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AWLL 1 - Book 5 - Stephanie

Michael Loucks



For Birgit


Chicago, Illinois

Pete came into my room and handed me the laptop.

“Well, that explains a LOT! I didn’t understand just how badly you were hurt by Jennifer when you came back from Sweden. But you have to admit you were out of control.”

“Yeah, obviously. I’m just glad that we could patch things up, Pete.”

“Jennifer just dropped that second bomb on you like that? Just after graduation?”

“Yeah, she did. It was like the issue with moving to Seattle all over again, only worse.”

“Again, I knew only the broadest outline. I know you talked to Melanie, but she was pretty careful to keep your confidences.”

“Good practice for her current job, don’t you think!”

“True. The rest of the story, well, there’s a lot there that I not only didn’t know, but didn’t even suspect.”

“It was a wild year, Pete.”

He shook his head. I was happy he hadn’t said anything specifically about my little sister, but really, what was there to say?

“Well, Melanie AND your wife are here. I think they had lunch together.”

“Of course they did. I’m sure they were plotting against me. Or rather, against us!”

Pete chuckled, “So, then, the same as always! I’ll send them both up. Good luck!”

“Thanks Pete.”

My wife and Melanie came into the room.

“I’m a bit worried,” my wife said. “Melanie told me her thoughts as well.”

“Babe, don’t worry. You know we have a place we can go if it’s really that bad. I just don’t think it is,” I said.

“You’re taking a big risk, you know my advice,” Melanie said.

“I do. But I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to do this my way. I’m not hiding. Besides, my way solves a few big problems.”

“That’s true. Well, you’ve heard my advice, but in the end, you have to decide what to do.”

“Let me talk with my wife, Melanie.”

“Alright. I’ll go hang out with Pete. Here’s all the paperwork, drawn up the way you wanted it.”

“Thanks, Counselor. And here’s something for you.”

I handed her a printout with quite a bit of detailed information.

“Holy shit, Steve! Really? This is poetic justice! I love it.”

“I thought you’d like it. Now do you see why I wasn’t worried?”

“I do! Oh my God! Have you turned this over yet?”

“No, I haven’t. Read it thoroughly and then you can give it to them. It’ll stick. All of it.”

She nodded and put the sheaf of papers into her briefcase and left the room.

I pulled my wife into my lap and we discussed the options for the future.

I. She Did It Again, Part I

June 1981, Milford, Ohio

If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.’ -Frank Zappa

I heard the phone ringing, but didn’t move, I just stared at it. I was stunned. Jennifer had just told me that she wasn’t going to IIT. She had just tossed all our plans out the window, and she hadn’t even discussed it with me! I had counted on her and she let me down. Again. The phone finally stopped ringing. A few minutes later, my door opened, and Stephanie came into my room.

“Steve, please pick up the phone,” she said softly.

“No,” I said quietly, shaking my head, as much in disbelief as to answer her.

“You need to talk to her!” Stephanie said.

“No,” I said, firmly.

“Please? For me?” she begged.

“No,” I repeated, perhaps raising my voice a level, but fixing my eyes on her.

She left the room, closing the door behind her. I didn’t move from my chair, though I did put my head down on my desk, resting on my arms. I took several deep breaths, determined not to lose control. My mind was racing and I knew that was a dangerous thing. I had to maintain control. The last time Jennifer had dropped a bombshell on me, I hadn’t. After about ten minutes, I got up from the desk and went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I brushed my teeth, used the toilet, then stripped and got into bed.

It was only about 9:00pm, but I didn’t feel like doing anything other than sleeping, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep. I was angry beyond belief with Jennifer. Not only had she simply discarded all our plans, but Kara had broken up with me because of those plans. And Jennifer must have known for at least a couple of months what she was doing. I thought back about things she had said and realized she had made her decision in January.

“I’m not changing my plans for the fall because of this.”

Of course she wasn’t; at that point, she’d already decided on Stanford! Five months! This was worse than Seattle. It had been Jennifer’s decision and she had withheld it from me. Worse, she hadn’t discussed it with me. I simply couldn’t fathom how she could do this to me; to us! About twenty minutes later there was a soft knock at the door. I figured it was Stephanie, and that she and Jennifer had talked. I didn’t want to hear whatever excuses Jennifer had, but I couldn’t treat Stephanie like I had the previous time.

“Come in,” I said.

The door opened and I was surprised to see three female forms, silhouetted by the light in the hallway.

“OK if I turn on the light, Steve?” the soft voice asked.

“Yes, Kara,” I said, shielding my eyes.

She stepped inside and turned on the light switch, followed by Bethany and Stephanie, who closed the door behind her.

“I was worried, big brother, so I called Bethany.”

“And Bethany called me,” Kara said. “And I talked my mom into letting me come over here.”

“All three of us are worried about you,” Bethany said. “Stephanie told us what Jennifer said to you. Did you really hang up on her?”

“Yes, I did,” I shrugged. “There was simply nothing to say at that point. She didn’t discuss her decision with me and she must have made it months ago. I think she made it in January, or maybe even earlier. And she hid it from me. It’s worse than her leaving to Seattle; this was a choice, her choice.”

“You should talk to her, big brother,” Stephanie said.

“Why? We’re through. I am done with Jennifer Block. I don’t see how I could ever trust her again.”

“You two have been friends since eighth grade, and lovers since ninth grade. You should at least talk to her,” Stephanie said, her voice trembling.

“No, Squirt. Maybe some day, but not anytime soon.”

“Get out of bed, Steve. Let’s go someplace and talk,” Bethany said.

I smirked and tossed the covers off my body and got out of bed. Stephanie and Bethany laughed and Kara blushed.

“Oh come on Kara, you’ve seen this before!” I said, standing facing her.

She reddened even more. Yes she had, but not in front of anyone else, and certainly not in front of Stephanie.

“Get dressed!” she giggled nervously.

I got a pair of undershorts from my dresser, then put on a light blue polo and a pair of white slacks. I put on black socks and my black loafers. I grabbed my fedora.

“Where to?” I asked.

“It’s a weeknight, so Graeter’s closes soon. Let’s head to Frisch’s,” Bethany said.

“I need to go ask my dad,” Stephanie said, opening the door and scampering down the hall.

We walked out to wait by the front door to see if Stephanie could come with us.

“Mom said no before Dad could answer,” Stephanie said, pouting.

“It’s cloudy but it’s not raining. We can just go sit on the deck, Squirt,” I said.

She brightened, “Thanks, Steve.”

The four of us went out to the deck and sat down. I wasn’t at all surprised when my mom came out almost immediately.

“Stephanie,” my mom said shrilly, “I told you that you may not go out with them!”

“We’re sitting on the deck. We’re not going anywhere,” I said firmly.

“Inside, Stephanie!” my mom ordered.

“Stephanie, stay right there,” I said. “I’ll go talk to Dad. I’m sure that he won’t agree with Mom since I’m sure she told you that you couldn’t go to Frisch’s with us, not that you couldn’t sit with us on the deck.”

I quickly walked inside, ignoring the protests my mom was hurling at me. Dad agreed with my interpretation and I walked back outside.

“Stephanie you can stay. As I suspected, Mom, you told her she couldn’t go to Frisch’s and the house rule is that you can’t keep her from being with me.”

“I do not want her around your little sluts!”

“That enough!” I said firmly. “Now, go inside and leave us alone!”

She stood there, her arms crossed, not moving.

“Girls, go get in the car. It’s clear we can’t talk here, so I am sure I can get permission for Stephanie to come with us.”

Mom started yelling at Stephanie, but I nodded my head to tell Stephanie to go with Kara and Bethany. I walked inside.

“Dad, she’s at it again. She called Kara and Bethany sluts and is refusing to go inside so we can talk. I’m taking Stephanie with us and we’re going to Frisch’s. Mom is being impossible.”

"She told Stephanie that she can’t go, son. Wait! She called both Bethany and that wonderful Kara sluts?

“To their faces.”

“Oh for crying out loud!” my dad said, clearly exasperated.

“And now she seems to have decided that ‘can’t go out’ means she can’t be with us on the deck! She won’t leave so we can talk, insisting that she forbade Stephanie to ‘go out’ and that includes being on the deck. Dad, I want to obey, but she is making it impossible.”

“What’s so important, Steve?”

“Jennifer just called and backed out of all our plans for the Fall. She’s going to Stanford.”

“What?! Son, I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“I have no idea. None at all. But after I hung up on Jennifer, Stephanie talked to her, so she probably has more information. I need to figure out what to do and I need Stephanie, Kara, and Bethany to help me. They’ve been helping me with other problems since January.”

A confused look spread over my dad’s face.

“I thought you and Kara broke up,” my he said.

“It’s complicated. I promise I’ll explain everything. I just need to talk to the girls now. You remember what happened the last time Jennifer and I had trouble? I don’t want a repeat.”

“Neither do I, Son.” He sighed, “Go ahead. Stephanie needs to be home by 11:00pm. And I do want you to explain what’s going on. Maybe you and Kara can get back together,” he added hopefully.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get together with anyone right away. Everything changed today. I’ll explain it to you tomorrow. And thanks.”

I walked out to the deck.

“Dad said she can go with us since you won’t leave us alone. Take it up with him,” I said evenly. I just turned and walked away, ignoring her protests.

