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Bette On It: Weird Adolescence

2003-2004 Senior Year

By Tinka Boudit She/HerPublished 3 years ago 202 min read

WARNING: Depicts graphic sex

Senior Year 2003-2004

Bette was sad to miss the first day of school. She spent the morning getting discharged from the hospital and picking up prescriptions with John. She looked through the other mail that her parents didn't bring to her including her class schedule. Now that she was a senior, she had nearly all her required credits to graduate. She had to take enough classes to make her transcript look good and she could take a couple interesting classes and arrange to not have a last class period again like she had last year. She didn't need to take a math or science. She was required to take Government 12, and for her English class, she choose the creative writing course. Everything else was open. She signed up for psychology and sociology which were each a semester course. She signed up for the life skills class that spent half the year teaching them to cook and the other half of the year teaching taxes, budgeting, resume building, and other things she would actually need to know after graduating. She also signed up for photography. She was never artistic with her hands, but she knew what she thought was beautiful, and she hoped she would learn how to better capture it.

Most seniors didn't take the school bus because they would have late arrival, or carpooled, but Bette took the option for early dismissal so she could have the option to go to work at the museum if she ever wanted or needed it. She stood at the stop and waited. She stood there tired from a week in bed recovering from her surgery. John made sure she ate a big breakfast that morning to get her energy back. Her jeans were still a little lose after a week of not eating in the hospital, even though she was full from the coffee, cereal, and toast she had a little while ago. She stood there looking at her nails when another student approached the stop. She didn't look up.

"Hi Bette."

Bette furrowed her brow and looked at her nails another second before looking over at the boy with the short sandy brown hair. He had braces and clear skin. He was barely taller than her with a body frame not much bigger than hers. He wore a navy sweater, jeans, and a silver chain around his neck with a sixteenth note charm on it. "Todd?!"

"Yep. In the flesh."

Bette melted. The two of them lived two blocks away but she hadn't seen him since she finished eighth grade. She put her arms out to him and hugged him. "Look at you. You're all grown up!"

"Not quite." They let go of each other. "But you look like you did."

"Not quite. But close."

"I thought you'd be driving in."

"Don't have a car," she shrugged. "Except when my parents go on vacation. Then I get to take one of their cars to school, which is fun. They're going to Panama for 10 days next month. I can give you rides in the morning."

"That sounds fucking awesome!"

Bette gave Todd the same pertinent look her mother gave her when she made poor word choices. "We still don't have a swear jar, young man. But I think you know better than that."

They laughed as the bus pulled up.

Bette met with Jenna before her first hour class. They had arranged to be locker partners for the year and it was the first time they ever got to be. Jenna gave Bette the combination and she put her backpack away. She was still under lifting restrictions for six weeks, so she couldn't carry much from class to class. She got lots of questions and comments from her classmates about missing the first day. Bette was never one to miss much school for anything. Over the years she had three different school years for perfect attendance. People who had known her well were surprised that she would miss the first day of school of all days. She told the short version again and again: she had her appendix taken out, she got out of the hospital yesterday, and she was fine. She didn't have a problem showing people two of the three scars on her stomach. Only Ozzy got to see the third one that was a few inches below her belly button. Her last class of the day was photography. She got the syllabus from the day before and the first assignment. She was surprised how thorough the class was going to be. She had seen other people around who were in the class in the past, but didn't know how intense it was. They were going to learn how to develop film and learn classic techniques. Photo assignments had different requirements about light, subject matter, and angles, and you weren't allowed to repeat your photographs. It made sense, but it meant that there was going to be a lot of film and a lot of work, more than she anticipated for the class. And of all the people who could have been in the class with her, Mark was not who she expected.

After class, Bette went to her locker and got ready to head home for the day. Most everyone else was in their last hour class; she had to leave fairly quickly. It was a three block walk to the right city bus stop and her bus would be there within twenty minutes. She was tired and she knew she would be walking slow. She walked out of the building and started down the block. She was grateful for the downhill slope. As she approached the end of the first block, a car horn honked and she looked at the source. It was a red pickup; Mark's red pickup.

"You're walking home?" He asked through the passenger window.

"I'm going to the bus stop." She said with a partially glazed look on her face.

"You look exhausted. I can give you a lift."

She looked down the street at the further walk, then up the street at the cars approaching behind him. She hop-walked and got into his truck. "Thanks." She took off her backpack, buckled up, and he started driving. "I didn't think I would be this tired."

"I didn't think you would have to take the city bus home."

"I have early dismissal. Ozzy has late arrival. If our schedules lined up he would drive us in his car. We only live a few blocks away from each other."

"I remember. Halloween."

Bette yawned. "Right."

"How are you feeling otherwise?"

"Just tired. Tired and weak. I can't work any shifts at the museum for six weeks under doctor's orders. They said school is intense enough."

"Are you still sore?"

"No. The pain was mostly gone Monday. I had them get that morphine machine out of my room so fast. I hated that thing. The worst pain after that was when my coworkers Kasey and Sean came by with flowers, balloons, a get well card from our other coworkers, and she brought me a vanilla milk shake."

"How is that painful?"

"They took the morphine machine, but I was still on antibiotics on an IV that made me nauseous when I ate. That shake tasted so good going down, and still surprisingly cold coming back up. I warned them, 'I'm gonna puke!' Kasey ran out of the room to get the nurse and she handed me this shallow kidney-shaped basin to puke in. I said, 'That's not gonna be big enough!' And they handed me the bedside washtub and it all came out."

"And it hurt?"

"Humiliation is a pain I know well. Vomiting in front of people is not one you forget quickly," she chuckled.

"You seem to be okay with it now."

"A lot has happened to me too in the last three and a half years. I'm not the same person who gets bullied by Jason Kaye or Stella anymore. I've given up what on caring what other people think of me. So I guess it wasn't that painful."

"The Powerful Lady has grown even more powerful."

Bette rubbed the triple spiral pendant. "Like you wouldn't believe."

A moment later he pulled up to her house and put his truck in park. "If you're okay with it, would you tell me about it? Like I told you?"

She yawned again, "Not today."

"I can give you a ride home again tomorrow. Would that be okay?" Mark looked scared asking her. He kept his hands on the wheel as he spoke.

"I can let you know in class tomorrow."

"That's more than fair."

She nodded. She could have fallen asleep right there in the warmth of the cab with the sun shining down on her. "Thanks for the ride home. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Anytime. Bye."

She went in the house and crashed on the couch and slept until her parents got home a couple hours later.

The next day, Friday September 5th, Bette started the day the same as before, she got through the morning only slightly less tired. At lunch, she finally got a chance to talk to Ozzy. She didn't get to talk to him the night before because he stocked shelves at the grocery store until close and they couldn't call each other. She took him aside for a private moment and let him know that Mark was in her photography class and he gave her a ride home. She was so tired from yesterday and today is not shaping up to be much better. She told him that she had no interest in Mark in any romantic sense. It's been far too long. He was a friend a long time ago, and he wanted to be again. She told Ozzy she loved him and asked him to continue to trust her. At the hospital, she had told Ozzy in the everything that Mark had told her about his last few years, his card, and his apology. He wanted a fresh start. He needed an old friend. There in the hallway at school, Ozzy hugged her, kissed her, and looked her square in the eyes and told her there was no way he could ever stop her from making her own choices. He had total faith in her. He always did.

"You always understood me, my Highland man." She hugged him around his middle and rested some of her weight on him.

"When you leave the door open to me, it's easy, my powerful, wild lady." He kissed the top of her head hugging her back with a side-to-side rock.

"You really are Oz the Great and Powerful. I love you."

"I love you too. You can Bette on it."

She got to photography class and when she saw Mark she made a driving mime at him and nodded. He timidly smiled and nodded back. After class she got her back pack and they walked to Mark's truck. She was yawning again. On the drive home that day, she only had enough time to tell him about the second semester of 8th grade. She opened her wallet and showed him the kindness survey. She kept it after all that time. It was creased and tearing, but she kept it all the same. Mark said that kind of thing would have been helpful at his old school. He could have used something like that. He asked to hear more. She said if he was willing, he could take her home like this again on Monday. He timidly smiled and nodded again with his hands on the wheel. It was in that moment she realized; Mark really wasn't the same joyful boy she knew from years ago. He said he wasn't going to let that small town kill him, but it was now clear to her, when he came back, part of him was already dead.

October came and Bette's parents went on vacation. Lorna's parents watched her and the house while she was gone. She loved her grandparents and she had all the same freedoms while they were there. She also got to use her mom's car to go to school. She picked up Todd and she played the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Chicago for him. Lorna kept the CD in her car. Their favorite track quickly became "The Cell Block Tango." Todd had taken choir the last couple years at school, was still in it, and was pretty good. He sang "Mister Cellophane" beautifully. He said he didn't quite understand the pain of the song or how to capture it. Bette told him he still got the feeling right.

The Sunday her parents were gone, Ozzy's aunt worked that day, she went to his house and they spent the day together. They had sex in his room, on the couch in the basement, and pleasured each other in the shower, which they rarely had so much time to do. It was the first time she let him take her kneeling from behind and she screamed so loud in pleasure she was afraid the neighbors heard. He sang and played guitar for her. They gave each other massages and she walked on his back. She put on his t-shirts which were giant on her, tied them off with his belt, and put on a mock fashion show for him. He recited lines from movies in childhood cartoons in the voices to make her laugh. He rested his head on her legs while she read articles from the latest issues of Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone to him and she ran her fingers through his hair. He played downloaded music from his computer and danced with her. She made him pork chops, vegetables, and baked potatoes like her mom did and didn't mess it up. She was proud of herself and he asked for seconds. They were still best friends who were madly in love.

Over the season she applied for the colleges she was interested in going to and went on tours with her mom and dad on weekends when they had open house weekends for tours and programs. She liked the main state university and another one in a smaller city the most. Her creative writing class helped a lot when it came to writing the essays and was able to double up on submission essays for class and for the applications once and she felt positively naughty using the same paper three times to complete her work. The weekend after her 18th birthday, she got a big envelope in the mail from the state university main campus. She was accepted. She cried tears of joy as her parents both hugged her and cried too. She called Jenna first to give her the news and she was so happy for her. She was on track to go to a private university in the same area and wouldn't be far away from Bette next fall, so they would still be able to see each other occasionally. She called Ozzy next who was just as overjoyed for her. He told her how proud he was of her and how proud she should be of herself. She called Skye and told her. Skye had already been accepted there too and was excited to know someone around on such a big campus. Skye reminded her that as the school year went on, more and more people they knew would probably be accepted.

It was Sunday December 7th and Bette didn't have to work that day. She wanted to spend time with Ozzy, but he took a full day shift at the grocery store. She called Jenna, but she worked a full day at the fast food restaurant too. She called Mark. He didn't have a job; she figured he would be available. He answered and he was available. After talking for a little bit, they decided to go to the mall. She needed to do some Christmas shopping and he needed new running shoes. He offered to pick her up and she let him. They went to the shoe store and he picked out what he wanted right away, after they went to the book store. They separated in the store. He went to the music section and she went to check out books on travel and antiques for her parents. She was looking at a ten day guide through The Netherlands when she got a tap on the shoulder. "Long time, no see," said Jamie; Keith's old friend.

"Shit. How are you?" Bette and Jamie hugged. "It's been too long."

"No kidding. Things have been good this year. Frankly, I wish I had gotten you in the break up instead of Keith. He became such a whiny pain with a persecution complex. You wouldn't believe the stuff I had to talk him out of after you broke up with him."

"Like what?"

"Put it this way. If it weren't for me, there might be a restraining order with his name on it. That dumb motherfucker."

Bette shook her head with a small smile behind her hand. "Then I'm glad you were there to help." She looked over her shoulder at the music section and saw Mark checking out CDs. Jamie noticed.

"See something you like?" He asked in a cheeky attitude.

"Me? No. I have a boyfriend. The guy over there is a friend of mine. Brown hair, black jacket, white shopping bag. We came here together."

"Shit." Jamie said softly. "I wouldn't mind coming together with him one bit. Mind making me an introduction?"

Bette laughed. "Jamie! I don't mind playing the role of wing woman, but Mark isn't gay."

"Neither am I, but a mouth is a mouth. I love your boobs and I could probably love his dick if I had the chance."

Bette snickered a laugh into a snort but the look on Jamie's face was sincere. "You really want to meet him, don't you?"

"He doesn't even need to speak more than two words. I could do my business and go." That time Jamie sounded like he joked.

"Alright. But don't get mad at me if he's not interested."

"Give me five minutes. He'll be interested," Jamie popped a mint and shook his hair.

Bette touched her fingers to her forehead and shook her head at Jamie smiling. This is going to be insane. The pair walked back over to the music section.

Mark turned to them. "Doesn't look like you found any books."

"No. But my old friend Jamie found me," said Bette.

"Mark Hall," He offered his hand and Jamie shook it. "I haven't seen you at North."

"I go to Private West. But you'd be worth changing schools for." Jamie raised and lowered his eyebrows at Mark.

Bette covered her mouth and raised her eyebrows. Mark laughed. "There's a first time for everything."

"Wouldn't be my first time," said Jamie lowering the tone in his voice. He looked Mark up and down.

Mark looked over to Bette trying to hide the shock on her face. "You put him up to this," Mark asked Bette.

"I swear to God I did not." She was bright red trying not to laugh.

"I ask her to meet you. It's what friends do for each other," said Jamie had a heavily flirtatious look on his face for Mark.

Mark got a sarcastic smirk on his face. "Maybe with different friends we'll meet again." Mark turned and walked away from them.

Bette excused herself from Jamie and caught up to Mark.

"What the hell, Bette? Did you think that would be fun for me?" He said it irritated with her. "I told you about that stuff with Greg because I needed you to understand, not so you could make fun of me."

She suddenly felt awful about what had happened. "Mark, I swear. Jamie is a friend of the old, icky boyfriend. I told him you and I were friends. He said he wanted to meet you. I didn't think he would be so aggressive. I thought he was joking with me."

"It wasn't funny."

She stopped them and had him look at her. "Mark. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I didn't think about your history just now. When I spent more time with Jamie in the past he was always like that with people. He's bisexual. He's abrasive. He's sarcastic. He's obnoxious to people who don't know him. I like those things about him because he's so real, but not everyone likes that kind of fiery punch to the face and I'm sorry I didn't warn you or ask him to chill out!" She felt terrible and tried not to yell in the busy mall hallway.

Mark just looked at her blankly. "He's bi? You two weren't pulling a prank on me?"

"No. After all the stuff you told me about the time you've been gone, I would never use that against you. That would be cruel."

"I never thought you could be."

They left the mall and he took her home. He pulled up in front of her house as a gentle snow fell.

"Thanks for hanging out today. I'm just sorry I didn't find any Christmas presents for my parents," Bette said.

"You have them for Christmas. You're lucky."

"It's hard isn't it? This time of year?"

"It's the worst. Everyone else is so happy. We were going out to buy timber for his next project. I wanted to go with him. I sometimes wonder if I didn't get in the truck that day if he would still be alive," Mark said in a dower tone.

"You can't picture your life like that. You told me he told you there's what life gives you and what you make with it. Make something."

He let out a single laugh. He straightened his fingers on the steering wheel and looked at the ring. He smiled. "I'm glad we got to hang out today." He looked back over at her.

"Sure. Me too."

"And believe it or not. I'm glad I got to meet your friend Jamie. He was a trip."

Bette let out a breathy laugh. "You're kidding? He was so--" She couldn't think of a word quick enough.

"Honest," Mark interjected.

"Yeah. I guess."

"I always said I won't lie to you."

"I won't lie to you either."

Mark looked her square in the eye. "I'm bi."

She was quiet for a moment as they looked at each other. "Okay. That makes sense." She said it with no surprise in her voice.

"What makes you say that?" He seemed genuinely perplexed at her lack of judgment.

She took a deep breath and looked out the windshield and back to him. "Little things. The way you react to something. Certain things you've said about the past few years. The way you talked about Greg. The care and kinship without attraction. That and you're like the fourth person who's come out to me. I'm starting to think I have a beacon or something."

He laughed. "He wasn't my type."

Bette was genuinely curious and the question fell out of her mouth, "But I was?"

Mark patted his right hand over his heart and made the silent 'ooh' face. "Wednesday the ten."

She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I'll see you tomorrow." She opened the truck door.

"See you then."

Over the next couple weeks, Mark told Bette more about his struggles beyond what he had told her originally in the hospital. Mark had befriended Greg because he could tell he was gay and never made him feel bad about being different. Mark procured him the music that Greg liked and labeled it in a way only he would know and no one else would want to listen to it. Mark was also the one who got Greg the porn he wanted from the gas station and told him who else in town was buying it. It was part of why he was so angry and went so insane when Greg killed himself; he felt responsible for Greg's dad finding it. In the days after he died, the rumors started about Greg's death and his sexuality. Suicide in a closet had a clear context that couldn't be denied. Mark felt extra guilty having to deny the rumors as his friend. He asked Greg's father to be a pallbearer in his funeral but was refused a spot. He told Mark to never set foot in his house again. Fags aren't welcome in his home, but he couldn't stop him from coming to the funeral. His father wasn't going to make a scene there, and Mark wouldn't either. Mark started swiping liquor from the gas station after shifts and would drink until he passed out. He started flaking on school. His grades from earlier in the year were high enough to get him passing grades that year, but barely made it. He was eventually fired from the gas station. Without access to liquor anymore, he sobered up quick and did everything he could to help his mom sell the house.

It was Sunday December 21st. Bette and Ozzy were working on their psychology homework together. They weren't in the same class period, but they had the same teacher and the same homework, so it was easy to have an excuse to get together to do the work. The psych homework was done quickly. Bette wore a long skirt that day so if she and Ozzy could have an opportunity to hook up, she'd be able to do so quickly. She also brought her camera with her to get some shots of Ozzy for both photography class and for themselves. She put in a separate roll of film in the camera just for them. She told him to take his guitar and play in a place that felt natural, where he felt his best; he sat on his bed. She told him to keep playing and she would do the rest. He started performing songs from his notebook. She adjusted the blinds and let the natural light come in. It was difficult to work with, but she loved the lines it created on him. The snow outside enhanced the brightness of the sunlight. She gave him a fixed point saying this spot was his audience, if you're going to look, look there. She moved to different points of the room focusing, refocusing, and clicking the camera while he performed for her. She constantly had to adjust the blinds to the changing light, but she didn't care. He was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and she loved him. She stood in the spot where she told him his fixed point audience was and she watched him through the camera. He was sexy, passionate, and alive, but something was missing.


He stopped playing and looked at her as she lowered the camera. "Yeah."

"Do you remember the look you gave me when you first asked to take off your belt?"

"I'm pretty sure I looked like an idiot because I didn't know what to say."

"No." She giggled. "I mean the look you gave me while you took off your belt."

"Oh." He raised an eyebrow and lowered it. "I might need a little motivation for that."

"Keep performing, rock star." She said to him in her sexy voice to him.

He kept singing and playing she adjusted the camera's focus to where she wanted and when she had it right, she touched her breast with her free hand. Ozzy looked aroused, but it wasn't the face of his she wanted. She tried letting out a sexy moan, but he knew the sounds she made and the look on his face said 'you're kidding me.' She reached down with her free hand and started bunching up her skirt. Her hemline slowly rose up her leg. Ozzy's face started to change as she viewed him through the camera. He was turned on, but she wanted that face that was etched in her memory. Her skirt was bunched up around her hips and she showed him her panties; Ozzy started breathing harder as he sang. His face was closer to what she wanted to capture, but it still wasn't right. She stuck her fingers into the top of her panties and said softly, "Go." A split second later, Bette snapped the camera, took her hand out of her panties, and let her skirt hem fall. Ozzy had started to get up. "Stop. Got it. That was the look I wanted from you."

Ozzy's face dropped. "God you're good. You had me going there. I thought you actually wanted to have sex there for a minute."

She held her camera in front of her chest. "We are making art, not love right now."

"I can do both." He said with a playful smile.

She walked up to him. From where he sat on the bed, they were eye to eye. "First business then pleasure." She kissed him softly but quickly.

"How much more business is on the roll?"

"Another dozen."

"Can I try?"

She gave him a smirk. "Okay. But it means I can't use this roll for class. If it's not for an assignment, I can't use the darkroom. I'll have to get it developed elsewhere."

Ozzy grinned. He set his guitar aside and took the camera strap off her neck and put it around his. "Lie down."

She closed her eyes and chuckled. "Ozzy, I'm not going to--"

"I'm asking you to trust me. It's your camera. It's your film. I'll stop as soon as you tell me to stop." He didn't ask intrusively, but he wasn't begging either.

"Go ahead," She had total faith in him.

