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Bette On It: Weird Adolescence

by Tinka Boudit She/Her about a year ago in Teenage years
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2001-2002 Sophomore Year

WARNING: Story depicts 9/11, teen sex, teen masturbation

Sophomore year 2001-2002

The school year had begun easier than the previous year. Bette had classes with more people she knew. She also had lunch with Skye, Ashleigh, Jenna, and Vanessa. Ozzy had the same lunch hour, but he sat with his music buddies at a different table. She felt more comfortable within days of starting that school year than in the entire first semester of last year.

It was Tuesday morning. Bette got dressed in a mix of old and new clothes. She had a new pair of orange and black jeans that reminded her a little of a tiger when it hit certain light when she had gone clothes shopping with her mom. Her old favorite black boots didn't fit anymore, but she recently bought new ones. When cleaning out some clothes, she went through her mom's old t-shirts from college and kept some for herself. There was a white one with orange lettering on it for a long-closed down restaurant and she wore it with the jeans. With her black leather belt, she felt fun, and it was enough of a contrast that she didn't look like a construction cone. Her mom also bought her a sweet leather jacket from the consignment store that went part way down her butt and had a belt. It was a fitted, ladies jacket and it made her feel cool, sexy, and sophisticated. When she got on the bus that morning, she and Ozzy traded opinions on their new fashions and talked about music.

Bette went to her first two classes that morning. Her third hour class was American History with Mrs. Carlson. It was only two doors away from her second hour English class. In the minute it took her to walk there, she heard things in the halls. Something was off. The hum of the crowds weren't the same as they usually were. Bette sat down in her desk and opened her history binder. Mrs. Carlson didn't use a typical history textbook, she created her own, and her class was lecture based, which was far more interesting than the American history classes of 5th and 8th grade. She also focused on 20th century history instead of starting at the time of the founding of the US colonies. Students trickled into the classroom and Bette saw the drawn faces of her classmates. Mrs. Carlson hushed the class and made the announcement. If we hadn't already heard, there had been an attack on US soil that morning. US commercial flights had been hijacked and flown into the Pentagon and one into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. She turned on the TV and they all watched the live coverage on the news in silence. The room screamed when they all saw live the airplane hit the second World Trade Center building and fall. Students gasped, screamed, and swore. Mrs. Carlson wept. The rest of the day's classes were watching the news coverage. Bette hugged all her friends extra-long and hard that day. She didn't cry. She didn't understand. It was the worst thing she had ever seen in her entire life and no one knew what was happening. Bette got home that night and could tell John had been crying about it. They watched the news coverage and waited for details to emerge. The hours turned into days, then a week, then months of Post-9/11 coverage, war, and President Bush. It was in those months, Bette turned 16, and childhood as she knew it, was dead.

It was Christmas time. Bette and Kasey had worked a catered lunch event at the museum and were done working for the Saturday. Kasey had a car and suggested they go to the mall for some Christmas shopping. Bette didn't really need to go there, but she wanted to do something and Kasey was good company. The only store Bette thought to look in for gifts for her parents was the book store. Kasey wanted to shop the music section and she told Bette to come find her when she was done. Bette went into the section of books on antiques and collectibles and picked up a book about the history of pinball machines and thought of her father. He loved pinball. His love of the game was imbued in her. He could play for an hour on a machine on one quarter and Bette would go through a whole roll of quarters playing a pinball machine next to him. It was a big book, practically a textbook. She paged through it smiling at the history, creativity, and joy the game had brought over the years. She saw someone approach the section out of the corner of her eye and took a couple steps back so they could either pursue the section or pass.

"Was that the only copy of that book?" the guy asked.

Bette closed the book and looked at the empty spot where she took it from. "I suppose so." She closed it back to front and saw the $69.95 price tag on the back of it. "I'm not going to get it through. It's all yours." She handed it to him and walked to another section. She looked up and around and saw the puzzle book section and grinned. She went to it and picked up a book of visual puzzles and optical illusions. She was a little annoyed when she knew most of the answers already. She put it down and picked up a different book of lateral thinking puzzles and paged through it.

"Pinball and puzzles. Are you shopping for yourself or someone else?" It was the same guy's voice as before. Bette stared at the page another couple seconds before turning her head. She took a look at him. He asked with his hands in his jacket pockets. He was wearing a Letterman jacket for Private West High with the name 'Keith' sewn on; shoulder patch was class of '03. He was a little bit taller than her, but not much. He was chubby, but good-looking, with narrow glasses, and hair that was a color that couldn't decide if it was blond or brown. He clearly doesn't work here, so why is he asking?

"A little bit of both."

"I don't typically see ladies our age look at books for antiques and puzzles with such interest."

"Who said I'm a lady? Maybe I'm a monster in a human costume."

"I can't see the seams, so you got the stitching right. I hope when your species comes to rule us, you will show me mercy."

He's quick, but I'm quicker. "Sounds like a plan, Keith." Bette put the book back and stepped back, walking away from him.

He gave her a smile as she walked to the music section to find Kasey. Kasey was sitting at a listening station playing tracks, bobbing her head to the music, and reading CD cases. Bette tapped Kasey on the shoulder and she took off the headphones. "Hey, you find anything you can't live without?"

"No. You?"

Bette got a weird look on her face and laughed. "I did not." She saw Kasey's cheer leading pompom key ring and she asked, "Do you know a 'Keith' in your class?"

"Keith...Martinson. Yeah. Kinda big, blondish, glasses. How do you know him?"

"That's the weird part. I don't. He just came up to me while I was paging through books. I wonder if he thought I was someone else or something."

"No. If he thought you were someone else, he would have talked to you about something specific you both knew. Keith is direct. We've been in band together over the years. He's the kind of guy where if he wants the solo, he's the first to sign up to audition. If he doesn't get it, he offers help to the person who does." Kasey put the headphones back on the hook and the pair exited the section.

"Has anything like that ever happened to you? A total stranger coming up to you and talking to you questions like that?"

"Eh. It's a little different when you have the cheer leading uniform. I get people coming up to me saying they know my mom and stuff like that."

"Yeah. But guys?"

"Away games. Especially when we go to state tournaments for something." Kasey was implying something sexual, but her tone didn't convey it.

The girls headed to the door, waiting there, was Keith. Bette tapped Kasey with the back of her forearm.

"Keith," said Kasey.

"Kasey," said Keith. "You two know each other?"

"We work together." Bette said.

"Monsters can get jobs?" Keith asked playfully. Kasey looked confused and Bette covered her face with a hand briefly, slightly embarrassed.

"Bette. My name is Bette." She gestured with the hand that had been on her face.

"Then I leave you with one more puzzle to think on, Bette." Keith handed her the small shopping bag and walked out the door before either she or Kasey could respond. The girls looked at each other. Bette opened the shopping bag and pulled out the book. It was the book of lateral thinking puzzles she was looking at before she went and talked to Kasey. The first page had a corner folded in already. Bette opened the cover and a message was written inside.

I saw you and had to see you closer. I saw what you read, and had to talk to you. I talked to you, and I would like for that to happen again.

-Keith Martinson

His phone number was written below.

"Direct? I didn't think it was possible for someone to be so direct," said Bette.

"Yeah. He has zero qualms about how people feel about him," Kasey said.

Bette snapped the book closed and slid it into the bag. She had a little smile on her face. "Both a puzzle and direct. Hmm."

Over the course of the next week, Bette did some of the puzzles in the book. They were ones she hadn't done before. They were ones unfamiliar to her from Puzzle Club from middle school. Every time she was done working on the book, she looked at the message in the front from Keith. She wondered what he saw in her that he had to see closer. Which book did he see her read that made him want to talk to her: the pinball or the puzzles? What was it that she said that made him want to talk to her again? It took her eight whole days to decide to answer the questions. It was Sunday when she picked up the phone and nervously called the phone number in the book.

"Hello?" It was a guy's voice.

"Hi. Is Keith available?"

"This is Keith."

She was grateful he answered the phone and not one of his parents. "Hi. This is Bette, from the book store. The puzzle book. Kasey's friend."

"Oh, I remember. I was beginning to think you forgot," Keith sounded relieved.

Bette was curious about his message, but was skittish about how to ask. "I-I wanted to call to say thank you for the book. It's been enjoyable. I've always been a fan of lateral thinking puzzles, riddles, and trivia."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"If it had been the pinball book, I wouldn't have accepted."

