurt to have him look at your hand.”

I looked at her with misery on my face. “It matters. I can’t quit. I have to keep wrestling.”

I could see the pain on her face, mirroring my own. “Baby boy, if you’re hurt you can’t keep going.”

Trying to control my breathing and focusing past the pain I looked into her perfect eyes. “Hon, this is the State Tournament. It’s the only tournament that really matters… my scholarships will be riding on this…”

And there was the crux of the matter given voice. I didn’t want to keep going. I wanted so much to quit and walk away. To go and crawl into a deep, dark hole and pull it in after me. I wanted so much for the pain to stop.

I expected Karly to understand.

I was smart, and in the top classes in my school, but my grades were shit. The only hope I had to get into a school that Karly could afford was an athletic scholarship. If I couldn’t get into one…

I would lose her. I couldn’t lose her.

Tears started to well in her eyes as she looked at me. She shook her head. “You stupid man.” She muttered. “We’ll figure this out. We’ll make it work, okay?”

I shook my head at her. She didn’t understand. She was a little rich girl. I loved her for it, but it made her naïve about the world. People didn’t care about you. People didn’t do nice things out of the kindness of their hearts. People treated you good as long as you had something to give me. It was the only reason they were decent to each other. Once they had what they wanted from you, once they had used you up, you were worthless to them. Worthless things are normally discarded.

Making myself get up, I used my left-hand steady myself on the chair in front of me and pushed myself to my feet. My hand screamed in agony and I did everything in my power to will it away. I had made pain worse than this go away, I would make this pain go away too.

“Sit, sit, sit.” Karly ordered me.

I shook my head. “No. I have to get ready.”

“Sit.” The authority in her voice was like chains grating. “I woke you up a weight class early so we could look at your hand. We’ve got time.”

She reached out tenderly and started unwrapping my warm up. I noticed with dismay it was wet from the ice. That was going to look great… I was going to look like a slob out there, wearing a wet warm up…

Karly got down to the ice and pulled it off my hand. It was like someone took a branding iron to my skin it hurt so bad.

She tilted her head back and forth, inspecting my injury.

I looked at it with her. “See the redness has gone down. It will be fine.”

The look in her eyes was pure murder. “You’ve had ice on it for a solid hour dipshit. Of course, the redness went down. Your hand is white as snow. The swelling hasn’t gone down at all though.”

Shaking my head at her, I muttered, “I can’t. I have to keep going.”

She set her jaw and I could tell I wasn’t going to win this argument. “Todd’s dad is a doctor. There’s no harm in him looking at it. If he says it’s just a stinger I’ll turn my clingy girlfriend mode off and you can go beat your head against the wall, okay?”

It was the best compromise I was going to get, so I pulled my arm defensively back into myself and nodded.

Todd got back in a minute or two, babbling to his dad the entire time. Todd was one of the smaller kids, and a really nice guy. He was a little on the dorky side, the kind of kid that never really fit in, but he still had a good heart. He wasn’t like me, he didn’t let his status as an outsider get him down, and he never seemed to be anything but perky.

Todd’s dad was a slight man, older, balding, but he seemed a genuinely jolly fellow. He always had a smile on his face, and he always seemed like he was ready to help out.

I felt bad having a doctor look at my hand. I knew his time was valuable, and I knew I couldn’t pay him…

“Let’s see there, buddy.” He announced as he arrived.

I stood and walked over to him. I didn’t want to show him. I didn’t want this slight man to end my dreams…

Holding my hand out to him he hissed. “Oh, yeah. That’s broken.”

I felt like the air had been let out of the room.

“No. It can’t be broken.” I argued. “I can move my fingers!” I forced my hand to close. The pain was blinding.

“Stop that!” he ordered. “You’re just grinding the bones on themselves.”

He took my hand and held it gently. With his left hand, he patted me on the shoulder. “That’s an old wives’ tale. You can move with a broken bone. Most people just aren’t tough enough, or stupid enough, to order their body to do it.”

He looked into my eyes and I could tell he knew he was shattering my life. He shook his head at me. “It’s going to be okay.”

Karly’s arms wrapped around me from the backside. “We’ll figure it out.”

Todd’s dad, patted me on the shoulder. “Keep your arm elevated. It will make it hurt less. Let’s go find your coach.”

I felt the breakers in my mind kicking one by one. Unnecessary systems shutting off.

I looked at him and nodded dumbly. This was something I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to think about this, so in my mind I just started shutting things off…

On the plus side, my hand didn’t hurt so much anymore.

Chapter 8
We walked down onto the wrestling floor. Me, Karly, Dr. Benjamin, Joshua and Marsha. Karly had insisted that I bring her dad along as we went to talk to coach. In some part of my mind I knew it was because of how coach had acted earlier. How he had lashed out at me.

I really didn’t want Dr. Benjamin or Joshua there. This was my last chance, I needed to talk coach into letting me wrestle…

I should have never let the doc look at my hand.

We met coach as he transitioned between matches and as soon as he saw me there was pure murder in his eyes…

See. As soon as someone has what they want from you, you become worthless to them. And worthless things get discarded. I told myself.

As much as coach claimed he looked out for me, it was just an act. He needed to keep me focused and winning matches for him. Everything he had said was a lie to keep me aimed at that purpose. As soon as he had what he needed from me, he turned on me. The same thing had happened with my head football coach. He was supportive, and helpful and seemed like he looked out for me. As soon as my senior’s year football program ended, he started to treat me like something he scraped off the bottom of his shoe. My place was taken by the younger guys, and that was that.

I had asked him to put together a demo tape from team film after the season ended. He told me he would and never did it. I asked him to let me borrow the film so I could do it myself, and he told me that he couldn’t get them to me because they were locked up in storage.

Coach was just like everyone else.

He turned his back on me.

The final breaker in my mind shut down.

I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t take this kind of rejection from another person that I loved and respected.

Coach’s face changed when he saw all the people around me. “What’s wrong?” He asked, looking directly at me.

I looked at the floor and shook my head. I couldn’t look in his eyes. I couldn’t stand to see another person just flip that switch in their mind and watch me become dead to them.

Karly spoke up. “His hand is broken. He needs to go to the hospital.”

Coach’s voice was sharp. “What? The trainer said he just had a stinger.”

Something broke in me. This was my last chance. I needed to wrestle. I needed to prove myself to the colleges out there. I needed that scholarship. I needed Karly.

“I’ll be fine coach. Tell them I’ll be fine. I can wrestle. I beat the last guy with one hand.”

I couldn’t look up. Tears burned from my eyes. I didn’t want coach to see me cry. I couldn’t show him how weak I was.

Coach’s arms wrapped around me, like a big bear taking their cub into its arms. “Shhh… it’s okay kiddo. Doc, you sure it’s broken?”

I was still wrapped up in coach’s bear hug, so I couldn’t see Dr. Benjamin, “I’d need an X-ray to be sure, but I’m pretty certain its broken. He can’t wrestle though. If he does he could end up crippling himself. He needs to go to the hospital.”

I latched onto the small hope that maybe it wasn’t broken. If I walked away from this match, I’d be dq’d. If I went to the hospital and it turned out it wasn’t broken I couldn’t come back to the tournament.

I pushed away from coach, looking him in the face, hoping to get his selfishness involved. He wanted to win this tournament. That meant he needed wrestlers on the mat. All I had to do was convince him I still had value, that I still had something to offer him and he would relent…

“If I go to the hospital I’ll be disqualified. If I’m not hurt than I can’t come back to the tournament. We both lose that way. Let me wrestle this match, I’ll roll over quick and right after it’s done I’ll burn over to the hospital and get checked out. That way if it’s just a stinger I can come back.” I could see the horror on his face and knew I wasn’t selling it well enough… the pot wasn’t sweet enough for him.

“I know I can’t take first that way, but I’ll come back and through wrestlebacks maybe I can get second!”

Joshua’s voice took all the air out of my argument. “Coach, you put him on that mat and he’s not just gonna roll over. He’s going to fight tooth and nail, hurt or not, and he’s going to end up crippling himself. Dear god, he broke his goddamn hand in the first round of the last match and he kept going and found a way to win for god’s sake.”

Coach’s response was the final nail in the coffin, “Josh, no way in hell was I even considering putting him out there.”

Nononononono!

Tears started to stream out of my eyes, “Coach! No! I can do this! I need those scholarships! I won’t get them if I don’t wrestle!”

I could see pain and misery smash into his face. He pulled me into him tight and hugged me harder than I had ever been hugged in my entire life. I could feel him shaking his head at me. “Kiddo. Goddamn it kiddo. I’m so sorry. You’re done.”

I pushed away from him, tears falling freely from my eyes. “No! I can do it coach. I’m still worth something!”

Tears filled his eyes as he grabbed my head. He pulled me in close to him where only he and I could hear what he had to say. “Don’t you ever think that Gabby! You’ll always be worth something!” He shook his head against mine. “I’m sorry kiddo. I fucked this up so badly.”

My nose started to run. “I need that scholarship coach. Please.”

He pushed my head away and looked deep into my eyes. “We will figure this out together. We’ll get this fixed, okay?”

I pushed every ounce of the misery clawing through me at him. “Please don’t do this to me.”

He pulled me in tight once again. “We’ll figure this out kiddo.”

My world ended…
Chapter 9
The Kays, as my default family, took me to the hospital. Once again, I needed to mooch off of someone else’s generosity. Once again, I was a burden to someone…

I sat in their car on the passenger side, in the back seat. Pressed as close to the door as I could, my head pressed to the window. Karly pressed herself to my left side, her arms wrapped around me. She felt like maggots clinging to my skin. I didn’t want to be touched right then…

I was alone again. Maybe not right now. But soon.

She would go off to college, and without a scholarship there was no way that I could afford whatever school she could get into. We would try to make it work long distance. It would fail. I wasn’t good enough. Without me there to fool her, she would realize that I had no worth, and she would move on.

A part of me wanted her to. I knew I wasn’t good enough for her, and whoever she found to replace me would be better for her than I ever could be.

The larger part of me wanted so desperately to deny that. To fight tooth and nail to ensure she was mine forever.

I knew that wasn’t going to happen though. I should have known that from the start. God gives to me, so that he can then take away. Sometimes it felt like He lifted me up, just so he could throw me down just that much harder.

The hospital was like every other hospital. Long waits, lots of paperwork. They made sure they knew how to send you the bill first and foremost, and then they started to worry about your health.

I was right handed so I couldn’t even fill out the paperwork for myself. Karly had to fill it out for me. Once again, I needed to be a burden.

They took X-rays. A doctor took two minutes to tell me that my hand was indeed broken. He told me it was a bad break. It might require surgery to fix.

I looked at him with dead eyes. I think I nodded when it was appropriate. I’m not sure. I was out of fucks to give.

They wrapped my hand with a brace and bandages. The doctor told me that I needed to go see a specialist in a few days to get an evaluation, see if I needed surgery, and get a cast. Karly asked why they didn’t put a cast on me now and the doctor told her that on a fresh break they always liked to wait a few days to let the swelling go down. Putting a cast on me now could cut off circulation.

I didn’t care.

It didn’t matter.

I went back to the hotel with a bottle of pills to help with the pain, a brace on my wrist, and no future…

Chapter 10
We rode the elevator up to our floor. Karly stood really close to me. I didn’t want her to. I wanted this to break off. I wanted the pain to stop and the sooner I realized my life with her was over the better off I was going to be.

I needed to realize and accept that I was alone. I was always alone, and I was always going to be alone.

The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. Coach and the trainer were standing there.

Coach smiled at me, a beaming smile. “How did it go kiddo?”

I held the brace up dumbly. “It’s broken.”

I could see something like guilt scratch at his guts. He shook his head. “I’m sorry kiddo.”

I stepped off the elevator and started for the room me and the guys shared. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Hey, we were heading to dinner. The guys are already off to dinner, how about you guys join us?” Coach beamed.

Marsha dove all over the chance to change the subject, “That sounds like a good idea! Gabby, come on!”

I looked at her, a small beam of hope cresting in my mind. Then I realized that everything here was a lie. Every one of them was going to be gone from my life eventually. The storm clouds roared in and smothered me.

I shook my head. “I’m not hungry. I’m tired. I’m just gonna go to the room and try to get some rest.”

I didn’t see their reactions. I kept my eyes on the floor the entire time.

Karly wrapped herself around my left arm. Leaning into me and pulling me close. She turned to the others, “I’m taking him to my room.” Her tone brooked no argument.

I argued anyway. “No. I’ll go to the team room. It will be fine there.”

She put one nailed finger beneath my chin and forced my eyes up to hers. “No. I am taking you back to my room. You need to get some rest, and you need it to be quiet. Understood?”

I looked at the others and saw a smug smile on Joshua’s face, a beaming grin on Marsha’s. Coach just looked at the two parents with an ‘are you okay with this look?’.

Joshua looked at coach. “I think Karly’s right. He probably doesn’t need to be around a bunch of roughhousing teenagers right now. He needs some peace and quiet.” He raised an eyebrow. “You okay with that coach?”

Coach put his hands on his hips and nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay with that, in fact I was considering going down and seeing if I couldn’t get another room for him so he could get some rest.”

Joshua clapped his hands, “Settled then.”

Marsha leaned in and put her hand on Karly’s arm. “We’ll send some dinner from the hotel restaurant up for you two, okay?”

Karly nodded, “Thanks mom.”

I interrupted the moment, “Nothing for me. I’m not hungry.”

The truth was I was starving, but I had already burdened these people enough, and I refused to ask for anything more…

Marsha leaned in, wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the forehead. “I know things look rough right now kiddo, but they’ll work out. You’ll see.”

I closed my eyes and accepted the hug and the kiss. I didn’t want them, but I needed them. I really didn’t want, didn’t like the fact, that I needed them.

Tears burned at my eyes and all I could say was, “Thanks Mrs. Kay.”

She smiled at my faux pau. She usually got mad at me when I called her Mrs. Kay. She put her hand on my cheek. “I love you Gabby. You’re a good kid.”

I closed my eyes to keep the tears in, shaking my head. My face started to crumple. “No, I’m not.” I forced my eyes open and tears shot down my face. “It’s nice of you to say though.”

She gave me a disapproving momma bear face.

Karly pulled me towards her room. “Come on big guy. Let’s get you into a bed and get you some rest.”

She turned to her family, “Send up a bunch of food, okay? I’m sure he’s starving.”

Marsha nodded, “We’re on it.”

Once again… I was a burden…

Karly let me into her room and made me go over and lay on her bed. I laid on my side, curled up on the edge of her bed.

She crouched down in front of me, her lips hot and warm on mine. She was extremely careful of my hand. “I love you, teddy bear.” She whispered.

I felt my love for her surge up and threated to pull me under. I loved her so much!

And I was going to lose her.

All because of a stupid broken bone.

Tears pressed to my eyes and I could contain them no more…

She wrapped her arms around me and all I could do was sob. A darkness descended on my mind that I had experienced only a few times in my entire life. My world was crashing to an end, and all I could do was sit in this wonderful woman’s arms and cry about it…

She pushed me back on the bed and climbed up with me, pulling my head in to her lap as I sobbed like a child. I was going to lose her and all I could do about it was cling to her like a piece of flotsam in the ocean. She wrapped her arms round me and rocked me, making soothing sounds. “It’s okay baby boy.”

I clung to her tighter. “No, it’s not. I’m going to lose you now. You’re going to go away and I won’t be able to follow you.”

“What?!” She said in surprise.

She leaned over and turned on the lamp on the stand beside us, forcing my head around to look at her.

She looked really pissed…

“Is that what’s going through that stupid head of yours?” she asked.

I looked at her, tears in my eyes and nodded my head. “I needed those scholarships, so we could pick a school together. So, we could start a life together.”

She forced me to move and slid in next to me. Her mouth pressed to mine, hot and wet. He tongue slipped into my mouth as she pressed the length of my body to hers.

I wanted so much to be sad then, but the feel of her body against mine was so intoxicating I could do nothing but pull her to me and kiss her for everything I was worth. She was laying across my outstretched right arm, pulled tight into my body so as to avoid my right hand. There was pain there, but nothing close to the pleasure I felt with her pressed so close to me. I was in heaven…

She was panting, I was panting. Her hands found their way beneath my sweatshirt…

I wrapped my right arm around her and pulled her deeper into our kiss. My hand screamed in pain but I didn’t care. She felt too good and too right for me to notice something as trivial as pain right then.

Her hand ran up my flank and she pulled out of our kiss. “If you think I’m letting you get away from me you’re fucking stupid.” She panted into my mouth between kisses. “You are mine. We’ll find a school together we can both afford.”

I pulled her to me and kissed her for all I was worth. She was the beginning and ending of my world right then. I needed her, not sexually, I just needed her in my arms.

“Or we’ll stay here. I can move into your little apartment.” More kisses.

“I can go to the local college.” Her hand slid down the front of my body.

I ran my clumsy left hand over her ass and settled it on the button of her jeans, fumbling with it as she kissed me harder and harder.

“You can work for my dad if you have to.” I had gotten the button free and was immensely proud of myself for it.

“You and I will have a life together…” She whispered as her hand dipped beneath my singlet and into my sweats, wrapping firmly around me as she began to stroke me.

My heart pounded and with each beat a spike of pain drove through my traitorous hand. The pleasure of her hand was far more powerful however…

“I love you so much baby girl.” I panted as she stroked me. “I need you right now.”

I was trying to fumble with her pants with my left hand, and while I had managed to pull them down a bit I hadn’t gotten very far.

She turned feral. She kicked her shoes off and breaking from our kiss pulled her pants away.

Like that, I was on my back. She pulled my sweats down far enough for me to spring free and like that she was on me.

I entered her in one smooth stroke. Her mouth was on mine like a thing possessed. My world was filled with a white light full of pleasure so intense I was reduced to base instinct. We communicated through movement of bodies, two things possessed, entwined and joined.

She moved faster and faster on me, never once breaking from our kiss as she moaned, filled with animal need at our coupling.

In that moment, I forgot about my hand. I forgot about the pain. I forgot about everything but my Karly.

I loved this woman, and I was going to let nothing stand in the way of us being together. Nothing.

Chapter 11
We lay tangled together afterwards. She was pillowed on my left side. She usually laid on my right. It felt weird, but I was glad to have her in my arms. It made things feel somehow all right again. Like the world had been put back on its axis. Sleep pulled at me.

She laid a kiss on my jaw. “I love you so much you big ol’ teddy bear.”

I closed my eyes and pushed my face into hers. Everything felt okay with her so near. I knew they weren’t okay though. Wheels had been put into motion. The world spun on and we had plans to make.

“I love you too kiddo.” I murmured to her.

She rolled on my chest and pulled me close. “Better now?” she asked.

I nuzzled her again, sighing. “Better. Still not fixed though.”

She ran her nose up the side of my face. “Want me to make you forget again?”

I chuckled and kissed her nose.

The food her parents sent up chose that inopportune moment to arrive…

She jumped out of the bed, sending a wave of pain through my hand. I hissed and she apologized.

There was another knock at the door and she yelled, “Just a second!”

I used my worthless left hand to pull my pants up as she grabbed her pants and threw them on hurriedly.

She went to the door and they wheeled in one of those honest to god carts full of food…

It was enough to feed the entire team!

Karly signed the slip of paper they gave her and sent the guy who had brought the food on his way. She grabbed food, made me sit up in the bed and started trying to ply me with treats. I was starving, but once again, I was having to mooch off of people. I was getting really tired of not being able to pay my own way in the world…

She looked up at me midbite. “What’s going through that dumbass head of yours now?”

I smiled at her. It was uncanny how many times she saw straight through to the heart of me. I held up a fry. “Tired of feeling like a freeloader.”

She shook her head and crawled closer to me. She ended up next to me on the bed, her leg against mine, her side to me. She laid her head on my shoulder. “I love you. Even if you are a bit slow sometimes.”

I put the fry in my mouth and chewed. The food was delicious, but somehow it was like paste in my mouth. I looked at her with sad eyes.

She smiled at me. “You’re not a freeloader. My parents are good to you because they love you.”

I shook my head at her. “Your parents are good to me because they love you.”

I thought about that for a minute and decided that I was happy with that. I would give anything for her to be happy, and I was glad that she had those two, perfect people in her life to watch out for her.

She stole a fry off of my plate, “Well, yeah. They love me too…” She kissed my lips. “But they also love you.”

I shrugged. It didn’t matter.

She hit me in the face with a chicken strip.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” She warned me.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I shook my head at her.

She took a bite out of the chicken, looking at me as she chewed. “You want to be happy?”

I looked at her, waiting for her moment of insight.

“Stop thinking so much.”

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Really?”

She took another bite. “Yep. Every once in a while, live in the moment.”

I gave her an ‘are you kidding me’ look. She laughed and held her chicken strip up menacingly again.

“Not all the time. Just every once in a while.” She gestured to the food. “Look at what’s in front of you and stop thinking about what you don’t have, or what something is going to cost.” She held the chicken strip out to me, offering me a bite.

“Sometimes, you just have to sit back and enjoy the chicken strip.”

I laughed at her goofy mind…

Sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the chicken strip…

I nodded at her. “Sounds pretty smart, all wise one.”

She sat up straight, preening. “Thus, sayeth Karly the wise.”

I smiled at her. “More like Karly the wise-ass!” I screamed as I snatched the chicken strip from her hand and stuffed it into my mouth.

She feigned outrage as she dove at me. “You son of a bitch! That was my life changing chicken strip!”

We landed and I did what came naturally, I tried to use my hand to break my fall. My right hand…

Pain lanced through me. I screamed like a little girl.

Karly grabbed me and pulled me close to her, laughing while she tried to sooth me. “I’m sorry baby.” She muttered as she pulled me close and started to smother my face with play kisses.

“Too rough!” I trumpeted. “You’re like a big stupid puppy with a toy!”

She giggled as she pulled me close and kissed my neck. She barked like a small dog…

I love this girl…

Chapter 12
The next day found me sitting in the bleachers, trying to work up the good nature to cheer my team mates on. I was in a lousy mood. The pain in my arm was killing me, and I was seriously down at not being in the tournament anymore. I made Karly get off her ass and go take stats. That was why she was here, and I wanted her to do her part for the team.

That left me to sit and stew. I was freaked out about my future. I know Karly didn’t want me to worry, but I still did.

During one of the match breaks Karly found me sitting in the bleachers, trying to use my left hand to fill out my Varsity Letter form. Coach had this process everyone had to use to get their Varsity Letter. You had to fill out this form, tabulate how many wins you had, how many losses, how many practices you had missed. At the end, each thing was given a point value and if you got more than a certain number of points you got a letter. If you didn’t get that number of points, or if you didn’t turn your form in, you didn’t get your letter.

It was incredibly awkward to try to write with my left hand…

I didn’t know why. I was pretty ambidextrous in most things. I could wrestle with either a left hand or right-hand stance. I could come out of either a left or a right football stance. Hell, I could even box with a left handers stance.

Writing was not one of those things that came naturally to me left handed…

I kept dropping the pencil, and my writing looked like a first grader. It was embarrassing.

I hissed as I dropped the pencil again and Karly leaned over and checked out what I was doing. “Do you want me to help?”

I looked at her and shook my head. Finally, I decided her cheek needed a good kissing and leaned over and nipped her on the cheek. She giggled and leaned into me playfully.

I hissed in pain and the look on her face told me she was not impressed with me. “Did you take one of the pain pills the doctor gave you this morning?”

I looked her in the eye and told her, “Karly. I’m not going to lie to you…”

And then I nodded and went back to filling out my form.

“You mule headed, stubborn jackass.” She growled.

I looked at her and gave her the biggest shit eating grin I could come up with. “I love you too.”

She sighed. “Okay. Make me understand.”

I raised my eyebrows at her, “Understand what?”

Her eyes narrowed and I realized I was starting to come very close to the pinching or tickling of a lifetime…

“Why you won’t take the pills. I know that hurts like a motherfucker. So, make me understand so I don’t have to kick your ass up between your shoulder blades.”

I sighed and set my pencil down. “They make me nauseous for one.”

She gave me an ‘are you kidding me?’ look.

I looked back at my form. “You want to know the one thing that my dad did that was perfect?”

She raised an eyebrow at me, “Is that you trying to change the subject?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

Sighing I collected my thoughts. “I have done three sports all through High School. Until this year, my dad never missed a single game I was in. Even if I was just standing on the sidelines. He was always there. He would travel and watch me wrestle at every tournament. He would travel and watch me throw in track. He stayed each and every time, until I had finished my events and then he would drive himself home while I rode the bus. No matter how busy he was, or how poor we were, he would go to each and every game.”

She tilted her head, “That’s nice and all, but what does that have to do with you not taking your pain pills?”

“Be patient. When I was a freshman, my mom never came to a single game. I made the Varsity squad my freshman year. I suited up at every game, and played a few quarters here and there. I wasn’t a starter, but I was still really good. I was named Defensive Player of the Year in the Freshman squad for our District.”

She leaned in and kissed me. “I know. I used to go and watch you play. You ass looked great in football pants.”

I chuckled, and then I sighed. “Last game of the season my dad called my mom and got pissed at her for not showing up to any of the games. She promised she would come. My dad told me, and I remember being so excited. So proud.”

Karly’s face went grave. “I’m not going to like what I’m about to hear am I?”

I sighed again. “She showed up all right. Very drunk. I guess she did what she thought parents did at those events. She screamed and she cheered. She made a total ass of herself. I was so embarrassed.” I shook my head. “She ended up getting escorted out.”

Karly laid her head against me, shaking it sadly. “You know, I don’t know your family very well, but I sure as hell don’t like them very much.”

I shrugged, “Doesn’t matter. They are who they are. I am who I am.”

She turned her head and looked through her eyelashes at me. “So, you’re scared you’ll end up like her?”

“That shit runs in families. I figure if I never let it sink its hooks in, I can never pull me under.”

She bumped me playfully. “I get it now. You know best. Just promise me you won’t suffer if it gets to be too much for you, okay?”

I laid my head on hers, “Deal.”

She moved quickly and antalya escort bayan kissed me on the cheek. “Now, give me that form so we can finish getting you your Varsity Letter!”

I held the form away from her. “I got this.”

Her eyes narrowed dangerously again. “Let. Me. Help.”

I kissed her on the lips this time. “Baby girl. Think about how much homework we have to do every day. I need to practice this. For eight weeks, I’m not going to be able to write with my right hand. This is going to be super tough. I’m used to being able to do my homework lightning fast. Now, I’m going to be struggling to write my name.”

She kissed my forehead. “You are smart sometimes.”

I smiled, laid my head against hers and continued filling my form out.

Coach wandered in and handed me a bottle of Gatorade. “Hey lovebirds.”

I took the bottle with a smile and a raise of my eyebrows. I held the bottle up to him. “Coach, don’t sweat it. You got stressed and said something stupid. I’m not mad at you. You don’t need to try to make it up to me.”

He smiled at me. “You’re a good kid Gabby. I screwed up. A bottle of Gatorade is a pretty simple way to try to say sorry.”

I popped it open and took a big drink. “Gift accepted.”

He looked down at my Varsity form. I was shocked when he took it from me, crumpled it up and threw it over his shoulder.

“Coach! I had to fill that out with my left hand!” I screamed.

He laughed and shook his head. “You don’t need to fill it out. You lettered. Case closed.”

I looked at him deadpan. “Coach. I don’t want to be treated differently.”

He raised his eyebrows at me. “New rule. Anyone that breaks a bone on the mat and finishes the match automatically letters.”

Karly laughed her ass off.

I bumped her, “What are you laughing your ass off about over there hyena girl?”

She pointed at me, “You kept wrestling with a broken wrist like a dumb ass.”

I reached over and mussed her hair up. She hated that…

Chapter 13
It had been a week since the State wrestling tournament. I was sitting in my place after school, trying to shake off the boredom and loneliness that came along with me sitting here alone. I decided it sucked.

Normally, after school sports kept me busy. Football dovetailed into wrestling, wrestling dovetailed into track. This was my first break between sports where I was living on my own. Winter break I was with Karly most of the time. Now, without some sport keeping me busy I got home at a decent time and instead of rushing to put some food in me, get my homework done and get off to sleep I was stuck with all this time to sit and stare at the walls.

The one upside was that I got to ride home with Karly. She drove me home each night. Sometimes she came in and kept me company…

Tonight though, I was alone.

It wasn’t terrible. I wasn’t falling into a funk, but it still sucked.

I sat there for another fifteen minutes or so and decided that I wanted to talk to someone. I could feel the pressure building, and I didn’t want to fall into a serious spiral.

I called Karly. She picked up on the second ring.

“Are you okay?” She asked. I could hear the panic in her voice.

It shamed me. She thought so little of me…

“I’m okay. I was just sitting here and staring at the walls and thought I’d like to hear a friendly voice.”

“Well… okay… are you sure you’re okay?”

This was weird. “Yeah, I’m fine. Am I bothering you?”

“No. No not at all. I mean I’m happy you called. I was just thinking of you. It’s just weird for you to call and just… you know… talk.”

I thought about it for a minute. I realized with more than a little shame that she was right. Man, I was slipping. Karly deserved better than that.

“Baby girl, I’m so sorry.” I shook my head at myself. “I’m dropping the ball here.”

“No. No, don’t think like that. I see you all the time. I get plenty of Gabby time. I’m not stressing about it.” She assured me.

I shook my head at my own stupidity. “No. It’s not all right. You deserve a boyfriend that can’t wait to hear your voice all the time. I’ll do better.”

She sighed at me, “Don’t be stupid. Normally, you’d be at practice right now. It’s weird to have you off. Honestly, I wasn’t even missing it…” She paused for a second. “Okay, that sounded really mean.”

I laughed at her. “Don’t sweat it.”

We sat there quietly. This was awkward.

“You suck at this phone thing.” She said to me suddenly, laughing.

I shook my head. “You’re right. I do suck at this phone thing.”

“So why did you call? What brought it on?”

I sighed, shrugged and decided to tell her. “I was just sitting there and staring at the walls and decided that I wanted to hear a friendly voice.” I paused for a second. “You’re kind of the only person I have to talk to…”

“Me, and Jeremy.” She reminded me.

I nodded my head. I had been spending more time with Jeremy lately. He had even come over and had dinner with me the other night. She was right. I shouldn’t be feeling sorry for myself. I should be reaching out to the people that had made me a priority in their life…

“And Joe.” She added.

That put my hackles up.

“Not Joe.” I corrected her.

She sighed loudly. “I know you’re mad at him, but he is still your friend. He’s giving you space right now because he knows he screwed up, but you should still realize that he cares about you. I know he’d never make the same mistake with you that he made the last time. You should think about forgiving him.”

I shook my head. “I want to forgive him, but I also don’t want to get slammed again.”

“You can’t always do everything alone. You need people to talk to.”

“I have you.” I told her.

She was quiet for a while. In fact, she was quiet so long that I started to worry that she might have something to tell me… something I wasn’t going to like.

“You need more than me. What about when you get frustrated with me? Who do you talk to about that?”

“You. Shouldn’t I talk to you about being frustrated with you?”

She sighed, “Okay, yes, that’s right. Stupid question. I just…” she paused for a moment to think. “I just want to make sure you have people watching out for you, okay?”

I chuckled, my worries gone. She was just mother-hening me. “I’m okay.”

Chapter 14
The next day was Saturday, and I spent my morning sleeping in and generally being lazy.

Normally, my Saturdays were spent rushing around for one sport thing or another. During football season, there was a meeting and a post-game workout. During wrestling and track, I normally had tournaments to participate in.

It was actually really refreshing to have some time off. To have an opportunity to just take it easy and relax.

I put a movie on to have some sound in the house, and took to cleaning. Karly was going to come over and we were going to spend the day together and I always liked things to be nice and tidy when she came over. I realized on some level that she really didn’t seem to care, but I always liked making her nest nice and cozy…

She was supposed to be over at eleven, and eleven came and went.

I figured that she was just running late.

By noon, I was getting worried and I was just about to call her when I heard the door at the bottom of the stairs open and her familiar pounding up the stairs. She opened the door and bounced into my arms, kissing me fiercely. I hugged her, keeping my cast well and safe away from her. She was a gentle creature, but she really was like a puppy with a new toy sometimes, and she could get a little rowdy…

She broke from my kiss, her eyes closed. Her face glowed. “I will never get used to how good that feels…” She purred.

I pulled her close and kissed her again, “Promise?”

She smiled and my world lit up. “I promise.”

She bit her lip, the way she did when she was nervous.

“Uh-oh.” I said aloud.

She smiled at me and curled into herself, pushing me backward towards my big comfy chair. I fell into it, again, being careful of my hand. She dropped into my lap and kissed me again.

“Yep, I’m definitely in trouble now…” I told her.

She smiled and tried her best ‘I’m innocent’ look on me.

“What did you do?” I asked her.

She preened up a bit and wrapped her arms around me. “You remember that you love me, right?”

I pulled her in and kissed her to remind her how much I loved her.

She broke, her eyes fluttering. “Okay. Check. You definitely love me.”

“I say again, what did you do?” This time I put a little more steel into my voice.

She paused a second. I got the feeling I wasn’t going to like this…

“I got you a present.” She finally settled. “But. You have to promise not to get mad at me. Deal?”

I gave her a dark look. “No deal. I know you. You’re crazy as a shit house rat. There’s no telling what you did.”

“I just got you something silly.” She put on her best little girl act. When she hugged me I knew I was definitely screwed.

“It’s in the car. I have to run and get it. Okay?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Why don’t I help you go get it? Then we can leave it in the car when I decide there is no way I’m accepting whatever crazy generous thing you’ve gotten me…”

She paused a second. “No. That won’t work. This is one of those things that you can’t just leave in the car.”

I narrowed my eyes at her.

She put her finger on my chest. “Since you won’t promise to not be mad, you have to promise to stay right here in Mr. Chair, okay?”

I growled at her. “You better come back into this apartment naked…”

She paused a second. “I could do that.”

I threw my head back and she kissed me, laughing. “Let me get your present, then we’ll discuss naked time.”

I pulled her into me and kissed her. I suddenly wanted her very much. “Let’s discuss naked time right now… then we’ll talk about the present.”

She pushed away from me and I could see the desire in her eyes. “No. Down boy. Present first. Then naked time.”

I growled.

She jumped up and bounced her way out of the room. I knew this was going to be trouble…

Within a minute, she was bounding up the stairs again. I couldn’t see the front door from my chair, but I could hear her sneak back in.

“Cover your eyes!” She called out.

