Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

***Chapter One***
Word Count: 4,653

Just how long was he going to kiss her? How did he find them anyway? Didn't she care that not only were they likely watching, but Joe had to be wondering what was taking her so long?

Brad's eyes darted to the station wagon where Joe was hiding out. He wouldn't realize what was holding Chris up. Judging by the way she wasn't pushing Dan away or reaching to slap him, she obviously didn't mind being held up. Would Joe move from where he was hiding to see what was going on? That was all they needed! Dan they could probably explain away, but not Joe.

These thoughts were getting him nowhere. Nowhere closer to being able to go to sleep as he knew he was supposed to anyway. It was bad enough finding out, after the fact as it turned out, she was going with Mike Toddwell. Maybe Toddwell hadn't gotten to kissing her yet.

Yeah right.

Guys like Toddwell didn't wait until dates out to fancy restaurants to kiss girls.

Toddwell was a douchebag of the worst kind. He probably went for way more than first base on a first date. He wondered why he'd stayed with Chris for so long if like he said at the restaurant she didn't have sex with him. He understood the challenge guys like him would enjoy, but it seemed a little extreme when there were other girls who would be willing to go all the way with him.

"Hey, at least they're better than Toddwell," Darryl said when Brad backed away from the window overlooking the driveway. He couldn't bear to watch any more. It seemed wrong somehow, like spying, and he was a lot of things but he wasn't a pervert. He left that to Darryl. Never mind seeing her kiss another guy made him feel as though his heart had been ripped out. After everything they'd gone through tonight why would she do that in front of his house?

"Yeah," Brad said, not really hearing what he was agreeing to right away. "Wait. What?"

"What? What?"

"What did you say?"

How had his best friend known he was even thinking about Toddwell?


"Just now, Darryl. Who's better than Toddwell?"

"Them," he said, gesturing to the window. He was looking at Brad as if he'd grown a second head. Maybe he had, but he wasn't sure who Darryl was talking about.

"Who them?"

"Well, there are two guys out there with her right now. Right? I mean, it's not as if Joe hasn't thought of kissing her. He just didn't have the opportunity until now like Dan does. Probably he was just waiting until she took him to the train station to try. Not that I blame him for not wanting to make a move in front of us. I mean, Sara's just a kid. That would stop anyone from making a move on someone as hot as Chris. Don't you think?"

Brad closed his eyes, leaning his head against the window. Darryl laughed, patting him on the shoulder. As if that would somehow soothe him, make things better. The idea of both guys out there wanting her hadn't occurred to Brad. Dan, sure, but he hadn't counted on her ever seeing him again. Obviously, someone had a different idea in mind.

"Oh come on, you didn't really think he punched out his boss and wanted to come here with us just to be nice, did you?"

"Well, he did promise he wouldn't hurt us, Darryl."

He laughed again. The way Darryl did when he said something he knew Brad didn't want to hear.

"Oh, right, and that would really stop him from letting someone else hurt us. Or worrying about the four of us getting home safely. Come on, Brad. He digs her. I mean, can you blame him? He saw her under the worst possible of circumstances and she got all of us out alive."

"I just never thought."

"Obviously. Like I said, they're both better than Toddwell."

"A car thief is better than Toddwell?"

"Well, yeah, and, come on, think about it. He's probably not a car thief after tonight. I mean, I don't know, but I doubt punching out your boss is going to pave the way to him getting a good reference or anything. How would that work? I wonder if he has a resume or just street cred. I wish I'd thought to ask him."

Brad rolled his eyes. Leave it to Darryl to focus on something like Joe's job possibilities after tonight.

Joe had insisted on riding with them once they'd left his dad's building to ensure they got out of the city and back home safely. Chris was going to drop him at the train station on her way home. That hadn't alarmed Brad. Until now. They'd be alone in her car. He'd not only done a good deed in seeing to it they got home safely. He'd done something heroic to boot.

What if he wasn't as nice a guy as he seemed?

What if he was?

Brad wasn't sure which idea was worse.

He was doomed.

He peered through the blinds, watching Chris talk to Dan.

Joe had to still be hidden in the backseat underneath the blanket they'd found in the back of the station wagon. Chris' mom kept it back there in case of emergencies. It was the type of thing Chris' mom would do in the winter knowing Chris was driving the car. It came in handy tonight because if his parents saw Joe they'd be full of questions.

At least Dan wasn't kissing her any longer. He hadn't seen who'd stopped kissing who though. Or just how deep the kiss had gotten. Hopefully, knowing that Joe was in the car prevented her from Frenching him.

Oh God. She probably had the softest tongue ever.

That thought was getting him nowhere closer to being ready for bed.

"Oh come on. At least she knows who you are now and will say hi to you in the halls on Monday."

Brad rolled his eyes.

"That's not helping, Darryl."

"As if you really had a chance with her. I mean, she's a senior. And she's totally hot. Not to mention, if I got my hands on Dad's Playboy, you know others have and are going to be looking at Oak Park's Chris Parker in a whole new light from now on."

"That's gross, Darryl. No one's going to think it's her. I know I didn't have a chance with her, but it doesn't mean I want to know who she's going out with, let alone see her kissing them."

"She's not going out with either of them. Yet," Darryl said.

"Not helping."

"Yeah, yeah," Darryl said. "Come on; let's see what's on TV."

Brad backed away from the window again once he saw Dan's Jeep back out of his driveway. Chris stood there for a minute, watching as he pulled onto the street. Was it possible to fall in love in a night? If it was, Brad imagined there was a chance she had. Too bad they couldn't have met a drunk, idiot of a frat guy who just happened to have fifty bucks to spare. No, they had to meet a nice frat guy who was good looking on top of it.

Offering to wait outside of Dawson's Garage.

Chris had said no, but the gesture wouldn't be forgotten just because she didn't take him up on it. No way. She'd remember he offered and that he'd gotten them out of a huge jam. Oddly, probably the biggest jam of the night. If they hadn't been able to get the Parker's station wagon out of the garage, they would have been stranded downtown. Someone's parents would have been called for sure, leading to them getting busted and Chris getting in huge amounts of trouble for bringing them downtown to begin with.

And Joe.

She had taken him up on his offer. What did that mean?

The people they were running from were scary. For sure. They had their Playboy back, so there wouldn't really be any reason to follow them.


He gulped as Chris got into her station wagon. She wasn't alone in the front seat anymore, so Joe had come out of hiding. He hadn't seen him move to the front seat, but she must have told him it was okay to come out.

They knew about their operation, not that Brad remembered where they'd been. He thought the others had been as freaked out as he was at the time. So, things like physical addresses weren't high priorities to any of them. Chris was more familiar with the city, though, and might remember where they were.

Did his boss get Chris' license plate number?

It wouldn't be hard for them to get even if they hadn't. Dawson's Garage.

They could go back to his dad's building.

If his parents found out they'd been downtown tonight.

"Stop worrying, Brad, everything will be fine," Sara said.

"You should be in bed. If Mom catches you still awake she's going to ground you."

Sara just rolled her eyes at him.

"Besides you don't even know what I was thinking about."

"You were worried about Chris," she said, as if it should be obvious to anyone.

"Those guys."

"Are not going to come to Oak Park on the chance we're going to turn them in," Darryl said.

"You don't know that," Brad said as Chris backed out of the driveway.

"There's nothing else we can do. And, hey, at least we're safe," Darryl said with a shrug.

"What's that mean?"

"Well, the only way they could find us is by tracing the license plate. Right?"

"Yeah," Brad said.

"Well, obviously the plate's going to go back to the Parker's not your house or mine. So, we're fine."

"Darryl," Sara said, as if knowing how well that would sit with Brad.

"And that makes me feel better?"

"Well, I mean, think about it. They go after Chris, but there's still three witnesses left. If something happens to Chris they'd have to think we'd go to the police for sure then."

Brad nodded a little; Darryl was making some sense. Scary as that thought was, he was probably right. But did the guys know that the four of them weren't a family. He supposed it had to be somewhat obvious at least Darryl and Brad weren't since they were the same age and looked nothing alike to be mistaken as twins.

There really wasn't anything he could do. He just wished he could talk to Joe. To find out how seriously he should be worried. Darryl was right, if they went after anyone it would be Chris, and that thought made his stomach churn. He was stuck, though.

"Come on, TV," Darryl said.

Brad knew his friend was just trying to distract him. Sara jumped onto his bed, leaving enough room for him as he made his way there.

"There probably isn't anything on Sara should see."

"Oh come on, Brad," Sara said in protest. "There's got to be something on I can watch."

"We'll see what we can find."

"Thank you," she said with a smile.

Brad realized that despite the smile and how brave she'd been throughout the night that his little sister was probably still pretty scared. He was and he wasn't the eight-year-old girl who'd been hanging outside a skyscraper just a couple of hours ago. Yeah, she annoyed him with all of her Thor pictures and leaving her toys and crap all over the place, but she was his baby sister. If it kept the bad dreams at bay she could crash in his room tonight.


"Thank you again, Joe. For everything," Chris said as she started driving in the direction of the train station.

"Hey, it's really no problem. I couldn't let you leave there not knowing you got home all right. It's kind of my fault they found you, you know."

"Well, we wouldn't be if it weren't for you. All right, I mean. We'd probably be dead back at Mr. Anderson's building with no one to know where to look for us. I don't even want to think about where Brenda would be. We ran into a hooker tonight, same age as us who'd run away."

"I suspect you'd have been just fine. Brenda, too. She would have ended up calling her dad or something after enough time had passed and you hadn't come. She didn't seem like she really wanted to run away when we got to her, but you're welcome."

"Her relationship with her step-mom is complicated. I guess who's is simple, right?" She shrugged. "Anyway, you're probably right, but I hate thinking about it."

"It's okay, Chris, nothing happened to her. She's fine, probably going to sleep as we speak."

"I hope so. She wanted to spend the night at my place, but I couldn't risk it. My mom would ask questions because I tried to use hanging out with Brenda as an excuse not to babysit tonight."

"She ratted you out, huh?"

Chris laughed. "Yeah, something like that."

"Well, I'm glad she did."

She wasn't sure what to say to that. She was, too, in an odd sort of way, but saying so aloud seemed wrong somehow. It was a crazy night, one she'd managed to get out of alive but she wasn't sure how she'd feel about the whole thing tomorrow or a month from now. She was glad she'd met Joe, though.

They were both quiet for a minute or two when something occurred to Chris she hadn't thought to ask him about until now.

"Do trains run this late?"

He chuckled, glancing at her with a shake of his head. He wasn't used to talking to people so … clueless, though that really wasn't the right word. She just hadn't grown up on the street as he and his friends had.

"Yeah, they do. Not as often, but one should be by within the hour."

"An hour? Really? That's a long time to sit and wait in the cold."

"It's no big deal. It's not even that cold. And maybe it'll be thirty minutes in this neck of the woods, I'm not sure. I don't usually have much reason to leave the city."

"I suppose not."

"You seemed to know your way around the city well enough."

She shrugged. "I get down there. You know, shopping, Cubs games, the beaches, museums, and stuff."

"I bet you're a sight on the beach."


"Yeah, right," he said with a soft laugh again. "At least you're not conceited, I'll give you that."

"No, I'm not. I mean, I guess I wouldn't know. My luck with guys isn't that great. After tonight I'm not sure I'll trust one again for a long time."

"Maybe you're just choosing the wrong kind of guy."

She shook her head, but didn't say anything after that. He could tell she was thinking something, though. Her tight grip on the steering wheel was one clue as was the look in her eye that told him no matter what she'd been through that night with the kids she was watching she was still hurting.

"Why do guys do that?"

"Do what?"

"Drop girls like me for ones that will have sex with them."

He gave a shrug, regarding her as she drove. He had no answer for her. Not one she'd like anyway, because he'd done it, too. Guys were guys, just some grew out of it and some never did. Sounded like she'd gotten mixed up with one who hadn't, and that sucked.

Wisely, or so he thought anyway, he said nothing. He didn't want to lie to her and he didn't want her to begin to distrust him because of something he'd done back in high school. She was still there. It'd been a while ago for him now.

She didn't seem at all afraid to be alone with him, which was odd to say the least considering she'd probably never met someone like him before tonight. Then again, he hadn't really known until tonight he could care about people he didn't even know as he did Chris and the kids she was babysitting.

He tried to imagine what kind of guy she'd go out with. He didn't get a good look at the guy who'd made an appearance at the kids' house. He'd heard their conversation, though, and knew what was going on when it got quiet. He couldn't deny feeling a little jealous; in part figuring she'd never let a guy like him kiss her to begin with.

"Not all guys are like that."

"Could have fooled me," she said, but Joe got the idea that it was the anger talking more than vast amounts of experience getting hurt on her part.

"The worst part about it."

She grew quiet then, as if she wasn't sure she should say anything.

"What?" he prompted.

"The girl Mike was with. Sesame Plexor. I mean, her name alone tells you what kind of girl she is. She goes to the same school I do, knows the same people I do. We have a couple of classes together. When I go to school on Monday; it's going to be around the whole senior class that I was not only dumped and cheated on but got stuck babysitting for the Andersons."

"Who cares what she says?"

"I care! I mean," she turned to look at him once she'd stopped for a traffic light. "What if he'd been seeing other girls the whole time?"

"Chris," he said, reaching for her hand closest to him. He didn't try to hold it or anything, just touched her to settle her down. "He's an idiot."

"You don't even know him."

"I don't have to. I know you."

"No, you don't. I mean, you've known me for a few hours, most of which I spent trying to keep from getting the kids I was babysitting kidnapped or killed."

"And you're here to tell about it, aren't you? You think that guy or the girl he was with could say the same?"


A car honked behind them as the light turned green and she wasn't quick to step on the gas.

"Come on, most people would have given up at just one point of your night. I can't even imagine what you went through seeing Sara hanging out that window."

"Oh God, I'm going to have nightmares about that for months, I'm sure."

"Shh, she's fine, Chris."

"Yeah, now. Who knows what tonight will do to her?"

"You mean, seeing that she can count on someone to get her through anything safely? Looking back at tonight when she's older and realizing that you got through something so maybe when she's going through something bad she'll know she can get through it, too."

"Or be so permanently scarred she doesn't do anything."

"I doubt it. She seems pretty resilient. And she said she got to meet Thor out of the deal."

Chris couldn't help but smile at that as they pulled into the small parking area her local train station offered. There weren't any other cars around, which didn't surprise him at this time of night. He couldn't say he'd ever been to Oak Park before, not any reason to come out here before now.

"I sometimes wish I was that age again," she said.

"How do you mean?"

"Didn't you have a hero? Someone like Thor?"

"Nah, not really. I mean," he shrugged. "Nobody was coming to save my neighborhood, I caught onto that at a very young age. Not much point in thinking someone like Batman or Superman is real."

"Wow, cynical even as a kid."

"Different lives, I guess," he said.

"I'd say."

"I bet you dug Wonder Woman."

"Well, sure, she had those bracelets, an invisible plane, and that lasso."

"The outfit."

"Yeah, that, too."

He didn't want to get out of the car, but knew he had to. She had parents who worried about her and would call over to the kids' house if she wasn't home soon. He reached for the handle.

"So, why don't you go check the schedule and see when the next train comes before I leave?"


"Well, I can't just leave you standing out here for an hour if the train just came. I know you said you'd be fine, but it's cold enough I'd worry."

"Of course you would," he said with a shake of his head.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, honest, I just wouldn't expect any less from you, I guess."

"I didn't insist on riding home with you because I wanted to be sure you were safe," she said.

He opened the door then and got out without saying anything else. He had plenty he could have said. She didn't know the people he'd worked for up until tonight. They had people on their payroll that went pretty deep. It wouldn't surprise Joe if they had not just Chicago cops in their pocket but state troopers, too. Someone who could have been on the lookout for Chris' station wagon and pulled her over on the way home. She would have stopped because that was the type of person she was. Trusting.

"Should be about forty-five minutes," he said.

"I can wait with you."

"I'll be fine, Chris, really."

"I know, but the car is warmer."

"Your mom?"

"Won't know for sure what time the Anderson's are going to get home and might assume I went to Brenda's or something afterward."

To the boyfriend's was probably the or something.

"Did your mom like him?"



"No. Well, at first I think she did, but then he stopped coming to the door every time he picked me up."

"Ah, yeah, Mom's go for that sort of thing."

"I guess. She said something about him not looking her in the eyes."

Joe laughed. Funny, how mom's had that radar going for them much like a thief really when it got down to it. Joe always knew when something was up by someone's body language. He'd spent a good many years reading the signs of not just the people he worked for but the people around him when he was searching for his next ride to boost.

They sat like that in the car for the next forty minutes or so. Joe didn't say much. She asked a few questions, which he answered but mostly he listened and asked questions in an attempt to get to know her better.

As he got out of the car to go to the platform and wait for the train, he realized he hadn't learned a whole lot really. He knew that she wasn't sure about going to college among other things. She'd needed to talk, though, and he was fine with listening. He was surprised when she turned the car off and got out with him.

"Worried I'm going to follow you home or something?"

"You have a car hidden somewhere I don't know about?"

"No," he said.

"Then no. Just making sure the train comes as scheduled."

"Thanks," he said, surprised when she grabbed onto his arm, looping hers through his.

"You saved our lives. If there's ever anything I can do to repay you."

"You could give me your number. Take the train down to see me sometime."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah, really. Or I could pick you up. I do have a car."


He chuckled, could tell by her smile she was joking. "No, not that one."


"Why isn't it stolen?"

"No, why would you want to see me?"

