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AWLL 1 - Book 2 - Jennifer

Michael Loucks

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For Birgit

Prologue

Chicago, Illinois

Pete handed the laptop back to me when he finished reading.


"You know there will be trouble if this gets out, right?"


"Forget it Pete. What did you think?"


"Well, I understand a lot more now. It explains a lot, and fills in some missing pieces."


"What are you going to do now?"


"The same as always. Well, that and wait for the next part of the story. There are still things that I don't know about that I have a feeling are important."


"Very true Pete, very true."


"Those journals, they exist?"


"Yeah, but they're safe."


He nodded.


"Got everything you need?"


"Yes, Pete. I'm good."


He went back to his quarters and I sat down to write.

I. Heartbreak

June 10, 1978

'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 slowly floated through complete darkness, unable to find light. A phrase careened around inside my head, causing pain everywhere it touched. I was adrift, unstable, and afraid. Nothing was real. Perhaps it was all just a bad dream, a nightmare. Had I died? Was this Hell?


The darkness lifted slightly. I felt a presence next to me.


"Melanie?" I croaked.


"Shh!" I heard in return.


"Birgit's dead!" I wailed.


"Shh," I heard again as I felt arms envelop me.


I drifted back into nothingness.


I suddenly came awake. I opened my eyes. In the dim light I could see Melanie sitting on the edge of the bed. I saw Larry sitting in the desk chair. But there was a female form next to me.


"We were really worried about you Steve," said Larry.


"How long was I out?"


"I guess about fifteen minutes. You seemed to, I don't know, short circuit when Melanie told you."


"Yeah, I guess that's the best way to describe it," I sighed, trying to take stock. "It's true, Melanie? This isn't some sick game?"


"It's true. I talked to her mom a couple of hours ago. I knew how you would take it so I called Larry to pick you up from work. He called your mom and told her he was picking you up, but not why. Then he brought you here."


"But you and I aren't speaking," I protested, weakly.


"I know. But this was more important than my little snit."


"And more important than me not being ready to talk to you."


That was Jennifer, who was cuddled next to me in the bed.


"Melanie called me and told me," she said. "I knew you would need me, even if I wasn't ready. I tried to get here before she told you, but I didn’t make it in time. When I got here you had just fainted and they were putting you on the bed. I just laid down next to you to wait."


There was silence for a time. I lay there quietly. I wasn't crying. I was sure that would come later. I was still in shock.


"What happened? I just talked to her this morning. She was going sailing with Jonas."


"The boat capsized in a sudden storm. They both drowned," said Melanie, crying softly.


"Oh my god," I gasped.


"I'm going to go talk to your mom, Steve," Larry said. "How much should I tell her? Mrs. Spencer will call her later. You're to stay here tonight."


"Tell my mom and dad everything. It's the only way they'll understand. Make sure Stephanie knows, too."


"You got it. I'll be back."


He left. I just lay there with Jennifer by my side. She was holding my hand, but that was the only contact. Melanie pulled the desk chair up to the side of the bed and sat down. She took my other hand.


Sometime later, I'm not sure how long; there was a soft knock at the door. It was Mrs. Spencer. She brought in a tray with a tea pot, a couple of Cokes and some cookies. I slowly sat up and Melanie handed me a Coke. She and Jennifer both had tea. Mrs. Spencer looked pretty upset as well. I wasn't surprised; they had treated Birgit like a daughter.


"Melanie, how are you doing?" I asked after her mom left.


"Not good. Probably about like you, I guess. Well, no, probably better than you. Do you think you can get up?"


"Yeah, I guess."


"Mom said we can hang out in the basement as long as we want. Larry will be back. You can use the guest room. Larry will stay as long as you need him, but eventually he'll head home to bed. Jennifer can stay with me. OK?"


"Sure. Let's go."


We walked to the basement. As we passed the family room I saw Mr. and Mrs. Spencer sitting on the couch cuddling and crying. I knew how they felt. Well, I suppose it's different for parents, but I felt like someone had ripped my heart out of my body.


We got to the basement and found a bunch of pillows and blankets on the couches. I grabbed some and just lay down on the couch and covered up. I didn't really want to touch anyone at the moment. I needed to be alone, but didn't want my friends to leave. It was a strange feeling.


Larry came back from having gone to my house, and sat on the couch with Melanie. Jennifer was sitting on the floor next to my couch, with her arm resting on the couch and her head resting on her arm, just looking at me. No way was I going to chase her away. I just hoped my friend was back.


We all just sat in silence for a while.


"When's the funeral?" I asked.


"Most likely, Wednesday; in Stockholm, of course."


"And we can't go," I said, as tears began streaming down my face.


"No, we can't go," said Melanie, sobbing.


"Here I am with my three best friends. Two of them weren't talking to me this morning. Why did it take this to get us together?"


Nobody said anything. The only sounds were soft sobbing from my two friends and me. Larry was stoic, but Larry was always stoic. I could tell he was torn up as well, but it wasn't his nature to show it outwardly.


"Steve, your mom was pretty upset when I told her. She was going to come get you but Mrs. Spencer talked her out of it. I guess she didn't know how close you and Birgit were."


"She didn't."


"I didn't even get a chance to explain before your mom started getting her purse. Your little sister stopped her. She said 'Mom, Steve loved her. He needs to be with his friends who knew her.' Your mom said 'How can he love her? They never went out. They were never boyfriend and girlfriend.' Stephanie really stood up for you saying 'Mom. He did. They were committed to being together forever.' When your mom asked how that was even possible, Stephanie told her 'Mom, they made love.' Your mom lost it at that point, sorry to say. That's when I borrowed the phone and called Mrs. Spencer. She calmed her down. But I hate to say it, you're gonna get grief from your mom."


"Jennifer, Melanie, would you come home with me in the morning and support me. I don't know if I can handle her alone."


They both agreed.


Mrs. Spencer offered us food around 6:00pm, but nobody was really hungry. I took a few bites of a sandwich and ate a few chips. The others did the same. We started talking about memories and things we did with her. Through rivers of tears I spoke about our plans and goals.


"Steve, do you think you'll still want to go to Sweden?" asked Larry.


"Yeah. It will be tough, but I have to see her, well, you know what I mean. To say goodbye."


Larry left around midnight, assured that I was as OK as I could be. He promised to call on Sunday to check on me. At that point, we moved upstairs. I went into the guest room. Both Jennifer and Melanie offered to stay with me but I told them I just wanted to be alone. I knew those weren't offers of sex, but just of friendship. But at this point, I didn't even want that. I needed to be alone with my thoughts.


I lay in bed thinking back over the past two years. I had tried to do my best, to figure out what was right, to follow my heart. And everything had gone straight to hell. I'd ruined my friendship with Jennifer when I'd gone to Beky. My relationship with Melanie was wrecked when I did the right thing. My relationship with Becky was destroyed because I couldn't commit the way she wanted. And Birgit, my true love, was dead before I could even act on what I thought was right. And now here I was, in her room! Tears welled up again.


Jennie had warned me about sex. How it changes people. How people have different reactions to it. Sex was really the root cause of the problems. Making love one time with Birgit ended with my heart ripped out of my body. Making love with Jennifer changed and eventually wrecked our relationship. Refusing to have sex with Melanie wrecked not just my relationship with her, but my friendship with Pete as well. Collateral damage, I guess.


Making love with Becky had done exactly what Jennifer knew it would. It also created a situation that had to blow up in my face eventually. If I had refused to give in to her demands, we might still be together. But I wondered if it were even possible for me to have resisted much longer, even without Jennifer's prodding.


There was Bethany. Her single experience was violence. I had a hard time getting my head wrapped around that one. In this case, a sex act had damaged her to the point where she needed therapy, maybe for the rest of her life. For her, even the idea of holding hands was a frightening prospect.


Sex with Kellie had been empty and meaningless. Even though it had been fun, I didn't like the way it had turned out. Not because I wanted to have sex with her again, but because of the way she treated it like a business proposition. Even though the situation with Mary was purely about the physical pleasure, it had a very different character. It didn't feel empty.


What was I going to do? I knew that I needed to call Becky despite our agreement. Sadly, I feared that she would take this as an opportunity to get what she wanted. I had no commitment to Birgit to hold me back; I had nobody else I was having sex with. If I did start to see Becky again, and I wasn't sure I wanted to, it would have to be a complete reset.


