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AWLL 1 - Book 9 -Anala

Michael Loucks

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For Birgit

Prologue

Chicago, Illinois

"Hi big brother," Stephanie said coming into the sunroom.


"Hey Squirt," I said, getting up to hug her.


"You know, calling a woman who's 40 'Squirt' seems a bit odd, doesn't it?"


"Want me to stop?" I grinned.


"No!" she laughed. "Did Ashley arrive safely?"


"Yep. Katt and Mikael couldn't be happier, though Ashley will have to be in Falkenberg for the orientation session soon."


"I'm glad that all went well. But I need to talk to you about work."


I sighed, "You know, it was actually nice being in protective custody. Nobody could bother me."


I pulled out an illegal Havana cigar, smelled it, and chose not to light it.


"Yeah, but ignoring your phone calls and e-mail for the past week hasn't been good, big brother, especially given you were completely out of touch for months before that. Two of your top customers were getting nervous. You're lucky you have the best CEO in the business. But it took flying the CFO, CTO, the head of development, and the head of customer service and sales to see both of them. And we flew first class, big brother," she said. "And what's with the cigar? What happened to that ratty old pipe you've had since college?"


"The cigars came from Cincinnati, of course. And that ratty pipe is very important sentimentally. You know where it came from," I said. "You, Elyse, Julia, Dave, and Cindi. I bet you five had a hell of a party, too. All on my dime, too."


"Hey, asshole, you were the one who decided not to return any phone calls! You didn't even call the bishop back, which surprised me. You're lucky that your day-to-day role is as the best programmer in the company. I mean, everyone knows it's your company, but it's a good thing you let the rest of us run things and you just sit in your office and code most of the time. Well, when you aren't meeting with the Board of Directors. And yeah, I know who gave you that pipe."


"It's funny that I work for Dave when I own the company, but it's what I want to do. Fortunately, the Board only meets four times a year."


"You're officially President, remember?"


"True, but the CEO runs everything. Anyway, what happened?"


"When you dropped out of sight for two months, and we couldn't tell them why, those customers got very nervous. We talked them off the ledge. But there are rumors that you're very sick, or that you're going to sell the company. That's causing some real issues with business development. We also took a decent hit to revenue after those union leaders were indicted and we chose to cancel our contracts with all the unions. You have to decide, and you have to make a definitive statement, big brother."


I sighed, "The revenue isn't that big of a deal. You and I could cut our salaries in half and still live quite comfortably. As for a decision, we had our family meeting. I was outvoted. The kids voted against me, the ingrates!"


Stephanie laughed, "What did you expect? They'd have to leave school and pick up and move to Europe. Oh, and one of your messages was from Computerworld. Call them and deny ALL of the rumors."


"I suppose I should. In the end, there's really nobody left to come after me, so moving away isn't all that important. Do me a favor, call Jamie and tell him I want to sell some more stock to the employee stock ownership program. And have him set up some additional option grants, across the board. And I mean it this time. Don't let him leave anyone out, and that includes the receptionist, Squirt."


"You still want to keep 51 percent for yourself?"


"No. So long as you and I have 51 percent between us, there's no issue. And Dad would never vote against us with his five percent. The same goes for the five percent that originally went to Don Joseph. And between Dave, Elyse, Julia and Cindi they have another twenty percent even before the new option grants. They've never, ever voted against me."


"Why would they? You've made them rich, big brother."


"That's where you're wrong, Squirt. They've made me rich. And you helped, too."


"And that's why my husband is so successful and why his team is so loyal - he knows how to give credit where credit is due," my wife said, coming into the room.


Stephanie got up and exchanged a hug with my wife then they sat down side by side on the couch.


"I heard from Phelan-Brown this morning," my wife said. "They have the plans for the new office building drawn up. You need to sign off on those, too. They called here because you weren't returning calls to the office."


"Why do I sense I'm being ganged-up on?" I asked.


"Because you are!" they said in unison.


Birgit came in and sat next to me, and cuddled close. I put my arm around her, chuckled, and thought to myself that I was the luckiest man in the world.

I. Something Unexpected

Christmas Eve, 1983, 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



When I arrived at the Spencers' following the usual Christmas Eve celebration at my parents' house, I parked in front and walked inside. I was a bit surprised to find the house empty, but there was a note that said that the Spencers were having a joint Christmas dinner with the Carstons. I’d have the house to myself for several hours, so I decided to take a sauna. I walked up the stairs and stopped outside the door to my room.


There was a faint glow coming under the door. I wondered if Melanie had set up the tree in my room, though I thought it odd that she’d do that given what had happened the previous Christmas. I opened the door and saw that indeed there was a tree with lights and a couple of presents under it. But that wasn’t all that I saw. My jaw dropped and my eyes went wide.


“Merry Christmas, Snuggle Bear!” Kara gushed.


“Kara? Wha…What are you doing here?” I asked, recovering just enough from the shock of seeing her to speak.


“It’s Christmas Eve, silly! We always spend it together! I put the year ornament on the tree already. I hope that’s OK?”


I paused for a moment to try to gather my wits, but I was having a tough time. I decided a bit of levity might help.


“OK. We’re not Pam and Bobby Ewing, so I know this isn’t a dream!”


“True,” she giggled.


“Kara, you broke up with me last Christmas Eve,” I said, regaining a semblance of control. “For the last year you’ve barely spoken to me! Now you’re acting as if nothing has changed!”


“Let’s go make some tea and talk. There are still about four hours before midnight,” she said with a bright smile.


I was stunned again. I knew EXACTLY what she was implying. When I’d said to Larry that something unexpected always came up, I sure wasn’t thinking about something like THIS! To say that I was off balance was the understatement of the century!


“Uh, OK,” I stammered.


We walked down to the kitchen and I put the kettle on the stove and turned on the gas burner. I got the teapot from the cupboard along with a pair of cups, then got the tea ball from the drawer and filled it with Earl Grey tea. I stayed silent while I was preparing the tea, trying to gather my thoughts and make sense of everything. One thing seemed clear - that Anala’s advice had worked. But to what end? And what did it mean?


When the tea was ready, I poured cups for both of us and we sat at the kitchen table. I didn’t even know where to begin this conversation or what to say. I sipped my tea and waited. Kara didn’t say anything, so I finally decided to prompt her.


“Why don’t we start with what happened last year and work our way forward,” I suggested.


Kara nodded, "You know what happened between me and Joyce. I was disgusted by what happened and it just kind of ate away at me. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and given my upbringing, I felt it was such a grave sin that I couldn’t recover from it. I blamed you, Steve. I blamed you for everything. For leading me down a path of sin; for not protecting me; for my dad’s death; for Joyce; everything. I saw you as so sinful, because of all your girls, and your sister. When we made love that last time, it just all hit me and I had to get away.


"I was upset, obviously, but it was more anger than anything else at that point. Then mom told me that you had planned to propose and I completely lost it. I cried all night. I realized I’d made a terrible mistake in walking out on you. You were ready to commit to me, and me alone, and I had thrown it all away. I just withdrew from the world. I refused to talk to you because I was both embarrassed and angry. I know you tried so many times, but I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to you.


"Then you sent me the birthday gift. I refused to open it but my mom basically forced me to. I saw the bear and I cried so hard because it drove home just what I’d done. I grabbed the bear and hugged it and wouldn’t let go. I wanted to hug you, but I couldn’t, so I looked at the shirt the bear had with ‘Steve’ stitched on it and hugged him tightly. I took him with me everywhere, and cuddled him when I slept. He became a substitute for the real thing. I wanted you, but I couldn’t have you. So Steve Bear was my substitute.


"When you came to see me I was torn. I was so happy that you still cared, but sad that I wasn’t engaged to you. The happiness wasn’t enough, though, obviously. I had no idea how to fix things and I still thought I was damned to hell because of what you and I did and especially because of what Joyce and I did. I started seeing Doctor Mercer because you insisted I should. At first it didn’t help, but eventually it started to.


"I began to think it might be possible to fix things, but you were in Chicago and you had Stephie. I was depressed about everything, but I was making progress with Doctor Mercer. She was starting to help me see that I had a future, that I could eventually be happy, that I could find someone to love me and care for me. That I could put everything that happened behind me. Then Joyce called.


"I freaked out when I heard her voice. When she said she wanted to see me, I didn’t know what to do. I told her I was busy but she insisted and said she was sorry she’d upset me and thought we should talk about it. It just seemed to me like she wanted to do that stuff again and I was afraid that she’d just show up at the house. I hung up the phone and I was shaking so bad I just lay on the bed and curled up with Steve Bear. The next thing I knew I saw you in the hospital.


"You were so nice and you stayed with me. I wanted you to hold me, but I knew that couldn’t happen. Having you in the room was as close as I could come. You reminded me that God could love me, even if I’d done things I thought were very wrong. And then, when you were home last time, you said something that upset me, but later, made me think. I was applying my dad’s standards and Pastor Kent’s standards, to what I’d done. Not my own. And I remembered how much I believed that what you and I did was right, even if it wasn’t what my dad wanted.