Ozzy had her take off her blouse. She had a spaghetti strap tank top and bra on underneath. He had her take the straps down and she tucked them into the sides of her bra. He had her get in the bed and use the top sheet to cover her chest and leave her arms and collarbone exposed. She looked like she could have been nude. He handed her purse and asked her to put on some lip color, just enough to make her lips pop. When he told her to then get comfortable, she propped her head on her hand and smiled for him. He told her no, he told her to look like she was sleeping. Bette was confused by his request but relented. At first, she couldn't relax. She had her eyes closed and waited in anticipation for the camera to click. Ozzy leaned over and kissed her. He whispered, "You are a sleeping sasquatch monster." Bette smiled and sighed. She relaxed. He moved the waves of her hair over the pillow and she relaxed further. He snapped the camera. "Roll and reposition like you would in the middle of the night." She kept her eyes closed and did as he said. He moved a few more strands of her hair and took a deep exhale. Ozzy snapped a photo. "On your side." She rolled to her side and adjusted the pillow. He moved a few more hairs. The camera snapped a couple times. Ozzy opened a drawer and handed her something. "Hold this." She kept her eyes closed, but she could tell it was a teddy bear. She clutched it under her arm and gave it a kiss. Ozzy snapped the camera when she did. She let out a laugh; he snapped the camera as she did. She finally opened her eyes and gave him a sly look. Ozzy snapped the camera when she looked down the lens at him. "Back to sleep sasquatch." She fell back to the pillow with her fingers curled by her face. He snapped another photo. She yawned. Ozzy snapped a photo. She opened her eyes and he was hovering over her. "I love you," he said. She smiled and he snapped a photo.

"I love you too." She stretched her arms out wide. Ozzy snapped another photo. Ozzy walked to the side of the bed and stood at an odd angle. He refocused the camera. He then laid down by her side and tried not to move the camera from where he held it.

"You're going to have to be the big spoon this time."

"I think I can live with that. A smile?"

"I can't think of a time I've ever been happier." He clicked the camera then looked at it. "That was the last one."

"I can't imagine how these are going to turn out," said Bette.

"With this much beauty on film. I'm amazed we didn't break your camera." He carefully set the camera down on his bedside table, turned over in place; they wrapped their arms around each other and gave each other a big kiss.

On Friday December 26th, Bette had slept in a little. Her grandparents, Lorna's parents, had already left. They were early risers and not ones to stick around to say goodbye. She figured they were probably out the door by 7:30 AM. She didn't have to work again until Sunday and was looking forward to taking some days off. Christmas in the Wheelan home was small, but intimate and generous. Bette gave her parents some of her framed pictures from her photography class. They were pictures of her parents hanging laundry, in the kitchen together, at an event dancing together, and one of them kissing. John teared up. Bette's grandparents gave her $500 cash and she nearly fell out of her chair when she opened the envelope. Her grandmother also gave her a silver ear cuff that looked like a feather wing and a pair of black pearl earrings. She said she hadn't worn either of them since the '80s and someone should get some use out of them. Both were Bette's style and she sat and talked with her grandmother for a long time about her younger years as a nurse and how she met her grandfather at a USO. Her grandmother made a joke about still finding her grandfather sexy after all these years and using one shower in the house over the other because it fit both of them. Bette's jaw dropped at her epic, still banging, powerful lady of a grandma. She showed her pictures of Ozzy, the ones from their first date and prom, the triple spiral necklace he gave her and the meaning, and told her how happy they have been together. Her grandmother quietly asked Bette if as a big guy if he had a big shower. Bette nodded with an impish smile.

Early in the afternoon she was in the upstairs TV room flipping through channels when the phone rang. She answered. "Hello?"

"Hello. Is Bette there?"

She could hear it was Mark, and she could hear how distressed he sound. "It's me. I'd ask what's wrong, but I know what's wrong."

"Four years. It's been four years and it doesn't get any easier." His voice started to break.

"Breathe. Take a few deep breaths."

He took a couple moments before he spoke again. "I want to go see him. I don't think I can do it alone."

He didn't outright ask her, but she knew what he meant. "My dad didn't work today. I can pick you up. You probably shouldn't drive right now."

She heard him sniffle. "That would be nice." He gave her the address and she let him know she would be on her way soon. They needed to head out soon before they lost the daylight.

Bette hadn't been to his new home. He lived in Skye's neighborhood but not on the same block. She was a little taken a back when she realized how many times he had given her a ride home from school when she was so far out of his way. She pulled up to his address and started to get out of the truck when Mark trudged out of the front door. He had his camera bag with him. The got back into her dad's truck and she started driving. He told her where to go. She didn't say anything, she was there to listen and support him as he needed. The roads and the parking lot were clear at the cemetery which, to Bette, seemed like a dismal thing for Christmastime. Mark lead her through the cemetery past newest headstones to the one where his father was. Mark wiped the snow off it until it was clean and they stood back and looked at it. He looked at it for a few minutes before he spoke. When he did, he spoke slowly and quietly and every sentence seemed to be a struggle for him to say.

"Hi Dad. Sorry it took so long for me to come by. It's been too long. I miss you every day, but I think you probably know that." He sniffed. "There are so many things I wish I could have talked to you about. So many things I needed you for. It would have been hard to talk about, but you always understood. You never made me feel bad or wrong about the things I felt." He handed Bette the camera bag and looked at her. "Just a few. Whatever feels right." She nodded. He kept talking to the headstone. "You remember Bette." Mark ticked his head to her. She nodded her head to the stone as she opened the bag. "You didn't make me feel bad or weird when I came home with her lipstick smeared all over me. Any other dad would have." They both had awkward smiles on their faces. "You didn't get to be a dad again. I didn't get to be a big brother." Bette stepped back behind Mark and took a picture of him looking at the headstone. She started making a big circle around them. "Life is weird without you around Dad. It sucks a lot sometimes. I know you wouldn't like me saying it like that, but it's how it feels." Bette got a third of the way around and took another picture. "Everyone who knew you says I look just like you now. I don't know if that makes things easier or harder, especially for mom. I could never talk to her the way I talked to you. It's gotten better with her though, only because it absolutely had to. It wasn't fair to either of us." Bette stood a few feet behind the headstone and snapped one of Mark looking at it. "But you always said there was no such thing as fair. God knows that's true. It was always true." He wiped his nose and his face with the back of his glove and stepped up to the headstone and crouched down. He put his fingers below the words 'devoted father.' Words that existed only for him. Bette stood behind Mark a few feet at an angle and took one more photo. "I said once that you're half of me, but there's so much more than that. You're in everything I am and all I do. I love you Dad. I miss you. I'm sorry. And I hope you can forgive me." Mark leaned his head on the stone and cried. Bette put the camera back in his bag and closed it. It was as if she was at James Hall's funeral all over again, but Mark was the one who delivered the eulogy. She didn't know what to do or say. The afternoon was getting colder and she was starting to feel it. She slowly approached him and set her mittened hand on his shoulder. He stood, turned, embraced her and sobbed. He had thrown his arms over hers and she could only wrap her lower arms around his middle. At least he was warm.

"Breathe. It's okay. Breathe," she whispered.

He let go of her and wiped his face with the back of his glove again. "I'm cold. I wanna go."

"Okay." She nodded. They walked back to her dad's truck and she started it. "You can pick a station or a CD if you want." She popped open the center console and Mark took a look inside. She started the truck and let it warm up a minute.

"Soundtracks to 'That Thing You Do,' 'The Mask,' 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,' You keep these in here? Or pick them out for today?"

"No. They're my dad's. It doesn't matter what I achieve in my life. He will forever be cooler than me."

"He was pretty cool from what I remember."

"I'm not exaggerating either. We were running errands once and he knew all the words on the 'Waiting to Exhale' CD. It's not even embarrassing. It's just awesome."

Mark cracked a smile. "You appreciate him. You appreciate him now. You're going to miss them so much when you go to college in the fall."

"There's no doubt in my mind about that."

Mark selected the 'That Thing You Do' CD, put it in, and went to the second track, the title track. Bette started tapping the beat on the steering wheel with her class ring, making a clicking sound. She drove off and took him home.

The evening of Tuesday December 30th, Bette called Ozzy. She worked a shift at the museum and had picked up the pictures that she and Ozzy had taken from before Christmas. She wanted to show them to him. She had purchased doubles of the photos and was excited to give him his set of the pictures. She got changed and he came and picked her up and brought her back to his house. They went into his room and sat on his bed. Her heart raced watching his reaction to the photos she took of him.

"Bee. These are great photos. I love that they're in black and white," he said happily.

"It's what they require for class. I didn't understand why, but I love the look in so many of them."

Ozzy flipped to the last picture of him. The one that Bette achieved by touching herself. The one with the look on his face that set her on fire. "This one is my favorite of you. This is the face of yours, which you gave me with the belt."

Ozzy looked at the photo then over to her. "That face. Now I get it."

"Can you tell me what you're thinking? Do you remember?"

"Isn't it obvious? 'I want you.'"

"You knew that when you took off your belt the first time? You were so nervous. I told you I wanted to keep going and you asked me twice if I wanted to."

He smiled, "I had to be sure you wanted me too. Second base stuff is one thing, third is another. I hadn't done that, I wasn't sure what you had done. I was so scared and you weren't. You were amazing." He kissed her.

She leaned on his shoulder. "You weren't so bad yourself."

Ozzy rotated the picture to the first one he took of Bette in his bed with her eyes closed. She didn't look super asleep. "Look at you," he said affectionately.

"Yeah. I'm not always great in front of the camera."

"Knock that off. You're gorgeous." He flipped to the next one. She looked more relaxed, more natural. The next one was even more relaxed. "See. That first one was a first pancake, for both of us." The next two were her on her side; she did look like she was asleep. The two after that were with her kissing teddy bear and the one of her laughing. "I love these two."

"You just happened to have a bear?"

"I've always had that bear."

"Why does that not surprise me," she said sweetly.

The next photo was the one of her stating down the camera with the bear. "You can be sexy and innocent. I don't know how you do it." The next one had her hands by her face, the one where she was yawning, then the ones where they had said they loved each other. The last one was of them together. They looked at the last picture together for a moment.

"I can't wait to show these to people."

Ozzy snapped his head to her. "What? No way. These are so intimate. This is my room. These should be private," he was a bit firm when he said it.

"You let me take the pictures of you when you thought they were going to be for class."

"Yeah. Me fully clothed. Not you naked-looking in my bed," Ozzy remained firm.

Bette flipped back to some previous pictures. "You can see the outline of my clothes in this one. And this one you can see my shirt. And anyone I show them to I would tell I'm dressed."

"I'm not comfortable with that."

"What happened to 'my camera, my film?'"

"I still don't like it."

"You said you couldn't stop me from making my own choices," she became firm with him.

"This is a bad choice."

"I'm not going to make copies and hand them out. I'm going to show them to people I want to show them to. I want to show them to people who appreciate this kind of art."

"Like Mark?" Ozzy said it with a grit in his voice that he hadn't used with her before, ever.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She remained firm with him.

"I don't trust him."

"You don't need to. I do. He's a friend. He's done nothing to you."

"What about before you went into the hospital?"

"That was months ago. It was a misunderstanding! He apologized. I explained the situation of what happened in the hospital to you. There's a lot more to it than that."

"Why didn't you tell me there was more?"

"Because it was personal to him. It was private. It was stuff he doesn't want shared. It was stuff you didn't need to know."

Ozzy tossed the photos on the bed, stood, and crossed the room "Fuck, Bette! He's manipulating you! You don't see it!" He yelled.

"Kind of like saying I have spies and assassins and shit?" She said harshly.

"He told you that?" He asked with flustered surprise.

"Of course he told me that! Why would you threaten him like that? That's so stupid. I couldn't believe you did that. I didn't think you would do something so macho and stupid like that. It was so embarrassing!"

"I did it because I couldn't stand the idea seeing you hurt like that again. You looked like my mom. You don't understand how awful that was for me!"

"Because you never told me about it! It's been years and you've never wanted to talk about your parents."

"Because there's no way you'd understand."

"Just because I won't understand doesn't mean I won't listen or care. When did I ever not?"

"Whenever it wasn't convenient for you."

"The hell does that mean?"

"You didn't want to tell me about Keith or Jesse. That wasn't convenient for you. I would have listened and understood that. Maybe I had stuff going on at that time that I needed you for. You were pretty hard to reach when you were preoccupied with them."

"The door swings both ways Ozzy. Neither of them took up 100% of my time. You don't even take up 100% of my time."

"You sure make time for Mark."

"Oh my God! Sunday?! It was the anniversary of his father's death you asshole! He hadn't been there since he died. I missed your phone call. I called you back!"

"I am not the asshole here. Again. He's manipulating you. He could have called anyone. He called you to go there. Don't you think that's a little calculating?"

"There was nothing calculating about the things he said he did that day. It was awful. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

"Why won't you tell me about it so I can understand?!"

"Because it's not your place to understand!"

"Which is why I don't trust you with him!"

There it was. He didn't trust her and Ozzy was jealous. He had been jealous of Jesse and Keith in the past and they weren't even together at the time. He was jealous of Mark now. It wasn't that he didn't just distrust Mark. He didn't trust her anymore, and her stomach sank. She stood. Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, "Ozzy. If you don't trust me, you can't love me."

"Maybe I don't trust you anymore. It's been getting too hard to not worry. I can't trust him, I can deal with that. But it's getting too hard with you." His voice ached.

"For how long?" He dropped his head, put his hands on his face, and shook it back and forth. "How long have you felt like you can't trust me Ozzy?!"

"A while. Month, month and a half."

She looked at him with wide-eyed understanding. "After I got my acceptance letter for college. This isn't all about Mark, is it?"

"It doesn't matter the reasons."

"Either way, you still don't trust me to stay with you anymore."

Ozzy nodded. Bette reached behind her neck and unclasped the triple spiral necklace. "No. That was a gift. Whether or not you keep wearing it, it's still yours."

She clasped it back on. She tried to keep her voice from breaking. "Same with the kilt pin and the belt buckle."

Ozzy stepped up to Bette and yanked her into his arms, turned, and kissed her. "One last time as the bridge breaks?"

"Fine." She was upset but heated. As angry and hurt as she was, he still had a way of turning her on. His hands held firmly around her head and he kissed her with the passion he always had for her. She reached under her skirt and took off her panties. She then reached for his belt and unbuckled it. She unbuttoned it and unzipped his pants and lowered his jeans and shorts to his knees.

Bette pulled his hands off her face and attempted to push him back onto his bed. He didn't move much under her power, but he fell back anyways. "I was always so bothered by the fact that I could never control you."

"You were the one that had total control over me. That was the problem."

She grabbed a condom from the bedside table and ripped it open, "I mean physically. If I wanted you to hold me down or go harder, it's not because I wanted to be dominated, it's because I like how big and strong you feel." She rolled the condom on to him and pushed him back. It was the same thing, he didn't move under her strength, but he fell back anyways.

"I couldn't stand the idea of hurting you, even if it got you off."

"We're past that now, aren't we?" She climbed on top of him and put him in her and they both moaned.

"I might have been able to if Pete, Keith, and Jesse hadn't messed you up." He grabbed her butt under her skirt. She planted her hands on his chest, gripping his shirt, and thrusted herself on him again and again.

"That might not have happened if you had tried sooner." She moaned.

They focused on each other. They moaned, groaned, and sighed while they spoke through their break-up sex.

"I wanted to kiss you the fourth of July you tickled me. I was so turned on. But I'm not the kind to guy kiss someone else's girlfriend. Uh!"

"That would have been hard to say no to-ooh!"

"You should have said yes when I asked yo-ou to teach me freshman year."

"I-I was scared of ah-all guys at the time, except you. I wa-anted to say yes."

"I kissed you on-on top of your head the night of my pa-arty freshman year. You, umph, just didn't know it."

"I liked the way you touched me when yo-ou would put sun-sunscreen on-on my back. I bought halter tops on-on purpose."

"That always gave me a hard on! UH! That's why I could barely speak when I, ah, did that."

"I wanted you so, so bad at the Halloween Dance in 8th grade. Ah! I was so fucking jealous of Vanessa."

"Ah! Then why did you give me her number?"

"I was young a-and stupid and I di-idn't think you were into me. I could barely admit how much I-I liked you to myself. Ah! We spent so much of that summer together. How many times did you see me in a swimsuit? Uh!"

"UH! Enough to take longer than you to get out of the water every time."

"You ate so-o-o many of those caramel apple suckers. I-I wanted to be every one."

"Oh yeah! I wanted to be all those ice cream cones you ate."

"I-I got a-a-a badminton set because of how well we played together in-in gym."

"We were undefeated in gym class!"

"That's when I first got a crush on you!"

"Uh! I got a hard on in front of you when you, ah, said you found the porno mag in-in the woods. Ah! I had to hide it by putting my hands in my pockets."

"I knew it! Your eyebrow is your horny tell. Ah!"

"Uh! I would have killed Jason Kaye for you! As in actual homicide after he hurt you if I-uh- had been given the chance."

"That would have been amazing!"

"I, ah, wanted to kiss you after Cassandra dumped me, but, uh, I thought I-I looked too pathetic. Ah!"

"I-I wanted to kiss you too if only to-oo make you feel better."

"You were a better kisser than all of them. AH!"

"You OH! were my first kiss!"

"Mine too!"

Bette fell forward and embraced Ozzy and he wrapped his arms around her. They kissed deeply and angrily. They both had tears coming off their faces. Ozzy rolled them to the side and thrust himself into her hard and she responded with loud pants, moans, and pleasurable screams. She kneaded her hands into the back of his t-shirt. "Use your nails." Bette pushed her nails into is back. "You can go harder."

"You don't want that."

"This time, I do." He tilted his head back and sang, "I'm asking you to go!" She dug her nails into his back and scratched him. He kept singing, "To go and build a bridge. Go, go, go, go! You let me take you on a journey there! But all I wanted was a bridge." Bette stopped scratching and he was crying as he tilted his head back down and they looked at each other. Tears fell from his face, she didn't know if it was from her nails or the heartbreak. They stared at each other and Ozzy let out a trio of hard moans, finishing. She moved to kiss him but he rolled back and away from her. He muttered his tune, "Broke that bridge for you."

Bette covered her face with her hands, cried, and balled herself up under her skirt. She felt him get off the bed. She heard him take off the condom. She heard and felt him pull his pants back up, buckle his belt, and move a little across the room. He placed a hand on her back and she pulled away from him.

"Stop." She whispered through her cry. She sniffled and got up without looking at him. She went in the bathroom and peed. She opened the sink cabinet and grabbed the last few giant maxi pads that were left there from their wager back in 8th grade along with a body spray she kept there. While she was in there, Ozzy started to play his acoustic guitar and sing. It wasn't The Beach Boys like she imagined he might play after a girl had hurt him in the past. The tune and the words were familiar. It was a cover song; she didn't recognize it until he got to the chorus. It was "Wicked Games" by Chris Isaak. Ozzy didn't sing it like he did. He performed it in a different minor key more suited to his vocal range. Most people thought of the song as a sexy, love song, but Bette heard the lyrics for what they truly were in that moment: It was a song about heartbreak, and they were broken.

She waited for him to finish before flushing the toilet and leaving the bathroom. She went back in his room and grabbed her panties off the floor and put them back on. Ozzy sat in his chair and held his guitar, strumming a few notes. He didn't look at her. Two doors. Me or his music? His music will never leave him like I eventually will. And holding his guitar makes him feel better. It's the easier choice. She put the items from the bathroom in the purse. She looked over at the bed and saw the now creased and wrinkled photographs she had just brought. She went back to the bed and took the ones that had her in them, including the one of her and Ozzy. She put them back in her purse and went out of Ozzy's bedroom door. She deliberately closed it behind her. She put on her long winter coat, boots, hat, scarf, and mittens and walked home in tears. I hate Christmas break. She sobbed to Lorna when she got home. She told her how she and Ozzy had just broken up. She said that they didn't trust each other anymore and it was enough reason to end it. Lorna held and rocked her into the night.

The next night was New Year’s Eve. Jenna was having some girls over: Bette, Katie, and Vanessa. Bette tried not to be a total wreck the whole night, but it was hard. Not long after midnight, Katie and Jenna went to sleep in Jenna's room Bette and Vanessa were on the couch each under their own blanket. They had the movie 'Bruce Almighty' on, but neither of them were laughing too much. Vanessa muted the DVD.

"Do you wanna talk about it?" She asked Bette.

"You really wanna know?" Bette was dower.

"Who better would understand?" Vanessa was genuinely sweet.

Bette adjusted on the couch and faced her. "We had this routine. Whenever one of us got our hearts broken, we'd listen to The Beach Boys. It started when he first got dumped. We had to listen to three of their CDs when you broke up with him. It's a compliment to you. It means you meant a lot to him. But now? I can't do that. Jenna is my best friend until the day I die, don't get me wrong. But Ozzy." She started to cry again. "I lost something yesterday that I don't know how to explain."

Vanessa crossed the couch and bear hugged Bette and rubbed her back. "It's awful, isn't it?" She rocked Bette.

"We didn't speak after. He was my friend and my love. I'm angry and upset, but not at him. It feels like he died!"

"Sweetie. It's barely been a day. If this is how you feel, how do you think he feels?"

"He's always been so thoughtful. I can't imagine how much he hurts right now. He said he didn't trust me anymore. He sang how it hurt. He sang our song he wrote. This truss of trust really did leave too much at stake. And now there's an entire ocean between us." Bette sobbed.

"Can I tell you something? About my break up with him?"


"As much as I liked him. And as much as I knew he liked me. Towards the end, I knew he wasn't interested in me anymore. We were going through the motions. The making out was fun. He was into that. But I think when he saw you were single again; I didn't have a chance to make him happy anymore."

Bette took a few deep breaths. "But, that took weeks. You didn't break up with him until the end of February."

"You remember that?"

