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Introduction:

"And ye shall seek and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" Jeremiah 29:13
I waited for a while but she didn’t send a follow-up message. My fingers hovered over the keyboard and I wondered if I really did want to dive into this ocean of crazy. Well, I had promised. I really wish being the ‘nice guy’ wouldn’t always be so hazardous to my health.

Me: “Okay…what is it?”

Jessica: “Oh, I’m not going to tell you yet lol”

Me: “And why not?”

Jessica: “Because I don’t feel like it. I have to go. I’ll let you know soon! ;)”

She logged off. Son of a bitch! Now I was going to have to spend every waking minute wondering what Jessica was going to demand of me. I mean, really? She couldn’t just say right there, “Hey, Jack, I want you to beat up Craig” or “Jack, I want you to wash my car”? I thumped my head on my pillow. And I had been complaining that life over summer vacation had been dull. In just two weeks, it had gone from ‘rut’ to ‘holy fucking shit, my life is a fucking spider web’. Or something like that.

My phone buzzed.

Kayla: Hellooooooo? Where did you gooooooo? I miss youuuuuuu :)

I smiled a little. At least in those two weeks I had been blessed with the best girlfriend I could have ever imagined. And Jessica did promise not to do anything that might compromise my relationship with Kayla. I’d have to hold her to that.

Me: Hey, gorgeous. Sorry about that.

Kayla: It’s okay. What are you up to?

Me: Oh, just thinking about you :)

Kayla: Awwww :) what about me?

We chatted for a few hours more, mostly about random things. She was kind enough not to ask about my talk with Amanda, only expressing the hope that the two of them could be friends now. That would be nice but, despite what Amanda said, I didn’t know how easy it would be for her to just forget about her feelings for me. I trusted that she wouldn’t try anything, enough to sleep with my door unlocked, but how deep did those feelings go? Would they just be in the back of her mind or would they try to work their way out again?

Ugh, I was worrying myself into early gray hairs. Were these really going to be nostalgic memories in a few decades?

When I finally checked the clock again, it was around eleven.

Me: Hey, you, shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?

Kayla: Awwww, do you want rid of me that bad?

Me: NO. Believe me, I want to be over there with you.

Kayla: Lol are you trying to get a sleepover, Jack? ;)

I blushed.

Me: Yeah, I’m sure your parents would love that idea.

Kayla: Well…they go out on business trips a lot ;)

Me: Lol sounds like YOU’RE trying to get ME to sleep over ;)

Kayla: Hehehehehe maybe ;)

I lay back in bed, grinning. I wasn’t trying to rush us too quickly into anything but…well, a guy can hope for the best. And Kayla….well, she was the best. And no one could ever convince me otherwise.

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Kayla was the only one who could ever bring the biggest smile to my face, that much I knew. But next morning’s breakfast came very, very close. It was the first time in a long time all of us were sitting around the table, laughing and talking together. Alan was his usual chipper self but the change in Amanda was so drastic, she may as well have been a different person. In fact, both of the twins were different people for a change. They didn’t feel the need to sync up their actions. It felt like, up until now, there had only been two children in our family. Now we had a third.

Mom and dad were surprised and delighted by Amanda’s upswing in attitude. They had looked at me with questioning looks and I just shrugged. If they want to think she got out of it by herself, let them. Who was I to argue?

Something that became immediately apparent to me was just how true their declaration of love had been for each other. The way they spoke to each other, the way they looked at each other, the way they always seemed to be aware of the others’ movements even if they were looking away…it was love. Mom and dad could write it off as a twin thing but to me it was just adorable. It was still weird but…hell, I loved them so I could get behind it.

“So,” dad said, turning to me after laughing at one of Amanda’s jokes (she liked to tell jokes now. Interesting), “How are things with Kayla?”

“Great,” I said cheerfully. I glanced at Amanda out of the corner of my eye but she didn’t seem to have any noticeable reaction.

“Good,” dad said, toasting us with his coffee, “Looks like everything is well with our kids, sweetheart. I think we can retire to the Bahamas now.”

“Leave us your credit cards and the house and you can go wherever you want,” Amanda said, sticking her tongue out.

“Ha!” mom laughed, “Free rides! My ass! Join the workforce or you all can just start sampling the trash can gourmet.”

“I got a job yesterday,” I said nonchalantly, crunching into a strip of bacon.

It was like that scene in Inception when Leonardo DiCaprio was in that guy's dream and almost gave away the scheme: everyone at the table instantly stopped talking and looked at me. The coordination was breathtaking. “They hired you?” dad asked, surprised.

“Yeah. I start training on Saturday.”

“Have you hammered out a work schedule yet?”

“No, I assume that’s one of the things that will happen Saturday.”

Dad nodded. “Well, good on you, Jack! Congratulations!”

Mom had gotten up and came over to give me a big hug. “Well, Mr. Working Man, looks like you can start contributing to the house payments.”

“Okay. Then I’m not going to have enough money for college and I’ll have to end up staying here for a few years and I’d feel bad for missing the college dorm part of life so I’ll just have to make my room—”

Mom and dad shuddered at the thought. “I was kidding!” mom said, “Good for you, Jack. I’m proud of you.”

Alan’s grin was so big, it begged to be commented on. “What’s tickling your happy bone, Alan?” dad asked.

“With you guys working late and Jack having to work after school, we get the house to ourselves!” He pumped the air with his fists. Again, there’s no way mom and dad were seeing what he was actually talking about. They were seeing a couple of teenagers who wanted to pitch homework in the Don’t Give A Shit area of their room so they could watch TV. I was seeing them testing out their newfound love, in its physical form, everywhere they could. I looked down at the table, imagined them splayed across it and sweat lines running across the wood, and suddenly didn’t feel hungry anymore.

“Oh, no,” dad said, flicking a spoonful of oatmeal at Alan, “I’m not going to spend every day at work waiting for a phone call telling me you’ve reduced the house to matchwood. You’re going to get a list of chores to do every day and if they aren’t done by the time we get home, Jack won’t be the only one gainfully employed.”

“But Dad!” Alan whined, crinkling his eyes and raising his voice a couple of octaves.

Amanda put a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, calm down,” she giggled, “At least we don’t have to put up with customers.” She stuck her tongue out at me playfully, something I would never have imagined she would do a week ago.

“Swear to God,” mom said, gathering up dishes, “It’s like having three monkeys. When you all have kids, we’re sparing no details.” We were all silent, blushing inwardly at the thought of having children. I didn’t know if Alan and Amanda had thought about that but with Kayla and I…

Well, we have to actually get that far, first. But it was a nice thought.

“You guys getting a ride with me?” I asked once the table had been cleared and we could no longer deny the inevitability of school.

They looked at each other, smiled, and then nodded. “Sorry again about yesterday,” Amanda said humbly.

I gave her a quick, one-armed hug. “No worries, sis. Go grab your stuff. We’re rolling out in five.” I pulled out my phone and shot a message to Kayla:

Me: We’re heading out in five minutes.

Kayla: All ready.

Me: Alan and Amanda are going to be riding with us.

Kayla: Okay :) I promise I won’t mention yesterday.

Me: Thanks, baby.

Kayla: Of course, handsome <3

I had one of those heart-skipping moments when my heart said something that was too powerful for words alone. My mouth tried to form the words, my fingers tried to type them, but what was said in the little skip of my heart couldn’t be expressed like that. The only thing I could think about was how Kayla could start every day off perfectly just with a single text.

I was aware that I was smiling. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew it was a smile that only Kayla could give me.

Mom came in and happened to see the look on my face. “Feeling okay there, Jack?”

“Hmmm? Yeah, I’m fine.”

She smiled and winked at me. “Kayla is an amazing girl, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, I’ve grown quite fond of her.”

“Invite her over to dinner sometime! We’d love to have her.”

“I will,” I replied, “Just…maybe don’t make that an experimenting night?”

Mom huffed. “Take all the fun away, will you?”

“Love you too, mom.”

Five minutes later, we were piling into the car, the twins in the back seat. They looked quickly at the house, saw no one, and immediately slammed together for some tonsil hockey. “And so it begins…” I muttered.

Amanda emerged and frowned at me. “We’re going to have to put up with you and Kayla making kissy-faces at each other without having to hide it. Let me get my sugar while I can!” She pulled Alan’s mouth to hers as their hands gripped fistfuls of clothing and skin.

“You have until we get to Kayla’s house,” I said, putting the car in reverse, “So about ten seconds.” The lip-smacking and moaning in the back seat increased and I almost wished I had a spray bottle to hose them down with.

They managed to split apart just as Kayla was skipping down the driveway towards us. “Good morning, Jack,” she said cheerfully as she leaned in for a quick kiss. “Hey guys!” she said to the twins as she settled herself into the seat.

“Morning, Kayla,” Alan said just as cheerfully. Amanda rolled her eyes and poked him in the side.

“Glad you guys are coming with us,” Kayla said, clicking her seatbelt.

“What, you didn’t like it when it was just me?” I teased.

She shrugged. “I can take it or leave it.” She got a jab in the ribs for that and squealed.
Amanda leaned in between the seats. “Kayla,” she said, “I’m sorry we haven’t really had the chance to meet yet.”

“That’s okay,” Kayla replied, smiling, “I’d love to get to know you more.”

“Me too,” Amanda said, “Especially if you’re going to be the one holding Jack’s leash.”

“Yo!” I said, miffed, “I’m right here.”

“We know,” Kayla replied, patting my leg, “But hush now. The girls are talking.”

And talk they did, the entire way to school. You’d think they’d been friends for years the way they chatted, leaning in close, putting their hands on each other’s arms, laughing uproariously in that way only teenage girls could do. For appearances sake, I rolled my eyes and pretended to be irritated (they would have been disappointed if I hadn’t) but secretly, I loved it. The last thing I wanted was for the two most important women in my life (mom had her own special pedestal that she built herself) to be at odds with each other. With all the crazy shit that had been going on recently, it was nice to finally have a win.

Now I just had to deal with the other two lingering problems…

One of those problems was waiting for us right outside the school.

