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Bette On It: Weird Adolescence

1999-2000 8th Grade

By Tinka Boudit She/HerPublished 3 years ago 160 min read

8th grade 1999-2000

Bette waited at the bus stop with Cassandra and there was another nervous looking fifth grader with a mop of sandy hair, big round glasses, and a back pack that was way too big for him. While Bette and Cassandra were no longer friends, they had found a comfortable co-existence waiting for the bus together. In the last year, Cassandra had grown to 5'2", had dyed her hair a richer tone of blonde, dressed in more trendy fashions with tighter clothes, more exposed skin, and a top in a horrific shade of electric pink. She also and wore more make up in a tan color that didn't match her actual fading tan and unnatural colored eye makeup, probably to deter from the braces she had to get on her teeth. Puberty had been a little more kind to Bette over the summer. She had grown to 5'4" and her waist and hips were finally more proportional to her now D-cup breasts and her blackheads were few and far between. Her mom had taken her clothing shopping at consignment stores where the clothes were usually higher-end and meant for women instead of teenagers, but about the same price as the mall and big box stores everyone else seemed to buy their clothes from. It was nice to have jeans that didn't fray at the bottom quickly or even the occasional designer brand. Her stuff was quality and it didn't look exactly like everyone else's, and it let her find and enhance her own tastes. That morning, she chose a pair of jeans, a black leather belt, black leather boots, a green blouse that was close to her eye color, and a black cardigan that was made of stretchy t-shirt fabric that she liked a lot, because the thought it would go with everything. She felt good; that healthy level of self-esteem had begun to turn into confidence.

"Morning Cassandra," Bette said following a yawn.

"Hey girly-girl," Cassandra replied in her usual bubbly tone.

"You're," she looked her up and down, "perky this morning."

"When you look good you feel good. How are you feeling?"

Bette mind flashed with sharp replies: I feel like you should eat your make up so you can be pretty on the inside. I feel you look like a child predictor victim trading card. That feeling you are having is a side effect from your lobotomies.

"I didn't sleep the greatest, but I'll shake it off soon enough."

"Nervous for the first day?"

"No. Sometimes, tired is just tired Cass."

"Oh!" Cassandra sidled up to her, but didn't make much of an effort to lower her voice, "Do you need a tampon? Is it that time? Because I have plenty of them if you need."

"Oh for fuck's sakes Cassandra, if we are going to do this 180 more times over the next nine months could you try not to make it awful on the first day?"

The boy snickered and turned back to them, "You said the F-word."

Bette looked at the boy, "And she said tampon," in a playful mock-judging way.

Cassandra gave them both an annoyed look.

"What's your name?" asked Bette.


"I'm Bette and we don't have a swear jar here. So I won't tell if you won't tell."

"Neat." He smiled with his giant front teeth poking out.

The bus came down the street and they got on. Cassandra sat in the back away from Bette and Todd. A couple stops later, Ozzy got on the bus. He had his hair shorter and gelled forward. His whiskers were at the point where he had to shave more than twice a week. He was a solid six feet tall now. His go to clothes were still black t-shirts with rock bands printed on them, but he had also incorporated a lot of button up shirts with flames or lightning on them. Like all boys of that age who played guitar, he wanted to be rock star himself and he tried to look the part. He sat across from her on the bus and tried to find a comfortable position to sit in.

Bette yawned again, "Mornin'"

"Don't you start with that."

"Nice to see you too."

"Sorry. I was working on some chord progressions until way too late and I'm zonked too. Mountain Dew shouldn't taste that good this early."

Bette cringed, "Esh. Too early for me for that stuff, I've never been a fan. But there is something magical about the combination of a Diet Coke and a bagel."

'Yuck. I don't know how you can drink that stuff."

"It's what my parents buy. They like it and don't ask my opinion. I drink what's available. Cass was a real piece of work about it though. She must wake up on a bed of fairy dust or something." She looked forward to the new kid. "Hey Todd. What did you think of Cassandra?" she tilted her head to the back of the bus.

"She looks like an icky Barbie." Todd said it with the blunt innocence only a ten year old boy could have.

Bette and Ozzy tried to control their laughter but failed. "We don't really like icky Barbie dolls, do we?"

"No way."

Bette's eyes got big with a deep inhale and a naughty thought, "Do you want to help me prank the icky Barbie doll?"

Todd thought for a second. "I was scared, and you are nice. I didn't think it was gonna be so cool to hear the F-word this early. Okay."

Ozzy looked at Bette and spoke with playful judgment. "Bette Wheelan. What are you doing corrupting the youth of tomorrow with your potty mouth?"

"Making it funnier."

The bus got to school and the kids trickled off of it. It was a nice morning and lots of kids were still outside on the grass talking and catching up. Cassandra was one of the last ones off the bus from sitting in the back. She was part way up the sidewalk and approaching Stella, Monica, and Angela when Todd got in front of her, pointed at her, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Cassandra has plenty of tampons and is willing to share!" As quickly as he yelled it, he ran into the school. Cassandra was mortified, her face turned as pink as her top. Giggles and laughter echoed around her within 20 feet. Stella, Monica, and Angela laughed at her too. Cassandra walked past her friends into the school and away from the laughter and past two people who asked her for a tampon.

Ozzy and back stepped out from the sidelines of where it happened and started to head inside. "You don't think that was too mean?" Ozzy asked.

"Nah. Like Jenna says, Karma is only a bitch if you are. And I recall you being hurt by her."

Ozzy shuttered, "Don't remind me."

"Besides, I would wager you that I could go up to 10 different girls today, ask them for either a tampon or a pad, and nine of them would give me one."

"No way."

She stared at him assuredly. "Nine. Out of. Ten."

"Are we making a bet, Bette?"

"That's going to get too confusing. I wager I can get a pad or a tampon from nine out of ten different girls before the end of the day. One name per product, no repeats."

"What are the stakes?"

"If I win, you become my personal vending machine. You're gonna hold onto all of them at your house for when I need them there."

He only looked a little horrified. "Fine. But if you fail. I want---You need too---"

"How about a 12 pack of Mountain Dew and a family pack of Oreos?"

"Deal!" He said it with a big smile and bright eyes.

They shook on it and headed inside. They had different first hour classes, but the same second hour class, English with Mr. Dagner. As a teacher who was pushing retirement, his reputation for effort was low. He sat them in alphabetical order by last name and Ozzy was right behind her on the seating chart.

"You know if they have any of those specialty flavor Mountain Dews, I might prefer one of those," boasted Ozzy.

Bette couldn't look at him, but she shook her head side to side.

"I also prefer doublestuf Oreos."

She crossed her arm over her and held up her hand over her opposite shoulder and gave him the American Sign Language sign for "No" by snapping together her index and middle finger and thumb together like a beak.

At lunch time he prodded her about it again with cockiness. "We did not discuss when payment would be due. Obviously by the end of day today won't be possible, but I think you can probably manage by the end of the week."

"Ozzy, I'm not discussing it with you until we're on the bus. Is that fair?"

"Fine." He paused for a moment. "Seriously, doublestuf."

They also had art class together but Ozzy didn't bring it up there. At the end of the day before heading to the bus, Bette ran over to the vending machines. She bought a can of Mountain Dew and a bag of Mini Oreos before heading to the bus. She did not even try to hide the treats when she got on the bus. The bus was full and ended up sharing a seat with Ozzy. She rested her backpack on her lap.

"I believe the terms of our wager was a 12 pack and a family pack of Oreos."

"You are 100 percent correct."

"Does this mean I won?"

"Close your eyes and open your hands."

Ozzy grew a big smile on his face. Bette opened her back pack and turned it slightly to create a wall. She lowered Ozzy's hands into the open area between where they sat. She pulled out a bulky plastic shopping bag and placed it in Ozzy's hand. The expression on his face dropped. "Open your eyes."

In his hand was a double lined grocery bag filled with every brand, style, size, shape, and variety of tampon and maxi pad beyond what he thought was possible. There were at least 35 different individual items in the bag. He quickly closed the bag and shoved it between them.

"What did you accomplish? You said nine out of ten!"

She laughed with a snort and pulled out a notebook from her bag. "I know, I know. but it was just too easy." She opened the page and there was the list of girls who all gave her products.

"You even have Stella and Monica in here. I didn't even think they liked you because of Cassandra."

"They know a time will come when they will probably need to ask me for one, and I will gladly give."

"Wait, what are these numbers along the side?"

"That represents which class hour of the day they gave them to me in."

"But you have nine listed before I saw you second hour!"


"How did you accomplish this?"

"Are you kidding me? Did you not hear how self-assured I was about this this morning? Girls get prepped for this from 5th grade science class and their moms. What did they teach you at your old school?"

"Not this."

"You have one question mark in here. Who was that?"

"After I met my goal, I considered asking Jason Kaye because of the now common knowledge that he has no dick. But I didn't want to assume that meant he had a vagina. That would be too insulting to women."

"You are unbelievable." He was in awe of her.

"And it's like Vanessa said, do not underestimate powerful ladies. We are an empathetic bunch." She gave him the can of Mountain Dew and package of mini Oreos. "Enjoy them as a consolation prize. Because you now have to keep all of that stuff under your bathroom sink now."

"This may be the greatest witchcraft I've ever seen." He cracked open the can and took a long drink

"We are the only creatures I can think of that bleed for six days and don't die."

Ozzy spit on the back of the seat and his back pack and coughed. He turned his head toward the window and attempted to collect himself. "That's messed up," he wiped his mouth with his wrist.

"But it's true."

Ozzy shoved the bag into his backpack and humbly accepted defeat. When Ozzy got off the bus and headed home, Aunt Darrah was already home from work.

"Aunt Darrah?"

"I'm in here Oz." He went out to the laundry room where he heard her call. "How was school hon?"

He cleared his throat. "You ever get in over your head and have no idea how you got there?"

"Oh Oz, what did you do?" she was worried.

"No. No. No. No! I didn't do anything wrong. I'm just an idiot."

"Oscar White. You say no such thing under my roof."

Ozzy opened his backpack, pulled out the bag of feminine products and let them spill on the table. He spoke with an embarrassed, humble smile, "In this case when I tell you, and I think you will agree, I'm an idiot."

Darrah covered her mouth with her hand and doubled over with laughter.

The next several weeks of school proceeded. Cassandra and Bette continued to have tension at the bus stop but Todd was really helpful for breaking it up. He would innocently tell her she looked like a Barbie doll and she would take it as a compliment but would look to Bette when Cassandra wasn't looking and show he had his fingers crossed. Despite not having spent much time around her younger cousins and being an only child, she would babysit Todd once in a while. He was a nice kid and he listened to her and it was super easy money. They were more of friends and it was less like work. On nights when she watched him and they had to eat leftovers or couldn't eat the things they wanted to eat, she taught him some of the puzzle club games or made sure they were engaged in stuff he liked. On the nights when his parents were late, and they couldn't eat his favorites, she'd give him a $5 kickback on Monday. It was their secret and they had fun with it. Todd enjoyed talking to Ozzy on the bus. Todd told him that he thought he was big and scary at first but after the first week, he wasn't scared of him anymore. They would do funny cartoon voices for each other and talk about music. Ozzy would bring a CD player on the bus and have him listen to music and help him find out what he liked. It was happy, innocent fun.

Life off the bus and in school was different. Even though everyone seemed to grow more confident, Bette included, the kids grew more attitude, more mean. Cassandra, Stella, Monica, and Angela while all claiming to be best friends were constantly badmouthing each other behind their backs. Jenna had always been Bette's best friend and while they remained so, they both found themselves a little less close that year. Jenna was starting to hang out with the theater and Speech club kids like Vanessa and Terry. Bette grew closer with Tina and Katie due to being in three different classes with each of them. They also got along really well with Greyson and Tylor, which made the lunch table super easy. But there were still tensions. Tylor's parents separated that summer and he was frustrated about it a lot and never wanted to talk about it so it made him angry. Greyson would get quiet for days at a time and no one could get him to open up. Bette was sensing some kind of wall between herself and Ozzy. She still felt like he told her everything and she for sure told him everything, but something was off, and she couldn't put her finger on it.

There was a strange rash of mean pranks in the school. Someone would raise their hand to answer a question, and if they were wrong, the next day they would have a bunch of pieces of paper with the wrong and mean answers written on it put on their desk at the beginning of class. In Earth Science, someone was supposed to answer a question with "Igneous rock" and it came out "Ignatius rock." The next day, there were pieces of paper covering his chair that said, idiot, ignoramus, incompetent, inferior, ignorant, intimidated, and more. Girls were getting their bra straps snapped by other girls. People were getting pushed over intentionally or their books kicked if they left them on the floor too long. People would close their lockers on you if you turned your back for a split second too long. Bette made the mistake of leaving her new favorite black t-shirt cardigan at a desk after school. When she found it in the lost and found the next day, it had been cut in half with scissors. The student's behavior was noticed and the administration made an announcement that if student behavior and morale didn't improve swiftly and for the better, they could say good-bye to dances and other extracurricular activities.

It was Tuesday October 12th and Bette arrived to her second hour English class. It had been a week since the behavior announcement and there had been a vast improvement in student behavior. She found herself holding her tongue a lot as to not contribute to any negative behavior, she was irritated, she didn't feel like herself. Ozzy came in and sat down in his spot behind her.


She sat sideways in her desk so she could talk to him. "Hey yourself," she replied. She sounded bitter at best.

"What's wrong?"

"Everything. Nothing. I don't even know anymore."

"Anything I can do?"

"I don't know. I think I just need some fun. You know? I asked my mom if we could go shopping this weekend to find something for the Halloween dance for a costume, but it doesn't feel like enough to make me feel better. Something's off. Don't you sense it?"

"I think a lot of people feel like that right now. I don't feel like that for myself."

The bell rang.

"Maybe that's part of it."

She turned around, rested her elbow on her desk and slid a hand into her hair.

The end of the following week were the Halloween dances. The 5th and 6th graders had theirs on Friday night. The 7th and 8th graders had theirs on Saturday night. Lorna had taken Bette shopping at a vintage clothing store and found a beaded and fringed flapper dress in forest green with a black overlay that hugged her body just right. The shop had the right kind of headband and gloves too. Lorna already owned the right jewelry, purse, and a scarf wrap to go with it. She also helped Bette with her make up: sharp eyeliner, smoky eye shadow, lots of mascara, and a bold red lip.

When Bette came down the stairs her father was all charm, "Wowsy-bowsy. There's a femme fatale agent on the loose and she looks like she is out to kill. Alert all field agents to stand by!"

"Dad! You've been saying stuff like that since I got dressed for church pageants when I was six."

"I am not going to let you get out of here until I get the camera." John stepped out of the room and into the kitchen and grabbed where the camera was stored.

"I want one with you and your mama." Bette and Lorna posed and John snapped a couple photos. "My ladies. They always know a way to a man's heart."

"I know, just like mom taught me: through the third and fourth rib," she spoke in jest.

"That's right, Betty-baby." Said Lorna in her bird-like tone. She gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek.

John took a couple more photos before dropping Bette off at the school. "Party like Mata Hari! We'll rendezvous in the south lot at 11," he yelled from the car window. Bette had been meaning to research that first phrase for a while, but forgot it as soon as she was in the door.

She followed the crowd of kids inside and saw Tylor and Greyson first in the hallway outside the gym. Tylor was dressed as a werewolf and Greyson was dressed as Batman. "Hey guys. You look great!"

"Frnks." Tylor took out his fake fangs. "Thanks. We just got here."

"So you haven't seen anyone else yet?"

"Nope." said Greyson dryly, popping his 'p.'

"Wait. Greyson. Dick Greyson. Why didn't you dress as Robin?" Bette asked.

"See, I fucking told you this was going to happen! We've been here 30 seconds and it took a girl to do it. You're screwed. You are so screwed." said Tylor looking over at his cousin and pointing.

Greyson took a deep breath and exhaled with a blank look on his face. "Whatever. I'm gonna get some popcorn." And he walked away.

"Should I have not said that?" Bette cringed.

"No. You were just the first here. I warned him. My dad mentioned it. His brother said..."

Tylor kept talking but his voice faded in her head because in that moment she heard the music in the background grow, "Hypnotize" by Notorious BIG and he walked in and towards them. In her head it happened in slow motion. Wearing a black, 1940s pinstripe suit, tie, a white rose in the lapel, fedora, spats, and carrying a cane, was Ozzy. Holy shit.

"Hey, hey. Look what the cat dragged in!" said Ozzy. He jumped and landed in front of them and did a spin. A robust, refined scent flew off him and for a split second, she didn't see clearly.

"Cool threads Ozzy," said Tylor.

Bette pulled herself together, "Yeah. Dapper suit. New?"

"Nah. It's just a rental, but isn't it great?" He bounced the cane on the floor and it flew back up and he caught it. He spoke in an attitude that matched his look, "What are we waiting for? We can't waste looking this good out here." Tylor put his fangs back in and howled. All three of them had a good laugh. "This ensemble demands an entrance," he said while tugging on his lapels. He offered her his arm. She let her shall wrap hang back and took his elbow. They walked into the gym and a few dozen kids were there already. DJ table at one end, dancing, some tables with chairs, bleachers partially pulled out, and in the lighter opposite corner, refreshments and snacks for sale.

