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***Chapter One***
Word Count: 4,359

Chris opened the door, grateful her parents were gone for the night. They'd flip out for sure at the doorbell ringing at this time of night. They'd assume probably that something had happened to her brother. Their plans out for the night was the reason her mom was fairly adamant Chris babysit for the Anderson's. She was afraid Chris would have Mike over and do something stupid while they weren't home. She couldn't deny the thought of fooling around with Mike had begun to get appealing. The thought of sex with him, though, had not entered her mind. So her parents' concerns that she'd purposely get pregnant or something were irrational. She may not have been too excited about college, but she wasn't ready to be a mom at eighteen.

She probably would've invited him over, too. She would have called and tried to convince him to come over. She might have even promised him something in order for him to come over. What a fool she'd been! She was so glad she found out what he was truly like before she did something incredibly stupid and embarrassing. Dating him was bad enough!

She couldn't have been more surprised at who was standing on her doorstep than if President Reagan himself was there. She knew there was no chance Ronald Reagan would set foot on her doorstep. She wasn't so sure about Mr. Dawson actually being here. The odds of it being him she would have said were non-existent. He'd seemed kind of larger than life earlier tonight. God, that was less than two hours ago. How had he found her?

"What are you doing here?" she asked. She didn't want to sound rude, but it was after two o'clock in the morning. He was lucky she even answered her door at this time of night.

"I have a friend who's a cop. He, uh, hooks me up when he sees abandoned cars on the expressway. Instead of having them towed to the impound lot he gives me a chance at them. If Pruitt thinks I can fix it, he tows it to my garage. If it's not gone within an hour, the cops take it away."

"Okay," she said.

This had nothing to do with why he was here at her house. It couldn't possibly. Her mom's car was here, safe in the garage where it was supposed to be. A new windshield and new tire, but it was safe nonetheless.

"I gave him your license plate number and had him run the address for me so I could be sure you were all right. That you and those kids made it home safely."

His words were slurred, jumbled and she wondered why. He certainly hadn't had a problem talking clearly when they were at his garage earlier. Was he drunk?

"Jesus," she said, taking him in. She hadn't before now because she'd been too stunned to see him on her doorstep to process that he wasn't at all in the same condition they'd left him in at his garage. He drove like that?

"Come in," she said, grabbing onto the arm of his jacket to tug him inside. She couldn't leave him standing outside. A neighbor would see, there was always someone letting their dog out at all hours of the night. She wasn't going to just send him away either.

"No, really, I just needed to be sure."

"We're fine. The kids are fine. You are not fine, however, so come inside."

He stepped inside, evidently not in any condition to argue with her. He was taller and in general bigger than she was so clearly if he wanted to argue or just turn around and leave there was nothing she could do to stop him.

"Who did this to you?" she asked. "Did you report them to your policeman friend?"

"I didn't, no, because that would've drawn you into more trouble tonight. I sort of got the impression from Pruitt that anyone's parents finding out you'd been downtown would be bad."

"I see," she said. "Yes, I'd be in the most trouble for taking them down there. So, thank you."

"Did you get your friend all right?"

"What?"

"Pruitt. He mentioned that you were heading to the bus station? I think that's what he said."

"Oh, Brenda! Yes, she's fine, probably home sleeping by now."

She led him to the living room. It was the one room in the house that was rarely ever used. She thought better of it because stains from blood would show on the white carpet and sofas in here. So she led him to the family room instead.

"Whoever was after you paid me a visit," he said. "Wanting to know everything I knew about you. The kids. Your car."

"Oh God," she said.

Of course Joe had known where she needed to get her mom's car from. She'd told him not just about the car but their names. He'd obviously told his boss earlier in the night before he'd punched him, because Chris didn't see his boss being too chatty with Joe after that happened. They must have gone back to Dawson's Garage after Chris got away. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, because that meant at one point during the night Joe had … What? Violated her trust. He was a thief, but she'd trusted him not to hurt the kids. Of course once they were away from him he had to think about himself and his survival. She imagined it was tell his boss what he knew or something bad, worse than what happened to Mr. Dawson here, would happen.

She slid his cap off, hissing softly at the sight of him. His eye was so swollen and already badly bruised she was surprised he was able to drive here without crashing into anything or anyone.

"Is it just your face?" she asked, needing to know what all she'd need to grab from her medicine cabinet.

"Uh, no," he said, tugging on the zipper of his jacket. Evidently, his coordination was a little off so she did it for him. He still wore the tank top he'd been wearing at the garage and that was all he had on under the jacket. He must have been freezing because it was pretty cold out tonight. She slid the jacket off carefully, setting it beside him on the couch.

"You're not going to have anything to fix that anyway," he said in protest as she slid his tank top up.

"Don't be so sure."

He hissed again as she touched his side. It was bruised and probably he should see a doctor.

"You have bad accidents a lot or something."

She laughed softly. "No, but my brother played football, wrestled, and did Tae Kwon Do."

"Busy guy," he said.

"He was."

"My mom didn't have the stomach to bandage him up so it fell to me."

"Nice sister. Younger or older?" he asked.

"Older," she said. "I mean, he's older," she clarified not sure what his question had been.

"Got it," he said.

"I'll be back, okay. Don't move."

"Don't worry, I'm in no hurry to get up or anything."

"Okay."

"Aren't your parents going to freak out that you have a strange man in your house in the middle of the night?"

"My parents aren't home." She wasn't telling him that her parents were gone for the night. He didn't need to know that part of it.

"Oh," he said.

She'd probably have lied to him if he'd been in any condition to do anything to her, but somehow she didn't see him attacking her or even wanting to come onto her looking and likely feeling as he currently did.

"I'll be right back."

She came back a few minutes later with what she assumed she'd need. She only knew how to tape up ribs after one real bad accident her brother had in football. He'd been practicing without pads and someone got a real good shot in while wearing a helmet. They'd been joking around, no one was supposed to get hurt. Her brother had made her fix him up before their parents got home. Chris had almost vomited at causing him so much pain. She could stand the blood for some reason, it was hurting him that had bothered her.

She worked on his face first, because she knew once she taped up his ribs he wouldn't be able to breathe as easily. And his face had borne the brunt of the damage it seemed.

"You're pretty brave, you know that?" he asked.

"Huh?" she said.

"Well, I mean that in a couple of ways actually. John told me about the night you had."

"Not all of it," she murmured. Mr. Pruitt didn't even know the half of it, really.

"You mean there's more?"

"Than what Mr. Pruitt knows? Yes."

"A lot more?"

"Yes."

"Wow. I'm not even sure what to say to that."

"How else did you mean it?"

"Letting me into your house in the middle of the night when your parents aren't home."

"What was I supposed to do? You saved our lives. Shut the door in your face?"

"Most would've."

"I'm not most."

"I guess not. So tell me about the rest of your night then. How you started out needing a flat tire fixed because you didn't have your wallet to have thugs come to my garage looking for you."

She told him the story as she worked on his face. His eye she wasn't going to be able to do much for. He had cuts and bruises all over his face, though. They'd really beat him good.

"And you're still here to tell about it?"

"Yup."

"You're brave and lucky, I guess."

"Something like that."

"Don't underestimate yourself, Chris. That's pretty amazing what you did for those kids."

"You should talk."

"I didn't know what was going on. I just knew another hot chick thought she could flash her tits at me to get a discount on her car."

"I didn't do that!"

"No, but that's what I was expecting."

"Oh," she said with a frown.

"I was not expecting the little girl to give me her helmet."

"I wasn't either. If you knew how crazy she is about Thor you'd be surprised, too."

"Everyone has to have a hero."

"Who's yours?"

"I was always partial to The Hulk," he said.

She nodded simply. "I can see that."

"Who's yours?"

"Besides you, you mean?"

"Yeah," he said.

She glanced away then, because she saw a look in his one good eye that scared the crap out of her. Not in a run for the hills, he's going to hurt me way, but a he wants to kiss me way and she so shouldn't be kissing him. She'd already kissed Dan tonight.

"You having second thoughts about letting me in here?"

"No," she said.

"You look scared of me all of a sudden."

"You don't scare me, Mr. Dawson."

"Erik," he said. "You're sitting on my lap, touching me more than I think anyone's touched me in a while. I think you can call me Erik. Don't you?"

"Erik," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely.

She hadn't even thought about sitting on his lap, it was the best way she could think of to patch up his face other than kneeling in front of him. Now she almost thought that would be worse than sitting on his lap.

"Do women really do that?"

"Do what?"

"What you said? Show you their, um," she paused. She even tugged on her shirt a little suddenly wondering how many women he'd taken up on that offer. Would he have her? Even with the kids there? "Well, you know what you said to get you to let them out of their bill."

"You wouldn't believe what some have offered me. So, yes, and not just women either."

"Men, too?" she shook her head.

"That's my reaction, too, when that happens."

"It must be rough," she said.

She'd cleaned everything on his face with peroxide so now she was to the point of applying ointment to the cuts. She doubted bandages would stay put where his cuts were so it was the best she could do. It was weird touching someone she didn't know. It was kind of intimate, maybe too intimate with someone she'd just met a couple hours ago.