I walked to Bethany’s car and got in the passenger seat.

“We’re clear with my dad. Stephanie, Mom is going to try to take it out on you, so it’s up to you if you want to go with us or stay home,” I said.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from you, big brother.”

Bethany started the car and headed to Frisch’s. We got a booth in the corner and I ordered coffee while the girls ordered tea. I figured at this point, caffeine was the least of my worries. I was still trying to come to grips with the situation, but I didn’t really have enough information.

“Stephanie, did she say anything to you about why?” I asked.

“No. I tried to get her to tell me, but she wouldn’t. She just wanted to talk to you, and you refused to pick up the phone. She was crying when we hung up, Steve.”

“Good!” I said, my voice full of spite.

“Big brother, I know that tone. It’s the same one you used a year ago. Don’t do this again! Do you hear me? Don’t do this again!”

“Sorry, Squirt. Obviously I’m upset. I just don’t get it. I don’t. What can she possibly say that would explain this? No, there’s nothing to say to her at this point.”

“She must have had a good reason to decide to go to Stanford,” Kara said.

“I have no doubt about that. And honestly, that’s not the problem,” I said.

“No,” Bethany said, “the problem is she didn’t talk to him. She did this before, Kara, and he just about lost his mind.”

“I’d argue there was no ‘just about’,” I sighed.

“And we three are going to make damn sure that does NOT happen again!” Stephanie added.

“So, what do we do?” Kara asked.

“We love him,” Stephanie said. “And we keep him on the straight and narrow like he has been since January. And I think that means no sex with anyone not at this table without express permission. Last time, he tried to fuck his way out of his mental state and that went right to hell, as you can imagine.”

“I’m not sleeping with him now; we broke up,” Kara said. Then, her eyes opened in surprise as she realized, “Oh my! We broke up because of Jennifer! Steve, I’m so sorry!”

“I’m not!” Bethany giggled, but immediately got serious. “Sorry, Kara. That wasn’t fair. It just kind of slipped out.”

“It’s OK. This is not your fault, or even Steve’s fault. It’s Jennifer’s,” Kara said.

“This changes everything,” I said. “But I need some time to think about it.”

“Do you promise you’ll stick with us and let us help you Steve?” Bethany asked.

“Yes,” I said after a moment’s thought. “I do not want a repeat of last time any more than the rest of you do. And I’m sure Pete and Melanie would agree as well. And Larry. And…well, you get the point,” I added with a wan smile.

“Kara, do you want to take him back?” Bethany asked.

“Stop!” I interrupted, “Please don’t push that right now. Let me sort things out in my mind, and then we’ll all discuss what to do. I’m going to Chicago in the fall no matter what.”

“Then we need someone to take Jennifer’s place,” Kara said.

“What?” I said with surprise.

“Based on everything I know about you,” Kara answered, “you need someone close by you. In fact, probably two people. Here, you’ve had me and Bethany, before that in Sweden it was Sofia and Pia, and before that it was Jennifer and Melanie. You’ve always had a close female friend and a girlfriend. If you think about it, and I’m sure your sister can confirm, that’s when you’ve been the most stable.”

“It’s true, though in Sweden it was three, with Katt,” Stephanie said.

“But that was different, since he was actually being her support instead of the other way around,” Bethany said.

“Look, it’s too soon to worry about that,” I said. “Right now I just need to get my head around the fact that Jennifer and I are done.”

“Are you sure, Steve?” Bethany asked. “Don’t you want to talk to her? Shouldn’t you talk to her?”

“I don’t want to. There’s nothing she can say at this point to make me change my mind, Bethany. Nothing.”

“You should at least hear her out, big brother. What harm can it do?”

“Piss me off even more? She can’t possibly have a good reason for not telling me. We talked about being open and honest. I simply can’t abide by someone not being honest with me. Have I lied to any of you? Hidden things from you? Not told you important things?”

“No,” they all said, but as I looked at them, I noticed that Kara looked down at her teacup for a few seconds, her brow furrowed and with a guilty look on her face. She quickly looked up with what was clearly a forced smile.

I made a mental note to talk to Kara. It was probably something silly, knowing her and her reluctance to talk about certain subjects.

“Are we keeping our dinner date with Joyce on Friday?” Kara asked.

“Yes. I don’t see any reason to change that,” I said.

“This will make her day, you realize,” Kara smirked.

“Oh, like it doesn’t make your day, Kara? And mine?” Bethany said with a smile. “No offense, Steve.”

“None taken, Bethany. I think it’s obvious to the three of us that you two have the inside track now. I’m grateful that you aren’t both dancing on the grave of my relationship with Jennifer,” I said with a smile.

A brief horrified look crossed Stephanie’s face, but she quickly composed herself. The weight of what happened had just hit her - her relationship with Jennifer was probably over as well, and that what she wanted for me was not going to happen.

Kara giggled, “Since Steve’s being a good sport, Bethany, shall we say, pistols at dawn? You and me?”

“No way, Kara. If it’s for Steve, it has to be something related to sex!” Bethany giggled. “Maybe a fuck off?”

Kara turned bright red and Stephanie and Bethany laughed. I laughed as well.

“Girls, this doesn’t have to be solved today,” I said, “though Bethany’s idea does have some appeal!”

Stephanie looked around, and in a lowered voice said, “If that’s the competition, I’d win!”

Bethany and I laughed and Kara briefly looked horrified, but then smiled. It seemed like another forced smile.

“Squirt, please don’t do that. You know better,” I said firmly.

“Kara, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” Stephanie said, clearly feeling bad for saying what she had.

Kara nodded. I’d need to talk to her about THAT as well. I suppressed a sigh. My little sister and Mary could cause more problems with one Smart Aleck comment than I caused for myself. And I definitely did NOT need that kind of help!

“If you girls are satisfied that I’m not going to try to screw every girl in Milford, we should probably get Stephanie home. I’m sure our mom will be waiting for us, loaded for bear.”

“I can’t believe she called me a slut!” Kara said, visibly upset.

“Kara, she’s had sex with more guys than you have, heck, she’s had more sex partners than any of the three of you at this table. You’ve each had one. She might have had more than the three of you combined.”

Bethany started to object, but I stared her down and she closed her mouth.

I continued, “According to my dad, she had sex with at least two guys before him, and it might have been more. She’s hung up on me having sex and that’s most likely because she got pregnant before she and my dad married, then had a miscarriage. If you work out the math, it makes sense since I was born fourteen months after they got married and you factor in a miscarriage and time to recover, and stuff. I think that’s what has her so crazy on this topic.”

“But to call a girl a slut when she hardly knows her? That’s just wrong!” Kara said.

“Her assumption is that if you are with me, you must be a slut. The fact that basically all of my serious girlfriends have only had sex with me doesn’t appear to matter to her. Heck, if anything, I’m the one who’s the slut. Fortunately, my relationship with my dad is pretty good. Years ago, I felt he was mean, but things have changed over the last few years. Now we get along pretty well.”

We got up from the table and headed out. Bethany dropped Stephanie and me at home, and both she and Kara gave me a hug and a quick peck on the lips.

“Bethany, can we get together tomorrow?” I asked.

“Sure, Steve. Call me.”

“See you Friday, Kara,” I said.

Stephanie and I walked into the house. As expected, Mom was there waiting for us.

“Stephanie, come with me,” she said.

I took Stephanie’s arm in mine and said, “If you’re going to talk to her, it has to be with Dad there. And I’m staying, too.”

“This is none of your business, Stephen,” she spat.

“I’m making it my business,” I said. “You’re going to try to punish Stephanie because you don’t want her to talk to me or spend time with me. I warned you before that if you do this, you’ll push her away just like you’ve done with me. But, you still won’t listen. So, come on, let’s go find Dad.”

I walked Stephanie into my dad’s office and we sat on the couch next to Dad. Mom came in, clearly seething.

“Ray, I told her she could not go out with him and she disobeyed. I don’t know why Stephen thinks you can override my decision on this!”

“Judy, I told you before, sitting on the deck and talking was not disobeying you. You told her she couldn’t go out with them. So they changed their plans to obey you. Then you insisted that you meant that Stephanie couldn’t be on the deck with Steve and his friends, but we both know that’s not what you said. Then, when I told Steve it was OK for her to be out there, you refused to let them be. Only then did I let Stephanie go with them. He’s her brother for God’s sake!”

“I don’t want her anywhere near those little sluts he brings around!” mom shrieked. “Stephanie will end up just like them!”

“Oh come on, Judy. Those are two of the nicest, sweetest girls I’ve ever met. Calling them sluts was completely out of line. Completely. In fact, all of Steve’s friends are well-behaved and they are the nicest group of friends you could want for him. And I do not see Stephanie doing anything inappropriate. She dresses nicely, she’s polite, she gets good grades, and her friends are nice as well. She’s not even dating yet! She and Steve have a great relationship, one they’ve had for years. Why are you so hell-bent on ruining it?”

“He’s immoral and deviant. He’s going to corrupt her! His friends are going to corrupt her.”

