“I’m sorry. I wish we had a basement like yours and could lock the door.” Susan fumed in anger at her siblings and embarrassment over her younger brother’s comments about her shirt not being tucked in her shorts. “There’s no privacy here.”
Rob chuckled, taking her hand as he drew her down beside him and slid his hand back inside her bra. “It’s okay, Su.” His tongue traced her ear. “Jamie’s got a small party going on. At least it’s quiet at your house.”
Susan made a face as his tongue dipped into her ear. “Will you stop? That’s gross.” She jerked her head away and wiped her ear with her shirt tail.
“That’s okay. I like this better.” Rob slid down and placed kisses on her exposed stomach and ribs, chuckling when her T-shirt floated down and covered his face. He pulled her on top of him and fastened his teeth on her bra cup, tugging it down.
“Rob? What if my parents come in?” Susan protested as his lips and tongue sent shock waves through her body. She closed her eyes and sighed as his fingers freed her other breast and fondled it in turn.
Rob shifted, causing both of them to fall onto the floor. Susan giggled when she landed on the soft, thick carpet with Rob's head still inside her shirt. She panicked when she heard footsteps.
“Rob! Move.” She pushed him away and readjusted her bra just as her brother knocked on the door at the same time he entered.
“Suze? I heard a thud.” Ted grinned. “Oh, am I interrupting anything?”
“Get out, Ted.” Susan scrambled to her feet. “Mom!” She pushed past him and stormed into the living room. “Will you tell him to leave us alone? We’ve only got two more weeks before school starts.”
Mrs. Best motioned to her son. “Leave your sister alone, Ted.”
“What’s the score, Su?” asked her older sister, Robyn.
“Three to one, Cubs,” Susan shot back. “Unless, of course, the Blue jays have scored in the last few minutes.”
“Just checking,” Robyn laughed. “See, Ted, they are actually watching the game.”
“Ooohh!” Susan whirled and left the room, slamming the door to the den behind her.
Rob had returned to the couch and was drinking a soda. “Cubbies are up at bat. Toronto never even got on base.” He looked surprised as she threw herself in a chair. “What’s wrong, babe?”
“Everything. I will be so glad to get back on campus and away from my brother and his stupid comments.” She crossed her arms and continued in a hushed tone. “Why does everyone here make sex jokes? Did I miss something? Is there an unspoken rule about college equals loss of virginity? First that idiot John and his comments, now my own brother and sister, making sure we’re not doing anything we’re not supposed to be doing. Even you can’t keep your hands to yourself. You were never this insistent in high school.”
“Want to go back and catch the last flick?”
She rolled on her back and stretched. Her eyes fluttered open when he turned on the small desk lamp, then realized the blankets were around her waist.
“What?” She pulled the covers up to her neck, wondering how long he’d been staring at her bare torso. “You turned the light on.”
“Yeah.” Sitting on the bed beside her, he tugged on the sheet and slipped his hand inside to touch her skin. Susan sat up and kissed him, then jumped when he pulled the covers away. “God, Su. Oh honey, you’re perfect.” His open mouth found her nipples again, and she settled back into the pillows.
She protested while her body quivered for more. “I thought you wanted to watchTerminator.”
“We’ll rent the damn thing. Oh God, Su.” His hands traced her ribs.
Susan arched her back to give him more access and tensed, still caught up in that dreamlike area between sleep and wakefulness. She didn’t object when his fingers slid into the waistband of the sweat pants or when he settled himself into the cradle of her hips. His hips moved against hers in a light pressure, and she took a sharp intake of breath. He began a steady rhythm, rocking against her. Susan began to match it move for move. He worked a hand between them, and she jumped.
“It’s okay. Let me do this.”
“Travis, stop!” She put her hands on either side of his face. “Please, stop?”
He groaned and rolled to lie beside her, panting. “I’m so close. I’m sorry. ” He freed himself from the constraints of his underwear. “Grab a tissue, please?”
Susan handed the box to him, and he spilled his essence into a handful of tissues.
“Yuck!” Both curious and appalled at the same time, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She’d seen Travis naked and masturbating with the lights on.
Oh God, what have I done? What have I done? She covered her eyes with her hands.
Travis’ arms went around her, but she refused to respond to his kisses on her jaw.
“What is it, Su? Are you mad at me or something?”
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know that.” She lowered her hands to his chest. “But, you were hanging out, and‒and, you‒you did that‒that stuff on yourself! Is that what sperm looks like?”
Travis smoothed her hair. “I couldn’t control myself. And that stuff, as you put it, has to go somewhere. I’ll be glad to show you some alternatives of where to put it.”
. “Do you think my butt is too big?”
Travis lifted his head from her neck and slid his hands down to grasp her buttocks. “Absolutely not. There is nothing wrong with your ass. It’s very squeezable.” He resumed kissing her and stroked her backside, but his answer appalled her. It’s squeezable? What the hell kind of answer is that?