"So, in the end, it was Joyce that was the problem, and what I did with her. And only what I did with her. I told Doctor Mercer that a few weeks later. I never told her what you said to me, even though my mom insisted that I should. My mom still doesn’t know about me and Joyce and I don’t want her to. Once I talked to Doctor Mercer about how I felt after you talked to me, it felt like a weight had been lifted. That’s when I decided I needed to see you and talk to you.


“The only thing was, I didn’t want my mom to know what I was doing. I called Melanie and asked her if she’d help me set this up. I was really happy when I found out that they weren’t going to be home and that you were staying here on Christmas Eve. It took a long time to talk her into it, but finally she reluctantly agreed to set it up. She was very concerned about you. Please don’t be mad at her. She was worried about that.”


I drained the last of the tea that I’d been sipping while Kara talked and refilled both our cups. I still had no clue what to do. The biggest issue was that it appeared that Kara wanted to more or less pick up where we had left off, minus the ring, though she might be angling for that as well. Things had changed dramatically in the last year, and I was a very different person. Kara no longer knew me, and she didn’t know about Jennifer. This was a complicated mess that could easily end up just as badly as last year.


“I won’t be mad at Melanie, Kara,” I said gently. “I promise. I guess I’m still stunned by you being here and that you seem more or less back to your old self. I wasn’t expecting it and wasn’t ready for it. A lot has changed since last year. A whole lot. I almost don’t know where to start.”


“Are you steady with anyone? I’m guessing Stephie is living with you at this point.”


I chuckled, “We broke up and she transferred to Georgia Tech for next semester.”


“Oh! Why did you laugh?”


"Because as I said, a lot has changed, Kara. I’m not the same person you used to know. Not even close. As for the situation with Stephie, she decided that she belonged with her friend Jason down in Georgia, not me. They’ve known each other since they were two and finally figured out that they were in love. It was all amicable and I encouraged her to transfer to Georgia Tech.


“I told you that I bought a house, and Elyse lives there, along with some new friends - Jackie, Katy, Cindi, and Julia. Kathy and Kurt still visit on weekends, and Pete will come by every few weeks now that he’s based in Chicago. He took a job with the Naval Investigative Service, and he and Melanie are getting married on June 8th, after Melanie’s graduation.”


Kara laughed, “I’m not surprised that you were living with six girls, well before Stephie left. Are you dating anyone steady?”


“No. But it’s not that simple.”


“It never was with you, Steve. It was always complicated. I guess you should tell me about Bethany, Karin, and Jennifer.”


“You’ll need to add a few names, Kara - Tatyana, Sofia, Anala, and Elyse. I can’t really explain things without including them. But there are other girls I see from time to time as well. And I may never settle on just one girl.”


“Never? But you want to marry and have kids!”


“Yes, and I didn’t say I wouldn’t get married, just that I might not settle for just one girl. Elyse wants to have kids with me, but she doesn’t want to get married. Jennifer wants to be my life-partner, including having kids, but not necessarily be my wife. She thinks that should be Bethany.”


“Bethany would never go for that!” Kara exclaimed.


"As I said, a lot has changed in the past year. Bethany told me last night that she WOULD be OK with that kind of arrangement. I’m not sure if I’m OK with it, but I’m open to the idea. Jennifer’s going to be in Chicago the day after tomorrow to spend a week with me. We’re trying to put things back together between us. I have no idea where it’s going to lead.


"Tatyana is coming to visit after that, though she and I are pretty much in agreement that our long-term goals don’t align in a way that would let us be together. Karin’s coming to visit in February, like she did last year. Things with her are kind of just in a holding pattern until we both graduate, but at this point it doesn’t look like that’s going anywhere, either.


“I’m going to Sweden during the summer, after Pete and Melanie’s wedding. Then in August Sofia is moving to Chicago to go to school. She’ll be living at the house. She’s very interested in a relationship with me, and I like her a lot, but I don’t know if that’s going anywhere either. Finally, there’s a girl who’s really helped me become a better person. Her name is Anala. Our relationship is very different from the others, but she’ll likely be with me until she gets married. As I said, it’s complicated.”


“And like I said,” Kara replied, “it was never simple with you. I didn’t expect it to be. Actually, I expected you to be more or less steady with Stephie and with your usual collection of other girls on the side.”


“Back in July, you would have been correct. Once Stephie and I broke up, I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to be steady with anyone before graduation. Right now, that includes not having anyone permanently sharing my bed the way Stephie did.”


“I know you well enough that you have plenty of girls to keep you warm!” Kara giggled.


I chuckled, “Yes, I do. Does Doctor Mercer know that you’re seeing me?”


“No. If I’d told her, she’d have told me not to do it.”


“Of course she would have,” I replied. “And what I see is cause for concern. Why are you here? Why the tree? The year ornament? The gifts? That seems like an attempt to reset back to last year. Does your mom know that you’re here?”


“No. I couldn’t tell her, either. I said I was going to visit Susie and she’s covering for me. As for what I’m doing here, I thought it was obvious. But I think I might have miscalculated. You’re thinking about what happened last year, aren’t you?”


“Of course I am!” I said. “I was crushed, Kara. I didn’t give up even when you wouldn’t talk to me. I had my dad hang onto the ring for almost a month before he returned it for me. I wrote you. I called you. You ignored me. You ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it!”


A tear leaked from my eye.


“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I still love you just as much as I ever did, but I guess you don’t feel the same way anymore.”


A tear ran down her cheek as well.


“That’s the problem,” I sighed. “I DO feel the same way. But after a year, I’ve moved on. I had to. My friends helped me deal with everything, and helped me to learn from it and to grow. But it still hurts, Kara. It hurts a lot. I was ready to marry you and you simply walked away from me and wouldn’t talk to me! I wanted to hate you, but I couldn’t.”


“You still love me?” she asked.


“Of course I do. But I’m not sure that matters at this point.”


“It does matter, Steve! I love you. You love me. That’s a start.”


“A start of what?”


“Just what I said. A start. A new beginning.”


“I don’t know if I can even think about that, let alone do it,” I said.


“Didn’t you just say that you loved me?” she asked.


“I did,” I sighed. “But it’s way more complicated than that. I can’t just forget the last year. And I’m worried about you, too. The fact that you didn’t tell your mom or Doctor Mercer what you planned. The implication before that you wanted to keep our Christmas traditions - all of them.”


“You won’t even try?” she said, tears streaming down her face.


“I need time to think, Kara. You need to talk to Doctor Mercer and your mom. I’m not sure that you’re ready for any kind of relationship at this point. And I don’t even know that I can provide you with what you need, even as a friend.”


Kara was crying freely now, her body wracked by sobs. I was afraid that she was going to revert to her semi-catatonic state. That was the last thing I wanted to happen, but I didn’t know what I could do to prevent it. She needed comforting, but I had to be careful given how vulnerable she appeared to be.


I stood up and took Kara’s hand and gently pulled her up from her chair. I took her in my arms and hugged her tightly to me. Holding her in my arms stirred up all kinds of emotions that I thought I had under control. Kara put her head on my chest and sighed deeply. After a few minutes she stopped sobbing.


“Will you at least open your gifts?” she asked.


“But I didn’t get you anything,” I protested.


“Steve, you’ve given me more in the last three years than I deserved. Right now, you holding me in your arms is more than I should even really have expected. You telling me that you still love me is worth more than anything you could buy for me.”


“OK, then. Let’s go upstairs.”


“And celebrate Christmas our way?” she giggled.


“Kara,” I said softly, “if you couldn’t tell your mom or Doctor Mercer what you were doing, do you think it’s a good idea?”


“Says the man who didn’t tell Doctor Mercer about his little sister. And Bethany once told me that she went against Doctor Mercer’s advice to be with you.”


“OK! OK! One step at a time. Let’s go open my presents.”


“Maybe I should have put a bow and ribbon around me!” she giggled.


I laughed and we went up the stairs to my room. I was going to have to have a serious talk with Melanie, like I’d thought before, because she had no business doing something like this. But, what was done was done, and I had to deal with it. We sat on the floor and she handed me the first of the two presents. I quickly unwrapped it and opened the box.


“Kara, this is too much,” I said, taking an expensive wristwatch from the box.


“Compared to this?” she said, fingering the diamond pendant I’d bought for her.


I removed my moderately priced watch and replaced it with the much more expensive one. It was totally appropriate if I was going to be in business for myself, as I’d noticed that expensive wristwatches seemed to be quite common among businessmen. While I tended to reject most social conventions, there was indeed some truth to the adage that clothes, or in this case, the watch, made the man. I knew Don Joseph agreed and that was enough for me to accept it, despite anything else I might think.


She handed me the second present which I unwrapped. I opened the box and found two sheets of paper, covered with Kara’s neat handwriting.


“A letter I wrote you. In case you sent me away tonight,” she said.


“Do you want me to read it now?” I asked.


“Yes,” she said.


