Filthy logo

Bette On It: Weird Adolescence

2002-2003 Junior Year

By Tinka Boudit She/HerPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 246 min read

Continues from...

WARNING: Depicts graphic teen sex, mentions of suicide

Junior year 2002-2003

Bette waited at the bus stop with Cassandra. Cassandra had tamed her look. She wore tight-fitted jeans, sneakers, a fitted pink plaid shirt with a complimenting blue one underneath it. She wore her hair in a ponytail and lots of eyeliner. She was still perky but it didn't feel as fake as it used to be. "Morning Bette. Now those are some crazy pants."

Bette wore the new MC Escher pants, black boots, a fitted hunter green V-neck top, and a black cardigan that hugged around her breasts in a flattering way without being too overt. She wore her hair naturally down, with a little bit of black eye liner and a slightly reddish-brown lip. "Thanks. I saw them and I had to have them. It is a new year and a new me. That's for sure." She spoke confidently, knowing Cassandra hadn't actually complimented her pants.

"It suits you. Like: POW. You're you, but different. Like diet coke, with lemon." Cassandra made jazz-hands at Bette.

Bette smiled. "Thanks Cass. I appreciate it." She offered her a high-five and Cassandra accepted. Bette slapped her chest after. "Powerful ladies unite."

"Yeah...Powerful ladies." Cassandra slapped her chest too. "I like that."

A moment later the bus came and they got on. A few stops later Ozzy got on. She hadn't seen him since July 4th and hadn't talked to him since the end of that month. He had grown a goatee and his hair was longer and it had some curl to it and was intentionally messy, even with the little bit of gel he had put in it. He wore an open black hoodie and a grey plaid button up shirt under it with a black t-shirt under that. He sat in the seat across from her and she was glad to see him. "Long time, no see."

"Yeah, you too. You changed your hair."

"You grew yours."

Ozzy grabbed his new, thick goatee, giving it a couple of strokes. "Yeah. I tried not shaving it one week, and BAM, it was there."

"It suits you."

"What prompted your changed? You always wore your hair long. I don't think I ever saw it above your shoulders before."

Bette smirked and laughed a little. "Keith and I broke up a month ago. I needed a load off my mind in more ways than one."

"And you're okay?" He was concerned.

"I'm great. I dumped him. I've never felt better. If I had been upset I would have called. He had become such a pain in the ass. He still calls me once in a while I have to tell him not to."

Ozzy made a deliberate exhale. "Okay. Thank God. That guy was weird. I know I only met him the one time. But I got wacko vibes from him."

"You weren't the only one. The last time he called, I answered the phone in the living room and my parents were in the room. I had to tell him I didn't want to see him and that I wasn't in the mood to talk to him. This was just last weekend, by the way. I wanted to scream at him, but I didn't want to flip out in front of my parents. After I hung up, they asked why I hadn't seen him in a while. I hadn't told them I broke up with him. I wasn't ready to admit they were right. I told them I dumped him. They were dead silent but the looks on their faces were clear. I swear, I could hear Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus' emanating from them." Bette snickered at her own joke.

"I'm glad you're feeling better. You look like you feel good about it. Last couple times we spoke, I was worried. I didn't think it wasn't my place to say what I thought it was him."

"Ozzy, we've always been honest with each other. I wish you had told me. I might have saved myself some frustration. Jenna told me she was never a fan of him either. She told me she thought he was weird before, but after I told her I dumped him, she had almost the same reaction. She said how much she didn't like him. I couldn't believe she didn't tell me. And she spent more time with him than you did."

"I'm sorry I didn't say something. I will next time. I will warn you of any and all creepers."

"Not all of them. I still have to learn things for myself." She held up a hand to him.

"Alright, alright. You know that goes both ways right?"

"Wing woman is standing by." She put out her hand for a high-five and he took it. She slapped her chest and he slapped his own too. For a brief second, she thought about pretending to poke his sides, but she was not about to break that promise.

Bette's fourth class of the day was physics. Her last one before lunch. She mostly took it because all the students who took the class would get to Adventure Field for the roller coaster project at the end of the school year, and Bette loved a good roller coaster. Mr. Van De Camp's class room was set up as a bunch of tables of two. He did not assign seats. She sat at a table in the second row of seven. Most people sat further back when given the opportunity and the classroom filled in from the back forward. She took the notebook she knew would be for that class and started doodling in it. She sat forward on the chair and leaned over the table with a hand in her hair. Other juniors and seniors came in and filled in at the tables further behind her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a student she had never seen before. He was tall, at least six feet, clean cut, a short tight light brown hair cut, and cute: like a young, husky, sweet-faced Harrison Ford, with even bolder blue eyes brought out by his blue polo shirt and silver chain and cross. Her heart raced. She had never been so struck by the good looks of a classmate. She tried not to keep looking; she kept doodling in her notebook. She wasn't sure what possessed her, or how it happened, but as he began to pass her table, she pushed out the unclaimed chair with her foot. He stopped and looked at the chair then her. Bette slowly looked up at him and gave him a little smile. What the fuck am I doing?! He looked a little bewildered, but not bothered. Bette couldn't believe it when he actually sat down.

"Hi," he said turning slightly towards her in his chair.


"Do I know you from somewhere?" He asked looking at her.

"Nope." She looked back down and doodled some woven squiggly lines in her notebook.

"I didn't see you at Mass?"

"Not Catholic," she resisted the urge to look at him.

"Then why did you move the chair?"

She sat up, crossed her legs to him and toyed with her pen in her hand against her notebook. She could see he looked at her breasts. "Who said I moved the chair." What the fuck am I doing?!

He got the same bewildered look on his face again. "Jesse. I'm Jesse."

"Bette Wheelan."

The bell rang and class started. Her toes tapped in her left boot through the whole class. When he opened his notebook she caught a whiff of him. The smell was something masculine, clean, subtle, but not overly commercial or processed and not cheap. She had to grip the chair leg with her leg and foot to keep herself upright and focused. The bell rang and class ended.

They stood and they pushed in their chairs. She could see how much taller than her he actually was. She was 5'7" in her boots. He was 6'2". She gave him a clear look over; she was not subtle this time. "See you tomorrow, Jesse."

"Yeah, Bette. See you then." He looked her over too, and he wasn't subtle either.

She left the class heated and shocked with herself as she went to her locker to get her lunch.

The next several weeks in physics class Bette and Jesse got to know each other. They got to talk in the few minutes before the lecture began. They would put a notebook between them and write to each other during class, which worked well because she was right handed and he was left-handed. And because they didn't talk or whisper, Mr. Van De Camp didn't notice, and if he noticed, he didn't care. Jesse Davis was a sophomore who had taken the prerequisite science classes at his old school as electives the previous year. He liked science; he wanted to be an engineer. He was diabetic. He had a younger brother and sister and his parents were married. He had lettered in field sports like shot-put and discus and also wrestling at his old school, but subtly bragged that he had muscled-out of his Letterman jacket and it didn't fit anymore. He liked lifting weights, playing poker, listening to classic rock, hard rock, rap music, and stand-up comedy. They referenced specific comedians and jokes to each other and would suggest movies and shows for the other to watch. Bette was always surprised when he took her suggestions and watched them quickly. He was surprisingly sweet. On a week when she had a cold, the second day he noticed her sniffling, he gave her a pack of tissues and cough drops. They discussed a stand-up comic she hadn't seen a special for, and the next day, he gave her a burned her the CD of the show. She dressed up in costumes for homecoming week each day, and he said something flattering to say about each of her outfits.

They got along well, and they were clearly attracted to each other too. Bette intentionally brought her back pack to class, even though she wouldn't need it, she would put the bag between them and dig things out of it so he could look down the front of her tops. She knew when he looked; which was every time. She changed up her looks to see what he liked: long skirts with high slits, tighter pants, tall boots, different colored clothes. She had an angora sweater and she told him to feel how soft it was and she could sense the tension between them when he touched her shoulder. She liked the different looks she wore, and as far as she could tell, he liked the way she looked in all of it. She would write a message to him in the notebook and he would write back quickly; quick enough that he would try and touch her more. In November, their written conversations became more flirtatious and less subtle. She wore the MC Escher pants another time and he wrote she was a work of art. She asked if it was the pants, her legs, her butt, or something else. He said all of her was the work of art. She wrote back asking to see his bicep. That she thought he probably crafted that work of art and she was curious to see it. He reached across with his right hand, lifted his sleeve, pretended to scratch his arm, and flexed for her. She couldn't hide how hard she had to breathe; he noticed and gave her a sexy smile. Another day he wrote that he could smell her hair when she had to get stuff out of her back pack and he liked it. She bought the same scent she wore in her hair in a body spray and sprayed the shared conversation notebook with it. When she slid it to him that day, she told him to smell it. He took a long inhale of it and looked at her after with a sly smile. He wrote asking if she always smells that good. She answered his question by asking him the same thing. He answered saying the only time he didn't was when he was lifting weights and sweating. He asked her again if she always smelled that good. She said that the only time she didn't smell that good was when she was in the process of getting that clean smell in the shower. He doodled a bug-eyed, jaw-dropped face with a drooling tongue on the paper. She wrote 'same' and drew an arrow up to his weight lifting comment.

She told Jenna and Tina about him at lunch after the class each day. Jenna would encourage her to ask him out. Be a 'Powerful Lady.' But after last year and getting her trust back with her parents, their extreme flirtation was enjoyable as it was. She had Geometry with Ozzy after lunch, but didn't talk to him about Jesse, even though they had discussed sharing opinions on prospective romances at the beginning of the year. She didn't need his opinion on this. She didn't want his potential judgment. She didn't want him thinking Jesse could be a creeper. The only ones she talked about him with was Jenna and Tina they kept her secret. Bette wasn't sure if it what she and Jesse shared was like, love, or lust or a combination of them, but she enjoyed it all the same.

It was Saturday November 30th. Bette's grandparents had given her $50 in her birthday card that week. She and Jenna went to the movies and to see 8 Mile, Bette's treat with her birthday money. It had been out for a few weeks and everyone had been talking about it for a while, it was time to see what all the hype was about. Jenna was a Brittany Murphy fan, so she was excited to see it. They were in line to get their tickets and a voice behind her gave her goose bumps. Jesse Davis was there with a couple of his friends in line. The pair exchanged glances and her heart pounded. She whispered to Jenna, "He's here. Jesse's here. The big guy, white and blue shirt, grey coat."

Jenna subtly looked back. "That's physics guy? Yeah, I can see it. Definitely your type. That's for sure."

"Fuck. He would die of a broken pelvis if I had the chance."

"Calm your tits, Bee."

Bette playfully waved her hands out of her chest, pretending they were her breasts, and spoke in a silly voice, "No!"

They bought their tickets and their concessions and went into the theater. Bette liked to sit further in the front of the theater. She liked to 'swallow' the screen. Jenna did not object. They went in the doors and walked forward to the fifth row. It was close enough that the screen filled their whole perspective, but not so close that they had to lean back in their seats. They munched on the popcorn and Bette drank way too much of her Diet Coke. Twenty minutes into the movie, she walked up the aisle to go to the bathroom. She saw him; Jesse was in the theater with his friends half way up the theater. The two of them exchanged glances again. Bette went to the bathroom and when she came back in the door, she looked down the aisle, and didn't see his silhouette. She took a breath and before walking. She felt something hit her. She turned and there was Jesse in the far back, side row. He threw a piece of candy at her to get her attention. No one was in ten rows of him. The row he was in couldn't be seen from the door. Bette went and sat next to him. It was newer theater and the armrests were retractable, he had already put it up next to him before she got there.

She sat down and he spoke softly in her ear, "You like the movie so far?" She could feel his breath on her ear and neck. The coldness of the theater dissipated with each word he said.

She turned to whisper back, he leaned into her to hear, "It's fine. I don't really care about it." She rubbed her leg against his.

He turned his face back towards her to whisper again, but instead of turning her head back to listen, she kissed him instead. When he withdrew, she didn't give herself a chance to see his reaction. She grabbed the collar of his shirt and kissed him again, yanking him back to her. The kiss escalated quickly. Their mouths opened simultaneously, and their tongues chased into each other's mouths. He put his arm around her back and gave her a gentle pull. When she felt his hand grip her, she sighed and let go of his collar grabbed the side of his neck. She ran her hand down shoulder and squeezed his bicep. His hand moved off her back and slid forward around her ribs and he touched the side of her breast. She moaned in his mouth to let him know it was okay. When she did, he wrapped his arm around her to cover what he did with her: he touched her chest and massaged her with is other hand. Her nipples protruded through her bra and t-shirt the way he touched her. She threw one of her legs over his. She ran her hand down his body and massaged his thigh. Her leg hid where her hand touched his leg. He moaned as his tongue rubbed against hers. She rubbed and squeezed his thigh a little higher and he moaned again and he kissed her faster. He slipped his hand up her t-shirt and pushed down her bra cup to touch her nipple with his fingertips. She gripped him tighter with her leg and ran her hand over his hard-on in his jeans. He pulled back slightly from their kiss and looked at her. They were both breathing heavily. He looked out at the rest of the theater briefly to see if anyone was up or looking, he looked back at her and nodded. Bette kept rubbing him over his jeans. He kept touching her chest, kissing her deeply. She rubbed him faster and longer up and down him. She could tell he was well endowed, specifics were difficult to discern, but he was big and she wanted him beyond what they could do there. A few minutes later, he pulled back from the kiss again and looked at her. She tried to figure out how she could make touching him better for him in their position, while she was trying to figure it out, he took three breaths from his stomach and clenched his eyes closed. Bette could see on his face and feel it in his body, he came. He slowly took his hand out from under her shirt and she adjusted her bra back into place. They stood up and had one more long kiss while she grabbed his biceps and he grabbed her butt. She whispered, "See you Monday," and giggled.

"See you Monday." he laughed. He went out the theater door and she went back and sat with Jenna until the end of the movie. Bette could not wipe the smile off her face.

When Monday came, Bette rushed from her English class to Physics. She could not wait to see Jesse. She had imagined and fantasized how their notebook chat would go that day. Her heart palpitated as she waited for him. She put herself in the same position as the first day of school: she sat forward in her chair with her hand in her hair, over the table, doodling on a notebook page. When Jesse came in and approached the table, she slid the chair back with her foot and gave him an inviting glance.

She sat up and decided to have some fun with him, "You have a good weekend? I did."

"Yeah? Me too. I went to the movies. Saw 8 Mile." He was having the same fun with her.

"I saw that. There was this one scene I couldn't get out of my head."

"Which one?"


"The first rap battle?"


"The last rap battle."

"Nope." She felt how red her face was as they spoke.

"Oh. I think I know the one you mean," he said slyly. He pulled out the two notebooks. The one for his physics notes and the one he used to talk with her. He opened the shared notebook to a fresh page. He sat forward. He wrote in his beautiful cursive handwriting: The factory scene with Eminem and Brittany? It was a sex scene in the movie. He gave her a canny look. She wrote back: Non-stop. And drew a winking face.

He wrote: Where did you think about it?

She knew he meant a location like her room or something, but she had another idea for him. As the bell rang, she gave him a quick elbow. She dropped her hand into her lap and ran her fingers inside her upper thigh. She watched him watch her. He pulled himself close to the table and slid his chair under himself with his leg. He took a deep breath and gulped. She quickly put her hand back up on the table and looked forward like nothing happened.

The lecture that day was a new chapter and did not give them a chance to exchange further conversations in the shared notebook. After class, she walked with him out of the classroom. She tried to speak somewhat quietly and was able to walk by his side with him through the science wing; it was the one of the few sections of hallways in the school that wasn't jam packed between classes. "It was great to have finally do that this weekend, you know?"

"Yeah. I couldn't believe it went that far." He said plainly.

"I know we didn't get a chance to talk about it today. Can I call you? Can we talk about it?"

"I can call you tonight. Would that be okay? We can go over the new chapter from class today."

She gave him scoffing laugh. "Sure." He handed her the shared notebook and she wrote her phone number in it. She couldn't believe it had taken this long to give him her phone number. She held the notebook out to him for him to take back. She gripped it so he had to tug it more than once. He looked at her and she gave him a smirk and he had a shy smile back for her. "Later," she said as she turned and walked away from him.


That evening, Jesse called her. She was surprised that he actually talked for a solid ten minutes about the new chapter from physics class. "Okay. Sorry about that. I'm not supposed to make social calls on school nights."


"Yeah. My parents are pretty strict about social stuff. You know?"

"I do know what you mean. I just got my trust back with them. I don't want to mess that up again."

"How did that happen? Lose your trust with them?"

"I-uh." She was extremely hesitant to tell him about Keith. "I just turned 17 last Monday."

"Yeah. I remember."

"Put it this way: the movie we saw..."

"I follow."

"My parents didn't like who I saw the last movie with, because they found out I went to the movies."

"Oh." Jesse sounded genuinely surprised.

Bette felt herself turn red and her stomach churn. "I really didn't want to tell you that." She sounded sick when she said it.


"It's embarrassing. It's an ex-boyfriend. I can't stand him. He doesn't even go to our school. It would have been a non-issue. It has nothing to do with you." She tried not to sound too bothered but she failed.

"Can I ask you something? A-and I'll understand if you don't want to answer it."

"Sure, I guess."

"Do you think what happened at the movie would have happened if you didn't have that experience?"

She thought for a moment. "That's a bigger question than you realize. But I can tell you I wanted to do that. It was pretty clear you wanted to too."

"Like you wouldn't believe." His voice had a throatiness to it. She smiled and took a breath. "Thanks for the help with the notes Wheelan. I-I'll see you in class tomorrow." She heard the change in tone in his voice. She knew he had to be watched or overheard and couldn't talk anymore.

"Sure Jesse. Bye."


Bette and Jesse continued to communicate through the shared notebook. He held on to it each day after class. It took more than a few days and more than a few questions to gauge Jesse's seriousness in interest in her. He was, he wanted to be with her, but he told her he couldn't. His parents were strict Catholics, he wasn't allowed to date until he was 18, and he couldn't date outside the church. He said how much he still liked her, how much he still wanted to keep talking like they were. Bette said she could live with that. She couldn't afford to get in trouble with her parents so soon either. She still liked him. She was unbelievably attracted to him. There was something about him that she couldn't shake. Jesse was sexy to her, there was something chemical about him she couldn't shake, he liked her weirdness and her quirks, and it drove her to him.

Saturday January 18 was the annual Darling Dance. It was the winter formal dance where girls would ask the boys Sadie Hawkins-style. Bette wanted to ask Jesse, but he had made it clear that since he wasn't allowed to date and she wasn't Catholic, it wasn't going to be an option. Bette had talked to Jenna about it at lunch and was bummed. Jenna had an idea. Jenna got down on one knee and asked Bette to be her date to the Darling Dance. Bette laughed but Jenna said she was serious. She said she knew how much fun they had at dances and it would be fun to do all the traditional couple stuff together, but with her best friend. Bette hugged Jenna and gladly accepted. They went and bought their couple ticket together and the faculty advisor didn't bat an eye at a girl-girl couple attending together. Jenna wore Bette's black dress from prom the spring before, and Bette wore one of Jenna's older sister's dresses in blue. They bought silk flowers from the craft store and made their own corsages. They did each other's hair and their own make up. They ate dinner at a diner instead of a fancy restaurant. Jenna drove them to the dance in her truck. They were able to do the whole night together for less than $75 while other couples spent hundreds of dollars on the evening. The girls arrived arm-in-arm with each other on the elevator. They checked their coats and went to the dance floor right away. Tina, Vanessa and their dates were there too and all danced in a big group. They saw Tylor who went with Katie briefly but they were mostly on the other side of the dance floor. No one gave the girls grief for going as a couple. No one cared. They were best friends having a great time. When slow songs came on, Bette and Jenna slow danced together. During one of the slow songs, Bette saw over Jenna's shoulder and her stomach dropped.

"Jenna. You are not going to believe it."


"It's Jesse."

"He's here?"

Bette turned Jenna to show her. There was Jesse part way across the dance floor with Anita Stephanopoulos, another girl from their grade they had known for years. Bette was pissed and hurt. "What in the actual fuck?" Said Bette.

"No shit." Said Jenna. "You told me he said he wasn't allowed to date."

"That's what he told me." Bette took her hand off Jenna's shoulder and clutched the top of her stomach below her breast. "Fuck, he looks good though." Bette said it as if all the life was leaving her body.

"I can see why you'd think that."

"Can we get a drink or something?" Bette's voice ached.

"You wanna finish the song first?"


Jenna hugged Bette closely in the dance and Bette did her damnedest not to cry. When the DJ changed songs Bette and Jenna went to the refreshments table and grabbed drinks. Bette grabbed a Diet Coke in one hand and a cup of water in the other. With her eyes closed she chugged the water then the Diet Coke. When she opened them, Jesse stood before her.

"I didn't think you'd be here. I guess I owe you an explanation." He said to her over the loud music. His tone was hard to understand through the music, but the look on his face seemed to be 'you caught me.'

She covered her mouth and tried to hide her burp. "What's to explain? You told me you couldn't date and you're on a date. You're either a hypocrite or a liar."

"She asked me; we're in Algebra 2 together. I told her I had to ask my parents. I told them I wanted to go. I told them she's a nice Greek Orthodox girl and they said I could honor my commitment if I said yes."

She tried not to glare to hard at him. "That's not even a form a Catholicism. I guess this lapsed Methodist whore can't get a date with you. I see how it is." Bette was frustrated with him, but after hearing his reasoning, she was more annoyed than anything else. She grabbed another cup of Diet Coke and stepped back from him.

Jesse stepped forward and leaned into her a little and whispered loudly at her. "I never said you were a whore."

"But I couldn't ask you out?" She glared as she said it.

"In general, yes. But this is different. This was special."

"Good to know I wasn't special, Jesse," she said flatly. She sipped her pop and turned from him.

He stepped back to her, reached over, and grabbed her shoulder. Bette had to hunch her back and pull the cup from her lips to keep from spilling her drink on herself. He leaned over to her. "Look. I don't even get to stay out 'til midnight. I have to leave at 10:45. I'd rather be here with you. And I wish you weren't mad at me for things I can't control." Jesse complained to her firmly.

None of that was an apology. Bette saw Anita come out of the bathroom. "Go back to your nice girl, Jesse," Bette sighed the words at him and put a hand up to let him know she was done talking with him.

Bette went and found Jenna and put Jesse out of her head. The pair danced and took fun pictures together. They enjoyed themselves and had fun. They found Tylor and Katie and hung out with them. Tylor and Katie traded off being dance partners with Bette and Jenna. Bette and Katie remembered some of their old swing dancing moves together. Bette and Tylor went nuts when they played 'Learn to Fly' by Foo Fighters. Katie and Jenna knew the steps to Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" music video and made it sexy without being trashy. The three girls made Tylor look good during The Offspring's "Pretty Fly For a White Guy." They ran their hands over his chest and passed him around between the three of them and all had a laugh with it. By the end of the song he was on his knees begging all three of them to go home with him that night. Bette and Jenna laughed. Jenna told him there was no chance of that happening.

Bette took a break and went to the restroom. She saw a girl's cell phone and saw the time: 10:38 PM. She left the bathroom and went and found Jenna with a mission in mind. She got Jenna and walked with her. "Jenna. We've been best friends since we were six, right?"


"And you know I would never ask you to do anything you were uncomfortable with."

"Of course."

"I am hoping you would do me a favor."

Bette walked Jenna over to the walls that faced the elevator doors ten feet away from them and whispered in Jenna's ear. Jenna smiled and high-fived Bette. A couple minutes later, Jesse and Anita called the elevator to leave for the night. Jesse and Anita got in and turned around, when they faced forward; they saw Bette and Jenna making out. Bette was grabbing Jenna's butt and Jenna was giving Jesse the middle finger. As the door closed, Bette stopped kissing Jenna, opened her eyes, ran her hand down Jenna's breast, and saw the shocked look on Jesse's face.

"Thanks Jenna. I wanted to show him how special of a girl he was missing."

"He didn't know special when it jerked him off in a movie theater." Bette snickered and shushed Jenna, looking around to check to see that no one heard her. No one did. "Besides. I will always be here for you. That's what best friends are for. I will be by your side through thick and thin."

"You know I got a thick something that you two are more than welcome to join Katie and I for tonight. The offer still stands." said Tylor sidling up to them. "After that show you two just put on, we can go now. I'm ready to go now!"

Bette and Jenna eyed each other smirking. Bette used a sexy tone as she spoke, "You know what Tylor? Sure. You can watch as Katie, Jenna, and I get in a big pile." Bette put a hand on Tylor's arm and ran her fingertips up and down it and Jenna followed her lead and put her arm around Bette, leaning her head on her shoulder. Tylor's face lit up at what the girls did. "Then you can jump in, blow your load in thirty seconds, and the rest of us girls can actually satisfy each other. How does that sound?"

"I know you're messing with me right now. But it still sounds like an awesome time to me," he said with a big grin across his face.

Jenna and Bette laughed. "Not on your life, Ty." Said Jenna, giving his nose a squeeze with her free hand. Bette slapped his butt while they walked away from him.

Monday morning Bette when Bette went to physics class, she asked Mr. Van De Camp to sit in one of the open seats on the front row of class. Mr. Van De Camp didn't object to her request. Bette didn't care about sitting alone. It was preferable to sitting next to Jesse. As attractive as he was, as sexy as he was, as sweet as he had been in the previous months, he had been careless with her and she was having none of him anymore. She still wanted him so much, but she made the conscious choice to cut him off. He didn't seem to have a problem cutting her off, why should she? When Jesse came in, she didn't look up from her notebook as she prepared for her notes that day from what was written on the whiteboard.

Jesse stopped where she sat, "You changed seats."

Bette kept copying notes from the whiteboard. "Yep."

"You're still mad?"

"Mad would imply a need to forgive you. There's nothing to forgive. There's nothing you can change, remember?"

He sat down and leaned over the table and whispered at her. "No. I can't change my parent's minds. I thought you would understand that."

She turned in the chair to talk to him. "I do understand that. The least you could do is give me a sliver of consideration. I don't think you have any idea how cheap you made me feel."

"You did that yourself with your girlfriend."

"Wrong. Jenna loves me for who I am and always has. She would never try to hide it. She makes me feel priceless. We make each other powerful," she spoke firmly to him.