It was something I probably should have asked Amanda about earlier but I had been so relieved by her change in attitude that it must have completely slipped my mind. And as we walked up to the school, joking and laughing like we’d been a group since preschool, I got a big reminder what it was I had wanted to ask about. Craig. He was standing at the edge of the sidewalk, looking expectantly at Amanda.

She saw him and her mood immediately soured. “Shit,” she muttered, “I forgot about him.”

Alan instinctively moved in front of her. I had my arm around Kayla and, were society a little more forgiving, Alan would have probably put a protective arm around Amanda as well. “What do you want to do?” Alan asked.

“Just keep walking,” she said, “I don’t want him talking to me, especially not after what he was saying yesterday.”

“What was he saying yesterday?” I asked.

“I really don’t want to repeat it.”

Fair enough. Kayla hadn’t told me any of the things Craig had said to her and I knew better than to ask.

Even with Alan standing in front of her, Craig’s face was set with his usual unearned cockiness as he watched Amanda. When we were a few feet away, he moved forward. “Hey, Amanda,” he said, trying to add a swagger to his steps, “Sorry I didn’t—”

We walked past without giving him so much as a glance. I had hoped that would be the end of it but Craig couldn’t take a hint even if we nailed it right to his nuts. “Hey!” he said, trying to catch up, “You didn’t call me! You said you would!”

Amanda walked a little faster. Kayla was looking furious, as if she wanted to turn and deal with Craig herself. I squeezed her tighter to me as our pace quickened.

Craig shoved himself between Alan and Amanda, forcing her to stop. “I’m talking to you, you stupid—”

“Craig,” I said, stopping and facing him, “If you continue that sentence, we’re going to have a problem. Leave my sister alone.” Amanda smiled at me.

Craig saw the smile and almost sputtered with rage. “Again?! Fuck you, Jack! You’re the problem, you fucking piece of shit!” He leaned into Amanda’s face. “Listen, whatever he said about me is bullshit. Just give me a—”

She walked past him without saying anything. He reached out to grab her arm but she pulled away in time. “Seriously, dude,” I said, staring him down, “Walk away. Last chance.”

I could hear the sizzling as his blood boiled. “What the fuck is your problem? Why do you fuck up every relationship I try to have?!”

“Hey, you don’t need help with that,” I replied, “You’re perfectly capable of fucking up on your own.”

He wanted to hit me. I could tell. His fist was clenched and his arms were quivering as if he could barely keep himself under control. “What is your problem with me?!”

“What is my problem with you?” I snarled, “Maybe the fact that you’re a manipulative, skeezy douchebag who treated my girlfriend like shit. Or the fact that you’re going after my sister next. Or the fact that you can’t seem to stay the hell away from me or the people in my life so, yeah, I’m putting up fucking fortifications, pal. Come at me!”

He wanted to. Another second and he probably would have. But the arrival of the twin brick shithouses, Joe and Brad, made him check those thoughts. “Problems, Jack?” Brad asked, folding his arms so that his muscles bulged like ship cables.

“Nothing that isn’t going to take care of itself,” I replied, glaring at Craig. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, then stalking off, throwing us a middle finger over his shoulder as he left.

“Are you okay, Jack?” Kayla asked, feeling me still quivering with rage.

“I’m all right,” I said, taking deep breaths. I was more furious than I could ever remember being. And it wasn’t just the fact that he wanted to treat Amanda like crap for rejecting him. It wasn’t just the fact that he clearly wanted to lay my guts out on the floor. It was the fact that, no matter how hard I tried, he still somehow managed to worm his way into my life. And I had a whole year ahead with him in three of my classes. One deposit of Joy, please.

“You know,” Joe said, cracking his knuckles, “You wouldn’t even have to pay Brad and me at this point. We’ll toss him a beating free of charge.”

“Thanks guys,” I sighed, “This is my problem.”

“If it’s your problem, it’s our problem,” Joe said seriously, “Shit, man, we ain’t going to let that turdscicle annoy you. That’s our job.”

Kayla giggled. “Is that another entry in your extended resume?”

“Of course.”

Kayla laughed and suddenly brightened. “Ohhhhh,” she gasped, then shook my arm, “Remember what I said yesterday, Jack?”

“What?”

“About what I wanted you to tell them?”

Ah, crap. She remembered. “Which part?”

Jack,” she hissed, grinning, “You know…about what you are to me?”

“A boyfriend?” Alan said.

“A free ride?” Amanda said.

“A sugar-daddy?” Joe said.

“A poster-child for ugliness that you carry around so you look even better by comparison?” Braid said.

And Brad is the winner! And the Grand Prize is…one swift kick in the balls!

“Noooooo,” she giggled, looking at me expectantly, “Tell them, Jack. Please?”

Ugh. No man can withstand a ‘please’ from a beautiful girl. I sighed. “I’m her knight in shining armor,” I said as stoically as I could. I was proud that I was but I was going to get enough shit from the Doofus Duo without letting them know I wanted it.

If a twelve-year-old boy had been given a limitless credit card and complete access to an upscale whorehouse, he could not have grinned as large as my present company did. Alan and Amanda were in stitches, leaning against each other for support, but laughter wasn’t enough for Brad and Joe. Oh no. This was going to be a long, slow process, parceled out in individual payments over what was probably going to be the rest of my life.

“Yes you are,” Kayla said, kissing me on the cheek.

“Jack, will you be my knight in shining armor, too?” Joe asked innocently, batting his eyes.

“Ha ha,” I said dryly, walking past them.

I don’t know why I thought that would get them to let up but it didn’t. “But who will protect me from all the ruffians?” Brad asked, looking around terrified, “Why, I could jumped at any moment!”

“And it’d be a crying shame,” I replied, opening the door for Kayla. Before I could walk in after her, the morons sauntered through.

“Why thank you, Jack!” Joe said sweetly.

“What a gentleman!” Brad cooed, blowing me a kiss.

“Keep that up and you’ll find out what it’s like to suck dick with no lips,” I snapped. Seriously, I loved these guys, but there were times when I thought a good elbow-smash to the hinge of their jaw would benefit them immensely.

Kayla and I said our goodbyes in the foyer, giving each other a tight hug and a slow, lingering kiss. “See you in an hour and a half, sweetcheeks,” I said, smiling.

She returned the smile. “I’ll be counting down the minutes,” she replied, kissing me one last time before disappearing down the hallway.

Joe tagged along at my heels all the way to class. “Dude, you do realize how lucky you are, right?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, so whatever genie you wished to for Kayla, can I get in on that action?”

I blew a raspberry. “Too fucking late, man. I pitched that sucker back in the ocean.”

Joe hung his head. “So I guess it’s back to Rosy Palm and her five sisters.”

Too much information. Way too much information.

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All classes without Kayla were filed under the Not Important part of my brain. I mean, yes, I sort of paid attention, sort of learned stuff, retained some information…all filed away under Shit I Might Or More Accurately, Might Not Need. Maybe it was cockiness or overconfidence in my own abilities, but when we’re set to sand blocks of wood into circular spheres, my mind is allowed to wander. Even Joe, who loves this stuff as much as porn, looked like he could be doing anything else and get more out of it. Now, if we were welding, that would be the shit.

Joe was big enough that I needed about two strides for every one of his, but even he was fighting to catch up with me as we walked to homeroom. “Were you promised ice cream or something?” he asked when we got the classroom.

“How do you mean?”

“Seriously, dude, I know you’re into Kayla and all, but this is gonna be hazardous for your health.”

“What? Cardio?” He threw up his hands and slouched into his seat. I grinned and patted him on the head. “One day you’ll understand.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered, “Hopefully soon.”

Wait…was he jealous of me and Kayla? He’d dated a couple of times in his life but he always seemed to be much more interested in the singles’ game. It was high school, after all. Time to live it up. Okay, I wasn’t, but I had Kayla. Did Joe want a girlfriend as well? Hmmm.

I had just sat down and pulled out a couple textbooks when Kayla came in and, as usual, everyone and everything else slid away from my attention so I could focus purely on her. She sat down and turned to me, giving me a smile. The combination of her smile, the angle of her head, and the bow in her hair (light green lined with silver) was so cute my heart skipped painfully.

It must have shown on my face. Kayla frowned and put her hand on mine. “Are you okay?” she asked.

I squeezed her hand. “You are aggressively beautiful.”

“Aggressively?” she said, giggling a little.

“As in, you’re so beautiful, just looking at you is like a punch to the gut.”

She thought about it for a second, then decided it was a compliment. “Awww,” she said, bringing my hand up to her lips, “And you’re aggressively handsome.” Joe made puking sounds behind us.

The bell rang and Mr. Spakler looked up from his desk. “It’s been reported to me that my attention span is not conducive to a proper educational environment.” He picked up his book. “As such, consider yourselves under stricter attention.” He opened the book and started reading, offering us not the slightest bit of attention. What a guy.

“So how was Philosophy?” I whispered to Kayla as we pretended to studiously examine our textbooks.

“It was all right.”

“Did you have your big speech about beauty yet?”

“Less of a speech and more of a conversation. You wouldn’t believe how many people think beauty equals boner.”

“Well…” I said, looking her up and down.

She colored instantly but her eyes suggested that my words had a different effect somewhere else. “Jack,” she whispered, looking around, “Dooooooon’t.”

“Just speaking the truth, beautiful.”

She pinched my upper arm. “Well, anyway, I argued what we said before, how beauty was unique to each person and that it was impossible to pin down as an absolute. The teacher claimed that answer was ‘too easy’.”

“Seriously?” I said, “They really think there’s some concrete answer?”

“Apparently. Now I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and think about what beauty is. I could go the smartass route and just saw beauty is something that’s pleasing to the eye. That’s what it is in the most technical sense.”

I squeezed her upper arm. “Well, just use that as a baseline. I’m sure you’ll find something else if you keep going.”

She smiled at me. “Thanks, Jack.”

Homeroom drifted by with more small talk, mostly about her work on the concept of ‘beauty’. I had been right that her completely technical explanation of beauty was a good starting point for her argument; she kept digging and finding more and more that she could talk about. In the end, she had a few sheets of paper graffitied with tiny notes here and there as one thought led to another, and then another. I stuck to my assertion that beauty was Kayla and that everything else was just lucky to get caught in her glow. She rolled her eyes in class while showing me a note saying she would thank me properly later.