"Wow. Okay. What's there not to want to see? Two guys showing interest in you in the same night too much for you?"


"Never mind," he said with a shake of his head. "I like you. You're cool and smart, funny and pretty. All things that lead me to want to see you again."

"I'm only eighteen."


"You're older than that."

"Not that much older. A few years is all. I'm not asking you to move in with me or anything."

She gave a giggle, nervously putting her free hand in the pocket of her coat.

"Well, that's good because I'm not ready for that yet."

As it turned out, she wasn't reaching into her coat pocket. It had been her purse he realized when she pulled out a pen and a piece of paper. She used his back to write on, sliding the small piece of paper into the palm of his hand. He unfolded it and smiled a little at the fact she'd written her name with the number. Complete with a heart in place of the dot to top off the I. As if he could forget who she was. He didn't run across girls like her very often, if ever, and that was the reason he wanted to see her. He'd met lots of women and none had impressed him and worked their way under his skin the way she had. Maybe it was just effects of the night, but he had to see it out or he'd always wonder.

"So, a movie sound all right?"


"Is dinner pushing my luck?"

"I suppose not," she said. Apparently, he wasn't the only one who saw the train's headlight a bit ahead because she glanced at her feet almost nervously then.

"Next weekend?"

"Yeah. Mom's not too crazy about me going out on school nights."

"Right," he said with a nod. Moms could be pains in the asses, but as moms went it sounded like hers was pretty run of the mill. "I imagine picking you up is out of the question."

"I'm not sure how that would go over."

"I'd come to the door, look her in the eye, and everything."

"Yeah," she said, looking as if she might be thinking about it. "Call me during the week. I'll think about it."

"All right," he said as the train drew closer to the station. He doubted she'd let him pick her up, not that he could blame her. She didn't know him and the circumstances behind their meeting suggested he couldn't be trusted. He wouldn't let him pick her up either if he was an outsider looking in.

"Thanks again for everything you did tonight, Joe," she said, raising her voice as the train made its approach to the station.

"I didn't do anything really, but you're welcome just the same."

"I'm sorry you have to spend money to get back home. I could have…"

"No driving me back. Then I would have been worried about you driving back again. It's only money. No big thing compared to making sure you and the kids got home okay."

"Well, just the same."

He leaned in, grazing her cheek with a kiss. He debated about whether to kiss her, but decided to go the more polite route that still indicated he was interested. If asking for her number didn't tip her off to that fact. She did that glance at her feet thing again and was blushing he noticed.

"No problem. Okay," he said, moving toward the now stopped train. The conductor wouldn't wait long this time of night, he knew that much. "I'll call you during the week."

"Okay," she said.

He found a seat. The train was pretty empty so he had his pick, finding one that gave him a view of her. She stood on the platform, coat collar high around her neck, hands shoved in her pockets as if she was colder than he'd realized. She didn't head back to her car until the train had pulled away, though, and he smiled a little at that.

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***Part Two***
Word Count: 3,060

"What is with you today?" Brenda asked Chris at lunch.


"See, that's exactly what I'm saying. You're not yourself. So, I'll ask again. What is with you today?"

"Oh, nothing, I don't know."

"Let me guess, Dan hasn't called."

Being seniors they had open campus lunch and were eating at a burger and hot dog place not far from school. Chris took a sip of her pop and shrugged. "No."

"He'll call."

"It's not him I'm worried about."

"What?" Brenda asked, obviously confused and Chris couldn't blame her. Dan was … Cute and smart, generous and kind. It wasn't him she was fretting over not having called yet. It was Wednesday, surely one of the two should have called by now. Except, Dan hadn't exactly indicated he wanted to see her again.

The kiss certainly said he did, but he hadn't said so outright. He could have gotten back to the frat house and met someone else. Or woken up the next morning and realized he didn't want to date someone still in high school.

Joe, on the other hand, had said he'd call and he knew how old Chris was. Maybe he was just being nice or seeing if she'd say yes. She thought about it last night and realized maybe once the night was over with he'd changed his mind. He'd lost his job because of her. Okay, it was an illegal job, but it still meant a loss of income.

"Nothing. I said I don't know," she said as Brenda's order was called out as ready to pick up at the counter. Chris' was next.

"If you ask me," Brenda said once they were back at their table, food in front of them. "Dan is who you need to focus on."

"Focus on?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, really, what kind of future could you have with someone like Joe?"

"It's a date, Brenda, I'm not planning on marrying him."

"Still, though, should you go on a date with someone you know can't amount to anything?"

"Why couldn't it?"

"Chris. You met him while he was stealing a car," Brenda said, her voice so low it was barely a whisper as she said the last part. "How could anything good possibly come out of that?"

"I get the impression he didn't have much of a choice in the matter where he grew up, Brenda. Not everyone lives where we do. He did save my life, Brenda. He didn't have to do that."

"I know. I just. Dan's in college. You said he was cute."

"You date him."

"Chris, be reasonable."

"I am being reasonable. I liked him. Okay. He was nice."

"Right. Until he steals your mom's silver tea set."

"Oh my God, Brenda," Chris said with a laugh. "You are getting way ahead of yourself. I'm not going to invite him to my house. He even knew that, offered to meet me somewhere."

"And that leads us right back to dating someone you can't go anywhere with."

"I could go places with him."

"Not with your parents. Your dad would flip, Chris. You know it."

"It's a date, Brenda. After Mike," she said with a shrug, taking a sip of her pop in between bites. "I don't want to get involved again right away, and I honestly don't know I'd trust someone like Dan."

"Why not?"

Brenda's question made Chris think she might be crazy for thinking that way, and maybe she was. She had a reason, though.

"He reminds me too much of Mike. I mean, that vibe he has, you know. Like he's too good to be true. Mike was."

"There has to be someone in the middle of guys like Mike and a criminal, Chris."

"Brenda, you don't even know Dan and hardly know Joe. Neither of them has called anyway, so it may not matter."

Brenda rolled her eyes, but apparently was going to let the subject drop. Thankfully. Chris didn't want to rehash her plans for the weekend. If they came to be. It was only Wednesday, she'd been telling herself that all morning. Just because he hadn't called yet didn't mean he wasn't going to. Maybe he was busy. He was giving her time to think over whether she really wanted to see a movie with him.

Maybe his boss had found him.

"Oh God," she said as her mind took over from there. Thoughts of him dead or in the hospital ran through her head. "What if he's hurt?"

"Chris," Brenda said, wiping her mouth with a napkin. "He'll call. It's Wednesday, it's not like it's Friday night and he hasn't called yet."

"I know," she said. "I just. God. I wish I was better at this."

"Two guys asked for your number in the same night. One punched out his boss for you. I'd say you're doing all right."

"That's not what I mean. My mom would be proud of me, though, I didn't get numbers from either one of them."

"Right, because sitting here stressing over why neither has called you is better."

"You know how my mom is about guys."

"I wish my step-mom had an opinion on whether I should call a guy. An opinion on anything would be nice."

"I'm sorry, Brenda."

"Don't be," she said with a shrug. "She's just clueless about what to do with me."

There was no love lost between Brenda and her step-mom. It was that fact that had led to Chris having to take the Anderson kids downtown to begin with. If she hadn't tried to run away the whole night would never have happened. That thought made her sad in a way. While she wished the night hadn't happened in some ways, if it hadn't who knew whether she'd have found out about Mike before she really got her heart broken. As it was, it hurt but she wasn't hugely invested yet.

Running out of time, they hurried up and finished their lunches so they could get back to school and finish their day. She had a load of homework to do that night, which made her kind of glad for a change. Something to take her mind off whether Joe would call.

She'd gotten caught daydreaming in more than one class after lunch. Only they weren't so pleasant. She couldn't shake the feeling that something bad could have happened to Joe because of her. He was a nice guy, but clearly based on who they encountered the other night he was the only one. She doubted the guy he'd worked for would hesitate at hurting or killing him if he wasn't afraid to have three kids killed.

"How was your day, Chris?" her mom asked.

"Fine," she said.

"Do you want something to eat?"

"No, I'm fine. I'm going to start on my homework."

"Okay, honey. Your dad and I have dinner plans tonight. So you're on your own."

"That's fine. I can manage."

"I made some chili if you want some later it'll be on the stove. Bread's in the oven."

"Thanks, Mom," she said, giving her mom a kiss on the cheek. She was still kind of mad about the college brochures she'd snuck into Chris' purse the other night, but she knew why her mom was doing it. She had to admit, she'd spent Sunday afternoon looking at a couple of them.

College. Being away from home. It was scary and exciting. Freedom yet her parents would pay for it so she wouldn't be completely on her own. The idea had merit. Maybe. Her mom had schools like Northwestern and University of Illinois in mind. Chris was thinking more along the lines of Southern or Eastern Illinois.

"I'll check on you before we go."

"Okay," Chris said, heading down to the basement where she could work on her homework and watch MtV at the same time. She was pretty sure there was a new U2 video due out, if it hadn't already been released.

She was in the kitchen, looking over the options available to her in the fridge when the phone rang. Her parents had already left for their dinner out. She wasn't sure if it was a business dinner for her dad or something else. She hadn't asked, and it really didn't matter except they didn't usually go out for a formal dinner like they were dressed for tonight in the middle of the week. So, Chris was guessing business dinner. That meant they'd be out late and her dad would come back having had a few too many gin and tonics.

"Hello," she answered, stretching the phone's cord out as far as it would go so she could grab a pizza out of the freezer. She really wasn't in the mood for chili.

‘Is Chris there?'

"Speaking," she said, closing the freezer door without taking a pizza out. She knew who it was because she didn't know anyone else that sounded the way he did. Something she hadn't really thought about until now.

‘It's Joe.'

"I knew that," she admitted. "How are you?"

‘Doing good.'






Neither said anything for close to a minute. She wasn't sure what to say, and imagined maybe he was in the same position. It wasn't as if they knew anything about one another to talk about. That left her wondering what to say to him that wouldn't sound stupid.

‘I tried calling the other day, but didn't get an answer,' he said, breaking the silence.


That thought hadn't entered her mind. This wasn't the first time she wished her parents would get an answering machine for her. They insisted it wasn't necessary, that anyone who wanted to get a hold of her would call again. Getting her own line was a huge deal, until her dad's country club friends started complaining they couldn't get through because the line was busy all of the time. Then all of the sudden it was urgent.

She could have bought her own answering machine, but she didn't have a phone in her bedroom so wouldn't have anywhere to put it. As it was, her line wasn't very private. It could be accessed from any phone in the house using the little button that switched between her line and her parents'. Every phone in the house included the one in her parents' bedroom, which meant no one could call her very late. (Not that that stopped her from calling her friends who could take calls later.)

‘Yeah, Sunday afternoon.'

"We were at lunch after church. We go every Sunday," she said, taking a seat on the stool at the breakfast bar closest to the phone.

‘Right, I should have thought of that.'

"Church isn't your thing I take it?"

‘I went as a kid, sure. Every Sunday with my mom. She still goes. Nothing against it or anything.'

She gave a soft laugh. "Well, that's good."

‘You assumed I wasn't going to call.'

"The thought had crossed my mind. Not that I'd blame you. I mean, our lives aren't exactly similar," she said.

‘You think that bothers me?"

"I think it would bother some people, yeah," she said.

‘Well, I'm not some people, but I suppose I should be worried about you.'

"Are you asking for more than a movie and dinner?"

‘For this weekend? No,' he said.

"Well, then I'm not worried."

‘I admit, when I didn't get an answer I figured I'd wait a couple of days, let you think it through.'

"Is there a reason I should beyond the fact I like you?"

‘You do?'

She felt herself blush as she twirled the phone cord around her finger. "Well, yeah, I mean you're a nice guy, saved our lives, what's not to like."

‘Right,' he said, sounding disappointed.

She liked that sound just then, because it meant he'd been expecting more from her answer. She closed her eyes, setting her head on the counter. She was so stupid, opening herself for who knew what but she couldn't help who she liked. Dan would certainly be a better option, she wasn't sure either of them were safe options. They were both older like Mike.

She lifted her head again, shaking it slightly. No, there would be no thinking of Mike while talking to someone who wasn't him. She knew if it had been Mike in Joe's spot last weekend they'd probably all be dead. No way would he have done what Joe did.

"I'm just glad you're all right. If you hadn't called I would have wondered if something had happened to you."

‘Like what?'

"Oh, I don't know, the man you punched so we could get away. The guy you left hanging out the window. I'm sure there are others who could hurt you. Or worse."

‘Huh,' he said.

"What huh?"

‘I'm not sure I've ever had anyone worried about me before.'

"Not even your mom?"

‘Well, yeah, okay, but it's been a while for her.'

"I bet she still worries."

‘Oh, I'm sure she does. You don't grow up the way I did and not worry about your kids, but she stopped voicing it a long time ago.'

"Is that a good huh then?"

He gave a soft chuckle and she wondered where he was and what he was doing just then. His voice was soft and low. She had no business thinking how nice it sounded when he laughed.

‘Yeah, I guess it is.'

"Well, good."

‘So, this weekend?'

"Does that mean you don't want to talk anymore?"

‘No, we can talk as long as you like. I just figured I'd get that out of the way so I don't get sidetracked.'

"As long as I like, huh?"

‘I don't have anything going on tonight, so yeah.'

"No work?"

‘Uh, no,' he said.

"I suppose not," she said.

‘Yeah, kind of in between jobs at the moment. So, Saturday works?'


‘You can get your mom's car again?'


‘All right. I asked around and was told there's a mall with a movie theatre not too far from you in Oak Brook. Is that right?'

"Yeah, it's further for you, though."

‘I'm not worried about me. Ten miles, twenty miles, I'm going to the suburbs, it doesn't much matter.'


‘Well, here's the thing. I'm going to give you my number and when the paper comes out on Friday with movie times you look it over and tell me what show you want to see and what time.'

"Well, that's not very fair."

‘I haven't been to see a movie in years, Chris, so it really doesn't matter to me. That means you'll have to call me, though.'

"All right," she said.

‘You sure? I heard you with the other guy that night and you didn't ask for his number either, so I sorta took that to mean you don't call guys.'

"I think I can make an exception this once."

‘You do, huh,' he said with a laugh again. ‘Got something to write my number down with?'

"Yeah," she said, writing it down. "So any movie?"


"I've heard Lethal Weapon is good."

‘All right. If that's what you want to see. Just call me with a time.'

"Well, you mentioned dinner. Are we eating before or after the movie?" she asked.

‘Do you have a preference?'


‘How about after then?'

"Afraid we'll have nothing to talk about before?"

‘No, just would rather spend time with you after I guess.'

"Hmm, okay."

‘You have school tomorrow?'


‘Homework done and everything?'

She smiled a little at that. "Yes. I was just figuring out what to eat when you called."


"Yeah, my parents went out somewhere for dinner."

‘Well, I'll let you go figure out your dinner then.'

"All right," she said. "Is there a time I should call on Friday? I don't get home until around four."

‘That's fine. I've got a machine, so just leave a message with the time. I'll call back Saturday morning so you know I got it.'


‘Night, Chris.'

"Good night, Joe," she said before hanging up.

She glanced at the phone, her first instinct was to call Brenda and tell her he'd called. She remembered, though, that Brenda wasn't exactly jumping up and down in support of Joe so she thought better of it. She hung up and decided on some of her mom's chili after all. It just needed to be heated up, and her mom did make the best homemade bread. She didn't make it often because it was time consuming, so Chris figured she'd better enjoy it while it was here.

She just had to figure out what to tell her mom about Saturday and what to wear. There were quite a few places around the mall he mentioned to eat. Most were pretty casual, but a few were nicer. He would have said he was taking her somewhere nicer, though, she imagined.

She went back down to the basement, chili and bread in hand, debating on whether she'd even tell Brenda in the morning that he called. She didn't like feeling as though she had to hide from her best friend, but she knew what Brenda would say.

Really, though, if he wanted to find out where she lived there were less time consuming ways of going about it than dating her. He knew her mom's car, the license plate number; he could find her that way. People did it, she wasn't sure how but he had to have resources like that available to him.

So, he wasn't asking her out on a date on the hope that she'd let him pick her up so he could case her house. The Parker's really wasn't that extraordinary compared to some of the others in the area. It was nice and all, but there were certainly flashier, bigger, and obviously richer family houses around the area if that was his intent.

She was getting way ahead of herself. She turned the TV on, hoping that Dynasty would take her mind off of her best friend for a while. She had to find out what was going to happen with Krystina after the heart transplant. Sarah didn't seem too stable to Chris, so she was curious where the storyline was going to go.

Return to Top

***Part Three***
Word Count: 2,658

(Author Note: The movie referenced is Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet. I apologize for any spoilers for that movie, but it's 24 years old so figured it was fair game.)

He'd been home on Friday night when she called. She'd waited until her parents were in bed to call, so she'd been surprised he was home. They hadn't talked real long beyond planning what showing of Lethal Weapon they were going to and where they'd meet.

He was at the theater before she was on Saturday and looked different than the last time she'd seen him. He wore his hair down for one instead of in the ponytail. She had to admit, she liked it.

He was the one to tell her that her choice in movies was sold out. They chose another one instead, her choice because it had Lisa Bonet in it. He agreed because he liked Robert DeNiro.

It was sort of strange seeing a movie with someone she didn't know well. They shared a small box of popcorn so their hands met periodically as Harry Angel struggled to piece together what he could about Johnny Liebling aka Johnny Favourite and where he might be twelve years after last being seen.

She ducked her head against his shoulder when Harry went back to the doctor's place, who was now lying dead on his bed. It was pretty gruesome. She felt Joe chuckle a little, at her she imagined because the scene wasn't funny.