Then there was Jennifer. She had come to be with me today, even though she was still trying to work things out in her mind. She didn't know that Becky and I were taking time apart. She didn't know much of anything about the past couple of months, actually. I hoped she was ready to talk. I needed it.


As for Melanie, well, there were deep problems there that were beyond my ability to fix. I was resolved to keep things cool between us until she talked to Pete. One way or the other, she had to deal with that before I could do anything with her. I decided I was going to call Pete occasionally to keep in touch. I hoped he would still be a friend. I wasn't sure where he was going to college, but he had talked a lot about Ohio State.


A strange thought entered my mind. I had a chance for basically a new start. I was seeing Anna, Joyce, and Bethany. None of them had progressed beyond the kissing stage, with that one minor exception with Anna that I regretted. I had the entire summer to date and see what happened.


That thought was crushed by memories of Birgit flooding back in. I cried myself to sleep.


At some point, I heard a noise and saw the door close. Moonlight shining through the window revealed a ghostly figure coming to the side of the bed.


"Steve, can I get in bed with you?"


It was Melanie. Really? Sex now? There was just no way.


"I don't think that's a good idea Melanie. Go back to your own bed."


"Oh, no! I'm not trying to have sex with you. I'm not. Honest. But I need you to hold me. Nothing more. I promise. Really. I just can't sleep alone. Jennifer knows I'm here. Please don't send me away! I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry!"


She was sobbing now.


I knew what I had to do. My heart was crystal clear. I pulled back the comforter and let her climb in. She snuggled close to me with her arm across my body and her head on my chest."


"Thank you," she said.


We were asleep almost instantly. I didn't wake up at before first as I usually did. When I heard a knock at the door, the sun was out and it was clearly well past dawn.


"Come in."


Mrs. Spencer came in and shut the door behind her. I nudged Melanie awake.


"Melanie, Steve, are you sure this was a good idea? I don't think it was."


"Hang on Mrs. Spencer. It's not what you think."


I pushed the comforter down to show that both of us were dressed. I was still in the clothes I had come in, and Melanie in sweat pants and a long t-shirt.


"Oh! I'm sorry. I just assumed because of what you guys did in the past that you were trying to use sex to forget the pain."


"Mom, I would have. But Steve won't do that. I have to solve my problems before he'll do anything with me. And even then he might not."


A bright spot in the gloom. Melanie acknowledged her situation.


"I was hoping you would listen to him. He's listened to you so much. And he's learned so much. Kids, I'm sorry I assumed the worst. Breakfast when you want it."


She left. Almost immediately there was another knock at the door.


"Come in," I said again.


Jennifer came in and shut the door behind her. "How are you two doing?"


"I feel like someone stuck a knife in my chest, reached in, and ripped out my heart," I said.


"I feel like someone kicked me hard in the stomach," said Melanie.


"I'm going to go home, if that's OK. I'll be back in about an hour so we can go to your house with you."


"Sure Jennifer, can we talk soon?"


"Yes," she said with a smile. "It's time. Call me, OK?"


"I will. Thanks."


She left.


"Melanie, are you going to try to fix things with Pete?"


"Yes. I'll call him."


"Good."


"Thanks for letting me sleep here with you. I really liked it."


"Me too," I agreed. "It helped. Let's get some breakfast. I'm actually hungry."


We made our way downstairs. Mrs. Spencer quickly made us some pancakes. There was some bacon in the oven staying warm that she added to the plates. We ate in silence.


When we finished, I said I needed a shower. We walked upstairs and Melanie and I each took a shower. We were naked in front of each other, but there was nothing sexual at all about it. I put my clothes back on and she put on fresh ones.


When we went downstairs, Mrs. Spencer asked how we were doing. We repeated what we had told Jennifer. Mrs. Spencer told us that they were devastated. There really wasn't much to say.


Jennifer arrived and I steeled myself for going home. I knew my mom was going to be in a bad mood, but I was in no mood for her morality lectures. I wasn't going to let her go unanswered. That's why I needed Jennifer and Melanie, and especially Stephanie. That was really going to set mom off but I just didn't care.


In fact, I realized at the moment, I didn't give a damn about anything except Birgit, Melanie, Jennifer, Stephanie and Larry. The hell with everything and everyone else. Birgit's death had done one positive thing so far. It brought all the friends back together. Nothing was going to break that apart. I knew I'd need them. I knew that's what Birgit would have wanted.


Melanie drove us to my house. We got out of the car and walked in together. Mom, Stephanie and Jeff were at church. No surprise since Mom never missed. We found my dad in his office.


"Are you OK, Son?"


"Yeah Dad, I think so. My friends took good care of me. Larry was there, as you know, plus Melanie and Jennifer. And Mrs. Spencer fed us last night and this morning. I slept some, too. And had a shower. I guess I feel as OK as I can."


"Your mom is pretty upset. I think she's more upset that your little sister is aware of your, well, activity, than that you are doing it. But she's upset about that, too. I got an earful from her last night about it. She's going to really lay into you."


"Dad, I'm not going to take it. I'm not going to let her make a beautiful experience with Birgit into something evil and sordid. I told the priest that. Well, it wasn't just about Birgit in that case. I just don't agree with Mom on this. And I'm going to tell her."


"Steve, you're in dangerous territory there. I can only do so much."


"Dad, so long as you don't give her active support, I'll be fine. I understand you need to back her up on some things, but please don't agree with her moralizing. I know your opinion."


"True. I'll do what I can, but I have to think about my relationship with your mother, too."


"I know, Dad. We'll go wait for her to come home."


We went to sit on the couch, Melanie on my left, Jennifer on my right. I had my arms around both of them, but again, it was purely platonic. They had their heads on my shoulders and we sat quietly. I felt as if I was awaiting judgment. And I knew it would come.


My mom and siblings arrived home. She gave me a disapproving look and went to change. Stephanie came over and hugged me then ran down the hall to her room. Jeff just ignored us. I was glad. I might have hit him at this point.


Stephanie got back before Mom did and sat in front of the couch at my feet. It was like the three girls were shielding me, protecting me. It felt good. I moved my arm, patted Stephanie on the shoulder and said "Thanks," before putting my arm back around Jennifer.


My mom came into the room. "You girls need to leave. I need to talk to Stephen."


She called me 'Stephen'. That told me everything I needed to know. I pulled Jennifer and Melanie tighter and said "No."


"Don't tell me 'no' young man. They need to leave. Now."


"No. If you want to talk to me, they have to be here."


"Stephanie, go to your room."


"No Mom, she stays as well. You want to lecture me, you want to yell at me, then they get to hear it, too. These are my friends and my sister. They helped me last night and they'll help me in the future. I need them."


Stephanie hadn't moved, but I could tell she was concerned.


She looked up at me and I said, "Stay put, Squirt. You know everything that's going to be said."


"What do you mean she knows everything?"


"Mom, according to Larry, she's the one that told you that Birgit and I made love."


"What can you know about making love? You just turned 15."


I could feel myself losing my temper and losing control. It had been a long time since that happened. I didn't think I could stop it at this point with all the emotions surging through me. And I realized that I didn't want to stop it.


"I can know a lot about it. I know the difference between having sex and making love."


"Just how many times have you had sex?"


"A lot. I can't count."


"So you were lying about Becky!"


"No, I wasn't. Well, not at that point. We really hadn't done anything."


"But since then? How stupid can you be? Her father will never let you see her again."


I smirked.


"Wipe that smirk off your face, young man."


"Mom, her mom got her birth control pills. We make love in her bed. Her parents know."


"What are you talking about? You know better than this. You know what the church teaches. And you do this in her house with her parents' knowledge? What kind of parents does Becky have? I don't think you should see her anymore."


"We broke up, but do you think that will stop it? Really? Do you really think you can stop me from having sex?"


"Yes! You will stop. This is wrong. And you've had sex with her and you broke up with her? What kind of person are you?"


"Someone who knows how to love and be loved. And no, I won't stop. I've had sex with both Melanie and Jennifer."


I felt them cringe a little, and I squeezed them tighter to me.


"What? And how can you say this in front of Stephanie."


"She knows."


"Why would you tell her? What is wrong with you?"


"Nothing is wrong with me. Stephanie figured out that I had been with Birgit without any input from anyone else."


"I don't believe you."


"It's true," Stephanie said.


My mom stared at me, then at the girls.


"This is not over. You are grounded indefinitely. Except for work you are not leaving this house under any circumstances."


Something dark in me prodded me. It was no longer just emotion. It was anger. It was spite. I didn't care what happened.