The bell rang and we girded our loins for whatever Walburn had prepared for gym class. “What shenanigans are you expecting today?” I asked Joe as we exited homeroom.

“If we’re doing the mile run, I have a twisted ankle,” he replied, “You couldn’t drive me around that track with a cattle prod.”

“You still think you’d outstrip us all?” I asked Kayla.

She grinned and said, “Baby, you got the strength but you couldn’t catch me if your life depended on it.”

I leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “I’d just chase your butt. It’s long overdue for a spanking.” She giggled and shivered pleasantly.

Walburn was laying out a large mat when we came into the auxiliary gym. He waited until we were sitting in the bleachers before a large grin cracked his granite-like face and he bellowed, “Wrestling!”

Wait, what?

That seemed to be the general reaction from everyone. You didn’t need to have studied the physical education rulebook to realize that wrestling in class, especially with people who haven’t had the training for it, was a bad idea. I wondered if Walburn had gone a little rogue with this decision.

“Yes, wrestling!” he boomed cheerfully, “Let’s get two volunteers up here and see what you can do.”

“Uh, sir?” Brad said holding up a hand, “Is this really a good idea?”

“Who says it isn’t?” Walburn demanded.

“But…what about helmets and stuff?” Brad asked.

Walburn tossed down a pair of wrestling helmets. “There, happy?”

Not really. This was going to get dangerous quick. I held up my hand. “Sir, how exactly can we all participate? I mean, are the guys supposed to wrestle girls?”

“Of course not! This is just for the men!”

What exactly was going on? Walburn was a little eccentric when it came to fitness, sure, but this was crossing the line. “Sir, this really seems like a bad idea.”

“Baloney! I’m here to ref!”

I stood up. “Mr. Walburn, can we have another teacher in here, please? I think we’re getting a bit—”

“And there’s our first volunteer!” Walburn roared, pointing at me, “Now get down here before I fail you.”

Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong. I don’t know if Walburn was going through some personal problems right now or what, but this wasn’t how he normally was. I figured the best thing to do would be to just play along as best I could and try to keep everything as safe as possible.

I picked up the helmet and strapped it on. God, these things were uncomfortable. Then again, they’d protect you from a concussion so…

“What about a mouthpiece?” I said as I strapped on the helmet.

Walburn fished in a small bag and tossed me the U-shaped piece of rubber. It was chipped and scarred with teeth marks. Jesus Christ.

“All right, Harrison is our first volunteer,” Walburn said, giving me a nasty glare, “Now we need an opponent.”

“I will.”

In hindsight, I should have seen that one coming. Brad or Joe probably would have come up first, since we wrestled before and knew how to do it without hurting each other, but they were still too stunned by what was going on to be quick on the uptake. Craig, however, had not been, and he was now coming down the mat.

“Thank you, Carter,” Walburn said, tossing him the other helmet and a mouthpiece, “All right, now what I’m looking for—”

“So, wait,” I said, knowing I needed to set some ground rules before Craig decided to take this opportunity to have a full-on fight, “Are we just going to be doing some moves?”

“What?”

“I’ve got no clue what the holds are. And I don’t think Craig does either. Like I said, this is a bad idea. We should stop now.”

“Harrison,” Walburn said, flaming with rage, “Are you the teacher?”

“No, sir.”

“Then shut up.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kayla slipping away. Walburn was too focused on Craig and I to notice. God, I hope she gets help soon. Craig looked like he was perfectly willing to ignore the rules if it gave him a chance to hurt me.

“Mr. Walburn—” Joe started.

“Quiet!” Walburn roared. He was getting more and more angry. “Next person who speaks is going to get an F for the day.” He looked back at us. “We’re looking for restraining, not pain. No punching, kicking, headbutting…no use of anything except grips, got that?”

We nodded. I was crouching, trying desperately to remember what actual moves I knew. Wrestling with Joe and Brad was more akin to shoving each other until one was left standing. Did I know any real wrestling moves? I’d have to wing it. Shit, I was nervous. My mouth was dry and my stomach was suddenly very conscious that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

Kayla, where are you?

“All right, on my whistle,” Walburn growled, putting his whistle to his mouth, “Three…two…one…” He blew a shrill note.

Craig was already darting at me, wrapping his arms around my waist and trying to throw me to the ground. I planted my feet and pushed back, trying to knock away his arms that were desperately scrambling for a better grip. He leaned into his shove, slamming into my stomach with his shoulder way harder than I’m sure was allowed. I leaned down and wrapped my arms around his waist, lifting up with all my might.

His feet came off the ground and, realizing I was about to be holding him upside down, he let go and twisted out of my grip, skipping back a few steps. The murderous look in his eye was terrifying. I prayed Walburn really would stop it going too far.

Craig turned his body sideways and started sliding along the mat to my right. I followed him with my head, keeping my body low and my arms up. To be honest, my pose was probably more suited for boxing than wrestling but what else was I going to do? I didn’t know how to wrestle, at least not in the school-safe way. Seeing why this whole thing was a bad idea, yet?

Craig came forward again, batting at my arms, trying to break through to my body. I kept my arms up and slid my leg forward behind his. I shoved forward, throwing him off balance so he toppled to the ground. I was on my knee in an instant, looping one of my arms under his armpit. He tried to throw me off but I pressed him down, holding his arm down as I pressed him to the mat. No, it wasn’t pretty but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing!

Craig was flailing and thrashing like a fish. I leaned down further, trying to keep him still. He pushed up with all his might, managing to get one knee on the ground, and threw his head back. The helmet took most of the impact but part of his skull slammed into my cheek and I fell back, losing my grip on him. In a second, he had reversed positions, only now he had me in a choke-hold.

“Coach, Jesus Christ!” Brad shouted. I flailed and kicked but Craig had his arm around my throat and was lifting back so my feet were off the ground. I snorted and coughed as I twisted to and fro, trying to throw him off. I could feel the blood rushing to my face, fogging up my eyes, and prayed Joe or Brad or someone would stop this. Walburn clearly wouldn’t.

“MR. WALBURN!!!”

Craig dropped me and I slid to my knees, gasping for air. I heard feet pounding on the wood floor and suddenly I was being held in a pair of cool, soft arms. Kayla. Oh, thank God for you, baby. She kissed my cheek and held me close. More pounding on the bleachers as students filed down to come check on me. Brad and Joe got to me first, holding everyone back as Kayla held me.

My vision had been hazy and swimming but now was starting to clear up and I could see who Kayla had brought with her. Ms. Ellison. Our good old Vice Principal with enough rage in her eyes to boil steel. Normally she was fairly easy-going but when she got mad, she got mad. She wasn’t mad now. She was pissed off.

“What on Earth do you think you’re doing?!” she roared. Walburn could be loud but Ms. Ellison would make your ears ring.

“Teaching my class,” he replied with a sneer.

“Teaching isn’t what I would call this! I’d call this fighting!”

“It’s wrestling,” he shrugged, “Call it a fight if you want.”

Wrestling?!” She looked like she couldn’t believe her ears. “Mr. Walburn, report to the office right now.”

“I’m not done with my class.”

NOW!”

Even he jumped at that. Any protest he might want to make was silenced under the blaze of her gaze and he walked out, not even bothering to look back at us. She watched him walk out before turning to Craig. “You,” she said, pointing at him, “To the office as well.”

“Why?” he snarled, spitting out the mouthpiece and removing his helmet, “I don’t know anything about wrestling. He just sent us at each other!”

“So you’re dumb enough not to recognize the difference between wrestling and strangling?” she asked, folding her arms, “Get to the principal’s office. Now.”

She didn’t yell it that time but the impact was just as strong. He gestured helplessly at me, doubtless wondering why I wasn’t required to go as well, but thought better of it when her nostrils started to flare. He stomped off, slamming the door open on his way out. Ms. Ellison then turned to me. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” I replied, coughing a little, “No permanent damage.”

“Do you want to go to the nurse?”

“No, thanks. I just need some water.”

“All right,” she said, turning to the door, “I may call you to the office at some point about what happened here.”

“We’ll go too,” Joe said fiercely, “We all saw what happened.”

Ms. Ellison nodded. “If I need to, I will call you all. And thank you, Ms. Hannigan.” She looked at me and gave me a small smile. “You have a good girlfriend, Mr. Harrison. Most students ask me to come with them. She demanded it.” She left.

Kayla helped me to the bleachers. “I promise I’m fine, Kayla,” I said as we sat down.

“That was fucking bullshit, man,” Brad said, still quivering with anger, “What the fuck happened?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “Something pushed Walburn off the deep-end.”

“But what?” Kayla asked. She looked just as furious as Brad and, since she was normally so cheerful and happy, it was a terrifying change.

“Who knows?” I put my hand on hers. “Thank you, baby. You’re a life-saver.”

She kissed my forehead. “You protect me, I protect you.” Neither Brad nor Joe made any smartass comments. They just smiled and patted my back.

We passed the rest of the class just sitting in the bleachers and talking with the rest of the class. No one had any idea what could have happened between Tuesday and now that would have changed Walburn so much but the fact that he was perfectly fine with us hurting each other was, frankly, terrifying. By the time we went to go get changed, we weren’t any closer to figuring out what was going wrong. There was one thing we agreed on though: if Ms. Ellison hadn’t come in when she did, Craig was going to find himself trying to fight off Joe and Brad and probably half the rest of the class. So, lucky for him that he got in trouble, I guess.

I wasn’t in any pain but I was still shaken up by what had happened and didn’t have much of an appetite. I picked at my food while everyone talked around me, throwing in a comment here and there but mostly staying quiet. Kayla’s hand never left my arm and the concern in her eyes was so strong, it made me want to just lie against her and have her put her arms around me. I was getting a little scared; at this rate, I’d have to start worrying about Craig trying to come after me at home. I remembered the shape I saw in the window the night Kayla and I first kissed. Was that Craig? I shivered.