I moved to lean against the bed and unfolded the two sheets of paper and started to read. Each sentence evoked strong emotions, recounting how we’d met and how she’d felt at each step of our budding romance, how she’d been nervously anticipating our first night together and how she’d felt as we made love. Every single carefully chosen word conveyed the deepest love. She carefully recounted each of the firsts, of the things we had done together and how she felt. It was clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she no longer felt that what we had done was sinful.


The second part of the letter described how she’d felt when we had made love together with Joyce, of her fears and desires. Of how she felt safe with me and how she’d needed me to help her set limits. Her words now conveyed anguish, of how what she’d done disgusted her. Of how that disgust slowly ate away at her and caused her to reject even the truest of love that we had, leading to her meltdown on Christmas Eve.


She wrote of how her emotions ran rampant and how she’d sunk into deep depression and despair when she’d found out that I’d intended to propose. Of how lost she’d felt, having thrown away everything that she’d hoped for, and then made it worse by shunning me for months. Of how the simple gift of the stuffed bear had broken through, but simultaneously driven home, just how lost she was without me.


Of how she’d been afraid of talking to Doctor Mercer, but eventually felt comfortable, but still was held back by what she’d been taught for her entire life. Of how my simple words to her when she was in the hospital after her breakdown caused by Joyce’s call had helped. She wrote about her dad, and how she had loved him, but how he had held her back. Of Pastor Kent and how his teaching had driven a wedge between us. And then my forceful words that had told her to get past it.


The last paragraph expressed her hopes and dreams, of what she wanted from life. Of her continued love for me and her sorrow that she’d made such a grave error. She ended her letter with an appeal that I give her a chance to regain my trust, to rebuild our relationship, and to forgive her for all that she’d done. She’d signed it, and I saw stains from tears. A postscript thanked me for reading it and asked me to call her.


“I don’t know what to say,” I said, folding the letter and putting it back in the box.


“Say that you’ll please let me be a part of your life. I can’t ask for more than that. Not for now, at least.”


“That I can say. Kara, I want you to be part of my life. I can’t say what that even means, but I’m not going to shun you.”


“Thank you,” she said softly. “You don’t know what that means at this point.”


“I think I do, Honey, I think I do,” I said.


“And I know who and what you are, Steve. I’ve known from the beginning, when I first wanted to go to bed with you. I wanted that from the moment you sat down next to me in chemistry class; I just didn’t understand what the feeling was until much later. I wanted you to take me to bed, to ravish me, with no commitment and no promise of the future. But you fell in love with me and asked me to make love instead. Now, things have changed and that is all I want from you tonight. To ravish me with no commitment and no promises.”


“Kara,” I protested.


“Shh. Come, take me. The way you planned to originally.”


“But…”


She pressed her finger to my lips.


“Stop protesting, Steve. I want this. I haven’t even kissed anyone in a full year - not since we were last together. I want you and I need you. Now, take me. Please.”


I was so off balance that I didn’t trust my own judgment. What I was sure of was that Kara hadn’t simply decided to do this on a whim. She’d planned, she’d written the letter, and she’d even co-opted Melanie. I had been worried about her state of mind, but the letter changed that. That letter had changed everything.


“OK,” I said softly.


Kara smiled and stood up and I watched raptly as she slowly undressed. When she stood naked before me, I stood and removed my clothes, then pulled her to me, relishing the warm softness of her skin against me. We slowly moved our lips together and I felt an electric shock as our tongues touched. We kissed deeply and lovingly for the first time in a year. Kara moaned softly into my mouth and pulled me tight.


I broke the kiss and lowered her to the floor in front of the Christmas tree. I lowered myself on top of Kara and she eagerly spread her legs so that I might lie between them. My rock hard dick came in direct contact with her labia, already wet with anticipation.


“Take me, Steve!” she whispered.


I kissed her softly and pushed forward, entering her silky tight tunnel. The memories of our lovemaking in the past flashed through my mind as I slid deeply into her. When our pubic hair meshed, Kara broke the kiss and sighed deeply.


“You can’t begin to imagine how much I’ve missed this, and how it feels to have you inside me. To feel full of you, to know that I’m going to have countless orgasms and soon feel your warmth filling me. Do it, Steve!” she gasped. “Make me cum!”


I began moving slowly, gently thrusting in and out, taking time to grind against her each time I sank fully into her depths. I looked Kara deeply in her eyes and saw gratitude and desire - but mostly desire. She whispered encouragement, urging me on, softly demanding that I pleasure her. I obliged and a minute later she cried out in ecstasy.


“Unngggh!” she groaned. “Yes, oh yes! I’ve missed this, Steve!”


We continued slowly and gently, with Kara crying out three more times before I felt the uncontrollable urge that I knew I would not be able to fight off. We increased the pace of our lovemaking until I could no longer hold back and pushed deeply into her. I groaned as the first spurt of cum splashed into her spasming pussy.


“Oh!” she groaned. “So hot!”


We kissed fiercely as my cum blasted deep inside her, her pussy milking each spurt from me with forceful spasms. Kara broke the kiss and gasped for breath. Kara hugged me tight to her and whispered, “Thank you.”


We lay together for about ten minutes, by which time my dick had deflated and slipped from Kara’s tunnel. I took her hand and led her to the shower in the master bathroom where we lovingly washed each other and then dried each other. We walked back to my room and stood facing each other.


“Will you let me stay the night?” she asked.


“I’m so addled at the moment, I don’t even know what to say or do, Kara. At this point, it’s up to you. So long as you understand.”


“I do,” she said. “If we’re going to be together again, it’s going to take a long time, and I have to accept you for who you are. I want you to continue with your plans as you’ve made them. I’m going to need more time before I can be in any kind of relationship, with you, or with anyone else, for that matter.”


“Is there someone else, Kara?” I asked.


“No, but I’m being realistic. I blew it, badly. Now I have to deal with the consequences. I don’t think there’s much chance of restoring our relationship to what it was, or if there is, it won’t be anytime soon. Let me sleep with you, Steve. It might be the last time for a long time, or even forever.”


I turned down the comforter on the bed, then shut and locked the door to my room. Kara and I got into bed and she snuggled close. I put my arm around her and held her tightly to me.


“I’m sorry for everything I put you through,” she said, her head resting on my chest.


“And I’m sorry that I failed you, Kara. I have as much responsibility as anyone for what happened, Joyce included.”


“What happened between you two?” Kara asked.


“A fight, then we made up, then we fought worse, then we made up. We’d just barely become friends again, with Bethany’s help, when Joyce chose to flush it all down the drain.”


“What happened? Was that because of me?”


“The first two fights were. Bethany probably prevented me from killing Joyce when you were in the hospital, but in the end we got past that. But then she made some wild accusations and stuck her nose where it didn’t belong. I refused to let her do that and we had a huge, huge fight. I doubt that I’ll see her any time soon, and I certainly don’t want to.”


“That makes two of us, Steve. I don’t know what her motivation was, but she knew your wishes and she knew my wishes, and she went against both of us. There’s something disturbingly wrong with her.”


She had a point that I couldn’t dispute. Something had happened to Joyce and I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t know if I’d ever find out. At this point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.


“She’s out of my life, at least for now, Kara.”


“And me? Am I out of your life or in?” she asked softly.


“I told you I wanted you back in my life. I just can’t tell you what that’s going to be like. All I can do is be honest with you. You have to decide what to do. That’s something Anala has pressed me on - being honest and letting everyone know where they stand.”


“You were always honest with me, Steve. The only time you even slightly misled me was over your sister, and I can understand that. Are you sleeping with her again?”


I sighed, “Yes.”


“I figured as much. You only stopped because I wanted you to. Once I abandoned you, you had no reason to not do it. It’s always been a part of who you are and probably always will be.”


“And you assumed this before you asked me to make love to you?”


She giggled, “Your words, Steve. Not mine. I asked you to take me to bed and ravish me. If we made love, it’s because you wanted to. Just like the first time.”


“Shit,” I breathed.


She raised her head up and looked me in the eyes.


“It’s fine. I know how you feel about me. I know what I did to you. I have a lot of work to do before I could even think about being your wife, or even your lover. I mean other than this night. Whatever happens now is for now. I promise that I’m not reading anything into this beyond what I already asked for.”


“What do you need, Kara?” I asked.


“Just hold me. You’re much better than that silly bear!” she giggled.


We fell asleep cuddled together for the first time in over a year. It felt good and it felt right. I just hoped that I hadn’t hurt Kara even more than I had before we broke up.


In the morning, we dressed and left the house early. Only Trudy was awake, and she said nothing, though I saw a raised eyebrow. I drove Kara home in the frigid air. I walked her to her front door and kissed her softly.


“Call me, Steve. But it’s OK to wait for a few weeks so you have time to figure things out. Even if you don’t, then call me and let me know that you haven’t. We’ll see each other again when we’re both ready.”


“I will, Kara. And thanks. Thanks for loving me and caring enough to try to fix things.”


“You’re welcome. And thanks for loving me enough to want to help me even when I hurt you so badly.”


We kissed again and she used her key to let herself into her house. I wondered what she’d say to her mom, but that was her issue, not mine. I had a bigger potential problem to deal with. In fact, several of them. I got back in my car and headed to my parents' house.