"One question, Mom. Just one."


"What?"


"You were 25 when you met Dad. Were you a virgin?"


She turned red. I knew I had her. Of course, I knew the answer in advance.


"That's none of your business, young man."


I simply thrust the sword in deep.


"If you were, you would have said so. So you weren't. You're a hypocrite, Mom."


Anger and spite had triumphed. And I was happy.


I got up, and the girls stood up with me.


I walked them to the door and kissed each one on the cheek and said "I'll be fine now. Thanks."


"You're sure?" asked Jennifer.


"Yes. I'll call you this afternoon."


"You will not!" my mom spat.


"Jennifer, I'll call you this afternoon," I repeated, louder this time, with firmness.


They left.


Stephanie looked at me, looked at Mom, and then said "The love of his life died yesterday and this is how you treat him? I don't believe this!" and then went to her room.


I loved my sister. I knew she'd pay for that and there wasn't much I could do about it now.


I went down the hall to my room, shut the door, closed the drapes and collapsed on my bed. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. My heart was broken. I lay there for perhaps an hour. I knew what I had to do. I dreaded it.


I picked up the phone and dialed a number. I heard the ring and waited. A voice I didn't recognize answered.


"Good evening, this is Steve Adams calling from the US. My I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Andersson, please."


I heard some rapid-fire Swedish that included my name. And then "One moment."


Mr. Andersson came to the phone. "Hello, Steve. How are you?"


"Not very good sir, as you could imagine."


"Yes. My wife told me she had called Melanie and asked her to talk to you. She felt it was better than trying to say it to you over the telephone."


"She was right. I just had to call and tell you how sorry I am that this happened and that if it were possible, I would come for the funeral."


"We understand, Steve. She would, too. She loved you, it was obvious."


"I loved her, too."


"There is a letter here she wrote to you. I will post it to you later this week. I think her mother will write you a letter as well, and I will wait for that."


I didn't know if I could handle that. But I said "Thank you, sir."


"Steve, I need to go now. But you may call here any time. And if you do come to Sweden, please come to see us."


"Thank you, Mr. Andersson. «Hej då»"


"She taught you some Swedish? Wonderful! «Hej då»."


I collapsed back on the bed, tears streaming down my face. My Birgit was dead.

II. The First Step

June 11, 1978

I must have fallen asleep after the call to Birgit's family. I woke to a knock on the door.


"Come in," I croaked.


Stephanie came into my room. She shut the door behind her and locked it. She went into the bathroom and locked the door to Jeff's room, then came back and sat next to me on the bed.


"How are you, big brother?"


"Bad, Squirt. Really bad."


"I can tell. Mom and Dad have been talking and arguing for over an hour. She wants to ground you basically forever. She thinks that's the only way to make you change your behavior. Dad doesn't agree. He actually is arguing for no punishment because of how devastated you are. I'm not sure what's going to happen."


"Whatever happens, happens. Mom can't change the facts. I loved Birgit more than anything. She's gone now. And I have to deal with that, even if Mom doesn't think so."


"I'm going to try to talk to her when they're done, but I don't know if it will do any good."


"Don't get in trouble, Steph."


"I don't care. She can't treat you like this. It's not right!"


"I know, but mom has to be who she is. You won't change her."


"How did you know?"


"Know what?"


"That Mom had sex before she met Dad?"


I couldn't let on that dad had told me. If that got back to Mom, Dad would be in real trouble. I didn't like lying to Stephanie, but I didn't feel I had a choice.


"It was a guess. She was 25 when they met, and she had her own apartment. Think about where they met, too, Squirt."


"Las Vegas!"


"Yeah, not exactly where you go as a good girl for vacation in 1961!"


"Oh my god! So she did. And you called her a hypocrite!"


"Yep. I'm done playing games about church and morality with her. I told Fr. Buschmiller that I wasn't sorry for having sex. Do you think what I did with Birgit was a sin?"


"Well, it was. But I kinda see your point. No, I guess I wouldn't call it a sin, either. That would make it like dirty or nasty. But it wasn't, was it?"


"No Stephanie, it wasn't. It was beautiful and loving, and there is no way I could ever call it a sin. That's why I don't go to communion. I wrote that stuff in my journal."


"Yeah, but I'm confused about some of the moral and religious stuff you write in there. I don't really understand it. But I understand love. And I see how much you really loved her."


"I did, Squirt, I did. I do. I always will."


"So what about Becky?"


"We're done. Well, I did promise to go there for dinner in a month, but I think we're done. I have to call her and tell her about Birgit. I'm afraid she'll think that without Birgit in my life, she can get me back. But I don't think I want to. Birgit wasn't the main reason I broke up with Becky."


I got up, blew my nose and lay back down on the bed.


"I couldn't give Becky what she wanted."


Stephanie interrupted. "Orgasms?" she said with a smirk.


In all this, Stephanie made me smile.


"Squirt, she had plenty of those. Amazing ones. You know what I meant. She wanted to be Mrs. Stephen Adams. Right now. Not after college. Not even after high school. I made the mistake of making love with her. Even though she denied it several times, she felt that was the commitment. I should never have done it. But I can't undo it. Just like I can't undo what happened with Jennifer."


"Wait, you said you were going to call her. Are you talking again?"


"Not yet. She's ready. But I can't undo it. All we can do is move forward and see what happens. It will be different from it was because we're different. We both changed. God, Birgit was so smart. She knew we would change. That's why she insisted on me dating. Why did she have to die?"


I was crying again. Stephanie lay next to me and hugged me.


"I don't know, Steve, I don't know."


After a couple of minutes, she got up and said, "I should go before Mom comes. Come find me later, OK?"


"Sure. I need to call Becky now. Then I'm going to call Jennifer."


Stephanie slipped out of the room. I thought about getting the journal out, but I didn't want to have it out when Mom was certainly coming to find me at some point. There would be time for that later.


I dialed Becky's number. I was happy that her mom answered.


"Mrs. van Hoek," I said, "may I please speak to Becky?"


"I'm not sure that's a good idea. She said you guys agreed not to talk until dinner next month. She's pretty upset."


"Under normal circumstances, I would agree. But things aren't normal today. It's really important. Please let me speak to her."


She paused, as if thinking about it.


"Let me see if she'll come to the phone."


I heard her set the receiver down and walk out of the room.


A minute later Becky came on the line. "Hi Steve," she said evenly.


"Hi Becky."


"I thought we weren't going to talk until next month when you come to dinner."


"We weren't. But something happened I have to tell you about."


"OK."


"Birgit died in a boating accident yesterday."


"What? Oh my gosh! How are you doing?"


"Not good. Not good at all."


"Do you need me to come over? I can get my mom to bring me."


"No; not today. My mom is freaked out about my reaction and when she found out I had made love with Birgit she went off the deep end. She also knows I've been with you. I suspect she'll call your mom and dad to tell them what terrible parents they are for letting us make love at your house."


"She knows?"


"I told her. I don't want to rehash the entire conversation, but I lost my temper and it came out. Just let your parents know. OK?"


"Steve, will you see me before next month? Please?"


"Yes; if that's what you want. I can't make any promises about how I'll feel. Right now I just need friends. OK?"


"Yes. Can I come over in a couple of days? Mom will bring me, I'm sure."


"My mom might try to ground me permanently, but yes. Come over on Wednesday. We can talk. Nothing more, though? OK? I can't do anything more than just talk."


"You know I love you and I'm sorry you lost your friend and that you hurt so badly."


"Thanks Becky. Just come after 2:00pm. OK? And you can stay as late as your parents allow."


"Sure. Bye!"


"Bye."


I wasn't sure it was a good idea, but if I could salvage a friendship with Becky, I would.


My next call was to Andreas. I told him what happened and asked for a couple of days off. He told me to take the rest of the week and not worry about it. I thanked him and told him I would see him on Saturday and hung up.


I called Larry. He was doing OK, but was quite sad, of course. We talked for about ten minutes, and I could tell he was really making sure I was OK. I told him to stop by later if he wanted to check on me. He said he would.


Finally, I called Jennifer.


"Hi Jennifer."


"Hi Steve, how are you."


"About like you would expect, I guess. Broken, hurt, defeated, lost."


"I'm so sorry. How can I help?"


"Come over and stay with me, please. Until I tell you to leave. Can you do that? Will your mom bring you?"


"What do you mean until you tell me to leave?"


"Bring some changes of clothes. We have a lot to talk about. It could take days."


"Are you being serious? What about your mom?"


