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Introduction:

I hope readers won't mind a few non-erotic chapters in this part of the story. It's a romance, after all.
Chapter Twenty-One

She walked Chrissy out to her car, accepted a hug, and watched with barely concealed amusement as Chrissy attempted to lower herself gingerly into her seat without appearing to do so, with the result that she still sat down faster than she wanted to and was unable to control the grimace of pain which followed, and which Jane politely pretended not to see.  She could certainly understand how Chrissy was feeling, being more than a little sore in the same place herself.  

I’ll just have to play dumb if Mom asks me about the sleep-mask, she thought as Chrissy drove off.

As Jane walked back into the house she realized that she was exhausted.  And starving.  

The only reason food won first priority over a nap was that she thought that otherwise she might not have the strength to climb the stairs again so she could take a nap.  She quickly made and gobbled down a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with a glass of milk and, somewhat refreshed, made her way upstairs.

She slept deeply and dreamlessly for an hour and a half.  When she woke up she glanced at the clock and saw that her parents were due home at any moment.  She decided she would bake some cookies for them.  And that’s what she was doing when they arrived.

Jane heard them chatting cheerfully to each other as they came through the door and thought, Wow, usually they’re dead tired.  They must have had a good time.

Her mother called out her name and Jane answered, “In here!”  

They came into the kitchen and there were hugs all around.  Jane’s mother immediately put on an apron and began to help with the cookies, telling Jane about their weekend, occasionally interrupted by Jane’s father, who was sitting at the table.  

They were both excited because the staff had recognized how good the two of them were at helping others on the retreat and had offered them counseling positions at future retreats.  It wouldn’t be much more money, her father explained, but every little bit helped.  And besides, he and Jane’s mother were thinking about writing a book about their experience together; a combined autobiography and counseling manual that other AA centers could use.

Jane, putting away the flour, stopped to look at them and thought she had never seen them so happy together.  She felt a little left out.  But she told herself that it was stupid to be jealous; wasn’t it better this way than the way they were before?  Then she thought, No, that’s not it at all.  She had no idea why she felt so uncomfortable all of a sudden.

She watched them enthusiastically spinning out ideas for the book, and realized: It’s me.  Now they’re normal, and I’m...  

Her memory raced back over the events of the morning.  What am I, she thought.  What kind of person does what I’ve been doing?  What would they think if they knew I’d helped trick someone—a friend, almost—into taking off her clothes, then being tied up and spanked and humiliated, just to please my boyfriend?  And me, she admitted to herself.  Never mind the fact that it had been done in their own basement.

“Are you all right, dear?”  Her mother’s voice startled her from her reverie.

“Oh...yeah, I’m just…  I was just thinking about how much homework I still have to do.  Can you finish the cookies?  I really ought to keep going.”  Her mother nodded, and Jane started out of the kitchen, then turned around, looked at them both and said, “Hey…  I’m glad you’re back.”

She made it to her bedroom before she started to cry.  

She closed the door, sat on the edge of her bed and let the tears run silently down her face.  She watched as they fell from her chin and into her lap, making spots of darker color in the fabric of her dress.  

She wished Peter were there to talk to. She looked over at her bedside table, at the telephone there.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d used it.  How long has it been since I knew anyone well enough to call, she wondered.  It must be years.  No wonder I’m…  She shook her head to rid herself of the thought.

She and Peter had never called each other.  They hadn’t discussed it; it was just an unspoken part of their desire for secrecy.  But she needed to hear his voice.  She pulled the phone book out of the table drawer.  It was several years out of date, but she knew Peter had lived there all his life.

She found the number.  Then she dried her face with a tissue and took several deep breaths to calm herself.  Then she dialed.

She hoped that it would be Peter who answered, so she wouldn’t have to talk to his father.  So when the voice that answered turned out to be female, she was disconcerted.  His mother wasn’t there anymore, she knew, and he didn’t have any sisters, so who could this be?  Still, she asked for Peter, and was told to, “Hang on a sec.”  

Then she heard the same voice calling out, “Peter...phone!” and Peter’s voice, very distant, replying, “I’ll take it up here,” then the clack of the extension being picked up.  