“I’m not covering my eyes. Knowing your crazy ass, you’ll throw a snake on me or something else equally insane.”

“You don’t like snakes?” She asked. “Good to know!”

I covered my eyes just to make her happy. “For the record, I don’t mind snakes.”

“Sure, sure, throw snakes… whatever.”

“If you throw a snake on me, remember payback is a bitch.”

She giggled. “Noted. Now are your eyes covered?”

I rolled my eyes beneath my hand. “Yes, oh crazy goddess. They are closed.”

I could hear her move into the room with me. “No peeking.”

I was starting to get really interested in what she had come up with. I knew it would be insane. I knew I would probably have to come up with a way to politely refuse her…

Karly had way too much money, and way too little impulse control. She was also completely smitten with me and she loved to shower me with things I couldn’t afford. It was something I really needed to talk with her about. I was starting to get concerned that she would start to worry that I was only with her because of what she bought me. I needed to figure out a way to make her understand that I really didn’t care about what she bought me, or what she gave me. I was happy with her, and she was all I needed…

“You better be naked when I take my hand away!” I joked with her.

“That might be awkward.” I could hear the excitement in her voice. She was practically giddy. “Okay! You can look now!”

I took my hand away from my eyes…

Karly was standing there… a look on her face like she had just gotten busted with her hand in the cookie jar. In her arms was a squirming mass of yellow fur.

She thrust it out to arm’s length, holding it beneath its front legs. “Puppy!”

Oh. My. God.

She’s insane. She finally snapped a belt and went off the rails.

The puppy she held was small, just a little bigger than a handful. I knew my puppies. This one was maybe six weeks. Just barely old enough to be separated from its mother…

It was some sort of Labrador cross. Yellowish, bordering on white.

It was the cutest thing I had ever seen.

My eyes went from the puppy to her elated face. Puppy. Beaming smile. Puppy. Beaming smile.

I really fucking wanted that puppy.

“No.”

She pulled the puppy into her arms and came over to me. “Now, you haven’t heard my plan.”

I shook my head at her. “I don’t need to hear your insane plan. I can’t have that puppy, no matter how much I want it.”

She held a finger up to me. “No. I’ve got it figured out, just hold her while I lay it out.”

I crossed my arms. “I don’t want to hold the puppy.”

She smiled at me. She knew she had me…

She nodded, “You want to hold the puppy.”

I really wanted to hold that fucking puppy.

She held her out to me and I took her from Karly gently. She was soft, and warm, with those amazingly sharp little claws and teeth every puppy seemed to have.

I leaned back in my chair and put her on my chest. She looked up at me with beautiful caramel brown eyes.

I wrinkled my nose at her and moved my nose in to touch hers. “Hello there.”

Then I remembered that I couldn’t have a puppy. It didn’t matter how much I wanted the puppy, I couldn’t take care of it.

I looked at Karly. “Karly.”

She put her hands out. “I’ve got it worked out. You keep the puppy. The puppy makes you happy. Problem solved.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. I knew now what she was doing…

Karly pounded on. “You need someone to keep you company. Boom, puppy. Problem solved. You need somebody to watch your house. Boom, puppy. Problem solved. You need someone to talk to when you get lonely. Boom, puppy. Problem solved.”

My heart melted a little bit more for her. When I called her last night the thought that went into her head was that I was sitting here all alone. She thought of all of the times I had talked to her about past dogs I had owned, and all the times that a dog had helped to hold my sanity together…

So, she got me a dog.

I sighed. I really wanted a dog. It was something I had thought about so many times… hell, I had even considered getting a fucking cat… and I fucking hate cats.

I looked at Karly, sighing. “Baby girl. I really want her.” I shook my head. “But I can’t keep her. I can’t take care of her. I’m barely home. I was just thinking this morning how weird it was to have a Saturday morning to myself. I’ll never be here for her.”

Karly knelt in front of me. She reached out and fingered my cast. “Babe. You’re going to have a lot more Saturdays free. With this, you’re going to be on the shelf for a while. At least what? Seven more weeks?”

My heart fell. I knew she was right.

“I know track starts next week, but you can’t even practice with this on.” Her eyes were filled with sorrow. She knew how hard that was going to be for me. “You throw discus. Now unless you somehow learn to do that in the next couple weeks left handed you’re not going to be working out with the team. That means every night, you’re going to be home. Alone. Now I can be here sometimes, but not all the time. You cut your friends out of your life. So, I can’t even count on them to help me pick up the slack.” I started to argue and she held her finger up. “I know why, but it doesn’t change the facts. You’re alone too much, and right now you don’t need to be spending all that time alone.”

Her face melted. “I need to know someone is here looking out for you.”

I felt tears start to sting my eyes. She was right.

“I can see you spiraling down. You’re putting a brave face on it, and not talking to me, but I can see you getting more and more depressed. The fact that you’re not talking to me about it is actually really freaking me out. You’re isolating yourself and I can’t pull you out of it.” She laid her hand on the puppy and started to rub her ears. Then she looked down and I saw tears start to streak down her face. “I know she can pull you out of it.”

Tears ran down my face.

I felt so weak. I knew she was right. I was lonely. I needed someone that I could talk to. I couldn’t afford to keep staring at the walls and try to keep them from closing in on me. I was spiraling badly.

I wanted this so badly, hell, I even knew it was good for me, but it didn’t change reality. I had no way to take care of myself, I had no right to put another life in that situation with me.

I shook my head, “All of that is true. It doesn’t change the fact I can’t have a puppy.”

I looked around the room. “Look at this place. It isn’t even close to big enough for me and a dog.”

She looked at me, “She’s a Golden Retriever, Labrador Cross. I looked up the breed. They don’t get big. This place is plenty big for you and her.”

“I have no yard for her to even go in.”

She cocked her head at me, “So take her for walks.”

“And what am I going to do with her while I’m at school all day?”

Karly smiled at me, “Two things. In the mornings, I’m going to start picking you up. You, me and her can go back to my place and my mom will keep an eye on her all day. I already talked to my mom about it, she’s thrilled to have her. She already said how nice it will be to have someone else around the house to keep her company while dad is at work. I also got a bunch of puppy stuff for you at the store, and one of the things I got for her was a crate so you can put her in there when you need to. In the evenings, I already drive you home, we can just drop by my place and pick her up.”

I threw my head back. I continued to pet my puppy though.

There was one argument that Karly couldn’t refute though…

“Babe, I rent this place. My landlady is not going to be cool with me having a dog.”

Anger flashed across her face. “There are two units behind your house. I saw that one of them has a dog. I very much doubt, as much as you help out around here that your landlady is going to give you too much shit for having a dog here. For god’s sake, you have keys to her house, and as much as you bust your ass to keep things up around here I knew she’s not going to give you hell about it.”

I sighed, “And if she does?”

I could see her mother bear instincts come out in force… “Then she can explain it to me. I’ll explain to her that you need the dog for health reasons, and if she doesn’t like the dog, then you’ll be coming to live with me.”

My eyes snapped wide in shock. I pulled the puppy closer to myself with my left. I wanted to live with Karly… I really didn’t want to move in with her parents though.

I also knew that between Karly, Marsha and Joshua there was a very real chance that the three of them could shove me into it. I would hate it, but they would work me until I got frustrated and finally gave in. I would feel like a complete hobo at that point. There was no way I could live with myself if I had to completely depend on the kindness of strangers to support myself.

Karly continued on, “So make your choice right now. Keep the puppy, or come move in with me.”

I looked down at the puppy, my sadness suddenly forgotten. “I’ll keep the puppy.”

She smiled at me. “See! I knew you’d see it my way!”

She smacked me on the legs. “Come on! We have puppy supplies to get out of the car!”

I put the puppy in the bathroom and listened to her pitiful cries as I walked away. That was going to be hard to walk away from…

When I got out to Karly’s car I found it filled, and I mean completely filled, with puppy stuff. She bought me three, forty-pound bags of dog food. Treats, toys, puppy pads, a dog cage, a collar, a leash, pretty much anything you could ever think of needing if you had a puppy. There was literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of stuff in the car…

“This is too much.” I told her.

She waved a hand at me, “Pish posh. Stop. You’re going to need all of this stuff.”

I put my hands on my hips. “I’m going to pay you back for all of this stuff.”

She walked over and wrapped her arms around me. “Well… I can think of a few things you could do for me to work it off…”

I pushed her back. “I’m serious. This is too much.”

She smiled at me. “I know. I love watching you squirm when I spend money on you!”

I tilted my head at her. “I’m serious baby girl.”

I looked at the ground and she pushed my head up. “Deal with it big guy. I’m your sugar momma now.”

That made me chuckle. “I just don’t want you to ever think that you have to spend money on me.”

She kissed me. “I know I don’t. I have money though, and I love to get you stuff, especially stuff I know that you want but that you’d never buy for yourself.”

I shook my head at her. I wanted to argue more with her, but I knew it would do no good, so I settled with, “I love you baby girl.”

She nodded her head, “And damn straight you should! I’m awesome!”

I smacked her on the ass and she yelped. “Damn straight you are!”

She smiled at me and turned and started grabbing stuff.

I wasn’t much good carrying stuff. I managed to carry all the heavy stuff that didn’t require two hands. It was painful but I managed to get all the big bags of dogfood up on my shoulders, one at a time, so I could carry them. I was proud of that. It was offset by my disappointment at not being able to carry the dog crate. The dog crate was too big and required two hands and Karly ended up carrying it. I felt bad for that…

On our fourth trip out I found something underneath all that dog stuff I really didn’t like…

I held a ham up to Karly. “Puppies eating a lot of ham now?”

She looked back and forth guiltily. “Ham is part of a growing puppies diet?”

I gave her a look that told her I wasn’t happy with her…

She smiled at me. “I mean, it’s a big ham, she might need your help to finish it…”

I set my jaw. This was too much. “I don’t need you to buy food for me.”

She looked at me, all kidding set aside, “Apparently, you do. I’ve seen your cupboards lately. Things are getting really sparse in there. Your freezer is almost empty and you don’t have even basic staples. When we got together you used to drink almost a gallon of milk every day. Since we got back from the State trip I haven’t seen milk in your fridge once.”

I growled at her.

This was embarrassing. I bit my lip. “I have money. I was just trying to stretch it a little further than I normally do. Okay?”

She smiled at me and chuckled. “We’ll talk about it inside. Help me carry.”

I didn’t like the sound of that…

We got everything inside without too much more hassle. I had only the one hand, but managed to carry more than my fair share of stuff by looping the arms of the bags over my left arm and carrying a ton of them at one time.

Once we got everything settled on the counters and floor I pulled Karly aside.

She smiled at me and tried to give me an easy out. “Look, I just figured I eat over here all the time. I figured I could pitch in and help restock you. Don’t be mad.”

I leaned against the counter and shook my head at her. “I’m not mad baby girl. I’m embarrassed.”

She sauntered over to me and put her arms around my neck, kissing me lightly. “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s not a big deal.” She smiled at me. “We don’t even have to talk about it.”

I gave her an exasperated look, and then sighed. “We’ll talk about it, embarrassing as it is, just so you don’t worry. Okay?”

She smiled at me. “Okay, but it won’t change what I choose to do for you.”

I pulled her tight and kissed my amazing woman… I loved her so much.

Finally, when we broke I told her. “Look, I have plenty of money in savings still. I can easily cover all my bills, food included, until at least a couple months until after I get out of school.”

I shrugged, and bit my lip. “It’s just that I don’t have a ton of disposable income. Not a lot of my bills are negotiable. Food is one of those areas I can scrimp and save on, and any day now I’m going to have a pretty nice medical bill show up in the mail.”

I held my cast up. “All I have is the shitty sports insurance the school offers. I’m pretty sure that between the hospital visit and X-rays there’s going to be a big bill. I need to put a little aside to pay it is all. I can’t even do odd jobs to make it up, so I figured I’d scrimp and save a little right now to make up for it.”

She shook her head. “The bill wasn’t that big.”

My face darkened. “What?”

She smiled at me. “The bill wasn’t that big.”

Realization dawned on me… “You didn’t.”

She reached in and rubbed her nose on mine. “I didn’t.”

I pushed her back away from me a little bit, suddenly very relieved. For a second there I thought she had paid my medical bill…

Then something occurred to me. “Then how did you know it wasn’t that big?”

She gave me a big shit eating grin. “My dad took care of it. While you were in X-rays he went down to the business office and had them send him the bill.”

Oh. Fuck.

I shook my head at her, panicking. “No.”

My head fell to her chest. “This is so embarrassing.”

She pushed my head back, giggling. “No, it isn’t. You have family, whether you like it or not. They want to take care of you, whether you like it or not.”

I looked into her eyes. I needed to make her understand. This couldn’t go on. “Baby girl. I love your parents, they have been great to me, but I’m really not comfortable having them pay my bills for me. As it is, I’ve imposed on them way too many times.”

She again rubbed her nose on mine. “You worry too much. My dad wanted to do something nice for you. He knew you could use some help, and so he jumped in and helped you. He did it because he loves you.”

I sighed, “No. He loves you.”

Her eyes narrowed and I knew I had touched on a nerve. “Don’t you ever say that. They aren’t nice to you because you’re with me. They treat you the way they do because they know you’re just as special as I do. I don’t have anything to do with that. They never treated Mike this way.”

I felt deflated. “Because Mike didn’t need their charity.”

Her jaw set. “Don’t you ever call something nice my family does for you, charity.” Her eyes narrowed and I could tell I was close to really pissing her off. “You are not a charity.”

I didn’t feel any better…

Her mouth was suddenly on mine, her tongue slipping between my lips… she finally broke from me… “Better?”

It almost was… god she felt so right pressed against me.

“They love you. I love you. Deal with it.”

I smiled at her. It did feel nice to have people that cared…

She smiled back at me, “Now, cook some of this delicious food for me, I’m starving!”

Chapter 15
We were outside with the new puppy. Karly was smoking. I noticed that she had cut down quite a bit…

“You quitting?” I looked at her.

She smiled at me. “Soccer season starts in a couple weeks. Bad for the lungs. We have to run a lot and I’d prefer not to be hacking my lungs out the entire time…”

I frowned. “You do that every year?”

She smirked at me. “Yes.”

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Then you start up again after?”

She dropped her cigarette and snuffed it out. “Pretty stupid huh?”

I shook my head. “Not saying anything.”

My new puppy squatted and did her business and I dove on her, petting her and cooing at her. “Who’s a good girl? Who’s the best girl ever?”

She rolled over and smiled her pure puppy smile at me.

Karly laughed. “What are you going to do when she takes a dump? Blow her?”

I chuckled back at her. “It’s how you train them.”

She gave me a funny look. “I thought you waited for them to go where you didn’t want them to, and then you rubbed their nose in it?”

I looked at her. “Nope. That’s the shittiest way to train them. Think about it. If I tried to teach you what I wanted by only showing you what I didn’t want, how long would it take you to learn?”

She frowned. “Good point. So, what do you do then?”

I thought about it for a second. “There’s no exact science to it. Each dog is a little different. You have to tailor to them to a certain extent. Mostly, you just congratulate them every time they do something you want them to do. If they do something you don’t want, generally you just startle them, and then ignore them. Most dogs want your attention so bad that is punishment enough in itself.”

The puppy pawed at me and I looked at Karly, “See. Just a few seconds without me paying attention to her and she’s working to get it back.” I picked the puppy up and scratched her ears. “She’s going to be easy to train.”

Karly smiled at me. She could see how taken I already was with the puppy. “I’m glad you like her.”

I held her close. “You did good Karly. I love her.”

I stepped up two steps and kissed Karly. “And I love you too.”

She smiled at me and my heart got lighter.

We went back inside and got the rest of the puppy stuff set up. Fortunately, without a lot of furniture in my front room I had plenty of space to set up her crate, and I put her dog bed next to my own. My own bed that is… it’s nothing fancy, but it’s still not a dog bed.

Of course… looking at the quality of this bed…

I looked at Karly, “I think this fucking dog bed might be nicer than mine?”

She laughed and wrapped her arms around me from behind. “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but I figured I’d buy a nicer bed for you to fuck me in.”

I smiled and pulled her head to me and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you for all of this. I do love you, and you are awesome.”

She smiled at me.

“I’ll try to remember to keep telling you that.”

She gave me a bigger smile.

“Now come on, let’s go make some dinner!”

We went in and pawed through all the food Karly had bought me. There was so much there, and everything was so expensive…

I looked at her, “I’m going to guess you don’t do a lot of food shopping at home?”

She looked abashed as she chewed on a celery stick. “I go with my mom sometimes.” She looked a little guilty. “Not often though.”

I smiled at her.

She scrunched up her face. “Did I get the wrong stuff?”

I went around behind her, wrapped my hands around her and walked her back to the food. I kissed her neck. “Not at all baby girl. I mean, it’s food, and that’s pretty hard to screw up.”

She wiggled into me. “I love when you hold me like that.”

I giggled into her neck. “Come on, help me put this stuff away.”

She turned. “So, what did I do wrong?”

I raised an eyebrow at her, then shook my head. “Nothing.”

She held what was left of her celery stick out at me. “Don’t make me beat you to death with the rest of this celery stick.”

I laughed at her. “Bring it shrimp.”

She screamed in mock anger, ran over and started poking me with the celery. After three or four pokes, she stopped and looked at it. “My shiv isn’t working…”

She took a couple small bites out of it to make kind of a point and then poked me again.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I grabbed one of her belt loops and pulled her in and kissed her hard.

She came away breathless. “You can try to distract me all you want Mr. Halloway, but I won’t be swayed. What did I get that was wrong?”

I shook my head. “It’s probably more me than you, baby girl. Everything you got is the super fancy, ultra-organic, hyper expensive stuff. I really don’t need that type of stuff. I’m kind of a meat and potatoes kind of a guy, or really more of a spaghetti made with cheap hamburger kind of guy.”

She kissed me again and licked her lips. “Mmmmm, Gabby spaghetti. Yes please!”

I pressed her to the counter and kissed her hard, finally settling on kissing her neck and giving her the little loves bites that drove her wild. “That’s not fair…” I whispered breathlessly, “I mean I know I’m not huge… but I wouldn’t call it spaghetti.”

She started laughing her ass off, clinging to me, “Don’t get all wrapped up in size. You do just fine.” She giggled.

Chapter 16
We made spaghetti together. She really wanted to learn to cook better, and I added that to the ever-growing list of things I loved about her. I had her make the meat, and showed her how to spice it, what to look for when it was done, when to add the sauce. I showed her how to check the noodles for doneness.

She did really well, and I was so proud of her. When we were done cooking, we sat down at the table and ate. We talked about this and that, nothing terribly important, just sharing our lives with each other. I loved those quiet moments with her.

I snuck my new puppy bites of food constantly and Karly looked at me funny. “Are you supposed to feed her from the table?”

I smiled at her as I handed the puppy a bite of meat from the spaghetti. “Why shouldn’t I?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know shit about dogs. I just saw that on TV.”

I smiled at her, “Sharing food with a dog helps them bond to you. Maybe it’s dirty pool, but I want her to start seeing me as the source of yummy treats.”

“Doesn’t that teach her to start begging at the table?”

I nodded. “It does, but I don’t mind that out of a dog, as long as they aren’t insistent about it.”

She looked at the puppy. She was sitting puppy style on the floor, staring at me with loving eyes. “Also, I thought dogs weren’t supposed to eat people food?”

I shook my head at her. “You know dog food has only been around for about a hundred years, right? Dogs ate people food before that…”

She laughed and ate more spaghetti. She picked up her garlic bread, pulled off a piece and started to hand it down.

“Uh… don’t give her that?” I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me. “I thought people food was okay?”

I smirked at her. “Okay, so I lied. Most people food is okay. No chocolate, no grapes, no onions, and no garlic. So…”

“So, no garlic bread?”

“No garlic bread.”

“And why is that?” She asked me, giggling.

I shrugged. “I mean I don’t know for certain, but I’ve read that onions and garlic are in the nightshade family and they can cause a dog’s kidneys to shut down. I mean, it might be okay with an adult dog, but a puppy you have to be way more careful with.”

She picked up a chunk of hamburger. “Is this okay with you, Dog Whisperer?”

I ate some more, “Have at it, m’lady.”

Chapter 17
I was laying behind Karly, my arms wrapped around her, while we watched a movie. I kissed her earlobe… I loved kissing her earlobe. “How late are you staying?”

She arched her back into me and made her neck easier to kiss. “I can stay if you’d like me to.”

I kissed her neck and ran my fingers down her side, eventually pulling her shirt up running my fingers across the soft flesh beneath. “I’d like that…”

Her hand wrapped around my back, pulling me tighter into her.

I let my hand wander up, feeling the silky fabric of her bra, her stiffening nipple beneath.

She threw her head back and I kissed her neck.

“Oh god, that feels so good…” She moaned.

I rolled her onto her back, working my kisses up and down her neck. Her hands roamed all over my neck and shoulders… I knew she loved the hard, knotted muscle there.

Her head lolled back and forth loosely.

“Will you… will you…”

I continued to kiss at the hollow of her neck. “Will I what?”

Her lips came in and kissed their way across my neck and ear, exciting me all the more.

“Will you kiss me?”

My lips found hers, kissing her deeply.

She broke from me… “I mean… will you kiss me… down there?”

I smiled and kissed her again, deeper this time. When I finally came up for air I started to move my way down her body. It was a complete turn on to see how eagerly she started fumbling at her pants…

Working together we managed to get her pants off completely and I dove between her legs…

I loved the taste of Karly. Musky at first, and then so sweet.

Her back arched and her moans filled the room. I felt her hand fall on the back of my head as I found one of those sweet spots that really drove her wild.

“Oh, my god… you are so good at that baby…” She moaned as I worked the spot over and over…

“Oh Gabby! What the… Uh… Gabby…”

I looked up into her smiling face. She was pointing to the side. I looked over and there was the puppy, standing on her hind legs, looking over the edge of the bed.

She looked at me and barked her little puppy bark.

Karly and I both burst out laughing.

I looked at Karly, “Looks like she’s the possessive type.”

Karly squirmed over and pushed her gently back to her dog bed, “Shut it bitch! He’s mine!”

She crawled back into place, spread her legs for me, and with a twinkle in her eyes said, “Proceed.”

I laughed and dove back into her sweetness.

I managed to crest her twice before she finally pulled me away, “Enough. I need you…”

Not needing to need to be asked twice I did my best to pull my clothes away as fast as my gimped right hand would let me. She pulled her shirt and bra off and lay there in my bed naked, a picture of beauty and grace…

I stood dumbstruck at the foot of the bed, shaking my head.

She nibbled her lip, “What?”

I shook my head and let my eyes wander over her perfect curves. “One day I’m going to wake up on that bus, and realize that this is all a dream…”

She giggled and held her arms out to me, “Well, then you better make the most of it while you can.”

I crawled up her body, kissing her most sensitive spots the whole way. Her body arched sensually as I made my way up, her skin hot and flushed against mine. I found that moment that I could only find with her, where the world began and ended at the edge of my perception. That place where she became the only thing that existed to me.

Her nails played across my back as I entered her, her breath and lips hot upon my ear as I pressed my body to hers and joined us in the most intimate way possible. My lips found her and we found our rhythm, our bodies dancing upon the bed together. My left arm curled around her back, pulling her to me, her legs wrapped tighter about me, urging me deeper into her, her arms wrapped themselves about my neck.

“I want you from behind…” She moaned.

I nodded my head… anything for her. “Okay.”

She arms and legs tightened on me and she moaned and kissed my neck. Her hips came up to meet mine and I could tell she wanted me like this for a little while longer. She opened her eyes and I put my forehead on hers, our eyes meeting and our souls mingling as intimately as our bodies where. Her breath was like a bellows.

“Like that?” I asked her.

She could barely nod her head, but she kept her eyes locked on mine. “I’m close…”

I kissed her lips lightly, never breaking eye contact with her. “I love you.”

Her left arm came up and cupped the back of my head as her right moved around, under my arm and onto my back. “I know.”

I smiled and poured more of my love into her eyes…

She swallowed hard and her eyes went just the tiniest bit out of focus and I knew she had just fallen over the edge for me…

Her legs tightened and her nails found sudden painful purchase in my back and neck. She was perfectly silent, her body coiled like a spring, all that energy locked down in her muscles.

I felt a stupid rush of pride as I realized she was climaxing for me.

Her eyes stayed locked on mine as her body got tighter and tighter around me in every way. I realized she was doing everything in her power to hold it at bay, to keep her gaze locked in mine.

The damn broke. The spring snapped.

Her head snapped back, her body arching beneath me as she screamed in release.

I couldn’t help it, I picked up the pace.

She clung to me, riding the wave over and over as I joined us.

Like that, I couldn’t hold on anymore.

Chapter 18
I was curled around behind Karly, both of us trying to catch our breath. She laughed, “Never did get around behind me…”

My body was spooned to hers, my face against her shoulder. I smiled, “To be continued…”

She reached around and smacked my ass, “Looks like we have an audience again.”

I looked up and saw my puppy looking over the edge of the bed again. I smiled at her and held my hand out to her, “Come on, little one!”

I snapped my fingers at her, “Come on! Up!”

She cocked her head at me and barked.

Karly laughed and looked back at me, “Looks like you’ve been told to get your ass up and help her up.”

I started to climb over Karly to pick the puppy up and she backed off. I moved back to Karly, just holding my hand out to her. “Why didn’t you go grab her?”

I kissed Karly’s shoulder. “She needs to learn to trust me. She want’s attention right now. If she runs from me every time I call her and I go grab her she learns that is what I want. If she backs off and I ignore her for it she learns not to do that.”

She shook her head at me. “Stupid men, she just needs to know you really want her.”

Karly sat up and made a big show of calling her, “Come on!” She tapped the bed excitedly. “Come on and see momma and daddy.”

The puppy ran to the edge of the bed and did her best to jump, hitting about mid chest and denied each time. She barked excitedly as Karly took pity on her and pulled her up. “Poor girl, you’re still too small to get up on your own huh?”

I rolled on my back as Karly handed me my new puppy. “Go see daddy.”

Her sharp little claws scratched my chest as she licked my face. I laughed in glee. It had been too long since I had gotten puppy kisses and each one of them warmed my heart up just a little more.

Karly got off the bed, put on her panties and grabbed my shirt.

She stood there and watched me pet my puppy and receive my dutiful kisses. She smiled at me as I looked at her.

“What?” I asked her.

She shook her head, “I’m just glad to see you so happy.” She crawled back on the bed and kissed my forehead. She ran her nails down the side of my face and looked into my eyes, shaking her head. “Normally there is so much sadness here. It’s nice to see it gone for a change.”

I grabbed her hand as she started to move away from the bed. “Don’t mistake this. You make me happy. I love you and I love being with you. You make things better for me.” I paused to try to think about it, to say it perfectly. “Without you, I’d be in a deep hole, and I probably wouldn’t even realize it. I want you to know that.”

She nodded and sat back down with me, leaning against my stomach and running her fingers through my puppy’s fur. I could see her mind grinding through gears.

She kept her eyes on the puppy and her face grew somber. Finally, her eyes came up to meet mine. “Sometimes.” She took a deep breath and blew it out, “Sometime I feel like I’m making things worse for you.”

I wanted to argue with her. I wanted to tell her how she was being stupid. I couldn’t. Before she came into my life I just burned through it. I found a nice quiet spot in my mind where I didn’t feel anything. There was a place in my mind that didn’t feel the pain. The loneliness couldn’t reach that spot. There were no crying children, no screaming women, no dog locked away from the world. No one raised a hand against anyone. Nobody was left all alone. It was a place where there was no darkness, and a place without light.

I furrowed my brow, letting my fingers trace circles through my now sleeping puppy’s fur.

“It isn’t like that.” I looked at Karly, rejoicing at her emerald eyes.

“Yeah. I found a place without pain, but it wasn’t truly gone. It’s like when a big snowstorm comes. You can close the door, and crank the heat, and the snow just builds up outside the door. The house gets buried. It seems safe. You stay inside there and it feels like nothing is touching you. Where you found me, the house was buried past the roof. I had my little safe spot, but I think if you hadn’t have come along and dug me out, eventually the roof would have collapsed and I’d have been buried beneath all that pain that I refused to let in. Does that make sense?”

She sighed, then shook her head. “No. It feels like before I came along you were at peace with the world.”

I shook my head. “I wasn’t. I was just lying to myself. I had pushed everything so deep inside that I felt nothing anymore. I was like a robot. I just sort of moved along. I got up in the morning because I needed to keep pretending I was alive. I put food in myself. I slapped a smile on my face and made my way through my day. At the end of the day I dropped back in the bed and ran away from the world to start again the next day.”

I shrugged. “There was no peace. There was no anything. I was just drawing breath because I was too scared to do anything else. I’m out in the world now. I have a lot to clean up, lots of repairs to make, but this world is so much better than my old one.”

She shook her head, “I don’t understand.”

I smiled at her. “You make all of the pain and suffering worth it. How about that?”

She smiled at me and ran her fingers down my face again. “It sounds really shitty. It makes me feel like the most special person in the whole goddamn world, but I still feel shitty.”

I let my eyes wander around her face, “I’d do anything for you.”

She kissed my forehead. “Then I had better prove that I’m worth it.”

I laughed and held my puppy up. “You did! You got me a puppy!”

She hugged me hard. “I love you so much. You’re like a little kid sometimes.”

I just rejoiced in feeling her arms around me. “Then you’re in a lot of trouble young lady… cause some of the things you’ve done with me…”

She laughed.

Chapter 19
It seemed that Karly had gotten dressed and was headed off to the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush and she came back around the corner. I could feel her there, leaning against the wall, watching me play with my puppy’s paws while she laid out across my chest, fast asleep as only a puppy can be.

“What are you going to name her?” She asked me.

I looked at her. “Don’t know. Did she have a name when you found her?”

She shook her head, “Nope. I came out of the store and there was this little girl sitting there with a box beside her that said, ‘Free Puppies!’.”

She pointed to my puppy. “She was the last one, just sitting there in the box all alone. I looked at her and I saw you in my mind. Alone in a little box. She looked at me and started wagging her tail, and then she stood up and barked at me. I got her for you because she reminded me so much of you, and how you sit in your little box and fight so hard to find something to be happy about.”

Her eyes started to tear up, and I held my broken right hand out to her, “Don’t cry. Come here.”

She forced a smile on her face and came and sat down, once again laying on my stomach and petting our new dog.

I smiled at her. “We’ll all take care of each other, like a little family.”

She smiled at me, “You already are my family teddy bear.”

That caused a beam of light to fall on my heart. “What do you think we should call her momma?”

She thought about it for a second, “How about Terra? Like the dog that used to take care of you?”

I shook my head. “No.”

She was a little taken back. “Why?”

I smiled at her to take a little sting off my earlier words. “With a person, naming someone after them is an honor. With a dog, if feels like a replacement. Understand?”

She smiled at me, “Yeah. There’s no way she could be replaced.”

I thought about it. I liked Karly’s idea, but it needed to be tweaked a bit. “How about Tessa? Tess for short.”

Karly smiled at me and woke my little puppy up. “How’s that work for you? Are you Tessa?”

Tessa yawned and wagged her tail.

Karly smiled at me, her earlier melancholy completely forgotten, “Sounds like Tessa it is.”

Chapter 20
Karly, Tessa and I went to the park Sunday morning. We sat in the grass and played with each other, not with purpose in mind, just enjoying each other’s company. We threw the ball for Tessa, which she could barely fit in her mouth, but true to her retriever roots she dutifully brought back to us. We cooed at her and told her how good of a dog she was.

After playtime, we went and got food. Tessa got her own cheeseburger, which was nearly as big as she was. I expected to see her rip the bun apart to get at the meat, but she seemed to enjoy the bread the most.

“Weirdo dog.” I informed her as we got back in the car, Tessa sitting in my lap as Karly took us home.

Karly had to head home and she left us in the driveway with a kiss and a thorough tummy rubbing…

I was a little disappointed that I had to settle with a tummy rubbing…

I had Tessa in my arms as Karly backed out of the driveway. I held her little paw up, “Wave bye-bye to mommy.”

She just yawned. I kissed her head. “Sleepy dog.”

I took her in the back, near the door to my apartment and let her do her business in the grass. She was learning really quickly not to go to the bathroom in the house. She had had one tiny accident the night before, but I noticed as long as I took her out every couple of hours she did perfect. As soon as we got back in the house she ran straight over to her food bowl and started in on the kibble there.

I threw my keys on the counter by the door. “If you had finished your hamburger you wouldn’t still be hungry!” I informed her.

She looked up from her food bowl and yipped at me.

I held my hands up, “Okay, okay. I’m not the boss of you. I get it.”

I gave her a few minutes to eat, waiting for her to come on into the bedroom. When she did, I scooped her up and put her in her cage. “Okay little girl. You have to go in you cave for a little while. I want you to be good and go to sleep. I have to go and take care of something.”

She howled at me and pawed at the cage as I grabbed my bag and keys and headed for the door.

I felt bad leaving her alone in her cave, but I had something that needed done.

I looked at my watch as I hit the bottom step. I had about ten minutes to make the twelve-minute walk to the bus stop…

I ran the best I could, which was not very good considering my wrist was still very broken and the jolt from each stride as I jogged was agony…

Going to need to figure out a way to stay in shape… Eight weeks like this and I’m going to lose a lot of progress… I thought as I ran.

I caught the bus and rode it as close as I could to Karly’s house.

Knocking on the door I was relieved when it opened and I found Joshua standing there. He had a shocked look on his face, “Gabby?”

I gave him a quick wave with my left hand, “Joshua. Sorry to bother you on a Sunday.”

He cocked his head at me. “Uh… you missed Karly. Her and her mom went shopping.”

I smiled at him, “I know. I wanted to talk to you.”

He opened the door wide. “Uh… sure. Come on it.”

I went inside and followed him back to his study. He sat in one of his heavy leather-bound chairs, I sat in the other. He gave me a funny look.

“So, what did you need?”

My eyes stayed on the floor. “I’m kind of embarrassed about it.”

He smiled at me. “Don’t stress it. I’m sure we can work it out.”

I looked at him. “Karly told me you paid my doctor’s bill.”

He gave a frustrated sigh. “I asked her not to do that.”

I smiled at him. “I appreciate that, but I’m glad she did.”

He gave me a frustrated look.