Bette saw Jenna across the room dressed as Princess Peach and Vanessa dressed in a blue Juliette dress. She let go of Ozzy and ran to them with a squeal. Jenna knew how much fun Bette had at these dances, and after the last several weeks at school, she needed it. "Oh my gosh, you girls look so great. Jenna, you look like you walked off the screen. Vanessa, that dress looks like it was sewn on to you. I swear it's the exact color of your eyes."

"And you Bette." Jenna leaned in something only a best friend could say, "Your boobs are out of this world in that dress."

She made a weird face back at Jenna, "Why a-thank you, I grew them myself."

Ozzy strolled up and joined them. "Ladies, ladies. I think the party is here now, am I wrong?"

"Lookin' sharp Oz," said Vanessa.

"Yeah. Did you and Bette plan that?" asked Jenna.

"No, I'm 1920s, he's 1940s. It's totally different. Totally different." Bette answered quickly. The music changed to 'Livin' La Vida Loca' by Ricky Martin and Bette got excited. "I love this song. I am ready to go dance!"

"Lead the way." said Jenna.

Ozzy and Vanessa followed behind. Bette went wild on the dance floor. She didn't hold anything back when she was out there. She felt like her parents. It was a different era of music and a different style, but she was free. About an hour in, Bette needed a break for a drink. Others had taken breaks, she had not. She went up to the refreshments line and waited in the twin lines with other goblins, fairies, cats, and devils. She got to be the third to the front and tried to discretely pull her cash out from her dress strap and unfolded it.

"That seems convenient," she looked across to the vampire boy watching her. It was Mark Hall, back after having been gone the last two years of school. He had naturally brown hair but that night he wore it with black gel slicking it back, heavy white-grey makeup, a drawn in widow's peak, dark grey rings under his blue eyes, and a brown-red lip.

"Not really. Pockets. Pockets would actually be convenient. I bet that jacket has four of them?" He wasn't wearing a cheap Halloween store vampire costume. It was a vintage red smoking jacket with silver and red paisley brocade on the cuffs and lapels. He wore a white dress shirt with a black ascot and a white multi-rhinestone broach the size of a quarter holding the ascot in place. His overall look and make-up was a much more sophisticated take on a vampire than the vampire costumes other kids were wearing.

"Yeah. How did you know?"

She turned and showed the dress. "I know a thing or two about old clothes."

"You knew a thing or two about lots of stuff." His voice brightened, "You were the only one who knew what my stuffed mouse was on my backpack!"

"Diddl, from Germany."

"I can't believe you remember that," he said in the same bright voice.

"I had Diddl stationary and stickers."

They both got to the front of the line and spoke, "Twix bar."

Bette snorted a laugh. The parent volunteer behind the table reached in the box. "There's only one left."

"Go for it." said Mark.

"Are you sure?" she asked.


"And a ginger ale." She paid and walked to the tables. Mark made his purchase and watched what Bette did next. She went to one of the tables where Ozzy, Greyson, Tylor, Vanessa, and Jenna were. Tylor was taking pictures with a disposable camera. Bette tossed the Twix bar to Ozzy. He opened it and held it like it was a cigar. Tylor took a picture of him. Bette went around the table and took a plastic Champaign saucer out of her purse and poured some of the ginger ale in it. Tylor took a picture of her posing. The song changed to "No Scrubs" by TLC. Bette got excited again and she, the girls, and Tylor went and kept dancing.

Mark crossed the gym to where Ozzy and Greyson sat. "Hey, Ozzy, right?"

"Ozzy White, but I catch your drift all the way from down in history." Ozzy continued to lay on the thick personality of his costume. "What can I do, for you, Nosferatu?" He leaned back in the chair with the front two legs up, had a foot propped up on a crossbar under the table, and stuck the Twix bar between his back teeth.

"Exactly! History class...that's the one, we have together, you and me. Uh..." Mark fidgeted as he spoke, glancing at the table.

"Ozzy, you're scaring the Lord of Darkness. Take it down a notch." said Greyson flatly. He put down his popcorn, got up, and walked to the dance floor.

"He's right. It's the suit." Ozzy hopped up out of the chair. He gave himself a shake, hunched forward slightly, and he was a totally different person in attitude. "What's up?"

Mark tried to stand up straighter; Ozzy was still a solid four inches taller than him and roughly 80 pounds heavier. "What's-um-what's your situation with Bette? I see you two together a lot."

"My situation? There isn't one. She's my friend."

"Just friends?" Mark raised his eyebrows and tilted his head forward when he asked.

"That's it." Ozzy shrugged it off literally.

Mark gestured with his hands, "So I'm not going to end up sleeping with the fishes or with a wooden steak through my heart if I--"

"Mark. I'm not her boyfriend. It's not like that. You want some advice even?"

"Seriously?" He smiled.

"If you can answer me this," Ozzy took a bite and held the Twix like a cigar again and clamped his other hand on Mark's shoulder. Mark's eyes grew wide and he froze, glancing at Ozzy's huge, meaty hand.

Ozzy leaned into him a little, "You ever been mean to her?"

"No." he shook his head a tiny bit.

"Teased her? Even back in early elementary school? Behind her back or to her face?"

"No. She knows cool stuff. It was something we used to talk about when I went here back in 5th grade."

"5th grade, hm? What are your thoughts on Jason Kaye?" He poked the air up and down with his Twix-cigar.

"I don't like him. He was mean to me."

"Okay then." He ate another portion of the Twix and took his hand off Mark's shoulder. "Ask her to dance. Compliment her on something that she chose. And pay attention if she does the same for you, and show a little humility. If you can, somehow, have her show you something, as in teach you how to do something. Do that stuff, and you're in."

"That's it?! Did she tell you that?" Mark was perplexed by his humble-sounding advise.

Ozzy looked out at the girls dancing and having fun, all of them in a group: Jenna, Bette, Tina, Vanessa, and Katie. "Nope. That's just the ladies." He said it with the over confidence he had earlier, a head twist, and ran his non-Twix hand down his chest. "Except the dancing thing. Look at her," He tapped Mark with the back of his hand on his chest. "It's obvious she loves it." He then got a little serious and pointed at him, "Oh, and don't lie to her, because then she'll kill you."

"Is that 'the ladies?'" he did air quotes with his fingers to Ozzy's words.

"No, that's Bette. She's a powerful lady who does not like to be deceived." Ozzy finished eating the Twix bar, gave Mark finger guns, and went back to the dance floor to join his friends.

Mark took a couple of deep breaths, glanced at the table, mouthed some of the words Ozzy said to him to himself, and went back to his own friends.

Bette took another break mid song and drank more of her ginger ale. She was the only one of her friends at the table. She was taking a sip and the song change to a swing dance song, "Jump, Jive, 'n Wail" by The Brian Setzer Orchestra and she was thrilled to hear it and took a few steps toward the dance floor to find one of the friends from gym class last year to be her partner. The dress needed it. Tina or Katie would do, Vanessa would have been great, but Ozzy would look spectacular with her in their costumes. She got a few more steps towards the floor when she saw it; Ozzy and Vanessa partner up and danced with chemistry and panache. He spun her and twirled her and did all the combinations she could have done with either of them. Water. A big cup of water. Bette swiftly walked back to the refreshments table and grabbed three wax paper cups of water chugging, crushing, and tossing into the garbage, one right after the other. She was about to go for a fourth when she heard him.

"Bette?" She turned to see Mark Hall again. "Do you wanna dance?" He pointed back to the dance floor with his thumb.

"Do you know how?' She tried to catch her breath from drinking all the water.

"Yeah." He smiled. "I'm actually pretty good." he chuckled. "I know how to lead if you know how to follow."

"Oh hell yeah I can follow." She walked with him across the gym out to the floor and he let her know the combinations he could do along with some other moves. She asked if he could do a couple other things. He got a big smile on his face and said yes. Mark took off his jacket, leaving it on a chair before getting to the floor. He and Bette got into formation and did a similar eight combination routine from gym class that she and Vanessa had done. Turns and twists and hand changes, and at first, they looked like everyone else, but then the song broke down in and they went into a freestyle. Bette did some flapper style dance moves that matched her costume. Mark did a tight double pirouette and a back hand spring flip. They got close together, he crouched down, and she assisted him in another flip. They got back together, went into another four combination routine and right as the song got towards the end, they were back to back, linked in arms, and he flipped her backwards over his head, she bounced up on her toes in the land, hoisted the bottom of her dress, and slid into a split as the song played the outro.

Bette caught her breath and for the first time, people were watching her like people watched her parents. There were other people still dancing, but a bunch were watching them. Mark whispered in her ear in a bow. "Finish the show."

She adjusted out of her split into a position where he could spin her into a stand. She gave a curtsy and the song transitioned into 'Back at One' by Brian McKnight. "Can we keep it going?" he asked.


He put his hands around her waist and back and she rested her arms on his shoulders. They were close enough that they could talk into each other's ear without having to whisper or talk too loud, but not so far apart that they looked each other in the face. "'Pretty good.' You're more than pretty good." she said. "All of us had to learn this in gym at the end of last year. That's why you saw everyone doing the same moves. Where did you learn all that?"

"Dance camp. My mom thought it would be more interesting."

"More interesting than what?"

"Survival camp."


"I have to admit, this is pretty interesting."

"Yeah, I might have to agree with you on that."

There was an awkward silence for a few seconds. "Your dress fit the song, it was a good costume choice," Mark chimed in quickly.

"I like how you put together your costume. So many people here look so cheap and out of the bag. Where did you find that gorgeous jacket?"

"It was my grandfather's. I found it when we cleaned out their attic last year."

"Isn't that weird how old stuff that was for adults fits us as 13 and 14 year olds now?"

"The man was a smoker."

She gave him a light laugh. "Yeah, the lady who had this dress probably was too. My grandma told me she used to pay two packs for a quarter when she smoked. Did you do your own makeup? You certainly got that widow's peak sharp."

"My step-mom did it for me. She's actually pretty cool. She makes my dad happier than I remember my mom making him."

"That sounds like it used to be tough."

"Not any more. After turning 14 in September, I was allowed to choose where I got to live. I didn't want to live in that tiny town with my mom and grandma and what felt like six other kids in the entire county. I wanted to come back here where I knew people."

"And you’re not afraid that hurt her?"

"They're parents. They want what's best for us."

She saw over Mark's shoulder. Ozzy and Vanessa were dancing, closely and intimately. "I do know that. My parents have a love like Morticia and Gomez Addams."

"I always thought you gave off a Wednesday kind of vibe."

She laughed. "And like the Addams family they would do anything for their child. I'm very lucky. You sound pretty lucky too."

The song started to come to an end. Mark suggested one more choreographed move. They slid their arms out from each other until their hands joined, he half turned her wrapping their arms around her and they were hip to hip. On the last beat of the song, they gave each other a hip bump.

"I don't know if you remember, but I had three cups of water right before our big number," said Bette.

"By all means."

She grabbed her small bag from the table and walked to the restroom. She used the toilet and reapplied her lipstick. The rest of her make up looked pretty good still.

She made her way back to the gym and when she went to the table where all her friends' stuff was, and saw it was all gone. Bette's shawl, Ozzy's hat and cane, Greyson's black mask, Tylor's teeth, Vanessa's circlet, Jenna's yellow star were all gone. She walked over to the dance floor and flagged down Jenna.

"Our stuff is gone. I came back from the bathroom and all the stuff from the table is gone. Did someone move it?"

"No we've all been here.' Jenna got the other's attention, "Hey guys, did you see anyone at our table?"

They all looked over to see that their stuff was gone.

"I see our stuff," said Tylor. They looked at Tylor and saw where he was looking cross the gym. Along the side of the pulled out bleachers was Brock A dressed as a life guard in red shorts, neon sunglasses, and a shirt with the sleeves cut off and open on the side. They went and approached him.

"Give us our stuff back Brock." said Tylor.

"Yeah, those are rentals, they're not even mine." said Ozzy.

"Not cool." Said Vanessa.

Bette carefully removed her gloves and handed them to Jenna.

"I don't think so; these were all so helplessly abandoned." He said it in a thickly sarcastic tone while he put on Bette's shawl.

"Don't be a dick," said Greyson dryly. "Oops. Too late."

Bette calmly stepped forward. "Brock. You took stuff that wasn't yours. Tylor asked once. I am going to ask a second time. Return our items to us undamaged.

"Mmmm-no." He stuck Jenna's yellow stuffed star into the front of his red shorts. Jenna shrieked to what he did to her prop.

"That's uncalled for. If you return the items before you use both hands to put on Ozzy's hat, I will not make you scream like a little bitch."

Jenna smiled, but the rest of the friends looked at each other confused, not knowing what Bette was doing. Greyson chomped on popcorn.

"You?" he said with derision. "You're so much smaller than me. How are you going to make me scream like a--" Bette's power of suggestion worked. He used both hands to put the hat on and that was when she pounced. She dug her nails into his armpits and twisted.

"Give us our stuff, shit-bag!" She grizzled at him. The searing pain she caused brought Brock to his knees and then down to his side and his bodily instinct was to lower his arms, which enhanced the pain more and kept her hands in place hurting him further. The group was stunned by the demonstration, with the exception of Jenna. They all froze. "Grab the stuff!" She shouted back to the group kneeling next to him, pushing and twisting her nails into the flesh of his armpits. The group scrambled around Brock and grabbed their items back from screaming, crying Brock. When everything was off him, she let go and changed her position into a crouch with her knees together. He was heaving breaths trying to get through the feeling the pain she cause. She spoke to him calmly, "You took stuff that wasn't yours. We asked you three times to return it. Now a girl who is smaller than you made you scream like a little bitch. What have you learned?"

"You're a psycho," he barked at her and tried to see the claw marks she left behind under one of his arms.

She spoke softly, "No, no, no. Psychos can't be reasoned with. I am a powerful lady. And I know how to kill you in three ways from where you lie right now." She ran her fingertips across her collar bone, "Nice ribs." She hummed a laugh at him, stood up, and turned away. She looked at her friends again and her sinister smile grew to a big silly one. "Who's got my scarf?" she asked playfully and threw her arms in the air.

"Right here," said Ozzy. She went to him to take it back. "I already dusted it off, but it might stink like him."

"Nothing that a load in the wash can't handle. By the way, I know why you picked that costume."


"Because damn it feels good to be a gangster." The pair high-fived. Bette wrapped her shawl around her waist and tied it there with her purse so what had happened couldn't happen again. After washing her hands, Bette joined her friends back out on the dance floor and they all continued to have a good time. Mark and his friends danced with and near Bette's friends, and when the chances came for Bette and Mark to dance to a song that had well known choreography from the music video or the song itself had dance instructions, they took the opportunity to dance next to each other.

It was getting late in the evening and the DJ put on "I've Had the Time of My Life." from Dirty Dancing.

Bette started lip-syncing and dancing again with her girls. Mark gave her a tap. "Everyone knows this movie. You said you know how to follow?"

"Every time it comes on TV, I put in the tape instead. And you know I can."

He took her hand and moved them to a more open part of the dance floor. She took the shawl back off her waist and tossed it by the wayside. They got into the formation and he held his hand firmly on her back. They started with the basic mambo and meringue moves and he would say words like 'side,' turn,' 'twist,' 'cross,' and she followed the movement of his hand on her back. She swung her hips and the fringe on her dress flew. He got the bright look on his face and in his voice and said, "The hair thing." She understood what he meant. He took her waist; she put her hands over her head, and shook her hair like in the movie. He did the turn where they each had an arm out, she held the side of his neck, and he held her waist. It was also easy to throw in the same steps as the swing dancing with the retimed counts. It wasn't exactly the same as the movie, but it sure felt like it. He made a wide-armed turn outward with her and then pulled her close with both of his hands wrapped about her ribs and she grabbed his upper arms and did the grinding move with her hip to hip. The flirtatious look he gave her eye to eye showed through his heavy makeup and pierced her, and she never felt more beautiful. A few steps later he picked her up and gave her spin and she kicked her legs out with a big grin on her face. A few more steps later, they stopped and copied a few more things from the movie. He took her hand, looked her square in the eye and kissed her fingers. There was no stage to jump off of, so he did another back hand spring flip. She duplicated the thrown back head laugh. She stood by his side and did her best to copy the aisle dance with him as he did it: step, step, padabure, padabure, step, step, twist, twist, head twist, head twist, body roll, repeat. He pulled her back in for a few more mambo steps as the song began to crescendo. "I don't think we can do the lift that grand, but do you think we can try something else?" She nodded and he gave her a quick, basic instruction and right as the song came to the big moment, he crouched down, wrapped his arms around the top of her thighs and picked her straight up. They tilted her hips forward onto his shoulder and upper arm; she extended out one of her legs for balance, and for the three seconds with the song, was able to put her arms out wide, just like in the movie. He tapped on her leg a one, two, three, count and she dropped back and landed on her feet. They were both beaming. They went back into the dance formation and finished the song with more steps from the movie and lots of turns.

The DJ lead into another slow song, 'I'll Never Break Your Heart' by The Backstreet Boys. "Can we keep this going?" Bette asked.

"For sure," Mark said.

This time he didn't put both hands on her waist. He used the hand on her back to pull her close, and he took the other hand in hers, re-positioned it, and her hand rested on his chest with his around hers.

"You really learn all this at dance camp?" she asked.