"I don't care. I don't think she'll call the police. That's the only way she'll be able to get you away from me. Larry will stop by later, too. Same thing. I'm just going to ignore the grounding."


"Let me check with Mom. I'll be right back."


"Mom will bring me over in about an hour. I'll bring some extra clothes. She did ask where I would be sleeping."


"Tell her Stephanie's room. Stephanie will have no issue with that."


"OK. See you in an hour."


"Thanks, Jennifer."


I stripped off my clothes and got in the shower. I just let the warm water pour over me. It felt good and I felt somewhat alive again. I got out and dried off and walked into my room to find Stephanie waiting there. I quickly turned, grabbed a towel from the bathroom and walked back into my bedroom.


She was laughing. "Impressive."


Great, I just flashed my little sister! At least she was being silly about it.


"Oh shut up. It's not that great."


"Well, I haven't seen any at all since we were little."


"Good. And I hope it's a long time before you see another one!"


"I came to warn you that Mom's looking for you. I know I shouldn't have been in here when you were in the shower, but I wanted to warn you."


"Thanks. Jennifer will be here in about 45 minutes. And Larry will likely come by later, too. And Becky is coming on Wednesday."


"Becky? Why?"


"Because I need all the friends I have to get me through this. And that includes Becky. I told her it's just as friends."


"Mom is going to flip her wig. She's grounding you for the summer. I think that's the best Dad could do."


My temper was starting to flare up again. I could feel it. I didn't do anything to control it.


"I'm not grounded."


"What?"


"I'm going to ignore it. What's she going to do? Kick me out? I'll move in with Becky."


"Wait, what would that do?"


"Piss Mom off."


"But would you sleep with her?"


"I'd marry her."


"Steve, you can't be serious!"


"As a heart attack. And I'll tell mom that, too. Or maybe I'll suggest Melanie's house so we can have sex in the sauna and invite Michelle over so the three of us can have sex together again."


"Wait a minute? You and Melanie had sex with Michelle at Melanie's house? At the same time?"


"Yeah Squirt. Not in my journal. But it happened. I guess I probably should record things like that so I remember in the future."


"Whoa! So you're just going to tell her off?"


"Yes. I know she won't kick me out. Well, I'm pretty sure. I don't think Dad would let her. And if she does, I have options."


"Wow."


I walked to the kitchen and got a Coke. I saw Mom but just turned and started back for my room.


"Stephen Mark Adams. Come into your Dad's office right now."


I walked in and shut the door. I sat on the couch and gave my mom the most petulant look I knew how.


"You are grounded for the summer. No going out except for work and summer school. No friends visiting. No telephone calls. And you will go to church every Sunday. You will go to confession and you will make things right with Fr. Buschmiller."


My temper was already flaring up. The church stuff put me right over the top. I just didn't care now.


"I am not going to church unless I want to. I will not go to confession unless I want to. And I don't want to. I have nothing at all to confess. That requires repentance, and if you think I'm going to repent for making love with Birgit, you are wrong. Jennifer will be here in about 30 minutes. Larry is coming later. Becky is coming on Wednesday."


"They are not. They will not be allowed in this house."


"I hope you're prepared to call the police. That's the only way you can stop it."


"I will call their parents."


"Well, I suppose that might work with Becky's mom, but I'm not sure. As for Jennifer's mom, good luck. She knows about Jennifer and me. That we were lovers. And Mrs. Higgins will be on my side as well. So, yeah, go call the parents."


I had a full head of steam now.


"As for being grounded? I'll see my friends when I want to. Here and elsewhere. I have a bike. I have friends that drive. I can walk. So no, I'm not accepting this. The love of my life died and you are grounding me because of it. Well, I'm not having it."


"As long as you live in this house young man, you will follow these rules," mom said.


"Mom, I've followed your rules. I obey the curfew. I tell you everywhere I go, who I'm going with, and where we're going, I do my chores, I get good grades, I save money. With the single exception of my sex life, which is none of your damn business in any way, shape, or form, you know everything I do."


The temper was in full control now.


"If you are threatening to kick me out, I'll go call Mr. van Hoek right now, tell him I made a big mistake, that I do love his daughter, and will marry her. We'll get engaged immediately. I'll ask to move in. They have a guest room. Or I might stay in her room, since we'd be engaged. Mr. van Hoek is a lawyer, I'm sure he could sort things out."


"You can't do that!"


"I will if you kick me out. I'm sure they'll take me. And so would the Spencers. That would be better, actually, since I wouldn't have to transfer to Indian Hill High School. Then I'd be walking distance from the school and I could stay in Melanie's room."


"What?"


"Yeah. The Spencers know that Melanie and I had sex. In fact, Mrs. Spencer saw us having sex. And you know what? She knows that Melanie and I had a threesome at her house. They'd let me move in. I'm sure of it."


"You are out of control young man."


I sure was. She was right. I just didn't care.


"Maybe I am. Earlier you basically admitted you weren't a virgin when you met Dad. I wonder what a single woman was doing in Las Vegas in 1961? Hardly the place for a moral, devout Roman Catholic," I spat.


"That was different!" She gasped, flustered that I’d thrown that back at her.


"If you say so. I don't see it. I doubt anyone else would. So, do I call to find a new place to live?"


She walked out of the room in a huff.


"Steve, you went too far," my dad said.


"Dad, I'm upset. I guess distraught is the word. I lost my temper. I don't care. She can't see that I'm broken up about Birgit. She couldn't even wait a few days until I had dealt with it at least on a basic level. I just don't care."


"Son, you can't talk to your mom like that."


"Dad, between us, do you think I should be grounded because Birgit died?"


"No, of course not. But that's not why she's grounding you. It's the sex."


"I know. And she can't really do anything about that. Well, I suppose military school, but I'm not doing that. I'm sorry she doesn't like it, I really am. But I am who I am."


My dad thought for a minute. "I'm not sure what she's going to do. There will be fallout."


"Yes, I know. But I was serious. I follow her rules. Always. I'll keep following them. But I won't let her interfere with my friends and lovers."


"Steve, you've fifteen. Your mom and I do have some say in your life. And you have to get control of your temper."


"Yes, you do have a say. But at this point, shouldn't it be about communication and respect? And allowing me to make decisions, even when they are bad ones? It's the only way to grow up. Birgit taught me that."


"You make a good point. I'll discuss it with your mom. But it's going to be hard. She doesn't want you to grow up. In the next few days, I hope you see clear to apologize to her for the way you talked to her. Not about what you said, but how you said it. If you want respect, you have to show respect."


"Yes, Dad. I'll do that. Now I need to go cool down, wash my face and stuff before Jennifer gets here."


"OK, Son. About that comment about Melanie? A threesome? Were you making that up to get your mom's goat?"


"No, Dad. It happened."


He just shook his head as I walked out of the room.


I went and washed my face and made sure there were enough Cokes in the fridge. I went to find Stephanie.


"I was outside the office, I heard."


"Snooping as usual!"


"What are little sisters for?" she grinned. "Besides, I can't help you as well if I don't know what's going on."


"You really are amazing, Squirt."


"I am, aren't I?"


I smacked her for that one. But softly.


Jennifer arrived about ten minutes later carrying an overnight bag. I grabbed a couple of Cokes and we walked down the hall to my room.


I saw Stephanie in her room and told her to go get a Coke or something and come back to join us. She came in, shut the door and plopped down in the beanbag chair. Jennifer and I were sitting cross-legged on the bed facing each other.


Jennifer looked at me with an arched eyebrow.


"Stephanie knows everything. I mean everything. I keep a journal. She reads it. With my permission."


"Wow!"


"She's here because I'm not allowed to have girls in my room. This way, I have something of a defense when Mom sees us."


"Oh. I guess that makes sense."


"I don't want to talk to you out in the living room, and I don't feel like going outside."


"Whatever you need," Jennifer said.


"It's been a couple of months now since we did anything more than say 'hi' at the lunch table. Where should we start? "


"Becky."


"I guess that's as good a place as any," I said, nodding. "The first thing you need to know is I broke it off with her. We called it a one-month cooling off period but we both know it's over. She had given me a necklace for my birthday. It had a ring on it that had her name inscribed. She had a matching one with my name. Last Sunday she took that off and put it on her bed. I took mine off and dropped it on top of hers. We both knew what that meant."


"I don't know what to say," Jennifer said after a moment's silence. "I know you loved her. For that to happen and then this thing with Birgit, you must be a complete wreck."