"What?"

"Women throwing themselves at you."

"Not for the right reasons and not the right women."

"What would the right reasons be?"

"Because they like me, were interested in me, not a means to an end."

"Oh," she said. "Are you human?"

He chuckled softly, closing the distance between them before she even knew what was happening and kissed her. It was not at all like the kiss Dan had given her earlier. That had been nice, polite, a kiss she could tell her mom about. (If she'd ever confide such things to her mom.) This was, holy shit, not at all nice or polite. The insane thing was she was responding in a not so polite or nice way in kind.

She dropped the tube of ointment, sliding her arms around his neck as he slid his hands to her ass, tugging her closer toward him on his lap. She pressed against him and he groaned softly. Dan's kiss hadn't suggested anything more happening than what they were doing. She could picture very easily Erik having a lot more in mind right now than just kissing her.

She pulled away for a second when she felt his tongue find hers. She didn't pull away for long, though. He hissed softly and she drew away, breaking the kiss. Evidently she'd pressed a knee into his side without realizing it.

"See, I'm very human," he whispered.

She settled her forehead against his chin, wondering why she was feeling like this from a kiss. She wasn't completely sure what she was feeling, but for the first time ever she wanted to find out.

"You expecting someone?" he asked when her doorbell rang.

"Uh no," she said. "I'll be right back."

She stood and left the room, heading to the door. She was incredibly unsteady on her feet. She'd never gotten that way from a kiss before. Holy crap. What did that mean?

She answered the door, surprised to see Mike of all people standing there. She tugged on her shirt again, for a totally different reason than she had in front of Dawson. She didn't want him to see that she'd been very turned on by that kiss.

"Hey Chris," he said. "Sorry it's so late."

"Mike, hi," she said. "What are you doing here?"

"I just came by to apologize. Really. I'm sorry. What I did was…"

"Incredibly wrong? Selfish? Stupid? What?"

"Who the fuck is that?" he asked.

Chris glanced behind her to see Erik standing there, shirtless of course because why would he have bothered to put his shirt back on. He was probably making sure she was all right, that the doorbell ringing hadn't been something bad. Like Joe's boss coming to get her.

"Erik," she said simply. She didn't owe him any other explanation. Her days of explaining herself to him were over.

"This is the cheater?" he said from behind her.

"It is."

"Moron," he said and Chris couldn't help but laugh.

"I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not clear on this. We had a date tonight and he's here instead? Without a shirt on?"

"I don't owe you any explanations for what I'm doing tonight, Mike. I hope you had a good time with Sesame. Must not have been a good time if you're here now, talking to me."

"I," he said, looking very confused. He was no doubt trying to figure out why Erik wasn't wearing a shirt. She was fully clothed, well, except her socks and she'd taken her bra off earlier but hopefully he wouldn't look closely enough to notice that. "Who is he?"

"Not you," she said.

"Yeah, well, we'll see if he thinks I'm such a moron a couple of months from now after endless nights of blue balls. Come find me, buddy, and then tell me what a moron I am."

Erik walked toward them then and Chris knew he'd start another fight if she didn't stop him. She grabbed onto his arm. He had some bruises there, too, and even some marks on his wrists that suggested to her maybe they'd been bound together with something tight enough to leave marks.

"Erik, please don't. He's not worth it."

"You shouldn't let him talk about you – or to you - like that."

"He's not saying anything that isn't true. We dated for months and I didn't do anything with him."

"Well, then obviously you realized he was a moron."

"Maybe I did."

"And then he went out with your friend instead."

"Well, not so much a friend. She goes to the same school I do."

"Still moronic."

She couldn't argue with that.

"Please, just leave Mike. I have nothing more to say to you."

"You know, I came here to apologize. To tell you I made a mistake."

"Yeah, the blue balls comment sort of offsets any sort of apology. I know how you really feel."

"And you think this guy is going to wait for you to decide it's okay for him to put his hand under your shirt?"

"Actually, if you hadn't rang the doorbell I think I was already deciding it was okay for him to do that. Good night, Mike," she said, slamming the door in his face.

She settled her back against the door, watching Erik who was still evidently deciding whether to go outside and beat him up or not.

"I don't need you getting more hurt because of me."

"He's an asshole."

"He is," she admitted. "I don't know how I didn't see it before tonight."

"You liked him. He probably knew that and knew what to say and do so you kept liking him."

"Apparently."

She led him back to the family room so she could finish looking after him. She truly hoped he hadn't paid any attention to what she'd told Mike about letting him touch her under her shirt. She had been thinking that she'd like to feel that, but she wasn't sure she would've actually gone through with it. That was her problem, she never seemed to go through with anything but kissing. That was why guys like Mike ended up with girls like Sesame Plexor instead of her.

All that she really had left now was his ribs. She didn't have all of the stuff she used to have for Aaron, but the elastic bandage would do the trick anyway. Chances were he'd get home and just take it off anyway.

"Did you mean what you said to him?"

"About?"

"Uh, me putting my hand under your shirt."

"I was thinking about it."

"Funny, so was I."

"I can't imagine why."

"Why? Are you nuts? Have you looked at yourself in a mirror? Does the fact you had him coming back here to apologize, sincere or not, not tell you that you're gorgeous?"

"No," she said.

"You're blind then, honey, because you are."

"Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me for stating the obvious."

"He's going to tell my parents you were here," she said.

"Yeah, I figured he'd retaliate somehow."

"That means as soon as I'm done you should go."

"Yeah, I figured that out, too."

"I'm sorry."

"For?"

"I shouldn't have kissed you like that."

"I kissed you, there's no need to apologize."

"Yes, but what he said, you know, exciting you and doing nothing about it."

"He's an asshole. I wouldn't have done more than what I did anyway."

"Why not?"

He chuckled softly, settling a finger under her chin. He tilted her face up so she had to look him in the eye.

"Because you're not that kind of girl. I don't have to know you or anything about you to know that."

"A lot of good that does me."

"Not all guys are like him."

"No, I know."

She finished wrapping the bandage around him.

"I don't have anyone to change this for me. You realize that right? It's been a while since I've had to be taped up like this because I haven't done much more than spar lately."

"You've boxed?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm not so bad if I do say so myself."

"You box currently?"

"I do," he said. "I've never had someone so pretty to tape me up, though."

"Well, your ribs aren't that bad."

"No, I've had worse. They were trying to scare me more than anything. I think they knew someone else was aware of their whereabouts."

"Joe," she said.

"The car thief guy?"

"Yeah."

"And you question whether or not guys find you gorgeous. He risked his life for you, Chris. I heard them talking about him, punching the guy I'm guessing was in charge. He was not happy about that."

"I know, that doesn't mean he thought that."

"No man is going to risk his life for a woman he's not at least remotely interested in. It just doesn't work that way."

"Hmm," she said.

"And I just dashed your dreams of knights in shining armor, didn't I?"

"No," she said.

She leaned in then, kissing his chest and he gave a soft groan as she moved her lips along his chest, kissing him in a few different places there.

He slid his hand to her hair, running his fingers through it at first before he tugged her head back a bit so she couldn't kiss him anymore.

"If I knew for a fact that what you were thinking of doing here wasn't some sort of fuck you to him I'd gladly let you take this further. I'm really not sure that's not your motive though. To prove to yourself that you can or something. He's going to tell your parents I was here, too."

"I know."

"I don't want you to lie about why I was here."

"But…"

"To this point you can tell them I came to you because I was in a fight and needed some help. I knew you'd been babysitting so knew you'd be up late or something. That's stretching the truth a bit, but not much without telling them about your night."

"I could never do that."

"Yeah, I know."

"I'm sorry," she whispered. She had no idea what had come over her. She'd never even thought of doing anything like that in her life. Never with Mike.

"Don't be." He shifted her off of him easily and stood from the couch then. "Besides. You have someone else interested in you. He calls, which I'm sure he will, you'll feel guilty if we did more than kiss."

"How do you know?"

He shrugged. "I'm not stupid. Again, no guy's going to drive all the way out to Oak Park to return a roller skate that late. He could've done it just as easily tomorrow, but you wouldn't have been there tomorrow. He knew that since he knew you were babysitting them."

"Yeah, well, he's…"

"A little old?" He laughed again. "You seem to like that in your guys."

"I," she said.

"It's just not how we're built. Sorry. It's just not. Not to say we're all out to get laid or anything, but we just don't go out of our way for women who don't at least intrigue us."

"I intrigue you?"

"You do," he said.

He pulled his wallet out of his jeans pocket, handing her a business card. "Enough to give you a way to contact me again. I know where you live, but I think you might get a little freaked out if I just showed up again. So, the ball's in your court. You want to grab a pizza, see a movie, or come see me box sometime you let me know. You don't have to come down." He reached over to the table and grabbed a pen, setting the card in his hand and writing on it. "You can call me. That number is my home number. My pager number is on there, too."

She smiled a little at that. He leaned down, grabbing his tank top. She helped him slide it over his head and then grabbed his coat for him. She had no idea if she would call him, but she liked that he wanted her to.