"Not exactly. I've probably watched that movie as many times as you. I had a babysitter who was in gymnastics who taught me how to do the back hand spring when I was eight. It's a cool trick, so I make sure I can always do it."

"Nice moves guys!" said Mark's friend Robert as he walked past them.

"So that's what that's like."


"My parents go dancing on the regular together. Ball room dancing. It's how I know how to follow. My dad showed me. But what I mean is, we know Robert, obviously, but total strangers come up to them and tell them how great they look together after they dance."

"Morticia and Gomez: like you said before."

"Our house is full of old stuff." She looked over at Jenna who was off to the side and gave her a discreet thumbs up. They were silent for a moment. "Thank you for asking me to dance. School's been weird and bad, you know? I needed this more than you know."

"Yeah. I remember there were a few bad days, and a couple of mean people, but the level of meanness now is off the charts."

"I feel like I have this wall up. Like I can't say the things I really want to say, because it would make things worse, but then I feel worse for not saying what I think, and then things are bad because of other people anyways."

Mark's hand moved up and down her back. "That sounds really terrible."

"It is. But it doesn't make sense."

"As bad as it is, it sounds like it makes perfect sense."

"Not that. What I meant was, through everyone being so awful, how did you stay so nice?"

Mark smiled. "If your parents are the Addams, mine are probably the Banks from Fresh Prince." His voice brightened again, "They recast the mom on that too. That works." His voice returned to normal. "Anyways, all respect, all love, work hard, nothing gets handed to you, that kind of thing."

"Does that make you more of a Will or a Carlton?"

"I always thought Ashley got good story lines and not enough of them."

"Now that is a fine opinion. I'm probably more like Jazz. I have one favorite outfit, I say the wrong thing, and I usually leave places with a screaming, flying leap."

Mark's head fell back with a genuine laugh. "Jeez Bette. I remember you being smart, I don't remember you being this openly funny."

She saw Ozzy and Vanessa across the gym again. They were slow dancing too, and she could see his eyes were closed. His white lapel rose was in her blonde hair.

"Perception is a hard thing to change; other people's and I guess my own."

"It's, um, it's not that hard."

She heard his hesitation. "What makes you say that?"

He took a deep breath and opened their embrace and looked at her and she back at him. "I won't lie to you; I used to have a crush on you. You were smart about really cool stuff, even the weird stuff I liked you knew about, and that Wednesday thing, you-I, I thought- I just- you were cute!"

Bette felt the red in her face grow as she smiled. She pulled her hand off his shoulder and covered her eyes, "Thank God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank God, Thank you!" She uncovered her face and put her hand back on his shoulder and saw how confused he looked to her reaction.

"Did I miss something?"

"You did. You absolutely did. Thank God you did. The last two years you did. Because I don't think we would be talking right now if you saw the horror show this face and body went through the last two years."

"Probably about the same as me. Probably about the same as everyone else."

"But would you have asked me to dance if you had seen it?"

"Would you have said yes if you had seen me?"

She changed her stance, tilted her head, and spoke with playful attitude, "I recall saying 'Oh hell yeah.'"

"Yeah, you had a much bigger reaction than I imagined. I could see you liked to dance, but--"

"But you knew what you were doing. It makes all the difference in the world."

The DJ Announced the last song, ""For the Longest Time" by Billy Joel. The parent volunteers had stacked chairs, pushed back the bleaches, and put away most of the tables. Bette and Mark danced to it openly and joyfully mouthing the words to each other. Not a lot of other kids did, because they weren't sure how to dance to that song. They did do-wop and flapper style dance moves and some of the same swing dance steps, but a bit slower and with no real plan or forethought. They were free.

The song ended and Bette grabbed her shawl and purse from where she had left them a few songs earlier. Mark retrieved his jacket and said goodnight to his friends. Bette found Jenna putting on her jacket to say goodnight. "Bee, you looked so cool out there. You wouldn't believe the stuff people were saying."

"You can tell me all about it tomorrow. I'm just-- Ah! He's so sweet and he's still super interesting. I'll tell you about it tomorrow! Ah! Bye!"


Bette scampered off to the door where Mark was waiting for her. Most everyone went out the main central doors, but Bette and Mark walked down a flight a stairs and down the hallway to the doors where the auxiliary south lot was. She always met her dad there for school dances. Less waiting time for him, less searching for him among cars for her. They waited inside the school doors.

"You know I only live across the street from here? I'm barely a block away. I was going to come out this door anyways," said Mark.

"Must be nice. You probably wake up about five minutes before class starts."

"More like 45. Fifteen if I oversleep bad."

She laughed and reached out and touched the broach on his ascot. "It really is a fine piece of rhinestone jewelry. Usually vintage pieces aren't this quality after so many years. They're usually missing stones."

"It isn't perfect. The pin on the back keeps popping open. I had to keep checking it to make sure it never flew off. See." He stepped a little closer and turned the back towards her and showed her that the locking mechanism was broken and was being held in place by a jagged piece of metal. It had chewed up some of the threads in his ascot in the spot where it sat.

"I think I can help with that." She took off her earrings and dropped the first one in her purse. She took the rubber backing off the hook of the second one and dropped the earring in her purse and closed it. "This is a little trick my mom taught me to make sure you don't lose your good pins and brooches." She stuck the rubber earring back onto the pin, pushed it in a little, made sure it still sat properly and in line on his ascot, and closed the pin. "There. Now even if it pops open. the backing will make sure it doesn't go anywhere. Just like an earring."

Mark took a deep breath. "Thank you for showing me that, for teaching me that." He took a another intense breath. "You said that you said yes to dancing with me because I knew what I was doing. That it made all the difference."


He looked down at the pin. "I want to tell you good night, like, give you a proper good night, but I don't know what I'm doing and I think-I think that would make a difference." He looked back at her, with the sincerity on his face; she understood what he was trying to say.

She looked out the door, took his hand and lead him away from the glass to the nook where there was usually a big box of salt in the winter time. It was only three steps away. She looked back up the corridor to see that no one was there either. "If you can dance like that, this shouldn't be a problem." She put her other hand on the side of his head, pulled him close, and kissed him; closing their eyes. They both inhaled sharply through their noses and his free hand found the spot on her back where they mamboed. Their hands let go and their arms slowly and timidly found their way around each other. She felt like her whole body glowed in that kiss. His lips were soft, he didn't pucker too firmly, and in the kiss, she realized she was the one leading. When the moment felt right, she lowered her chin and pulled back a little looking at him.

He smiled and let out a light laugh. "I've wanted to do that since 5th grade. I never thought it would happen right bellow Mr. Barrow's classroom and be thankful for it."

"You want to thank Mr. Barrow in this moment?"

"In truth, it was Ozzy who gave me some advi--"

Bette pulled him in for another kiss. She adjusted her lips around his and he felt her change. She pulled him until her back was pressed up against the wall. Bette started to open her lips and turn her head a little further to the side, Mark's lips opened and his tongue touched her lip first. It was new, different, and exciting. She opened her mouth more and let their tongues swim over each other. She let out a clear sigh. He let out a concerned humming sound in return. She squeezed him and sighed again to assure him. He replied with a hum that sounded like 'okay'. She moved her arm to around his waist to pull herself tight into him and his erection in his pants touched her across her front. They both opened their eyes wide, seeing each other's reaction, and he pulled them apart. She was so heated that she had to brace herself against the wall and they both had to catch their breath. Mark turned away from her and adjusted himself in his pants, but she could still see what he did in the reflection of the glass door. She wiped the excess spit from her mouth and he found himself doing the same. When he turned back, she saw the brown-red lip color he wore earlier was long gone; the white make up around his mouth was smudged, and smears of Bette's red lipstick there. They gave each other great big smiles. "You-uh" she gulped. "You still wanna thank Mr. Barrow for this?" she asked as she stood up straight.

"No. I don't." He went back up to her and took her hands in his, "Thank you Bette. Thank you for a great night." He gave her one more innocent kiss on the lips before stepping up to the door.

"See you Monday," She said and gave a little wave with her fingers.

He looked back to her smiled again and headed out the door and walked away. She took the three steps to stand at the door to see him as he walked away. She refocused on her reflection instead of him. She wiped the white make up off her face with her hand, pulled out her lipstick, reapplied to cover the missing spots created by Mark and her and hoped that it would be dark enough that her father wouldn't notice. She saw he was now parked there and she stepped outside. She walked quickly and got into the front seat of the car.

"Thanks Dad. I hope you weren't waiting too long." She buckled her seat belt.

"No, just pulled up long enough to see young Hugh Hefner leave." He put the car in drive and looped in the lot to the entrance.

"He happened to have a taste for vintage wear. You didn't see his makeup. He was a vampire."

"Does this mean your mother needs to do a puncture wound check when we get home? Organic fluids test?" He was clearly a concerned father, but still quick and playful as always.

"Ew, no Dad. He was very respectful, polite, and an even better dance partner."

"Is that so, Jeannie Rousseau?"

"Is she a friend or coworker of yours?" She asked confused. "Anyways. You have nothing to be worried about. He's a nice boy who was a great dance partner and if he had done anything wrong he would have walked out of that door bleeding."

"If you say so. I won't be the overly protective mob father then. Just worried for my not-so-little-anymore girl."

"Thanks Dad."

"He'll get a 12 hour head start."


"Does he have a passport," he joked and spoke evermore playfully. "How many languages does he speak? Do we know if he knows the importance of a quick-change?"

She laughed at her father. She continued to tell him about the evening, her friends, the costumes they wore, the dancing, the theft incident, and the show stopping numbers she and Mark put on. John smiled at his happy daughter.

When they got home, John went to bed and Bette went to her room. She quietly played the radio as she kicked off her dance heels and prepared to get settled in. She took off the dress and hung it back into her closet. She stood in front of the mirror and admired herself in the way she looked in her slip. She took off the accessories and put them on a tabletop by her door to give back to her mom in the morning. She went into her adjoining bathroom and washed the makeup off her face and brushed out her hair. The music played the right beat and tempo and she found herself mamboing back to her dresser thinking of Mark. She changed out of her clothes and put on a long sleep shirt. Before she hung her large bra from one of her dresser knobs, she unhooked the flat knife that was sheathed in the front center against her lower sternum all night and stuck it back into the dresser drawer. She turned out the light and went to sleep.

Monday morning came and Bette woke up spry and ready. The day before she talked with Jenna and they recounted the dance. Jenna told her how people were watching and gabbing about how good she and Mark had looked together. How cool it was when they helped each other do back flips during the swing number. How great their lift was during the Dirty Dancing number. Bette told her about their kisses in the hallway and something might be starting between them. Neither Bette nor Mark had asked each other for anything like a phone number beyond that night, but it did not feel like an isolated thing.

When Bette got dressed and ready that morning, she thought to send Mark a sign. She put on a fitted, long-sleeved black t-shirt, a black tartan skirt that sat just above her knee, her black boots, a pendant of a tooth or some kind of bone that her parents brought her from Alaska, and she parted her hair down the middle and put her hair into two braids. If this look didn't say Wednesday Addams to Mark, she didn't know what would.

When she got to the bus stop she stood there and Cassandra came up to her with her usual bubbly morning self. She had been at the dance too, dressed as Britney Spears, but they didn't talk at all. "Hey girl. That was some dance, I saw you." Cassandra gave Bette overly exaggerated facial expressions and elbow prods.

"Yeah, I had a good time," she said it flatly; she was enjoying the feeling of the Wednesday Addams look. Halloween wasn't actually until Sunday, but she was still having fun with the characterization of it.

"You 'had a good time?' Girl, you and Mark lit that place up and now you look like someone died."

"Wait," she said with a stare.

Cassandra looked disturbed by Bette's answer.

Todd came bounding on to the corner. "Mornin'."

"Mornin Todd," Bette said with a smile. She couldn't be Wednesday to him. "You have a good weekend?"


The bus pulled up and they got on. A few stops later, Ozzy got on looking a little different; He wasn't wearing his usual black. he was wearing a light brown plaid button up shirt with a light blue t-shirt under it, a brown leather woven belt, and brown shoes, much more of a mainstream look than he usually wore. He wore his usual jeans and his hair was still spiked forward, but the style choice was distinct.

"Hey stranger," she said to him.

He gave her an up and down with his eyes, "I could say the same thing to you." He sat down across from her.

She laughed. "I'm...still feeling the Halloween spirit. Hallow-week, if you will. What about you?" She waved her hand at his fashion choice. "Would this have something to do with your dance partner?"

"What if it did?" he was a little defensive in his answer.

She smiled, "Then I would say, good for you. You two looked like you had a good time."

"We did. We really did. And I have you to thank for that."

"Really?" Her face scrunched up.

"Yeah, did you forget? You gave me her number back in summer. Vanessa and I have been talking for some time."

"Oh yeah," she said it really softly. She had forgotten. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I guess...some things are private." His tone was odd. He hadn't said anything like that to her before. They had told each other everything. His tone returned to normal, "But what about you? You and Mark killed it on the floor! You wouldn't believe the things people said. 'Unbeliev-"

"What did you say to him?" she cut him off.


"Mark said you said something to him. What was it?"

"I just gave him some advice."

"You gave him advise about me?" She was a little insulted in her tone.

"Mostly general advise. Told him he should be humble, compliment something you chose, notice if you did that too, and notice if you taught him something."

Bette covered her face, "This is not happening. My God, this is not happening." She looked back at Ozzy. "Wait, what was the non-general advise?" Her tone grew sharper with him.

"Ask you to dance, and not lie to you, but that's it."

"I don't believe this. I cannot believe you."

"Why? You two looked like you had a great time."

"But how do I know it's real? It's like you put a big asterisk on the statistic of that night!"

Ozzy went on the offense with his tone to her, "Mark came up to me. He asked me. I had to tell him we were friends, that I was not your boyfriend. That guy was scared to death of me."

"Of what?" Nothing about Ozzy seemed intimidating to her anymore.

"Of stepping on some other guy's toes to get to you. You should have seen how he talked and the look on his face. He thought I was going to kill him."

"Oh yeah. Like you could hurt anyone. Who got out stuff back from Brock? Me. No one else, me." She was frustrated and caustic with him.

"No one asked you to do that! We could have gotten any adult to get our stuff back."

"But no one did, did they?"

Todd turned in his seat. "Guys stop it. Stop."

They looked at Todd and each other. "I'm sorry Todd," said Ozzy.

"Me too. I'm sorry," said Bette.

"Not to me," said Todd, and he turned back around.

Bette and Ozzy both got sad looks on their faces, as much as they saw each other and talk and thought they told each other everything, it was truly the most honest conversation the pair of them had had together since summer. They didn't talk about their feelings much anymore. And that's when it occurred to Bette, that's what had been bothering her for months about Ozzy. She had lost her confidant, her emotional confidant. Ever since she gave him Vanessa's number, they weren't talking about those kinds of things anymore, that was the wall that went up, he didn't see it, because he had that emotional connection with Vanessa, and that wasn't his fault or Vanessa's, Bette handed that connection to him.

"I'm sorry," said Ozzy. "I shouldn't have said those things. Mark isn't a scared guy. He did some pretty gutsy things. And I'm sorry I broke your trust. It was wrong."

Bette's eyes welled up at their fight, her realization, and Ozzy's apology. "I'm so sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. And you didn't do anything wrong with Mark. You said it yourself, he went to you. And the stuff you told him about me was right. He didn't lie to me and asking me to dance was the right thing to do." Tears were streaming down her face. "Everything had felt wrong for the last couple months and this was the first thing to go right and I couldn't believe it was real."

Ozzy reached across the bus aisle and hugged her, "It's okay. It's okay." She cried into his shoulder. "I'm sorry we haven't talked about it. I had no idea you were this unhappy." He pulled her into his seat and squeezed her. "You had been so far away and I thought you didn't want to come back, I didn't see that you needed me to come and get you. I didn't see it. I'm so sorry."

She pulled herself out of his arms and wiped her face with her sleeves. "Am I a total mess now?"

"No more than you were than when I got on."

She laughed. "How about your shirt?"

"No more swampy than I leave it on a regular basis, so I'd say it's fine."

She laughed harder. She pressed her eyes into the crux of her elbow to find a fresh, dry spot. She took a few deep breaths and smiled at Ozzy. "Thank you. I feel so much better."

"I'm glad."

"And you'll know this will be true. I'm really happy for you and Vanessa. You're right, there are things that should be private, I just don't want us to feel like we're hiding from each other anymore, you know?"

"I think that makes sense. You should know, she and I, we weren't telling anyone before, it wasn't just you. The dance was the first time anyone saw us together."

"Does that include Darrah?"

"Okay. She knows. She's been to the house."

"Aww! Ozzy! Look at you," Bette smiled and gave him a gentle punch to the shoulder and he returned it with a humble smile. The bus pulled up to the school and they all got out. He told her a little bit more, but not much, about how they had been getting to know each other over the phone and at each other’s homes. His face lit up when he spoke about her. Bette told Ozzy how she and Mark used to geek out on obscure pop culture and movies back in 5th grade and how he had been sweet the other night, but she wasn't sure what he was thinking, but she had a plan to figure it out. The pair high-fived and went their respective ways to their lockers.

Bette shared a locker with Tina. They were in the same first hour math class and that's how they were paired. Tina was at the open locker when Bette approached. "Mornin' Teen'."