“Larry? Kara? Bethany? Kids who get straight A’s? Two of them go to church regularly. Kids who have been there for him whenever he’s had problems? No, there’s nothing wrong with his friends. And there’s nothing wrong with Stephanie being around them. Kids, go off to bed. Steve, I’ll discuss this with you tomorrow as we planned. And Stephanie, you aren’t in any trouble.”

We got up and walked out of the office, closing the door behind us.

“Wow. Dad really drew a line in the sand, Steve.”

“Yeah. I think he’s finally had enough. I think Mom calling Kara a slut crossed the last line for him. I’m not sure what good it will do, but if she just leaves us alone for a few months, things will sort themselves out.”

We walked down the hall and Stephanie followed me into my room.

“Dad said we should go to bed!” she smirked.

“He did NOT say together, nor did he imply that Squirt!” I chuckled. “Or do you want to go ask him?”

“Maybe I will! Then I could just move in here with you!” she smirked.

“Sure Squirt. When Randy Carlyle and Ron Stackhouse are playing for the ‘Demons’ in the UHL!”


“The Underworld Hockey League!”

I hugged her and we exchanged a quick kiss and she went to her room. I sat down with my journal and tried to order my thoughts. I could understand that Jennifer might have had good reasons to decide to go to Stanford, but what I couldn’t see was any possible explanation for why she would not tell me about it. The Seattle move, I could understand, at least somewhat. She hadn’t made that decision and she was understandably afraid of how I might react.

In this case, I was sure she had been afraid of how I would react, but she had to have known that keeping it from me would not only make it worse, but probably destroy us. And if she knew that, and had done it anyway, that had to have been what she wanted. It made no sense to me! The only thing that kept popping into my mind was that she had gone to bed with a guy and couldn’t bring herself to tell me that.

In fact, that made complete sense. Jennifer had once said that any girl who was with another guy after she was with me would never be my life partner. Since she believed that, if she had, for whatever reason, had sex with someone, then she would no longer see herself as an option for me. Had she maneuvered me into breaking it off like I had with Stephanie? That also made sense.

The only way to know for sure would be for Jennifer to be completely open and honest with me, and that was the very thing that was the problem! No matter what she thought, I could deal with her having sex with another guy. I wasn’t thrilled with that idea, but in the end, I couldn’t be a hypocrite about it. I just wish that she had talked to me about changing schools, since I might have made a different choice. It wasn’t that IIT was a bad school, or that Chicago was a bad place, but I had made all my plans around an agreement that she and I had made.

I could easily have applied to schools in Colorado, and tried for a relationship with Katt. I could have gone to MIT or Dartmouth, or more likely, University of Illinois with Beth, which would have made it easier to work together. Kara wouldn’t have broken up with me. In fact, at that point, if I wanted to stay with Kara, I might have decided to go to Ohio State.

Basically, Jennifer had locked me into a choice and limited my options while keeping her options completely open, and misleading me on that fact. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got! Jennifer had screwed me over, intentionally. I know she wanted to talk to me, but that just wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. I was too pissed to even think about talking to her.

I had to maintain control, though. I could feel my emotions surging and I knew that if I didn’t make an effort to keep them in check, I’d go off the deep end again. The difference between my circumstance now and my past ones was that I had a serious support team in place. The Triumvirate was pretty much the best thing that had happened to me. Even more than having the two parts - friend and lover - it had my little sister who was both, but who was not a romantic rival for the others. If I let them help me, I’d win the struggle.

I wrote several pages which helped me get my mind around everything, then brushed my teeth, took my clothes off, turned off the lights and got into bed. A few minutes later, my door opened and then closed, and I heard the rustle of a sleep shirt and felt a naked body get into bed with me.

“Squirt, you’re taking a lot of risks. What if we get caught?” I whispered.

“They had a fight. I do NOT want to listen to their make-up sex, big brother! Besides, I’m not here for sex, I’m here to comfort you and talk to you,” she whispered, cuddling tight.

“It’s still risky,” I protested.

“Steve, you need to talk to Jennifer and find out what’s going on.”

I gave in to her a bit and cupped her butt in my hand. She sighed and put her head on my chest.

“No, Squirt, I don’t. If she had talked to me before she made the decision, that would be different. She strung me along for months, letting me believe something that wasn’t true and that I was counting on.”

“I can’t believe that you’re throwing away your relationship with her this easily!”

“I’m not the one who flushed it down the toilet,” I sighed. “And, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I should focus on Kara and Bethany. Those are my two real choices. I’m actually OK with that. In fact, I’m comfortable making a decision now about a more permanent relationship.”

“What? You’re excluding Jennifer completely without even talking to her? Come on big brother, that’s not a good idea.”

“She excluded herself; I didn’t exclude her. And honestly, Bethany and Kara proved themselves to me this year.”

“What about Karin?” Stephanie said.

“That’s a year away. And even so, if I’m committed to Kara, for example, then nothing can come of my visit to Karin except friendship. It’s foolish for me to look that far into the future and assume anything. I did that with Jennifer. I don’t think I should do it again.”

“You’re taking everyone but Kara and Bethany off the table?”

“It makes sense to me. The whole thing with Karin could just be an afterglow of Birgit. I’d hate to base a relationship on that, and I’d hate to lose Kara or Bethany for something that might never, ever be.”

“You were right when we were at Frisch’s big brother. Don’t decide this right away. Take some time to get your emotions in check. And please, please talk to Jennifer. Promise me you will!”

“I can’t promise you that. I know you want to be with her and you want me to be with her, but she made the choice. It was her decision to do this. For now, at least, let it go. Maybe you’ll get your chance in the future, maybe not.”

“But not with you involved? Is that what you are saying?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” I confirmed.

“That sucks,” Stephanie sighed, with sadness in her voice.

“I agree. The whole thing sucks. I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m sad. But with your help, and Bethany’s and Kara’s, I’m going to get through this. And once I get those emotions fully under control, I’m going to make a decision. I’ll pick one of those two and make a commitment with the intention of making it permanent in the future.”

“Don’t rush into that, big brother, please.”

“I’m not rushing. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s the right time.”

My little sister kissed me on the cheek and got out of bed. I could tell she was unhappy, but I didn’t see any good resolution to this problem. Even if I did what she asked and talked to Jennifer, it wouldn’t change things. I heard her put her sleep shirt on and she carefully opened the door and then closed it behind her. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

On Thursday morning Stephanie and I kept to our usual routine. I wasn’t feeling like doing much of anything so I messed around with my computers. When Dad got back from his office in Newtown, I went to find him to talk. He suggested we get some lunch so we went to Skyline for chili.

“I’m interested in this ‘complicated’ situation,” he said. “I can’t really make heads or tails of it.”

“Well, the short version is that Jennifer and I, even though we were apart, were planning on being together in Chicago. You knew that part.”

He nodded, and I continued, "What you didn’t know is that we planned to live together and this was going to be our first step towards engagement and eventually getting married. Kara and Bethany both knew this going in. They also both thought that Jennifer and I would have changed so much over the two years we were apart that it wouldn’t work out. It looks like they were right.

“You know I’ve known Bethany since eighth grade, and that we’ve dated off and on since ninth grade when we went to the Turnabout Dance. I met Kara, who’s a Junior, at the beginning of Senior year, and after five months or so, we started dating actively. What you don’t know is that I ran into Becky at that symposium I went to in the city and, well, to put it bluntly, I fooled around with her.”

At that he put his hand up and stopped me, “Becky? Wasn’t that the girl that you got caught in bed with a couple of years ago that got your mother all worked up and she called her parents? I thought you’d completely broken off with her?”

I nodded, and quickly said, glossing over the painful details, “Yes, we broke it off after she got too needy, too fast, and too early. She wanted a permanent commitment at age fifteen, and that was just far too young! But it appears she wasn’t over it!”

He arched his eyebrows, “I’ll say. Go on.”

“So, after fooling around with Becky at the symposium, I confessed to Kara that I had done that, and thankfully she forgave me. Bethany and Stephanie were pretty upset, no, make that royally pissed off, that I had been so stupid, and they and Kara decided that I needed to be on probation, so to speak.”

I had to tell him the rest, but leave Stephanie completely out of it. What I would be telling him would be as much truth as I could tell him without bringing disaster on me and my little sister.

“You know I’ve had quite a few partners, and I’m not ashamed to say that. But, from the time Kara forgave me until Prom, I was steady with Kara and faithful to her. Kara knew that in August I was going to be with Jennifer. She also wasn’t allowed to go to Prom because her parents are very conservative evangelicals. Because of that, I had planned to go to Prom with Bethany. Kara decided to break up with me so that Bethany and I could spend Prom night together. From her perspective, the break-up was going to happen sooner or later, and doing it at that point made sense.”

He nodded, and I continued.

“Of course, with me, nothing is simple.”

“I’ll grant you that, Son!” he said, nodding with a chuckle.

I grinned and continued once more.

"Kara and I are still dating. For her, ‘breaking up’ meant that we aren’t steady and we aren’t sleeping together, but that we’re still seeing each other. I know it sounds odd, but the way Kara sees it, if she wanted to marry me, which she does, the only way that was going to happen is if I was with Jennifer and things didn’t work out. I guess events have more or less worked in her favor, though as I said last night, I’m not ready to make any commitments to anyone right away.