Peter called out, “Okay,” his voice much closer now, and waited until the other person had hung up before saying, “Hello?”

“Hi Peter, it’s me,” said Jane, suddenly wondering if he’d be displeased with her for calling.

“Jane!  Hi!”  

The warmth of his voice, and his obvious pleasure that it was she, made her start to cry again.  She tried to keep her voice steady as she spoke.

“Peter, I’m sorry.  I know you’ve got a ton of homework and everything...”

“Oh, that’s okay.  What’s up?”  

Jane tried to speak, but nothing came.  It was as if the knot of grief in her heart had moved into her throat and was choking her.  Then there was a sob, and she dissolved into tears.

“Jane!  Are you all right?  What is it?”  His voice was a frantic whisper.  Jane was still unable to speak.  “Jane!  What’s the matter?”

She heard some noise, as if Peter had picked up the telephone, and then what sounded like a door being closed.  

“Sorry,” Peter said, “I had to take the phone into my room.  Can you tell me what’s going on?”

She got herself under enough control to speak.  “I’m sorry, Peter.  It’s just that I feel like...like such a weirdo.”  

She sobbed a few more times, then grabbed a tissue and blew her nose.  Then she continued.  “It’s like...when I’m with you, everything we do is great.  I mean, I know it’s not normal, or what other people do, but it’s okay.  It’s better than okay.  I love what we do together—you know that, right?  Everything.”

“I know.”  Peter’s voice was full of concern.  “This is about what happened this morning, right?”

“Yeah.”  Jane had settled down to an occasional sniffle.

“All right.  Well, why don’t you tell me the whole story and then we’ll talk about it, okay?”

“Okay.”

So Jane told him everything, beginning with her careless remark at the party where she’d met Chrissy.  She told him how Chrissy had sought her out and how she, Jane, had baited the trap with stories about the fictitious Father Brian.  And how finally she had lured Chrissy down to the basement.  

Then she told him about what had happened afterwards, when her parents came home: how she’d suddenly begun to feel that she was an awful person. “...and that’s when I knew I had to call you.”  She felt the tears beginning again.  “Peter, I’m not really a bad person, am I?”  She wiped furiously at her eyes and sniffled.

“Of course you’re not,” he reassured her.  He was silent for a moment.  Then he said, “I’ve been thinking about this morning too.  And now that you’ve told me how it happened I think I understand it better.

“Jane, I think maybe you’re feeling bad, but not so much because of what happened as the way it happened.  You kind of did the same thing Chrissy did.”

“What do you mean?”

“You thought you were doing it all for me—and I know you were mostly doing it for me—but I think you were also doing it at least partly to see if you could.”

Jane started a furious denial and then stopped.  

He was right.  

“Oh Peter, that makes me feel worse!”

“I’m sorry, Jane, I didn’t mean to.  I’m just trying to sort things out.”  He fell silent again, then said.  “I think you’re feeling kind of the way I did after that first time.  You know, in the bathroom?”

“Uh-huh,” said Jane, not quite following.

“Even though it was really exciting while I was doing it?  I felt terrible afterwards because I’d made you do what I wanted without caring how you felt.  I still feel bad about it sometimes.”

“Oh, Peter—that was so long ago...and it turned out all right, didn’t it?”

“You know it did.But do you see what I’m getting at?”

“I think so,” Jane said, and heaved a sigh.  “I did a really bad thing.”

“No, you did a good thing, I think–or at least an okay thing–even if it was kind of for the wrong reason.  I mean, you said she came to you looking to be punished, right?  She even asked about getting spanked?”

“Ye-essss...”

“Okay, so it’s not like you forced her to do anything, like I did to you.  She had a pretty good idea what might happen when she came over this morning, right?”

“Yes, but...”

“But me no buts.  ‘Father Brian’ gave her some good advice...”

“Yes, you did.”

“And then I tried to send her on her way, and what happened?”

“Hey, that’s right!”

“Mm-hm, and now that I think about it I’m pretty sure that’s what this was all about in the first place.  I mean, yeah, she was upset about that business with the priest, but I think to some extent she was just using it as an excuse.”

“Because she really just wanted to be spanked...”