"Hey Bette. I'm almost done, and then it's all yours."

"Thanks. No rush. Take your time." Bette stood a couple feet behind her waiting as Tina was crouched down at the foot of it. She stood there patiently waiting when she heard his voice pass by behind her.

"Monday looking like Wednesday," said Mark in a low, sing-song voice. Bette whipped her head to the left to see him; feeling goose bumps he caused. He turned around and took a step backwards. He looked her up and down and she could see his face silently say an interested, lip-puckering 'ooh'. He tapped an open hand over his heart a couple times and reached for his collar. He turned it out to show the rhinestone brooch from the other night, and touched it to his lips. Bette gave him a wink. They both gave each other a flirty smile. She felt how red her face became. He turned and kept walking with a hop in his step. It all happened in three seconds, and as far as she could tell, no one else saw what happened between the two of them even though dozens of people were around.

"Locker's all yours," said Tina.

"What?" said Bette, turning her head forward to Tina again. "Right. Thanks." Bette smiled to herself and as she stepped forward to get to her locker, Stella, from two lockers over, closed it on her, turned away from Bette and walked away. In that moment, Bette didn't care, she entered her combination again, got the books and such she needed and went to her first hour math class.

When she got to English she was able to ask Ozzy what the 'ooh' face meant to a guy, and he let her know it was a good thing. She knew it was. She just wanted to hear it from another source. By lunch time Bette and Mark were able to pass notes to each other that let the other know again that they had a fun time, everyone has told them they looked great together, and the note ended with their respective phone numbers.

On Sunday for Halloween, Todd's parent's made arrangements for her to keep an eye on him while he went trick-or-treating. It was a couple hours, an easy $20, a bunch of candy, and with Todd's parent's permission, Mark was allowed to walk with her. Todd didn't really need to be watched in their neighborhood, she used to go with Cassandra and Jenna unsupervised when they were eight trick-or-treating. But the money was there and Todd liked having her around too. She wore her mom's light brown trench coat instead of her dark blue jacket to be more visible. She draped a pashmina scarf over her neck and enjoyed the fact that it was a fairly warm evening for the time of year. She didn't even need to button up the coat or wrap the scarf.

Mark got dropped off at her house and knocked at the door; Bette opened it with a more nervous smile than him.



"I'm glad your dad was cool with letting you come on a school night like this. Come in."

"Thanks." He unzipped his fleece jacket and put his hands in his pockets. He didn't even appear to be nervous compared to her.

"Did you want to use the bathroom or anything before we left?"

"No. I'm good."

"Sure." She scratched the back of her head.

"Betty? You gonna come in or what?" Lorna chirped.

Bette felt her heart start to race. "You don't have to take your shoes off, we're only gonna be a minute."

"That's fine." he shrugged.

He followed her out of the entry way and into the living room where Bette's parents were sitting. Lorna had a paperback novel open with her reading glasses far down her nose. John had the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle folded into an accessible section and was leaning back into a chair working on what he could on propped on a magazine. The evening news played on the TV.

"Mom, Dad, this is Mark, from school. We're just going to be walking while Todd trick-or-treats."

John got up from where he sat an offered Mark a hand shake and he took it, "You can call me John and Bette's mother Lorna."

"Guten Abend," said Mark.

"Sprichst du Deutsch?" asked John is his beautiful, thick German accent.

"Nein. But Bette told me you did. And I understand about that much." And he put his finger and his thumb an inch apart.

"Whoa!" Said Lorna. "Impressive."

"He was the one other person who knew what Diddl was," said Bette.

"A culturally literate fellow, hmm? Say, I am stuck on one on my crossword. Maybe you can help, it's just one letter." John went and picked up the paper and handed it to him. Mark and Bette looked at it, each other, and both laughed.

"Are you serious, Dad?"

Nearly all the letters around it were full, except one. _EN. The clue was "___ & Stimpy" he had letters like B, H, and T all tested and failed as ideas in the margins of the puzzle.

Bette and Mark said it together, "It's Ren. It's a cartoon."

Lorna laughed with a snort.

"See where I get it from?" said Bette looking at Mark. She turned back to her parents, "We have to go. Todd will be waiting."

"Nice to meet you both," said Mark with a wave.

"Have fun," chimed Lorna.

They headed out the door and started walking the two blocks to Todd's house. "Thank God that's over," said Bette.

"Why? Your parents were cool. And your house was like you said, full of old stuff. It was kinda like the Addams house."

"I've never," she took a deep breath and sighed. "I'd never brought a guy to the house before, as in, I'm not sure how to say it..." she was irritated with herself.

"I think I know what you mean. We might have to do the same thing when you meet my dad and Cynthia."

"When?" She asked with a head tilt.

"Um, yeah." he touched his face and the side of his neck. "Since we've been talking on the phone and stuff, it's kinda hard to hide it. I mean, we have caller ID. And they wanna know. They want to meet you."

Bette touched her hand to her face, covering her eyes briefly. "Oh, they don't think I'm too creepy because I called twice yesterday?"

"Not at all. They just wanna see what I've been--" he cut himself off. He cleared his throat. "No." He said to himself before continuing. "I won't lie to you. They wanna see what I've been so happy about."

They were a couple houses away from Todd's house and no kids in close proximity. She took his arm, kissed his cheek, and gave him a smile, "I won't lie to you either. You made that dance one of the happiest days of my life."

Mark grew a big grin. "Yeah. Me too."

They got to Todd's house and picked him up and started walking together. Todd happily bounded from house to house while Bette and Mark were able to stroll along the sidewalk and talk. It wasn't long before she had her arm linked with his. They had been going for a while when they got to a familiar house. "Hey Todd," Bette called to him. "When you knock at that one, say 'trick or treat' as loud as you possibly can," She spoke from the end of the house's sidewalk.

Mark turned to her, "Why's that?"

Todd knocked and the door opened, it was Vanessa at Ozzy's door, and far too late for Bette to stop it, Todd yelled right in her face, "Trick or Treat!"

Bette covered her face and laughed. "That was not supposed to happen." She yelled down the side walk "Sorry Vanessa, that wasn't meant for you."

Ozzy came up to the door and gave Todd a high five. Todd pointed back to Bette and Mark and the two of them waved Bette and Mark over. "Looks like we all got put on trick-or-treating duty tonight," said Ozzy.

"It's good work if you can get it. Isn't that right Todd?"

Todd shook his bag, "Ca-ching!"

They all laughed. "You guys want anything? Pop?" asked Ozzy

Vanessa eyed Bette and had her step to the side of the stoop. "You two look like you're having a good time," she whispered in Bette's ear. The boys kept talking openly.

"We are. He was great with my parents and everything. I was so nervous about it. How 'bout you?" Bette whispered back.

"Not to be too weird, but he is such a good kisser, you have no idea! Well, I guess you have some idea."

"I told you, it was barely once. And just so you know, he wouldn't have told me about your details. He's a gentleman," Bette whispered.

"Not anymore, he isn't." Vanessa whispered lewdly.

Bette stepped back and saw the giddy look on Vanessa's face. She was nearly bouncing; giving Bette up-and-down eyebrows and a silly smile. Bette tried to give her a look that said 'good for you' and 'I tip my cap to you'. Vanessa nodded in understanding and put her arm around Ozzy's back. He put his arm around her shoulder, naturally and casually.

"Can we go? I have work to do." Said Todd.

"Sure thing. Have a good night you two," said Bette.

"We will," said Ozzy closing the door. Bette and Ozzy gave each other a friendly smile and a wave.

Todd ran to the next house. "What did you two say to each other?" Mark asked.

"Oh, just girl stuff. She thought you and I were looking like we were having a good time, and I told her we were." She touched her head to his shoulder briefly. "It would be unladylike for me to elaborate further."

"Ah. I had heard you were a powerful lady. I guess, um, what does that mean? Should I be worried?"

"You? No. That reputation comes from Ozzy and Vanessa oddly enough."

"Yeah...I did hear it from them, and what you did to Brock was being talked about this last week was pretty intense. It's not exactly rumor if there are witnesses." He hesitated, "And then there's something that happened at the end of last year?"

Bette through her head back and laughed. "You heard about the chant?"

"Yes! I think I've heard five different versions of it. And with a couple of versions, it lead back to Vanessa about it, so I asked her. She denied being the origin. She said it was a different 'powerful lady.' Was the origin you? Are you the powerful lady that gave Jason Kaye no dick?!"

Bette giggled into a snort. "I won't lie to you. I can tell you the whole story. It was a team effort, but it started from my dad."

Mark's face got shocked and confused. "Holy moley. Your parents are awesome!"

Soon they dropped off Todd and she collected her payment for an extremely easy night of babysitting. On the way out of the house, she grabbed a piece of candy from the trick or treat bowl, opened it and ate it and met Mark outside. They started walking back to Bette's house.

"That was fun. You been watching him a long time?"

"Not at all. Just since a few weeks after school started. I think his parents are a little over protective because he's young in the grade. He has a June birthday. He's sweet and I don't treat him like an obligation."

"Huh. When's your birthday?"

"November 25th. It's on Thanksgiving this year, which kinda sucks. I rarely do anything fun or interesting for my birthday because it's always so close to Thanksgiving. It's just another day."

"Maybe that will change this year."

"I doubt it."

They were on the corner of her street. All the neighborhood porch lights had been turned off to indicate to the trick-or-treaters to stop coming. They were under the thirty foot tall wooden street light post and just in the right spot that they were in shadows. It was an old neighborhood with mature trees, bushes, and privacy hedges, they couldn't see into any of the four houses near them. For being out on an open street corner, they were very much alone. Mark stopped them and turned to her taking her hands in his. "Bette. I..." he huffed. It was dark but they could still see each other clearly.

"It's okay. You don't have to--"

"But I want to. You have no idea how long I've wanted to say something." He took a deep breath and could only look down at her hands. "I know I'm not that different than other guys, but you are so different than all these other girls. I mean, just right now, it's dark out and I can see your skin glow." He squeezed and shook her hands in his. "It's so pretty. I've never seen that. You soak up knowledge and culture and you're not a snob about it. You're fun and your funny. You care about people. You have style."


"What I'm saying is that there's not a ton to me, but there's so much to you and I want to get to know it better if you'll let me." He was pure, bold, and spoke intensely.

Bette's heart raced and knew how red her face was. She let go of one of his hands and put her hand on his face and tilted it up until their eyes met. He was flustered and genuine, and she softened her face and smiled to try to put him at ease. "I can't stand gum chewing, and I'm not a fan of junior mints, but I ate a box of them hoping I would get to do this." She pulled him into her and kissed him. She didn't start innocently this time. She let go of his other hand, touched it to his chest and slowly wrapped it around to his back. Mark wrapped his arms around her. Their mouths glossed open to each other and found a rhythm with each other that was easier, more natural, and even more arousing than at the dance. One of his hands swept up into her scalp and he twisted her body and Bette felt like she was in an old movie. She felt his mouth slow the kiss with her partially dipped. This time, he took the lead from her. He pulled his mouth back from hers and looked at Bette in his arms. Her eyes were still closed and she let out a ragged breath.

"When you didn't notice, Ozzy handed me a couple of Altoids tonight and said, 'mints not gum with her.'"

She opened her eyes and kissed him back quickly and softly. "If you're going to keep bringing up guys every time we kiss like that, that might be an issue for me as your girlfriend."

"You're saying you want me to be your boyfriend?" he spoke sweetly and joyfully.

"After all that? This powerful lady is powerless."

Over the next few weeks, Bette was living in bliss. Every morning on the way to school, she and Ozzy had their old friend back with one another, while still reserving the privacy of their intimate details about their respective romances. At school, Bette didn't see or feel the negativity around her, all she did was put out respect and joy to anyone around her, just like Mark did. They would trade off eating at each other's lunch tables. and still give each other space if they needed. There was a day Bette needed finish a math assignment before the end of the day, so she didn't have time for him during lunch, and he understood and gave her the space she needed to finish it with Tina. There was a day that Robert was having a tough time and needed Mark's attention, so Bette left them alone to let them work it out. They didn't smother each other or overwhelm their friends with their relationship, and it made them happy.

The first weekend in November they got dropped off at the mall and went shopping and Bette had them take the city bus home, which he'd never done before. The second Saturday, Mark had rented an instructional video of music video choreography and they learned it at his house and got to make out some more. The following Sunday, Bette's parents had him over for supper and Scrabble. When she walked him to the door that evening, he gave her a kiss dipped deeper and longer than what he did on Halloween. By the following Saturday, Thanksgiving and her birthday had passed. Mark invited her over for a movie and she gladly went.

She arrived wearing jeans, her green blouse, a black zip up hoodie, and her favorite black boots. When she knocked, Cynthia answered the door. "Hi Bette, come on in, it's good to see you again."

"Nice to see you too. Love what you've done with your hair."

"When you do hair and make up for a living, you are always making changes, and you start on yourself." Cynthia was 34 at most. Bette's parents were 42. Cynthia was as cool as Mark had said. She was stylish and trendy without being trashy or cheap like the girls at school. Her makeup was always fabulous without ever being too much, which was a line Bette didn't know how to do for herself, so she avoided it by usually wearing none. She knew about new music, TV, and movies, and didn't treat them like they were dumb kids. She was as Mark said: all respect, all love, and hard work.

Mark came bounding up the stairs from the lower level and at the same time, his father, James, out of the hallway upstairs. Mark was the spitting image of his father with softer features. James was over six feet tall with a chiseled jaw and thick hair. He worked in city fleet management and did a ton of carpentry work in his home garage and it kept him fit. His bond with Mark was clear every time she saw them together: they were best friends. His dad was a strong, tough-guy but he encouraged Mark's creative side for dance and music. They still did all the typical stuff too like play sports in the yard, camping, and fishing. He also taught Mark about cooking, home repairs, and applying the problems and solutions that they had as teens now to real adult problems later to make him think of his future. He wasn't just raising a son; he was raising a member of society. His presence and way of speaking made Bette revere him.

Bette stood up straight and spoke clearly, "Hello James, good to see you again." She would have felt more comfortable calling him 'sir,' which was how much she respected him. She wanted to give him a firm handshake, but he didn't approach her to do so. When Mark leapt to Bette's side his face was ecstatic. "Can I tell her, please? I can't lie to her about this. About anything," he was absolutely giddy.

Bette looked around the room at the smiling faces as James stood next to Cynthia. "Go ahead, Mark," James said it with a breath of contentment.

Mark looked at his Dad and Cynthia then over to Bette looking a little confused. His face lit up, "I'm going to be a big brother."

Bette took a deep breath, smiled with a wide open mouth, and then covered it. The family looked so happy together. "That's wonderful. Congratulations." Bette's eyes welled up with a couple of tears and she herself couldn't believe how overwhelmed she was for them. Mark hugged her, Cynthia hugged her. She was prepared to shake his hand, but James hugged her.

"It's still pretty early. We just told Mark and a few others. So mum's the word," said Cynthia

"Absolutely! But truly. That's--it's great. I'm really happy for you. For all of you."

"The first thing Mark said was that he had a name suggestion," said James.

Bette looked to Mark, "Boy or girl: Nicky."

Fresh Prince, the baby at the end of season three. Bette smiled without teeth and literally bit her tongue and took a deep breath to keep herself from laughing. "It's a great name. It's great news. Thank you for sharing with me. It's an honor to be included. Congratulations again."

James put his arm around Cynthia and they walked up the stairs, she leaned her head on him and he kissed the top of her head. Mark took Bette's hand and lead her downstairs; she could hear James say to Cynthia, "She's a sweet girl."

Cynthia said back, "She is."

Mark brought her down to the lower level down the hallway to the smaller TV room where they could watch their movie. "I'm so happy for you and your family. I don't know a lot of people our age who would be happy about being a big brother for the first time."

Mark ran his hands through his hair excitedly. "It's great. I always wanted a little brother or sister. Someone to talk to about our parents, someone to always hang out with. I don't even care that they're going to be a baby throughout the time we're in high school. There's gonna be this other little person that's half my dad. Half of me. It's gonna be amazing!"

She took his hand. "You might be the sweetest person I know."

Mark collected himself. "Don't speak so soon on that yet." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a little wrapped box. "I know we couldn't see each other because of the holiday; Happy Birthday."

Her face dropped and she looked more gloomy than anything else, "Mark, when I told you that, I wasn't looking for you to do anything. I don't even like my birthday."

"You're 14 now. We're teenagers. If you can't have a good birthday now, when can you have a good one? And you didn't ask, that's why it's called a gift." He held out the box to her.

She closed her eyes and took a couple of breaths. She took the box out of his hand and tore the paper. It was a white cardboard box. She lifted the lid, inside on a black velour pillow, was a vintage, rhinestone pendant of five pear-shaped, clear stones set in a star shape, with one more circular rhinestone in the center, in a sterling silver base an inch across. "Sweet Jesus." She looked at him. "Mark. This is too much."

"No it wasn't. It was a second hand store find. I paid less than $10 for it but it's nicer than anything that's new in other stores. Bette, it's you! You're the star. You're beautiful. You glow in the night, and somehow you let me capture you."

She leaned in, kissed him fiercely but quickly, and stayed close. "A star is only caught when it falls. And I've fallen."

"I've fallen too," He kissed her back, slowly and softly. They both gave each other a smile followed by a long hug.