"As for Bethany, she’s still my best friend, and she’s been an on-again, off-again lover for about three years. She’s more or less also been waiting for Jennifer to fall out of the picture. She didn’t count on Kara showing up, but then again, neither did I. Bethany is my closest confidant and knows literally everything about me. She’s always felt that, in the long run, she and I would be together. She’s not so sure since Kara and I started going out, but she still thinks it’s likely.

"The only fly in the ointment, if you will, is Birgit’s little sister, Karin. I plan to see her next June when I go back to Sweden to see my class there graduate. We hit it off pretty well when I was there, though we both felt it was good to wait until she was a bit older to see if we had any real chemistry. At this point, though, I’m not really willing to risk both Kara and Bethany on the chance that something might work out with Karin.

“Finally, throw in the fact that I’m going to school in Chicago and Bethany is going to Madison, and Kara will be a Senior, which means neither of them will be close, and it gets more complicated. I made all my plans based on Jennifer, and she appears to have decided back in January, if not earlier, to change her plans and not tell me. That’s created a bad situation that I can’t easily fix. I might have made different choices if Jennifer had just been honest.”

“You’re right, son. It’s complicated. I have to say I don’t envy you sorting this out. I wonder if you didn’t put too much faith in Jennifer and base too many decisions on her. Do you still want to go to IIT? You could always take a year off. It’s not like you aren’t making enough money to get your own place. Then you could apply to other schools. Or you could go to IIT for a year and transfer.”

“I think it’s the right school. I did my research and their computer science program is pretty good. Also, I will have friends in the area - Elyse will be at the University of Chicago, Kathy at Northwestern, Beth at the University of Illinois and Bethany at the University of Wisconsin. Even those last two are less than three hours away. If I went to Dartmouth, I’d be away from all my friends. If I went to MIT, Ralph will be there. I suppose I could try to go to Stanford, but at this point, I have no interest in being with Jennifer.”

“Just remember you do have options, Steve. You aren’t as locked-in as you think you are.”

“It’s fine. I’m OK with it. In fact, Elyse once told me that if Jennifer and I broke up, she’d be interested in sharing an apartment. I’m not sure I’d do that in the sense of sharing a bed, but we could get a two-bedroom apartment together. We’ll just have to see. I might decide to live on campus for the first year and see what happens.”

“It sounds like you’re doing OK, then,” he said. “I do have one question; about you and your little sister.”

II. She Did It Again, Part II

June 1981, Milford, Ohio

I didn’t detect any hint that he may have suspected anything. It seemed like a legitimate question about what was simply a very close sibling relationship. Of course, that didn’t mean he didn’t suspect something. I figured with my dad’s life experience, he was a damn good poker player.

“You’re wondering how she fits into this mix?” I asked, with a bit of trepidation.

He nodded.

“You know how close we are. We share everything. In fact, she probably knows me better than anyone on earth. She’s always been there when I’ve needed her, even if that meant slapping me upside the head,” I grinned as did my dad. “That was about Becky, by the way. Stephanie’s issue then, as it is now, was that she thinks Jennifer and I belong together. She’s thought that since I was in ninth grade. She loves Jennifer and wants it to work out. She’s upset now, probably as much as I am. Stephanie has always looked out for me, and I listen to her advice about girls. She’s pretty smart for a fourteen-year-old.”

“Your sister has always been a smart cookie. She may not get straight A’s like you do, but she’s really smart and has a lot of common sense.”

“That she does,” I agreed. “When the incident with Becky happened, she, Kara, and Bethany worked together to keep me on the straight and narrow. I was lucky to have them as friends, and lucky to have Kara as a girlfriend. Jennifer would have cut my balls off and put them in a jar on her bookshelf for what I did; and rightly so.”

“Yes, that would be a reasonable reaction to cheating,” Dad said, chuckling. “I assume you learned your lesson?”

“Oh yes, I did! And with the Triumvirate’s help, I’ve got my head screwed on straight.”

“Wait!” he chuckled. “The Triumvirate?”

“Yeah the Triumvirate,” I laughed. “That’s what we ended up calling Stephanie, Bethany, and Kara! But,” I continued, getting back on track, “whatever Mom’s problem is, I can’t let it interfere with my relationship with Stephanie. Jennifer once warned me not to mess that up since it would likely mess me up also, and I think she’s got a point. We depend on each other a lot, and I can’t let Mom wreck that.”

“You two have an odd relationship for siblings, Son. Sometimes it’s almost like you two are married! Well, without the sex, anyway. You two get along better than a lot of married couples!”

Well, at least that ‘without the sex’ comment meant that he didn’t suspect anything was going on. Either that, or he was looking for a reaction from me. I kept my face as passive as possible and didn’t avert my gaze. Of course, if Stephanie kept sneaking into my room, eventually things would go horribly wrong. As for acting like we were married, well, even Kara had made that point before she knew about the attraction Stephanie and I had for one another.

“My friends have said that, too,” I answered. “And I want to thank you for helping with Mom. I know it’s tough. I’m sorry for the problems it’s caused you.”

“She has hang-ups about pre-marital sex. She’s worried your sister is going to have sex too soon and of course she’s concerned about pregnancies. I think you’ve figured it all out, haven’t you?”

That ship had sailed a few months ago, at least with regard to Stephanie having sex. Becky’s pregnancy, well, that secret was not going to be revealed. And since my baby sister was on the Pill, that wasn’t going to happen with us.

“Yeah, since I was born fourteen months after you two got married and mom had a miscarriage before you guys had me, the math really works only one way.”

“Yes it does,” my dad confirmed. “And that’s her hang-up. She can’t get past it. In your case, from what you’ve said, you’re very careful, and what I’ve seen confirms that. But that doesn’t stop her from worrying, and her worry comes out in irrational behavior.”

“It sure does. My real concern is that she’s going to take it out on Stephanie. Mom will look for anything she can use to try to drive a wedge between us and I just can’t accept that.”

“I know, Son. Just be careful with your mother. Things went really well for months. I’m sorry they didn’t stay that way. It’s only a couple of months until you head to Chicago, so if you can avoid confrontation, I’d appreciate it.”

Of course, that was easier said than done, because I wasn’t initiating the conflict directly. Mom objected to my values and how I lived my life, and that I couldn’t change to her liking. I didn’t rub her nose in it by making out with my girlfriends at home, didn’t talk about what I did and didn’t do anything on purpose to upset her.

“That’s easier said than done. She just doesn’t accept how I’ve chosen to live my life. I don’t know why she thinks all of a sudden I’m going to start agreeing with her. I don’t flaunt it. In fact, I’ve avoided bringing any of my friends here except for parties and special occasions. But that’s not good enough for her. I do need her to stop calling my female friends sluts, though. That’s just not acceptable.”

“On that, I agree. I’ve asked her to stop and told her that it only makes her look crazy, especially to nice young women like Kara and Bethany.”

“Thanks. I hope she listens. I would like to have my friends over more this summer, but if I can’t, I can’t.”

We finished our lunch and then headed back home. It had been really good to sit and talk with my dad, something I probably should have done a lot sooner. I had let my terrible relationship with my mom, and my dad’s treatment of me when I was much younger, negatively influence my attitude towards him. I resolved to change that going forward.

I went to my room and Stephanie came in almost immediately.

“I got a lecture from Mom about you and how terrible you are,” Stephanie said.

“I hope you just let her rant and didn’t argue with her,” I said.

“I didn’t argue. She’s not happy I guess because Dad laid down the law about you and me.”

“Speaking of you and me, you need to be a lot more careful about sneaking in here. If we get caught, we’re dead.”

“I know. But I need you, big brother! I’ll try. And I still do want to talk to you about Jennifer.”

“This is really eating you up, isn’t it, Squirt?” I said, pulling her into my arms.

As much as I was angry with Jennifer, I still loved my little sister and could understand the pain she was going through with everything that had happened.

“You know why,” Stephanie sighed. “I love her as much as you do! I can’t believe you would just let her walk away so easily. And I’m really worried that if you go steady with Kara again, you’ll end up marrying her and never give Jennifer a chance.”

“Why should I give her a chance after everything she’s done?” I asked softly, releasing Stephanie from my arms and stepping back.

“Because you love each other, Steve; you love each other!” she whined.

“We did. I’m not sure she loves me at this point. I can’t see how she could say she loves me if she couldn’t tell me something so important to our future.”

“Would you please talk to her? Please?” she begged.

“No.” I said firmly. “I can’t talk to her right now. And honestly, with what she’s done, I think it does come down to Bethany or Kara. And before you say it, I’m not obsessing or freaking out. Although Katt would tell me that I’m nuts, thinking about my future wife at eighteen, and having just graduated from High School, this is a far different thing than thinking about it when I was fifteen. I am a much different person now.”

“Please don’t make that decision before you talk to Jennifer!”

“I’m not making it today, or even next week. But I will decide something before I leave for Chicago in August. I’m pretty sure I know what I want, but I want to think more about it.”

“You’re going to ask Kara to marry you, aren’t you?” she said accusingly, but also sounding very sad.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, Squirt. I said I still have to think about it.”

Stephanie got up and walked out of the room without another word. I knew she was unhappy, but I saw no way that things could ever work out with Jennifer. The betrayal was, in some ways, worse than Becky’s. While it was true that Becky had tried to trap me by not taking her birth control pills, she hadn’t lied about it. I had foolishly assumed that she continued to take them. I learned a tough lesson from that. With Jennifer, she made promises, broke them, concealed that she had broken them and then, once I had relied on those promises, only then did she tell me!