"Don't like blood and guts I take it?" he whispered against her ear.

"No, that's not it," she said. "I just wasn't expecting it."

He offered her his hand then, which she took and he rested their joined hands at his knee. She left it there, not minding the contact at all.

"Can keep it there if you want," he whispered again when the scene was over and she went to lift her head. She smiled a little and let her head rest against his shoulder again.

She felt her face got incredibly flushed when Harry started undressing his journalist girlfriend. She glanced at Joe who almost seemed to purposely avoid looking at her. She laced her fingers through his, until that moment his hand had just been resting over hers. He didn't seem to mind and, in fact, brought their joined hands a little further toward his thigh. Fortunately, that was about all there was to the scene, and she breathed a little easier when it was finished.

It was a good movie. The very vivid sex scene toward the end came out of nowhere. She remembered hearing about it but hadn't put what she'd heard together with it being this movie. She certainly was going to see Lisa Bonet a little differently the next time she watched The Cosby Show.

His grip on her hand tightened during the scene, moving her hand up along his thigh a little more. She probably should have pulled her hand away, but found she didn't really want to. She brushed her fingers along the inner seam of his jeans. She heard him take a deep breath and felt him kiss the top of her head before pressing his cheek against her there.

As the credits rolled they remained in their seats. Joe's hand on hers was warm and he grazed the back of her hand with his thumb.

They were quiet as the other people left the theater. He spoke first. Well, sort of. He coughed softly, tilting his head a bit to look at her. She had no idea what to say exactly. Apologizing for him being potentially bothered was on the tip of her tongue, but she didn't want to apologize really. Talking about the movie was certainly an option, but she wasn't entirely sure where to start. It was kind of confusing so she was still processing everything she'd just seen.

"Listen. I had no idea," she said but was cut off when he shook his head. It was as if he knew what she was going to say, apologize for.

"Don't," he said simply.

"But I don't want you to think."

He leaned toward her, free hand reaching for her face, and just like that he was kissing her. Once she was over the surprise of it, she found herself kissing him back. Maybe it was the movie, seeing a man touch a woman like that. Coupled with an attraction to Joe, of course. She didn't know really, all she knew was that she was thinking things she never had before. Her body was tingling in places she knew had no business feeling that way at a movie theater on a first date.

It felt so good, though. She'd never felt anything like it. Electric. Pulse pounding. She didn't want it to stop. Ever.

His tongue found hers and she gasped softly. He drew away then, though she sensed he didn't want to any more than she wanted him to.

His hand settled against her thigh and she jumped a little at the contact.

"Sorry," he murmured.

"What are you sorry for?" He wasn't sorry for kissing her, was he?

"You weren't expecting me to touch you, I'm guessing."

So, he'd felt the movement. How embarrassing!

"It's okay," she said, knowing she was again blushing profusely.

"Hey, it's all right. I'm not going to do anything."

"I know," she said, firmly believing that he was not only telling the truth but that she believed he was.

"You sure?"

"Yes," she said. "Not that if you wanted to do that again I'd object."


She shrugged with a little smile. "Maybe."

"Maybe huh. All right," he said with a wink and a smile. "I'll test it out later. You hungry?"

"Sure," she said.

"You going to ride with me," he asked, helping her into her coat once they stood.

"I can."

"Seems kind of silly to take two cars, but we can if you'd feel more comfortable."

"No, it's fine."

"All right," he said with a nod as they left the theater. It was still early since they'd caught an early evening show that everywhere would be busy this time of night.

"Wow," she said as he stopped at and unlocked a very nice Audi. "I guess you were good at what you did."

"Yeah," he said, opening the door for her.

"And you can just stop?" she asked once he got in on his side.

"It was just a job. I put the skills I learned as a kid to work for me."

She eyed the interior of the car as he let it warm up for a minute. "Is this? I mean."

"No," he said with a laugh. "It's mine. I wouldn't be stupid enough to drive around in a ride that I stole. I like being on the outside of a jail cell too much to risk that."

"Oh, sorry."

He shrugged, reaching with his right hand to brush some of her hair away from the collar of her coat.

"You can ask me anything you want. I have nothing to hide from you, unlike most of the people I meet."

"I suppose you can't very well walk up to people and tell them what you do for a living."

"No, not really," he said. "Now it's my turn for a question."

His hand was still right near her neck. Unlike her, he hadn't put gloves on so she could feel the pad of his thumb as he grazed her skin right by her ear.


"The other guy from last week."

"Mike?" she asked with a frown. "What about him?"

"No, don't think that was him. Mike was the boyfriend, right? I'm talking about the guy at the kids' house."


"Has he called?"

She turned to face him then, propping her leg on the edge of the seat a little. "That's pretty direct."

"I'm nothing if not that."

"Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering I guess what the situation is."

"I don't cheat."

"I wasn't suggesting you do, and if you'd consider yourself cheating after only a week that'd be moving pretty quick."

"You know what I mean."

"I think I do," he said.

"Would it matter?"

"No, I'd still be here if that's what you mean."


"Really," he said, eyes dropping to her mouth for a second. "And I'd still do this," he said before he leaned toward her and kissed her. It wasn't like the one in the theater. He didn't even try to open his mouth or anything, but her heart started racing just as it had earlier.

She knew now that Mike had been playing her all along. Even his kisses went to that end. Getting into her pants. She didn't have much experience before him to compare. Now, though, she knew that a kiss could be just that. It could be nice and sexy and sweet without feeling like there was the expectation for more to follow. Or that he was just kissing her as a means to an end.

Joe seemed to like kissing her. Maybe she was incredibly naïve and having only one person to compare to she was no expert by any means. However, the gentle almost loving way he kissed her lower lip and her chin as if he was savoring being this close to her seemed sincere. He didn't try to do anything more with his hand than touch her face as he started doing.

He broke the kiss, grazing her jaw with his lips before pulling away. His hand remained at her neck, though, gently rubbing the skin there.

"He hasn't," she said softly.

"I'm surprised, but glad."

She smiled a little, casting her eyes downward for a second.

"Listen, about the movie. I didn't know."

"I know."

"I just didn't want you to think."

"That you were trying to get me hot and bothered?"


"I know you weren't, and it's not a problem," he shrugged. "Won't deny it'd be nice to take you home and take care of that problem, but I can keep myself in check."

"I'm glad you aren't mad."

"Mad? Why would I be mad?"

"I don't know; if you thought I was teasing you."

"Nah, it's just a movie. I mean, sure I reacted, but more because I had someone attractive sitting next to me than the actual scene itself as I prefer my sex without blood. I would have even if they'd had a sheet covering them the whole time because you were there."


"Yes, really. Now if you'd taken me to see Nine 1/2 Weeks I may rethink my opinion of you."


He chuckled, kissing her lightly. "Let's just say that movie would put what we just saw to shame. You know, not all guys are that guy, Chris, and I'm not here to have a one night stand with you. No matter what movie we see or how nice you kiss."

She laughed. "Well, that's good, because you picked the wrong girl if that's what you're after."

"Not the wrong girl at all," he said, drawing his hand away from her neck finally. "So, food then."


Dinner was nice. Neither of them ate a whole lot, but they stayed until close to midnight. She couldn't comprehend how different he'd grown up. It was foreign to her. Sure, gangs were here in Oak Park, but they really weren't problematic. She knew someone who'd gotten jumped by some gang members outside of her high school's Homecoming dance in the fall. Otherwise, though, she couldn't relate to the world that was second nature to him.

He drove back to her car only when she noted the time. Her mother never expressly gave her a curfew, but it was an unspoken understanding that unless it was something special like Homecoming or a birthday or holiday party that she was to be home by midnight.

He got out and walked to her car with her. The parking lot that had been crowded when she got there for the movie was now pretty empty. A few cars remained, probably there for the same reason Chris' was. He opened the door for her while she got in to start it and got back out, wanting to let it warm up for a couple of minutes.

She was never good at ends of dates. This was a somewhat strange one. She wouldn't see him at school on Monday. None of her friends knew him. Brenda did, but they hadn't spoken in the car on the way home last week or anything. Brenda had been too frightened and Joe was probably trying to figure out just what in the hell he'd done. Her mom certainly had no idea who she was out with. So, she had no one expecting details.

She kind of liked that idea.

He reached for her, drawing the collar of her grandfather's coat up.

"You look cold."

"I'm fine," she said.

"We could sit in my car for a bit."

"It won't take long to warm up."

"All right," he said, lowering his hands to her hips. "I had a good time."

"I'm sure," she said with a roll of her eyes.

"Hey. Why do you do that?"

"I can just imagine how boring this was for you."

"If I didn't want to do this I didn't have to. No one held a gun to my head and made me call you or suggest a movie to begin with."

"I know. I just," she said with a shrug. "I'm eighteen, still in high school."

"Until May."


"You're making a big deal out of nothing, really."

"Our lives are so different."

"And yet our paths crossed. There are people who say opposites attract."

He shushed her before she could say more, leaning in to kiss her. The other kisses had been kind of awkward with them both sitting as they were. She took advantage of this position, him standing flush against her and slid her arms around his neck.

He broke the kiss first, brushing his cheek against hers.

"You're shivering," he said.

"Sorry," she whispered.

"No need to apologize, but I guess that's my cue to let you get home."

"How long will it take you to get home?"

"This time of night? About thirty minutes maybe."

"Okay. Drive safe."

He chuckled, cupping her face with his hands to kiss her again briefly. "There's that concern again. I will drive safe. You do the same."

"I will. And thank you for everything tonight."

"Thank you for agreeing to go out with me. I'll call you tomorrow. After church."

She ducked her head a little, pleased that he remembered that bit of information about her.


He opened the door for her and she got in. He didn't go back to his car until she pulled out of the parking space and drove from the area.

She wanted to go home and call Brenda immediately, but her friend wouldn't appreciate that. Never mind her step-mom. Chris didn't feel like getting on her bad side over something stupid. She'd just have to wait until tomorrow or Monday to tell Brenda about her date. It was perfect, the awkwardness from the movie aside or maybe even because of it. At least she knew he wasn't the type of guy that would take that type of movie as an open invitation. Mike would have.

She pulled into her driveway, using the opener to activate the garage door. It wasn't much after midnight so her mom wouldn't be too mad, assuming she was waiting up for her. She didn't usually because Chris had proven trustworthy to this point. She'd never abused her mom's pretty open curfew. She realized that might change if her mom found out how she'd met the guy she went out with tonight, but that was something to think about another time.

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***Part Four***
Word Count: 6,579

(Author's Note: Before anyone reads this part and claims that what I have happening here would be hard-pressed to really occur, I went to a Bulls game and ran into not one but three people I knew at different times during the same game. So, is it a stretch? Sure, but it's not implausible. If it happened to me at a huge place like the United Center, surely it could happen to Chris at a smaller venue like Wrigley Field.)

"What happened?" she asked when she spotted him at the train station. She left her mom's car at the train station in Oak Park and came to the city this way. He'd asked her to a Cubs game today and they decided it wasn't worth both of them parking their car. They'd done it this way when he'd taken her to a Bulls game last month.

Things had quickly gotten more serious than she thought they would. She assumed after the movie that would be that. He was a city guy who had been around the block more than once. She was a suburban girl who had barely been around the block at all.

Instead, he'd called the next day as he said he would. He'd driven out to see her that Monday after school and again later in the week. That became the norm for them with her occasionally taking the train into the city to see him on the weekend so they could do something downtown. They talked every night on the phone, always late after her parents were in bed. He never minded how late she called.

She'd been to his house a couple of times. It was an older row house. She was surprised to find out he owned it with an apartment in the basement that he could rent if needed. They never stayed there long; it was always a quick stop in between a trip to a museum and grabbing dinner or something. He never pressed her about picking her up or finding out where she lived beyond the name of her suburb.

"Nothing," he said with a shrug, but she didn't believe him.

"Joe," she said, reaching to touch his eye. He winced, as she expected he might. His eye wasn't just swollen with various shades of black, blue, purple and yellow as a result. He had a nasty gash just above his eyebrow that looked like it should have gotten stitches.

"It happens," he said, dismissing it.

Judging by the tones of color the bruising was at; she guessed it had happened a few days ago. They'd talked in that time and he hadn't said anything.

"Why didn't you say something?"

"What's to say? It is what it is. You know? Nothing you could have done about it." He smiled then and she noticed he had a smaller cut with bruising by his lip. The eye's damage was more prevalent, so she guessed that was why she noticed it first. "You going to offer to come take care of me?"

"Did you need someone to take care of you? It looks like you should have gone to a hospital."

"It stopped bleeding eventually."

"Yeah, but it's going to scar."

"Won't be my first."

"If you say so."

"Listen, Chris, it is what it is. I pissed off some people, you know. Payback is a bitch sometimes."

"This is because of me?"

"I didn't say that."

"Who else did you piss off enough to beat you up?"

"You'd be surprised."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"Nothing to say."

"Why do you still want to see me?"

"Like I'd let them stop me. It's really not about you. I betrayed them, you know. I know things, lots of things that could get people in a lot of trouble. They just want to make sure I won't talk."

"You're sure that's all it is?"

"Positive. I don't think they're worried about you. They can move their operation. There are warehouses all over Chicago that would suit their needs. I have names, though, details. I mean, sure I imagine if they ran across you they might take the opportunity to ensure you couldn't talk, but I really don't believe they're going to seek you out."

"I hadn't even thought that they might," she admitted, wondering how naïve she was not to have.

"Well, that's good, I don't want you scared. They're bad people, but they still have a business to run. Once they realize I'm not talking and you or the kids haven't talked, they'll move onto harassing someone else."

"You sure that's all it is? They're not trying to get information about me?"

"Positive," he said, touching her face and brushing some hair away from her face.

"All right."

"Ready to see the Cubs play?"

"Yeah," she said. "I told my mom I'd probably be out late."


"Well, I wasn't sure what time the game would get over and what you'd want to do after."

"That's fine. I'm not of the mind to get rid of you any sooner than I have to."


"Not at all."

"Well, good," she said.

"Ever been here?" he asked once they'd entered Wrigley Field. He bought a game program and got them each something to drink. They were fairly early, so she used the bathroom before worrying about finding their seats and dealing with a crowd of people later.

"Sure. We come a few times a year."


"Yeah, you know, we're a North Side family."

Unfortunately, the Cubs lost to the Expos. At least it was closer than the day before when the Expos beat the Cubs 7-0.

"You want a shirt or something?" he asked as they made their way through the crowd to their exit. She was holding onto his arm, watching the people. Most seemed in a huge rush to get out. She didn't really care how long it took them to get out.

"No, the program is fine."

"You sure?" He stopped then and faced her. He took one of her hands, his other one reaching for her face. "Come on. We've never been here for a game before. I'm offering, you're not asking."

"Joe, really. The tickets were expensive enough."

"It's just money."

"Says the man who no longer has a job."

"I'm working on changing that."


"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "Come on," he said, keeping her hand as he led her toward one of the stands. Most were closing up since the game was over, but a few were staying open, obviously to appeal to people like Joe who were willing to spend money after the game was over.

"What would you like? Sandberg? Jody Davis?"

"How about one without a name," she said, pointing at one of the shirts that just had the Cubs logo with no number or anything.

"You sure?"


"All right," he said, paying for it when she told her size.

"Thank you. It's too much really."

"Nah. I like the idea of you wearing something I bought," he said, leaning in to give her a kiss. She kissed him back mindful of his lip, though.

"Doesn't that hurt," she said, using a fingertip to touch his lip.

"I didn't even notice."

She laughed. "How could you not?"

"You're a nice distraction."

"Well, thanks, but I don't want to hurt you."

"It's not a bad kind of pain. It's been a couple of days, so I'm used to it."

"Kissed a lot of girls in the last few days?"

"Only the one standing here."


"Yes, really. Like you I'm not a cheater, and would have been upfront with you if there was anyone else in the picture."

She felt an arm grab a hold of the sleeve of her coat. At first she thought it was an accident, someone who'd had a bit too much to drink walking too close to her. Except the grip didn't let up. She turned, more than surprised to see her father standing there.


"Chris? What are you doing here?"

"Obviously, the same thing you are," she said, glancing behind him to see her dad's friends who he was here with from the looks of things.

"Does your mother know?"

"Yes, I told her."

"I don't like the idea of you driving down here."

"I didn't. I took the train down and Joe picked me up from there."

"Joe," he said, regarding Joe for the first time, though she was sure her father knew she was with him. It was pretty obvious. "We haven't met."

"Uh no," Joe said, extending his hand to her father. "Joe Gipp."

"And you know my daughter how?" Chris didn't miss the fact her father didn't take Joe's hand.

"We met through some friends," he answered smoothly.

"You're older than she is."

"Yeah," he said simply. "It's just a baseball game, Mr. Parker. I'll be dropping her at the train station in a little while."

"And you're okay with her taking the train home by herself at night?"

"Dad," she said. "It was my idea. I wasn't going to make Joe go out of his way."

"I can drive you home," he offered.

"That's crazy. Dad."

"Excuse us a minute," her dad said. Chris followed him. She didn't have much choice. He was her father.

"Who is that man?"

"A friend."

"He looked like more than a friend a minute ago."

He'd seen them kissing? Oh God, how embarrassing. Not because of who Joe was or anything, but just the fact her dad saw her kissing someone was very weird.

"He's not like us, Chris."

"No. You know, I dated a guy like us, Dad, and he had sex with Sesame Plexor and who knows who else while seeing me. Maybe I want someone not like us."

"That's enough."