I smiled wider at him. “I know you’re just trying to help out, and I really do appreciate it. I could use the help at the time, but I want to pay you back. Now, money is tight for me, I won’t lie.” I had given this a lot of thought. I didn’t know Joshua terribly well, but I think I knew him well enough to know that he would never take money from me… “That doesn’t mean I can’t work it off.”

He gave me a cool look. “Gabby, I didn’t help to put you in my debt. I helped because I wanted to.”

I leaned back in my chair and thought this was a good chance for me to learn a good lesson from a good man. “I don’t understand. I mean, I know I’m with your daughter, and I know you want to make her happy, but I don’t deserve that kind of kindness from you. I haven’t earned it.”

He smiled at me. “You are a singular kid Gabby. I wish I had gotten to know you earlier.”

“Thank you, sir. But I still don’t understand. I want to.”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “I’m not sure I want to explain it. You’re a proud kid, and I don’t think that any way I could explain it to you would do anything other than sting your pride.”

I nodded at him, “I’ll try to put my pride aside sir. I really want to know.”

He smiled at me. “You’ve heard the idea that you should give a certain percentage of what you earn aside for charity?”

I nodded, “Yeah, like tithing to the church.”

He nodded back, “Yeah, like that, except I’ve never had much patience for that kind of crap.” He paused a moment, collecting his thoughts. “See, I’ve always seen giving money away as something that should only be done when it really helps someone. Most organized charities waste a whole lot of that money, and it doesn’t go to the right places. See, the way I’ve always seen it, you should help out those people that need help and who are going to use that help to really make themselves a better tomorrow. I see you, and how hard you work, and how dedicated you are to providing a better life for yourself, and by extension my daughter, and I felt compelled to step in and help out.”

I thought about it. It seemed like a really good way to give.

It had a flaw though. “Aren’t you kind of teaching me that I don’t have to be responsible for myself?”

He tilted his head at me, “Not really. Keep in mind I didn’t want you to ever know that I had stepped in and helped out.”

I shrugged, “I would have found out someone helped me eventually. I mean sooner or later I would have contacted the hospital when I didn’t get a bill and figured out someone paid it for me.”

He shrugged. “I figured when you didn’t get a bill you would ignore it. That’s what most people would have done.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, “Then aren’t you kind of teaching me the lesson that as long as someone doesn’t track me down and make me be responsible I shouldn’t be?”

He knew I had him there. He gave me a wry smile. “I guess you have me there.”

I nodded, “I want to pay you back. Not for you, for me. This isn’t a pride thing. See, life isn’t going to give me a lot of free rides. It sure as hell hasn’t up until now, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I want to be responsible for my own choices.”

He laughed and shook his head, “See, that’s the thing. You didn’t make a choice that put you in that hospital room.”

I raised my eyebrows at him. “Didn’t I? I chose to wrestle. Hell, the bill wouldn’t be a problem had I worked harder and set some more money aside for something like that. I should have been smart enough to see the possibility, and letting myself off the hook because I got caught flat footed isn’t a lesson I want to walk away from this situation with.”

He shook his head at me.

I smiled at him. “I’m not negotiable on this one. I’m going to pay you back. Either you work with me and point me towards stuff you need done, or I go and find things to do on my own.” I paused a second. “Or, if you won’t let me do that, I find out how much I owe you and scrape the money together and force it on you.”

He shook his head at me. “You are a stubborn kid…” Inspiration seemed to take hold then, and I saw a twinkle in his eye.

“What do you say we kill two birds with one stone?” He asked.

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

He held a finger out to me. “You want to learn my business. You also want to pay me back. Why don’t we do both of those things at the same time?”

I tiled my head at him. “Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it, simple as that.”

He smiled. “Okay, what I’m going to have you do is come in and work in my shop. It won’t be gunsmithing. I won’t have you doing anything that I shouldn’t be having you do, but I can have you clean, and help out with customers, and any other busybody work I can come up with. Saves me from having to do it, or hire someone to do it, and you get to start learning about something you’re passionate about at the same time. Sound like a deal?”

I was super excited. “Hell yes!”

He held a finger up. “Then I’m your boss, right?”

I nodded, “Yes, sir.”

He pointed the finger at me. “Then first lesson. You’re negotiating right now. Never show excitement at a deal until you have the terms finalized. Understood?”

I forced myself to calm down. “Yes, sir.”

He smiled at me. “What is our deal missing?”

I saw what he was doing. He was teaching me to think, not just pushing me where he wanted me to go…

“I may have other responsibilities that interfere with what you have in mind. I should make sure I can address that.” I answered.

He narrowed his eyes and nodded his head. “Like say, school, or sports, or a girlfriend, or a new puppy?”

I smiled ear to ear thinking of Tess. “Yes, sir. I have to make those things a priority for me right now. I want to pay you back, but I have to take care of those more important responsibilities first.” I thought about it for a second. “I have free time on the weekends. Would it be okay if I came in on Saturday and Sunday? I can work a full day those days without letting any of my other responsibilities slide too far.”

He nodded once, “Yes. That would be fine. What else needs to be negotiated?”

I thought about it for a second. I knew there was something big out there that we should talk about, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. “I’m not sure.” I finally admitted.

He smiled. “Never finalize a deal with someone until you decide on a rate.” His eyes narrowed and he held his finger up again. “And never trust a man that wants to begin working without discussing a rate. Once someone starts work for you, if you haven’t discussed what is owed you make yourself a slave to what he feels is fair, and never start working for someone until you are sure you know what you’ll be compensated with.”

He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. I was impressed. This was Joshua the businessman, not Joshua the friend, not Joshua the father… he was an intimidating man…

“So, what’s a fair rate?” he asked me.

I had no idea…

“Well, I made minimum wage at my last job…” I started before he cut me off.

“No. Stop. Never discuss a rate for your last job. It sets an artificial minimum on your current negotiation. What you just told me was that if I low ball you and pay you minimum wage you will settle.” He watched me to see if the lesson was sinking in. It was.

“Yes, sir. What are you willing to pay for the work you’re asking me to do?”

He smiled. “Good question.” He shrugged. “I’ve never really had someone do this kind of work before. Normally it’s all work I do myself.”

I thought about his response and what it meant. Essentially, he was communicating to me that the task was worth something. It was distracting him from other tasks, but he was also communicating that he didn’t need me…

I needed more information. “What is your normal shop rate?”

He raised his eyebrows at me and I got the sense I was on the right track. “Fifty-five an hour.”

Fuck! I thought in shock. Then I realized that I was dealing with a professional. That was a pretty reasonable rate.

“What is your current backlog?” I asked him.

He tiled his head and smiled. “What do you mean?”

“How many weeks are your customers waiting to get their product completed?”

His smile got wider. “Four weeks. Sometimes out as long as eight though. Right now, is the slower end of the season.”

So, stop and analyze. What he was telling me was that my value was higher than my initial estimate. Yes, he could do without me. He could do the work himself, but it was taking away from paying work.

“The work I would be doing for you would free you up to get your orders processed faster, and it would improve your customer satisfaction, correct?”

His smile nearly burst his face open. “Yes. It would.”

“Fifteen an hour.”

Surprise flashed across his face. “And what brings you to that figure? Seems a little on the high side.”

I smiled at him. “You make fifty-five an hour when you’re working on customer product. Right now, the work you’re offering me is taking time out of your day where you could be generating income. I’ll take that off of your plate. You can get your backlog caught up, which means happier customers, which in turn means more referrals and more return business, again, increasing your profits. Without backlog you are going to get more customers. Most customers won’t wait four weeks to get their project done, so they probably take their work elsewhere. You just told me that this is the slow season, and are sitting at four weeks. By hiring me at fifteen you will be realizing, at least for the first four weeks, a forty dollar an hour profit if you keep your hours stable.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, “Plus I know you can afford it.”

He threw his head back and laughed his ass off. “Very good.”

He held his right hand out, “Deal.”

I held my cast up, “Uh…”

Chapter 21
I got back home, took Tess outside to do her business and went back in to celebrate!

I set her on the floor, she was still too little to be very much good on the stairs and started dancing with her. I could tell she had no clue what we were jumping around about, but her human was happy and she was getting attention, so she was happy. I told her about my conversation with Joshua as I danced around the kitchen. Then I poured her a nice bowl full of milk and left her to it.

I went into my bedroom, got my books out of my bag and sat down to read my history lesson. After a few minutes, Tessa padded her way in and informed me she wanted up on the bed with me. I used my left hand to pull her up and she went over to one of my blankets and circled in it, digging at it with her little paws to make it comfier for herself.

It was an old, grey down filled blanket I had bought at a thrift store. Truth be told it was comfy as hell. Nice and warm. Soft. Tess settled herself onto it and burrowed in, making a pillow for herself out of one of the folds.

I made a face at her. “Not your blanket.”

She sighed loudly and started to drop off to sleep. “So, you’re going to be like the other woman in my life huh? Full of backtalk.” I informed her as I took her outside collar off. She didn’t need to wear it when she was in the house, and I didn’t want to make her any less comfortable than I had to. Lord knows, I wouldn’t want to wear a collar if I didn’t have to, so I didn’t want her to either. When I was done, she rolled over, showed me her belly to me and dropped off to puppyland.

I laughed and turned back to my book.

That night we had dinner together. We put the news on, from the off-air antennae that I had, and ate taquitos together. I gave her the last bite of every one of them. We were sitting there and I was talking to her about how the idiot talking about Trickle Down Economics was an idiot. I told her at length how much of a dumbass he was. She listened to my lecture with ears perked, though I think it had more to do with the taquitos than with my nuanced economic analysis.

Come bed time, I put her in her bed on the floor next to my bed, turned out the lights and crawled underneath the covers. She laid down for about thirty seconds.

Then, I could feel her try to scramble back up on the bed. I tried to ignore her.

She barked at me. It was a clear, “Hey, dumbass… I’m down here and I’m supposed to be up there, bark.”

I sighed and pulled her up on the bed. Truth be told, I was a little lonely. I could use the bed mate. She walked over by my head, found the down blankey and pawed at it, making her own bed.

I pushed her down playfully. “Quit making so much noise and go to sleep. Some of us have shit to do tomorrow.”

She ran over and bit at my hand playfully. She had those razor-sharp teeth every puppy seems to have, but she was very soft mouthed. I played with her for a few minutes and then left her to make her bed on the blanket she had seemed to have picked out as her own.

My alarm went off every two hours, and it was hell. I took Tess outside each time, cooed at her for doing her business outside. The second time we got up she walked to the edge of the bed, nodded off and plummeted off the edge of the bed into her dog bed. Slept through the whole thing…

I picked her up and carried her outside. “Sleepy dog.” I murmured to her, cuddling her and nuzzling her.

We made it through that first night alone together and in the morning, I checked all around the house for signs she might have found a quiet spot to do her business. I didn’t want my house to smell like piss so I was really sure to make sure she wasn’t going anywhere she shouldn’t have been. Everything was perfect, and dry and I took that as a good sign she was doing what I needed her to do.

I had just finished getting us ready when I got a text from Karly telling me she was out front.

Tess had her collar on. I had everything I needed in my bag and was dressed.

I scooped her up, “We need to get up earlier tomorrow, little lady. You take too long getting pretty in the morning.” I told her as I playfully squeezed her nose.

I ran downstairs and I put my bag, and Tess in the back seat and jumped up front. Karly gave me a quick peck. “Everyone ready?” She asked as she backed out of the driveway.

I smiled at her, she was grumpy in the mornings. “Thank you for doing this for me hon. I know I’m cutting into your sleep.”

She smiled at me. “We’re getting coffee!” She announced.

I put my hand on her leg and just enjoyed being with my two ladies.

“How was she last night?” Karly asked me.

I smiled at her, “Really good. No accidents.”

We were sitting at a stop light when she looked over at me and cooed. “You look so sleepy baby. You have raccoon eyes.”

I smiled at her. “We had to get up a lot to go outside. It will get better as she gets older and her training gets deeper ingrained and her bladder gets bigger.”

She smiled at me. “So, I heard you bullied my dad into giving you a job?”

I smiled at her, abashed. “I didn’t want to talk to you about it, I didn’t want you to talk me out of paying him back.”

She shook her head at me, “Stupid, stubborn, proud man.”

We passed the rest of the ride in quiet small talk, only stopping for coffee. When we got to her place I carried Tess in and handed her over to Marsha. She cooed as all women do when presented with a puppy and held Tess up high, giving her kisses and loving the life out of her. Tess did not seem impressed.

When we left, I could hear Tess inside howling for me. It broke my heart to hear her mewl so pitifully…

Karly rolled her eyes at me, “Don’t worry daddy, she’ll be in good hands. I’m sure my mom will have her ten pounds fatter by the time we get back today.”

I looked at Karly as we pulled out of the garage. “You’re sure your mom doesn’t mind watching her?”

She smiled at me. “Honestly hon, it was her idea. I think she loves the idea of having someone to keep her company. I think the house is starting to get that empty nest feeling and she’s taking it really hard. I was talking to dad last night about Tess and I think we’re going to get a dog too, just so mom has somebody to hang out with all day.”

I shook my head. It seemed weird to me to have all day, every day to myself. I wondered how someone did it.

It didn’t make me look down on Marsha or anything, I just thought about how I wouldn’t be able to stay sane if I didn’t have something to occupy my time. Some purpose in my life.

After school, we went back to Karly’s place. Marsha and Tess were out back in the garden. “Tessa!” I called, raising my hands.

Tess came barreling out of the garden as fast as her little legs could carry her. Her little puppy face was lit up just seeing me. It made me so happy to see how happy I made her. She ran up to me and I sat down to get to her level, “How was your first day of daycare?” I asked her.

She danced in a circle, leaping on my hands and licking me. “That good huh?”

I rolled her over on her back and play fought her as she bit at my hand.

“Oh really? You don’t say?” I cooed at her.

I looked up at Karly. She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Let me guess, she didn’t say?”

I laughed like an idiot. I hadn’t intended to make that joke…

I scooped Tess up, “Was she any trouble Marsha?”

Marsha had a beaming smile on her face. “Not at all. She was a joy to have around.”

“Did she have any accidents in the house?” I asked with some worry. I was really worried about that. I didn’t want Tess to be a burden to Marsha.

Marsha smiled at me, “Nope. We’ve been outside most of the day though. I think she’s going to be a water dog. She jumped in the pool at one point and I had to fish her out, but that was no problem.”

I held Tess up. “Did you go for a swim today? Look, daycare and a free bath for you.”

Marsha laughed. “Gabby, do you want to stay for dinner? I made more than enough for you and Tess to join us?”

I bounced Tess in my arms. “What do you think little dog? You want to stay for a yummy meal?”

Karly laughed and took her from my arms. “Gimme her. You two are spoiling her!” Karly started to the house, talking conspiratorially at my dog, “Okay, you and I have to get something straight, you’re spoiling him. You have to give him hell sometimes! Tell him to go fuck himself!”

I smiled as I watched my two ladies walk away. I looked at Marsha. “I would love to have dinner with you folks.” I watched Karly’s receding back. “I really appreciate you all so much.”

Marsha smiled at me and gave me a quick hug. “It’s our pleasure Gabby. That’s what family is for.”

Chapter 22
Tess and I got home and I gave her her first official bath. She really didn’t need it, especially after going for a swim earlier in the day, but I wanted to get her used to getting baths. She most likely wouldn’t be huge when she grew up, but I wanted her to feel safe when it came to bath time and developing the habit that it was a safe place while she was small was the easiest way to do that. I had to keep my cast dry, and that made it a pain in the ass to wash her while keeping her in the sink, but I pulled it off without too much trouble.

When we were done, I dried her as best I could with one hand and rolled her on her back for a nail trimming. Her nails were like little razors and I decided keeping them trimmed back would be the easiest way to keep her from slitting my throat in my sleep.

I talked to her the whole time. She was not having fun. “And then I was like, and she was like…” I made fun, pantomiming the way shows showed ladies in the nail salon.

When we were done, Tess jumped up and ran into her cave, giving me a dirty look from the door.

“Don’t give me that look young lady!” I mock yelled at her. “You’re the one that gets all kicky when you sleep.”

I managed to lure her out with a raccoon toy that Karly had bought her. It was fuzzy and soft, and seemed to be her favorite.

That night we did the same thing, up every two hours for bathroom time. Sleepy puppy each time. The third time I got up I went to the bathroom myself first and came back to the bed. “Okay turkey, up and at them.” I called to her.

She rolled out of her down blankey and stumbled drunkenly across the bed, half asleep.

I grabbed her before she could fall off the bed again. “So, you’re going to be a sleepy dog in the morning huh?”

Chapter 23
We followed the same routine through that whole first week. On Friday night, after school, we took Tess to the vet closest to my house and had her examined and got her her first series of shots. She was too young for her first rabies shot, but she got the full range of other puppy vaccinations. It was expensive, and Karly insisted on paying for it, which I hated, but I felt better and shut my mouth for having her looked at and getting her shots done. I didn’t want her getting sick.

After that, Karly and I dropped Tess off at her house and we went out to pizza and a movie. This time I insisted on paying. Karly just shook her head like I was an idiot.

At dinner Karly sat really close to me, eating, smiling, laughing. I loved her so much.

“How are things going with you since you got Tess?” She asked me suddenly.

I just kind of stared at my plate. I felt terrible. Since Karly had brought Tess into my life things had gotten better for me. A lot better.

And that made me feel like a traitor. Admitting as much to Karly felt like I was telling her that no matter how much she had helped me, no matter how many times she had held me, or soothed me while I had an attack it just wasn’t enough. I felt like admitting the truth to her was tantamount to telling her a dog was better than she was. I really didn’t want to admit that, because I knew that wasn’t even close to the truth.

The truth was, Tess wasn’t better for me than Karly was. It was just that Tess was there full time, and Karly couldn’t be.

That didn’t make it sound any better…

I knew Karly loved me as much as the rising sun. I knew that if I asked, if I insisted she be there for me like Tess was, she would most likely throw caution to the wind and dive into my madness with me. As much as I wanted her, I wanted her to have everything she could ever want a whole lot more.

Conveying that to her in a way that wasn’t going to hurt her feelings was a whole hell of a lot harder than it should have been, however…

“It’s going good.” I hedged.

She looked at me with a wry smile on her face. “Better or worse?”

I bought myself time by taking a bite of pizza. Then I started to feel like a coward. “Better.”

“I notice you haven’t needed to call.” She observed.

I looked at the table, embarrassed. Was she trying to make an observation about me not calling? “I’ve been good.”

She took a bite out of her slice. “Are you not calling because you haven’t needed to, or are you hiding?”

I got it then… she was worried about me. “I haven’t needed to…” I said shyly.

She laughed at me!

Smiling, “You think I’m giving you shit?”

I took another bite of pizza to stall my answer. “I just don’t know what to say…”

She leaned against me. “I’m not giving you a hard time. I’m just worried. I got you Tess and you seem happier, you’re not calling lonely anymore. I mean I hope things are better, but…” She nudged me playfully. “You also have a tendency sometimes to hide from me when you need help.”

I nibbled at my lip, finally sighing. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but I don’t want you to be mad at me, or not understand what I’m saying.”

She took another bite of pizza. “Okay.”

I dropped my slice and thought about the best way to say this. “Since you got me Tess, I’ve felt really good. I don’t feel lonely. When I start to feel lonely I talk to Tessa, or I just cuddle with her and it makes things feel better.”

I looked at her to gauge how she was taking it. “Please don’t be mad.”

She laughed, “You think I’m going to be mad?”

I shrugged like a little kid. “Maybe?”

She looked at me like I was crazy, and I had to admit, maybe I was.

“Why did you think I would be mad?” She asked me very slowly.

I tried an awkward smile. Then I took a deep breath and took the plunge. “I thought maybe that you’d think that I was trying to say that Tess was helping me more than you did.”

She laughed at me again… it kind of stung this time.

“You thought I was going to be jealous of a dog?”

I shook my head at her. “I have no fucking clue… babe, you know I’m helpless with people.”

She smiled at me and I knew suddenly that it was going to be okay. She wrapped her hand in my shirt and pulled me close, kissing my lips. She had a little pizza sauce on her lips and it added a bit of spice to our kiss. When we broke, she looked at me, light in her eyes, “I got you the dog so you’d have someone to keep you company, silly.”

She shook her head at me. “I’m glad you like her babe.”

I felt relief flood through me. I leaned over and kissed her again. “I just want you to know that Tess helps, but not as much as you do.”

She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “I’m happy you have her to take care of you, I love her too. She’s the perfect little dog for you.”

I leaned in close to her… “Now let’s stop talking about the other woman in my life…”

And then I stole her slice and stuffed it in my mouth…

Chapter 24
After pizza, we went out to a movie. I bought the tickets, she bought candy and drinks. We were standing in line for concessions and I’m gonna just go ahead and say it… she was wearing this short little plaid skirt and I was seriously staring at her ass…

She looked back and caught me staring…

“Be good.” She warned me.

I came up behind her and wrapped my arms around her, pulling her in tight to me. “Can’t help it sexy. You inspire me to be so bad…”

She giggled and shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.”

I leaned in and nibbled her ear, “That skirt is certainly encouraging me.”

She gave me one of those incredible smiles that stopped me heart. “Nice wordplay.”

I smooched her neck, “Thank you. I definitely try…”

Right then the only thing I wanted to try was to get inside her pants…

I kissed her neck as she ordered, eliciting a giggle from her and getting a dirty look from the kid taking our order. I figured he could live with it.

We went into the theater and I pulled her all the way to the top row of seats. She narrowed her eyes at me. “I want to watch this movie… we’re not making out the whole time!”

I held my hands up innocently. “These filthy accusations to my character are ridiculous!”

She sat down and crossed her legs…

Son of a bitch that was sexy… I thought.

“Be a good boy.” She warned me.

I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her close, kissing those all too kissable lips softly, “Then you better satisfy my kissing needs before the movie starts.”

She giggled and kissed me deep. Then she pulled my arm from around her and bonked me on the nose. “There, that will have to tide you over until later.”

I leaned in and kissed her neck. She giggled and the movie started.

I tried to watch the movie, I really did. I could not however get the way that her ass looked in that skirt out of my mind…

I laid my hand down on her thigh and started to slide my hand up her leg.

She caught my hand and leaned closer to me. “No, no.” She whispered.

I took that as my litmus test of how much she was going to let me get away with… at least for now.

I used my fingers to massage her leg lightly, feeling the buttery smooth skin beneath my fingertips.

How do girls get their legs so goddamn smooth? I wondering, thinking of how rough my face was even after a close shave with a razor.

I didn’t move further up her leg, I didn’t pay attention to her, I just let my fingers roam and watched the movie, pretending to be just absently rubbing her leg. Mostly I let my middle two fingers slide along the smooth skin of her leg.

I looked around, using just my eyes. We had selected a movie that had been out for a few weeks so it was reasonably sparse in the theater. There were a group of kids three rows ahead of us, and a couple at the far end of our row. No one that would be able to see what was going on without really giving things a good close look. Yes, I wanted to have fun with her, but I didn’t want to do so at the cost of embarrassing her. She was a lady after all, and I didn’t want to treat her as anything but.

After twenty minutes or so, I let my hand wander up the inside of her leg another inch or so. I kept it at that. I had two hours to get to where I wanted to go, there was no need to rush things and tip my hand. Yes, this was fun for me, but what I really wanted was to give her an experience.

She leaned her head against me and I took that as a good sign. I laid my head against hers, smelling that vanilla scent, I loved so much, that scent that screamed Karly.

Another twenty minutes or so and I wandered up a little more. My pinky managed to press against her sensitive spot and I snuck a peak and watched as she darted her tongue out and quickly licked her lips. Her legs spread a little wider for me, not enough to make anything obvious, but enough that I knew she was getting excited.

I used the opportunity to pull away from her a bit, as if I suddenly realized that I was getting a little too bad…

Her body tensed a bit and I snuck a little look to see her nibble at the side of her lip.

Good, she’s warming up… I thought to myself in triumph.

Her hand came and met mine, wrapping around the outside of my hand tightly.

Oops… busted. I thought.

She nibbled at her lip more and pulled my hand up her leg.

Yes!

I smiled as my hand slid up her leg. My pinky again settled against her crotch. I could feel her panties and that all too soft skin of her upper thigh. I used the ridge of my hand to stimulate her while I rubbed my fingers against her thigh. I could feel her breath speed up, could sense her excitement as she pressed against me.

I tried to gauge how obvious we were being and decided we were okay as long as she stayed quiet. To anyone looking we were just a couple, deep in love cuddling with each other as we watched the movie. It was perfect.

I massaged her for the next few minutes, not doing anything overt, just rubbing my fingers against her, giving her pleasure. She was breathing extremely fast and I knew that she was really enjoying herself just from measuring her breath against me. Needless to say, I was having a ton of fun… there was something about giving her pleasure in such a teasing manner that was an enormous turn on!

I moved my hand and started exclusively rubbing her sensitive spot, ignoring her leg completely. I could feel how ready she was through the fabric of her panties and my desire for giving her pleasure found a new gear.

“Like that.” She whispered, surprising me.

“I’m not bothering you, am I?” I whispered back, being a bit of a smart ass.

She shook her head weakly against mine.

I let my middle fingers trace their way over her, feeling all those ridges and folds down there, everything feeling so interesting beneath my fingertips. I found she really enjoyed when I started at the bottom of her and traced my fingers up slowly, giving her most sensitive little bump a little additional pressure with my fingertips as I moved back down and started again.

Her hand wandered up and I could feel her start to massage her nipple while I massaged her beneath.

Wow! That really turns me on… I realized in sudden shock. Very nice.

She was nibbling her lip pretty much constantly now and I could tell she was very excited…

It was intoxicating.

I suddenly felt the need to feel her flesh…

I knew she might shut me down right there, but I figured there was no way I was going to get her any more excited rubbing her through her panties…

I pulled the far side of them aside very gently and rubbed my fingers over her swollen excitement. She blew air out through pursed lips and I could tell she had found a new gear…

As my fingers found their way inside her she went completely rigid beside me…

Oh shit! She’s coming… oops… I realized in suddenly shock.

Her hand clamped down on my arm like a vise, harder than I realized she even could. She held her breath and I could tell it was the only thing keeping her from screaming out loud.

My two middle fingers pressed against her gently, just massaging in a gentle rhythm, not wanting to disrupt what seemed to bring her so much pleasure. Her legs pressed tight against my hand and I let that pressure set her need for me to withdraw. I knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up much longer and after such a strong orgasm I knew she was going to be way too sensitive for me to continue.

At least that was what I thought…

Her legs tightened down on my hand, but she never forced my hand away from her. She blew out a very short breath and I felt her body completely relax. Her hand found mine and she pushed me up against her harder, spreading her legs back out a little bit wider to accommodate me better. I took that as invitation to continue.

I started to move my fingers within her again, enjoying the silky-smooth wetness of her excitement. I snuck a kiss on the top of her head, luxuriating in that blissful smell her hair provided.

Her hand pushed harder against me. “Deeper…” She whispered, her breath catching as her body jerked in pleasure. “Please.”

I pushed my fingers into her as deeply as they comfortable could and let her body acclimate to the new sensation. Her hand pressed against mine tightly, guiding me to where she wanted me to be. It was sexy as hell…

Her hips made little jerky movements, letting me know that she was having trouble keeping herself under control. I found that spongy place up beneath her hips and rather than try to crudely slide my fingers in and out of her, I merely contented myself with simply applying pressure there and then letting that loose. Her left hand stayed against my hand and her right hand wandered over and found me, excited from her and all the mental stimulation she was providing me.

She gripped my hard and it felt completely delicious, but this was for her…

“No, no.” I whispered, “This is about you baby girl.”

“Shut up,” She hissed back at me, “I’m working up a mental picture here…”

I decided to shut the fuck up…

With that, she tensed up on me again and I knew she was being carried over the edge once more. Her hand against me was amazingly tight… it still felt amazing…

When she finally blew out her breath I knew she had crested over. “Enough… stop, please…” She begged. She shook her head, “I can’t… too much…”

I smiled and slowly, carefully, extracted my hand from her.

She was limp against me. She looked up at me and like that, she kissed me hard, her tongue surging into my mouth. I kissed her back with gusto, feeling the amazing sensation of having the world’s most perfect woman pressed against me.

She came up for air and looked into my eyes, taking my breath away.

“I fucking love you so much.” She whispered.

I smiled and pulled her close. “You’re pretty amazing to me too.” I whispered back to her.

Chapter 25

After the movie, we went back to Karly’s place. Karly decided she was going to spend the night with me, but she wanted to grab some things. I didn’t really understand what she could need to spend a night with me, considering she had pajamas, and a spare change of clothes that she always left at my place, but I let it slide. Women are mysterious, afterall. She ran upstairs to grab what she needed while I made idle chitchat with her parents, which was weird…

They were totally cool, and I was a little uncomfortable chatting with them and everyone pretending it wasn’t weird that I was getting ready to take their daughter back to my place.

I checked with Joshua to see what time he wanted me at the shop in the morning for my first day of work. He let me know he wanted me there at 10, which was nice as it was already starting to get late and I knew with Karly’s appetite we would most likely be looking at staying up for a while once we got to my place. Karly brought down a backpack, which I thought was a little weird, but she just smiled at me and asked if I was ready to go.

Once we got back to my place we went upstairs and the instant we got inside Karly wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me deeply. I purred in contentment and she ran her hands down my neck, and shoulders. She raised her eyebrows, “I knew it.”

I wrinkled up my face, “What do you mean?”

She smiled at me, “You always carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. They, and you, are tense as rocks. We’re going to fix that!”

I smiled at her, my mind going to dirty places…

She smacked me on the forehead. “Not like that!” Then she gave me one of those heart stopping smiles, “At least not yet.”

She kissed me again, and as she broke from me informed me, “Come on, we’re going to get you nice and relaxed.”

She took me in the bathroom and undressed me. She helped me wrap my cast in plastic bag, turned on the water as hot as we could stand and pushed me into the shower. I watched her through the glass undress, a picture of perfection. She went to the mirror and put her short hair up in a pony-tail, emphasizing the shape of her face, which she knew that I loved, and then stepped into the shower with me.

Instantly I took her naked body in my arms and kissed her deeply. The plastic bag on my arm made little crinkly sounds as I pressed her back to the glass. I started to run my left hand back down to her secret place and she stopped me, though I could see it was a challenge for her.

“No.”

I gave her a perplexed look, wondering what I had done wrong…

She smiled at me, and put her wet hands on my face. “I love that you are so giving to me, but right now is about you.”

I shook my head at her, not understanding.

She turned us around in the shower, putting the hot water on my back and ran her hands over my head and face. She kissed along the traces of my collarbone, and up my neck. “You always do for me, and never let me do for you. Tonight, is for you.”

I pulled her in and kissed her. “I just want you, and to make you happy. I don’t need anything else.”

She gripped the muscles in my shoulders. “The tension here says differently.”

Then she ran her hands up my neck. “Let me. Please. I want to.”

It felt weird having someone put me first. Someone to minister strictly to my needs. I realized then how much I wanted her to…

“Okay. I think that would be nice.” I finally conceded.

She smiled and pushed my back deeper into the water. “Close your eyes for the rest of the shower. I want you to start relaxing. I have a whole thing planned.”

I smiled back at her as I closed my eyes.

She pushed me back a little further, until the water was pouring directly on my scalp. It felt amazing. Hot and relaxing, it was like some of the tension in my body just started to melt away and fall down the drain with the water.

She got a dab of shampoo and washed my hair for me. It was starting to get longer and I reminded myself that I needed to cut it again soon. Another thing on my ever-growing list of to do items…

She reached down and grabbed me, stroking my excitement. “Stop that…” She whispered.

It felt so good I could barely breathe. I wanted to open my eyes and look at her, but I still had shampoo all over my face. “Stop what?” I managed.

“I can see the new worries pounding into your head even now. Stop. Just be here in the moment. Be here with me.” She whispered, pulling me back to the moment.

I knew she was right. Even with this beautiful creature here in the shower I was having trouble letting go of my troubles, instead opting to go through a list of things that needed to be done, worrying about things that I couldn’t do anything about. I was borrowing worries and she was smart enough to see that I needed to stop.

I nodded weakly, “Okay. Sorry.”

Her hands came back up and started to work the shampoo out of my hair. “Nothing to be sorry for.” She assured me.

After she was done washing my hair, she pulled me forward a bit and started working soap into my skin, starting on my chest and working her way out across my body.

It was a strange sensation. Normally, when I showered for myself it was a utilitarian thing. I was obsessive about keeping myself clean and showered at least twice a day, sometimes three times a day. I didn’t have time to waste, so I normally just jumped in, soaped up as fast as I could and then washed everything up as fast as I could.

Karly and I had showered together many times, but usually it was us making out, or making love in the shower, or on our way to making love and that sped the whole process up. It rushed everything.

This time, yes, I was excited to have her, and I thought she was excited to have me, but she forced us to slow everything down. She washed every square inch of the front of me, taking her time and insisting I stand in the water and let my troubles slough away. Her fingers traced over my chest, my tummy, worked their way up and down my arms…

The soap against me was so much thicker than I normally let it get. She knew exactly how to move herself against me to keep me in a constant state of excitement for her. Not in a way that screamed sex, but in a way that just gave me small teases of her body. If I tried to open my eyes to steal a look she would take me in her hand again and stroke my excitement…

It felt so good if forced me to close my eyes and tilt my head back…

When she was done with my front, she turned my around in the water and did my back. This time she again started at my head, applying a conditioner she had brought from her home that smelled of vanilla. If filled the little stall of my shower with the scent of Karly and immediately put me at my ease.

Her hands worked their way across my shoulders, down my back then then on to my butt and legs. Everything slow, leisurely and relaxed.

When she was done washing me, she turned the water off, had me step out and toweled both me and her off, drying us, and rubbing a little more relaxation into my muscles. She took the plastic bag off my arm, which killed the mood a bit, and then she took me by the hand and led me to our bedroom. She stopped me a few feet away from the bed, wrapping my towel around my body…

“Stay there for a second, I need to get the bed ready.” She whispered as she pressed her too naked body against me.

I peeked at all of her interesting places as she pushed the covers back away from the bed, making a nice open place on the sheets for me. She came back to me and went around behind me, wrapping her arms around my body.

She slowly led me to the bed, laying me on my tummy.

I felt her disappear from against my body for a second as she went and retrieved her bag from the bathroom.

I have to admit, I was more relaxed than I had been in a very long time, and just having my face against the cool sheets I was nearly to a spot of nodding off. I came back to when she crawled onto my back, settling her hips above my ass.