Bette opened up their hug and took a drink of her water. "Pet Sounds. Surfer Girl. Summer Days. Those were the albums we listened to when you broke up with him. We ate apples and chocolate chip cookies. He told me how much you meant to him and said he shared stuff with you about his mom. Stuff he still hasn't told me to this day. He cried and I cried with him."

Vanessa teared up a bit. "I had no idea."

"We had an agreement from the time we became friends: we don't lie to each other. We tell each other everything. But clearly that wasn't the case. Ozzy has a type of girl he likes and Ozzy has buddies. You were his type of girl. Up until last spring, I thought I was his buddy. I thought I became the exception to the rule. Maybe I never was. I don't know. But what I know is that everything sucks right now. Things are going to be weird at lunch on Monday. And I have no idea what I'm doing."

"You are going to be fine, Bette. You are a powerful lady."

"Powerful Ladies Unite." Bette put her hand put for a high-five. Vanessa accepted. They both slapped their chests. Bette finally cracked a little smile.

Bette was right though. Monday January 5th was difficult. When she got to lunch, she did see Ozzy, and he looked different. He cut off his messy curls and dyed his hair black. His goatee was growing back in and colored black in too. He also had his left eyebrow pierced. The same eyebrow he would raise when he was aroused. She thought it looked like he got a fishing hook caught in his face. He even wore his glasses, which seemed extra weird, especially after the piercing. He always wore his contacts to school. She rarely even saw him in his glasses in his house. He looked like he was trying that new emo look and she thought it didn't suit him. He was beautiful before, to her, it was like he was trying to cover it up. When she got to photography class, her lunch in her stomach was sitting like a brick. She had to develop some pictures in the dark room and the chemical smell made her queasy. She didn't vomit, but she found herself burping quite a bit. After class she headed to her locker, Mark caught up with her.

"It's cold out. You don't look like you're feeling well. You want a lift home today?" He was genuinely concerned.

She covered her mouth, turned away, and burped again. "Sure. Thanks." She saw herself in her locker mirror. She was pale, even for herself, more grey. She had bags under her eyes and her eyes were red. She felt like toxic garbage. She grabbed her stuff and they started to head out of the school to his truck.

"So, what's wrong? Bad lunch?" He asked.

"I think you know that this face is not the result of a bad lunch." She took a deep breath. "It's over with Ozzy."

"Oh." He said it in a downward tone. He sounded like he genuinely felt bad for her. "How are you holding up?"

"I feel like boiled shit!" She said savagely outside the building. She gasped. "I'm sorry. That's not fair to you." She covered her face with her hands for a moment.

"We don't have to talk about it. I shouldn't have asked."

"It's fine that you did. I might have thought there was something wrong with you if you saw this," she pointed to her face, "and thought everything was fine. Especially with all the burping."

"It's not bad; just call it flare." He gave her a light bump with his elbow, but she reacted in a silly way like it was much bigger and jumped with a small, exaggerated shout.

"Solar flare disrupts space station!" She grabbed the back of his truck and shook it. "Emergency fleet stand by!" She joked and laughed at herself. "But seriously. I'll be fine. I think."

They got in the truck and he started it. "Can I ask you something? About after I left? After our break up?"


"What was it like for you?"

She took a deep breath and exhaled through puffed cheeks. "Your card with the brooch was a nice touch. There was lots of crying. I hate Valentine's Day now. That's not a real holiday in my mind. It was hard at first, for sure. But I maintain what I said when you left. I think it was better to have a clean break than wait for us to dislike each other than break up. I've gone through that, at least been the person who's done the disliking. That sucks. Why?"

"I was hoping I didn't make you as miserable as you feel right now."

"Mark. It's different. It's not better or worse. We were kids. I learned how to get through that. You did. I'll figure this out. I'm going to be okay soon enough. I have no other choice."

"See. This is why you're smarter than me." He tapped the steering wheel when he said it. "I wouldn't have seen it like that."

Bette looked over at Mark a little confused. "How do you see it then?"

"I guess I'd be mad or more bitter."

"It's different with him."

"That's code for I don't like it."

"It's code for I don't like the way you're talking about it," she said sternly.

"Sorry Bette. I guess I don't get it."

"You don't need to. You don't have to understand to be a good friend. You just have to be there."

Mark waited before replying. When he spoke, he said it with the brightness in his voice of having had an epiphany, "Which is exactly why you're smarter than me. You've always done that. You were a good friend even when I didn't know it. All those notes. Then just last week. You said almost nothing when you took me to see Dad. You were just there for me. Wow."

"It's been hard for you, not having a lot of friends and your dad?"

"It really has."

Bette felt conflicted with what she was about to offer Mark, but felt like he needed it, and in that moment, she needed it too. "We said we weren't going to lie to each other, right?"

"Of course."

"I want you to know. I don't tell people the private stuff you have told me, not even Jenna. I believe that the stuff I tell you has remained private too, right?"


"That's what I call the door swinging and locking in both directions. Your secrets are safe with me. Anyone asks, I simply don't know what they're talking about."

"Even the iconic ones?" Mark said pointedly.

"That was a momentary lapse in judgment shared in grief when I thought I was never going to see you again. And that was something I did, not you. You just happened to be there."

Mark spoke playfully and sarcastically, "Oh. So now I just happened to be there when you had your first 'big O.' I had nothing to do with it. Sure!"

She joked back with him. "I'll give you 25% of the credit, no more."

"I want 50%. My leg, hands, and mouth were involved."

"They were accessories at best. I did all the work. You keep arguing with me on this, I'll go down to 15%." They kept teasing each other.

"30%, I asked you to dance with me on the couch, set the rhythm, and licked your neck the way you liked."

"Fine. You were 30% responsible for my first orgasm. But if the door is going to swing and lock in both directions. It means I'm the only one you can discuss it with."

"I accept. The door swings and locks in both directions. 100% of your secrets are safe with me." He laughed a little.

"Okay." She was quiet for a moment as they got close to her street. "I think it's really cool you're bi."

"I think it's great you're cool with it."

"I made out with Jenna at the Darling Dance last year to get back at a guy. She was a good kisser but I wasn't aroused. So I don't think I am."

"She's your friend." He said it dismissively. "It's not like I want to bang Robert."

He parked in front of her house. "I wish we could keep talking, but I'm not allowed to have guys in the house when my parents aren't home."

"I can call you when I get home."

"I'd like that."

"I need to hear the full Jenna-dance-make out story."

Bette laughed. "It's a doozy."

Over the next week Mark helped talk Bette through her break up with Ozzy. There were days it was easier and days where she was nearly inconsolable. The week was freezing so he gave her rides home each day from school so she wouldn't have to walk the three blocks to take the city bus. He was the friend she needed in the moment. He was the emotional confidant that she lost with Ozzy. They talked about old times in 5th grade and even older times in early elementary school. She told him about her experiences with Pete, Keith, and Jesse and how those guys had affected her over the last few years. How she had given up on caring what other people thought of her and how liberating it felt. He said that maybe after high school, being bisexual, he could do the same, but he wasn't ready to do that yet. The following week, she was finally feeling better to not talk about Ozzy or how she felt about it every day. They just talked.

On Friday the 16th, Bette asked Mark to the Darling Dance which was only eight days away. She apologized for it being a fairly last-minute ask, but she remembered how much fun they had dancing back at the Halloween dance in 8th grade, and going to dances always made her feel better. She told him she already had a dress that she bought on clearance after prom season last year; he would just need a suit with a red tie. She would take care of everything else. She started to feel desperate when he didn't reply at first. He said yes. He said he was just listening. In the week leading up to the dance, he told Robert that Bette had asked him and Robert invited them to join him, Hank, and their dates Ami and Sonja at dinner at The Lodge. Bette was happy to go with a group outside her usual group of friends. She still drove her dad's truck and picked Mark up. She arrived to his house and knocked. He opened the door and he was wearing a black suit, black dress shirt, and a red satin tie. Gina wanted to take pictures. Bette took off her coat. She wore a black, stretchy, fitted halter dress that had an above knee-length hem in the front and low hem above her ankle in the back. There were thin red ribbons around the halter neck and some around the extra fabric of thin ruffles of the high-low hem with more red ribbon. She called it her 'tango' dress. She also had a sheer black bolero that perfectly covered the back of the halter and her arms instead of a wrap or a scarf. She wore a new red beaded bracelet, her grandmother's black pearl earrings, and the white star pendant Mark had given her years ago. She picked out white flowers for the corsage and boutineer. Gina took pictures of them in the living room and they left in Bette's dad's truck for the restaurant to meet with the rest of his friends.

"You look great," said Mark.

"Thank you. You do too. You look like the sophisticated vampire I remember."

"This old thing?" He joked. "Just something I had tucked in the back of the closet. Or should I say coffin?"

"That's what I was going to say. I've literally had this dress in my closet since June. It was $9 on clearance."

Mark made a face of curious surprise. "I'd say you got your money's worth out of it."

"Believe it or not, the flowers cost more. I went into the florist and I asked for something specific."

"Specific in what way?"

Bette had put her corsage back in the clear plastic box after the pictures to not wreck it when she put her coat back on. She held it out to Mark and had him take it. "The big flower is a lily. The smaller one is a tropical morning glory." She gave him a quick glance and a smirk as she drove. She reached into her coat pocket and held something in her hand. "Most people get roses. They're so obvious. I'm not a fan of roses myself. Carnations are pretty, but cheap. They're a funeral flower. I got the lily and the tropical morning glory because of their other names."

Bette stopped at a red light.

"What are their other names?" he asked.

She smirked and smiled still. "Stargazer lily and moon-flower. I asked if they had flowers with the words 'moon' and 'star' in them." She said and opened her hand to reveal the old rhinestone circle brooch he had given her years earlier. "The moon and star are going to shine tonight." She said smiling. "You should find a spot for that."

He took the pin out of her hand, took the rubber earring back that was still there after all those years off it, secured it onto his tie like a tie tack, put the backing on, and closed the pin. "You kept them both. I wasn't going to say anything when I saw you wearing the star pendant. I was going to wait for you to remind me," he said shyly.

"Why wouldn't I keep them? You said you kept my notes, and those were just notes," she dismissed.

"Those weren't just notes. Those were life preserves to me," he said seriously. "I didn't just read them when you gave them to me. I read them when times were hard. When I felt alone. When I missed my dad and didn't know how to deal with it. I heard you in those notes and letters when there was nothing but emptiness around me."

Bette pulled into the restaurant parking lot and parked. "It's lonely in the void of space sometimes, isn't it? We see everything around us. We see all of the Earth and no one thinks we play a part for them. And if we do, it's not for long."

Mark cracked a smile. "It's going to be like you said." His smile grew. "We're going to shine tonight!"

Bette grinned. "Oh hell yeah."

They went in the restaurant and met up with Robert and Ami with Hank and Sonja. They hadn't been waiting long. They shared an appetizer orders of bread sticks, artichoke dip, and steak tips. Bette loved the food at The Lodge and knew what she was going to order before the menu came: whiskey chicken, corn bread with honey butter, and spinach salad. The group ate, talked, and enjoyed each other's company. They talked about old times and funny stories. Bette liked seeing Mark light up with Hank and Robert. They were old childhood friends and they acted like happy kids together. After the meal, Ami and Sonja got up to go to the restroom. Bette didn't need to go, but Ami eyed Bette to join them and she did. Bette looked at herself in the mirror and reapplied her burgundy lipstick while the other girls peed and they washed their hands. "I ate way too much. I shouldn't have ordered the steak. I feel bloated," said Sonja.

"I told you to get control top pantyhose. They do more work than you realize," said Ami.

"She's right. They smooth everything out." Bette turned and looked at herself in the mirror. "They flatten out my ass, but I don't have much of an ass anyways. Yet, no love handles. A fair compromise for this dress." Bette slapped her own tight butt. "Uh!"

Ami and Sonja laughed.

"I had to wear my new cute underwear. I got a matching set in this great deep purple color," said Sonja. She flushed the toilet and came out of the stall and washed her hands too.

"So it's on with Hank tonight?" Ami asked.

"It better be! It's been a couple weeks of hand and mouth stuff. I'm ready to wreck him!" Said Sonja. "I do this thing where I push on the nerve behind his balls." She mimed with a few fingers, then curled them into a loose fist and made a circular motion. "He fucking loves it; he throws his head back and moans when I do that. But now, I just want to jump him. He's got that sick body from playing baseball. You know he never stops training?" She was almost drooling.

"Hank is hot for sure, I'll give you that. Robert might not be much to look at, but makes up for it with a great cock and by going down on me for an hour at a time. I asked him what he's doing down there and he says he's writing out the digits of pi, the Preamble to the Constitution, or the periodic table. He says it keeps him from shooting his load too quick. I swear you two have it wrong: bang nerds. They take good care of you and they appreciate you." Ami grinned and fanned herself in a lighthearted way.

Bette looked at Sonja with a saucy smile. Ami and Sonja were good friends and Bette had been acquainted with them at best. She was surprised they were being so open with her after such a short period of time. Ami looked to Bette. "I shouldn't say that without knowing the deal with you and Mark. What's that situation?"

Bette shrugged. "I was his girlfriend back in eighth grade. We're just friends now."

Ami and Sonja looked at each other for a second. "No way." Said Ami. "I promise you this: they are talking about the same stuff we are out there right now with maps and charts and shit trying to help Mark get you tonight."

Bette scoffed. "I doubt that." She had sudden curiosity, "What makes you so sure?"

"They're guys!" Said Sonja. "It's all they think about."

She wasn't buying their reasoning. "He's not like that with me. We trust each other. We've talked about those old times. It's not weird like that." said Bette.

"Girl! You look this good." Ami waved her hand in front of Bette. "He wants on."

"Whatever." Bette dismissed with a smile and a red face. "We should go back before they think we all fell in."

Bette opened the bathroom door and walked out holding the door open behind her for the other two.

At the Darling Dance, the six of them had fun together. Between all of them, they had four disposable cameras; one of them was Bette's. They got passed around to each other and lots of pictures were taken. Pictures of the three guys grinning ear to ear and arm and arm. Three girls posing like they were Charlie's Angels. Ami dipping Sonja. Sonja crawling out from under Ami's dress. Bette showing off her cleavage. Ami being held by Robert with her legs wrapped around his waist. Sonja sitting on Bette's lap. Bette and Sonja holding up Ami in their arms. Hank giving Mark a piggyback ride. All three guys dancing synchronized. Bette and Mark in various dance formations. Sonja kissing Hank. Ami and Robert kissing aggressively. Sonja and Ami kissing. Hank and Bette break dance battling. Lots of pictures of all of them dancing, smiling, and laughing. During 'All My Life' by K-Ci & Jojo, Bette and Mark finally got a chance to catch their breath from all the dancing.

"I like your buddies. And Ami and Sonja are fun too. I'm just sorry I wasn't friends with them years ago," said Bette.

"They're the best guys. I wish I had kept contact with them while I was gone the last few years. What was it about the girls that makes you say that?"

Bette snickered. "It would be unladylike for me to say."

"That bad?"

"That awesome! Those girls are nuts, but in a good way. They're my kind of 'don't give a fuck.'"

Mark laughed. He let go of her waist and gave her a spin. "Sounds like a good way to be."

She grabbed back a hold of his shoulder and clicked her heels together with the beat of the song. "Soon enough my friend, soon enough."

Midnight came and the dance ended. The lights came up and everyone started to leave. Bette hugged the other four of the group and thanked them for letting her join them for the evening. She told them she had so much fun with them and it meant a lot to her and it probably meant a lot to Mark. She drove Mark home recounting their favorite moments of the evening laughing. She pulled up and parked in front of his dark house with the front porch light on.

"Thanks again for asking me tonight. I didn't do any of this at the other school. I forgot how fun it could be," said Mark.

Bette shifted in her seat. "It was fun. I had a great time," she said quickly.

"Is something wrong?"

"I gotta pee," she said anxiously.

"C'mon." He ticked his head towards the house. "You can go before you go."

"Thank you!" she said relieved as she turned off the truck. They rushed up the sidewalk through the cold. Mark let them in the house. "Which way?" She whispered.

Mark opened a door off the kitchen and ticked his head and lead her down the carpeted stairway. He turned on the light switch at the top of the stairs. They got to the base of the stairs and Bette saw the space; it was a 'mother-in-law' suite in the basement. They were in the living room space of it with the couch, TV, weights, and stereo.

"Through the door, then on the left. Light switches are on your right."

Bette saw the first light switch as she rushed through the door and saw the bathroom through the second door. She flipped on the light switch, closed the door, lifted her dress, pulled down her pantyhose, and sat on the toilet right in time. She breathed a sigh of relief and quickly realized that the smells in the room weren't just clean bathroom smells, they were masculine smells. This was Mark's bathroom. She looked around and saw shaving cream, razor, electric trimmer, cologne, aftershave, lotions, hair gel and more. She finished, got up, and flushed. She washed her hands with the lemon scented hand soap, the one of the few things that didn't have a matching masculine scent to it. She dried her hands and heard that Mark was playing the stereo in the other room. She opened the bathroom door and saw that it passed through his bedroom before the bathroom. She had been in such a rush to use the bathroom; she missed noticing his bedroom completely. He had some clothes in a hamper, magazines on a bedside table, and his backpack and camera bag near the foot of the bed. She kept her glance short and looked back into the living room. Mark was standing by the stereo holding a couple CDs. He had shed his shoes, suit jacket, dress shirt, and tie. He was wearing a tight black tank top that hugged his torso. Holy Swayze in Dirty Dancing. The years of running, fitness, and dancing had done his body right. She tried to not gawk.

"Better?" He asked.

"Yeah." She closed his door behind her. She looked around, "You get the whole basement?"

"Yeah. I saw it and called 'dibs.' Mom didn't object."


The song on the stereo changed to 'Bailamos' by Enrique Iglesias. "One more dance before you go?"

"I could do that." She said softly. They walked up to each other behind the couch where the most space was. He put his right hand on her back where he knew to lead her. Her left arm formed the tight frame on his arm up to his shoulder. Their other hands joined. They found the count in the song and he moved them. It was a 4/4 timed count song. He lead her with a mambo at first, then some tight turns, a meringue, and salsa steps. They hand little smiles on their faces and moved through the song with swinging hips. They danced as well as they did only an hour ago and just like then, they did it for fun and they did it for themselves. It gave them the fun they were in need of. At the end of the song, he turned her far out and then pulled her back in. Bette still had her shoes on and one got caught on the carpet. She tripped forward and felt the horror on her face as she toppled forward. Mark was quick. He still held her hand and got his arm around her back and caught her in a lunge. Her arm wrapped around his shoulders as she caught him. Their faces were close enough that she could tell that he had eaten wintergreen mints and not chewed gum.

"You know, if you wanted to tango, you just had to say so." Mark chuckled.

Bette stood up straight in his arms and tried to wipe the stun off her face. The CD stereo switched to the next disc and played 'Lately' by Divine.

"Did you plan that?" She asked.

"How could I plan you tripping?" He said. She meant the music and the mints.

He was still holding her and started moving her with the song. She liked the song and hadn't heard it in a long time; not since middle school dances. She closed her eyes and moved her hand to a more comfortable position across his shoulders. Her hand settled on the skin right below his neck. His hand moved up her back and his fingertips touched the skin of her back under her sheer bolero. She felt his change opened their embrace until they were looking at each other. She could feel how red her face was. Mark looked at her: sweet and serious, he didn't move closer or lean into her. She looked down at their hands. She saw and felt his thumb moving against her hand. He barely moved his thumb, but it was enough for her to know that the girls were right earlier, and none of this was an accident. He was warm. He was sexy. He had been open and raw with her. He became impossible to say 'no' to. She pulled their hands close into them and she kissed the side of his thumb. It wasn't just a peck; her lips slowly enrobed his thumb until it nearly touched her teeth. Mark took a deep inhale when she did. She let his thumb out of her lips and looked up at him. He took her hand in his and pulled it to his lips. He did the same to her index finger while staring her down. Bette let out a soft breath from her stomach. Mark took her finger into his mouth to the second knuckle before letting it slide out and giving her finger another kiss. Bette lowered their hands and put some pressure on the back of his neck. She turned her head and began to close her eyes and could see Mark do the same as they started to kiss. It was different than when they were younger. It felt like a first kiss for the two again, but this time Mark was a man, and she was a woman. Their mouths opened to each other in a way that was instinctive. The warm memories came flooding back to Bette. He cared for her then, and he did now, and it made her feel incredible. Their hands turned and their fingers interwove with each other. His arm around her pulled her tight into him and this time, when she felt his erection, it felt as natural as the kiss. He pulled back from the kiss looking passionately at her; she held his gaze for a moment and closed her eyes. Her hand on his back slid across his shoulder and to his upper arm. She gave his firm bicep a squeeze. He held her waist tight against him, they swiveled their hips together, and gave her a couple grinds in rhythm with the song.

The song ended and the next one that played was '2 Become 1' by The Spice Girls. Mark stepped back from Bette a little and dropped his hand from her back. She finally opened her eyes. He unwove their fingers. "Bette, I think you know I want you to stay longer than one song."

Bette felt the sweat that that built between her breasts and how hot he had made her in her very core. It was after 12:30 AM. She knew her parents were asleep at home and they trusted her to come home, but she didn't want to rush home in the middle of the night in her dress, exhausted, doing the walk of shame. And she still had moments where she was plagued by thoughts Ozzy; it was too soon. As much as she wanted Mark, this was not the moment.