"I'm not doing anything wrong. It's not as if I'm rushing off to marry him. It's a date, Dad. Isn't that what I'm supposed to do at this age?"

"You're supposed to be thinking about college and your future not wasting your time on some thug."

"He's not a thug."

If only she could tell him how she'd really met Joe. He'd freak out, but realize that Joe wasn't at all like what he seemed.

"Could have fooled me."

"Dad, please don't make a scene."

"I won't because I'm taking you to the train station myself right now and I'll talk to your mother about this tomorrow."

"Dad. Come on."

"Don't come on me, young lady. I will not have my daughter embarrassing me."

"Embarrassing you? I'm at a baseball game. Just what can I do here that's so embarrassing?"

"Your choice in companions is answer enough. You're obviously not mature enough to make good decisions."

"Dad. It's not what you think."

"I know exactly what it is, and you're leaving with me right now. I'm going to put you on the first train home."

"Joe can get me to the train station just fine."

"No. You're not spending another minute with him."

"Yes, I am."

"You're coming with me. I'm not telling you again, Christine Marie."

"No, Dad, I'm not," she said, hoping he couldn't see how nervous she was just then. She'd never argued with her dad like this before. Sure, they'd gotten into heated discussions about college and what she wanted to do with her life, but this was something entirely different. He was trying to tell her what to do, who she could and couldn't be friends with. She'd never done anything to warrant that kind of control by her father. She obeyed her curfew. She didn't drive drunk or smoke. She wasn't having sex in the back of her mom's station wagon. She was, overall, good, and she wasn't going to let her father treat her as though she'd made a million bad decisions in her life to this point. She hadn't.

She stepped away from him then, taking advantage of his shock at her rebelling against him to get away from the grasp he still had on her arm.

"If you leave with him, you will not be allowed back in the house."

"Fine," she said.

"Christine Parker. I am serious."

"I know you are, but unfortunately you're seriously wrong and I'm not going to let you bully me into choosing my friends according to your skewed vision of who is acceptable for me."

"I mean it," he said to her back.

"Let's go," she said to Joe.

"Uh. You sure?"

"Yes," she said.

"Chris, I don't want to come between you and your parents."

"Maybe I want to come between me and my parents. Can we please just go and talk about this in your car?"

"All right," he said.

She noticed he glanced back to where Chris' dad had been standing. She assumed he still was, waiting for her to cave in and change her mind. She wasn't going to. Not on this. Joe was a good person, it didn't matter that he wasn't white or like the guys she went to school with.

She was quietly assessing her options on the way to his car. He seemed to understand that she didn't want to talk just yet and remained silent until he started his car.

"So. Train station?"

"No," she said. "Not yet. I'll call Brenda from your house and see if I can spend the night there or something."

"Why?" he asked with a frown.

"He told me not to come home if I left with you."

"Oh," he said, hands gripping the steering wheel a little tighter at that. "So, there was more to my not picking you up at your house than how we met."

She laughed with a shake of her head. "Yeah."

"I didn't know. You never said it was a problem."

"It's not. For me. I'm not my father. He has this vision for my life. You know. University of Illinois or Purdue. Maybe Northwestern. Get a degree in Elementary Education. Find a husband, preferably one with a six digit income. Teach for a few years until I have kids of my own."

"And you don't want all that?"

"No! I just want to be happy. To be my own person. To live life. I'll get to college eventually; I'm just not sure I want to go right after high school. I'd like to get a job, maybe travel a little, and see things outside of Chicago."

"Sounds legitimate."

"I think so. He doesn't."

"I can just bring you home. I'm sure he'd be okay if he saw you came home right away."

"No. He doesn't get to dictate who my friends are."

"I hope I'm more than a friend by now."

"You are," she said, leaning in to kiss him. "God. I never thought I'd be sitting with you like this after that night. I assumed after that first date you'd go home and never want to see me again."

"You've said that before and I'll say it again. I knew from the moment I saw you that you were someone I wanted to get to know."

"Yeah, me and my stupidity not even knowing you were stealing the car we'd gotten in to."

"Not stupid. Just someone who hadn't seen things I had. That's all. And that's not bad, Chris."

"Thank you."

They got back to his place and he parked on the street in front of his house instead of his garage off the alley behind his house. So that meant he wasn't planning to stay in for the rest of the night. Odd that she knew that sort of thing about him, but she knew he only parked on the street if he was going out again.

She got the answering machine at Brenda's house. She left a rather vague message, knowing her step-mom would freak out if Chris said anything about being in the city or what was going on beyond saying she'd run into her dad at the Cubs game. Assuming Brenda heard the message, she'd know that wasn't good.

"I'll have to try calling her later."

"It's fine," Joe said. "We can hang here if you want. She has my number, right?"

"I gave it to her once, but I'm not sure she kept it."

"Well, if she calls your house she might assume you're here and if she has the number she'll call."

"I hope so."

"I can run to the store and get us a movie and a pizza or something. I wasn't expecting you to be here tonight so I don't have anything, but at least that way we can do something while we wait for her to call."

"Sure," she said.

He took her into his arms; she settled her head against his chest. She loved when he did this. Hugged her. She felt so safe with him when she knew she probably should feel just the opposite. She couldn't help what she felt, though.

This was so different than what she'd felt with Mike. Not that that was saying much she realized. Joe wasn't afraid to bring her home, something Mike had always been hesitant to do. Joe never had a problem leaving her here by herself either while he ran to the store to get a movie, food, or something when they were here for an evening. He'd even brought up her meeting his mom.

Chris was quickly falling in love with the guy she'd met on a fluke one night. A night that nothing good should have come out of.

"You sure you don't want me to take you home," he whispered, grazing the top of her head with a kiss.


"You change your mind, you let me know. I really don't want to be the reason your dad's mad at you."

"You will be whether I go home or not. I'm an adult. He has to figure out he can't dictate my life to me. I mean college I get because he's paying for it. Who I date? No."

"I'm glad because I'm not sure I could give you up."

"No?" she asked, glancing up at him.

"Not unless I knew it was really what you wanted."

"And if I go to college?"

He shrugged. "You'll be home on breaks. Summer. You're talking somewhat local to where I could go see you. Or pay for a train ticket for you to come see me for a weekend."


He kissed her then. It wasn't really an answer, but in a way it was. Her arms went around his neck as she kissed him back. She made a soft sound into the kiss as he slid a hand under her shirt and up to cup a breast. He'd touched her before, but always over her clothes and never here at his house where the temptation of being able to do more was so easy to give into.

He broke the kiss, mouth grazing her jaw before stopping at her neck. She gasped as a fingertip grazed over a hardening peak, arching into his touch as his mouth was busy kissing and sucking on the skin near her throat.

"Joe," she murmured as he moved his mouth a little bit to a different spot on her neck. She slid a leg between his, rubbing against him. His hand pushed her shirt up, exposing her bra. He kissed her there before pulling away.

"Don't go to Brenda's tonight," he said, carefully fixing her shirt. He grazed her neck with a fingertip, smirking a little and she knew there was at least one hickey there. Possibly two. Funny, she always thought they looked sleazy on people, but for the first time she understood the appeal of them in a way. What Joe did felt good.

"She may not even call me back."

"That's what I was thinking," he whispered, sliding his hands low along her back.

"Joe," she said, pushing lightly on his chest. "I don't think I'm ready to have sex."

"Who said anything about sex? Not that I'd object if you were willing, but I know it's too soon for you."

"You could just sleep with me?"

"I will do my best."

"If Brenda calls I have to go to her house."

"I know," he said. "We'll make sure the phone by my bed is on."

"You turn it off?"

"When I'm not expecting you to call, yeah."

"You leave it on for me?"


"Thank you."

"Not sure why you're thanking me, but you're welcome."

"That's so sweet."

He shrugged. "I like talking to you. I especially like talking to you knowing we're both in bed."

He knew she didn't have a phone in her bedroom. The closest they got to both being in bed was her in her pajamas on the couch in the basement, ready for bed and everything. She'd never really cared about not having a phone in her bedroom before now, her own line with plenty of extensions in the house where she could talk privately was fine until recently. She was only going to be home for a few more months, though, so she knew talking her parents into a jack in her room would be out of the question.

"I don't know what my dad's going to do."

"He'll calm down. Your mom will calm him down if he doesn't on his own. It was a shock."

"What are the odds? I didn't even know he was going to a game today."

"As long as you're all right with us together, I'm with you whatever you need."

"I know that."

"So. Movies and pizza?"


"You can come with me, but one of us should be here in case Brenda calls."

"I know. Get whatever."

"It's late anyway, most of the good movies will be gone but I'll get something."


"Be back in a few."

"I'll be here."

"I like the sound of that," he said on his way out the door.

While he was gone she walked to his bedroom. She knew where it was. He'd shown her around her first time here. Weird to think she might be sleeping here tonight. She believed him that he wouldn't pressure her to have sex. He hadn't yet and they'd spent enough time here alone that if that had been his intention he would have tried by now.

She ran a fingertip over the spot on her neck where she suspected the hickey was and smiled a little. If she was able to go home tomorrow her father would probably have a fit about that, too, but she thought it was probably low enough she could hide it if she had to.

She sat on the bed, picking up the phone to dial Brenda's phone number again. Still only the machine, so she hung up without leaving another message. It drove Brenda's step-mom nuts when there were hang-ups on the machine, but Chris wasn't going to leave more than one message.

His room was pretty neat. He had a small walk-in closet with some things on the floor, but other than that there was nothing lying around or anything. She supposed he'd expected to bring Chris back here after the game, but her coming up to his room probably wasn't part of the expectation. So she took that to mean he was a neat person normally. His living room where they spent their time while here usually was lived in, but not messy or anything.

Where her room was so obviously used by a girl his was just the opposite. Not a pink, yellow, or purple to be found. No white furniture either. She wondered what he'd think of her bedroom, not that he'd ever see it. Her dad would freak out knowing she'd been in his bedroom, Joe being in hers was out of the question.

On the mirror above his dresser was the ticket stub from the movie they'd seen on their first date. She smiled at that, because she'd saved her stub, too. Also there was the scrap of paper she'd written her phone number on the night they'd met.

"Find anything?"

"No," she said softly. She'd heard him coming up the stairs so he hadn't surprised her.

"What are you doing in here?"

"Just looking."

"Making sure I don't have any handcuffs on the bedposts or anything?"

"Yeah," she said.

"I have those stashed away for another night."

"You do, huh?"

"Yeah, figured tonight would be too soon for the kinky stuff."

She laughed. "Chaylene would probably go for the kinky stuff."

"Yeah, well, I don't want Chaylene in my bedroom."

"You sure about that?"

"Positive," he said, taking her into his arms. "I told you that night she doesn't even compare to you."

"I wish I could believe you."

"Why don't you?"

She shrugged, resting her head against his chest. "I don't know. Because I'm not real experienced."

"Hey, Baby, when have I ever indicated I had a problem with your experience?"

"Yeah, but downstairs earlier. Other girls you wouldn't have stopped with."

"Maybe. Maybe not. It would depend on the woman. I'm here now with you. If sleeping in here with me will make you feel uncomfortable I can put you up in the other bedroom."

"No, that's not it."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I kind of look forward to it."

"What's that?"

"Sleeping with you."


"I've thought about it. What you look like after we hang up."

"Any thoughts I should know about?"

"Other than I've wondered what you wear to sleep in."

He chuckled. "I've wondered the same thing so I guess we're even there. Tonight I guess we'll settle for clothes. Both of us."

"Yeah," she said, scrunching her nose a bit.

"I've got a shirt and shorts you can borrow or something. And we'll find something to cover those up with tomorrow," he said, running a fingertip along her neck. "I have a turtleneck you could probably use for that."


"So, pizza and a movie?"

"Yeah, sounds good."

"We could watch up here. The TV isn't as big, I usually just use it to watch games before falling asleep, but it has a VCR."

"Downstairs is probably safer."

"Probably. Do you want to be safe?"

Did she?

"You don't mind eating on your bed?"

"With you?" He chuckled softly. "Not the first thing that comes to mind that I'd like to do with you on my bed, but no not at all. Why would I?"

"Sure then."

"All right," he said. "I'll be right back then. Make yourself comfortable."

She woke up the next morning, forgetting for a minute where she was. The spot next to her on the bed being occupied made her remember pretty quickly. His arm was draped over her abdomen with his body pressed firmly up against her back.

They'd fallen asleep during Saturday Night Live. She vaguely remembered Joe shutting the TV off and an awkward few minutes of them trying to figure out how to sleep with one another. Brenda never called. Whether that meant she got Chris' message but didn't know where to call her Chris didn't know. She'd try again today after church.

They'd woken up a few times during the night and fooled around some. There was definitely something to be said for spending the night with someone.

"There should be laws against looking so good when you wake up," he whispered against her ear.

"What?" she said with a laugh. She looked atrocious. She was certain of it. Her hair had to be sticking out every which way. "You're obviously still asleep."

"Nah, been watching you for the last half hour or so."



"Did I snore?"


"Good to know."

"You want this," he said, holding up the shirt he'd given her to wear to bed last night. It hadn't stayed on long. The hickeys on her neck were now joined by some on her breasts. He had one or two of his own, too. He hadn't pushed to go further, seeming to know that any clothes off was as far as she'd gone to this point.

"In a minute," she said.


She smiled at him. "That surprises you?"

He shrugged. "Figured with the sun up and it being Sunday morning and everything, yeah, you'd want to cover up."

"Do you want me to?"

"Cover up?"


"No! You could stay just like this for the rest of the day. Though I guess if we're talking wishes here," he said, sliding a fingertip to the waistband of the shorts he'd lent her. "These'd come off, too."

"And you'd do what then?"

"Touch you. Taste you. Make love to you."

She pressed herself against him, which made him groan. She felt that he was definitely up for the making love to her part. She turned to face him then, reaching for him through the front of his pants. She touched him like that, watching his face as she stroked and squeezed his length just a bit.

She lowered her mouth to his before finding his neck and going further to his chest. She kissed and licked him, giving a gentle bite at his hiss when she slid her hand inside his pants. She had no clue what she was doing, taking her cue from the sounds he made when she touched him this or that way. He seemed to particularly like when her fingernails skimmed along his length.

Lower she went with her mouth, tugging on the waistband of his pants. They weren't really sweats but weren't like the pajamas her dad wore either. She kissed his hip, glancing up at him for a second.

"What?" she asked, wondering what the look on his face was for.

"Remind me to see you first thing in the morning more often."

She ducked her head against his thigh a little, but didn't stop what she was doing. He sprang free of his pants once she got them low enough and she focused her attention on that part of him.

She teased him a little, kissing his thighs before finally taking him into her mouth. He cried out when she circled the tip with her tongue before taking him deeper. She took him a little too deep and had to stop, coughing softly as she took a breath.

He chuckled softly as she kissed his stomach and chest.

"Too much for you?" he asked.

She bit her lower lip before kissing his neck and jaw.

"I guess."

"You were doing fine until that."

"Is there a not fine way?"

"Uh, yeah. Teeth are bad. And well you know while it won't break it should still be treated with some gentleness."

"Hmm," she said, giving a shriek as he wrapped his arms around her and moved them so he was on top of her.

"I knew a guy who ended up breaking up with a girl because he thought she was going to break it off one day."

She laughed. "Really?"

"Well, probably not, but no matter how he tried to prompt her to be less aggressive she was just too rough."

"Did he ever tell her?"

"I doubt it. We were pretty young and he wasn't too worried about finding someone who would do it the way he liked."

"I see. I hope you'll tell me if I do something you don't like."

"Baby, I don't think that will be a problem based on what you were just doing, but I will."

"Okay. Because I've never done anything before."

"Nothing?" he asked as he worked at sliding her shorts off.

"Not until you."

"So you mean nothing nothing."

"Yeah," she said, giving a nervous laugh.

"What's with the laugh?"

"I don't know. I probably seem so naïve to you."

"Why? Because you haven't had sex in the back of your mom's station wagon before high school graduation?"

"Something like that."

"Nothing wrong with that. Different world than mine, for sure, but I guess there were probably some girls I grew up with who hadn't either."

He skimmed her legs with his hands. They were rough in spots, she noticed. He used his hands for his work. He had a workshop in his garage where he worked on things. So it wasn't just stealing cars that he used his hands for.

"I promise to tell you, though," he said before taking a nipple into his mouth. He apparently wasn't expecting her to reply. For a very long time after that either. She had no idea that fingers could make her body feel so many different things. That there were so many things to do with a mouth. She would have been totally embarrassed finishing as she did except he seemed to like the way she reacted to what he was doing.

Then he was there. On top of her, pressed firmly between her legs. He took her mouth with his as she spread her legs, wrapping her legs around his calves.

"You're sure," he asked as he slid a hand between their bodies.

"Yes," she said. She had no idea why she was sure this morning and hadn't been last night. Probably because he'd had an easy in to push her into doing things last night and he hadn't. He'd woken her up, but he never once went further than earlier in the night. Sleepy as she was, she probably would have let him do a lot more and he had to know that.

He guided his length into her. She forced her eyes open, watching him as he seemed to be doing with her. Probably waiting for her to freak out or to change her mind. She bit his shoulder as he pushed through her barrier and further into her.

All of the way into her. She gasped from the feel of him.

"You okay?" he asked. Obviously, he'd mistaken her gasp for one of pain or discomfort when it was just the opposite.

"Yeah," she said, sounding breathless.

Slowly, she got bolder, hands skimming along his arms, sides and back, moving her body against his thrusts. Using her legs to keep him flush against her. Lower to his hips, her fingertips grazing his ass as he thrust into her.