Stephanie was waiting for me, as usual, but instead of going down the hall alone to change, I grabbed her arm and took her down the hall with me to my room.


“Can’t wait for this afternoon?” she giggled, stepping close.


“Stephanie, I have to tell you something.”


“What?” she said, suddenly looking very worried.


“Kara spent the night with me last night.”

II. After Effects

Christmas Day, 1983, Milford, Ohio

“Bullshit!” Stephanie said, laughing. “Just how gullible do you think I am?”


“In some ways, I wish I was kidding. I’m not, Squirt. When I got back to the Spencers' last night she was there, waiting for me. The tree was set up in my room like the last two years, and she had two gifts under the tree for me. I guess Melanie helped her set it up.”


“Oh my fucking God!” Stephanie exploded. “You slept with her? Are you a complete idiot? I hope you used a rubber!”


My face fell and I stared at my feet. I hadn’t even THOUGHT about birth control. Visions of Becky flashed through my head and realized that I might have been trapped in the same way I had been once before. A trap that was greater than the one that Joyce said that Connie was laying for me. I’d been so out of sorts that I hadn’t even considered the possibility.


“Yes, I slept with her. No I didn’t use a rubber. And I didn’t even ask her about the Pill.”


“You fucking idiot!” she exclaimed angrily. “Do you have any idea what you might have just done? Bethany and Jennifer will skin you alive. And that assumes that I don’t kill you right now. How could you be so stupid?”


“I was completely off kilter and it’s obvious I wasn’t thinking clearly. I think with the way it all happened that your concerns are misplaced.”


“You think? You think? You have to be the dumbest boy on the planet, Steve! And I saw your face when I asked. You realize that I might be right!”


“You might, but it doesn’t fit anything else that she said or did. I read a letter that she wrote, as well. So, no, I don’t think she set this up as an elaborate trap. Not at all.”


“Well, you’ll find out soon enough,” Stephanie said, eyeing me suspiciously. “What did you promise her?”


“Nothing except to call her in a few weeks. She didn’t ask me for anything else. In fact, she was completely realistic about everything. She didn’t ask me for anything except to take her to bed. Heck, she didn’t even call it making love.”


“So, what? It was just a casual screw?”


“No, Squirt. You know it’s never just a casual screw with me. She even acknowledged that we might never be together ever again. In a sense, this was a completely new Kara, one who was grounded in reality. She said she has a lot of work to do before she could be in a relationship with me, or anyone.”


“Yeah, well, what is Jennifer going to say? Hmm?”


"Jennifer excluded exactly one person, Squirt. And you know who that was. Jennifer will reprimand me for not being careful about birth control, and be worried that I’m getting myself into something that could go very badly, but in the end, Jennifer gave me permission to have sex with anyone I wanted to, except for Becky.


“As for Kara, she said something that makes me even more sure that it wasn’t an elaborate trap. She asked me if you and I were sleeping together again. I said we were and she not only didn’t get upset, she said she assumed that was the case and that it was so much a part of me that she’d have been surprised if we hadn’t taken up with each other again.”


“Kara said that?! You’re not pulling my leg?”


“No, I’m not pulling your leg. And Squirt, Bethany told me that she’d be OK with the arrangement Jennifer proposed.”


“No fucking way!” Stephanie breathed.


“Yes way,” I chuckled. “Bethany is OK with being my wife, with me having kids with Elyse, with Jennifer as a long-term lover, AND, you and me still being intimate. Heck, that even includes me being with Josie, if that’s Jennifer’s long-term love.”


“Holy shit!” she whispered. “It’s all falling into place!”


“Maybe. I’m not sure it’s what I want. I still have this thing about marrying one girl and only one girl.”


“You’re an idiot, big brother. When the time comes to run your own business, and it will, you better find some smart people to surround yourself with or your idiocy will sink you!”


“Oh? And Four Dimensional Software was horribly run?”


“Beth and Krista ran it, big brother. You did the programming!”


I sighed, “You make a good point. But that’s for later, let’s swim. Then I need to make some phone calls.”


“I can’t WAIT to hear your calls with Jennifer and Bethany,” she grinned.


“Those will be later, these first ones will be to Sweden. Let’s go swim.”


“I don’t think our conversation is done yet.”


I nodded and quickly changed into my suit, Stephanie smirking as I did so, and then we went to swim.


We swam and then ate breakfast with Dad. I didn’t say anything to him about Kara because there wasn’t really much to say, and frankly, it wasn’t something I wanted to discuss with too many people. After Stephanie and I cleaned up the kitchen, I went to my old room to call Karin, Sofia, and Tina and wish them all «God Jul». I didn’t go into the Kara situation with any of them, either, because, as I’d told myself about talking to my dad, there really wasn’t much to say for the time being.


“I don’t think I heard Kara’s name,” Stephanie said when I hung up from the third call.


“What could I say to anyone at this point?” I asked. “I didn’t mention it to Dad, either. And I’d like to keep it that way, at least for now. I’ll talk to Bethany and Jennifer, but nobody else really needs to know right now. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it. I’m actually thinking of waiting to tell Jen until tomorrow, so I can do it face to face. I want to tell Bethany face-to-face as well, but it’s going to be hard to swing that on Christmas Day.”


“One thing is for sure, big brother, things are never boring with you!”


“That’s true,” I agreed, “This was so out of left-field, though. Of all the things that could have happened, this was probably the most unexpected. I sure didn’t see it coming.”


“Nobody could have, big brother. At least not you or me or any of our friends.”


“I’m wondering what Kara’s going to say to her mom. Kara told me that she’d told her mom she was going to hang out with Susie, but then stayed the night with me.”


“Something doesn’t add up,” Stephanie said thoughtfully. “If she didn’t tell her mom she’d be out all night, wouldn’t her mom have been worried and started looking for her?”


“You know, that’s a good point. She said that Susie was covering for her. Maybe she said she was going to sleep over?”


“On Christmas Eve? Does that even make sense?”


I sighed, “Nothing makes sense right now, Squirt.”


“Are you going to call her and ask her about the Pill?”


“Why? What purpose would that serve at this point? Either she’s on it or she’s not. If she’s not, she’s either pregnant or she’s not. A phone call isn’t going to change that, and asking that question after the fact just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t trying to trap me, Squirt. That notion just doesn’t fit the evidence.”


“You are pretty damned calm for a guy who could have made an emotionally and mentally unbalanced girl pregnant!”


“Stephanie, I know you don’t believe me, and I almost don’t believe it myself, but she was calm, clear, and lucid, and the letter she wrote was anything but unbalanced. Like I said, it was a completely new Kara, grounded in reality. I don’t believe for a moment her issues are gone, and she agrees. That’s part of what makes me sure about birth control. She didn’t need an elaborate scam to trap me, and I don’t think she could have pulled it off if she was still unbalanced.”


“Jennifer forgave you once, for Becky. I don’t think she’s got it in her to do that again,” Stephanie said.


“What’s to forgive? Jennifer would be OK if I married Kara as long as Kara didn’t object to me having Jennifer as a permanent lover and having kids with her. Remember what I told you, Squirt. Jennifer doesn’t want to be my wife, and I think I understand why - that would really cause problems if people found out that she had a female lover.”


“And it won’t if she’s just your mistress, or whatever?”


“Not the same way. I mean, if I was running for President or something, sure, but I’m not. This way, Jennifer can be seen in public with a woman and it doesn’t cause me problems.”


“Interesting. So what’s Elyse’s rationale?”


“That one I haven’t quite figured out. She wants to have kids with me, and is OK with not being married to me, or anyone for that matter. She’s changed a lot in the last couple of years. She’d marry me if I asked, but she knows I’m not likely to ask her. I have a question for you, Squirt. What about you and Jennifer? How do you feel about Josie?”


“I’m fine with that,” she said. “It’s kind of like you and whoever you end up marrying. As long as I can still be involved with you guys, I’m fine. Eventually, I’m going to get married and have kids of my own. What happens then between all of us depends on who I marry. If he can’t deal with you and me, then we know what happens. The same if he can’t deal with Jen and me. One thing I know for sure, Jen’s not going to let any guy other than you touch her, ever, so it’s not like I could invite her to my bed after I get married, at least not with my husband there.”


“That’s more or less how I see that working out, assuming it goes the way Jennifer is suggesting. You and me, well, we’ve sort of got past the horny teenager and honeymoon phases, haven’t we? We’re not taking the crazy chances we used to take. It’s become, comfortable, I guess.”


Stephanie sighed, “Honestly? It as. It’s kind of sick, really. I’m sixteen and sex is ‘comfortable’.”


“Then maybe you shouldn’t have started at fourteen getting it in every possible way!” I teased.


“No. I SHOULD have started at twelve, when I wanted it, big brother. Of course, then by fourteen I’d be in same situation. Will it ever be as exciting as it was?”


“Jesus, is sex with me that boring?” I asked with a smile.


She smacked me on the arm, “Hell no! You know what I meant.”