"Yeah. I kinda figured that."

He let go of her hand and stepped back. "I think you want to stay too. I won't push you. I was pushed. I wouldn't dream of doing that to you."

"I-I think this isn't the time. I think I'm not ready yet. It's only been a few weeks." She said nervously. She was scared of hurting him or letting him down.

He gave her a little smile and put his hands in his pockets. "In that case: Thank you for the extra dances. I had lots of fun tonight. And I'll see you in class on Monday."

She gave him a little smile. "Thank you for a wonderful evening." She walked towards the stairs and up them and he followed behind her. She got to the top and she cracked the door to the kitchen, stopped, and turned around. "Before I go," she held out her right hand to him, ”Could you kiss these two fingers," she pointed to her middle and ring finger, "Like you did before," she whispered.

Mark gave her a grin and climbed the next stair until he was eye to eye and right against her. He wrapped his right arm around her waist and took her right hand in his left. He positioned her fingers in his hand and gave her a sexy gaze. He took her middle and ring fingers into his mouth and closed his eyes while her did. She watched him and gave him a moan for his efforts. "I'm glad to do it. Tell me to do that anywhere at any time and I don't think I'll have a reason not to. But, um, why?"

She held his chin and gave him a slow, romantic kiss then spoke in her soft, sexy voice, "I wanted you to have 100% of the credit for what would happen two minutes after I got in my room tonight."

"That makes two of us," he said with a breathy laugh.

On Monday, Bette put one of those warm memories to use. She wore a black maxi-skirt with a side slit, a black scoop-necked long sleeved top, the bolero sheer cover up from the dance, and a pendant of a little green bottle she liked because it looked like poison, white tights, and black boots. She braided her hair in a single braid: Wednesday Addams was all grown up. When She got to photography class, she sat with crossed legs and the slit in the skirt opened and showed much of her legs. When Mark came in, Bette was just as surprised to see he appeared to make a visual statement for her. He wore black pants and a black fitted short sleeved button up shirt with the tight back tank underneath tucked into the pants. Mark usually wore a t-shirt as an undershirt, an untucked button up, and nothing that tailored or tight. And he wore the circle brooch on a black nylon cord around his neck. When they saw each other across the room, Mark saw the gawked look on Bette's face and he smiled. He quickly scanned the room, saw no one looking, lifted his sleeve, and flexed his bicep for her. Bette patted her chest with an open palm and gave him the 'ooh' face. Mark had to cover his mouth with the side of his hand to hide his laugh. She knew he was laughing with her and not at her.

After class they were able to talk. He took her home and they were able to talk freely parked in front of her house. She reminded him that they need to remain open and clear with each other about what their intentions, needs, wants, and desires were. He told her everything. He told her that he's been interested in her romantically ever since her saw her working at the vending machine, but when she said she wasn't single, got angry with him, and after what Ozzy said to him, he knew he couldn't and wouldn't do anything to her. She had to make any kind of move, he wasn't going to do anything beyond apologize and offer friendship. When he did and she accepted, he knew all he would still do is wait because she was still with Ozzy. He was not going to be a bad guy. He didn't say anything crude, or look at her lewdly, or touch her; he remained a friend. The only time he broke his own rule was when he hugged her when they visited his father's grave. When she told him after Christmas break she broke up with Ozzy, he remained her friend. The worst thing he could possibly do is make a move. It would have been cheap and gross. She needed a friend and she chose to trust him with her grief, he didn't want to ruin that. It was a massive show of faith from her. When she asked him to the Darling Dance, he said he had to hold back his 'yes' until she finished talking. He had to hide how excited he was. When she brought the moon and star jewelry and flowers, he became hopeful for how she might feel. Dancing was finally a chance to touch her, and he wanted to so much. He couldn't believe his luck when they got to his house and she needed to use the bathroom. He said so little because if he said more, he thought he would have looked anxious. He could have easily had her use the main floor bathroom, but he saw the chance to be alone with her for the first time since being back, and took the chance. As soon as she was through the bathroom door, his shoes were off, along with his upper layers, and checked how he smelled. He chomped up some Altoids he had on his shelf and put in the mix CDs he had ready just in case. The look on her face when he seemed so casual was priceless. He said she looked like he felt for the last several months. He knew his last shot to get one more touch in was one more dance. Her tripping truly was an accident for both of them. He couldn't believe his luck again when he saw the look on her face. He took the chance and kept dancing with her. When she went with it, he touched her back and ran his thumb on her skin of her hand; he said he felt like that was the first physical move he made. Her response was hotter than he imagined she would do and he was just trying to keep up. When they did kiss he didn't want to stop. She was a better kisser than he remembered. It felt like she touched him like she wanted him, so he danced with her to tell her he wanted her. When the song ended and the next song was about sex, he knew he had to back off. He had to make it her choice. The way she said no, was not never, it was not now, and he understood why. When she asked him to lick her fingers, he joked that he could have finished before she reached her truck. The outfit choice that day was inspired by the void of space they talked about, and it was a similar outfit that Enrique Iglesias wears in the 'Bailamos' music video.

"I can't believe you waited around for me," she said.

"I wouldn't call it waiting around. We've been friends this whole time. If you didn't get out of the truck after dropping me off, we wouldn't be talking about this. I wouldn't have told you all that."

"You would have been fine with us just being friends?" She asked.

"Haven't I been? You're a great friend. I couldn't wreck that. I knew anything beyond that had to be initiated by you. Anything I did would automatically make me a 'Pete.'"

"So you didn't think bringing me down to your little bachelor pad and showing me your painted on shirt was initiating?" She teased.

"I brought the bull to the China shop. I didn't lead him into the door or make him break anything." He held up a finger to make his point clear; he grinned though.

She turned a little further in the seat of his truck. "Oh. So I'm a bull in a China shop now? I trip once and I'm suddenly that ungraceful?" She continued to tease.

He pointed again. "I didn't say that."

She leaned forward slightly and grabbed his finger. "Then what did you mean to say?"

"I saw an opportunity and I took it."

She reached down and unbuckled her seat belt. "This is your opportunity."

"Thank God."

He unbuckled his seat belt and they met in the middle of his truck and Mark's hand found the old familiar spot on the back of her head, pulled Bette in close and kissed her. Their kisses the other night had been romantic, but this time, they felt like crazy fourteen year olds again. Bette unbuttoned her bulky coat. Mark's other hand slid up her shirt and caressed her breast. He pulled away from her mouth, kissed and licked her neck the way they remembered. Bette moaned as she ran her hands over his body inside his open coat.

"It is not fucking fair how hot you got. How is that even possible?" she rasped.

"I was going to say the same thing to you." He ran his tongue up her collar bone after he said it.

"You don't look like the emptiness of space. You're like Swayze, but better looking somehow." She reached down and squeezed his thigh. "My God, that feels incredible." She grabbed the collar of his coat, twisted her neck, pushed his head with hers, and kissed his neck."

"You look so sexy today. When you wear skirts and get dressed up and stuff. You look so seductive when you're more feminine. Anyone can wear jeans, but you take looking good to another world."

Her lips had just licked his ear when he said that. She whispered, "Tell me what else you'd want to see me in."

He sighed and hesitated. "Lace a-and lingerie. It sounds kinda old fashioned, but the idea of lace, and silk." He made an 'ooh' sound and she knew the face that went with it.

She pulled back from him with a naughty smile on her face; she saw they had partially fogged up his truck. "I've seen these shorts in the Sunday newspaper ads. They're these tight boxer-briefs, but for fitness, I think. They're black and seamless. I bet they would make you look like a god."

Mark got a little grin on his face, "I have three of those. I was wearing them Saturday."

Bette made her eyes roll into the back of her head and groaned. "I might have stayed if I had known that."

"Really?" Mark said with a bright, cocky attitude.

"Mmmm-probably not. I don't have sex on the first date."

"That was a first date?" Mark said smiling, but not cocky.

"No. That was two friends going to the Darling Dance. I think we need to have a proper new first date, and then we can discuss lace and shorts." She gave his chest a pat and pushed herself back. She could feel how muscular he was and hesitated before taking her hand back; her arousal read all over her face. "I think if we do that, I might be ready by then."

Mark reached for the defrost controls and turned them all the way up and the fog began to come down in the cab of the truck. "I can live with that. Can I still take you home from school?"

"Yes. But we're not fogging up anymore windows in the meantime."

"Fair enough," he snickered.

"What happened to no such thing as fair?"

"I think you and I have had enough unfair stuff happen to us. We're making our own fair. And it's not just going to be fair; it's going to be a carnival." He smiled. "This weekend? Are you available Saturday?"

Bette made a cringe-worthy face. "I have a double shift. 3 PM to wedding break down. How about right after school on Friday? It's not ideal but--"

"It's great!" He interjected. "I would like to do that."

Bette grinned. "Okay," She laughed as she said it. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you then."

That week Bette and Mark remained flirtatious. Bette dressed less aggressively feminine that week to keep herself and Mark at bay. He told her it was unnecessary, but he understood why and respected her choice. On Thursday that week, he told her to bring warm outdoor clothes for Friday after school: snow pants, snow boots, good mittens, etc. She asked what they would be doing; he said it was a surprise. After school Friday, he had her close her eyes before getting in sight of his truck. When they got up to it, he had her open her eyes, strapped down in the back was a snowmobile. Bette's face lit up and she jumped. She'd never gone snowmobiling before. He took her out to Sandy Lake where he unloaded it and he had her get on behind him. He sped her all over the frozen lake and she hung onto him for dear life. After a while, he offered to let her drive. She squealed when the engine revved and took off. He hung onto her around her waist and she could still hear him talk in her ear telling her where to drive. They looped all the way around the lake before getting back to his truck. He offered to let her warm up in the truck, but she wanted to help him load it back up. It was after 5:00 PM by the time they were done and the sun was below the tree line and almost fully dipped below the horizon. Bette looked up at the waxing moon and the first few stars starting to come out. Where they had parked, it was quiet; the main road was a quarter mile away. They had been the loud ones on the lake, and they had left it still.

"Come here," she said softly from the side of the truck. Mark locked the hitch and checked a strap before standing next to her. They looked at each other and she looked up to the sky. "How is it we never looked at them together before?"

He looked at the growing darkness of the sky. "I always looked. Out in the country, there were so many stars. The moon got so bright. I kept my bed by the window and would count them."

"My dad taught me some of the constellations one night." She turned and pointed to some of the emerging stars. "I only know the really recognizable ones. Big dipper. Little dipper. Cassiopeia. Orion. The North Star."

"Those are good ones to know." Mark looked around the sky. "Too early to see more. I can show you the ones I know after dinner if you want. You like sushi?"

Bette nodded and they got into the truck and left for the restaurant. They had sashimi, sushi rolls, and ended the meal with red bean ice cream. When they left and they got back in his truck, Bette buckled herself in the center seat of the truck. Mark could not stop smiling when she did.

"This was so different, I mean unexpected, than what I thought this was going to be. When did you even get a snowmobile?"

"That old thing? It was Dad's. I got it out of storage a couple years back and paid a few bucks to get it fixed up. It's not even as nice or as fast as the newer ones. I can't bear to part with it because of him."

"It's fun and all. You have the memories. Stuff is stuff. I get rid of old stuff on the regular. It feels great. Remember when you got rid of your old stuff when you moved? You felt so good. Even when you donated your dad's clothes, you were so happy."

"How about the fact it's just worth a few hundred bucks?" He said in a playful tone.

"Okay. That makes sense." She laughed and leaned her head on his shoulder. "When you said you wanted to plan this tonight and weren't going to tell me what we were doing, I was a little nervous. I wasn't sure what you had in mind."

"It truly didn't matter to me what we did. I just wanted to be with you. If you were terrified of getting on the snowmobile or hated sushi, we would have come up with something else. I, once again, can't believe my own luck that you liked both."

"Don't you remember? I kinda have a thing for thrill rides." She giggled. "And getting to hold on to you was a nice perk."

Mark smirked. "'Finishing the ride.' I remember that's how you phrased it. I just didn't think of it translating to this. And I know there were about four layers between us, but it felt pretty good to have you hold on to me."

"I know I don't have much in the way of a butt, but I know you liked holding on to me too. I could feel it back there." She skipped using her flirtatious tone and went right to her sexier voice with him, and said it right into his ear.

Mark let out a moan. "It didn't matter how bulky your coat was. How weird the snow pants looked. How salt stained your boots were. I still know how you looked and felt in that dress last week. You're still there. You're right here. You're choosing to be. I can't believe that wish I made on a lucky star is still coming true." Mark was speaking to her but remained focused on driving. He never could look at her when he said something big like that. At least he was consistent; at least he was a safe driver. She kissed his cheek and leaned her head against his shoulder again. He brought her home. He gave her a hand carrying her backpack and boots into the house and after, showed her the other winter constellations he knew in the yard. Enough time passed outside that Bette noticed the lights go out inside and knew her parents went to bed. She brought Mark into the side door to warm up and tell him goodnight before he left. She took off her hat, mittens, scarf and coat. Mark took off his mittens and opened his coat.

"I can't tell you how much this meant to me. The fact you made the effort. And I don't just mean tonight." Bette said sweetly.

"Believe it or not, you made it easy. Being your friend isn't a punishment. And I don't see tonight as a reward for waiting."

Bette felt herself get red. "Do you remember the last time we were right here?" Mark smiled. "Would you do that again?"

"I was already thinking it, but I wanted so bad for you to say it." He took off his knit hat and his coat and let them both fall to the floor. They reached out to each other. Bette wrapped an arm around his shoulder, and the other around his back. Mark put a hand in her hair and the other firmly around her back. He touched his forehead to hers first. They were close enough again that they could tell the other had eaten mints when they weren't looking. Bette let out a single breathy laugh when she noticed. He ran the tip his nose down hers and turned his head. He finally kissed her in a way that made Bette's heart race. He slowly dipped her until her back was parallel with the floor. She clung to him, not because she was afraid of being dropped, but because he felt so amazing. She sighed and felt her body roll against him once. When she did, he gave her a hum back then moved his tongue against hers slowly. He closed his lips, turned her head in his hand, kissed her neck, gave her the smallest bite, just enough for her to know there was pressure, it made her gasp, and stood back up with her quickly. He opened up their embrace to look at her, but still held her. Bette had a dazed look on her face.

"Was that the thrill ride you were seeking?"

"Wow." She looked up at him and had to take a couple deep breaths. "Where did that come from?"

"You approve of the sophisticated vampire?"

She nodded. "February 17th. Start counting."

Mark looked at her confused.

"It will have been long enough for me by then. Tuesday of winter break. My parents work. I'm sure your mom does. I don't want to rush the day, but we'll have the day. And I'll have time to find some lace between now and then." She said it so sure and he had her so hot; it didn't come out sexy, just matter-of-factly. She wanted him, and she wanted to be clear with her wants and desires like he had been with her. She owed him that much, even if it came out a little business-like. She pulled herself tight into him and felt he was hard. When it happened for him, she didn't know, but it happened.

"Monday the 16th. It's a bank holiday, but she'll still be at work all day. I can pick you up if you're good with that. I'll wear the shorts."

"It's fucking on." She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and kissed him deeply.

He pulled back. "I don't like it when you swear."

"I only do it when I'm surprised." She pulled him in for another peck. "I like chest hair. I think it's a bummer you shave it."

Mark smiled and gave a surprised hum. "The guys said their girls don't like it. Everyone on TV and in movies are bare chested right now. I'm good with letting it grow back."

Bette awkwardly looked down and back up a couple times a s she spoke, "What, um, what do you know...when it comes"

He gave her another sweet kiss. "I've never had a chance to have a preference. I guess I would say do what you're comfortable with. As long as you, all of you, will be there, you do whatever you want."

She pulled him in for one more deep kiss. "Is it the sixteenth yet?"

Over the next couple weeks, Mark kept taking Bette home from school each day except on days she worked. They kept themselves to kissing and not much more to keep building the anticipation. They had another date after school on Friday the 6th, and he kissed her the same long deep way inside her back room like had the week before. On Saturday the 7th, she went shopping at the mall with Jenna as soon as the stores opened; they both had to work closing shifts that night. Bette had told Jenna that she and Mark had a nice time at the Darling Dance, but nothing else. The secrets she and Mark shared were their own, and it was getting difficult to not tell Jenna. They went into DEB clothing. Bette started by moving the clothes around the clearance rack but was eyeing the underwear and lingerie.

"See anything you want to try on yet?" Jenna asked.

"A few things." Bette had grabbed a set of pajamas and a red and black lace bra and pantie set wrapped underneath it. She was able to grab it when Jenna wasn't looking. "How about you?"

"No. But I think there's more you're trying on than clothes." She said with a telling tone.

Bette looked at Jenna. "In what sense?" She couldn't hide the weirdness on her face, not from Jenna.

"Bee. I see you every day at lunch. I see how you dress. I notice the jewelry you wear. Obviously you and Ozzy broke up a month ago. I didn't expect you to keep wearing his necklace. But I remember Mark's." Jenna opened the clothes Bette held and pulled out the lingerie and let it fall again.

Bette touched the rhinestone star around her neck on the silver box chain. "I didn't think anyone would. It had been so long."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Jenna asked sympathetically.

"We've only been out a couple times. I was afraid of what people would think of me moving on so quickly."

Jenna sighed and tilted her head at her. "What happened to the girl I knew who gave up what other people thought of her?" Bette cringed to Jenna. "You don't mean other people. You mean Ozzy."

Bette nodded. "I like Mark so much. He's sweet, romantic, attentive, sensitive, and so sexy. Ozzy said Mark was trying to manipulate me. He didn't. It was my choice. But he was interested the whole time. He was a friend and he would have remained that way if I wanted. I don't need Ozzy to think he was right about this. At least, not yet."

Jenna rubbed her eyes for a second. "Okay. I'm only telling you this because you're my best friend. I wouldn't tell anyone else because I think it's terrible gossip and you know how I feel about gossip."

"Of course."

Jenna took a deep sigh. "I was hanging out with Vanessa after school a couple weeks ago and she had a sweatshirt in her room that wasn't hers."


"It smelled like a guy. It was black with 'AC/DC' on the front. See where I'm going with this?"


"It was a 3XL."

Bette's jaw dropped. "You're shitting me."

"I didn't ask her and she didn't say anything about it."

"I practically threw her back at him on New Year’s at your house. I'm such an idiot!" Bette was irritated.

"I could be totally wrong. It was one hoodie--"

"No. It makes perfect sense." Bette shook her head and found herself coming to her senses. "You know what? It's good. I always said Ozzy is his own person who makes his own choices. He said he couldn't stop me from making my own choices. Even if he and I aren't talking right now, we were friends first and for a long time. I want him to be happy. She was always his type. Even if you're wrong, even if it's not true, I still want him to be happy. I'd like to think he would want me to be happy." Bette put the pajamas that she had no interest in back on the rack. She held up the red bra with the matching red skirted pantie that was covered in black lace. "This make me happy. What do you think?"

Jenna smiled at Bette. "I think you know that's not my style. But a powerful lady needs her armor."

The morning of Monday February 16th arrived. Mark arrived to pick her up that morning. John didn't work that day and he answered the door when Mark knocked, much to Bette's horror. She was still in her bathroom getting ready. She told her father that she and Mark were going to be spending the day together, but wasn't expecting her dad to intercept Mark at the door. She made sure she had everything she possibly needed in her pockets and purse. She used mouthwash one more time running around her room. She tried not to run down the stairs in too much of a hurry. She realized she didn't need to when Mark and her father were exchanging phrases in German and Bette had no idea what they were saying. John said something in German, Mark replied, and John laughed; Mark joined him in laughing. Bette replied in American Sign Language with 'shit, I don't know' and an uncomfortable face. The pair soon took off and Bette breathed a sigh of relief in Mark's truck.

"What were you two talking about?" She asked as she bucked her seat belt.

"Nothing much. It was basic conversational stuff: How are you? What do you do? That kind of thing."

"What did you say to make him laugh?"

"Can I tell you later?"

"You know what? You don't have to if you don't want to. I trust you. I can't imagine you said anything to him that could be bad. You made him laugh. I know when my dad's uncomfortable. He wasn't with you."

Mark smiled and touched her hand for a moment. "That means a lot. All of that."

She held his hand and kissed the back of it. "You mean a lot to me Mark. I hope you know that."

"I do know that. You mean a lot to me too." He pulled her hand over to his mouth and kissed it.

They arrived at his house and went down to his basement. He offered her a beverage but all she wanted was water. When he came back down from the kitchen with a pitcher of water and some glasses and set them down on his table, Bette pulled him onto the couch on top of her and kissed him. He pushed himself above her. "We have all day," he said with a smile.

She had an awful thought strike her and covered her face with her hands, "Oh God, I'm pushing you. I'm no better than Alice right now, am I?"

"No, Bette. You didn't push me. You couldn't have pulled me onto the couch if I didn't want you to. I want you here. I want you. You want me, right?"

"Like you wouldn't believe."

Mark adjusted back to sit down and Bette sat up. "I feel the same way. It takes a lot to not want to keep going. You know I've only done it once. And you have a bit more experience than me." He took her hands and looked down at them. "I've been waiting a long time for this. And I'm pretty sure it's going to be awesome for me no matter what. I'm worried about not being able to get you to the end of the ride."