This would be so much more interesting if I were turned around… I thought to myself as she squirted something into her hand. Her left hand settled onto my back, just below my shoulder.

“Relax, big man.” She ordered me.

I realized then that what she had put in her hand was some sort of scented oil. If felt wonderful as she started working her hands into my shoulders, massaging away the tension there…

Her hands were things of magic as they traced their way across my tense muscles. She spent an extra-large amount on time on my shoulders, and my upper back, the places in my body where I tended to store my tension. Her fingers traced their way up and down my spine, across my neck, down across my lower back. She laid her hands flat on my back and traced the oil up and across my arms.

When she was done with my upper body she had me raise up a bit and took my towel away, finally letting me feel her naked pelvis across my legs. She massaged my butt, and then my legs, working her way down to my feet, which she spent extra time on. Everything she did felt like heaven, and I could feel the tension drain away from every last inch of my body.

She had me roll over onto my back, and by the time I did I was extremely ready for her…

“Close your eyes.” She ordered, “We’re not done yet.”

I let my eyes drift closed and felt her settle down across me. She rubbed her pelvis into mine, rubbing herself into me. “Keep your eyes closed, and I might just give you a special little reward…” She purred.

I kept my fucking eyes closed…

She got more oil and did the entire front of my body, her hands tracing across my chest, my tummy, across my legs…

When her hand finally settled on me and began stroking me I was so relaxed I could barely move. It had been forever since I had been this relaxed…

I started to get up, ready to pull her to me…

“Lay down baby…” She ordered me.

And then her mouth closed around me.

“Oh, god!” I moaned as she took me into her mouth, pleasure and excitement coursing through my body as every nerve in my body lit up in ecstasy…

She moved slowly, working her way around and teasing each and every second of pleasure out of me that she possibly could.

I found my hands moving to her head against my will. I let them trace across her face, rubbing her ears and simply luxuriating in the feel of her against me.

She took my left and helped move it to behind her head, “Help me, show me what you want.” She whispered, adding another layer to my excitement.

I have to admit, that always sort of worried me. It was difficult enough for me to allow her to debase herself by giving me this kind of pleasure, but the idea of forcing her down on me, controlling her pace, moving her to gain my own pleasure was very difficult for me. I started to worry again, almost opened my mouth to say something when I realized one simple fact…

I enjoyed going down on her. I loved it in fact. It was exciting to me, and I loved to give her pleasure, I loved to make her feel good. The feeling of driving her to the edge of pleasure simply by focusing one hundred percent of my attention on her was a powerful thing for me.

Was she not the same?

Could it be that she was every bit as excited and turned on by the knowledge that she was giving me the same pleasure?

I started breathing faster as I helped her to pick up the pace. It felt so good…

I realized then that I was driving deeper into her mouth, something I had never before done.

That kind of snapped a switch in my brain and I forced myself to slow, to back off…

She took her mouth away from me, her voice a sultry whisper. “You like it deep don’t you?”

I felt a little bad, but shook my head. “Yes… is that…”

Her mouth went back around me and I was blinded in ecstasy again…

She went deeper than I had been pulling her, more aggressive.

My back arched up it felt so good…

I finally managed to force myself to finish my thought… “Is that okay?” I whispered.

She took her mouth off of me, “Yes. I want to make you feel good… it excites me to make you feel good.”

That was all the assurance I needed…

She continued until I knew I was close… so close.

I tried to pull her head away from me. “I’m close baby…” I whispered.

She took her mouth away from me for a second, “I know.”

Then she was back on me aggressively…

She had finished me like this before… it still felt weird…

I could hold no longer however…

Chapter 26
Karly scooped Tess up from her bed, handing her to me. “Your puppy sir.”

I took Tess and laid her against the wall by my head, where she usually slept when it was just Tess and I in bed. “Thank you, my lady.”

Karly smiled at me as Tess made her displeasure at being manhandled while she slept known by yawning with a loud weird upward tick at the end, nearly a yelp. I grabbed her nose and shook it, “Don’t be a little pissy pants missy.”

Karly shook her head, “She always that cranky when you wake her up?”

I nodded at her, “She’s always cranky when it gets to be bedtime. She’s a sleepy dog.”

Karly went to my closet, pulled down one of my shirts and put it on. I loved the way she looks in my shirts, so I didn’t say anything. Also, her in just a shirt made me hopeful I could get underneath it again tonight…

“I’m getting some ice cream. You want some?” Karly asked me as she padded off to the kitchen.

I sat up against the wall a little, trying not to wake Tess or disturb her. She looked so peaceful when she was sleeping. “I’d love some.”

Karly sat cross legged on my bed and we ate ice cream together. We were quiet, and I watched her eat slowly, taking pleasure in each bite. She bit her lip and looked at me. “What?”

I shook my head and smiled at her. “I was just thinking you look so cute when you eat.”

She smiled back at me. “You think I look cute no matter what.”

My smile got wider, “That’s true.”

Yawning she asked me, “So do you know what dad’s gonna be having you work on tomorrow?”

I shook my head, “No clue. For fifteen bucks an hour though… let’s just say, that makes me willing to do a bunch of pretty questionable things…”

She scrunched up her face, “Oh, no. No. That one’s going to burn in for sure.”

I smiled at her, “Oh… Mr. Kay… it’s so big!”

“Eww!”

“Oh, is that whole thing for me?” I asked, trying for a coy schoolgirl tone. The kind of cheesy dialogue you hear in porn.

“Yep. Yep. That one’s burned in for sure.”

We were both laughing hard. She put her bowl down on the bedside table, crawling over to me. Her hand found my chest as her lips found mine. “Only one person in the Kay family is going to be taking advantage of you sexually…”

I smiled at her, and scooped her into my arms. She giggled and snuggled into me again. I just relished the feeling of having her in my arms again. My lips worked their way up and down her neck as my hands found her breasts and started to massage her…

She threw her head back and sighed a sigh of pure contentment. She reached back, finding me getting excited to have her again…

“Apparently, I left a little in the tank…” She sighed.

I pulled the collar of her shirt down and nibbled at her shoulder. “I always have something left in the tank for you…”

She forced my hand down and under her shirt. “Talk’s cheap, let’s see.” She moaned.

Her breasts felt amazing beneath my hands, soft, yet firm. I pressed myself to her, knowing I wasn’t lined up quite right but not caring… I was really just enjoying the feel of her against me…

Her breath came in ragged gasps as I tried to scoot a bit to line up with her…

“No… just a second… I got this…” She moaned.

She wiggled her ass a little and I realized with a bit of a shock… she was not lining me up with the… traditional hole.

I shook my head, “No. We don’t need to…”

“Would you shut up?” She commanded.

I felt myself start to enter her as she pushed herself back harder against me…

The sensation was not better than going in her the traditional way. It was more exciting however…

My hand slid down to her naked hip and I felt the need to pull her towards me more aggressively. escort bayan I pushed that down however…

Instead, my mouth found her shoulder and I bit her there harder than I normally would. The desire to just take her was amazingly difficult to contain…

Her hand came back and raked along my side, her nails leaving little scorch marks of sensation across my skin.

I was entering her, but I was too slow… I ground my teeth in frustration…

She pushed herself back against me hard, the pressure on me down there intense and full of pleasure…

She raked against me with her nails again… “Come on… help me here…” She moaned.

I again grabbed her hip. Again, the desire to simply thrust myself into her was incredibly strong. I just managed to push it down to something I could control…

I thrust against her weakly, trying to go slow…

This time her nails really let me know she was there…

“Fucking do it!” She hissed at me in frustration. “I want to feel you there, now!”

I felt something then was a weird mix of anger, frustration and raw, primal desire…

In my mind, I was taken back to our first time together like this…

She wasn’t a shy girl. In fact, there were many a time where she had driven me so crazy for her that I had taken her quite forcibly…

I grabbed her hip and pulled her to me as hard as I could. I pushed at her and got a bit more progress. I still hadn’t managed to bottom out in her and the frustration in me grew by leaps and bounds… I wanted her. I wanted her right fucking now…

Her nails bit into me harder. I was praying she didn’t ask me to stop…

“Is that all you got you little bitch?” She asked me and like that I lost control…

I forced her over, pressing her to her stomach and situating myself on top of her. I pulled out from her just the tiniest bit and thrust myself into her as hard as I could.

Her head snapped back and she moaned. “That’s fucking more like it.”

I found myself thrusting into her roughly…

She reached back and scratched me hard again. “Harder. Make me feel it.”

I lost myself in sensation as I picked up the pace and started going harder and faster…

Her first orgasm was strong. She started bucking up to meet me at each thrust, her hands tangled in the sheet.

“Oh, fuck!” She screamed.

I was completely lost in the sensation of her, my practical mind completely gone. Raw desire for her surged through my body and I found myself completely void of anything but my need for her.

She rode the wave of her orgasm down…

I knew she was sensitive afterwards and subconsciously I found my pace slowing and softening.

“Don’t you fucking dare…” She hissed at me, pushing herself back into me vigorously.

Again, I grabbed her hip and thrust myself into her as hard as I could. She squealed in pleasure and I found myself pushing into her and bottoming out as fast and as hard as I could…

I was starting to get really frustrated with not being able to use both of my arms to pull her into me… my stupid right hand still wrapped in this stupid cast.

I compensated by pushing myself against her as hard as I was able, biting her shoulder as I did…

She thrust back against me hard as I did.

“That’s fucking more like it.” She screamed.

I grabbed her hip and pulled her into me as hard as I possibly could, forcing myself into her…

“Yes! Fucking give it to me!” She screamed as I took her over the edge again…

My own orgasm built within me and that was the final straw that completely pushed me over the edge…

“Fuck!” I grunted into her shoulder, pouring myself into her…

I couldn’t stop thrusting into her…

When I finally came back into my own mind I was still atop her. We were both breathing hard…

I rolled to my side gently, withdrawing from her as easily as I could…

She rolled around and kissed me hard, wrapping her arms around me.

“Oh, fuck I’ve been needing that…” She told me huskily, as she pulled her body in closer to mine.

I shook my head at her… “I’m never going to get what’s going on in that crazy mind of yours…”

She forced my head back.

“Look at me.” She ordered.

I opened my eyes and looked into hers.

She had a fierce grin on her face. “I love everything about you. That part of you that rages up, and just wants to take me… even that part is something that drives me wild. I told you. Every girl needs to know that she drives her man wild. I probably need that more than most. I love you, and I want you to show me that. Stop holding back with me all the time. I’m not some little china doll. You’re not going to break me. I like you to be rough with me sometimes. Got it?”

I pulled her in and kissed her hard. “I get it.”

Chapter 27
In the morning, Karly and I got up and I made us breakfast. Bacon and cheese, omelets, Karly’s favorite, hash browns, toast and coffee. She ate in my big comfy shirt. It looked amazing on her.

More and more I felt my urge to take her rise up… it was amazingly strong this morning, but I didn’t have the time to do the job properly so I pressed it down. I settled for pulling her in, kissing her, and giving her ass a generous squeeze.

She slipped her tongue into my mouth, driving my desire for her up a notch.

I pushed her back against the table, kissing her hard the entire time…

I growled in frustration as I realized I wanted her… but didn’t have time to have her.

She giggled as I pulled away from her, shaking my head. “That’s more like it, big man.”

I shook my head at her… “You’re an evil person.”

Then I wrapped my hand in her shirt and pulled her close to me.

Her face lit up and I could see the desire in her eyes.

“You’re coming back and staying with me tonight.” I told her, kissing her hard.

She shrugged, “Maybe I don’t want to.”

I kissed her hard again. “I’m so going to fuck you silly tonight.”

She smiled at me. “Promises, promises.”

She took me to her house, where I dropped Tess off, then drove me to her dad’s place.

As I walked to the door the thought of how nervous I was started to burn through me. It made no sense. I had spent plenty of time with Joshua. He was a nice enough guy, and he had always gone way out of his way to treat me well. This wasn’t the standard first day jitters. I didn’t really need to get to know anyone. Karly had already told me how excited her dad seemed to be to have me, she even entrusted to me that he was struggling to keep up with work demand and was hoping he could get caught up in the next few weeks with my help.

That should have meant that everything was set, but I was still nervous as hell.

I tried rolling the thought around in my head, looking at it from every angle. Why was I so nervous? It was an important question for me to answer for myself. I needed to understand what was driving my social phobias if I was going to overcome them…

The first thought that occurred to me was that this was my girlfriend’s dad. I needed to have at least a decent relationship with him, and adding the complication of him being my boss to being her father was one that may not be the wisest decision for me to come up with. Problems in my relationship would cause problems with my work. Problems with my work may cause problems with my relationship.

The next problem was that I was starting a new job, and friend or not, Joshua was still my boss. I needed to make a good impression so I could keep the job. Granted, the idea behind me working for Joshua was to work off the medical debt he had paid off for me, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that there was at least a small part of me hoping that he’d keep me on after I finished paying off the debt…

This was also something I desperately wanted to learn how to do, and Joshua had the power to make that either a whole lot easier, or a hell of a lot more of a pain in the ass.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was starting to panic. It was the feeling I got before a big football game, or a wrestling match I knew was going to be particularly challenging.

I thought back to the morning Karly and I shared on our way to the Reno tournament. How she had told me in no uncertain terms, when I started wrapping myself up like this… when I started being a screw up…

Stop. I finally caught myself in frustration. You’re the one that set all this up. If you screw up, Joshua will let you put in the hours to pay off the debt, and then you can hit the road. Tying yourself in knots about it is going to do absolutely no good. Go in, do your best, look for opportunities to do better, learn as much as you can, and let what will be, be.

I realized that I was right. I took a deep breath and reached out to push the door open.

And walked right into a locked door…

My head actually bonked against the glass…

Yep, that’s the Gabby we all know and love! My brain screamed at me, laughing.

I looked at my watch and realized I was still twenty minutes early. Joshua wasn’t open yet… Duh.

I knew he was here, Marsha had let me know that he had gotten up early and run in, wanting to get a little caught up if he could.

The thought of distracting him made me feel a little guilty and for a second I considered sitting on the curb and waiting for him to open. I realized then that doing so made me look like I was just punching the clock and that was not the impression I was looking to put out right now. I wanted Joshua to know I was excited to be here. I wanted to convey to him that I wanted to learn, and that this was something I was passionate about. He was giving me an amazing opportunity, and I needed to show him how much I appreciated that.

So, I pulled out my phone and texted him, “I’m here. No rush, but I’m out front and the door is locked. Just wanted to let you know.”

I hit send and then started to worry that I might have interrupted him…

So, I texted, “Don’t let me interrupt you though. I can wait. No problem.”

I hit send this time and realized I hadn’t apologized for interrupting him…

I started to text again and got as far as, “Really sorry if I’m interrupting you…”

Then I realized I was starting to look like a crazy person…

I made myself stop texting, and canceled the message.

Joshua opened the door with a great big smile and a friendly, “Gabby! You’re early!”

I smiled shyly and nodded my head. “I hate to be late.” I mumbled.

He winked at me. “Good habit to develop, though around here, not as big of a deal as you might think. Benefit of dating the owner’s daughter!”

He held a finger over his lips conspiratorially, “Don’t tell any of the other workers I let you get away with it though? Okay?”

I was confused…

“Karly said you didn’t have any employees?”

He threw his head back and laughed, “Well, then it will be an easy secret to keep!”

I laughed too, as I got the joke.

He shook his head and waved me inside. “Sorry, bad joke.”

I stopped just inside the door. If I hadn’t of had my cast on, I would have wrung my hands nervously. “Sorry. I’m a little nervous right now.”

Great, just great Gabby. Open mouth, insert foot… I thought to myself, damning my own stupidity. You don’t have to say everything that comes into that fool head of yours!

Joshua just laughed! Shaking his head, he told me, “Don’t be nervous. I won’t judge you too harshly.”

I shook my head at my own stupidity, “This is important to me, and I want to do a good job.”

He put his hand on my shoulder, walking me deeper into the store, “I know you do, and I know you will do a good job.” He raised an eyebrow at me, “I wouldn’t have accepted your offer if I didn’t have confidence in you doing good work. You’ll do fine.”

I nodded, making up my mind then and there that I would give a hundred percent.

He held his hands out, obviously proud of what he had built, “Well, this is the store!”

My first impression upon walking in was how clean everything seemed. Everything had its place. Each item tucked away, nothing left of lay about. The store wasn’t overly big, but it had a very impressive selection of firearms along three walls. There were massive glass display cases in front of the walls, all holding handguns, with rifles lining the walls.

I did a quick mental catalogue of how many firearms the store had and realized that there were hundreds…

The main portion of the floor was taken up with miscellaneous firearms and hunting equipment. Holsters, clothing, tactical gear, the whole nine yards…

“Holy shit…” I managed.

He smiled, “Lot to take in, huh?”

I nodded, excited to learn about each and every single item. Then I stopped and realized that I had no clue what I was doing, or, more importantly, what he wanted me to do… what he expected me to do… hell, he might just want me to go sweep the parking lot…

“Uh… where do you want me to start?” I finally managed to stammer out.

He held up a finger. “First! Rules!”

I nodded. Rules were good. I needed to know the rules.

Joshua started moving, briskly walking me to the back. “Come on!”

I followed, realizing I must have looked like little Tess when she was following me around…

We went through a gap in the counter and into a back-staging area. There were boxes everywhere, and the room was lined with safes along the walls. I realized then, the stock out front was just the firearms Joshua owned as part of his inventory. The custom work he did for customers went here…

Joshua took me to a bench along one wall, obviously a new bench. “This is your personal work area. Whatever you put here will not be touched by anyone but you. Keep it clean and organized. That’s the first rule. Got it?”

I nodded, “Yes sir.”

He opened the top drawer. “Second rule. You work to make money. Period. This isn’t a charity and you do nothing for free.”

He took a timesheet from the drawer. “The minute you get here, you take this sheet out and record your time. If you have to unlock, or do anything outside the store, you start from the second you start working on anything. Am I understood?”

I nodded, took a pen from the drawer and started to write ten on my timesheet.

He narrowed his eyes at me, “Stop.”

He looked at his watch. “You got here at what, nine forty?”

I looked at him, “Yeah, but I’m not supposed to start until ten. If I get here a few minutes before you want me here that’s on me, not on you. It’s not fair of me to make you pay me for that time.”

He smiled at me, “I know you well enough to know that you are not going to go sit around once you arrive, so I want you to write the time you get here on the sheet each day. I won’t short you pay, and I expect you to record the time you work accurately. Got me?”

I smiled, realizing for the first time, I had a boss that was seriously not interested in shorting me. I had jobs before this one, but each one of them kind of had a ‘smile and wave’ approach the rules… they seemed to apply to me, but when it came time to ensuring they followed the rules they did very little of that…

I corrected my timecard to ensure that it was correct.

Joshua looked at me and nodded. “Very good.”

He gestured me to follow him, and went back into the main showroom of the store. He took me behind the counter and walked me up and down the aisles. “So, here’s the deal. The ATF controls what we sell as far as firearms. Legally, you are allowed to work under my license and could technically be doing firearm sales.”

He gave me a serious look. “That won’t be happening though. At least not for a good long while. Understood?”

I nodded. “I completely understand.”

I saw him judge something mentally, “Also, I want you to understand, it’s not that I don’t trust you, I just want to ensure that we don’t get on the bad side of the ATF…”

I held my hands up to him. “Sir. I have eyes. There is the better part of a million dollars’ worth of stuff in this store. That’s a lot of risk to gamble on being nice to your daughter’s dumbass boyfriend. Don’t sweat it.”

He threw his head back and laughed his ass off. “Gabby, I don’t give a shit if you were dating my daughter or not. It didn’t hurt your case, but you are standing here because of you, not her. Understand?”

I looked at the floor sheepishly. It was a nice thing to say, but I didn’t think it was terribly true…

I decided not to call him on it…

He showed me the security locks that ran through all of the equipment. It was essentially a really long security cord that had periodic monitoring devices.

He thumbed one. “You need keys to get into these. You won’t have keys to them until I deem you are ready to have them. Understood?”

I nodded, “Understood.”

He showed me where the ammunition was stored, and did a quick walk around of the store, ducking me into the nooks and crannies. When we were done with that, it was time to unlock, so he went over and showed me how to turn off the alarm on the front door, and how to unlock.

Giving me a series of numbers to punch into the keypad, he read them out to me as I put them in.

“Can you remember that?” he asked when I was done.

I nodded, “646618. Got it.”

He smiled, “Good, because that is your own personal code. I set it up so that you have yours, and I have mine. Don’t share it with anyone, ever, got it?”

I nodded, understanding he was essentially telling me that if someone broke in, and used my code… well, I was going to have some uncomfortable questions to answer.

He took a key out of his pocket and handed it to me. “This is your key to the front door.”

I was completely floored…

I took the key like it was made of gold. “Sir, this is a lot of trust…”

He smiled at me, “You saying you can’t handle it?”

I shook my head, “No, sir. I can handle it, it’s just a big risk for you to take…” I shrugged, “You don’t know me that well.”

He laughed again. “I think I know you better than you realize. I trust you, and will continue to right up until you prove I can’t.”

I was honored…

To have a good man like Joshua trust me with so much was the greatest complement he could have ever given me. I made the decision right then. I wasn’t going to give one hundred percent, I was going to ensure that I never let this man down. Not now, not ever.

Joshua got a funny look on his face. “Wait, where’s Tessa?”

I didn’t understand. “Um… at your house?”

He shook his head and shrugged, “Why? Why didn’t you bring her along with you?”

I scratched the side of my head, “I guess I just assumed I was here to work. Tess would be a distraction… so she didn’t come.”

He shook his head at me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Son, one of the things you will learn about being a business owner. The best part is you get to make the rules. As long as you keep Tess under control, and teach her how to be around people, you can bring her with you every day.”

I was ecstatic! This day just kept getting better and better. A good job doing something I liked, a good boss that trusted me and treated me well, and I could bring my dog with me!

“Thank you, sir. I’ll bring her tomorrow. I really appreciate that. I was starting to get a little worried at how much time I was spending with her.” I paused for a second, “But if she becomes a distraction, let me know, and I’ll figure something out.”

Joshua rolled his eyes at me. “Knowing you, I know that will never be a problem.”

I nodded. I was starting to feel like one of those drinking birds…

He smiled at me and walked me back into the back.

I finally asked… “So, what exactly is my job here… I mean I was expecting to be doing grunt work…”

He smiled, “You will be doing grunt work.”

He took me into a big room and showed me around. “This is where I do my gunsmithing work. I hope to be in here pretty much anytime you are working. I’m four weeks behind on orders. Your job, is to ensure that I have to come out as little as possible. Get any more grunt worthy than that?”

I shook my head, “No, sir.”

He walked me back out front, “That means pretty much anything other than actively selling a firearm, or getting things out of the display cases and you’re on the job.”

“Yes, sir. Is that all?”

It really didn’t seem like I would be doing all that much…

He took a small spiral-bound notebook from behind the counter and handed it to me. “Nope.”

He sighed. “So, a little truth?”

I looked at him seriously.

He continued. “There are jobs I’ve been putting off forever. The first is, inventory.”

He gestured to the firearms. “The weapons, I have a perfect inventory of.” He gestured out to the store, and to the ammunition that was stored behind the counter. “Everything else, I fly by the seat of my pants. I hate that. The first thing I want you to do, is inventory everything. Normally I kind of eyeball what we need, and race to put orders in as we run out of stuff. I hate that, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to let you learn about what we carry while getting one of my pet peeves out of the way. Can you do that?”

I took the book, “Yes, sir. How do you want me to do it?”

He shook his head at me. “I have no clue. I’ve never done it before. Call this your try out. Figure something out, and when you’re done, we’ll go over it and see if we need to add anything.”

Joshua paused for a minute, “And before you start fretting… I know you’re going to make mistakes with it. I expect it will take a couple times of going through things. I figure that going back over everything will help you get a handle on where everything is and how to lay hands on it quickly. I figure it will take at least this weekend and next to get through everything. During that time, focus exclusively on that while I take care of the customers. Keep an eye on what I do, but don’t break away from this task to do it. I figure it will take you the next three weekends to get the inventory done. Think you can get it done with that much time?”

I looked out over the store. Joshua’s expectation gave me six days to get the work done…

I smiled at him, “Sir. I have no clue. I’ve never done this before.” Nodding I told him, “Let me get to work, and we’ll see!”

He clapped me on the back, “All I can ask. Go to it!”

He went in the back and started working.

I stood for a second and tried to decide where to start…

So obviously, I needed what the product was, description of what it was, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get the UPC codes off of the products…

That was going to be a lot of writing… my hand was not going to help me.

Then a bunch of other stuff starting occurring to me…

I was being paid by the hour. Replicating work was bad for Joshua. I needed to get this job done quickly and right the first time…

I needed more information from Joshua.

Going back to him I asked, “Okay, not being a pain in the butt here… but I think we need to get this right the first time. You have hundreds of items in the store. If I inventory it all, then we find out we missed something, I’m going to need to go back and redo the whole thing. That seems really inefficient.”

He smiled at me, “Good point. What’s your thinking?”

I thought for a second. “Well, it seems like we need to determine the end goal first, and then start working backwards from that. Sound about right?”

“Definitely. What I’m looking for is to be able to take a quick glance weekly at how much of everything we have, so I can process the orders. That means we need to know what we have to start with.” He answered.

I thought about that for a second when another nasty thought occurred to me. “So, when you sell something, how do you track that you sold a particular item?”

He gestured to the cash register. It was one of those super old models that one had to manually key prices in on…

“You ring up the price of the item. That’s pretty much it. I track what I sold by looking at what I have to order.”

I blinked. This was going to be harder than I thought. “So, let’s say I get through the entire store in two weeks. What happens if you sell items as I’m inventorying them?”

He caught on to what I was saying… “Good point. The inventory will be inaccurate.”

I set the notebook down on the counter. “What we need is some way to track what is going out the door first.”

He nodded, “I’ve thought of that. We could write it down I guess?”

I shook my head, “No.” then I realized Josh was still my boss…

“I mean we could… I just think that it’s a bad idea. Your customers are used to being able to walk into a store, someone scans their item, they get a total, pay and they’re gone.” I looked at Joshua to see if my line of thinking was tracking. He seemed to be catching my drift, which was comforting. “If we have to write everything down, we’re either going to be rushing, which means we’ll make a mess of everything, or, it will take forever. What we need is a better system to tracking what goes out the door. Then we work backwards and track what we have on hand. We could take a static inventory, but then we’ll be filling a pail with a hole in it and the inventory will never be accurate.”

I could see pride slip into his eyes. “What you’re saying is I need to modernize a bit. Put a little money into some sort of inventory monitoring system?”

I nodded. “My thinking exactly.”

He gestured me into his smithing room and pointed me to the computer there. “Have at it. Figure out what I need and give me a report. Can you do that?”

“I’m on it.” I assured him while I jumped on his computer.

Truth of the matter was, I had no clue what I was doing, so I started doing internet searches on how a small business manages inventory in today’s world. I started looking through things, reading articles, advice, business monitors, company websites, anything I could get my hands on.

It felt like I had been at it for only a few minutes when Joshua put his head into the room. “Karly’s here with lunch kiddo. Want to join us?”

I shook my head in irritation. I had only been at this for a little while, and already distractions! I was never going to get done!

Looking at my watch I was floored to see it was nearly three in the afternoon! I had been at it without break or interruption for nearly five hours!

“How did five hours go by?” I asked Joshua in surprise.

He smiled at me, “Yeah, I checked on you a couple times, but I could tell you were in the zone. I didn’t want to bother you. Come on, take a break and give me a breakdown of what our options are.”

I put the computer to sleep and jumped up, hearing my beautiful girlfriend in the front.

I turned the corner and got not one, but two surprises that made my day. Karly had pizza for the three of us, and… she had Tess!

I called out to her and watched Tess romp her way across the floor to me, jumping as much as her little puppy legs would let her as I scooped her up.

“Hey little girl! How’s Tess!” I called out as I lifted her and gave her a little bounce.

Tess went wild, all wagging tail, wet nose and licking tongue.

She smothered my face with kisses as I said hello to her.

I finally managed to suppress my happiness at seeing her when I could sense eyes on me. I looked up from Tess to see Karly smiling at me.

How did I get so fucking lucky? To have Her in my life? I asked myself. She makes my heart stop every time I look at her…

I held my free right arm out to her. “Thank you for bringing her baby girl! Bring it in here.”

Her smile got wider and she came in for a hug. I wrapped my gimped right arm around her and brought Tess up to kiss her face on one side as I pecked the other.

Karly squealed as Tess gave her the wettest puppy kisses imaginable.

“No, no, no, you monster!” She called, giggling.

Joshua had already pulled a seat up to the counter and was digging into the pizza when we finally came over.

“Sorry kids, I couldn’t wait any more. I’m starving!” He announced as we walked up.

Karly giggled some more and I just smiled at him. I realized as my stomach growled again that I was starving too…

I dug in with gusto, stopping only to share a little bit with Tess, and to give Karly a satisfied smile.

She blew a kiss at me and I felt my heart stop again.

Once we got through a slice Joshua seemed a little more composed and asked me, “So, where are we. What are my options?”

I answered through bites of pizza, “You need an inventory management system. Something that can process payment, scan outgoing product and keep track of what’s in inventory.”

Karly threw her head back, “Oh god! This? This is what you’ve got him working on?”

Joshua scoffed at her, “Yes!”

She shook her head at him, “Daddy, you’ve been talking about getting your inventory organized for years. There’s no way you’re getting it done.”

He smiled at her, “You’re right, I’m not going to get it done. Gabby is!”

She gave me a narrow-eyed look. “Okay, sell me big man.”

I dove in. I went over every last thing that I had learned over the past five hours. How to properly manage inventory, how to track it, how to use the UPC coding to set up what we needed, what equipment we needed and how much everything was going to cost.

I got so into it Karly had to stop me in the middle of talking to remind me to eat…

Once I wrapped up my little presentation Joshua looked at me, an impressed look in his eyes. “That was really good. I think I get it.” He looked at Karly, “What do you think honey? You know more about this than I do.”

She smiled at him, then gave me a big smile…

“I think Gabby has a good head for business. He seems to have it figured out, give him a shot. Let him work out exactly what you need and go for it.” She looked at her dad, “You know I think the world of him, but really daddy, he is really smart, I mean scary smart, and I’ve never met anyone in the world as good at problem solving as he is. I’d do what he says if it was my business…”

Joshua took that as gospel. He turned to me, “Price it all out. Take the rest of the day and give me a list. It won’t be perfect, but ball park it for me. Can you do that?”

I started to jump up, “I’m on it.”

He stood and grabbed my shoulders, forcing me back down.

“Calm down.” He gestured to the food, “You’ve barely eaten a single slice of pizza. Eat, then see my daughter to her car, then work.”

I smiled, realizing with some trepidation I was doing it again. Getting so wrapped up in work that I was forgetting to take care of basic needs.

The three of us passed the rest of the meal in small talk, eating and visiting. Once we had finished Karly grabbed my good left hand and started pulling me towards the door. “Come on, I bought Tess a dog bed for while she’s working. Come out to my car and get it.”

“Grrrr…” I grunted at Karly. “I could have bought her bed for her.”

She smiled at me, content that she seemed to put one over on me. “You could have, but I actually did it!”

I smiled at her and followed her out to her car. She gave me the bed, and an enormous kiss.

“Having fun?” She asked me.

I nodded eagerly, “Yeah, lots actually.”

She ran her hand over my face, “Good. Now, I’ve got to go! Mom and I are going to the movies!”

I narrowed my eyes at her, “Won’t be as good as when we went…”

She got a guilty smile and put her hand across her face, “I certainly hope not…”

Then she smacked me. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

I laughed and waved to her as I carried the bed into the store.

With Tess situated on the floor in her new bed next to the computer I went at it. It only took me another two hours to pick out a company and look over the equipment we needed. I managed to get the full list with a phone call and the aid of their website. I made sure to emphasize that I needed everything to get the project done at one time, and ensured that the rep I talked to understood if there was so much as a screw I needed to order in addition to the list I had that I would cancel the entire order and return everything.

When I was done, I took it all to Joshua, who looked over what was needed…

I figured once I got the figures it was going to be a no go…

He needed a lot of equipment, and while I had picked a company that minimized costs there was a significant initial investment.

He looked at me, “What’s the advantage of this company?”

I shrugged, “Price. They have competitive rates on everything but their ongoing fees are the lowest and your cost over time will be best with them. Plus, they have an app that I can put on my phone and start working off of what we have in stock right now while we wait for the equipment to come in. I just build the UPC database, then once everything comes in I can go back over and match the UPC’s to what we have in stock. After that, the system will monitor itself and you’ll be able to see exactly what you have in stock at all times. We can even set it up where it will give us alerts when something hits a certain threshold.”

He nodded and took out a credit card. “Do it.”

“Seriously?” I asked, frankly shocked.

He smiled at me, “You think this is a good idea, right? That it will get inventory in order here in the store”

I nodded, feeling pole-axed, “Yes. Still a lot of money though…”

He shrugged. “Right now, I’m wasting time managing this. Every hour I spend wandering the store and guessing at what I need is one less I’m pulling in fifty-five bucks filling customer orders.”

I was really nervous about this…

“I’m just worried that it won’t have the impact you want.” I hedged.

He looked me in the eyes. “Right now, I’m turning orders away, and you were right when we were negotiating. Four weeks is too long for most people to be willing to wait to get their stuff done. I tell them it will be four weeks and at least half the folks are walking out the door. Do the math.”

He was right. I hated to say it, and it was putting a lot of pressure on me to make a good decision…

I looked over my reasoning on the decision I had made. I couldn’t see a hole in it, I had to admit, I’d done a lot of research, but I had pretty much zero practical experience touching anything close to this wheelhouse.

Really though, I knew what was making me nervous…

I paused for a second and collected my thoughts, “I just don’t want to let you down with a bad decision here…”

He smiled at me, “Not your call to make. You did the research, you’ve given me your recommendation, and that’s all it is, a recommendation. I’m making the decision.”

I didn’t like that. I was responsible for this. “I just don’t know a lot about what I’m talking about here…”

He again shrugged, “I know nothing about it. Time to gamble on it and see how it works out. All I know is I need a solution and right now, I’m a hell of a lot closer to that than I was when I walked in the door this morning. I’m ready to roll the dice on you.”

I was honored. That was a lot of trust to put in me…

I took the card from him. “Let’s do it then. If there are bumps I’ll figure it out.”