He was busy kissing and sucking at her shoulder, whispering things into her ear that she knew would probably make her blush later when she thought about them. For now, though, she liked hearing him say them. How good she felt around him was the general idea just then.

He pulled out of her, a whispered "sorry" against her ear as she felt her stomach get wet. It took her a minute to realize that he'd done that so he wouldn't finish in her. She hadn't even thought of that once the entire morning.

She traced nonsensical patterns along his arms and back as he remained on top of her. She relaxed her legs, shifting them a little beneath his weight.

"Remind me to invest in some rubbers later today."

Her hands stilled and she felt her body get warm from a blush.

"Okay," she said.

"I should have had some already I guess, but I didn't want you to think I expected or planned anything by you coming back here."

"It's okay if you did."

"Nah. I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable coming here. I like spending time with you alone, you know and this is the only place we get that."

"I know," she said.

"So, yeah, I'll go buy some later."


He pulled away a little, looking at her. "That doesn't mean we have to use them every time you come here."


"Chris. I mean it. Don't get me wrong. I would never turn you down if you were in the mood, but just because we have today doesn't mean we have to from now on."

"I know that."

"Okay. It kind of happened out of the blue so I would understand if you didn't want to again right away."

"You're so sweet," she said, touching his face with her hand.

"Says the woman whose virginity I just took."

She laughed. "You didn't take anything I didn't want you to have."

"I'm glad of that."

"Thank you."

"You're thanking me? For what?"

"For thinking about not finishing in me."

"Oh that. Yeah. I figured your dad might not warm up to me ever if nine months from yesterday you've got a baby."

"That's the only reason?"

"The biggest one, yeah. I told you, I don't want to be the reason for you having problems with your parents. Dating me is one thing. Having my baby is another."

"Yeah. He probably would disown me for real."

"We'll figure it out."

"You mean that?"

"Sure. I hope he'd at least come around to my making you happy."

"You do."

"Back at you."

She smiled then as he moved beside her on the bed.

"So, the gentleman in me knows I should get up and get a cloth to clean up the mess I made."

"You're not feeling gentlemanly?"

"Well, I was thinking you might want to join me in the shower instead."


He nuzzled her shoulder. "Yes, together. That was the idea."

"Sure," she said.

"I make no promises that I won't make another mess."

"Why's that?"

"It's not every day I get my girlfriend naked in the shower with me so parts of me may enjoy it a little too much."

"That's a chance I'm willing to take."

"Then I'll make you some breakfast and you can try calling your mom. By then, she should be home from church."

"If she went. If she was worried about me she may have stayed home."

"Now you're making me feel bad."

"I'm not trying to, Joe. I was just saying."

"Do you want to try calling her now?"

"No, not yet," she said honestly. "At least not until after the shower."

He got up from the bed and walked through the doorway that led to his bathroom. She heard the water come on and he came back to the bedroom.

"You look gorgeous like that," he said.

"Like what? I'm just laying here."

"You're lying there naked in my bed followed by some good wakeup sex."

"At least you're getting better at leaving these lower than my neck," she said, glancing at the newest hickey on her shoulder.

"Yeah, they take pretty easy on you."

"I wouldn't know."

"Not even a hickey before now?"



She let out a squeal as he picked her up. She wasn't sure what his plan was, but she wrapped her legs around him which brought her up against the fact that he was more than ready again.

"Joe," she whispered as he shifted her enough so he could slide into her.

The water wasn't real hot by the time they made it into the shower but neither seemed to notice. Or maybe it was the fact that the warmth of their bodies made up for any cold they might have felt.

"Definitely going to have to buy out the whole store," he said as they sat in the tub intertwined. He had one of those old antique tubs so there was plenty of room for the both of them. The shower head was off so she should have been cold, but she didn't notice. Or just didn't care.

Return to Top

***Part Five***
Word Count: 3,728

Her mother had been remarkably calm when Joe brought Chris home that afternoon. Her dad was at the country club. A fact that her mother encouraged her to take advantage of in allowing her to meet the "gentleman in question".

Her mother didn't ask where Chris spent the night and Chris didn't offer that bit of information. Fortunately, Joe did have a turtleneck that covered the one hickey on her neck that a regular shirt showed. So as far as any physical evidence went, they were good. She was long past the age where her mom walked in on her in the bathroom or anything.

Chris and Joe both knew that her mother knew and was just not saying anything. She'd even served Joe a cup of coffee when he'd mentioned smelling it when they'd gotten there. Chris' mom was as mindful of the time as Chris; both knew what time her father would be home from the club.

"You two just need to be more careful in the future," her mother said on her way back to the kitchen to see about dinner.

"Mom. We went to a baseball game. How could we know Dad was going to be there?"

"I think it was the shock of seeing you kiss him in front of his friends, honey. That's all."

"So, what I can't ever kiss him in public in case Dad or one of his friends might see me?"

"Well, of course not. That's not what I'm saying. Just be mindful, is all, that you just never know who might see you."

"I assure you, Mrs. Parker, I have no intention on causing bad feelings."

"Nonsense. It's not your fault my husband judges people based on things they have no control over. You're black. A young man that could have made partner at your father's firm very easily was passed over because he was Baptist." She shrugged.


"It's true. He'd never tell anyone that was the reason, but as his wife I know it. I can't change his mind on these types of things, Christine. You know it as well as I do. All I can suggest is don't flaunt it, but don't lie to me either."

"I won't! I didn't! I told you I was going to the ballgame."

"You didn't tell me who you were going with."

"You didn't know him."

"Now I do, and while I don't expect an itinerary of your exact whereabouts and plans, I do expect you to abide by the rules that have always been in place up until last night."

"I understand."

"If you're late once in a while, I understand. City traffic can be awful."

"Thanks, Mom."

"And no more talk of not going to college in the fall. Your father will send you to Stanford or Harvard if you insist on fighting him on the issue. Especially if he thinks it'll get you away from influences he'd rather you not be near."

"I'll pick one this week. I was looking at Southern Illinois."

"Pick a couple and we can visit campuses over the next couple of weeks. Now, you say good night to your guest, Christine, and then come talk to me in the kitchen."

"Okay," Chris said, suspecting what that conversation was going to entail.

She walked Joe to the door, holding his hand.

"That went much better than I expected," Joe said when she'd closed the front door behind them.

"I know. She's not so bad. Don't ever tell my dad this, but she dated someone in college before they met that she's sure he'd divorce her over if he found out."

Joe chuckled as they walked to his car on the street in front of her house. "Good for her."

"I don't think he was black."

"Doesn't have to be," he shrugged. "Clearly your father has a very narrow view of life and the people who are worthy of his time. I don't fall in those specifications so I need to act carefully. I get it."

"At least Mom's not going to be bad about it."

"At least there's that. Southern Illinois? Isn't that all the way down in Carbondale?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"That's like a seven hour drive."

"Well, there are others."

"No, no, you choose where you want to go. I was just making sure I had the right school."

"You do."

"What are you going to study anyway?"

"Honestly? I've been thinking about nursing or teaching."

"I could see both very easily."

"Yeah," she said, grazing his lip with her thumb. "Especially if you keep getting beat up."

"My own private nurse. I like that idea."

"Me, too."

"So, no more overnights."

"I don't think Mom will be that lenient."

"She let me leave without demanding I marry you or arresting me, so I'd say we're okay for now."

"Yeah. I'm sure she'll make my dad think I stayed with Brenda."

"I'm sure. That's okay. It can be our secret. And as we proved this morning, daytime works just fine for things, too."

She blushed profusely, ducking her head to hide it from him. He laughed, knowing what she was doing.

"So, you know where we live now."

"I do at that. You'll let me know when it's safe to pick you up; otherwise I suspect we'll be meeting elsewhere."

"I know, but at least you know."

"I do, and it's pretty much what I pictured, too."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. I had you pegged pretty well that night. Wrong about some things, but the important stuff I was right on."

"Well, good."

"I think so." He leaned in to kiss her. "Call me before you go to bed."


He got in his car then and she watched as he drove away, dreading "the talk" with her mother. She had a pretty decent relationship with her mom. They had their share of arguments and there were times Chris thought her mom was completely clueless, but more often than not her mom came through for her. Like today. And they did things together that Chris loved like going to museums and stuff downtown.

"You like him," her mother said as she chopped vegetables for the salad. Chris took over that chore so her mom could work on other stuff for dinner.


"I can tell."


"You don't have that deer-in-the-headlights look I saw whenever that Mike Toddwell was around."


"It's true. He was too smooth for his own good."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"And you would have listened?"

"Well. No."

"Some things we ladies have to learn on our own as difficult as they are."

"If I ever see him again it will be too soon."

"You're better off without him. Your father said he's taken up with Sesame?"


"Who hasn't she taken up with, so don't take it as an affront, dear."


"What? I hear things. She has a bad reputation. I was just glad your name hasn't been mentioned in the same league as hers and those like her."

"Well, no. I'm not like that."

"That's good to know."

"Thanks, I think," Chris said.

"It will take a while for your father to get used to this situation."

"I know. Joe knows he can't pick me up or anything."

"He seems smart."

"Yeah," Chris said, not really having thought of it that way. He was definitely wise, knew things Chris couldn't even begin to imagine.

"He has a home?"

"Of course. He doesn't live in a box."

"I meant a home. A real home like we have. There is a difference."

"Yes. It's old, but it's nice and he works on it. He wants to restore the fixtures and stuff to the original time period."

"A project to keep him busy."


"And to use as an excuse for you to spend a lot of your time there."


"What does he do?"

"He's in between jobs right now. He works with cars."

"Is he good at what he does?"


"Then hopefully he'll find something soon. How did you two meet?"

"When I was out one night with some friends a few months ago."

"I want you to go see Dr. Martz."


"You still have a few months before college. I want to be sure nothing stops you from going."

"Nothing's going to stop me from going, Mom. I told you I'd pick one this week."

"A baby could stop you."


"Don't Mom me," she said, walking to her. She drew the collar of the turtleneck away, grazing the hidden hickey with her fingernail. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know. Why do you think Cecily Adams hasn't been in school this semester?"

"Cecily? Really? I didn't know and I didn't think you were."

"So, you will see Dr. Martz just to be safe. It's about time you had an exam anyway."

"Okay," Chris said, realizing her mom was right. She trusted Joe knew what he was doing when he pulled out, but knew it wasn't reliable.

"I only want the best for you, Christine."

"I know, Mom."

"Okay then. I'll call tomorrow. Whatever you do is between you and Dr. Martz. You're an adult; I can't dictate what you do or inquire as to what you talk about with her."

"I know."

"All right. Your father should be home soon. You'd better go upstairs and change into something of yours. Make sure that stays covered."

"I will."

"I love you. Your father loves you in his own way."

"I know. I love you, too."

"Just remember, I can't act as a go between or a buffer if I don't know what's going on."

"I will. I'm sorry."

"Dinner will be ready in about an hour."

Chris glanced at the clock. Dinner was always at six o'clock on Sunday's in the dining room with the good china. Company or just the three of them, it didn't matter, it was just what the Parker's did.

She went upstairs to shower and change. Birth control. That was what her mother was talking about. The pill. Chris wasn't sure how she felt about that. She never imagined even needing it. Her mom must know her pretty well to know Chris needed it now with Joe and hadn't with Mike or anyone she'd dated before now. Was it that obvious? She didn't know, but her mom evidently did. She was right, too. Her dad would come around to Joe if they lasted long enough for him to need to, but a baby without being married to him would be another thing entirely.

At school the next day she was faced with a predicament. What exactly did she tell Brenda? Well, she had to talk to someone about what she and her mom talked about. Her mom was making an appointment for her with her own doctor so she could go on birth control. It was weird and Brenda would probably be jealous in a way because her step-mom probably wouldn't stop to care if Brenda got pregnant.

That didn't stop Chris from telling Brenda everything about the weekend on the way to school, though.

"Oh my God, Chris. You did it."

"I know."

"And with someone nice."

"I thought you didn't like him."

"I don't not like him. I don't know him. I just don't know how much of a future you can have with him."

"I don't either, but I can't help who I like."

"I know."

"And maybe you would like to get to know him."

"What do you mean?"

"You could come with us to a movie or something."

"I don't want to be a third wheel."

"You're my best friend, Brenda. I promise you wouldn't be a third wheel."

"Just don't take me to see the movie you saw with him the first time."

Chris laughed. "No. Not likely."

"Good," Brenda said. "Though Mickey Rourke is kind of cute."

"He is," Chris admitted.

"So was it good?"


"As good as you thought it'd be?"




"And your mom knows."

"I guess. I'm not sure if she knows for sure or just suspects."

"Either way she's being pretty cool about it."

"I know. I couldn't believe it. I thought she was going to tell me I should wait for marriage or whatever."

"Your dad, though."

"Yeah, it'll take a while for him to come around. If he ever will."

"You think your mom will let him pick you up for prom?"

"I don't know. I hadn't even really thought about it. I bought the tickets back in January when I was dating Mike."

"You haven't asked him?"


"I'd ask your mom first because she'll want to take pictures and stuff."

"I know."

"She'll need to make sure your dad is gone, too."

"I know that, too, I'm pretty sure it's a little too soon for Dad to see me with him again."

"I can't believe he saw you kiss him."

"I know. Talk about embarrassing. Jeez. It's bad enough he knows who I go out with."

"And you're really going to pick a college this week?"

"I have to. Mom's right. Dad's paying. If I don't choose one and he thinks sending me far away will keep me away from Joe then he'll choose for me."

"Southern is so far, though," Brenda said.

"Joe said the same thing."

"I do like him!"

Chris laughed. "It's only a few hours and he talked about paying for train tickets for me to come up for the weekend sometimes."

"To see him."

"Brenda. I could see you, too. Trains run from Oak Park to the city."

"I know."

"Besides you'll be in college, too."

"Yeah, at Lake Forest."

"You're still not going to be living at home any more, Brenda. And it's a good school. It's not like your dad's sending you to some shitty college."

"But my dad and step-mom can come see me anytime."

"Do you really think they will?"

"Well, no," Brenda said.

"I may not go to Southern. I just know I don't want to go to U of I, which is my Dad's choice. I looked through some brochures last night. Aurora has a good nursing program."

"So, nursing?"

"I think so. And Aurora is a smaller college, which is better for a major like that."

"I guess."

"That's not much farther than Lake Forest, if at all. Come on. It's not like we planned on going to the same college."

"I know."

"I'm going to talk to Mom about my options when I get home."

"It's kind of scary, isn't it?"

"Yes," Chris admitted. That was probably part of the reason she hadn't wanted to think about college. She really didn't want to think about being a grown up, but clearly she had to be able to do something for a living.

"See you for lunch."

"Yeah," Chris said as they went their separate ways to their lockers.

Her mom must have pulled some strings or made Chris' need for birth control entirely more serious than it was because by Wednesday she'd seen Dr. Martz and was given a prescription for pills that she could pick up at Osco from now on. She heeded the doctor's instructions about when to start taking them and waiting a month before assuming she was protected. The nurse had given her a paper bag full of condoms, which embarrassed Chris to no end except clearly she was at the very least thinking about having sex or she wouldn't need the pill. It was just the fact it was her mom's doctor's office she supposed.

She and her mom were going to visit Aurora University's campus over the weekend. Chris knew someone from her high school who was going there now as it turned out, so the girl agreed to show them around. She wasn't going for nursing, so Chris doubted their paths would cross too much, but still knowing someone would be kind of nice.

There were a couple of other colleges she was looking at, but the more she thought on what she'd want to do with her life the more she settled on Aurora and nursing.

After the doctor's appointment, she drove to Joe's. She had to be home by ten o'clock since she had school the next day, but she'd still be able to see him for a few hours.

"What's this?" he asked when she handed the paper bag to him.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Okay," he said, opening the sack. He looked inside and shook his head slightly before looking at her. "This your way of telling me there's a reason you're here tonight?"

"Maybe," she said with a smile.

"I'm ambitious, honey, but I don't think even we could go through this many in the next couple of hours."

"My doctor gave them to me."


"Yeah. After you left on Sunday, Mom told me she was making an appointment for me."

"I see. And they just hand out rubbers?"

"When you're there for birth control purposes."

"Ah," he said with a nod. "So no interracial grandbabies for your mom either."

"That's not it. I have college and stuff. It's going to be hard enough getting my dad to accept you. And is it such a bad thing that I'm protected?"

"I suppose not."

"You suppose?"

"Well, that depends, I guess."

"Oh what? I've always heard guys hate those things," she said, gesturing to the sack. "And I may be inexperienced but I know pulling out is not effective."

"No, you're right. I told you I'd buy some."

"I know. They gave them to me. I swear, I didn't ask."

"It's okay, baby, I don't care either way. Hell, I'd love it if you were assertive enough to put one on me."

"I'm not sure I'm there yet, but maybe. What does it depend on?"

"Well, we're talking just you and me, right?"

"Yeah. Why?" she asked with a frown.

"You're going to college in the fall. If you were looking to sleep around."

"No! That's not it at all. You know, I didn't have to tell you at all. I could have been on the pill and made you use those anyway."

"I know, but I just want to make sure we're on the same page."

"You said you don't cheat."

"And I don't. I won't, but you're also not my first so I understand there might be some curiosity there for you that isn't for me."

"I'm not curious."

"All right. Because there's worse things than getting pregnant."

"I know that. They warned me about them today, too."

"Good," he said.


"I'm sorry. Do I sound mad or ungrateful? I'd tell you to thank your mom, but I'm not sure that's appropriate."

"Probably not," she said with a laugh.