"And what was I then? Some experiment?"

The bell rang. "She's my best friend, Jesse. You were the one I wanted." She turned around and kept copying the whiteboard. Mr. Van De Camp went on with class as usual.

After class, Jesse stopped Bette in the hallway. "Look. I wanted you too. But obviously it's not going to work. We both have our reasons."

"I don't have reasons not to anymore. It's all on you Jesse."

"But you understand why, right?"

She glared at him softly. "No. I don't think I ever will with you. And I don't think you really wanted to try. I think I'll just be a crazy story you tell at parties in the future. Your weird girl in your weirdest place. And I have to live with that." She said it to him softly and bluntly and the way she said it seemed to leave him dejected. She turned away from him and went to lunch and told Jenna about how things went with Jesse. She was down about it, but Jenna hugged her and told Bette how proud of her she was.

Bette headed to geometry after lunch feeling mixed about the whole thing. She was proud of herself, she wasn't going to be Jesse's secret anymore, but it was still so difficult to turn off the attraction to him, even after he hurt her, then would remind herself to move on. It was a vicious cycle that repeated itself again and again. She sat down at her desk and stared at it blankly. "You feeling alright?" Ozzy asked. He leaned over his desk and said it into her ear. Bette turned in her chair and looked at him.

"Not really."

"You wanna talk about it now or later?"

"There's too much to unpack now."

"I can imagine there might be." He said it in a sympathetic way.

"How would you know? I haven't told you what it was."

"I came late with Thalia to the Darling Dance and we left pretty early. But I saw enough to know it probably wasn't Tylor who made you feel like this." He pointed to her face.

She smiled. "No. It wasn't Tylor."

"You need the Beach Boys after school today?"

He was offering music but she knew he meant his company. "No. Jenna's been pretty helpful this time. She's...she's the best friend a girl could ask for."

"Yeah. That's what Tylor said right before he came crying to me about his failed attempt at a four-some with you two." Bette laughed as the bell rang for class to start. After class ended, Bette turned back to Ozzy. "I know the door always swings open to you. Just not yet about this, you know?"

"I get it."

"You always did." She picked up her book and notebook and stood. "So Thalia, huh?"

"Yeah. We're in the same English class. She's pretty cool."

They walked out of the classroom and she walked with him to his next class. "I would have said pretty hot. Blonde. She's on the dance team. I don't remember how did you put it? You two arrived late and came early?" She teased him and gave him a light jab to the shoulder.

He closed his eyes and shook his head at her. "That's private."

"Oh!" Bette gave him a cheeky face. "That must mean she's important then. I'm glad for you."

"Thanks Bee. Let me know if you change your mind about wanting to talk about what’s-his-name."

"I will."

Ozzy went into his Spanish class and Bette kept going on to her locker before heading home for the day.

Sunday February 9th, Bette came home from a shift at the museum. Lorna let her know she missed a call from Jesse shortly before coming home. They had a physics assignment for the weekend so Bette grabbed her backpack, went up to her room, and got out her homework. She knew she had to do it anyways, might as well get it done sooner rather than later. And if Jesse was calling about it, he might be able to get her through it quickly. Since they still sat close, they still had to partner up occasionally in class. It was uncomfortable at first, but they seemed to have come to an understanding when it came to class. She picked up the phone and called him, Jesse answered within one ring, "Hello?"

"Hi Jesse. It's Bette. You called?"

"Yeah. How's it going?"

"Fine. I just got home from work. Were you calling about the assignment? I have it here. I needed to do it anyways."

"No. That's not why I'm calling."

Bette got a confused stare on her face and closed her textbook. "What's going on?"

"The homework? I guess it's sorta why I'm calling."


"I grabbed the wrong notebook from my locker on Friday. I grabbed our notebook."

"You still have that?"

"Yeah. I started paging through it again. It still smells like you, just a little. I started thinking of all those great talks we had." Jesse spoke softly. Bette couldn't believe it, he was flirting with her again.

"Uh-huh," she spoke plainly.

"You wore the Escher pants last week."

"Yeah. They're my favorite."

He sighed. "They're my favorite too. Bette, you work of art." He said it with a seductive oomph.

When they spoke on the phone in the past, he was always schoolwork first, and he never called her by her first name on the phone. He always called her 'Wheelan' on the phone. "Jesse, what's going on?"

"What do you mean?"

"You don't speak this freely on the phone. You didn't speak this freely in the notebook or in the hallways. What's different?"

"I have the house to myself right now. I told them I wasn't feeling well when they decided to go out to a restaurant."


"I know I see you every day, but I've been re-reading our conversations. I was thinking about the time at the movie. How hot you looked at the dance. It's been hard not talking to you every day. Even now it's hard."

Bette took a deep breath. "It's been difficult for me too, Jesse."

"No, Bette." He slipped back into his seductive tone again. "It's hard right now. You know?"

Bette saw her face in her dresser mirror and saw herself turn red as he spoke. "What is it that you want from me Jesse?"

"Be my hands and let me be yours."

She felt her whole body warm with his words. She got up and closed the door to her room. The latch didn't line up right and she had to open and close the door again. She had to do it a third time and lift the knob before it clicked and the doorknob button lock could be engaged. She laughed into the phone. As she sat back on the bed, the door lock clicked open. "There's something wrong with my bedroom door."

"Can you block it or something?"

"I could go in my bathroom."

"If that works for you."

She went around her bed and into her bathroom and locked the door. She looked around her bathroom. She grabbed a clean towel, balled it up and set it on the floor at one end of her bathmat. She got on the floor and laid back; even with the towel and the bathmat, the floor was hard beneath her and it was difficult to get comfortable.

"Are you ready yet?" He asked in a soft voice.

She twisted her back and held the phone, but the antenna kept bumping the floor. She saw a ball of her hair and dust under her sink that she had missed when she last cleaned and part of a Band-Aid wrapper, and suddenly, she didn't feel aroused anymore. "No, Jesse. I don't think I am going to be ready." She sounded let down as she sat up on her bathroom floor.

"Oh." He sounded disappointed too. "Do you think, you could still, you know? Talk to me? Be my hands?"

Bette sat uncomfortably on her bathroom floor next to her bathtub looking at her toilet and feeling incredibly unsexy. She spoke bluntly, "Is this the first chance you've had to call me without your family in the house?"

"I waited so long for this opportunity. Why do you think I picked up the phone so quick when you called back?"

Her face cringed and she covered her eyes with her free hand. "Oh God, you really don't have a sliver of consideration for me."

"I do Bette! It's why I want to be your hands for you."

"No! You just want to hear me do it so it gets you off. I'm not going to do that for you. I might have wanted to before, but you reminded me why I can't. I don't trust you."

"You can trust me."

"No. I can't. You can call me for homework. You can call me 'Wheelan.' But don't call me like this again. Do you understand me?" She spoke firmly to him.

"Yeah." She heard the defeat in his voice. "I'm sorry I did."

She softened her tone, "You know that's all I wanted to hear from you. I wish it hadn't taken you so long."

"I wish we could have met in two years."

Bette closed her eyes and shook her head. He still doesn't get it. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, Davis."

"See you then, Wheelan."

They hung up their phones. Bette clicked the phone back on and got up. She called Jenna to tell her what happened. Her mom answered and told her she was working and wouldn't be home until after close. After hanging up, she hesitated for a moment and called Ozzy. After a couple of rings, he answered.

"Hello?" She could hear the smile in his voice.

"Hi Oz. It's Bee. Are you busy?"

"I'll just be a minute." She could tell he was saying to someone in the room with him and not to her. He didn't do a good job covering the receiver to hide his voice. She heard him clearly on his old phone. He then spoke back into the phone to her. "Now's not a great time. Thalia's here." He whispered, "Aunt Darrah isn't." His voice returned to normal. "Is it something important?"

She smiled for him. "No Oz. Go get 'em."

"Thanks! I'll see you tomorrow," he said it with zest in his voice.

"Bye." Bette hung up the phone and set it on her dresser. She went over to the metal box she made in 7th grade shop class that held her CDs. She flipped through them until she found the mix of Beach Boys songs and put it in her CD player alarm clock. The first track was 'In My Room,' just as she asked Terry to make it for her. The song played and she braced herself on the dresser and stared in her mirror. The voices ran through her in a way they never had before and it was as if she was hearing the song for the first time. She was still wearing her work uniform and felt disgusted with herself. She peeled off the dark grey polo shirt and her khakis and by the time she was looking at herself again in her underwear, she was crying, and she wasn't sure why. She changed a setting on the CD player so the song would repeat. She went into the bathroom, grabbed some toilet paper, sat on her bed and cried. When the tears stopped and the song had played four or five times, Bette turned off the music, put fresh clothes on, and did her homework.

Weeks past. Jesse and Bette were finally able to have a conversation where she was able to tell him how she felt about feeling dismissed by him, like she was his secret shame, and that she felt like he thought she wasn't good enough for him. He apologized for making her feel cheap and small. He didn't want her to feel like that. She had been special to him. She was the closest thing to a girlfriend he had ever had. She was clear in telling him she was never his girlfriend. They had been special to each other at one point. They had understood each other. He told her that the first time he saw her and the chair slid out and she denied doing it, with how unconventionally pretty she was. He thought she was a witch. She laughed and told him that she wasn't a witch, but would add that to her list of times she's practiced witchcraft. She apologized to him if she and Jenna had made him and Anita uncomfortable at the Darling Dance with their kissing display. He laughed it off. He told her that Anita told him that she thought it had to do with Jenna disliking Anita from years ago and not them. Bette snickered. Bette and Jesse found a new sense of normal.

In early March, Bette found some time to call and talk one evening after school to Ozzy and tell him everything that had happened all year with Jesse. She told him she had been embarrassed to talk to him about it after their conversation from the beginning of the year about screening creepers for each other. Now that she and Jesse had found closure with each other, that she wasn't angry or hurt by him anymore, she was fine with talking to him about it. Ozzy was sympathetic. He said he hadn't talked to her about Thalia because he thought Bette would call her a 'junk chick.' Bette said she didn't know enough about Thalia to feel anything about her. But she told him she was glad she made him happy.

"Yeah, not anymore," said Ozzy.

"You broke up with her?" Bette asked.

"No," he said a little mopey.

"Oh." She tried to think of the right thing to say. "How are you feeling?"

"It's weird. Upsetting for sure. She was something else, you know?"

"Not really. I think I had one class with her freshman year. We don't run in the same circles, you know? I don't know much about her and you never told me."


"When did it happen?"

"Just this past weekend."

"Why didn't you call? You know, Beach Boys and all?"

"I didn't think you'd want to hear the details."

"You've always been able to tell me what you think and feel without always telling me the details."

"You didn't. It took you until now to tell me about everything with Jesse that happened."

Bette's stomach churned. He was right. She saw Ozzy and talked to him every day and never discussed Jesse all year. "You're right. I hid that from you. But I didn't always want to. A few weeks ago, I tried calling you about it. That Sunday you said Thalia was there. You were so excited. I couldn't harsh that for you."

Ozzy was silent a moment. "What did you end up doing?"

"What we always do. Beach Boys and cried it out."

"And I wasn't there for you." He sounded guilty.

"I guess that makes us even. You didn't want me to be there for you after Thalia. And you couldn't be there for me after Jesse."

"That doesn't make us even. That makes me worse." He sounded guiltier.

"That's not what I meant to say!" She said it quickly. "Both of us had bad timing, but we're talking now. And that makes it better. Right?"

"Hang on." Ozzy put the phone down. She could hear movement in the background and various clicks. Ozzy put on a CD. It was the song 'Don't Worry Baby,' by The Beach Boys. He picked the phone back up. He didn't say anything, he let the track play. The song faded out. "There. Now we were there for each other through it with The Beach Boys."

"Yeah," she whispered it. "Thanks."

"Thanks for opening the door, Bee."


It was Sunday March 23. Bette and Ozzy had decided to work together on a large Geometry project for class. The golden rectangle project was a big part of their grade and required lots of work with art research, calculations of that art, and a written paper on their findings. They decided to work together and get it done in half the time. She walked to his house late in the morning that day. She got to his door as Darrah was leaving to work her 11-8 shift at the grocery store.

When she got there, Ozzy had already printed up a bunch of the art needed and had bullet points ready for their written papers. She was about to go get set up at the dining room table when she saw they had decided to finally renovate the dated look of the space.

"Darrah decided that she was tired of eating in the '80s," said Ozzy. The dining table and chairs were gone and plastic sheets were down for painting. "I would be on painting duty, but I told her we had this project."

"I'm not sure which one is better than the other to do," she said.

"They both have to get done at some point." He said as she followed him down to the basement. They worked on the big couch and traded papers back and forth over the next couple hours. They talked their way through the points of the paper and worded their sentences differently so they wouldn't hand in identical essays. When they were done, Bette breathed a sigh of relief and folded the papers in half and stuck them back in her Geometry book. "I didn't think I was going to get that done in time for tomorrow."

"Same," said Ozzy. "It was harder than I thought it would be. And it was a lot, ya'know?" He set his textbook on the end table next to the couch.

"It's not so bad once you understand it. It's like another language."

"I can speak Spanish, I don't speak Geometry."

"Are we not in the same class? Did we not just finish the same project? You speak it just fine."

"You did all the hard stuff."

"I did the calculations. You did all the stuff with the art. I couldn't have done that."

"Can we agree then that it was a team effort?"

"Fair enough." They high-fived. "Since we were done, did you need help with anything else?"

He was quiet for a second. "Nah. Forget it."

She looked at him slightly sideways. "Oscar White. Don't pull that with me. Either ask me or don't."

He sighed, "Fine. Since Thalia and I broke up, I'm still feeling stuck. I shaved off the goatee. Listening to The Beach Boys isn't having the same effect anymore, and I don't know what to do."

She looked at him sympathetically for about two seconds. And replied flatly "Are you kidding me?"

"Why would I joke about that? She broke up with me. And it still sucks."

"And that was how long ago?"

"Three weeks, yesterday."

"And you were with her for how long?"

"Six weeks."

"Jesus." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Tell me, what is so magic about Thalia again?"

"She's pretty, and outgoing, she's got great style, she's on the dance team so she's got a great-" he started to make a hand gesture to indicate her butt. "-set of legs. She laughs at my jokes." He seemed exasperated at having to answer her question.

"Wanna know what I hear? I hear someone who likes something pretty on a pedestal. She found you funny. You have a great sense of humor. Everyone knows that. What did she ever do for you?"

"She was my girlfriend."

She gave him a little scowl. "Do you hear yourself? Really think for a minute." She thought of how special and then not special Jesse & Keith had made her feel in very different ways. "Besides let you touch her, what did she really do to make you feel special?"

"Well, she- she would-" Bette leaned in intently waiting for a real answer. "I don't know what it is. She's awesome and she liked me."

She was a little sad. "Wow. Alright. Can I share something with you?"


"Remember that guy I was with, Keith, who went to Private West?"


"You wanna know why I dated him for six months last year?"

"Not really, but go on."

"Ha." She took a breath and collected her thoughts. "Keith is a year older than us. He was spastic but philosophical. If he were old and rich, people would call him eccentric. But yeah, he was really good to me for a while. He was genuinely interested in my opinions and goals. And while he wasn't the most handsome, he genuinely gave a shit about me. I loved him, or thought I did for a time. Towards the end, he seemed to lose interest in everything but me, it was too much. And I don't mean my mind and my interests. That's why I ended it last summer. I was his pretty thing on the pedestal. It's exhausting and boring." She shuttered in disgust at the thought of him. "I'm so glad we go to different schools."


"So my point is, you're so much better than wanting pretty girl on a pedestal."

"You think so?"

"I know so. I've seen you go heartsick over these girls. You're so much better than that and I know you know it." At this point, she was irritated. "You never cease to amaze me year after year." She turned away from him and tucked the textbook back into her backpack. She zipped her book and pencil into her back pack, and when she sat up and turned to Ozzy again, he had swiftly moved next to her on the couch.

It was one of those moments where a thousand things seemed to happen in a split second. He placed his hand over hers and caressed the back of her hand with his fingers. He looked at her with his eyes darting back and forth between hers. He had a look on his face she had never seen before, a calm yet intense expression. Before she could react, kissed her. She was surprised, to say the least, but it wasn't wrong or aggressive; he was skillful kisser. It wasn't like when they were younger, he was gentle and more man than boy; he lightly moved his fingers over her hand. She inhaled deeply, felt her eyebrows rise, and strangest of all, felt herself kissing him back. A moment later when he withdrew, they looked at each other. He was still close; his hand was still on hers. Ozzy looked sweet and serious. Bette could feel how red she was and felt the confusion on her face. She glanced down at his hand on hers and turned her hand so the fronts of their hands touched. She looked at the olive-tan tone of his skin against the paleness of hers, the closeness of his legs to hers, the wear if his jeans, the way he draped his other arm over his lap, the bagginess of his t-shirt, the broadness of his shoulders, and his intentionally messy brown hair. And she was overwhelmed by the warmth and awe of her friend. It felt like all their years of good times culminated to that moment that she had no idea was ever coming. "Oh, why the hell not," and she nearly pounced on him with a much bigger kiss than he gave her, pressing her whole front into his chest, wrapping her hands over his shoulders and clutched him. He absorbed her with a surprised *hmph*. Their mouths slicked open while wrapping his arms about her back, leaning back against one of the big cushions, and massaged her back. Bette broke the connection and kissed him on the side of his neck, and took the chance to adjust the way she sat across his lap.

"Wow! This was not the reaction I expected," he chuckled and rubbed her back.

"I never thought there would be something to react to." She kept kissing his neck.

Ozzy reached back and dimmed the lamp behind the couch. Seeing the change in light, she stopped and they looked at each other again. Their expressions were different, nervous blank looks were now impish smiles. He lifted a single eyebrow and made a playful face and it made her snicker. She cupped his jaw in her hands and lingered her mouth over his to feel how he would respond.

"Are you sure?" Bette pulled back to his question, "I mean--we don't have to do any-," he gestured his hands behind her back and moved his head side to side, causing her to back up and her hands to fall to his chest. "I don't want to do anything you don't want to do."

Heat radiated off his hands on her back, his heart pounded in his chest under her hands, and clear, yet unseen, she felt how he grew in his jeans for her. She took a deep breath, grabbed his shoulders, and tightened her grip around him, causing him to close his eye and groan. "We've known each other a long time. I trust you. I'll say 'stop' if I want you to stop. You say 'stop' if you want me to stop."

Ozzy grew a big smile across his face. He pulled her close, twisted her downward, lying face to face on the couch kissed her neck and whispered, "Go, go, go." Ozzy kissed her neck, ear, the side of her face, the tip of her nose, and her mouth deeply. Bette bunched up the fabric of this t-shirt slid her hand up his back. When he kissed her particularly well, she tried to tell him by gripping his back, a light moan, and arching her back into him. He glided his hand down her back and butt, lifting her thigh over his hips to keep her close. In turn, she grip and squeeze him back into her with her leg.

As she continued to reach behind him, his shirt began to ride up in front, and Ozzy kept trying to lower it without stopping them. Bette noticed, "Stop a sec." Bette withdrew her hand from his back. Ozzy froze. "If my touching you like that is making you uncomfortable, say so."

"No! It's not that. It's good. It's me. It's my stomach. I feel weird about it."

Bette propped herself on her side on her elbow, "There's nothing wrong with you as you are. You're 6'3" and what, 260? If you were 160, I'd be worried for you."

Ozzy muttered, "274."


"I weigh 274."

Bette sighed, "It's not all in your stomach. It's here," she gave a light squeeze to his upper arm that eclipsed her hand. "Here." She looked towards their legs and ran her leg against his. "And I know you have a great, big muscle in here." And she tapped on his chest over his heart." Ozzy mashed his lips together looked at her hand and enveloped it in his. "Besides." She touched her forehead to his and whispered, "I like big guys." Ozzy wrapped his arm around her back and kissed her. She let him sink into her. He skimmed his hand down her side and grasped her butt and upper thigh. And while what he did felt great, she couldn't help but sense her own insecurities with him. She darted her head back and gave him a push, "Now I know my butt is not my best feature, and you're an ass man."

"Um...I," he hesitated.

"Don't lie to me. I know when guys look at my chest, you don't, and I was never your type. I'm usually reserved. I'm not blonde, I don't tan in summer, I'm not as petite as other girls, and I have no ass. I was never on your radar." Her tone went from playful to concerned, "Why now?"

He seemed apprehensive to answer, "Maybe because I don't put you on a pedestal. Because you weren't on the radar. Because you trusted me and they didn't." He hesitated for a moment. "Maybe because when you told me 'no' freshman year, I didn't fully understand why then, but I do now. Because you just did more for me in the last couple hours than any of them ever did. And while 'why the hell not' isn't the same as 'yes,' it might be the best thing I've heard in a while."

Bette got a defeated look on her face, "Oh." She withdrew her leg from him. She tried to prop herself up on her side again while trying to make a little space between them, but lost the balance and rolled off the couch and hit the floor with a *whack*. "Jesus!" she exclaimed.

Ozzy sat up as quickly as she fell. "Are you okay?"

"Nothing hurt but my pride." She sat up and rested her arms on her knees. She planted her face into one of her hands processing everything.

"What is it? What did I say?" He grazed a couple fingers over her free hand.

Bette tried to choose her words carefully, "I know it wasn't your intention. You didn't say anything wrong. I-- I just --I did. I felt--" Bette shook her hands in frustration. "I just felt suddenly, really cheap."

"No," he said slowly. He knew how much gravity that word carried with her.

Bette spit her words out, "And I know that. It was a feeling. You know I don't do this kind of thing with any guy, right?"

"I know. And you know I'm not like this with a bunch of girls."

"Yeah, I know. It's like I said, I did because I trust you. We know each other."

"Exactly." He skootched off the couch and sat by her feet. "You didn't do anything wrong. Did I?"


"Then why the bad feeling?"

Bette leaned against the couch. "We're good people, right?"


Bette continued, "And we're young. We haven't been that close this year. A-and we want different things out of life. We have different interests..." She trailed off.

"Where are you going with this?"

She took a deep breath, "I didn't want to think either of us were settling for the other. And I made myself feel really awful."

Ozzy paused for a moment "Do you want to know why I asked you, specifically you, freshman year?"


"Because of everything you've said. It just proved that everything I know about you to be true: first you were a friend who was always honest with me, who showed me what boundaries were, whether or not you said it. And you always made sure I was comfortable, when other people made sure we weren't." He adjusted and sat next to her against the couch. "And just because you don't look like Vanessa, Cassandra, or Tahlia, doesn't mean you're not, obviously, really attractive." Ozzy focused forward and stared at his hands. "I didn't put you on a pedestal or on my radar as you put it. You were too important to ever be considered as a girlfriend rather than my really good friend who happens to be a girl. But I kissed you because it-it just felt right this time. Ya'know?" And he looked over at her, and she as looking at him.

"I do. Exactly." She reached up to his upper arm, giving it a squeeze with a heated look on her face. "Yes."

He turned himself towards her, "Yeah? You mean--?" He was focused back on her, seeing she has turned herself about and she was sitting on her knees towards him.

"Not as a consolation," she said.

He nodded to her. "And not as a favor."

She nodded back to him. "Because we both want to do this?"

"And why the hell not?" He said with a smile. They rose to their knees and embraced each other.

"Go," she whispered in his ear.

Their cheeks drifted over each other until their lips met again. Slowly at first this time; his full lower lip seemed to absorb her. He ran his tongue ever so slightly across her upper lip, and she kneaded at his back through his shirt. Ozzy adjusted his arms, throwing both of hers over his shoulders and around his neck. Next thing she knew she wasn't kneeling on the floor; she was hanging on to him and her feet weren't touching the ground. He wrapped one arm around her back and the other under her right leg, and in one sweeping movement, stood up with her, causing her to squeal and laugh. She gripped his sides with both legs as he turned and sat back on the couch with her comfortably across his lap.

His move impassioned her. When Bette's hands ran up the sides of his shirt, he helped take it off. She set a hand on the tuft of hair on his chest and saw how it streamed down his stomach and continued beyond into his jeans, "Wow," she beamed. "I didn't think it would look so-- be so--"

"What?" He smiled at her.

"The muscles, the chest hair. It's all so...manly," her face lit up. "It's hot." She combed her fingers through it a few times. She glided her hands over his shoulders and arms and when she squeezed his muscle, he flexed it back, and her whole face glowed. She even took a moment to touch his stomach and waist; thoughtfully, carefully, and not in a way to make him feel bad about himself or tickle him. "Amazing. Absolutely incredible." A moment later she realized the odd look on her face and the patient interest on his. She slowly pulled back her hands and reached behind head to pull the shirt off her back. Ozzy slid his hands up her waist to help remove it. He wrapped his hands about her rib cage and she let his thumb sweep the side of the stitching of her bra. She gave him a nod. Ozzy skimmed his fingers along the lines of her straps and where the cup met her breast. He slowly grazed each of his thumbs over her nipples for a few strokes. She kept her stare intensely focused on him and let out an audible breath. Ozzy's arms wrapped around her back and lay down on the couch with her. With his other hand, he unhooked her bra. "That was a good move," she said with a light laugh as she helped take off her bra and let it hit the floor.

"I said I hadn't done this with a bunch of girls. There may have been one or two." Ozzy laid on his left side with Bette wrapped in his arms. He pulled her waist tight towards him and started running his lips and tongue down her neck, collar bone, and over her breasts. "Just because you never caught me staring, doesn't mean I wasn't looking." He swirled his lips and tongue around her nipples until they were pleasurably swelling from her chest. She moaned to let him know what he did was good. He looked up at her from her chest, "This might be the most beautiful thing I've seen and heard." She ran her fingers through his hair and massaged the back of his neck. She pulled his face back up to hers to take his mouth in hers for several minutes. She would grab his arm and he would flex a muscle. He ran his hand down her leg and she would wrap it around his leg in turn. He ran his fingers over her breasts, but she could tell he did it for her pleasure and not his own. While they kissed, he grinded into her between her legs. And once while he did, he found just the right spot and it made her moan louder than she had up until then and she scratched his back, hard. He winced and jerked up from her, and looked at her stunned.

"I'm sorry," she cringed. She glanced downward towards their hips. "You have, um, solid skills. I don't want to hurt you if you don't like that. It was unexpected."