I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a while - ride my bike. I went to the garage, pumped up the tires and pedaled down Overlook to Klondyke, then down Klondyke towards the subdivision where Larry and Bethany lived. I wasn’t going to visit them, just pedal through. The ride helped me clear my head and burn off some of the pent-up emotional energy I had. When I got home an hour later, I had a strong clarity of purpose. I was sure that I was doing the right thing. While I wouldn’t act on my thoughts until I had let them simmer for a few weeks, I knew what I wanted.

I went to take a shower and dress for my date with Bethany. I picked her up and we agreed on TGI Friday’s for dinner, and after dinner we went to the Showcase Cinemas to see Outland starring Sean Connery. We both liked the movie, though it wasn’t outstanding. We went to Farrell’s after the movie let out.

“We’ve avoided talking about what’s going on,” Bethany said. “What are you thinking?”

“I am not making any decisions about anything for a couple of weeks at least. You know what my options are.”

“Yes. Me or Kara, though Karin is always lurking in the background. And I guess Joyce and Elyse have some sort of outside shot.”

“It’s between you and Kara. I’m not going to risk things by making the two of you wait for a year to know what the situation is.”

She sighed, “That’s good and bad.”

“What do you mean?”

“That means you chose Kara,” Bethany sighed. “I’m sure of it.”

“I haven’t made any final decision. I have a lot of stuff to think through and work through. Didn’t you offer me back to Kara last night?”

“I did, because I know that’s what you want and I only want the best for you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“And you don’t think you’re the best for me?”

“You idiot! Of course I do! But the only opinion that counts is yours! All I can do is be here for you, just like I’ve been for the last year. And like you were there for me for two years before that. And I think you’ve already picked Kara,” she said, a tear running down her cheek.

“I don’t know what to say. I can’t tell you Kara’s out of the running, just like I can’t tell her that you’re out of consideration. I’m going to be in Chicago for four years. A lot can happen in that time. I don’t even know if either of you will accept the kind of relationship we would need to have given the distance.”

“Steve Adams, you know damn well that both Kara and I will accept a long distance relationship!”

“And if I live with Elyse? And occasionally sleep with Kathy? And maybe Elyse, if she’ll have me? Or Joyce?”

Bethany smiled, “So, I DO have a chance. You know I can accept that, on an interim basis. I’m not sure that Kara can.”

“Like I said, I have a lot of thinking to do and a lot of talking to do before I decide what to do.”

We were silent for a few moments, just looking at each other, with Bethany probably wondering what I was thinking, as I was wondering the same about her.

“This talk has made me feel good,” Bethany grinned, “How would you like to make me feel even better?”

“I think that could be arranged, Sweetheart!”

We left Farrell’s and headed back to Milford. We went to the apartment and made slow, passionate love. When we finished, we cuddled for a bit.

“So now what? Where are we?”

“In bed, in the apartment. I guess we take a shower then go home,” I grinned.

Bethany elbowed me playfully, “You know what I meant, Steve!”

“I won’t make any rash moves or any important decisions until I’m sure I’m not reacting to Jennifer’s betrayal. If you’ll go out with me, I’d like to keep seeing you.”

“If? IF? Are you kidding? You know I will. And so will Kara. Neither of us is going to give you up to the other one until you force the issue. And you will, at some point. I don’t think I need to remind you of why I think I should win.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Good! Now, let’s shower and you can take me home. I know you’re seeing Kara tomorrow with Joyce. Maybe we can do something on Saturday? I’m OK if you want to invite Kara and Stephanie as well. We may as well work through this together since we’re all going to have to live with the results.”

“So you’ve ruled out the ‘fuck-off’?” I chuckled.

“I think your sister was right. I think if you could marry her and fuck only her for the rest of your life, you would. Fortunately, she’s excluded. If it comes down to me and Kara? And it’s about sex? No competition at all!”

“You’re that sure of yourself, are you? I seem to recall somebody who was scared to death to even hug me. Now she brings her own Vaseline!”

She sighed, “I have changed, haven’t I? I guess Kara has as well.”

“In the end, we all change. We all grow. It might be that there are things Kara won’t do, but so what? You know darn well what I prefer when it comes to sex. The same thing I’ve always preferred.”

“What we just did - slow, soft, passionate sex in the missionary position,” Bethany said.

“Exactly. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t like other things, as you well know, but it does mean that I can be satisfied with a very conservative girl, so long as she’s an active, willing, enthusiastic participant in whatever lovemaking we enjoy together.”

“That was something Jennifer told me back when I was working up the courage to have sex with you. I was worried that you wouldn’t like doing it the way I needed you to or that you would think I was boring or something. She told me that when you had sex, you focused on the girl’s pleasure and you did whatever it was she needed you to do. Jennifer was right about that! You’ve taken me places I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, and let me explore things at my own pace. I suspect you’re doing the same with Kara.”

“That’s very true. Of course, I made HER wait five months!” I chuckled.

"That’s another thing about you that’s special, " Bethany said. "I doubt you have ever pressured a girl to do anything at all; and you certainly haven’t from what I’ve seen and heard. Sure, with Annie you went someplace she didn’t want to go, but you didn’t pressure her nor did you try to force her. And if she’d had the sense to say ‘stop’ you would have stopped. Immediately. That’s one of the secrets of your success - you let the girl be in control. You show them what’s possible, how good they can feel, but you always let them control things.

"You did it with me, perfectly. You somehow instinctively knew that first time that I didn’t want you to do anything other than straight intercourse. You let me be in control, yet you took control. It’s a fine balance. You led me exactly where I wanted to go, and later on, gave me complete freedom to explore. You did that with Melanie, even going way past what you felt comfortable doing. Now, you’ve got girls demanding that from you!

“Then I look at Tracey and I see an amazing transformation. Just by being kind to her, you turned her into a confident young woman who has a very healthy view of sex. Heck, she’s got Michelle Bateman jealous! Michelle still wants you by the way. She told me that at graduation. She was actually pretty contrite about how she treated Tracey.”

"I bet she was. Tracey got what Michelle wanted by being nice and asking nicely. Michelle could have had that, but her style was a massive turn-off. It reminded me of Joyce’s sister Connie. I don’t go for that type, at all. In Sweden, Pia’s sister Lisbet was right on the edge of what was acceptable. If Michelle is truly sorry and asks nicely, AND the Triumvirate agrees, I might consider it. But right now? I’m not going to give it any serious consideration.

“Speaking of which. My little sister had plans for a foursome during Spring Break which she called off because I was serious with Kara. She has a couple of friends she trusts who think I’m hot and want to fool around with me. Now that I’m not with Kara, she’s thinking of actually doing it. What do you think?”

“Wait!” she asked, surprised, “She talked with friends, plural, about having sex with you?”

“I know, I know,” I said quickly. “But after Becky in January, she confided in those two close friends about her wanting to have sex with me, not that she’d already done it. If they were to have let it out, I’d have been in deep trouble by now. So, having said that, what do you think?”

She sighed, “That’s a good question, Steve. I guess it really depends on your attitude. If you are just blowing off steam, but not out of control, then I don’t see any harm in the matter, as long as they know it’s just a bit of fun. On the other hand, if it’s some kind of reaction to Jennifer’s deception, then no, don’t do it. Fundamentally, until you decide between me and Kara, I don’t care who you fuck, so long as you talk to me about it beforehand and aren’t out of control. Of course, there is one exception to that -” she reached down and gently grabbed hold of me, “if you even get within 50 feet of Becky, I’ll personally cut your dick off and feed it to you.”

“Noted. I prefer to keep my dick attached!”

“Me too!” she giggled, releasing me.

We got out of bed and showered, and after changing the sheets, I took Bethany home.

On Friday, I picked up Kara around 3:00pm so we could spend a bit of time together before Joyce arrived for our joint dinner date. The way she had averted her eyes at Frisch’s the other night had certainly given the impression that she had something she needed to tell me that she hadn’t revealed. When we arrived at the apartment, I put on water for tea and waited for Kara to raise the subject. When the water was ready, I poured it into the teapot with the tea to steep, and took it and two cups to the couch. After a couple of minutes I poured us each some tea. Kara sipped hers, then set the cup down.

“Steve, when you were talking about Jennifer and how she had kept something important from you, I realized that I might be doing the same thing. I felt guilty on Wednesday night, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t anything like with Jennifer.”

It was clear from Kara’s face that she needed some kind of reassurance. I set down my tea and took her hands in mine, and looked her directly in the eyes.

“Kara, just tell me what it is. We can work through it, I promise.”

“I think my mom suspects that we’ve had sex,” she said almost in a whisper.

I tried, but couldn’t suppress a laugh.

“That’s the thing you were ‘hiding’ from me? That’s what made you feel guilty?”

“Please don’t laugh! This is serious!” she pleaded.

“I wasn’t laughing about that, but about the fact that you felt guilty for not telling me that. Just tell me what happened to make you think that.”

“Last week, the night before Prom, when I came home, she came to see me in my room. She commented that she found it interesting that when I went on dates with you I would sometimes return with damp hair and smelling like different soap than I normally use.”