“It was the risk of getting caught, I think,” I said. “That kind of put an edge on it. Well, after that first week when it was just pure lust! It’s still best with you Squirt, it always has been. It’s just different now. In a good way, I think.”


“I guess,” she said. “Is that normal?”


I chuckled, "I think so. I once described what I had with Stephie as comfortable. That’s the longest, most stable relationship I’ve had, if you think about it. Basically it was two full years, most of which we were effectively or actually living together. For the most part, sex with Stephie wasn’t over-the-top. It was just us expressing our love. Sure, there were times we played and had lots of fun, but mostly it was making love. And that’s where you and I are.


“The same is true with Bethany. And it’s even more so with Elyse and Jackie. For those two, it’s about comfort and companionship. The orgasms are really secondary. They just want to be in my arms and sleep in my bed. I’m discovering that most of the girls in my life, you included, need that MORE than they need sex. That was true last night with Kara. Yes, we made love, but then when we got into bed I asked her what she needed, and it was just to be held. I get that a lot, Squirt. And you know from personal experience it’s not because the sex is boring!”


“I think you have it figured out, actually,” Stephanie said. “What I miss with you isn’t the orgasms. It’s sleeping in your arms. That’s what was really the most amazing thing about that first week. Yes, the orgasms were out of this world. Having you inside me the first time is something that I can’t even begin to describe. But sleeping in your arms? Everything else paled in comparison.”


“I’m going to give up on sex, I think,” I teased.


“No way, Steve! I WANT those orgasms. But honestly, orgasms are short, cuddling is forever. And I know you believe that, too. Girls don’t even have to ask you to cuddle them, you just do it naturally. That’s part of why they want to be with you. My friends all talk about guys fucking and then leaving. You take showers. You cuddle. And you can fuck like nobody’s business. Hell, you had Sandy van der Meer begging for more.”


I sighed, “Yeah. And look what happened. She went looking for someone who would treat her like I did and do the things I did. She ended up with a dozen different guys, one of whom got her pregnant. That was pretty much all my fault.”


“What? You did what she wanted. It’s not your fault how she reacted or that she decided to sleep with a dozen guys in some foolish quest to find someone like you. Look at how Ruth handled it. Night and day, big brother. But you did the same thing for each of them. Heck, look at how Trish and Shelly reacted. Or, and excuse me for bringing this up, Kim Smith and Kellie Linden.”


I sighed again, “I’ve made a bunch of errors in judgment.”


“No you haven’t! Except for Annie, and I don’t see that quite the same way Bethany does, you can’t be responsible for how the girl reacts. You can’t even know how she’s going to react. Mostly it’s been good, Steve. Have you had anyone else act like Sandy? Just go totally nuts? I don’t think so.”


“Elizabeth Parker, but I don’t think that was related to me. She wasn’t a virgin when we got together, I don’t think what happened afterwards was related to being with me. Pam Simpson, the girl I was with in Sweden, but I don’t think that was a result of me, either. She was itching to have sex and I wasn’t around so she looked for another outlet. And she tired of each of the guys pretty quickly. But now she’s totally calmed down. And Kellie, of course. But she had some plan from the outset that backfired. She more or less used me and moved on. Other than that, you’re right.”


“Heck, a number of the girls have never been with anyone but you! And others went from you to one guy and stuck with him. So no, you haven’t made a bunch of errors in judgment. Did you chase those girls? Or did they come to you? Kara was the extreme exception, Steve. But even with her, you started the chase, but then stopped and waited for her to come to you. You can’t blame yourself for Sandy. She made her own decisions. And she has to live with them. And she’s doing OK at this point.”


“I suppose,” I said.


“Do you regret having had sex with anyone; other than Annie and Sandy?”


“Frederika in Sweden because she had a boyfriend who she conveniently forgot to mention beforehand. But otherwise, no.”


“OK, but your regret is due to the fact that she lied to you. What about Becky?”


“Complicated. I regret cheating on Kara, but I don’t regret being with Becky. Does that make sense?”


“No, not really. But I guess I can see how you could say that. There was always something special between the two of you that I could never understand. Even when she trapped you, you didn’t lose that feeling. You didn’t lose it when she got you to cheat on Kara, either. My question is, how about now?”


“I’ll always feel something special for Becky. But I’ve limited my contact with her and I’m pretty sure the whole moth and flame bit is over and done with. She tried to start up again, but I shut her down pretty hard. The baggage there is so great that I don’t see how anything good could ever come of trying to have a long-term relationship with her.”


“So you’re not over her but you’re over her?”


“Yeah, I guess that’s the way to put it! Now, c’mon, let’s go play some pool.”


We played pool and video games until it was time to head to our grandparents' house for the usual Christmas dinner. Stephanie and I went in my car because we’d be leaving early. We arrived just after my parents and my brother, and most of the family had already gathered. Like we had at Thanksgiving, we hung out with my cousin Vickie and her boyfriend Craig. I still didn’t like hanging out with most of my relatives because my mom had successfully ruined my reputation with them. Fortunately, my grandmother had seen through it all and had told me how proud she was of what I’d achieved so far.


After dinner, Stephanie and I left saying that we were going to meet Melanie and Pete, who would once again cover for us should anyone ask. Stephanie and I would go home and then head to the Spencers' before our parents got home.


“Hey Squirt, have Mom or Dad ever said anything that makes you think that they suspect what’s going on between us?”


“Mom’s so focused on trying to figure out how to keep me from being with you that I don’t think she sees it. I mean, she had issues when we just hung out together before we started fooling around, so it’s not like she’s got anything new to be suspicious about. Dad knows we’re super close, but I’m pretty sure he thinks we bonded so strongly because of Mom and Jeff. We’ve never done anything other than a brotherly/sisterly hug in public, so other than us being super close, there’s nothing for him to suspect.”


“I suppose that makes sense. I always wondered why they never suspected anything, but obviously it’s a good thing that they don’t.”


“I’ll say! How long do you figure we have?”


“I’d say safely, about ninety minutes. Any more than that and we’re taking a big risk.”


When we arrived at the house, we went straight to Stephanie’s room and quickly got into her bed. Just over an hour later, we were in her shower, washing off the evidence of our lovemaking. When we finished, Stephanie changed the sheets on her bed and cracked a window open in her room. It was exceedingly cold outside, barely above zero Fahrenheit, and the cold air quickly chased away the smells that might give us away. We left the house, just as we’d found it, and headed to the Spencers' to hang out with Pete and Melanie.


“Pete, do you mind entertaining my sister. I need a private word with Melanie,” I said as soon as we walked in the house.


Fortunately, Pete had not seen Melanie’s eyes go wide open with concern as we’d walked in, and she’d quickly recovered with a welcoming look, albeit reflecting resignation to a talking to.


“Not at all,” he said, with a wink.


“Don’t worry, Melanie, I’ll take VERY good care of him!” Stephanie said sexily.


“Have fun you two!” I grinned. “All Melanie is going to get is talking!”


I took Melanie’s hand and led her to the basement.


“Sit; talk,” I demanded.


Melanie sighed, “You’re pissed at me, aren’t you?”


“No, because I promised Kara I wouldn’t be. Call it, surprised. And concerned. But forget that for now, just spill it, Melanie!”


“She called me on Friday and asked me to help her. I told her ‘no’ several times, but she was really persistent. I didn’t want to upset you, but she managed to convince me that she didn’t have any ulterior motives; she just wanted to talk to you and give you a gift. I suggested that she just call you, but she was afraid you might turn her away. She thought that if she set things up like the last two years, that you would at least talk to her.”


“I get it, but you still should have told her ‘no’ and insisted that she call me. I really was thrown for a loop and I’m not sure that I did the right thing.”


“Mom said she saw you leave with Kara this morning. She was really surprised.”


“So was I!”


“I know. But you could have sent her away, Steve!”


“I’m not blaming you for what happened. I take full and complete responsibility for what I did. But you shouldn’t have agreed to her plan.”


“Mom said the same thing,” she sighed. “She asked me about it this morning after you left. I got a serious lecture. She said I was meddling where I didn’t belong.”


“And she was right. I understand why you might think you were helping, but it put me in a pretty bad spot.”


“I’m sorry. I should have told her it was a bad idea and refused. Will you tell me what happened?”


“We talked. She told me everything that had happened over the last year, especially how she felt. She wrote me a letter in case I sent her away, and she had me read it while she was here. I’ve never read anything like it. It’s like she poured her soul onto paper. When I finished reading it, I didn’t really have any choice but to take her to bed. She didn’t even ask me to make love to her, only to have sex. But I made love to her, and now I’m confused as hell.”


“Are you getting back together?”


“No. Well, at least not anytime soon, that’s for sure. Kara said that she needs a lot of time to work out her issues with Doctor Mercer. All she asked me to do was call her in a few weeks once I sort things out.”


“What do you want?” she asked.


“Oh no you don’t! I’m not answering that question now! Until I talk to Jennifer tomorrow, I can’t even begin to answer. And Kara just threw a monkey wrench into the works.”


“You might take her back?”