"That makes two of us. Just maybe, no more marks for either of us?"


"Alright." He smiled down at her. She gently pulled him back into her with a long, passionate kiss.

When Ozzy eventually broke the connection, he cautiously asked, "Would it be okay--I mean, it would just be just--." He huffed and Bette tried not to laugh at his reluctance. "I would be more comfortable if I could take off my belt and I didn't want you to think I would assume--"

Bette pulled him in and gave him a quick kiss. "I get it." Ozzy reached down and unbuckled and removed his belt with one hand without looking away from her.

There was something about the look on his face, the intensity in his eyes, the pout of his thick lip, or maybe the single sweeping movement of the belt and it hitting the floor, but he had her on fire. "Go."

Ozzy's eyes got wide. "What?" He leaned back a little. "Are you serious?"

She gripped him surely. "Yes. I want us to keep going." She nodded too.

Ozzy took a few heavy breaths, "Oh my God, yes."

They both reached down and she unbuttoned his pants and he quickly unzipped and pulled them down and off himself. He reached for the top of her pants and as he did, she started stroking him outside his shorts. He let out a groan and closed his eyes and couldn't help but pause his hands. He wrapped his arms around her and devoured her mouth as she rubbed his length. She slipped her hand into the fly of his shorts. He could barely control his moans. "Holy--" he cut himself off to feel the pleasure she caused. She realized how quickly she had moved at first and slowed her movement. She tried to listen to his breaths, feel the motion of his grind, and do what felt good for him.

A few minutes later he panted, "Wait, wait, wait." Bette pulled her hands back to herself.

"Did I scratch? Did I do something wrong?"

"No. Not at all!" He breathed heavily still. He reached to unbutton her jeans again. "You," he said. "I want to do this for you."

She nodded and held his gaze. He unbuttoned and unzipped her jeans and she peeled them off. He looked over her body and ran the back of his fingers over the fabric of her panties. He took a moment to touch her back, hip, and thigh. He barely brushed his fingers over the front; he hesitated his fingers over the front of her panties. She could feel the excitement, the electricity radiating off his hand. When he felt the hot, almost damp spot he had caused, his hand froze completely. There was passion on his face but he was petrified in his eyes.

She reached down and intertwined her fingers with his and let them brush against her. "It might be better if..." She sat up, letting go of his hand, and opened the zipper pocket of her backpack and pulled out an Altoids tin with a rubber band around it. "If you lay back," she whispered. She pulled off the band and opened the tin and pulled out a trio of condoms. He looked away from her, closing his eyes, "This is really happening," he said to himself. He propped himself up on his elbows and turned to his slightly to his side. "How did you--? Do you always have--?"

She tore one off the grouping. "I said I don't do this with any guy, there was the one guy."

He sat up where she stood. She stuck her hands into the sides of her panties; he placed his hands over hers and slid them off her.

"Amazing," he said softly. He ran his hands up and down her hips and waist.

She leaned into him and kissed him, setting her hands on the fabric of his shorts. Ozzy lifted his hips and gave himself enough leeway to get them free. Bette took them off from the knees. "You'" Her eyes danced across his body. "Magnificent." She knelled on the couch next to him. She placed a hand on his chest to guide him to lie back. He covered her hand with his, pulling her on to him.

She sat across his thighs and rolled the condom on to him. As she positioned herself over him, he held her around her hips. "Believe it or not, I am still going to need you to let me go slow."

He nodded and they both took a deep breath. Bette slowly led him into her a little and back out again, wincing a little. She did it again, going a little further, again, and again. Then, she wasn't wincing anymore; she was sighing and looking at the same heated, intense look on Ozzy's face as before. "Move with me," she spoke softly. She leaned onto his chest and he lightly held her. She ran her lips over his chest. When she met his eyes again, he started to move his hips. Slowly, tenderly, yet fully, he pressed himself back into the couch and forward into her again and again. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, letting out some throaty breaths and taking his pleasures. He cupped her face with his hand before running it in her hair.

Ozzy asked, "Tell me what you want."

Bette spoke through breathy words, "Just keep going," she sighed. They were braced in locked arms. Ozzy held her gaze and kept moving with her, speeding up and slowing down. Trying to follow the reactions on her face, and kept with her movement. All while feeling the wonder their bodies caused each other.

"Kiss me," he whispered. He embraced her. Their mouths entangled deeply with each other moaning and sighing.

Eventually, Bette reared back and rode his thrusts moaning, running her hand through her hair, and balancing herself with her other hand on his stomach, he watched her in awe in the light glow of the floor lamp, "I was wrong," Ozzy gasped. He ran his hand down her torso, "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and heard."

Bette leaned back onto his chest, "You're not so bad yourself," she said with a grin.

He wrapped his hand around her head, entangling his fingers in her hair. He pulled her close, and she touched her forehead to his. They could feel each other's breath. He whispered, "Oh, Bette, I--" He pulled her lips in to his. Her tongue submerged into his mouth, and she wrapped her arm under him to stay close. And while mid-kiss, Ozzy let out a pair of deep moans right in her mouth and his whole body tensed, finishing. She finished kissing him and he lay there with his eyes closed, panting. "Oh my God," he whispered. She touched her forehead to his and kissed his cheek a couple times. She stopped, raised her head a little and he opened his eyes. He looked at her wide eyed and uncommonly innocent considering what had just happened. She reflected the same innocence in her smile. "Wow," he whispered. She nodded short and slow. He adjusted his hand around her head and pulled her in for a slow deep kiss while Bette lifted herself off of him. Ozzy reached down and pulled off the condom and stretched his arm across the couch and dropped it in to the waste bin on the floor.

"Oh, come here you." He playfully said as he pulled her down to the couch and embraced her in his arms by his side. She let out another happy squeal. He reached over the top of the couch and pulled down a big blanket and wrapped them in it. He nuzzled his nose against hers and gave her little pecks on her cheek. She reached up and brushed his hair back with her fingers. "Did that really just happen?" He asked. She tilted her head back and he kept kissing her collar and side of her neck.

She let out a breathy laugh, "Yeah. It did."

He stopped kissing her and they looked at each other. "I didn't want it to end. It was just so--overwhelming. Were you, um ...overwhelmed?"

She touched his cheek and smiled, "I didn't get there, but it was quite the journey."

"Oh," he seemed disappointed.

"Don't get me wrong!" She tried to make him feel better about it. "It was a really good journey; I just didn't make the overwhelming distance. I was on my way through."

He paused a moment then ran his fingertips over her breasts, "What would it take to get you there?" She gave him a smile and took his hand. She kissed him and his fingers. She turned and laid on her back, took his hand and brought it under the blanket to the crux of her legs. She planted his warm, strong fingers and showed him how she wanted to have him move his fingers in circles and streaks. And when he found the rhythm of her touch, she let go of his hand. He looked down to see what he was doing, but she raised his chin until their eyes met again. "You should see what it looks like here, not there." He massaged and slid in and out of her: she rolled her hips against his fingers with him. She let him know with moans and squeezes of his chest when he did things right. And a few moments later, he hit her peak causing her back to arch, her thighs to squeeze his hand, and let out a long moan. She panted in his arms.

She turned in his arms and kissed him. "Now I'm there." She said with a laugh. "Completely overwhelmed."

Ozzy had a goofy smile on his face. "I mean, you think something is going to look or feel a certain way, and then, it's nothing like you imagine. I can't believe it." He was in absolute awe.

"I know. I didn't think we would have ever done that." She nestled under his chin into his chest into a comfortable cuddle together. She smiled and put her fingers in his chest hair again. He preened his fingers through her hair and kissed the top of her head.

"Well yeah. That too."

"What then?"

"I'd never done that."

"Lots of girls our age don't know how to have an orgasm. The dumb ones will fake it and not tell you. Everyone is different."

"A-and that."

She heard his hesitation, "And what?"

His words had a chuckle to them, "Like I said, I'd never done that. I hadn't had sex before."

Bette's eyes got wide at his response, and it shattered her. "You're kidding. There is no way you're serious."

"Why wouldn't I be?" He was so calm.

She pulled herself out of his arms and looked down at him. "Why didn't you say before?"

"It didn't seem important. Wasn't it obvious?"

"Obvious?!" She snapped. "No, it was not obvious. You said there have been one or two."

"When we had our shirts off, that kind of thing."

"And you didn't think to say anything?"

"I could barely speak with the way you touched me. You said 'go', and I wanted to too."

"That is not what I meant!" She got up and started to pick her clothes from the floor. She began to recount what had happened, "I unbuttoned your pants you could say 'this is new for me.' I pulled out the condoms you could say, 'I've never.' You literally said, 'This is really happening.' and you could have followed it with 'for the first time!'" She grabbed her clothes and went into the bathroom and shut the door, peed, and cleaned herself up. "Is this freshman year all over again? Is this what you wanted this whole time? Just to get some practice so the next one would be easier to figure out?" She threw her clothes on quickly.

Ozzy answered from the other side of the door, hearing him get dressed, she could hear how close he was. "No! It wasn't like that."

Bette braced herself on the sink and stared in the mirror. "How am I supposed to believe that?"

"We both said it, because we trust each other. We know each other. We don't lie to each other. Bette, please. If the thing I did wrong was not telling you I was still a virgin, I don't understand why you're angry."

"You should have told me."

"Why does it matter?"

She opened the door and looked up at him with tears in her eyes, "Because it shouldn't have been me to do it."

"What? That's what's bothering you? Why?" She walked past him and pulled a hair tie from her backpack.

"You don't think it should have been with a serious girlfriend? Someone you were in love with? Someone you didn't ask for this kind of thing from two years ago?!"

"I never asked you for sex! Then or now."

She frantically finishing packing up her backpack. She fumed, "No one had ever asked me for something like that before or since. Because that's not the kind of thing you ask for from a friend. Granted, I was flattered at the time but now." She twisted her hair up into a ponytail. "I should have followed my gut when I said I felt cheap."

"I kissed you because I said it felt right. I said we could stop at any time. You were the one that said 'go' and took out the condoms. I don't understand."

"I didn't-- I shouldn't--" She gasped in frustration, "If I had been any other but your first, this wouldn't be such a problem for me."

She grabbed her bag and walked a couple steps up. Ozzy grabbed her hand and she turned around, from where she stood, she could see him eye to eye, and he had tears welling up too. "It was you. And there's no changing that. I'm not sorry for what we did. But I am sorry for this."

Bette turned and placed a hand on his shoulders. He lightly placed his hands on her waist. His tears fell and she wiped them away with her thumb. Ozzy leaned into her hand. She gave him one more slow kiss. "There. Now you'll be ready for the next one."

"Please Bette--"

"Stop. Just stop." She ascended the stairs, put on her hoodie and shoes and left. She pulled the hood far over her face so no one could see her cry on her walk home.

Ozzy woke up the next morning with his mind flashing back and forth between moments from the day before. Bette's voice haunted him. Move with me. I felt cheap. Why the hell not. It shouldn't have been me. Just keep going. Stop. Just stop. He picked up the shirt he wore from the day before and smelled it; her scent was still faintly there under his own.

He headed to school and tried to put yesterday out of his mind, he needed a distraction badly. First hour of the day was Environmental Science class. They had just finished a unit on erosion and water table studies, and started a new chapter that lead into ecology. It helped, but she was still flashing in his mind. It was quite the journey. I should have followed my gut!

Ceramics class was all focus on his candelabra tree sculpture project, but working in near silence left him to his thoughts, and he could feel it coming out in his work: lines he didn't like, details that were off, and whole broken leaves when he got frustrated. You should see what it looks like here, not there. Nothing hurt but my pride. I like big guys.

Economics class helped. Mrs. Carlson was the kind of teacher that demanded respect and got it. All the students admired her; there was no room to mess around in her class, she never even turned her back to the students because she had her lectures memorized.

English class was mid-study in the short story unit. Lots of group work and discussions about heavy metaphor use, action verbs, and symbolism. It was another pleasant distraction.

By the time he got to lunch, it was easier to laugh and eat with Tylor, Greyson, and others, and talk about things that weren't bothering him.

Gym class was another good distraction too. It could be a mixed bag, especially right after lunch. Since it was a Monday, it was easy circuit training and running in the gym. It helped burn off his nervous energy. In the locker room after class, Ozzy got cleaned up and changed. He noticed Jason Kaye & Brock A were talking, and when he wasn't looking, they were pointing at him. "Hey Ozzy," called Jason.

"Yeah," He pulled on his jeans.

"You-um. You have a good weekend?" Jason had a look on his face like he was trying not to laugh.

"It was fine. Why?" He buckled his belt.

Jason approached him. "You sure you don't want to change your answer?" Jason gave him a slap on the back with his wiry-muscular arm, and it stung; more than it should have. Ozzy batted his hand away and the memory came back and is eyes widened. It was unexpected. He went over to the mirror and looked at his back; there were the four distinct nail marks Bette had left on him when she scratched him in a moment of pleasure. There was no hiding the fact they came from a hand. Ozzy had a surprised look on his face. Jason taunted, "What belle climbed the beast?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Ozzy could deny it, but his face and the scratches couldn't. He put on his shirt and ran his hands through his hair to try to make himself look normal.

"No way. I'm not buying it." Jason tried to get in Ozzy's path between him and his gym locker. "Seriously, what bitch did--" And with one swift motion, Ozzy pinned Jason against a locker two feet behind where he stood. Shoving him with ease; his legs dangled over the bench. Only Ozzy's forearms held him up. "Stop." Just stop. Ozzy was stoic yet unrelenting. "I said I don't know what you're talking about." Ozzy let go of him and Jason fell to the floor with a thud and those who were blocking him parted a path for him. Ozzy left the locker room without saying another word.

He dreaded his walk to Geometry, and got there before she did. He found himself bouncing his knee and moving his pencil between his fingers in anticipation. Then he heard her voice in the hall: her echoing laugh among the dozens of chaotic voices, and for a moment, he hoped.

She came in wearing jeans and a zip up hoodie and avoided eye contact with him. She sat in her desk in front of his, but Ozzy's heart truly sank when he saw the make-shift patch across the back of her hoodie of an old red piece of fabric and safety pins: a stop sign. He'd never seen such a distinct message; he respected her request.

When he got home, he unzipped the cushion covers from his couch, took the blanket and clothes from the day before and ran them threw the wash. He vacuumed the remaining portions of the couch and emptied the garbage in the basement. After his laundry was done and he was putting the cushion covers back, he found one last scrap under his foot: the rubber band from around her mint tin that held the condoms. This is really happening. He began to imagine how it could have gone differently:

Ozzy closed his eyes, "This is really happening." He opened them and looked back at Bette. He quickly sat up and put his hand over her hand holding the condom. "Wait." She got a concerned look on her face. "I mean, if this is going to happen, you should know, I haven't--I haven't done it before."

Her face warmed. "Really?"

"Yeah, really."

"I'm glad you told me." She looked away from him at their clothes on the floor and back to him again. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes, I do."

"Now you answered that pretty quickly given the last hour, hour and a half. It may seem like saying yes, that may feel like a clear answer." She touched his cheek. "Know that either way you answer, I'll understand. I trust you. So let me ask again, do you want to go or stop?"

He paused, looking at the concern on her face. He turned his head and kissed her palm. He reached back to her and their arms came together.

Ozzy clutched the rubber band and left the basement for his room. He wrapped the rubber band around a pen, pulled out a notebook and started writing.

Over the next couple weeks, Bette stopped wearing the 'stop' hoodie to geometry class, but he still gave her space. Things were still cold between the two of them. On a day she ran out of notebook paper, she asked him for a sheet. A few days later, he asked to borrow a pencil, she gave him two pencils and a pen; and it confused him to no end.

After class that day, Ozzy walked down the main corridor where fliers and sign-up pages were posted. He'd been thinking about it for a couple days, but on that day, he signed up for the spring talent show auditions: Ozzy White - singer/guitar, original composition.

The spring talent show was always a solid variety show from all four classes. Most performance slots were given to upperclassmen, mostly because they auditioned more than underclassmen. Bette went to the Thursday night show with Jenna. Jenna was more excited than Bette to go, but she still wanted to see the show, there was always good talk after, sometimes a diner meet up if they were lucky.

The show opened with the senior dance team doing a signature performance. Next three guys did a comedy juggling act with clubs, plungers, cut off lacrosse sticks, mini-bats, a tennis racquet, and as they put it "whatever weird stuff we could find because we couldn't bring our flaming torches, so pretend we are on fire!" Then there was a barrage of people singing cover songs of artists they thought they sounded like. One freshman girl did a traditional dance from Thailand and a bunch of people talked through it, which pissed Bette off to no end.

Then, the curtain opened, the stage was dark and one single spotlight hit Ozzy. He sat alone with nothing but an acoustic guitar, and a couple of microphones. He started strumming his intro, a four-cord ballad. She thought he might sing a Beach Boys song at first, but she didn't recognize the tune. Bette tried not to make it look like she was scouring the program when she saw on the top of the second page: Ozzy White, Original Song "Bridge."

He closed his eyes and focused. All Bette could do was watch and listen.

Ozzy sang softly, gently, but clearly:

When we were young and the streams were small

Our bridges were stones, we could cross on a crawl

Crossing was easy it didn't hurt at all.

Then the streams turn to rivers and waterfalls.

The rivers grow wide, we take the time to cross.

It isn't always easy; journeys come at a cost.

We get older, we need more than rocks and moss,

I want a truss of trust to get to you without loss.

So we build a bridge. I want to-

Build a bridge with you.

He looked out and played an interlude. His voice grew stronger and more confident as he sang. His voice became rich, velvety, and dynamic.

Now the work takes time, it won't be easy to do,

I can bear the weight as you need me to,

I brought the timber, your design came through,

Can we work all day to build this bridge anew?

There are cuts, and burns, muscle aches.

The work moves slow for all the time it takes.

But I hear your voice and every sound it makes!

This truss of trust has left too much at stake.

As we build a bridge. I ask to-

Build a bridge with you.

His singing became powerful, soulful, and pained.

Then the hammer fell, the work came to a stop

Was it worth the work or was it all for naught?

Our bridge broke down, the gorge has grown wide!

I'm at the base of the steps, you're on the other side!

I ask for a bridge. I need you-

He stopped long enough for dead silence before hitting his crescendo. He wailed so hard; he hardly needed the microphones.

I'm asking you to go!

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-

He ended the song softly as he started.

Rebuild that bridge.

That bridge with you.

He strummed a final cord and the spotlight cut. For a brief second it was silent before roaring applause and cheers came from the audience. Bette wiped the tears from her face between claps.

The next few acts went on and before the final band went up to close the show, she leaned over to Jenna and whispered, "Do you mind dropping me off at home right after? I don't feel great."

"Yeah. Sure."

Bette was quiet and paler than usual on the walk back to Jenna's truck. She asked Bette, "You sure you're okay?"

"I just wanna go home. Why do they schedule these shows on Wednesdays and Thursdays anyways?"

"Maybe so everyone can talk about them the next day. Who knows?" They got in the truck and Jenna started driving. "What was your favorite act?"

"Everyone liked The Sproogs, they're good band," Bette said plainly.

"They were good. I was thoroughly impressed by that girl who did all that stuff with the balloons."

"Yeah, I'm really surprised they let her do that. You don't think she really ate that last one?"

"Nah." Jenna paused and made a turn. "That song Ozzy did was really something."

Bette was caught off-guard and her stomach sank. "Yeah."

"That's it? 'Yeah?'"


"I saw you. You were bawling."

"I was not!"

"Your eyes were sweating?" Jenna retorted sarcastically.

"It- it was just really raw, you know? It was powerful. We've heard him play at parties and stuff, but nothing like that. Usually, it's just classic rock or comedy songs. What he did, it was so..." she couldn't think of a better word, "overwhelming. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought so. What did you think?"

"Yeah, powerful stuff. I mean, I know Thalia did a number on him, but I didn't think he would be so ballsy to put it out there like that. It sounded like she really broke him. What did he tell you?"

"Me? Why would I know?" Bette said defensively.

"Because you two are good friends." Jenna said plainly.

"No. He didn't say anything to me about it. We don't talk about that stuff anymore." Bette's stomach twisted.

Jenna pulled up in front of Bette's house. "Thanks for the ride. Sorry about missing out on after-show stuff."

"Don't worry about it. It's fine." The girls hugged. Jenna felt how long Bette was hugging her and patted her back. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?" Jenna asked.

Bette started tearing up again and sniffling. "I think so." They let go of each other.

"I know so." Jenna replied. "Just don't cry me a river." And as soon as she said it, the dots connected in her head. "River? River! Wait a sec. It wasn't Thalia. That's why you cried. It's you, isn't it? You're the one on the other side of Ozzy's river. Ozzy wants to build a bridge with you. That's what's bothering you, isn't it?" The girls looked at each other and Bette covered her mouth and tried shaking her head no. "Bette, you can tell me. What happened?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." She wiped off her face with her sleeve and got out of the truck. Jenna waited until Bette was inside before driving away.

Bette went to school on Friday knowing it was time to make things right with Ozzy. She considered putting on the t-shirt she wore the Sunday they had done the project and made love, but it seemed too heavy-handed to her. She had used a sign to tell him to not talk to her, perhaps another would work again. Ozzy used a metaphor, maybe a symbol would be a private way to speak to him again. She put on a kelly-green t-shirt Go, go, go, go! A matching set of earrings and a necklace that had little artistic trees on them. I brought the timber, your design came through. Along with grey pants and shoes. He looked at herself in the mirror. Do I look like rocks and moss?

By the time she got to Geometry class, she had no idea what she would say or do. Ozzy was already in his desk when she got there. Sitting in her desk talking to Ozzy, was Norman.

She approached, "Norm. Do you mind?" She gestured for him to move.

He sat back smugly against the side bar of the desk, "Nope. Not at all."

"Seriously? C'mon. It's my spot and you know it." She set her book down on the desk.

Ozzy chimed in, "Don't make her ask a third time. We can talk later. It's fine."

"Sure." Norman stood and looked coldly at Bette before walking back over to his desk. "Ozzy. Think fast!" From Norman's loose pocket, he pulled a small box and whipped it at Ozzy when he wasn't looking. But he didn't anticipate Bette staring him down, grabbing the box out of the air, and slamming it on Ozzy's desk without breaking icy eye contact.

"Not cool." She said. "Not cool."

The bell rang and Mr. Anderson came in the room back from the bathroom. Ozzy leaned into his desk and whispered in Bette's ear while Mr. Anderson spoke and wrote on the board with his back to them, "That might have been the coolest thing I've ever seen."

Bette gave herself a little mush-mouthed smile. She put her hand palm up over her shoulder and Ozzy gave her a silent, little high-five. If her clothes didn't say anything to him, hopefully her actions did.

He then opened his backpack and dropped the box into his bag. Bette caught a glimpse of what it was. It was a box of toothpicks, and he had several more boxes in his bag. It was odd.

After class, she was done for the day but she knew Ozzy had one more class. She timed packing her stuff with him to leave class at the same time. "I'm glad Mr. Anderson didn't assign anything this weekend. I'm clear for no homework for the weekend," she said to Ozzy leaving the class.

"I still have to finish the stuff from yesterday. I didn't get to it last night."

She didn't want to be obvious or direct, but it slipped out, "Because of the talent show?"

"Yeah. I probably rehearsed those same three minutes thirty times yesterday." He was surprisingly nonchalant about it.

"It was really good. You should be--"

"Hey Ozzy!" Another box came flying at him. This time it was from Stella. Ozzy caught them this time. "Thought you could use those!"

"Yeah. Whatever." Ozzy dismissed her and slid the box in his pocket.

"What was that about? Toothpicks?"

"It's a prank. It's stupid."

"Um, that's a given. Why keep them? Why not throw them away?"

"Because they'll just grab them from the garbage and do it again."

"But why toothpicks?" They were outside Ozzy's Spanish class.

Ozzy huffed and slouched down so he didn't have to speak up. "Do you remember 9th grade physical science?"


"Well. The toothpick is a couple things. First, it's a small dick joke. 'I'm the size of a toothpick.' Ha ha. Then it's about how it's going to take a bajillion toothpicks for me to get anywhere."

"Why would toothpicks take you somewhere?" She didn't understand. The halls started clearing as people headed into classes.

"9th grade physical science? What was the big science project with toothpicks?"

The class bell rang. Bette's eyes got wide and Ozzy nodded. "Yeah. They're making fun of my song." Ozzy went into class and the door shut behind him.

The 9th grade physical science project everyone had to do, a bridge. A toothpick bridge. A bajillion toothpicks to get somewhere: across a bridge. At least ten different people had cruelly thought to make fun of Ozzy by giving him toothpicks to tease him for what he had done not even 24 hours earlier. She wondered who the other people were and who had pranked him. But she started processing: he wouldn't have been pranked if he didn't sing the song. He wouldn't have performed the song if she had just talked to him. She shut him out, and for what? For being his first sexual partner? Was that really such a bad thing? For either of them? She felt awful that evening after it had happened, but he must have felt awful for the last few weeks, and today didn't help any.

As Bette walked to her locker, she also realized that by stopping Norman's throw, it was one less box he had to endure that day. It was the first time they had said more than a few curt words to each other since that Sunday in the basement. The high-five was the first time they had touched each other. It gave her hope. She hoped things would be okay.

After school, Bette called Ozzy. "Are we okay to talk?" She asked. "I mean, do you want to talk?"

"Yeah. I do. And I can talk freely, Darrah's not home yet."

"Same. My parents are still at work too."

"I thought about it. And I wanted to tell you I'm sorry. I was wrong."

"About what?"

She took a deep breath, "After we were together that Sunday. I realized I was mad about nothing. Whether you told me or not before shouldn't make a difference. I may have felt deceived in that moment, but--" She sighed. "I felt bad after. But I can't imagine how you were feeling."

"What do you mean you felt bad after?"

"In the past, when a girl has hurt you, I've been there to help you pick up the pieces. I was angry with you and shut you out. I've always trusted you, and I felt deceived. I was the girl that hurt you and I wasn't there for you."

Ozzy took a deep breath. "I thought about it too. I should have told you. I didn't want to deceive you. I didn't want you to feel like you were being used. You mean more than that." He paused. "I'm sorry I didn't say so."