"So. I made some dinner, figuring you'd be here about now. You hungry?"

"A little."

"Only a little?"

"Yeah. I was so nervous about that appointment I guess."

"It's okay."

"I know. I just," she shrugged. "I don't know. It's so weird, having my mom make the appointment for me."

"Weird to some, not for you evidently. Sounds like your mom is just being realistic. Would you rather she tell you not to have sex with me?"

"Well, no, because I would anyway."

"She probably knows that."


He kissed her then, lifting her from where she was sitting next to him on the couch onto his lap.

"Want to have sex with me now?"

"You're not hungry?"

"My beautiful woman comes to my door with a bag full of goodies. Somehow my mind left dinner pretty much right away."

She laughed. "Men."

"Yeah, baby, one track mind. I did cook you dinner, though."

"I know. Thank you. We can eat later."

"Yeah," he said, working her shirt off.

"Shouldn't we go upstairs?"


"That's where the bed is."

He chuckled, kissing her neck before capturing her earlobe in between his teeth.

"I don't think I had the bed in mind just now."


"Nah uh."


"Chris, I live alone. We can stay here if we want. Not to mention, if I get you upstairs in my bed, I'm not going to want you to leave it again until you have to go home."

"That's bad?" she asked, working his shirt off.

"It is if I don't want you to think that all I have is getting into your pants on my mind."

"You wouldn't have cooked me dinner," she said.

He kissed her with a chuckle. She slid off his lap to stand so he could slide her jeans and panties off before he did the same.

"You want to try to put one on?"

"Really? I don't think."

"Why not? If it tears there's another one. You'll be touching me, doesn't matter what the reason."

"Put like that," she said, taking the packet from him. She followed his instructions, glad that he said the same thing the nurse had. He groaned softly as she touched him, and she did more than she had to because really unrolling the thing wasn't that difficult. She kissed his inner thigh before sliding onto his lap.

"You all right?" he asked when her breath hitched.

"Yeah. Just different like this."

"Different bad?"

"No," she said with a laugh as she took him deeper into her. "Just more."

"Yeah," he said. "I've heard that different positions can be pretty intense. You're in control like this, though, so just take as much or as little of me as you want."

His hands at her hips helped guide his thrusts as she took in his length. She sank onto him completely with a groan as he took a nipple into his mouth. And then she was in control of the pace, his hands at her hips were merely there to help not control. She liked that idea. Toyed with it, took him in deep and hard, which both of them seemed to like. Neither seemed to mind slow, though.

Eventually, they did eat the dinner he made. The rest of the night they spent watching TV and while they didn't have sex again she was pretty sure neither of them could commit to what they actually watched because they were far too busy with each other to notice.

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***Part Six***
Word Count: 2,973

Life went about fairly normally. Prom, which her mom went absolutely crazy with the picture taking over but Chris couldn't complain really. It was the first time she'd ever been dressed up like that and Joe looked stunning in his tuxedo. Her dad had been conveniently absent that afternoon, but at least he hadn't objected to Chris bringing Joe altogether.

Graduation. That one Joe had bowed out of because the party her parents had for her was mostly their friends rather than hers. Neither of them was out to upset her father even if he thought Chris' choice in boyfriends was deliberately to the point of doing so.

The summer was everything she expected it to be. Dating someone who lived in the city was great because it was natural for him to want to do things downtown and that was where Chris loved to be. Taste of Chicago. Fireworks. Baseball games. Picnics at the beach with friends.

Her mom got to know Joe a little better, even coming with Chris to Joe's house when he had people over for Memorial Day since her dad was golfing that day. Chris' mom and Joe's were never going to be friends, but the two had gotten along well enough Chris thought. Her mom seemed to like knowing where Joe lived, too.

Joe got a job working of all places for the garage where Chris' mom's station wagon got fixed the night they met. He liked working on cars and Chris had mentioned the place thinking if anyone would give Joe a chance Mr. Dawson would. She'd never forget him letting Sara have her Thor helmet back.

Fall came and Chris started at the closer school in Aurora. Brenda was relieved. Her graduation present from her parents was her own car so that she didn't have lack of transportation as an excuse to keep her from coming home. They knew she wouldn't be home every weekend.

She fell into a routine easily enough. The smaller campus size suited her, which she knew would be the case over the larger universities her dad seemed to prefer. She saw Joe every weekend, usually spending one night at his house if not both nights. He worked weekends, but she used the time he was at work to get her homework done.

Things changed after Christmas break. It took her a couple of months, even after their one year anniversary, for her to pinpoint when the change had started. He never said anything, didn't treat her any differently necessarily. He was different, though; more distant, acting less as though he saw a future for them. Prior to break, she'd been sure he was it.

The only thing she could look back and owe the change to was at the party he'd gone with her to on New Year's Eve. It was at her parents' country club. She'd been expected to go despite much preferring spending the night with Brenda and Joe doing something less stuffy. Her father had insisted and she'd insisted back that she should be able to bring her date of choice.

She'd been talking to Arthur Williams, the son of one of the partners at her dad's firm. She'd known Arthur for years. They'd grown up together despite living in different suburbs and rarely seeing one another except at things like this. They'd always gotten along, though. He was smart and easy to talk to. Most of all, he never seemed to be hitting on her or plotting on how to get her into his bed every time they talked.

At one point during their conversation, which wasn't all that lengthy just long enough for Joe to step outside and have a cigarette and go to the bathroom, she'd caught her dad talking with Joe. He hadn't said anything about the conversation afterward and hadn't appeared to be upset or anything.

It was the only thing, though, that she could look back at and think led to the change in him. What changed? She couldn't describe it. She just knew something had happened. Joe responded to her questions about what was the matter with nothing. Phone calls between them grew less lengthy during the week. She knew they got expensive for him, but he should have just come right out and said that was the case. Instead, like everything else she was left to wonder. He never wavered in his kindness toward her or being good to her, but it was just different.

It was the weekend of their anniversary when the questions started.

What would she be doing now if she wasn't involved with Joe?
Did she change her mind on colleges because of him?
Were there other guys she'd be happy with who wouldn't cause problems with her father?
Did she plan on living in Chicago after college?

The answer to these questions, and others he asked similar to them, weren't easy. Of course he played a role in where she decided to go to school, but not entirely. The smaller campus size for her major really was a bonus in her opinion. Certainly, there were other guys she could be with who would please her dad to no end. Any white guy who was in college would probably do it.

However, Chris didn't want other guys. She wasn't sure what she'd done or said to make him think otherwise.

Sex between them got different, too. Little things like the hickeys he was so fond of giving her no longer being of interest to him. The first few weekends of college he'd always sent her back to campus with one or two that were visible, but after a while he'd stopped given them to her anywhere. Other things, too. It'd taken her a long time to let him be inside her from behind, but once she had she'd enjoyed it so much it became a regular thing. Until recently. He always seemed to want to be facing her.

She finally brought it up because she knew he liked being with her that way and he said something about not wanting her to feel cheap. She'd never felt that with him no matter the position or location. Hell, they'd had sex in her car more than once when he visited her on campus and her roommate was home and they didn't have a lot of time.

It boiled down to no matter the where or how of it, she knew he loved her so nothing they did made her feel cheap or dirty.

Her freshman year ended and while they were still together she was so confused she honestly wasn't sure what they were doing. He was working a lot, picking up extra hours when he could whether in the garage working on cars or driving the wrecker that brought the cars to them.

Oddly, it was her mother who finally provided the answer for her. They were in the kitchen working on dinner together when she brought up not having seen Joe since Chris got home for the summer.

"He's been busy."


"Yeah. Working a lot," she shrugged.

"And you're here instead of there?"

"I have a curfew."

"You do, but that didn't stop you last year from seeing him evenings."

"I know, Mom. I'm just not sure what's going on."


"He's been acting differently and I don't know what I did."

"Why do you think it was something you did?"

"Well, it'd have to be. Wouldn't it? I don't know. Maybe he was hoping I'd go to Southern Illinois."


"Maybe he wanted space."

"I never saw anything that indicated that was the case."

"Did something happen between him and Daddy?"

"Your father?"

"Yeah. At the party on New Year's Eve."

"I don't know what you mean, Chris. As far as I know your father hasn't said more than two words to Joe."

"That's what I thought, but I swear I saw them talking. Joe said it was nothing, but it looked like Dad purposely sought him out when he was away from me."

"You asked Joe?"

"I did, but it's the only thing I can think of. I'm probably overreacting. I've never been in a relationship for this long before, maybe this is how guys get when you've been together for a while."

"Is he treating you poorly? If he is, Chris, you don't need to put up with that. You're a beautiful woman. A smart woman."

"No, Mom, that's just it. He's fine, just different. Not bad to me or anything, just not the same. I don't know how to describe it. Last year, he always seemed so happy to hear from me and see me. I'd write him a letter and when I got to his house a few days later it'd be on his table, as if he'd read it more than once. You know?"

"I do," her mother said. "I've written a letter or two to your father before we were married."

Chris glanced at her mom for a second, not really ever thinking about what her parents were like before they got married. Her mother was beautiful and smart, giving up her career once she'd had Chris.

"Now, though, that excitement just isn't there."

"Would you like me to ask your father?"

"Do you think he'll tell you?"

"He might, I suspect on this subject he's more apt to be vocal about it."


"Do you love him?"

"I do. I thought he did, too. He still says it. I thought," Chris shrugged.


"I thought he was going to ask me to marry him."

"You don't anymore?"

"I don't know. No. I caught him one day trying on one of my rings."


"Like he was sizing it, seeing how big my finger was compared to his."

"Oh, I see. He could have just been looking at a regular ring, Chris."

"I know, but it was right before Christmas and I thought," she shrugged. "People do that. Propose on Christmas."

"Would you have said yes?"


"And school?"

"I'd finish. I know you had to force me to choose to go to college, but now that I'm there and talking to nursing students ahead of me it's exciting."

"And the contraception?"

"Mom," Chris said.

"Don't ‘Mom' me. If you think there are problems between you two, it's especially important you maintain whatever means you're using."

"I am."

"I don't want to hear any more about it, but I have to be realistic. You're not living at home. We gave you a car for graduation, which gives you the means to drive the forty miles to see him whenever you want without a curfew or anything else to stop you from staying at his house as often as you want to. I just need you to know that a baby would not solve your problems."

"I know. I'm not going to get pregnant, Mom."

"Good. As long as you're keeping your head about you, Christine. I want a good life for you."

"You don't think I could have it with him?"

"I didn't say that, but things are different than when I was your age. At the very least a woman needs to be able to support herself. It may never come to her needing to, but an education and skills are essential."

"I know. I'm not going to give up."

"I'm glad."

"I wouldn't even if we got married."

"He's doing well at his job?"

"Yeah, seems to be. It's long hours and hard work."

"And you're all right with that?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, you're used to your father coming home from work in a suit and tie, exhausted perhaps from a long commute in his car or a tough day in a courtroom. I trust the fact he's working manual labor reflects that he has no degree or other skills to use."

"There's nothing wrong with being a mechanic. Dad needs his car fixed, too."

"Of course he does and I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. It's not me I'm worried about; I wouldn't be the one living with him and doing his laundry. I just want you to make sure before I brooch the subject with your father of what may or may not have been said at the party that you've thought this through. You wouldn't have a house like the one you grew up with. Your children may go to school in the city and you know how terrible some of the schools are there."

"You're getting way ahead of yourself."

"You mentioned you thought he was going to propose. With marriage comes children, Christine, even if you're not planning on having them tomorrow."

"I can't answer your questions, Mom, not really. I won't know until it happens, but I do know that if there's a reason he's acting differently I'd like to know about it so that I can do something about it."

"You've asked him?"

"Yes, I told you he says there's nothing wrong, that night he said nothing happened. It's the only time Dad's ever bothered to say two words to him so it makes me wonder."

"What would you do if you find out your father did say something?"

"I don't know. I guess it would depend on what it was he'd said, but I'd talk to Joe."

"Would you be upset at your father?"

Chris shrugged. "No more than I have been about the way he's handled my entire relationship with Joe. Unless he tried to pay Joe off to stop seeing me or something."

"Your father may have led Joe to believe that if it weren't for him, a relationship with Arthur would have been inevitable."

"He said what? And you knew about this all this time? Mother."

"You'll learn, Chris, that couples have private conversations with the expectation they not be shared outside of that confidence. I honestly didn't realize that Joe would take something like that to heart or that it would manifest itself into you believing he didn't care for you."

"You don't think he would? Mom! He sees how I live and obviously Arthur would be able to provide all of the things you mentioned Joe might not be able to to me and any kids. So, yeah, I think Joe would wonder what he's interfering with."

"Have you led him to believe he is?"

"Of course not! He hasn't mentioned anything to me or we wouldn't be having this conversation. He has been asking questions since that night."

"Such as?"

"What I'd like to do with my degree? Where I want to live? You know, things like that."

"So, he's feeling you out to see if the life he believes he could provide for you is what you want."

"I guess."

"And your answers?"

"I could see where he might think that Arthur was better for me," Chris admitted. She'd been honest with him, not realizing that Joe was having doubts or second thoughts about their relationship. Of course she wanted a good life, a nice house, and to be able to provide for her children everything she'd had and more growing up.

"Well, I think you should clear the air."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"You hadn't mentioned anything being wrong. How was I to know? Your father told me something in confidence, after the fact, when he seemed to realize that his prying hadn't worked. I didn't think it was important."

"No, I don't think he would break up with me, but I suspect he might be waiting for me to break up with him."

So much made sense now that she knew. She'd always suspected her father hoped she and Arthur would hit it off more than they had, but she never realized he'd use that as a way to break up a relationship she was happy in. The change in their sex lives was probably his attempt at not wanting her to feel cheap or used, or to think there was someone who would be more loving to her.

"Is he working tonight?"


"You could go and wait for him. I know you've got a key."

"It'll be late, Mom. A conversation like this could take a while."

Her mom set the knife down she was currently using and placed her hands on Chris' cheeks.

"I can always tell your father you're spending the night at Brenda's."


"I want you happy. That's all I want for you, Christine. Your father can't see past his own biases and personal feelings. He's a good man, but even good men have weaknesses. This is your father's. If you think this man is the one who will make you happy then you owe it to yourself to talk to him."

"But you're telling me to stay there."

"To talk," her mother said with a smile. "I won't have it on my conscious that your father did something that causes you to be unhappy. He doesn't know the things about that Mike Toddwell I do, though I'm sure he's come to learn plenty enough to know he wasn't nearly as good of a catch as your father thought him to be initially. He may not be as right about Arthur as he thinks he is either. I've watched Joe. Not just with you, but with his mother and his neighbors, even how he takes care of his house. I may not be certain that you're not making a mistake, but I do know that you could do worse."

"There are things about him, about how we met, that you don't know."

"Do you know them?"


"Then I trust you."

She blinked, surprised to hear her mom say that.

"Go, Christine, before your father gets home."

"Okay, thanks, Mom."

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***Part Seven***
Word Count: 2,981

She could have stopped by the garage on her way to his house. Mr. Dawson was always nice to her. He always asked about Sara not that Chris had seen her since that night. She was nervous, though, and didn't want to show up at his garage without plans. He'd think something was wrong.

What if she was wrong? What if he was getting distant because he wasn't happy? Or just realized that she wasn't the one he wanted after all? It wouldn't be unreasonable to think that given how they met and everything. Maybe he'd met someone else, though she didn't think that was the case because she had a key to his house which he'd told her she could use any time. He wouldn't do that, give her access to his house, if there was someone else. Would he?

She parked in his garage using the opener he'd given her last winter. He'd insisted she park her new car in a garage when she was at his house so it didn't sit outside in the snow and the salt from the street crew. It was outside at school, but he still insisted. Another thing that pointed to him caring.

She started out watching TV, but was entirely too jumpy for that so she went to the kitchen to work on dinner for him. While his refrigerator wasn't bursting at the seams like her mother's was, he never lacked for something to eat. She noticed that especially when she'd seen the refrigerators of a few guys on campus' apartments this year. If they had anything but leftover pizza and carry out boxes it was shocking. Besides beer anyway.

Her mother had taught her all of the ins and outs of being a housewife while Chris was growing up. Certainly, she'd encouraged Chris to go to college and reach for more than staying home as she'd done once Chris had come, but she'd made sure the skills were there for Chris to use. So, figuring out something to make that would keep on the stove for a while in case he was really late with the odds and ends he had was fairly easy.

It was after nine o'clock when he got home. She could tell she'd surprised him, not just being there but having dinner ready. No doubt he would have heated up a TV dinner since it was so late when he got in.

"Did we have plans that I forgot about?"

"No," she said.

"All right," he said.

"Should I not have come?"

"No, of course not, Chris. That's not what I meant. Just you're here and dinner, too."

"I needed something to do while I waited to keep my mind off things," she admitted.

"I see," he said, regarding her with a nod. His eyes narrowed a little as if he wasn't too happy and she wondered what she'd done to cause that look. "Let me take a quick shower then you can unload what's on your mind."

"Okay," she said, refraining from offering to help him with the shower. He didn't appear to be in the mood, especially since he hadn't even given her a kiss.

She went back to the kitchen to heat everything up while he showered.

"It smells good. You didn't have to go out of your way for me."

"It wasn't," she said, having just finished setting the table for him when he walked in.

"You're not eating?"

"No, I had some earlier."

"Good," he said, taking one of the slices of bread she'd set out for him. He watched her as she watched him eat. He looked so intense and she wondered why. Bad day at work? She knew Mr. Dawson wasn't the easiest man to work for.

"So, is this the boom lowering then?"