"I'll walk you to your car."

"No, you'll lock the door behind me so I know he's not lurking in your bushes somewhere. I'd feel pretty awful if I left here and he attacked you or something because of me."

"He wouldn't…"

"You never know what guys like that can do. You just told him you were contemplating letting me feel you up and you evidently hadn't let him do that. That's going to gnaw at him. You lock your door behind me and I'm not coming back so don't open it again until your parents are home."

"All right."

"Thank you," he said.

He stopped when he got to the front door, taking his keys out of his pocket. He leaned down then and kissed her. It was a little more difficult to do when they were standing up because he was so much taller than her, but she leaned toward him a bit too so it worked.

"Good night," she said when he finally stopped kissing her and opened the door.

"I guess whether it's good night or good bye is up to you. Either way, it was nice to meet you, Chris Parker."

"You, too, really." She had no idea where they'd be if he hadn't been willing to give them her car.

She did as he said, locking the door behind her. She watched from the living room, though, to make sure he got into his car okay and pulled off the driveway. She flipped off the porch light and went upstairs.

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***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."

Return to Top

***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 5,468

'Hello?'

He sounded so … mad the few times he'd answered the phone when she called. It was hard for her to decide if the Erik they'd met last Saturday was closer to his true personality than the one he had shown her later Saturday night and again on Tuesday.

"Hi," she said.

'You got home earlier than you thought you were going to.'

"Yeah, Brenda's parents' are being real strict about her curfew. That included even me staying there past it on Friday night, I guess."

'Really? That seems a bit harsh.'

"I think it's her step-mom more than her dad," Chris said. "I could tell you stories about her. She's a little weird."

'Weird?'

"Yeah. I don't know," she said with a shrug. Erik wouldn't see the shrug, of course. He didn't want to hear about Brenda's step-mom, though, she was fairly sure of that. He probably didn't have to deal with things like step-mom's and stuff. God, how totally immature some of the things she said to him must sound. "Anyway, I stopped at Aaron's on the way to check on the cat and thought I'd call you."

'How is old Henry?'

She smiled a little that he remembered her brother's cat's name. "He's fine. He seems a little distraught. I might stick around here for a while."

'Yeah?'

"Yeah. I don't know. I feel bad for him. My dad's allergic to cats or we'd probably have him at our house instead of my having to come here every day."

'You want company?'

"That's up to you."

'Well, not really. Not completely anyway.'

"You could. Do you remember how to get here?"

'I do.'

"Well, since it's Friday I have no curfew. I could tell my mom I was hanging out here with Henry for a while. I don't think she'd mind."

'Yeah? I'll be there in about forty-five minutes then.'

"Okay. You should maybe park on the street."

He chuckled at that. 'Worried your mom's going to drive by and see my car on the driveway?'

"I don't think she'd do that, but just in case."

'All right. I'll see you in a while then.'

"Are you sure?"

'Why not?'

"You don't work tomorrow?"

'I already told you when we went out Tuesday I didn't.'

"Yeah, but I guess I never thought about it. You were working last Saturday night. Late."

'Just happened to be there. It was a fluke. Right place, right time.'

"I'll say."

'I don't usually have better opportunities.'

"Really?"

'Really.'

"Well, then I'll see you in a while."

'Okay. Do I need to bring anything?'

"Sorry?" No way was he asking her that!

'I guess I should have phrased that better. I meant. Well, you know, nothing bad. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Want some beer? Do you even drink beer?'

"I have, sure. I'm fine. Bring what you want, though."

'Okay.'

She hung up, not at all expecting him to offer to drive out here. She just figured they could talk for a while without her parents' being home.

"Hi Mom," she said when her mom answered.

'Hi honey, is everything all right?'

"Yeah, I'm about to leave Brenda's. Evidently her grounding curfew applies to my being here, too."

'Oh, that's too bad.'

"I'm going to stop by Aaron's for a while, though, to spend some time with Henry. Okay?"

'Sure. Is he okay?'

"Yeah, he just seemed kind of lonesome and hard up for company when I stopped after school. I figured I could watch TV there and hang out with him for a while."

'Okay. We'll probably be asleep when you get home so I'll see you in the morning then.'

"Thanks."

'Thanks for calling, Christine.'

"Sure," she said, hanging up.

She just lied to her mother. She was for sure going to hell. Or something like it anyway. She knew she wasn't the only girl to lie to her parents' and it wasn't as if she was doing anything terribly wrong.

Except for having a guy come to her brother's house who she'd fooled around with the other night.

She still felt a bit guilty as she took her hand away from the phone. She just wasn't sure how much time her mom would let her spend with Erik if she knew she was wanting to.

She opened the door when he rang the bell.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi yourself. You made good time."

"The traffic was pretty light. The Bulls are off and the Blackhawks are in Detroit I think I heard, so no traffic for anything huge like that."

"I suppose."

"So, how's Henry?"

"Henry's fine. He's been sitting on my lap, watching TV since I hung up with you and Mom."

"Lucky cat."

"He is not."

"I think so. I think sitting on your lap would be kind of fun."

"And you were worried about getting too heavy the other night."

He chuckled at that, sliding his coat off. She took it and set it over the chair on top of hers.

"Well, then you can sit on mine. That worked just fine."

"It did," she said, blushing.

He leaned down and kissed her. She reached up and kissed him, standing up on her toes a bit to reach around his neck.

"I was surprised you called," he said when they stopped kissing.

"Why? I told you I would tonight."

"Yeah, I figured it'd be later. I don't know."

"I wasn't counting on Brenda's step-mom being crazy."

"Do you think she told them what happened?"

"No! She wouldn't do that to me!"

"I hope not."

"God, if the Anderson's found out what happened I don't even want to think about what they'd do to me. They'd never talk to my parents' again, that's for sure."

"Your parents are friends with the kids' parents? Just the two, though? The brother and sister."

"Yes. Not real close friends, but yeah. And, no, they don't know Darryl's parents. At least not that I know of."

"Huh. I guess I didn't realize that."

"So, you didn't bring anything with you."

"No, you said you were fine. I don't need anything."

"Do you want a pop or something? I'm sure Aaron has beer here or something."

"I'm fine, really. I didn't come here to drink his pop or beer anyway."

"I know, but it seems rude not to offer."

"I'll tell you what I do want."

"What?" she asked as he tugged her closer against him. "You kissing me some more."

"You can have that."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"No sweater tonight, I notice."

"No," she said. "This is what I wore to school today since I was just going to Brenda's," she shrugged.

"You look fine." He reached to the front of her shirt and worked the top button. "Besides, it buttons. That's nice."

She laughed at that. "You like that?"

"Yes, I do."

"Why?" she asked softly, watching as he worked another button. His hands were very interesting. Large. Rough. Calloused and scarred. Very different than the hands of anyone else she knew. She'd never met anyone who worked on cars or anything for a living. She had a couple of casual guy friends who took auto shop class, but that was a semester. Erik had obviously been doing this for a lot longer than that.

"I don't know. I like unbuttoning it one by one. You seem to like watching me do it, too."

She blushed again. God, he made her do that all of the time.

"It's sexy. You know, a little bit at a time. As slow or as fast as I want to go. A little skin, kind of a teasing."

"I get it."

"Good."

"And yet you always wear T-shirts."

"I didn't realize you want to take my shirts off."

"You mean women don't want to see you without your shirt on?"

He seemed to mull that over a bit as he worked another button. "Lately not women I've wanted to, no."

"You don't want me to?"

"You know I do."

"Well, I have lately."

"Yeah? How lately?"

She laughed. "When haven't I it seems?"

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"Well, what's stopping you?"

"I don't know. Me?"

"It seems fair is fair, though I by far get the better end of the deal in that exchange."

"How so?"

"You're far nicer to touch than I am."

"Don't be so sure."

"You're, you know, soft with curves."

"Guys aren't supposed to be soft."

He chuckled at that. "I guess not. I still say I get the better end of the deal, but you want to touch me."

He stepped away and she really, really hated that he stopped unbuttoning her blouse until she realized he was sliding his shirt up and off. Her eyes followed the path of his arms as his shirt rose up, revealing his abdomen and then his chest, finally his shoulders. She stared. She couldn't help it. He was absolutely, positively someone worth staring at. He tilted his head a little as he dropped the shirt at his feet, regarding her.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know," he said with a shrug. He took one of her hands and brought it to his shoulder.

"Like you're absolutely gorgeous, you mean?"

"Well, no, that's not what I was thinking. You just look like you haven't…"

"Seen a half-naked man before? Probably because I haven't."

"Never? Are you shitting me?"

"My brother, I guess. You Saturday night, but I so never looked at him like I am at you right now and I didn't really look at you like that either. I was too tired and still kind of scared from everything that had happened," she said, running a fingertip along his collarbone.

"So, when you say you haven't done…"

"Nothing," she said.

"Not even sneaking your friend's older sister's Playgirl issues or something?"

"No! Not the same thing either."

"As me?"