She ran her thumbs over his hands. "Look at me Mark." He tentatively looked up at her. "You didn't know what you were doing for our first kiss and I almost fell over it was so good. You dance, so you have rhythm; you dance well. You were there when I got off for the first time." She smiled wide for him. "That wouldn't have happened without you. And having a partner with some experience isn't a bad thing. It means I know my body and I'll know how to guide you if you need it. I'm not going to lie to you about what I do and don't like. I have nothing to gain from that. I hope you tell me if I do something wrong or if there's something I can do better for you."

"I want to be everything you want in a man."

"And I hope I can live up to your fantasy. Because I have to admit, that's pretty scary for me too. This pedestal is not a good thing to be on."

He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her and she hugged him back. "Maybe we didn't push, but maybe we did put a bit of pressure on each other."

"Maybe." She turned her head and she saw the TV. "Maybe we can watch the rest of Price is Right for now."

Mark laughed and reached for the remote. They opened their embrace and got settled on the couch. She leaned against him and he put his arm around her. The TV played commercials for reverse mortgages and floor cleaners. "I asked if he was a spy or a killer," said Mark.


"When your dad and I were talking, I asked what he did. He said he worked for the government. It makes sense. It's a holiday; of course he would have the day off. I asked him if he was a spy, but I didn't know the word for 'assassin' in German, so I said 'killer.' He laughed, so I laughed. He never answered my question as to what he did specifically."

Bette burst out laughing and snorted.

The show ended and Bette took her purse and used his bathroom. She made some clothing adjustments from the items in her zipped purse pockets and took her hair out of the ponytail it was in and put it into one braid. Wednesday the ten. When she came out of the bathroom Mark was standing by the stereo, he'd taken off his blue button up shirt and was in his tight black tank and jeans looking through CDs like he was a couple weeks earlier.

"I think you know I'm absolutely weak for that look on you," she said.

"What about you? You just braided your hair on a whim?"

She leaned on the corner of the door frame. "We all make decisions. Did you pick a CD?"

He looked at the stereo "It's a five--"

"Your CD player in here only plays one." He looked at her unzipping her hoodie with the same wide eyes he had when he was 14.

He approached her with a CD around one of his fingers. He got close to her and put his hands on her waist inside her hoodie. She put her right hand on his chest. She touched her fingertips to his skin where his chest hair was slowly growing back. She then ran her hand up his collarbone, his neck, and held the side of his face. "When I was young I said I fell for the dancing man in the moon."

"I fell for a star."

"I think I didn't know how to say it yet, but it feels a lot like this." Mark smiled. "I love you Mark."

"I love you too Bette."

She pulled him in for a kiss and moved off the door frame. Mark turned them and led them into his room while still kissing her. The CD on his finger ran against her waist in such a way that it tickled her and she laughed. She looked up at him and unbuckled his belt. He had an awestruck smile on his face. He let out a slow breath as she unbuttoned his jeans and unzipped his fly. Her body had felt his genitals before, but her hands had never been so close before. He closed his eyes and gulped as she ran her hand over his length over his smooth, tight shorts and his jeans fell to the floor. He reached up and pushed her hoodie off her shoulders. She had to stop touching him in order to take it off. He opened his eyes and looked at her. Bette was calm and confident.

"Put the music on. I'm curious what you picked," she said.

Mark went over to his alarm clock CD player and put the CD in. The first song that played was 'Cry to Me' by Solomon Burke; it made them smile.

"Sit down. Get comfortable." Mark started to peel off the tank top. "Not that yet, please."

He grinned. "What about you?" He sat on the bed and leaned against the wall by the pillows. He bent one knee and rested an arm on it. "Are you going to sit down, get comfortable, take of that t-shirt and jeans? Or let me?" He bit his lower lip.

Bette spoke confidently but her face still turned red. "Close your eyes. Really cover them." Mark smiled and put his eyes in the corner of his elbow. "I went shopping like I said I would. I found some stuff. Silk is expensive. $85 for a little nightie? I don't think so. I hope you can't tell the difference between that and polyester. For a fraction of the price, I can barely tell the difference. And I would have brought the shoes I wore to the dance, but I couldn't fit them into my purse. I had to fit everything else in the zipper pockets and stuff." Bette tried to find a pose that worked. She stepped to the side of the door and leaned on it but it started to close and she slipped. She was grateful he didn't see it.

"Can I open my eyes yet?" He asked.

"Not yet." She closed his door.

She went to the edge of the wall in front of the bathroom door where the closet wall jutted out. She started with her hand on the head leaning on the wall and her hip popped out but it felt unnatural. She turned and leaned on the wall but it didn't feel right to show off her look. Keep it simple, stupid. She went back to where she undressed and put one hand on her hip and let the other hand fall to her side. She stood up straight with her chin out. She was right in front of him at the foot of the bed. "You can look. I want you to look." She smiled a smirk as he dropped his arm and opened his eyes.

"Dear God." Mark's eyes were wide and his jaw dropped looking at her. Bette wore white thigh-high stockings with floral lace at the top. A black mini slip. The red bra with the black lace was not fully covered at the top of the slip. She made a turn for him and lifted the black slip. The skirted matching red and black lace pantie was underneath. The skirt on the pantie only covered half of her butt and the pantie portion was a thong. When she looked at Mark again he was breathing heavily.

"Lace and lingerie. By the look on your face I think I got it right."

"I think I hit the jackpot. Did you have that on this whole time?"

She started to walk towards him on the side of the bed he was on. "The bra, yes. I put on everything else when I went to the bathroom before. These undies aren't very comfortable."

He turned to her and began to touch her over the slip, the lace of the bra, and down to the pantie. "Can I do something about that?" He touched the fabric of the skirt of the pantie.

She nodded with a little smile on her face. "Yes."

"Hold on and enjoy the ride." He said it in a playful whisper. Mark stood slightly, wrapped his arms around her and fell to the bed with her side by side. Their mouths slid open to each other and she sighed as he pressed his groin into hers to the rhythm of the music. But he didn't kiss her for long. He unwrapped his arms from her body and ran his fingertips over the slip and the front of her. He sat up on his knees over her and she was in awe of how gorgeous he was. She reached out and rubbed him over his shorts again. He tilted his head back and groaned but quickly stopped her. "There will be time for that." He placed his hand over hers and stopped her. When he let go of her hand he reached under her hips and pulled the panties off her. "I've always wanted to do this. Just tell me if I do it wrong for you." He began to put his face near her the crux of her legs.

She nodded. "You'll know if you do-OOH!"

Mark's tongue started licking, swirling, and swiping against her already wet mound. She sighed and moaned to how he went down on her. Her back arched in pleasure, but she wanted so much to look at him. He held her body and rolled them to the side. She ran a hand through his hair and tried not to push him. He had such great thick hair. He wrapped his upper arm over her body and slowly caressed her. She lowered the upper strap of her bra and the slip down her shoulder. She took his hand and brought it up to her bare breast. As far as she could remember, he had touched it, but he'd never seen it. His thumb and finger cradled her nipple and he looked up at her while he continued to devour her. Their eyes met and he looked at her intensely trying to read the pleasures on her face, but her pleasure was loud and clear.

"Slo-slow down. It's-It's happ-ah!" Bette howled as her body pulsated uncontrollably and she gripped his scalp and forearm. Mark slowed his mouth down around her loins and she let go of his hair and arm. He kissed her thighs above the stockings as she caught her breath.

"That was greater than I thought it would be." He burped, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and they both had a light laugh. He was on all fours, crawled over to her side, and slid into place next to her, spooning her.

Bette panted a few more times. She reached down to her groin and gave it a little push and a moan. "Uh! After shocks!" She giggled. She rolled in place, faced him, and kissed him. "It's pretty obvious how it was for me. How was it for you?"

Mark was grinning in a weird way, "Illuminating. Enlightening. You're like nothing I've ever tasted before. It's nothing I've ever felt before. And I don't just mean on my mouth. There was this whole feeling in my chest and my stomach while I was doing that. Feelings that just spread and kinda tingled almost like that feeling when your foot falls asleep, but it felt good instead of numb. And then you. I got to see you. I got to see what it was like for you," he started to chuckle. "And I got to be 100% responsible this time."

She smiled back as he said it. "Can I tell you a secret?"


She gave him a slow kiss and then sat up on her knees. She beaconed him with a finger for him to do the same. "I guess it's a few secrets." Mark sat up next to her. "First. I am shocked how good you were at it. The first guy was terrible at it, and I hear about guys that hate doing it." She reached under his shirt and peeled it off him. She grunted at the sight of him. "I will never get tired of looking at your body. Mphf! Second, this bra is super cheap and itches like hell." Mark didn't need her to move any further. He reached behind her, felt for the clasps for a moment, and unhooked her bra. She took the straps off while still wearing the slip and the bra dropped; she moved it aside. She loosened the straps of the slip and the neckline fell below her nipples. She pulled him into her and he started kissing her neck, collar bone, breasts, and soon took her nipple into his mouth. He held her arched back and he swirled his tongue the same way he did when he went down on her and it made her sigh. He took the straps of the slip down; they kept repositioning their arms until it pooled around her knees. "And Third, I like doing it too. I don't tell my friends that. I think it makes me sound like a bad feminist or a whore or something. But, if I can make you feel that good too, I'm ready when you are."

Mark let her breast fall out of his mouth and looked at her. "Oh yeah."

She sat on the side of her hip and he sat back against the wall. "I'm better at it if you lie down flat. You won't see as much, but I think you might like it more."

His eyes grew wide as his head slid to the pillow. She moved herself to be near his hips. As they took of his shorts she asked with a concerned look on her face, "Does it bother you that I know that stuff about myself? That I like doing it?"

"You weren't bothered by the fact I knew what I was doing for you. You liked it."

Bette furrowed her brow. "You said you never did that before."

"Doesn't mean I didn't get some idea of what to do first."

Bette smiled, rested the right side of her head on his stomach, and took him into her mouth long, slow, and once. "Ooh," he whispered; she knew the face he made.

"As long as you don't cum in my mouth, you let me know when you want me to stop. Or when you're ready for the condoms in my purse." She took him back in her mouth and kept going. She rubbed his thighs and listen to him sigh and moan. She even took Sonja's advice and pushed on the skin behind his balls and he responded positively. His feet twitched under the sheet. She raised her head and looked over at him while she sucked him.

"Ah-The lyrics to 'Time of My Life' ah." He took and squeezed her hand, tilted his head back for a moment then looked at her again. "I was -ah-writing out the lyrics to that song on you-ou. It was the, uh, first time I felt your butt, a-and grinded on you, a-and kissed your h-hand!"

She took him out of her mouth, kept stroking, and looked at him, and he at her. "You are unbelievable. Nothing in this world is perfect, but you might be close."

"I love you Bette. And I want you. I'm ready now," he groaned.

She kept her eyes locked on him. She let go of him, crawled back off the bed, grabbed the condoms and lube from her purse, and went back to him. She put the strip of condoms into his hand and took off the thigh high stockings. "I love you. I'm glad to wear those for you too, but they were getting hot and itchy."

He looked at the condoms she brought. "Do the ribbed ones really make a difference for you?" He was genuinely curious.

"You ever try jerking off wearing a rubber glove and no lube or lotion?" Mark looked horrified. "I wouldn't say it's for my pleasure, but for avoiding that face...Yeah."

She tore off one of the condoms, opened it, and unrolled it onto him. She opened the little bottle of lube she brought and tried dropping a little in her hands but laughed when she realized the bottle was still sealed. "I got this," he said. Mark rolled to his side and opened his bedside table and pulled out a larger bottle of the same brand of lube, partially empty. He popped the top, put a few drops on himself and rubbed it in.

"How do you want to start?" She asked.

"I want to be close to you, and I want to kiss you. And I want you to enjoy it."

Bette was lying on her side and Mark was on his back. "Come here." He adjusted to his side; she put her hand on the side of his face and opened her mouth to his. His tongue grazed her lips and her whole body warmed from the inside out as he put his arm around her and pulled her close. She pulled him on to her, reached down and told him, "Go slow at first. It'll take me a minute."


She led him into her and he sighed. "It's a dance, I'm your partner. Listen to the music." She moved with him. The song that played was 'You Sang to Me' by Marc Anthony.

"You feel unbelievable. I love you Bette," he whispered.

"Yes you are." She gave him a gentle smile. "I love you Mark." She wrapped her right leg around him and held her ankle with her left hand. She started to speed up her movements with him. He planted his mouth on hers and his tongue submerged into her mouth and followed his tongue back out with hers. He moved with moans, hums, and sighs to the touch of her body. They turned their heads into each other and kissed each other's necks and shoulders at the same time which they knew the other liked. He pushed himself up, causing her to let go of her ankle, and he looked over her body move to the waving patterns he caused. She gave him a soft smile as he continued to breathe hard through his slightly parted jaw. As much as she liked touching him all over and seeing him use his muscles, she braced her elbows against her rib cage and took some pressure off his arms by pushing up on his chest. It didn't hurt that he felt good under her hands too. He adjusted around her hands, stopping them from being pillars between them, and lowered himself back onto her chest and touched his forehead to hers with a couple of firm thrusts. Bette moaned, but not as much as Mark did.

"What-what do you like? How do you want it?" He asked.

"Turn us to the side."

Mark pushed against the mattress until her leg was under him. "Like this?"

She gave him a deep, long kiss. She then pushed herself against his chest until she was perpendicular with him. "Now keep going. Try different things."

Their arms close to the bed held hands. With his upper arm, he would move her thigh around as he moved into her and listened for her pleasures. She was more vocal when he went harder or sped up. "You like that," he smirked.

"Yeah. Harder," she moaned.

He pushed a couple of hard thrusts into her and she gasped. "Yeah. Oh!"

"That's how you want me," his voice rumbled with a smirk on his face.

"Yeah," she sighed and tilted her head back feeling the pleasure he caused.

He thrusted and his hips slapped into hers repeatedly until his breath started to accelerate. She heard the sounds and looked to him. He held her hips tight, gave her a few more hard thrusts, and they both let out some loud groans as he came. "Holy God," he said as they rolled to their backs. He turned to his side, pulled off the condom, wrapped it in a tissue, and tossed it in the garbage can next to the bedside table.

Bette laughed. "Lotion or lube, tissues or toilet paper, garbage. I don't think I've met a guy who doesn't have a bedside spank station."

Mark laughed. "This is high end compared what other guys do."

"I believe it. I once overheard in the lunch line in school a guy say if you use a banana peel, Vaseline, then microwave it for 20 seconds it quote 'feels like the real thing.'"

"I am both revolted and curious."

"No need to be curious. You got the real thing now." She giggled, rolled over, and kissed him. "Be back." She got up and went to use his bathroom. When she came back, she put on the non-lace panties she wore to his house and got back into bed with him. He put out his arm and she got under it and lay across his chest and they looked at each other. "I know you weren't a virgin before, but, does it feel any different?"

He ran her braid around his fingers. He smiled then ran his fingertips into her scalp. Bette closed her eyes and rolled her tongue in her mouth to make a purring sound. "What does it feel like to have your fantasy come true?"

"Hey! I said I didn't want to be on a pedestal."

"No pedestal. Fantasies? Wishes? Luck? Maybe none of that's actually real. But you are."

"You're sweet, but you're avoiding my question. How do you feel?" She poked his chest a couple times.

He took a deep breath and sighed, "I feel like I've never felt before." He grinned. "I can't think of any people who get to have sex with their first crush."

She braced herself up over his chest and rubbed the rhinestone star pendant. "You're still too much. You know that?"

"Not even close. Just one moon looking at a star."

Winter break continued to be fun for them. They got together the next day. Her parents had left for work, so she was able to finally show him her room and had more sex there. Bette worked a shift on Wednesday and they weren't able to get together. Thursday she got her period so they did other things besides mess around. They went snow tubing at the local ski hill; the date they were never able to do in the past and had a ton of fun doing it. They had so much fun; they went again Friday with Sonia and Hank able to join them. Saturday afternoon Bette worked a double shift at the museum and they weren't able to get together. On Sunday, Gina took Bette and Mark to brunch and it was the first time Bette got to spend any real time with her and saw where Mark got more of his sweetness, thoughtfulness, and mannerisms from. That same evening, Bette's parents had him over for supper and Scrabble. Bette felt 14 all over again. They were madly in love and weren't going to hide it anymore.

Monday morning February 23rd, at the bus stop, she stood cold but antsy as Todd approached. He'd grown quite a bit in the last few months; he was a full head taller than her now. "Mornin' Bee."

"What up Hot Toddy?"

"You're in a good mood this morning considering it's all of twenty degrees outside."

"I had a good break. Did you?" She had a giant grin under her scarf.

"Browsed and downloaded all night. Slept 'til noon each day. Mom and Dad made me shovel a bit, but the heavy lifting was done at night. You know?" Todd made a jerking off motion. They had become close enough friends over the school year that they made each other laugh with perverted jokes and not disgusted.

"I would say 'gross,' but I did my own heavy lifting over break." Bette pretended to lick her hand then made a spanking and thrusting mime.

"No way! You're back with Ozzy?"

"No. We're still over. We haven't even talked since we broke up." She scratched her nose. "I doubt you'll remember, but the one time I took you trick-or-treating? The guy who walked with us? Mark? Him."

"Barely. You seem pretty happy about it."

"We are. We really are."

"Would you tell me something about it? Anything to put in the 'bank?'"

"Jesus Todd. I can't imagine I can tell you anything new that you haven't downloaded already."

"Come on Bee. I know that stuff isn't real. I need a tiny bit of reality to let me know what to hope for in my life."

Bette paused. "Something real, huh?" She snickered. "Do you have access to banana peels, Vaseline, and a microwave?"

Todd's eyes became frozen saucers. "What the fuck? What are you two doing?"

Over the next couple weeks at school, Bette and Mark stopped hiding the fact they were together, but they tried not to show it off either, but it was hard. The last time they were in a relationship, they weren't having sex, and this was years in the making. They told their friends they were together and their friends were happy for them. Jenna noticed the sheer difference in Bette when she wasn't hiding the fact she and Mark were more or less together when they weren't after the Darling Dance. Jenna said it was like last year when she was flirting with Jesse and not telling anyone but her and Tina: happy but a little guilty. But now that time was over, Bette was just happy, she was happy with Mark. It was even more fun when the first week of March was Winter Spirit week. The theme was Movie Madness. Over the last four years, the themes of the spirit weeks were recycled time and time again with slightly different labels, which lead to three spirit weeks each year and only about ten different costumes. Monday was Magic Fantasy. Bette wasn't a fan of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but she loved The Chronicles of Narnia. She wanted to dress as the White Witch. Lorna had made her own wedding dress when she married John; a long sleeved, full length, rope-belted, off-white dress with a plunging V-neck. It was super sexy on Bette, but not Lorna and she had to wear a white blouse under it to school. Bette had also made a long white wand, white crown, wore powdery white make up, and silver spray in her hair. She was a little annoyed explaining her costume again and again. The only Chronicles of Narnia movie she had seen were the British ones made in the 1980s. She still felt like a powerful lady. Tuesday was Haunted Horror. For Bette, it was a no-brainer, she dressed as Wednesday Addams. When she was in the dark room that day in photography class, Mark snuck up behind her and whispered in her ear how sexy she looked and what he wanted to do with her. Bette felt herself get hot for him, even with other people in the room, and he touched her butt and she grazed his groin and felt he was hard for her. After school, he took her home, feeling each other up in his truck while he drove. When they got there, she took off her black tights and put the white thigh high stockings on with the white floral lace, and they had quick, rough sex before her parents got home while she was still mostly clothed. They both loved it. Wednesday was Toga party. This was the third time in four years that there was a toga outfit for a theme day. She had skipped doing it once, she had messed it up and looked sloppy the second time, but got it right this time. She was the right size for folding over and partially up a full-sized top bed sheet held in place with a whole lot of safety pins and a gold nylon rope as a belt. She still had the ivy crown from the last year's toga day with the sloppy toga. The fun thing to do was not wear white bed sheets, but fun ones, and she wore flannel ones with cartoon sheep on them. When she got to school, she bought more ivy garlands as part of the fundraiser and wore them around her arms. Some underclassmen came up to her and asked her for help with their togas and she gladly helped. Mark once again got turned on by the fact she appeared to be wearing nothing but bedding. She assured him that she had a tank top with a strap down and a skirt underneath, but he said couldn't tell the difference. He wanted to have sex at her house again after school that day, and as much as she wanted to, she had to tell him no. The outfit had too many pins keeping it on her and they might not have enough time to finish before her mom got home; and the sex from the day before, while amazing, left her a little sore. He felt bad for hurting her and apologized; she told him not to feel bad, it was like being sore the next day after an intense workout. He understood, kissed her, and offered to go down on her instead. She broke five safety pins running up her stairs with him to her room. Turned out, they did have enough time for both of them to get off and for him to leave before her mom got home. Thursday was Hollywood Glamour, which was really an excuse for lots of girls to wear prom dresses. A couple guys known for being class clowns wore prom dresses with fake boobs and bad wigs and as long as they didn't disrupt class, teachers didn't care. These guys wanted a reaction, and if no one gave them one, no one got in trouble, and no one did. Bette wore her red prom dress from the year before and Lorna helped her style her hair like Marilyn Monroe, she drew in a mole on her face, and wore a bold red lip. She looked like a devilish version of Marilyn in 'Seven Year Itch' and it made her feel even more powerful. Mark once again was bowled over by how beautiful she was. He wore a tuxedo t-shirt that day and she said he looked just as sexy. Friday was Movie Daze, which was an excuse to wear pajamas and the fundraiser t-shirt with the week's theme printed on it. Bette bought the t-shirt and wore it along with the Care Bear pants she and her mom made freshman year. She had to tell people that, 'Yes, there was a Care Bear movie, thank you very much.' At the assembly that day, someone else was named most spirited in the senior class. It was Blake Johnson, one of the guys who dressed in drag on the glamour day and had worn Snoopy bed sheets on the toga day with an exposed nipple. Maybe if I had exposed my nipple. He didn't dress up for fantasy day and his horror outfit was a Friday the 13th t-shirt. Bette was secretly bitter about it since she had put so much effort into her looks all week, and Blake hadn't. It was a nice consolation when her friends and others came up to her and told her she should have won. One of the people who came up to her to her was Vanessa.