Joe and Brad tried to get me to cheer up but it wasn’t much use. They both clapped me on the shoulder and promised they would keep one eye on me and one eye on Craig at all times. “Thanks, guys,” I said, trying to eat one last spoonful of creamed corn before pushing it away, “But—”

“Don’t say you need to do this yourself,” Joe said, holding up his hand, “We’re your best fucking friends, your bffs, and if you have a problem, it’s our problem too.”

“And I’m your girlfriend, so it’s my problem too,” Kayla said, gripping my arm tightly.

I smiled, a little overwhelmed by it all. “Thanks,” I said, “You guys are the best.” I managed to finish a little bit more of my lunch and felt a little better afterwards.

After all the crap that had happened so far, I was looking forward to having a nice, relaxing theater class. Maybe do a little bit of improv, work on some monologues, etc. Nothing too strenuous. Kayla and I managed to claim a sofa for ourselves and leaned back, happy for the cushions after hours of being stuck in rigid plastic chairs.

“Turn your head,” she said to me suddenly. I blinked then complied, showing her the cheek that had taken the force of Craig’s head-butt. She hissed. “There’s a little bruise,” she said sadly.

“Wonderful,” I said, feeling the tender spot on my cheek, “Another Craig signature.”

She kissed it lightly. “To help it feel better.”

I smiled at her. “It already does.”

The other students filed in, some taking a look at my face. If I didn’t deal with Craig soon, I was going to have to put up with that a lot more. The dodge ball last week and now this…if a cop noticed, they’d probably start asking questions about my home life. Oh, pretty normal, officer. I’m just the head of the household while my parents work till eleven at night. Oh, and my brother and sister are in love and fuck on a regular basis. Nothing too strange.

Ms. Locke came out of her office, holding a stack of books. I guessed what they were and realized that this was going to be yet another uneventful theater class. Come on, it’s theater! We should always be doing something!

“Since auditions for The Winter’s Tale are tomorrow,” she said, passing out copies of the play, “I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick read-through in order to give you an idea what the play is about.”

I got my copy and flipped through it. “It’s about a hundred pages,” I whispered to Kayla. She stuffed her fist in her mouth and tried not to laugh.

Ms. Locke assigned each person in the class a role and we spent the rest of the class reading the play. It’s not a bad play. In fact, it’s pretty damn good (it’s Shakespeare, what do you expect?). I’m just not huge into taking what should be a fun class and spending it reading a play that we’re going to be seeing in a couple of months anyway. Though I guess it could be worse; we could be reading it in total silence.

Reading the play was a rather choppy affair since Ms. Locke kept interrupting us to explain the significance of what was going on. Which would have been really helpful if we were, say, in the fifth grade. We’re high schoolers. We get it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the play, it goes something like this: two kings, Leontes and Polixenes (oh, go on, I fucking dare you to try to pronounce those without looking it up), have been hanging out together at Leontes’ castle in Sicilia for about nine months. Understandably, Polixenes wants to get home to his wife and kid but Leontes doesn’t want to be without his bro so he sends his wife, Hermione, to convince him to stay. She does so and Leontes, rather sporadically, decides that the two of them must be having an affair since she was able to convince him so easily. He requests Camillo, a Sicillian noble, to poison Polixenes, but they manage to escape. Leontes then accuses Hermione of helping them escape and imprisons her. Despite everyone trying to convince him otherwise, he continues to assert that she is guilty until word comes that his son has died. Shortly afterward, Hermione dies as well and Leontes, no longer insane, decides to spend the rest of his life atoning for their deaths.

And that’s just Act One. In video game terms, it’s like the old Final Fantasy games for the PS1 when you would drop the control and say, “That was only Disc One!?”

The rest of the play is considerably lighter in tone, with a lot of hijinx, chases, disguises, and a rather surprising happy ending. A lot of people get confused by the play because of how much of a mood-shift it takes after Act One but I guess that’s why it’s so memorable. Oh, and if you ever heard the phrase, “Exit, pursued by a bear”, this is the play it came from.

We finished up the play just as the bell was ringing. Ms. Locke slapped her copy of the play closed and said, “Four o’clock sharp tomorrow, everyone! I will see you all there.”

“What did you think of the play?” I asked Kayla as we left.

“I liked it a lot,” she said, “Though I’m a little confused. The statue comes alive at the end?”

“Sort of,” I replied (this was the happy ending I was talking about: Queen Hermione comes back to life. Just roll with it), “It’s one of those ‘It’s magic! We don’t have to explain it!’ moments.”

“Okiedokie,” she said.

Joe and Brad were waiting for us outside, bursting with news. “Dude, did you hear?”

“If I did, I would probably be as excited as you are. What’s going on?”

“Walburn got fired!”

“No shit!” I felt bad for the guy but if you’re going to start WWE with high school kids, don’t do it during school hours.

“And Craig got suspended!”

I’ll admit, that brought me quite a bit of joy. “For how long?”

“Just a couple days,” Brad said, “He’ll be back next week. We aren’t that lucky.”

I looked at Kayla. “What do you think, sweetcheeks?”

“I think he needs to go for a lot longer but a day without him around would be welcome.” She smiled. “I’ll be interested to see what a Craig-free school day is like.”

“It’s like Heaven,” Joe said, “It’s a gift from Paradise.”

“No, that’s her,” I said, pointing at Kayla, “Having Craig gone is just a nice cherry on top of a sundae.”

They didn’t want to let my comment about Kayla go. They teased and badgered me about it until Amanda and Alan came out of the school and promised to text me about it later as we were walking away. Kayla hadn’t said anything about it but the smile on her face was enough for me.

“Oh, Amanda?” I said as we got in the car, “Craig got suspended today so you don’t have to worry about him tomorrow.”

“Yay,” she squealed, then peered at my face, “Does that bruise have something to do with it?”

“Maybe.”

She made a sympathetic noise and leaned forward to kiss my cheek. “Hey!” Kayla said in mock-anger, “Get your hands off my Kool-Aid!” The two of them dissolved into giggles and then revved up their speed-talk from earlier that morning. Alan and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes.

I pulled into Kayla’s driveway and went around to open the door for her. “Thanks, Jack,” she said, giving me a quick kiss, “After you drop them off, you want to come over and explain the play a little bit better for me?”

“Sure,” I said. Inside the car, I could see the twins jumping with glee. I was going to have to start investing in air fresheners.

“Awesome!” she cheered, “I’ll let my dad know you’re coming over.”

I got back in the car and drove the incredibly long few yards to our driveway. Alan and Amanda were making out in the back seat. “Down, dogs, down,” I said as I turned off the car.

They turned to me and stuck their tongues out at the same time. It was actually kind of cute. “Thanks for giving us some alone time,” Alan said as they gathered up their stuff.

“Yeah, well, get some actual homework done,” I said as we all got out, “And for the love of God, if you’re going to fuck, please don’t do it in my room.”

“What makes you think we would?” Alan asked innocently.

“Because I know you guys. Now get in there, do what you have to do, and I’ll see you in a couple hours.” They ran off inside, giggling the whole way. I ran my tongue around my gums, the nauseating sweetness of their giggles giving me a nasty aftertaste. Ahhh, to be young and in love.

Speaking of which…

I was halfway over the lawn to Kayla’s house when Mr. Hannigan came out, holding a couple of cans. “Howdy, Jack,” he said as I came up on the porch.

“Hey, Mr. Hanningan. What’s up?”

“Oh, Kayla just mentioned you were going to be coming over for a little bit and I just wanted to have a quick chat with you.” He sat down on the bench to the right of their door. “Coke?”

I took the offered can, feeling a little on-edge. A quick chat? About what? Was this going to turn into one of those ‘Keep your filthy hands off my princess’ things? Mr. Hannigan was intimidating enough without seeing if he needed to use just one hand for my throat.

“Sit down, Jack,” he said with a smile. I did so, allowing myself to relax a little while at the same time wondering if I could leap the porch railing if I had to. “Kayla told us that you just got employed?”

“Yes I did.”

“Well, congratulations,” he said earnestly, shaking my hand, “They’re lucky to have you on the staff.” He took a swing of his Coke and, not wanting to be rude, I opened mine as well. “So, the reason I wanted to talk to you…” He took another drink, as if building courage, “…is to ask how you feel about Kayla.”

I blinked. “She’s the most amazing, wonderful person I ever met.”

“I’m glad to hear that but that’s not what I asked for. That was a description of her. I asked how you felt about her. Your feelings.”

“I…um…I like her more than any girl I’ve ever met.”

“Do you love her?”

Coke shot out of my nose like a foam geyser. I coughed and hiccupped for a little while Mr. Hannigan thumped me on the back. Catching my breath, I managed to wheeze out, “It’s a little early to be saying that, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is,” he replied, giving me a big smile, “That’s good. If you had said ‘yes’, I wouldn’t have believed you.” He leaned back in his seat. “Jack, Kayla’s mother and I met one week after we both graduated college. Your parents told me they met in college.” He grinned. “It looks like you two are setting the starting line back even more.”

“Mr. Hannigan—”

“I’m not suggesting anything but do you know how much that girl talks about you? Hell, even when she was dating Craig—” If there was such a thing as vomiting a word, he did it now, “—all she wanted to do was talk about how awesome Jack was and how amazing a friend he was and yadda yadda yadda. I will be honest, we were a little worried that she moved from one boyfriend to another so fast but…well, she’s happy. And that’s what I want most.”

“So do I,” I said, setting down my drink, “As long as she’s happy, I’m happy.”

Mr. Hannigan didn’t say anything for a minute. He just stared ahead at the road and drank his Coke. “Jack, there’s something I should probably tell you. This must stay between us unless Kayla decides to tell you. In which case you must be the most surprised guy ever.”

“All right.”

He took a deep breath. “In our last neighborhood, there was a boy Kayla was crushing hard on. Not as hard as you but hard enough that we had to get a little concerned. He wasn’t a bad kid, just…he wouldn’t have made her happy. And besides, she was only a freshman. When we expressed concern about it, she told us that she loved him.” The Coke turned sour in my mouth and I suddenly felt limp. Mr. Hannigan noticed and hurriedly continued: “She wasn’t. Believe me, even she didn’t believe it when we said it. The next day, she apologized and they ended up breaking it off.”

