***Chapter Two***
Word Count: 10,440

"Christine," her mom said, knocking on Chris' door.

"Yeah, Mom, come in," she said.

She was reading the latest issue of Seventeen. She had homework, but didn't feel like doing it yet. Her parents were going out for dinner with a couple of people from the neighborhood. Theirs was a pretty close-knit block. They usually had three block parties during the summer on Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. Not everyone made it to all three, but the street was closed just the same and whoever was around brought side dishes to go with the food that would be grilled. There were always tons of desserts, too. So, for her parents to be going out to dinner with some neighbors wasn't unusual.

"How was your day?"

"It was fine," Chris said. "You know, the usual. School."

"You never told me how babysitting for the Anderson's went."

"It was babysitting for the Anderson's. How well do you think it went?" Chris said. "I mean, Sara is cute and fun to be around. It was babysitting on a Saturday night, though."

"Mike Toddwell came to see me while you were at school today."

Oh God.

"Yeah? Why'd you let him in?"

"Christine, don't get smart with me. He said you had a man here on Saturday night."

She rolled her eyes.

"He was just a friend, Mom. He got jumped by some guys and beat up. He knew I'd been out late babysitting the Anderson kids, so he stopped by to see if I was still awake."

"He said he had no shirt on."

"Mom, really. Did Mike also tell you that he lied to me about his sister being sick? That he was in fact out for dinner on Saturday night with Sesame? My friend saw him!"

"Well, no," her mom said.

"He came here, also after two o'clock in the morning, to apologize. He wasn't really, though. He said some pretty rude things to me and to Erik."

"Christine."

"He did! He's mad, Mom. That's all. He thought he'd be able to come here, pretend to apologize and feel bad about what he'd done, and that I'd be stupid enough to fall for more of his shit."

"Christine."

"Sorry," she said. "It's true, though! That's why he told you about Erik being here. If he had stuck around he would have seen Erik leave about twenty minutes later."

"Why did he come here?"

"Because he was beat up pretty badly and he remembered I used to help Aaron out sometimes."

"I see," she said. "Mike said he seemed older."

"I met him at some parties. You know," Chris said

She hoped that was believable. She saw some of Aaron's friends at parties, it was how she'd run into Mike. God, she was going to hell for lying so badly to her mom. That was all there was to it. Honestly, if Erik hadn't planted that story in her head Saturday night before leaving she wasn't sure she would have come up with anything remotely believable right now. She wasn't good under pressure.

Well, she supposed Saturday suggested otherwise.

Lying to her mom was different. Lying in general. She just wasn't a liar.

"You still should have told me."

"I forgot!"

"I didn't like being surprised like that. It seemed as if I didn't even know what was going on in my own house. That you were taking advantage of your father and me being gone."

"I know, Mom, I'm sorry. Honestly, I forgot. Brad's friend Darryl came over so I was stuck watching three of them instead of just Sara. I was upset after finding out about Mike. I was tired to begin with. Erik was hurt. I tried to get him to go to the hospital, but he wouldn't. I wasn't taking advantage. I was as surprised as you are, I promise."

"He was hurt that badly?"

"He was. One of his cuts probably needed stitches."

"Were you able to find those old butterfly bandages of Aaron's?"

"Yes," she said.

She was glad her mom was focusing on that instead of anything else. Of course she would. Her mother was, like Chris, one of those people who naturally wanted to help everyone. Everyone said that Chris took after her mom in that area.

"Good."

"And then Mike came by and insulted me."

"Why?"

"Because I wouldn't have sex with him. Basically. I mean, he was insinuating Erik was here for that purpose and would be disappointed to find out it wouldn't happen."

"I'm glad."

"Me, too." Chris shivered a little, thinking of that.

"Next time tell me so I'm not surprised."

"I will. I honestly just forgot."

"Okay," she said, kissing the top of Chris' head before leaving, shutting the door behind her.

Chris sat back on her bed, no longer interested in her magazine. She didn't want to do her homework either. She went out to the den where a phone upstairs was. Her parents had one in their room, of course, but no matter how hard she begged they wouldn't get a jack put in her room. Aaron hadn't needed his own phone so she didn't either. Stupid reasoning as far as Chris was concerned, but there was no budging them.

"Hey Brenda," she said when her best friend answered. She hadn't really talked to her much at school today. She tried, but Brenda hadn't been receptive. Brenda thought Chris was mad at her, which was fine and understandable.

'Oh hi,' she said.

"How are you?"

'Fine,' Brenda said.

Chris sighed. She hated that things were this uncomfortable between them. Brenda had been her friend since Kindergarten. They'd gotten into fights, sure. What friends hadn't? Chris wasn't mad at her, though. There was no reason for Brenda to be behaving like this.

"How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not mad?"

'I don't know, I'm sure I'll stop thinking you are eventually.'

"I hope soon. I don't like not talking to you," she said.

'About what,' she said.

"Are you busy?"

'Now?'

"Yes, now."

'Well, now, no. I was just deciding which frozen dinner to heat up.'

"Your dad and step-mom aren't home yet?"

'Nope. Big surprise there.'

"Mom and Dad are going to dinner with some neighbors. If I can convince Mom to let me use her car why don't we go get something to eat?"

'Yeah?'

"Yes, Brenda. Or we could come back here and order a pizza."

'Oh, that sounds good.'

"Yeah? Let's do that then."

'I'll just walk over. Let me leave them a note so they don't freak out and think I'm going to break my new curfew two nights into it and I'll be right over.'

"Okay. See you in a bit," she said, hanging up.

She went downstairs to see about some money for pizza. She had the money from babysitting the other night, but her mom wouldn't make her spend that on pizza since she and her dad were going out to eat.

"Mom, Brenda's going to come over. Her parents aren't home and she was going to eat a frozen dinner. Can I get some money for a pizza?"

"Sure, grab it out of my wallet."

"Thanks," Chris said.

"Where are they?"

"Who?"

"Her parents?"

"I'm not sure. Who knows?"

Chris' mom had been friends with Brenda's mom. Brenda's mom died when they were in junior high. Her dad remarried and Chris' mom had never been able to get friendly with her. She'd tried, too, since Chris and Brenda were such close friends. She took enough out of the wallet to cover the pizza and a liter of Coke before heading back upstairs to wait for Brenda to get here.