“Travis.” She sighed when he undressed her in the now familiar routine. “Travis, wait a minute.” She pulled away from him. “What do you mean, my ass is squeezable?”
He ran his fingers through his hair before he reached for her again. “It’s a nice shape, and I like the way your cheeks feel in my hands. It’s no fun holding an ass that’s bony. I like a woman with a little padding back there. You know what I mean?”
“You’re saying you think I’m fat?” I knew it! I am a fat cow.
Travis scrubbed his face with his hands. “No, not at all, honey. You asked what I thought. I like your ass. What brought this on?”
She told him about the conversation between Shane and Nick, and he threw back his head and laughed. “They’re right. Caty’s is high and tight, and I never really paid that much attention to Keri’s or Steph’s. They’re too short for my taste, but you and Gretchen have nice, curving bottoms that are a nice handful.” He dipped his hands down to cup her bottom and pulled her close again. “Gretchen’s ass is off-limits, but yours I can touch every time we get a private moment.” He went back to removing the rest of her clothes.
Later, Susan sucked in her belly. “Wouldn’t you like it better if I was thinner?”
Travis propped himself on one elbow and looked her in the eye. “Honey, I don’t have a problem with the way your body looks. If you want to lose weight, go ahead, but don’t do it to please me. Do it because you want to do it. Is this why you’ve suddenly begun eating like a rabbit and skipping dessert?”
“We’re getting a better response when you’re out in front, Susan. Do you think we can split up the lead on the next set? I’ll sing the first verse and you the second. We can switch back and forth after that.”
Susan hesitated. “Do you think it will work?”
Glenn nodded. “Hell, yes. The boys love you out there, and the manager’s thrilled. The more they dance and yell, the thirstier they get. Ergo, the more drinks they buy.”
“Ergo?” Susan laughed. “I didn’t think you knew that word.”
“I’m a man of many hidden talents, my dear.” He saluted her with his beer.
Susan downed her ice water. “Let’s try it. It can’t hurt, and like Glenn says, they’re all drunk now, anyway. I doubt they’d notice if we flubbed up.”
“You’re not going to flub up in front of us, are you?” teased a familiar voice. Susan looked up in surprise as Gretchen, Shawn, Amy, Brad, Caitlyn, and Peter approached.
“Hi, guys.” Happy to see them, she stood up and hugged her friends. “No, we’re just talking about making a slight change in the last set.” She introduced the band members.
“We just got here. Let’s go find a table and get a round of drinks. Break a leg, kids.” Gretchen ushered the rest toward the bar.
Susan excused herself to use the rest room and overheard a disturbing conversation between two other girls.
“...can’t believe she’d have the guts. I mean, did you see the size of her thighs? And that shirt. Good lord. You’d think people who pork out like that would have the decency not to tuck their shirts in like that.” A toilet flushed.
“I know, and can you believe her voice? I sing better than that in the shower.” Water running and the hand dryer drowned out the voices.
Are they talking about me? I’m not leaving until I know they’re both gone. She peeked through the crack between the stall door and the wall and saw the two girls touching up their makeup.
“She needs to get with the times. The Madonna look is so three years ago.”
“At least she’s not wearing a miniskirt.” Their voices disappeared as the door slammed closed.
Stunned, Susan left her stall. She looked at her reflection in the wavy mirror and studied herself. They’re right, I am a fat slob. My stomach has this bulge at the zipper, instead of being nice and flat. She stuck out her tongue and washed her hands. And my thighs do look awful in these jeans. Why oh why did I even wear them?
Because you were in a hurry. You were so happy after messing around with Travis, you forgot to be careful with what you wore tonight. Now people are talking about you!
How can I get up on that stage and wow them for another ninety minutes? They don’t want to see me or hear me. I heard that woman! I sing like I’m tone-deaf or something! Susan brushed aside the few tears. I’ve got to get back out there and fake it. Nobody’s forcing me to continue after tonight. I’ll finish this last set, even though my friends are out there, hearing us for the first time.
During Spring Break, Susan received a shock. Her mother scheduled her for a regular dental appointment, and her dentist reported seeing signs of acid eroding her back teeth.
“Have you been vomiting a lot? You have two teeth I’m very concerned about.” He pulled off his gloves and pushed the tray away.
“I’ve had the stomach flu a lot,” Susan lied. “It’s been going around campus, and I’ve caught it at least three times.”
“Well, let’s hope this week away from everyone will finally cure you.” He patted her shoulder. “Otherwise, your mouth looks great. I’ll see you again next year.”
“Okay.” I had no idea he could tell I’ve been vomiting! I hope he doesn’t tell Mom. Maybe I need to stop for a while and just not eat?
Her family commented on her weight loss, especially when she and her mother shopped for new spring and summer clothing.
“How much weight have you lost? You’re wearing sizes you’ve not worn since junior high.” Her mother seemed amazed.