"I have a silver box chain at home that will be perfect for this."

He pulled out a piece black nylon cord from his pocket. "I remember you wearing it with all your other pendants, so this can just be for now."

She took the pendant out of the box and he threaded it. She turned, lifted her hair, and he tied it around her neck in a double knot. It sat in the center of her collarbone. He took her hand and kissed it. "My star."

Bette had an immediate idea, "Then that makes you my moon. The pin you wore at the dance. It was a circle with similar rhinestones; it looked like a full moon. And then you. You were the beacon I needed that night. That white make up, you were the man in the moon. My dancing man in the moon."

He put his arm around her, she leaned into him. "Moon and Star," he whispered.

Bette wanted to spend as much time with Mark as possible. In the TV room, they had a copy of Titanic on tape, and she suggested that be the movie they watch. She had seen it with Jenna in theaters, but she had no interest in actually watching it. Fifteen minutes in, she leaned over to Mark, "Hey." she whispered.


"I know I was the one who had the birthday, but I want to give you a gift."

He turned and looked at her. She was unzipping her hoodie. His eyes grew wide. They both sat up, turned to each other, and started kissing; slowly at first. By this point, they had figured out how the other liked to be kissed and their respective motions. He put his arms around her, one up in her hair and one on her back. She did not touch him back. Bette unbuttoned the top few buttons of her blouse and exposed her bra. Her bra was white, demi-cut, and not elaborate, but she had a feeling he wouldn't care. She put a hand on his face and stopped the kiss; he stared straight into her eyes. She spoke gently, "You can look. I want you to look."

Mark looked down at her chest in her open blouse and hoodie. "Oh man." He looked back up at her. Bette was both nervous and into it. She reached up, pulled his hand off the back of her head, and placed it on her collarbone. His hand was next to the star pendant and partially touching her breast.

The look on his face was of excitement, ecstasy, and total fear. "Wow."

She gave him a nod. She reached out and touched his chest in the same way, "Like this would be good." She slowly moved her hand over his peck and he did the same of her breast over her bra. She gave him the lightest squeeze and he duplicated. He let out a ragged breath. She enjoyed touching him too, and she realized the more she did, the less nervous they got and the more aroused they became. She ran her hand across his chest to his other peck and he did the same of her breast. His nervous breaths went to heated as did hers, she swept her hand to the side of his chest and pulled him tight and they kissed. Mark switched hands and touched her breast with his other hand. She broke the kiss and leaned into him and for the first time, she kissed his neck while she ran her hand through his hair while he continued to touch her body. They hummed and sighed at each other's growing, passionate touching. Mark kissed Bette's neck and she found herself sticking her nails into his back to the feeling and he moaned. He kept kissing his way down her collar bone and she wanted him to keep going, so she arched her back to lead him. His lips met the full flesh of her breast where it met the cup of her bra. He made his way across and went back up her collar bone to the side of her neck and hummed his way back to a kiss to her before stopping. They were both breathing desperately. "You are awesome," He kissed her. "You are so awesome. Has anyone ever told you that?"

She tried to catch her breath. "Not--not the way you mean it. There's a first time for everything. This is one of those times for me."

"Me too. Obviously. And--" He looked briefly down at her chest again. "You're not a star, you're an entire galaxy. Awesome. You are so beautiful."

"You are so sweet, and so good in so many ways. You're attractive. And you literally swept me off my feet. How did I get so lucky?"

"I guess I made a wish on a lucky star."

"I found the dancing man in the moon."

By the end of the movie, Bette had to re-hook her bra closed and fully re-button her blouse.

The next few weeks continued to be joyous, hormonal-driven bliss for Bette and Mark. There was more than one occasion where they were nearly caught with their hands all over each other at his house. At her house, they had to be much more careful, but they had much more quality time and talking there, which was a great balance that they needed. She doodled moons and stars on anything. She didn't even like doodling, she liked Mark. As much as they liked each other, they still made an effort for their other friends, they knew they had to, it would have been foolish not to. In the days leading up to Christmas, they talked about being able to see each other a couple times over the holiday break. She could bus to his house or they could bus to the mall, or they could go sledding on the big hill behind the school if there was enough snow with their friends. It was fun coming up with ideas. They gave each other a last hug on Thursday the 23rd before the Christmas break and promised to talk again soon.

Sunday afternoon the 26th, Bette and her mom had gone out to bring some old clothes and other items to the thrift store after cleaning out some closets that morning. It was a fun activity for them and it usually ended with Thai food, which wasn't John's favorite. Lorna and Bette came home late in the afternoon with their leftovers and all smiles. John stood in the living room with his hands in his pockets and waited for them to get their coats of and settled. "Bette, I need you to come in here,"

Bette knew that tone to her father's voice. It was scared, sad, serious, yet strong. It was a fatherly voice and it was never a good one to hear. Some of the times she heard it were when she once yelled at them, when John's father died when she was eight, and when they put they had to put the dog to sleep when she was six. It was a sound that vibrated in her in the worst way, and without him saying another word, tears came down her face. "What's wrong?"

Lorna heard the concern in John's voice and they all sat in the living room together. John had the box of tissues ready. "I took a call while you were out. There was a car crash earlier today. It was James and Mark Hall. Someone ran a red light, tried to hit their breaks, there was an icy skid and they were T-boned on the driver's side. James didn't make it. He died on the way to the hospital."

Bette sobbed silently.

"Mark's left leg is broken but he's safe now. He's shaken and bruised but he will heal."

"Can I see him?" she asked quietly.

"He's with his family right now. When Cynthia called, she said that Mark wanted you to know that he would be okay. He wanted you to know first. He didn't want you to think he was lying to you by not telling you as quickly as he possibly could, even if he couldn't do it himself."

Bette cried to her father's words, to Mark's actions, to the loss of James: a great man to Mark and Cynthia.

"I can't imagine how much he's suffering. Ah!" She wailed loudly.

John and Lorna held and rocked and cried with their aching daughter. Bette cried until she thought she had no more tears in her body and still found more. She cried herself to sleep that night and when she woke up in the middle of the night just to roll over, she cried more.

The funeral was scheduled for Thursday the 30th that week and John took off work that day to take Bette to it. He suggested they get two cards, one for the family and one she could give right to Mark. She put her hair in the Wednesday braids and wore the star pendant in hope that would bring Mark some form of comfort when he saw her.

The service was somber and respectful. She felt honored just to be in the Lutheran church sanctuary among James' family, friends, and coworkers. People eulogized his virtue and passion. The times when he lived in Europe out of a backpack for a year sleeping under bridges, in barns, and hostels. Learning carpentry from his grandfather and father. His love of fishing, conservation, and protection of endangered species. So many wonderful things she hadn't learned about him in in the short period she knew him, but got to know through the image of Mark. She considered herself blessed that James thought of her as 'a sweet girl.'

John and Bette sat further in the back among some teaches that she recognized and a whole lot of people she didn't. Mark's close friends like Robert, Hank, Hannah, and Ashleigh were further forward having been neighborhood friends since early elementary school.

The service concluded and there was a reception in the basement hall. Mark's family was receiving mourners but Bette was sad and nervous and wasn't sure what to do. Besides her grandfather's funeral when she was young, this was the first funeral she had been to where she saw the gravity of the situation and felt it for herself. She went through the short buffet line of ham, dollar rolls, pasta salads, vegetable trays, Jell-O salads, and dessert bars and looked around with her father for a place to sit. She saw Mark's friends sitting together, and John saw her looking. "Go ahead Bette. I think I see a person or two I can talk to," It was the same soft fatherly voice he spoke to her in when he gave her the bad news. She stood there for a moment while she saw him introduce himself to someone and make polite conversation. John could talk to a used car salesman and sell him something.

Bette went to the table where Mark's friends were. "Hi guys. Can I sit?"

"Yeah," said Robert.

She didn't know what to say, what to do, what to ask, what was appropriate, and by the looks on all their faces, they felt similarly. After a few minutes of quiet eating, Hank slapped a hand on the table and spoke, "He was a real bad ass. That stuff about Europe. I had no idea."

"He was like a second dad. He was everyone's second dad." said Robert.

Hannah looked around the table and tried to smile. "Remember in summer, when we'd be playing 'kick the can' and stuff? And he'd be wood working in his garage with the door open? Mark would go get a pop from the garage fridge with his dad and then yell to us to all come up and get one. I still have such a love for that store brand pop. That was James's generosity."

"He always had one of those things, you know, for our bikes, remember?" Ashleigh was grasping at words through her grief. "He was like the neighborhood filling station for our bike tires. And he'd oil our chains too. Not some cheap, hand air-pump. We didn't have to walk our bikes to the gas station. He had one of those tire-air-mechanical-pump-things. That was so cool to me."

"I didn't know him like you guys did. But I had serious respect for him. Being around him was like being around a general or a king. He once hugged me and called me a sweet girl. I'll never forget that." One more tear ran down Bette's face as she said it, she didn't even try to hide it.

"He was the king of the block," said Hank.

They all tried to crack a smile. "How-how's Mark holding up? I haven't been able to talk to him yet," Bette asked.

Robert and Hank exchanged glances. "He's pretty gutted," Said Robert. They all looked back across the hall to see Mark at a table with Cynthia, his mother, his grandmothers, grandfather, and other various relatives. Mark's face was drawn and he looked like he wasn't speaking much, he was receiving handshakes and hugs from his seated position. The cast on his left leg looked immense and the crutches looked stale by his side. "He barely spoke to me about it. I think he and Cynthia are clinging to each other pretty hard right now," said Robert.

"But he'll be back at school on Monday, right?" Bette asked.

"Probably. It's gonna suck, but I shouldn't see why not," said Hank.

They kept talking and eating for a little while longer when Bette saw a lull in the crowds around Mark and his family. She thanked her classmates, got up, tossed her plate, and made her way to her father. They walked over to Mark, Cynthia, and his family. When she walked up to him and she got a good look at him, the first thing on his face to her said 'hope'. He was still clearly, devastated, but in that moment, he appeared to be glad to see her. She took the quick steps, crouched beside him on his right and they embraced each other. He leaned forward slightly so her arms wouldn't be blocked by the chair. His hand found the spot on the back of her head where he touched her when he kissed her. She whispered through cries in his ear, "He was such a good man. I can't imagine how you feel. I'm so sorry. You don't deserve this."

"Breathe." Mark whispered. "Shh. Breathe. It's what they keep telling me. Breathe. Shh."

They held and whispered comforting words to each other while John introduced himself to Cynthia and Mark's mother Gina. He didn't look like her, but they had similar fidgety mannerisms and nervous speaking habits.

"I got a card for you. Just you." She opened their embrace and pulled the card out of the handbag she carried. "I kept adding to it over the last few days, so it might not make a lot of sense."

"I'm sure it's great." He took it looked at it and put it in his suit jacket pocket. He looked at her and took a breath. "It's gonna be hard for me, for a while. It's why I haven't called."

She nodded.

"It's good to be able to see you, but, the talking part it's--"

"It's okay. Can I give you another card? And more until you’re ready?"

He mashed his mouth together. "That would be nice."


He nodded.

She hugged him and whispered, "When you're ready. The stars are there night and day."

He squeezed her tightly before letting her go. Bette paid respects to Cynthia, Gina, and the rest of Mark's family before she and her father left.

She got home and did some digging in her closet, shelves, and drawers until she found the old Diddl stationary from when she was young. She wrote how sad and scared she was but how she would be ready for him when he would be. How things are terrible now, but they, hopefully, won't feel so terrible soon. She told him how handsome he looked in his suit in spite of the cast. She told him that like the Halloween dance, she hoped she could see him evening wear again; it was one of his best looks. She got to the end of the first sheet and realized she had so much more she could say, but stopped there. She took a couple notes and decided to save them for the next one.

That afternoon, she got calls from Jenna and Ozzy who had seen the announcement in the newspaper and asked her about how Mark was doing. She answered them honestly, she didn't know, but she knew it had to be terrible. She had only been around James a few times in two months and was wrecked herself. She knew it was mostly for Mark, but she had liked his dad a lot too. Ozzy tried to offer her some consolation. He told her Darrah was letting him have people over for New Years. Tylor and Greyson would obviously be there, Vanessa was going, and he said Jenna told him she would go if Bette would. That she would feel too awful about having a good time with their friends without Bette around. Bette asked her parents. They always went to a big new year's party and they told her since Ozzy lived close, she could go, but she had to be home by one AM, and they would be up to make sure. The weather wasn't set to be too cold that night, so she knew she could walk. The guys were staying there and Jenna was going to get picked up and stay over at Vanessa's.

Bette started walking to Ozzy's house shortly after her parent's left for their party. They offered to drive her, but she wanted to walk. The cold night air and the walking felt nice compared to shutting herself in the sad cocoon of her room for the last week. The air did hurt her face. Her skin was dry from all the crying, and despite attempting to put on facial lotion, it didn't help much. She knocked at Ozzy's door and he answered. "Hey. Come on in, Bee." His house had a comforting smell of clean laundry and popcorn, and the dated décor of the house with the lighting kept the space in a soft, warm yellowy hue. They had fuzzier carpet and less formal furniture than Bette's house. It gave her comfort and for the first time is the last week, she felt herself relax and not be mournful.

"How are you holding up," he asked.

"Better. Tough, but better. The walk helped a lot. More than I realized I needed it." She took off her hat, mittens, scarf, and coat. Ozzy took them and hung them up. "It's nice to be out of my room, you know? I haven't done anything besides go to the fune--" She sighed and touched her hand to her forehead. "I'm just going to be the sad girl all night, aren't I?"

"No. Tylor is fully prepared to re-enact Austin Powers in its entirety to make all of us laugh, not just you."

Bette laughed. "Did he, or did he not bring tear away pants for the fem-bot scene?"

"He didn't say, but he said he was completely committed to the 89 minute runtime and closing credit scenes."

Bette closed her eyes and laughed. It felt good to laugh again. "Yeah, baby," she said in her best Austin Powers voice. They went downstairs and joined everyone else. There were lots of hugs all around. Bette caught out of the corner of her eye Ozzy make a hand-to-neck motion to the group. He was telling them to stop or not do something. Within minutes, she realized it was the fact that none of them mentioned Mark, his father, or the funeral. No one brought it up. It felt good to not talk about it. As the night went on and they ate snacks, played games, Ozzy sang and played music on the guitar, Tylor did the entire opening song and dance to Austin Powers, she wasn't avoiding the pain and grief, she was moving through it. She wasn't drowning in her tears anymore; she had risen to the surface. She could see the shore. She knew it was still a ways away, but it was nice having her head above water for the first time in almost a week.

It was sometime after 11 and Tylor was using the bathroom in the basement. Bette went upstairs to use the bathroom off Ozzy's room. She took her time in his bathroom. She admired how clean he kept the sink. The variety of soaps and smells, none of them too aggressive. The fact he actually used floss, his toothpaste tube wasn't gross, and put his nail clippings in the garbage can. She thought of their wager from the first day of school. She peaked open the sink cabinet and the hinge squeaked. The products she had collected were there, but they weren't in the bag she collected them in. Tampons were stacked in a cut off square tissue box, and the pads were all in a row in a rectangular cut off tissue box. It was the first time she's looked since the wager. She was touched. She didn't need one in that moment, but she was touched all the same and she smiled with pride. She finished washing and drying her hands and opened the door, Vanessa was there and their faces were inches apart. "Oh shit, I didn't hear you coming," said Bette stepping back and to the side.

"I should have been louder. These old carpets put me in stealth mode. I needed Ozzy's bathroom. Sounded like you did too. I heard the cabinet."

She laughed. "You are welcome by the way," she said playfully with an exaggerated, welcoming arm movement.

"For what?"

"For the tampons and pads."

Vanessa looked confused. "Why should I thank you?"

Bette chuckled. "You think any guy our age would keep that much product in their bathroom? No. He lost a bet to me. He's my personal vending machine. The boxes weren't my idea though."

"They were mine." Vanessa's tone was stoic. "Excuse me." she closed herself inside the bathroom.

It took a second and hearing the cabinet squeak again to realize she may have made a mistake with Vanessa. She hurried back downstairs where Jenna was showing off a new contact juggling trick she had learned using a hard, acrylic ball she brought with her. Bette walked up behind the couch and leaned into Ozzy's ear and whispered. "Where did you tell Vanessa the tampons and stuff came from?"

"I didn't. I just said I had them if she needed them."

"Well, I didn't know that, and I wager she knows differently now." Ozzy snapped his head back to look at her, Bette gave him a concerned glare.

"I didn't tell her it had anything to do with you," he whispered.

"So she thought you were extra thoughtful and sensitive? And now thinks you lied about it. Not good."

Ozzy scurried off the couch with a worried look on his face and went up the stairs. After hearing the toilet flush through the house, Vanessa could be heard speaking to Ozzy about what had happened. It wasn't so much that she was yelling, but all those years in theater had made her voice strong. And similarly with Ozzy, his voice sounded louder and angrier from his sheer size and all the singing he did, even though they were speaking normally. Tylor, Greyson, and Jenna made naughty faces and tried to listen. Bette grabbed the TV remote and turned up the volume. "Guys. That's private." And she gave them the same hand-to-neck motion that Ozzy gave them about her at the beginning of the night. "Hand me the Bopit. How long do you think I can go without using my eyes?"