“Okay,” I replied, slightly relieved.

“My point is that we trust you, Jack. We trust Kayla too but you’re prudent enough not to go throwing around the word ‘love’ like it’s a hashtag.” He finished the last of his can, crushed it, and got up. “I think I’ve kept you from my daughter long enough. Thank you, Jack, for making her so happy.”

“She makes me happy,” I replied, “And if…when…I do finally say it, I will make sure that it’s been earned.”

He put a huge hand on my shoulder. “I don’t doubt it,” he said gruffly. I was about to go in the house when he suddenly stopped me. “Oh, and by the way, if you hurt my baby girl I will tear you limb-from-limb, watch your ass buddy, blah blah blah, fill in the old ‘stern father’ routine however you want.”

I laughed and said, “I will be sure to do that.”

“And Jack,” he said seriously, “If you end up getting any trouble from anyone, you let me know. I will help you and I don’t just mean with my mitts here.” He squeezed his hands, making the knuckles crack.

“I will let you know. I promise.”

“Good,” he said, gesturing inside, “Now go and make sure you both uphold the family I.Q.”

So Kayla and I spent the next few hours talking about Shakespeare.

And I thought about my feelings for her.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I felt bad asking Alan and Amanda to walk home the next day but there was no way I could drop them off and be back in time for auditions. When that auditorium doors shut, you were shit out of luck if you wanted to get in. Still, the clouds overhead bespoke rain and I asked them if they wanted to hang around. They politely declined, most likely because their groins had a very important meeting with each other back home. Honestly, I didn’t know how they kept up with it. They weren’t even walking funny.

So they ended up walking home and Kayla and I sat in the auditorium as about forty other students milled about us, looking at the monologue sheets that had been placed on a folding table at the base of the stage. There were about three monologues per gender, as well as a few two-person scenes, male and male or male and female (now, now), to read from. I’d grabbed a speech from Leontes and the scene we were looking at was when he was first accusing Hermione of infidelity. There was very little in the way of talking in the scene; it was basically a series of monologues.

“Can you imagine if people still spoke like this?” Kayla whispered to me after we had run through the scene.

“They do.”

“They do?”

“Watch the news. Watch a political debate. At least in Shakespeare, they don’t sound like they have their heads up their ass.” She laughed aloud, making several other groups turn and look at us.

As the heads turned, I noticed that Jessica had decided to audition as well, something that I shouldn’t have been surprised by. In addition to everything else she built up about herself, she was a huge drama fiend, both on and off stage. She also happened to be a close, personal friend of Ms. Locke so she could basically write her ticket at this point. Shit. I really wanted Kayla to have a part in the play.

Jessica looked at me and grinned. I looked quickly away.

Ms. Locke clapped her hands loudly. “All right, everyone, sit down!” We found our chairs and Ms. Locke came out onto the stage, welcoming us, telling us how excited she was to be doing this play, going over the whole play yet again…honestly, Kayla and I just drifted off for most of it.

“So,” she said brightly, a note of finality in her voice that drew my attention, “We’ll hear monologues first and then we’ll do scenes. Any volunteers to go first?”

A few students shuffled up, delivered their monologues, and then meekly returned to their seats. Most of the ones who went first were freshmen, under the impression that going up first meant they had more guts, more drive. In reality, it just meant they had less time to prepare. Sorry, guys, but it’s the bit-parts for you.

Eventually, I decided I was as ready as I was going to be and, after a kiss on the cheek from Kayla, I walked up to the stage. I hadn’t brought the monologue sheet with me; I had already memorized it. I took a deep breath, made the faces in the audience a part of the play’s world, and began:

“How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! how accursed
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steep’d, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr’d ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk,
And seen the spider.”

To summarize: I am awesome and I’m about to kick some ass. Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s a decent summation.

Most people had delivered the monologue with authority, very much like a king would do in court. I, however, played it less like a king with absolute authority and more like a grown child with an ego-trip. Leontes is complimenting himself for figuring out a plot (that didn’t actually exist) and is now explaining just how amazing he was to figure it out. Yeah, that sounds like a guy who was a teenager not too long before.

I sat down and Kayla whispered, “Great job, Jack.” She held my hand.

“Thanks, sweetcheeks,” I replied.

A few more students went up, some trying unsuccessfully to copy what I had done, before Kayla tapped me on the leg and said, “I’m going for it.”

“Break a leg,” I replied, patting her on the rear.

She giggled and hopped up onto the stage. She flashed a smile around before composing her face and taking a deep breath. She glanced once at the monologue sheet she had before closing her eyes and centering herself. When she opened her eyes, she was the very image of a woman beaten and trampled by her husband. She began:

“Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘not guilty:’ mine integrity
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus: if powers divine
Behold our human actions, as they do,
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush and tyranny
Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know,
Who least will seem to do so, my past life
Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true,
As I am now unhappy; which is more
Than history can pattern, though devised
And play’d to take spectators.”

It was Hermione’s plea with Leontes to trust her again, to take her out of the dungeon and cease his humiliation of her. Kayla hit every note perfectly; she was beaten-down, run-over, despairing from everything she had gone through and now was doing her best to hold herself upright and retain some dignity. It was heartbreaking to watch. She got back to her seat and I gave her a hug. “Great job, baby,” I said. She squeezed my arm.

Jessica immediately took Kayla’s place and did the exact same monologue. Her interpretation was less of a beaten-down woman than like an aging debutante, retaining the last bit of dignity before fading into obscurity. It was a good piece of acting from a unique perspective and interpretation of the scene, but it would never work in the actual play. It made no sense. Hermione had just lost a son, her new-born daughter was taken from her, and she had spent a good amount of time rotting in the dungeon. That’s going to leave some scars.

Finally the last monologue was delivered and we waited in silence while Ms. Locke finished making her notes. She looked up. “All right,” she said, “If I call your name, you can go.” She called a few names, including mine, Kayla’s, and Jessica’s. “If I have not called your name, please stay for a few more minutes. There’s only a few other roles that need to be cast. Everyone else, good work, I will be sending out the email with the cast list later tonight.”

Yeah, one big idiosyncrasy about Ms. Locke: she didn’t do callbacks. She cast purely off the first auditions alone because, as she claimed, the rawness revealed the true talent. Now, you could argue that this was completely unfair and went against everything that theater stands for in terms of fairness and professionalism and…well, you’d be right, but what do you expect? We just had a gym teacher get fired for trying to start WWE in gym class. We aren’t dealing with the brain trust of teachers.

Kayla was slightly disappointed as we left the auditorium. “I really wanted to do the scene,” she sighed.

I was too, if only because there some really good speeches in our scene. “We can do it on our own.”

“You want to Youtube it?” she asked, giving me a crooked smile.

“Why not? We can start a series! You’ve heard of Shakespeare in the Park? Now there’s Shakespeare in the Living Room!”

She laughed. “Well, if we do the balcony scene, you’re playing Juliet.”

“I’ll have to borrow a bra.”

She laughed harder. “Ohhhhh, Jack in a bra! Sex-ay!” I poked her in the side, causing her to squeal.

The clouds hung ominously overhead but it hadn’t started to rain yet. “You wanna hang at my place?” Kayla asked, “Mom had another meeting and dragged dad along.”

“Is this like an every weekend sort of thing?”

“Not always,” she replied, “It’s just that time of year. Dad’s not a big fan of it but most of his time in the office is spent watch cat videos.”

“Cat videos?”

“If it’s a busy day, he might need to send an email or two. Other than that, there’s really nothing stopping him—”

I don’t know if it was sort of cosmic irony that she stopped right as she said that, but she stopped walking so suddenly I swear I heard a brake sound. She was staring at my color, pale-faced and mouth agape. Three figures were standing around my car, watching us. One of them was Craig, wearing a tight-fitting muscle shirt and standing so that his muscles were forced to flex. The other two with him I didn’t recognize. They looked older, probably in their mid-twenties, built very much like Joe and Brad but with none of the humor. They were bruisers and the fact that they seemed to be on Craig’s side didn’t help the sudden tremor in my legs.

“They’re from the club,” Kayla whispered, staring at the two larger guys, “I saw them last week when Craig took me out.”

“Look, let’s just go back inside,” I said, “We’ll wait until they leave.”

“What about your car?”

“Fuck my car. They can do whatever they want to it. Last thing I want is—”

As if reading my thoughts, Craig called, “We aren’t leaving until you talk to us, Jack! I promise, we just want to talk! No violence!”

His statement might have rang true if not for the two giant muscles in shirts next to him. I glanced around, looking for some help. The football team was practicing out in the stadium, too far away to be any help even if they could hear us, and Joe and Brad had already gone home. There was no one around to help us.

I again considered going into the school, banking on Craig having better things to do than wait for us (well, maybe he did) but he shouted, “Or we can just follow you and talk to you over there!”

Kayla was gripping my hand tightly. If they were going to follow us no matter what, best to talk with them out in the open. At least there were people around to see if anything happened.

God, please let nothing bad happen.

We walked over, stopping a few yards away from them. I lightly moved Kayla behind me. “Lost your car, Craig?”

“Dude…what are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m talking to you. Now say what you have to say and beat it. We’ve got stuff to do.”

“What happened yesterday wasn’t my fault.”

“No, it wasn’t. It was Walburn’s fault. But you tried to choke me out so…” I shrugged.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

“I’m feeling like this question is rhetorical. Just get to your point.”

He closed his eyes for a second, as if trying to control his anger. “You humiliate me, you steal my girlfriend, you push me away from your sister…why are you fucking with me, man? What did I ever do to you?”

“You mean aside from trying to break my face with a dodge ball last week?” He rolled his eyes. “You mean aside from treating Kayla like shit the whole time you were ‘dating’ her? Aside from trying to get with Amanda just to get back at me? Yeah, you and I are practically strangers, Craig.”

“Look, man—”

“No you look!” I shouted, making everyone jump, “Keep the fuck out of my life! Keep away from my family, my friends, and Kayla most of all! Stay away from them, don’t try to talk to them, don’t do anything that can even be remotely considered a form of communication! I’m cutting you off from us forever! Find someone else to annoy, you slimy piece of shit! Come near me or any of them again and we’re going to have a major problem and I won’t give a flying fuck what happens to me afterwards!”