"Why's that?" He said it with a chuckle.

"I wasn't looking at it for me and it was a $70 book. I wasn't about to accept a $70 book from a stranger."

"But you still accepted a book," he said purposefully.

"It was a small book. And you weren't a total stranger. I had your first name, Kasey told me your last name, she said you were in band, you were direct, and you don't have doubts about who you are."

"Sounds like you've read a lot of those puzzle books. You saw me for 30 seconds, said 10 words to me, and after a couple minutes, figured all that out."

Bette felt her nagging question come back about why she called. "And what did you see? You wrote in the book that you saw me and you had to see me closer. What did that mean?"

He sighed a laugh. "You remember in the cartoons from the 70s when they would reuse the backgrounds, except for when the characters would have to open a cabinet or a box or something? That cabinet or box would be all popped out and have bold black lines and you knew the characters were going to open it and interact with it. I've probably been to that bookstore more times than I can remember and after a while, it felt like an old reused background. Then I saw the bold lines: black hair, black leather jacket, black belt, black boots. I was curious, what's in the box?"

Bette had a mashed smile on her face. "So you saw the box, you read the cover, maybe got the title page of the book that is me. You don't know me, I don't know you. Why want to talk to me again?"

"When you live where we do, you see the same things all the time. Then you see the bold lines of a girl who looks at books about pinball games and puzzles. Then when you spoke, were clearly bright. There's something there that isn't the same thing as everything else."

"Okay then," she said it with a smile.

Bette and Keith spoke for a couple hours getting to know each other Keith was 17 and a junior at Private West. He played trumpet in band for the last four years. He liked studying world religions and global economics, classes they didn't teach at Public North where she attended. His mother was a dentist and father worked at a big box hardware store. He had a younger sister who was 13 and his father's sister lived with them too. They lived in a big house on Sandy Lake and he had his own car; it was his mom's old car, but it was all his now. He didn't have an official job, but his mom let him do filing and cleaning at her office whenever he needed to make some extra cash and it was easy work.

Over the next several weeks, Keith and Bette got to know each other more. Keith and lots of knowledge and opinions on art, music, movies, life, politics, the world and more, but he was more interested in Bette's thoughts on all of it. He challenged her in new ways and she offered him different perspectives too. By mid-February, their conversations had gone from purely intellectual to more flirtatious.

They started to get together with some of his friends. Early March, he brought her to one of Private West's causal dances to meet them. Rita was an open lesbian and highly opinionated on everything. She was a fantastic dancer and super fun. Jamie was in her grade and reminded her a lot of Greyson and Tylor. He was dry, sarcastic, overtly sexual, and smoked like a chimney. Morrie was Keith's childhood friend. He was on the hockey team, popular, very good-looking and had a ditsy girlfriend named Annie. He reminded Bette of a male version of Cassandra. Keith's friend of convenience, but the two of them seemed to actually like each other.

It was getting late at the dance and Bette noticed Keith wasn't in the room. Their dances weren't held in the gym, but in an all-purpose room used for various smaller assemblies that had divider doors like a convention center hall. Bette leaned into Rita and whispered over the loud music, "Have you seen Keith?"

"Not recently."

Bette left the dance floor and went to the only logical place, towards the bathroom. On the way, she saw into one of the other subdivided rooms of the all-purpose rooms. There was Keith playing a piano in the darkened room by himself. The only light was from the hallway hitting him. Bette stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him. She watched her long shadow eclipse his body. He played a classical concerto piece she did not recognize. Being bigger, he took up most of the space on the bench, but she still sat down on the small space he left on the end facing opposite of him. He finished playing the piece. He adjusted on the bench to make more room for her.

"How long have you been in here?" Bette asked.

"Half hour. Forty minutes or so," he answered. Keith keyed a few more notes on the piano.

"Why didn't you say something?"

"You were having so much fun. I didn't want to interrupt," he said it a little down.

"You were having fun before. You were going crazy dancing. You're so out there when you do." She tried cheering him up

"I had had enough. I didn't feel like being laughed at anymore."

"They weren't laughing at you. You were making them laugh. There's a difference."

He hummed and closed the piano.

"You still could have told me. That's one of the things I like most about people. It's one of the things I like most about you, how direct you are."

"You're very thoughtful. Not just about all the stuff we talk about, but you care. You care about people. You're great like that." Keith smiled at her. Bette smiled and ran her hand down the back of his arm. He looked down at what she did and back up at her. "Do you want me to kiss you?" He asked with a sincere, surprised tone.

Bette smiled, "I do want that."

They leaned into each other and kissed. Their arms moved around each other and Bette opened her lips to him. Her hand on his back moved to the back of his neck and he let his mouth open to hers. He sighed and rubbed her back up and down. Bette felt her whole body warm the way he kissed her. He held her around her ribs and pulled her off him. She looked at him and saw he was as red as she felt.

"You might be the most singular girl I've ever met."

She smiled, "I've never known anyone like you before."

They kissed again until they were making out. They made out on the piano bench until they got in trouble for being in there and doing so. They got kicked out of the room giggling and holding hands. The DJ played "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith and Bette suggested they go dance. Keith gladly obliged. They sang the song into each other's ears playing up Steven Tyler's voice and making each other laugh. They looked around the room for the chaperones and snuck in more kissing when they thought they weren't being watched. When the song was over they decided to get their jackets and leave. They went out to Keith's car, moved it to the back of the parking lot and made out some more. When Keith took Bette home that night, she could barely stop kissing him enough to get out of the car and it made them both laugh. Neither of them had to say it, but when the night ended, Bette had a new boyfriend. Keith had a new girlfriend.

The next several weeks for Bette and Keith were great fun. Keith was able to pick Bette up from school in the afternoons and give her rides home. Jenna's house was on the way, so she came along. She thought Keith was kind of an oddball, but he meshed well with Bette, and he made her happy, so it didn't matter. Bette and Keith ran into Ozzy at a music store while Keith was looking for a new music stand. The guys exchanged opinions on music and influences and when it was over, Ozzy gave Bette a punchy look to convey his thoughts of Keith. It was playful but opinionated. Bette didn't care, the two had fun.

As spring came, she spent more and more time at his house. They had lots of meals there and even more privacy. They got to hang out in his room with the door closed, which never would have happened at her house. Things began to physically escalate between them. Within a week of the dance, they were making out without their shirts on. A week after that, her bra was gone. The day they did that, they told each other they loved each other. It didn't seem too quick to either of them. It made sense to them. By April, she was touching his genitals outside his jeans. By the end of the month, they both had their hands in each other's underwear. They were learning. They were horny. They were in love.

Keith asked Bette to Private West's prom for May. She was so excited. Lorna and John were a bit hesitant. They thought as a sophomore she should wait another year before going to a prom, that it was meant for upper class men. She told them that their school's prom was a sophomore and up dance and even some freshmen went. They insisted she come home immediately after, no later than 12:45 AM. Keith had a cellphone and Bette's parents had the phone number, so they could always reach her if needed. Keith picked her up and her parents took pictures in the living room. It was a rainy afternoon and outdoor pictures weren't possible. Lorna didn't want Bette to go too financially crazy for her first prom. She didn't get her hair or make up professionally done. Lorna took Bette to the consignment store to find a dress. Bette wore a simple black gown with a boat-necked collar with some nice lines to it with a few of her mother's over-the-top rhinestone jewelry. Bette felt like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. She liked the classic look, even if she wanted to be a little more sexy or trendy like other girls. She still felt pretty, and Keith thought so too. Bette and Keith had a fun time at the prom. By 10 PM, half of the students were already gone. She asked Keith why. He told her that at their school, people go to prom to look good, show up, take the formal picture, then go to private after parties. The people who were left were the people who didn't get invited to after parties. Bette looked around the room. These were her people. These people were having fun. She noticed Kasey from work wasn't there. She had gone to an after party. His friend Morrie wasn't there, he had been invited to his girlfriend's friend's party. Bette and Keith danced and spazzed-out on the dance floor. They made out like no one was watching. When Jamie gave them grief for making out, Keith would pick her up, kiss her, and they gave him the finger. They didn't care what anyone thought. It was a gift Keith gave Bette she had never embraced it before.