"Bee BEE!"

"Hey Van."

"I think it's total horseshit you didn't get most spirited today."

"I appreciate that."

"You worked hard on those looks. That White Witch look on Monday was inspired."

Bette's face lit up. "Thank you!" She threw her hands up. "Finally someone gets it without me having to explain it. Just because those tacky yet awesome British made-for-TV movies were only at the public library, doesn't mean I was the only one who saw them!"

Vanessa cringed. "Yeah. I had to have someone tell me. After they told me I had to look it up, then I got the reference."

"Ah." She replied plainly. "Who told you?"

Vanessa hesitated and spoke slowly, awkwardly, and in a high-pitched voice, "Ozzy."

Bette smiled. "I showed him those movies." She laughed at the old memory. "You know it's cool, right? Just because we don't talk, doesn't mean I'm mad at him. I never was. And I wouldn't be mad at you for it either." Vanessa looked slightly less awkward. "Do you remember what I told you a long time ago? Ozzy is his own person who makes his own choices. You do too, obviously."

"It's been going on a while. We told people not to tell you. We weren't sure how you'd react, then you come back from winter break and you and Mark are all over each other."

Bette got wide eyed. "I didn't think we were that bad."

"You two walk around hanging all over each other. And there's a rumor that you two were caught feeling each other up in the dark room."

"We hold hands after one class and that never happened!" She heard herself lie to the second part of her reply. If Ozzy had been there, he would have called her out on it. Bette collected herself before she spoke again. "I appreciate what you said about my costumes. And I hope you and Ozzy make each other happy. You were always his type."

Vanessa nodded. "Thanks. It's weird isn't it? It's kinda like 8th grade all over again."

"Yeah." Bette got a little sad at the thought. She and Ozzy were distant then too. Both times were hard and painful. She didn't understand why back then until they had a fight and got over it. This time, they fought, and it had split them. She was happy now, but 'missing' Ozzy didn't seem like the right feeling she wanted to use to describe what she felt. They had years of kinship, understanding, and months in love, and all of that was gone with no more words between them for two months now. They hadn't gone that long talking ever when they were friends. Even when she spoke to Greyson and Tylor, they didn't talk to her about him; Ozzy had probably asked them not to. Vanessa was the first person, besides Jenna and Mark, to talk to her about him beyond basic sympathies, and she seemed to bring him up by mistake. Bette didn't want Vanessa to regret that mistake, especially if she would have to talk to Ozzy about it. She hugged Vanessa. "I think you're great, you know that, right? You really helped me on New Year’s. You were the one who dubbed me a 'Powerful Lady.' I wouldn't be that without you."

Vanessa hugged her back. "You were always a powerful lady. I just let Jason Kaye know that you were one not to be fucked with anymore."

Bette laughed and wiped a tear from her eye before they stopped hugging. "Would you be willing to do me a small favor, one powerful lady to another?"

"What is it?'

Bette spoke cautiously, "If you could tell him something? Just--let him know my door is always open if he needs an old buddy. I don't know what I would do if I tried saying that to his face or called him and he reacted poorly. I guess I'd rather put it out there and know he knows, you know?"

Vanessa looked sympathetic. "I get it. Powerful ladies unite." Vanessa offered Bette a high-five; they did, and slapped their chests after.

The night of March 6th was the coronation dance for the Winter Spirit Week king and queen. Bette and Mark went and had an amazing time dancing. They didn't play as many slow songs at the casual dances as they DJs did at the Darling Dance and Prom, but that wasn't the point of these events. The only person that Bette had any interest in voting for on the nominees was Hank. Granted, everyone in school voted in their second hour class, but he was only one she was generally familiar with and liked. The four girls who were nominated she didn't was barely acquainted with and one of the other guys nominated was Jason Kaye. Neither Hank nor Jason won that night for Winter Spirit king. When Hank and Sonja joined Bette and Mark on the dance floor, Hank said he wasn't mad about it. He was relieved he didn't win; but said Jason was sure pissed he didn't win. Bette laughed until she snorted at the news.

Bette and Sonja took a break from dancing and went to the bathroom together.

Bette checked the stalls and made sure the pair were alone. "I wanted to tell you, that behind-the-ball nerve thing. It totally works." Bette made the same partially fisted hand motion Sonja did the night of the Darling Dance along with a naughty face.

Sonja smiled, but didn't look too happy. "I'm glad it's working out for you two."

"Is something wrong? With you and Hank?

"It's weird. I feel like we're more like friends who have sex sometimes and less like a couple." She said it in a down way. "Does that make sense?"

"That doesn't sound like a bad thing. What don't you like about it?"

"It's like, he'd rather get head from me; he hates giving it, absolutely hates it. And he's not great at fingering me either. And when we do have sex, it's fast, boring missionary position, or super-fast doggie-style. Like, done in a minute when he's back there."

"But what about the friend thing? If the sex is so-so, what's the other stuff like?"

Sonja lit up, "Hank is wonderful everywhere else. He's sweet, he listens, he remembers stuff I tell him. He's obviously a great dancer. He's so smart. You'd think all that time playing sports would make him a dumb jock, but he isn't. He's so well rounded."

"What do you think would make you both happy?"

Sonja shook her head slightly then spoke clearly, "It's so obvious: we need to stop fucking."

Bette suddenly felt worried and potentially a little guilty for breaking a couple up. "Are-are you sure? Maybe you wanna talk to Hank first?"

Sonja's face was a clear, happy, epiphany. "I'm going to tell him that he doesn't have to fuck me anymore. I want someone who wants to fuck me. I want what Ami and Robert have. I want what you and Mark have. I want someone who wants to write the entire phone book with their tongue on my clit. Hank would rather eat scorpions than do that." She bear hugged Bette and ran out of the bathroom like an awestruck zombie before she could respond. "I'm gonna tell him right now." Sonja's voice faded as the door closed.

That evening when Mark took Bette home from the coronation dance, she told him what happened with Sonja in the bathroom.

"It was weird. She said they were more like friends who have sex and less like a couple. I don't get it," She said confused. "Did he say anything to you about it?"

"Um...sorta," Mark hesitated.

"How can he 'sorta' say something? He's one of your best friends, right?"

"Y-yeah." He hesitated again.

Bette listened to how Mark hesitated. "Does Hank not like being with Sonja?"

"He has a great time with her. You know how much fun we had when we went tubing."

"They didn't kiss or hug or hold hands or anything while we were out that day. We did."

"We were just back together. We could barely keep our hands off each other. Those two had been going together for a while."

"Girls talk. I know I said it would be unladylike to bring it up, but, she had some stuff to say about how she and Hank have sex. And she wasn't vague. He ever talk to you about that?"

"...Sometimes." He hesitated again.

The pieces were coming together for Bette then it struck her all at once. "Mark, is Hank gay?"

Mark gulped and looked at Bette in an uncomfortable way. "No one else knows. You can't tell anyone."

Bette's eyes grew wide. She thought she was guessing, but she didn't expect to be right. "I wouldn't dream of telling anyone. The door swings and locks in both directions, remember?"

"Right." He parked in front of her dark house with the side porch light on.

"Can I ask how long you've known?"

Mark mashed his mouth closed before he spoke. "I won't lie to you Bette. I always said that." He took a deep breath. "Since dance camp."

"What? But you were away after fifth grade."

"That summer after sixth grade, that school year was bad. Mom and Dad gave me summer camp options to cheer me up, I chose dance camp. Turned out, Hank chose it too. I wanted to go for the dancing and the ratio of girls. He said he needed it agility and flexibility training and it was something the baseball coach recommended. When we were there we were so happy to see each other; we even got to stay in the same cabin. We got to sign up for individual classes. I picked swing and Latin based on Dad's recommendations; and girls, you know? Hank picked break dancing, which is why he knew how to do all that stuff. It was the second night there and he woke me up in the middle of the night, took me outside to the side of the cabin and next thing I knew," Mark began to tear up, "Stuff was happening. And we liked it. And then night after night it kept happening. He said we couldn't tell anyone. We were kids! I barely knew what jerking off was and my best friend's mouth was--And I--" Mark was sobbing and he couldn't get through anymore. Bette couldn't believe what she was hearing. Suddenly, Mark being bisexual didn't seem so cool anymore when she saw how it had affected him, and how young. He caught his breath, "We never spoke of it after camp. I never told anyone that."

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I'm so sorry I asked."

"I used to think it was this messed up dream I used to have. Like it didn't actually happen. Some bizarre, puberty, wet dream shit that was tied in with the trauma of hating living away from here. But then when I came back in 8th grade, Hank would look at me sometimes in this certain way, and I knew it had happened. I knew I didn't imagine it." He wiped his face and collected himself.

"I'm so sorry Mark. When I say the door swings and locks in both directions and we don't lie to each other, I didn't mean to force you to tell me this. That was wrong of me."

"No." He took a few more deep breaths. "You asked. And I never want to lie to you. And you want to know what the crazy part is? I actually feel better."

"It's odd how that works, isn't it? Getting those old secrets off your chest. It's like a whole shackle is gone, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Mark had the same awestruck look that Sonja had earlier in the evening. "Thank--" he coughed. "Thank you for listening. I never thought anyone would ever understand."

She didn't understand what he had gone through, but she loved him, cared for him, and listened to him, and that was enough for them. "Do you want to come in for some water or something? It always makes me feel better."

Mark mushed his mouth together again and nodded. They got out of the truck and went in the house. She took off her coat and shoes and had him do the same. She brought him into the kitchen and poured them each a glass of water. "There's a new Saturday Night Live on. Colin Firth is hosting. We can catch the end of it if you want. I think that would be okay. I would have stayed up and watched it if you didn't come in."

"That would be nice."

They went back into the living room, she turned on the TV, and he sat on the couch. "I was gonna get an apple or some Ritz or something. You hungry?"

"Whatever you have I'll have. Thanks." He reached his hand out to hers, took it, and gave it a squeeze. She squeezed his hand back and smiled.

"Okay." She whispered. She went back to the kitchen and perused the fridge and the cabinets. She pulled out a couple apples from the crisper and emptied the rest of a sleeve of Ritz crackers into a cereal bowl. She cut the apples with a tic-tac-toe board cut but left the cores on the plate, she would eat them. She carried them into the living room and saw in the glow of the light of the TV that Mark had fallen asleep on the couch. She paused in place for a moment. She turned off the TV, went back to the kitchen, set the dishes down, and turned off the kitchen light. She went upstairs to see that her parent's bedroom light was on. She knew by the light that it was her mom's reading light. She tapped the door lightly and heard Lorna answer her in a whisper. Bette went in the room where she saw John sleeping and Lorna reading a paperback novel with her reading glasses on. Bette crouched by the bed and told her mom enough that she was comfortable telling her: Mark had told her some childhood trauma, he came in for some water and to calm down, he fell asleep on the couch, and she didn't feel right waking him up to have him drive home tired, upset, and unsafe. Lorna wasn't ecstatic about it, but she saw Bette's concern. Lorna said he could sleep there if Bette called his mother and told her. If Bette could do that, then he could stay asleep on the couch. Bette nodded and hear heart pounded to the awkward late-night call she was about to make. She went into her room, picked up the cordless phone and called Mark's house. Gina answered after a couple rings after clearly having been woken up by the call. Bette apologized for calling and doing so. She told her that Mark had been upset that evening after the coronation dance, they were talking at her house, he fell asleep on the couch, and didn't think it would be safe to wake him to have him try to drive tired. Gina was annoyed but Bette couldn't tell if it was from the situation or being woken up. She said it was fine and she and Mark would discuss it in the morning and hung up on Bette. Bette felt awkward but relieved. She went back downstairs and threw a blanket over Mark. Any other time she would have kissed him, but this was not the moment. She went back to the kitchen, ate a couple of the crackers to settle her stomach, and put the apple slices in the fridge. She took a piece of paper and wrote out a note: Our moms know you slept here. It's okay for now. I love you. She went and stuck it in the same coat pocket of his where his keys were in case he woke up, panicked, and left. She turned on the bathroom cabinet light and left the door open knowing it would be enough light between him and the side door if that did happen. She gave his dark silhouette another look before climbing the stairs to go to bed. She woke a little after 8 AM. Any other Sunday morning she would bask in the warmth of her bed and listen to music and read, but she knew Mark could still be there. She rushed out of bed and looked out the window and saw his truck was gone. She hoped that he found her note, got home safe, and that he wouldn't be in too much trouble with his mom. Bette worked a shift that day at the museum, and spent the day in quiet worry for Mark. When she got home, she found out he hadn't called. She gave him his space until Monday.

Monday March 8th's classes and lunch were agony to get through. She wolfed her lunch down and it sat in her stomach like a brick again. She didn't go into photography class right away, she always got there before him; she waited outside the door. Mark came up looking stoic.

"Hey. I was worried about you. You didn't call," she said softly.

"You said you worked yesterday."

"Did you find my note? Did everything turn out okay?"

Mark made a face at her he never had before; not even the time at the mall with Jamie. This was an expression of anger and pain. "You didn't have to call her, you know. I don't have a curfew. She lets me have my freedom to come and go as I please as long as I keep my grades up and I don't drink."

"Oh." She looked at him blankly. "You hadn't mentioned that."

"It wasn't an issue before. You're the one who has rules." His tone sounded, to her, like it was a bad thing.

"I'm sorry if I got you in trouble. My mom said if I was going to let you stay asleep on the couch, I had to call your house and tell your mom. She said I had to be responsible."

"You should have woken me up."

"It would have been irresponsible to have you drive home half asleep."

"We don't know that now, do we?"

The bell rang for class to start and they walked in to their seats. She didn't understand why he was mad. It wasn't an issue before. What issue? And before what? Her head swam in confusion for the 55 minutes of class. As soon as the bell rang, she zipped back to Mark. "Mark. I don't understand." She spoke with panic. "What did I do wrong?"

"You pulled one wrong thread. You told her I was upset when you called."

"You were." She kept her voice down. "It was a big deal. I thought being vague would be better. It was late. I had to let her to know you were safe. I didn't know you didn't have a curfew."

Mark huffed a breath. "I don't lie to you. I also don't lie to my mom, not anymore. Not after what I've been through the last few years. But I didn't tell her about that. So when I rolled home at 5 AM and she was awake saying she had barely slept and had no fathomable idea why I would be so upset that I would fall asleep in unusual places because she knows the only time I do that are times like when I was getting my cast on when Dad died, on the living room floor after screaming at her when Greg died, and in the Applebee's right after I saw my mom make out with her boss when I was nine. What could have upset me so much that I could fall asleep on a couch of my girlfriend's parent's house that I sure-as-shit didn't get permission to stay at beforehand? What was it?"

The halls had mostly cleared out for everyone going into the last class period of the day. They stood by Mark's locker. Bette teared up at the realization of the domino effect that she had caused. "I'm sorry you had to do that."

"I had to do that because of you." He slammed the locker door and started to walk away from her.

She was starting to panic again. She had a metallic taste in her mouth she had never felt before. She walked to catch up with him. He started to leave the school for his truck. She didn't have her coat or her backpack but she kept following him. "What happened to feeling better about sharing it?"

He spoke low through gritted teeth. "Yeah, cause everyone wants to tell their mommy about giving and getting blowies from their best friend when they were twelve."

"You know I understand what that's like. I told you I had to have that God-awful sex talk with my parents and got in huge trouble for it. I can't imagine your mom was mad at you for this."

"No, she wasn't mad. But it was something I wasn't prepared to talk about with her at 5:30 in the morning after having just told you. So much for the door locking with you."

Bette felt her stomach churn. She didn't even notice the freezing air in her blouse with no sweater or coat; she was actually beginning to sweat. "You know I had no idea about that kind of dynamic between you getting upset and sleep. Mark, I love you. I care about you. If the night had been the other way around, my parents would need to know where I was and they would want you to be man enough to tell them yourself."

"And that didn't happen, did it? You happened." He unlocked his truck, opened the door and got in. Bette got between the door and the truck so he couldn't close the door. "Bette. I need you to move please." His tone was as cold as the air.

"No." Her heart raced and she felt her hands shake. She wasn't sure if it was the cold or the panic.

"Bette, move."

"Mark. It was a mistake. I'm sorry." Her eyes teared up and he became a blur in front of her.


She felt a level of panic she'd never experienced in her entire life and the words came out. "I once let Keith fuck me in the ass when I was on my period! I hated it so much! I hated him for it! I shit and cried in the bathroom after!" Bette doubled over and vomited so hard that it came out of her nose and it felt like her teeth were curling. It splashed onto her pants and shoes. She got so disoriented she fell over backwards to the asphalt and the wet slush started to soak through her jeans. Her textbook and notebook fell to her side. She was in a fetal position as she shivered and shook. Her face was a mess of sweat, tears, not, and vomit. She felt like there was cotton in her ears she could barely hear herself. She couldn't bear to open her eyes through her crying howls. She couldn't see what Mark looked like, and she couldn't imagine looking anymore disgusting to him in that moment. She became the monster-freak-bitch she joked about or was bullied about being her whole life, but it was real this time. She felt like she was there for an eternity the way the wet cold soaked in; she imagined it was what Hell felt like. The cotton-in-ear feeling dissipated and she heard the footsteps around her. She felt the pressure, warmth, and smell of Mark's coat around her shoulders and over her back. She knew there was hope in that moment and wiped her face with the back of her shirt sleeve. She opened her eyes and saw the vomit on the ground, on her shoes and pants, and the bits of it on the back of her sleeve. She sniffed back hard, swallowed, and wiped her face again with her other blouse sleeve; there was almost no vomit on that wipe.

He whispered in her ear. "I'm going to put my arms around you and help you up, alright?" She could feel him crouched behind her. She nodded. He locked his arms around her and stood up with her and she felt like she was starting to ascend out of Hell. Her butt and thighs were cold and soaked. Her mouth was still filled with gritty bile. She still felt like a monster. He turned her around and she covered her nose and mouth with her hands when he did. He picked up her textbook and notebook. He was calm and put a hand on her shoulder. "You are going to sit in here with the heat on. I'm going to get your coat and backpack. Is there anything else that's in there that you need?" Bette silently shook her head. "You sit tight, I'll be back." Mark turned and ran back towards the school. Bette finally felt herself come out of her panic; she wasn't sure how long she stood there after he left. She turned around and saw he left the truck running with his driver's side door open. She got in in a way so she wouldn't get his driver's side seat wet or any vomit on the upholstery. She closed the door and sat in her wet jeans. She saw the mess on her sleeve. That can't get any worse. Then wiped the gritty bile in her mouth on the sleeves of her blouse in fresh spots. A minute later Mark came running back up to the truck and opened his door and got in with her coat and backpack. "You got it nice and warm in here," he said softly. From under her coat he pulled and held out a bottle of ginger ale. "I thought this might help too: for your stomach and to get the taste out of your mouth." Bette took a deep inhale and took the bottle. She twisted off the cap, poured some into her mouth, swished it, opened the truck door, and spit it out. She sighed in relief and sipped some more of it. She slammed the door shut and he started driving. "There was only one other time I've seen you drink ginger ale. Do you remember?" He didn't look at her as he drove but she nodded; they spoke of the night so much. "The Halloween dance. 8th grade. I was so glad to be back here at school. I couldn't believe how pretty you had gotten in the time I was gone. Then I saw you in that green and black dress and my jaw just about hit the floor. Robert knew I liked you before and he saw me looking at you. He told me to go get in the snack line when you did. That that moment would be a chance to talk to you; it would be quiet enough over there. I had no idea about what. We hadn't talked since Mr. Barrow's class. Then we were getting closer and closer to the front of the line and you got out your money. It was the only thing I could think of to talk to you about in that moment. You looked so spooked that I caught you getting your money out of your bra, but you saved face so quickly. You were resilient. And all of a sudden we were 11 again. Nothing was weird. You snorted when you laughed and you didn't care. Then you got a can of ginger ale. I got a Milky Way and paid with a five so I could get the two ones you paid with. I put those ones in the inside pocket of the jacket so I wouldn't forget. I got nervous again when I saw you toss the Twix to Ozzy. Robert said he dated Cassandra the year before, but wasn't sure what your situation was when we saw you two walk in together in similar era costumes. I went over to the table where he and Greyson were sitting and I saw your Champaign cup with the ginger ale in it and your lipstick on the rim. I was so nervous but I kept looking past Ozzy at your ginger ale and he helped me. And the rest was history." Mark pulled up in front of her house and turned off the truck. She had a weak smile on her face. "Let's get you cleaned up." He took her coat and backpack and they both got out of the truck. He put his other arm around her shoulder and walked her up to the house. She still held the bottle of ginger ale. They walked in the house took off their shoes and he hung up their coats. She was still zombie-like going up the stairs to her bathroom. She pulled some pajamas out of a drawer and plopped them on the bed. She went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. Mark started the shower for her. "Apples and Ritz crackers, right? Those will probably make you feel better too." She nodded. He left the room and went down to the kitchen. She peeled off her layers and got in the shower. She realized there had been vomit in her hair the whole time. She washed her hair and scrubbed herself clean. She got out and wrapped herself in dry, fluffy towels and saw the color was starting to come back to her face. She went back into her room and put on her pajamas, her soiled clothes were gone, and on her bedside table was a plate of apple slices and crackers along with a glass of water. On a piece of torn notebook paper, he left a note: Feel better. We can talk when you feel up to it. I love you. She ate a couple crackers and drank a little more of the ginger ale. When her head hit the pillow, she was asleep within a minute.