"I don't need an apology for that. I know you didn't do anything with malice."

"Since you say that. If I had told you beforehand, would we still have gone through with it?"

"I guess we won't know. At this point, I'd like to think so."



"I wrote 'Bridge' the next day. The song idea came from if I had told you beforehand. You weren't speaking to me at the time. I didn't even know if you would hear it."

"I was there, at the talent show."

"I saw you. I made some impromptu changes at the end. Something I knew you would know the meaning of."

"Message received," She said with a smile.

"I had to submit my lyrics as part of the show's audition. Afterwards, they said I can't perform again. Changes aren't allowed."

"Even though people liked it? They weren't obscene or anything."

"No, but other people might get the idea that it's okay to improvise."

"It was a beautiful song. Is it wrong that I'm sorry I caused it?"

"Not at all. Don't be. We're good now. Right?

"We are. It was all so, surprising."

"Yeah. You only swear when you're surprised. 'Why the hell not.' You were more...enthusiastic than I imagined you might be." Bette could hear his smile.

She grinned. "Just cause, my friend. You gave me good reason."

"Like what?"

She giggled. "You remember what I said?"

"What specifically? Remind me." He said hit confidently, and with an air of flirtation.

"Are you by a mirror?"

"Yeah. I'm in my room."

"Take a look at yourself."


"Are you wearing a shirt?"

The phone made a rustling noise. "Not anymore."

"Your muscles, your chest hair. It's incredible, that's what a man looks like."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"You're in your room?"


"Go look at yourself." The phone made a rustling noise as she took off her shirt. "It wouldn't matter how big the auditorium could be. In a crowd of people, I will always see you. I saw you cry and that was when I knew we would be okay. Because I knew you understood. You are amazing. You've done more for me than you can imagine. And I don't just mean what we did on the couch."

She let out a breathy laugh, "When did that happen?"

"Since always. I never made a move on you because I knew you didn't want to. You didn't want me. For some reason, after what you said, it finally felt like the right time to try."

"It's not that I didn't want you, that's not right. There were times when I did. There were times when I wanted to make a move. I think-- I think I wasn't ready for you. Does that make sense?"

"It does. I don't think you would have touched me like that any sooner if I had tried kissing you earlier."

"That freckle on your lower lip might as well be a bull’s-eye. It was quite the kiss." She let out another breathy laugh. She crashed back on her bed she heard Ozzy do the same.

"And had quite an overwhelming result," he said boldly.

"You had felt so good. So warm. Those hands. Hmm," her tone changed, softer, sexier.

"I imagined how good it would feel to kiss you, to really kiss you, for so long. When I finally did, the real thing was so far beyond what I imagined," he heard the change and matched his tone to hers.

She sighed. "Ozzy?"


"I wish--I wish you were here with me, right now."

He took a deep breath. His pause left her heart racing in anticipation. "I am. Imagine I am. Tell me what I should do if I were."

She eyed her room and adjusted on her bed. She spoke softly and hesitantly, "You-you already took my shirt off. I'm lying here on my side. You're behind me. Maybe your arm is draped over me."

"Yeah. You already took off mine. I can feel how soft your skin is against me." His voice was a velvet whisper back, and it put her at ease.

"I reach back and I'd want to touch your chest hair. Your shoulder. The back of your neck."

"I lightly run my hand over your stomach. Then I barely touch my fingers over the top of your breasts."

She sighed and spoke in a whisper. "I'm doing that, Ozzy. Yeah. You're doing it to me. Keep going."

"I'm kissing the back of your neck. And I'm slipping your bra strap down off your shoulder and kissing you there." She could hear the jingle of his belt unbuckling.

"I pull my arm out of the band. I twist myself back so I can hold you and kiss you."

"I've got my arms around you. I'm running my hands into your bra and teasing your tits."

She sighed, "You have gentle hands for being so strong. They feel so hot on me. I can feel you here. You have my tits hard."

"You've got me hard, Bette, so hard."

"I reach back and I start rubbing your big, hard dick."

"Yeah," He groaned. "You feel so good the way you touch me. I slide my fingers into the top of your panties."

She sighed. "Do you remember? Do you remember how I like it? How I showed you?"

"I do. You're soft and wet. Tell me, are you wet right now?"

"Yes." She moaned. "I am." She moaned for him again. "You got me so wet."

"Oh God, yeah. I'm running my fingers in you and over your clit."

"Ah, I want you Ozzy."

"I'm there Bette. You have me."

"Take off my panties."

"I get my hand around them and pull them off you."

"Yeah," she sighed.

"I take your thigh and pull it over mine. I'm kissing the back of your neck, holding you tight."

"I slide you into me."

"You feel so good as I roll into you again and again. I keep rubbing your clit."

"I'm yours. I reach back and twist so I can kiss you."

"Your mouth feels so good on mine. I wanna hear your voice."

"It's so good. I feel you. You're amazing. Ozzy!"

"Tell me more."

"You are so hot. I want you. Ah!"

"Yeah. I want you Bette. Hmm!"

"You're moving hard and good in me. It's everything."

"So wet."

"Take me. All of me."


"Yeah. Ozzy, get it. I'm so close."

"Me too. Yeah."

She let out extended moans. "Ozzy!"

"Bette!" He heaved heavy breaths. They caught their breaths together and laughed. "How did--? I mean-- God, you are amazing," he said.

"You have a way about you, I can tell you that much."

"Where does it come from? How do you do it? You're just...wild!"

She let out a breathy laugh. "Only with a man I can trust."

"So you're saying..."

"You were my first, over the phone, that is. I think that might be something you would understand."

"Oh, so much so." They laughed again. "I want to see you."

Bette smiled. "Yeah? When?"

"Darrah works 10-7 tomorrow and Sunday. What do you say?" Bette hesitated for a moment, concerned about his intentions. "I want to spend time with you. I think we have some stuff to talk about."

She smiled. "Yes. I'd like to see you too. I could make it there by around noon."

"I'll see you then. Bye Bette."

"Bye Oz."

By 11:45 AM, Bette was headed to Ozzy's house. Her heart raced. What did it all mean? She knocked and he answered with a grin.


"Hey yourself," he said with a coy smile. He let her in. She began to kick off her shoes and hang up her spring jacket when Ozzy seized her, picking her up in a hug and giving her a spin. "I couldn't wait to see you."

She held him back and gave him a quick peck. "Same. But can I at least get settled first?"

"Of course. You want something to drink? Have you had lunch? Or brunch?" He was spastic.

"Ozzy. We have time. A glass of water would be great." She walked with him up to the kitchen.

He poured a couple glasses of water from the sink and he finished his quickly.

"You wanna sit down?" He asked.

"How about at the kitchen table?"

"It's so good to see you."

"Likewise." She said cautiously, "Are you okay? You don't seem yourself."

"I feel amazing. After we finally talked yesterday. I just feel good. I feel so good about us."

"Yeah. And what do we think that is?" She was clearly not as excited as him, she tried to remain level headed, but in comparison to him, she was almost gloomy.

"I guess after everything and then yesterday, it seemed like we might take things to the next step."

"You wanna go out on a date?"

"I want you to be my girlfriend."

She sighed, "Ozzy, I want you to really think about this. You have been one of my best friends since 7th Grade. I trust you more than almost anyone. Is risking our friendship worth it for more physical stuff?"

"You're kidding? I barely kiss you and you practically jumped me. How am I supposed to take that?"

"This is why we're talking."

"You know I trusted you too." He stood up.

"Ozzy please." She held out her hands on the table, he sat and took it. "This is all really hard to navigate. I don't know where this is going either. We jumped into something with no forethought, but I know I can trust you if we just talk about it." She put her other hand on the table around his. "I think there's something between us that I don't know how to put into words. Something that isn't typical. Would you agree?"

"I think you supersede any pedestal that I could put any girl on. I know you're more important than that."

"I know you make me feel I how should feel: respected, desired, understood."

"You make me feel the same way."

"So what does this mean? What does this add up to?" She asked.

He pulled her hands close. "It's something more than friendship, but it's different than romance." He kissed her fingers.

"Yes. I agree. But what is it?"

"It's a foundation. A bridge. A door." She heard the soft calm of his voice. "It's trust."

"I want you to trust me with this."

"I always have."

Ozzy slid out of his chair on to his knees up to Bette and wrapped his arms around her. She caught him about his shoulders. He was so close to her face. He ran his hands up her back. "What are you doing?"

"I want to do something for you. But I can stop as soon as you say so."

He had that same sexual electricity radiating off him again, but this time, he was confident. She felt it flow into her. She closed her eyes and put her forehead to his. "Go."

He stood back up with her and carried her to his room closing the door behind him with his foot. It was surprisingly clean for being one of a 17 year old. He laid her down on the double bed. And she sat up slightly on her elbows. "You should know I don't have-- I didn't bring my backpack, you know?"

"I'm not going to need one." He laid down next to her and hovered his mouth over hers. Bette waited, with quivering breaths as he stroked the back of his hand over her body. When he got to the button of her jeans, he finally kissed her, softly and barely. He unbuttoned the jeans and let down her zipper. He touched her panties in her jeans.

"You're warm."

She spoke through a jagged breath, "For you."

She gripped the front of his shirt as he touched her, slowly and methodically.

"I'm only starting." He spoke softly. He ran his hand over the front of her panties.

"Go." She whispered. He took a solid grip of her jeans and gave them a hard yank down. She gasped.

Ozzy barely touched his lips to hers. When her eyes were closed, he slid a finger into her panties and she let out a stunned moan in pleasure, but he took his hand right back out. He nudged her head to the side and slowly licked her neck and her ear, and when she would sigh, he'd slip a finger back into her again; teasing her body.

He looked at her intensely while she clung to him. Soon his fingers were more frequently inside of her panties than outside. He took her closer leg to him and held it between his legs to keep her in place. Bette was moaning and twitching to his touch when all of a sudden, he stopped. Ozzy rolled off the bed and stood looking down at Bette aroused and confused.

She panted, "is something wrong?"

He reached for her hips and firmly twisted her 90 degrees on the bed, making her let out a loud gasp. "Not even close." He lifted her and peeled her jeans and panties off her and knelled before her. He held her gaze while he wrapped his arms around her thighs and planted his mouth on her loins. "Holy shit!" She squealed. He barely touched her with his tongue. Her legs rested upon his shoulders. He ran one hand up her stomach and the other hand to hold back her hood to find the most pleasure for her.

He kept his eyes on her making slight movements with his lips and tongue, gratifying her body further. Her back arched to his movements. She pushed herself up to her elbows to watched him and he'd gently hold her down. She moaned and cried out in pleasure, everything he did was right. Her legs shook, "Ozzy, yes. Holy God! Yeah!" She pushed her hands into her scalp and pulled her own hair as she orgasmed. He gave her one more kiss and spasm before withdrawing from her. She was breathing heavily as he stood up and wiped his mouth.

"Are you just going to stand there?" She exclaimed. She turned and slid over to make room for him

He got back on the bed beside her. "Where did that come from?"

"Listening. Paying attention," he said nonchalantly.

"You paid attention so hard I nearly broke my own back," she laughed. She turned and kissed him.

"There really isn't a more beautiful sound than of you being overwhelmed." He reached up and touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. She took hold of his hand and kissed the back of it. "I'm going to need a moment."

She got up and went through the pocket door into his adjoining bathroom and used it. When she came back out again, he hadn't moved. She crawled back over him and plopped herself beside him. "I want to see you. All of you."

"I want to see all of you too."

They peeled off each other's clothes and laid there. They laid on their sides looking at each other under the covers. "When I was picturing you yesterday, I thought the image of you was clear, but the memory doesn't convey the full feeling, you know?" Said Ozzy.

"I do. After we were first together there was this thought that kept ringing out in my head: this isn't the boy you knew, this is a man." She reached out and touched his chest. "We're not kids anymore. It's so much more than that though."

"And somehow I know it's not the same as anything else," he said it, and it came out sad. "That's the problem with us, isn't it?"

"There's no solution to compare it to," she was sad too. He ran his hand down her back under the blankets. He pulled her close. "So what do we do?" She asked.

"We can stay here a while if you're alright with that."

"I would like that." She nestled herself under his chin. She took a deep breath taking in his scent and put her fingers in his chest hair. Ozzy took a deep breath of her hair and kissed the top of her head.

"You really are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and heard."

"You are absolutely incredible. A magnificent man." She pulled herself out of his arms and looked at him. She leaned into him and kissed him once. She reached for his genitals under the covers. He rolled to his back while she touched him, closing his eyes and letting out soft moans. She pushed the blankets down and back to expose him. Ozzy cupped her face and pulled her close, right as he was about to kiss her again, she spoke, "You." He opened his eyes, "I want to do it for you." She lightly brushed her lips against his and started running her lips down his chest while still stroking him. She then took his length into her mouth. She crouched between his knees so he could see. She stroked and sucked, listening for reactions to what gave him pleasure. She'd look up at him and his chin would be tilted back and he'd be moaning. He whispered her name and swirl his hand in her hair without pushing her. She changed hands and rubbed his thighs and his stomach before interlocking her fingers with his. A moment later he whispered, "Wai-wait, Bette, wait." She stopped and he pulled her off him and back to his side. He leaned over the side of the bed and opened a drawer and pulled out his own box of condoms. He took a breath and looked at her, "If this is how it ends, I'd rather end like this than like that."

She nodded and he opened up the sealed box and one of the packages and rolled it onto himself.

"Like the first time?" She asked sitting up.

"For the last time." He said stepping off the bed. He pulled her to the side of the bed where he stood, she led him into her.

"Slow." She said. She rasped as he moved into her.

He wrapped his arms around her back and she gripped him back. Moving with her, he felt her, all of her. "You feel so good," she said.

"I've always wanted you." He whispered, kissing her neck.

"Look at me." He laid her back down as he continued to pleasure her. He hovered over her. "Don't forget how it feels." He kept going at her; he held one hand under the small of her back and rubbed her clitoris with his thumb. He stared intently at her, reading how he touched her. She moaned harder to his touch. A moment later she hit another climax, arching her back. "Ah! Yes. There. Oh! Do you feel it?" She squeezed her legs around his hips. She grabbed his hands and pulled him down to her, she kissed him. She held his face tightly and kissed him, running her tongue deep against his. She held his face in her hands and looked at him "How do you want it? How do you want it to end?" She whispered.

He wrapped his arms around her, picked her up, trading places with her. She was on his lap, steadying her grip around his shoulders. He held tight to her haunch and moved her back and forth. Ozzy let out a grunted moan. "You know how I wanted it to end?" He kissed her.

"How?" She moaned.

"I don't want it to." He groaned. "I don't...want it to!"

He thrusted her hard and fast onto himself. She loudly moaned and sighed in pleasure and tried to kiss him but he wrapped his arms around her tightly then groaned into her ear, "Bette, I love you!" He came; falling backwards onto the bed, pulling her down with him. Both of them panting. He held her tightly for a moment before he loosened his arms and she rolled off him, both of them breathless and sweating.

"Sweet Jesus," she panted.

Ozzy pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes then slicked his brow sweat back into his hair and got up. She sat up, not taking her eyes off him "Ozzy." He walked into the bathroom and took off the condom. He threw it so hard into the garbage can she heard the plastic can hit the wall and the plastic bag in it swish. She heard something else: the sound of him hitting the sink with medium force or slapping the shower wall; she couldn't clearly tell. She pushed herself to lean against the wall. He was in there over a minute before she called to him again. "Ozzy?" He came out and grabbed a clean pair of shorts from his dresser and put them on, not looking at her. She grabbed the top sheet and draped it over herself. "Ozzy!"

"What?!" He turned and put his arms out.

"Ozzy, talk to me. You've never said anything like that to me before." She was worried and nervous and clung to her knees.

"Now I have and it doesn't change anything." He said coldly.

"How can this not change anything? It's a big deal. You've never said that before."

"Before we came in here, I asked you to be my girlfriend and you turned me down."

"Those are two very different things."


"You were acting erratically. I was confused about what you were feeling."

"I wasn't confused."

"I thought we were going to talk. It's why I didn't bring any protection with me today."

"We talked and you don't want to be with me romantically."

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

"And you agreed."

"Because you mentioned it!"

"And I know you weren't lying when you said we shouldn't. And you still let me take you in here and do all of this with you!" He turned away from her again and put his hands on his head and gripped his scalp. They were both upset.

She tried to speak calmly, "Ozzy. This is different."

He dropped his hands to his hips and his head forward. "I can't keep doing this," he said disheartened.

"Can't keep doing what?"

He spoke slowly and weakly, "You care for me, you want me, you trust me, but you don't love me. You said you can't be the one who helps me pick up the pieces after these girls break my heart. You've been breaking my heart for longer than you know. They're the ones who've been picking up the pieces. Every time you have said 'no' whether you've known it or not. I find someone who can patch me up long enough to feel good about being around you again."

She tried to keep her voice from breaking, she couldn't believe what he was saying, "Ozzy. You can't do this to me now. It's not right and it's not fair. I think you know that."

"I know what you said when you came here today."

"I said I didn't know how to put it into words. I said I know how I feel around you."

"Bette. I-" he sighed. He dropped his head again and put his hands over his face.

"Ozzy. Look at me."

He put his hands on his hips and looked at her. His face was all red and so was hers.

"Will you come here?" He sat down on the bed slouching and stared forward. She skootched forward and put an arm around him and leaned into him. She held him for a moment thinking before she spoke. "I don't think we could have made love the way we have if I didn't feel that for you. I have great affection for you. I have desire for you. Could we have romance? It's possible. We've never tried. I think we are young and we have spent a lot of time together. And maybe, just maybe, it came out in the wrong order. Hmm?"

"So you do want to be with me?"

"I think we've never discussed it properly. We never tried it."

Ozzy turned his head to see her warm expression for him and he kissed her temple.

"Since we're so out of order, where do we start?" He asked with hope.

"How about an actual date? We give each other a look, mutually, through that perspective."

"I think that sounds fair," he cracked a smile.

She let out a breathy laugh. "I should tell you. I don't have sex on the first date. Generally, nothing below the waist. It's a personal choice, it reflects nothing on you."

"So your saying, right now doesn't count?" He turned away and back and looked at her again with a cheeky smile and a raised eyebrow.

"I didn't exactly say that now did I?" She grinned.

He curled his arms around her and started kissing her neck. "See that would be allowed. I would be amenable to this." He spun back and laid down with her and tickled her. "This would not be," she laughed and tried tickling him back.

He lifted her off him; she braced herself against his chest. He pushed her hair back behind her ears. He smiled up at her. "Tomorrow? Would that be too soon?"

She kissed the palm of his hand that was against her cheek. "No, it wouldn't be. We can do that. I'd like that too." She smiled at him and then looked confused, "Wait, did you think of something already?"

"Not exactly. I guess," he took a breath. "I've been waiting for this for so long; I don't want to wait any longer."

She sighed. "It hasn't been as long of a wait for me, but I'm looking forward to it too." He reached up, held her face in his hands, pulled her in, and kissed her.

The next morning Ozzy and Bette had their date. They decided to establish some ground rules before going. Just as Bette said: no sex on a first date. Ozzy insisted he pick her up. He chose where they would eat and she chose an activity for after. They wouldn't talk about their sexual or dating past with each other. If people saw them or asked about anything they did in public, they would admit to it. No more, "I don't know what you're talking about." The things that they do in public are public, the things that they do and say in private remain private. They truly wanted to treat it like a fresh perspective.

Ozzy asked that she be ready at 10:30AM. He knocked at her door and he was standing with his hands in his pockets when she answered. He was wearing nice jeans, a blue button up shirt with beige panels on it, and his hair, for once, wasn't messy. Bette was wearing flowy black pants with a button up blouse with a dotted print, her hair half pulled back, and for once, makeup. She called back to her parents to let them know she was leaving and Ozzy gave them a hello and a wave.

Bette's parents watched them walk out to the car with her arm linked with his. He unlocked the door and opened it for her; she leaned over and opened his door in turn.

Bette's parents saw them go from the living room window. "What do you think about this? This is the first boy she's picked since Keith. She knows this one." John asked Lorna.

She turned the page of the newspaper, unworried. "She's smarter, she's more prepared, and Ozzy's always been a nice boy. If he's not, she knows where we keep the shovels."

Bette sat with one leg tucked under so she could be turned slightly towards Ozzy. "You look really nice."

"You look good too." He fidgeted in his seat, adjusting, tapping the wheel, overly checking the mirrors.

"Are you feeling okay?"

He came to a red light and saw the concern on her face, "I'm-I'm nervous. Aren't you?"

"Of course. I barely slept. I probably changed outfits six times and I'm still not happy with what I'm wearing." The light turned green.

"Thank God it's not just me."

"When you suggested we get brunch today, I wasn't sure if I should eat or starve beforehand. Do I order a little or a lot? Would I even be hungry? I've had butterflies all morning. So, if you are wondering if it feels like a first date, I can assure you, it does."

Ozzy snickered, which turned into a little laugh which grew and grew into a great big belly laugh.

"Why is that so funny?"

"Logical. Left brained. Sharp-as-a-tack you, is nervous!"

"You are. Why shouldn't I be?"

"You've always been so confident in yourself. One of the first times we spoke, I remember you said you had a healthy level of self-esteem."

"You remember that?" She said with a grin. "I can't believe you remember that."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know. I guess I didn't think you would."

"There's something else I remember. A theory. Something I was never able to prove."

"What's that?"

"I think you wanted to talk to me that day after puzzle club. I was walking behind you and I think you fake-tied and retied your shoes so I could catch up. Is that true?"

"It was on that day we established that I can't lie to you. Yes. It's true."

"I knew it. But here's another secret. While you were tying your shoes, I walked faster so I could catch up. I wanted to talk to you too."

"After all these years. It took you this long to tell me?"

"In all fairness, it took you just as long."

"True enough." Ozzy pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. Ozzy wasn't fidgeting anymore and her stomach settled. "Ozzy." She unbuckled her seat belt and turned to him. "However this goes, I'm glad we're giving it a try."

"So am I." He put his hand out to her and she took it. They gave each other's hand a little squeeze before getting out of the car and going inside. The restaurant was a nicer place known for a reasonably priced brunch Ozzy had made reservations and they were seated quickly.

"Anything to drink?"

"Orange juice," said Ozzy.

"Coffee, black," said Bette.

"Really?" Ozzy asked. "Black coffee?"

"Every morning for the last two years."

Ozzy got a weird look on his face. "How did I not know that?"

"Probably because you've never seen me at home in the morning."

"No milk or sugar or anything?"

"Nah. It just gets in the way. I will if it's pretty bad coffee." The waiter brought the orange juice and poured Bette's coffee and walked off. "How do you think I stay so sharp?" She gave him a sly smile.

Ozzy leaned back in his chair. "Tell me something else I don't know about you."

"How about you tell me something?"

The waiter came back and asked them for their order. "Have you even looked yet?" Ozzy asked.

"I know what I want," she handed the waiter the menu, "The mixed berry pancakes with sausage patties."

Ozzy handed back his menu, "The rancher's skillet, no onion, with the English muffin."

The waiter left with their order.

"If I had known you were going to want pancakes, I would have had you over instead. I make fantastic pancakes."

She leaned back with her coffee cup and took a sip. "I would wager you can't make them without screwing up the first one."

"I can. I'll show you sometime."

"That sounds more like a morning after the fourth or fifth date kind of thing." She gave him a wink. He smiled back and raised an eyebrow at her and it made her giggle. She sat her coffee cup down and offered her hand across the table to him. He took her hand in his and ran his thumb across her fingers.

"Tell me something else I don't know," he said.

"I-I have no idea what I want to do with my life after graduation," she said it with a shrug.

"You're so smart. You get good grades. You could do anything."

"Which is precisely my dilemma."

Ozzy crinkled up his face, "Oh. I guess that does make sense."

"What I want to do in enjoy my free time. I want to have a job that doesn't kill me physically or mentally that allows for weekends and holidays off so I can have free time to do what I want when I want."

"That doesn't sound very exciting."

"That's the point. I don't want my work to be exciting. I'd rather have my life be exciting."

"You're usually so private. I mean, I know what I know because you let me, but besides Jenna and me, who knows what you're hiding?"

"My family knows me pretty well. I share just about everything with my mom."



"Like I should be worried 'almost everything?'" He raised his eyebrows, a little worried.

She laughed. "No. You have no reason to be worried about my mom."

"Thank God." Ozzy took a sip of his juice.

"My father will tell you to get your passport and a six hour head start."

Ozzy coughed on his juice and grabbed his napkin to cover his face and turned from her. Bette winced. "Shit! It was a joke. Truly. I'm sorry." She slid him the water glass.

Ozzy caught his breath and took a large drink of water. "But seriously, I'm sorry."

"I'm fine. It would have been funnier if it wasn't in my lungs."

"I'll try to keep my humor out of your alveoli."

He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "But going back to my question: you've got a wild streak in there. I know it. I've heard it in your voice. I've seen it. You left it on my back. What are you going to do with it?"

She breathed a laugh and looked down and back up to him. "You'll find out." Their food arrived. "Don't leave here hungry and you'll see."

They ate and tried to talk as politely as they could through the meal. As they left the restaurant Bette got excited, she directed him where to drive and he ended up taking them to an indoor event center that had bowling, mini golf, arcade games, and a lot more.

They walked in holding hands; it was just before noon and it wasn't very busy. "What are we doing?" Ozzy asked.


"Um, go-karts?"


"Mini golf?"


"We're not bowling. I wouldn't take you for someone who'd want to go bowling."

"That's true." They approached the service counter. "Two for the high ropes course." No sooner than she said that he pulled her back.

"No." He was firm.

"What? Really?" She then tried to be discreet, "Ozzy. I called; there shouldn't be a weight issue. I checked."

"No. It's not that." He took a breath. "I hate heights."

"No one loves heights. But it's challenging and it's exciting--"

"And it's my biggest fear."

"But you're so tall," she tried to joke with him.

"Yeah, it doesn't work like that. I can't be on an edge like that and have it feel like there's nothing to stop me from falling even with railings and harnesses and stuff. I would wager if I brought you down to the funeral home and said let's try out some coffins for a while today, you'd be pretty adamant about stopping me."

His hand was clammy in hers and she felt bad. "Okay. I'm sorry. You know I didn't know. There are a dozen other things here we can do. What sounds fun to you?" She tried not to sound too deflated.