I was panting, my neck and face on fire as the rage I had been building up towards him for the past week and a half burst forward. I felt like I could breathe fire, I was so mad. I was vaguely aware of minor details: my feet had spread apart so I was in a fighting stance, my fists were clenched, my shoulders were squared halfway up my neck. I could feel Kayla’s hands on my upper arms. I could feel her presence like a soothing coolness against the heat of my anger. If Craig left now, I would be instantly calm.

Craig was looking at me, his face unreadable. I had expected him to lose his cool, maybe start shouting back, maybe even bring the two hulks into the mix, but he did nothing for a long time. He just stared at me. Finally, he blinked and said, “Kayla?”

She stiffened behind me. “What?”

He looked at her with a cocky smile. “I use women. I take them out, get them comfortable, fuck them, and then forget about them. I did it all last year. I was going to do it to you. If Jack hadn’t interfered, it would have already happened and I wouldn’t have given you a second glance. It’s what I do.” I could feel her tremble.

“But here’s the thing,” he continued, looking at me, “Jack knew this. He’s known about it since last year. So why didn’t he tell you? He could have told you any time we were dating but he kept quiet. He stopped a girl last year from going out with me, so why didn’t he do the same for you if he cares so much about you?”

Ah, shit. I knew this was going to come back to bite me in the ass. Fucking hell. Kayla’s hands were still on my arms, but they were limp, as if she were catatonic. Craig savored the look on her face before turning to me. “And Jack…I didn’t even have to try that hard with her. I just told her she was pretty and she was ready to go out with me. First guy who complimented her and she was ready to date. How does that make you feel? And what’s going to stop her from ditching you for another asshole if he looks like a better option?”

He folded his arms, savoring his victory. “That’s all I wanted to say,” he said cheerfully, “I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.” He turned to the two bruisers and jerked his head and they fell in step behind him. He threw me one last triumphant smirk as they got in his Chevy and drove away.

Kayla and I stood rooted for a minute. I didn’t care about what Craig said to me; I trusted Kayla enough that I didn’t need to worry about her going after another guy, not after the way she kissed me. But what he had said about me, knowing what he had planned to do with Kayla…fuck, even I wanted to punch me in the face. Why hadn’t I told her? God damn, it would have solved everything! Why the fuck hadn’t I just nutted up and told her?!

I turned to Kayla, who looked like she was having a hard time trying to decide whether she wanted to be angry or sad. “Jack,” she said in a shaky voice, “I don’t think we should talk about this here. Let’s go to my house and we’ll talk there. I need a few minutes.”

“Okay,” I said hoarsely, my throat dry. I opened my car door for her and she got in, her head down and her face ashen. Shit, I really fucked this up. I just wanted to slam my head against the hood of my car but forced myself to just keep moving, doing everything like nothing was wrong. No sense in getting Kayla more upset and stressed than she already was.

Our drive back to her house was silent, something no drive of ours had been since the night I drove her back from the club. I wanted to speak, wanted to explain why I had done what I did, but there was a tension in the air that I didn’t want to cut. It was like Kayla’s fuse was sputtering just before the end and if I said anything, it would push it to explosion. My hands were shaking slightly on the wheel and my mind kept playing out worst-case scenarios as if it felt I needed to warm up for my punishment.

Oh, please don’t let me lose her.

We pulled up in front of her house just as a light drizzle was starting. She didn’t wait for me to open her door, grabbing her backpack and running onto the porch. There she turned and waited for me to lock my car before following her. She still wasn’t saying anything. She needed to be the one who spoke first, otherwise it would all go to shit before I could do anything.

We dropped our backpacks and slipped off our shoes in the foyer, loud sounds in the hollow echo of our mutual silence. I followed her to the living room where we both sat on the sofa, not wanting to look at each other. She chewed a fingernail and I crossed my legs. The clock on the wall ticked loudly. Even the drizzle of the rain outside was like hail on a metal sheet.

Finally she spoke. “Did you know? About what Craig was planning?”

I nodded slowly. “Yes.” I couldn’t lie to her. Not now.

She chewed her lip. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to ruin your relationship.”

“It was going to be ruined anyway.”

True. Shit. “Kayla, you seemed happy with him. And he was your boyfriend. And what proof did I have? You didn’t know me that well and I didn’t want you thinking that I was just trying to break you up with him so I could date you instead. I know I should have but I didn’t want to hurt you by making you think you were stupid for choosing the one person you shouldn’t date as your first relationship here. You aren’t. You aren’t stupid at all. It’s just…I didn’t want to cause you sadness.”

It sounded so lame. Everything I said could be countered by what she had said before: it would have happened anyway. I didn’t want her to be sad? She would have been sad anyway. I didn’t want her hurt? She was going to be hurt anyway. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

She considered for a bit, leaning back into the couch. She closed her eyes and said, “Is there anything else I should know about?”

I hesitated a moment before deciding she needed to hear everything. “You know Jessica Wilson?”

“From auditions?”

“Yeah. She was one of the girls Craig was with last year. I asked her to tell you about him.”

She opened her eyes and looked at me hard. “So it’s okay for her to tell me, but not you?”

“Kayla, I didn’t have any proof. Who would you believe: me or someone it actually happened to?” I rubbed my face. “Look, I fucked up. I did it all wrong. I was just really distraught that you were with him and I wanted you to break it off with him as painlessly as possible.”

She didn’t say anything so I continued: “And now I owe her a favor. I promised her one in exchange for telling you but when I told her I didn’t need her to tell you anymore, she got angry. I promised to do the favor still.”

“What…favor is it?” she asked slowly, sounding like she was ready to break something.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “She won’t tell me. She won’t even give me a hint about what it is.” I swallowed hard. “That’s all, Kayla. I promise.”

She was quiet for a long time. Each tick of the clock beat my ears and I fought to keep further words from coming up. I was breathing through my nose and each inhale sounded like a train rushing by. I don’t know if it was the panic or the guilt but it actually smelled like metal in my nose. I fought the urge to thumb my nose to get rid of the smell.

Kayla looked at me and said, “I understand, Jack.”

I blinked. “What?”

“That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it…you definitely should have told me. Right away. But…Jack, in the time that I’ve known you, there’s been one single truth that I have learned: you are a good guy. Actually, you’re an amazing guy, but we’re not working on your ego. If you say you didn’t tell me because you didn’t want me getting hurt, I believe you. Was it the right thing to do? No, but I believe you thought it was.”

I let out a breath of relief so big, I actually felt lightheaded. “Kayla, sweetheart, I’m really, really—”

She put one hand on mine and the other over my mouth. “In the future,” she said, her eyes flashing, “If there is something important that I need to know, tell me. Don’t worry about how I’m going to feel about it. If I need to know, I need to know. All right?” She dropped her hand from my mouth.

“I promise,” I said, clutching her hands, “I will never, ever keep anything like that from you again.”

“Okay,” she said, looking down. She was silent for a bit, then said, “What do you think about what Craig said to you?”

“Huh?”

“About me dating him right away? About me possibly moving onto another guy?”

“I’m not worried about it.”

She looked up, confused. “You aren’t?”

“No,” I said, stroking her cheek, “Kayla, I trust you. You aren’t the first girl to fall for Craig’s lines.”

Tears were forming in her eyes. “I just thought that, maybe if I had a boyfriend, things would be a little easier for me around here.” She sniffled a little. “I should have just gone with you. That’s what my gut said.”

I leaned close to her stomach. “Thank you, gut,” I said to her belly, “Good job having my back.”

She gave a watery giggle. “Jack, I don’t want anyone else. Just you. I can’t imagine dating anyone better than you.”

“And you won’t,” I said, holding my head up, “I’m one-of-a-kind.”

“That you are,” she laughed. She pulled me close and we cuddled for a while. Relief was making me almost giddy. I wasn’t so foolish as to think that what had happened was just gone forever but I was thankful we were actually able to talk about it rather than get into a fight. I thought of all the couples I had seen get into shouting matches and I just couldn’t imagine doing that with Kayla. I couldn’t imagine screaming in her face, watching her angelic features twist into a look of shock and hurt.

I gripped her tighter.

Eventually we broke apart and she took a deep, shuddering breath. “I need a drink of water,” she said, standing up.

I followed her into the kitchen. “Well, if you stand outside with your mouth open, you drink for free.”

She stuck her tongue out. “Uh huh. And then my shirt gets wet and you can see right through it. I see your plan.”

I colored. “I didn’t say anything like that.”

“No, but I can read your mind.” There! Proof! I have it now! No one can argue with me anymore!

Not one to be bested, I squeezed her sides, making her giggle and squeal. “Well, how can you blame me? It’s your fault for being so freaking gorgeous.”

She turned and stared at me sultrily. “Oh, gorgeous is it?” she said, posing with one hand behind her head, “Why, thank you, sir!”

“Of course, ma’am.”

She giggled and looked outside. “Too bad it’s raining or I would have said we should go out to the pool. Then you could see me in my bikini.” She stuck her tongue out again but it sounded like she was leading to something.

“Yeah…” I sighed, leaning against the counter, “A crying shame.”

She got her glass of water, keeping her eyes fixed on me the whole time she drank it. “You could still see me…if you want,” she said softly.

“See you?”

“In my bikini…if you want.” She was breathing a little heavier and biting her lip. My dick was stirring in my pants, pleading with me to let her.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I don’t want to just tease you with the idea.”

I bet you don’t. “Sure,” I said, smiling as my stomach did cartwheels.

She grinned broadly and took my hand, leading me back to the living room. “Wait here,” she said, still breathing heavier than usual, “I’ll be right back.” She skipped out of the living room and ran up the stairs.

I sat there, mulling over everything that had just happened. I was glad that Kayla and I had managed to avoid a huge confrontation but how much of it would hang around? Would she trust me less now? No, of course not, but she might want to be kept in the loop about stuff I was doing. I didn’t mind, it wasn’t like she was being nosy or anything. If anything, I needed to let her in on stuff that was happening, since what affected me was going to affect her from now on. Why?