It was dark in her room when Bette felt her mother's nails run in her scalp and her eyes started to open. It was a wonderfully comforting way to be woken up. "Mom?"

"How are you feeling Betty?"

Bette yawned. Her mouth was dry and she rolled from her side to her back then sat up. She reached for the cup of water and took a sip. "Better. But how did you know I wasn't feeling well?" Her voice still rasped a little.

"Mark told me before he left." Lorna's words fully woke Bette up and she looked scared. "It's okay Betty." Lorna sat on the side of Bette's bed with her. "He told me that you had some kind of panic attack after school today and were ill. He said he wanted to make sure you got to bed alright. He also wanted to thank me for letting him stay here on the couch the other night. He said that he had to wait and tell me that himself, that it was important that he do that."

Bette choked up and a couple tears fell. "I didn't ask him to do that. I didn't know he was here when I was asleep."

Lorna spoke like she was talking about a puppy, "He was so sweet Betty. So nervous. He didn't want you to get in trouble for a choice he said he was making, one you didn't know he was making."

"I was so scared. I got so sick," she said through her cries. She hugged her mom. "I was such a freak and he made sure I was okay."

"Oh," she rocked her daughter. "I know. I know. He's a good boy to you, isn't he?"

"No, Mom. He's a good man."

Over the rest of the week, Bette and Mark had the chance to talk on the way home from school each day. They shared more of their traumas and secrets, ones they hadn't shared with Jenna and Ozzy or Hank and Robert. They said they had never been closer to anyone else in their entire lives. When Bette went to his house that weekend, Gina discreetly thanked her for getting him to open up. Mark had said at his father's grave that he and his mom had trouble communicating, and now he didn't lie to her, but she couldn't imagine what that journey was like for the two of them. Mark and Bette turned on the TV in his basement living room with the volume turned up, but went into his bedroom.

"I got some stuff I wanted to show you," said Mark. He handed her a photo envelope. "I finally got these from Robert, Hank, and Ami. Doubles from the dance in January."

They sat on the bed and opened the envelopes. They flipped through pictures leaning against each other, smiling and laughing at the memories of the night. "You looked so handsome that night. Let's be honest. You look handsome every night," she said with a smile. "My moon."

They flipped a few more pictures. "I meant to ask, where did you learn to break dance like that?"

Bette laughed. "When Hank started showing his stuff, I had to show him he wasn't the only one who could." She flipped a picture. "Terry taught a bunch of us to pop and lock at a party once." She flipped another picture. "The worm is really just starting in a handstand and then a push with the right body control and a kick. People tell me I do it backwards, I don't know how to do it forwards." She flipped to another picture. "And when I was in dance class as a little kid, they called them 'coffee grinders,' other people call them 'helicopters.' They were part of our warm ups." She flipped to another picture. "And I guess I still have the flexibility to do the splits when I have that kind of adrenaline going."

"You were shining," he whispered.

She turned to a picture of them dancing; she was looking at the camera and he was looking at her. "We were shining." She turned and kissed him. "I can't believe I was in such denial. Look at the look on your face here. Now, I see you look at me like this. Were you always?"

"Yeah." They looped back to the beginning of the photos again.

"There was something else I wanted to show you." He got up and walked around his bed and opened the drawer there and took out some pamphlets. "It's pretty obvious we haven't talked about what's going to happen after this summer. I mean, You're going to The main State U' and I haven't made any plans." He sat back down next to her and turned the pamphlets away from her. "I think about Dad a lot, so I call Grandpa on most Sundays. He's been helpful. He and Grandma are in Florida, so I don't get to see them much, but I talk to him more and more. I asked him what Dad wanted when he was my age. How did he end up working in fleet management of all places? Grandpa said he needed a stable income, benefits, and stuff. Dad would have been a carpenter, a builder, or a contractor if he could have. There are so many more options and opportunities now; I talked to the guidance counselor about it. The growth for our generation in the trades is going to be insane when the boomers start retiring. And the money in it is great." He showed her the pamphlets. They were for trade schools near her university. "I don't want to wait around here to get turkey dumped by you at Thanksgiving come fall. Or sooner when you leave. And I know it's going to be hard. I know we've only been together a couple months, but--school's going to be over in another couple months and I don't want to miss this chance if we have a chance." It was the first time he said something heavy and serious to her while looking at her.

She beamed, "You're serious."

"I am."

"No. That wasn't a question. I know you're serious." She turned on the bed towards him.

He grinned back, "I already submitted my applications for August. I'm just waiting to hear back. I should know in the next few weeks. Then I can find a place to live and work in the area over the summer."

"You really want to do this," it wasn't a question again.

He took her hands in his, "I do." He kissed the back of her left hand. "You want to do this?"

"I do," she whispered, and kissed the back of his left hand. She didn't mean to set up their phrasing and actions to be so clumsy, direct, and committed, but he went with it and not only did Mark run with it, he all out sprinted. They wrapped their arms around each other. She touched her forehead to his and they let out little laughs. He ran the tip of his nose down hers and she sighed; it was one of her favorite affectionate things he did.

"I love you," she breathed.

"I always loved you," he said before kissing her, leaning back on the bed with her.

Bette thought she was in love with Mark before, but the next few weeks continued to blossom between them. In her life skills class she learned about taxes and investing and talked to him about it for their future. He told her he had learned a lot about that stuff when his dad had died. It's how he was able to afford to do so much: he didn't eat away at his inheritance; he got monthly interest dividends off it and didn't even spend all of it. Dad had taught him to not be stupid with his money and worked with his same CPA even after James passed away. Bette was shocked that he was ahead of his time in fiscal intelligence at such a young age. He showed her the places he was interested in living near her. Places that were within a ten minute drive or one to two buses of where she would be living on campus. They looked into things to do over the summer. She started working more afternoons after school at the museum and Saturday double shifts knowing it meant she could have more money for her future with him over the summer. She told him she didn't want his money, it wasn't why she loved him, it never was. He said he knew that and loved the fact she liked to work and worked hard. He liked her work stories; she always came back from wedding events or corporate events with great stories. The snow melted early at the end of March and she had him over for bocce ball. It was barely 50 degrees out and they still wore their winter boots in the yard, but it felt good to have fun outside. It was a Sunday when they played and Lorna and John took advantage of the day and hung up laundry on the clothes line. She had to tell Mark: yes, they always make out when they hang up socks. He whispered to her that he would look for a place where he could hang a clothes line.

She was a little bummed out that he decided to spend his spring break in Florida with his grandparents. He had raved so much about them, she understood. He was going spend time with his dad's parents and soak up some sun and come back a tanned god. She was going to spend as much time working at the museum. April 11th was Easter and the last day of spring break. She had worked a whole lot of hours and Easter weekend was usually the kick-off to wedding and event season. There was a Saturday wedding and multiple catered events that Easter Sunday. Bette went home that weekend with nearly $200 in cash tips. She knew that the season would only get better, and now that she was coming into her third summer working there, she had seniority on the calendar and could work more of the profitable events and fewer weekday hourly shifts. With her life skills class's lessons and advice from her father, she kept track of networking within the museum. She made friends with the catering managers, the vendors, the frequent event attendees. She learned who bigger donors were, how they liked their drinks when they were with their wives and when they were with their mistresses. Her pockets were financially lined with her discretion. She served a couple of elderly guests and assisted them with their questions about the museum and they seemed impressed by her knowledge and passion for working at the museum at one of the Easter brunch services. When the lead docent flagged her down asking if she had seen that elderly couple, she told her that they were lovely people and she liked talking to them about the museum. The docent was shocked. The elderly couple were major potential benefactors. They owned one of the biggest timber processors in the state: their family was a part of the history and was considering donating family heirlooms, artifacts, and large financial grants to the museum. Bette told the docent to relax. They were lovely people, and she was polite to them. If the docent does her job right there wouldn't be an issue. Bette spoke confidently, but when she walked away, her stomach twisted and hoped she hadn't said anything wrong. Turned out, the couple was charmed by Bette, the docent, and the museum and they did make a generous donation.

When she returned to school on Monday April 12th, she couldn't wait to see Mark. She was flushed with cash and stories and was excited to hear his too. They weren't able to talk while he was gone by phone or email. If he had heard "Let me hold your titty," from his Grandpa by mistake once when he was 13, she couldn't imagine what stories he would have after a week with them. And the pictures! Mark would have brought his good camera with him; she couldn't wait to see what his grandparents looked like. She waited outside the photography classroom for him before class started and she was antsy to see him. When she saw Mark walk up the hallway to the classroom, he wasn't a smiling, bronzed god. He was a depressed ghost. She had seen that drawn look on his face before, and it was bad. She kept her eyes on him and wove through the other students to get to him. He saw her approach, stopped seeing her concern, and let her embrace him.

"What's wrong? What happened?" She tried to take on as much of his weight as possible.

"He-he had a heart attack Tuesday. He's recovering, but--" He couldn't finish. He covered his face with one hand and held her with his other arm. Students dispersed around them into classes and the bell rang.

"Come on. We're leaving."

They rushed to their lockers and to the office. Being that they were both 18, they were able to sign themselves out of school without being considered unexcused from class. She rarely did it, her parents didn't like her doing it, but she thought they might forgive her for this one. They went to their lockers, got their stuff and went out to his truck. Bette drove as he talked. Mark had only been with his at his grandparent's house a few days when they were out at lunch and his grandpa suffered a heart attack at the table. They were lucky enough that someone knew what to do quickly and he got to a hospital fast enough. They didn't get to do the other stuff they had planned like deep sea fishing, road biking, and go to his pickle ball league. He spent most of his time at the hospital and helping his grandmother. They were a wreck the rest of the week with him in the hospital. When he did finally make it home from the hospital on Saturday, it was just as bad. They spent the day arranging schedules with their local family friends and home health care workers to help them while his grandfather recovered. Mark had to fly back home the next morning. He couldn't even be there with them for their Easter church service.

"It was like all the life got sucked out of him in just a few days. I mean, he's 70. He seemed so healthy. He was active. It's like it came out of nowhere."

"I'm so sorry for your family. You've been through so much heartache. And you had to witness so much of it. The world shouldn't give you such burden."

He leaned against her on the couch with her arms draped over him. She heard him almost laugh. "You wanted to say 'it isn't fair,' didn't you?" He tilted his head back and up looked at her.

"Creative writing class has me paging through the thesaurus a lot. And saying it's not fair seems childish at this point. There's what the world gives us and what we make of it." She kissed the top of his head. "Make something. Go call your grandparents. See how they're doing today."

He smiled up at her, "Not fair is you quoting my own dad to me." He sat up and turned to her. "I told them about you, you know. I showed them our pictures."

"Should I brace for impact?"

"Grandma thought you looked glamorous, like Hedy Lamarr meets Carmen Miranda."

"I think she misplaced where my fruit was. And I am no Hedy Lamarr." Bette playfully poked her breasts and her stomach.

"So you get that? I didn't get it; she had to show me pictures in books about old Hollywood. But I told her you weren't just a Hollywood star. You were the star and how lucky I was. How happy we were."

"What did your Grandpa say?"

"He looked at our pictures said he used to look like me looking at girls like that."

"And what did you say?"

"I told him you let me hold your titty."

Bette laughed until she snorted. She had to tell him again to go call his grandparents and she would wait, that it was okay, take the time. He went in his room and she waited on the couch with a couple of his magazines and the TV on. She skimmed the magazine and ignored the TV, it oddly felt like being in the waiting room of a doctor's office waiting to hear the updated medical news. A few minutes later he came out holding the phone.

"Is everything okay today? Any updates?"

Mark had a funny smile on his face; his thumb was over the receiver. "I got him at a good time; he just woke up from a nap when I called. I told him you were here...He wants to say hello to you."

Mark held out the phone. Bette was dumbstruck to the request. What could he possibly have to say to me? She took the phone from him and muted the TV. "Hello? This is Bette."

"Hello Bette, dear. How are you?"

"I'm very well, Sir. How are you feeling this week?"

He had a low rumble-laugh like an old lion. "'Sir.' That's sweet of you. You can call me Joel. And I'm feeling as well as can be expected all things considered. You know I remember you from years ago. When we lost James. Mark pointed you out in the reception hall and then I believe you two hugged for five minutes. You paid respects to each and every one of us. Such manners."

"He was a good man." She looked at Mark when she said it. "Respect was the least I could do for your family. It feels like so long ago, but I'm sure it doesn't to you."

"Not at my age. Not when you can measure things in decades and the Tonight Show hasn't been good since Carson hosted."

"I can make my peace with watching Letterman instead, but I always love a good Carnac joke."

He laughed. "You got one?"

She thought for a second. "A sheep, a drum, and a snake." She imitated the tearing of an envelope and blowing it open like Carson would. "Baa-dum-sss." Imitating a rim-shot.

Joel laughed. "You are just as he said: sweet, fun, and bright, and in more ways than one. You're just lovely in your pictures."

"Thank you Joel. Mark raves about you too." She looked up at him and smiled again.

"All the good things I hope."

"All the best stories to hang on to." She grabbed her breast and winked at him. "Would you like me to hand you back to him?"

"That would be fine. It was nice speaking with you."

"You too." She handed the phone back to Mark and they wrapped up the call.

He sat back down with her on the couch. "He liked you. He said you're a real keeper. Most of his friend’s grand kids wouldn't know who Hedy Lamarr, Carmen Miranda, or even Johnny Carson are. You're an old soul."

"Good thing they put me in a new body and not a used one. You might not have given me a second look if I was an old lady in an old body."

He took her hand. "Same for me. But someday we'll both be old, and I'll still look at you like I do in these pictures."

They both smiled, turned red in the face, and hugged.

Mark kept Bette updated daily about his grandparents. Some days were better, some days were worse. Some days he would call and he would hear the stress in his grandmother's voice or the weakness in his grandfather's. It wore Mark out. Bette saw the ache it caused in him. She saw the worry, stress, and pain. Mark's eating; sleeping, mood, and grades were affected by it and was miserable. Bette got dressed up for Spring Spirit week, and Mark barely noticed or cared. It was Tuesday April 27th and after school, Bette brought Mark to the school library instead of leaving immediately.

"There's something I wanted to show you," she said.

"What is it?"

"You and I have a lot of the same teachers and classes. The one we didn't was your German class."


Bette logged into one of the library computers and pulled up email correspondence with various teachers. "I did some asking around. We're less than six weeks out from the end of school. All our teachers have their finals ready. Mark, I asked our teachers. You can take your finals as soon as this week under the excuse of family emergency or duress. You can test out and still be part of our graduating class and go be with your grandparents."

Mark looked at her surprised and sad, "You want me to go?"

She sipped from her water bottle, "You need to go."

"Bette, I can't go and help take care of them and put together everything I need to do for trade school come August. I can't get a place to live near you, a job, and have a life with you and take care of them there at the same time."

Bette took a deep breath with the same sad look on her face as him. "I know that."

He put one arm around the back of her chair and his other hand on her leg. "Bette, that's not the plan. We have a plan. We're making something. I know it's going to be challenging, but--"

"But it's not what the world is giving us."

"No." She could tell he wanted to speak louder, but it was prissily why she brought him to the library and not the computer lab to show him this.

She put her hand on his. "Mark, what would you give for more time with your dad?" He got a wrought look on his face. "If you have the opportunity to spend time with them, to learn more about your dad through your Grandpa Joel and your Grandma Ellen, to get some quality years with them, you need to do that. I can't be the reason you miss out on that."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing. You looked into this and didn't tell me?" He was shocked and bitter.

She remained calm. "When you were in the shower I picked up your phone and looked at the call history. You call them every day, sometimes twice, and they're not short calls either. You're not here. You're there."

"That's not true. I'm here by your side every day."

"I dressed up as a pirate, an alien, a leopard, and Indiana Jones last week and you didn't notice. I could have screamed this from the top of the school and I don't think you would have heard me. You needed to see that it was half done already. This is bigger than us. This is your family."

"Bette I love you. I don't know if I can give you up for this."

"You're not giving this up, I am. I already called your grandparents. They want you there too."

"You went behind my back? I don't believe you. You wouldn't lie to me about this."

Bette pulled up another email thread, one from her personal account to Mark's aunt about the arrangements for him to stay with her that the two of them had discussed and had him read it.

"I had to. There was no way you were going to."

"I don't know If I can do this, after everything we've talked about."

"The fact you're not sure, means you should do this. And if you were sure you didn't want to go, then I would know there was something truly wrong with you after how you've been feeling lately. You need to do this. You need to be with your family, and you need to do it as soon as possible."

"Maybe you can come with me? You could apply for spring semester there!" He was bright and hopeful.

"No." She took her hand off his and touched his cheek. "My tuition and arrangements are already set here for the main U'. That's not what I want for myself. That's not what I want for us."

"But what do you want for us?"

She finally shed a couple tears. "I want us to be happy. And I don't think that can happen while one of us is miserable while we're together."

He wrapped his arm from the back of her chair on to her back and hugged her. She heard him sniffle and cry into her hair. He whispered into her ear. "You weren't a wish or luck. You are a miracle."

"I couldn't do it without a sacrifice. I can't think of a greater one than you." She embraced him back.

Over the rest of the week, Mark crammed and took a final each day for each one of his classes. He went in for Saturday school and took two that morning. He passed his classes and spent the first few days of May packing up his clothes and necessities for his cross-country move. Tuesday afternoon May 4th Bette started walking towards the city bus stop after school. It was nice to finally have some nice days weather-wise and a back pack with only one textbook in it for homework. She waited at the bus stop looking at her nails and kicking pebbles under her feet when a car horn honked and it made her look up; coming up the side avenue on her right, was Mark in his fully packed truck.

"One last ride home?"

She couldn't crack a smile looking at him, "Okay." She crossed the street and got in. She buckled up and he started driving. "We did this Sunday. I don't know if I can do this again."

"I'm gonna be on the road the next couple days. I needed to see one last familiar face before I left."

"You're not making this any easier."

"I thought about that. Look in the glove box." Bette opened it. There was an envelope and a small brown leather jewelry box. "Don't open them now, but you had said that it helped last time. We always could say the important stuff on paper when we had to."

She was already hurting; she held up the narrow box. "Mark, I can't accept this, whatever this is. It's too much."

"You haven't even opened it," he said it offended.

"This is a nice box. This isn't a cheap box. Whatever is in it you didn't pay less than $10 for at a second hand store. Where am I going to wear it? I don't have a prom date. I don't need it to get stolen by my college roommate. I don't want to eventually explain where it came from to some guy in the future. I don't want to hide it and I don't want it to collect dust. I shouldn't have it!" She burst into tears. "I don't deserve it." She dropped the envelope and the box to land by her feet and she covered her face with her hands.

Mark pulled over and parked. He unbuckled himself and slid over to her. "I didn't think of it like that." She leaned into him and he hugged her. "I thought it would be a nice touch like you said before." He stroked her hair.

"It's been hard enough to let you go, to push you away, and you show up to take me home one more time with a note and box and looking as gorgeous and as sweet as always--" she sniffled. "I just thought I was done crying myself to sleep on Sunday night."

"It was like that for me too. You know how hard it was to not dig open those boxes to see if you snuck in notes for me like before?"

"I knew it was going to be so much harder this time." She pulled himself out of his embrace. "I know we can still reach each other by phone, email, and AIM, but it might be easier if we don't. I guess I'm not sure yet."

"I'm not going to have any friends there."

"No. You're going to have your family, your cousins, you're Grandpa Joel. You are going to have so much love around you."

"The love I--"

Bette put her fingertips on his lips. "You need to stop making this harder for us." She dropped her hand and they gave each other little, pained smiles.

"What would make it easier?" He let her go and sat back a bit from her and she sat up.

Bette looked around outside. "Ice cream. No notes. No boxes. Ice cream, and then you leave."


Mark slid back behind the wheel, put his truck back in drive, and pulled into the lot of the ice cream shop. They got out of the truck and went in and ordered ice cream. Bette got an ice cream cone and Mark got a shake. They sat outside at one of the picnic tables.

"I thought you'd get a vanilla milk shake," Mark said.