He looked up at the event center's offerings. "Could we get a karaoke room instead?"

"Yeah. Yeah. We could do that," she answered softly. She went up to the counter and ordered a room package for 10 songs. The employee assigned them a room and showed them how to set up and choose songs. They sat down in the big room that was meant for much bigger groups and began to page through the books of songs.

"Pick one. You're going to find one before me," she said.

Ozzy quickly found one in one of the books, selected the number and keyed it in. He was loud, strong, confident, and most of all talented. He finished and she smiled and clapped for him. "I still haven't decided. Why don't you pick another?" Ozzy gave her a weird look but conceded to her suggestion. He picked another classic rock song and sang his lungs out. He finished performing and she was smiling and clapping. "I'm still deciding."

"No you're not," he set the microphone down and sat adjacent from her on the couch and took a drink of water. "Why are you avoiding your turn?"

She answered bluntly. "Because this is my high ropes course." She gestured her hand to the room and the microphone. "The microphone plus singing plus the attention. It's too much for me."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"Because it was what you wanted."

"Not at your expense!"

"But you're enjoying it so much. I didn't want to ruin that for you!"

"You not enjoying it would ruin it for me, Bette. You're better than that!"

"You think I don't know that?!"

"Of course you know that! You're incredible!"

The disco and spot lights swirling around the room made their argument even more foolish.

She started laughing and planted her forehead into his shoulder. He began laughing and hugged her.

He mocked himself, laughing, "You're incredible!"

She mocked herself the same way, laughing, "I know that!"

"Seriously, it's just us in here. I've heard you sing. You know you can trust me. You must have some song you think you can do. I won't laugh."

"That's the thing. I do have a song. And it only works if you do laugh."

"Then I'll laugh."

"I may not always know when you're lying, but I know a fake laugh when I hear it."

"But you won't hear it over the music."

"Fine. But I need to see you laughing." She pointed at him in look and gesture. She flipped the page to the song she knew and punched the number in.

The song started to play. Ozzy sat back while Bette took up one of the microphones. It was 'Build Me Up Buttercup,' by The Foundations

"I know this song. Why should I laugh--?"

And Bette started to sing the song in her natural low alto range with a thick central-European accent that wandered somewhere between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. "Vhy doo youh bilt me uhp, Buh-tah-cuhp bay-be, juhs tooh let mee dohwn? Ahnt mess mee ah-rount? An' den verst uf ahll, yoo nevah cahll bay-be ven yoo say yoo vill. buht Ich Libe Dich steel..."

Ozzy keeled over laughing from sheer surprise and was singing along from the couch. When the song was over, he wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes. He tried to speak through his laughter, "I knew you were funny but not that level of silly. Where did that come from?"

"Last year, when I went on a trip to London with my dad, we were in a pub one night and a bunch of drunk Germans kept putting this song on repeat on the jukebox. My dad speaks German and I know a hand full of phrases, so they were uber fun. They didn't think we were so bad for American tourists. It might have been one of the best nights ever."

"They let you in the pubs at 16?"

"Yeah it's weird there. They see you with another adult, they think you look old enough, they pour you beer."

"And your dad didn't stop them from serving you?"

"He's pretty open minded when it comes to certain stuff. You're with family, you're not driving, you only have one, it's not a big deal given the right circumstances."


"Not that cool for me. One beer there is one of those giant ones about the size of three here. And I hadn't had a drink before, at least not that much. It wasn't pretty. And he holds his beer about as well as me."

"There it is." He ran a finger down her cheek. "There's that wild streak."

She leaned against him again. "We have seven more songs. I want to hear you do another."

"Fine. But I want you to pick another that doesn't have a punch line."

Ozzy picked a song that had fun dance moves. They sang another that let them dance together. He sang one that made Bette laugh and she sang along with him without the other microphone. She performed one where she knew all the words to a rap song without having to look at the word prompts. They went through more and more songs until they had one left. "Last song. What should we do?" He sipped his glass of water.

"How secure do you think these rooms are?"

"There's a camera pod in the corner of the room. Enough for security. Not enough that I think they don't care unless we break or damage something."

She thought for a second. "Then I wanna do this one." She pointed to the line in the book.

"You really want to sing to that?"

She sidled up between him and the table, and pushed her butt into his thigh. "No." She looked up at him and changed her voice to the soft sexy tone like she did on the phone on Friday. "I want you to see me dance to that."

He looked out and took a deep, forcibly controlled breath. "Yep. Play it."

They moved two of the tables out of the way. She had him sit in a specific spot on the couch and she stood back by the door where the most space was. "Turn up all the show lighting options. Make sure you enter the one with full vocals, otherwise I won't be able to do it."

The song queued up "Lady Marmalade," the Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, Lil' Kim version from the movie Moulin Rouge. Bette started the song by unbuttoning the bottom of her blouse and tying it up under her breasts. Between the lights and her focus on remembering her choreography, she barely saw him. She was grateful for the extra mirrors in the room, it reminded her of a dance studio and it helped her remember her steps and facial expressions.

Body roll. Body roll. Body roll. Body roll.

Walk walk walk walk.

Walk, turn ,walk, turn, pirouette

Leap out, bend, shake up.

Hip roll, hip roll, shake up

Fan leg, knee out, arch back.

Drop, open knee, close knee, up

Arm swing, back, slap, crouch, thighs.

During the first chorus she did a walk forward towards him and away from him. The shocked, jaw-dropped, smile on his face was everything she hoped for. For the second verse she used the end of the couch that was near her when she started.

Sit, hip roll hip roll, hair flip

Fan kick, turn, faux split, in, squat

Shake, lean back, kick, land on back

Leg circle, leg circle, legs out, snap

Hand down whole body

The song transition between verses again. Bette rolled to her knees into a crawl. Ozzy had not moved a muscle.

Slide crawl. Slide crawl. Cat circle. Cat circle

Up to knees. Hands in hair. Thrust. Thrust

Slam, hop up, bend, hip, hip.

Step, step, step high leg turn.

Step, step, step low sweep, hair flip.

Hip circle, step, right, hip circle, step, left

Leg twist, leg twist, body roll, body roll.

Grapevine/shimmy strike, grapevine/shimmy, strike.

Plant hands, 'Oh face', slow hip circle.

She was having a lot of fun at this point. And the final verse was longer.

Extended pose arms

Extended pose twist

Extended pose hype up

Walk walk walk walk turn, drop, up

Hair whip, arm, walk, arms arms

Arms up, body roll, body roll.

Turn, pirouette, nelly, stick it, point, arms

Knees, knees, shake up.

Step, step, hip twist

Hip swing down and knees

Twist, turn, together bend, up

Arms, turn, arm swing.

Fan leg, twist, pose.

Walk walk walk, drop swing

Back back back, pose

Walk walk walk, hip swing

Sit on couch, hair flip, pose.

The song ended and Bette unceremoniously got up, untied her shirt, re-buttoned it to where it was. The monitors in the room displayed a 'thank you' message. She turned the light on by the door and looked back at him. She took a drink of water from her glass and grabbed her purse.

"I might need a minute," he said, still slack jawed. "I might need a thousand minutes. Holy shit. You just had that packed away this whole time?!"

"I took four week class this winter."

"You learned that in four weeks?"

"I learned it in four classes," she clarified.

"You were incredibly sexy."

"Yep." She said repeating him from earlier. She remained casual through his shock. "Come on. They probably need to turn the room over." She took his hand and walked him out.

They walked past the service desk again. "Thank you," she said to the staffer at the counter. She was practically dragging him.

"Have a good day," the employee said back.

Ozzy was thoroughly confused. He looked back and forth between her and the staffer at the counter. He got close to her and whispered feverishly, "What if he had been watching!? Or recording?!"

"Then he got the same show as you and clearly didn't care. And security cameras of that quality can barely make out faces in those lights anyways. At most, their security system saves the footage for 30 days or 15 days, realistically. And what I did is probably less interesting than what happens on those couches. They also have paperwork indicating I'm 17."

"You are not embarrassed, at all." He was still astounded.

"Nope," she remained unflappable.

They got back in the car. Ozzy was still dazed. "I still have so many questions."

"What do you want to know?"

"Where did you learn it? Why are you so chill about it? You can do that but you don't want to sing? What else can you do? Who else knows about this? I got about 50 more coming down the track."

"I took the class at a dance studio and lied about my age saying I was 18 so I could take it. I like dancing. You remember all the school dances? I go there to dance, not to sit around and hang out. I'm not a very good singer, which is why I sing songs with accents or ones that have about three different notes. I dance for me, not for anyone else. I did that for you because the opportunity was there and I felt the situation was right and I wanted to. Your observation was right, I am private, and the wild streak is in there. But it isn't special if I show it to everyone."

"You were spectacular."

"Thank you. It was a lot of hard work. And I wasn't even close to the best one in the class."

"I have one more question."


"May I please kiss you?"


She moved closer to him in her seat and he did to her. He lightly touched her face with his fingertips and slowly kissed her. He was gentle and innocent and withdrew in a matter of seconds. Bette was taken aback by how politely he chose to kiss her. He started the car and stared at the wheel for a moment.

"No." He turned the car back off again.

"'No' what?"

"Get out of the car." He sounded determined.

"Okay." She got out and met him at the front of the vehicle. "Ozzy what is it?"

He took her hand and they walked with her back into the event center and up to the counter. The employee from before was still there. "Did you forget something? The room hasn't been cleaned yet so it should all still be in there."

"Two for the high ropes." Ozzy said.

This time Bette yanked him back, or at least she tried to with all her might, "Ozzy, Oz, wait, no, no! You don't need to do this."

"Between the doing karaoke and that dance, you went out on a limb for me, I literally want to do that for you."

"You don't owe me that." She held him firm. "You owe me nothing. If anything at all it's the other way around," she felt like she was panicking, negotiating with Ozzy being unnecessarily unreasonable for the first time ever.

"Let me show you how much you mean to me."

"Is this some macho-pride thing because of what I just did? Because it doesn't change how I feel about you whether you do it or not!"

"I know you Bette. And I know when you're holding back. You held back nothing with that dance." His tone went from determined to frustrated. "There are a dozen different things to do in here and you chose the ropes course for a reason. You weren't happy about us not doing it, and you have yet to tell me why."

"It's because they're bridges!" She nearly shrieked it, shook her hands in front of her face at him and turned and stepped away from him and planted her hands in her scalp.

"That's why?" he stepped back to her and realized how frantic he had made her.

"Yes, I was bummed before when you said you didn't want to, but when you told me why I understood. Look at it!" She pointed with an open palm to it across the center. "All the obstacles are basically bridges between the pillars and platforms. I wanted to walk on high up bridges with you. I wanted to show you that I want to build a bridge! That I was listening! That I think it is going to be worth the work!"

"Bette. I--"

"I learn a dance like that for myself, for next to no one to see. You put yourself out there by writing and sharing that song for everyone, even if I didn't hear it. Even if I hadn't seen the show. Would I have even heard about it? The ropes course is fun and exciting and yes it's scary and hard. It's something to be experienced and seen. And that's what I think we are embarking on today. For all those reason, I chose that. But I don't want to do the course if you think it's some kind of way of getting even with me!"

"Come here." He hugged her. "I'm sorry." He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back. "I gave you an excuse and not a chance. I shouldn't have done that."

"Are we always going to make it this difficult for each other?" She tried not to smear make up on his nice shirt.

"No. No. This is just the...first pancake."

Bette turned them to the door and started walking with their arms around each other. "I recall someone claiming pancake proficiency to the tune of no bad first pancakes?"

"Ah, that would be my skill set with literal pancakes. I'm using pancakes as a metaphor."

"I see. Then what did my pancakes symbolize when I ordered them at brunch?" She joked with him.

"Ah." He made broad hand gestures with his free hand. "Your pancakes symbolize the greater, more fully encompassing genre of breakfast and the socio-economic issues derived from that."

"You are so full of shit," she laughed.

"Why do you think my eyes are brown?"

They laughed and got back into the car.

"Seriously though, if we're going to try this, we can't start deceiving each other now. I still need to be able to tell you everything, even if you're not going to like it."

"I always want you to be honest with me and I will be with you. Whether or not you think it's something I want to hear, it's probably something I need to hear," he replied.

"I hate what I'm wearing," she said.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I look like a secretary at happy hour. I only wore the outfit because I thought I would need the pants for the ropes course and this blouse is the only decent thing I had that worked with it."

"What would make you feel better?" Bette looked around outside. "Get on the main road here and make a left at the light."

Ozzy followed her directions. "My mom told me she would never make my dad be one of those sad, department store husbands waiting while their wives shop. Turn right here and park. And they have an extremely healthy relationship, like one of those ultra-marathoners. But would you be willing to give me no more than twelve minutes?"

Ozzy looked at the clock on the dash change minutes. "Twelve minutes? Go!"

Bette shot out of the car and into a small, women's, second-hand clothing store. Ozzy tried to watch her through the glass but it was hard to see past the mannequins.

Bette was a fury inside the store, she went to her size on a dress rack and grabbed ten of them and sped to a changing room. She took off her shirt and her pants but not her shoes. And threw on the first one: no, didn't fit in the chest. She peeled it off. She threw on the second one: no, bad color and it didn't zip up. She pulled it off. She put on the third. It was a knee length dress with some toole and a rockabilly feel. The straps were wide enough to cover her bra and there was smocking in the back that compensated for her large breasts. It was black with small, light blue polka dots on it and a light blue ribbon at the waist. Her shoes were low, black sequined chucks so the outfit worked. She grabbed her old clothes and ran to the counter. She ripped the tag off the dress and grabbed a pair of $2 vintage-looking sunglasses. She looked at the clock behind the counter, paid, grabbed her change and a bag with her old clothes in it, yelled, "I'm sorry about the mess, I'm on a first date." And ran out the door. She jumped into Ozzy's car and shut the door. "Did I make it in 12 minutes?" She was breathing heavily.

"Did you just sprint-shop?" He asked with genuine curiosity.

She pushed the sunglasses up to her hairline. "Only if I did it in 12 minutes."

He put the car into drive. "You were out in less than 10."

"Yes!" She buckled her seat belt. She opened her handbag, flipped down the mirror and reapplied her lipstick. She tried to push the wisps of hair off her face, but there was no stopping them after all the hair flips she had done earlier. She flipped the mirror back up and sat back. "Where are we going? We didn't have anything else planned."

"I thought of something while you were changing. One more thing I thought we could do before I took you home." Ozzy drove them to a county park. It was still well before Memorial Day, so the park was sparsely attended. "It's only about a five minute walk." He said. She took his hand and they started walking. "This has been great, not perfect, but super great. Nothing like I ever imagined it would be. The Sunday date is highly underrated, there's brunch, it's not too expensive, and everyone gets home at a reasonable time." Everything he said made her laugh, because it was all so sincere. "I didn't even get a good look at that dress on you." He extended their arms and gave her a twirl making the skirt flounce. "You're beautiful. Effortless. Another winner." He pulled her close and let go of her hand and put his arm around her shoulder. She wrapped her arm around his waist and held his back. "It's nice holding your hand but walking like this is better because I get to feel how close you are, I can kiss the top of your head, which I enjoy. And if I'm lucky, you might touch my butt or I might get a look down the front of your top." She laughed and gave him a playful pat on the chest. He took his hand out of his pocket and gestured with it. "But there's a point I'm getting to, I promise." They looked at each other. "It's true. It is going to be a lot of work. It's going to take time and it's not going to be easy. I mean, the song didn't even mention outside forces or storms or termites or rot or anything like that." The path curved and it came up to a bridge. He let go of her and turned to her with his back to the bridge. "But now, I don't think I can stop. Because this truss of trust has left too much at stake." He took a couple steps back. "So, I ask to..." he put out his hand. Bette started to take a step towards him, and he stepped back. She took another step forward and he took another step back. They kept going and Ozzy kept his eyes focused on her. They kept going and soon he was on the old, wooden foot bridge with arm rails that barely came up to his upper thigh. The drop under the bridge was at least 20 feet to the rapid-moving creek below. She knew full well that looking over the bridge would scare him. This was exactly the type of heights and lack of security he was talking about with his fear. With a few more steps from each of them, they were well onto the bridge at this point. He still had one hand out to her and one hand on the rail of the bridge. Sweat was beading around his forehead, he was breathing raggedly, and his hand out was beginning to shake. She tried to take another step and he stepped back.

"Ozzy stop!" And she rushed to him and they embraced each other.

"Bette, I didn't finish." They opened up their embrace. "I ask to build a bridge with you."

"Yes. Yes I do. I want to." She teared up and he touched his forehead to hers. He wiped the tear from her cheek with his thumb and she kissed the palm of his hand.

"This was it. This was the bridge," he said catching his breath.

"This one? Here in the park?" She asked.

"No. Here" He opened their embrace a little more. He took his other hand and traced the lines of their arms touching together between the two of their shoulders. "This was the bridge that inspired me. It isn't just you. It's you with me."

"Ozzy?" She took a few deep breaths.


"May I please kiss you?"

"Go. Go. Go. Go."

She pushed herself up onto her toes and tightened her grip around his shoulders. He pulled her waist tight to him and planted his mouth on hers. She slipped her lips open to take his lower lip in between hers. Ozzy slightly slicked his tongue over her lip then quickly ended it.

She looked at him with a short breath. "Jesus. How many first kisses can two people have?"

"By my count, four."

They opened up their embrace and walked back across the bridge down the path to the car. "How do you figure?"

He counted on his free hand as they walked. "One at the Christmas party when we were 13. The one a few weeks ago at my house. In the car today. And now is four."

"You wouldn't count yesterday or the day before at all?"

"Yesterday, there was some new kinds of kissing involved, but I wouldn't call it a first kiss."

"And via telecommunications?"

"Nah. I wouldn't count that either due to solo activities."

Bette smirked and let her hand give Ozzy's butt a little tap.

"Aww. You touched my butt. You really do care," he said happily and playfully while he squeezed her. "But there is a much more important topic I have to ask about." They looked at each other. "Tell me more about this dance class. Is it women only? Are guys allowed? Because I think there may be something there for me." Bette laughed. "Are there uniform requirements I will have to meet? Do I need to possess a certain level of flexibility?" She slipped her hand into his back pocket. "Will more questions get me more butt-touches? How will this affect our second date? Oh! Could we go to a class for our second date? There are endless possibilities!"

They got back to the car and got in. It was midafternoon. "I can't remember the last time I had such an unbelievable weekend," Bette said.

"Never. I have, genuinely, never had 48 hours like that. From the moment you grabbed those toothpicks out of the air, just great."

"There's only one thing that bums me out. The event center had probably five different photo booths and we didn't use one. Come to think of it, we don't have that many pictures of us at all, at least I don't."

Ozzy pulled into a gas station; they were only a couple blocks from her house. "Be back."

He was in and out in a minute when he got back in, he popped the new disposable camera from one hand into the other and handed it off to her and drove again. "There are usually four pictures on one of those photo booth strips, right?"

Bette opened the camera package. "Right."

"So what are four typical photos for those?"

"I guess because the pictures are usually separated in two. You want each person to get one sorta standard-nice one and then the other one which is either funny or silly or something else."

He pulled up in front of her house. "Put your window down and try to get close." He put his window down and angled himself with her. "See? We got ourselves a photo booth with no window glare." She had her hand on his shoulder and closed her eyes and leaned her forehead into him. She felt him tilt back. The camera clicked.

"I wasn't ready!" She said.

He spun the camera wheel. "It's okay. It's a first pancake. Remember?"

She was looking at him and she let out a breathy laugh with a genuine smile at him and he smiled back. His arm stretched and the camera clicked.

He spun the camera wheel. "You're too much, you know that?" She closed her eyes and kissed his cheek. The camera clicked.

He spun the camera wheel. "A funny face? Would you do the eyebrow thing?" She asked.

She made a weird shape with her lips and made her eyes really big. He held out the camera and clicked it.

"And that's four." He got out of the car and went to the other side to let her out. He opened the door and took her hand to help her out of the car.

"Such a gentleman. I didn't think the world made gentlemen anymore."

"We're not perfect, but we try."

"No. You try. Big difference." They got to her more commonly used side door.

"There's one more, a fifth." He said.

"A fifth picture."

"Yes. That and," he took her bags out of her hand and set them down. "A fifth first kiss." He pulled the camera back out of his pocket. "If I may?"

She nodded. He placed each of her hands. Her right hand on his left bicep and her left hand on his right shoulder. He spun the camera wheel in his right hand and held it out. His left arm met her right and he gently placed his fingers along her chin. They closed his eyes and kissed and the camera clicked. Ozzy's arm with the camera wrapped around Bette and lifted her slightly off the ground before opening his grip. After, she gave him another short kiss.

"I didn't want to ruin it-it's just that...after today; I don't think I'm ever going to be done kissing you."

He gave her a smile and slid the camera back into his pocket. He took her hand in both of his and kissed and it. "I'll see you tomorrow." He stepped back from her until she went inside. She went in and flipped a light switch even though it was still broad daylight. After he drove off, she still had to go back outside and get the bags she had left on the steps. She changed out of her new dress and called Jenna after her mom told her she had called, she answered.


"Hi Jen. It's Bee."

"Hey, What's up? I tried calling you earlier; your mom said you were out with Ozzy."

"Is that how she put it?"


Bette was quiet for a moment. "Yeah." She drew out the word as she said it. "You were right."

"About what?"

Bette spoke with a smile, "It was me. I was the one on the other side of Ozzy's river."

"So when your mom said you two were out, she didn't mean hanging out. She meant out out?"

"I just got home. It was very much a first date."

"Fuckin'-a Bette."

"You're telling me!"

"How did it happen?"

"I--It just kinda happened. And I suggested we go on a date to figure it out."

"That's it? That's all you're gonna say about it? Ozzy doesn't sing a song like that and you don't cry as a reaction and avoid talking about it if something isn't up."

"We talked. We had a couple fights. And we realized there was something more going on."

Jenna breathed into the phone. "Bette, come on. You're holding back. You told me about what happened with Pete all the shit with Keith and Jesse. What aren't you saying?"

"I'm sorry Jenna. This is different. I can't say. I won't say. I won't break his trust. I never have. I promised him that a long time ago."

"Alright then. I think I can handle that. Can you at least tell me about what happened today?"

Bette grew a big grin. "Oh yeah."

The next few weeks for Bette and Ozzy were low kindling flames. For as well as they knew each other, they took their relationship slow. They weren't having sex. They hardly did more than kiss. They continued to keep their dates formal and romantic like their first. They would get some food, do some activity, end it with a kiss, and go home. They both had jobs that got busier in spring. Bette continued to work at the local museum. It got busier in the spring time on weekends. She tried to work more Saturdays than Sundays so she could use them for school work and spending time with Ozzy. He tried to do the same, but it was hard. He worked with lawn care company early in the morning and Darrah could arrange the schedule for him to stock shelves at the grocery store in the evening and it let him save a lot of money away. The museum schedule for Bette was fairly fixed because of the museum's hours and pre-scheduled events, so she was often more available for him than he was for her. They made an effort to make Sunday afternoons their time together. Bette had him over for badminton on a nice day, which was their date that day. Her parents were hanging out laundry on the clothesline while they were playing. When they went inside to get something to drink, he asked her if they always make out like he saw when hanging up socks, she assured him, they do.

The two of them made sure to take off the whole weekend of work when he asked her to the prom. Lorna took her shopping and Bette found a dress. A halter style- dress, knee length in red with sporadic red sequins on it that reminded her a little of Marilyn Monroe in 'Seven Year Itch.' Lorna suggested she get a crinoline for it, but Bette didn't want one. She did put on a pair of her red short-shorts from her dance class underneath. She was ready to put on a show on the dance floor, but not an X-rated show. She bought tie-up ankle boots instead of dress heels that pushed her up to 5'9" with a thick rubber heel and platform and stuck cushioned insoles in them. She wanted to be taller to be closer to Ozzy, but she also wanted to wear a boot that would be comfortable enough to dance in all night. She had her hair styled in a basket weave pattern back out of her face, but her hair fell freely back so she could flip and throw it while she danced. Ozzy picked her up late that afternoon in a black tux with a black metallic vest and black satin tie. John and Lorna took all the classic pictures of them pinning on the boutineer and putting on the corsage in front of the blossoming crab apple tree in the yard. Bette insisted that at least a few silly ones get taken, so he picked her up for a piggyback ride and ran her up and down the yard. After the prom, Jenna was having some people over, including them, because John and Lorna knew Jenna and her parents so well, and Bette had told Lorna how slow she and Ozzy had been taking their courtship, they approved of Bette going to an overnight party in mixed company with Ozzy. She grabbed her purse and her overnight bag and the pair headed out.

Ozzy started driving and Bette checked her face in the flip down mirror. "Ugh. I hope those pictures turn out, I swear, my face is as red as my dress."

"You must be joking. You look gorgeous. I don't think I've ever seen you in this much red before."

"I never think of red being my best color. I always wear earth tones and black. Those are my best colors."

"You could wear a ball gown, a baseball uniform, or a potato sack, you would still look beautiful."

She looked down and up and over to him again, "What about you? I haven't seen you in a suit since...Halloween. 8th grade. You gangster. You look hot. I caught a whiff of your aftershave during that piggyback ride, I swear, I almost bit you." She reached over and gave his shoulder and arm a squeeze. "I swear, you need an excuse to wear a suit or a tux all the time, I would lose my mind."

"You think so?"

"Oh hell yeah! It's such a good look on you. Truth finally be told. When I saw you in that suit at the dance in 8th grade and you spun, I remember I caught a whiff of you. MPHF! I'm pretty sure I popped my first lady-boner."

Ozzy took a deep breath as he came to the red light. He reached out to her hand, leaned over, pulled her into him, held the side of her face and kissed her. He started slow, but then his lips slicked open and she felt his intensity and she wanted it. They kissed each other passionately and she sighed. They kissed until the car behind them honked and Ozzy quickly stopped, seeing the green light and kept driving. He hadn't kissed her like that since they last made love and he left her aroused. "Where did--" she gulped. "Where did that come from?"

He cleared his throat and adjusted how he sat. "I was making up for lost time."

She smiled. "You throw a kilt in there too, and I'll give you all the time in the world."