She was admittedly a little disappointed that Dan hadn't called. She hadn't sat by the phone yesterday or anything. In fact, she hadn't even gotten out of bed until after noon. She didn't usually sleep that late, and her parents didn't let her miss church. They weren't home, though, so they didn't know what time she got up. The phone hadn't rung, though. It would've woken her up.

They didn't talk about much when Brenda first got there. They decided on where they wanted the pizza from and what kind they wanted and then Chris told her what was on her mind.

"So you kissed both of them? Why am I just hearing about this?"

"Because you wouldn't talk to me today."

"I'm sorry! I was," she shrugged. "Embarrassed, I guess. Angry. I think of what could've happened to you guys, to Sara and it makes me sick."

"We're fine."

"We don't know if Sara's fine."

"She'll be fine, Brenda. She's a strong, brave girl. She met Thor out of the deal, too."

"A Thor who likes Hulk?"

Chris laughed softly at that. "Yeah, I guess so."

"So, which one did you like kissing more?"

"Brenda!"

"Well, judging by the way you're blushing one of them was better."

"I wouldn't say better."

"What then?"

"I don't know how to describe it."

"Try."

"I've never understood how other girls could give in so easily. You know? A date or two and they're already having sex with the guy."

"And one of them made you understand it?"

"One of them made me understand what it was like to want more than kissing."

"Which one?"

She sighed.

"Chris! It was Thor, wasn't it?"

"Yes," she said.

"You wish it wasn't?"

"Kind of. I mean, he's a mechanic," Chris said.

"Who owns his garage. So, he's a businessman even if it is different than your dad's or mine."

"I know. I just," she shrugged.

"You wished it was Dan."

"Yes. He's cute, nice, polite, and he drove all the way out here to bring Sara her skate back."

"I do agree with Thor on that one, though."

"What?"

"I don't think he drove out here Saturday night just to bring Sara her skate. He was hoping to run into you again."

"I guess. Then why hasn't he called?"

"He's busy?"

"Or I kissed him like an idiot and he didn't want anything more to do with me."

"If that's the case then you're better off without him."

"I guess," Chris said.

"You want him to call."

"I do."

"And Thor?"

"His name's not Thor, Brenda."

"I know that, but it sounds so much more impressive to say that Thor kissed you. Because, well, he's Thor, Chris!"

"He is kind of huge."

"Like Thor."

"I guess," she said.

She didn't have much to go by except Sara's pictures. Aaron wasn't a huge comic book guy and the comics he liked were Superman and Batman. At least those were the ones she remembered him reading. She couldn't recall him reading any Thor's.

"So you're not going to call him."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Brenda, he's from the city."

"So? He got here easily enough Saturday night when he thought you could've been in danger."

"Yeah."

"Is that the only reason? Because of his job?"

"I don't know."

"Did he scare you?"

"No!" She shrugged. "A little."

"Because it felt good?"

"Yes! I've never felt that. I mean, if Mike hadn't rang the doorbell."

"Really?"

"Yes, really. I mean, I was all but ready for bed when he showed up at the door. You know, I'd taken my bra off and everything. The only reason I wasn't in bed yet was that I realized I was starving. I hadn't eaten all night."

"Again, I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for, Brenda. I wouldn't have eaten at the Anderson's either most likely."

"I suppose."

"I don't know. I mean, what good would calling him do?"

"There's nothing wrong with dating someone just to date them. I mean, you're going to go to college next fall. It's going to start getting nice out. What's wrong with having some fun?"

"I have to have a guy to do that?"

"No, but a nice looking guy who makes you feel something good. What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing. That just feels like I'm using him. Especially if I go somewhere out of state."

"Do you think you will?"

"I might. I don't know. I really don't want to, but this whole thing with Mike makes me realize that I have to go."

"Why?"

"I'm not going to marry the first guy that comes along. I need to go to school, to be able to support myself."

"That's the smartest thing you've said in forever!"

"I was really convinced Mike was it."

"I know you were."

"So, if he wasn't living in the city…" Brenda said after a while. "I mean, Dan lives in the city. Why is it okay for him to live there but not Thor?"

Chris laughed softly at her friend's continual use of the name Thor.

"His job."

"It's better than no job. And how could your dad fault someone for owning a business?"

"I guess he couldn't. We just, come on, how much could we possibly have in common?"

"Opposites attract, too."

"I don't know," Chris said.

"Look at your brother."

"What?"

"Oh come on. You can't tell me that you ever saw him with someone like Lisa in a million years."

"Well, no," Chris said.

Aaron's wife was interesting. Aaron loved her, but God she tended to annoy anyone else who had to be around her for more than the requisite sixty minutes to eat dinner. (Even those sixty minutes could be brutal.) She only knew how to talk about dancing and aerobics. She couldn't hold a conversation about anything else, and if anyone tried to steer the conversation toward something else she'd always find a way to bring it back to one of those two topics.

Always.

She was the stereotypical bleached blonde bimbo, too. How her fairly down-to-earth brother ended up with her Chris would never know. Lisa had been a cheerleader all the way through college, which was how they met. No one thought they'd get married though.

"You could try it, see what happens. If you have a bad time," Brenda shrugged. "Well, then at least you know."

"Why are you so concerned?"

"Well, I'll be honest. If you wait until after Dan calls or so much time has gone by and Dan doesn't call. I'm not saying he won't."

"I know, Brenda. It's okay. I hope he will, but I realize he might have woken up Sunday morning and realized I was a senior in high school."

"Well, anyway, if you do call him after that." She shrugged.

"Then he'd think the only reason I called was because Dan never did."

"Well, yeah, and how good would that make him feel?"

"Not very," Chris admitted.

"I mean, you're attracted to him, clearly. Maybe after what happened with Mike you could use a date or two. You know, nothing serious, just dates."

"I suppose."

"I'll make a deal with you."

"What?" Chris asked, suspiciously.

"Go get his number. I'll wait to leave until you've dialed and he's answered."

"How is that making a deal with me?"

"That way if it's a horrible conversation you can blame me. If it's a great conversation you can tell me tomorrow what a great idea it was."

"I don't know, Brenda…"

"Chris. I'm the last one to tell you to run out and have sex with someone, but God. He made you feel something. Doesn't that tell you something? It tells me something. Enough that I'd be tempted to meet him if he wasn't interested in you already."