"Yes. But without you and Melanie, I'd be worse. I'm so happy you agreed to talk to me. I want to be your friend."


"Nothing more?"


I could hear a hint of hopefulness in her question. But I wasn't in a state to even think about it. We had a lot to talk about, too.


"Jennifer, what we had was beautiful. I would love to have it again. But I know better than to even think that's possible. First of all, we've both changed. A lot has happened since that last time we made love. Let's repair our friendship and see where we are. Total honesty. That's what was good about us."


"Except for my deception when we made love the first time. I wasn't honest with you. And that's the real source of the problem. And then I forced you to go to Becky. I'm so sorry."


"Jennifer, I love you. I never stopped loving you. The past is water under the bridge. I mean it. Chalk it up to a bad decision made with the right heart and let's move on. Be my friend."


"I never stopped being your friend, Steve. I never stopped loving you. I just hurt so bad that I couldn't keep doing what we were doing. I pushed you to make love to me when we were supposed to be taking it slow. I basically ordered you to have sex with Becky when you were trying to take it slow. I made a total mess of things."


"Jennifer," I said, taking her hands. "Stop! I get it. I know. Put it behind you and let's start over. I don't care what happened in the past. I only care about the future. And I have to repair my friendships. First with you, then with Melanie. And I have to shore things up with Larry. And I have to repair my friendship with Becky as well."


"Becky? What do you mean?" she asked, confusion in her voice.


"I mean I was friends with Becky before we took that step. I want to make sure that we talk things through and remain friends. I'm not looking to restart our relationship. She's coming by on Wednesday so we can talk. As friends."


"OK. I just was confused a bit. But I guess if you and Melanie can be friends, and you and Mary, and you and Michelle, then it does make sense."


"I don't know if it's possible, but I'm sure going to try. It'll be up to Becky. She'll have to accept that it's just friendship for it to happen. I'm not sure she can."


The phone rang. Stephanie answered it.


When she hung up she said, "Larry's on his way."


We went out to the living room to wait for him. I wondered where my mom was, but I certainly wasn't going to look for her. Larry arrived and we played some pool, talked, and hung out. It was good to have the gang back together. Stephanie joined us, at my request. I liked hanging out with her, and she was a very, very strong ally, and really, a guardian angel.


Late in the afternoon I asked Dad to get us some Famous Recipe and gave him $20 to pay for it. He told me I didn't have to pay, but I insisted. He was back in half-an-hour and we ate chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. I managed to smile a few times and even laughed at a bad joke Larry told.


After we ate, Larry headed home. Jennifer and I went for a walk. I filled her in on what had been going on the past couple of months. I told her about Joyce, Anna, Bethany and Kellie, though I left out the details about Bethany. I'd have to ask Bethany before I shared those.


I told Jennifer about how things had developed with Becky, how they had gone wrong and drew the parallels to our own relationship. I told her about the issues with Melanie and Pete, about the blow-up during Spring Break and the subsequent events that led to the huge fight that Melanie and I had at the deli."


Jennifer just listened. When I finished, it was her turn to tell me what she'd been doing. Mostly she had concentrated on schoolwork and playing chess. She surprised me by saying that she had gone out on two dates, with two different guys, but wasn't interested in a second date with either one. When I asked why, she just looked at me and smiled.


She still had it bad for me. Just like I did for her. And there was no Becky in the way. And no Birgit. That last thought brought me to tears again. Jennifer said nothing, just walked and let me think. I wasn't ready to hop back into a relationship like I had with Becky or Jennifer before. I thought again of Birgit and how she said that things would work out as they should.


I couldn't imagine Birgit's death being how things should work out - fate, or God, or the universe had taken her from me and it made no sense. I mourned for her, but I knew that eventually I would have to move on. Eventually I would have to grow. I resolved again that I was going to go and say a proper goodbye to her. I was going to be an exchange student to Sweden.


"Jennifer, I want to be friends. I want to do stuff together. I want to play chess, talk, and just enjoy being with you. Can we do that?"


"Yes," she smiled. "We can do that."


I took her hand in mine and we walked that way for a while. We decided to walk back through the woods along a path I knew. We came to a small clearing with a pond. I stopped, took her in my arms and gave her a bear hug. She returned it. We rejoined hands and walked back to the house.


I decided that before I went to bed, I was going to apologize to Mom. In addition to being the right thing to do, it's what Dad needed me to do. He was right, of course. I asked Jennifer to hang out with Stephanie while I went to see my parents.


They were in Dad's office, as usual.


I shut the door and said "Mom, I need to apologize for how I spoke to you before. I lost my temper. It was wrong. It was disrespectful and obnoxious. I know that if I want respect I have to give it. I didn't. I'm sorry."


I waited. She said nothing. I waited some more. Finally my dad spoke up.


"Judy, did you hear what he said?"


"I don't think he means it."


"Fine Mom," I sighed. "I'll try again some other time."


I left the room. I wanted to be mad, but I couldn't. I knew I had really gone off on her in a way that wasn't right. I was in such an emotional state that I'd had no control. That wasn't an excuse, but it was the truth.


I went to find Jennifer and Stephanie. We went to the living room turned on the television and sat down. Stephanie made some popcorn and we ate and half-watched two movies while we talked.


My dad came in and asked when Jennifer was leaving.


"In a couple of days. I need her with me. She's sleeping in Stephanie's room."


"Your Mom won't be happy, but I understand. OK, Son."


Over the next two days, Jennifer and I spent a lot of time just being together. There were still serious issues that had to be dealt with before we could decide where our relationship was headed. I had a lot of grief to get over. In the whirlwind of emotions I was going through, somehow, being with her felt right. I knew we'd have to re-cover a lot of the discussions once I was in a better state of mind, but I saw a glimmer of hope.


Just before she left on Tuesday afternoon, she said "When you're ready, and I know that’s down the road a piece, if you ask me on a date, I’ll say yes."


"That's a deal. Remember, though, I don't have sex on the first date."


"We'll see," she said with a smile.


We both laughed.


We'd taken the first step.

III. Trying to Fix Things

June, 1978

On Tuesday evening, after Jennifer left, Melanie called. She asked how I was doing and told her I was better. Instead of feeling like my heart had been ripped from my chest, it just felt like I had a huge hole there. She said she was doing better, but still couldn't believe that Birgit was gone. That made two of us.


She had called Pete. He was somewhat cold to her, but agreed to meet her for ice cream on Wednesday. I told her that was a good sign. I gave her the same marching orders as that day in the deli. Go apologize. Work it out. Make sure he knew she wanted him back. And that she was sorry.


"So," she sighed, "what if he won't take me back?"


"I think he will. Don't go in with a negative attitude. Make sure he knows how you feel."


"I will," she agreed. "What about us?"


"There is no us until you do this, Melanie Spencer. And no sabotaging things with Pete so you can have sex with me. Remember what I said."


"I do. Will you still be my friend?"


"I never stopped being your friend, Melanie. That's why I'm doing this. I love you. I hope you know that."


"I do. I guess I forgot when I got mad at you for not having sex with me."


"Don't forget again!"


"Yes, Steve."


"Go get your boyfriend back."


"Yes, Steve."


I called Bethany and asked if it would be OK if I biked over on Wednesday morning. I needed to talk to her and it had to be face to face. She checked with her mom and said to come around 9:00am. I told her I'd see her in the morning.


I called Joyce and let her know. She was very concerned and asked if I needed anything. I told her that I just needed friends right now and if she wanted to stop by on Thursday or Friday, I'd welcome it. She said she'd come by on Thursday afternoon.


I called Anna as well. She expressed her concern and said she wished she could see me before the end of the month. I told her I was doing OK and I had good support from my friends. She told me to call her if I needed to talk. I thanked her and told her I'd call her in a few days.


My last call was to Jennie. She started crying as I told her what happened. She asked if I wanted to come over on Sunday, perhaps I could do some yard work. I knew she wanted to talk and told her to please call my mom and ask her. I'd love to go work in her yard.


I pulled out my journal and started writing. I wrote five pages of my feelings about Birgit and what happened. I decided I needed to put it aside for a few minutes and try to talk to my mom again.


I found Mom and Dad in his office again. I shut the door, like last time.


"Mom. I know I said this before. I know you didn't think I meant it, but I did. I do need to apologize for how I spoke to you. I completely lost my temper. It was disrespectful. I should not have done it. I was very upset and wasn't thinking straight. I'm sorry."