"Not after having one in reverse." Bette licked the chocolate malt chip ice cream cone. "This is my go-to flavor when I come here."

"You come here a lot?"

Bette pointed. "We're six blocks from my house. I used to bike here probably twice a week in summer when I was younger. It was a great halfway meet up spot for Jenna and me." Bette's face started to brighten at the memories. "Jenna, Tylor, and Greyson would come from that way on their bikes. Ozzy and I would come from that way on our bikes. This was the summer after 7th grade. On weekends there would be epic games of croquet in my yard. On really hot days we'd all go to Pebble Lake. There was a day where we were here and we all got caught in the rain and we all went to Ozzy's and had to wear his clothes until our stuff dried off in the dryer. Jenna and I looked ridiculous!"

Mark gave her a strange look. "Why didn't you two stop at your house and put on your clothes? It's between here and his house."

Bette had a bitter-sweet thought, "When you're young and stupid, you want everything to keep going. You don't want to stop. It's go, go, go."

Mark slurped the end of his shake; Bette was not done with her ice cream yet. "You ready to go?"

She held her ice cream and looked at his sweet face. She put her back pack back on and took the paper cup out of his hand. "I'm going to go get some water and then I'm going to walk home like it's 7th grade. Like you weren't here. Okay?"


They both got up from the picnic table and she walked up to the door of the ice cream shop. "Thanks for asking me to dance Mark. It was an iconic time with you."

He gave her a big smile. "Oh Hell yeah it was, Bette. Thanks for an awesome time."

She grinned back before turning away from him and going into the shop. She threw his cup away, got a cup of water, drank it and refilled it. She sat back down with her back towards the door and had more of her ice cream cone. A couple minutes later, the door opened. "Bee?"

"Hey Grey."

"I thought I saw you from outside. I'm about to start a shift. Wanna come outside with me before I start?" He made a smoking mime.


She got up and went outside to the back of the building with him. Mark's truck was gone. "What's goin' on?"

"Sometimes you just need some ice cream, you know?"

"Like right after you break up with your boyfriend when he moves away for the second time?" He said it with the deep flatness he always did, but it was his way of caring.

"Yeah." She sighed. "It sucks."

"How you holding up?" He took another drag of his cigarette.

"It's pretty fucking awful." She took a bite of the cone. "The walk home will help. It's about all I can do for now. Any distraction is a good distraction. You know what it's like?"

"You know I don't."

"Right. You and Jenna still going to prom again?"

"Yeah. She made arrangements for us to go with Katie and Hank. I have no idea why. He and I are going to have nothing to talk about and we're all going to his house after." Greyson looked confused. "No clue why he's wanna hang out with me anyways."

Bette shoved the rest of her cone in her mouth to keep herself from laughing. She put her hand over her mouth while she chewed and spoke. "I'm sure you guys will come up with something. Something you'll both enjoy."

He saw her expression, her lack of a poker face he knew she had too. "Bette, what do you know?"

She swallowed the last of the cone. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said with a crooked smile. "But I know I already feel better. That ice cream and talking to you helped a lot. Would you call me when you're done?"

He put out his cigarette. "Sure Bee," he laughed.

The pair high-fived and slapped their chests before walking away from each other.

Bette enjoyed the spring time sun on her walk home. It felt good to distract herself with the weather and the sounds of birds. She found a good sized rock and kicked it for three blocks. It was a fun game to play with herself. It was something she did when she would do when she would walk home from Puzzle club in the early part of middle school when Cassandra didn't go and she had to walk home alone and didn't catch a city bus. It made her feel young and even though she was alone, she didn't feel lonely. She was getting to the last couple blocks to home when she saw Todd mowing the front lawn at his house. He was jamming on his headphones behind the lawnmower. She waved to him and he stopped and took off his headphones.

"'Sup Bee? What's got you walking home?"

"Long story. Short version, I needed some ice cream and I still don't have a car, so I walked."

Todd's headphones still blasted Usher's 'Yeah.' "Sounds like a good reason to stop. I still have a sweet tooth. I'm pretty sure I spent my allowance there every week there the summer after seventh grade."

Bette laughed hard.

"What's so funny?"

"I was just telling someone I did nearly the same thing. I had to do extra chores just to get extra spending cash that summer. I remember I would check the weather and do chores on rainy or cooler days or try to cram them in in the morning so I could get the cash. Then a bunch of us realized a year later if we could just agree on a flavor or two, we could just by a damn half gallon of ice cream for the same price along with cones and malt powder and have so much more. We still went to the ice cream shop to meet up though."

He put out his hand and twitched his fingers, "We're not at the bus stop! Money in the swear jar!"

"No," she said flatly, but to them, playfully.

"Fine. Then I gotta get back to mowing. I need to earn my own swear jar money."

"Later Toddy."

He put his headphones back on and started the lawnmower again. She started taking a few more steps towards home and looked back towards Todd mowing. He padabured behind the mower and bobbing his head to the music in his headphones. She smiled and had a warm thought. Bette walked back and tapped him on his shoulder. He took his headphones off again and the song blasting this time was 'Ghetto Superstar' by Pras, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Mya. "Todd, Do you want to go to prom with me?"

"No fucking way." He said with a big smile.

Bette was taken aback. "Jesus. A simple no would have been fine."

"No! I mean yes! As in sure I'll go to prom with you. I just can't believe I'm getting asked, as in un-fucking-believable!"

She held up her hand. "Just to be clear: you have zero chance of having sex with me. I am glad to buy you some bananas and some Vaseline though."

"I wouldn't expect anything less," he said it with a sparkle in his eye.

Saturday May 15th was the night of the prom. Bette once again, did not want to spend much money on the night. She had been a similar build as Jenna's sister before so she asked if she had another dress to borrow. Turned out she had been in a wedding a month prior and had a bridesmaid dress in a soft green color called 'clover' that on some people would have been horrific, but was fabulous on Jenna's sister and on Bette. It was corseted-strapless, knee-length with a slit in the back and had matching shoes. Bette's only green jewelry was the triple spiral necklace from Ozzy, but she didn't feel right about wearing it, so she asked her mom for another option. Lorna loaned her grey marcasite stoned collar, hematite earrings, and a bracelet with another big grey marcasite-looking stone in it. Lorna did her hair in a French twist and Bette did her own make up. Bette bought a simple white carnation boutineer for Todd and wore the silk floral corsage she made with Jenna from the year before. She told Todd the only thing he needed was a suit, he didn't even need to rent a tux if he didn't want to, and he could wear whatever color he wanted; matching didn't matter and it was overrated at this point. They were going as friends and he was glad to oblige. They went to the new trendy pizza restaurant where some other people had gone to dinner prior to prom too. Todd saw a sophomore girl he knew and Bette recognized the junior guy she was with from her photography class. Todd relaxed knowing he wasn't going to be the only underclassman there.

"Why did you ask me anyways?" Todd asked.

"Because I wanted to go to prom with someone who liked music and could dance. And I seem to recall your car dancing and having rhythm when we played music on the way to school those times when I had my parent's car."

"Yeah, but why me? I'm sure there was someone in your class who would have gone with you."

Bette shamefully shook her head. "I just broke up with Mark. And if I were to be really honest with you," she leaned forward and waved him forward to do the same. "If you haven't noticed, everyone dates in their own social circle, it's almost incestuous. And ever since I became 'the powerful lady, who took away Jason Kaye's dick,' I'm a freak to guys. And I wasn't attractive before that either."

"That was you!" He said it right to her face. "That story is a legend! There's still a last day of school chant about something or someone every year. Everyone hopes that it won't be about them. Last year the eighth graders crowded the seventh grade hallway after sixth period and chanted 'sevs.' Because everyone knows--"

They said it at the same time, "Sevs are the worst!"

"Isn't it weird how the second oldest students in the school are considered the lowest on the social rung in the school?" Bette asked.

"Yes! I thought it was just our grade that thought that." He laughed. "That's so crazy how that doesn't change."

"Mr. Barrow still wears the same six shirts, doesn't he?"

Todd's eyes became saucers. "Holy shit, he does!" He laughed again. "That sucks though, being a freak. You were always super cool to me. Freaks like us gotta stick together."

She looked at him a little crooked, "Todd, you are so main stream; you might as well be a salmon."

"You missed seeing me sixth through eighth grade. I think I finally evened out. I got my braces off this last Thanksgiving. I didn't get over five feet tall until last year. I went through a weird Anime phase. I had greasy skin and hair. I took way too long to figure out how to use deodorant and how important it was. I spent last summer reinventing myself hoping the kids from the other middle school would give me a chance."

"How's that working out for you?"

"Pretty good actually. I like the new stuff about myself. I like the friends I made in choir and Spanish class. High school is way better than middle school. I didn't think I'd get to go to prom as a freshman. You wouldn't believe what the other baritones were saying. They say senior girls turn baritones into basses." He said it lewdly and raised his eyebrows a couple times.

She glared at him playfully and crossed her arms sitting back in the booth. "Did you forget the story I just told you? I'm the powerful lady who took away a guy's dick. Nothing is going to happen between you and me. You try anything, and you'll be singing soprano."

"I know." He waved his hand at her. "It's just fun to joke about that stuff. You can dish it out with the best of 'em. Besides. I could never try to get with Ozzy's old girlfriend. You don't try to get with your buddy's ex-girlfriend."

She playfully sneered at him. "Then as your buddy, you have my blessing to try and get with any of my ex-boyfriends, Ozzy included. So good luck with that."

"See! You always can dish it out! But seriously, his girlfriend Vanessa is hot, you think he'd let me sandwich her with him?"

Bette snorted a laugh. She couldn't tell if Todd was joking or not.

When Bette and Todd got to the prom, he didn't just walk in, he walked in dancing. The world became his dance floor when he heard 'Everybody (Backstreet's Back)' by The Backstreet Boys, and he was fun dancer. The DJ played rock, rap, and pop and he liked dancing to all of it. They met up on the dance floor with Jenna, Greyson, Katie, Hank, Ami, and Robert. Todd got along well with all of them. Bette was unable to break dance battle Hank in the dress based on the fabric, cut, and tightness, but Todd could. Todd didn't know as many elaborate moves as Hank, but he did a round-off cartwheel that went down into a partial split and a face-down ass-shake that caught everyone by surprise. Bette doubled over in squealing, snorting laughter. He knew how to swing dance from the previous years in gym class. He wasn't great at it, but he tried, she had to lead, and it was fun. They danced to the slow songs, and though it didn't mean anything romantic, it was nice to be touched around her back by him. The DJ played a country song; Bette and Todd both got sour looks on their faces and said they'd sync back up on the dance floor in a bit. He needed a drink and she needed the bathroom. She walked out of the bathroom stall at the same time as the girl next to her, Vanessa. She wore a black, one shoulder strapped dress and a studded leather collar. Her makeup had heavy black eyeliner which didn't compliment her blue eyes. She had dark low-light streaks in her hair and her up-do wasn't in curls like most of the other girls, it was spiked out on the ends. She had changed her look for Ozzy. They stood at the sinks side by side; Vanessa seemed surprised to see her there.

Bette thought of what Todd had said, "You're lookin' hot tonight, Van." Bette reapplied her nude lipstick.

"Thanks Bee. You look good too. The White Witch has found the spring." Vanessa applied a deep red lip gloss.

"I did." She ignored the subtle dig. "Are you and Ozzy having fun tonight?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but we are."

Bette looked down at her hands as she washed them and furrowed her brow to Vanessa's phrasing. "You two are out at prom. It's kinda public knowledge. I just wanted to wish you well."

"Oh." Vanessa rinsed her hands. "I just thought that since Mark was gone you were going to be weird about it. I saw that guy you brought. Couldn't tell what the deal was between you two."

Bette smiled. "Oh, no it's not serious. You've met Todd before. Ozzy knows him."

"When did I meet him? He's not a junior. I don't recognize him."

Bette giggled. "Trick or treating? 8th grade? He yelled in your face."

Vanessa laughed. "That kid you babysat?!"

"Yeah. Ca-ching!" She laughed again. "He's a freshman. We ride the bus in every morning together. He cracks me up and he can dance."

"Fuck Bette. And I thought you moved on from Ozzy to Mark fast. It hasn't even been two weeks since Mark left."

They started to walk out of the bathroom together. "It's not like that. I just needed a friend tonight, and he's a good one."

"Okay then Bee." Vanessa put up a hand to Bette and walked away from her. Bette stood by a the railing that overlooked the fountain at the entrance of the building. She could hear the combination of the water splashing on itself and the music in the ballroom. She closed her eyes, took a breath, and took a moment to herself.

"You alright?" Jenna asked her.

"Yeah." She turned and leaned back on the railing. "Just...figuring something out."

"What is it? Something I can help with?"

"I made a mistake. I trusted the wrong person." Jenna looked at her confused. "I asked Vanessa to do something for me. I asked her to tell Ozzy that he could come to me if he needed a friend. He never did call or anything. I told her that during Winter Spirit week. It took me to now to realize she never did it. I realized she never said she would actually help me. I was too scared of how he would react if I were to tell him myself. I still am. I fully believe now she never told him what I asked."

"That bitch," Jenna said plainly.

"No." Bette was calm and nonchalant. "I'm not mad at her. She has her reasons. I have no one to blame but myself. It's like you said, I don't care what people think, but I care what he thinks. And I'm scared to see how he'll react to anything I have to say."

Jenna put her arm around Bette and started walking her back into the ballroom. "I think you shouldn't worry about that right now." Their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room. They saw their friends back on the dance floor. Katie, Hank, Todd, and Greyson all dancing together with a few others they knew. "I think we are at our senior prom and we only get one of these." Jenna gave Bette a tight-lipped smile.

"You want a piggy-back ride?" Bette offered with the same kind of smile.

"You're damn right I do." Jenna hopped onto Bette's back and she ran to the floor with her best friend.

The night went on and the DJ played more songs they loved. Bette filled out some song requests at the DJ table and rejoined her friends. When he played 'Lady Marmalade,' Jenna, Greyson, and Bette quickly grabbed chairs and did their choreographed dance from the year before. It didn't attract the crowds or attention like last year, but they still had fun doing it. Bette watched Hank's face and tried her damnedest not to laugh at his attempts to remain calm, but she saw the excitement in his eyes. Todd was thoroughly impressed and asked Greyson if that level of dancing gets him laid. Greyson said he hoped it would. When 'Jumpin' Jumpin' by Destiny's Child played, Bette and Ami did some of the choreography from the music video. The clean version of 'Country Grammar' by Nelly made Jenna, Bette, and Todd lose control on the dance floor. It was a favorite of Bette and Jenna's since freshman year and Todd loved the song too. They knew all the words. When 'Pony' by Ginuwine played, Todd had Bette and Jenna sit in chairs and he gave them both a lap dance; and he was surprisingly good and confident. There were lots of camera flashes. Bette was bright red, and covering her mouth the whole time from shock and laughter. Jenna just shook her head. Bette had to remind him that he still wasn't going to get laid. He told her it wasn't so much for her, but he wanted to see if any other girls were paying attention. She apologized for not looking on his behalf. Turned out, his plan worked, a girl he knew was paying attention and asked to dance with him during a slow song: 'Kiss from a Rose' by Seal. Bette kicked him in the butt to go. She watched Todd's face light up as he swayed with the sophomore girl.

"You wanna keep me company in the short term?" Hank asked Bette.

"Um, okay," She was genuinely surprised he asked her.

They stood and swayed close enough that they didn't look each other in the face. He was a bit taller than her, but in the heels she wore, she could just barely see over his shoulder. Jenna and Katie were dancing with each other. No one could see Bette smirk.

"How are you holding up?" He asked.

"It's tough for sure. I miss him. I guess quitting him cold turkey makes it easier. It was last time. How about you?"

"I get it. Why he had to do it. I mean, we grew up together. He worshiped his dad. I think when he got close with his grandpa he got a glimpse of that again. I can't be mad at him for it."

"Yeah. But how are you holding up?"

"Probably about the same as you."

"If Jenna left me twice without knowing when I'd see her next, I think I'd be a wreck. She's the sister I never had. And she has a sister."

"Mark's my best friend. He knows me better than anyone."

"I get that. Same with Jenna. She and I know each other better than anyone too. Hell, Mark knows stuff that I never told her."

"The iconic secrets?"

She laughed. "He told me he wasn't going to tell you that."

"So that was true? I thought he made that up! I didn't think that was possible the way he described it."

"Oh yeah. Been chasing that high ever since. How long did it take him to tell you?"

"About thirty seconds after you left his house that day."

"Are you sure it wasn't two minutes and thirty seconds?"


"Nothing." She saw Ozzy and Vanessa over his shoulder. "It took him leaving the first time for me to tell someone that happened. They didn't believe it was possible to happen like that either."


"No. Ozzy."

"You get your rocks off and the first person you told was a guy? What were you trying to accomplish?"

"It was an accident. Mark called me an icon in his goodbye note to me. Ozzy asked, and I answered. We don't--didn't lie to each other."

"Mark said the same thing. He said you would have killed him if he lied to you."

"It was really hard those last couple weeks after spring break. He wasn't the same. I knew there was no way he was going to be happy here. Like you said about his dad, he worshiped him. Thinking I could make him happy enough? I was lying to myself, and it was killing us. That door swung both ways with us."

"It locked both ways too as I understood."

"It did. We didn't lie to each other and we didn't share each other's iconic secrets. I still won't."

"What are you implying?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said aloofly.

Hank scoffed a laugh. "He told me about that too. Thanks Bette."

"Sure thing, Hank."

"Is, um...speaking of iconic sure things..." he trailed off nervously.

She breathed a laugh and saw Ozzy and Vanessa over his shoulder again. "You want some advice?"


"Compliment them on something they chose, and notice if they do the same for you. You show a little humility. If you can, have them teach you something. And don't lie. Lying kills everything."

"Sounds easy enough."

"And wear a rubber."

Hank laughed. "I don't think--"

"Tenth grade health class, man. Just wear it."

The song ended and the pair hugged. She offered him a high-five too. She slapped her chest after and he did too. The night went on and the group continued to have fun. The DJ played 'Wicked Games' by Chris Isaak and Bette danced with Todd. She specifically moved him to a certain part of the floor, one where she could see Ozzy and Vanessa at their table, and she kept Todd in place from turning her. She balled up her hand into a loose fist on his shoulder and peaked at them around it. Vanessa tried to get Ozzy to get up and dance, but he shook his head and pulled his hand back from her. She could see him mouth 'I don't want to' and 'no.' She couldn't see what Vanessa said to him, but she appeared to get frustrated with him. Ozzy remained calm while she stormed off. Ozzy closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose; he'd stopped wearing his glasses some time ago and the black hair dye had faded out, Bette didn't remember when he did that. She didn't necessarily want to sabotage them with her song request, but she was fascinated by the result.

The last few weeks of school went by in a blink. Her friends and acquaintances started trading invitations for graduation parties in the summertime. The seniors had a special dinner where there was a slideshow of video clips and pictures of the entire school year. Bette had been asked to give a video sound bite at the casual homecoming dance about how she was enjoying it and something about the graduating class. She had watched enough reality TV to know what they would want to hear. She spoke positively and clearly for the clip and thanked the committee that put it on, congratulated the homecoming king and queen nominees, and congratulated the rest of the class for making it through with her. The video played through the school year chronologically. When the entirety of the homecoming segment played and Bette's clip didn't play, she was bummed, but not shocked. She was left out one more time by her peers. The cherry on the bullying and teasing cake that she had known her whole life. The goal of the video was to have the entire class featured. There were some people who had multiple clips and were in it a lot over the forty-five minute run time. She was in one single group picture with Ami, Sonja, and Jenna; a photo she knew Ami had given the video committee.

Yearbooks came out. She was in the yearbook quite a bit. The yearbook committee was good about heavily featuring seniors, especially those who submitted photos when requested. Bette gave pictures when they were requested for the fashion page, the jobs page, the homecoming dance page, and the extreme sports page when she jumped in Pebble Lake in the middle of winter. They used her pictures in different various capacities than what she submitted them for, but it was nice to see them used. It was the most she had ever been in the yearbook, even if she was mis-credited a few times and some of the other pictures that the yearbook photographers took of her; you could barely see her face. The yearbook staff had a weird creative outlook where they would take pictures from odd angles or while people were talking and it resulted in, to Bette, confusing photos. She only had one year of photography class under her belt, but the perspective was still bizarre to her.

The graduation issue of the school paper came out. It listed the intentions of the entire senior class of what their plans were for the fall for school or work. It featured articles of graduates going to interesting colleges. One guy from the football team was getting a full ride scholarship to Notre Dame. Two girls were going to Harvard after getting perfect scores on the ACTs and SATs and GPAs. Thirty other graduates were going to the same Main State University as Bette, so it was nice to know there would be more familiar faces than just Skye and Greyson. Of the 427 graduate of their class, there were 22 who had 4.0 GPAs for all four years of high school, resulting in all of them being valedictorians, which happened every year at Public North. It always seemed funny to Bette when on TV shows and movies when two kids competed for one valedictorian spot at graduation, there can be more than one, it was never an exclusive thing at their school. Bette saw that Ozzy was staying in town and going to the community college and continuing to work. Vanessa was going to the local private college. Vanessa wasn't leaving Ozzy like Bette had planned to do.


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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