A week later Bette was at Keith's house on Sunday. Saturday he had gone on a college tour and she had to work. After they had lunch, they went up to his room and started to get undressed in bed. He went down on her for the first time and as exciting as it was, he didn't know what he was doing, and she didn't know how to guide him. She went down on him and it was easier for her. It was more intuitive. She warned him not to cum in her mouth, that she wouldn't like that. He said he loved her and that he'd never do that to her. She found herself getting tired fast. She didn't know how to pace herself doing that for him. Keith was so happy she even tried. He tried to kiss her, but she couldn't stand the smell of her own loins on his breath. He got dressed, went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and came back. after he undressed and got in bed.

"You know these colleges are crazy, right?" He said seriously.

"We don't have to worry about that right now. That's over a year away." She said sweetly.

"I'm not worried about that yet. That's not what's crazy. It's the dorms. I've gone on a couple of tours now and some of them are super nice, and some of them look like poorly lit prisons."

Bette laughed.

"This last one...On the last tour, I stayed at the back of the group...when we were in the dorms. When I saw the vending machines there."

Keith turned and pulled something out from under his bed. "I was thinking...I was hoping...and after the last few weeks...and I love you so much..." He turned back around to Bette. He was holding a three-pack box of spermicide lubricated condoms. "We could try?"

Bette looked at the box and up at Keith. He was as nervous-looking as she felt. But it was all true. They had talked about sex. He knew how important condoms would be to her. He knew not using one was not an option with her. He even made sure to get ones that had spermicide in them. She wasn't on any birth control; this was a big deal on so many fronts to them. Neither of them had had sex before.

"Yes." She said softly. "I love you and I'm ready for us to try."

They gave each other a long kiss. When they opened the box, she was sure to have them actually read the instructions so he would correctly put it on and not put it on inside out. They had him get on her and she told him to go very, very slow. He told her to tell her everything she needed. Bette felt the immense pressure of penetration. Keith had clear pleasure on his face, Bette did not. She held him at his base and moved him slowly into her, but more quickly out. Keith was heavy on her. They didn't kiss much. Her legs stretched wide in discomfort. After a few more movements, the pressure was less intense, and she moved her hand off the base of him and held his chest with both arms. She adjusted her cramping legs, "Don't speed up." She whispered.

"Okay." He took a few breaths. "I love you."

"I love you." He leaned into her and kissed her.

They kept going. Keith kept his slow pace Bette set for him. He appeared to enjoy it. Bette wanted to be close to him, she liked being there for him, she loved him, but she was physically uncomfortable.

When Keith's breathing began to accelerate, Bette knew he was about to finish. Her eyes got wide. "Don't cum in me."

He pulled out, dropped his head, and groaned. He adjusted himself off her and flopped by her side. He took off the condom and dropped it in the garbage can on his side of the bed. He was breathing heavily and sweating. The only sweat on Bette was Keith's.

They both laid on their backs. Bette crossed and re-crossed her legs to find some comfort in putting them back together.

"I'm so happy we were each other's first." Keith said.

"Yeah. Me too." said Bette aloofly.

"I know...I know that wasn't great for you. It probably wasn't even good. I hope..." he took a breath and looked troubled. "I hope I wasn't so terrible that you won't want to try again."

"Keith." She turned to her side to face him. "I can't imagine that was great or good for you either. I would wager tortoises have more exciting sex than that." She laughed. He smiled back at her. "It's going to take time. We're still figuring each other out."

"I'm gonna get an orgasm out of you one of these days. I know it."

"I know they're in there. I promise they are." She laughed. "In the meantime, I love you and it's nice to be with you. Okay?"

"I love you too, Bette. And you know what?" He turned to the side of the bed and grabbed the other two condoms from the box and put them in her hand. "I want you to hang on to them. When or if it ever happens again. It's going to be your choice."

"How do I know you're not just going to buy more?"

Keith tried to hide his smile. He leaned over the bed and threw several more three-pack boxes of spermicide condoms on the bed. "They were a dollar a box! I emptied the machine."

Bette laughed as the boxes flew passed her.

A less than a month later school ended. Bette hurried home after getting off the bus. With finals ending the school year the way they did, Bette got home at 1:30 instead of closer to 4 PM. It was a hot afternoon and Jenna was going to have people over in the pool. Bette ran in the door and saw her parents in the living room. It was unusual for them to be home that early on a weekday, but she didn't think much of it. She started to hurry up the stairs.

"Jenna's having people over. I'm gonna change then I was going to bike over."

"Bette. We need you to come here," said John. Bette froze on the stairs. She hadn't heard John use that voice since Mark's father died. Her heart raced in her chest and her stomach dropped. She turned on the stairs and slowly walked into the living room where John and Lorna were sitting on the couch. Lorna had been crying and John was upset but not shedding any tears. "Sit down, Bette." John said.

Bette's heart pounded as she sat in the separate chair in the room adjacent to her parents on the couch. There was a box of tissues next to Lorna

"What's going on?" Bette asked cautiously.

"Is there anything you want to tell us?" John asked.

"No."

"About Keith?"

"No."

Lorna shed a couple tears. "Three or twelve." Lorna uncovered the pair of condoms on the end table that Keith had given her to hold onto. "They're sold in boxes of three or twelve. How many have you and Keith gone through?"

"You went through my dresser drawers?" Bette started to cry. She pulled some tissues out of the box that was waiting on the table.

"That is not important. That is not what your mother asked you." John said. "How long has this been going on?"

She knew she was caught. There was no way she could lie to them. She never could. "Not long." Bette whispered through her cry.

"How many times were you...?” It clearly pained Lorna to ask her daughter. "intimate with him?"

"It's only been a few times. The week after prom."

"Did you use protection every time?" Lorna asked

"Yes, Mom. I'm not an idiot," Bette snapped through her cries.

"You are no longer an authority on smart decisions, young lady," John tried to speak firmly but his voice was breaking.

Bette sobbed into her the tissues.

John spoke in his firm tone. "Your mother and I have come to some decisions. First, you can be sure if we weren't two weeks away from our trip to London, that trip would be gone. Done. Cancelled. Those tickets have been bought and paid for, so that's still happening, so consider yourself lucky there. Second, until you get back from that trip, you don't get to see Keith. You can call him, but you are grounded from seeing him. We will know where you are and who you are with. There will be no sneaking around. You even think about it, there will be hell to pay. We would say you are on thin ice, but there is no ice for you right now. After we're back from our London trip, you can see him once a week. If you go to his house, one of his parents has to be home and you are home by 10 PM when you see him. Are we clear?"

Bette kept crying into her tissues and nodded.

"Betty. We are not doing this because we don't like Keith. We are doing this because we love you. You're our daughter and whether or not you think you're ready for being intimate, we aren't. You're 16. We don't think you are. We want you to spent these next few weeks thinking about that." Lorna spoke through her tears.

They kept talking about the seriousness of Bette's choices and the potential consequences of her actions if she disobeyed them. Bette loved Keith, but she loved and respected her parents more. She knew she was in deep, deep trouble with this and it was going to be a long time before she was going to be out of it again. Bette had to answer more of their questions about the seriousness of their relationship. She told them that she loved him; she wouldn't have done it if she didn't. She thought that would help the situation. It did not. After the painfully long conversation, she asked if she could still go to Jenna's house. They said she could, but they would be calling her parents to make sure Keith wasn't going to be there. Bette told them she understood and that she thought that was fair. They could have easily made the decision to not let her go at all. They could have told her she had to break up with him. They could have told her that they had to have all their dates at their house, but they didn't. They came up with punishments and options that would let them be together.

Bette went up to her room and called Jenna. She called her and let her know she had to take care of some stuff, but she would be over soon. Jenna could hear how upset Bette was. All she had to tell Jenna was, "My parents found out." And Jenna understood. After hanging up with her, she called Keith's cellphone. She tried to hold it together on the phone as long as she could, but it poured out of her quickly: her parents found the condoms, they knew they were having sex, she couldn't see him until she got back from her trip to London in three weeks, and then only once each week thereafter. Keith was crying. He told her how sorry he was. How scared he was for her. How he could come find a way to see her if she wanted. Bette absolutely put her foot down against it. She told him that the little bit of leeway her parents gave her was an absolute miracle. That they could not abuse that little bit they had left. He heard the panic in her voice when she said it and he relented to her concerns. She told him that she was going to see her friends that afternoon and that they would at least make her feel better since she couldn't see him. She recommended he do the same. Bette told him she loved him and that she would call him again before bed. He said he loved her too and looked forward to hearing back from her.