“Sure seems like it, though she doesn’t seem like the type.  Maybe when she heard you talk about it something clicked.   And having it done by a priest made it all right for Miss Goody Two Shoes.  

“And you saw what happened: she hollered and carried on, but you know as well as I do that she loved it.  She came—you saw it.  I’ll bet you anything she asks you how to get in touch with Father Brian again.  Did she say anything after I left?

“Well, nothing about that, but oh, Peter...” 

And she told him about how Chrissy had pretended that nothing much had happened, and by the time she got to the part about Chrissy using the mask as a cushion and trying to sit down in her car, Jane was laughing almost as hard as she’d been crying before.

Peter laughed with her and then he said, “Oh by the way, I never thanked you for going to all this trouble, just so I’d have somebody else to spank. You really are something else.”

Jane felt her spirits sag again.  “Isn’t that why I called you in the first place?”

“Yes, but you know that’s not what I meant.  You were sure enough of me, of us, to set me up with another girl.  I mean, she never knew it was me, of course, but still that was really brave.  And you know what part I liked best?”

She thought for a moment.  “Watching me spank her in my panties?”

“Nope.  Though I certainly enjoyed that.”

“Me too.”

“I noticed.  No, my favorite part was...”

“Pulling down her panties?”

“No.”  He paused.  “The best part, for me, was what we did afterwards.  Just you and me.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t get me wrong, that whole business with Chrissy was incredible.  I loved it—you know that—and I love you for doing that for me, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  I just want to make sure you know that you don’t have to, you know, keep coming up with things like that.

“Oh Peter, I don’t think I’ll ever try anything like that again.”

“Good.  You’re all I need.  Really.  More than I deserve.”

“Oh Peter...”

“It’s true.  Now, are you feeling better?”

“Yes.  Thank you.”

“Do you still feel like a weirdo?”

She thought about it.  “Well, kind of...but I don’t mind it so much.”

“Well, that’s better, I guess.  Y’know, I’ve thought about this, some.”  He paused, searching for the right words.  “It’s true that we do some things that aren’t the same as what everybody else does.But that doesn’t mean that everything else about us is different, does it?”

“Nooo...” said Jane, thoughtfully.

“Okay, then.  Everybody’s different from everybody else somehow, so what’s the big deal?”

“Yes, but...”

“But me no buts! You’re sweet and you’re smart and you care about people. You’re a good person, Miss Harkin.”

Jane felt a sweet pain in her chest.  “Really?” she asked, her voice trembling a little.

“Well,” he replied,  “not so good that you don’t need a good spanking once in a while, but still...”

She burst out laughing.  “Well, I should hope not!”  Still laughing, she said, “Oh, I love you.”

“I love you too, weirdo.  Hey, I’ve got to get back to work.  You okay now?”

“Yes.”

“All right, I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, and if you talk to Chrissy?”

“Yes?”

“Find out where she got those stockings. Whoo-hoo-hoo!”  

He sounded like Curly of the Three Stooges.

“You jerk.  See you tomorrow.”  She was smiling as she hung up the phone.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Almost immediately there was a soft knock on the door, and Jane’s mother came in, holding a small plate of cookies.  “I thought you might want to have some while they’re still warm.  We do nice work.”

Jane accepted the plate.  The cookies smelled wonderful.  

Her mother glanced around the room, took in the desk, with its unopened books.  “I thought you had a lot of homework,” she said, smiling.   Then she saw the crumpled, sodden tissues on the bed.  She looked more closely at Jane.  “You’ve been crying.  Honey, what’s the matter?”

She sat down next to Jane on the bed and put her arm around her shoulders.  “I heard you talking on the phone. Is somebody being mean to you?”   She suddenly got a knowing look.  “A boy?”

Jane looked up at her mother.  “Oh no, Mom.  I mean, I was talking to a boy, but he wasn’t being mean or anything.”

She knew she had to offer some explanation, and looking into her mother’s concerned face she was sorely tempted to tell her everything.  She loved Peter,and knew she could talk to him about anything, but she sometimes found herself wishing she could talk things over with somebody outside the relationship.  It was one thing to hear Peter tell her everything was all right, but she wanted to hear it from her mother.

“Mom?  How long did you know Dad before you got married?”