"No," she said. "I can't imagine something like that would even come close to you."

"Honey, you're liable to give me a big head saying stuff like that."

"It's true," she said, watching her finger as she slid it along his skin. He had a small amount of hair on his chest, a little darker than the very blond hair on his head, but still blond. She'd wondered that the other night. She wondered what he looked like during the summer.

"What are you thinking that has you turning red?"

"Wondering what you look like during the summer after being out in the sun."

"I get pretty dark and my hair gets even lighter. Is that what you're asking?"

"Yes," she said.

"And you like that idea?"

"I guess so," she whispered. "All of it?"

"Uh, yeah, I mean, I guess I haven't paid that close attention, but I never wear a shirt unless I have to."

"Never?"

"No. At work, obviously, but around my house I never wear one."

"The girls in your neighborhood must love watching you mow the lawn."

He chuckled softly. "I've never noticed."

"How could you not?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I don't pay attention."

She leaned in then and kissed his chest and he hissed softly, sliding a hand to her hair. He ran his fingers through her hair as she moved her mouth to his shoulder and neck. She nipped at a spot on his neck, one of the marks she'd left him Tuesday night was almost gone. The other one was still showing more than she expected it to.

"Yeah, you do that very well I guess," he said softly.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize. I don't mind at all. I have no one I'm accountable to."

"What did Mr. Pruitt say?"

"John, his name is John. And he told me he'd break my legs if I hurt you."

"Oh my God. You told him it was me?"

"Well, I kind of had to, didn't I? If I didn't and you came around some day and he saw you and then remembered I had them he'd probably think I was seeing you and someone else or something."

"Are you going to?"

"See someone else? Honey, I'm not the one that kissed and gave my phone number out to two men Saturday night. Not to mention a third one showing up at your door to do some groveling."

"No, not that."

"Hurt you?"

"Yeah," she said, touching him again. She couldn't seem to stop. God, he was nice to touch. Hard and muscular and despite standing here with no shirt on very warm to the touch.

"Not if I can help it, Chris."

"Why don't you have someone?"

He shrugged. "No one's interested me? I don't know. You meet the wrong people enough times and you sort of give up trying after a while. You meet who you think could be the right person and they choose someone instead of you and you start thinking it's you not the people you're meeting. You get into the habit of going out with people to get needs met and you stop looking for more."

"The girl you were going to propose to?"

"Not just her. There was someone else I met a few years ago. You kind of remind me of her in a way," he scoffed a bit. "Totally out of my league."

"You say that. I'm not…"

"I know what I am, Chris. I see your house, the neighborhood you live in, your brother's house here. I mean, I have a house and a business but people like your parents and brother would always see me as a mechanic."

"Did she?"

"No, actually. That wasn't the issue. She liked someone else."

"She cheated on you, too?"

He chuckled softly. “No, nothing like that. He works for me actually. He wasn’t there the first time she showed up at the garage and I didn’t realize he even had a girlfriend. I flirted, you know. She was attractive and there at my garage. Once I saw them together, though. It was fairly obvious they both liked each other. Then I found out she was his girlfriend.”

“You still asked her out though?”

“Why not?”

“Did she say yes?”

“No,” he said. “She didn’t say why. She didn’t have to I guess. She just said no. I’m not mad at her or anything,” he said. He actually started blushing a little and she wondered why.

"Still, it hurts."

"I don't know if hurt is the right word, but it affects you even if it's just a little."

"She's like me?"

"Yeah."

"And she's with him?"

"Yes."

"So, why couldn't you believe I would be okay with it?"

“Because you didn’t know me in high school. I’m fairly sure if they’d just met at my garage by chance they wouldn’t be dating. Like me he’s not the nicest guy in the world.”

"You can be."

"I guess."

"You just don't want to get taken advantage of anymore."

"Maybe," he said.

She went up onto her toes again so she could lean in and kiss him. He kissed her back, which is what she was hoping he'd do. She slid her hand down from his shoulder along his chest. He bit her lower lip a little when she ran a fingertip over one of his nipples and she drew away.

"Where are you going?"

"I…"

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"You bit me!"

He chuckled. "Instinct."

"Oh," she said.

"Sorry. Did I actually hurt you? I wasn't trying to."

"No, I just…"

"You're fine."

"God you must think I'm the biggest idiot."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"I don't think you're an idiot."

He kissed her again, sliding his arms around her to draw her against him. She slid hers around his shoulders again, reaching up into the kiss. He picked her up like he did the other night. She was expecting it this time so wrapped her legs around him almost immediately. Her back against the wall, he worked at unbuttoning her shirt letting it fall open before sliding his mouth from hers to the top of her breast.

She slid her hands to his head, tilting her head back against the wall as he licked and sucked her skin there. She knew what he was doing and groaned softly at the idea of someone seeing it on Monday. He stopped after a few minutes, licking the spot before drawing away to kiss her again. He led them to the bedroom they'd gone to the other day. It should bother her that he could do that so easily, carry her like that but she didn't really mind for whatever reason. He let go of her only long enough to set her on the bed before joining her on it.

"I'm not sure it's a good thing I know you like the idea of my giving you those there."

"Why?" she asked softly.

"Because it turns me on you like it, and I want to experiment to see just where I should and shouldn't leave them. A shirt like this, that one might show if you leave it unbuttoned a bit."

"You want it to show or not?"

"I suspect you don't want your parents to see them."

"So, I could button it enough so they don't see it and undo it when I get to school or out."

"Fuck," he whispered softly, running a fingertip over the mark.

"What? It only seems fair since yours showed."

"I don't care about fair. I like, say, the idea of Mike seeing it."

"I don't think he'd care."

He scoffed at that, leaning down to kiss her stomach and she breathed in sharply.

"He'd care, honey, trust me. I'd care and I'm not like him. No one wants to see physical proof their ex is doing something with someone else."

"Only because I didn't with him?"

"Well, no," he said, reaching behind her to unfasten her bra and slide it off. "Maybe a little more for someone like him who seemed to enjoy doing that to women. Getting them to do things I mean."

Her eyes fell closed as he used his hands, touching her breasts before using his mouth on them. He didn't seem as concerned about getting too heavy for her tonight. She slid her legs around him, though, pressing against him as she had the other night. It wasn't quite the same positioning as it had been with her sitting on his lap but it had no less of an effect on her.

She whimpered a little as he shifted over her a bit. He chuckled a bit, kissing her stomach.

"I'm not going anywhere," he murmured.

"Good."

He chuckled again, shifting a bit more so her legs were on either side of his thigh.

"Oh God," she cried out as he pressed his thigh against her right where she needed him to. So much better than what she'd been doing a minute ago.

"Don't stop what you were doing," he said.

She sighed a bit.

"Chris," he prompted and she brushed against his thigh a bit. "Yes," he whispered, taking a nipple into his mouth as she started moving herself against him again. God he felt amazing like this, no shirt laying on her like he was. She felt his skin under her fingertips as she ran them along his shoulders and his neck.

He slid a hand lower along her stomach, finding the waist of her pants. He had them unfastened before she could really process what he was even doing. Then he stopped, settling his hand against the front of her jeans there. He did enough though, touched her just right that she came almost as soon as he touched her there.

He didn't stop touching her, though, shifting himself a bit again so he could kiss her as he slid his fingers over the fabric there.

"You want me to stop?" he whispered.

"No, I just," she shrugged.

"You just what?"

"Well, I just did, you know."

"Yeah?"

"Well, you don't have to keep doing that."

He chuckled, grazing her lower lip with his tongue. "Oh, I know I don't have to keep doing it. I want to keep doing it. That's the fantastic part about women, you can finish again right away with the right encouragement."

"You want me to?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

She shrugged.

"It turns me on that you're willing to do that for yourself like you did the other night and were doing tonight."

"You like that?"

"I do. I did. I like that you want to feel good."

"It does."

"Well, then. I'm just helping."

She bit her lower lip lightly, pressing against his fingers. "I think you're doing more than helping," she said.

"And, see, you do that when you get excited, bite your lip. That's why I did that earlier."

"Oh," she said, not having noticed she'd done that at all. The other night or tonight. She slid a hand to his wrist, encouraging him to go lower. She loved what he was doing. It felt incredibly good, but God she wanted more. He took her hint and slid a finger lower between her legs which was exactly what she wanted him to do just then. It wasn't the same as without her jeans in the way.

"Fuck," he muttered, dropping his mouth to her neck where he kissed it at the spot where it met her shoulder.

She reached for his chest then, touching him, finding his nipple again as she'd done earlier. She'd stopped thinking he hadn't liked it or didn't want her to. That didn't seem to be the case, or she guessed it wasn't.

He drew away after a few minutes. He hadn't done more than touch her, never actually reaching into her jeans after he'd unbuttoned them. She sure wanted him to, but she wasn't sure what else she could to tell him she wanted to beyond what she'd done.

"This is so wrong," he murmured, moving to sit at the edge of the bed. Away from her.

"What?" She couldn't possibly be hearing him right.

"I haven't even taken you out on an actual date."

"You're taking me out tomorrow."