Bette changed clothes and put a change of clothes in her back pack and got ready to head to Jenna's. John said she would not be biking. He would drop her off and would pick her up again at 8:00 that evening. She wanted to fight to stay later, she knew their other friends would be, but she was in no position to do so.

She got to Jenna's house and Jenna greeted her with a big hug. She tried not to cry too long or hard to bring down the mood. Their friends were already there: Vanessa, Katie, Terry, Greyson, Ozzy, and others. It reminded her a lot of New Year’s 2000: unbearable heartache and trying not to cry the whole time. She quickly ripped off the Band-Aid of telling them she was in trouble with her parents, and she didn't want to talk about it anymore. There was nothing she could do. There was nothing any of them could do. They all hugged her and they had a good time together. Terry showed off some new dance moves. Greyson had been experimenting with writing original one-liner jokes, and they were pretty good. Katie, Greyson, and Bette for old times’ sake, did the "Two Ladies" song and dance from Cabaret and it made Bette cheer up a lot.

Bette was sitting in a shady spot in a lawn chair wrapped up in a towel after swimming. She ripped leaves off the tree that hung over her and tore them up while staring off into space while most everyone else was in the pool. She put herself in a hypnotic daze of love, grief, and confusion.

"You feeling alright?" Ozzy asked from the side of the pool.

Bette closed her eyes and shook her head for a second to bring herself back. "What? Um, yeah. I'm fine. I will be. It sucks right now."

He got out of the pool, grabbed a towel and sat in the chair next to her. "I know it hurts. But I can't begin to imagine the hurt you're feeling."

"It's not so much 'hurt'. It's...It's the doors. Like the fork in the road, remember?"

"How so?"

"My parents found out and now I am, Keith and I, are now having to go down this path that we didn't make. Well, we did make it, but it's this major change that we didn't want to make. We were supposed to go the other way. And it happened right at the beginning of summer too. His family has a boat on Sandy Lake and we had all this fun stuff planned, and now we can't do any of it until at least the week of July 4th. If my parents hadn't found out, things would be so much better."

"You come to two doors. One has Keith on the other side, nothing else. No boat, no summer plans, nothing. The other door has all this here right now: your friends, Greyson doing a weird German accent jonsing for a cigarette he can't sneak off to have, Terry trying to show Katie the latest Usher moves, and this beautiful day. What do you choose?"

She smiled. "You're saying I need to enjoy the moment and not worry."

"I think you came to that conclusion on your own. I just gave you the doors."

"Then there's the door that swings both ways with you. It's been a while since I opened it."

"It always has."

"How about you? You doing okay with Van here?"

He sloughed it off, "Oh yeah. We buried that hatchet a while ago. It's still a little weird though. Never saw her in a bikini when we were together." He cleared his throat. "That makes things..."

"Harder?" Bette laughed.

He covered his face with one hand and gave her a push in the arm with the other.

"You want me to try and touch her butt and let you know how it feels?"

"That would be hot, but redundant." He raised an eyebrow at her with a smirk.

She laughed again. "Thank you. You all cheered me up today. But that was the laugh I needed." She leaned over the plastic arm of the pool chair and hugged him. They smelled like pool chemicals. His skin was warm and dry but water still dripped off their hair. Of all the hugs and kindness she got from her friends that day, Ozzy's was the one who brought her the most comfort.

The next couple weeks, Bette kept focus. She bused to work to the museum, did her job, worked the occasional catered event, and bused home. She called Keith in the evenings and they talked about how much they missed and loved each other. Things weren't totally terrible. Lorna took a day off work the same day as Bette. Bette wasn't sure if it was so Lorna could watch her or if was so they could do their fun tradition of closet clean outs, thrift and consignment shopping, and Thai food. Either way, it felt good to spend time with her mother that wasn't painful and awkward. That afternoon John helped Bette put up the badminton net and the two played until the mosquitoes became too irritating. It was nice to hear her father laugh with her and call her "Bette for Two" again.

The pair talked about their upcoming trip to London, just the two of them. He let her pick somewhere in the world to go, and that's where Bette was drawn. She didn't speak any other languages and the history, culture, museums, and more were going to be great. Lorna dropped John and Bette off at the airport in the morning. It was going to be nearly a full day of flights and layovers to get there, but they didn't care. Bette had never traveled internationally, John had. She listened to her father's advice about looking professional when traveling, but be comfortable too. They got to Heathrow airport and bought a fast pass for Madam Tusseaud's Wax Museum and a 24 hour ticket for a double decker bus tour. They went to their hotel first and dropped off their luggage. They got on their bus tour and one of the stops was near Madam Tusseaud's. They got off and were able to skip the block and a half long line to get in. They took tons of pictures and had a lot of laughs. When they left, they realized they were near a stop John wanted to make: The Sherlock Holmes' Museum. They walked the few blocks and John looked like he was meeting a rock star when they got to 221b Baker street. He had read her the stories when she was younger. She didn't always understand them, but she loved the sound of hearing him reading them to her. When they walked through, he pointed out all the little details from the books and recited lines. He sat in the chairs and put on the deerstalker cap and held the pipe. John was a kid in a literary candy store. After they had some lunch, they went back to the hotel room and Bette crashed. She hadn't slept on the plane at all and went out like a light for a solid eight hours after being awake for almost thirty.

The next several days had visits to The Tower of London where they spent the whole day there. They went to the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, walked by Buckingham Palace. They realized where they were: they were half way back to their hotel already, so they kept walking instead of taking the tube. They walked through a park and saw this great big building with tons of people coming in and out of it. Turned out it was a science museum which wasn't on their list of places to go or see. They went in and had a spectacular time. They took a day trip out to see Stonehenge. They took an overnight trip to see Liverpool. They went to pubs and restaurants. He told her travel stories from when he was young and taught her a drinking game he played with his fraternity brothers in college. They exchanged travel pages in books with other tourists, even though they didn't plan to go to the places they took pages for. John reminded Bette that the best way to make a friend was to let them do you a favor. On the flight back, Bette was grateful for the trip and could not stop thanking her father. John told her how glad he was to have had the time with her.

When John and Bette landed back home and walked up the jet way that evening, Bette saw him through the jet way windows and the terminal glass. Bette saw Keith standing next to her mother outside the gate. Bette's heart raced. As much as she wanted to see him, she knew this was not the time and place. John and Bette walked into the terminal and Bette could see the minor irritation on Lorna's face hidden behind the smile to see them.

"JW! Betty!" Lorna went up to them and hugged Bette then John. As soon as she was off Bette, Keith hastily made his way up to Bette and embraced her.

"God, I missed you." Keith said into her ear. "I missed you so much."

Bette struggled to figure out how to make her face look in front of her parents. "I missed you too Keith. Can I have a minute? I'm really tired."

He let her go. "Absolutely. Let me get your bag." He yanked it out of her hand without her handing it to him.

"We still have a couple to get from baggage claim," Bette said. Keith stepped ahead and lead the way. Bette looked at her parents awkwardly.

At baggage claim John and Bette began to recount some of their favorite moments from the trip. In Bette's carry-on bag, she pulled out the item she bought for Keith, a Union Jack flag. She had bought a second one for herself. She figured, if they each hung them in their rooms, it would be like they had this connection of being together. She said it to him in hushed tones so her parents couldn't hear her. It was a simple gift but would mean something bigger to them. Keith loved it and the idea behind it.

He hugged her and whispered in her ear, "I want to kiss you so bad right now."

"I wish we could. But now is not the time," she whispered back.

"When can I see you?"

"I'm resetting my clock tomorrow, and then I go back to work the next day. I'll call you."

"I can't wait. I love you."

"I love you too." Bette let go of him and went with her parents’ home. Resetting her internal clock the six hours to get back to local time was easier than she thought. She hadn't slept on the plane at all over their day of travel. They got home in the evening and she went to bed at 10 PM that night.