Her mother seemed taken a little aback by this change of subject for a moment, but answered,  “A couple of years.  You know we met in college...he was in law school and I was a lowly sophomore,” she finished, smiling. “Why? Are you planning to marry somebody?”  She glanced significantly at the phone.

Jane grinned and looked down.  “Oh, Mom...of course not.”  

She gathered her courage and looked up again.  “Mom?  Before you were married, did you...did you ever...” Then her voice faltered, and she had to look down again.

Her mother looked blank for a moment.  Then comprehension dawned, and she glanced again at the telephone before replying.  “Oh my,” she said, raising her eyebrows at Jane, “I wasn’t expecting to have this conversation for a while yet. I can’t believe you’ve grown up so fast.”  

She took a breath to steady herself. “Well.  First let me answer your question: yes, I did.  But never with anyone but your father.”  

She looked carefully at Jane, as if wondering whether to continue.  Finally she went on.  “In fact, we got married a little sooner than we’d planned...when we found out you were coming.”  

She smiled a little wistfully at the memory, then suddenly sat up straight as a new possibility presented itself.  She turned to Jane, taking her by the shoulders and peering intently into her eyes.  “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

Jane shook her head.  “No, Mom.”  She looked back at her mother, noticing for the first time how much her mother looked like an older version of herself.

Her mother sagged with relief.  “Thank goodness for that “ She turned her questioning gaze back on Jane and continued,   “But you’ve been...” she searched for the words, failed, and finally looked the rest of her question at Jane.

Jane forced herself to meet her mother’s gaze and nodded.  Then, wanting to reassure her, said, “But we’re always really careful, we...” She stopped, embarrassed at discussing the technical details with her mother.  “He always wears a...”

She was cut off by her mother’s sudden fierce embrace.  “Oh, honey, you’re so young!”  And Jane suddenly realized that her mother was crying.  

Her mother pulled back to look at her, tears running down her cheeks, and said,  “You’re not even nineteen.”  She glanced at the phone again, this time angrily, and said,  “Is that why you were crying?  Has this boy been pressuring you...”

“No, Mom! No! It was nothing like that!”  Jane didn’t like the direction this conversation was taking one bit.  “It didn’t even have anything to do with him!  I just called him because I wanted somebody to talk to!”

As soon as she said it she knew it had been a mistake.  Her mother had stiffened as if Jane had just insulted her.  Then her face had gone sad again and she looked down at her hands in her lap. 

 “Oh Jane, I’m so sorry.”  She looked back up at Jane, the tears now streaming from her eyes.  “Of course you needed someone to talk to.  Your father and I have always been too...” She waved her hands helplessly in the air, then collapsed onto Jane’s shoulder, sobbing.

Jane had no idea what to do.  It was as if she and her mother had suddenly switched places.  

“Mom, that isn’t what I meant,” she said, hugging her.  “You and Dad have been great.  In fact I was just thinking, when we were downstairs, that you both seem so much happier lately.”

Her mother slowly straightened up and reached for a tissue from the bedside table.  She blew her nose, then, wiping her eyes, said.  “Yes, I guess that’s true.  Your father’s really excited about this book idea; it’s the first time I’ve seen him this enthusiastic about anything in I don’t know how long.  And that makes me happy. 

 “But honey...are you sure you’re not...mad at us?”

Jane felt her own eyes beginning to tear up and reached for a tissue herself.  “Oh no, Mom.  I was never mad at you.”  

She felt something begin to well up inside her that seemed to push the next words out of her mouth.  “I just…  I always used to feel bad, because you and Dad always seemed unhappy and I...and I...” Grief suddenly engulfed her and her face crumpled into tears.  “And I always thought it was...it was m-my fault!” she wailed.   

And now it was her turn to collapse onto her mother’s shoulder.

They held each other and sobbed for a long time.  Her mother rocked Jane back and forth, saying incoherent soothing things and Jane cried and cried, and felt suddenly lighter, as if a great weight had been lifted from her heart.

Finally they were both cried out, and a good thing because they had used up almost all of the tissues, which now littered the whole area surrounding them.

“Oh my,” said her mother, “that was a good cry.”  

Jane thought her mother looked a little dazed and guessed she looked that way herself—because she certainly felt that way.