"Yeah. You deserve so much better than this. What we're doing. Lying to your mom about where you even are."

"She knows I'm here!"

"Okay. Why you're here."

"Well, where else are we going to go?"

"I don't know. Out on dates, in public places where people go together."

"I'm sorry. You don't want…"

"Fuck. I want to. I want to so badly I almost forgot for a second who I'm dealing with and started taking my jeans off."

"But I…"

"Don't. Don't even say it. I don't know what you were about to say, but I can't hear it right now. If it's negative I'll feel like even more shit. If it's not negative I'll feel like an asshole for quitting."

"Erik."

"You still haven't heard from the other guy from Saturday. So that means he's still a possibility."

"You think I'd go out with someone else after being here with you like this?"

"I don't know! If it was me and I had someone like me or someone like him interested I can't say I'd settle for the mechanic."

"Okay."

"I don't share, Chris. I can't go from this, fooling around with you to going out on dates with you while someone else does, too, wondering what you're doing with him."

"I haven't done anything but kiss him. Outside the Anderson's house with the kids watching!"

"Yeah, well, if I knew if he called you'd tell him you'd met someone else I'd probably keep going, but somehow I'm just not real confident you'd tell him that."

"He called on Wednesday," she said.

"What?"

"He called not long after I got home from school Wednesday."

"You didn't say anything."

"I wasn't sure you really wanted to know."

"I don't really want to know, but I think I should know."

"I told him I couldn't go out with him right now."

"Sorry?"

"I know you heard me, Erik. You were right Tuesday, if he'd called Sunday or Monday I probably would have given him a different answer. I kissed you. I let you take my top off. I couldn't go out with someone else after doing that. Until Tuesday I might have seen both of you for a while. I would've told both of you."

"I don't want you saying no to him because we've fooled around, Chris."

"I said no to him because he didn't make me feel what you make me feel. No one has."

"Well, I'm not sure that's flattering or not since I'm not sure you've kissed more than him, Mike, and me."

"I've never been interested! Ever. I thought girls who let guys do those things were easy."

"You're not easy, honey."

"I know that. I also know that you're twenty-something years old and have your own business. You told me tonight you have a house. I'm seventeen years old, I have none of those things. I haven't even gone to college yet."

"Yeah?"

"What can I possibly give you? I mean, what do you want from me? Never mind I sit here and wonder what you even see in me? You're from the city. I'm from the suburbs and as you may have noticed last Saturday night I'm pretty clueless."

"I wouldn't say you're clueless. I'd say naïve, but that's not bad. As far as what I want from you. I don't know. I know I don't want to let someone like you walk away. I'm glad I make you feel these things, but I still feel guilty."

"I don't want you to feel guilty."

"Back at you, honey. I don't want us doing things tonight that you'll feel guilty about tomorrow or Monday at school, looking at your friends."

"I'm not, but I also don't want you to think I," she shrugged. "That I expect something from you. I assumed things with Mike."

"I'd hope you'd expect something from the guy you're letting do these things to you, Christine."

"You sound like my mother."

"Well, someone should I think. What you think you don't deserve feelings from someone?"

"I just wasn't going to not even a week of knowing you expect."

He shifted a bit on the bed so he was lying next to her. She slid her hand to his chest and he watched her do it, smirking a bit.

"What? I like touching you."

"And I'm glad. I want you to touch me lots more. Not just tonight either."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. I like your hands on me. A lot. I suspect I'll like them other places besides my chest, too."

He chuckled a bit at that, leaning in to kiss her.

"Why don't we order a pizza or something?"

"What?"

"We're here. Let's put all our clothes back on, or I guess I can leave mine off for now if you really want me to, go out to the living room and watch some TV."

"You're serious?"

"Well, sure. I love kissing you, I love the way you kiss me, and I absolutely love the way you come, but I'm only human. You know? I don't want to push or scare you."

"You're not!"

"You say that, and I believe you but I don't want sex from you. At least not tonight. One day I hope, yeah."

"So, you really want to sit here and eat pizza, watching TV?"

"Sure."

"It's Friday night."

"So that means I either come here and push you to have sex or I what? Go to a bar and pick up someone who will have sex with me instead?"

"No, I just," she shrugged.

He slid a fingertip along the mark he left on her neck by her shoulder. She smiled a bit. "Yeah, that one may be a little harder to conceal."

"I'll figure it out."

"Okay." He leaned in and kissed her. "I like you, Chris. I'm not hauling my ass out to Oak Park just for sex. I meant what I said before, quality is way more of a priority for me. Some things are worth waiting for and I don't want to fuck them up."

"All right."

"I don't get many women walking into my garage I want to ask out."

"But you said…"

"Yeah, she was the only one. She wasn't a customer. It was a couple of years ago now, but I swear to you I'd lost hope of anyone even remotely catching my interest walking through those doors again."

"Why did you like her?"

He shrugged. “I didn’t really. I mean, she was attractive, but I didn’t know her beyond that to like her. It was pretty clear, though, that she was, well,” he laughed softly. “Like you. You know, the kind of girl I’d bring home to my mom. She wasn’t interested in me. She was nice and everything.”

"I get it."

"If you're wanting me to ask you to be my girlfriend or something. Well, I kind of think we should actually have a few dates before doing that."

"I know."

"Not to say I don't want that, but you know, two weeks from now I may not make you feel what I make you feel now. My job isn't fun. I work long hours sometimes. I get dirty and if you haven't noticed I have callouses and scars and…"

"That doesn't bother me."

"You say that tonight, but I know what kind of guy you dated before me. So you may decide someone closer to home and more your usual type is your thing."

"I doubt that!"

"I hope that's the case."

"You really want pizza?"

"Sure. Whatever you want. If you'd rather go somewhere, we can do that, too."

"No, I like the idea of you sitting here for a while longer like you are."

"Are you going to objectify me now?"

"Totally," she said with a soft giggle.

"It's Pruitt's fault."

"What?"

"If he didn't know you…"

"Don't blame him because you're a nice guy, Erik."

"You don't know that."

"Pruitt didn't make you come to my house on Saturday night. In fact, Pruitt would have told you not to I'm pretty sure. You were in no condition to drive."

"Yeah, well."

"You look better, by the way."

"Better than Saturday at your house? I hope so."

"I'm glad."

"Me, too. Do me a favor?"

"I can try."

"Tomorrow night? Leave the keys to your brother's house at home."

"I can do that."

"Thank you. You haven't said what you want to do anyway."

"It doesn't matter."

"You should choose."

"You're coming out here you should get some say, too."

"A movie? Does your brother get a paper?"

"Yes," she said.

"Well, why don't we pick one then."

"Okay," she said.

"You okay?"

"Yes, why?" she asked.

"I don't know. Just making sure."

"I'm fine, Erik."

"You regret letting me do that?"

"No," she said. She didn't, not really. He'd touched her, but he hadn't done more than that and he certainly could have. She wouldn't have stopped him because she was pretty sure it would have felt great.

"What then?"

"Nothing."

"I can see you thinking."

"I'm fine. It's fine."

"What then?"

"You haven't even acted as if you wanted me to…"

"Talk to me in a while all right? I'm still not so sure you're not going to wake up tomorrow and think the frat guy isn't a better choice."

"I can't help who I like, Erik."

"I guess that's true. I'd still like to have a date or two, maybe even three or four, before I start worrying about that."

"You'd worry about it after a few dates?"

He chuckled. "I'm only human, honey."

"I guess."

"Is your friend Brenda going to see that tomorrow?" he asked.

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Is she going to freak out?"

She laughed softly. "No, she won't freak out. She'll probably ask me for details."

"Ah, one of those friends."

"Yeah," Chris said, knowing she was blushing.

"Well, I'm glad I know that."

"Why?"

"That way I can make sure the details you have to share are only good ones."

"Oh."

"Am I doing all right so far?"

"Yes," she said.

"Good. Paper's on the table where I saw the mail?"

"Yes."

"All right," he said, handing her the bra and shirt. "I'll let you do that this time without my staring at you. Come on out when you're ready," he said, grabbing his shirt but he didn't put it back on.

Return to Top

***Chapter Four***
Word Count: 6,123

April 1987

"So nothing?" Brenda asked.

"No," Chris said.

"Is that a bad or a good thing?" Brenda asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, at least you know he's not like Mike," Brenda said.

Chris laughed a bit at that.

"I guess."

"Listen to you. Complaining about a guy not doing anything with you."

Chris shrugged. Brenda had walked with Chris to the train station. She'd go back home while Chris met Erik downtown. She wasn't entirely sure what they were doing there. It was a nice day, supposed to be in the seventies again like yesterday so he'd mentioned maybe the zoo.

"I'm just not sure what to make of it. I mean, did I do something wrong? Maybe he doesn't want me to want to. I don't know."

"I'm sure you didn't do anything wrong. It sounds as if he's just being careful."

"Maybe."

"Have you heard from Dan?"

"He's called a couple of times."

"And?"

"What am I supposed to say to him? I told him I can't see him right now. He's not calling every day or anything. As much as I liked kissing him, and I did, I didn't in the same way."