The next day, since she was feeling normal again and didn't work at the museum, she asked her father if she could see Keith. He told her no, she saw him the night before, she could see him next week. Those were there terms and Keith was aware of them for the last three weeks. Bette's heart sank. She only got to see him for a little bit, maybe twenty awkward, tired minutes at the airport in front of her parents. She heard John's tone when he spoke to her, there was no fighting him on this and there was no point in getting upset. She agreed and walked away. She went to her room and called Keith. She got upset. She told him that him coming to see her at the airport counted as their visit that week, she couldn't see him again for another week. He got mad and blamed her father. He said he and mom were having a nice time talking before the plane landed. She got upset with him because she had told him they could only see each other weekly. If they had planned their get together for a day when she got back, this wouldn't have happened. Keith had missed her so much he said he didn't want to wait anymore. Those minutes with her off the plane were worth it, even if he couldn't kiss her or touch her more. She told him he was sweet. She told him she had unpacking and laundry to do and other gifts for friends to get together. She was also still tired and had more to do before getting back to work tomorrow. They said they loved each other and hung up.

A week later, they were able to get together for fourth of July. Bette had the whole day off work. Keith picked her up early that day. She asked her parents if she could stay later so they could watch the fireworks over the lake on his family's boat. John and Lorna took time to discuss it, for the holiday, she could come home at 11 PM, but this would be a one-time exception, and she better not expect to ask for anything else anytime soon. Bette knew her father's tone, it was stern, his voice was a low roar. She thought she overextended herself too soon.

When Bette and Keith got to his house, the morning weather was not great. It was a bit rainy and a little windy. They couldn't go swimming right away like they discussed. Bette suggested that they go in the hot tub, but Keith didn't want to, he wanted to go right up to his room, so they did. They were all over each other. They had missed each other a lot, but Bette was still cautious. She had taken her warnings to heart. They stayed in his room for a few hours fooling around until lunch. They dressed and went downstairs and ate. By then, the weather had cleared up. The sun had come out and the day had gotten warmer. It wasn't warm enough to swim, but it would have been more than comfortable enough for the hot tub, to play horseshoes, or go in the boat. Keith was willing to play some horseshoes for a little while, but he was all over her the whole time. Soon they were so heated they went back up to his room and messed around some more. He went down on her again, but he still didn't know what he was doing. They had sex and she was left unsatisfied and it read all over her face and in her lack of vocal response.

"What am I doing wrong?" Keith asked.

"I'm not sure. I know we're doing it right. It's working for you." She tried not to sound too annoyed.

"Do you want me to try to use my fingers again?"

"No." She said it sharply and could not hide it well.

"Then what am I supposed to do?" He was just as annoyed as her. "Maybe it's not me."

She went from annoyed to frustrated. "Don't do that to me. It is not me. There is nothing wrong with me."

He began to raise his voice, "We've been trying different things for months and nothing works with you."

She shout-whispered at him, "Don't yell at me about this. We don't need to get in trouble about this here too. And things do work with me. You just haven't done it yet."

"Yeah right," he said with hard sarcasm.

"Yeah. That is right." She said curtly. She reached under the sheets. She closed her eyes and began to touch herself. She rubbed her breast, nipples, and her body with her other hand. She began to sigh and moan until a minute later she climaxed. She opened her eyes and Keith was watching her, shocked. "There. Nothing fucking wrong with me. I told you they were in there." She sat up.

"Why didn't you do that before?" he asked stunned

"Because I can do that in my own bed." She said still irritated with him. She began to get dressed.

"What are you doing?"

"I need to pee."

She threw the rest of her clothes on and went to the bathroom down the hall. She was still mad, but it felt good to have had an orgasm for once. He had warmed her up; she got herself the rest of the way there. She sat on the toilet and just enjoyed the quiet isolation. The bathroom window had a set of binoculars on the sill. She got up and flushed the toilet. She went over to the window and looked out. She looked and could see the far views of the lake. She picked up the binoculars and looked around the lake. She saw people on beaches and in boats. She saw birds flying. She saw a bald eagle nest. She saw the beauty of the day and wanted to be a part of it. She set the binoculars down and went back to Keith's room.

"We've been in here all day. I work inside at the museum all day. I want to go outside," Bette said. She tried to say it lighter than the argument than they had a few minutes earlier.

"Do you think I can forget what just happened? I think we need to talk about this."

"I think we can talk about this anytime. We don't get a lot of days like this. I thought we were going to go out on the lake. I might know people who are out there. We can bring your cell phone and the binoculars and we can call some people and have some fun."

"We can't take the boat out. It's not working right now. And I still think we need to talk about this."

Bette's face dropped. "We talked about this before my trip. You said we were going to go out on the boat today and watch fireworks and stuff."

"It happened a few days ago. We could take the paddle boat out if you really want."

"We've talked every day; you didn't think to tell me?"

"It wasn't important."

"It was important. I got my parents to give me an extra hour tonight because I told them we were watching the fireworks on the boat on the lake."

"We have an extra hour tonight? That's great!"

"No. You don't understand. I used to have so much freedom. I used to have straight-up independence. You did not see the look on Dad's face when he gifted me that hour today." She was furious, but tried to remain calm.

"He gifted you the hour?" He said it patronizingly.

"Oh my God. You still don't get it. Any teeny, tiny bit of trust I have earned back since they found out about us, I spent on that hour on today, and I don't think I can get it back."

"Then let's make use of it." He put his arms out to her.

She stared at him dumbfounded. She touched her fingertips to her forehead and silently said 'wow' to herself. She put her hands on her waist. "Keith. I want to go home."

"What? It's quarter to four. We have hours. I've barely seen you in weeks."

"Keith, if I have a chance to buy back some good faith with my parents and we can maybe use it for another time, I want to try that. And right now, I'm hoping they might see that and be happy with me."

"'Chance.' 'Hoping.' 'Try.' You use those words and might not get anything with them. We have right now."

She couldn't hide her frustration with him anymore and she teared up. "Which is what I was trying to tell you in the first place. I don't want to stay inside. I wanted to go outside, you want to stay here. I suggested going on the boat, which is the reason I'm staying late, and then you lied to me about it not working. If you can't work with me on this, I would rather go home and work with my parents."

Keith began to tear up too. "I didn't want to lie to you. I just thought the weather was going to be bad all day and we wouldn't be able to go. And you were going to want to be in here with me anyways."

She began to put her stuff back into her back pack. "You didn't tell me and you didn't ask." She zipped it up. "I'm ready to go."

"I'm not. I think we still need to talk." He wiped his face with the bed sheet.

"Keith, you can either be ready to take me home in five minutes, or I'm going to go downstairs, call my father, and tell him he can pick me up. It's a 15 minute drive home. What do you think we'll talk about?" She pointed at the door as she said it and her hand was shaking by the time she was done.

Keith wiped his face and sniffled. "Fine." He got up and started getting dressed.

The drive home started out bitter, and then he reached out and rubbed her leg. She wasn't in the mood to be touched so closely. She took his hand in hers and set it on the center console. It was an awkward compromise at best. He started to apologize for the day and the issues they had had. He cried while driving and it made her nervous. She accepted his apology. He asked if he could turn around and go back to the house. They were almost to her neighborhood. She didn't want to spend over an hour of her day off in a car going back and forth to his house for a second of potentially three times. She told him no. She still had a chance of buying some good will with her parents. Keith scoffed and dismissed her idea. He said her father was unreasonable. She told Keith to never speak negatively of him to her again. The kiss she gave him before she got out of the car was chaste at best that day.

Bette went in the house and told John about the boat issues with the boat and that Keith didn't tell her about it. She told him how frustrated she was that he lied to her, she wasn't happy with him in that moment. John was kind but not overly sympathetic to Bette and she understood why. She asked if she could see her other friends that day, he said it was alright, she could even use his truck, but the same rules applied: she can't see Keith again, and she has to be home by 11 PM, no later. She told him not seeing Keith again that day wouldn't be a problem, she didn't want to.

Bette called Jenna's house, but she was working. She called Ashleigh, but no one answered. She called Katie's house, but she was already out of the house that day. She called Ozzy and after a few rings, he answered.

"Hello?"

"Hi Oz. It's Bee."

"Hey. What's going on? I didn't think I would hear from you today."

"It's a long story. I don't really want to get into it. You available to do something? I got my dad's truck and I don't want to be inside anymore today."

"Um...Yeah. What did you have in mind?"

"I don't care. Anything." She looked around and saw her dad doing lawn work outside. "Ever since I got in trouble with my parents, I've lost almost all my freedoms with them. I feel super shitty. I got this little bit of leeway with them today and I don't want to waste it." It took everything in her not to tear up.

Ozzy took a moment to think. "Do you remember all the fun stuff we used to do that first summer we hung out?"

"Yeah."