Holy crap! I had never once even thought about that! Of course, with Jennifer and Debbie, their parents knew what was going on and it wouldn’t have mattered. With most of the other girls I’d brought here, it was a once or twice kind of thing. With Bethany, her mom had long suspected we were intimate.

“It would appear that I’m not nearly as smart as I thought I was,” I chuckled. “What happened?”

Kara smiled, “Nothing. She simply said that I was a smart girl, that she knew that I was careful, that you were a nice boy, and that if I needed to talk to her about ‘personal’ things, she would be there for me.”

“What?! Your mom? You’re pulling my leg, Kara!”

“No, I’m not. I’m not kidding! She likes you a lot. She told me she was sure I had thought through what I was doing and, most importantly, that she wasn’t going to say anything to my dad.”

“I’d say that sounds like she’s sure we’re having sex.”

“She suspects, but she was very careful the way she worded things to make it not sound like an accusation.”

“So what did you say?”

“I told her that I loved you and you were a perfect gentleman who would never do anything to hurt me.”

“Kara,” I said gently, “you both made it clear what’s happening. I don’t know your mom super well, but she told you pretty clearly that she knows, not that she suspects, that you’re having sex. And that she’s not going to interfere.”

“But it goes against everything she believes!” Kara said. “That makes no sense.”

“Perhaps it goes against everything your DAD believes. Your mom may have a different opinion, and in your house, whatever your father says is law. She’s not going to contradict him. What she said to you was really daring, given his views on things. I bet you anything that she’d have let you go to the dance.”

“Are you saying that she’s pretending?”

“No, not at all. I’m saying that she made a decision, long ago, to allow your dad to take the lead and set the rules in the house. What she told you was that she wasn’t going to condemn you, even though she knew your dad would. My parents are the opposite - it’s my mom who is fanatical about the topic, not my dad. I’ve discovered that I can tell him just about anything. He knows we were intimate Kara. And frankly, I’d say he was happy about that because if he got to pick my girlfriend, you would win hands-down!”

“But you are the one who picks. And you picked Jennifer, though now she’s out of the picture.”

“Very true. And I’ve been thinking about it. It’s not going to be settled tonight or in the next couple of weeks. I need to get my emotions in check. I’ve been right on the edge since Wednesday night, but between you and Bethany, you’re helping me stay on an even keel. Joyce will help as well. And my sister, of course.”

“Does Joyce know about Jennifer?”

“No. I’ll tell her tonight.”

Kara smirked, “She’s going to want to have sex with you! She’s been waiting for Jennifer to be out of the picture! If I wasn’t here, she might even do it tonight!”

She paused for a moment and softened her voice, “Do you want to take me home so you can be with her?”

“Absolutely not! Right now, the worst thing I could do would be to do anything on the rebound. I have to do a lot of thinking and a lot of talking before I make any decisions. I told my dad that I might even live on campus the first year, though it’s possible Elyse and I could share a place since our schools aren’t too far apart.”

“Share a place? You mean, like, living together?” Kara asked.

“No. Like in sharing a place, having separate bedrooms. As in having a close friend by me.”

“And you wouldn’t sleep with her?”

“There are too many other questions to answer before I can even think about that. If I got back together with you would you allow that? Or with Kathy? She’ll be in Chicago, too.”

“No,” She sighed. “And that means you’re going to pick Bethany,” she said, a tear rolling down her cheek.

I suppressed a groan. Bethany and I had this conversation, but the other way around. I had purposefully asked both girls the same question in slightly different ways, and I was going to give them similar, but distinct answers. I knew what I wanted, but I also knew my emotions were still running high, so I wasn’t going to trust myself just yet.

“Don’t you think that if you asked me to be faithful to you, I’d do it?”

“You would do that?” she brightened.

“Kara Anne Blanchard, if you hadn’t put a stop to it because of Jennifer, we’d be in that bed right now. I would not have spent the night with Bethany.”

“I was a fool, Steve! I should have waited until August. Now you won’t take me back!”

“I never said that! I said right now I can’t make any decision like that. It’s not like it was a year ago when even thinking about that kind of decision would have made me nuts. Now, I’m putting it off to make sure I have the right motives. I still want to see you, if you’ll go out with me.”

“Of course I will! And so will Bethany. She won’t give up any easier than I will. But she has an advantage that I don’t.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s more liberal about sex. She’ll have sex with you and let you play around.”

“And you think that puts you at some kind of disadvantage? How long did I make you wait, Kara?”

“Too long! I wanted you back in September, Steve! Do you know the kinds of feelings I had? And you made me wait!” she said, her old frustration coming back for a moment.

She sounded a lot like Katt. She wasn’t nearly as pissed off as Katt had been about that, but the feeling certainly seemed very similar.

“Now, draw a proper conclusion from that,” I said gently.

“It’s not about sex for you. You love doing it, of course, but in the end, it’s not about sex!” she smiled.

“What is it about?”

“Love. Even if I had never made love with you, you would still treat me the same way. And I would have the same chance.”

“Exactly. Just let me work things out. I’m not making any promises to anyone, except that I’ll still rely on help from you, Bethany, and my sister.”

The buzzer rang announcing Joyce’s presence. I let her in and she carried in a grocery bag. I went down to her car and got the cooler. When I came back, the girls were standing close and talking quietly. I wondered if Kara had told Joyce about Jennifer, but then I realized there was no way she would ever do that. She knew it was something I had to do. The girls set about making dinner and I sat on the couch. They were talking quietly and I could only catch snippets of conversation. I picked up a book I kept in the apartment and started reading.

About an hour later dinner was ready and the girls called me to the table. As always, the food was fantastic and we shared a bottle of wine. I noticed that Kara had gone from only drinking a small amount to having a second glass tonight. She was quite giggly by the end of the meal, most likely from being a bit tipsy. Joyce served everyone coffee at the end of the meal.

“Joyce, quite a bit has changed in the last few weeks. The very short version is, two days ago, Jennifer called off all our plans for the fall. She’s going to Stanford. And she and I are no longer involved.”

“What the fuck?” Joyce blurted. “Oops, sorry, Kara!”

“I’ve been known to use that word before!” Kara said, blushing.

“Yes,” I chuckled, “but in a VERY different context!”

Joyce laughed hard and Kara turned an even deeper red.

“Do tell, Kara!” Joyce teased.

“I couldn’t! I couldn’t say that with anyone but Steve around!” she protested.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You aren’t the only one who enjoys sex with Steve! And definitely not the only one who has used that word!”

“Joyce, dial it back a bit, please!” I asked.

“Oh stop it, Steve. If she’s crossed the line to fucking you, then talking about it can’t be bad. Or are you getting heated up? Maybe that’s the problem! Should I leave so you two can fuck each other silly?” she teased.

“Kara and I are not intimately involved right now.”

“That’s right, we’re not fucking!” Kara giggled.

Now I knew she’d had too much wine. It was making her silly and uninhibited. I’d have to be careful.

“Wait, now I’m totally confused. What did I miss?” Joyce asked, suddenly serious.

“Everyone knew I was going to be with Jennifer in the fall. Kara wasn’t allowed to go to Prom with me because her dad has big problems with dancing. He’s afraid it would lead to sex, I guess.”

“Too late!” Kara giggled.

I looked at Joyce and we both rolled our eyes. Kara was VERY tipsy.

“Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted,” I said with a grin, "I was saying that Kara couldn’t go to Prom. Bethany and I had talked about going to Prom together before the Becky incident and Kara was OK with me going with Bethany. My original plan with Bethany had been to get a hotel room, but we dropped that because I was steady with Kara, and Kara, unlike any of the other girls I’ve dated, insisted on strict monogamy.

"That meant, of course, that we had to break up, or at least stop having sex, in August when I went to Chicago. Kara decided that Bethany deserved a great Prom so she suggested that we stop going steady the day before Prom, so I could take Bethany. Bethany and I had a blast at Prom, then two days ago, Jennifer dropped the bombshell on me that she was going to Stanford in the fall. I had no warning at all.

“Right up to that point she had never once said anything about not going to Chicago. I made all my plans based on our agreement to go to IIT together. Kara changed our relationship based on that. You and I were totally platonic because of that. Bethany and I didn’t ever go steady because of that.”

“But why did she do that? What reason did she give?”

“I don’t know why. And, to be honest, I don’t care. I hung up on her when she gave me the news. I have no desire to talk to her. I could accept changing her plans. I can’t accept that she changed them in January, or perhaps earlier, and misled me for at least five months.”

“Wow. But you should talk to her. Let her explain.”

“Why? So I can get even more upset? There isn’t any reasonable explanation for not telling me, Joyce.”

“What are you going to do now?” Joyce asked.

III. She Did It Again, Part III

June 1981, Milford, Ohio

“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “What I won’t do is to do anything on the rebound. That would be foolish. I’m just going to take some time to come to terms with it and make sure I’m not running on emotions.”

“He’s not with Jennifer anymore, Joyce! You can have him now!” Kara giggled.

“And you would be OK with that? Or are you looking to share?” Joyce teased.

“Share? Like both date him?” Kara asked.

“No, I mean you and I take him over to that bed and fuck him until he forgets Jennifer!” Joyce teased.