Chris laughed.

"I don't even know for sure he's interested."

"Yes, because he drove here because he could care less."

"He was being nice."

"Because he likes you. Go get his phone number."

"But it's so early."

"I have to be home anyway. Dad doesn't know where I was Saturday, he just knows I was gone for hours so I'm grounded for the week."

"What? Grounded? We're seniors."

"Tell me about it. I have to be home before eight o'clock every night this week."

"Even this weekend?"

"Even this weekend," Brenda said.

"Oh," Chris said.

"I know," Brenda said. "My own fault."

Chris stood then and went to her room. She pulled the business card out of the drawer she'd put it in with other odds and ends. She hadn't left it out because she didn't want her mom snooping. The drawer she kept it in was full of things like movie ticket stubs, concert ticket stubs, and things like it so her mom wouldn't pay attention to anything being in there or notice something was new.

She went back to the den with the card.

"I swear Brenda if he says 'Chris who' I'm never talking to you again."

"Not likely. Who could forget you?"

"I sure wish Mike would," she said, picking up the phone.

"I can't believe he told your mother!"

"I know, right? I'm so glad he didn't notice I wasn't wearing a bra or I'm sure he would've told Mom that, too, and she wouldn't have believed me."

Chris dialed the number as Brenda got her coat and stuff together.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four rings.

She was about to hang up even though she was raised to let it ring at least ten times before doing that. Erik wasn't her grandmother. He didn't need extra time to get to the phone. Then again, she had no idea how big where he lived was or where his phone was in conjunction with anything else.

'Hello,' he said.

"Uh, hi," she said, jerking the phone back to her ear.

Brenda giggled softly and Chris scowled at her friend.

"Sorry. I didn't think you were going to answer."

'I was outside. Who's this?'

"Oh, sorry. It's Chris. Um, Chris Parker."

'You don't sound so sure about that.'

"No, I am."

Brenda waved as she left the den. Chris knew she'd let herself out. It was still early enough her parents wouldn't be home for a couple of hours yet.

'Not so sure about calling me then?'

"A little," she admitted.

'What made you decide to do it?'

"My friend Brenda."

'Why?'

She shrugged. Obviously, he wouldn't see the gesture. "Do I need to have a reason?"

'Well, no, I guess not. I'm surprised.'

"Yeah? A good surprise?"

'Well, sure, I gave you my number. I just assumed I'd never hear from you again.'

"Why?"

He chuckled softly.

'Our lives are pretty different. I knew that before seeing your house, but I thought about it yesterday when I was doing some stuff at the garage. I realized the chances were pretty good you wouldn't waste your time on me. Not when you have college guys interested and giving you money for your car that I almost didn't even let you have.'

"But you did!"

'Yeah, well, I'm still surprised.'

"Do you want me to hang up?"

'I didn't say that.'

"Okay."

'Is your friend there now?'

"No, she had to go home. She's grounded for the week."

'Aren't you guys kind of old for being grounded?'

"That's what I said, but she is. She has to be home by eight o'clock this week."

'Well, maybe she'll rethink running away again.'

"Or actually do it next time."

'You can't stop her if she's going to.'

"I know."

'Good. That you realize that I mean.'

"How are you?"

'Oh, I'm fine.'

"No, I meant, your face and stuff. I'm glad you're fine. I just meant. How are you feeling?"

'Oh, I'm okay. I won't be doing any sparring for a month or so probably, but I'm okay.'

"Good."

'You fixed me up pretty nicely. Thank you.'

"You don't have to thank me."

'I do. It was nice of you and I probably shouldn't have been driving around in that condition.'

"No, you shouldn't have been. If Mike hadn't come…"

'Yeah?'

"I wouldn't have made you leave right away."

'Hmm,' he said.

"Well, listen, I'll let you go. I'm sure you have better things to do than talk to me."

'Oh, I have plenty of things to do, none I'd consider better.'

"Thank you," she said.

'But if you're done talking to me. Were you seeing if I gave you a bogus number or something?'

"No," she said.

'Are you grounded?'

"What?"

'I asked if you were grounded.'

"Oh, no. Mike did come over today and told my mom about you being here, but I explained it away. I think I was convincing."

'Good.'

"As long as he didn't tell my mom a few things I said we're okay."

He laughed a little at that.

'I'd ask which things, but I won't embarrass you.'

"Thank you."

'So, are you busy tomorrow?'

"Tomorrow?"

'Yes, you know the day after today?'

"But it's St. Patrick's Day."

'Yeah?'

"You won't be going out?"

'Nah,' he said. 'I mean, with you if you accept.'

"To do what?"

'I guess that's up to you. Dinner? A movie? A drive?'

"In your car?"

'That would be the general idea, yes.'

He had a nice car. She remembered that from Saturday night. It was an older muscle car of some sort. She didn't know what it was, but she knew it was very nice. Undoubtedly because he was a mechanic so had the time and resources to fix it up himself.

"Sure," she said.

'Yeah?'

"Is there a reason I should say no?"

'I suppose not, unless someone else has already asked.'

"No," she said.

'I see,' he said.

What was she supposed to say now? She had no idea.

'Well, I can pick you up around six I suppose, unless you want to meet me here at the garage and we could go from here.'

"I'd have to ask my mom."

'Right. I'll just be at your place about six then. Will I be meeting your mom?'

"Probably not. Maybe," she said, thinking on that.

'Because she knows I was there Saturday night?'

"Yes."

'All right. I'll be on my best behavior then.'

"Thanks. Sorry."

'Don't be sorry. I can't remember the last time I've had to meet parents, but it's not unexpected if she knows I was there Saturday.'

"Okay, well…"

'You in a hurry to hang up?'

"No," she said. She was surprised he said that. Mike couldn't get off the phone fast enough when they were talking. "I just figured you'd have something to do."

'Nah.'

"Okay."

'Tell me about your day.'

"My day? I went to school…"

She was surprised how easy it was to talk to him once they started talking about nothing, everyday things like school and work. She'd told him about her day, he'd done the same about his. The next thing she knew over an hour had passed.

"I should really let you go."

'All right,' he said. 'I'll see you around six.'

"Are you sure you're not cutting your day short?"

'I'm the boss. I can do whatever I want.'