I thought back to what Mr. Hannigan had said about love. Is that what I was feeling? I had always had the sense that when you were in love, you didn’t have to ask if you were in love. So was I?

Hmmmm.

I heard her footsteps on the stairs and she stopped near the bottom. “Close your eyes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I closed my eyes.

“And cover them, Mr. Harrison.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I placed my hands over my closed eyes.

I heard her walk past me and caught her gorgeous scent, somehow stronger than normal. Maybe it was because she was wearing less clothing than normal. Just thinking about that made my pants shrink a size or two. Keep it under control, Jack.

I heard her take a deep breath. “All right,” she whispered.

I slid my hands from my eyes and opened them.

I had watched porn as much as any teenager, seen plenty of movies with gorgeous actresses, and formed in my mind the picture of the hottest girl. All of those thoughts and memories were swept away by the sight of Kayla now. She had on a dark green bikini that seemed less for the purpose of covering flesh and more for exposing as much as possible. It wasn’t slutty or anything. That would have made it less tantalizing. The top covered the curve of her breasts, leaving the swell free to breathe. I hadn’t really stared at her boobs that much (I was trying to be a nice guy) but now that they were basically begging to be ogled, I noticed that they seemed a good deal bigger than I thought. Just looking at them made my mouth water and I was forced to cross my legs.

My eyes slid down her flat and toned stomach (holy shit, this girl was gorgeous) until I got to the second half of the bikini that encircled her waist and covered her groin. Like the top, it was nowhere near as racy as it could have been, but that just made it sexier. The front and the back were connected by thin strands of fabric that just begged for thumbs to hook through them and lower them (down, boy! Down!). She turned as I watched and I saw that the back of the bottoms covered only half of her butt cheeks. Good God, that butt was asking to be spanked. To be squeezed. To be loved.

Breathing hard and fighting a losing battle to keep my dick from becoming an iron rod, I looked back up at her face. It was still the most beautiful part of her, even in her bikini. And she still wore the hair bow. I could feel myself smiling as I looked at her.

She had been nervous but the sight of my smile seemed to relax her. “Do you like?” she asked, spinning all the way around.

“That’s a big yes.”

She giggled. “I haven’t worn it yet and I wanted to make sure it looked okay.”

“Oh, please, everything looks amazing on you, Kayla. You know that.”

She blushed. “Stop.”

“Never.”

She stuck her tongue out. “Well, I guess I can get back into my regular clothes since you said it looks good on me.”

“Ha! You didn’t want to know if it looked good. You just wanted to tease me.”

She folded her arms under her breasts, making the swells larger. God…thank you. “Oh, really? If I wanted to tease you, I’d point out that it’s not exactly fair that I’m in my bikini and you aren’t in your suit.”

“Well, I don’t have it so myeh!”

“Well, you could take your shirt off!” she said in a tone that suggested the filter between her brain and mouth had temporarily been disabled.

I stared at her for a second, a sly grin forming on my face. At this point, I was just in autopilot. Thinking would only complicate things. “I need to take my shirt off?”

“Yes.” Her brain was also on autopilot. “It’s only fair.”

I shrugged and gripped the neckline of my shirt. “All right,” I said, pulling it over my head. I tossed my shirt aside and leaned back with my hands behind my head.

She growled sexily. “Hunky man,” she hissed, sauntering over, “I just wanna cover you in oil and have you dance.”

“If you’re going to make me dance, it’s going to cost you.”

“Awwww,” she said, sliding into my lap and straddling me, “Doesn’t your girlfriend get it for free?”

“Hmmm,” I said, leaning back and trying to ignore the fact that my cock was mere centimeters from her pussy, “I’ll see what we can work out.”

She put her hand behind my head and forced our eyes to meet. “Or I can just take it,” she said in a husky voice.

I licked my lips. “That you can.”

We kissed hard, my arms wrapping around her as our lips mashed together. It was by far the most passionate and roughest kiss we had ever shared. She was running her hands through my hair as our lips pressed together, our breathing getting heavier and heavier until we were like two caged bulls panting to be let loose. Her lips parted and her tongue slid out over mine, inviting my tongue to come out and play. I opened my lips and my tongue came out. She swirled her tongue around mine, pulling it into her mouth where they flicked together like fencing foils.

I had never been so hard in my life and it was all I could do to try to keep my erection from becoming too obvious. This was made difficult by the fact that Kayla and I were getting so into the kiss that we were pulling our bodies together, our skin sliding over each other. Her bikini-clad breasts were pressing against my chest and I could feel her hard nipples through the fabric, pressing into my skin like little pinpricks.

My pants shrunk again and I knew there was no way she’d be unable to notice my obvious hardness.

She was leaning into me, her head above mine, kissing me with abandon as her hands roamed through my scalp and around my head. Every few seconds her lips would leave mine and she’d take a quick, gasping breath before leaning into me again. Each pant got more and more high-pitched and I could tell she was getting just as aroused as I was. And no, this didn’t help my erection.

Catching her breath, she slid down my body and her covered pussy came in contact with the bulge in my pants. She gasped around and her pupils dilated for a second. She looked down, then back up at me with a mischievous grin. “Someone’s a little excited,” she teased.

“Yeah,” I said, “It must be the hot girl in my lap.”

She bit her lower lip and grinned. We leaned in to kiss again but she kept her groin right where it was, just above mine. As we kissed more, I became aware of a change to her scent. Her normal, intoxicating blend of flowers and fruit was still evident but now a hint of musky headiness came in, like dampness over the original odor. It wasn’t unpleasant. If anything, it enhanced the original scent with a distinct drop of ‘sexiness’. And my cock noticed it too and became against, all odds, even harder.

The swell pressed into her bikini-covered pussy and she moaned into our kiss. Her hips slowly started to gyrate, rubbing back and forth along the length of my cock. She now had to pause in between every few kisses to take deep breaths, her eyes closed lightly as her mouth hung open. I kissed her jaw, her neck, up behind her earlobe, everywhere my lips could find, everywhere I could think of to give her more pleasure.

She moaned with each kiss, small sharp ones in the middle of the long, low moan that accompanied her gyrations on my lap. Her hands slid from the back of my head down my shoulders to my chest, where she squeezed my pecs. “Hey,” I said breathlessly, “Groping costs you.”

She giggled and gasped softly. She pushed her shoulders back so that her chest stuck out. “Well, fair is fair,” she breathed.

My hands trembled as I slid them up her body. I didn’t want to move too fast but her breasts were standing out proudly, begging for some attention. I gently cupped my hands around them, squeezing very slightly. She moaned louder and moved her hips back and forth with more purpose, sending shockwaves of pleasure through my cock. Her dark blonde hair was starting to come loose from the hair bow and it slid over her face messily, making her look even hotter.

My fingers lightly traced the swell of her breasts and ran lightly over her hard nipples through the fabric. She shuddered and stared into my eyes, biting her lip so hard I was afraid she was going to draw blood. She was still squeezing my pecs, lightly running her fingernails over the skin, which was driving me crazy. We were both panting now, beads of sweat breaking out on our foreheads. God, she was beautiful.

Slowly, her right hand drifted down from my chest and rested in my lap. She raised her eyebrows as if asking permission. I lightly pinched her covered nipples and nodded, holding my breath. Her hand found the bulge in my pants that was my cock and gently squeezed it. It was now my turn to moan and I leaned forward to kiss the space between her breasts. Her skin was coated with the scent of her excitement and I breathed it in greedily.

Her hand slowly ran up and down the length of my cock, keeping in time with the motion of her hips. Her breathing was full-on panting now, her mouth hanging open as her eyes squeezed tightly closed. I was panting as well, forcing my eyes to stay open so I would not lose the image of her. Her hand on my cock felt amazing, even through my pants, each stroke an electric charge of pleasure. It had felt my own hand many times but she was topping anything I had ever done with long, slow strokes coupled with the feeling of her groin sliding along mine.

Still lightly fondling her breasts, I dared to thrust my hips slightly upwards so that I pressed further into her groin. She gasped loudly and her eyes shot open. “Oh, Jack…” she gasped, her breaths now squeaking, “Jack…I think…I’m…”

Her hips increased in speed, rocking back and forth so hard that the couch shook with the motion. She gritted her teeth as her eyes opened wider than I had ever seen them. “Jack, I’m…going to…oh my Goooooooood!” She didn’t stop moving but her head fell back and she silently screamed up at the ceiling, her whole body shaking with pleasure as she had her orgasm. A blanket of red slid up her skin as she continued to quiver, squeaking and gasping as she continued to cum.

I expected her to stop moving with her orgasm but, to my surprise and pleasure, her hand only increased in strength and speed along my length. I don’t know if it was the knowledge that I had helped her finish or the fact that she was really, really good at what she was doing, but I felt my balls begin to squirm and knew I wasn’t too far off.

“Kayla,” I breathed, feeling my hips start to quiver in their pre-orgasm tension.

She looked down at me, still on a high from her orgasm. “Please,” she said, leaning in and kissing me fiercely, “Please finish. It felt so good…” She giggled and leaned in for another kiss, now using her whole body as leverage for stroking me.

I was gasping and thrashing at this point as I felt my cum start to build in my balls. Normally I would control the tempo of my strokes so that I could cum exactly when I wanted, but Kayla was in charge and she wasn’t letting up. I was completely helpless as she continued to stroke me, kissing me and licking my ear.

I was so close and she knew it. I was panting and gripping fistfuls of the couch. She leaned in close and whispered, “Cum for me.” She kissed my cheek.

That did it. With an explosion that felt like it rocked the world, I came hard, my hips feeling like a shotgun as they fired again and again. My breath caught in my throat and I felt like my eyes were crossing as my vision blurred, everything except Kayla’s smiling face going out-of-focus. Her hand continued to work, milking me for all I was worth and then some. I shuddered and gasped, coming down from my high with the feeling like someone had removed all of my bones.

Kayla removed her hand and slid off my lap to the seat next to me. She put her arms around my neck and leaned into my shoulder. “Wow,” she said dreamily.

“I agree,” I gasped, still trying to catch my breath, “Wow.” I leaned my head into hers and wrapped my arm around her.

“That was my first time doing something like that.”