Her mother made a show of straightening up and taking a deep breath to settle herself.  “Now,” she said, smiling,  “tell me about this boy.  Is he nice?”

Jane was delighted to be able to talk about Peter to her mother.  “Oh yes, Mom, he really is!  His name’s Peter, Peter McIlvray, and he’s...he’s...” She wanted to say a dozen things about him at the same time and they made a logjam in her brain, so all she could think of to say was, “He’s just great, Mom.  You’d like him, I know you would.” 

Her mother smiled at her enthusiasm and said, “Well, I hope you’ll let us meet him one of these days.”

“I will, Mom.  I really want you to meet him.”

“All right, that’s a bargain.”  Her mother gave Jane’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze.  Then her expression grew thoughtful and she said, “Jane, are you sure you really feel...comfortable about...” Again she searched for the right words, finally settling for, “what you’re doing with...with Peter?”

Jane felt her mother’s eyes searching hers, felt her concern.  But when she asked herself the question there was no hesitation.  

Her voice was quiet but firm as she replied, “Yes, Mom.” And then, for the first time, she felt as if she was speaking to her mother as one woman to another as she said,  “He really loves me.”

Her mother looked back at her worriedly as if wondering whether she could accept what her daughter was telling her.  

Jane wanted very much to ask her about some of the things she and Peter did, but decided that her mother had had enough shocks for one day.  Her mother in fact looked exhausted—and rightly so, Jane thought.  Besides, a conversation on that subject might lead back to why Jane had been crying in the first place and she really didn’t want to have to explain what had happened in the basement that morning—was it really only this morning?  She was glad her mother had been distracted.

But her mother wasn’t finished.  “Well, if that’s the case, I think we should see about getting you some...other kind of protection.  Those other things aren’t one hundred percent reliable.”  She gave Jane a smile that had a little sadness in it.  “I should know.”  Then she gave Jane a hug and a kiss and said, “Though in your case I’m glad they weren’t.  I love you so much, honey.”

Jane smiled back and said, “I love you too, Mom.”

“I’ll make a doctor’s appointment for you.”  She got up and started toward the door, hesitated, then turned back and said, “I think we’ll both be better off if you don’t mention any of this to your father.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

As Jane rode her bike to school the next day she was more than a little tired, not only from the events of the day before but because she had stayed up late trying to study for finals—she had to face one today—and complete her other schoolwork.  

So she failed to notice Peter sitting under their usual tree and would have ridden right by him if he hadn’t called her name.  She quickly braked and hopped off her bike, then walked it back to where he was standing.

After a quick hug and a kiss she asked him what he was doing there, though she thought she knew.  He smiled at her and said, “I just wanted to see how you were doing—you were pretty upset yesterday.”

Jane thought he looked even more tired than she was.  “I’m all right,” she said, reaching up to caress the side of his face, “but poor you…  You look exhausted.”  

He leaned into her touch and nodded, his eyes closed.  Jane continued, “Was it okay that I called you?  I know we were keeping everything secret for a while, but I thought...”

He opened his eyes to look at her and said, “Oh no, it’s fine.  That was just when we, you know, didn’t really know each other.”

“Good.” 

Jane slipped her arm around his waist and, holding her bike up with the other, began walking towards the school with him.  

“Peter,” she asked, “who was it that answered the phone yesterday/”

Peter gave her a sideways glance, sighed, and said,  “Her name’s Paulette.  She’s my father’s...girlfriend, I guess.”  

He walked along in morose silence for a moment, then continued.  “She doesn’t live with us, but she acts like she does.”  He walked along for a few steps, then said,  “She wants Dad to divorce Mom, so they can get married, but Dad won’t do it.”  Another few steps.  “Not yet, anyway.”  He shook his head slowly back and forth and sighed again.

“Don’t you like her?”

“I dunno...she’s okay, I guess.  Except when she starts thinking she’s my mother.  And I’m glad Dad has someone; Mom’s been gone so long.  I‘m just afraid that if he marries Paulette, Mom’ll get forgotten.”  

He kicked at a stone in front of him and scowled.  “I don’t know why I care.  I told you, I haven’t seen her in, I dunno, fourteen years or something.  She probably doesn’t even remember me.”