"I suppose," she said. That wasn't really an answer.

'I'll see you tomorrow.'

"Okay, Erik. Good night."

'Good night, Chris.'

She hung up not sure how she felt at all about going out with him tomorrow. Nervous. Excited. Anxious. Unsettled. He was taking her somewhere after meeting her mom. Her mom would likely think he came over Saturday night because he was interested in Chris if they were going out Tuesday night. She wasn't sure what her mom would say about that. She hadn't said anything about Chris dating Mike who was older so maybe she wouldn't about going out on one date with Erik. She was pretty sure there wouldn't be more than a few anyway.

***

"What do I even wear?" she asked Brenda on the phone.

'Wear what you'd wear out on a date, Chris,' she replied.

"I have no idea what we're doing!"

'Well, wear those black pants. Those are nice, casual but not jeans. And if he shows up looking nicer than you thought he would you could wear dressier shoes with them.'

"I suppose," she said. She had no idea why she was so nervous about this. He was going to be here in like thirty minutes and she had stared at her closet for about twenty minutes before calling Brenda.

'So, what did Mom say?'

"Mom didn't seem surprised."

'Well, that's good.'

"Or it's bad because she thinks that he really was here at two o'clock in the morning for something else.'

'It should be fairly obvious that's not true, though, right? I mean you made it sound like he was beat up pretty badly.'

"He was."

'For which, please tell him I'm sorry,' Brenda said.

"Brenda, you can't keep apologizing to everyone."

'Well, I haven't apologized to him yet.'

"I'll tell him."

'Thank you. Anyway, if he was that bad he's probably still. I mean it's only Tuesday.'

"True," Chris said.

'So, she'd have to believe he was really hurt.'

"Yes, but I think it's the why he came here part that's going to make her suspect. He wouldn't have known I broke up with Mike earlier in the night."

'Well, true, that doesn't mean he couldn't be interested in you. People do get interested in someone who's dating someone else.'

"I suppose."

'He was okay with meeting her?'

"Yes, he said so anyway. He probably realized he didn't have a choice."

'Well, good. Go get dressed. Call me back if you want to, but you'll be fine, Chris. It's a date. Have fun!'

"Thank you."

'Sure. Call me when you get home.'

"Your parents won't get mad if I call late?"

'Nah, they haven't taken my phone privileges away, just the stupid eight o'clock curfew.'

"Okay. I will."

Chris got dressed then. God, it was stupid to be this nervous. She grabbed her shoes from her closet about the time she saw him pull onto the driveway. It was a little after six o'clock but she couldn't fault him for being a little late. Maybe he couldn't close the garage right away or traffic had been bad. She wasn't really sure how long it would take to drive here from there since she hadn't been able to drive right back here after getting the car Saturday.

"You look nice," her mom said.

"Thank you."

"Be careful."

"I will."

"Have fun," she said as the doorbell rang.

"You mean you don't want to meet him?"

"Oh, I'd very much like to meet him, but maybe next time."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. The fact he came to the door expecting to meet me tells me a lot."

"Well, of course he would. I told him you'd want to meet him."

"Mike didn't always come to the door and I always felt as though he was avoiding me when he came to get you."

Very true. There were times Mike just pulled onto the driveway and honked, knowing Chris was expecting him. It drove her mom nuts, and her dad, too. For her dad to say anything bad about anyone she knew meant it must have really irritated him. Her dad may not like all of Chris' friends, but he was never vocal about it. He left that up to her mom for some reason.

"You're right."

"I'll save it for another time when he's not expecting me."

"Mom," she said. What did she think? He'd act different or something knowing he was going to meet her? Probably so.

"You do have school tomorrow, remember."

"I remember. He has to work anyway."

"Well, be home early."

"I will." She grabbed her coat then as her mom left the hallway.

"Hi," she said, opening the door.

"I was beginning to think you weren't home."

"Sorry. I was talking to my mom."

"It's all right. I didn't really think you weren't home."

"Not worried I'd change my mind?"

"Oh, I was a little curious about that, but I figured you'd at least tell me to my face if you did."

"Why?" she asked.

He shrugged. "It just seems like the type of person you are. Am I wrong?"

"No," she said. "I'm ready, I guess," she said, grabbing her purse.

"Okay," he said, looking a little confused. He stepped out of the way, though, so she could come outside and close the door behind her.

"So, she doesn't even want to meet me? That can't be good."

"No, that's not it at all. I don't know. She said maybe another time." Chris shrugged. "You really wanted to meet her?"

"Well, put like that, wanting to, no. I just assumed."

"I guess she figures it's a date not like a marriage proposal or anything."

"Yeah, I usually save those for a second date."

"Have you ever been married?" she asked.

"Uh no."

"Close?"

"Sort of."

"How can you be sort of close to getting married?"

"I thought about asking her, I didn't."

"Oh," she said.

"It was a long time ago."

"Oh," she said.

"Your ex and my ex would get along," he said.

"I'm sorry."

"Like I said it was a long time ago."

"Well, still, if you thought about asking her to marry you. I mean, catching Mike hurt, but I wasn't going to marry him."

"That is good to know."

"It is?"

"Well, sure," he said, stopping at a stop sign in her neighborhood.

"Why?"

"I suspect if you were thinking about marrying him you wouldn't be receptive when I kiss you."

"You kissed me Saturday night."

"I did. I should maybe apologize for that," he said.

"Maybe?"

He leaned in and kissed her then. She gasped softly, totally not expecting it. Why? She had no idea. She just wasn't.

"Yeah, because if I apologized then it would mean I wouldn't be able to do that."

"Why not?"

He chuckled softly, drawing away to drive again.

"An apology seems to imply I won't do it again."

"I see."

"Unless you want me to apologize."

"I don't think so."

"That's better than yes, I guess."

"Where are we going?"

"I guess that's up to you."

"Why?"

"What time do you have to be home?"

"No real curfew. I have school tomorrow, though."

"Right," he said. "I should've asked for Saturday night I guess. I wasn't thinking."

"I'm sorry. If you want to take me back home…"

"I'd want to do that why?"

"I don't know. Because you don't want to deal with someone with curfews and parents who want to meet you?"

"Well, you're eighteen." He glanced at her then and frowned. "You are, right?"

She laughed softly. “I’m actually not until next month.”