I placed the order, and returned his card to him.

Then I used the computer to set up the account and downloaded the app on my phone. I took Joshua’s phone and set the app up for him on his phone. Then I went to work…

Chapter 28
Karly came back just as we closed the store. She was her usually bubbly self as she crashed through the door and came and gave me a big hug and kiss. I smiled at her…

She bopped me on the nose. “You’re ignoring my calls mister!”

I was surprised, pulling my phone out. She was right, I had missed several calls from her, and a few texts.

Joshua spoke up in my defense. “He’s been working here in the store most of the afternoon, I haven’t heard his phone ring once hun.”

“Of course, you haven’t. I turned my ringer off…” I told them both.

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Why did you do that?”

I shrugged. “I’m at work. When I’m at work, hell, while someone else is paying me, that’s what I need to focus on…”

Joshua looked at Karly. “I love this kid…”

Karly shook her head at me, “Well, at least you two are getting along.”

Joshua laughed and looked at me, “You don’t need to do that. If it’s important and someone needs to call, take the call. I trust you to pick up for who you need to talk to and who you don’t.”

I shrugged, “Only person that ever calls me is Karly.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “What? Really?”

His gaze slid to Karly and I could see her give him a slight, almost embarrassed nod.

I held my phone up, “Yep. Really there are only like five people in the world that have the number. Karly is the only person I ever talk to on it.”

I could see from the look on Joshua’s face that concerned him.

He was on the verge of saying something about it when I jumped ahead of it, “It’s not a big deal. It really doesn’t bother me.”

I caught the slight shake of the head he gave me. He kept his mouth shut about it though. I could tell he was close to lecturing me about how I needed people in my life. How I needed a support system.

Honestly, I was glad he kept it to himself. I respected him, hell… I outright liked him, and having to explain why I had no friends was embarrassing…

Karly pinched my nose and broke me out of my funk.

I smiled at her and realized for the millionth time how lucky I was to have her. It made me recall the night we had first been together, when I had allowed myself the opportunity to see her for the first time, to move myself past the doubt that someone as amazing as her might even consider being around someone like me. I remembered the promise I had made to myself. I didn’t need to be someone surrounded by a thousand happy fans. I just needed this one person. That one person that saw who I was, in all my glorious faults and who never shied away from that. Karly was that for me…

Joshua watched me as I looked at her, and I could sense his uncertainty waiver.

I turned back to him and smiled. “I really only need one person to ever need to call me.”

He shook his head at me, the trace of sadness gone from his face. He shook his head, “You are an amazing kid, I’ll give you that.”

Karly leaned in and pecked me on the cheek. “I think he’s pretty amazing too.”

I smiled and looked at the floor, embarrassed.

Karly tilted my chin back up, “Aw… look at him, he’s blushing.”

She wrapped her hands in my shirt, “So, you know how you and I planned on me coming over to your place and hanging together?”

I could barely conceal how excited I was at the thought of her in my arms all night…

I could sense a but coming though… “Yeah?”

Karly scrunched up her face.

“I’m sorry…?” She finally allowed.

I was a little taken aback, “What’s up?”

She gave me a look that said she felt like she was letting me down.

“I forgot I kind of made plans with Tish tonight…” She hedged.

Bummer… I thought to myself.

I shrugged, smiling at her to let her know that it wasn’t that big a deal, “So you need to cancel on me?”

She scrunched herself up a bit, it was completely adorable. “Sorry… I can cancel with her if you want…”

I could tell she was asking permission. I knew she didn’t want to let me down, but I could tell she really wanted to hang out with her friend.

I smiled at her, “Don’t worry about it. Go out with Tish. I’m good.”

She moved in closer to me, letting me share her intoxicating scent, “I won’t if you’re going to be mad about it.”

I shook my head at her, trying to convey to her how stupid her thinking was.

“Don’t stress it. I’m good. I’m actually kind of happy you’re getting to go out and do something without me. You’ve been hanging out with me twenty-four seven. I get it. I want you to have a girl’s night out.” I slipped in and have her a kiss. “Tess and I will have a quiet night, lay out in our underwear and eat junk food!”

“Are you sure?” Karly whined. I could tell she was worried about me.

What was more important was that she didn’t need to be. I was in a good place. It was nice to have her around all the time, to feel like she always put me first in her life and in her priorities, but I also wanted her to have a life outside of me. I wanted her to have friends, I wanted her to have everything she wanted all the time.

I smiled at her, feeling genuinely happy for her, “Yes. I’m sure. Go have fun.”

She leaned in and pecked me on the lips. “I’m sorry.”

Again, I shook my head at her, “I would be more upset at you if you bailed on Tish to hang out with me. Go have fun!”

I rushed her out the door, smiling and waving as she pulled out of the parking spot.

Joshua came up next to me and started to lock up. He smiled at me, “I would imagine you’re ready to get the hell out of here?”

I shook my head at him. “Not really. I mean if you don’t mind I’d like to get through some more of the inventory.”

He spread his hands, “Hey, works for me. I have some projects waiting on me in the back. Just let me know when you’re ready and I’ll take you home.”

“I’ll be okay. I can take the bus!” I assured him. “I really don’t want to interrupt you while you’re in the middle of something.”

He chuckled. “What are you and Karly forgetting?”

Tess! Fuck! I thought to myself.

The bus wouldn’t let me bring her on. That means if I didn’t take a ride from Joshua, it was going to be a very long walk home…

I scrunched up my face, probably pretty similarly to how Karly had done for me earlier, “Sorry, Joshua…”

He clapped me on the shoulder, “Don’t sweat it kiddo. I got your back.”

I really didn’t like to be touched…

I let it slide though. Joshua was just trying to be friendly.

He headed to the back of the store, telling me again to let him know when I was ready to wrap it up.

Thinking about it, I realized that he got most of his backlog of work done before and after the doors got locked up. Most likely, he would not come back to the store once we left, so once I made him leave to take me home he most likely was out of time on the day. I decided I was here to save him time, not cost him. I would just keep working and wait him out. When he was ready to leave, I would be ready to leave.

So, I went to it with gusto. Going up and down the aisles I smashed through things as absolutely fast as I could, keeping in mind that I needed to be accurate still. I worked my way through better than half of the store before Tess interrupted me, coming up and scratching at my leg.

That was one of the signals she used to tell me she needed to go outside and go to the bathroom.

Looking down at her I asked, “You need to go outside pretty girl?”

She cocked her head at me, then threw her head back and did her creepy yawn that ended in a weird yelp.

I put my hands out, “Okay, okay, calm down, no need to get violent about it.”

We went to the door and I used my key, which I was still irrationally proud of, to unlock it and take her outside. I was shocked at how dark it was…

The store closed at five, and I used the little light indicator on my watch to find out it was after eight thirty.

Wow, I got into the zone. Didn’t even realize that three and a half hours had gone by. I thought.

Tess was just finishing up and I was getting ready to head back in side when Joshua came out and locked up behind him.

I looked at him in surprise. “We done?”

He shook his head at me, “Yeah, when I heard you go out the front door I realized that you were going to be stubborn and wait me out.”

I smiled at him. “That was the thought!”

Joshua unlocked his truck and we both hopped in. I kept Tess in my lap, not wanting Joshua’s nice upholstery to get ruined by letting her run around loose.

He started the truck, “You can put her in the back if you like. You don’t have to sit there and hold her the whole ride.”

I ruffled her ears. “I’m okay. She still has puppy nails and I didn’t want her to ruin your seats.”

He laughed and shook his head, “I think the seats are toast anyway. After seeing after Tess all the time Marsha informed me last night that we will be getting out own dog.”

I smiled at him. That was good news. Tess would have someone to play with and romp around with!

We drove in silence for a few minutes before Joshua broke the stillness. “Gabby,” He thought for a few seconds, “It really isn’t my place, but something you said earlier worried me.”

I looked at him, petting Tess as she lay in my lap, “What’s that?”

He snuck a glance at me as he drove, “You said nobody but Karly calls you.”

I nodded, “Nope.”

I could see the gears turning in his head. Honestly, I had thought he had let the issue go, but it must have continued to gnaw at him. “Your parents don’t call?”

I shrugged, “Neither of them have the number. They both know where I live, but neither really visit or anything. My dad is still pissed about me moving out. My mom, I think she’s just too wrapped up in her own life and drinking to care.”

He looked at me and shook his head. I could sense the disapproval flowing off of him in waves. For a man like him, the idea of losing track of your children must have seemed like a sin…

He mulled it over a bit more, “Your friends don’t call?”

I smiled at him, trying to reassure him. “I don’t really have friends, at least not anymore.”

He furrowed his brow. “What does that mean?”

I shrugged again, “They kind of got pissed off at me about the amount of time I was spending with Karly.”

“And they stopped being friends with you? Over that?” he asked me, incredulously.

I laughed, shaking my head, “No. They decided they were going to put me in my place. Made plans with me and then decided to ditch me instead. Hit me at a point where I was really low.”

He gritted his teeth and shook his head.

I continued, “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really don’t need people in my life that can’t make me a priority. So, I might have told them to go stuff themselves. I mean, I still hang out with one of them, Jeremy, but it’s pretty rare. I don’t want to put him in the spot of making him choose them or me, so I just kind of take the crumbs as I get them.”

He sat and thought for a few seconds, obviously collecting his thoughts. “You sure that’s a good idea for you, kiddo? Nobody should be alone.”

I ruffled the hair on Tess’s head, waking her up. “I’m not alone. I have Karly, and I have Tess.”

He shook his head at me with disapproval, “Karly is great, and she’s the type of person that sticks fast, but she can’t be there all the time.” He snuck a quick glance at me, “And Tess is a dog. She doesn’t count.”

I put my hands over Tess’s ears, “Don’t listen pretty girl. He doesn’t know you!”

Joshua gave me a perturbed look. “Seriously kid. She’s a dog.”

I shrugged at him, wondering how I was going to make him understand…

“You see her?” I asked, putting my finger on her nose. “Her, I get. She’s simple. Everything is there on the surface with her. We have a straightforward deal. I give her food, protect her, take care of her needs and as long as I do that, she takes care of me. I’ve always understood dogs, even a dog I don’t know.”

I paused a second, collecting my thoughts, trying to figure out a way to make him understand, “One time, a friend and I were out selling candy door to door for a sports fundraiser. We came up on this house with a tall fence in front and we decided to go around back and try the back door. We went in back and somehow, we walked past this big German Shepherd that was just lying there. We walked up to the door and the instant we knocked he was on his feet, just pissed and frothing at the mouth at us. It was fucking terrifying. My friend was in front of me, between me and the dog, and in a panic, he just starts to run. I caught the collar of his shirt and pulled him up short and forced him behind me.

“Now with most predators if you run they chase because in their minds they see you as prey if you run. That just clicked for me. If he ran, the dog would run him down and that would be that.

“I remember projecting a ton of authority into my voice and telling the dog, ‘No!’. At first, it kept coming, lips curled back from its teeth, just obviously ready to tear us a new asshole. Normally, in that situation, you would want to make yourself bigger, make a lot of noise, but something told me that time had passed. I remember dropping my box of candy, clenching my hands and stepping forward, ready to fight. I’m not a fool, that dog would have torn me a new asshole, and I knew it, but I decided right then that we were going to fight, and I was going to make him pay.

“Like that, he just stepped back. He looked at the ground and went back to his spot. I told my friend to grab my box, and I kept my eyes on the dog the whole way as I backed out of the yard.”

Joshua sat there for a pregnant pause. Finally, he spoke up, “That’s a good story… but… I don’t really see what that has to do with your situation right now.”

I looked at him, really hoping I could make him understand…

“In the whole encounter, I was never scared. Not once. Even when I thought for sure I was going to have to fight that dog. Everything was there, on the surface. All of the variables were just available for me to sort and discard as important, or not.” I shook my head, “It’s not like that with people. Yeah, a part of me wants to say that I just don’t want people in my life that I can’t count on, and that is true, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people fucking terrify me. There are millions of different layers. Different levels. People say one thing, they mean another. They drop hints and expect you to understand. They stand a certain way. All of this is something you’re supposed to sort out, figure out what’s important and what isn’t.

“I never seem to get it. The people I let in close to me, they just turn away.” I looked at him, trying to figure out if he was getting what I was trying to say. “I’m just tired of putting in the energy and getting betrayed. Hell, I can’t even be a good enough person to get my own parents to want to stick around. How am I supposed to be good enough to get a friend to want to stick around?”

He shook his head, obviously pitying me. “Have you ever thought maybe you’re just picking the wrong friends?”

I smiled, finally settling on the piece of the puzzle that would convince him I was okay. “Maybe, but let me ask you this Joshua, how many friends do you have?”

He shrugged, “I don’t like most people, and I have my girls. That’s all I need.”

I looked at him, “Have you ever considered that’s the path I’ve finally settled on?”

He chuckled and shook his head. “I guess you’re right there, kiddo. Never thought about it like that…”

Chapter 29
Tess was on my bed, eating the half of a hamburger I had made for her. I loved watching her eat. It made her so happy, and that in turn made me happy. She was a dainty eater, holding the patty between her still small forepaws and nibbling at the patty that was as big as her head. She caught me looking at her and stared back at me, trying, obviously, to decide if my attention on her meant she needed to stop eating.

I grabbed her head and gave it a playful shake and pushed her down. She forgot her food and started her play growl up, trying to bite at my hand. She was easy to hold down, but she fought back viciously, growling like she was in a fight for her life. I wanted her to feel tough. To know that I would never hurt her and that all she had to do was keep struggling in life and everything would always be okay as long as she never gave up, so I finally pulled my hand back, “Okay, okay. I’m sorry. That hamburger just looked so tasty I thought I’d take it for myself.”

She stood up and sneezed at me, a noise I took that meant that one of my ancestors might have been a cat…

Then she barked at me, her meanest, ‘don’t mess with me’ bark.

I held my hands up, “Okay, okay. Sheesh. No need to take it so personally,” I handed her a French fry off my plate, “Here we’ll settle this out of court.”

She took her victory fry in her little mouth and ran back over to her hamburger patty, obviously emboldened by her victory.

I smiled just looking at her. She was awesome, and I found myself bonded to her completely. She was my friend, my little companion. The house just seemed so much more complete with her there. It seemed like a home.

I went back to watching the movie I had on, eating as I thought about her. It seemed like such a strange thing. Just one little dog in the house and it seemed like I had family again. There was no sense of loneliness. No thoughts about how isolated I was. If I started to feel like I was alone she was just a kind word, or a scratch of the ears away.

Granted, it was a bit of a pain in the ass to have to take care of her, but the loss of time, and money and freedom was totally worth it.

She finished her hamburger and came back over to me, seeing I still had fries on my plate, she must have felt her chances were good at getting some of them.

I narrowed my eyes at her and play growled at her, “Don’t get greedy now…”

She sat patiently and licked her lips at me.

I caved.

I caved hard. One fry for me, one for her. One fry for me, one fry for her. On and on until we were all done. In fact, I made sure she got the last two fries, just so she’d get the last bite.

When dinner was done, we did our favorite thing in the world. I laid on my back on my bed, my side against the wall, and she lay on my chest, her head buried in beneath my chin.

I lay there and ran my fingers absently through her fur, just feeling the cozy softness of her. I luxuriated in the soft feel of her breath on my neck.

My phone beeped and I knew that it was Karly.

I almost felt bad for waking Tess up to check the message.

Almost.

“Hey babe, sorry I bailed. I feel bad about it. I’m sorry.” The message read.

I felt bad for her, just reading the message. I wanted her to have time out. I wanted her to go out with her friends and have a normal teenager’s life. That meant I needed to come up with a way to let her know that it was okay for her to take time out for herself…

A thought occurred to me. I set Tess down on the bed, a fact she was none too happy with if her heavy sigh was any indicator.

I ran to the closet and got a pair of my underwear and brought them back and slid them onto her. They were, of course, comically too big for her, and I had to put both of her legs into one leg of them, but I got them on her without too much trouble. Stepping back from the bed I brought the camera on my phone up and then clicked and snapped my fingers until she raised her little head.

I got really lucky with the timing and grabbed the photo just as her head came up. Looking at the picture I decided it was perfect. She was laying there in the bed, her favorite down blankey wrapped around her. Underwear on, and a half awake, ‘why are you bothering me?’ look on her face.

I attached the picture to a message and typed below it, “No sweat, I told you, Tess and I were just going to chill out and hang in our underwear.”

“Oh, my god! That’s so cute!” Karly responded back, nearly immediately.

I took the underwear off of Tess and wrapped her blankey around her. She got cranky around bedtime and I wanted her to be both warm and comfortable. She was a good dog.

She had pretty much taken over my down blanket. I couldn’t even use it anymore as she usually clawed it away from me in the middle of the night and stole it for herself. It had gotten so bad I had taken to just using other blankets while I bundled her blanket up by my head near the wall. When Karly visited, I put it down on her dog bed and she dove in with enthusiasm.

Karly sent me another message. “I still feel like shit.”

“Don’t baby girl. We’re cool. I’m not upset at all. We had hamburgers and watched a movie and now we’re getting ready for bed!” I responded.

“Can I pick you up early? So we can go to breakfast?”

I thought about it for a second, and decided I had a better idea. “Why don’t you come over early, and I’ll make us breakfast?”

“Are you trying to start your morning out by getting me into bed you horndog?”

I smiled. The thought of Karly in my bed… so delicious. “No. Just breakfast, I promise.”

“Fuck that then! If I’m getting up early, I want to get fucked!”

God, she was so beautifully dirty! “Be good! If you’re good, maybe I’ll make you pancakes with peanut butter.”

“How about you fuck me, and then make me peanut butter pancakes?”

The thought of her moaning beneath me was nearly too much of a visual. “That’s it. Your filthy mouth just cost you the peanut butter.”

“Fuck! Maybe we could work out some sort of… exchange… to get the peanut butter back on the table?”

I smiled, “What kind of exchange were you thinking about?”

“You, on top of me, on top of the table?”

Chuckling, I texted back, “You have a one-track mind.”

“And you’re complaining?”

I wanted her so much right then. “No. Just making an observation.”

“Fuck! I have to go! Tish is making fun of me. Tomorrow morning then?”

I sent her back a smiley face to let her know we were on, shut off the light, and curled up, my little dog with her nose pressed to my shoulder as she slept.

Chapter 30
Tess’s bark woke me. She stood up sleepily and barked her little head off. Then she fell back down in her bed. I looked around the dark room while I heard someone come up the stairs…

I grabbed my phone and looked at it.

Who the fuck is coming up my stairs at two in the fucking morning! I thought to myself angrily as I turned the little lamp I kept on my bedside table on.

Then I realized I was trapped on the second floor of a house with absolutely no weapon…

If someone was coming looking for trouble, I was not going to have a fun night.

I sat on the bed and listened carefully. Whoever was coming up the stairs was doing so slowly, almost hesitantly…

I decided that the aggressive approach was the best chance I had if there was going to be trouble and threw my blankets off and moved quickly to the door. Flipping the light to the stairwell on I snapped the curtain covering the window in the door open and tried to give my best pissed off expression to whoever was on the other side of the door.

Karly’s beautiful face greeted me. Her perfect face. She held her hand up and waved halfheartedly.

In excitement, I whipped the door open and like that she was in my arms, her lips on mine.

Tess barked again, this time a ‘don’t fuck with me or my human!’ bark. She was turning into a defensive little shit…

Karly broke from our kiss.

“Hey Tess.” She mumbled…

I could tell she was a bit off. She never greeted Tess like that, she was always a raging ball of energy when she saw her puppy…

I held her at arm’s length, looking into her face, concern streaking my own. “You okay?”

She bit her lip and nodded, “Yeah, just tired.”

I tried to search her eyes, to find the source of her worry… “You sure?”

She looked at the floor, breaking her gaze from mine. “Yeah. Can I crash here tonight?”

I started to pull her into my arms and she broke free, heading into the bedroom.

Tess turned and scrambled away, feeling how off the situation was.

“Mommy’s sorry baby girl…” I could hear Karly tell her from the other room.

What the fuck? I thought to myself as I followed her in.

Karly was on her side on the bed, her hand pillowed over Tess, rubbing at her ears.

For a moment, I thought again about asking her if she was okay. It was obvious she was not, but I didn’t know how to press the issue without being a jerk. I thought about insisting. Thought about just pushing her until she snapped and told me…

Then I realized I would just be starting a fight. It wouldn’t even be a good reason to start a fight. It wouldn’t be doing the best thing for her, it would be doing the best thing for me. I was worried about her, that was the truth, but at heart I knew that my worry was more my own insecurity than anything else. My own worry that she was upset at me, or disappointed in me. I decided that she came home to me, and that was all that really mattered.

So instead of worrying, I went to her, crouching next to the bed and putting my hand on her leg.

Maybe she really is just tired… I hoped against my every instinct.

“Wanna fool around?” She asked me sheepishly.

I always wanted her, even now, with so much weight on her shoulders, I saw her and I wanted to be with her. Something about the situation made me pause. Karly was a wild one, aggressive in her approach most of the time. Right now, she was like a china doll, fragile, like a strong wind would tear her apart…

I laid down on the bed, Tess between me and her. I ran my fingers down the side of her face. She closed her eyes and I caught the slightest shake of her head.

I took my hand away, sensing that maybe she didn’t want me to touch her right now…

Something is definitely wrong… I worried.

“Maybe we should just go to sleep.” I answered to her earlier question, figuring that if she couldn’t handle me brushing her face gently, she really didn’t want me that way.

Her face closed up like I had just slapped her.

Worry crashed through me.

She started to move and I put my hand on her arm. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

She pushed past me, making me take my hand off of her, and stood. “Nothing. Let’s just go to bed.”

I lay there in my underwear as she undressed. There was nothing sensual about it. She simply pulled off garments and discarded them, throwing them towards the closet vaguely. She kept her back to me the whole time. I watched… I couldn’t help but watch…

She turned and for a split-second I caught her move, not quite covering herself, but starting to, and then making a concerted effort not to…

“Please tell me what’s wrong…” I begged, looking into her eyes.

I saw pain flash through her face.

“Can we please just go to sleep?” She asked, something like desperation in her voice.

Nervous, but not wanting to push her any further, I nodded and pulled my own underwear off. I slid up into the bed and lay on my back. I laid as near the wall as I could, giving her space to lay on the bed with me without touching me if she didn’t want to.

She bent and turned the lamp off. The room went perfectly dark. I lay there, wondering what she was going to do. A second later, I felt her climb into the covers with me. She crawled to my right side. I felt her there, close to me, close enough that I could feel the warmth of her skin.

“Can I cuddle with you?” She asked, almost shyly.

Instantly I put my right arm out, offering her the spot she always took when she cuddled up to me.

“Anytime, baby girl.” I tried a smile on in the dark, “You never need to ask me that.”

She slid in, contouring her body to mine, nearly clinging to me. I laid my head on hers and wrapped my arm around her as best I could with the cast on my arm. I cheated and took a moment to breath in the intoxicating vanilla aroma of her hair…

I knew then, I had done something wrong. She was mad at me for something. Desperate as it sounded, I started to worry that this might be the very last time I was going to get to hold her, to breathe in the intoxicating smell of her hair, to feel the atomic warmth of her body against mine…

I scrambled through the corridors of my mind, trying desperately to find what I had done… how had I messed this up?

I wanted so badly to just babble my way through explaining that I was sorry, that I would do anything to make it better…

I started to open my mouth and her words interrupted me, “I screwed up.”

My mouth snapped shut as I felt her cling tighter to me, clinging to me like I was a lifeboat in some tumultuous sea…

I could feel tears, hot on my chest. I had no clue what to do…

So, I did the only thing I could do. I brought my left hand up and put it on her head, pulling her close to me.

Kissing the top of her head, “It’s okay baby girl. I’m sure it’s not that bad. We’ll figure it out.”

She shook her head, “No. No, you’re going to hate me. I’m so sorry…”

I squeezed her tighter, “It’s okay… I’m not mad at you…”

She managed to find a way to squeeze me tighter, “Not yet… not yet you’re not…”

Uh-oh… I thought to myself in panic.

I kissed her head again, “It will be okay. We’ll figure it out, just tell me what happened.”

She was quiet so long I started to worry that she wasn’t going to tell me.

“I went with my friends to a party tonight. Standard high school bullshit. You know?”

I nodded, knowing she would feel my movement through her contact with me. “Yeah.”

“I wanted to take you along, just you know, me and you, have fun like the last party…”

Memories of her in a bathroom, pressed against a wall surged into my mind. I was instantly reminded how close to me she was, how naked…

“My friends though, they gave me a hard time, they wanted it to just be a girl’s night out…”

She paused, collecting her thoughts…

“There were a bunch of us, just hanging out, laughing, talking.” She shook her head against me, “You know Cameron Kane?”

I clenched my teeth. Cameron was a dick… one of those guys that had always had a hard on for me. He had tortured me through middle school and on into high school. He had pushed every button I had, up and down, right up until my Junior year. Right about then, I seriously hit my stride and most of the guys that had bullied me took a big step back… putting on thirty pounds of muscle over a summer and turning into a quiet, angry monster tended to do that with most bullies.

“I know him.”

She sniffled. “He came up and started hitting on me.”

Rage flooded through me. I was going to find that piece of garbage and I was going to-

“And I don’t really know why but I started flirting back with him.”

The rage drained out of me as her words smashed into me.

“We started dancing,”

Stop! Stop talking! A voice screamed inside my mind.

“He was really handsy… pulling me in close.”

I wanted to scream… I wanted to push her away… I wanted so badly to tell her to grab her shit and get the fuck out of my sight.

“And I was enjoying it…”

That rage boiled up inside me again…

If she kept talking I was going to hurt her…

“And he asked me if I wanted to go to his car with him…”

Oh god! Please no! Not this! My mind screamed…

“And that woke me up. I pushed him away, and I told him I had a boyfriend…”

Wait? What?! My thoughts rattled around in my skull, lurching for purchase, trying to understand what she was telling me…

“And he got pissed… and then Joe was there, and he squared off with Cameron, told him to get lost. I think he had been watching. Been looking out for me…” She shook her head against me, “I was so confused, and scared, and embarrassed, I just took off. I knew I needed you, and I came straight here, and I just knew that I screwed it up between us, and I’m so scared and so sorry.”

I cut her off, “So, just so I understand, you flirted with another guy, and danced with him…?”

She nodded her head, “I’m so sorry.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It was funny. Pulling her close I shook my head at how stupid she could be some times. “So, what’s the fucking problem?”

She clung to me tightly, “I cheated on you.”

I pushed her over and turned the light on, stunned as the yellow light lit up her perfect face.

How can she be so beautiful, even when she cries? I thought to myself in wonderment.

I raised my eyebrows, “How did you cheat on me?”

She looked so miserable it was almost funny…

“I was with another guy, and I let him touch me, and, and a part of me liked it…” She stumbled.

“So, let me get this straight. You flirted with another guy, you danced with him a little, and when he asked you to go out to his car you told him no?” I asked, one eyebrow raised.

She bit her lip, the way she always did when she was nervous. “Yes.”

“You didn’t fuck him?”

Horror spilled over her face, “No!”

“Did you suck his dick?”

Horror started to spill over into anger, “No! Gross!”

“Do you love him?”

Her jaw stuck out, “He’s a pig! No!”

I laughed again, relieved to see the anger start to spill over her face, “Then you didn’t cheat on me.”

I shook my head at her stupidity…

“You did something human. It feels good to have someone into you. You did a little harmless flirting. He took advantage of that.” I told her.

She shook her head at me, “You don’t understand. A part of me liked it…”

I shrugged, “So?”

She looked at me, again, in horror. “That’s wrong!”

I really didn’t understand. I didn’t get it.

“Why? I mean I don’t get it.” I shook my head at her, “So you were attracted to someone else. I see other girls and think about them in that way. I wonder what it would be like to have them in bed. To feel them that way. About how it would be different than when I’m with you. A part of me, buried deep inside even howls at the thought. What makes me not an animal though is that I don’t act on it.” I ran my hand over her face, rejoicing in this beautiful creature, “I give that to you. We’re all human, baby girl.”

Tears spilled from her eyes. “I’m not explaining it right…”

I tilted my head at her, “What made you enjoy it?”

She closed her eyes. “No.”

Her answer hit me by surprise. “What do you mean no?”

She looked at me again, this time with a fierceness in her eyes that surprised me. “I’m not going to make excuses.”

I sighed. I was tired, and this was all so confusing. “Do you want me to think that you cheated on me?”

I could see desperation in her eyes again, “Please, no.”

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Right now, I’m cool. If you don’t answer me, I’m going to start chewing at it with my mind. I won’t be able to let it go. It will drive me insane.”

I saw my words cut her like daggers. I watched the tears spill from her eyes…

I loved her so much it hurt right then.

She sat up in the bed, still very naked, and sat cross-legged.

I could see every inch of her, backlit by the single lamp, all her interesting curves and lines, shadows falling across her…

I very much wanted to pull her down and explain to her nothing mattered, nothing but her and I, to make love to her, to push every stupid though from her head…

“I told you. Mike wasn’t very nice to me.”

That pushed the thought from my head. In fact, the thought of how Mike had treated her very much made me feel guilty for thinking of taking her in that way, when she was so upset, “Yeah.”

She closed her mouth, the muscles of her jaw twitching as she clenched her jaw. “He didn’t love me. I used to think he did. He just used me.”

I didn’t want to say anything. It really wasn’t my place to say anything there… I really didn’t know anything about their relationship, so I just nodded, trying to listen, to understand.

Her captivating green eyes snapped up and met mine. “Part of that feels terrible. To have someone just want to use you for sex, to just want to take you like an animal.”

She paused, collecting her thoughts, “But part of it feels so magical. You feel so powerful. Like you have complete control over someone’s mind. How they can’t control themselves around you.”

It was a weird concept, but not a foreign one. It was something she had spoken about before. Hell, once she had driven me completely wild just by flirting with me, to the point that I had taken her, and not gently.

She looked at me, heartbreak in her eyes… “I can’t do that to you.” Her eyes watered and she broke my gaze. “I don’t drive you wild like that.”

Oh, shit. I thought to myself in panic. You did this…

She shook her head, her face a picture of absolute misery. “I don’t drive you wild like that, and it makes me feel so worthless sometimes…”

I thought back to when she first got here, how she had asked me if I wanted to fool around…

It was a test, one I failed, badly.

Turning her down right then had been the worst thing I could have done for her confidence. I had made her feel worthless…

You stupid, ignorant son of a bitch… I thought to myself in disgust.

I understood then. Karly hated what Mike had been to her. She hated being this weak creature. She hated that he used her. What she didn’t understand however, was as she developed sexually with Mike she had learned to cue off of certain signals. She had started to tie up her self-worth with what she gave to her partner sexually…

She shook her head. “You’re always so gentle with me, and I know that means I don’t drive you wild. When we first got together, I could see how much I pushed you over the edge. I could push you over the edge so easily… I could make you take me. Now, now, I can’t. I mean you will, if I order you, or if I beg you to, but that just reminds me that you’re too kind to say no… and that makes me worry that you don’t love me, that you’re just too kind to send me away…”

Fuck. I thought, my heart stopping.

How did you screw this up this badly? I wondered.

I realized then, I wasn’t the only one with a scarred mind. I wasn’t the only one carrying pain. She was just as messed up as I was. She was just messed up in a completely different, completely fucked up way…

Realizing that made me love her all the more…

“Baby girl…” I said as I shook my head at her, “I’m sorry.”

She squeezed her eyes shut as tears poured through them. “Don’t. Please don’t. Don’t apologize. This is my fault, not-“

“Stop.” I ordered her.

Moving to her I reached my good hand out to her, running my palm across her cheek. Her eyes drifted closed and I felt the surging power that came with giving her pleasure. My lips found hers and I kissed her tenderly, exploring her lips with mine, trying to pour the love I felt with her into her, to make her understand that the world began, and ended with her.

I took my lips from hers and watched her eyes drift back open. I tried on a lop-sided smile.

Shaking my head at her, I told her, “Baby girl. You drive me wild every minute of every day.” My hand went back to her face, and this time she brought her hand up and covered mine. I took that for a good sign.

I continued, “I don’t need to take you, because you give me everything I could ever want. You are everything I want in this world, and I can have that anytime I want it, not because I have to take it but because you’ve made it mine.”

Her eyes came up to mine, a fierceness lit them up that made my heart swell with pride for her. I narrowed my eyes at her. “That part of your life is over. The part that anyone controls you. That anyone takes from you. I won’t let that happen to you, and I certainly won’t be the one that does it. You think I can control myself around you? The only reason I can control myself around you is that I love you so much more than I lust after you.” I shook my head as some of the more carnal pictures that lived in there pictured Karly in some of the more compromising positions I had seen her in, “but even then, it’s a close thing. When we first got together my feelings for you were so much less. It was easy to push them aside, to simply let the physical part of me take over, now…” I shook my head at her, “Now when we’re together, I only want to enjoy being with you.”

She narrowed her eyes at me, shaking her head at me. “Why do I feel like you’re bullshitting me?”

I smiled at her, then let my eyes drift down her body, so nakedly delicious…

She reached out and shoved me, “My eyes are up here mister…”

I pulled her into my arms and kissed her hard, “I don’t think you want my eyes up there…”

She giggled as I pulled her down to the bed, pushing my chest against hers. I tangled my legs in hers and kissed her, running my good hand against her side, reveling in the feeling of the smooth skin there. I was gentle with her, unsure if she wanted me, or if she just wanted to feel me there with her.

She answered by attacking me like a tigress…

She squirmed and flipped me over on my back, and like that her legs were spread over me. I put my left hand on her hip, trying to stop her, “It’s okay. We don’t have-“

Like that I felt her slide down on me…

The heat of her was so incredible. “Shut up. I need to feel you inside of me.”

I bucked uncontrollably, she felt so good wrapped around me. My left hand wrapped hard around her hip, my right, still stupidly wrapped in this fucking cast, pressed against her other hip, as I tried to drive myself into her harder. Her head dropped back and she moaned…

My eyes wandered over her breasts, watching them heave as she rocked herself slowly against me, no doubt getting used to having me inside of her. I let my eyes wander up to her face, feeling the sudden urge to kiss her overpower me.

I started to reach up to pull her down into me and stopped as her eyes snapped open, pinning me in place. Her nails suddenly dug into my chest and she ground her teeth. Her hips started moving faster and faster driving a spike of pleasure into me each time our hips slammed together. She went faster and faster, her skin flushing, her chest heaving as she sucked in air.