"What?" she asked.

"What's on your mind, Chris?"

"I was going to wait until after you were finished eating."

"I can listen just as easily when I'm eating. May as well get it over with," he said.

"Well, all right. Why didn't you tell me my father told you that he had plans for Arthur Williams and me?"

"Figured it wasn't any of my business."

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"I don't know how you think. We met on a fluke, I'd get if I was a curiosity or something."

"How I think? A curiosity?" She frowned. "Have I ever lied to you? Led you to believe either of those things?"

"You never mentioned Arthur. I'm your first black guy; I know how your old man feels about me. It's not too farfetched to think that you'd come around to his way of thinking like you did college."

"I didn't mention him because there wasn't anything to mention. He's just a friend. And I went to college because it's the right thing to do. My father's going to pay for it, but only if I started right after high school. I'm not dumb, you know. I know how much it costs. Sure, I could get student loans and financial aid, but why do that when I don't have to?"

"I saw you two talking at that party."

"Yeah. It was when you went to the bathroom. He came over to say hi and ask about you. You do stand out, Joe, wherever I take you with people who know my father that's going to be the case."

"You laughed."

"I what?" she asked.

"You laughed. He said something and you laughed."

"He probably told a joke. I honestly don't remember."

"You laughed like you do when Brenda's around."

"How's that?"

He shrugged. "I've been around you while you're around different people to know you, read you. You're most comfortable with Brenda, at ease, and your laugh, too. You laughed that way with him."

"I've known Arthur for years. Since I was in grade school, maybe even longer. I honestly don't know. We're not best friends or anything, but I'm comfortable with him."

"Yeah, I got that. Your old man made it abundantly clear that there was a reason for that."

"You think I'd go out with you if I was," she shrugged. "What? Promised to someone else? Is that what you think?"

"I don't know what I think exactly. Figured you probably had through college to spread your wings and then that was that."

"And you were okay with that?"

He shrugged. "I love you, so yeah, figured I'd bide my time and enjoy it while it lasted. I'm not dumb either. Best thing to ever happen to me, I'm not going to break things off with you even if it meant getting my heart torn out."

"So, my father, a man you know is not at all in favor of our dating tells you that I'm somehow or in some way committed to someone and you don't think it's important enough to mention it to me? Ask me? Find out if it's true?"

"Well, not everyone dates someone with the intention of seeing it to anything more serious than dating."

"You think I'd have sex with you? Tell you I love you."

"Yeah, those I was having a little problem with, but we'd already been having sex by then. And loving someone doesn't mean you want to spend the rest of your life with them."

"My father would do anything he could think of to come between us. Do you get that? If he thought telling you I had syphilis would work, he'd probably do it."

He chuckled. "He choose the right moment when he knew I'd seen you two talking in a room full of people I was so out of my league with."

"Only because you think you are."

"I know I am, Chris. This is me. This house. The job. Coming home like I did tonight with grease, oil, and fluids all over my clothes and shoes. Sometimes I may be tired. Sometimes I may be in a bad mood."

"I love that about you. I love that you work hard. I love that you gave up something that brought you so much money for me. For those kids."

"What about your friends?"

"My real friends? The ones like Brenda? She loves you, too, because you make me happy. She didn't at first, I won't deny that but she does now. People like you met that night? Most of them aren't my friends. I know them and am nice to them, but that's it. That's not the life I need."

"And country clubs? Trips to Hawaii for Spring Break or Christmas vacation. That's way out of my league, Chris."

"I go because I can. You've been with me for over a year. You know I'm just as happy sitting in your backyard grilling hot dogs. Or at the beach on some lawn chairs. I'm not real good at golf to where I'd be upset if I couldn't do it again for a while. My mom would go with me if I really wanted to. Trips to Hawaii are great, but I'd be happy with Florida or something, too. In fact, I was going to ask if you wanted to go with me next spring. It seems like everyone goes to Daytona at least once for Spring Break while they're in college."

"I just see you with guys like that and can't help but think I'm holding you back, stopping you from having a better life."

"I want a happy life, Joe."

He pushed his plate to the middle of the table and stood, taking her hand in his.

He kissed her, deepening it almost immediately. She responded just as urgently. He hadn't kissed her like this in so long. Like he'd die if he didn't taste her immediately. He touched her, hands skimming along her body seemingly in no hurry to get to any place in particular. She loved the feel of his hands on her, evidence of how hard he worked with them.

Her back against the fridge, she arched into the palms of his hands. She gave a soft giggle when he discovered she didn't have a bra on. Her shorts and panties were quickly done away with. Her legs went around his waist as he lifted her up, his mouth making the most of access to her breasts without obstacles.

"I want you," he murmured, moving so she was against the wall instead of the fridge.

"You have me, I'm right here," she said.

He shook his head a little and she grew confused.

"What?" she asked.

"No, I want this. I want to come home to you."

"You can. Anytime."

"Every time."

"Joe," she whispered as he sank into her.

"I know you have college to finish, but just tell me it's in the realm of possibility that you'd marry me when you're done."

"Yes," she said.

They ended up on his stairs. She knew that hadn't been his plan, but he'd lost his footing and they'd landed there. She didn't care, though she imagined her back might tomorrow. It was worth it, to have him like this. Urgent and needy, wanting her. That'd been missing lately and she needed it just as surely as she needed to breathe. She wasn't sure what it said about her, but she wasn't going to look too deeply at it beyond the fact she liked it.

His bed was welcome when they finally got there.

"What time should I set the alarm for?" he asked.

"Don't need to."

"Why not?"

"Mom knows I'm here."

"She does?"

"Yes, she's the one who told me what my dad said to you."

"How'd you get on the subject of that?"

"She was asking how things were going and I admitted I wasn't sure and why."

"So, you're here all night?"

"She said she'd tell Dad I'm staying at Brenda's."

"Wow. Remind me to thank her the next time I see her."

"I imagine that's more than she wants," she said with a laugh.

"Well, while you were at it you should have gotten a few more nights furlough out of her."

"I'm sure we can work something out once in a while."

"I hope so."

"Joe?" She kissed his chest and his shoulder before looking at him.

"Yeah," he said.

"Please don't do that again."

He froze. "I'm sorry, baby, I couldn't help myself. Did I hurt you? I'll make it up to you, I promise. As gentle as you want."

"Not that," she said, blushing. "No, you didn't hurt me. I mean assume that anything anyone tells you is how I feel or true."

"I won't, baby."


"I'll be honest," he said.

"About what?"

"I'm not sure I can wait three years."

"Why not?"

"Because it's entirely too long that I know we'll have to be living by your parents rules. Your mom's being nice tonight I get that, but she can't cover for you repeatedly. I really do like having you here when I come home from work."

"You just want dinner."

"That's a definite perk, but I'll take you waiting for me in my bed over dinner any time."

"I know."

"It's not that far to school where you couldn't live here and still go there."

"No, it's not. I managed to see you and go home to my parents during the week a lot last year."

"So, you'd do it?"

"Are you serious?"

He stood from the bed and walked to his chested drawers, returning to the bed a minute later.

"This should tell you how serious I am," he said, opening the jewelry box.

"Joe," she said, looking from the ring to him.

"We don't have to decide when right away so long as I know you want to."

"I do. I said yes."

"That was kind of hypothetical."

"My answer is the same, hypothetical or otherwise."


"Yeah," she said, touching the ring. "Were you going to put it on me?"

"Yeah, sure. It's all right? You like it? I wasn't sure. Hard to gauge comparing what my friends wives have to what your mom and stuff has."

"Joe, it's perfect. You picked it out so of course I like it," she said as he slid it on her finger. It was perfect. "It's beautiful," she said, holding her hand out in front of her so she could look at it on her finger. She brought her hand to her chest, glancing at him.

"What?" he asked.

"You're not going to take it away are you?"


"I don't know. Change your mind."

"No," he said with a chuckle. "I don't think you have to worry about me changing my mind. You've got a good life ahead of you. You stand to have a good career as a nurse, making a good amount of money. You've read all the warning labels that come with me, so you think about when you want to and tell me, I'm there. If we have to get you a place there during the school year we'll do that."

"Yeah? And you don't? Have a good life ahead of you I mean?"


"Come on. There are garages other than Mr. Dawson's. You can work your way up to bigger and better ones like the place my dad brings his car to. I know those guys make decent money and they don't come home as dirty as you do."

"You're right, but it may not happen."


"You'd be okay with that, making more money than me?"

"Would you?"

"Yeah. I mean, we both know there's things I could do to make more than you, but I won't do that."

"I'd worry."

"And I'd worry that you'd be in danger because of me."

She ran her hand across his chest. She always liked the way they looked together, her skin against his but the glitter of the diamond made it especially good tonight.

"So, I pick a date?"

"Yes. Dawson likes you, so I'm sure I could swing time off whatever break you want."

"Well, I have close to three months now."

"Yeah, I know."

"Why not?"


"Yeah. My dad's never going to pay for a wedding for us anyway, so that sort of rules out anything but eloping. Or something very small. Just a few friends."

"That doesn't seem right."

"We can have a party afterward here."



"People are going to think you're pregnant or something."

"Let them think that. Nine months from now when I don't have a baby they'll know they were wrong."

"Or you lost it."

"And when we're still together they'll figure out they were wrong. I'm going to spend most of my time here with you anyway now that I know why you were acting so strange."

"Yeah, that was me being paranoid you wanted the clean-cut, white guy."

"I had a chance at that. Sesame Plexor can have all of those guys she wants."

"Is that right?"

"As long as she leaves you alone."

"I don't think I could stomach being in the same room as someone with that name."

"You, Joe Gipp, are a good and smart man."

"So you keep telling me. Talk to your mom and get her opinion on it before we make any decisions."


"One more thing," he said as he slid his hand between her legs.

"Just one?"

"Yeah. I've never made love to a fiancée before."


"Care to help me change that?"

"I don't know. My mom would tell me we should wait until we're married."

"Just consider it practice for the wedding night so we can get full enjoyment out of it."

"I suppose I could make an exception."

"Just this once."

"Maybe more than once if you're really good this time."

"Oh, baby, I plan on being very, very good every time for the next sixty years."

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***Part Eight***
Word Count: 3,603

Her father reacted about the way she expected him to.

Actually, no, that wasn't true. For the first time in her life, her father had hit her. It was little more than a slap, but she was stunned enough that she didn't see Joe for a few days. She knew how he'd react, and as he'd never laid a hand on her before now she didn't want more problems between them. More than anything, it had startled her. Her mother, too. She hadn't known he was capable, but clearly this brought out the worst in him.

Despite that, she kept calm. She didn't argue with him, didn't yell. In fact, she ignored him for the most part, knowing that her mother would smooth things over if she could. There was no saying her father would get over this. It wasn't like she'd bought a car he didn't think was safe or wore a dress that he thought was too skimpy for her to go out in. This was a son-in-law and one day grandchildren.

Once the small bruise on her cheek had healed enough Joe wouldn't ask any questions about it, she took to spending as much time at Joe's as she could, always ensuring she was home by the unspoken curfew of midnight so as not to give her father ammunition to use against Joe. Time with Brenda when she had to be near home was another safe haven. She'd never felt unwelcome in her house before.

Two weeks went by where he didn't talk to her. Ships passing in the night communicated more than she did living in the same house with him during that time. If she walked into a room he was in, he left it or picked up the day's newspaper and read it, acting as if she wasn't there. She didn't think he'd hit her again, but the memory of him doing so even once was too fresh in her mind to push him into a conversation with her about anything until he was ready. Her mother had told her he'd come around eventually, perhaps not on the subject of her marriage, but just talking to her about day-to-day things as he always did.

Her mother was out, planning some event at the club that the wives were putting on. Chris had no idea what this one was, her mother stayed busy with all sorts of events and doings. She was watching a movie in the basement when he came downstairs. She assumed he'd come down for a bottle of liquor since this was where he kept his stash for the full bar they had upstairs.

When she was little and the apple of her dad's eye, she could usually be spotted sitting on the floor near the bar drawing, playing, or reading while he mixed this drink or that one for guests at the parties they had. She'd always dreamt of at least having her engagement party here if not her wedding. She knew both were out of the question now.

"Are you pregnant?"

"What?" she asked, realizing after a moment that he actually expected her to answer?

"You heard me."

"No, Dad, I'm not. I just happen to love him."

"A mechanic?"


"And you're all right with that?"

"What? That he works on cars?"


"I'm fine with it," she said.

"And kids that will be different are acceptable to you?"

"Different how?"

"You know how."

"This isn't the nineteenth century, Dad. No one cares."

"Some do."

"Well, they don't have to have children with him."

"Mind your smart mouth, Christine. I just want to be sure you've thought this through. He's not like us."

"You don't know anything about him."

"I know enough."

"Because he's black. That's what you're basing everything off of. The color of his skin and how it's different than yours and mine. He's a good guy, Dad. If you'd actually talk to him instead of dismissing him you'd know that."

"I don't have to talk to him to know that he's an opportunist taking advantage of your innocence."

She laughed, if only he knew how they met. "There is no advantage taking, Dad. He's not using me for money or anything. He has his own house, a nice car."

"You don't know any better."

"That's where you're wrong."

"I've a little more life experience than you do. That day at the baseball game, he couldn't keep his hands off you."

"I don't know what you're talking about. We kissed in public. God forbid. Maybe you and mom don't do that, but that doesn't make it wrong. Face it, you see him as black and that automatically makes him a bad guy to you. There are bad guys that are white, too. I dated one of them, remember. If I'd had sex with Mike you would have had more to worry about than my getting pregnant. Yet, you liked him. If I were marrying him, you'd probably tell me to look past his cheating because he'd provide for me or something."

"I couldn't have known what he was like."

"Well, maybe, just maybe you could admit that you don't know what Joe's like either. And maybe, just maybe, trust that I do."

"Your mother says you plan on finishing school."


"Taking your exams and everything so that you can work afterward?"


He still hadn't walked into her line of vision. Intentional on his part, she imagined, she knew he couldn't stand to look at her right now. Disappointing him was something she'd rarely done to this point in her life. It was a foreign thing for both of them.

"I will continue paying for your college as long as there are no children before you graduate."

"Dad. We're not getting married so I can get pregnant right away."

"Things happen."

"And I'm telling you it's not going to happen."

"That's my offer."

"So, I can marry him?"

"I can't very well stop you. You're an adult. I doubt threatening to stop paying for your schooling would change your mind."

"I'd find student loans or something so I could finish."

"Your mother said the same thing."


"Do you accept my offer?"

"Just so I understand. You think he's bad for me and that I'll have to work that much harder the rest of my life because of what he does for a living."

"That sums it up, yes."

"So, how does cutting me off from my education if I do become pregnant in the next three years help your grandchildren? Shouldn't you want me to be able to support them since you believe Joe can't?"

"Christine, you're splitting hairs."

"Am I? I'm just wondering, Daddy. Really."

"I realize things happen and that you can't plan for everything. You are a perfect example of that."

"Wow," she said with a frown. "Thanks."

"You just came a little earlier than your mother and I planned, but there are far more reliable means to prevent such things these days. I'll count on your mother to inform you of those."

She was sure her jaw dropped to the floor just then. She by no means wanted to have that talk with her dad, so she was glad he evidently didn't either.

"We'll discuss it if it comes to that, until then we're clear on my terms."

"Yes," she said simply. It wasn't a difficult deal to make with him; she certainly had no plans on getting pregnant.

"All right then," he said and walked away.

She wasn't at all sure what she was supposed to do now. Was he still going to give her the silent treatment? She wasn't sure she could take three months of that. She turned the TV off and went upstairs to change. It was a little early to go to Joe's since he was working past dinner, but the idea of sitting alone in the house with her dad after that conversation didn't sit well with her. She supposed she should be glad he talked to her tonight, but knowing how their relationship used to be made her uncomfortable to be here now.

She stopped at a hot dog place that Mr. Dawson and Joe were both fond of and picked up some food for all of them. They were working through dinner to get a car done quickly. The customer was willing to pay extra to be sure it was done tonight. Dawson wasn't one to turn down money.

"There's my girl," Joe said, peeking out from under the hood when he heard the shop door open. She frowned a little, thinking she recognized the car. It couldn't be. Not here at Mr. Dawson's garage. There were a million Town Car's around, so she had to be mistaken.

"I brought dinner," she said, holding up the plain white bag that held the goodies the two men eyeing her currently were so fond of.

"Peppers and onions?" Dawson asked.

"For you? Of course," she said with a smile.

"She is a keeper."

"You didn't believe me until now?" Joe asked.

"Well, if she remembers how I like my beef sandwich that's pretty good."

Joe wiped his hands on a rag and gave her a quick kiss, purposely avoiding touching any more of her than he had to.

"So, what's the occasion?"

She shrugged, taking her hot dog and the fries that went with it out of the bag.

"All right," he said, recognizing her look it seemed. "You can tell me later."

"You two having a spat?"

"What?" Chris said with a laugh.

"Just wondering," Dawson said.

"No," she replied. She saw when it registered to him that she was wearing a ring and he nodded a little.

"Problems with the parents?"

"You could say that," she muttered. "My dad hasn't talked to me for two weeks."

"He'll come around eventually."

"He did tell me tonight he'd still pay for my school."

"Well, that's good," Dawson said. "Isn't it," he added when neither seemed outrageously excited.

"There were terms."

"Of course there were," Joe said. "Me as far away from you as possible?"

"Actually, no. Well, sort of," she said with a laugh, taking a sip of her pop. "No babies until I'm done with college."

"That's it?"

"That's it," she said.