“I still love her, Melanie; I never stopped loving her! She hurt me badly, but that doesn’t diminish what I feel for her any more than what Jennifer did to me diminished my love for her. But at this point, no, it’s not about taking her back; it’s about bringing her back into my life. That’s all she asked for. And that’s all I can give at the moment.”


“But you slept with her!”


“Yes. I’m pretty sure that’s what she needed. Maybe it was some kind of validation or even a test for herself, to see if she could do it and how she would feel. It might even have been a precursor to her being with someone else.”


“Kara? With someone else?”


“She denied it, but maybe. There are lots of pieces missing here, and I don’t know when, or even if, they’ll be filled in. I just need some time to think it through.”


“Speaking of time, we’ve left your sister and my fiancé alone long enough!” Melanie grinned.


“Are you worried Melanie?” I chuckled. “You might get your wish if she managed to seduce him!”


“I’ll rip her throat out!” she said fiercely, but then laughed.


We went back upstairs to find my sister and Pete sitting at the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate with Trudy and Frank. We joined them and Trudy gave us each a mug of hot chocolate. We talked about Pete and Melanie’s wedding plans and Pete’s new job. We each had a second cup of cocoa and then I took Stephanie home, then picked up Bethany and drove back to the Spencers', where we went straight up to my room.


“Bethany, Kara was here last night,” I said as soon as the door was closed.


“What?!” she said, recoiling in shock.


“She was here, and she was, at least visibly, her old cheerful self.”


“She can’t possibly have recovered that fast!”


“Did I say that she had? What did I say, Bethany? I said visibly. I do choose my words carefully. I didn’t say she was her old self!”


“I’m sorry,” Bethany sighed. “You are pretty much always very precise in how you use words. So what did she say?”


I considered my options for explaining, and in the end, I realized that with Bethany there was only one thing to do. I had to let her read the letter. It could explain in ways that I would never be able to. I picked up the box and pulled out the folded sheets of paper and handed them to her.


“A letter she wrote me in case I sent her away without talking to her. It’s private, but it’s really the only way I can think of to give you the full story.”


She read the letter all the way through, twice, without a word. She handed it back to me and I put it back in the box. I sat down on the bed next to her to wait for her thoughts. She was clearly trying to make sense of what she’d just read and what had happened over the past year.


“She’s very conflicted,” Bethany said, very clearly choosing her words carefully. “But she’s also very self-aware. You need to give her time before you even think about getting involved with her, if that’s what you want to do.”


“Yeah, about that,” I sighed.


“You moron! Just how far did you take it?”


“I did what she asked,” I said.


“Not smart, Steve,” Bethany reprimanded me. “That’s pretty far into ‘dumb boy’ territory for sure. And?”


“She spent the night. She seemed completely lucid. She said she understood who and what I am, and that she has a lot of work to do with Doctor Mercer before she could think about having a relationship with me, or with anyone else.”


“Did Doctor Mercer know that she was going to come here?”


“Apparently not. She pointed out that I didn’t tell Doctor Mercer everything when I was getting counseling.”


“Stephanie,” Bethany said.


“Exactly. And, something very important - Kara guessed, correctly, that Stephanie and I were involved again and said that she understood that it was part of my life.”


“OK. Now I’m sure that she was saying what she thought you wanted to hear. Think about it. She checked each box, pushed each button, and flipped each switch in exactly the right way to get you to react as you did.”


“You think she was manipulating me? To what end? She told me to take my time to think things through. All she asked was that I let her back into my life.”


“I’m not sure what she’s angling for, but there’s something more than just a good fuck and you being willing to talk to her. The other shoe will drop at some point.”


“I don’t know about that,” I countered. “I think that she was sincere. She made it clear that she knew she needed a lot more help from Doctor Mercer.”


“You weren’t exactly in the right frame of mind to make that judgment, Steve.”


“I agree that I wasn’t last night, but I’ve had twenty-four hours to think about it. Between what she said and the letter, I think she was honest with me.”


“Time will tell. I suggest you call Doctor Mercer on Tuesday afternoon and tell her everything.”


“Is that my place? Isn’t it up to Kara to tell Doctor Mercer what she wants to tell her?”


“Normally, I’d say it was up to the patient. In this case,you were involved from the start, and told Doctor Mercer about Kara and Joyce, so I think you need to tell her about this.”


“Let me think about it, Sweetheart. At a minimum, I’m going to wait until the end of the week to give Kara a chance to tell Doctor Mercer herself.”


“I suppose,” she said. “I guess your friend Anala was right.”


“So it would seem. But as you said, we’ll have to wait to see what happens. Do you still want to stay the night?”


“Yes, of course. Unless you’ve decided you’re going to propose to that girl.”


“No, nothing like that is going to happen. I’m seeing Jennifer tomorrow, remember?”


“That should be an interesting conversation!” Bethany said with a knowing smile.


“I know. In fact, I need to call her now to confirm her flight. I’ll be right back.”


I went to Melanie’s room to make the call since she and Pete were still downstairs. Jennifer confirmed her flight information and I told her that I’d see her at O’Hare in the afternoon. After I hung up, I went back to my room. Bethany was already in bed and I climbed in with her.


“You didn’t change the sheets,” she giggled. “This pillow still smells like Kara’s perfume.”


“Sorry. Should we change the sheets?”


“Nah, it’s OK!” she giggled.


We made love and then slept cuddled together.

Boxing Day, 1983, Milford, Ohio

In the morning, I loaded my bags into my car and then took Bethany home. We exchanged a quick hug and a kiss, and she said that she’d stop in Chicago on her way to Madison. I hugged her again and then headed to my parents' house. Stephanie and I swam, and then ate breakfast with our dad. Once we’d cleaned up the kitchen, I said goodbye to my dad and my sister walked me out to my car. We hugged tightly and I told her that I’d see her at Spring Break.


“I’m not sure who’s coming with me just yet. I asked both Trish and Shelly, and I’m sure one of them will be able to come with me. Maybe I’ll just bring both!” she smirked.


“Cute, Squirt. But remember, I decide what I do and with whom, and if either of them has a boyfriend, they’re totally off-limits. Not to mention the fact that I would have thought you wanted me to yourself.”


“Hey, a little extra fun never hurt anybody!” she grinned. “Besides, it’ll be my 17th birthday!”


“A Stephanie Sundae?” I grinned.


“Maybe!”


We hugged again and then I got into my car. I started it, put the car in gear and waved as I pulled around the circle driveway and then out onto Overlook. I turned up the radio and began my drive towards Chicago and what promised to be an interesting week with Jennifer Block.

III. A Journey of a Thousand Miles…

Boxing Day, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

It was just before 1:30pm when I arrived in Hyde Park. I parked in front of my house on Woodlawn, got out of the car and stood for a moment in the frosty air, looking around at the barren trees and the ground covered with a light dusting of snow. So far, it had been a cold winter and, if the long-range forecasts were to be believed, it threatened to be even colder in the coming months.


I pulled my two small bags from the trunk and carried them up the steps to the front porch. I fumbled with my keys, eventually removing my right glove so that I could unlock the door and get inside. It was only 8°F, but the wind from the southwest made it feel quite a bit colder. I shut the door behind me and took my bags up to my room. With about an hour before I had to leave for the airport, I put a load of laundry in the washing machine and then went into the office to check my messages.


Hi Steve. This is Becky. I wanted to let you know that Alyson was coming to visit me on January 8th. She’d like to see you. Please call and let me know. I’ll be in Chicago on January 2nd.


A beep.


Hi Steve. This is Scott Bannerman. I was hoping that you could come out and sign the paperwork on January 5th or 6th. Please call me at the office. Thanks.


Another beep.


Merry Christmas, Steve. This is Stephie. Call me so we can catch up."


I heard the double-beep signifying the end of the messages and pressed the erase button. I made a note to return all three calls on Tuesday, then picked up the phone to call my sister and let her know that I’d arrived safely. After speaking to her, I called Bethany to let her know I was home, and then bundled up again to walk next door to get my mail and my newspapers.


Alice Nichols opened the door, greeting me with a smile, "Steve! You’re back! Merry Christmas! And come on in, it’s far too cold to be standing outside!


“Merry Christmas, Alice!” I said, stepping into the toasty warm foyer.


Alice shut the door behind me. I took off my hat and gloves and waited while she called Penny to come down from her room. Penny came bounding down the wide staircase, followed by Pete, her Jack Russell Terrier. Pete was his usual hyperactive self, which, it dawned on me, kind of matched how his mistress was at times. Fortunately for both Pete and me, he wasn’t yipping and yapping, just running around me in circles. That usually didn’t get him banished to Penny’s room like the barking did.


“Hi Steve! Merry Christmas!” Penny said, smiling as she came to stop in front of me.


“Merry Christmas, Penny! I came to get my mail and newspapers.”


She brought me the stack of six newspapers and about a dozen envelopes and handed it to me.


“Do you want some hot cocoa?” Alice asked.


I checked my watch and didn’t really have enough time because I had to leave for the airport.


“I’ll have to take a rain check on that,” I said. “I have to pick up a friend at the airport, and I need to leave fairly soon.”