“He would love that, wouldn’t he?” Kara blushed. “But I don’t think I could ever do something like that! It’s so naughty!”

I put my hand on Joyce’s arm and shook my head slightly to tell her to back off. Kara was too tipsy for this kind of conversation.

“He would love it,” Joyce agreed. “But not when he’s still dealing with Jennifer’s revelation and NOT when you’ve been drinking, Kara.”

“I feel fine!” Kara pouted.

I bet she did. A few sips of wine in the past and two glasses in less than an hour? I bet she was feeling REALLY fine!

“Thanks Joyce,” I replied. “Just give me some time to work things out.” I paused, then added, with a smirk, “Then you can fuck me until I forget Jennifer!”

“You really should talk to her, Steve,” Joyce said. “At least let her tell you why, even if it’s a lame excuse. It’ll tell you a lot.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, hoping that would convince her to back off.

“That means you won’t. You need to do it. You owe it to her. You owe it to yourself. And more importantly, you owe it to Kara.”

“What? To Kara?” I said, noticing that Kara seemed puzzled by the comment as well.

“Yes, to Kara. If you don’t talk to Jennifer it’ll eat you up. Eventually you’ll want to know. You’ll want closure. That’s who you are, Steve Adams. And until you get closure, it’ll affect every single thing you do and say. Despite my teasing before, having sex with you would be a VERY bad idea until you sort that out. So, if you ever want this amazing body again, in every way, like at my Prom,” she smirked, “you need to talk to Jennifer.”

Joyce’s comment wasn’t lost on Kara.

“Every way?” Kara gasped. “Not you too?!” she whined, slumping back in her chair.

I shot Joyce another look. She was enjoying this, but I was really worried about Kara.

“Joyce, I’ll think about it,” I said, hoping Kara would simply let the question go unanswered.

I helped Joyce clean up, letting Kara sit at the table. We did the dishes and packed the leftovers in the cooler. When we finished, I carried the cooler down to her car, then came back upstairs. Kara and Joyce were standing by the door.

“I’m going to head out now,” Joyce said. “See you next week?”

“Yes! Let me walk you out.”

“Oh, kiss her right here Steve, it’s fine,” Kara giggled. “I told you that before!”

I shrugged and Joyce and I exchanged a searing French kiss that clearly showed our desire was still there.

My eyes sought Kara’s, and found her watching us, flushed, her chest heaving, biting her lip, as if trying to contain a desire she didn’t feel she could act on.

“If you want to,” Joyce whispered as she turned and walked out the door.

I closed the door and saw that Kara had gone to sit on the couch.

“If you want to!” she giggled.

“Kara Blanchard, you are drunk!” I said firmly.

“I am not!”

“You had two glasses of wine. At the very least, you’re tipsy. There is no way I’m doing anything with you at this point.”

“You won’t even kiss me?” she pouted.

“No, because you know exactly where that will lead. I am not going to let you break your own rule when you’ve had too much wine to drink.”

“Would you at least cuddle me?” she asked.

“If you promise to behave!”

She nodded, with a little pout, and I went to sit with her on the couch. We sat cuddling, without speaking for nearly an hour. Kara’s breathing was slow and steady, almost like she was asleep.

“Steve?” Kara said, finally stirring. “Did I really say the ‘F’ word at dinner in front of Joyce?”

“Yes, you did,” I chuckled.

“Oh no! I can’t believe I did that!” she exclaimed, burying her face in her hands.

“Not only that, but you and Joyce even joked about a threesome.”

“Oh no!” she wailed, “What is she going to think about me?”

“Nothing. Not a darn thing. She was teasing and joking with you. She won’t think less of you. Heck, I think she’d have gone through with it if you’d have been sober! She’s not one of your evangelical friends, Kara. The fact that you had sex with me makes you a potential ally, in the end.”

“Ally? How?”

“Shifting alliances. I’ve seen girls pair up and try to eliminate the rest of the competition. It’s like you and Bethany - you each think you’ll win, but it’s in both of your best interests to keep anyone else out of the picture. Even my sister does it. She allied with Jennifer a long time ago.”

“But she’s been working with me and Bethany, Steve.”

“Has she? Or has she been involved to protect Jennifer’s position. Think about it.”

Kara thought for a minute then said, “She’s been pro-Jennifer the whole time, hasn’t she?”

“Yes she has. That’s why she’s freaked-out now. She and Jennifer had a special relationship.”

“What do you mean by that?” she asked, puzzled.

I couldn’t reveal THAT confidence, but I could explain it in another way.

“They were very, very close. Stephanie was devastated when she thought Jennifer and I had broken up a year ago. She’s not showing it outwardly right now, but she is totally conflicted about what to do. She’s upset with Jennifer, but she’s more upset that my relationship with Jennifer is over.”

“You have a very complicated life,” Kara said.

“That’s exactly what I told my dad. He agrees. And he’s hoping I get back together with you.”

“But what about you?”

I sighed, “Let’s just keep dating for now. We’ll sort it out soon.”

“I think Joyce is right,” Kara said.

I decided it was safe to tease her a bit at this point.

“I think so, too. The two of you SHOULD have taken me to bed and fucked me until I forgot about Jennifer!” I smirked.

“That is NOT what I meant, Steve Adams!” she giggled, lightly jabbing me with her elbow. “I meant that you should call Jennifer.”

“I know, but I had to tease,” I said gently.

“But, do you want that, Steve?” she asked, blushing and looking down. “What Joyce said?”

I turned her chin so we could look at each other in the eyes. She gazed deeply into mine and the corners of her mouth turned up in a small, nervous smile.

“I told you Kara, if you want to experiment, you have to ask. Joyce was out of line. She shouldn’t tease like that with you around.”

“Why not? She did have a point, I think. It’s a little fuzzy but she did say if I was fucking you, then teasing about it wasn’t a big deal.”

“She did. But we’re not intimate now, Kara,” I said.

“What’s wrong Steve? You can’t use that word now?” she giggled.

I sighed, “You use that word more than I do, Kara! I rarely use it. You know that.”

“I find that funny, actually. I use it to be naughty, even though I’m not particularly naughty. You are very naughty and yet you don’t use that word.”

“Naughty? That sounds like I’m a toddler and you’re going to send me to bed without supper!”

“You know what I mean!” she protested.

I realized that despite her evangelical upbringing, Kara was a typical teenager. It was a time when we were growing up and becoming adults, but in many ways we were still kids. Our views on things changed rapidly and we changed rapidly. I had been lucky that my core group of friends had stuck together so far, even after graduation. Well, all except Jennifer. Kara’s seeming contradictions were really quite normal.

“You are quite the set of contradictions. At times, you come across as a worldly woman, and at other times, a little girl. Sometimes you are very prim and proper and other times you are like a wanton harlot. You play a ‘good girl’ in public but in private you can be almost as ‘naughty’ as I am!”

“I’m still as confused as I was back in September, Steve. I’m still trying to make sense of everything. I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what I believe. And trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“Those are good things. I spent a lot of time thinking about those kinds of things, and I still do. In the end, only you can decide. You can listen to other people, but when push comes to shove, you need to be comfortable with who you are and what you believe.”

“My life has been nothing but turmoil since I met you!”


“And I wouldn’t trade my Junior year for anything. I can’t imagine not being with you. Even after everything, I would marry you right now if you asked, and you know my dad would give his blessing.”

“And yet, you changed our relationship when you had me to yourself.”

“That’s not even close to being true. I never had you to myself. Jennifer always had you. Always! I knew that from the beginning. My goal of marrying you depended on you deciding, that, in the end, she wasn’t the right girl for you.”

“We’re there now.”

“No we are not! YOU didn’t decide that, Steve. She did. SHE decided. Joyce was right. Until you decide, she’ll loom large in any relationship you have. If I asked you to take me to bed right now, and we ended up engaged and then married, some day you would run into Jennifer and it would be Becky all over again. No, Steve. If you want me, you have to talk to Jennifer first. Only then can we talk about any kind of future relationship.”

Every single one of the important girls in my life was telling me that I needed to talk to Jennifer. Kara, Bethany, Joyce and Stephanie. I knew that if I talked to Melanie and Larry, they’d say the same thing, and so would Doctor Mercer. I was being stubborn because she hurt me, and because I was afraid she’d hurt me even more with whatever bullshit excuse she came up with.

I sighed, resigning myself that, really, I would have to call Jennifer and find out. “Fine. I’ll talk to her.”

“Good. Once you talk to her, then we can talk about us, about how we’re going to handle you being in Chicago, and,” she had a twinkle in her eye, “if Joyce and I should fuck you until you forget Jennifer.”

“Now you’re just teasing me, Kara!” I chuckled.

“Until you talk to Jennifer you’ll never know!” she said with an enticing smile.

“Be careful - I might think you’re serious and take you up on that!” I chuckled.

“Call Jennifer, Steve.”

I was absolutely sure she was teasing. Kara wasn’t interested in sex without a monogamous commitment and that did not include a threesome. I wondered if the wine was still affecting her even though it had been nearly two hours since she finished her second glass. Unless of course, she had more than that and I didn’t realize it.

“I said I would talk to her.”

“When you do, then you and Bethany and I can talk.”