"I guess parents go with the territory of taking out a suburban girl."

"You don't meet parents of other people you date?"

"It's been a long time since I've gone on a date with someone living with their parents."

She sighed, glancing out the window. God, this was dumb. Completely and totally dumb. She should never have listened to Brenda and called him. She just shouldn't have. She should've just chalked him up to being a guy she was attracted to that just came into her life at the wrong place and time. Like years too soon.

"You're regretting calling me?"

"I'm thinking about whether I was stupid to do it."

"Why did you?"

She laughed. "I don't know."

"Honesty and flattery. I like it."

"I'm sorry. I don't. I wasn't going to."

"I figured."

"I was talking to Brenda and, I don't know, she sort of talked me into it."

"I guess I should be apologizing then and offering to take you back home."

"No."

"You sure. I'm not trying to make you do anything."

"I know. You didn't. Brenda didn't either. I just have no idea why you'd want to go out with me."

"Beyond the fact you're gorgeous and nice, you mean?"

"I'm not."

"Says the person with a Playboy centerfold for a look alike."

"Oh God. I swear if I never see that magazine again in my life I'll be happy."

"Well, still. I think you are and figured you'd be someone worth getting to know better. You called, I asked, you agreed. Here we are."

"Where are we going anyway?"

"Back to that."

"Well, it's a logical question."

"It is. I was thinking of getting something to eat."

"That'd be fine."

"Okay. No preference?"

"Well, I don't know what else you had in mind."

"We could see what movies are playing."

"Whatever you want, Erik."

He sighed softly. God, he must think she's an idiot. She was acting like one. He pulled into a parking lot and got out of the car. He hadn't turned it off so she doubted they were getting out here. Well, that and it was an office building parking lot. There was nothing for them to do here. He opened her door then, and offered her his hand. She took it because she had no idea what he was doing.

He let go of her hand then and slid his to her cheek as he leaned in to kiss her. Again, she was reminded how much taller he was than her. He didn't seem to mind, though. She slid her arms around him as he deepened the kiss. She certainly didn't mind or make any move to stop him. He slid a hand behind her, drawing her closer against him and she sighed into the kiss at that. She wished she knew why she reacted to him like this. What did that mean? She had no idea. Was it him? Her? Them? Just that he wasn't Mike? She didn't understand.

"That's what I want to do," he said when he broke the kiss.

"Okay," she said, confused.

"Okay?" He laughed then.

Great, now he was laughing at her.

"You mean all night?"

"Well, as long as you can, yes."

"My parents are home…"

"Yeah, I know that. I could take you to my place."

"Erik."

"I mean, I'd suggest the back seat of my car but there's not a lot of room back there and it might get a little cold. Or warm, I suppose."

"You'd do that?"

"Kiss you in my car? Sure."

"Really?"

"That surprises you?"

She shrugged. "A little. I have a better idea, though."

"Okay," he said, sounding cautious. She couldn't blame him. He probably thought she'd come up with some weirdly ridiculous idea to avoid being alone with him. She should do that. They could go out to eat. He'd mentioned a movie. They could even go bowling.

She reached into her coat pocket, grabbing for her keys to be sure she had them.

"My brother and his wife are on vacation for the next two weeks. I'm supposed to feed their cat, water their plants, get their mail, and stuff."

"Okay," he said.

"We could go there," she offered.

He looked legitimately surprised. She was, too, that she'd thought of asking him.

"Sure," he said. "Tell me where to go."

Her brother and Lisa didn't live far from her house. She didn't have the opener with her since she wasn't expecting to come here tonight so she had him park on the driveway.

"No one's going to call the cops or anything?"

"No, and if they do I'm his sister who has keys to his house and permission to be here."

"Yeah, well, I doubt it takes you hours to feed his cat and water his plants."

"Well, no," she said. Hours? He was talking about kissing her for hours? She kind of liked the sound of that.

She left the main light off, turning a lamp on instead.

"Hey, Henry," she said.

"Has he already been fed?"

"Yeah, I came by after school," she said.

"He must miss your brother then."

"What do you mean?"

"To come to you like that when you came in."

"Oh, I'm sure he does. He's pretty friendly as cats go."

"Do you have pets?" he asked.

"Uh no," she said. "We had a dog, but he died about two years ago and Mom and Dad decided not to get another one. Aaron was gone, I was going to be in a couple of years."

"They didn't want to be tied down?"

"Yes."

"Makes sense."

He slid his hands to the front of her coat, working the buttons on it before he opened it. She shrugged out of it, setting it on the nearby chair while he took his off, too.

"Don't you get cold?" she asked. He wasn't wearing much more than the tank top he'd been wearing Saturday.

"No," he said with a bit of a smirk. "Should I work on wearing more clothes?"

"No," she said quickly and he chuckled.

"Relax," he said.

Easy for him to say. She'd never in her life invited a guy to go anywhere with her for the sole purpose of making out with him.

He leaned down to kiss her, pressing her into the wall behind her as he deepened it. His hands slid to her hips and her ass, lifting her up. She shrieked a bit not expecting it, wrapping her legs around him instinctively.

"Much better," he whispered.

She couldn't disagree. It was much more comfortable and easier kissing him this way. She groaned softly when he broke the kiss. He slid his lips along her jaw to her neck and she suddenly didn't mind that he wasn't kissing her mouth anymore.

"Fuck," he murmured when she wiggled against him. She couldn't help it. His mouth felt incredible kissing her like that. She had to move, to do something, and it seemed the thing to do.

"Sorry," she whispered.

"Don't," he said.

"Don't what?"

He chuckled a bit, nipping at her throat and she gasped.

"Don't apologize."

"Okay," she said.

He shifted his hands a bit and she grew a little paranoid until she realized he was moving them to support her better as he led her away from the wall.

"Where are you going?" she whispered.

"Well, the couch would be much more comfortable, don't you think?"

She nipped at her lower lip, chewing on it with her top teeth for a second.

"I think you should go that way," she said, pointing to the hall.

"You sure?"

"Yes," she said.

"Chris. You do realize I'm not going to argue with you or do the right thing, right?"

"I know," she whispered, telling him which door to go through when he got to it.

Evidently he believed she understood that because he didn't question her again not even after he'd set her on the bed. Not her brother's bed. She wouldn't do that. Not that she was going to do much on it anyway, but still it was the principle of it.