“Cum in me.” She commanded.

I really wanted to…

Instead I shook my head, “No. I’m good. I want to wait for you.”

A look of something close to anger slashed across her face and she somehow found another gear with her hips. Her nails dug even harder into my chest. I saw her eyes swim out of focus and realized how much she was enjoying herself. She ground her teeth even harder, her eyes darkening even more, “I said fucking cum in me.”

This was fun…

I mean it felt fucking amazing… and I was so close to doing exactly as she commanded me it wasn’t funny. I could see how much she was trying to drive me over the edge. She was hot as a general rule, and a tiger in bed, but right now she had it dialed completely up to eleven.

So, I cheated. I did the one thing that I knew would drive her insane while pushing my own orgasm back a step or two. I tensed up my groin muscles. I knew that caused me to swell down there, and while that happened it also pushed me back a bit from the edge.

The change in her was immediate. Her head snapped back, her hips slowed on mine, losing tempo as she traded speed for power, driving herself into me harder and harder. Her eyes opened and this time there was less command in them, “Please cum in me. I need to feel it.”

I was enjoying this game…

I shook my head, grabbing her hips and forcing them to move faster and faster against mine again, “You first.” I told her as I tensed my groin again.

Her head shook weakly as I saw her losing control, “No, please… just go…” she moaned. “I need you to… I need to feel it…”

As this point, she was like a rag doll on top of me, loose and moving at pretty much the tempo I dictated with my hips against hers, my hands upon her. I tensed a third time, this time holding it as long as I possibly could.

Her hands were on either side of my stomach and this time they turned into talons. Her thumbnails went into the flat of my stomach, her fingernails into my side. Her legs tightened like vices against me. Her head went down and she made a noise that I had never heard her make before… something between a scream of rage and one of ecstasy. I lost all control of her hips as she somehow found a way to pound me both faster and harder than she had thus far.

I felt her body tense against me down there, wrapping itself tightly around me…

Things got a whole lot wetter too…

I realized then, for only the second time, I had given her an orgasm so intense she had squirted.

That was too much for me. I tried to wait for her to finish cresting over the wave.

I’m not sure I succeeded.

I swept her around and was immediately on top of her, never taking myself from her as I smoothly flipped us between spots, her now on the bottom, me on the top. It was my time to drive into her with every bit of power I had…

I couldn’t help it.

“Wait… wait…” She moaned, panting against my ear.

I wrapped my arms around her head to gain more leverage to drive myself into her, deeper and harder. The desire to just climb inside her raised up inside of me and drove the ability for me to do anything other than drive into her with everything I had from my mind.

“Stop, please,” She moaned.

I felt my head shaking against her involuntarily, “I can’t.” I panted into her ear.

Her legs tightened around me hard, her nails found their accustomed spot in my back again, she shook her head hard, “Please don’t… you’re going to make me cum like that again…” She begged.

That thought filled my mind with an animal’s snarl. The desire to mate with my woman. To drive her completely insane with need for my body, the way she did for me. I found my teeth against her shoulder, biting down on her, probably a little bit too hard…

I tensed my groin again, this time as I drove myself down into her with every ounce of power I had…

Her hand slashed down my back, this time hard enough to draw blood. The pain only made me thrust myself into her harder and harder.

Her head slammed back into the bed and she made that beautiful sound again…

Drunk on her I managed to pull myself back from her, to look at her as she came against me. Her head thrown back, her eyes squeezed shut tightly, her mouth open as the scream rocked its way out of her. Every muscle in her face stood out. The muscles in her neck like high tension wires. I could feel her nipples like little rocks against my chest. Everything down below was a mess of fire and moisture…

It was too much of a mental picture for me… I threw my face against her neck, biting at the hollow between her neck and shoulder as she drove me over the edge…

Everything was so intense, so pleasurable, every thought flew straight from my mind. The human part of me, well, he must have decided to go take a walk. I felt myself spurt into her, release myself into her…

“Yes!” She screamed, her body tightening itself around me.

I lay against her, panting…

Something was wrong though…

Normally, when we had finished making love a sense of the deepest relaxation settled over me. A sense of peace and contentedness, like everything in the world didn’t matter anymore. Every thought was driven from my mind and I just settled into the feeling like settling into a warm pool.

I didn’t feel that this time.

This time, the animal continued to bounce against the walls of its cage, howling and screaming to be let free.

My mind filled with thoughts and images. That night, our second night together. The night of my birthday. When we had danced at the party. The feeling of her body against mine. Contoured to me.

This time though, I was watching it. This time it wasn’t me she was pressed against. It was Cameron fucking Kane.

I was filled with a sense of jealously, a sense of ownership.

This is my woman! My brain screamed at me. Mine!

I ground my teeth as I pulled myself from her, crawling up her body.

The human part of me poked his head back into my mind, took one look around and decided he needed to take a longer walk…

I found my hand tangled in her hair. Found me forcing myself towards her mouth.

“Open your fucking mouth.” I growled at her.

Some part of me registered the shock on her face, a question falling across her features. I was still semi-erect, but not enough I knew to have her again. That was something I aimed to fix. I want to say I decided to take her, but decision was no part of what went through my mind. Dimly, and with some sense of horror, I realized that what I felt right then, in that moment, had nothing to do with us. It had nothing to do with my desire to be with her. This overwhelming sense of sexual aggression was about one thing…

Using my considerable strength, I wrapped my fingers tighter into her hair and pulled her closer to me, forcing myself against her mouth, “I said fucking suck!”

The words shocked even me…

A look of panicked shock smashed across her face… tinged with something else…

Excitement?

The truth was I was beyond caring.

I shook her head, “Suck!”

Her mouth opened and accepted me. I was not gentle with her.

I forced myself into the back of her mouth. My hand stayed tangled in her hair, pushing her deeper and deeper onto me, pulling her off of me so I could force myself back down her throat again…

My right hand, still tied up in my cast, found its way to the top of her head. I wanted so badly to control her head with both of my hands, but the fucking cast was preventing me. I balled my fist and slammed my forearm against the wall hard. My small apartment filled with a boom like a bomb going off, as pain lanced up my arm. I had intended to shatter the cast. To break it off of my arm so I could use my hand on her…

The pain made me reconsider the thought…

That same pain pushed my aggression with her to another level…

I threw my leg over her chest and pulled her head onto me as far as I was able…

She was accommodating.

I stopped pulling on her head when her nose pressed against my stomach…

I’m not a big man downstairs, not pornstar quality or anything… but I’m not small either. Some small part of me screamed at me that I was deep in her throat. That accepting me the way I was forcing her to meant she couldn’t breathe…

I managed to let her loose enough for her to gasp a few panting breaths before the rage was upon me again…

I forced myself back down her throat, “Is that what you fucking want?” I growled at her.

It was only then I realized how aggressively she was sucking my dick. I realized that she had her arms wrapped around my hips, and that as much as I was pulling her onto me, she was pulling herself down on me just as aggressively, with every bit the same amount of passion…

Don’t get me wrong… Karly normally gives an enthusiastic blowjob. A really enthusiastic blowjob. This was next level though. She was like an animal on me…

I pressed my face against the wall, the coolness of the plaster pressing into my face as the first wave of pleasure slammed through me… “Fuck…” I groaned.

The fact that she was so in to it only excited me more…

I pulled myself from her mouth and using only my one arm, my weak one at that, I flipped her completely around. Bringing her first to her butt, forcing her to sit up, and then harshly forcing her onto her stomach. She made a cute little squealing sound as she was bodily lifted from the bed, her surprise apparent at being manhandled with so little effort…

Like that I was on her back, driving myself deep into her. Her head snapped back as she moaned in pleasure. Her hips rose to meet mine as I drove them into her as hard as I could. My fingers again tangled into her hair, jerking her head back and to the side I growled into her ear, “This is mine… understand?”

She was in such ecstasy she couldn’t even speak, all she could manage was a weak nod of her head as she muttered, “Uh-huh.”

She tried to bring her arms up to pull me against her but the weight and the force at which I was hammering against her left her unable…

I drove myself into her over and over…

I pulled her hair again hard, “I said do you fucking understand?”

This time she managed to shake her head harder, “Yes… oh fuck yes… just please… don’t stop…”

I tensed my groin again, knowing that it would force me to swell inside her, but this time I didn’t do it for her, this time I did it because it felt so fucking good to feel the walls of her constrict against me as I slammed myself into her.

She moaned that feral moan again, and I knew she was close to the edge again…

“Fucking cum on my cock bitch…” I growled into her ear. The desperate need to drive her over the edge of ecstasy again overwhelmed me. That desire to once again feel that there was no one in the world that could give her as much pleasure as I could overwhelmed me.

Her hands wrapped in the sheets as I started to drive her over the edge. With a strength of desperation, she managed to crawl away from me an inch or two…

I pulled her head back harder, “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” I asked her, “I’m not done with you yet.”

Instead of letting her get away from me I thrust myself into her harder, once again making myself swell down below…

She bit the sheet like an animal as she screamed this time, her fingers clawing at the edge of the bed as she struggled to find release from the orgasm that powered over her…

For my part I just thrust into her harder and harder.

As she came down the other side of her orgasm she shook her head, “Fucking come on… give me a break here…” she panted as I rammed into her as hard as ever, “Just fucking cum in me already…”

I snapped up and away from her, reaching across my body I grabbed her right leg with my left arm and spun her over in one powerful, quick movement. I grabbed her with such force she actually came up off of the bed completely as she spun around. No sooner had her body hit the bed and I was on her again, forcing myself up into her. My mouth found the hollow of her neck again, biting and nibbling there…

Without thinking about it, I found her nipple in my mouth…

She was driving me so fucking crazy I was just starting to skip around…

I found myself biting her nipple… hard.

Her arms were wrapped around my head, her fingernails like pinpoints of light against my scalp… “Oh my fucking god! Yes!” She screamed as I drove her over the edge once again.

A dim part of me warned me that I needed to slow down… that I was totally losing control… that she was too fucking much for me.

The bigger part of me however, needed to feel how deeply I could get inside of her…

I grabbed her legs and forced them up over my shoulders, pushing my hips deep against my own, and there I found it…

She threw her head back, “Oh my fucking god that’s deep…” She moaned. “Yes, like that… do it like that…”

I forced her hips up off the bed as I pushed my hips deeper and deeper against her…

I felt the urge within me start to settle. The animal in my mind start to quiet…

Her hand wrapped around the back of my neck, tender and full of love. My head lifted, my eyes finding hers. The expression of love there so intense it nearly brought tears to my eyes…

She smiled at me, nodding her head, “I love you…” She whispered, “Finish, please… I want to feel it inside of me.”

I let her legs loose, feeling them slip around me, wrapping around my waist. My lips found hers as I released myself within her…

Lying on top of her I tried to catch my breath…

Karly wrapped her arms around me as she nuzzled my face. I started to roll off of her and she held me tighter, “Please stay like that… I like to feel you like that…”

I giggled, “I can… but uh… if I do you might need to go another round…”

She rolled me off of her and settled out of court by nuzzling up against me. “Sorry there big guy… don’t think I can go another round like that.”

I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her tight into me, “I’m sorry if I got a little carried away…”

She chuckled, her body shaking delightfully next to mine… “Baby boy… that was perfect…” She raised her head and looked at me, “I mean, not like every time…” She ran a hand over her tummy, “I’m going to be sore tomorrow…”

I winced, “Sorry… I didn’t mean to be so rough…”

She kissed my chest and a hungry look came into her eyes, “You were just rough enough… I’m going to be sore from how… uh… excited you made me.”

I could feel the disapproving look on my face. I didn’t want to let it slip on there, but it did all the same. I knew what we had just done excited her, and hell, it was fantastic for me too, but it still felt… wrong. It felt like I was hurting her, and worse, it felt like I was enjoying hurting her.

I looked away from her, shame starting to burn from the embers of my passion for her.

I cursed myself as soon as I did it… I was trying to make things better, and now… now I probably only made things worse.

Instead of rebuking me she climbed onto me, kisses raining down on my face as she giggled and tickled me. Finally, she grabbed my head and held me firm, “Stop and get out of your head.” She commanded. Her eyebrows went up, “Did you have fun?”

I nibbled at my lip and nodded my head, “Yeah… it was… fuck it was really good.”

Her mouth was on mine suddenly, her body urgent against mine. I just wrapped my arms around her and pulled her closer, life was too fucking short…

Chapter 31
Lunches were the most awkward time of my new life. Not having a car, and my school being pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I was stuck on campus. Once a week, I went to lunch with Karly and her friends. I hated every minute of that. It always felt so awkward and forced. They were high class kids. Rich. Pretty. Pretty much everything I wasn’t. Sitting there with them I always felt like the ratty charity case. They were nice enough people, and they always treated me okay, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they didn’t want me there. I had no problem with that. I wasn’t the type of person that needed people to like me, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was force myself on people who didn’t want me there…

Another day of the week, Jeremy insisted I go out with him to lunch just he and I. We’d hang out and do stupid teenager shit. Talk and visit, mostly talk shit. I enjoyed our time together, but it too felt forced. In truth, I felt guilty about it. I felt like I was making Jeremy choose between me and his other friends, and as much as I didn’t want to force myself on people who did not want me there, I wanted to be the guy that forced people to choose between people they cared about even less. I didn’t want Jeremy to miss out on hanging out with everyone else just so he could spend time with me. I tried to tell him that. Tried to make him understand that I was cool with him bailing and going with them. He forced the issue and made sure that we went out, just the two of us.

One other day of the week, Karly and I went out, just the two of us. Those were my favorite days. The days that I could just sit with her. Maybe buy her lunch if she was feeling generous, though usually she was not, and she bought for us both. Days when I could hold her hand like a stupid kid and talk to her like it was just her and I in the world. We’d talk about our future together, or about troubles in class, or somedays we’d just sit against each other and cuddle in a private booth in the back of a pizza parlor, sharing secrets and stolen kisses…

The other two days of the week I was on my own. That pissed Karly off to no end.

If she had her way she and I would have been inseparable at lunch every single day. I wouldn’t allow it. I knew where that road was headed.

I knew she knew I hated hanging with all her girl talking friends. So, at first, we’d go out with them most days. Then, as I grew less and less happy with the situation our one-day private lunch every week would be two. Then three. Pretty soon, she’d never hang out with them. As much as I wanted to be around her constantly, I wanted her to be happy a hell of a lot more. I wanted her to have friends. To have people she could count on to take care of her. To lend her a sympathetic ear when she needed it. To listen to her complain about her crazy as a shithouse rat boyfriend and offer her advice. People that she would be able to laugh with, people she could enjoy. People that she would be able to have fun with and not have to be a support for me…

I wanted nothing but the best things for her, and there was no way in hell I was going to accept her giving herself anything less than the best.

Normally, on my solitary days, I found a quiet spot in the hall and sat down and ate, and then I went to the library and read. They had this one comfy chair, over by the magazine racks that I sat in every day I had lunch in the library. I would sit there and read from some oversized nerd book, maybe my headphones in my ears, blaring too loud music, drowning out all the distractions of the world and letting me focus on what I was enjoying all by myself…

And there I sat the Monday after Karly’s party… music on repeat, an acoustic cover of “Take Me Away” by The Plot in You blaring into my ears, a Dresden Files book in my lap, when Joe walked in and sat down in the chair across from me. I looked up from my book as he opened one of his own. He had a bag of chips he had snuck in perched in his lap.

I tried to ignore that he was there, and he for his part, sat there quietly, not bothering me, just sitting there…

I really did try to ignore it.

It took about five minutes to drive me insane.

Why the fuck was he here? What was he trying to do? Was he doing it just to fuck with me? I wondered.

And then it hit me…

Pulling the headphones from my ears I looked at him, “I know what happened between Cameron and Karly at the party. She fessed up that night about it, so I don’t need the full report.”

He looked at me and raised his eyebrows, “Excuse me?”

I dropped my head to the side, looking at him crosswise. “I know about Karly and Cameron. You don’t need to come running in here and protect me from my willful slut of a girlfriend.”

A look of offense crept onto his face, “It wasn’t that big of a deal. If she hadn’t of said anything to you, neither would have I. They danced a little, he got grabby, made a pass at her and she shut him down.” He looked back down at his book, “Not any of my business one way or the other. Looked to me like she had the opportunity to screw around on you pretty good and she did the right thing.”

Now I felt like an asshole…

I took a deep breath… it was time to eat some crow. God, how did I mess these things up so badly? Karly had told me Joe had looked out for her, and here I was making the giant assumption that he was coming in here to start trouble… to try and drive a wedge between me and her. The more I thought about it, the less sense my assumption made. If he really wanted to drive a wedge between me and her, he didn’t need to step in, all he had needed to do was hang back and let everything play out…

“She told me you stood up for her.” I paused, thinking about what she had said about it exactly, knowing there was some important detail in there that I was missing, “Like you were looking out for her.”

His eyes snapped up from his book, gauging me, weighing me. He took a moment to think about what he was going to say, and I could tell, something about it was killing him. He ground his teeth and finally said, “Look man. I get it. I fucked up our friendship.” He snapped his book closed and gave me his full attention, “And here’s the deal. I fucking hate that. I know there’s nothing I can do to fix it, but it still kills me that I did it.” He ground his teeth again, like it hurt to admit it, “And I get it. I’m not your friend anymore…”

He shook his head, looking down into his lap, “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still consider you to be my friend, and that means I have a responsibility to look out for you, and to take care of you, whether you appreciate it or not.”

I felt like a fucking asshole right then and there…

“And Karly’s my friend too…” He shook his head, “Even if she has to pretend she’s not to make sure you’re happy.”

Swallowing past a lump in his throat he finished, “And a good friend just taught me… you should look out for your friends no matter what.”

I shook my head, feeling his words slam into me and make me feel like a real and true asshole. I wanted to tell him it was alright. That things were good now. That I had been wrong to freeze him out. That people make mistakes and both he and I had made them and we needed to forget about it and put it behind us.

Then I remembered how much it had hurt to be frozen out myself. To count on someone and have them turn their back on you. To have them make you wonder how much you are worth, and to have their choices make you realize that it was less than nothing. To look at myself and value it simply based on how important I was to someone else. To have every piece of you stripped away just because someone thought they had the right to your pride and dignity. To have someone look at you and decide that because you weren’t giving them exactly what they wanted they had the right to hurt you…

I couldn’t do that. Not again.

As much as it hurt. As much as I wanted to have my friend back…

I needed to be alone. I deserved to be alone.

I was quiet a long time. Trying to force my feelings into a nice tight little ball. Trying so very hard to lie to myself and make myself believe I could just make things go back to the way things had been. I couldn’t though. I wasn’t strong enough for that…

So instead I looked at him, and with no other thing popping into my head, I grabbed my bag, and trying not to cry like a child, I nodded, “Thanks for that.”

I fled. I couldn’t stay. I could feel the panic welling up inside me. The tightness in my chest. The overwhelming feeling of emotion as the feeling that night had brought on in me crashed back through my memories. The panic that memory brought on, unlocking all of the countless doors in my mind that held back so many terrible things. So many nights alone, and scared…

Clutching my bag, I fled the library like a scared child.

I hit the door at a fast walk…

I wanted so badly to tell myself that I just needed a break. I didn’t want to talk. In my heart though, I knew the truth. I was scared. I was alone and I wanted my friend. I wanted so badly to forgive him, to have him back in my life, but I also knew I was too scared to feel that pain again. There was some part of me that knew that I was too close to a dark place, and if I opened myself back up and got hurt again… that I might do something that I would regret. I wanted with every fiber of my being to deny that. To tell myself that I had Karly. That I had happiness, and that I’d never do that to myself, but I could see the shadow of it in myself…

I ran straight to my locker. I opened it and just stared inside of it, trying to convince myself that I was actually looking for something inside…

I felt her hands on my face before I smelled her…

Karly.

“Guess who?” She purred seductively…

I felt warmth spread through my chest, felt the ice that had gathered there without me even noticing crack…

All I could do was put my head down, and wrap my arms around behind me and pull her to me. Her arms wrapped protectively around me and I could feel her pull me into one of those hugs that always seemed to make antalya escort my world better. She held me for a moment before she let me go and squirmed around in front of me, pinning herself between me and the lockers.

She put a hand on each side of my head and forced my face up. I could feel tears stinging my eyes, making me feel like a coward.

Her perfect green eyes filled with concern as they bounced back and forth between mine, searching my soul for the source of my pain…

“Baby boy… what’s wrong?” Her voice was like a balm to my soul…

I shook my head dumbly, trying to shake the weakness out of my stupid head, “Nothing, just stupid stuff…”

She gave me that half smile she always gave me when she thought I was being stupid, shaking her head at me, “It’s not stupid, baby.”

I forced a smile onto my face and tried to push all this stupid emotion back down inside the deep, poisoned well inside my soul, to try to be brave and strong for my perfect, strong woman.

“Hey Karly…” The voice was so sleazy that it sent a shiver up my spine…

Cameron…

Karly’s face became an instant mask of rage as she looked past me, “Go fuck yourself Cameron.”

I kept my back to him as I tried to force the rage inside me down…

“You trying to let him down softly so you can finally come be with a real man?”

I spun and nearly hit him… I would have hit him without Karly’s strong hand on my arm, without the steel in her voice as she ordered me, “Gabby, no!”

Both my hands clenched, my still broken right screaming at me as I felt the cast bite down across my palm…

There, no more than an arm’s length away from me stood Cameron Kane and three of his buddies. Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt the voice of sense warn me that those were not good odds. Way more towards the front of my mind however, something snapped free of its chains, some dire creature that just screamed it was time to lash out…

And then Karly was in front of me, between me and Cameron…

I felt steel bands tighten inside me as I realized how stupid it would be to start a fight then and there, with her in the center of it. Felt guilt as I realized how unsafe for her my choices were. How if I jumped into a fight here she would, like the lioness she was, most likely, and stupidly, jump to my defense…

She put her back to Cameron, her eyes on me as she gave me a no nonsense look that warned me about how stupid she thought my little act was.

In those eyes I felt like a child, caught with my hand in the cookie jar…

“Gabby, he’s not worth it.” She growled at me.

“That’s not what you were saying the other night baby,” Cameron purred, goading me on.

And then things went completely sideways…

Cameron grabbed Karly’s arm and spun her around…

And like that the chains snapped again.

I felt something come growling up from deep inside. Some ancient, dark creature came screaming up from the darkest corner of my mind…

I found my left hand wrapped around Cameron’s wrist. Felt my thumb dig deep into the pressure point in his wrist, the one my dad had shown me when I was still a little kid, the one that I knew gave someone no choice but to open their hand…

“Don’t fucking touch her…” I growled, pushing Karly around behind me.

On some level, I sensed Cameron’s three friends press closer. I felt the warning in my mind that told me that I was just about to get jumped in a four to one fight. I felt a surge of fear, the rush of adrenalin as my body tried to adjust to the danger I had just put myself in…

Some part of me tried to make my mouth start working, to try to talk myself out of the situation I had just stupidly thrown myself into…

Cameron headbutted me, sending a splash of color across my vision. His friend on my right threw a cross into my cheek, sending another splash of color across my vision. My legs went weak and watery for a heartbeat…

Things in a fight get strange. Time gets all screwy…

Some things seem to happen so fast, some things grind to a halt…

I heard Karly scream, her voice falling somewhere between rage and anguish. I felt her leap from my side at the guy to my right, the one that had just landed the punch across my face.

The most primitive part of my brain screamed at me that I couldn’t let her away from me. That I needed to protect her. I started to move towards her, trying to keep her behind me as Cameron landed his first punch, this one landing across my left cheek, forcing me back…

I heard a hard, wet smack as the guy to my right laid a backhand across Karly’s face…

I felt her go limp as my brain screamed at me to catch her before she fell…

Some part of my brain realized that there was no way I was going to have time to catch her…

And then everyone in front of me was moving as Joe slammed into them from the side…

Something inside me screamed to attack. To tear limb from bone. To bite, to tear…

In my mind, I heard Terra squeal as she hit the wall…

Karly and Terra were on the floor…

Danger above them…

Kicks about to rain down…

And all I could to was throw myself down across the top of her.

I had to protect her…

Terra.

Karly.

In my mind, I felt the first kick land, heard Terra squeal in pain as I tried to cover her with my own small body.

My body registered the first hard kick into my ribs as I laid myself across Karly, pinning her between me and the bank of lockers.

In my mind, I felt the second kick land, this time catching me more than my dog… the scream of pain as I felt Terra’s bladder let go beneath me… the wild thought in my head that she shouldn’t have peed in the house… that Nelson would just be madder that she had peed in the house…

My body registered the second kick, this one into my back, and I felt a surge of pride as I knew none of it touched Karly…

My mind flashed back to the third kick, and the forth… Terra’s screams echoing…

I felt myself letting go of her… the pain so much that I didn’t want to hold on anymore…

Karly curled beneath me, making herself as small as possible as the kicks rained down across my back and ribs…

It hurt so much…

More than anything I had ever felt before…

I never let Karly go though… not like I had Terra…

Chapter 32
I came back to myself in one of the counselor’s offices. I was sitting in one of the cheap, padded chairs. The same one I had sat in so many times when someone had pulled me into the office to talk about whatever was going on in my head…

There was a bag of ice in my hand that I somehow managed to hold against the swelling in the left side of my face.

My entire left side was a study in screaming torment…

Somewhere, from another office, I heard Joshua’s booming voice, filled with anger and righteous indignation…

I tried to take the ice away from my face and found my left eye nearly swollen shut. Pain slammed a thousand nails down into my face as I remembered the kick that had caught the side of my face. As I remembered bringing my left arm up and around Karly’s head to protect her face…

Groaning I pushed the ice back into my face…

There were voices just outside the door…

“You just shoved him into an office alone!?” It was Marsha. I could hear the concern in her voice, the anger.

Shame and fear crashed into me as I realized how angry she was going to be with me. How disappointed she was going to be. I had let her down. I hadn’t kept Karly safe. I had let that fucking gorilla slap her…

I imagined her face as she looked down on me. As I saw her mentally move me from the ‘he’s a nice kid’ to the ‘totally worthless and not worth my time’ categories that I had seen so many times, on so many faces.

“We didn’t know what to do with him. He was nearly catatonic…” Some other voice answered.

“And so, you fucking locked him in a room by himself!”

“He’s not locked in there Missus Kay.” The voice explained. Some distant connection clicked in my brain as I realized it was Miss Sunderland, my counselor.

“I don’t care if he’s locked in there or not, why is he in there alone?” Marsha’s voice was on the edge of rage…

She was angrier at me than I had first realized…

I felt some part of me die as I realized how much I had let her down. Some part of me wanted to go back and do better. Some part screamed that this was just a bad dream and if I tried hard enough I could just force myself to wake up…

“We just thought he could use some time alone… when we pulled the other boys off of him he was screaming…”

Great. Just great… now I was going to be the freak that got his ass handed to him and came up screaming…

Now there was going to be blood in the water, and the sharks were going to come circling.

“His coach had to pin him down… he was so freaked out that he came up swinging… he actually tried to bite coach…”

I closed my semi-good right eye.

Fuck… good job psycho… way to pay Coach back for taking care of you… I thought to myself angrily.

“All he could do was scream your daughter’s name… he was like a wild animal. Honestly, the only thing that finally got him to calm down was when your daughter finally jumped on top of the two of them…”

Oh god… no. I didn’t hurt Karly did I? I thought in a panic as I tried to force myself to remember the tail end of the fight. There was some panic as I realized I could not find the memory…

“Where are his parents?” Marsha asked Missus Sunderland.

“We couldn’t get hold of his mom…” There was a pause filled with embarrassment, “We got hold of his dad… he, uh… told us that if Gabby wanted to be out on his own… he was… well… then Gabby was on his own for this too…”

It felt like a nail driven into the back of my skull.

Thanks, dad… I thought to myself, sarcastically.

“Why didn’t you put Karly in there with him?”

Miss Sunderland cleared her throat… “Well… we were worried…”

“About what!”

“Well… we were worried that maybe he’d…”

“What? That he’d hurt her?” The anger in her voice notched up another octave, “Are you stupid?”

“Missus Kay! There’s no need to talk to me like-“

“Get out of my way!”

And like that the door pounded open unceremoniously. I managed to look up and to my right. I tried to meet Marsha’s eyes with my good right one, still holding the bag of ice across my face, before my shame made me look back down at the floor.

“Oh my…” I could sense Marsha turn back on Miss Sunderland, “Why didn’t you call him an ambulance!?”

“He said he didn’t want us to!”

“And you listened to him?” Marsha was nearly screaming.

“He is eighteen Missus Kay!”

It sounded like Marsha growled… “Go get my fucking daughter right now!” She announced as she slammed the door in Miss Sunderland’s face.

No! Nononononono! I thought in panic… she can’t see me like this!

Marsha came over and knelt down in front of me, taking the bag of ice gingerly from my face to look at me…

As soon as my eyes met hers I felt my face crack…

“I’m so sorry!” I heard myself cry as some hidden damn, filled with bitter emotion, cracked. Tears filled my eyes, pouring down my face, “I tried to keep Karly safe…” I was nearly bawling, “I’m so sorry…”

Her arms wrapped around me and for the first time in so long… I felt what it felt like to have a mother’s arms wrapped around me. That feeling of safety. Of security. That sense that all was right with the world, and that everything was going to be okay. It was nearly impossible to describe…

I found myself wrapping my arms around her as my body went limp. I felt myself slide from the chair, my knees hitting the floor as Marsha cradled me against her. My head shook as I bawled my eyes out, “I’m so sorry… don’t be mad at me… I’m so sorry… I tried so hard to keep her safe…”

“Shhh… you did good baby…” She cooed at me. “I’m proud of you… you did so good…”

All I could do was cling to her as I sobbed. Her arms felt so good around me…

I realized then that it had been so long since I had had a mother that cared about me. A mother that would wrap her arms around me and tell me that everything was going to be okay… not since I had been nine years old…

I never wanted her to let me go.

But I knew she would. I knew that she was just being nice. I knew, deep in my heart, that I wasn’t good enough. I knew that right now the only reason she didn’t push me away, disgusted, was her kindness. She saw me there, hurt, and she felt pity for me. When I was better though… then she would hate me for letting her daughter get hurt. She would look at me the way my own parents had, that familiar look of disgust on her face…

I just kept babbling on about how sorry I was… desperately wishing that she would forgive me…

The door opened and I heard Karly’s voice, like a siren splitting the fog of my mind, “Gabby!”

She nearly dove onto me, her arms wrapping tight about me…

I finally found the one thing that would make me let go of Marsha. The one thing that I wanted more than a mother’s arms wrapped about me. I wanted Karly. I wanted the woman I loved…

Chapter 33
I opened my eyes… well… I opened my eye. My right one. The left wouldn’t open. Pain lanced through the entirety of my left side as I came to. I felt my mind take a mental inventory of all the pain. My shoulder hurt a little. My hip a bit more. My back, up by my spine a bit more than my hip and shoulder. The entirety of my face a bit more than all the rest.

The pièce de résistance however, were my ribs. My ribs felt like they were filled with broken glass…

I groaned as I tried to take a breath…

And there she was… my beautiful, perfect Karly.

She lay on her side next to me, her face close to me. I realized I was lying on my right side on something soft, a pillow under my head. Looking around quickly I realized in panic where I was. Karly’s room. Her too big, too soft, too perfect bed. Her enormous room. Everything so soft and purple. Everything so expensive. Another knife in my gut as I realized all the things I would never be able to give her…

Her eyes filled with pain and tears as she ran her fingers gently over my swollen left cheek.

Her left cheek was red and swollen from where Cameron’s friend had backhanded her…

Shame stabbed through me as I realized how I had failed her… how I had failed to keep her safe…

I didn’t want to cry. I had no right to.

I still did.

A single tear slid out of my swollen left eye, dropping across my agonized nose, “I’m so sorry baby girl… I shouldn’t have let them hurt you…”

She just shook her head at me and crawled in closer, wrapping her arms around me, “My big stupid teddy bear… this isn’t your fault. Not everything in the world that happens is your fault…”

I needed her so much right then that it hurt. All I could do was crawl into her and wrap my arms around her. “I should have done better.”

She squeezed me tighter, “This isn’t your fault, it’s mine.” She whispered. “If I hadn’t been such a little slut…”

That same anger surged through me, making me pull her closer to me, “Stop that shit. This wasn’t your fault. Cameron didn’t have to be such a pushy asshole.”

I felt her nod her head against me and realized what she had done to me, how she had turned things on their head, “I know. Hopefully you see how the same thing applies to what happened today…”

I didn’t want to admit the truth of that. I wanted to rake myself over the coals of my guilt. I also knew that she was completely right. Cameron could have left it where it lie. He could have walked away and left us alone. He could have taken the opportunity to walk away when he had the chance. He didn’t need to attack me. I didn’t need to set everything in motion that had caused Karly to get hurt.

“I love you so much baby boy… thank you for protecting me…” She whispered as she kissed my head.

And just like that the guilt slammed into me again. I had done my best, but still, like in so many things, I had come up short. I had failed.

She squeezed me tighter, “Not even going to say you’re welcome?”

All I could do was shake my head. I knew she didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to listen to me whine about how I had done my best…

She pulled away from me and made me look at her. Look at her red, swollen face…

I could see disappointment in her eyes and what killed me the most was that I knew that disappointment wasn’t there because she thought I had let her down. It was there because she knew I was raking myself through the broken glass of my guilt over having come up short. Her lips kissed my swollen face, gentle, tender and filled with love. It hurt, but she put so much feeling into it, I didn’t even care about the pain.

I swallowed past a lump in my throat and tried to make sense of the jumbled memories I had. It was strange. There were big gaps in my memories, like someone had paused the recorder in my mind and the movie had just kept playing…

“What happened?” I croaked.

She leaned away from me a little, putting her head on the pillow next to me. I could see question in her eyes, “What do you mean? You don’t remember?”

I licked my lips, realizing how dry they were, “Once we got jumped… just bits and pieces…”

She looked down and I could see pain in her eyes, “They started beating on you. When I went to the floor you jumped on me and covered me up. Two of them did their best to kick you to death while you were down there.”

I felt my brow furrow, driving a bit of pain into my face, “Two of them? There were four of them.”

She smiled at me, “Joe saw what was happened and jumped in.” The smile faded from her face, replaced again with pain, “Cameron and one of the other kids… they turned on him.”

Concern and fear surged through me, each battling for dominance over the other, “Is he okay?”