Ozzy breathed a laugh. "I always wondered if those were comfortable."

"That security guard at work, Sean, he wears one sometimes. He loves wearing 'em. He got approval to wear one as part of the uniform. You can wear one with anything. A t-shirt, It's part of a military uniform, or formal wear. It's a no-lose situation."

"Not sure I got the legs for it."

"I can assure you, you do."

The pair met with Jenna and Greyson at a restaurant. The two went as friends and the four of them had been looking forward to it. Jenna wore a lavender gown and Greyson wore a grey tuxedo with a lavender vest and bow tie to match her. Greyson had a good camera and took lots of pictures.

When the plates were cleared, Greyson and Jenna shared a glance and Jenna asked, "Are you two going to tell us how this really happened?" She pointed to Bette and Ozzy sitting close with his arm around the back of her chair.

They looked at each other and Bette started make weird faces and fumbled over her words. "There's not much to say. It just happened."

"That's what you said before. What does that mean?" Asked Jenna.

"Three words does not constitute an explanation." said Greyson.

Bette looked up at Ozzy and shrugged. "I don't have a better way of putting it."

"We were doing homework, I kissed her, we went on a date, we've been dating. End of story," Ozzy said it plainly and made it sound so easy; even though the process had been difficult and satisfying.

Jenna looked over to Bette, "But you said something about a fight or something, right?"

"I think we disagreed on what we wanted to call what we doing what we were doing," he knew just the right thing to say, it was just enough.

"We know where each other’s bodies are buried. It was a different perspective for us. It was a big decision. We didn't make it lightly."

"You sure?" asked Greyson with a smirk.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jenna asked.

"She knows." Ozzy pulled Bette into a lean and kissed her above her temple. "She knows I always liked her. It wasn't a big leap for me."

"Aww," said Jenna.

"That's because he's so tall. I sometimes have to take three steps for every one he does. A leap for him might as well be pole vaulting for me," Bette joked.

"Is there any pole vaulting happening?" Greyson asked.

Ozzy gave Greyson a look of derision and threw a napkin ring at him. "We're taking our time. It's only been a month."

"It's been nearly five years, Oz. Elephants gestate in two." said Greyson.

"Good thing he's not knocking up an elephant then. Isn't it, Grey?" Bette joked.

"You know what I mean." Greyson replied.

"It's been a month for us." She looked over to Ozzy. "I think it happened at the right time."

Ozzy took his hand off the back of her chair and wrapped his hand on the side of her face. She turned her face in his and kissed his palm. "She's right. I wouldn't have been ready for her any sooner."

"I wasn't either." They looked at each other with an endearing gaze.

Jenna and Greyson exchanged glances and looked at Bette and Ozzy's open affection for each other. "Fuck. I'm never going to get laid." Jenna said.

Bette and Ozzy turned to her.

"Don't worry about it." said Greyson turning his straw in his Sprite. "People like us get so much more ass in college anyways."

The four of them laughed.

They got to the prom and the music was loud and fun. The room glowed with a haze of orange, yellow, and green neon glow sticks on all the table centerpieces. The theme was 'nightclub' and it was tacky at best. Bette didn't care about the theme; she cared about dancing and having a good time with Ozzy. Bette and Ozzy went to have their formal pictures taken and the line in front of them was five or six couples long, and they were all doing basic side-by-side poses. The final couple was posing for their picture and Bette and Ozzy looked at each other and she gave him a little head shake. She tilted her head to have him lean over and whispered in his ear. Ozzy smiled and nodded. They stood in front of the backdrop of faux club doors with red velvet ropes and red carpet. The backdrop actually matched their outfits nicely. The photographer began to give them directions on how to pose. Bette slid an arm up his shoulder and he matched wrapping her around her back. The photographer said it looked good, then to hold hands, but they ignored him. Ozzy swept his other arm under the bottom of her dress and picked her up in his arms. She pointed one leg straight out and let the other hang with a pointed toe. With her outer arm, she gracefully took hold of his lapel. The two of them were grinning ear to ear. The photographer counted off one, two, three, and snapped the photo. They laughed, looked at each other, and then set her down. They walked out of the photo area with his arm around her shoulder and her arm around his back. When she thought no one was looking, she gave his butt a tap. In return, he squeezed her, and kissed the top of her head. She looked up at him and pushed her shoulders back slightly, he tilted his head a little, raised his eyebrow, and took a peak down the front of her dress and they gave each other another laugh before going to dance.

The night went on with dancing and great fun with all of their friends. Ozzy quickly ditched his jacket and tie. Bette whispered in his hear how hot he looked with the little bit of chest hair peeking out. He picked her up and she happily mashed her face into his chest and squealed. The DJ played "Zoot Suit Riot" by Cherry Poppin' Daddies; they remembered their old swing dancing steps from middle school. Ozzy spun Bette and made her circle skirt fly. He picked her up, holding her legs around his waist and did a big, circular dip with her. When he saw her face, he could see he had given her the biggest thrill.

When the DJ played "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, it was the first time they had ever slow danced before and it made Bette blush. It made her think of the first time he had made love to her. I was wrong. This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and heard. Even with the heels, he was still so tall. She had her left hand on his upper arm, his right hand was on her back; and they held hands. She closed her eyes and brought his hand into her and kissed it. He opened his grip around her hand and his fingers caressed her face. She felt the little bit of pressure his fingers put under her chin. She opened her eyes and looked up at him. He had a soft smile on his face, little white lights jumped off his face as the disco balls turned behind her on the ceiling. He leaned into her and kissed her.

"The most beautiful thing I've ever seen," she said.

"Yes you are," he said.

"No. You." She had an ingenuousness looking up at him.

Ozzy laughed.

"Those big sweet cheeks, that fabulous smile, pristine skin, and your eyes."

"Brown eyes are so boring," he tried dismissing her.

"Not yours. Yours have gold rings on the outside and you have a way of looking at me like no one ever has before. I've never noticed how powerful eyes can be on a man until you. You really are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

Ozzy giggled and genuinely looked flattered.

"I'm just sorry I couldn't think of something more original to say than what you said and then during a song called 'Beautiful.' I hope you know I truly mean it."

He took tight hold of her back and dipped her until her back was parallel to the floor, "You never could lie to me. I didn't think you could start there." He kissed her until he lifted her upright again.

Ozzy was taking a break at a table with Tylor, the Ricks, and their dates while Bette, Jenna, Greyson, Katie and some others were dancing. Bette looked over at Ozzy and could see him smiling, talking, and laughing. Bette stopped Jenna and whispered to her and pointed to an open spot on the dance floor near a corner. Jenna's face grew a big grin. Jenna whispered to Greyson and he laughed and looked to Bette. She nodded with a big grin on her face at him. He mouthed 'Okay.' Bette went to her purse and discretely grabbed her cash. She went to the DJ table and wrote out a request. She got his attention and flashed him the $20 and handed him the request. She asked him a couple questions and pointed to a couple spots. He told her what song to listen for. She smiled and thanked him. Bette ran back to Jenna and gave her the info and the signal. Bette's heart started pounding when she heard Kid Rock's "Cowboy" come on; she had less than four and a half minutes. She got Ozzy to come back to the dance floor to the corner. She had a guilty pleasure for the song because there was a line that said the word 'bet' in it, but it sounded like the song said her name. She stared Ozzy down as she danced and had fun with it. During the piano interlude she pulled him close and said, "When this song ends, you're going to want to be right there, and so will everyone else." He had a confused look on his face. As the song's final lines began to repeat, Bette, Jenna, and Greyson each grabbed a banquet chair and sat a five feet away from each other in a row in the emptier corner of the dance floor.

The DJ started hit a spot light on the three of them and started to play "Lady Marmalade" by Mya, Pink, Lil Kim, & Christina Aguilera. Bette, Jenna, and Greyson sat in various poses on their chairs snapping in sync with the song. Ozzy's jaw dropped and heads started turning to see a spotlight hitting the three of them. They stood and began the dance in a synchronized manor. They performed the first Mya verse in a similar manor. They had slight variations for their skill sets. During the first chorus, more people started watching them. Ozzy made sure people were back far enough so they could fully perform. For the second verse featuring Pink, Jenna pulled her chair forward and did a solo dance different than Greyson and Bette. Greyson and Bette did similar dances on their chairs in the back, but Jenna's solo was more refined, more styled, and sharper. During the chorus they changed positions again. They pushed their chairs back and Greyson took the center of the three of them and did a tighter, different choreographed dance during the that verse than what Bette and Jenna did behind him on either side. By this point, more people were watching the three of them than dancing to the song. Cameras were flashing and people were cheering them on. A few people actually balled up dollar bills and threw them at them, Tylor was one of them. Bette watched Ozzy and Tylor's face in pure shock at Greyson's talents. He was flexible, bold, full of rhythm, and sexy. He wasn't the dry, flat guy that they had known for years. Greyson was alive, and Lil' Kim was his goddess. After his solo, they transitioned in the chorus, and Bette took the front-center for the Christina Aguilera verse. She did the same dance she had done for Ozzy in the karaoke room, but in that red dress, platform heels, on a dance floor not carpet, she was better, bolder, sharper, and hotter. Greyson and Jenna did an accompanying dance that wasn't quite as bold or flashy as what Bette did, but that was the point. They each had their moment to shine before they got to the final verse and chorus when they came together and did more synchronized dance moves as the song came to an end. There were more camera flashes and the three of them hugged during the applause. Greyson picked up the cash.

Ozzy applauded his friends with the same jaw-dropping smile he had for Bette when she had performed for him alone. He picked her up and hugged her. "You three are unbelievable!"

"I told you I wasn't the best one in the class!" She laughed.

"What possessed you to do that?"

"It was you."

The DJ played "Underneath Your Clothes" by Shakira and they started slow dancing again, but with a little more sway.

"Me? I didn't do that. I couldn't have. That was all you," he chuckled.

"Yes. That, the dance. That was me. The wild streak, that's me too. I've spent all year embracing that. The Powerful Lady is here to stay; she's not hiding any more. I learned that in the last year but I didn't have my power when I learned it, so it didn't mean anything. Then on July fourth, you had me get my power back at Pebble Lake and I've been charging myself up ever since. Then a few songs ago, I saw you taking a break with the Tylor and the Ricks, and it was as if there was this last little sheen around me. This little bubble-like film: the hiding, the privacy. She doesn't need to be private anymore. She's given up what people think. No more. This is me. Fuck anyone who can't handle it."

He kissed her hairline and smiled at her. "See. I told you. It was all you. It's always been you. You didn't need me."

"We've had times where we were close and times where we weren't. But Ozzy, I always needed you."

He held her tight and whispered in her ear. "I always needed you too."

It was after 1:15 AM at Jenna's after prom party. Katie had fallen asleep in Jenna's room. Tylor had already famously crashed on the floor like he always did. Jenna and Greyson were sitting on bar stools in the back kitchenette talking quietly. Bette and Ozzy were on the couch. He was taking advantage of the large size of it and stretched out on it. Bette was on one end had the recliner feature popped up for herself. Ozzy's head was on a pillow resting on her legs and tucked under a twin-sized blanket. The movie on the TV was "10 Things I Hate About You." They had all seen it, so no one cared too much about watching or not watching it. Ozzy was half asleep from Bette running her fingers through his crunchy, gelled hair. She looked down at him and smiled.

She spoke softly into his ear, "Ozzy?"


Every time she spoke, she leaned forward and spoke into his ear, "Two truths and a lie?"

"You can't beat me at two truths and a lie." His voice was barely a mutter from how tired he was. He didn't even open his eyes.

"I think it'll still be fun for you."


"I am a gigantic sasquatch monster."

His eyes remained closed and he breathed a laugh.

"I want to be your girlfriend."

Ozzy's eyes popped open to see her tenderly smiling down on him. "What's the third?"

"I'm in love with you."

Ozzy smiled. "You're serious?" She nodded and smiled in the same gentle way after they had first made love. "I can't believe it."

"You know it's true." She ran her fingers through his hair.

"I know it is, but somehow I still can't believe it." His smile grew large. "A gigantic sasquatch monster loves me." He reached up to the side of her face to pull her in and she leaned into him and kissed him. Her lips found her favorite spot on his lower lip around his freckle. She gave him a couple more short pecks and they smiled at each other. "I love you Bette."

"I love you Ozzy."

"How long have you been a gigantic sasquatch monster? And will that have an effect on someone of your species being my girlfriend?"

She let out a hushed laugh, "The monster thing comes and goes. But it should have no effect on us being together." She kissed his forehead.

Ozzy adjusted on the couch and turned to his side, lifting the blanket. He patted the narrow spot on the couch in front of him. She put the recliner back down and got up. Ozzy moved on the couch and put the pillow at the arm of the couch. Bette laid down next to him, facing him with her face a little below his. His arm was out below her neck and the pillow was angled just right so they could both use it. They both wiggled and adjusted to find comfort. The blanket barely covered them, but they kept each other warm. Though the couch was long enough for Ozzy's height, it wasn't as deep as the one in his basement and they made do.

"Are you comfortable?" She asked.

"We could be like this on a sinking ship and I'd be comfortable." Her hands and arms were bunched up together in front of his chest, her hands tucked below her face, and his other arm was wrapped around her back holding her close. She lifted her chin and he lowered his to her. They shared a slow, deep, passionate kiss. Bette ran her fingers along his jaw afterward.

"I love you," She whispered.

"I love you," He whispered back.

He gave her another squeeze before they fell asleep.

Bette and Ozzy woke up early, before everyone else, a little before seven AM. Jenna was in her room with Katie and Greyson had fallen asleep on the other couch. The two of them made their way upstairs to the kitchen where Jenna's parents had bought bagels and cream cheese for them. They both prepared their own. Bette grabbed one more Diet Coke and Ozzy grabbed one more Mountain Dew. They left a note thanking them for hosting them and saying they didn't want to wake them when they got up, quietly got their stuff from downstairs and left. It was a cool, dewy morning as Ozzy made the half-mile drive to their neighborhood.

"Did you sleep okay?" Ozzy asked.

"Yeah. I was pretty tired after everything yesterday. I had such a good time with you. Did you sleep alright? I can't imagine you were able to move much or anything."

"I don't think I've ever had a better night of sleep," he said it through a yawn. "But that doesn't mean I won't be taking a nap later."

She reached over to him and touched his arm. They were pulling up to her block and Ozzy put on the turn signal. "My parents aren't expecting me until between 11 and noon."

He stopped at the intersection. The turn signal continued to click. They were the only car sitting there. He looked over at her hand and his eyes followed to the rest of her in her track pants, t-shirt, and zip up hoodie, her hair was still styled from the night before. She had a tight-lipped smile on her face and a spark in her eye. "Darrah had to open today." He glanced at the clock on the dash. "She's already gone by now."

"Do you want to go?"

He turned off the turn signal, "Let's go." He drove straight up the avenue the last few blocks to his house. She grabbed her overnight bag from the car and they went inside. They kept exchanging glances and every time they got close to each other, their hands passed over each other's backs or arms. She went into his bathroom and brushed her teeth. He still kept his bathroom sink pristine so she made sure she left it for him the same way. When they met each other at the pocket door between his bedroom and his bathroom, he already had his shirt off. He she stopped him by putting a hand on his chest in his hair, he let her push him into the door frame, and kissed him along his collar bone. He ran his hands into the back of her down hair in the back and kissed her forehead, and gently pulled her back, "We have time." He stepped away and brushed his teeth. She went back into his room and took off her hoodie, t-shirt, and socks. She waited impatiently on the bed. She heard him finish brushing his teeth, but he didn't come back in the room immediately. She heard him turn on the shower and the sound of the shower rings and curtain go back and forth on the bar. Bette saw one of Ozzy's pens on a table, used it to twist her hair into a bun to hold it in place. She went back into the bathroom, undressed, and pulled back the curtain.

"I'm making up for lost time," and she got in the shower with him.

Ozzy smiled, taking her in his hands, pushing her body through the water and holding her back against the wall of the shower.

"Cold!" she yipped. "Cold wall!"

"Sorry." They both had a bit of a laugh.

"I also want to try and keep my hair dry."

"I think we can manage that."

She stepped to the back part of the tub while he bent under the shower head and rinsed off. She looked around and saw he had a neutral scented body wash and used it. She reached out for some water, created a lather with his luffa and scrubbed herself over with white bubbles. "Would you get my back when you're done with your hair?" She asked holding out the luffa to him with her back to him.

"Do you know how many times you said that to me in my dreams?"

She turned around and pressed the luffa into her chest with a sexy smile. The bubbles effervesced and cascaded down her body. "Did it look like this?"

He took heavy breaths looking at her while she continued to squeeze the luffa over herself in various poses until it was out of bubbles.

"Better than I ever imagined." He reached back and unclipped the shower head. He stared at her with the same intensity as when he first took off his belt the first time they made love. She had a feeling of what he was going to do, but she didn't know how he was going to do it. "I had this installed after I hit six feet." He reached out and pulled her into him and started rinsing her off. He cleared the spot on her shoulder and neck and planted his mouth on her. She grasped his sides, tilted her head back, and let the warm water wash over her. She started to shift her hands down, but he gave her a half spin and held her close with his left arm under her breasts. "Not me, not yet." He clicked the handheld shower head from the spray, to the massage pulse. She reached her left arm back and held the back of his neck. She rested her other arm on his forearm. He whispered in her ear, "Tell me what it's like. How you like it. Everything." He moved the pulsing water of the shower head over her groin.

She gasped, "There. Back a little. Yes." She sighed. "You're warm and ah, ah, mmh. And it's good, like when-when-when you did it. When you went do-ow-own on me. Oh! It's--ah. Hold me tighter!"

He gave her a yank, and she was balancing on the balls of her feet. "Keep talking," he growled. His head was firmly against hers and his lips grazed her ear when he spoke. "Like the time on the phone."

She spoke through moans and sighs, "It's better than--than when I--mmh-- do it myself. Ah! Cause--cause it's you. Kiss my neck." His mouth opened wide around her and he kissed her from her ear to her hairline to the back of her neck to her shoulder and back again. "It feels--feels bigger when you--ah,--you do it. Oh! It's more--more intense. I-ah-I can't-I can't do it the way you can. Oh! No one--no one has. I'm close! Yes! Ozzy! Ah!" Her climax blazed through her causing her body to ripple in his arms. She gripped the back of his neck and his forearm and her knees buckled putting her weight all in his arms, but he held her tight. The water pressure felt good until one pulse too many hit her and it started to hurt. She took a sharp breath in through her teeth. "Stop." She pushed his hand holding the shower head away. She panted as he gave her soft kisses on her neck and shoulder and found her bearings under her feet again.

"Beautiful." He loosened his grip around her ribs and she turned around to see him. He clicked the shower head back from the massage-pulse setting to the regular shower setting and gave himself another rinse over with a smile on his face. "Are you finished? I mean, I know you finished, but are you done in here? Because I'm only getting started."

A couple hours later, Ozzy and Bette were laying in his bed in a daze they had caused each other's bodies. He was lying back and she was sitting up massaging his hand and forearm with both of her hands.

"I would say I'm glad we waited, but we didn't exactly wait, did we?" Bette asked.

"Yes and no. But I know what you mean. Those first couple times were pretty great though. No bad first pancake," Ozzy answered, emphasizing the 'c' and 'k' sounds in pancake.

"You don't think all the issues we had along with those first two times were bad pancakes?" She asked again.

"Those were issues. I mean sex-pancakes." He was lighthearted but honest as always.

She laughed. "'Sex-Pancakes.' There's a name for your band."

"It's not a bad name. The big problem is finding a drummer who isn't in three bands already and a bassist who doesn't want to quit every week because we quote 'don't take him seriously creatively.'" He said the last part in a mocking tone.

She switched hands and started massaging his other hand and forearm. "Do you take your bassists serious creatively?"

"Rick M: I did. Rick S: I didn't."

"Why was that?"

"Rick S couldn't write a decent song to save his life. Too whiny."

"And you're the end all, be all when it comes to song writing?' She tried not to be too snarky when she said it.

"I know garbage when I hear it. I know beauty when I hear it."

As soon as he said it something clicked in her head. "Wait." She stopped massaging his hand and looked at him. "'Hear beauty' or 'beautiful' or 'most beautiful thing I've heard.' You said those things when we've been physical or when I've had an orgasm. Is that why you wanted me to talk in the shower?"

He looked up at her and shrugged. "I'm listening for inspiration. It worked before. 'Bridge' came from you."

Her face softened, "I want to say 'I can't believe it.' With anyone else I would, but, it's you. I know it's true."

Ozzy took his hand out of hers and rolled to the side of the bed. He opened a drawer by the floor and pulled out a spiral notebook with a pen in it and plopped it on her lap. "Here's proof. Start from about ten pages back from the last folded corner page. Take a look."

She started flipping pages. He kissed her arm once and stroked it with the back of his fingers as she read. She found the page with 'Bridge' written on it. There were lots of scribbles and crossed out lines and alternate lyrics. There were notes of guitar tabs that she recognized but didn't understand. She turned the page to see a song partially written called 'Silence' dated a few days after 'Bridges' but it had a big X over the whole thing. The page after that had one called 'Stop Stop' which was only partially written and had another big X over it. Below it there was one called 'Paper Hope' that was short and was more of a poem and less of a song. There were no guitar tabs with it. She turned the page and there was one dated the night of the talent show called 'Light in Darkness,' but it was unfinished with a bunch of question marks and rhyming words in the margins. There was one written the next day, the day they had phone sex called 'Wild Power.' That one had guitar tabs, doodles of lightning bolts, and was more detailed in development than 'Bridge' looked. The next one was dated the same day as their first date called 'Seein' Spots.' That one was also more developed with tabs and had little circles and dots doodled around the page. There were more pages with more songs written over the last month.

"Ozzy, this is wonderful. I--I don't feel worthy of this. On so many levels I don't. You got this, all this, from me?"

He flipped back to the page that had 'Bridge' on it and pointed to a line with an alternate lyric. He sang the lyric to her, "When I hear her voice and every sound she makes." He smiled up at her. "I'm looking for the next idea. 'Keep talking.' 'I want to hear your voice.' 'More.' It's why I said those things when we had phone sex and in the shower. Sometimes you say or do the right thing and it strikes me. You, your voice, always has."

She lowered herself in the bed and kissed him. "I still don't feel worthy. I can't believe I didn't see you. I'm sorry I took so long." She wrapped her arm over his chest and rested under his arm.

"We're here now. To be able to love you hand have you love me too, my friend, my muse," he began to chuckle, "and have you here naked. 'Worth the wait' doesn't begin to describe it." He ran his fingers down her back.

She beamed and ran her hand across his body. "I always felt so quiet and you heard me. I was invisible and you saw me. Since all the way back from that first walk home from puzzle club. I thought I was so smart. I was such a fool." She adjusted her lower arm and found a comfortable position. With the arm across his chest, she rested her hand to feel his heartbeat.

"No. Before that."

"It couldn't have been a time in gym class, could it? I was such a mess." She was a little baffled.

"You were a pretty mess. But before that."

She furrowed her brow in confusion and propped herself up look at him again. "When was it?"

Ozzy adjusted an arm behind his head. "'Here.'"

Bette was thoroughly baffled, "That doesn't make sense. I didn't come to your--"

"No." He shook his head. "That was the first thing you said to me. First day of school. Mrs. Worth's class. We were seated alphabetically by last name. I had been getting books and papers passed to me all day. You were the only one who turned around to hand me something. You were the only one who said something to me in class. You let the paper fall out of your hand onto my desk and you handed me the rest. You looked at me and said, 'Here.' That was when. Your hair flew as you turned around and I could smell your shampoo. I barely got out the word 'Thanks' when I got a good look at you. You were so pretty and showed me an ounce of kindness in a place where I knew no one. We were 12 and it was enough for me to see and hear to know that I was head over heels for you."

"Oz." She kissed him quickly. "So when Greyson said last night it had been five years?"

"He always knew. No...That's not completely right. I did talk to Tylor on the first day. He sat across from me in English and I told him I liked his t-shirt and I had a similar one. I asked to sit with him at lunch. It's how I met him and Greyson. It took a couple weeks to trust Grey and I told him I noticed you. He told me you had been bullied, so you kept close to a few people. When I heard you talk about Puzzle club, I thought I would have a chance to talk to you. When I did, that's when I truly saw who you were. I don't know how I knew it, but I knew we needed to be friends, that we were going to be. Even if I had other feelings for you too, I needed to be your friend. And I needed friends badly. I can't imagine the last four years of school without you three. Tylor has been by best buddy, but Greyson knows the secrets I couldn't tell you. I couldn't tell Tylor what I thought of you; he would have blabbed."

"Greyson's your Jenna. She knows the secrets I couldn't tell you." She chuckled.

"I guess so."

"Remind me never to play cards with Greyson. He has a better poker face than you." She kissed him innocently causing a memory to come back to her. "Wait a sec. Cassandra's Christmas party? You liked me then? Was that why Greyson cheered on the dare for us to kiss?"

"You did not see the look I gave him. I was ready to kill him when he said it. I thought everyone would have noticed and no one did."

"And Cassandra?"

"A distraction." He said it dismissively. "I think I was hoping you'd get jealous. But when you're 13 and any girl is willing to touch you, you take what you can get."

"I was such an idiot. You are so sweet. You always were." She saw the alarm clock and comically draped herself over him; it was 10:30 AM. She groaned. "No! I don't want to go home yet! I want to keep talking about when we were young and stupid. I don't want to put pants on and work on my English paper. Ugh!"

"I don't want to do laundry and my Environmental Science homework. Doing this," he playfully tapped her butt, "would be better."

She reacted to the slap with a laugh and a little grunt. "You do that again and you might have to." He laughed and gave her another light tap on her butt. She let out a short moan, "I'm not kidding. Don't start what you can't finish."

He raised his eyebrow and reached for the box of condoms. "I think we've established I've learned how to finish you."

The last few weeks of school went by in a blur. Summer became busy quickly. Bette and Ozzy arranged their work schedules for Tuesday to be their day off and their time together. Her other day off was usually Monday or Wednesday; his was usually Thursday or Friday. They made great times of their June Tuesdays. There was a day they went on a picnic and Ozzy played guitar for her and sang some of the songs from his notebook and covers of rock songs. Another day they went to an outdoor recreation store and bought a hammock that would support their weight together and tied it up in the trees in Ozzy's back yard. It was big, flat, and strong and they were able to lie in it comfortably together without incident. They played yard games in the afternoons at her house. They could drive, but for old times’ sake, they would ride their bikes places for fun. They were best friends who were madly in love and having a great time together.