"Well, I can't blame you, but maybe Erik thinks that'll wear off."

"He said something like that."

"Well, then he's probably just being careful, you know. You are still in high school and seventeen."

"I'm almost eighteen!"

"I know that, but maybe he's just being, you know, considerate."

"I suppose. It's just so confusing. Aaron's back from their vacation so we haven't really been able to go anywhere alone anyway."

"He has a house."

"Which he hasn't invited me to. I can't just invite myself or show up there."

"I think I would at this point."

"Why?"

"What if he has a wife or something?"

"Well, I call him there and everything. I've left messages on his answering machine. He wouldn't let me do that if he had a wife."

"I guess not."

"You're being paranoid! He's not already married."

"Probably not," Brenda said.

"I don't know. I mean, it's not like I'm in a huge hurry, but I just thought…"

"You liked it."

"I did," Chris admitted.

"That doesn't make you a bad person or anything, Chris. I mean, there has to be something good about it or no one would make such a big deal out of it."

"I guess."

"Have you seen Mike lately?"

"No. He's called, too, but Mom always takes messages."

"Really?"

"Yeah, she's been kind of funny about it. She even told him I was out with Erik one night when he called."

"Wow."

"I couldn't believe she did that."

"For your mom that's pretty…"

"I know, right? Remember when Aaron was seeing Jaci and Kathy at the same time? Mom hated every minute of it, but she never told on him."

"She knows you're not seeing Mike, though."

"Oh, she does, but I think she was driving home the point to Mike that I'm not seeing or missing him either."

"Good for your mom."

"Yeah, she's all right," Chris said.

"Has he asked when your birthday is?"

"No," she shrugged. "I think I told him it was this month."

"Maybe he's just being extra careful. I wouldn't want to risk someone's parents calling the cops on me if I was him."

"I guess. It's just so strange. To go from…"

"Maybe he just wants you to know there's more to it than that."

"I don't know."

"So, you're meeting him at his garage?"

"Yes."

"Where was the guy that works for him that night last month?"

Chris shrugged as she heard the train heading toward the station. It was still a little ways off, though.

"I don't know. I guess I never asked. I would assume home. He lives with his girlfriend I think Erik mentioned."

"Oh," Brenda said. "The girl who's someone like us. You."

"I still have no idea what exactly that means, but yeah."

"It probably means she's not like him. Them. Mechanics."

"I guess."

"Well, call me later or tomorrow I guess, depending on how late you get in tonight."

"I think he's driving me home tonight, which is why I'm taking the train in."

"Oh," Brenda said. "Well, then I guess I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Chris got on the train, mindful of the directions Erik had given her as far as which bus to catch once she was at the train station downtown. He said there was a bus that stopped not too far from his garage or he would've paid her back for a cab.

It was drastically different coming here in the daylight not to mention not being scared out of her mind that something was going to happen to the kids she was babysitting. The street even looked less sinister and scary. She knew that wasn't true, that there were people around, watching her as she thought that. She just couldn't see them. Erik told her stories, she found them hard to believe because it was so different than anything she was used to in Oak Park. He wouldn't lie, though.

She opened the door, knowing what to expect this time around. She'd been surprised that night how clean his garage had looked. She wasn't sure why, hadn't really had the time to process it. She'd been to the service department where her dad took their cars. She'd been to other garages, too. They never looked like dealership service departments. Erik took good care of his things, though.

"We're actually not open," someone said. She was guessing it was the employee he'd told her about. The only other person she knew of that would be here was Mr. Pruitt and he certainly knew who Chris was.

"Oh, right. I'm looking for Erik."

He looked at her a lot closer then, and Chris ducked her head a bit at the scrutiny.

"Yeah, sure, let me get him," he said.

He disappeared through a door that she assumed led to where Dawson was, which left her standing there. They obviously had work to do. Was he cutting his day short because of her? Was his employee working instead of him because of her? She felt kind of bad about that.

"Hey, you're early," he said when he walked up to her.

"I know, sorry."

"It's nothing to be sorry for."

"Listen," she said, gesturing to the garage.

"Yeah?" he asked, looking confused.

"If you're busy. I mean, we made plans earlier in the week. I understand if things came up."

"Nothing's come up. Don't I look like I'm dressed to leave with you?"

"Well, yeah, but," she said, pointing at the cars.

"That's the excellent thing about being the boss. If I don't want to work on a Saturday I don't have to."

"Yes, but that's not fair…"

"Honey, life's not always fair. Besides, he wanted the extra hours this week. He needs some money for a trip his girlfriend wants to go on in June. I don't pay out tons in overtime so I can handle a few hours' worth once in a while. So it worked out fine for both of us."

"Oh," she said. "If you're sure. I just, you said he lives with his girlfriend."

"Yeah. I think she can get by without him for a few hours. I mean, I'm paying him to be here. He's not working off the clock or anything. I assume she wants him to go on the trip with her."

"I know, I just didn't realize…"

"You coming here meant I was playing hokey?"

"Yeah," she said.

"I think I'm entitled once in a while. Now, if you're having second thoughts about spending the day down here with me."

"No," she said quickly. She'd been looking forward to it since he mentioned it on Wednesday.

"All right then."

"So, what are we doing anyway?" she asked.

"You have your keys, John?" Erik asked.

"Yeah," he said. "You're leaving?"

"Yes."

"Won't be back?" He was looking at her curiously again.

"I guess that depends on whether Chris gets bored with me or not."

"Erik," she said softly.

"Well, you might. We've never spent an entire day together."

"That's not my fault!"

"I know, but it's still true. So. No, I probably won't be back."

"All right. See you Monday then."

"I'll be here," Erik said.

He opened the door for her leading outside and walked with her to his car.

"So, you made it all right."

"Yes," she said.

"I'm glad. I was a little worried."

"Why? I've come downtown before."

"Not on a bus to this neighborhood to see me. Your parents would kill me if you got mugged or something."

"They wouldn't kill you."

"I bet they'd change their tune about it being okay to see me."

She shrugged.

"Yeah, see."

"Why was he looking at me so strange?"

"John?" He shrugged, starting his car and letting it warm up for a few minutes. "I don't know. He's kind of a strange guy. I didn't notice he was. I'm sure it was nothing."

"So, do you live around the garage?" Chris asked when they were at dinner. He'd taken her to the Field Museum, which was fun. She hadn't been there since like grade school. He'd said it'd been about the same for him.

"Not really. Why? I told you I'd drive you home so you don't have to worry about bus stops or anything."

"No, just curious," she said with a shrug.

"Chris?" he asked.

"It's nothing. I'm just curious. You've never said where you live."

"I didn't realize you wanted to know."

"You know where I live," she added.

"Yeah, I did something bordering on illegal to get the information. You didn't hand it to me. I'm lucky you didn't call the cops on me that night."

"I thought about it for a second when I saw you standing there."

"So, you're just curious then?"

She shrugged again. She had to admit Brenda's comment about him already being married sort of hit a nerve with her. She had no idea where he lived, who he lived with, what he did when he was downtown nights without her because she was still in high school. And seventeen.

He leaned back on his chair a bit, regarding her. "What is it you want to know? You want my address? If I live in a house or an apartment? What?"

"No, I was just wondering. You know. Asking. Isn't that what people do when they're on dates. Ask questions."

"I guess."

She dipped a fry in some ketchup. "It's just Brenda said something at the train station tonight."

"Brenda did?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"Okay," he said cautiously. He knew Brenda and she'd confided in him that her best friend had tried to warn her about Mike.

"And then the guy who works for you looking at me oddly. It got me thinking."

"About?"

"I have no idea if you're married, have a girlfriend, or anything."

"I, uh. Wow. Okay. I can honestly admit I didn't see that one coming." He was watching her now and she wasn't sure if he was mad or what. "You've called my house!"

"I know that."

"You've given me hickeys!"

She blushed and he chuckled softly at that.

"You hadn't thought on that, huh?"

"No, I guess I hadn't."

"Not only have you given them to me, but I've told you more than once I don't care where you leave them. Trust me, if I had someone else I was going home to or out with besides you I'd care where you left them."

"I suppose…" She hadn't thought of that. She'd heard all sorts of excuses from her female friends about a hickey, but guys couldn't really lie about what it was. Guys didn't use curling irons.

"I don't know what John's deal was beyond like I said, people don't come around the garage looking for me. Pruitt. I don't have friends dropping by to see me."

"Okay."

"I don't have a wife or a girlfriend. Well, I have you who I hope considers herself my girlfriend. I mean I guess we haven't established that you are definitely."

"I just," she shrugged. "She made me curious I guess. You've never made any effort to tell me where you live."

"Well, there's a reason for that."

"What?"

"You're not eighteen!"

"So that means you can't show me your house?"

"I thought it was the safer option, yes."

"I'm going to be eighteen in like two weeks."

"That soon?"

"Yes."

"I still thought it was the safer option. I didn't want to bring you there and have you think I was pressuring you or something."

"Yes, but since that night at Aaron's house…"

"Jesus. I'm a bad guy because I'm not trying to fool around with you at every turn?"