"No way." said Jenna. "If anything that makes it easier. One handed."

"I can do it with my feet," said Greyson flatly.

"That! Now I gotta see that!" said Bette.

They had a good laugh with the game. Eventually Ozzy and Vanessa came back down and acted like nothing was wrong. Midnight came and went and Ozzy and Vanessa didn't even kiss when the ball dropped. Vanessa offered to give her a ride, but she didn't want one, she wanted to walk again. Tylor had already crashed, and Greyson grazed on popcorn and consulted a Magic 8 Ball with various questions. Ozzy saw Bette to the door.

"Thank you for having me over tonight. I needed it. I didn't realize how much I needed it." She put on her coat, hat, scarf, and pulled her mittens out of her pockets.

"I'm glad you came over. It made the night more interesting."

"If by interesting, you mean I wrecked your new years with Vanessa, then yes, I did that."

"You didn't do that. I did."

"I didn't help the situation."

"You did, you kept everyone out of our hair and not weird about it."

"Damn it, Ozzy, can you let me feel shitty for a moment!" She closed her eyes, took a breath, and gulped before looking back at him. "I'm sorry. That wasn't fair to you."

He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked side to side. "I don't think anything has been fair for you for the last week. I can take it."

He gave her a hug and she was finally able to give and receive a hug without crying after talking about it. It felt like real progress.

"Thanks again. “I’ll see you Monday." She headed out the door and started walking. The cool air felt good. Their neighborhood was quiet and she liked the stillness of it. There were lots of streetlights, porch lights, and old trees. She didn't feel unsafe walking home after midnight, and her parents weren't worried about it either. She got to the end of the block when she heard the sound: a clacking-stomping sound from behind her. It was Ozzy, in his hat, coat, and gloves jogging to catch up with her. She stopped and took a few steps back. "I couldn't have forgotten anything, I didn't bring anything."

"No. You didn't, I did. It's late. I should walk you home."

"Oz." He was sweet. She didn't think she needed the escort. "Alright."

They started the slow walk down the sidewalk.

"2000. We're living in the future," said Ozzy.

"Yeah it's weird. You know how it always takes you a day or two at the beginning of the month to date things correctly on homework and stuff? I wonder how long it's going to take me to remember writing 2000 on everything instead of 1999."

"Nothing exploded. So much for Y2k."

"I didn't think anything was going to happen with that. Jenna's dad bought a bunch of gallon jugs of water. I thought it was silly."

"Did you ever imagine being this old? Like when you were a kid?"

"Being 14? Living in 2000? No. I imagined what it might be like to have my own car or be an adult, but not to be our age? No."

"Like, being with Vanessa is weird. It's great, don't get me wrong. I feel old and not old enough at the same time, does that make sense?"

Bette's eyes got really wide and she spoke intensely, "Yes! Like everything tells you to go but you're scared shitless because you've never been on this ride before. Do you actually want to stop? You control the ride, right? But going feels so good. And once you get going you don't know where you wanna stop. And once it does stop all you can do is think about going again, all the time. All the damn time!" And she grunted.

Bette looked up at Ozzy's stunned face. "I was more talking about choices and responsibilities."

"What does that have to do with Vanessa?"

"Sometimes I think I might make different choices if she weren't my girlfriend. Nothing big. I pick a different brand of aftershave that I know she likes the smell of better. Or wear a shirt that has more blue in it to go with what she wears."

"What's right or wrong about that?"

"If I'm not making decisions for myself first, what's the point of getting older if I'm not being responsible for myself?"

"From what I can tell, you're extremely responsible for yourself. You've never seen Jenna and her sister's bathroom, it's a war zone. Your bathroom is immaculate. And the stuff with what you might pick for her. Do you like it? The aftershave? The clothes?"


"Is it maybe better than wearing one shade of black all the time? And not smelling like Axe Body Spray, which is worn at way too high of a volume in our school?"

"There is more than one shade of black," he joked. "But I see your point."

"I had forgotten that I gave you Vanessa's number, but I did remember something. I told her Ozzy's his own person who makes his own choices. And as long as you don't lie to her like you don't lie to me, there shouldn't be any issues."

"It makes sense."

"It's what you told Mark. He doesn't lie to me. I don't lie to him."

"And somehow you two are on some kind of roller coaster."

"It's like nothing else I've ever experienced," She almost sang it.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." He got his own dreamy look in his eye.

A short time later they were at Bette's side door. "Thanks again for having me over tonight. And for walking me home. It helped a lot. It was better than staying home."

"My door always swings open. You know that."

"I need a reminder sometimes."

They gave each other another hug. "Happy New Year! MUAH!" He kissed the top of the knit cap.

She laughed and let go of him. She climbed two steps of her porch and waved him over. She grabbed him around his head and he leaned into her, "Happy New Year! MUAH!" She kissed the top of his knit cap. "Remember, the door locks in both directions too."

He made a zipper over his mouth mime. They high-fived and made goofy faces to each other and she went inside to her waiting parents.

Monday morning came and Bette wore the star pendant and Wednesday braids again. Robert and Hank stayed close to Mark's side and made sure people respected the space he wanted. Bette had science class with Hank right before lunch and gave him the card to give to Mark and asked how he was doing. He told her he was still pretty rough but was hanging in there. Tuesday, Bette wrote in the card for Mark that opening up and having fun with other things like she did on New Year’s helped a lot. It probably won't be enough to ease him as it did her, but it might bring him a little comfort. On Wednesday that week, she gave Hank another letter for Mark, and at lunch when she saw Mark at his table with his friends, he was actually smiling and appeared to laugh. He looked so good to her in that moment and it took all the effort in her not to approach him. Thursday that week, he wasn't there, but she still had a card for Hank to deliver and he offered to drop it off at his house after school. Friday he looked sad again, and he wasn't smiling much. She had Hank deliver another card.

The weekend came and went and he did not call her, even though in her Friday card, she told him how she was looking forward to hearing from him. Monday she had another card for Hank to deliver. She asked how he was doing. He said he was getting better over the weekend, but he still wasn't ready. On Tuesday, Mark looked more like his old self again than he did since the funeral. His face was more smiles than sadness and she heard him laugh clear across the lunchroom once. Wednesday, she wrote in her card to him she hoped he would be ready to talk soon. She missed him and she hoped things weren't as hard as they used to be for him. On Thursday morning, Mark was looking more like his old self than ever before. Robert and Hank had stopped being his shields. Everyone was talking to him except her. He wasn't sad at all that morning when she saw him down the hallway. When she got to science class with Hank, she was hurt. She wrote a quick note on a piece of notebook paper saying, "Enough of this song and dance. I want to talk." When she got to lunch, she couldn't even look at him across the lunch room. She engaged her friends at the table. She had been going to him; he can come to her, despite the broken leg. Mark did not come to her for the rest of the day, nor did he call her that evening. Friday came. That morning she wanted to make another visual statement to Mark. She wore a set of black tights that had silver flecks in them and it looks like the night sky, her black tartan skirt that he eyed her in after the dance, and a t-shirt that had a star on the chest that she had specifically bought after he gave her the pendant. She wore her hair in the Wednesday braids again and the pendant on the nylon cord he gave her and not her silver box chain. She wanted him to chase the stars. When Bette got to science class that day and Hank asked if she had a note for him, she said no. When they got to lunch Bette and Mark looked at each other. She tried to have no expression for him, the poker face she knew she lacked. When she saw Hank talk to Mark, she didn't look angry or sad, he looked scared. She hoped it would be enough for him to want to come talk to her or send her a note, but he didn't. He just kept avoiding her. When they passed each other in the hall between classes, he didn't speak to her then either, but she saw him speak to other people, and it hurt and angered her further. She started to imagine all the scenarios of what could have gone wrong in the letters she wrote to him with no communications back and it frustrated her further. If she was so awesome, smart, and beautiful, why didn't she deserve the dignity of a response? People who weren't even friends of his got that, and she had given him so much more than that.

At the end of the school day she was so hurt, irritated, and angry; she didn't want Mark to chase the stars anymore. Bette was ready to be a super nova. She went down to the south auxiliary door where she knew he left each day and waited. There was a spot along the wall where if she got there first, she knew she wouldn't be seen; with Mark still in his cast, she knew he would take longer than her to get there. She didn't care about missing the school bus; she would call her parents and catch a city bus home within an hour of school ending. She wouldn't care about waiting in the cold, she was boiling.

She heard the click-step of Mark on his crutches making his way down the hallway and talking with Robert. He lived across the street from Mark and was helping him get to and from school each day. Just as they were passing her she spoke to them.

"Are you ready yet?" her tone was cold.

"Bette, no. Not yet. Maybe next week." Robert got between them. Mark looked down at his cast.

"Maybe he can tell me that for himself. He seems to be able to say it to everyone else." She got in Robert's space; he tried to gently push her back. She wanted to push him away. She knew she could if she wanted to.

"No-" Robert interjected.

"It's fine Rob," Mark said. "It's fine. It's time. Go on. We'll be fine."

"You sure?" Robert asked Mark.

Mark nodded looking sad. Robert looked at each of them. Bette was still angry. Robert took off out of the doors and left them.

"So what is it? I get a little too weird? Did I say the wrong things? What could I have done to have hurt you so badly?"

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"So you speak to everyone except me for two weeks. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"

"Bette I have to go."

"I have not even begun to tell you how upset I've been. You know you could have talked with me through your grief. I would have listened."

"Bette I have to leave."

She began to tear up, "I'm not done! Do you have any idea what it's like? How awful it is to not be sure if you've been dumped or not? I know you're going through some hard times but part of having a girlfriend is being there to help you with it! I wanted to be there for you!"

Tears fell from Mark's face. "Bette you don't understand! I'm leaving at the end of the semester in a couple weeks! I am not staying here at school!"

Her anger melted away and she was completely shattered. "What?"

"With my dad gone, my mom gets sole custody. I can't stay here with Cynthia. I have to go back and live with my mom in that shitty little town. I don't have a choice!"


"It gets worse. That day I was gone last week. I was home with Cynthia, we were feeling shitty together. She lost the pregnancy. I don't even get to have a little brother or sister anymore. I don't get to have that little piece of my dad around. I'm all that's left."

She dropped her backpack off her shoulders, wrapped her arms under his around his chest and hugged him, taking on as much of his weight as she could. His crutches fell to the floor. They were sobbing in each other's arms. "I was waiting so long to tell you because I knew as soon as I spoke to you I had to tell you. I knew I couldn't lie to you about it. The only thing I could do was avoid you and you kept giving me those wonderful cards and letters. They helped me so much. They were the only good thing I had in the last two weeks. When you gave me the notebook paper yesterday and no note today, I knew this was coming. I knew we were going to be over."

"It's not over yet. I'm still here. You're still here."

He caught his breath and stopped his tears. "If there's something I've learned in the last month. We call that stage one: denial."

He opened their embrace and wiped the tears from her face with his hand. "I'm so sorry I was angry with you. I said it once before and I'll say it again, I can't imagine how much you're suffering."

"Would you help me get home so we can talk about it?"

She nodded. He braced himself on the wall while she picked up her backpack and his crutches. It took a while to get situated. She carried his backpack in her free hand and he was able to move quicker down the sidewalk. His neighbors had been helpful and made sure that the sidewalk was clear of ice and snow for his walk to school. She called her mom when she got to his house and let her know where she was and would keep her updated on a time when she would be home. Lorna was understanding knowing that the two of them hadn't spoken and it was not a school night. Just call with any updates.

After some talking and lots of tissues, Mark filled her in. He was allowed to stay until the end of the semester for school, but in two more weeks when the semester ended, he would have to go back and live with his mom again. He explained the legal issues between his mom and Cynthia but it was all so foreign to her. Cynthia made them some dinner and they settled in the downstairs TV room to talk some more. Mark was laid up on the couch and Bette sat by his side holding his hand. Music played on rotation on the five-CD stereo.

"I knew life wasn't fair, but I didn't think it could suck so bad," said Bette.

"Yeah, I've been thinking about that kind of thing a lot. Dad used to tell me there's no such thing as fair. There's just what the world gives you and what you make with it."

"And what do you want to make with it?"

"I think," he looked at her hands. "I think we can make the best of the next couple weeks."

She cried another couple silent tears.

"I think I caught a falling star and it would be wrong to keep it bottled up after I'm gone. The stars need to be free."

"But not until then, right?"

"Okay." She wrapped her arms around him and they hugged for a long time. She stroked his hair and took in his scent. He ran his hands up and down her back and her sides. She felt a tear run off her face and onto him; she kissed his neck to pick it up. She wasn't thinking romantically, but he returned the kiss to a similar spot on her neck and it felt good. She returned the kiss to his neck, slower, longer and in more spots. As she did, the way he touched her back changed from comforting to desirous. His hand movement slowed, he squeezed, and he grazed the sides of her breasts with his thumbs. He leaned his head back so she could start kissing around his neck and up to is ear. She took his earlobe in her lips and he responded with a moan. He took a sure grip of her, twisted her, and pulled her into a sitting position across his lap and she gasped. Their arms were draped around each other and they took a moment to look at each other. Her legs didn't sit evenly because of his cast but they had never been so close, She settled how she sat and she realized she could feel his erection again, but this time, she wasn't surprised to feel it against her leg. And wearing tights, it felt even closer. And he didn't seem scared to realize she could feel it either. She gave him a slow kiss and moved her leg against it. When she withdrew, she kept moving her leg; he closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling.

"Bette," he said softly.

"Yeah Mark," she whispered back.

"There's a CD. Do you mind putting it in?"

"Sure." He helped her off her lap and she went to the CD stereo. "Which one?"

"The white envelope. The ones Justin makes." Justin was the one kid in their grade who had his own computer with a cable modem and bought blank CDs and for $2 per CD he would burn you a mix of whatever you wanted of downloaded music from LimeWire. "And maybe, set the disc on repeat?"

She put the disc in and programmed the player to repeat the disc instead of rotating to the next one. The first song that started was "Cry to Me" by the Solomon Burke from Dirty Dancing.

"Would you dance with me Bette? Here?"

She thought of the scene in the movie. She went to him. She knelled across his unbroken right leg, straddling it. He sat up and wrapped his arms around her back. She hunched slightly to be close to the same height as him. He began to sway her to the music. His hands on her back took the lead like they did at the dance. His shoulders moved back and forth with hers, and even though his legs didn't move, he was still a terrific dancer. He opened their embrace and stretched her back into an arched back dip and her head nearly touched his cast. When he pulled her close again, she felt herself grinding against his leg near his knee. She ran her hands over his stomach and his chest over his shirt and around the back of his neck. When she opened up their embrace and they saw the looks on each other's faces and she felt where his hands were on her back she nodded. She kissed him. Their mouths opened to each other slowly and passionately, and while they did, Mark's hands slid up the back of her shirt and unhooked Bette's bra. She kept grinding her hip against his leg and she felt his hips swirl beneath her. His hands made their way to her front; he lifted her bra off her breasts, gently and thoughtfully massaging her breasts. He touched her in a way that felt more right than she could express, and she wanted him to keep going. She pulled away from the kiss and turned her head for him to kiss her neck and he gladly did. The music moved her. Mark's hands and lips heated hear and she grinded against his leg harder and faster. And before she realized it she was panting in Mark's ear.

He licked her neck and her ear and whispered, "If you're doing what I think you're doing, don't stop. I don't want you to stop."

She held him with one arm and braced her other arm on the arm of the couch, "I'm not sure what I'm doing, but I don't want to stop either."

"Can I look at you?" he whispered.

"Yes," she sighed.

He carefully opened their embrace not to throw off their rhythm. His hips still swiveled under her while she rubbed her groin against his leg. He looked her in the face, "I know that look." His fingers fondled her nipples. "I didn't know you did."

"I didn't. I don't. I--I--I-- Ah!" Bette squeezed Mark's thigh with hers at the sensation that screamed through her body and breathed heavily through it. She'd never felt it before as it rippled from her core to the top of her head to the tip of her toes and back again over the next several seconds. She gripped the couch and his shoulder to keep herself from falling over. She breathed hard through it and realized what she did. She closed her eyes, straightened her legs over him, causing his hands to slide off her chest and out from under her shirt. Feeling embarrassed by what she had done, she covered her face with her arms in front of her. "Oh God, you must think I'm some kind of freaky perv now?" She sounded like she was about to cry, and in a different way than she had been earlier.

"Not at all."

"Cause I sure think I am. Who does that?" She stepped a leg off the couch and began to stand pulling herself out of his arms while still covering her face.

He reached up and yanked her back down to his lap, "I do!" Her hands were off her face and she could feel his erection in his pants again. "Did you forget that quick?"

"But you didn't, you know, finish the ride."

"Just because you don't see me do it, doesn't mean I don't. Everyone does it. Just before I had you change the music? Do you not remember the dance? That kiss?" His face was red. "I told you, I won't lie to you. What do you think I did two minutes after I got in my room that night? Am I a freaky perv?"


"No! Exactly. And you're my girlfriend and this stuff is private to us, right?" His tone changed to be concerned. "It is private?"

"You ever see that show Sex and the City on HBO? Girls actually talk like that. But I do believe in privacy." She touched the side of his face. "So I'm not gonna get weird looks from Robert and Hank about this?"

"Absolutely not. I won't get any weird looks from Jenna, Vanessa, or Ozzy, right?"