July 4th was a Friday. The museum closed that day as was Ozzy's landscaping company. He did some shelf stocking in the morning for Aunt Darrah at the grocery store, but by noon, the day was theirs. They drove to Pebble Lake. Most people preferred Sandy Lake because it was bigger and usually warmer. Bette and Ozzy liked Pebble Lake better because it was their youth. They parked in the main lot and walked past the main park and beach where there were a couple dozen people. They made their way down the path the eight minute walk to wear the right break in the trees were and hiked off the path down the hillside. At the base of the hillside was another hard rock way that hadn't eroded to pebbles that lead to the lesser known beach of Pebble Lake. The beach they always went to as kids. Only four other people were there and that was how it always was, there were never more than ten people at that beach anytime they were there; often times, they and their friends were the only ones. They set up their chairs in a shady spot under some trees further away from where the other people were set up in the sunshine. Ozzy helped her apply another layer of SPF 50 to her back and they happily swam, played, and talked for hours. When the evening came and they had the opportunity to watch fireworks together, they didn't care or want to; they just wanted to be together. They wanted to make up for lost time. Darrah had gone to a girlfriend's house party for the evening. Bette and Ozzy were welcome to come but they didn't want to. When they went back to his house, the neighborhood was empty; everyone had gone out to watch the fireworks. She suggested they try having sex the way they had talked about during phone sex and were both excited about it, but she found it was uncomfortable, more so painful and was disappointed it didn't work. When they tried a different position afterwards, she found she was still hurting from the first try and felt awful for not being able to be there for him sexually that night and wasting the condom. But Ozzy was understanding. Things aren't always going to be perfect, he told her. That night they ended up only making out, and it was still pleasing for both of them.

The next week she surprised him by making a large payment on his layaway purchase for a new guitar and amp without telling him. When he went in to make his next payment and they found out he only had a small payment left and she was the one who paid it, the next Tuesday they got together he went down on her twice that day to thank her. Another day, she was getting done with work one day and he was able to pick her up from work and take her home instead of having to take the city bus. They got ice cream and made out before he had to go stock shelves that night. Late July, her parents took her on vacation to see relatives to see some relatives and they weren't able to see each other. She tried calling him when she thought he would be home, but they only connected a couple times while she was gone. It was unfortunate, but they were anticipating not being able to see each other or talk much.

When she got back from her family trip and they got to see each other on their Tuesday after Bette's parents had left for work. He surprised her by wearing a new black utili-kilt. She looked him square in the face and said, "I'm gonna ride you like a bull," before bringing him into the house to her room. He began to take off the kilt and she told him to stop, to keep it on. He asked her if she would put on the boots from prom and wear a spaghetti strap tank top and she did. She had him take off his boxer-briefs, lift the kilt and she held on to his belt during sex. She wore the same boots and tank top with a knee length skirt when they left the house and he couldn't stop running his fingers under the strap when he stopped at red lights and stop signs. That day they went to a center of specialty shops. There was a music store that sold sheet music and accessories where the Ozzy liked the knowledgeable staff and he had gotten to know them over the years. They went to a store that had paintings, pottery, stained glass, and more made by collective of artists. It was a store that Bette's parent's bought several pieces from for themselves and as gifts for other people over the years. When they walked out, Ozzy told her that she lit up when she talked about it. They walked through the glass ceiling plaza of the shopping center and the sun shone down on them. They put their sunglasses on. Bette could see people giving Ozzy looks of judgment for his kilt. After years of teasing and bullying, she recognized the look, even from total strangers.

She spoke softly, "Ozzy, I need you to kiss me. Right now."

"Sure." He gave her a quick peck on the lips.

"No. We have an audience." She lowered her sunglasses and pointed across the plaza with her eyes. She saw her own reflection in his silver aviators; she couldn't see his eyes. "Give 'em a show, rock star." She smiled slyly when she took a grip of the front of his shirt.

His raised eyebrow appeared from behind his sunglasses, "Love to." He wrapped his hand around her head and kissed her slow and long but fairly innocently.

She still held the front of his shirt tight when she lowered her chin, "Are they still looking?" she asked.

"Nope." He said as he adjusted his sunglasses.

"I figured if they're going to look, we should give them a real show." She pushed the vintage sunglasses up to her hairline like a headband.

"You keep that up, in those boots; the people will get a show. One from me at least." Ozzy adjusted how he stood and cleared his throat.

"Hmmm-No, they won't. See?" She straightened and flattened the front of his shirt, giving him a gentle push to stand up straight. "You not only have the legs for the kilt, you got a great build for it. No one can see you. It's a benefit of how they're made to be worn."

Ozzy made a face of surprised understanding looking down at her and himself in the kilt. "I may never wear jeans again."

As they walked in and out of stores they heard a familiar voice, "Ozzy? What are you wearing? Is that a skirt?" It was Norman. Though Ozzy had been getting some looks, Norman was the first person who said something to him.

They turned around hand in hand to see their classmate. "No, Norm. It's a kilt. It's actually quite comfortable," said Ozzy.

"Why isn't it plaid? It looks like a skirt." Norm said condescendingly.

"When you say plaid, you mean Tartan and those represent families and specific parts of the culture. Ozzy's wearing a utili-kilt; it's for anyone to wear." Bette corrected him.

"Anyone? As in guys and girls?" Norm continued to condescend.

"Yep. Just like t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers," said Ozzy dismissing his question.

"Yeah, but how many other dudes do you know who wear skirts?'

Bette touched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "You know what Norm? Fine. Keep going. Keep it up. Have a laugh." She took a step towards him, let go of Ozzy, put one hand on her waist, and gestured tightly with her other hand. "We can go back and forth like this all day, but eventually Ozzy or myself is going to snap and who would you rather it be? The guy who's big enough to kill you by ripping you in half or his girlfriend who had the power to give Jason Kaye no dick and make shit-bag Brock cry? Which is it? Which would you prefer?" Her tone was sharp and clear without yelling at him. Ozzy crossed his arms behind her and flexed his biceps.

"I would rather..." Norman's sentence trailed off as he walked away from them quickly without apology.

She turned back around to see Ozzy's hardened face and stance melt for her. She jumped and wiggled in satisfaction. He hugged her, "You are my powerful, wild lady."

"And you are my Highland man." She squeezed him extra hard and grunted. "I would ask you to never take that kilt off, but I have to sleep sometime."

"I'll be there in your dreams like you've been in mine." He kissed the top of her head.

They kept shopping. Ozzy brought her to the Celtic shop. They separated in the store and checked out their products. She checked out the CDs, some had songs she had heard of, many she had not. She checked out the tankards with various symbols and animals etched into them. She felt the fuzzy wool sweaters and scarves even though it was early August. She spun the key ring rack that had last names and family coats of arms on them. The rack didn't have a spot for the last name 'Wheelan,' at least not her spelling of it. She appreciated the history and the beauty of the culture even though she didn't know a lot about it. As far as she knew, Lorna's family was Dutch-English; John's family was Irish-German. She had heard more about John's German side and Lorna's Dutch side of the family. She glanced across the store and saw Ozzy looking at the CDs she had been previously looking at when she came across the kilt pins. Most of them were swords and axes, but there was one that jumped out at her: a long, twisted Celtic knot with a mother of pearl colored stone at the top set in the steel. The stone was a circle; the knot zigzagged and came to a point at the bottom. It looked like an abstract 'Ozzy.' She reached in her purse and eyed the employee behind the counter and gave him a nod. She waited until Ozzy's back was turned, handed the clerk the cash and picked up the pin. He started to ask if she wanted a receipt, but she was already walking away from the clerk with the pin in her purse. "Any music you can't live without?" she asked.

"Not right now, but it's super interesting stuff." They walked out of the store and back through the shopping center hand in hand. "You know it was your co-worker Sean who told me this store could help me with the kilt."

"You asked Sean?"

"That day I picked you up from work. He was wearing a kilt. I asked where I could find one, he suggested this store. They had to special order it, but it turned out right. Sean was helpful, he's a cool guy."

"You know how there are those girls who have issues with their dads so they go for the wrong kind of guys?"

"Yeah?" Ozzy made a weird face.

"Sean doesn't give me daddy issues. He gives me granddaddy issues. I want him to be the grandpa I lost when I was little."

"You had me worried for a moment there. For an old guy he still seems pretty tough."

"Why do you think he's a security guard if he isn't tough?"

"It's a local history museum, not the Louvre."

"We still have items that are registered as national monuments. Vandalizing them would be the same as vandalizing the Lincoln Memorial." She was trying to make a point.

"You're protecting our treasures and I'm mowing lawns. Not sure which of us had the more exciting job." He was thick with sarcasm as he said it.

"Don't you do that Oscar White. We take the jobs we can get at our age. Jenna works at a drive-thru. Tylor works at a gas station. Greyson works at that ice cream shop and is still somehow skinny as a rail. Being in guest services at the museum would be a whole lot less exciting if I didn't help with the regular corporate parties and wedding receptions. Without those gigs, I'm a glorified janitor who reads placards to people who can't or won't read them for themselves. Those events are where the tip money comes in. Then, if I catch people messing around in the exhibits, I squirt them with water spray bottles and tell them they're defiling federal property. So they can either walk away or I can keep squirting them, but they will not report me without receiving a fine or a federal lawsuit."

"You can do that?"

"The water thing, yes. The lawsuit thing, no."

He took a tighter grip of her hand and snatched her into his arms in the sunshine of the plaza. "I love you my powerful, wild lady."

She held him with one arm and reached into her purse for the kilt pin. "And I love you my Highland man." She held it up to show him. "I bought it the split second your back was turned." She grinned up at him taking a half-step back. She got down on one knee before him and put the pin in place on the front corner of his kilt. The off-white stone and the steel shone in the sunshine and the brightness of it popped against the black of the kilt.

"Thank you. It's great. It looks great." He put out his hand to help her back up and when she took hold of him; she felt something in his hand. He smiled as he spoke, "You're not the only one waited for a turned back in that store." She stood and lifted the delicate silver rope chain from his hand to reveal a wavy silver symbol inlaid with a green stone the same shade as her eyes. "It's called the triple spiral. It's an ancient symbol. It represents female power, femininity, and growth. I couldn't have imagined a better symbol for you than that."

Bette smiled wide at him. "Will you put it on me?" Ozzy took the chain, opened it, reached around her neck and secured it there. His hands swept down her back into an open hug. She touched the symbol and looked down at it. "Thank you Ozzy. It's beautiful. I'm will always be amazed by how thoughtful you are."

He tightened his arms around her and kissed her. As he stopped kissing her, he whispered, "Ancient runes carved in the highland fields. Hold fewer secrets than she could ever reveal." He opened up their embrace. "I need a notebook and a pen, now!"

It was Thursday in the late afternoon in August and Bette was hurrying through her duties at the museum. There were no afterhours events that evening and since it was getting late in the summer, the museum was getting less and less busy each day. She had already swept the floors through all the exhibit halls and cleaned all the glass in the displays along with the front windows. She had already cleaned the bathrooms and specifically left refilling the vending machine for one of her last duties. She knew she could check dates on the items and if something was close enough to expiring, she could pocket it and eat it on the bus. The museum closed at 5:00 PM that day and it was already 4:40PM. She knew Sean wouldn't let any more people in for the day, so it was just a matter of waiting for the current guests to leave. If they could do their security sweep quickly, she could catch the 5:10 PM bus home instead of waiting for the 5:45 PM bus. She already loaded the bags of chips and pretzels into the top couple rows and was quickly moving her way down the rows. She had long memorized the price points and locations of where things went and kept her focus forward into the machine filling it and checking dates on items. So far, nothing expired. She was getting down to the bottom two rows and she was squatting checking dates and feeling for items in her basket when she heard the footsteps approaching and stop a few feet behind her.

"The floors should be dry in the bathrooms by now; I just haven't moved the signs yet."

"That's not what I needed to know," the person said.

"If you tell me what you want from the machine, I can give it to you if you have exact change." She was undeterred from her task.

"No. I was just wondering if you could tell me the date."

"It's Thursday the 21st." She kept checking dates and loading items.

"Huh. Interesting. Because it looks like Wednesday the ten to me."

Bette froze. That voice, those words. She slowly turned to see a pair of worn in running sneakers, lean-muscular legs, khaki cargo shorts, a nice watch, a maroon vintage screen printed t-shirt, an open light brown plaid button-up shirt, his right hand tapping on his chest wearing a gold ring with a sapphire, hovering at six feet tall, thick brown hair, smiling at her, more than the boy she knew but not quite the man his father was. "Mark." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.

"Hi Bette."

"What are you doing here? How did you know I was here?"

"I'm back. I called your house. You sound just like your mother, by the way. I reminded her of who I was, an old friend, she told me you worked here and would be home soon, but I couldn't wait."

What the hell, mom? Bette looked at her watch. "Look, Mark, it's nice to see you, but I'm working. I can talk to you after I get home."

"Did you drive?"

"No, I take the bus."

"I've got my own ride. I can give you a lift."

She checked her watch again. "Fine. I can meet you out front after close. But I need you to go now so I can finish up here. We're about to close anyway."

"Sure. It's a red pickup. I'll see you out there." He stepped back and away from her, turned and walked away.

She stood there stunned for a moment before finishing her work. She loaded up the rest of the items she could in the machine and put the rest away in the closet and locked it. She did a final sweep of the area and met Sean at the entrance.

"Did you have a nice reunion with your friend?" Sean chuckled.

"Is that what he said to you?"

"Yeah. He said he was an old friend of yours. He's a well-mannered fellow."

"Fuckin'-a Sean. I wish you would use a little more judgment before sending a guy bigger and stronger than me to at a dead end of the museum! Good thing he was the good old boyfriend and not the bad one! If you had sent Keith back there, we would not be speaking right now, and there might be more than one reason why!" Bette was red and shaking. She began to hyperventilate.

"Oh dear, Bette! He didn't say he was an old boyfriend." He approached her by her side and began to put a hand on her back.

"Not now Sean!" She batted his arm away. "We wear name tags! He could have been anyone who saw me at any time! Do you have any idea how scary that is for a girl? We have radios, you should have warned me! How can I trust you after this?" She went to where she stored her backpack, still in sight of him. She opened it and chugged the water from the bottle that was in there. It was tepid and unsatisfying, but it was what she had in the moment. "Are we done?" She snapped. "Can I clock out?"

She could see how crummy he felt for having wronged her. "I apologize Bette. Clock out. I'll see you later."

She punched her time card and put it away. She walked past Sean and back to him. She hugged him. "You're a sweet man who would never try and do me wrong. I know that." He gently hugged her back. "But you know you would have had to move any dead body I made, right?"

"I have tarps and 50 acres whenever you need."

She took a deep breath and felt his calming presence wash over her, "I'll bring the shovels."


The pair said their good nights to each other and Bette headed out the front door of the museum. She had become so upset with Sean, that for a brief moment, she forgot about Mark. She got to the end of the courtyard entryway and instead of going right to the bus stop, she saw him parked on her left up the one-way street. She could see him smiling at her through the windshield. Three and a half years. He looked both completely different and totally the same; he had grown up, but so had she. She walked over to his truck, she could smell the heavy, late summer air, but she could also smell herself: cleaning chemicals, light sweat, and dust. Her dark grey uniform polo shirt and khakis were enough to make her feel invisible and plain, which is often what the job required of her. She only wore white dress shirts and black pants or skirts for the catered events. She got to Mark's truck door, got in, and buckled up. "Do you remember the address?"

"Of course." He put the truck in drive and took off.

They were quiet for a moment. "So, you said your back?" Bette asked.

"Yeah. Mom and I just moved back. She got a new job here in insurance. You can do insurance anywhere. She couldn't have done that seven years ago after the divorce?"

"I'm sure she had her reasons."

"She did and it had a big effect on me. I didn't like that town in middle school and high school wasn't much better. I spent my time doing a lot of running. I would put on my headphones and just go. The music, the road, and me. Even in the middle of winter. There were times, I'd get to the crossroad at the edge of town that met the state highway, more than once I wanted to make that turn and keep going. I had one friend, Greg. The one kid who wasn't a tobacco chewing, country droning, redneck. We had a lot of good times the last couple years. Then he tried to kiss me. I had to tell him no. We were okay, but it was hard for a while. He came to my house one night saying his dad found his stash and he thought he was going to kill him. Turned out he was going to send him to a conversion camp. He hanged himself in his closet that night. That was March 29th. That's when I told Mom I wasn't going to spend another school year there. I was getting out of there with or without her. That town killed Greg and it wasn't going to kill me too."

Bette wiped away the tear that fell. "I'm sorry that happened to your friend, and to you."

"Thanks. It wasn't all bad. There was one girl, Alice. She had red hair and was pretty into me. She was sweet and mousy. In a school that small, they only teach abstinence, so we did have a pregnancy scare once."

"Tenth grade health here was thorough. They taught us everything. I mean everything. As in there are 28 different contraceptives, everything. They armed us with so much knowledge and a healthy amount of fear of diseases and pregnancy. The fear of God is in me for getting pregnant. Seriously. If God himself wanted to have sex with me, He would have to wear a condom, and then it would still depend on what day of the month it is in my rhythm method count to consider it. And by the way, the pictures of diseased genitals they showed us, I still can't eat cauliflower." she shuttered.

Mark laughed. "Those were the things I had to tell you. Those were the things I couldn't lie to you about. I knew if I was going to see you, I couldn't keep that stuff from you." He reached over and brushed her arm and hand.

Bette looked into the side mirror and saw the redness grow on her face. She took a couple short breaths, "Mark, I won't lie to you either. I'm not single. I have a boyfriend."

He glanced at her, "Oh. Is it serious?"

"Yes, it's serious." She was firm with him.

"Is it anyone I would have known from before?" Mark sounded as if he had to force each word out of his mouth.

"Yeah. I'm seeing Ozzy. We're together."

"Ozzy? Seriously?" He said it as if she was pranking him.

"We're very serious. And we're very happy." She rubbed the triple spiral necklace Ozzy had given her.

"Then if you're happy. I'm happy for you. For how long?"

"It kinda started in April...or sorta March." She scrunched her face as she said it and it came out in her tone.

"That doesn't make sense."

"It doesn't need to make sense to you. It's private." They were both quiet for a moment as they were getting closer to her neighborhood. "Mark, when did you get back?"

"This month."

"Uh-huh. What day? When did you and your mom move, unpack, and get your phone hooked up?"

"My truck had boxes in it today. The phone was hooked up today. The first person I called was you." He spit the words out and they came out blunt and petulant.

Mark turned onto her street and parked. She unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door and placed one foot on the ground and looked over at him. As uncomfortable, annoyed, and angry as she was, she looked at her house and thought of her parents; she wanted to scream, but she spoke softly and calmly stared forward again at the glove box, "It was nice to see you Mark. It was. But your intentions with me were messed up. It sounds like you got some stuff to figure out. You should call your other friends." She got out and held the door open. "And don't tell me you're happy for me if you're not. It's a fucked up lie to tell someone." She closed her eyes as she said it. She couldn't stand to see him or his reaction. She slammed the door and went inside to her room. Her hands were shaking with rage and her face was red in the mirror.

She took a few deep breaths, grabbed the phone and called Ozzy. Darrah answered. "Hello?"

"Hi Darrah, It's Bette. Is Ozzy there?"

"He's taking a nap in the hammock before he goes in to stock from seven to close tonight. Should I get him?"

"No!" She snapped, but caught herself quickly. "No. Don't wake him. The only thing he likes more than a couch nap is a hammock nap. I wouldn't want to ruin that for him. He doesn't work tomorrow, right?"

"No, he doesn't. He's getting his grad pictures done in the afternoon though."

"Would you please tell him I called? If he doesn't have time to call before he goes in tonight, have him call me after eight tomorrow morning, but before 9:15, please. That's when I have to leave for work."

"I'll give him the message, Sweetheart."

"Thank you Darrah."

Bette hung up the phone and cried. She wasn't sure why. She didn't feel sad; she felt frustrated, confused, and nauseous. She couldn't connect one feeling to one reason. She was upset about how vulnerable Sean had left her in their workplace. She had been shocked to see Mark, she pitied what he had gone through, enraged by how he treated her, and taken aback by how good he looked. She wanted to tell Ozzy what had happened but felt stuck by the fact she couldn't yet. She could have had Darrah wake him, but knew how much he worked, that rest was a treasure to him, she didn't want to ruin it with her stress. And for what? Something she already handled. She told Mark off. She told Mark she and Ozzy were together, that they were 'very serious.' She called him messed up, fucked up, and a liar. And somehow, she felt terrible for doing that to Mark too. He had lost so much over the years: his father, his homes, the consistency. He lost the one friend he had living in that rural town with his mom. And with no friends, he called her first. Maybe he really did just need a friend. Maybe all that time running alone left him isolated and lonely. He said that girl Alice was into him, he never said he was into her, which might be even worse behavior. He didn't explain. She remembered she had left him all the hidden notes in his moving boxes. She wondered if he found them immediately after moving or if it did take him months or longer to find them. But then again, his motives weren't totally pure. 'Wednesday the ten?' Come on! What a line! And the way he tapped his chest with his hand like the Monday after the Halloween dance. She hadn't forgotten, and clearly, neither did he. The way he touched her in his truck. It was a small touch but for not seeing each other for so long, it felt pretty aggressive, especially after the heavy stuff he had told her. And he didn't even ask her about her! All he wanted to know was where she was. He wanted to see her. He wanted to touch her again before he wanted to know about her. At least that's how it all felt. Lorna heard Bette crying and came in and comforted her daughter. Bette breathed through her tears and told her mom what had happened, what she had been thinking about, and trying to figure out why it all upset her so much.

"I'm sorry I told him where you worked Betty. I remembered him from all those years ago and how you liked him then. I didn't think about it being a problem now. I didn't think he would show up to your work when I told him."

Bette sniffled. "He did. And frickin' Sean. Mark used to be so nice. Sean let him right in just because he said he was a friend. Will men ever get it? Will they ever understand?"

"Your father does. Good ones do. Even the not so good ones will listen and try and get better."

"Sean did apologize after. I could tell he felt pretty bad about it." Bette finally collected herself. "It's nice to talk about it, but I still want to tell Ozzy what happened. You know, as one of the good ones."

"He is good to you, isn't he?"

She touched the triple spiral pendant. "Always."

The next morning Ozzy called her. She asked him if he had the energy to come and see her before she had to go to work, he said he would gladly take her, even if it meant they could only see each other for that little bit that day. She felt better about that than telling him over the phone. He picked her up at 9AM and drove her to the museum. She told him about how she was working and how Mark showed up, what he said, how he said it, the ride home, everything. She started to cry again as she told him and how she wanted to tell him right away after it happened and how terrible she felt about the whole thing. Ozzy was quiet and listened. She kept talking and talking about her feelings and what happened until she realized that she was repeating herself. They were parked on the street outside the museum; she had some time before she had to go in.

She sniffled and wiped her face. "Oz, I'm sorry. Say something, please. I am so sorry."

He unbuckled his seat belt and leaned over to her and hugged her. He spoke softly, "You did nothing wrong. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I don't ever want to see you like this. He shouldn't have done that. It wasn't right." She hugged him back and he rocked her back and forth as her tears stopped. He kept affirming her as he hugged her. "It's okay. You have nothing to be sorry for. I love you."

"I love you too Ozzy. I love you so much. I had to tell you. I wanted to tell you right away. I slept so shitty last night because of it."

"You don't have to worry about it anymore. It's over." He opened his bear hug around her and wiped the tears from her face. She sniffled and looked down at her back pack. "Look at me." She glanced up at him from the corner of her eyes. "You are a powerful lady. You're through it. I'm here."

Bette opened her back pack, took out her water bottle and took a long drink. She took a few deep breaths after. She leaned in to kiss him and he leaned into her. It was a quick, sweet kiss; it was what they both wanted in that moment and nothing more. "Thank you for understanding. I was telling my mom: you are one of the good ones, and she agreed."

He kissed her forehead and gave her an easy smile. "You set a pretty high bar, but I'll always try to pole vault over it." She let out a little laugh. "That's what I wanted to see." He touched her cheek with his thumb. "Are you going to be alright to work today?"

"Yeah. I am now. Thank you. You look really good by the way. Let me know how your photo session goes today. Give me some tips for mine on Thursday next week. I should be home after six if you call."

"I will."

They hugged again and Bette went into the museum to work.

The following Thursday, Bette woke up early to get her graduate pictures taken. Jenna's dad was a professional photographer and had taken family photos for the Wheelan's for years. Bette wasn't sure if it was excitement or nerves, but she woke up with a stomach ache. Lorna took the day off to be with her that day. She didn't want to eat, but Lorna insisted she eat something. She tried eating some plain toast, but it didn't sit right. The pair headed off to the salon to get her make up professionally done. She tried drinking some complimentary green tea when she got there, but it made her stomach ache worse. At least she was excited to see Cynthia as usual. Cynthia told her that Mark was back in town and had called her and asked if he had called her. Bette didn't want to lie to her, but she didn't want to talk about it either. Then she realized Mark didn't call her on the phone, he saw her in person, so she could tell Cynthia he didn't. She quickly changed the subject and talked about how excited she was about her photos that day. She had four outfits picked out for the studio and was going to do outdoor photos with Jenna early next week. Before they left the salon, Cynthia showed Bette pictures of her husband and their little girl's first birthday party.

Bette's and Lorna headed to Jenna's dad's studio for the photo session. Something was bothering Bette, She wasn't sure if it was Cynthia bringing up Mark or the drive, but her stomach ache was worse than it was than when she woke up, like little screwdrivers twisting below her bellybutton. She hid the growing pain from her mother. The photo session with Jenna's dad went well. Bette wasn't always comfortable in front of the camera, but he had a way of making her comfortable. When she was getting to the last few pictures on the roll for the session, Jenna happened to arrive to drop something off to her dad. He clicked the camera and said "Last frame." Bette called to Jenna. The girls wrapped their arms around each other and he took the last picture.