She was quiet again. I waited. Nothing. Dad spoke again.


"Judy, that's enough. He is apologizing, damn it! This girl he loved died and all you can think about is that they had sex. What is with you?"


She got up and left the room. I started after her.


"Steve, let it be. She's not ready to hear it. Give her a couple of days."


"OK, Dad. I owe you an apology as well. I shouldn't have talked to mom that way. I lost my temper. I was out of control. I know why, because I was emotional. But that's not an excuse. I'm sorry, Dad."


"Son, I can't even imagine what you're going through. But you do have to learn to control your temper and your emotions. You really hurt your mom with the way you talked to her. Wait a few days and try again."


"Yes, Dad."


I went back to my room and wrote several more pages in the journal.


Wednesday morning I awoke with a start. It took me a moment to gather my senses. As a morning person, I usually woke up quickly and bounced out of bed. Something was wrong. Then it hit me like a freight train - Birgit's funeral was today. It was probably happening right at that moment! I cried. It took me about 20 minutes to compose myself enough to get up and shower.


I felt better after the shower, but I knew the hole in my heart would be there for a long, long time. I needed my friends. All of them. I was determined to fix every one of the relationships. Right now, Larry, Jennifer, Melanie and Becky were a lifeline. Then there was Stephanie, who had been there for me since I had been with Birgit. They would get me through this.


I ate breakfast, checked the pool, and then biked over to Bethany's house. She let me in and offered me OJ or milk. I took the OJ. I told her what I had to say was really important and I didn't mind if her mom was there. She looked concerned, but said nothing.


We sat at the kitchen table and I told her the broad outlines of the story, leaving out the fact that Birgit and I were lovers. When I got to the end, I had tears streaming down my face. I saw Bethany was crying as well. I apologized for upsetting her and told her I'd talk to her soon. I got up to leave.


"Steve, stop for just a minute," Bethany said, sniffing.


She looked at her mom and they exchanged a look. I saw Mrs. Krajick nod. Bethany came up to me, put her arms around me and hugged me. She kissed me on the cheek and told me how sorry she was. And then she let me go. It was only then that I noticed she hadn't been shaking. I told her I would call her, said goodbye, and rode home.


I arrived at home to find a message from Jennifer. I called her and she said she was checking on me and asked me to call her after Becky left, no matter how late. Her mom and dad knew I needed her and let her know that they would help in any way they could.


Around noon the phone rang. The voice on the phone raised my spirits immensely. It was Pete. Melanie had called him. They were going to meet later that day to talk. I told him I was happy for him. He told me not to get my hopes up because he was pretty upset with Melanie. I told him that I understood and hoped that he'd see fit to give her a second chance.


I told him I hoped we could get together over the summer, and I really hoped it was a double-date. He told me he'd love to get together but the double-dates would have to wait.


When I hung up, I immediately dialed Melanie's house, but there was no answer. I'd have to talk to her later. I went and took a shower and got ready for Becky to arrive. I was a bit nervous about the situation, and wondered if I was doing the right thing by seeing her. We hadn't had the cooling-off period on which we had agreed.


I was concerned that Becky would see this as an opportunity. Maybe not consciously, but very likely subconsciously, she would think that the way clear. Birgit was no longer an impediment. As far as Becky knew, Jennifer and I were still on the outs. Of course, fixing my friendship with Jennifer took precedence over anything else I might feel for her now or in the future.


I ran through how I wanted to talk to Becky and what I wanted to say. I had to be careful not to give her false hope or deceive her. I had to guard myself against trying to fill that hole in my heart by making love with Becky. Doing that could be a disaster. I knew my emotions made me vulnerable. I'd just have to keep them in check.


I went to find Stephanie and asked her to keep an eye on me and Becky. If she wanted to sit with us, I'd be fine. What I didn't want is for the situation to get out of hand. Stephanie agreed.


"So, big brother is afraid he can't keep his hands off his ex-girlfriend?"


"Not funny, Squirt."


"That's what you just told me, if you think about it."


"Yeah, I guess I did, didn't I? And you're right. I am afraid. I didn't feel that way with Jennifer. I guess I trusted her to keep me on the straight and narrow. But I'm afraid Becky will try to take advantage of the situation."


"She wouldn't really do that, would she?"


"Maybe not consciously, but perhaps subconsciously. We loved each other pretty deeply. Now the thing that was blocking a permanent relationship is out of the way. I have to be super careful."


"You know I'll help, Steve. Just don't be alone with her where something could happen."


"I won't. Thanks, Steph."


"So long as you aren't a dumb boy, you'll be fine," she said, sticking out her tongue.


"True."


"Wait, what happened to your usual comment?"


"Not in the mood, Squirt. Not in the mood."


"I don't know if you noticed, but Mom and I are fighting. She thinks you're corrupting me and that I need to stay away from you. She is scared to death that I'm going to be like you, and she blames you for that."


"I know sis, I know. I'm sorry."


"You never did anything except what you thought was right. I couldn't have a better brother. Mom doesn't like it that you have lots of sex. I don't think that's your problem. It's hers. And I will make up my own mind about it. But I'm not going to decide based on what she says. Especially since you found out about her not being a virgin!"


"Steph, be careful. Don't push her too hard. And be real careful on that virgin issue."


"Well, I'm not staying away from you and I told her so. She wasn't happy, but she can't really prevent it."


"You are awesome, Squirt!"


"I am, aren't I?"


She just couldn't resist the comeback.


I went to grab some lunch and picked up a book to read to wait for Becky's arrival.


Around 1pm I saw Mom and I said, "I'm ready to talk when you are. Just let me know."


She didn't respond. I had been way out of line and I knew it. But, she still insisted on treating me like I was eight or so, rather than fifteen, with a life independent of her, at least to a point, with my own needs, desires and dreams. I was growing up and she didn't like it. I didn't know if I could solve that problem or not.


Becky arrived just after 2:00pm. Her mom and dad came to the door with her and I invited them in. Becky hugged me and kissed my cheek. I was happy with that. It was a sign that she understood at least some limits were in place.


Mr. van Hoek said, "Steve, we're sorry for your loss. I don't know what to say beyond that. I know you and Becky had some kind of issue, and I know you were taking a time-out, but I'm glad you called her. I hope you two can work things out."


Mrs. van Hoek hugged me and said, "Steve, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."


I called Dad to come see Mr. van Hoek. I knew at some point they needed to talk and I figured face-to-face was good. They stepped outside to speak for a few minutes. I had an idea of what that conversation was about, but I figured Dad would tell me if I needed to know. Dad came back in and the van Hoeks left.


"Mom and Dad will pick me up when I call them. I brought a bag with a bathing suit and other stuff, so I can stay as long as you want, even overnight."


"Thanks Becky. Overnight isn't a good idea, but stay as late as you are able and still have your parents get you, OK?"


"Whatever you need."


"What I need is for us to talk. To sort out the mess we've created. To see what the next steps might be."


"I'd like that."


"Let's go sit on the deck," I suggested.


She nodded and we walked out past the pool, through the sliding glass doors to the deck. The day was warm, but not too warm, and there was a nice breeze. The heavily-wooded ground behind our house rapidly sloped away, leading to a valley. The view was beautiful and for a few minutes, we just stood and took it in.


I motioned Becky to sit down. We sat side-by-side in deck chairs, facing the valley.


"Becky, I'm sorry about how things turned out between us. I want to discuss everything and get everything on the table. I want to have an honest, no-holds-barred conversation. OK?"


"Yes."


"I'll say right up front I am in no state to re-start our romantic relationship. My emotional state is, well, unstable; I guess that's the best way to put it. For the same reason, I want to limit any physical interaction to hugs. I need these limits right now and I hope you're OK with them."


"Right now, I'm just glad you called me when this happened. That you would think of me and need me is important. From what you said, I can tell you are afraid I came here to try to get you back, to take advantage of Birgit's death. And you know what, you are probably right to be worried about that. I did think about that. It was tempting. But I knew if I did that, it would make things far worse."


"I'm relieved. I really am. So let's start with the most important thing. I still love you. If anything, Birgit's death has shown me just how important love is. I need as much love as I can get from my friends - you, Larry, Melanie and Jennifer. I've already taken steps to repair my friendship with the girls, and to recover the one with Larry that's kind of fallen between the cracks.


"Sadly, it took Birgit's death to get Melanie and Jennifer to talk to me again. I'm going to take full advantage of that. Jennifer spent a couple of days here just being with me. As a friend, nothing more. We have a long way to go to repair our friendship and figure out where we are, much like I do with you.