“And Joyce?” I smirked.

She giggled, “You are easy to tease, Steve. You know that, right?”

“I do. You OK for me to take you home?”

“Yes. I’m not tipsy. I probably shouldn’t have had the three glasses of wine!”

“Three? I only saw two. No wonder! You need to take it easier, Kara. I only had one, but that’s because I’m driving. But even so, I don’t ever drink more than two glasses and I outweigh you by quite a bit.”

“I never drank alcohol before I got together with you and Joyce. My parents don’t drink.”

“Just another way I’m corrupting you, Kara!” I teased.

“You haven’t asked me to do anything that I haven’t wanted to do. I LIKE what we do. All of it. Even the teasing.”

I smiled and she turned her head and we kissed softly.

“Do that again after you talk to Jennifer, Steve,” she whispered.

I nodded and we got up off the couch and went out to the car. I dropped Kara at her house and she gave me a brief hug and kiss on the cheek and then I headed home. I found Stephanie in her room and went in and shut the door.

“I’m going to call Jennifer, Squirt.”

“Finally! I guess Joyce and Kara ganged up on you?”

“You could say that. They both pretty much implied they’d screw me silly once I talked to Jennifer,” I smirked.

“Kara and Joyce? Together?” she giggled. “Now THAT would be crazy even for you. Kara in a threesome?”

“Slow down! They both joked about it but you know darn well Kara would never do anything like that. She’s getting good at teasing, though she still blushes quite a bit.”

“So, go call her, Steve. I’m sure she’ll talk to you. Just keep your emotions in check.”

I went to my room and shut the door. I picked up the receiver and stared at the touch-tone buttons for a moment, then took a deep breath, let it out and dialed the Blocks. Jennifer’s mom answered on the second ring.

“Hi Mrs. Block, it’s Steve Adams. Do you think Jennifer will talk to me?”

“Of course she will! She’s been hoping you would call. She’s pretty upset.”

“She’s not the only one,” I said, my ire showing through.

“I know it’s tough. She’s beaten herself up about this. Her dad and I thought she had told you back in January. If we had known, we would have done something about it. Her father was pretty rough on her when he found out that she’d done it again. Let me get her.”

I heard her put the phone down and heard footsteps retreating. About thirty seconds later I heard footsteps and then the receiver being picked-up. I took a deep breath and let it out.

“Hello,” Jennifer said, softly.

“Hi Jennifer,” I said as evenly as I could, since I was still seething.

She began sobbing, “I’m sorry Steve. I’m so sorry. I should have told you! I should have talked to you about it!”

There was no way I was letting her off easy. Not this time. Not after six months of deception.

“Yes, you should have. I can’t believe you did this to me again! It’s even worse than last time! Last time you didn’t have a choice about moving! But this time, this time is all on you. It was your decision all the way. You hurt me, Jennifer! You hurt me very badly!”

“I know! I made a huge mistake! I was afraid to tell you. I was afraid of what you would do and say!”

“And that would have been worse than this? We could have talked about it. We might have come up with alternate plans. The only reason I can imagine that you didn’t tell me is that you didn’t WANT to make alternate plans. That you didn’t WANT me with you.”

She was sobbing louder now. I simply waited for her to compose herself and speak.

“I, I…it’s so hard, Steve!”

“If you don’t tell me, there is nothing I can do about it and there’s nothing to discuss.”

“I’m so confused!”

I wondered again if she had broken her rule and had had sex. It made as much sense now as it did when I had thought of it earlier.

“Jennifer,” I said carefully, “did you have sex with someone? Is that what’s confusing you?”

“No! I would never do that. I know what that would mean!”

“But what you did was far worse. Sex I could handle. Lying and deceit is a whole different thing. The way you talk you seem to think somehow you and I have a chance. I don’t see how that’s possible now.”

She was sobbing again, “I ruined everything. I did it again. Because I’m stupid and afraid, I ruined everything.”

“What is the problem? What is it that is bothering you so much that you did this?”

It took her a couple of minutes to compose herself enough to answer.

“I was afraid of living with you, of being that close to you. And then losing you,” she said, stifling a sob.

“What are you talking about? Losing me?”

“Next summer, you’re going to see Karin. I can’t compete with her. I can’t. Nobody can. All you see is Birgit, and nobody can replace her, not even Karin. But you see Birgit in Karin. And because of that, you would dump me. I couldn’t handle it.”

“Jesus, Jennifer! Why couldn’t you talk to me about that? I thought you wanted a committed relationship with me! We could have figured this out! But no, you had to fucking deceive me about everything. You had to let me think everything was just fine and then drop it on me when it was too fucking late to do anything about it!”

I heard my door open.

“Steve, relax. I can hear you next door,” Stephanie whispered, then shut the door again.

I took a deep breath and let it out, “I’m sorry Jennifer. I shouldn’t have raised my voice.”

“I understand. I’m really sorry. I know that doesn’t make up for what I did. I know that you’re angry and very upset. And it’s all my fault. I don’t know what to do!” she wailed.

“I don’t know that there’s much we can do. We’re not going to college together. I’d say it looks like we’ll be apart for another four years no matter what. And even then, we still have this issue of you not being able to talk to me about important things. It’s happened several times.”

“I know. I’m so sorry. I hope eventually you can forgive me.”

“Forgiving you is one thing, trusting you is a very different thing. I learned that from Kara. She forgave me for Becky instantly, but she sure didn’t trust me until very recently, and rightly so.”

“Are you two still together?”

“She broke up with me because you and I were going to be together in Chicago, and like Sofia, she can’t share.”

“Oh my God! I caused that! Oh Steve, I’m so sorry!”

“Do you realize how much you were playing with my entire life? Every single thing I’ve done with regard to next year was based on our plans! Everything!” I said angrily, but keeping my voice at a normal level.

“I know,” she said in a very small voice. “What do we do now?”

“We pick up the pieces and go on with our lives. But not together.”

“It’s really over, isn’t it?”

“I don’t see how it’s not. I don’t see how we can ever be together.”

“Will you do one thing for me? As a friend?”

“It depends on what it is.”

“Keep in touch. And after you see Karin, if it doesn’t work out, then come see me. As a friend. If it does work out with Karin, I’ll come to your wedding.”

“We have another wedding that’s going to happen before yours or mine.”

“Pete and Melanie,” she said.

“I’m Best Man and you’re Maid of Honor.”

“Isn’t it traditional for the Best Man and Maid of Honor to screw?” Jennifer giggled.

I was glad she had stopped crying. The bit of levity actually helped me feel a little bit better.

“I hadn’t heard that, but if I’m not married or engaged, and you aren’t either, we’ll see. There’s a lot that can happen before then.”

“I know, I was just trying to be a bit silly. Seriously, though. Once you see Karin, can we talk, about us?”

I sighed, “Jennifer, there isn’t an us. There’s a you and a me. No us.”

“I know. And it’s my fault. I have to work on my problems, just like you worked on yours. You’ve done such a good job and I’ve done such a bad job. Just promise we can get together and talk.”

“Fine Jennifer, talk. But I’m not in the same place I was a week ago. Anything can happen in a year.”

“I know. And if I lose out to Karin or Kara, it’s because I was a scared, stupid little girl. I’ve always been that.”

“We’re all like that at one time or another. There were quite a few times when you were the adult and I was the stupid little boy. You helped me through all those times.”

“Could you help me? As a friend?”

“As a friend, yes.”

“Thank you. Will you still talk to me?”

“When you need me to, yes. But you’ll need to make the calls. I might call you occasionally, but this is on you. And if you want my help, you have to be completely and totally open and honest with me like I have been with you.”

“It seems so easy for you to do that. Isn’t it scary?”

“I’ve never done it any other way, Jen. What’s to be scared of? I’ve always been like this. You know that.”

“You called me ‘Jen’ - you still love me, even after everything?”

“Well of course I do! But that doesn’t mean we’re a couple or there’s an ‘us’. It means I love you deeply. But some things are just impossible, even with love.”

“I know. Thank you for calling me. I know how difficult it was for you.”

“I’m sorry I hung up on you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I love you, Steve. That hasn’t changed. Not one bit.”

Saying it back to her, in this context, would send the wrong message. I had told her that I loved her before, but responding to her clearly romantic words just wasn’t right. In fact, there wasn’t really anything to do but acknowledge it.

“I know, Jennifer.”

“I’ll call you soon.”

We said goodbye and hung up. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that before her call the other day I had already eliminated Karin as a real contender. Jennifer’s real competition, in the end, was Kara. Yes, Bethany figured in my decision, and I certainly could see being with her as a life partner, but it was really Kara that Jennifer needed to be worried about. The thing was that I had put Kara on hold FOR Jennifer. Everything was set in Jennifer’s favor. Had she even talked to me about her fears, I could have told her. She had won the contest, as it were, and didn’t realize it. She had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

I wondered if my openness and honesty policy required me to tell her those things, but I didn’t think so. They had all depended on her keeping her commitment and were, in effect, ancient history now. Telling her wouldn’t do anything except make her more depressed than she already was. Maybe this was what Joyce meant about being ‘too honest’ at times. I was learning a lot, but it was painful at every step.

That was a preview of AWLL 1 - Book 5 - Stephanie. To read the rest purchase the book.

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