I looked at her. “Bullshit.”

“Bull true,” she replied, raising an eyebrow, “Do you think I do that a lot?”

“No, but you sure as hell know what you’re doing,” I laughed, “I mean…God damn.”

She laughed loudly, burying her face in the crook of my arm. “Well, that’s about the best praise I think you can give me. God damn.” She laughed again. “And the same about you. That was God damn good.”

I poked her in the stomach. “Jokes over. You killed it.”

“Maybe,” she said, resting her chin on my shoulder, “I’m sorry about your pants.”

“It’s fine. Not the first time it’s happened.”

She giggled and kissed me on the cheek. “Jack?”

“Yes, baby?”

“Thank you.”

I looked at her. “For what?”

“For…” she chewed on her words, trying to form them the way she wanted to, “For waiting. You aren’t trying to push us into anything too fast and I appreciate that. Like, I really appreciate that. You really don’t know how sick girls can get of guys being horny pervs.”

“Did I ever come across as a horny perv?” I asked, curious.

“Only when you were staring at my ass,” she replied, shaking her hips.

“I think I’m falling in love with it, like you said.”

She laughed again. “But seriously, Jack, it means a lot to me that this is more than just about sex for you. It’s more than that for me, too. I don’t want to look too far forward yet but…I think this is going to be a long-haul.” She kissed me softly on the lips. “And I’m okay with that.”

“Me too,” I said, holding her close to me.

Her eyes twinkled as she grinned. “But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. And…it doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to when it happens.” My dick jumped in my pants and she noticed. “Down, boy,” she said sexily in my ear, lightly biting my earlobe.

“You will get such a spanking…”

She turned onto her stomach so her ass jiggled in the most seductive way. “What you gonna do, big man?” she teased, sticking her tongue.

I gripped her under the arms and lifted her up to my chest. “I’m going to hold tight onto you so you can’t do anything else.”

She sighed and leaned into my chest. “There isn’t any place I’d rather be.”

We closed our eyes, relaxing in the feel of each other. My heart had been pounding hard ever since I first saw her in her bikini and now it was slowing down as I relaxed, my breathing returning to normal. Here I was, again, with her in my arms on her couch as the rain drummed outside. Just like when we first kissed. Now we had shared another first. And there was the promise of more firsts to come.

I smiled. And we slept.

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We woke a few hours later and agreed that, unless we wanted more of what had already happened, it was probably best if I went back home, if only to make sure the twins were okay. We wanted to do more and we both knew it, but we also knew that we didn’t want to push too much of a good thing. We kissed goodbye and she apologized once again for the mess in my pants.

“I’ll change as soon as I get home,” I said.

Ohhhhh,” she moaned, winking at me.

“And no peeping!” I said, catching onto her train of thought.

She pouted. “Spoilsport.”

It was little touches like that that made me happy with our relationship. I knew we could be serious, talk about serious things, but we didn’t feel that everything needed to be serious all the time. I was serious about our relationship but that also meant I knew we needed that humor and teasing in order to make it fun. Too many people I had known had tried to run their relationship like a business. Clock in, show affection, say the right thing, take them to dinner, clock out. They never lasted. Ours was a fun relationship, one that had room to grow and expand but never to suffocate.

Again I thought about what Mr. Hannigan had said. Well…we will see.

I could hear the twins’ amorous noises as soon as I walked in the door. I shook my head, amazed at just how fast the idea of boundaries for such activities could crumble when the only other person in the house was ‘all right’ with it. I walked loudly up the stairs so they would know I was home. The noises stopped for a second, then continued again.

They were in their bedroom but the door was fully open. They were both on the bed, Amanda riding Alan with furious abandon, her breasts heaving and bouncing as she slammed herself down onto his cock. She looked up as I passed and smiled. “Hey, Jack,” she said, as if there was nothing strange going on.

“Hey, guys,” I said as casually as I could, “What’s new?”

“Nothing…oh, shit…much,” Amanda replied, panting as Alan put his hands on her breasts, “How…were auditions?”

“All right. I should find out later tonight.”

“Awesome…let…us…know, oh fuck!” Alan had put his hands on her ass and was rocking her harder.

“Okay, so, this is really weird so I’m going to go. You guys have fun.” Amanda blew me a kiss and Alan just raised a hand in farewell.

Yeah, it was really weird. I closed the door to my bedroom, hoping that would block out the sound. I suddenly remembered something Amanda had mentioned and went back to their bedroom to find Alan pounding Amanda from behind.

“Hey, Amanda,” I said, again trying to be as casual as possible.

“Yeah?” she gasped, looking up at me.

“How did you know I was outside your door those times?”

She giggled and gasped. “Oh…there’s a…squeaky floorboard outside our door, on the side going to your…room…shit…you…oh yeah…you wouldn’t notice it if you weren’t listening…for…it…” Her mouth sagged and she buried her face in the blankets.

“Okay, thanks.” I listened hard as I walked back to my room but I couldn’t hear any squeaky floorboard. Then again, Alan and Amanda were about as silent as a stampede at the moment so I probably wouldn’t hear anything.

A loose floorboard. That’s what started all that stuff between me and Amanda.

I changed out of my boxers and pants, slipping on a fresh pair. I shot a text to Kayla.

Me: I’m changed so you can stop trying to peep now.

Kayla: No fair hiding the goods.

I looked out my window over to hers. She was standing at the glass, back in her regular close, pressing her lips to the glass. I pressed mine to the glass as well and I saw her smile.

Me: Might want to check your email. Ms. Locke might have sent out the cast list.

Kayla: Good idea! I’m so nervous!

Me: Don’t be. I’m sure you got Hermione.

Kayla: I’ll make sure to get a wand right away.

Me: Har har.

I opened up my laptop and refreshed my email. At the beginning of the year, we all gave our email addresses to Ms. Locke so she could send out theater information; upcoming shows, cast lists, notices for stuff in the community, etc. It was almost seven so she should have already sent out the mass email with the cast list.

There it was. Right at the top of the email list. “Cast List”. I held my breath and opened it.

“Fantastic work, everyone! So much talent, so many different interpretations! This was not an easy cast list to make but in the end, each choice was obvious. Those of you who were not cast, do not worry. There will be plenty of other opportunities. Find your role and come see me on Monday for your script. We will have a read-through next Wednesday in the auditorium after school.

Here is your cast list:

Leontes- Jack Harrison
Hermione- Jessica Wilson
Paulina- Kayla Hannigan
…”

I didn’t read any more. That was all I needed to know. I shoved my computer away.

“Shit!” I snarled, pacing around the room, “Shit! Fucking son of a bitch!” Of course Jessica would get the lead role. She probably went up to Ms. Locke at the beginning of the year and told her that she was going to play Hermione. What a load of…

My phone buzzed and I picked it up.

Kayla: OH MY GOD CONGRATULATIONS!!!! :D :D :D

Me: Thanks.

Kayla: YOU GOT THE LEAD!!! Baby, I’m so proud of you!!!!

Me: Thanks, sweetcheeks. I’m sorry you didn’t get Hermione.

Kayla: Jack, I don’t care. Paulina is a great role! And I get to be in a play with you so I don’t care who I get cast as. I’m just so happy you got the lead! You deserved it! :D

Me: Kayla, you’re the best.

Kayla: I know ;)

Me: And so you deserve the best spanking ever.

Kayla: Promises, promises <3

I laughed and stared back at the computer screen. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Jessica’s name.

Hermione- Jessica Wilson

Now we would be forced to act together, as husband and wife. Lovely. The only upside is, hopefully, this would count as the favor I owed her. If not, maybe I could have it count as that. I mean, she’s the fucking lead in the play. She’s gotta be content with that.

I sighed. In spite of all the joy Kayla brought me, I still felt like everything was spinning out of control. Craig was now working even harder to try to break us up, Jessica was waiting in the wings with whatever she wanted me to do for her, Alan and Amanda were now fucking out in the open in spite of the risk…on top of all that, I had my first day of work tomorrow. Well, that could be fun.

And Kayla and I were moving further along in our relationship. I didn’t think sex was too far away. I wanted it, wanted it bad. Wanted it almost as much as I had wanted her before we had started dating. But I knew it would happen in time. At the right time. We would know when that was, just like I would know when I would be ready to say ‘love’ to her.

And in time I would have to deal with Craig and Jessica. That too would be obvious when it needed to happen. I needed to prepare for that however I could.

But no matter what I may have thought then, nothing could have prepared me for Homecoming.

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Author's Note:

Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for your support. Honestly, it was really overwhelming. I am doing much better now, everything has worked out, and I am in a good place again.
First of all, I am humbled and flattered by everyone's suggestion that I have these stories published. Yes, it would be wonderful to earn royalties for my work, but honestly it's not something I'm looking into at the moment. This isn't something I necessarily want to earn money for; it's something I'm doing to entertain. And all the better if I can give it to people for free. This isn't something I'm going to start a Patreon or Kickstarter campaign for. This is my work and I am just honored to have people read it.
Regarding the stories themselves, there seem to be three major questions to answer:
1) What is Jessica's favor?
2) When will Craig and Jack have their fight?
And, most important of all,
3) When will Jack and Kayla finally have sex?
Well, since I left you on a little bit of a cliffhanger, I can tell you that at least one of these questions will be answered in the next chapter, which I have already started working on.
Keep the suggestions coming. Honestly, a lot of them are really good (and some a little too good. It's no fair to guess pretty accurately stuff that is going to happen). Thank you again for the support and look for Part 8 soon.
221 comments

Anonymous readerReport

2014-10-21 08:43:30
how come I can't pm you??? i want to keep reading your stories.

Anonymous readerReport

2014-08-27 05:16:16
This story is just amazing! The plot is really good, it is really well written and the story is really fun to read.
I can't help but read one chapter after another. You should definitely write a book dear Author !
Cheers, keep it up !

Anonymous readerReport

2014-08-24 06:56:06
all you haters can take craig`s dick up the anus

Anonymous readerReport

2014-08-21 07:28:05
Yo stfu this is the best story ever, suck craig's dick if you dont think it is

Anonymous readerReport

2014-08-21 03:36:39
Pregnancy

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