“Awww! Can’t you just stay for one cup?” Penny whined.


“Penelope Margaret!” Alice reprimanded her. “Stop whining!”


Penny sulked and looked daggers at her mom. The double whammy of being corrected AND called by her formal names, which she didn’t like, had her instantly in a foul mood.


“Penny, I promise I’ll have a cup of cocoa with you. It’s going to be hectic for me the next few because since I have some friends visiting, but I promise I’ll come by for a cup of hot cocoa. Or if you want, you can stay longer on Saturday and we can have one then.”


“Saturday is fine, I guess,” she said.


I saw Alice smirk and roll her eyes. Penny was precocious, but there were times when she still acted like a little girl. She was still only fourteen, and it was entirely possible that the ‘little girl’ side would keep her from making the request that Anala had predicted would come soon. I was still on the fence about what I would do when she made the request, a dilemma made more difficult by the two very different sides of Penny’s personality.


“Good. I’ll see you on Saturday at 8:00am as usual,” I said with a big smile.


I went back to the house and quickly went through the mail. There were a couple of Christmas cards from Sweden, a couple of bills, and a letter from Tina Hoff, who was still the most regular correspondent of all my Swedish friends. I set the mail aside and skimmed the day’s newspaper headlines then looked at the weather forecast. It was going to be bitterly cold for the rest of the week, with snow forecast for Wednesday.


I moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer and started a second load in the washer, then made a grocery list. I hoped Jen was up to stopping at Jewel on the way home, but if not, I’d just order a pizza from Connie’s. I needed quite a few things as I’d done my best to use up all the perishables before I’d left for Ohio. I finished the list and stuffed it into my pocket, then bundled up again and went out to my car.


The car was already ice-cold, despite having been toasty-warm during my drive from Milford. I let the engine warm up for a couple of minutes and put the heat on full before putting the car in gear and heading along Woodlawn. I made my way to the Dan Ryan Expressway, then north on the John F. Kennedy Expressway to O’Hare. I parked, as I usually did, in the short-term lot and walked into the terminal. I checked the arrival board and made my way to the gate.


The airport was quite busy as it was the day after Christmas, and it didn’t surprise me when the arrival board changed to show that Jennifer’s flight would be about twenty minutes late. In the end, her flight was almost forty minutes late and even after the flight arrived; it sat on the ramp waiting for the plane that had just boarded to leave the gate. Twenty-five minutes after that, a clearly frustrated Jennifer Block walked from the Jetway into the gate.


“Hi Jen!” I said happily.


“Hi Steve! We sat there forever! Ugh!” she grumped.


I pulled her into my arms and hugged her, then took her carry-on from her and we walked to the baggage claim, where more frustration ensued when it took another thirty minutes for Jennifer’s bag to arrive. We engaged only in small talk while we waited. Deeper conversations, including what had happened with Kara, had to wait until we were alone. Jennifer’s bag in hand, we went out to the car. I decided to simply head home. We’d do the shopping in the morning.


“Was there a reason you didn’t kiss me?” Jennifer asked.


I chuckled, “Not in particular. Was there a reason YOU didn’t kiss ME?”


She laughed, “Uhm, good point. We’re going to dance around being physical, I guess.”


“So it would appear,” I said.


“Typical Steve Adams,” Jennifer replied. “I suppose you want to talk?”


“I do indeed,” I said. “There’s a lot to talk about.”


“You know, in the past, we always talked better AFTER sex, not before.”


I chuckled, “Very true. But is that the right thing to do? I think there is at least one thing we need to talk about before that happens.”


“Something about the way you said that and your tone of voice concerns me,” Jennifer said warily. “You may as well just start talking now.”


“Can we just wait until we get to the house, please? I’d much rather be able to look in your eyes when we talk.”


She sighed, “OK.”


We were silent for the rest of the drive. When we arrived at the house, I made a point of taking Jennifer’s things up to my room, because I didn’t want to give her the idea that I was trying to avoid physical intimacy. I just wanted to make sure we talked about Kara before anything else happened. We went from my room to the kitchen where I made some Earl Grey tea, and we took the pot and two cups into the ‘Indian’ room.


“So, what’s the big deal?” she asked.


“I saw Kara on Sunday evening,” I said.


“Sunday? On Christmas Eve? Why do I have a feeling this is going to be a very long week?”


“Relax, Jennifer,” I soothed. “Yes, we spent the night together. No, we’re not getting back together and there’s no prospect of that I can see at this point, nor is it something I’d really consider any time soon, if ever. But she snapped out of her funk and she’s ready to work through her issues with Doctor Mercer. The only thing she asked me is that I let her back in my life - not as my girlfriend, or even as a lover, just back into my life.”


“Did you sleep with her?”


“Yes, both literally and figuratively. But it was clear beforehand that it was part of her healing process, just like her making love with me right after I confessed to her about Becky.”


“I’m not sure I like this,” Jennifer said.


“Jen, you gave me a list with exactly one name on it who was off limits. And that name wasn’t Kara Blanchard. You have nothing to worry about.”


“If that’s true, why did you think you needed to tell me about it before you even kissed me?”


“Because we promised to be honest, Jen. Nothing hidden. Remember?”


“That’s true as far as it goes, but your caution speaks volumes.”


“In what way?”


“That you think that Kara might figure into your future. And that future would be a monogamous relationship with Kara. I don’t think she can share. Kind of like Bethany.”


I chuckled, “You’re wrong on at least one account, if not both!”


“I think being 2,000 miles away has me at a disadvantage! And either of those girls agreeing to something long-term like I talked about would really surprise me, even though I suggested it for Bethany.”


“Bethany told me last week that she’d accept the situation you proposed - that I marry her, have kids with Elyse like Elyse asked, and have you as a permanent, long-term lover. And it would be OK if you and I had kids.”


“And Stephanie?” she asked.


“Bethany would tolerate that. And believe it or not, Kara asked me about Stephanie, having assumed that we’d started up again since I really only stopped at Kara’s request. And she seemed OK with that.”


“I’m too damn far away from you, Steve! And you don’t tell me everything in our calls.”


“Both of those things happened in the last four or five days! Because I knew we’d be together today, I decided it was better to tell you face to face. I would have thought you would agree with that!”


Jennifer sighed, “Oh, I do. It’s just the damned distance is going to make things so much harder!”


“Is it? Honestly, I think it’s better in the long-run, even if it’s frustrating in the short-term.”


“How could you say that? You don’t want me around?” she asked sadly.


“That is NOT true, Jennifer! Not even close. What I’m saying is that we need to finish school and it’s too late for either of us to transfer. We both have to work on our issues as well, though I think I have more work to do than you do. I have a lot of things to figure out, and if you were here, we’d be living together and I’m afraid I’d just let inertia decide for me. Is that what you want?”


“No, I want you to be sure of what you want,” she said.


“And if it’s marrying you and being monogamous for the rest of our lives?” I said, arching an eyebrow.


“Then you ask me to marry you and I’ll have to decide on my answer. Isn’t that what your friend Anala suggested?”


“Yes, it is. For me to tell you, or anyone, for that matter, what I wanted and let them decide if they could accept the situation or not. It does make a lot of sense. She wants to meet you, by the way.”


“Oh really?” Jennifer smirked. “Knowing you, I suspect it’s safe to assume she’s hot!”


“She’s as heterosexual as I am,” I chuckled. “She’s coming for dinner on Friday.”


“Too bad! She doesn’t know what she’s missing! Speaking of which, Josie really wants to meet you. I assume it’s OK if I bring her for the wedding as my date?”


“So long as you’re OK with me bringing Bethany as mine! I’m assuming our agreement for the wedding isn’t necessary at this point?”


“That depends, Mr. Adams. Are we going to fuck each other unconscious while I’m here or not?”


“We can certainly try!” I grinned.


“Josie is going to want to try you out. From her perspective it could be perfect - me as her girlfriend and you as a convenient, safe fuck when she needs it.”


“Same as you?” I laughed.


“Do things my way, Steve, and you’ll be fucked senseless on a regular basis for the rest of your life!”


“That’s a hard offer to pass up!” I chuckled. “By the way, I need to order a pizza at some point - I didn’t have a chance to do any shopping. We’ll need to do that tomorrow. I was going to do it today, but I thought you were too frustrated with your flight to do it on the way home from O’Hare.”


“You thought right! Go order the pizza. We can use the sauna and see if we can work out my two-and-half-years of frustration!”


I went to my office and called Connie’s to order a Chicago-style pepperoni pizza, then went back to the ‘Indian’ room and asked Jen if she’d like to play some chess while we waited. She agreed and we went to the great room where I lit the gas logs in the fireplace, then we sat down to play.


Jennifer hadn’t played much in the previous few years, so we both played pretty badly. We each won two games before the pizza arrived. We chose to eat in the great room by the fire, so I grabbed a couple of TV tray tables and we dug into our pizza and washed it down with Dr Pepper. When we finished eating, we took our dishes to the kitchen, and then headed down to the basement.