He eyes snapped back to mine and another little smile played on her lips, “He’s fine. Better than you at least. He tackled one of them to the ground and I guess they just sort of rolled around. Joe did a pretty good job of using the other guy to keep himself from getting kicked too many times.”

Shame slammed through me again. Joe had done better than I had. “I froze up… all I could think of was protecting you… I should have fought back.”

Anger flashed in her green eyes and she wrapped her hand in my shirt and pulled me aggressively towards her, “Stop that. You did what you thought was right. Joe fought back because he knew the odds. You didn’t. Four against one and you wouldn’t have lasted a minute against them, not with me in the way.” Her hand ran down the cast still on my hand, “And not hurt…” She shook her head at me angrily one more time, “Anyways. Some of the teachers heard the commotion and came and broke things up. It was tough for them to get you off of me.” She ran her hand down my face, “Trust me, you had plenty of fight in you when they tried…”

Once again, that feeling of burning shame slammed into me. How had I lost control so completely, so totally? So badly that I couldn’t even remember what had happened?

“The school called the cops… it was pretty bad. Cameron and his friends got arrested…” She finished.

I was surprised at that. I mean, not that the cops were called, but, considering that I was involved in the fight that I wasn’t under arrest too…

She smiled at me, reading my mind, “They looked at the security cameras, watched everything that happened. Joe got in a little trouble… but they didn’t arrest him. He’s got a week of in school suspension. People are saying Cameron and his goons are most likely getting expelled.”

“And you and me?”

She giggled and shook her head a bit, “Nothing. We’re not in trouble.”

I sat silently, my thoughts probing and trying to find the answer to a question I didn’t want to give voice to…

“He helped you because he’s a good friend… even if he did make a mistake.” Karly finally offered, reading my mind.

Closing my eyes, I shook my head. “He came and talked to me in the library today. He said he was sorry, and I pushed him away…”

I felt her hand on my cheek again. The coolness of her fingertips. The sharp points of her nails prickling at my skin.

“He told me that I was still his friend, even if he wasn’t still mine…” I felt a deep burning shame pour through me. There was a part of me that wanted to say that had the situation been reversed I would have helped him the way he had helped me… but another part of me wondered.

“He’s a good friend… you should think about forgiving him.” Her voice was hollow, and I knew that she was pushing me when she thought I would be angry at her. She was pushing me because she thought it was the best thing for me.

“I’ve thought about it. I’m scared…”

She snuggled in closer to me, “Why?”

I shook my head again, relishing the feel of her against me, but cold inside as I thought about how scared I was. “Because it hurts so much to have people leave me. To have people turn on me. I’m scared of it. The truth is… if he hadn’t talked to me today… if my mind hadn’t been wrapped up in how scared I was, in all the nasty things my brain wanted to run through my skull, today would have went much differently. I don’t think I would have frozen up. The anger would have taken over. There probably would have been a fight still, but I don’t think it would have just me getting beat on.”

Her lips brushed mine, sweetly, gently, “We’re okay… that’s all that matters.”

I opened my eyes and nodded, thankful to have her, even if my brain was screaming a warning at me about how bad it would hurt if she left me. That wasn’t a thought I could entertain, and so I did the only thing I could, I pushed it away roughly.

“What time is it?” I asked.

She kissed my nose, “About eight.”

I tried to take a deep breath to rouse myself and was stopped by blinding pain in my ribs…

All I could do was ride it out and try to control my breathing…

I could sense the disapproval from her, “Why don’t you let me take you to the hospital?”

Gritting my teeth, I answered, “Because I can’t afford another doctor’s bill…”

She pinched my chest. Hard.

“Ow!” I protested.

“You know my family and I will help you with that, why are you being so stupid about this?”

I smiled at her, taking a perverse pleasure in annoying her, “Because I want to stand on my own. I want to be my own person, and I don’t like owing debts.”

She grit her teeth at me, “You don’t owe us anything when we help you… that’s what family is for.”

I felt something drop in my heart, like a brick being dropped down a deep, dark well. I let my hand come up and trace the perfect lines of her face, “Baby girl. You’re the only family I have left. I like your mom and dad, but they aren’t my family… they’re yours.”

As soon as the words left my mouth I knew they were a mistake…

Her breathing increased, and her face flushed, “How can you say that?”

Sighing, I told her, “Because if you weren’t here… good as your parents are… they’d not give me a second look. I’d just be a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, out there struggling…” I shook my head, feeling that old familiar pain at knowing I was alone, “I still appreciate them, but they don’t owe me anything, and I refuse to be a burden.”

I saw her force her anger down… saw her use every ounce of her strength to do it, “You are a stupid man sometimes…”

Smiling at her, I nodded, and tried to start to get up…

Pain rocketed through me and Karly grabbed me and roughly pulled me back down on the bed, “What are you doing?”

It hurt so much all I could do for a split second was lay there… well, it was more than a split second…

“I said, what do you think you’re doing?” Her voice was lower, almost a growl this time.

“It’s getting late. Tess and I have to go home…” I told her, looking back into her too green eyes…

She smacked me in the forehead…

“Enough is enough. You’re staying here tonight. With me, so I can take care of you. If you won’t let me take you to the doctor, you can at least give me that.” Her tone brooked no argument.

My ribs hurt so much… I really didn’t want to argue with her anyway…

“Okay… tonight.” I finally conceded.

“Actually, the next few nights.” She informed me.

I felt the intensity come into my eyes… that was too much, “No. I’m going home tomorrow.”

I could see her getting angry again, and not wanting to fight with her, I cut her off before she could say anything, “I appreciate the offer, and I know it comes from a place of love, but I’ll heal better if I’m comfortable, and I’m never more comfortable than when I’m at home.”

I saw the hurt come into her eyes and watched her curl up a little bit more. I knew that what I was saying was stupid… and if I was at least being honest with myself not one hundred percent the truth, but I also didn’t understand why it hurt her so much.

My left hand found its way to her chin, nudging her face up to mine, “What’s wrong baby girl?”

She shook her head, tears starting in her eyes, “I was hoping if you stayed a few days… you might start to like it… and then maybe I could talk you into coming and living with me…”

My heart fell in my chest a little. In truth, I suspected what she was trying to pull, and as much as I loved her for it, I knew I could never live that way. Not sponging off of her parents. It was too much… besides… it was too much of a risk…

I forced my mind away from that train of thought, “I can’t do that baby girl.” I finally told her.

She nodded her sad little nod. “I understand…” I could see the wheels running in her head, heading someplace nobody wanted to go, “Is it me?”

Though my ribs screamed like I was torturing them, I forced myself to move closer and wrap myself around her, “No baby girl. I always want to be around you, and one day I will be able to. You and I, we’ll get a little place together, and then we’ll start building our own little family. Okay?”

She looked up at me and smiled her sweet, silly smile. The one she put on when she lost the mask she always wore to make everyone think she was so tough. “Okay.”

Pulling her close I buried my nose in her hair, enjoying the sweet scent of her.

Funny as it was, considering how much pain I was in… she started to really excite me.

I found her lips on mine… soft and gentle.

Her hands ran down the front of me, gentle, yet urgent.

My breath started to come faster and faster, each inhale bringing a sharp stab of pain from my ribs…

“Do you want to have me?” She panted, pulling my left hand up her body and laying it on her breast.

I kissed her as I nodded. I did want to have her. “Yes, please…”

She giggled as she kissed me, her hand coming up and laying on my side…

It was like someone put a branding iron on my skin.

The pain was so intense and immediate all I could do was roll onto my back and grit my teeth while I tried not to scream. Karly immediately pulled back from me, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

Finally, after what seemed like forever the pain receded…

Rolling to her I pulled her in and kissed her, lightly, just a gentle brush of lips against lips. She kissed me back, but not nearly as eagerly as before…

I tried to pull her on me, but with my right hand in a cast, and my left limited by the pain in my side… I didn’t get very far, very fast…

She giggled and pushed my head down on the pillow…

“Sorry there big guy… you’re cut off…” She purred.

I bit my lip and shook my head, my desire for her burning hot in my chest, “I’m good.”

She smiled and I could see desire burning in her eyes, as well as a little mischievous laughter, “No, you’re not. You’re cut off.”

I leaned towards her again, trying to once again pull her in with my kisses, but this time the pain pulled me up short. I hissed, frustrated and very, very horny…

She giggled and leaned in, rubbing her nose teasingly against the side of my face… “Poor baby…”

I let my head drop back against the pillow, feeling frustration built within me. She leaned in and continued to tease me. Her nose against my neck. Her kisses hot on my cheek, first on my cheek, then on my neck. Her hand playfully rubbing the far side of my face, the nick and scrape of fingernails against my skin, which she knew always drove me crazy…

I turned, and once again tried to kiss her. She dipped away from me, moving like a cat, quick, sensuous and full of life. My stupid right hand tried to reach out to her, to grab her and pull her in, only to have my burdensome cast block me, allowing her to slip away from me. As soon as I gave up, she was right there again, teasing me, rubbing her nose against my face. My ears were filled with the raspy scrape of my stubble against her soft nose…

My breath came in quick little stabs. Each one driving a sharp, delicious slice of pain through me…

I tried to turn and kiss her, only to catch empty air as she escaped to the side, kissing cheek. Her kisses returned, up my face as she settled on my earlobe, nibbling, kissing and licking at it.

All I could do was beg now… “I’ll be fine… please… I want you so bad right now…”

She giggled and I could see, she finally decided that she had driven me too far, could see her finally decide to take pity on me. She lay down on her tummy beside me, her fingers tracing across my face, her nails once again pricking against my skin, “Right now, I’d fuck you to death…”

I laughed, well, chuckled mostly as my side hurt too fucking much for anything more than that, as I tried to catch my breath and bring my desire for her back under control. Much as I hated it, I had to admit, she was probably right, “This sucks balls…”

She laughed again as she crawled in next to me. She was exceedingly gentle… “I know. Trust me, I’ll make it up to you later.”

All I could do was wrap my clumsy right hand around her, pulling her close, “You fucking better…”

Chapter 34
I’m not sure what woke me, Tess’s whining or the raised voices…

All I know for sure is that I woke up to the sound of both at the same time. Tess’s whining was that standard, puppy is worried, whine that sounds oh so pitiful when you hear it. The raised voices were people obviously arguing, coming from outside the room. I rolled from my back, sending a wave of agonizing, nauseating pain sweeping through the entirely of my left side as I forced myself to roll from the too soft bed. My feet were unsteady as I set them in the plush carpet of Karly’s bedroom.

Looking around I realized that Karly wasn’t in the room with me. I cocked my head, listening to the voices…

One of them was definitely Karly…

My eyes closed as I realized what was most likely happening…

I felt my heart sink.

This is what always happens…

I didn’t want to listen to that wicked voice in my mind. The one that whispered the dark things into my deepest heart, hissing horrendous things from around snaggled teeth…

I forced myself to walk to the door. I reached for the handle like it was a million degrees…

I didn’t want to open the door. Didn’t really want to hear the things that were being said…

I still knew I had to.

I opened the door a few inches and the voices grew crisp, distinct.

“You’re not listening to me Karly!” The first voice, Joshua, urged.

“I’m listening to you, I just don’t agree! There’s a difference!” Karly’s voice was sharp. A voice tinged with her own special brand of rage…

“I just don’t understand why you have to do this! Why you have to always pick the most messed up guy you can possibly find!” Joshua countered.

“Gabby is not messed up!” Karly yelled back.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Look at him as we brought him home last night. He was damn near catatonic! I don’t think he said three words the whole fucking night!”

My eyes closed again as shame slammed through me at the thought of that. I felt my head shake, driving sharp stabbing pains into my side as I realized how badly I had let my mask slip last night. That was something I had never wanted them to see. I had never wanted Marsha and Joshua to see how deep the hole inside me really was. To let them see just how badly I was damaged…

“Dad! He just, literally, got the shit kicked out of him! He is in pain! This isn’t fair! Two days ago, you loved him!”

Joshua’s voice dropped an octave, his anger obviously deepening, “Well, that was two days ago, wasn’t it? Two days ago, my daughter didn’t come home with a black eye because he dragged her into a fight at school!”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

“Well, I know this. Bad as Mike was, I never had to worry about you getting hurt while you were with him!”

I closed my eyes as my mind forced the door closed, both inside my mind, and the door in front of me, cutting the sound off. I couldn’t listen anymore. I couldn’t face that comparison. Much as I hated the thought of it, much as I wanted to think I was better than Mike for Karly in every way, I had to admit that it was true. Mike had never hurt Karly… never allowed her to be hurt…

I turned to Tess, who was laying on the floor, her head on her little paws as she whined.

Sighing, I told her, “Come on, little girl… it’s time for us to go home… we’re not wanted here.”

I felt my heart break a little at that. Actually, I felt it break more than a little. I hadn’t realized how much a part of my life Joshua and Marsha had become. Hadn’t realized how good it had felt to have something that felt like a family again…

It drove the truth home all that much harder…

I was alone.

It was as true today as it had always been. The only difference is that I had allowed myself to lie about it. I had allowed myself to think that maybe the problem wasn’t with me. That maybe the problem was in the people that surrounded me. People that had always let me down. People that had turned on me. People that pushed me away when I needed them the most.

It reminded me suddenly of that saying, ‘If one person thinks you’re an asshole, they’re probably an asshole. If everyone thinks you’re an asshole… they’re probably right’.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself and move! A voice deep in my mind screamed at me. Not the snaggletooth demon that tortured my thoughts the last time… this time it was the sensible voice that made me care about the world. Much as I wanted to curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself I knew that I needed to leave. I needed to get my shit together, get dressed and get out of here.

Shame once again pushed its way into my thoughts as I realized how much I had imposed on people who didn’t want me there. People who had opened their door to me, not because they wanted me there, but because they felt obligated to be kind to this weird, messed up kid…

I dressed quickly, pulling clothes on painfully. I only gave my side a cursory glance as I dressed, seeing the purplish black bruises that had formed across my side, from beneath my armpit all the way down to my abdomen. The bruises across my ribs looked especially aggressively angry, and I took a second to gingerly slide my fingers across them. Even the slightest pressure caused me to suck breath between clenched teeth, forcing me to stop.

When I had finished dressing, I forced my backpack on through gritted teeth, and picked up my puppy. Each movement made me want to fall to the ground screaming, but I forced myself through it all the same. The worst part of it was picking up Tess. Normally, I carried her in my left arm, against my ribs, but this time I knew that if I tried that I would fall to the ground screaming if she squirmed in even the slightest way and kicked my ribs. I was forced to try to carry her, nestled atop my cast on my right arm. I knew it must be mightily uncomfortable for her, but I also could hear the fight continue from downstairs, and I suspected it would be very difficult to get her to leave the room without a collar and leash, dragging her. Tess had her collar on, but I had no leash…

Going to be a long walk home kid… My brain warned me. Part of me wanted to beg for a ride, but I knew there was no way that I could impose on Karly and her family any more.

I’m going to need to stop and get a leash on the way… there’s no way I can carry Tess all the way home… I told myself.

With one final look around Karly’s perfect purple palace to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything I opened the door once again…

The fight continued in earnest downstairs…

I mostly just tuned out what was being said, focusing instead on cooing at Tessa, trying to calm her at the same time I distracted myself from the dark things being said about me.

The stairs were a challenge. Each step down driving a spiking lance of pain through my side that was unavoidable. All I could do was take it slow, control my breathing, and gut my way through it…

Finally, after what seemed like a million years, I managed to make it to the bottom…

In that moment, I was very tempted to just head to the front door and let myself out quietly. I could hear the fight brewing in the kitchen, and I really had no desire to set myself into the middle of it. For just a split second the coward in me almost won. Almost let me split and ditch out of the consequences of what my choices had caused.

Almost.

In the end two things stopped me. The first was, Karly would be hurt, and more than a little pissed if she went back upstairs and found that I had just snuck out of the house. She would feel abandoned, and there was no way that I could do that to her…

The second, and the more important to me, reason was that I owed a debt. I had imposed myself on Marsha and Joshua, and while they didn’t want me here anymore, I still owed them a thank you for taking care of me. For providing a roof over my head when I had needed it. True, they didn’t want me here, but that only widened how deep the debt was. Much as it hurt, I at least, owed them a thank you, and an apology for imposing on them…

So I forced myself to take it step by step to the kitchen. I tried to ignore the hateful things Joshua was saying about me…

I stopped at the threshold to the room, Tess, still as the dead in my arms as I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat.

Karly and her dad were on opposite sides of the kitchen island, both of them, hands down on the counter as they yelled at each other. Marsha looked on, her face filled with disappointment and anguish to see two people she loved so at each other’s throats.

Marsha was the first to see me standing there, too embarrassed to interrupt, “Guys,” She said. When neither Joshua, nor Karly stopped talking over each other, she screamed, “Guys!”

Both Karly and Joshua stopped, annoyed looks on their face as they both turned to her. Marsha just pointed to me.

The scene would have been comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. Both of them slowly swiveled their heads to face me. Karly’s face was filled with a look of pure horror, as Joshua’s burned through a couple of emotions in the span of a couple of heartbeats. First, raw, naked rage, then surprise, before it settled into a look of shame. It was at that moment that he realized I had heard some, if not all, of the nasty things he had said about me…

I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t look at either of them. I settled with looking at the floor, not quite at my feet, but close.

Karly’s voice broke the silence, “Gabby, what are you doing out of bed?”

I nibbled at my lip as I muttered, “I should go…”

I snuck a quick glance up at her as I was stabbed with a quick sense of worry that she might be upset that I was leaving, that she might be angry at me…

Her gaze instead snapped back to her dad, and the look she gave him was withering in its anger…

Joshua didn’t meet her gaze, he just ground his teeth in anger. Finally he shook his head, “I need to get to the store… I’m going to be late opening as it is.”

He started to move towards the door to the garage and I stopped him, “Sir…”

He looked at me, his eyes filled with anger and regret.

I couldn’t look at him anymore. The shame of having let down someone that I respected so much too much for me. Instead I looked again at the floor. “I’m sorry I let you all down.” I took a deep breath to try to steady myself, “And I wanted to thank you and Marsha for taking me in, even when… you know…”

He was quiet so long that I finally needed to look up again. When I met his eyes they were filled with such sadness that my heart nearly broke again. He looked down at the ground and shook his head, “Thank you Gabby…” was all he said before he walked out the door…

I expected him to slam the door behind him. Instead, he walked through it and closed it quietly behind him.

The instant the door closed Karly rushed to me, taking Tess from my arms… “Gabby, please, go back upstairs… you need to rest.”

I felt tears start to sting my eyes… “I can’t. I need to go home…” I looked up at my amazing woman, my heart tearing anew as I saw the purpling on her face from where I had allowed her to be hit yesterday… “Please.”

Karly held Tessa close, “Baby, it’s okay… it was just a little fight…”

I forced a smile on my face, “I need to go home… I’ll feel better there, and I’ll get better faster in my own place…”

Her face crumpled, “Please baby… stay and let us take care of you…”

I took a deep breath, wondering how I was going to make her understand. How I was going to make her let me go without lying to her, or hurting her…

I finally realized that I needed to tell her the truth, that I had to tell her the truth, “I’m not going to impose on someone that doesn’t want me… I can’t.”

Marsha cut in, “Gabby, it’s not that-“

I interrupted her, “It is,” I forced a weak smile on my face, “and it’s okay. The truth is, I am messed up. I get that, and all of you have been more than patient with me. This time, I let it slip too far, and I’m sorry.”

A look of such sadness spread across her face I couldn’t look at her anymore, so once again I looked at the floor, “I’m okay. I understand. It doesn’t even hurt… not anymore.”

Karly stepped close to me, her hand cupping my face, “Baby, it isn’t like that…”

I felt stronger, just having her there, having her hand against my face, “It’s okay… I’ll be okay on my own.”

She sighed, her head shaking, “Why won’t you just stay? Why won’t you let your family take care of you?”

My heart went cold. I felt that switch in my brain flip. The circuit breaker that just said, ‘Nope. Things are getting too out of control. Time to stop feeling things’.

My head came up and I met her eyes, the emotion gone from my voice, “Please don’t make me say it…”

She shook her head, her eyes starting to tear up, “Say what?”

I sighed, knowing what I was about to say was going to hurt her, “You’re the only family I have. Your mom and your dad are your family. I don’t have family. I’m alone, and I need to start being a man and remembering that. I need to start taking care of myself. I need to stop looking for someone to take care of me. These people love you. They tolerate me because of that. I let myself be stupid again and start to believe that they cared about me…”

I saw the hurt in her face…

She pulled Tess close to her chest, “Okay… I understand. Let me get dressed and I’ll take you home…”

I shook my head and started to reach for Tessa, my ribs screaming in protest, “You don’t need to do that. I can get home on my own…”

Her eyes glazed over in anger, “No you won’t. I understand why you need to leave, but I’m going to take you. Understand?”

She was filled with such fierceness I took a step back from her. Nodding, I told her, “Okay… Tess and I will wait for you.”

She was so angry that she actually ground her teeth, “No. I’m going to take Tess upstairs with me. You won’t leave without her and I don’t feel like chasing your stubborn ass down this morning.”

The truth was, the thought had never occurred to me…

Nodding, I told her, “Okay. I’ll wait down here…”

She brushed past me on her way back downstairs, and I felt my heart lighten just at the brush of her body against mine…

With her gone, all I could do was stand there awkwardly…

Marsha fidgeted in the kitchen… “Are you hungry? Would you like me to make you something?” She finally asked.

“I’m good. Thanks.” Was my robotic reply.

It seemed like Karly coming back took forever. Like Marsha and I stood in stupid silence for the better part of the afternoon. The truth was, it only took a few minutes…

I peeked at her as she came around the corner, wearing grey sweats, and a white sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, revealing the delicate curves of her neck, the sharpness of her jaw…

She also had a large duffle bag slung over her shoulder…

Walking past me, horror dawned on me as she told her mom, “Mom. I’m going to be staying with Gabby for a few days. If dad wants to talk about it, he can call me.”

Marsha’s head snapped up from where she was staring at the counter as the words found my lips, “No!”

Karly looked back at me, a look of resolution on her face. I knew the argument was over even before it started…

Her eyebrows went up, “Yes.” The look she gave me brooked no argument.

“Karly, you don’t need to do this…” Marsha’s voice was panicky…

Karly turned her back to me, putting herself squarely between her mom and myself, “Yes I do. Gabby is hurt and it’s my fault. You want to know the truth mom? I caused that fight at school. On Saturday night, I went out with Tish and I flirted with this guy, Cameron. I led him on so I could feel good about myself. That’s why Cameron attacked Gabby, because I had to act like a little slut.”

I moved to the side a bit to see Marsha’s reaction.

Her face filled with sorrow as she looked at her daughter, “Honey, I’m sure that’s not true…”

Karly stood up straighter, “It is. I caused this, and the only thing Gabby did wrong was stand up for me.”

Marsha shook her head and looked down at the counter.

Karly continued, her voice like a hammer blow, “And Gabby is right. He’s not welcome here anymore…”

My heart sank a little more…

“But I still have a responsibility to him. He needs someone to take care of him for a little while, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. If that’s a problem, you let me know. I can have my stuff moved out by the end of the week.”

Marsha’s head snapped up, “Karly! You will not move out!”

Karly’s head nodded, once. “Okay. We’ll settle all of that when I come home.”

Marsha started to move around the island, “Now just a minute here young lady.”

“No!” Karly’s voice was sharp, determined, “I’m done. You and dad both need to make a choice. These are my decisions. You can either accept them, and be supportive, or you can let me know that you can’t, and I’ll find a place for myself.”

Marsha stopped short, I could tell she realized how close she was to pushing Karly over the edge… “Okay honey… let’s give this a few days… and then we can sit down and talk about it… all four of us.” She looked at me, “And that includes Gabby. He may not feel like it right now, but he is a part of this family.”

I could see the pleading in her eyes. Could see the look of panic as she realized that all it would take was a word from me and she’s lose her little girl…

I nodded at her, trying to reassure her that she and I were on the same side, Team Karly. I walked up behind Karly, rubbing her back with my left hand, “We should go baby girl… everyone is upset right now and if we keep talking feelings are just going to get hurt more…”

I expected her to turn back to me, to say something, instead, she just nodded twice and carried Tess to the door of garage. She opened the door and without waiting for me, stepped outside. I was left standing there with Marsha…

She looked at me, tears in her eyes…

I bit my lip, standing there like a fool, staring at her and killing myself just trying to come up with something to say. Finally, I settled with, “It’s going to be okay… she’s just upset right now. I’ll talk to her…” I started to turn from her and walk to the door and realized there was more that needed to be said. Turning back to her, I added, “I’m sorry to have caused so many problems…”

All Marsha could do was nod, fear and hope intermingled in her eyes…

Chapter 35
The ride back to my place was nothing but pure agony. Every bump in the road. Every stop was agony. All I could do was focus on a spot on the dash and push all of my concentration into it. It didn’t make the pain go away, but it made it recede to a manageable level.

Karly was quiet and morose next to me, and as much as I knew she was hurting right now, much as I wanted to comfort her I was too distracted by my own pain to help her.

I felt like a dick.

When we were nearly there, her voice surprised me, “Are you okay?”

By this point I was nearly breathless with pain…

Nodding, “I’ll be okay…”

I felt her hand on mine, “I’m so sorry baby… I got so wrapped up in my own thoughts I didn’t think about how much pain you must be in…”

I squeezed her hand and kept my focus on the spot on her dash. “I’ll be okay…” I repeated, stupidly, trying to convince her just as much as I was trying to fool myself…

“What are you doing?” She asked.

I tried to take a deep breath and immediately regretted it…

“It’s a focus exercise. Helps with the pain.” I explained.

“How does it work?”

I closed my eyes as the memories poured back into me…

“When I was twelve I got really sick. I got hit at school, and my nose started bleeding. I went to the office, and they did the standard school nurse thing; gave me some tissue and sat me in a corner to try to get the bleeding to stop. An hour and a half later, I was still bleeding. The school got worried and called my dad. He took me to the hospital. They did the standard hospital thing and gave me a gown to put on. As soon as I took my shirt off they found that I was covered in bruises… I mean, head to toe bruises…” I ground my teeth, thinking about the shame I had felt when everyone had seen me.

Her hand tightened on mine. “Who was hurting you this time?”

Her reaction made me smile… “That was what everyone at the hospital thought… they pulled my dad out of the room, and sent in a caseworker.”

“What happened?”

I shook my head, “Nothing. Nobody was beating me. The caseworker had a brain and was smart enough to not just flip out. I was a pretty outgoing kid and he figured out pretty quickly that nobody was beating on me. I was just a pretty rough and tumble kid. They took some blood, did some tests and found out I only had about seven percent the number of platelets a normal person had. I then got bundled up, put in an ambulance and rushed off to a specialist hospital. My dad was shitting himself the whole time…”

She shook her head, “It’s weird when you talk about him. Sometimes he seems like he was such a good parent, other times…”

I shrugged, sending a shiver of pure agony up my side, “He did his best. He just really didn’t want to be a parent…”

I thought about that for a second and felt a rumbling of guilt. A part of me wanted to feel sorry for myself and wonder what had been so wrong with me that neither of my parents had wanted me…

I squashed that feeling quick.

“When I got to the other hospital, they thought I had cancer. The first thing they did was order a spinal tap.” I smiled, thinking of the obvious joke…

Karly didn’t miss a beat, “Like the band?”

I smiled, reassured by how much our minds worked alike. “Yeah, like the band. The real thing isn’t nearly as fun though…”

My brain took me back to that moment and for just a second I wondered which pain had been worse. What I was feeling now, or that spinal tap? On some level, I realized what I was feeling now was worse. At twelve I wasn’t particularly tough… in fact… I was a pretty soft kid. Being young, and scared made it worse.

“They take this needle and jam it into your hip. It has to go into the bone to extract marrow. It was agony. I didn’t take it well. They tried the first time and I squirmed so much that I messed it up and they had to go in again. The doctor was super kind, but he knew that we needed to get this done. He asked me really politely to try to hold still. My dad was sitting in a chair there by my head, trying to comfort me. He tried to just be calm for me, he tried being stern with me. Finally, he told me the secret. He pointed to an O on some package in front of my face. He told me, ‘Focus right there. Think about only that one thing.’ and as I did that the pain receded. It was that day I learned that pain doesn’t hurt so much if you don’t focus on it.”

We pulled into my driveway. I could sense Karly jumping on the opportunity to take me out of my head, “And then what happened?”

I dragged myself out of the car, gritting my teeth against the pain, as Karly grabbed Tess from the back seat and carried her. “I had some weird, rare blood condition. My immune system attacked my own platelets. Killed most of them. They sent me home with a bunch of immunosuppressants and an order that I was not to leave the house for six months…”

“Why not?” She asked.

“Because if I fell down, or something hit me, I could hemorrhage internally and die,” I told her as I looked at her.

She had a look of shock on her face…

I tried to bring it down with a weak smile, “I guess I got pretty close to dying there for a while and didn’t even know it.”

She was walking next to me, keeping pace with my lumbering limp. “How did you go to school?”

I looked over at her, ignoring the lance of pain in my side just to see her beautiful face. “I didn’t.”

“Then how am I older than you, if you had to repeat the sixth grade?” She asked.

We turned around the back of the house and she opened the door so we could go up the stairs to my apartment, “I didn’t repeat the sixth grade.” I told her as I put my foot on the first step…

This was going to hurt. Walking on level ground was painful. Going up stairs was going to take it to another whole level…

“You missed six months of school and still passed?” She asked me incredulously.

I leaned into the stairs, taking them one at a time, focusing on her voice to help me push through the pain…

“Yep. Actually, I think it really helped me. Before I missed all of that school I was struggling in a few subjects, math particularly.”

She laughed, “Math is your best subject.”

“I just had to learn how to learn it. Without a teacher, I had to use the book. Using the book, I learned to not take notes, but just focus on what I needed to focus on. When I was taking notes, I was focusing on taking notes and not on what I was being shown. Honestly, I was a pretty weak kid. Always focused on making other people happy, so when I took notes, I didn’t do them for myself, I did them to make someone else happy, like I was showing them how a good boy takes notes….” I trailed off, thinking about that weak person disgusted me…

“I learned to just pay attention. Now, I see it once, and I’m good to go. I never take notes on anything. When my brain tells me to focus on something else because a teacher is repeating themselves, I just daydream. I let my brain go be somewhere else. When I got back to school they tested me and I was testing at an eighth-grade level in math. Better in most of my other subjects. I found out I didn’t need nearly as much time to learn as everyone else.” I stopped, about three quarters of the way up the stairs, “Wow. That sounds really arrogant.”

I felt her hand rub along my side, my good side, “You are the smartest person I know… and arrogance is never a part of your deal. You’re right, you learn faster than most people.”

I forced myself to start moving again, “I guess…”

We got to the top of the stairs and I let us in. Karly moved around me, rushing over to turn the heater, that I always turned completely off whenever I was gone, on. She deposited Tessa in her bed along the way.

I closed the door and leaned against it for a second, trying to catch my breath. It was still early March, and cold. My apartment was cool, but not ridiculously cold. My landlady downstairs always kept her heat cranked up and the heat bled in through the floor.

As soon as I got into my own space I felt the rush of weariness pour into me. I was dead tired…

Karly turned from the heater in the living room and looked me up and down. “You look tired. Come here and let’s get you into bed.”

I shook my head, “Need to pee first. If I lay down, I’m not getting back up anytime soon.”

Starting into the bathroom I was shocked to see her try to follow me in as I started to close the door. I smiled at her, “Look, I know it’s enormous, but I’m pretty sure I can lift it all by myself…”

She laughed, “Sure. You keep telling yourself that big fella.”

I closed the door and went over to the toilet. As soon as the stream started I could see the blood in my urine…

That’s probably not good… I thought to myself.

When I was finished I hurriedly flushed, not wanting Karly to see. If she did, there was no way I wasn’t going to the hospital…

Opening the door, I found her right on the other side.

“See, mom, I managed all by myself like a big boy!” I told her, hoping she wouldn’t see the guilt in my eyes as I hid something from her. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t lying to her per se… just holding back a truth I knew very much that she would want to know.

I still felt like a liar.

Her eyes narrowed, but she let it go. “Let’s get you into bed. Are you hungry?”

I shook my head as I dragged myself into the bedroom. “No. Not hungry.”

Stopping at the closet door, I kicked my shoes off. Next, I tried for my shirt…

I stopped, hissing in pain.

“Let me help.” Karly told me, coming over and grabbing my hands.

I looked into her eyes, seeing those perfect green orbs, “I love you so much.” I told her, knowing that was so much short of what I should have said to her.

She smiled, putting her hand on my cheek, “Maybe you should leave the shirt on. I’ve heard that pressure on injured ribs helps.”

I shook my head, “No. It’s too loose. Every time I move its going to put uneven pressure on me, and that will hurt.”

She shook her head back at me, “Okay. Lift your arms, and I’ll do the rest, okay?”

I nodded and lifted my arms, pain rippling up my side as I did so…

It took approximately a million years for her to get the shirt off of me. When the task was finally complete I stepped into my closet and grabbed a pair of loose workout shorts from one of the drawers. I lost my pants without too much work, thankful that they were baggy…

Shorts on, I crawled into bed, laying on my good right side.

Karly crouched by the edge of the bed, her fingers absently rubbing Tess behind her ears, “Can I get you anything? Water?”

I shook my head, “Just you baby girl… can you lay by me for a little while?”

She tilted her head, “I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

I smiled at her, “You’ll be gentle, I promise…”

She smiled back at me and climbed in next to me, carefully. She stopped close to me, her fingers playing down my chest and stomach gently. I saw her swallow past a lump in her throat, “Does it still hurt when you lay down?”

For a second, I considered lying to her. I knew she was tearing herself up about this, and I didn’t need to add to her pain…

I nodded to her, “A little.”

“Maybe you should let me take you to the hospital?” She asked.

I shook my head, “I’ll be okay…”

She raised her hand and rubbed along my ear, “I could pay for it…”

My eyes found hers, “I said no.”

I could see the sadness well up in her, and felt like a dick for being so terse with her. “I’ll be okay. There’s almost nothing that can be done for injured ribs. Best they are going to do is wrap them and send me on my way, and we’ll be in no better of a place.”

“What if something is seriously wrong?” She pled.

I smiled at her, “If something was seriously wrong, I’d know by now…” trying to reassure her, “I’m fine. I’m just being a baby about it.”