"You're going to come pick me up, and we're going to squeeze in three months of that fun in the next few hours. How does that sound?"

Bette smiled. "I can be there in five minutes."

"I'll be ready."

Bette grabbed her back pack and told John she was going to pick up Ozzy and they were going to hang out. He said he was okay with that and to keep him updated with any changes and to be home by 11 PM. She got in the truck and left. She picked up Ozzy.

"Where to first?"

"Pebble Lake."

She put the truck in drive. "It's almost five. It rained today. The water is going to be cold."

"I have seen you swim in that lake on a sixty-five degree day. You still have a swimsuit on from earlier, for whatever reason, I'm not gonna ask. This is happening."

"It's on!" Bette grunted. They got to the park and the main beach was fairly open. Most of the park visitors had moved to the picnic area and she began to walk towards the beach.

"Where are you going?" He asked.

"I thought we were going to swim?" She asked confused.

"You're going to swim. But not here. And we won't be here long." He nodded his head toward the path. She grinned. They walked up the path, down the slope, along the hard path to the hidden beach.

She walked up to the water's edge and felt it with her feet. "It's cold, but it'll feel good once we're in."

"I told you. I'm not going in. You are." He pointed to the big rock down the way. "Go get your power back. You can't feel shitty when you're a powerful lady. Go get it."

She gave him a mush-mouthed smile and hugged him. She dropped her back pack, her shorts, and peeled off her tank top. She made her way down the water's edge to the big rock. The water on the edge was cold around her ankles and the chilliness made her heart race. She hadn't made the leap at all that summer and she forgot how scary it could be. She climbed up the rock and looked at the path of the rock that jutted out into the sky. She shook out her feet to make sure her water shoes wouldn't slip. Her heart pounded in her chest. Get your power back. She made the running leap into the air, "Yeah!" She felt her hair float off her neck and for a split second she flew with bent knees and wide arms. She held her nose and closed her eyes as her feet hit the water with jarring cold. She slowly descended to the bottom, her feet hit the lake floor, and she pushed herself to the surface and swam to shore where Ozzy grinned, applauding, holding towels.

"Bravo. The Russian judge only gave you a five for your dismount, but you stuck the landing."

"Oh! That's still a fucking rush. Fuck, that's cold."

"You want to go again?"

"No! Once was plenty. Do you wanna try it?"

"I'm dry. I'm good."

"Yeah. Yeah." She wrapped one towel around her waist and the other around her shoulders and opened her back pack and dug out her change of clothes. "Turn around so I can change."

He turned. "You're going to change out in the open like that?" he asked slowly.

"Under the towels." Under the skirted towel, she dropped her swim shorts and pulled on her under wear and jean shorts.

"Just like that?"

Under the draped towel around her shoulders, she untied her halter top bikini, put on her bra, and her t-shirt. "Just like that." She threw his damp towel at him. "It's fine, Oz." She sat down, took off her water shoes and put on the socks and sneakers she had in her back pack. He turned back around to see her fully dressed. She pulled a hair tie out of a smaller pocket and put her hair into a pony tail. "Alright." What's next?" She asked cheerfully while rolling up her swimsuit and water shoes into the towel.

"You hungry?"

"I can always eat." She hopped to her feet and they hurried up the path to the truck. Bette started the car put in the mix CD she had Terry make at her request. The CD had "Can I Get A..." by Jay-Z, the clean version, they rapped all the words. She thoroughly explained why she thought it was better than the uncensored version. He had her drive to the ice cream shop they used to go to a lot. Greyson was working and was able to help them. Bette was sure to leave him an extra-large tip. She got an ice cream cone and he got a malt. She quickly realized she couldn't drive anywhere else until she finished. They sat at one of the picnic tables outside.

"How is it?" Ozzy asked.

"It tastes the way it ought ‘a."

"What?"

"It's something my dad says. It means it tastes good."

"Ah. He's really cool; taking you on that trip and everything. You two have a good time?"

"Oh my God! I can't believe I forgot!" She said with a mouthful if ice cream.

"What?" Ozzy asked with genuine concern.

"I picked you up something on the trip. I didn't buy a lot of stuff for people. Just Keith, Jenna, you, and some stuff I liked for myself, but I saw something that jumped out at me, and I thought: when am I ever going to be here again?"

"What is it?"

"Hold this." She handed him the ice cream cone and ran to the truck and came back holding a white box. "I put it in the center console. I did that thing where I put it in a safe place so I wouldn't forget it, then totally forgot it." She set the box on the table and took back her ice cream cone.

"You didn't have to get me anything."

"I know. I know. It just jumped out at me. But if it's not your style, I get it. It was more for one specific thing."

Ozzy gave her a confused look and took the lid off the small box. Inside was the 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club' drum logo in the form of a metal belt buckle. Under the cotton cushion it sat on, there was a certificate of authenticity of limited production. "Bette, this is sick. You get this from one of the flea markets or something?"

"No. We went to the Beatles Experience museum in Liverpool. It was so cool. I cried."

"So this is real? This is legit? Not some cheap bootleg?"

"Of course it is." She flapped her hand. "As in it's not a knock off."

"This is great!" He sounded like a little kid. He bear hugged her and she laughed.

"There were about a dozen different ones, but this one jumped out at me, you know why?"

"Why?"

She paused to build the anticipation she had been waiting for. "Cassandra's party.’With A Little Help From My Friends' is on that Beatles album. You remember?"

Ozzy's eyes squinted closed and made an awkward face. "Yeah. I remember."

"There it is. That was the one specific thing. That look on your face. I don't care if you never wear that belt buckle. That was why I bought it. That face was priceless. Totally worth it." She took a bite of the sugar cone.

Ozzy gave her an astute look. "Didn't they have pins or buttons or post cards or something less expensive with this album logo on it and you still could have said the same thing and gotten the same reaction out of me?"

Bette stopped mid-chew and stared. She swallowed hard. "But...then...you wouldn't have the belt buckle." She snickered at her complete lack of logic. "I can keep the belt buckle. I can use a belt buckle." She joked.

"Nope. I keep it. It's mine now." He put the lid back on the box and clutched it to his chest.

She continued to tease him. "I don't know. I think I still have a bag of airline pretzels that would be a more adequate gift."

"No." He said it in a high-pitched voice and put the box behind his back.

Bette shoved the last tip of her ice cream cone into her mouth. "Gimme the buckle!" She said with a full mouth and lunged to one side of him. Ozzy's long arms were easily able to keep the box away from her and a hilarious mock-game of keep away that made them laugh way too hard. After, Ozzy suggested yard games. She agreed and thought though it might be a little late to set up the badminton net or the whole croquet set, but bocce ball would be fun. They got back to her house and started a friendly game in the yard. She used some of her favorite strategies. She would throw the pallino when he wasn't looking or throw it in a spot of tall grass. He would get her back in the next round and throw it far down the yard, much further than she could make a controlled throw of the bocce balls. John even came out and joined them for a few rounds. They told Ozzy about their trip and more about the Beatles Experience museum. The conversation lead to a thorough discussion of Beatles vs. Rolling Stones without anyone getting heated or too opinionated. During the debate, Bette recognized her father's laugh when of being intellectually challenged; it was a good thing. Soon, Lorna called them in for supper. She let them know there was plenty and Ozzy was more than welcome. Lorna had made what was a standard go-to meal in the Wheelan home: bone in pork chops, baked potatoes, and vegetables. As Lorna put it: pork chops are inexpensive, they're easy, they taste good, and they're filling. When they finished eating, Bette started clearing the table and Ozzy started helping her load the dishwasher but John told them to go, he would take care of it. John told her if they wanted to go to the upstairs TV room, which would be okay.

Bette told Ozzy they could go watch a movie and they went to the other TV room. It was the renovated attic space in the house. It was often used by her and Jenna more than anyone else as a playroom when they were kids. Bette watched TV and movies up there a lot. They got up to the room and she turned on the lights and the ceiling fan.

She spun the movie tower of tapes and DVDs, "What movie do you want to watch? Otherwise check HBO, there might be something good on."

Ozzy settled against a pillow on one side of the futon and changed channels with the remote.

Before he could get to the channel, Bette had a DVD in each hand. "Shrek or Spinal Tap?!"

"You know me too well."

"They're not in my top five, but my top 10. They're near-perfect movies."

He looked at her for a moment, "Spinal Tap."