I turned on the sauna and then stood and watched as Jennifer undressed, taking in the gorgeous body that I remembered so well. Her firm, full breasts were just as I remembered, as was the strawberry-blonde pubic hair. I smiled when she put her hands on her hips and cocked her head, obviously waiting for me to undress. I did, and she smiled and nodded approvingly.


I took her hand and we went into the sauna and sat down on towels next to each other. A couple of minutes later, when the stones were warm enough, I ladled water onto them from the bucket. When I sat back down, Jennifer put her hand on mine. I turned my hand palm-up and we interlaced our fingers.


“How do we avoid screwing this up, Steve?”


“I think it’s what we’ve said - just being totally honest with each other. And that means on everything.”


“Is it really that easy?”


“No. But it’s where we have to start, Jen. We blew our relationship apart because neither of us was fully honest with each other. If we can do that, I think we’ll be just fine.”


“But you’re not sure about the future yet, are you?”


“No. I’m not. I know what you and the other girls think. I’m not sure I agree with you, nor am I sure that it will work out the way you all think it will. Right now, for the next eighteen months, I’m focusing on school and making sure that I don’t fuck things up with you.”


“Now that I can get behind!” Jennifer said, sliding close to me.


I put my arm around her and she leaned against me. We sat quietly together for a while, and then moved to the whirlpool. Jennifer sat between my legs and leaned back against me. I put my arms around her and we relaxed in the swirling water.


“You know, you still haven’t kissed me,” Jennifer said.


“I could say the same to you, Jen,” I chuckled.


“When we get out of this tub, Mr. Adams, you are going to take me to your room and fuck me like it’s the last time you’re ever going to fuck. Do you hear me?”


“Yes, dear!” I sighed theatrically.


“Oh please!” Jennifer giggled. “Like it’s torture?”


“I’ll show you torture!” and I slipped my hand between her thighs, pressing quickly against her button, making her squeal and squirm!


“You just wait, Buster!”


We laughed and settled back down, making small talk, enjoying the feel of our bodies pressing together, calming ourselves for what was soon to come.


About twenty minutes later I turned off the water jets and I helped Jennifer out of the tub and led her up to my room. Water dripped from our bodies onto the hardwood floors as we made our way up the two sets of stairs. I pulled down the duvet and pulled Jennifer to me. We exchanged a soft kiss that quickly became intense. We laughed as we fell into my bed.


“What can I do for you, Jennifer?” I asked, amidst the laughter and kisses.


“Anything,” she sighed. “Everything.”


We came together eschewing foreplay and I slid deliciously into her, as we kissed deeply. Much like our first time together, it was a slow build-up with multiple small orgasms for Jennifer before we had our usual crushing mutual orgasms. When my dick wasn’t inside her, my tongue was, and we did indeed do everything.


For three hours we let our repressed desires for each other take control of our bodies, of our souls. We fucked, we loved, all with a desperation to take from each other, and give to each other, everything we had bottled up for two and a half years. This was Jen, my Jen, and I surrendered my very soul to her, to the moment. She had to see it in my eyes, as I saw it in hers as we thrust at each other, suffering countless times the rapture of the ‘little death’, until at the end, groaning each other’s names, we collapsed against each other, covered in sweat and other fluids, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to even exchange a kiss before we fell asleep. We awoke the same way we’d fallen asleep, and dragged ourselves from bed to the shower.

December, 1983, Chicago, Illinois

“That, my dear Steve, was beyond anything we’ve ever done,” Jennifer sighed, standing under the warm spray.


“We were always good at that. Always. I agree it was amazing, and truly, beyond anything we’ve done before. It was more than just a joining of bodies; it was a joining of souls. Our job now is to keep it that way.”


“So it’s really true? You really believe that it’s possible for us to be together?” she asked, hopefully.


“Yes, I do. There are certainly going to be obstacles in our way, and you know me well enough that nothing ever goes as planned, but I’m sure as hell going to try.”


We finished our shower and dressed, then went down to breakfast. I made bacon, eggs, and waffles and we ate like two starving waifs, trying to replenish the energy that we’d expended the night before. My body actually ached from the exertion and I’d need a sauna and whirlpool to recover.


“I need a sauna after we clean up, then we’ll go grocery shopping,” I said.


“I wore you out?” she grinned.


“You were just as worn out as I was, young lady!” I grinned.


“I had two-and-a-half years of pent up desire! What did you expect?”


“I thought you and Josie…”


“We do, but it’s different. It’s softer, gentler. The orgasms are smaller, but still satisfying. Do you remember those small orgasms I had the first time we made love? It’s like those. It’s comforting and pleasurable at the same time.”


“And the crushing orgasms from last night?”


She smiled, “Oh, those are wonderful, without question. But I have those even when we just make love, like the first time. Last night was crazy, and that’s fine from time to time, but mostly I prefer making love.”


“This is a new side of you, Jennifer,” I said.


“You can thank Josie, if you like it.”


“I do, of course. You know my preferences.”


“Yes, I do.”


“Tell me about Josie.”


“She’s sweet, and soft, and gentle, and loves me without reservation, just like you do. You and I have had our problems, but there has never been a single day when you didn’t love me, or a day when I didn’t love you. Josie is very different from Jocelyn. Josie is a girlie-girl, whereas Jocelyn was more like a guy in the way she acted. You’ll like Josie; you would have hated Jocelyn. It’s doubly important now for me to be with someone that you’ll like and who I think will like you.”


“She’s not the jealous type?” I asked.


“No. She knows my history and our history, including me and your sister.”


“Does she know about me and Stephanie?”


“No, that confidence is something that I might never reveal to her. Too many people wouldn’t be able to handle that and as much as I love and trust Josie, I don’t know how she’d react to that revelation. It’s a problem for later, if it comes to that.”


We finished eating and went to the sauna. As I’d hoped, the steam and heat revived me and made me feel better, and the swirling warm water of the whirlpool soothed my aching muscles. It was good to hold Jennifer in my arms and dream of the future, but that future was still eighteen months away, at least. We had to make it through these next three semesters and graduate. After that, I didn’t know what the course was.


“What do you plan to do when you graduate?” I asked.


“I guess that depends on what you’re doing at that point. Do you plan to stay in Chicago?”


“I think I committed to doing that when I bought the house. I like Chicago, and I’m pretty sure I’ll stay here.”


“Then I guess the first thing I’ll do is move here and find a job.”


“What about Josie?” I asked.


“She’s studying civil engineering. I’m sure she can find a job here, too. She’s from Minneapolis, so she won’t object to the Midwest.”


“It’s not as liberal here as it is in the San Francisco area.”


“None of our friends will make an issue of it. And honestly, two girls have less trouble than if Larry were to bring a guy he wanted to be with here.”


“Did you ever talk with him about this?” I asked.


“I did, but we both promised never to discuss that conversation with anyone. Ask him yourself, if you’re curious.”


“It’s his own business, Jen. I’ve never cared who was with whom or who loved whom, except when I saw two people who belonged together. I have too many other issues to deal with to worry about you being with a girl or Larry being with a guy. If Josie makes you happy, then be with Josie. It’s really that simple.”


Jennifer sighed deeply.


“I love you, Steve,” she said.


“I love you, Jen.”


We got out of the whirlpool and after we’d showered and dressed, we set about accomplishing our plans for the day. We went to Jewel to do the grocery shopping. When we returned home, we put the groceries away and then set up my small artificial Christmas tree. We each put one Christmas gift under the tree for each other, and I added a second gift which was for Jennifer’s birthday. We’d agreed we’d celebrate our Christmas on New Year’s Eve.


We spent the rest of the day talking, trying to find that intimacy that Anala had taught me about, though I took some time out to call Scott Bannerman and arrange to see him on January 5th. Jennifer and I knew each other, but we needed to go deeper, to truly know each other and reach the same level I’d reached with Anala. It would come in time, but I was certain it would eventually come. That evening, we made love slowly and passionately as we had that very first time in Jennifer’s bed in Milford.


Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the same - meals, the sauna, talking, and, of course, making love. It had snowed quite a bit on Wednesday so we went out back and made a small snowman, laughing and giggling like little kids. Of course, Jennifer threw a snowball at me, and I retaliated! It wasn’t a 2:00am snowball fight like I’d had with Pam in Abisko, but this was with Jennifer, my Jen, and the cease-fire negotiations were a lot more fun!


On Friday morning, Jennifer and I made the rounds of several furniture stores because I was ready to spend more money on furnishing the great room and the sunroom. We eventually found items that I thought worked and for a price I was willing to pay. I also found two medium size bookshelves to set the pachinko machines on. I arranged for delivery after New Year’s, and Jennifer and I had lunch at Wendy’s.


Late in the afternoon we drove to Bridgeport to pick up Anala. As I’d suspected they would, the girls hit it off immediately. We drove back to the house and Anala made her special tea and the three of us went to sit in the ‘Indian’ room. The conversation ranged to all manner of topics, from school, to family, to me. When the girls wanted to talk alone, I went to the kitchen to prepare dinner.

That was a preview of AWLL 1 - Book 9 -Anala. To read the rest purchase the book.

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