“They can at least give you something for the pain…”

I shook my head, “I’ll be fine.”

Her eyes went wide, and I could see her add something up. She put her finger on the tip of my nose, “Stay right there!” she exclaimed as she crawled cautiously from the bed. Bounding into the bathroom, I could hear her digging around. “Aha!” She finally crowed in triumph as she ran back into the room.

She held up a little brown bottle, “Who’s the man?”

I smiled at her, “I am.”

She play pouted, “But what if I want to be the man?”

I chuckled, “I’m adventurous, but not quite that adventurous…”

She laughed, again holding up the little bottle. “Oxy’s, from when you broke your hand. There are left overs!”

I shook my head at her, a part of me really wanting the little white pills. The larger part of me however flashed to thinking about how badly my mom had messed her life up with drugs and alcohol…

I didn’t want to be that…

“I’ll be fine. I don’t need them.” I told her.

I expected her to be disappointed. She was not.

Instead, I saw a look of pure anger settle on her face. “You are taking these pills. Either you take them, or we can have a fight before you take them. Make your choice…”

Her tone brooked no argument…

“Okay. I’ll take a few…”

She opened the cap and poured a bunch into her hand. I could see a strange look settle onto her face.

Uh-oh… I thought in panic.

I could see her dropping pills back into the bottle as she counted them. When she was done she looked at the label.

Her eyes lanced into me, “How many of these did you take when you broke your hand?”

“Two… one right when we left the hospital, and the one you made me take before bed…”

She closed her eyes… “Goddamn it baby… why do you insist on torturing yourself?”

I smiled at her, “It wasn’t torture. I had it under control.”

She held the pill out to me, “Take it.”

I took the pill from her and put it in my mouth.

“Let me get you some water,” She told me as she started to the kitchen.

I dry swallowed the big pill. “I’m good. I just swallowed it.”

She put her hands on her hips, “Do I need to come down there and check your mouth? Maybe you palmed the pill on me?”

I laughed, “No warden, I swear, I was a good boy.”

She shook her head at me, “What am I going to do with you?”

I smiled at her, “Come down here and check my mouth?”

She rolled her eyes as she set the pill bottle on the table next to my bed and carefully crawled in next to me again. She stopped too far away for my taste…

My left hand went out and caressed her face, “Will you kiss me?” I asked.

She smiled and snuggled in closer, her lips finding mine. Our kiss was soft. The kiss of two lovers reassuring each other that everything was going to be okay. I knew though. Everything was not going to be okay in a second. I was about to set her off, and set her off hard…

Sighing, I asked her, “If I say something will you promise not to be mad at me?”

Her eyebrows went up, “If you have to ask me that before you say it, no.”

I crawled in closer to her, ignoring the stabbing pain in my side. “You should go home now…”

She pulled back from me, her hand pushing my face up to hers, “What?”

I didn’t want to say it. I wanted my Karly to stay right where she was. I wanted to wake up next to her. I wanted to fall asleep in her arms. I wanted her to take care of me, to be there and talk to me when the pain grew. To hold my hand and tell me everything was going to be okay. But… I also knew, her family was everything to her, and right now, she was damaging that relationship to stay and take care of me. Most of all, I knew I didn’t deserve that kind of loyalty from her…

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and met her eyes, “I’ll be okay. I don’t need someone to take care of me. I’ll take a day or two and lick my wounds, and then I’ll be right as rain.”

Her eyes got harder, “You don’t need me? What about when Tess needs to go outside? You looking forward to going down those stairs again? How about coming up them?

The very thought made me recoil in pain… “I have the pain pills. I can handle it…”

I could see the anger building in her, and then, like someone had just pulled the drain plug and let all the anger out of the tub, it just disappeared…

Her hand came back up, rubbing at my ear, “You’re worried about the fight I had with my dad, right?”

I nodded at her, “And what you said to your mom. I don’t want to be the cause of that…”

She smiled at me, “You aren’t the cause of it. Just the fact that you are the one worried about me says that.”

I sighed, “Baby girl… what I’m about to say isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself… but I need you to understand something…”

Looking into her too beautiful face I continued, “I don’t have much. All I really have that matters is you. I’m happy with that, but it’s still hard. If you walk away from your family it is going to hurt. A lot. Now I’ve felt that pain. I’ve felt what it’s like to be all alone. I don’t want that for you…”

She shook her head at me, “That’s not going to happen, silly.”

I pulled her close, “You say that, but you don’t know…”

She crawled in closer to me, her lips brushing mine, “What I do know is this.” She put her finger in my chest, “This is the man I love. I want to be here with him. What my parents, and what you need to understand is this, my life is my own. I’m going to make my own choices, and this is where I choose to be right now. The fact that you are telling me to go home and be with them while they are telling me to run away from you more than made up my mind about which path I choose. I choose you.”

Her words sent a weird shutter through me. Joy at the thought of meaning so much to her that she would choose to stay with me… Elation to find that she loved me as much as I loved her. Fear that she was making the wrong decision. That she would choose me and I would let her down…

I could feel the pill kicking in. The pain dulling. Mostly, I could feel it making me very, very sleepy.

“Do you understand me?” She asked me harshly.

I nodded, feeling the weight of sleep start to push me into the bed, “I love you.”

I felt her kiss my nose, “Not as much as I love you baby boy…”

Her kiss was the last thing I felt as I fell into sleep.

Chapter 36
I woke to the wonderful smell of food…

Opening my eyes, I found that familiar, shitty feeling I always had if I took any kind of drug. The dulling of senses. The inability to think. I hated it. It felt so much like a loss of control…

My ribs hurt, but not as much as they had in the morning. Much as I wanted it to be true, I knew it was a lot more to do with the drugs than in healing. As much as I hated them, I knew that Karly was right. I needed to take the pain pills…

I managed to slide across the bed without stopping in agony. I counted that as a victory.

Padding quietly across the floor I stopped and looked into the kitchen. Karly stood in front of the stove, her earbuds in, her ass swaying back and forth as she danced rhythmically to the music. I was reminded of the first morning, after the first night we had been together. Coming to this exact spot to find her standing in front of the same stove. Her dancing that morning had been more frantic, today, it was slower. She must have been listening to something slower. Thinking about it, I liked her better this way. She seemed prouder, more… regal. Less like a manic pixie and more like the strong, mature woman I loved.

I came up behind her, intent on putting my arms around her, on kissing her neck.

In her defense, I did sneak up behind her…

In my defense, I am a total idiot…

As I wrapped my arms around her she spooked and, trying to spin out of my grasp, elbowed me right in the ribs…

I nearly doubled over in pain.

Karly, realizing what she had done, pulled her earbuds out, her hands on my back, “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”

My arms wrapped protectively around my midsection, all I could do was mutter, “I have regrets…”

She started laughing, her voice musical in my small kitchen. “Come on over here and sit down…” She ordered me as she pulled me to the table, pulling a chair out for me. I sat, tears in my eyes…

She stood beside me, pulling my face up so I could see her. Her face was filled with so much sadness it nearly broke my heart. Her hands found each side of my face, her fingers by my ears, her thumbs on my nose. She shook her head at me, “I’m so bad at this…”

I smiled and pulled her in for a hug. My head on her chest, my arms wrapped tight about her. “That was my fault. I’ll be okay.”

When I finally let her free, she squatted, spreading her legs over me, sitting in my lap. There was happiness in her eyes again, only tinged slightly with fear and sadness. She shook her head at me, her hands once again on my face. Her eyes searched across my face, taking me in, “You’re so beautiful.” She whispered.

It was such a ridiculous thing to say I had to smile. I knew the truth, I was a troll, but I was a lucky troll…

Her face moved to mine, “Let me kiss it better…”

My lips found hers, a kiss that took my breath away…

When she finally released me, I was wondering if I was strong enough to take her into the bedroom…

“What are you doing out of bed Mister?” She scolded me, smiling.

I put my hands on her sides, sneaking my good left hand in under her shirt so I could feel the skin beneath. “Had to go to the bathroom…”

She tilted her head, “Are you hungry?”

My stomach growled as my head fell back, “Famished.”

She smiled at me. “Good, cause there’s food.”

I smiled back at her, “I mean, I don’t know if I’m hungry enough to eat your cooking, but I’m still pretty hungry.”

Her head bounced back and forth as she wrapped a hand in my shirt… “You’ll eat when, and what, I tell you to eat Mister.”

I caught her double meaning, and wrapping my own hand in her shirt I pulled her in for another delicious kiss. This one was longer, more passionate. My left hand found its way up her side, somehow finding its way to her breast. She moaned into my mouth as her pelvis started to move against me.

“So, what do you want me to eat?” I muttered into her mouth between kisses…

Her head lolled back as my kisses found her throat, my hand pinching her nipple lightly. “You are so bad…” She moaned.

“But in a good way, right?” I countered, nipping at her neck with my teeth, just the way she liked it.

Her hand grabbed my head, forcing it back as she attacked my mouth with her own. Her tongue pushed into my mouth aggressively as her hips ground into mine, her rhythm growing faster and faster…

As my hands found their way to the waist of her sweats, very much intent on pulling them down… she leaned back, grabbing my hands, “Stop.”

I froze in place, my eyes searching her face. Her skin was flush, red with excitement for me. Her pupils dilated. Her breath hard and fast. She shook her head, “I want you…” She shook her head hard, “But you’re hurt. I don’t want to hurt you more…”

I smiled at her, “I’ll risk it.”

I gave her a little bump with my hips, ignoring the stab of pain from my ribs.

Her head dropped back, her mouth falling open. I knew that she was just barely holding on to her desire. Pulling her closer, her hips started to rock against me again, this time, every forward thrust brought a moan. She wrapped her arms around my head, pulling me close, her breath hot and fast on my ear, “I want you to have me…” She moaned.

I wrapped my arms tight around her, feeling the pain in my ribs increase, “Then let me have you…”

She pushed back from me, taking a deep breath and blowing it out slowly, “But you can’t right now…”

She sat in my lap, visibly controlling her breathing, trying to calm herself. I really didn’t want her to do that…

Once again, I let my hand slide up her front, finding its familiar place around her breast. She put her hand over mine and pushed it back down, “Stop that. I can’t think when you do that…”

I looked up on her face in wonder and worship, “I don’t want you to think, I want to have you…”

She smiled as she took me in her hand… “Baby… we are both way too energetic… there’s no way this doesn’t hurt you.”

I let my head fall back as she stroked me, blinded by the pure pleasure of it. “Oh god, that feels good…” I muttered, opening my eyes and looking deep into hers.

She smiled, a simple, pure smile, just knowing she was making me feel so good. “I’ll suck your dick, okay?”

My head once again fell back… that sounded so fucking good…

I forced myself to take control, “No.” I sat up straighter and pulled her into me, less trying to get laid and more to feel her presence. I could feel the fires in my chest cooling as I forced them down.

Her hands were on my face again… “I don’t mind baby…”

I forced more clarity into my head… “I know you don’t, and I love you for that.” I shook my head, “But you’re right. We need to take it easy. I didn’t want to get off. I wanted to get off with you.”

She smiled at me, kissing me lightly, “And you can…”

I smiled at her, thankful for everything she always gave me… “I’m good. Actually, I’m starving… Raincheck?”

She shook her head at me, “You are the only man I know that would take a raincheck on a blowjob…”

I smiled at her, this time a shiteating grin, “I’m one of a kind.”

We were both more under control now.

“What are we having?” I asked her.

She smiled, “Spaghetti.”

I felt my teeth grind involuntarily… “I didn’t have what you needed to make spaghetti…”

She preened in my lap, “And I went to the store, and got you food.”

Again. Dammit, she did it again…

“Babe, I hate when you do that…”

She smiled and kissed my nose, “I know, but you need food, and I enjoy buying things for you. I got you tons of goodies!”

I felt my heart drop. I couldn’t even provide for her…

She grabbed my chin and forced my head up, “Knock that shit off!” Her eyes narrowed at me menacingly, “I know you can get food on your own, but I enjoy doing it for you. I enjoy providing for you just as much as you provide for me. Got it?”

I forced a smile on my face.

Her eyebrows went up, “Let me do little stuff like that for you. Okay?”

I still felt like shit. I had intended to do my food shopping yesterday, but the fight had canceled those plans…

“Hey,” She caught my attention again, “I just wanted…” Her face went down, hiding her eyes from me, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry…” Her eyes came back up, “And thank you for taking care of me…”

I smiled at her, for real this time, “Thank you.”

She slapped my legs playfully with both her hands, “Now come on, you big lug. Let’s get some food in you!”

I held a finger up, “I have to pee first…”

She walked over to the cupboard, taking out my favorite bowl, “You go ahead, and I’ll make up a plate,” She held up the bowl, “Well, bowl for you!”

I went into the bathroom, closing the door behind me, and relieved myself. More blood. Well, not more, but there was still blood in my urine. It looked better, but it was hard to tell…

After flushing, I washed my hands and opening the door was surprised to find Karly right on the other side of it…

Pulling up short, I took a step back.

She crossed her arms, “What are you hiding from me?”

Panic rushed through me…

It was one thing to hide something from her. A lie of omission was still a lie, but it somehow felt better than telling her an outright falsehood…

“What do you mean?” I asked her, trying to buy myself some time to think.

She nodded to the door, “You’ve never closed the bathroom door when you pee. Not since the first night we spent together. Now, when you’re hurt, suddenly you’re Mister-Closes-the-Door? What are you hiding?”

I tried… I really tried to lie to her. “There’s…” I took a deep breath. She was going to flip out, “there’s a tiny bit of blood in my urine.”

“What!?” Her eyes went wide.

“It’s fine.” I bumbled…

She grabbed her coat, which inconveniently was hanging on its little hook right next to the bathroom door, “Get dressed. We’re going to the hospital.”

I grabbed her coat, and her hand, “No. We’re not. I’m fine.”

The look she gave me was a good solid mix of panic and anger, “You’ve got blood in your urine. How is that fine?”

I looked at the floor, “It’s happened before… I mean… I’ve seen it before…”

The air deflated from her. She shook her head, sighing, the closed her eyes, obviously willing herself to calm down. When she opened them, she looked me right in the eye, “Tell me.”

I could tell just by looking at her face that she knew this was one of those stories. The kind I never seemed to have an end to, the kind she was not going to want to hear…

All I could do was look down and shake my head…

Her hand forced my chin up, “I know you don’t want to baby, but I need you to convince me. I need you to assure me that this time is like the last, because you’re scaring the shit out of me.”

I nodded, swallowing past the lump that suddenly formed in my throat, “It’s happened three times… Once, I took a bad hit on the football field. A guy just came in and hit me just the right way in the back. It hurt a lot, and the next day, there was a little blood in my urine. It went away pretty quick, and it wasn’t a big deal…”

“And the other times…” She prompted.

“Were no big deal…” It was all I could say…

The look that came over her face was pure misery. I could tell, I was killing her by not telling her, but I really didn’t want to go back to those places…

Her face told me I had to though. Much as I didn’t want to, I needed to be strong for her, I needed to tell her so she knew not to worry.

Sighing, I shook my head, “Let me sit down, okay? Then I’ll tell you.”

She nodded, taking a step back and letting me out of the bathroom. I went into the bedroom, and sat in my big comfy chair, gingerly lowering myself into it. She sat on the bed, her legs crossed.

“I’ve already kind of told you about the first time. The first time I was eight. It was a lot like the fight yesterday. My mom’s boyfriend got pissed at me, and his dog, Terra, attacked him for it. He threw her on the ground and he started kicking her. I dove on top of her. He kept kicking me until I got off of her and… and then he finished with her.” I looked at her.

“And then what happened?” She prompted.

I shrugged. “The next day, there was red in my pee. I freaked out and grabbed my mom. She told me it wasn’t a big deal. It hurt for a couple of days when I peed, and my mom and her boyfriend kept me out of school. I realize now that they probably should have taken me to see a doctor, but that they probably didn’t because there would be too many uncomfortable questions to answer about how I got hurt.”

I looked into her eyes, “I guess they just decided that it was more important to keep the secret than it was to make sure I was okay…”

She shook her head, slowly, the deepest look of anger settling on her face that I had ever seen…

I looked at her and took the deepest breath I could, feeling the pain lance through my ribs, “The last time was about a year ago. I got in trouble for something…” I shook my head, “I don’t even remember what…” My mind flashed back to the shitty trailer I shared with my dad. The sights, the smells, everything like I was there again… “He got pissed at me, and he made me stand in the corner, holding this weight bar he had, with all the weights he had in the house on it. It wasn’t really heavy, it was just awkward to stand there, holding it for so long. He asked me a question, and I lied to him. He knew I was lying, so he shoved a bar of soap into my mouth. With my hands tied up with the weights, all I could do was stand there, choking on this fucking bar of soap in my mouth.”

I could feel my mind starting to slip away. Losing the feeling of the moment. Letting the humanity, the feeling of what I had experienced bleed away to nothing. I could feel myself go mechanical…

Relate the events. Don’t go back there… my mind warned me.

“I was standing there. I don’t know how long. It felt like a really long time. My dad turned the television on and just started watching a show. All I could do was stare at the wall and keep promising myself that it would end soon…” I let my gaze fall to the floor.

Find that one spot, and focus on it, my mind warned me. Find that spot and focus on it, and block the pain out.

My voice continued, mechanical, “I had bit down on the soap, because my spit was making it slippery, and I couldn’t push it back into my mouth, not with my hands full, and the weight bar kept me from leaning into the wall and pushing it back into my mouth that way, and I knew as pissed as my dad was now, he would be even more angry if I let it slip out…” I looked up at her, seeing the tears form in her eyes…

I swallowed again, the lump in my throat getting bigger somehow, “So I had this bar of soap in my mouth, and I had bitten down on it, and it started to make me gag… I could feel the soap piling up on the back of my bottom teeth, could feel it going soft in my mouth. I just kept swallowing the soapy spit and it was so humiliating. I was sixteen, and such a mess I had to stand in the corner like a fucking child with a bar of soap in my mouth…”

I pulled my legs up on the coach and sat cross legged. The pain in my side tripled, but somehow the pain, the physical pain, made the mental pain better. My hand settled across my stomach as I curled into myself.

“My dad heard me gagging, and he came up behind me. He hit me in the back of the head. He screamed at me not to spit the soap out. He called me weak.” I could feel my head shaking. Could feel the rage building in me… “I got so angry. I wanted to stand up for myself… but I was too weak. All I could do was bite down on that fucking bar of soap…”

I felt my teeth grind… “My dad said I was ‘sassing’ him. How the fuck do you sass someone with a fucking mouth full of soap?”

I shook my head, “He hit me as hard as he could in the kidney. He knew just where to hit me. Were it would cause the most pain. I was standing there, defenseless, and he hit me in the back as hard as he could, in the spot that he knew would hurt me the most. As soon as he did, my vision went white. My knees buckled. I fell face first into the wall. My jaw locked down so tight I bit the bar of soap straight in half. When the pain receded, I was so scared, I didn’t even spit it out….”

Looking at her, I saw her tears streaming down her face. Some strange voice, like an echo in the back of my mind told me that was important, but right now, it didn’t even register…

“You know the worst part? I cried. I cried like a fucking child. I was so scared. So scared and ashamed. I only had one person. One person in the entire fucking world that cared if I was alive. My dad.” My gaze fell back to the floor, “And he hated me. I could see it in his face.”

I forced my gaze back up to her, “And a part of me fucking hates him for that. I realize now, what I took for love was just conditioning. Everything he did was to make me needier. To make me more and more dependent on him. That’s why he hit me. Because I always needed to be beneath him.”

I could feel a damn in my mind start to crack, spider webbing out across my sanity. The blackest, foulest water ever pouring out through the cracks…

“He made me go to school the next day. I remember in weightlifting class I had to stand with my back to the corner to hide the bruise on my back. I had to lie to my coach about the split in my lip that I got when my face hit the wall. I had blood in my urine for three days after that. I never told my dad. He never asked.” I looked at her again, “I think part of me wanted it to be something serious.” My gaze once again fell to the floor, “I just wanted to stop being afraid anymore… and I didn’t care how that happened…”

She crawled out of the bed and kneeled down in front of me, her face covered in tears… “Okay. I understand… you know what you’re talking about… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pressed you.”

And like that, all the emotion poured out of me…

She moved closer to me, “Come on, give me a hug.”

I put my hand on her shoulder and pushed her back, “No.”

She pulled back away from me, a shocked look on her face. It was like I slapped her…

“I don’t feel like having anyone touch me right now…”

The tears flowed back into her eyes, “Okay…”

I started to get up, “I’m hungry.”

She put her hand on my shoulder and forced me back down. I didn’t like that… I was like a caged animal…

She held her hands out to me, “It’s okay… I’ll get it for you. Just sit there for a minute… okay?”

Get yourself under control! My mind screamed at me, You’re scaring her!

That snapped me out of it…

I felt my face soften, “I’m sorry.”

She gave me another look of pure misery, “Don’t be baby. I’m the one that pushed. I should have left it alone… I should have trusted you.”

I felt like a total sleezebag…

“It’s not alright…” I said miserably, watching her move off to the kitchen. Thinking about how cruel I had been as she got me food. Food she had made for me. Food she had gone to the store for me for…

She came back with my bright yellow bowl, my favorite bowl, full of spaghetti, and a big cup of milk in a mason jar, just the way I liked it. Saliva filled my mouth at the very thought of food. I’d like to say I waited for her to get her food and join me, but the truth is, I was simply too ravenous to wait. The second the food was in front of me I dug into it ravenously. Karly came back a minute later, carrying her own plate. She sat on my bed, cross legged and started daintily eating, as was her habit.

I for my part, continued to attack the food like a wild animal. Take a large forkful of food, jam it in my mouth, chew mechanically a few times, swallow, wash it down with milk.

I was nearly halfway through the bowl in about two minutes when Karly’s voice interrupted me, “Babe. Slow down.”

I looked up at her in panic, realizing my mouth was very full…

I chewed a few times, and swallowed, finally allowing myself a second to breathe. I realized that I had spaghetti sauce all over my face, and lacking a better alternative, wiped the back of my hand across my face.

Embarrassed, I chewed on my bottom lip.

She smiled, and my heart warmed a few degrees, “It’s okay. It’s been more than a day since you’ve had anything to eat. I know you’re hungry, but try to go slow so you don’t upset your tummy.”

I nodded, “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head, her smile growing wider, “There’s nothing to be sorry for babe. You’re a big guy and you eat a lot. In fact, I was starting to worry that you didn’t have an appetite.”

Stabbing my fork into the bowl I looked at her, “I’m… not about that… I mean… it’s embarrassing about the food and all… but… I mean…” taking a breath, I realized I was babbling. “I’m sorry you have to deal with me being a freak. I’m sorry about you having to hear about all this horrible shit.”

The look she gave me warmed my heart a bit more, “Baby, it’s a part of who you are…” she paused a second thinking, “and yeah, a part of me wonders how many more of these fucked up stories you have, but I still love you for it. All of the things you’ve been through… most people would be cruel, or at the very least very jaded, but you, it seems like you just take each shitty part of life and learn to be a little kinder for it.”

Shrugging, “I’ve just seen how hard life can be when someone that’s stronger than you is cruel, and I don’t want to be that person… but I still feel like a freak. Like, I should really be the person I try to pretend I am. The guy with the quick wit. The guy with a joke on his lips and a smile on his face. I feel like that’s the man you deserve… and I don’t really feel like I add up to him.”

She tilted her head, “But I love that about you. I love the sadness that dwells inside you, and I love you even more for the fact that you fight it every day.” She paused, reflecting for a moment. Finally, she shook her head and rolled her eyes, “Do you know… I know the exact moment I fell in love with you? I mean the exact day, and the exact time?”

I couldn’t help the smirk that crawled onto my face, “No you don’t. I mean, I don’t, how could you? Love is just one of those things that crawls up on you.”

She smiled, setting her plate on the table next to my bed, as she got up. She went to her bag, and pulled out a small book, a leather-bound journal. It was full, the pages bulging, a leather cord wrapped the book, keeping it closed. Coming over to where I sat, she kneeled at my feet, unwrapping her small book, like it was a treasure. Once she had gotten the leather cord undone, she opened the book to the first page, and handed it to me.

I took the book from her, confused, though interested. The first page had a poem written on it, one by Lord Byron, She Walks in Beauty…

She smiled at me, sad and shy, “Will you read it to me?”

All I could do was nod,

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

As I read to her, I could feel my voice take on the singsong quality that it always took on when I read poetry aloud. Lessons that I had picked up since the first drama class I had taken in seventh grade began to take over. Lessons I had sharpened as I took additional classes every year. I had always had a soft spot for classical literature, and performance…

When I finished, I looked up at her. Her face was filled with wondrous joy…

She smiled as she let herself drop from her knees to a cross legged sit. “That was perfect.”

I smiled back at her, feeling a fool.

“Do you remember the first time you read it to me?” She asked me sweetly.

Feeling terrible, I shook my head at her, I mean, I knew the poem… in fact I knew it very well, “No…”

She licked her lips, a lopsided smile on her face, “I’ve always noticed you. And we’ve had a lot of classes together. At first, you were just a cute boy. I loved your jaded exterior, your quick wit. All those things you describe that are the mask you show to the rest of the world. Even when I was with Mike, I noticed you. I remember how jealous I got when you started going out with that horse faced girl Rebecca our freshman year…” She shook her head. “And I remember how you used to flirt with that short girl, Darcy in our English class every year.”

I rolled my eyes thinking about that, Darcy was a cute little button, and one of the kindest people I had ever known. I mistook that kindness for flirting, and asked her out. She was horrified, and it was obvious from her reaction that she considered me no more than a friend. I had misread the situation badly, and embarrassed the hell out of myself in the process…

“So last year,” Karly’s voice interrupted my woolgathering, “We had Mr. Oman for Honor’s English. He had that U-shaped classroom, where all the chairs faced into the center. I sat right across from you, both of us in the front row. I used to love that class, ‘cause I could stare at you the whole time. He did a section on poetry.” She smiled at me, her face lighting up sweetly, “And he would go around, and each person would read a little snippet, just so people couldn’t fall asleep.” She shook her head, “I was so fucking bored. I hated it.” Her eyes found mine again, “And then he called on you, and he had you read that entire poem. I can still remember, holding my textbook and following along as you started to read. By the second line in, I could feel the heat in my chest…”

She nibbled on her lip, her gaze falling from me to the floor, and I saw once again the sweet, shy creature that I loved. It made my heart sing to see her like this…

“And then my eyes were on you, and it was like the whole world fell away. All I could see was you. All I could hear was your voice. There was so much in that voice, so much sadness, so much hope. That was the first time I think I ever really saw you. I had seen hints of it before then, but then, in that moment, I saw how much I wanted you, I mean I had wanted you before that, you know, physically, but then, in that moment, I wanted to have all of you…” Her eyes came back up and found mine…

I smiled at her, feeling a triumphant sense of glee…

“And I remember, as you finished the poem, you looked up, right at me, and I felt my heart lock in on you…” She finished.

The memory of that day slipped to the front of my mind, and all I could do… was crack up…

I tried to swallow it, covering my mouth with my hand…

She smiled, her white teeth shining, “What?”

I shook my head, “Nothing. I don’t want to ruin the illusion for you.”

She jumped up and put her hands on my legs, “Oh, you have to tell me now!”

I shook my head, putting my hand over my eyes, “It’s so embarrassing…”

“What?” She demanded.

Looking straight into her eyes, “I remember that day too. You were wearing a white, button down dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to your elbows. Black shoes, with high, plaid socks. The winner for me though, was the black and green plaid skirt you were wearing. It was super conservative, cut off at the knee, but when you sat in that desk, it would pull up, and where I was sitting, I could see straight up it, unless you crossed your legs…” I gave her a big shit eating grin, “You didn’t cross your legs very often…” I shook my head, “I can remember finishing reading that poem, and the first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘I wonder if Karly has her legs crossed?’ and I looked straight up your skirt.” I let my head fall back, remembering the erotic picture… “Those white panties drove me insane… and I remember looking straight at them, and then realizing how quiet the room was, and I thought I was so busted, so I looked at your face, and you looked so happy… I thought I got away with it!”

Her eyes rolled at me, “You perv!”

I smiled, reaching out and taking her hand, “I know, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.”

She leaned in, rubbing her nose on mine, “I used to do that specifically to give you a show…”

Putting my hand on the back of her head, I pulled her in for a deep kiss, “I’m so sorry I didn’t make a move on you sooner. I wasted so much time…”

She pecked my lips again, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve found each other now, and we still have our whole lives ahead of us. One day, we’ll get married, and we’ll have lots of babies, and a happy life.”

I smiled at her, “You know, I won the State Drama Competition with that poem that year? After that reading Mr. Oman made me compete…”

She nodded, smiling and grabbing her little book off my lap, “I know. It’s right here…”

She flipped through her little book, finding a page and showing me. I looked at the book, fascinated, to find a newspaper article, culled from an actual newspaper, pasted onto one of the pages of her little book. It was a write up about me, winning the competition. I looked on her with horror as I glanced at the next page and saw another article, this one printed on a printer, pasted in about me, as offensive lineman of the week…

“You little stalker!” I jeered at her.

She put her face in her hands and dropped her head in my lap, “Don’t look at the other stuff in there! It’s private!”

I tried to twist away from her, feeling pain in my ribs, as I quickly flipped through the book. Most of it was newspaper articles, some of it was handwritten, Karly’s writing obviously. I didn’t have time to read those, as she snatched the book away from me, stuffing it up her shirt. “Private!”

I laughed, “If you think sticking that book up your shirt is going to stop me, you’re in for a surprise! That’s like a bonus! I’ll make sure I feel you up generously as I take it out!”

She got a mischievous look on her face as she nibbled on her bottom lip… “You mean like this?” She asked me as she started to slowly pull her shirt up…

The hem got to her bellybutton before I forgot about her little stalker book…

By the time it got to the bottom of her ribs, my mind was in a completely different place…

I sat there, a look of dumb wonder on my face as the bottom of her breasts slid into view, “Oh, that is so unfair…” I whined, knowing that there was no way that I could have her right now…

Something in my tone must have made her take pity on me. She dropped her shirt and took her little book back out. I held my arms out to her, letting her know I wanted her to sit on my lap. She smiled, sitting on my right leg. Holding her little book in her lap, she smiled at me shyly, “Do you really want to read it?”

I pulled her a little closer to me, “What is it?”

She rolled her eyes, flipping through the pages a little, absently, “I call it my love book.”

That was so sweet…

She opened the book to a place she had a bookmark in, reading absently at whatever was on the page…

She put her head down, leaning into me a little, “That day, the day I fell in love with you, was October second. I got this book the next day, and I admit, I went a little crazy with it. I looked you up in the newspaper, and got all of these articles about you. I wrote the poem in the front, and my thoughts about it on the next few pages. Sometimes when I read it I feel like I was a little girl, just obsessed with a boy, but mostly I feel like I do now, like I love you more than anything in the world. I write about you, and us… I collect little snippets about you, I put pictures of us together in it… it’s kind of silly.”

She smiled at me sweetly as I told her, “I don’t think it’s silly. I’m honored.”

I pulled her in and hugged her, just to tell her that I loved her just as much as she loved me, “And you can keep your little stalker book. You just share with me what you want, okay?”

She smiled at me, “Okay.”

Kissing my forehead lightly, she smiled, “Now finish your dinner…”

We ate, chatting and sharing each other’s company.

Finally, as we finished, I asked her the question I had been dying to ask her since I had gotten up, “Have you talked to your family since this morning?”

She pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear, “Yeah, I talked to my dad a few hours ago, while you were sleeping…”

I felt a rush of shame at that, having been so soundly asleep I hadn’t even woken up… “How’d that go?”

She shrugged, “He’s pissed. I told him to suck it.”

That night, we lay together on my bed, watching a movie. One we had watched before… and recently.

I need to get a better selection of movies… I thought to myself. She’s going to get annoyed watching the same movies over and over again…

Karly had her back to me, my arm around her. I nuzzled her neck, luxuriating in the scent and feel of her against me.

Remember this moment… I warned myself. This is one of those moments that makes life worth living. Treasure it, and remember it.

Her hand wandered over the top of mine, “Can I ask you a question?” Her voice, sudden, filled with sadness, surprised me.

“Anytime baby girl.” I told her, snuggling my face into her hair.

“Do you like having me here?” Her voice was quiet, filled with doubt.

I pulled her tight, ignoring the pain in my ribs, “I love having you here, more than anything in the world.”

She took a breath, “Do you remember when you asked me to move in?”

I kissed her head, “I remember…”

She cleared her throat, “Can I?”

I ran my fingers through her hair, feeling the shape of her head, tracing my fingers along her ear. I thought about what she was asking. Really thought about it. I thought of how people would react. How angry her father would be. How hurt her mom would be. I thought of how people at school would react. I worried about how hard it would be to afford two people living here, under my little roof. How cramped it would all be. We’d be tripping over each other constantly, always beneath one another’s feet.

Every challenge that stood between what she was asking me, and what I had now…

And then I thought about the one thing, the most important thing that Karly had ever taught me. Sometimes, none of that mattered. Sometimes, you just had to do what you wanted. You just needed to react to the moment and follow your heart. All of the conflict. All of our discussions. All of the guilt that surrounded my attitude towards what she wanted in our sex life. All of that came down to one thing. My worry. My constant, nagging thought that what I wanted wasn’t as important as what everyone else wanted. What was proper. What was right.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized, I didn’t fucking care about any of the reasons that said I shouldn’t. That said we shouldn’t.

I pulled her around, pushing her to her back so I could see her perfect face. Letting my fingers trace lightly over her brow I looked at every line in her face, searching for just one thing. Doubt.

Looking to ensure that she was one hundred percent sure that this was what she wanted. Desperate to ensure that this wasn’t one of those things she was doing just to make me happy…

She smiled at me, and that final doubt was gone…

I closed my eyes as I kissed her, soft and tender…

When I came up for air, she looked at me, a half smile on her face, “So is that a yes?”

I gave her a broad smile, “There are so many reasons that I should say no. That I should make you go home. Should make you mend bridges with your family.”

“And?” Was her only reply…

I shook my head, “And I don’t care about any of those fucking things… not even one little bit. All I care about, is you here, with me, forever…”

Her smile got brighter, “That’s a yes?”

I ran my fingers from her brow, down her chin in our private little salute, “No. That’s a fucking hell yes.

End

Copyright © 2017 by Lukas Grey
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.

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