She put in the disk and sat on the opposite side of the futon. Within a few minutes of the movie, they were singing along with the movie and saying the words as it went. They knew all the jokes but they were still hilarious. A while in, Bette noticed Ozzy consistently adjusting how he sat. "Something wrong?"

"I didn't want to say, but this thing is not very comfortable."

"I guess I never think about that. I can sit or sleep on the futon when it’s up or down." She handed him the pillow she was using. "Will that help?"

"I might be past that point." He looked down at the floor. "Would you walk on my back for me?"

"You gotta be kidding." She said laughing.

"Not at all. It would help a lot."

"Okay. Just tell me what I should do," she said cautiously.

He laid face down on the floor next to the futon so she could use the high point of it to balance herself. He had her stand at the base of his back and walk her way up in her socks until his back cracked a couple times and he let out a few sighs of relief.

"That's going to make work so much better tomorrow," he said as she stepped off him.

"You know I could have just as easily killed you," she said sitting back down.

"Nah. You're the right size for it." He got up and laid down again on the floor in front of the futon with one of the pillows behind his head. He continued to stretch out his back. "Aunt Darrah's bigger than you and she does that for me at least once a week."

"Jesus. Kind of work are you doing?" She muted the movie.

"It's not that it's hard. It's just a lot. And having that done is cheaper than a chiropractor. Ibuprofen handles any other muscle soreness."

"I don't know how you do it."

"Believe it or not, I love the work. It's a great workout all day long. I get to be outside a lot. Half the crew is Mexican, so I basically have free Spanish tutors all summer. And the money is si-i-i-ick!"

She laughed at him. "You put it like that, it sounds pretty nice. A good day at the museum is getting good tips from a catered wedding. A bad day is waiting an extra hour for a little old couple to leave on a Sunday before I get to leave."

"That doesn't sound too bad."

"I meant to say waiting for them to leave the restroom and then having to re-clean the bizarre, disgusting medical waste they leave behind. I don't understand what's wrong with people."

Ozzy winced. "I will never complain about dog poop again."

The phone rang. A minute later, John spoke up the stairs, "Bette for Two, phone for you!"

She looked at the clock. It was 8:30 PM, she knew it was Keith; her father didn't need to say. "It'll only be a sec. Sorry." Ozzy shrugged it off and watched the movie with the subtitles, muted, and said the lines. She picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hi Bette. I think we still needed to talk about earlier." It was Keith.

"Now's not a good time. Wait." She waited for her father to hang up the phone downstairs. The phone clicked. "Keith. I can't talk right now. I can call you after work tomorrow."

"Why not?" Ozzy laughed loudly at the movie. "Who are you with?" Keith asked suspiciously.

"I'm with a friend. I suggest you do the same. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"I love you Bette."

"I love you too. Bye." She hung up the phone. She was took a moment to center herself. "Sorry about that."

"If you needed to talk to him, we can do this some other time," Ozzy offered.

Bette plopped herself back on the futon. "Absolutely not. He had his chance today and he ruined it. Who knows when our schedules are going to line up again?"

"I'm glad you called. I wasn't going to do anything today. I've been working 60 plus hour weeks since we got out of school. It felt good to rest, but it felt better to eat ice cream and get my back cracked. And get this sweet belt buckle." He tapped the pocket he had put it in.

She grinned thinking of their game of keep away from earlier. "I can't tell you how happy I am to have my power back. I never would have thought of that."

"Ya gotta recharge the batteries." He sat up and rested his arms on his knees.

"True." She leaned forward. "You know the secret: the power is transferable without me losing it?"

"Yeah, yeah." He waved off her claim

"I'm serious." She said brightly. "Skye and I figured it out."

He stared her down. "You're not totally lying."

She moved to the floor near him and sat cross-legged. "No, I'm not. It's like Vanessa said originally. Powerful ladies are everywhere. We charge each other up."

"You really believe that," he conceded to her belief.

"I do. We just have to unite." She offered her hand out for a high-five. He gave her a weak high-five. "No. You have to mean it, and then slap your chest after. That's how we do it." She had him do it again and after the high-five and chest slap, she reached for his sides, "Power transfer commence!" And tickled him, 'jumper cable-style'. Ozzy mashed his mouth closed and his eyes became saucers. He tried hard not to squeal laughing. He was easily tickled by his size. He grabbed her around her upper arms and plucked her off him breathing heavy. He trapped her easily under his strength. She laughed, "You got me." She made claws with her hands. "You got the tiny t-rex. Rawr!"

"Don't do that again." He held her firm and said it fairly seriously.

She nodded. "I will lock that door." She attempted to salute.

"You tell no one I'm that ticklish," he was genuinely horrified.

"I have no idea what their talking about." She made a key mime over her mouth.

"Okay." He let her go.

She saw how bothered he was. "I'm sorry. I thought it would be funny." She sat back up on the futon.

"It's fine. Don't worry about it." He reached over for the remote and un-muted the movie. He laid down on his side facing the TV, propping his head up on his hand. They finished watching the movie and decided to call it a night. They walked downstairs to the side door.

"The crew's picking me up at 6:30 in the morning. I gotta get some sleep."

"Right. I'm probably gonna go up myself too. It's weird how unimportant the fireworks become, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Something like that." He yawned.

"Thanks again for today."

"Yeah. This was fun." The pair hugged with her arms around his middle. "Don't even think about it."

"I won't do it again," she said, and she meant it.

"Good." He held her firm with one arm and moved his other hand just enough to poke her in the armpit once, making her gasp. "Remember. Doesn't matter how powerful of a lady you are." He leaned in to hear ear and whispered. "I could destroy you with tickles."

They let go of each other. She looked at him with a small amount of fear on her face and he had a little grin on his.

"Oz: The Great and Powerful." She opened the door.

"Powerful Lady: Bette on it."

The screen door slammed as he walked away.

The next few weeks became a routine for Bette: get up, bus to work, work, bus home, clean up, eat dinner, talk to Keith, go to bed, repeat. On the days she got to see him, those days were the same too: he would pick her up in the morning, they would go to his house, they would go to his room, talk and mess around for a few hours, get dressed, eat lunch, talk and mess around some more, eat dinner, talk and mess around more, and at 8:30, she would have to push him to start getting ready to leave. It was a fight every time to try to get home on time. She reminded him she had to get home by 10 PM and she would rather be early and he always dragged his feet. The drive home was always an argument about how they had spent the day. She was frustrated because they had discussed the plans and opportunities they had made to enjoy the summer and all they did was fool around. Even on the day she was on her period, he was insistent that they make out almost naked. And through all of it, she was sexually unsatisfied by him. He would ask her to touch herself because it turned him on, but she didn't want to do that. Nothing changed for weeks and she was fed up.

It was Sunday August 4th and Bette bused into work. She had a good day at work. The people were friendly. She took tons of pictures for people so whole families could be in them. She worked with her favorite security guard Sean and Kasey worked too. People didn't leave trash everywhere. All the cleaning bottles were full and she didn't have to refill them. The mop heads didn't stink. No one left gum anywhere. No one put liquids in the garbage cans. No one stunk up the bathrooms. There was an expiring Snickers bar in the vending machine when she was refilling it and she got to keep it. It was a banner day as a glorified janitor. She got home after her day of work and Lorna told her she had a missed call from Keith. When she realized that her next day off was Wednesday and she knew he knew it, she called him back immediately.

"Hello?"

"Hi Keith."

"I missed you today," he said.

"What did you do today?"

"Worked on another admission essay, but it was hard to focus on it. I was thinking about you a lot."

Bette rolled her eyes. "Why?"

"What do you mean?"

"That essay is probably pretty important. By this time next year, you're going to be weeks away from heading to college. So why are you so worried about me? You should be worried about that." She was blunt.

"I didn't say I was worried. I said I was thinking about you."

"Then what were you thinking about?"

"When you were here last and we were in bed--"

"Stop. Stop Keith. I need to stop you right there."

"What?

"Is that all you think about with me anymore?" She went into her bathroom, closed the door, turned on the fan, and lowered her voice. "Sex?"

"No."

She still kept her voice low. "Because I have noticed a pretty distinct pattern in our relationship since prom."

"We love each other. It can only get better if we keep trying."

Bette took a deep breath and felt the tears come. "I don't want to try anymore."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing is getting better for us. This once a week thing isn't good. I miss my friends. I don't get to see them when my whole day is spent seeing you. All we do is eat and mess around. It's not healthy. I don't feel good about myself when I'm with you anymore. A day at work is preferable."