Jane tightened her arm around his waist for a moment and then asked, “Have you ever wanted to go see her?”

Peter’s expression turned even more haggard.  “I’ve thought about it.  Dad still goes out to see her sometimes...” He fell silent again for a moment. “I guess I...I just don’t want to see her like that.”

Jane said nothing, but held him tightly again and leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked.

After a while, when they had nearly reached the school, Jane began telling him about the conversation she’d had with her mother after their phone call.  She told him everything except the doctor’s appointment.  She wanted to surprise him later.

When she was finished Peter’s face was a mask of astonishment.  “So she knows we’ve been...” Jane nodded.  “...And she’s not mad or anything?”

“Nope.”  

Jane thought about how to express what she thought her mother had been feeling.  “She was upset at first—you know, because she thinks I’m too young.  But I told her that you’re always really careful...” she looked shyly over at him before finishing, “and I told her that you really...love me.”  

It felt strange to be saying it that way, even though she knew it was true, and she suddenly felt a little afraid of how he would react.

He stopped and turned to her.  “You told her that?”  

She nodded, barely able to meet his eyes.  

Then he smiled.  “Well, it’s a good thing it’s true, then, isn’t it?”  Then he kissed her lightly on the lips before starting to walk again.

“She wants to meet you.”

He stopped again.  “She does?”  He took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh.  “Well, that makes sense, I guess.  You sure she’s not gonna kill me?”

Jane pretended to think about it.  “Well...pretty sure,” she said with mock seriousness, then smiled and nudged him with her hip.  “Of course she’s not going to kill you, you jerk.”  

They started walking again.  Then, unable to resist, she added, “Of course, my Dad might, if he ever finds out.”  When he stopped again she put her hand in the middle of his back and pushed him onward, saying, “He’s not going to find out, unless you want to tell him.  Mom’s certainly not going to.”

He gave her a sidelong glance and said, “You don’t happen to know where I could pick up a bullet-proof vest, do you?”

They’d reached the school’s parking lot by then.  Peter waited while she parked her bike, and then, putting their arms around each other’s waists, they walked toward the main doors, not caring anymore who saw them together.

Until they saw Chrissy waiting inside, looking at them.

Jane had to fight the sudden urge to disentangle herself from Peter and pretend she was just walking next to him.  She made herself pretend that everything was perfectly normal and she hoped Peter was doing the same.  

As she pulled open the glass door with her left hand, she casually dropped her arm from Peter’s waist and went through ahead of him, saying, “Hi, Chrissy.  How are you?”, simultaneously telling herself, she doesn’t know anything, she doesn’t know anything...

Chrissy returned her greeting cheerfully enough, if a little distractedly, looking over Jane’s shoulder as Peter followed her through the door.  Jane said, “Oh!  Do you know my friend Peter?  Peter, this is Chrissy.”

Peter, apparently terrified that Chrissy would recognize his voice, didn’t trust himself to speak.  But he managed to give Chrissy what might pass for a friendly nod and smile before turning to Jane and waving a quick—and equally silent—goodbye and hurrying off.  

Leaving her stranded with Chrissy, who was now looking at her somewhat accusingly, Jane thought.

“I thought you said your boyfriend lives in another town,” said Chrissy, moving closer to her.

Jane thought quickly.  “Oh, he does.  Peter and I are just friends.”

Chrissy raised an eyebrow to show what she thought of that after what she’d just seen, then appeared to drop the matter.  She took Jane by the elbow and pulled her into a corner where they wouldn’t be as noticeable.   

She looked around to make sure they weren’t being observed, then opened her purse and pulled out the blue sleep-mask.   She handed it to Jane and whispered, “I guess I walked off with this by mistake yesterday.”

Jane saw that it had been thoroughly cleaned and tried not to smile.  She whispered back, “I was wondering where that went.  Thanks.”  She tucked it into her bag.  Then she turned back to Chrissy.  “So?  How are you feeling today?”

Chrissy smiled.  “Good.  Really good.  I think he really helped me a lot.”

“That’s great.”  Jane smiled and started to say goodbye before heading off to class, but Chrissy stopped her.”