"Well, no, I just. I don't know. I thought you liked it…"

"Honey, of course I did."

"I mean, I realize you probably didn't enjoy yourself that much."

"No, that's not it at all. I won't deny it's been a very long time since I've had to worry about those things."

"I haven't asked you to worry, though."

"Well, no. I've done that because you deserve so much better than that. Your brother came home and then what? I don't know. I figured getting used to spending time with you was a good thing."

"I know. I just," she shrugged.

"Chris. I don't know what to tell you. I'm not him. You know? I realize he hurt you and I'm sorry. I'm not seeing anyone else."

"I know."

"Do you? Your friend mentions my having a wife and you start thinking maybe I do. Why? What have I done to make you think that's even a remote possibility? Besides not shown you where I live, which you haven't asked! I didn't even realize you cared."

"I don't know. He didn't even know I was coming there for you."

"He who? John? Oh, well, no. I guess I didn't tell him. It wasn't deliberate. I wasn't being shifty or anything. I guess, too, I'm not altogether sure you're going to wake up one morning and realize the frat guy is the way to go. So I figured I'd save myself the embarrassment."

"I haven't gone out with him!"

"I know you haven't, but I also notice you don't tell me you haven't talked to him."

"He calls me! I haven't called him."

"Have you told him why you can't go out with him right now?"

"You're embarrassed to go out with me?"

"That is not what I said or meant. I meant the embarrassment of having someone like you look twice at me and lose her to something beyond my control."

"You haven't lost me. You also said his girlfriend is like me."

"Yeah, but they've known one another. Went to school together and stuff. Have a history. And trust me when I say that it's complicated for them. They live together but her parents don't know."

"Oh," she said. "Because he's a mechanic?"

"I haven't really asked for details, but that's the impression I get. Yeah. You know, he's not good enough for their daughter. Of course there's things they don't know about their daughter, but I guess what parent knows everything about their kid."

"Well, my parents haven't said anything like that."

"So, have you told him why you can't go out with him?"

"I told him I met someone else, yes."

"And he still calls?"

"Yes," Chris said with a shrug.

"Often?"

"No. He's called a few times I guess. Not every day or anything."

"Huh," Erik said.

"That surprises you?"

"Well, no, not necessarily, but I guess it just drives home the point that I need to ensure I don't fuck up knowing he's right there calling, knowing you've met someone different."

"I don't know. I wondered if maybe he didn't believe me, like he thought I was just saying that instead of telling him outright I wasn't interested or something."

"I could see that, I suppose. And then Brenda plants the seed in your brain that I might be involved with someone else."

"I didn't call him! I haven't called him. I wouldn't have even if I wasn't sure you were married."

"That is good to know."

"Where are we going?" she asked later when it was clear they weren't headed toward the expressway to take her home. She didn't have a set time to be home but she knew he'd gotten up much earlier than she had that morning.

"I figured I'd prove to you I don't have a wife waiting for me at home. I guess the girlfriend part can't be proven by the fact she's not there. Again, though, you've left me hickeys. What guy would let you do that if he was seeing someone else?"

"I hadn't thought of that… I haven't since that first weekend, though."

"I didn't tell you not to."

"No," she said.

"Just want to be sure that's out there. You not doing it doesn't meant I've stopped you or anything. That was your choice."

"Well, yeah, but we weren't…"

"We've kissed, Christine."

"I know," she said with a shrug. Regular kissing, out of a bed, and knowing her mom was upstairs if he was at her house just didn't lend itself to doing things like that.

***

"Where's Dawson?" Pruitt asked.

"I'm not sure. He left a while ago, said he probably wouldn't be back. I got the impression it was more probably not."

"Everything all right?"

John shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. He seemed fine. Someone came here for him and he left with her."

"He did, huh," Pruitt said and John got the impression the wrecker driver wasn't too happy about what John had just said.

"Something wrong with her?" John asked. She'd seemed nice in the less than ten minutes he'd seen her. Cute. Quiet. "It's not his sister, is it?" John asked. He'd never seen her, but he'd heard Dawson talk about her. She seemed to John as if she was a lot of trouble for her brother. Ironic John thinking that about someone, but he knew a lot of times she'd call looking for money or something.

Pruitt laughed. "Nah, I doubt it if he left here with her. He wouldn't do that."

"Oh," he said. "Then what's wrong with her?"

"Other than the fact she's not eighteen yet, nothing."

"Oh," John said. "Really?" That surprised him for some reason. Dawson wasn't the type to invite scrutiny from the law. Given the location of his garage there were all sorts of unsavory types milling about at all hours of the day and night. Police were a frequent sight around here so Dawson tended to run a pretty tight and legitimate ship. It was one of the reasons John stayed put. He was learning a lot without risking getting into trouble.

"Yes. I told him he should stay away from her."

"She didn't look that young," John said. He hadn't really paid attention, but she hadn't looked much younger than him or Claire.

"I think she's turning eighteen soon. She's a senior, but she's a nice girl."

"Yeah," John said cautiously. She'd seemed nice so he couldn't argue with him there.

"I don't like it."

"Well, you're not her mom or dad."

"No," Pruitt said.

"He's not going to do anything stupid to risk going to jail, especially if she's turning eighteen soon anyway. He's not dumb."

Pruitt grunted a bit at that, adjusting the cap on his head as he went in the direction of the break room. He'd pour himself a cup of coffee and read the paper for a while before going out again.

Dawson wasn't the nicest guy in the world, but John knew things about his boss Pruitt didn't. He wasn't sure what Pruitt would think if he knew those things about either of them, but that didn't matter because John was pretty sure Dawson wanted Pruitt finding out about as much as John did. Which was not at all.

In all of the times he had come over to John and Claire's apartment he'd never pushed for more than John (or Claire) was willing to include him in. John, overall, wasn't a huge sharer he'd come to find out the past year. Dawson had respected whatever boundaries there were so John didn't see him behaving much differently with a girl he seemed to have a date with. Especially someone who could send him to jail.

"Who is she anyway?" John asked him a while later when he'd ventured back into the garage area. Kind of weird for him to have a date show up here.

"Just a girl."

"Girls like that don't live around here," John said. He may not have scrutinized her appearance down to her shoelaces, but he knew money when he saw it. He lived with it and saw it in Claire's friends enough to know.

Pruitt chuckled heartily at that.

"You speaking from experience there, John."

He shrugged, regarding the other man. "Well, they don't."

"No, you're right. He met her last month. I towed her car here. Bad situation she had going on. That weekend I ended up going to jail?"

"Oh," John said with a nod. He remembered the weekend. He had no idea what Pruitt's arrest had to do with her. John knew he'd gotten into it with the guy Pruitt's wife was sleeping with on the side.

"How's Claire?" Pruitt asked.

"Fine," John said.

"Yeah. She's doing well in school?"

"Yeah, as far as I know."

"Good. Her parents know you're living there yet?"

"No," John said with a shrug.

"She must have her reasons for not telling them."

"I guess," John said. It, oddly, bothered him less now than it had a year ago. At first he'd thought she was hiding him or something. They did things with her parents and her brother, they just didn't know they lived together. His parents wouldn't give a shit, but he had to respect her parents would.

"You know, you could ask her to marry you and solve the problem."

"She has to finish school," John said.

"You've thought about it?"

"Well, sure. I didn't go through what I did to get her to trust me just to walk away from her."

"Some guys would."

"I'm not some guys."

"No, I don't guess you are. Time to hit the road again," he said.

"All right. You have your keys, right?"

"I do."

"All right. See you later or Monday, I guess."

"You have a good weekend, John."

"You, too," he said.

John wasn't sure what Pruitt did with his weekends anymore, especially tonight when it seemed like Dawson had other plans. He and his wife were getting a divorce John knew. Their kids were grown and gone so from things John overheard around the garage it wasn't going to be a huge headache.

"Hey, John," he said.

"Yeah?"

"You have dinner and stuff?"

He chuckled. "I do, thanks."

"Sure," he said with a shrug. He liked the old man. John liked to think if he'd had a normal dad he'd have been someone like Pruitt. "I just know you were probably expecting Dawson to be here…"

"Yeah, I've got it covered. Thanks."

"Sure," he said. The two men shared meals more often than not in the evenings after John had gone home. John knew, though, if he'd told Pruitt he didn't have something to eat he would've made sure John had dinner before heading out just now.

***

"Now you understand why I haven't rushed out to show you where I live," he said, watching her as she took in his living room.

"There's nothing wrong with your house, Erik," she said.

"Well, no," he said. He knew there wasn't. It wasn't nearly as nice or as large as her house was, but he took care of it. He had, by far, the nicest house on his block inside and out because he worked at it. Unfortunately, no one else in his neighborhood gave a shit. His neighborhood wasn't that great either, certainly not an impression maker to someone like Chris and what she was used to.

"Do me a favor, though, okay?"

"Okay?"

"Don't ever, ever come down here without my knowing you're coming here. Don't decide to surprise me one night or something, okay?"