"Melanie finally called Pete. I hope they work things out. Her making that call was the first step to repairing our relationship as well. That one is very different, of course. I've made it clear to Melanie that I'm not available in any way, shape or form as anything other than a platonic friend. She needs to fix things with Pete. I'm pretty sure they'll get back together. She's had a huge loss as well - Birgit was like a sister to her.


"I spent some time with Larry, but not much. I need to spend time with him and just hang out. To get back to where we were. And to move forward. I need him as a friend and I've more or less let that friendship shrivel up. He's hurting too, since Birgit was his friend.


"That brings us to you. I made quite a few mistakes. I missed a lot of signs. I didn't listen to what you meant; I only heard what you said. The signs were all there and I ignored them. I let Jennifer push me, and you pull me, into a relationship that I couldn't sustain; that I couldn't handle. Don't get me wrong, making love to you was fantastic, but it was also a mistake."


"Steve, no! How could it be a mistake? We love each other!"


"Yes Becky, we do. But that step meant something very different to you than it did to me. Yes, it was an expression of love. The thing is, for you, it was as if I had given you an engagement ring. To you, your virginity was a promise for me to marry you eventually. You told me that in so many ways. Yes, yes, I know you said otherwise, but I ignored all the signs. In effect, I made love with you on false pretenses."


I had tears now - and they weren't tears for Birgit. They were tears for me. Tears for Becky. Tears for a ruined relationship. I couldn't give her back the thing I took from her. She wouldn't have that to give to anyone else. For some people, it wasn't that big of a deal. For Becky, I was sure it was.


"Becky, as I see it, your virginity was something precious you wanted to give to me on condition that I commit to you, kind of a pledge, I guess. Even though I was saying otherwise, I believe that's what it meant and what you meant by it. I can't undo it. I can't make any promises or commitments to you. I hurt you and I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me."


"Steve, I admit I lied to you. I did think that making love would pull you away from Jennifer and Birgit. But I lied to myself, too. I heard you say what you did. But I didn't believe you. Or rather, I believed that making love with you would overcome your resistance. That was dumb.


"But, it was amazing. As much as you're right about the pledge, I don't want it back. Sex with you was so good, it showed so much love and it moved me deeply. Remember, too, I wanted it, and not just for the long-term relationship I wanted, but because my body ached for you. Remember the day after Thanksgiving? I almost got past my fear and did what you wanted. Not because of the bet, but because I had a deep, uncontrollable need to be with you physically. I don't understand it; maybe I never will."


She had started crying as well. We had it out on the table. The question now was where did this lead to? I truly had no idea. My mind mapped out the possibilities like moves on a chess board. But the lines and variations were infinite. Jennifer figured prominently, just like before. What I had to do was avoid re-creating the same horrible situation.


I had to think about Bethany, Anna and Joyce as well. I was still seeing them and developing a relationship with each of them. Each offered something unique, something different, and in the case of Bethany, something completely unknown and quite risky. My safe option, if there was one, was Jennifer, but I knew I wasn't in a state to make that decision, and despite our banter before she left, it might never happen.


What did I want from Becky? I had no idea. None at all. All I knew was that I loved her. What I didn't know was if we could we establish a friendship. Would she see that as a promise of more in the future? Did I want to date her? Would she see that as a promise? Could I trust her if she said she didn't? Only time would tell. I knew I had to ask her.


"Becky, what do you want to do? How do you want to move forward? What do you want? Be honest. If you aren't, then we'll end up right back where we were at your house when we dropped the chains on the bed."


"I have no idea," she sighed. "When you left and we were going to take a month off, I knew it was over. Even if you came to dinner after a month, the necklaces on the bed told me we were through. I hated it. I hated you. I hated myself. I cried myself to sleep holding those necklaces. They're actually in my bag. Not because I thought we'd get back together, but because I want you to keep yours, even if you never wear it again.


"What we had was special. I would be a liar if I said I didn't want you back. But I can't handle your conditions and you can't handle my requirements. Not now. Maybe not ever. I hope that's not true. I hope somehow, in some way, fate is playing tricks on us now and that in the end we'll be together. But I can't plan on it.


"What do I want? I would like nothing better than for you to take me to your room and make love to me one last time. Well, maybe not the last time for forever, but the last time for now. But you already took that off the table. You're probably right - I don't know if I can handle being friends. I don't know if dating is the right thing to do. I just don't know."


"Becky, how about we just agree to talk on the phone? Talking can't hurt anything. It will keep us connected and we'll see where things lead. I can't promise anything except to be your friend. I hope you'll let me. But I'll understand if you can't. Will you at least try?"


"I guess I can try. For you, I guess I can try. I still love you so much it hurts. I miss you. Yes, let's do that."


I stood up and took her in my arms and hugged her. We stood there for a few minutes.


"Would you still come to dinner in 3 weeks like we talked?"


"Yes, of course," I said.


"And if I ask you to make love to me one last time then?"


That was a minefield I knew I shouldn't enter. But I didn't want to hurt her. Or lead her on.


"I can't answer that question now. I'm pretty sure it's a bad idea. But, we'll talk about it. OK?"


"Yes."


"Want to hop in the pool?"


"Sure."


We spent the rest of the day in the pool, and playing pool. We took a long walk and just talked. After dinner she called her parents to come and pick her up. When she hung up, she went to her bag and pulled out the chain with her ring on it and handed it to me. I took it and walked her down the hall to my room. I hung it over the post on the headboard of my bed. She smiled at that.


We walked back to the living room to wait for her parents. I told her to call whenever she wanted to talk and I would do the same, but at least once a week until we met again for dinner at her house. We sat in silence then waiting for her parents. When they arrived, I hugged her and we exchanged a quick kiss, and then she got in the car and they drove away.


I went to call Jennifer like she had asked. She asked a few questions and I think she was satisfied that I wasn't going to change what I intended to do. She encouraged me to remember that she loved me and was there for me whenever I needed her.


After I hung up, I wrote a couple of pages in the journal, trying to sort out my feelings. They were so jumbled and conflicting that I couldn't do it. But, I was a bit more upbeat. I had fixed things to a point where I was talking to the people with whom I had broken relationships, and that was good.


On Thursday morning I made a decision - I called Bethany and asked her to ask Doctor Mercer for the name of someone who dealt with teen problems and with grief. I had seen how Doctor Mercer was helping Bethany over her trauma, and how Jennie McGrath had suffered for five years before being able to get on with her life. I didn't want that to be me.


Yes, I was trying to move forward and keep a positive outlook, but I was still in such turmoil that I didn't trust anything I was thinking or doing because of all the emotions. Was I trying to fill the hole by papering over things too easily? Was I going to fall back into the same traps? I didn't want to. I needed help.


Bethany said she would ask. I went to tell Dad about that and he was a bit surprised. When I explained that I thought I needed help with my temper, my emotions, and dealing with Birgit, he gave his approval. I told him maybe it would help with Mom. He thought it might, but she was still in a terrible state. I said there wasn't much I could do until she was willing to talk. He nodded agreement.


On Thursday afternoon, Joyce came by as planned. When she came to the door, she told me to grab anything I needed and come with her. I asked what kind of stuff I might need. Anything I'd need on a date, she said.


I went to my room, grabbed my wallet and my house keys. I thought about it for a moment, and then grabbed a couple of rubbers from my box. She had said whatever I needed for a date. I knew I could certainly use that kind of release, at least physically, but was Joyce the right person? I'd cross that bridge if and when we came to it.


I told dad that we were heading out and that I'd be back before 10:00pm. Joyce and I got in her car.


"Where are we going?" I asked.


"Well, how about some ice cream to start?"


"Sounds good. It always cheers me up."


She drove us to Graeter's. We both ordered sundaes.


When we sat down to eat, Joyce smiled and said, "Do you want my cherry?"


What? She had to be joking, but, why not play along.


"Sure! I was wondering when you would offer."


I took the cherry from her sundae and popped it into my mouth.


"Not that one!" she said breaking out in laughter.


She was teasing me.


"Too bad you couldn't keep a straight face. I might have actually believed you."


"Yeah. I know you needed cheering up so I thought I'd pull that line and see how you reacted. I guess it's a good sign that you went along with it."


"Yeah. I'm in a bad state, no question. I asked my dad about seeing someone to work on my temper. I really laid into my mom the other day. She was on my case about having sex with Birgit instead of letting me deal with her death. I completely lost it. I was out of control. I need to learn how to control my temper and emotions better."