“I was just wondering...do you still have that number to get in touch with him? “  Chrissy started to blush, then broke off eye contact and looked down.  “I mean, in case I have any questions or anything.”

Score one for Peter, thought Jane—he was right.  Then she turned her attention back to Chrissy, thinking, Not on your life, honey.  I’m not sharing him with anyone again.  

She smiled and said, “Sure,” and pretended to rummage in her purse.  Then, as if suddenly remembering, looked up and said, “Oh, I forgot.  He won’t be there.  Remember, I told you he moves around a lot?”

Chrissy’s face fell.  “Oh, that’s right.  Darn.”

She looked so disappointed that Jane, without thinking, said, “If you like, I can leave a message to have them let me know when he’s coming back.”

Chrissy immediately brightened.   “Oh, would you?  That’d be great.  Thanks!”  And she gave Jane a quick hug.

Jane guiltily hoped that Chrissy would lose interest after a few weeks went by with no response.  She again started to take her leave, then suddenly remembered something she wanted to ask.

“Oh, Chrissy?  Where did you get those thigh-highs you were wearing?”

Chrissy smiled enthusiastically.  “Aren’t they nice?  My mother got them for me in Boston.  I think the store’s called ‘Ruffles’ or something like that.  I really...” Her voice trailed off and a look of confusion appeared on her face.  “How did you know I was wearing thigh-highs?” she asked.

Jane’s mind froze solid for several seconds.  Idiot, she told herself.  How could you know if you hadn’t seen her with her dress off?  

She thought desperately, then said,  “You told me you were going to wear them, remember?  In the lunchroom that day?”  

Chrissy nodded, doubtfully, and Jane rushed on, “I just thought they looked really nice, what I could see of them, and I thought I might like to get some.  Thanks!  Well, I’ve got to get to class.  Talk to you soon...” 

And then she hurried off, not daring to look back to see if Chrissy had believed her.

Chapter Twenty-Four

The rest of that day and all of the next three days were a blur of names and dates, facts and figures–and exhaustion.  Peter still met Jane after school at their usual place and walked her home but neither of them said much beyond reporting the trials and tribulations of that particular day and what still awaited them.  They held hands, they kissed and hugged affectionately when they parted, but neither had the time or energy for anything beyond that.

But finally Thursday afternoon came and it was finished.  School was over.  Peter would be graduating next Friday, assuming he’d passed everything, which Peter didn’t seem concerned about, so that was okay.  It was a warm sunny day and they were free.  They trudged along, tired but happy, towards Jane’s house.

Jane’s feelings of release were somewhat marred by the fact that she had begun getting her monthly cramps the night before.  Usually they weren’t overly painful but this time they were, possibly because of the stress and fatigue of the last several days.  

This was bad enough in itself, especially since it had made it harder to concentrate on her last exams, but she had been hoping Peter would want to make love to her by way of celebration and now that wouldn’t be possible.  And tomorrow she and her mother were going to Boston to see her mother’s gynecologist—though she had told Peter she was just going shopping—so they wouldn’t be able to see each other then either.  

Monday they would be beginning their summer jobs, and didn’t know what their schedules would be: both would be working nights sometimes and their days off would change from week to week.  

Oh well, thought Jane, sighing to herself, we’ll find time.  She steadfastly refused to think about the fact that the beginning of summer meant that the end of summer, when Peter would be going away to his new college in Ohio, was that much closer.

Usually Peter turned back when they reached the end of the driveway, but today he came along to the house.  As they climbed the porch steps Jane said, “Peter, you can come in if you want, but we can’t…  I’m getting my...you know, my...” She blushed and looked down.

“Visit from your friend?”  Peter supplied, smiling, his eyes sympathetic.  “You poor thing.”  

He held the screen door open as she unlocked the door, then followed her in, saying, “Actually, I think we both need a nap more than anything else at this point.”

They went upstairs without another word and paused only long enough to kick off their shoes before collapsing onto her bed.  Jane lay on her back, looking up at Peter, who lay on his side, supporting his head on his hand.    

“Ohhh...god, I feel awful,” Jane said, crossing her eyes comically to show her discomfort.  She snuggled closer to Peter.  “But thank goodness it’s all over.”