"Why haven't you said something?" He was crying.

"It's all we talk about! It's eat, fool around, how do we make things better? You think the answer is fool around and eat. There's so much more than that. It's not worth the fight anymore."

"I think it is."

"That's exactly it. All I do is relent to you. It's exhausting. I'm bored."

"Bette, I love you. Don't you remember? You're the most singular girl I've ever met."

"I haven't felt that in a while. I feel like all I am is something you stick your dick in and worship. And I'm done doing that. It's not fun for me."

"I can get better. I can get a book. We can get a vibrator or something."

"God Damn it Keith! You're still not getting it! We are far past all that. I'm done. I am not in love with you anymore. I'm done trying. We are not seeing each other on Wednesday. It's over. We are over."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing Bette. I love you. I don't want to break up."

"That's not your choice anymore. It's mine. I have the power to do that. And it's done. We're done. I am no longer your girlfriend. I don't want you to call me. I don't want to talk anymore."

"Bette wait!"

"No. I'm done waiting for you. It's been your way for too long. I'm going my way, and you don't get to come with me. Goodbye Keith."

She took the receiver away from her face. She could hear him beg and cry, but she hit the power button on the phone. She wiped off her face and looked in her mirror over her sink. She smiled at herself. "You powerful lady."

Monday morning Bette emailed Terry with a list of songs. He had become her new hook up for mix CDs in the last year and not only would he make mixes, he would throw in other fun music or remixes she hadn't heard of. He replied to her and let her know he could have the discs ready for her by the time he worked on Tuesday. He worked at a coffee shop downtown a couple blocks away from the regular bus stop she took home from work. He was a good friend to her and didn't even charge for the discs. She got ready for work and grabbed a couple of other CDs to listen to on the bus. She found herself subtly dancing in place and slightly swinging her hips. She watched everyone and everything from behind her sunglasses. After the last few months commuting, she started to recognize a lot of the same working professionals who got on the bus each day. The Monday crowds were lighter at the museum after the weekend. There were more elderly couples and families with young children looking bored. Bette did her usual rounds around the museum sweeping, cleaning, and answering questions for people. She had her music in her head from the morning bus ride in and found herself dancing with her broom. A little girl noticed and giggled at her. Bette looked at her and played up her dance moves even bigger and made silly faces to make the little girl laugh. When the little girl's parents looked at what she was laughing at, Bette stopped quickly and went back to sweeping and they didn't see what she had done. She looked at the little girl and made a 'shh' mime at her with a big smile. The little girl smiled back and nodded.

The next day after work, Bette went to the coffee shop where Terry worked and picked up the CDs he had made for her. He was able to take a moment to come out from behind the counter to see her when she came in. "Bee, BEE!" He greeted her in a comically high-pitched voice. "Got your music. I sensed a theme here: Destiny's Child 'Independent Women,' 'Bug-a-Boo,' Lenny Kravitz 'American Woman.' Something going on?"

"Yeah." She laughed as she said it. "I broke up with Keith this weekend. It was time. No. It was past time."

"Good for you. You look great. You look like you feel good about it. It showed in your mixes. I threw some extra tracks in to pad out the CDs; your lists were a little short."

"Thanks. As long as it isn't Britney Spears, I think it'll be fine."

"Hey! She's amazing."

"Sure, Terry-kins," she said dryly.

Three people came in the door and Terry shot up from the table where they sat and went back to work. Bette checked her watch and realized her bus was only minutes away. She gave him a wave goodbye as she left, but he didn't see. She waited at the bus stop and put in the new CD. She felt the music flow through her headphones and through her body. She swiveled her head, neck, and shoulders to the music, letting it move her. She watched people from behind her sunglasses with a little smirk on her face. She didn't need the big rock at Pebble Lake. She didn't need Skye to imbue her. She felt the ability to grow her own power in herself.

Wednesday Bette had the day off. She woke up early and dug up the $300 in tips she had received from a wedding event earlier that summer. She had caught a bridesmaid and a groomsman having sex in an exhibit and kicked them out. They got mad at her and they spilled a drink on her later in the evening. When she reported the incident to the manager and he brought the incident to the father of the bride, who was also the father of the groomsman, they paid her and the museum off to not call the police for defiling monuments, assaulting her with a drink, and committing a sexual act in front of a minor. Bette was excited for the cash when it happened. She would have taken $20 and an apology, but $300 was epic. She called Cynthia and made an appointment to get her hair cut and caught the first bus she could to see her. She greeted her with a big hug. "What are we doing today?" She pumped up the chair and combed out Bette's hair.

Bette's hair had grown down to her armpits. Her hair was thick and wavy as always, but the split ends had become many and bad and it made her hair frizzy at the ends. It was way too heavy and long for summer.

"I need a load off my mind. What would you do if it were yours?"

Cynthia combed it out a little more. "You always part it like this, right?" Bette nodded. "And we never do layers?" Bette shook her head, no. "I would bob you to here." She indicated a spot just above where her neck met her shoulder. "That will get rid of all the dead stuff and you'll still have enough length to put it in a low ponytail if you need. I can give you a blowout today too. You'll look so fresh."

"Do it. Cut me, Cyn!" Bette said with a smile. "And let's shape up my eyebrows too."

An hour later Bette was a whole new girl. She felt sharp and walked out with a sway in her step. After the salon, she walked the couple blocks to Ragstock. She perused the new fashions in the front of the store and picked out a few things. She went to the back of the store and found a lot more things in the one-off vintage section for less than $5 per item that were funky, different, and old. She liked the way they mixed with the new stuff from the front of the store and she knew that they would go with the stuff she had at home. She got out of the dressing room and saw a pair of pants that beaconed her: a pair of fabric pants that were cut like jeans made from a black and grey MC Escher art print. She grabbed them, immediately turned around and put them on in the dressing room. They were a little big, but she was in love with them. They were art and she felt like art in them. She knew her black leather belt at home would be enough to cinch them onto her, and she had to have them. She made her purchases and kept walking.

The global goods and clothing store was a few doors over. The stuff there wasn't always her style or her fit, but she was in the mind-set for a change. She opened the door and the smells of incense and vanilla seeped into her. There was no other place she ever went that smelled like it. The women behind the counter greeted her with a friendly hello while they priced products. Sitar music played on the stereo. Bette thought she didn't look like their usual customers, but she had money to spend, and wanted to see what they had to offer. She went to a circle rack that had skirts on it. She grabbed a couple wrap skirts, a brown one with decorative stitching and a knee-length one with swirls in green. She put on the green one and loved it. It was a definite buy. The brown was a little tougher, it didn't have the long ties on it like the green one did. She felt somewhat stupid because she couldn't figure it out. Then she remembered her father: The best way to make a friend is to let them do you a favor. She asked one of the women behind the counter for help on how to put it on. The employee explained that with that type of garment, it was more than a skirt, it was a top, or shorts, or scarf. She gave Bette an instructional sheet and showed her a buckle in the shape of a figure-8 that looked like a sea shell. The employee offered to help her fit her in the garment as a crop top. Bette's face lit up. The woman stepped into the dressing room with her and showed her how to securely tie and buckle the top onto herself. They stepped out and she looked at herself in the full length tri-fold mirror. She turned and checked herself out. With the skirt, her stomach showed from her natural waist to below her breasts. It was not where girls her age were showing their mid-drifts, but she liked the way it looked on her. She felt fun, earthy, and sexy without being slutty-looking; even without wearing a bra.

"You look like a fresh water lake mermaid, little sister," said the employee behind the counter.

Bette beamed. "You know, I was thinking that. It makes me wanna dole out swords or drown people who wrong me. It makes me feel powerful."

"You are vibrating at a high level." She arced her hands over Bette. "It's just radiating off you."

"Right on," Said the employee behind the counter.

"All three. The skirt, the top, the buckle. I'll wear them out." Bette said. She looked at herself in the mirror. She loved the way she looked. She loved herself. She was free.

Teenage years

About the author

Tinka Boudit She/Her

To review and contact on FB

The Soundtrack BOI: WA

Bette On It: Puddle, Desks, Door, Gym, Condoms, Couch, Dancers, Graduate.

Purveyor of Metaphorical Hyperbole, Boundless, Ridiculous, Amazing...and Humble.

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