"That's, good, I think. Let me ask you, though, just out of curiosity, mind you, if I had kept a straight face would you have believed me?"


"Maybe. You've implied several times that at some point our relationship would progress past kissing. But you've always been very, well, conservative with how you handle that. And I'm fine with that. I've told you that several times."


"Yes, you did. And you don't think I'm a tease?"


"No Joyce, you're not a tease. I wouldn't mind if you teased me more. There's a difference between being a tease and teasing. The first one is when you purposefully get the guy all excited and imply that things will happen, but then leave him hanging. The second is making jokes and being silly. I remember a female friend once was eating a banana, and doing so suggestively. Then she bit down. Hard. We both laughed about it. That's teasing. And it's just fine.


"Remember, I obey the boundaries. So if lines are drawn, I'm OK with it. That's not being a tease, either. I'd say it's when you draw a boundary, but then go past it, only to bring it back. And you do that repeatedly. So, say, your rule was no touching under clothes, but then you put your hand in my shirt. Then when I tried to do the same, you stopped me and said no touching under clothes. And then you did it again. That's when it gets to being a tease.


"It's kind of hard to explain for me since most guys think getting them worked up and not giving them 'relief' is being a tease. I don't. Sure, I have the same urges, but I also know that no girl owes me anything. That was really driven home by a new friend of mine who was raped before I met her. She wasn't being a tease, she just kissed the guy and let him touch her over her clothes. He took that as license to rape her."


"Oh my god. So he thought she was being a tease when she tried to stop him from going further?"


"Yeah, I would say that's probably true. If I ever find out who it was and meet him, I'll be sure to ask him before he dies."


"What?"


"I have no idea who it is. She won't tell me, and that's probably best all around. But a guy like that who would hurt a sweet young girl like my friend, well, he deserves whatever might come his way."


"You really believe that, don't you?"


"Joyce, no girl owes any guy anything. Ever. You only do what you want when you want and nothing more. Any guy who doesn't follow that rule is, well, slime."


"You know, you're pretty amazing. So you follow those limits? Really?"


"Joyce, I've had a naked girl in front of me, saying she wanted to have sex and I made her put her clothes on because I could tell she was scared out of her mind. Her body was screaming for sex, but she wasn't mentally or emotionally ready. So I refused."


"Wait, you had a naked girl in front of you and you refused to have sex with her?"


"Yes. Even though she said there were no boundaries, there were. I sensed them. And I honored them. I did eventually sleep with her, but that was some time later. By the way, this same girl got into bed with me at a party and I turned her down then, too, since I didn't have any birth control available."


"So a girl could trust you to not take things too far then?"


"Absolutely."


We finished our ice cream and then walked along Main Street and along the river. We talked. I told her the complete story about Birgit, about everything that had happened and about our plans. I cried, of course, but not quite as much as earlier in the week - I guess I was more or less cried out.


Joyce didn't say much, she just listened and asked the occasional question. I found the more I talked about Birgit the better I felt. Not that I was feeling good, but that I was somehow coming to terms with her death. I wasn't sure I'd be over it until I was in Stockholm to say goodbye. And I knew that would tear me to pieces again.


Eventually Joyce suggested we get some food. I suggested Skyline and she thought that was a good idea.


"Should we get it to go and take it back to your house?"


"We could, though I have another option if you trust me."


"I think so, but tell me first."


"First, I need to check something."


We walked back to her car and I directed her to the apartment building. I asked her to wait in the car, checked the mailbox to find no letter sticking out. I opened it and adjusted the envelope and went back to the car.


"Let's go get our Skyline takeout."


"What were you doing?"


"Checking if my boss' apartment was free, and it is. We can eat there, if that's OK. If you aren't comfortable, we can take it to my house and eat on the deck."


"So we'd be alone?"


"Yes."


She didn't say anything more until we had driven to Skyline and got our order. We walked back to the car.


"So, where to?" she asked.


"That's up to you. Apartment or house. Either one is fine. No expectations either way. And no disappointment."


"I can trust you?"


"Yes. But you have to make the decision."


She put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot. Left would be my house; right would be the apartment. She turned right and navigated back to the apartment building. We walked up and I let her in. I put the food on the table, turned on the radio, and went to the fridge to grab a couple of Cokes. I laughed when I saw the sundae stuff still there.


"What's so funny?"


"Oh, you remember that story I told you about the 'cherry' girl? Well I have chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cherries here. I made a "Kellie Sundae" when we came here.


"So this is how you manage to have sex without getting caught!"


"Well, yes and no. I've been lucky enough to have been with girls who have understanding parents."


"You have sex at their houses? And their parents know?"


"Crazy isn't it? My parents would flip their wigs if I did that at my house. But I've been lucky."


"My parents would kill you if you tried that."


"I'd be more worried about your grandfather."


"Yeah, there is that, isn't there?"


"I'd be afraid to find a horse's head in my bed."


"Grandfather is too nice to do that, since he likes horses so much," she said with a smile.


"I'll keep that in mind. But I'm a boy, not a horse."


"True. So what is this 'Kellie Sundae' thing?"


"I put chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry on, uhm, interesting, spots and then licked them off."


"You didn't!"


"I most certainly did! And if you would like a demonstration, all you need to do is ask."


"I'll let you know," she giggled nervously.


I just smiled. We got out our food and ate our 5-way chili. Skyline Chili is some of the best in the country, and having it 5-way is the way to go. It started with spaghetti covered with chili, then shredded cheddar cheese, plus onions and beans. Great stuff.


We finished eating and I tossed the bags and containers in the trash. I excused myself to take a leak and came back to find her sitting on the sofa. I went and sat on the opposite end of the sofa and just relaxed.


"I don't bite, you know," she said.


"That's too bad," I said.


She laughed. "Don't be so sure! Remember your friend with the banana!"


"Ouch."


"Exactly."


"Were you inviting me to sit closer?"


"Yes."


I moved to sit right next to her. I took her left hand in my right and we just sat there quietly. I wasn't sure if I should progress things or not. I was content to sit there just holding her hand. I wondered how far this would go, and how far I would let it go. I was so messed up emotionally I didn't know if I could handle it.


Truth be told, I was a bit gun-shy. Sex had messed up so many things in my life. If this were Mary, I'd have no qualms at all. The same was true with Melanie, if Pete weren't in the picture at all. I still had to decide what to do about Vickie, though that situation was very different from this since there was no risk of a relationship given that we were first cousins, and even if it went badly, we could easily avoid each other except for the mandatory family gatherings. Even then it was easy enough to stay apart and move on with our lives.


My mind was wandering again. It was no surprise to me that it wandered to Birgit. I missed her. She had such a healthy outlook on life; I wondered if I could develop something like that. Develop the confidence to do what she did; gain the understanding of life she had. In my mind I shook my fist at fate for taking such a wonderful person so young.


I pulled my thoughts back to the here and now. What was I doing? Why did I offer to bring Joyce here? Why did she come? I think the teasing about the cherry pulled me back to Kellie, which made me think of this place. So I had offered, expecting to be turned down. But she said yes. Her voice snapped me back to the apartment.


"What are you thinking about?"


"My mind was wandering. It does that a lot. I try to think about what I'm doing and analyze why I'm doing it and what the right thing to do is. Doing the right thing is sometimes hard. Knowing what the right thing to do in any situation is even harder. And I've had times when I could only do the right thing by doing the wrong thing first!"


"That's heavy; too heavy for me to think about."


"Sorry."


"That's OK. What else were you thinking?"


"About why you came here with me. About what you want. About what I want."


"And?"


"That's dangerous territory."


"What do you want, Steve?"


"Joyce, being with you is enough. I'm content if we just sit here and hold hands."


"That's not what I asked. What do you want? What do you need?"


I sat there for a moment, thinking about the answer. What did I need? What did I really want? Joyce was desirable. She might be available, if I understood the implication of her question. But did I want her to do something out of sympathy? Was that right?


A thought popped into my head, unbidden, from some deep, dark place. Did I really care? Did it really matter? I loved Birgit and she died. I loved Becky and I lost her. I loved Jennifer and I lost her. I might never get them back. Perhaps I should just say 'screw it' and have a good time. That was, more or less, Stephanie's advice months ago. This was raw emotion, almost hatred, raging against the universe.

That was a preview of AWLL 1 - Book 2 - Jennifer. To read the rest purchase the book.

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