"I only tell Jenna about the basic stuff, like the fact we kiss, but I don't get specific, and she's not that interested in hearing about it. And I don't talk to the others about that stuff; privacy."

"Then as long as we're both okay with it, then we did nothing wrong, right?"

"It was kinda scary and weird for a moment, but it didn't feel wrong. I liked it...a lot"

He rubbed her back. "It was intense for me too. Nothing I've seen or talked about with anyone prepared me for that. I'll never forget that."

"As in two minutes after I leave can't forget?" she said raising her eyebrows and giving a wry smile.

"Oh yeah. For sure." She gave him a kiss and a hug and moved her leg against it. "Or you keep doing that, I'm not going to have to wait until you leave."

"God. You're sweet and you're sexy and that is a deadly combination."

"I'm sexy? I just had the prettiest girl in our grade jack it on me. You're a bonafide icon to me now."

She closed her eyes, laughed, and landed her forehead on his shoulder. "Ah, I'm never going to live that down with you, am I?"

He squeezed his arms around her, "Nope. But it's our secret."

They held each other stilled for a moment. "Two weeks, huh?"

"Yeah. When the semester ends. My mom comes with a moving truck; I'll be gone on Saturday. Two weeks from tomorrow."

"And it's over, isn't it?"

"I think we'd both be lying if we said it would be a good idea to keep trying to make this work after I'm gone."

"How long have you known?"

"I was told in the days after the funeral. It was all kind of a blur, I don't remember which one, but it was before we got back to school."

"I want to try to enjoy as much time with you as I can then. I want to help you pack. Get rid of stuff you don't want. You can tell me about that old junk," she smiled. "I want to be here for you. That is, if that is what you want."

"That sounds like a nice way to end it. But no tears. I don't want to see any more of that. I've seen too much of it already."

She gave him a little smile. "I think I can manage that." She gave him a kiss and felt him grow in his jeans for her. "Every time, huh?"

"Oh yeah. And that Monday after the dance when you wore this skirt and your hair like this." He made the 'ooh' face that he did in the hallway that morning. "I couldn't believe you dressed like that. And then you winked. You looked so hot."

"When you whispered you gave me goose bumps. And you with that pin! Did you see how red my face got? No one had ever looked at me like that before."

"If you could have seen my reaction after I turned. Or on the way home from the dance. It was all over my face."

"I didn't know what you were thinking after the dance. I had to figure out a way to get your attention."

"You always had my attention."

She sighed, leaning her head on his shoulder; she could see the wall of video tapes. "I can't believe I never noticed. I was so scared back in 5th grade. Just trying to get through the day without getting teased or bullied. I didn't know what a good guy looked like when he was talking to me about Johnny Carson tapes and Sailor Moon."

"You knew all those camp songs."

"It's pretty much the only time I sing at all."

They were quiet for a couple minutes.

"Did you ever think it was weird Mr. Barrow only had like six different shirts?" Mark asked.

"Yes!" Bette said. "And if you could get him to talk about sports, he wouldn't assign homework."

"Hank's older sister told me about that. I totally exploited that a couple of times."

"It worked better in spring with baseball season. I'm not sure what he liked more, talking about baseball or not grading homework."

"I'm sure it was a nasty combination of both."

They laughed and talked for a while longer until Cynthia gave Bette a ride home. She told her parents what was going on with Mark leaving at the end of the semester in two weeks and how he had to move away. They were both sad but facing it head on now. She asked then about helping him pack up after school over the next couple weeks. She could, as long as Cynthia was there and she was home by 6:30 each school night.

Those next two weeks were bittersweet. Bette let her friends know what was going on and why Mark was avoiding her for so long. She sat with Mark and his friends for the last two weeks he was there at school during lunch and her friends understood. After school each day she's help him home. They'd copy each other's science homework because it was the only class they had the same teacher for. Then she would help him pack. In the occasional box when he wasn't looking, she'd hide a note written of a memory of a good time they had together. She didn't know if he would find them days or years after he moved, but she hoped it would be something that would make him smile in the future. There was a lot of stuff that Mark found himself not keeping, like childhood toys, posters, and trophies. The things he wanted to keep was the stuff that belonged to his father, his watches, decorative boxes and chests he had made, their camping and fishing gear, photo albums, vintage t-shirts from his college years, his sunglasses, a gold ring with a sapphire he wore on his right hand, and other personal items. Cynthia objected to none of Marks choices, as far as she was concerned, it was all his to pick from first, anything else she would do with as he wished. When Mark wasn't sure what to do with all his father's clothes, Bette suggested donating the clothes to a homeless shelter, and Mark agreed. The more of Mark's old stuff they got rid of, the better he felt. He described it to her as a molting bird. He felt like he was shedding the old feathers needed so he could be who he was supposed to become. She tried not to look morose when he said it; she tried not to feel like one of his old feathers.

The semester ended and it was Mark's last day in town. Bette did her damnedest not to cry. She helped Cynthia and Gina load the last of the boxes into their vehicle along with Hank and Robert. Hannah and Ashleigh were also there waiting. It was a bright day for January and the air was still. Bette didn't even feel the cold of the 25 degree air, she just felt heartbroken. She let her body be Mark's crutch as he made his way to the car after everything was packed. His other friends said good bye to him and he asked his mom to give he and Bette a moment of privacy before they took off; the car was already running.

"This is it," Bette said.

"Yeah," said Mark

"I guess---I guess it's better that it ends this way then with us eventually not liking each other and then breaking up."

"I don't know if I could ever have done that."

She sniffled. She wasn't sure if it was the cold air or the unbearable heartache, "Damn it Mark. You make it impossible to not like you." They hugged in their bulky winter coats.

He whispered in her ear, "I fell for a star."

She whispered back, "I fell for the man in the moon." They gave each other one more soft, slow kiss. She thought of the Halloween dance. "Thank you for asking me to dance. I had a great time."

"I had an awesome time with you. Thank you."

She opened the car door and he got in. Bette closed the door behind him and went back up to the house door with Cynthia. No tears. They waved to each other and the vehicles took off. It was truly over. Cynthia let her in the house for a while and they talked for a bit about things other than Mark and then she took Bette home. Bette asked for her business card so she could go to her for haircuts in the future. As she dropped Bette off, she gave her a small envelope that had a little bulk to it.

"Mark asked me to give you this after he left. He didn't want you to think that a cold, outside goodbye was the only thing he wanted to say today."

"Thank you. Or I guess--um, you know, right?"

"I do."

They gave each other a big hug and Bette went into her house and up to her room to read the card.

She opened the envelope and the bulky item in it was the circle brooch he wore at the Halloween dance. My moon. She took out the card and read it.

My Star, Bette-

I'm sorry that our relationship had to end for reasons beyond what we could control. The world gave us our time together and we made with it what we could. You were a great dance partner, so smart, interesting, awesome, beautiful, and to me, forever an icon. But you have an inner light about you that glows brighter than you realize and that's what I liked about you most. You will forever hold a place in my heart.

--Your Moon, Mark.

She read the card again and again, what felt like 50 times because that was when the tears came. She collected herself enough to call Jenna to talk, but no one was home and she didn't want to leave a message in the state she was in. She picked up the phone again and called Ozzy.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Hi, it's Bee." her voice was distraught.

"You just get home from him leaving?"

"A little while ago."

"Sounds like it went pretty tough."

"It didn't get bad until I got home."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Are you available to hang out or something? I mean. My mom is great, but this is different, you know?"

"I remember you helping me with Cassandra. I follow."

She cried and he was didn't say anything for a moment.

"Can you give me an hour? I can be there within in an hour." he asked.


"I'll be there by then."



She hung up the phone and sobbed for a bit longer on her bed. She got up and told her parents she was going to have Ozzy come by and help her out. She said she was sorry she didn't ask, but she hoped they would understand. They did, and let her make use of the living room for when he arrived. She answered the door when he knocked.

"Hey Oz." Her face was a red mess.

"Hey." He stepped in and took off his hat and coat. He stuck his CD player and headphones into his coat from where it clipped on his jeans and around his neck.

"You want some water or something? I mean, we have Diet Coke, but I know you don't like it."

"No I'm fine. I don't need anything; I ate before I came here."

"Sure." They went into the sunny living room and sat on the couch.

"How are you holding up?"

"I feel like wet garbage. Is it always this awful?"

"I don't think what you experienced was normal in terms of a break up. You looked down the barrel of a gun and watched the bullet come."

She closed her eyes and cried and wiped her face with more tissues. She handed him the card. "I can't believe he's such a good person. Who says stuff like that?" She took a drink from her glass of water as she let him read the card he had for her.

"An icon? What does that mean?"

She choked on her water a bit and coughed as she put the glass down. "Um, well. You know that, roller coaster ride?"


"I...finished the ride."

Ozzy got the same stunned look on his face when he walked her home on new year’s. He lowered his voice. "You mean you two--"

"No! We didn't--" She tried to listen for where her parents were in the house. She lowered her voice too. "We never did it. He didn't even use his hands. I never even saw him. We were making out and stuff, fully, almost fully clothed, and it just kinda happened for me."

"That can happen?"

"I didn't do anything to stop it."

Ozzy looked around and covered his mouth in shock. "Holy shit."

He so rarely swore, and she remembered they never got that personal with those kinds of details. "I shouldn't have said anything. That was messed up for me to say."

"No. Or, yeah. Um." He cleared his throat. "It's so...I mean I don't expect you to answer, I just don't understand how it's possible." He stared forward, not looking at her.

"Oh it's possible. I mean, now that I've said it," she gulped. "It feels kinda nice to be able to share it with someone. To talk about it. Privately." She said the word firmly. "Jenna doesn't like hearing details. It's nice to know someone else understands."

"But that's the thing. I don't understand."

"I barely understood it myself." She took another drink of water.

"It makes sense why you're so wrecked. I mean, Vanessa and I have been together longer than you and Mark were, and nothing like that has ever come close to happening to either of us."

"But it wasn't just that. That was just one small thing that happened one time. It was everything else that was so much bigger. Look at the card again. He said all those other things to me before he ever called me an 'icon.' And the part he said after he never said before. I never heard anything like that before."

"Really? You didn't know that? Everyone knows that about you. Why do you think you have the reputation of being a 'powerful lady?'"

She looked at him confused. "I--I don't--Vanessa did that."

"She might have coined the term. But people already know that about you. Everyone knows you're different and not everyone knows how to handle it. Why do you think Mark liked you so much? He wasn't intimidated by your inner light, he was inspired by it."

She cried more tears at the thought of Mark.

"He might be gone but you're going to be a bench mark for him for years. He mentioned 5th grade to me when he asked me about you. You already were his bench mark."

She cried, "You're not making this any easier."

"Shoot. Come here." He wrapped an arm around her and she raised her legs onto the couch. She rested her arm over his middle, clenching a tissue.

"Beach Boys? In My Room? You made it sound so nice."


Ozzy began to sing the song to her. He could feel her cry as he sang. As he continued to sing, he began to rock her and stroke her back. She sniffled, cried, and let it out until it didn't hurt as much as it did when he began. When the song was over, he waited for her to say something or move, and she didn't. He saw her hand across his stomach had gone limp, he pulled back some of her hair and realized she was asleep. A few minutes later, John walked by the door and Ozzy waved him down and made a 'shh' mime and pointed to Bette. Ozzy pointed to a blanket across the room and John draped it over her. Ozzy mimed and mouthed for his jacket and John brought it, with his free hand, he took his CD player out and listened to it and waited while Bette slept. Ozzy listened to his CD play through once fully and begin to repeat while Bette slept. Over an hour later, she took a deep inhale and woke up. When she moved, she realized she had fallen asleep on him. She felt the brown flannel blanket and his arm on her back. She turned her head and quickly sat up. Ozzy also took a deep inhale, he had fallen asleep too and her movement woke him up. He took down his headphones, rested them around his neck and turned off his CD player.

"Did that help? Do you feel better?" He asked causally, rubbing his eyes with his hands. "Hour long couch naps are the best, aren't they?"

"How did you get your CD player a-and the blanket?"

"Your dad handed them off while you slept."

Her eyes got big and she looked worried. "He saw us?"

"He had a really pleasant look on his face about it. So I think if he was mad about it, he wouldn't have helped. But seriously, how are you feeling?"

She took a moment to look outside at the snow and the dimness of the late afternoon. She was warm, comfortable, and heartbroken, but didn't feel as wrecked as she did earlier. She didn't feel as bad as she had in the last month. "I don't feel like wet garbage anymore. Maybe more like warm, dry garbage."

"It gets easier. I promise it gets easier. It will probably take longer than two days, but it gets easier."

"Thanks Ozzy."

"My door always swings open."

"Mine too."

The next several weeks Bette pushed through the difficulty of the break up with Mark. Valentine’s Day was difficult and made her nauseous. It all felt so fake, but inside she knew she was a hypocrite because she and Mark would have been all over it, and she made herself sicker about it. She tried to engage herself with her friends more. She made a stronger effort to do math homework with Tina and her grades got better in the class. Katie and Bette talked about movies. She introduced Katie to her favorite movie: Cabaret and she loved it. They found themselves passing pencils and putting on invisible hats with Fosse-style dance moves in the hall, and it turned out, Greyson had seen the movie too and knew the references they were making and he opened up for the first time that year. They found themselves joking around with the song "Two Ladies" with him a lot and he stopped being so flat all the time. Bette and Tylor found themselves able to repeat bits from Saturday Night Live to each other and making the whole lunch table laugh. Jenna and Bette reconnected as best friends again spending hours together every weekend playing video games and board games with Jenna's sister. Ozzy remained her confidant through all of it.

There were still occasional tough days where she would think of Mark or come across the rhinestone moon and star in her jewelry box and it struck her in a way that brought her to tears and she would call Ozzy and he would talk her through it. Then there were days Ozzy asked her advice about harder times he was having with Vanessa. She wanted to help him like on New Years' but also didn't want to get too involved either. Between her breakup conversation about Mark. and Ozzy coming to her about Vanessa, the privacy line they had discussed was gone. She tried to do what her mom did to her, ask questions until he came to his own conclusions.

In late February, Vanessa broke up with Ozzy, and she had to be there for him again. They sat in his basement and he wept and she cried with him. It was different than when Cassandra broke up with him. He was destroyed this time. He shared how much Vanessa had meant to him and how much he had shared with her since school had started. Since her parents were divorced, he had shared about the issues he had with his parents, something he had never done with Bette, and he still didn't elaborate about it. Cassandra hurt him because he's never been hurt before, this time Vanessa had known Ozzy closely, more romantically, more personally, and for far longer. She didn't have him only sing the song "In My Room" by the Beach Boys. They listened to Beach Boys CDs until he felt better that day.

Through spring, the seven of them: Katie, Tina, Tylor, Greyson, Jenna, Bette, and Ozzy were tighter than ever. Life at school still wasn't perfect. Cliques and mean pranks still went on throughout the year. A letter calling out the mean behavior that had been written by a student was printed and dropped all over the school. Referring to the cooler trendier kids as 'prep lemmings' and how none of them had the ability to stand on their own as individuals, which is why they all had to stand together and make fun of everyone else and be mean to others who weren't like them. Bette secretly loved it because she agreed with it. It was like a badass secret pamphlet from geeky renegades and she strongly identified with the writer. She had been targeted by 'prep lemmings' herself: Brock A, Jason Kaye, Stella, and Norman. It felt good to know she wasn't alone; it felt good to know that she didn't feel like an isolated victim. No one ever found out who it was. A couple people asked her if she was the one who wrote it, but she said the sentence structures and language usage in it weren't her style and if she were to do something, this wouldn't be it. A dance and the Pi day fair did get cancelled due to the letter and the bad student behavior in the process. The administration came up with an idea. Everyone had to say something nice about everyone else. Everyone in the grade was going to get a list of everyone else in the grade and they had to put a positive feature about them next to their name. While they had to turn in their list with their own name on the top so the teachers could see who took things seriously. All the recipients would get their accumulated lists of positive attributes anonymously, so no one would know who said what, and still know that not everyone around them is actually as cruel as they think, and maybe, they'll be a little less mean to each other. It would be something that would positively bond them. And maybe, just maybe, they would remember the nice things they said about each other, treat each other better, and not go into high school continuing to be jerks to each other. Bette got the list of the 200-plus kids in her grade. Most of whom she had known since elementary school. For most of them it was easy to find something good to say about them. She decided to take the project seriously, she didn't like the idea of people throwing away answers on her, she didn't want to do the same of them. When she got to someone she didn't know well at all, she complimented them on a piece of clothing they wore, or how they wore their hair. She tried to be thoughtful and respectful in her answers. When it came to the people she had difficulty with, she was able to answer honestly, and it wasn't that hard to find a positive attribute for the. Jason Kaye was 'super strong.' Stella 'didn't take crap from anyone.' Cassandra 'always had a positive bubbly attitude.' With her friends, it was easy. Tina could 'keep a secret like no one else.' Katie was 'a great dancer.' Greyson was 'a wonderful person when he chose to open up.' Tylor was 'more considerate than people give him credit for.' Jenna was 'the best friend any one could have.' When she got to Ozzy, she had thought about the last two years. People didn't know him as well as she did, with the exception of maybe Tylor and Greyson. She wanted to write something that would be singular to her, but not so different he would know she was the one who said it if no one else did. She stared at his name on the paper for a long time before she wrote, 'would trust him with my life.'