“Amen,” replied Peter, blowing out his breath in a huge sigh of relief.  

He leaned down and kissed her forehead, then gently placed his free hand on her stomach and began to massage it in a slow circular motion.  It was wonderfully warm and soothing and Jane could sense the knots in her stomach beginning to loosen almost immediately.  She took a deep, relaxing breath and closed her eyes.  “Mmmmmmm...thank you,” she murmured sleepily.

Peter lay his head down in the crook of his elbow as he continued to soothe her.  He yawned.  “Maybe...” He yawned again.  “...we should set an alarm...or something.”  Another yawn.  “I really...don’t want to be here...when...your folks...”

...And then they were both asleep.

It was Jane’s mother who found them, fortunately.  

They had been too tired to even close the door behind them and were so deeply asleep that neither of them heard her car as it approached or her footsteps on the stairs.  

She glanced through the open doorway just to see if Jane was home and saw the two of them, now nestled like spoons on Jane’s bed. Peter’s arm hung loosely around Jane’s waist, his hand still pressed to her stomach, held there by both of Jane’s.

She watched them in silence for a long time.  She looked at Peter especially, as though trying to divine from his sleeping form what sort of boy he was.  Something about the tenderness with which he was holding Jane, and Jane’s apparently total trust in him, must have reassured her, at least somewhat, because she allowed herself a wistful smile to go along with her sigh.

She started to close the door, then stopped and glanced at her watch.  Looked back at the two sleepers and sighed again.  Opened the door again, and knocked lightly on it, saying softly, “Kids?  I think it’s time to wake up.”

There was a moment of sleepy stirring and slow disentanglement.    Then Peter ‘s eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright on the bed, followed, more slowly, by Jane, who said, “Hi, Mom.”  

Jane was startled but not upset, although this was not the moment she would have chosen for her mother to meet Peter.  At least we have our clothes on, she thought with relief.

Jane’s mother immediately tried to put Peter at ease by stepping forward and offering her hand, saying, “You must be Peter.  I’m Jane’s mother.”

Peter had enough presence of mind to take the offered hand and respond, “Hello, Mrs. Harkin.”  He knew that she’d already known about him and Jane, but still it was a disconcerting way to wake up.

“You’re welcome to stay for dinner, Peter,” said Jane’s mother, “but Jane’s father is due any second and it would be better if you were downstairs when he gets here.”

Dinner went well, despite Peter’s initial nervousness at meeting her father.  

Jane had been no less anxious.  But Jane’s father seemed to accept Peter’s presence as just one more of the changes his daughter was going through and Peter, performer that he was, went out of his way to be entertaining, telling stories of disasters and near-disasters from the plays he’d been in. This in turn inspired Jane’s father to recall anecdotes of his own performances in his early days as a trial-lawyer.  

Jane, despite still feeling fairly wretched, was gratified and relieved to see that Peter was making a good impression, and it made her especially happy when her mother, watching Peter in animated discussion with Jane’s father, turned to her and, quirking her lips and raising her eyebrows as if to say, ‘Not bad!’, gave her an approving nod.  

Jane’s smile in return would have melted an iceberg.

After dinner Peter stayed long enough to help with the dishes.  Then, pleading exhaustion, he thanked Jane’s parents and got ready to leave.  

Jane walked him out to the porch.  Her friend Suzy’s parents were hosting an end-of-school party on Saturday night and Peter said he’d try to borrow the car and pick her up.  Then, made self-conscious by the fact that her parents were nearby, he gave her only a quick hug and a chaste peck on the lips, though he couldn’t resist leaning close afterwards and whispering, “Gee—weren’t you naked the last time we did this?” before turning and heading off down the driveway, calling, “Have a good time in Boston, see you Saturday!” over his shoulder.

Jane was still smiling as she went back inside but wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed with a good book until she fell asleep again, which she suspected wouldn’t be long.  

She headed for the kitchen to tell her parents she was going upstairs.  And as she did so she overheard her father saying,  “...certainly seems all right.  I can’t believe our little girl is so grown up.”  

There was a pause, then: “Have you discussed the birds and the bees with her?”

Her mother replied, “Um-hm.”  And then, as though joking,  “I learned quite a lot.”
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