"Whose room is this?" he asked.

"Nobody. It's a guest room," she said, watching him a little shyly now that they were in here.

"Makes sense," he said before joining her on the bed.

She slid her hands along the front of his shirt, blushing a bit at the sounds he made as she touched him. He wore a short-sleeved shirt today versus the tank top he'd worn the other night, but it was still pretty lightweight unlike the sweater she was wearing.

"You like?" he asked.

"What?" she asked. She wasn't sure what he was asking.

"Touching me? How I feel?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"To both?"

"Yes," she said, giggling softly.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"Nothing."

"I'm not going to do anything you don't want to do."

"I believe you."

"Do you?"

"Yes," she said. "I'm just nervous," she admitted.

"About being alone with me?"

"Like this, yes."

"We didn't have to come back here."

"I know," she sighed softly, slid her hands up to his shoulders and around his neck. She drew him to her so they could kiss again. He met her halfway, shifting them so they were side by side and then she was on top of him.

"Relax," he murmured, apparently feeling or sensing her getting fidgety at the position shift. "I don't want to get too heavy for you."

"Thank you," she murmured.

"Uh huh," he said.

She never realized there were so many places to kiss and be kissed above the neck. She'd never been curious or interested enough to find out before.

"You like that?" he asked when she groaned at his teeth against her neck.

"Uh huh," she whispered.

He slid a hand along her neck, brushing her hair out of her way and pushing the neck of her sweater out of the way a bit, too.

"What are you…"

"I could do that all night, but your parents would know we didn't go to dinner if I keep doing it there," he said.

"Oh," she said.

She didn't say anything else for a while, just enjoying the feel of what he was doing to her neck and shoulder. He didn't stop for a long time either. She found his neck, doing back to him what he'd done to her.

"You don't have to do it so low," he whispered.

"Why not?" she asked.

"I don't have parents."

"You have customers," she murmured.

"I don't think they're coming to me for my personal life."

"You mean you don't care?"

"No, wherever you want to is fine," he said.

She found a spot under his ear then, focusing on it as she slid a hand under his shirt. He groaned softly as she touched him. She wasn't sure what he was reacting to, both maybe. She liked the feel of him under her fingertips, his skin smooth except for a bit of hair on his chest. She wondered if it was as blonde as his hair.

She stopped sucking on the spot on his neck, drawing away a bit as she regarded him.

"What?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Nothing," she said, shifting a bit against him. His eyes fell closed at the movement. "You like that?" She reached for his hand then, sliding it to her stomach under her sweater.

"Yes. You may not, though," he said. He didn't take his hand away, but he wasn't moving it either. She was expecting him to. She even wanted him to!

"Why not?"

He chuckled softly. "It makes me think about things I probably shouldn't be right now, but you feel very good on my lap like that. And under my hand."

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh," he murmured.

"What if I want you to think them?"

"Chris," he said, settling his hands at her hips stopping her from moving anymore. Oddly, that frustrated her incredibly.

"What?"

"I want to do a hell of a lot more than think them," he said.

"Okay."

“I don’t think you’re ready for that,” he said. “Besides, you have school tomorrow. Your parents will freak out if you’re gone for hours. And you’re not eighteen yet.”

"I'm sorry. You want to take me home?"

"Want to? No. Need to? Yes. It's the right thing to do."

"But…"

"You weren't even going to call me!"

"Because…"

"Because you met someone else probably more appropriately suited for you than I am. He hasn't called yet. Otherwise you wouldn't be here with me right now."

"That's not why I called you."

"I'm a realist, Chris. I know the odds of a woman like you ending up with a guy like me. They're slim at best. And that's without someone else interested at the same time."

"You don't know anything about me!"

"And if he does call you?"

"What do you mean?"

"If he does and we've done more than this tonight you won't be happy with yourself or me."

"You have nothing to do with it."

"I have everything to do with it. I'm not going to fool around with someone who isn't sure she even wants to be with me."

"What have we been doing then?"

"Chris, honey, that was kissing. What you were doing there is suggesting more than kissing."

"You let me give you…"

"It's a hickey," he shrugged. "It's part of kissing."

"I've never gotten one before."

"No?" he asked. He was clearly surprised by that.

"No," she admitted.

"I just can't help but think he calls anything beyond this that happens tonight would make you feel bad or guilty."

"But I want…"

"Yeah, well, you'll want to the next time, too, I imagine. I'll feel like the biggest idiot in the world if he calls you and you get to finish with him what you seem to have on your mind tonight."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I want what you seem to be offering very badly. I just can't do that to you. I'm not so sure you're not pushing yourself to prove to Mike or something that you can do things. That it was him and not you."

"So you do think it's me?"

"I didn't say that. We just spent the last ninety minutes kissing. I can't remember the last time I've done that if ever."

"So you don't want to do more than kiss me because Dan might call me?"

"More or less. I can't compete with someone like him."

"I didn't realize it was a competition."

"Of course it is. He's going to college. He's got money apparently. He was nice to you and the kids."

"You were…"

"Don't. I wasn't. I think about what those guys would've done to you and those kids if they'd found you instead of me and I hate myself for not letting you have the car over five fucking dollars."

"But you didn't know. All you knew…"

"Yeah, I know. You tried to tell me, I wouldn't listen."

"You got beat up because of us! You don't think that sort of offsets anything else?"

"Not really."

"Besides I'm sure you've heard every excuse in the book more than once."

"I have. They were kids, though." He shrugged. "Anyway. Unless you can sit there and tell me he calls you wouldn't get all excited about that…"

"I don't know what I'd do now."

"Now?"

She shrugged. "He should've called by now if he was really interested."

He slid her off his lap, sighing softly. He moved to sit up then.

"What?" she asked.

"See, and that's exactly why."

"What?"

"If you were into me you wouldn't care if he called. It wouldn't be about whether you think he's interested or not."

"But, Erik. You asked what I'd do now."

"It's nothing. I'd better take you home."

"Erik."

"I don't want to be the one you say I should've done this or that about tomorrow. I'd rather you think I should've done more than I did than wished I'd done less than I did."

"I want…"

He leaned in to kiss her, sliding his hand to the nape of her neck to draw her closer.

"Chris, honey, when you know that I'm what you want. Me. Not because the other guy didn't call you or your friend thought you should call me. You know how to find me."