On the way home, Bette stopped hiding the discomfort she was in. She told her the twisting pain had been growing. They went home and Bette went back to bed. A short time later, she threw up the toast and the tea from that morning. She brushed her teeth and rinsed out her mouth, and when she looked at herself, she saw, even though her makeup, how pale, even for herself, she had become. She tried taking some ibuprofen, but she threw that up too. She tried sleeping, but sleep didn't come through the growing pain. She tried switching to the couch when her father came home that afternoon; being around him when she was sick was always helpful. John sat in the armchair adjacent to her on the couch, but sleep didn't come. All she did was moan in pain. She tried drinking water, but she couldn't hold that down either. Every hour that went by, her stomach pain grew. What started as little twists ended up feeling like multiple screwdrivers constantly turning from the inside out of her. John stayed up with her in the living room until she got some rest, but it wasn't for long. She only slept between 11-11:30 PM before the pain woke her up again. John woke Lorna and decided it was time to take Bette to the hospital: she couldn't eat, she couldn't drink, she couldn't sleep, and she was in constant, growing pain.

Bette hobbled into the hospital with her father just after midnight. They sat in the waiting room as he filled out the forms. She didn't have the strength to pick up a magazine. She was admitted and brought to a room for observation and testing. She got out of her hoodie, tank top, and pajama shorts and put on the hospital gown with one of the nurse's help. The nurses needed a urine sample, but she couldn't produce one, she hadn't held any water down all day. She was given an IV of saline and wailed as she was stuck with needles. She was already in awful pain, needles didn't make it better. She waited as nurses and doctors came and went from the room asking what felt like the same questions again and again. They all looked the same. Time became a blur; she couldn't tell if she had been there for ten minutes or five hours. All of a sudden, she had to pee. They brought her to the toilet. By this point, she was in excruciating pain and walking bent over, crying just to make it there. They gave her the funnel cup and some privacy. The torturous pain and the heavy flow of urine made her lose control. She over filled the cup, broke the funnel and spilled her urine everywhere. She sobbed harder. She added humiliation to her pain. She rang the nurse call button and apologized through her tears; there was still enough in the cup for a testable sample. She got back to the observation room and a short time later a doctor came in and confirmed all her test results: it was her appendix, it needed to come out immediately. Bette sobbed. She was scared. John held her hand and reminded her that she was in the best possible place and that she wouldn't be in so much pain soon. The nurse told her she needed to take off anything else she was wearing apart from the hospital gown. Bette sobbed harder when she took off the triple spiral necklace Ozzy gave her earlier that summer. It went in the bag with the other clothes she wore into the hospital. The nurse reminded her to breathe and that it would be all over soon. This was a routine procedure and as a healthy seventeen year old, she was in a best case scenario. The anesthesiologist came in and gave Bette a pre-surgery drug to calm her down. Within a minute, Bette felt the high wash over her, strong and intense. Stronger and more euphoric than any pot she had ever smoked. She held her father's hand before they took her out. With a dazed look on her face and dilated pupils, she spoke to John, "Tell my Highland man I'll be on the bridge." She let go of her father's hand and they rolled her into the operating room.

The last thing she remembered was the doctor standing over her upside down holding another saline bag saying, "We're going to put this one in you now."

Bette woke up in a different excruciating pain than she was in the night before. She could feel how swollen her arm with the IV in it had become. Her stomach still hurt, less like screwdrivers on the inside, more like a barbed-wire covered baseball bat had hit her. She touched her face with her right hand, her non-IV hand. She was in a hospital bed and was partially sitting up. She was alone. There was beeping coming from somewhere, she didn't know where, but somewhere. She felt something on her legs and tried to touch them together, the bed sheets and the hospital gown were in the way, so she couldn't figure out what it was. She touched her stomach and felt the ache and the bandages over her bellybutton and on her right side and she groaned. She looked around the room: rabbits, the room was painted with rabbits, and one on her left was staring at her. She set her right hand down where it was and it landed on the nurse call button. She picked it up and rang it. The remote beeped and there was a voice on it "Yes? Can I help?"

"I think I need some help," she rasped. Her throat was painfully dry.

"I'll be right there."

A moment later a nurse slid open the door and pushed back the curtain. "Mornin'. You had rough one."

"I need to pee," Bette said bluntly.

The nurse helped her to the toilet in the back of the room. It was severe pain to get there but amazing relief to go. She got back to the bed and the nurse answered all her questions. Her surgery was a success. Her appendix was removed after it had ruptured, which was why she had so much pain. The IV she's hooked up to is for nutrients, antibiotics, and a button that had a morphine hit if she felt a lot of pain. She wanted to use it, but had other questions first. The nurse let her know that her parents were notified of the procedure and that she could call them anytime she wanted. She moved a phone onto Bette's bed table and rolled it near her. The nurse told her what she was feeling on her legs were compression socks to protect her from blood clots. Bette thought they were really unsexy thigh-high stockings when she saw them when she was on the toilet.

As they continued to speak, one of the doctor's from the procedure from the night before came in and told her how well everything went with the procedure. He wanted to tell her himself that even in all the pain she was in and still is in, she's handling it well. he told her she could expect to be admitted through the weekend, and depending on how things go, she would be there up to a week. She shed a couple of tears. The pain was high, but missing her pictures with Jenna and missing the first day of her senior year put her over the edge. As the tears came, the pain intensified. The doctor told her, since she is awake and they have talked to her, if the pain is bad, she can use the morphine button, it works once every four hours. Bette pressed it hoping for relief, but it caused searing pain. The drug shot into her arm through the IV and she screamed. It felt like marbles being shot under her skin. She screamed and cried for her parents. She didn't understand why something that was supposed to make her feel better caused so much pain. The nurse tried to hold her hand and calm her, but it was too late. Bette's pain and suffering was through the roof. The next several minutes were a white-hot blur of pain until she felt like she wasn't in a hurricane of pain, but the eye of it. And the calm eye had pain on the edge of it, just beyond her reach, but still there. She wasn't sure what was worse, the pain before the drug, or the suspense of pain beyond her reach waiting to crash around her. There was a tower fan in the corner of the room oscillating a breeze through the room. It blew the privacy curtain and Bette saw images in it: she saw herself jumping off the big rock at Pebble Lake, swimming to shore, crawling back up it, running off of it, again and again. When she got tired of herself swimming she looked across the room. That rabbit on the wall to her left was glaring at her and it appeared to be drooling at her. It looked angry and hungry. She felt like she had wronged that rabbit. She reached down and tried to turn on the TV from the remote, but her hand couldn't focus the strength or dexterity to do so. She went back to watching herself jumping and swimming on the curtain, and it brought her enough comfort until she fell asleep.

When she woke again, Lorna was there. She came down to see her during her lunch hour and saw Bette sleeping.

"Mom?" Bette's eyes were hazy as she woke, and the relief that the morphine had brought her before was gone, the ache in her body had returned.

"I'm here Betty." Lorna stroked her daughter's hair and scalp with her long nails.

"That's nice mom. That always felt nice." Bette closed her eyes to the comforting feeling.

"I used to do this until you fell asleep for your naps. Do you remember that? You always loved this."

"I can tell you it's better than morphine." She laughed and groaned at the pain her laughter caused. "That was a bad idea. No laughing."

"Can you sit up a little but more? I'll French braid your hair, that way you won't have to worry about it."

"That would be nice too."

Lorna parted and combed out Bette's hair and braided each side down the back of her head and Bette told her about the little gaps in her memory that she had. She said she thought she remembered seeing John and Lorna as she came out of surgery. Lorna confirmed that for a moment she did and even spoke that she couldn't open her eyes. She said she remembered trying to pee in the night before the morning and there may have been a bedpan involved. Lorna picked up a dry bedpan next to the bed. She told her mom she remembered being high before the surgery and that it helped a lot. She had been scared and in so much pain, but that high was the best thing she felt. Lorna told her, John told her what Bette said in that moment, "Tell my Highland man I'll be on the bridge."

Bette's heart ached for Ozzy in that moment. "That's Ozzy, mom. Does he know I'm here?"

"Not yet. You came in so late. Your father and I went to work this morning. He probably thinks you went to work too."

"Mom, it's Friday. He's not working. I need to tell him. I can't hide this."

"I'm almost done Betty." Lorna finished the last few strands of Bette's hair, but Bette didn't care. She reached for the phone and started to call Ozzy.

"You call my work number by 4:30 if you think of anything you need from me."

Bette held the receiver to her ear, "Thanks Mom," she said as Lorna left.

"Hello?" Ozzy's voice brought her peace.

"Hi Ozzy. It's so good to hear you, you have no idea." She said it with a comforting exhale.

"I have to say I'm a little surprised. You're normally in the middle of your shift right now."

"I'm not at work."

"You have the day off? That's great! I can come get you."

Her voice sank, "I'm not at home."

"Where are you? What's wrong?"

"I'm in the hospital. I got my appendix out super early this morning."

"Shit." Ozzy whispered. "Are you going to be okay? Are you okay now?" She could hear the worry and fear in his voice.

"I'm fine. I'm sore. And I'm safe. I was so scared. I have been in so much pain." Tears rolled down her face. "I had never felt anything so awful before. I can hardly breathe it hurts so much. They give me this thing to breathe into and tell me to get the anesthesia out of my lungs. They put me in the children's ward because I'm still 17 and there are fucking rabbits on the wall and I'm pretty sure one of them wants to eat me." She started sniffling and crying harder, "They give me what are supposed to be good drugs and it's the worst feeling I've ever felt. I want to see you so bad because I think it's the one thing that might make me feel better but I can't imagine the terrible look on your face if you ever saw me like this! I'm road kill! I feel like death's leftovers!" She cried.

Ozzy sniffled too. "Children's ward. Rabbit room. I'm on my way." And the phone clicked.

"No," she whispered in to the dial tone. Bette rang for the nurse. She felt terrible because as helpful as these nurses were, she couldn't remember any of their names. She asked where her bag of clothes were from where she came in and the nurse gave her the bag. She dug out the triple spiral necklace and put it back on. She asked for tissues and water. She asked for a mirror to see what she looked like, when she saw herself she thought she looked worse than she imagined. She looked so pale that she was almost grey. She had been so dehydrated that her cheekbones popped and her lips were cracking. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying. Her hair was braided by her mom, but there were frizzy wisps everywhere and she thought she looked like she had been electrocuted. She tried wetting her hair down with the water but it didn't help much. She knew her hair would pop right back up as soon as it dried. She splashed herself with water to calm her face and try to un-redden her eyes, but nothing helped. She asked if there was anything else she could do for the pain besides the morphine, the nurse said no. She didn't want to be high and dazed when he showed up, so she didn't press the button. She thanked the nurse before she left. Bette tried to sit back and calm down before Ozzy arrived. She closed her eyes and tried to take a few deep breaths. She winced at the pain of her deep breaths. She tried to push down the wisps of her hair again. A little more fidgeting later, she heard his voice ask for her at the nurse's station.

A few quick steps later he knocked at the side of her door frame.

"Oz," she said weakly.

He stepped in and pushed around the curtain to see her. "Oh Bette." The look on his face was scared and sad for her, he couldn't hide it.

She teared up to his reaction. "I told you I didn't want to see that look on your face."

"I couldn't not come and see you after what you said." He grabbed the chair from along the wall and pulled it next to the bed by her left side and took her hand in his.

"Careful. The IV," she said.

"Does it hurt?"

"I'm aware of it. It hurts here," She waved her free hand over her whole middle. "And I look like hell."

"You look like you've been through the ringer."

She gave him a little smile. "Thank you for not lying to me."

"You are still beautiful for having been through the ringer."

She laughed and winced at the pain. She recounted to him everything that had happened since she had woken up the day before. How the pain grew, how awful it all was, what she said about him right before surgery, how much the morphine hurt, how much the rabbit on the wall wanted to kill and eat her. She pointed to the rabbit on the wall. Ozzy saw a cabinet next to the rabbit, got up, and moved the cabinet over the rabbit so it couldn't see her anymore. She was truly grateful he did that. They talked about other things until he could see she grew sleepy.

"I'll come back to see you again tomorrow after work."

She yawned and patted the edge of the bed. "I'll see you in my dreams my Highland man."

He moved off the chair and sat on the bed's edge. He leaned over her and kissed her forehead. He spoke softly, "I'll be on the bridge. I love you."

"I love you." She sighed and closed her eyes. She was asleep before he was on the elevator.

Bette woke up a few hours later. The room was dim and she had to turn the light on from the remote. There were a few new things on the table. It appeared her parents had come and gone while she had been asleep. Her mom had brought her toothbrush and toothpaste from home, a comb, a pen, and what looked like a couple pieces of mail for her: a couple magazines and a letter. She took the envelope and flipped it over to see who it was from; it just had her name on it, no address or stamp. She figured it was a note from her parents. She opened the envelope and opened the card inside.


I owe you an apology for last week. You were right; my intentions were misguided when I came and found you. I am sorry. What I did was wrong. I found the notes you left for me in my moving boxes. I found one, then another, and then dug through every box until I thought I found them all. Then when I got the yearbook, I saw one more note from you. It didn't happen. I didn't Footloose the town. It didn't want me to. These last few years have not been good for me, and I am hoping to have senior year be a fresh start for myself. I hope you can consider giving me one too.

-Mark Hall

And he left his phone number. She read and reread the card and heard his voice in her head.

She called home and John answered. He told her he was the one who came by her hospital room and didn't want to wake her. She asked John for a few more things from home tomorrow to make her stay more comfortable: a different pillow, a bandanna for her hair, her CD player and some CDs, her address book that had her friends phone numbers in it, and some lip balm. Bette asked where the card came from. John said it was in the mailbox when he got home and if everything was alright with it. She let him know it was fine. It was from an old friend. She hung up with her father and hesitated for a moment. She truly had nothing better to do. She called Mark.

"Hello?" Mark answered.

"Hi. It's Bette."

"Hi." He sounded confused. "You're not calling from home?"

"No. I'm not home."

"It says here you're calling from the hospital. Are you okay?"

"Caller ID. Gets me every time." She sighed. "Yeah. I wasn't, but I will be. I got stabbed."


She laughed until it hurt. "I'm messing with you Mark. I got my appendix out."

"Jeez, Bette."

"My dad brought me the card."

"I kinda figured that's how you got my number."

She laughed and groaned in pain. "Oh. No laughing. I can't keep doing that."

"So you read the card though?"

"Yeah. I think...I think there's a lot more you haven't told me. You said there were those things you couldn't lie about. But I think I didn't give you a chance to tell me."

"Yeah, there is more. A lot more."

"And I assumed the worst and got angry, and I'm sorry."

"You had every reason to be angry. I'm sorry Bette. I won't do what I did to you again."

"Then I think we can move past that. A fresh start as you said."

"It would mean a lot to me."

She yawned again. "We can talk more tomorrow Mark. I'm tired from being in bed all day."

He laughed. "Feel better."

"Thanks. Bye."


She hung up the phone and pushed the table away. She called the nurse and went through the painful process of going to the bathroom, brushing her teeth, and getting ready for bed. It was so exhausting to do so; she was asleep within minutes of getting settled again.

Saturday morning, John and Lorna visited Bette with the items she requested. She told them Ozzy came and visited her and she was still in a lot of pain. Lorna was insistent she get up and walk around. Bette gave her own mother the middle finger. Because of the antibiotics in the IV, she couldn't eat. She hadn't held any solid food since Wednesday. She wasn't hungry because of the nutrients in the IV, but she was still tired, pained, and cranky all the same. Lorna was forgiving of Bette's attitude, but still made her get up and walk to the nurse's station and back. Bette cursed the whole time, but she didn't cry in pain anymore. Her parents left. The nurse was able to help her clean up a bit after and it was the best she had felt in the last few days. She still felt like garbage, but she felt like clean burning garbage.

She called Jenna to let her know she was going to miss their photo session on Tuesday, and proceeded to retell the story of her appendix rupturing. As she talked, she saw another hand knock at her door frame, one with a nice watch.

"Jenna. I gotta go," Bette said into the phone. The girls said their goodbyes and hung up. "You can come in."

Mark stepped in her room looking concerned for her. She almost preferred he saw her looking unwell. "Hi Bette. How are you feeling?"

"You ever have knives under your skin twist you from the inside out?" She said weakly.

"In my left leg."

Bette remembered it was when his father had died and he was there when it happened. "Why don't you grab a chair then?"

Mark grabbed a chair and placed it facing towards her halfway down the bed and sat. He fidgeted with his ring on his hand. "I'm not a fan of hospitals."

"I don't blame you for that. At least you're not the one who got cut open."

He tried to smile. "How long are they keeping you in here for?"

"Until Wednesday, I think. I'm going to miss the first day of school. Can you believe that?"

"Nothing happens on the first day of school."

"You'd be surprised." She smiled at the thought of Ozzy. "So what happened? Three and a half years of school, plus summers. We didn't talk through any of it. I never heard about you. What happened?"

Mark took a deep breath and exhaled through puffed cheeks. "You sure?"

"I got nowhere else to be."

Mark went on to recap the last three and a half years from the time he took off on the cold January Saturday with his mom. He cried on the three hour drive back to that small town, partially about Bette, partially about having to go back there. When he started unpacking his boxes, he found one of Bette's notes with a memory written in it and set it aside. When he found a second, he knew there had to be more. He dug through all the boxes, clothes, books, every nook and cranny until he found the eight different envelopes Bette had hidden for him. He told her how he read them along with the letters and cards she had written him after his dad had died. He saved them all. He started the new semester and he was the outside kid again. He was there barely six months earlier, but the local tight-knit kids didn't like him. He tried sharing their interests but they didn't want him around. He tried sharing his music and games, but they weren't interested in his either. The only one who paid any attention to him was Greg. Greg was skinny, pale, hair so blond it was almost white, and had acne. Greg had been bullied a lot like he and Bette had by Jason Kaye and others when they were younger and they bonded over it. Greg had a religious family, so he had to hide his mix tapes that he made off the radio. Greg liked pop music and R&B but the radio stations didn't come in very strong in their town. Mark shared his music with Greg at his house because Gina didn't care about that. The summer after 8th grade, Mark got the yearbook and showed Greg the pictures of his friends and saw the great picture of he and Bette and the message she left for him on the page. Greg was surprised he left a girl like that behind. That summer the two of them would tent camp in the yard, bike to the creek to go fishing, and play whatever two player board games they could find. When freshman year began, they had both hoped things would be better and different. They weren't. Bullying got much worse for Greg. Mark hit a growth spurt and kept getting stronger. Greg didn't grow much and stayed skinny. He remained easy fodder for bullies. More often than he wanted, Mark threw punches and got in trouble for it. He knew his father would have been disappointed in him. He channeled his rage and frustration into running. Whenever he felt himself get mad, he ran. Upset, he ran. Sad, he ran. Like he told Bette, there were times when he saw that state highway sign and just wanted to keep going down it. When the weather was too awful to run, he'd do body weight exercises like burpees and sit ups. He couldn't stand his peers and he took it out on his body. Sophomore year came and things didn't change. He and Greg were only friends to each other, but it was enough for them. Late in the school year, he had to work on a project with Alice. By this time Mark had gotten his driver’s license and used a bit of his inheritance to buy his used truck, much to his mother's chagrin. After a week working on the project and taking her home from the library, she told him how much she had liked him. She thought this project was the universe's way of bringing them together. She saw him run past her house a lot and that the strong silent type was really attractive and she kissed him. He did nothing to stop it and she kept going. That first night she kissed him she went down on him in his truck in the library parking lot until he finished. She did it again the next night. He admitted it was nearly impossible to say no to. The day before the project was due; she wore a skirt when he took her to the library and she jumped him in his truck and had sex with him. Something about being in his truck with him made Alice not shy. Three weeks later she came to him and said she hadn't had her period yet and was starting to get nervous, she should have had it by now. Mark was nervous and didn't know what to do. He didn't want to be a father. He didn't want to get married. And she was too scared to make any decision or tell anyone but him. A week after that, she went to him and told him she got her period and they could be together. He told her no. That was not going to happen again. He was sorry, but he didn't feel the way for her the way she did for him. She cried and slapped him but left him alone. That summer he got a part time job a gas station just to do something. Every shift was the same customers: pack of reds guy, menthol lady, chew guy, chew guy, chew guy, old menthol lady, 3 gallon Bob, and the old guy who wants a free cup of coffee at the end of the night because we're closing. Why? Junior year was all the same. More running. Mark and Greg hanging out. Nothing changed. Nothing was interesting for them. One night at Mark's house he was telling Greg that. How frustrating it was that there are no other people like them in their school. It would be nice if there were. Greg said that the two of them are okay and then kissed Mark. He was shocked but not angry and stopped him. He apologized to Greg for the misunderstanding, but he didn't feel that way about him. Greg was embarrassed and hurt. Mark told him he was flattered. He let his friend down easy. They still had an awkward few days afterwards. In late March, Greg came running to Mark's house scared. His father found his secret stash of porn. Greg thought he was going to die. That he thought his dad was going to murder him for being gay. Mark and Gina went with Greg home to see if they could talk his father down. When they got there, Greg's dad was calm. He said he could never hurt his son. There were other ways. Mark saw the pamphlet for the gay conversion camp and the sad look on Greg's face. Gina said there was nothing they could do and they left. That was the last time he saw Greg alive. He hanged himself in his closet that night. Greg would rather die than be who he wasn't. When Mark heard the news he went insane. He screamed at his mother. He blamed her for taking Greg home that night. He didn't have to die. He didn't want to live in this god forsaken town anymore. If this town can kill Greg it can just as easily kill me, he told her. He was going to be 18 by the beginning of the next school year. He had his truck and his inheritance. She can either go with him, or he can go alone, but either way, he's going. Gina said if he finished the school year, she would move back to their old home city, and get a new job. She couldn't stand the idea of losing Mark. Losing him to him either taking off alone or death. It took most of the summer to sell the house and for Gina to find a new job, but it was Thursday August 21st that Mark called Bette's phone number. Lorna answered and he told her who he was. She said she was at work at the museum and she would be home later. Lorna never said which museum. There were five different museums in town and Mark drove to all of them looking for her. He couldn't believe how she looked when he saw her: the grown up version of the girl he remembered. When he told her the things he did and she seemed to be touched and made the joke about contraceptives, he thought it meant she was being receptive to him. When she got angry with him when she got out of the truck, she didn't look at him, she didn't see him cry. He didn't mean to lie to her; he was just surprised she was with Ozzy. He didn't know how to react to her being with Ozzy. Why shouldn't she have any boyfriend? After a couple of days of trying to reach Hank and Robert without a lot of luck, he thought about calling Bette again, but didn't want to overstep. Then he thought about all the wonderful notes she had written him from so long ago, and just maybe, that would resonate with her. So he wrote the card and left it in the mailbox.

"And now we're here," Mark said.

"Wow...It's...It's a lot, Mark." She was taken aback by everything he had told her.

"I'm sure your story is better than mine."

"Not better or worse. Just different."

"Dad would say 'Different is just code for 'I don't like it.'" Mark smiled when he said it. It was one of the only things he smiled about through all the talking he did.

She smiled. "Tell me about him."

"My dad?"

She nodded.

He snickered. "This one time we were staying at my grandparent's house and I was in the tiny guest room next to their bedroom. This was Christmas time, 7th grade. I wake up in the morning and I hear my grandpa say to my grandma through the paper-thin walls," Mark made his voice comically gritty, "Come on, let me just hold your titty."

Bette got wide-eyed and laughed.

"Then at breakfast Dad says to Grandpa, 'Do you mind laying off the titty-talk until at least after breakfast?' Like it wasn't the weirdest thing in the universe to be talking about it over eggs and toast."

She threw her head back laughing and had to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye.

"He was a good man. You look just like him now."

Mark looked down at his watch and fingered his ring. He was about to say something else when another knock came at the doorway. Bette recognized Ozzy's hand knocking.

"Come in."

"I heard you laugh all the way from the elevator." Ozzy pushed back the curtain with a big smile on his face holding a small potted plant for her. He saw the plain look on Bette's face, and quickly realized why when he saw Mark. His smile shrank as he set the plant on her table. Bette put her non-IV hand out to Ozzy. "Come here. I'm glad you were able to come by." She took his hand pulled him into her and gave him a quick kiss. Ozzy had a concerned look on his face for her. "I could use a bathroom break before you get settled. It'll take a few minutes, maybe longer." She hit the button for the nurse.

"I should go. I'll give you two your space."

"Thanks Mark. It was nice catching up."

He mushed his mouth together and nodded and left the room as the nurse came in. "I don't want you to see this. I mean that, Oz." She said to him.

"Sure." He kissed her forehead and stepped out of the room. Ozzy jogged back to the elevator and stuck his hand in the door before it closed. He stepped in and stood next to Mark and put his hands in his pockets.

"Mark, I'm going to say a few things, and I would like you to listen. Do you think you can do that for me?" Ozzy kept looking forward at the elevator doors.

"Fine." He said blankly, shrugging.

"She tells me everything, you know that? Everything. She's told me about times when she's been humiliated and the best times of her life." Ozzy looked at Mark and Mark looked back. "She tells me all the iconic stories. So when she came to me last week and I saw her so upset and so hurt by what you said and did to her. I can tell you, I have not seen that look on a woman's face since my own mother. And that is something that cannot be tolerated."

The elevator dinged and they stepped off. "I apologized to her. It was a misunderstanding."

Ozzy continued to speak calmly. "I'm not finished. If I have to see that look on her face, those tears in her eyes, that pain in her voice like that again that you caused. I can promise you this: your body will not be found."

"I'm not afraid of you Ozzy." Mark scowled at him.

Ozzy gave him a little smile, "Oh no, no, no, Mark. You misunderstand me. You remember Bette is a powerful lady? She's more powerful now than when you left. She has an army around her. She has assassins and spies. They're everywhere and you have no idea who they are. All they need is one word from me." Ozzy pushed the button for the elevator. "Don't you dare give me a reason? Do you understand me?"

"I'm not going to do that again. I'm not a threat to her or you Ozzy. I'm not that kind of person. I needed a friend, and she's a good one."

Ozzy stepped onto the elevator. "Then it sounds like we're not going to have a problem." He gave Mark a genuine, warm smile, "Welcome back."

Continue to Senior year...


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.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.