"Erik…"

"I know. That probably sounds very much like I'm hiding something or I'm trying to combat you finding out I have other women over. That's not it. You can call me any time, twenty-four hours a day. You can come here anytime you want, really. I'd feel awful if something happened to you or your mom's car coming down here."

"I know," she said. He hoped she did and his just saying that hadn't ruined what his bringing her back here had accomplished.

He watched her as she walked from his living room to his kitchen. She went to the stairs that led to the basement but didn't venture down them, which was probably best.

"What are you doing in there?" she asked about the small half-bath off his kitchen. She slid her coat off, draping it over one of his kitchen chairs after asking the question.

"It's a half-bath and everything needed replacing so I got rid of the toilet and sink. I figured I'd do the floor and walls before putting new ones in."

"Oh," she said.

The half-bath was so small it wasn't something he could use for anything more than standing to take a piss and wash his hands in. It was nice to have functional, though, during the summer when he was out in the yard mowing the lawn so he didn't have to traipse upstairs. Or during the winter when he was pushing snow to have to stop and take off his layers of clothes before going upstairs. Someone Chris' size could probably sit and use it comfortably.

"So, you see anything around here that suggests I'm not anything but the bachelor I've told you I am?"

"No," she said.

That was good because there was nothing there. Fuck, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd had a girlfriend. A couple of years at least.

"Why are you?"

"Why am I what?"

"A bachelor?"

"Uh, I don't know how to answer that. I'm not sure. I told you, I met Claire and realized I wanted better than what this neighborhood has to offer me."

"Yeah, but that was like a year or two ago. What about before then?"

"I had a business to run. I've been busy. As you witnessed the night we met it's not always a nine to five job."

"I get it," she said.

"I mean, you know, I go out once in a while. John and his girlfriend have me over for dinner and stuff once a month or so."

"That's nice of them."

"Yeah," Erik said, though he imagined she probably wouldn't think so if she knew all of the details. Not that he was going to divulge those details to her.

"Can I see the rest?"

"The rest?"

"Of your house?"

"Oh, yeah, sure, I didn't want to assume…"

"It's all right."

He showed her the upstairs and the two small spare bedrooms up there. He had no doubt her bedroom was probably twice as big as both of his spare rooms together. He was able to fit a full-sized bed in each of them with a dresser. He could probably get a desk in there, too, but it'd be pretty tight. He supposed the rooms were originally designed to have twin beds, but as he had no kids he'd gone the full-sized bed route.

"The rooms don't get used much. Ever," he said with a shrug.

"Ever?"

He closed the door to the last room. "All's I have is a sister and she's not someone I'd let stay here for a prolonged period of time. Like during the week when I'm at work."

"Why?"

"She's an addict and pretty far gone. She'd pawn anything she could get her hands on, and while I don't have a lot of things. I've taken care that the things I have are nice. Her kids will stay with me once in a while, but that doesn't happen very often these days."

"Oh?"

"They're in foster care so it's a lot of red tape to go through to get them to come here. The state has been here and everything, but because I don't want to disrupt their routine I went a while in between trying to get them overnight and then they'd have to come back out here."

"I see," she said.

"No, you don't, but thanks for saying so. I'm not equipped for kids. My job, my life. I'd get no help from her, but she'd see it as an indication she could stay here. Her kids I'd change my job for maybe. Not the job, but the hours and stuff. Not her."

"Erik, I get it."

"If you say so."

"I grew up with a friend who was a foster child. She left a few times and always came back."

"Yeah, fortunately my niece and nephews haven't had that happen to them. They've stayed in I think it's two homes now. My sister won't relinquish her rights. If she'd do that I'd probably consider taking them myself, but she insists she's going to clean up."

"Has she tried?"

"No," he said.

"I'm sorry. For them, but for you, too."

"I go see them at least once a month, take them out to eat or a movie, whatever. That's never been a problem, hanging with them. It's the house that's the problem. They need to make sure every time it's okay."

"That their mom won't be here?"

"Yes, that, too. She could be here, but she can't be alone with them."

"Is she older or younger?"

"Older," he said.

"That's tough."

"And our dad's gone so even though I'm the little brother sometimes I feel more like a dad than a brother."

"How old are the kids?"

"Eight, seven, and three."

"Three?"

"Yup. I don't think she has any memory of ever living with her mom."

"That's so sad."

"It is, but clearly the love of a child won't clean her up. I've been told that can only come from within her."

"And their dad?"

He laughed softly at that. "The eight year old, Henry, his dad's dead."

"Oh my gosh."

"He OD'd not long after Henry was born. The other two," he shrugged, glancing at his hands. This wasn't really the conversation he'd planned on having with her so soon. "I'm not sure she knows who their fathers are."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah, things are a little different for me…"

"You think that bothers me?"

"I think that…"

"That's why you keep thinking I'm going to change my mind and want to be with Dan."

He rolled his eyes. He hated having a name to go with the frat guy. A name was better than a face, but he sort of had a face anyway. He had a camera on the exterior of his garage. The quality wasn't fantastic, but the few times he'd had vandals damage his property it'd gotten the job done. So, while it was a grainy face he knew what Dan looked like because he'd gone back and looked at the tape from that night the following Monday.

And hated himself a little more for very nearly cutting Chris and those kids loose without their car. He had no idea why the guy had left before she was actually in possession of her car. Regardless, he had seen enough to figure out what Dan looked like not that Chris knew that.

"That's a good chunk of it, yes. I didn't go to college. I won't ever go to college. I barely passed high school."

"Yet you run a business and obviously succeed."

"Why obviously?"

"Because you have cars to fix, employees."

"Yeah."

"Well, clearly you're not stupid. Not everyone goes to college. I didn't want to until Mike and I broke up."

"Yeah, and that's the other thing…"

"My going to college?"

He shrugged, opening the door to his room last. "No judging, please. I wasn't expecting you here."

She laughed softly as she stepped through the doorway.

"It's better than my brother's before he got married ever was," she said.

"Yeah, well, I don't have a maid or a mother to clean up after me. I just know that I'm not the neatest guy in the world every day either."

"So, me and college," she said. If she was uncertain or hesitant to be in his room with him she didn't act like it.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I don't know where you're going, what you're doing, and there's going to be lots of other guys like Dan around."

"Actually I'm looking at DePaul or Loyola."

"Really?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"Are you Catholic or something?"

"We are," she said.

"Ah," he said.

"Is that bad?"

"No, just curious," he said with a shrug.

"Are you?"

"No. I was Protestant. Am, I guess, I haven't set foot in a church since my dad's funeral."

"How long ago was that?"

"I was nine."

"God, that's Sara's age."

"Tina, my sister, was eighteen and already pretty wild. Dad dying just opened the barn door for her to live her life like a free-for-all."

"And your mom?"

"Never quite recovered from Dad dying on her before the age of forty."

"I'm sorry," she said.

"It's all right. Luckily the guy who owned the garage before me recognized something in me and took me under his wing or I would have been like the corner-look-out kids that we passed driving here."

"I noticed them."

"Did you? And you knew what they were?"

"I did," she said.

"Good. That's part of the reason I don't ever want you to come here without my knowing about it ahead of time. I don't care if it's eleven o'clock in the morning."

"Why do you live here?"

He shrugged. "The house was cheap. This block and the few around it aren't bad. I can survive here just fine. That doesn't mean I want you driving down here to surprise me some day and your car breaks down four blocks from here."

"I get it."

"Good."

"Thank you for showing me your house."

"You believe me now that I don't have a wife stashed away?"

"I didn't really…"

"You must have had a doubt."

"I don't know. You worry about Dan. I worry about women you meet that can offer you things I just can't."

"Like what?"

She shrugged, blushing and he chuckled a bit.

"You're right. If that's all I wanted I could go to the bar a few blocks down and find it very easily. I won't deny when I was twenty-one I did that a lot of Friday and Saturday nights."

"Erik…"

"Watching John and Claire, though, I realized possibly I was selling myself short. I see the way they are together. They trust one another."

"You know them that well?"

He scoffed a bit at that. "Yeah, I do."

"So we're both uncertain."

"You choosing a college closeby makes me a little less uncertain."

"I will be going to school."

"Oh, I know that, but it's better than you off in Berkley or something."

"I wouldn't want to go that far."

"I'm glad you're close to your family like that."

"Does your mom work?"

"Yeah."

"What does she do?"

"She's a secretary at the school down the street from our house."

"Oh."

"She's been there forever and likely will be there until the day she dies. She likes the kids."

"Could she not care for your niece and nephews?"

"No. Mentally, no."

"Oh."

"She does all right with other people's kids at school, in an office, where she's not surrounded by them all day and all night. Anyway, I better get you home so that your parents don't think I've abducted you or anything."

"Well, it's Saturday night and they know I was coming downtown."

"What does that mean?"

She shrugged, smiling a bit and he liked that smile on her a lot. It meant she had kissing on her mind, which was something they hadn't had the opportunity to do since her brother had gotten back from his vacation. He suspected it meant they had a little longer than he'd planned on having with her today. That was all right with him.

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