"Wait. So I'm not going to see you again?"

"I didn't say that. I'm not stupid enough just to go away. I'm not going to make it that easy for him if he does call you."

"Then what?"

"I am interested."

"Yeah," she said, sounding confused.

"I'm interested in you. I'm not here with you just to get laid."

"Well, I wouldn't…"

"I'm just explaining. I'd love to get to know you better and do a lot more than kissing, but if you haven't even gotten or given a hickey before I think this is when I should take you home."

She sighed softly.

"What's with the sigh?"

"You probably think I'm a tease."

"Uh no. I didn't come here tonight to get laid or under the impression I might."

"You didn't?"

"What gave you the impression I thought that?"

"I don't know. Isn't that what guys think?"

"That every date is going to end with sex? I guess it depends on the kind of date you're talking about. The kind of date I want with you, no."

"Why not?"

"Some girls deserve that kind of date, some girls don't."

"I don't?"

"Not tonight. One night I'm hoping so, sure. I'd like you to trust me first, though."

"Am I still invited to watch you box?"

"You mean you want to? You like boxing?"

"My grandpa likes boxing. I watch it with him sometimes."

"Really?"

"Yes. I remember watching George Foreman beat Joe Frazier."

"Yeah?"

"I remember Leon Spinks beating Muhammad Ali."

"That was a huge one."

"It was. I think Grandpa made a lot of money on that fight."

"Your grandpa bet against Ali?"

"He did," she said. "I remember when Jack Dempsey died."

"He was shook up about that?"

"Yes. He liked him. I've only seen clips of his fights, obviously."

"Right. What's he think of Mike Tyson?"

"He hasn't said. He's so young, though. I suspect he probably isn't sure if he's for real or not."

"I think he's pretty real."

"And you think I'm even weirder now."

"Oh, no, honey, not at all. The fact that you can hold a conversation about boxing is pretty incredible."

"Thanks."

"Is he still around?"

"Grandpa?"

"Yeah."

"Yes, why?"

"Oh, I'd love to pick the brain of a man who thought Leon Spinks had a chance of winning that fight. He'd only fought a handful of times before that night."

"I don't know. I can sure ask him."

"I tell you what."

"What?"

"You wait to ask him. Maybe one day I'll ask him myself."

"Okay," she said, knowing she was blushing.

She leaned in and kissed him. He kissed her back so she shifted onto his lap, wrapping her legs around him like she had out in the living room. He dropped his hands to her hips, tugging her more securely on his lap before sliding them to her ass. She groaned softly, finding his tongue with hers. She hadn't initiated that before even if she'd been a willing participant when he had. Evidently he liked her doing that. She liked doing it, too.

She slid a hand from his neck to his arm, sliding it to one of his hands and bringing it to her stomach again. She wanted more than anything to feel him touch her. She groaned when he ran his thumb along her skin there. It wasn't enough though.

She broke the kiss, finding his neck and the mark she'd left him there. Moving a little lower on his neck she licked and sucked on the skin there.

"I guess you like doing that," he murmured.

She had no idea she would like doing this. For whatever reason doing it was effecting her, too. She'd never felt anything like it before. Need. She found his ear, nipping at the lobe before kissing it.

"Erik," she said, knowing she was betraying her frustration. And very possibly that need she was feeling.

"Fuck," he murmured.

"What?" she whispered against his ear.

"You will remember I tried to take the high road here, right?"

"I will," she said.

He slid both hands to the bottom of her sweater, lifting it up. She had to fight the urge to yell at him to stop. Instinctive. She didn't really want him to stop right now. He must have sensed her hesitation because he paused for a second as if waiting for her to tell him to stop. He kept going, sliding it up and off.

"So I have to ask," he whispered, sliding a fingertip along her stomach working it higher slowly.

"Yeah," she said softly.

He chuckled softly.

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"Are you scared of me?"

"Is that your question?"

"No, just the tone in your voice suggests you're maybe scared."

"A little uncertain," she whispered.

"So, Mike said he never got his hand under your shirt," he said his fingertip sliding along the top of her breasts above her bra.

"No," she said.

"Has anyone?"

"Why?"

"Oh, just wondering."

"No," she said under her breath.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of."

"I feel like it is sometimes," she said.

"I don't think I've ever touched someone who's never been touched before."

"Really? Never? Not even in high school?"

"Nah," he said. "I wasn't exactly a chick magnet."

"You?"

"I know," he said, lowering his mouth to kiss the top of her breasts. She gasped softly. "Shocking, right?"

"I'm not exactly a guy magnet either."

"The events of this past weekend suggest otherwise, but if you say so."

"That was a fluke!"

"Nah, you just have one of those personalities guys look for."

He reached behind her to unhook her bra.

"Just what I want, a guy to look at me for my personality."

"Oh, I didn't say that was all the guys see in you," he said, sliding the bra straps along her arms. "It's just that you're obviously a naturally good person. That shows."

"Says the man doing things that says otherwise."

"Letting me touch you does not mean you're not a good person," he said, running his tongue along the top of her breast.

"I was taught…"

"I can imagine what you were taught."

He slid his mouth lower.

"Oh God," she cried out as he took a peak into his mouth.

Neither talked after that. She was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to speak even if she wanted to and he didn't stop using his mouth on her long enough to talk. She moved against him unable to resist rubbing herself against him. She knew he was excited and that rubbing him like that probably wasn't helping but she couldn't help it. She had to. It felt too good to stop between that and what he was doing with his mouth.

And then. "Oh my God," she said as she shifted herself on his lap in just the right way that she finished. He chuckled softly, but he didn't stop what he was doing.

"Erik," she whispered.

He didn't answer her, but he did stop licking her peak for a second.

"So sensitive," she whispered.

He moved his mouth then, seeming to understand what she was saying. It felt good but almost too good just then. He was leaving her another hickey she could tell but made no effort to stop him.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered when he stopped sucking and just let his cheek rest against a breast.

He laughed then. "What on earth are you apologizing for?"

"For exciting you and doing nothing."

"I didn't want you to do anything. That kind of excitement is more than okay, honey. I swear."

"Yeah, but…"

"Trust me. I have no complaints and I had fun."

She scoffed at that.

"You came?"

"Uh huh," she murmured.