The last day of school for the eighth graders was a literal field day. The school rented a big tent and put it out on the soccer field and the events extended all the way over to the baseball field. There were big inflatable games, field games, water games, tournaments, a DJ, a cook out, and more. Bette had seen the event from the school windows the last three years and had been looking forward to it for a long time. Everyone was enjoying the morning and around midday when everyone was going through the buffet lines for lunch, Bette saw everyone getting a piece of paper at the end. She was with Jenna at the time they were getting their food.

"God I'm starving. That wiffleball game took more out of me than I thought." said Bette.

"Yeah. I'm glad we were on the same team for that. I'm so glad enough people wanted to play. I don't get why so many of the girls just want to rotate and bake in the sun up on the hill. They're missing out on all the fun." said Jenna

"I don't get it either." Bette dropped some broccoli and cauliflower florets on her paper plate. "Have you heard about what are they handing out at the end of the line?" asked Bette, craning her neck to look.

"It's the kindness surveys. Remember?"

"I forgot about that! Between final projects and stuff, It completely slipped my mind."

"I know! It's been a crazy couple weeks. And that history-art project, what a bitch."

"Ugh. Even with my Dad's help. I still got a B-. I'll take it." Bette topped her burger with all the fixings and grabbed a diet coke from the giant ice water tub of pop cans. They went up to the teachers handing out the surveys and got theirs by their last names. They looked around the tent to see Tylor and Greyson already seated and eating and went to join them.

"Hi guys. What's better, the food or the surveys?" asked Jenna.

Greyson was smiling ear to ear. "These things are insane. Great and insane. I had no idea people thought I was 'funny'." He looked to Bette and chuckled, "And probably because of you and Katie, people think I'm 'a ladies man.' I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life!" Greyson couldn't stop laughing.

The girls laughed at Greyson laughing. "What about you Ty?" Bette asked.

"How many synonyms are there for 'funny?' because I think I got all of them. Oh, and someone out there thinks I'm 'super cute,' and I 'dress cool.' I just like weird t-shirts. I didn't think the 'Make 7 Up Yours' shirt was fashion. Just funny."

"I guess it's both in this case," said Jenna.

"Yeah, I was really bummed when I had to stop wearing it to school. What about you two?"

The girls unstapled their papers. Jenna read some of her highlights first, "Genuine. Athletic. Smart. The best friend anyone could ever have." She looked at Bette. "Gee, I wonder who wrote that one in."

"See you are smart." Bette looked at hers and read over the list and tried not to tear up. The last several years had so much bullying, hiding, and being private. She thought only her friends and Mark had seen her, but there were more than six different kind words on the paper, and they were all so different. The page before her touched her. "Asks great questions in class. Humble. Generous. Helpful. Stylish dresser." She saw them all but she stopped there. If she had kept reading them, she would have cried. She folded her paper back in half. "This was cool."

The four of them ate and traded yearbooks to write messages in. The guys finished first and left to join the water balloon toss game in in the field. Robert came up to Bette as she and Jenna were finishing eating.

"Bette, do you have a minute?"

"Sure, what's up?"

"Mark bought a yearbook back in fall. I'm having people sign it for him then I'm sending it to him. I thought you might want to put something in it."

She and Mark had made a clean break. They hadn't spoken with the exception of the notes. The notes had left him notes in his boxes and the one he had left her with the pin. She might as well leave him one more. It was a yearbook after all. "Sure. You want to write in mine while I write in his?"

"Sounds good."

Bette opened up Mark's yearbook and saw all the signatures and messages Robert had collected from their classmates. Lots of them were hoping he was doing well at his old/new school and wishing him the best. She went to picture in the yearbook from the Halloween dance she saw a few days ago when she got the yearbook. A photo she didn't even remember being taken. Her head swam with so much joy that night; the only camera she had remembered was Tylor's disposable camera. The picture was of her and Mark mid turn when she held the side of his neck and he held her waist during "Time of My Life." Only the first ten pages of the yearbook were in color, and this big beautiful picture of them was in there. The corner of that page of his yearbook was open and blank and she wrote to him there.


While the school year has come to an end. I want you to know, It's with so much joy. Winter was awful but spring is here in more ways than one. Middle school is over. We are about to be freshmen and the world is at our feet. No. The entire sky is before us. But for us, the moon and star, it always was, wasn't it? This star is shining. I hope the moon is too.

I hope you Footloose the hell out of that small town over the next four years!

You will always have a place in my heart too.

(You can)

-Bette "on it" Wheelan

'(You can) Bette on it Wheelan' became her main yearbook signature for everyone that year, It worked after almost any positive well wish to someone, and she was pretty proud of the cleverness of it. She blew on the gel pen ink to make sure it was dry before closing the yearbook. "Thanks for doing that. I'm sure he'll appreciate that you did."

"I'm sure he'll appreciate you did too."

She wrote in Robert's yearbook too before she and Jenna got up and found their friends in the field for more games. When the bell rang at the end of the school day, she went to her bike and got ready to head home. Ozzy had taken his bike that day too.

"I didn't see you on the way in this morning," she said.

"I barely made it on time. I didn't time the trip in right."

"As if it would have mattered today. What are they gonna do, give you Saturday school?" She said it in a thickly sarcastic tone.

They unlocked their bikes and walked them through the groups of kids and up to the main sidewalk. "Lead the way," said Ozzy. They mounted their bikes and headed down the sidewalk home. Bette honked her old school bicycle horn to warn the walkers they were coming. After the second block, they had passed all the walkers on their bikes. A couple blocks later, Bette scratched her back below her neck and felt the immense pain of a sunburn. She saw the pharmacy coming up fast and came to a stop.

Ozzy saw the look on her face when he came to a stop next to her. "Yep. I should have reapplied. It's my own fault. I know better." She turned her back to him and lifted her hair and showed the bright red sunburn to him. "I can feel it. Is it bad?"

Ozzy made a wince face that she couldn't see. "Yeah. It's bad. That sucks."

"I'm gonna go in and get some aloe or something for it."

"I can wait without bikes so we don't have to lock them up again."

"Sounds good. You need anything?"


They backed up their bikes to a shady spot next to the building. Bette grabbed her wallet out of her backpack and went in, leaving it there on her bike with him. She walked through the pharmacy stopping by the rack of sunglasses. She turned her back and caught a glimpse of the burn on her back in the gap of her halter top in the narrow mirror of the display. She mentally kicked herself for not reapplying sunscreen a second time after her mom had put a layer on her that morning. She grabbed a tube of aloe, but when the pharmacy tech saw her and she showed her the burn, she suggested a hydrocortisone cream with aloe in it instead. It was more expensive, but it would be more healing. She grabbed it and a couple more things and checked out. She met Ozzy back outside in the shade sitting on the retaining wall. As she approached him she tossed something to him, "Heads up!" She tossed the Twix ice cream bar to him.

"You didn't have to do that."

"I know." She unwrapped her own Oreo ice cream sandwich. "It's weird, I didn't even mean to get ice cream that matched our looks, it just kinda happened."

He opened it and took a bite. "Oh yeah! That hits the spot. Thanks." They sat and enjoyed their ice cream and the beautiful weather. She finished her ice cream first, wiped her hand on her shorts, cracked open the cream she bought, and started applying it to the top of her back. Ozzy finished his ice cream and wiped his hands on his shorts. "You're missing most of it." He held out his hand to take to tube from her. "Here."

She hesitated, "Alright." She pulled out her bottle of SPF 50 and reapplied it to other visible spots while he got her back. She felt like she was scrubbing the sunscreen into her arms, face, lower thighs, knees, collar bone, and the little bit of her breast that showed. When she was rubbing what was left back into her hands, she realized how carefully Ozzy was touching her back, he was hardly touching her at all.

"Did you not see how I put on sunscreen? How I always put on sunscreen? You don't have to be so careful."

"I can feel the burn coming off you. I don't want to hurt you."

"It's going to hurt no matter what. It's like a Band-Aid coming off. Put down a thick layer and do it. You're already doing it; I'm going to have you put on sunscreen after. It's not a big deal!" As soon as she said it, she didn't know why she got so aggressive saying it.

"Okay! Fine!" He matched her energy answering her. He took a squirt of the tube and squeezed it hard and emptied half the tube on her and began to wipe it in. She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes tight. She felt the pain of the burn. Ozzy's enormous hands pushing on her and the heat that radiated off them didn't help much. The cream only did so much to help in the moment.

"Thank you for doing that." She said uncomfortably. "It hurts like hell, but it needed to be done."

He was quiet for a second then stopped. "I'm not sure what do here."

She didn't move. He tapped the side of her arm with the side of his arm. She turned and saw his hands were caked in the hydrocortisone cream. She looked up at the confused look on his face. She burst out laughing and snorted. "Okay. This helps. This helps a lot." She opened up her backpack and pulled out the t-shirt she won from one of the games that day. "Use this."

He gave her a goofy look. "Thanks albino."

"Thanks giant." She said it back in a cartoony-deep voice.

The terms had long since lost their negative power over them, and it was the right thing to say in the moment. He finished wiping off his hands and tossed the t-shirt into her face. "Your hands clear enough? I should still get some actual sunscreen back there, if you are still willing."

"Sure." He picked up the bottle from next to where she sat and applied it to her back. The sunscreen was warm from being in her backpack all day, outside, on such a nice day. Now that thy hydrocortisone was on her, it didn't feel so bad to have another layer going on.

"If you get some on the shirt, it's not a big deal; I'll probably change when I get home."


"Did you have fun today? I didn't see you much."

"Yeah. I did."

Bette sat there and looked side to side as he helped her with the sunscreen and chose not to elaborate.

"Did you get your kindness survey?" She reached back, twisted up her hair so he could get the back of her neck.



"It was really nice."

"No shit, it was nice. That was the point." She felt like he had sufficiently covered her and turned around. She saw him pull his hands back and wipe what was left of the sunscreen onto the back of his hands and forearms. "What? What is it? I'm sorry I snapped at you before. It wasn't cool of me to do. It hurt. I'm sorry." The words flew out of her.

"No. It's not that. Don't worry about that."

"Then what is it?"

He pulled out his wallet and took out a piece of paper and unfolded it. It was the kindness survey. He handed it to her and she read it. His name at the top and all the things everyone said about him: Talented. Good singer. Good looking, Future rock star. Funny. Confident. Brave. Cute. Dresses well. Smart. Sweet. Strong. Tough. Cool. Artistic. Great friend. Respectful. Would trust him with my life.

She looked at him looking almost blue. "What's got you down? This is great!"

"I got my lunch early. I think I was one of the first ones to get it. I looked at it and as kind as it is. It doesn't feel true. I've only gone to school with all you guys for two years. Most of you all have known each other since practically kindergarten. Who says this stuff? Who believes this stuff? I feel like such a fake!"

Bette pulled out her kindness survey. She had put it in her wallet too. She handed it to Ozzy. He read the details about her: Asks great questions in class. Humble. Generous. Helpful. Stylish dresser. Smart. Powerful lady. Brave. Bad ass. Great dancer. Funny. Well read. Takes no crap. Caring. The prettiest one in the room. "You don't think I read that and felt like a total fake? I don't know who that is. But the people who know us sure do."

"But this is you," said Ozzy shaking the paper.

"And this is you." she replied shaking his paper back at him.

"But these people don't know me."

"I know you. I can tell you they're not wrong. I can tell you you're not a fake. Am I lying to you?"


"No. I'm not going to do that. None of us could. We all had to put our names on the surveys when we had to fill them out. No one could be an asshole about it. I took it very seriously, and it looks like everyone else did too. Did you?"

"Yeah. I did."

"After the surveys, did you notice people weren't being such dicks anymore?"

Ozzy scrunched up his face. "No, they weren't. People were a lot nicer in the last month. I thought it was the last month of school and the weather making everyone happier."

"I'm sure it helped. But Oz, don't get yourself down about this. I read mine with Jenna, Tylor, and Greyson. They were laughing and smiling. It took everything in me not to cry because I was so touched and full of disbelief. I have spent the last four years trying to hide enough to not get teased. I don't know who in our grade thinks I 'take no crap.' or am 'brave.' And being a powerful lady is basically an urban legend. I didn't earn that."

"The story of you taking down Brock A single-handedly was confirmed with witnesses, myself included." Ozzy was smiling again. "No one messes with the powerful lady after they find out what happens when someone steals from her."

Bette chuckled. They each took their papers back and put them away. "You think any of it will translate to us becoming freshman?"

"If all this is as true as you say, there shouldn't be any stopping us."

They high-fived and got back on their bikes and made their way towards home. Bette set the pace in front. They stopped at the corner near her house. "I can call you this weekend. We can set up the badminton net. The weather is supposed to be nice. No rain."

"Sounds like fun. You can count on it."

She looked at him, took a breath, "I'd trust you with my life on it."

"Come here." He sidled his bike close to hers and put his arms out. She leaned in and hugged him; he rested his cheek in her head. "You'll be the prettiest one in the room."

She squeezed him a little harder before letting him go. "Confident future rock star."

"Humble bad ass."

They started peddling away from each other. "Respectful good singer!"

"Funny, great question-asker!"

The summer was another wonderful time for Bette. She spent lots of time with Jenna, Tina, and Katie. The four girls became much closer over the spring and spent more time together in the summer. Katie was paler, but blonde, and she helped teach Bette do make up beyond the lip color and mascara she would wear. She had difficulty mastering the eyeliner, but she took a lot of time to practice it. Tina had never played bocce ball or croquet before, so Bette had fun teaching her. There were a lot of weekend games at her house when all four of them could play together. They also got to play doubles badminton, which got pretty competitive and lead to a couple of different fights between them. It would take a couple days for them to cool off with each other, but they were eventually fine and forgot what they were fighting about anyways. It was never important enough to remember. Bette learned they were better off not playing such an aggressively competitive game; or at least, she shouldn't play one with them.

That summer, Jenna's family also installed an above ground pool, so there were also lots of nice days spent at her house when they could get there. Bette could easily bike there and Jenna's family knew her, so they had no problem with the two of them using the pool when her parents weren't around. On the scorching hot days, Bette would still suggest they go to Pebble Lake. It was Thursday August 3rd on one of those a days she called Jenna to do so; but she wasn't home. Bette called Ozzy. He had been less available that summer. Between hanging out more with Tylor and Greyson, he made an effort to mow lawns in the neighborhood for cash, and was making pretty good money doing it. They only saw each other once every week or ten days. On that hot day, she did get a hold of him, and they did ride their bikes to Pebble Lake. They didn't go to the main public beach; they biked up the hiking path and locked their bikes to a couple of trees. They then hiked down the hillside to the hard rock path to the lesser known beach on Pebble Lake. They were the only ones on the hidden beach. Despite the hot, sticky day, the water still was cool going in, but as soon as she dunked her head, she was elated. Ozzy was still up on the beach as she swam and swirled in the water like an otter. She called to him, "Once you get in, it's so great!" She floated on her back with her eyes closed, propelling herself with her arms just enough to not sink. Even though her ears were underwater, she could hear him slowly sloshing his way into the lake. She heard the splash of him diving into the deeper water and felt the wave of the water move her. She gasped when she felt his hands come up from under the water, grab her around the waist, lift her up out of the water, and throw her a couple feet with a big splash. She squealed in the throw and landed in her otter-like swirl in the water. She surfaced. "You ass!" She splashed at him laughing. "You know I can't do that to you."

He laughed back, "You don't know unless you try." He stuck his arm out to her. She swam back over to him. He stood there solidly while she jokingly and exaggeratedly tried to move him by his forearm. He yawned. "Is there a breeze? A fly?" He joked. He playfully brushed her off him with his other hand.

"Yeah. Yeah." She swam away from him in a back crawl and gave him little splashes with her water shoes.

"Why the water shoes? Why not go barefoot?" Ozzy asked.

"I don't like burning my feet on the hot rocks. And I can't make the running jump of the big rock barefoot."

"You weren't lying about that?"

"Of course not. You know that."

Ozzy pointed down the lake to the big rock that Bette was referencing 100 feet away. It was a large, narrow rock that ramped up and over the lake. It had urban legends attached to it about it being part of a stone bridge, but there were no roads or paths near it. Another legend had it that someone put it there just so people could jump off it. There was graffiti on it, but no clear, safe way it could have been put there. The running leap you had to take off of it was only 18 inches wide at the top and you had to jump hard and far otherwise you might not hit the deep enough spot for it to be safe. The rise over the water was 20 feet up on rainier years and higher on drier years. "We've come here before and you never jumped off it."

"I didn't feel the need to show off that I could."

"There's no way you jumped off that." Ozzy's tone was more than a little patronizing to her.

Bette didn't say a word. She stared him down and walked out of the water and down the beach along the water's edge to the big rock. She climbed up it to the flat surface, made the running leap without hesitation and flew through the air and splashed down into the water below and swam back to where Ozzy was. She breathed somewhat heavily from the distance she had to swim. "I did that for the first time when I was nine. It's a fucking thrill. You should try it."

He laughed. "You're insane!"

"You know I'm a powerful lady." She ticked her head back to the rock. "There's the source of my power."

Teenage years

About the Creator

Tinka Boudit She/Her

contact on FB & IG

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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