"That's not so bad," Joe said.

"I didn't think so either," Chris said.

"So, what's with the long face?" Dawson asked. "I mean, he's going to let you get married. That's what you want, right? I mean, I realize I'm not practiced in this stuff, but you gave her a ring, she's wearing the ring, the dad said yes. He's sending business our way, so he wants you gainfully employed or however that works."

"He's what?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, that's what we're working on. Joe didn't tell you?"

"No, he didn't," Chris said.

"This car tonight is a test; if we pass we'll get more business."

"I thought I recognized the car," she said. "Is there anything wrong with it?"

"Not really. Just general maintenance. Oil change. Tire rotation. It's a time thing. Evidently, no one can be without their car for very long."

"He only has a few cars that aren't issued."

"Right, I get that," Dawson said.

"I didn't know," Chris said, wondering if her father had done anything else she didn't know about. "That still doesn't mean he's going to help us out as far as a wedding goes."

"It's going to have to be a pretty quiet thing," Joe said.

"Quiet thing?" Dawson said.

"Yeah, you know, something small, probably without her dad giving her away."

"Oh," Dawson said, seeming to understand a little. "I didn't have sisters or anything, so I guess I don't get the big deal."

It was the most Chris had learned about him yet. Dawson wasn't big on talking and usually when Chris came here it was to meet Joe and they left almost right away so there wasn't much time to talk to him.

"It's okay," she said. "College is more important than a wedding anyway."

"You sure," Joe asked. "We could wait until maybe he's a little more okay with it."

"No," she said, moving to sit on his lap.

"Chris, baby, you're going to get all dirty."

"I don't care. I can wash my clothes," she said. "I don't want to wait because he'll never come around. Not really, at least not where a wedding is concerned. He won't do it."

"You don't know."

"I know my dad, Joe. He won't change his mind on this, because he wouldn't want me to think he supports my decision."

"So, what then?"

"Let's do it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Chris, what's your rush?"

"I don't want to be in the house with him anymore. He doesn't talk to me. He looks at me as if I'm a criminal or doing something dangerous."

"Uh, baby, you do remember how we met?"

"Yes, but he doesn't know how we met. He even mentioned seeing us kiss at the Cubs game."

"What was wrong with that?"

"I don't know," she said with a shrug. "Mom says this is his Achilles' heel, that thing he just can't get past no matter how good of a guy he is."

"But why tomorrow? I don't want you marrying me because of problems at your house, Chris."

"I want to. I've wanted to since I saw you trying on my ring and I thought you were going to ask."

"I was going to."

"I know," she said, kissing him.

Dawson crumpled up the wrapper from his beef sandwich and cleared his throat lightly. "Tomorrow is a good day," he said. "Business-wise, I mean. I turned down some work to get this car done tonight so if you need a day or two off."

"See," Chris said.

"I'll be in the shop," Dawson said, leaving them alone.

"Why is it that you have every guy you met that night wrapped around your little finger?"

"Not every one! I'm sure Bleak wouldn't be nice to me."

Joe chuckled. "I suppose you're right. All right. Tomorrow. That mean you're going home now?"

"I should," she said, rubbing her cheek against his. "I don't want to. I could call my mom and tell her I'm spending the night at Brenda's."

"No, no lies."

"Well, I can't tell her I'm staying with you."

"I know. Go home, think about it, and sleep on it. In the morning if you still want to, pick out something to wear and we'll go."


"Really. We'll have a party or something this weekend. Do it at least somewhat right. Maybe your old man will come."

"I doubt it."

He kissed her hard and drew away. "Really think on it, Chris. A month from now I don't want you to regret having that kind of wedding."

"Thousands have that kind of wedding every day."

"Yeah, but those thousands aren't you and a lot of them probably never imagined the type of wedding I know you grew up dreaming of."

"It's just a wedding."

"Well, think about it. That's all I'm saying. I don't want you resenting me from the get-go."

"I won't. I wouldn't. It's my decision, and I'd rather marry you now than right before school starts again. Or next summer. This way we'll have time to figure out if I'm going to rent a place during the week or what."

"I don't like the idea of that at all."

"Me neither, but it'll give us time to figure it out."

"I'm not arguing. I want to, believe me, I do, but this is your day."

"Our day. You're getting married, too."

"I have nothing to lose."

"I don't know. You gave up a pretty lucrative job."

"About time for me to get out anyway. I'd stayed out of prison for a long time. I'm no gambler, but I know luck like that doesn't stay forever."

She kissed him hard then, arms going around him as she pressed against him. He replied in kind, touching her everywhere he could.

"I love you," she whispered, drawing away.

"Love you, too," he said. "Thank you for dinner."

"You're welcome."

"You feel better?"

"Yeah, I guess. I just hate that we're like this."

"He will come around. Maybe not to me, but to you he will. In his own way, he cares and probably thinks he's doing what's best for you."

"I know," she murmured.

"I've got to get back to work, baby, or Dawson's likely to think we're doing things we're not in here."

"I know," she whispered.

"You going to go home then?"

"I guess," she said. "You're going to be a while longer, right?"

"Yeah, and we should both get a good night's sleep if we're going to do this tomorrow."

"You think it's going to be tiring going to the courthouse?"

He chuckled, brushing away some hair from her face. "Wasn't the courthouse part I was thinking of, no."

"What then?"

"After the courthouse, knowing I'll have all day and all night with you. Yeah, I suspect we won't get much sleep tomorrow night."

"Hmm," she said. "I think I like the sound of that."

"Me, too, especially since it's been a while."

"I know," she whispered, sliding off his lap. "I'm sorry."

"No need to apologize. I get it. You've had your mind on your family, and I get that. I do. I know you don't want to upset him. We can't help what happened between us. It's not as if we planned it."

"I wonder what he'd think if I told him the truth of how we met."

"Chris, he's a lawyer, I don't think that's a good idea at all."

"Not that part. I could fib a bit on the details, but knowing you saved not just my life, but protected the kids."

"Nah. He wouldn't care, Chris. It's not worth it, I promise you."

"But, maybe he'd think it was, you know, fate or something."

Joe shrugged. "I believe it was. I've never met anyone like you and I know I won't again. So, yeah, God was on my side that night."

"Thank you."

"Thank you, baby," he said, standing and giving her a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow one way or the other."

"I'll call you when I wake up."


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***Part Nine***
Word Count: 1,513

"You'll never guess who I ran into today," Brad's father said as he poured himself a drink before sitting in his chair. He'd read the day's paper, watch some news, and probably fall asleep before going to bed for the evening.

"Who?" their mother asked from the kitchen.

Brad didn't care about any of his parents' stuffy friends so he started to tune his parents out and watched Sara draw one of her pictures of Thor. Tuned them out until he heard.

"… Parker."

"I haven't seen her since the night she helped us out by babysitting last minute. That was last year, wasn't it?"

Their mom walked into the living room then.

"Yes, Helen, it was," Brad's dad said with a nod.

"Where did you see her?"


Brad was all ears now, barely paying attention to what Sara was drawing anymore. He was pretty sick of Thor anyway. How many pictures of the same guy did she need?

"What was she doing there?" their mom asked. Exactly what Brad would have asked.

"Getting married."

Brad's stomach dropped. Of course it was inevitable she'd get married one day, but he never envisioned having front row seats to hearing the details about her upcoming wedding. It'd be a big one, he was sure. She'd have the most beautiful dress ever.

"She's what? I've seen Audrey many times over the past year and she never mentioned it. I never saw an engagement announcement in the Sun Times or Tribune either. Are you sure you heard right?"

"Helen, I think you misunderstood what I said," their father said, unfolding the paper.

"What could I possibly have misunderstood?" Brad's mother asked.

"I didn't say she was going to get married. I said she was getting married."

"What's the difference?"

"Really, Helen," he said. "There's a great deal of difference. She had just finished getting married when I saw her."

"Chris got married?" Sara asked, seeming to tune into the conversation. "How fun. Was she wearing a pretty dress?"

"It was a nice dress," their dad said, answering Sara's question. Their mother, however, was starting to look a little green.

"And you just ran into them?" Brad asked. Why wasn't their mom asking more questions?

"Yes. I was on my way in to the courthouse, filing some paperwork on the building construction. You know how much red tape I've been encountering. I thought perhaps some personal time with the Court Clerk would give me some headway. They were leaving, quite into themselves. I'm sure they didn't notice me. For that matter, I almost didn't recognize Chris until I heard her laugh. I'd recognize her laugh anywhere."

"The courthouse," their mother exclaimed. Evidently, that wasn't cool. "It can't be. Does her mother know?"

"I imagine she has an idea, Helen. Chris didn't act as if it was a secret."

"Well, why on earth would they need to get married that way then?"

Their dad cleared his throat, taking a sip of his drink. Their dad wasn't one to mince words, but Brad could tell he was struggling with something just then.

"I imagine Richard wouldn't have supported the union."

"Is she pregnant?"

Could this get any worse? He had front row seats to gossip about his crush and wasn't in the position to leave without it being obvious he didn't want to hear the rest.

"No, it didn't appear that way. He's colored, Helen."

"Colored?" Sara asked.

Brad kicked her gently, giving her a face to tell her to shut up. He'd answer her questions later if she still had them.

"Oh my," their mother said. "Chris Parker with a colored man? Wherever did she meet him?"

"I don't know," their father said. "We didn't talk long and it certainly wasn't my place to poke and prod her with questions."

"Is his name Joe?" Brad asked.

"Yes, I believe it is Joe. What was his last name?"

"Gipp?" Sara said.

"Yes, how do you know him?" their father asked.

Brad gave her another kick. She didn't even react to this one.

"She talked about him when she was babysitting that night," Sara said.

"Really?" their mother said.

"Yes. His name was written all over one of her notebooks," she said. Brad thought that was pretty smart thinking on his little sister's part.

"How did you know his name then, Brad?"

"I stayed home that night, remember? Sara hasn't let me forget it either."

"Sara, you really need to stop teasing Brad about Chris, especially now. It's not appropriate."

"I don't do it every day."

"Just when she wants to blackmail me," Brad said under his breath.

"Now that I think about it, I do recall Audrey mentioning Chris' having a boyfriend at one of our luncheons. She didn't say much else on the subject. I know why now."

"Why?" Brad said.

"Never you mind, dear," their mom said.

Brad shook his head, processing everything he'd heard.

Chris was married to Joe Gipp.

Chris Parker married a car thief that she'd met the night she babysat for them and took them into the city to pick her friend Brenda up from the bus station. He thought for sure she'd start dating Dan. Had she? Had she seen both of them and decided on Joe? How exactly did you make that type of decision?

"Do we get to send her a gift?" Sara asked.

"No," their mother said.

"Why not?" Sara asked. Seemed like a logical question to Brad, too. The way their mother said no seemed to him like there was more to it than simply kids someone babysat for didn't give them wedding gifts.

"Well, it's just not proper. She eloped so she loses out on that part of a wedding."

"Well, maybe she just didn't want a wedding," Sara said.

"She would have had a wedding if she could have," Brad said. He didn't know Chris real well, but he knew her parents' well enough to know if Joe had been white and not from the city that she would have had a big wedding.

"It's a shame. She's such a pretty girl. How on earth did she get messed up with someone like that?"

"He's a nice guy," Brad said. He was defending the guy now? Shit, if it wasn't for the guy, his parents' would most likely have no kids left. Brad guessed he owed Joe at least this much.

"How would you know?"

"I saw him a few times picking her up from school and stuff last year," Brad said, hoping that was a good enough answer. "You know, he opened doors for her and stuff. Besides, Chris has a good head on her shoulders, you've always said so. Do you think she'd marry someone who wasn't nice?"

"So, you've seen him then?"

"Yeah," Brad said, another gentle tap to Sara's foot. She couldn't admit to having seen Joe or they'd be totally busted. "I haven't met him or anything, but he just seemed nice from what I saw."

"I still say we should get her a gift. I mean, if I want to I can, right? It's my allowance," Sara said.

"Of course you can, sweetie. We'll figure something out."

"Maybe I could draw them a picture for their house," Sara offered. "If they got married they have to have a house, right?"

"I think so," Brad said. Where would she live? That thought depressed him. He could no longer drive past the Parker's house and know she was inside. Not that he was crazy and drove past her house all of the time or anything. It just gave him peace of mind, knowing she was around because to Brad she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. That night only cemented that image for him.

"I think that's a wonderful idea, Sara, and much better than a present you bought," their mother said.

What was wrong with getting them a present? Brad didn't get it. There was probably some rule or something he knew nothing about and his parents wouldn't tell him about because they considered him to be "still a kid".

"I'm going up to my room," he said, realizing he had to tell Darryl this news. If he didn't and his friend found out that Brad knew and didn't tell him. Well, he'd be pissed.

"He's going to call Darryl," Sara said, returning her attention to her artwork while her mom and dad continued talking about his dad's day. There didn't seem to be much more discussion about Chris anyway, so he doubted he was going to miss much.

"What was she wearing?" he asked, midway up the stairs.

"Just a dress, Brad, I don't know."

"She looked pretty, though?"

"Of course she did. She's a pretty girl," his father said and his mother looked at him sympathetically. Great. She felt sorry for him.

Brad smiled a little at that.

"Thanks, Dad," he said, though his dad hadn't really told him what he wanted to know. He was probably better off not knowing anyway.

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***Part Ten***
Word Count: 997

Five Years Later

"What's going on in that beautiful head of yours?"


"Nothing?" Joe asked. "I find that incredibly hard to believe."

She turned in his arms, sliding hers around his neck. "Believe it. I was just enjoying the view."

"I was, too."

"You just got out here."

"That wasn't the view I was talking about," he said, sliding his hands along her hips to the small of her back.

"Someone's going to see."

"Me touch you? God forbid. Our room looks over the ocean anyway. They're looking out there, not up here."


"No maybe's about it," he said. "Besides, a man's allowed to touch his wife. Especially when he just found out she's pregnant."

"Like it took that long," she said with a soft laugh.

First there were her father's terms on paying for her college making them wait until she'd graduated. Then she'd passed her exams and gotten a job as an OB nurse at a big hospital. It was a good paying job, so they decided to wait longer. Partially until her benefits kicked in but also so she didn't go out on maternity leave right after starting the job. They hadn't argued about it necessarily, but she knew he thought she was putting him off.

It wasn't just Chris who'd been busy the last few years, though. Joe had worked his way up and out of Dawson's Garage. First he'd gone to a smaller auto body place that specialized in pricier foreign cars and then to a dealership where he was now the dealership's service department manager.

She was so proud of him. She thought in some ways what he'd achieved since meeting her was more impressive than what she'd done because until meeting her he hadn't believed he could do anything other than what he'd been doing.

So, both of them in a good position to take their first real (and well-deserved) vacation, they were here in Hawaii. It was her parents' condo. Her father had offered the use of it when he'd heard they were thinking about taking a very belated honeymoon.

While her dad was never going to be head over heels about Chris' choice in husband, the two of them had things in common that at least gave them something to talk about when they saw one another for family dinners. Cars. Her dad loved cars and Joe loved working on them. For a while, they'd worked together rebuilding an old Mustang her dad bought. Joe had done most of the work, but her dad helped. She'd never really seen her dad gets his hands dirty before then.

So, offering the condo wasn't a huge surprise to either of them as her father had seemingly come to grips with the fact his daughter had married someone he hadn't approved of. He'd seen, though, how good Joe was to her so he had nothing to complain about. The news of an impending grandchild hadn't surprised her parents or his. They all seemed to know what they'd waited for.

So, here they were their first real vacation. Alone. No household duties. No work. No distractions. Just the two of them with nothing on the agenda but relax and enjoy the island weather. She was looking forward to an incredible ten days. It would be their last vacation alone most likely unless they left kids with their parents, but Chris didn't think Joe would want to do that anymore than she would.

Last night had been Halloween and they'd spent most of the evening in a nearby town, watching the locals' parade up and down the town's streets in costume. The entire town except a few shops along the main drag shut down and partied. Alcohol wasn't allowed in public, so it was a good-natured, sober partying. They'd had a blast. She'd always loved coming here as a kid and was glad to see Joe enjoyed it, too.

"I still can't believe it," he said, a hand sliding to her stomach. She wasn't far enough along to show, but he did that a lot. Touched her there as if he could feel it by sheer will in wanting to.


"I don't know. Who would have thought?"

"Right? Just think we owe it all to Brenda and her step-mom."

"We're not naming it Brenda if it's a girl."

Chris laughed. "I'm not asking you to."


"So, you're really happy?"

"Why would you ask that?"

"I don't know. The doctor said it could take a while after being on the pill for so long."

"So it didn't."

"Maybe you weren't prepared for it this quick."

"I was ready for it four years ago, Babe, so no problem for me."


"Though I was kind of looking forward to being able to tell him or her that he was made here."

"There's always the next one. We can always pretend."

"I think by the time they'd be old enough for me to tell them something like that, they'll be old enough to do the math and know that's not true."

She kissed him, shaking her head a little.

"That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?"

"I meant we could pretend for the week I'm not and we're trying. It is our honeymoon after all."

"Oh," he said with a laugh. "I see. Yeah, I'm up for that."

She brushed up against him and laughed. "I know you are."

"You sure you don't want breakfast first?"

"Breakfast is highly overrated," she said, kissing a spot on his neck she knew was his undoing even after all this time.

"That's not how I've heard. I heard it was the most important meal of the day."

"Oh, it is, but they don't tell you when you have to eat it."

"Ah, right, well then. Let's get you inside, but later when it's dark I plan to come out here again with you."

"I can't wait."

~The End~

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