"Then I had fun."

"But I … You didn't have to do anything."

"If that's your idea of my doing nothing…"

"You know what I mean."

"Chris, honey, quit worrying. You're fine."

"But you didn't even want to…"

"Wanting was not the issue. If you could have been in my head the last couple of hours you'd know that for sure."

"Why didn't you try then?"

"Your brother's house on a school night isn't my ideal situation. Plus, I don't have anything on me to do anything about my excitement anyway."

"You don't?"

"Believe it or not, I don't carry them everywhere."

"Mike did."

"I'm sure he did. It sounds like he's perhaps more active in that department than I am. My hat goes off to him, but I quit being interested in quantity over quality a long time ago."

"And I'm quality."

He nipped at her breast then, grazing the spot with his tongue afterward. "You are."

He gave her her bra back. "I'm afraid I'm not so good at putting those back on."

"Not much reason to do that, I suppose."

"Uh no. I don't think I know many men who've bothered to want to learn how to put one on."

"You don't like bras?"

"Oh, you know. They keep this very appealing part of a woman's body hidden."

"I see," she said. She folded it then, setting it beside her with her sweater.

"What are you doing?"

"I don't have to put it back on. It's not like I'm so huge I desperately need it."

"You're perfect."

"Thank you," she said.

"You could leave it off on Saturday, too. I wouldn't complain."

"What's Saturday?"

"I'm taking you out."

"Where?"

"I don't know yet, but an actual date like you deserve."

"I'm not complaining about this date."

"Tonight you're not, but if we repeat this you might."

"How could I complain about you making me feel that?"

He chuckled softly, finding the spot on her neck he'd left a hickey earlier. He kissed it.

"You have something to cover that up with?"

"Yes," she said. "It's not too high so I have some shirts I can wear."

"Good."

"Yours on the other hand."

"I have no reason to hide them. Except maybe Pruitt."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure he'd be happy that I let you do that."

"Why not? He doesn't like hickeys?"

He chuckled softly. "I think he likes you and thinks I'm a little old and probably a lot too rough around the edges for someone like you."

"Oh, sorry."

"I'll deal with John. Don't worry. I will assure him I didn't take advantage of you. And, yet, further proof that guys like women like you. Is there one man you encountered that night that didn't like you?"

"Joe's boss."

He chuckled softly. "Oh, I'm sure he didn't like you, but I bet even he can appreciate your ability to survive that situation."

"Thanks to you. If you'd given him my information."

"He'll figure out that you and the kids aren't going to the cops and he'll let it go. He has bigger things to worry about than you guys if he thinks your friend Joe is going to flip on him. He'll have to find a new location for his operation because the one he has been using is compromised. He'll keep busy."

"I have no desire to go to the police."

"I know that. You know that. He will come to know that, too."

She reached in then, kissing his neck and jaw.

"I don't want to go home," she said.

"Hmm. Really?"

"No," she said.

"You want to stay here?"

"Kind of."

"Could you do that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Could you stay here? Tell your parents the cat is lonely or something and stay here?"

"Tonight? No, they know I was out with you."

"I meant another night. Maybe one they don't know you're out with me."

"Oh," she said, realizing what he was asking her. "Maybe. I don't know. I never have."

"Maybe next week you could try it."

"Why next week?"

He chuckled a bit. "I love your enthusiasm, but I swear Saturday you're getting a real date. And your clothes will remain on and intact."

"I'm not sure I want that."

"Oh?"

"No."

"Well, you at least deserve an actual date."

"That I want."

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh."

"Name it," he said.

"A movie."

"That's it?"

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know. You just let me do something you said you've never let anyone do before."

"So that means what?"

"I don't know. Seems I should buy you dinner or something."

"We could do that."

He glanced at his watch. "We could still stop for a burger or something tonight if you wanted. I could still have you home at a respectable hour and then you wouldn't have to lie to your mom when she asks what we did."

"I'll still have to lie. A burger doesn't take hours."

"It depends on how much we were talking."

"I'm not sure she'd believe I'd talk to anyone for hours. Except maybe Brenda."

He chuckled at that. "It's up to you. I feel kind of guilty."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I'm still not altogether sure why you wanted that."

"I have to have a reason?"

"Well, no. I just don't want to be lumped in with guys like Mike who are jerks."

"I did say I would remember you were willing to stop."

"Oh, I know that, remembering and not thinking I'm an asshole tomorrow morning aren't necessarily the same thing."

"I'm not going to think you're an asshole."

He shook his head.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing, it just sounds so wrong hearing you talk like that."

"Why?"

"It's just not you."

"Thanks, I think."

"It's definitely a compliment."

He reached for her sweater then, handing her her bra first. "You'd better put that back on. I bet your mom would notice it's missing."

"Probably."

"Was that a yes to burgers tonight or not?"

"Sure," she said.

"Sure you want to or sure because I suggested it you don't want to tell me to fuck off yet so you'll agree?"

"Why are you so unsure of yourself?"

"Because you're not someone I want to fuck up with."

"You haven't."

"All right. You think on what you want to do Saturday. I don't work, so if you wanted to do something earlier downtown or wherever we could."

"Really?"

"Sure. Whatever you want."

"Okay," she said, sliding off his lap to put her bra and sweater back on. He watched her she noticed, which she oddly didn't mind.

"I'm going to have a good day tomorrow," he said when he stood and tugged her to him for a kiss.

"Why?"

He ran a fingertip along the spot on her neck. "Because I can go through my day wondering if anyone will see that and wonder what you did tonight."

"That wouldn't bother you?"

"Bother me? Uh no. Why would it?"

"I don't know."

"I only left it low because of your parents. If you tell me they won't see it or care."

"They'd care."

"So, lower it is." He ran a fingertip along the spot he'd left one on her breast through her sweater. "I can't say I complain about lower."

"No one else will see that one!"

"That is very good to know. Maybe next time I'll leave one here," he said, sliding his finger to the top of her breast just above her bra.

"That would show when I change for gym."

"I know."

"Oh," she said, blushing deeply at that.

He laughed softly at that. "We'd best go before I work on changing the fact I didn't already do that."

She blushed again.

"And you like that idea? If it wasn't already late I'd definitely do it."

"I kind of do."

"Hmm. I look forward to toying with just how much you like that idea some other night."

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