“At least another twenty.” Susan hugged herself. Mom’s happy with me, and I’m pretty proud of myself for losing so much.
“I wouldn’t lose much more, sweetie. We don’t want you blowing away.”
Staying on her diet while she was home proved difficult. She found the purging habit harder to stop than she thought and was almost caught by her sister, twice in the same day.
“What is with you?” Robyn stood in the doorway. “That’s twice today you’ve dropped your ring behind the toilet. Put some string around it or have Mom take you to get it resized.”
Susan left the bathroom and sagged against the door of her room, shaking at the thought of Robyn catching her in the act. I’ve just got to be careful about what I eat this week. When I get back to school, everything will be all right.
“And when was the last time you ate a regular meal? I’m talking all the four major food groups, including dessert.”
“Yesterday.” Feeling triumphant, Susan raised her head and looked Amy in the eye. “The cafeteria served us turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, plus I had a salad and had strawberry yogurt afterwards.”
Amy looked at Travis, who shook his head. “She moved it around and may have put some of it in her mouth, but I heard her vomiting in the bathroom. She didn’t know I was listening at the door.”
“That’s not true,” Susan cried. “You were already in your room. No, you were in Bill’s room.” She corrected herself, recalling the events. She directed her question at Gretchen. “So that’s why you came into the bathroom with me? Didn’t see me do anything, did you?”
Gretchen shook her head. “But you tried to get me to leave several times. Do you realize you can severely injure your throat by too much self-induced vomiting? You can rupture blood vessels, impair your gag reflex, even cause damage to your gums and teeth.”
“Not to mention malnutrition,” Amy added.
Caitlyn slapped the palm of her hand on her leg and gave her chair a shove. “We’re not getting anywhere. If we can’t get through to her, then it’s time to call her advisor, the resident advisor, the dorm director, or her parents. Nothing we’re saying is going to stop her from trying to fucking starve herself to death.” She moved across the room, and Susan moved out of her way. Caty wrenched the door open. “I’ve got better things to do than babysit someone so damned hell-bent on destroying herself.” The door slammed hard behind her.
Shaken, Susan sank onto the bed beside Gretchen. “Please don’t call my parents.” She shook her head and rocked forward. “Don’t call my parents.”
“Why not? Cait’s got a good idea.” Amy stood in front of her. “There’s only three weeks of school left. I imagine they would not appreciate you killing yourself in front of us and not warning them.”
Susan jerked her head up. “I’m not killing myself.”
“Okay, what do you call it? Do you know you’re also putting yourself at risk for a heart attack? That’s what happens, you know. Your heart can’t handle the stress, and you go into congestive heart failure.”
Something inside of Susan snapped. “You don’t understand! Not one of you do!”
“What don’t we understand, Su? Tell us.” Gretchen touched her on the shoulder.
Tears streaked down her cheeks. “None of you have to watch what you eat. All of you have good-looking boyfriends. Every single one of you has no trouble getting dates, even you, Gretchen. Even when
not down here, you still have Shawn to hang out with. Nobody wants me around. Nobody
offers to dance with me if Travis isn’t around. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because
I’m fat!” Troy
“I’ve never dated anyone Rob had taken out first. I was scared to death you’d accidentally call me ‘Rob’ after I kissed you,” he said. “There was this one girl at Valpo who kept getting us mixed up. She kept calling me the wrong name one night.”
“You know I wouldn’t do that to you. I’ve always been able to tell you apart.”
“I know. You’re the only one, aside from my parents.” He wrapped both arms around her.
“Jamie, what happens after we go back to school? What then?”
He dropped his forehead against hers. “What do you want to happen? Do you want to try the long-distance thing? Or do you want to wait and see?”
“I don’t know. How good are you at long distance?”
Jamie adjusted the cushions behind his back and sat up with his back against the couch. Susan sat up and looked at him.
“I don’t know. I know you’re fine with it, because I witnessed all the phone calls and letters you sent Rob two years ago. At the same time, I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I’ll be honest with you; I have a list of phone numbers of women I can get together with any time of day or night.” He stroked her cheek. “The question is whether or not I have the desire to call them, once I go back.”
Jamie kissed her again, and Susan’s mind reeled. “Wait...how do I know that’s not just a line, Jamie? You forget, I know you. I know how you like to be the center of attention.” She twined her fingers through his.
“I’ve changed, Su. I feel it in here.” He touched their clasped hands to his chest. “I’ve hardly partied at all this summer, and you’re the only female I’ve even wanted to be with these past few weeks.”
“The fact I’m even being honest with you about it should count for something.”
“It does. Why don’t we agree to just continue, and when school starts, we’ll give it a chance? At the first sign it’s not going to work, we tell each other?”
“Isn’t that what you and Rob agreed? Only he wasn’t honest with you?”
“Yes, but I knew something was up and dragged it out of him.”
“Well, I promise, sweetheart. The first sign I’m slipping, I’ll tell you. No sense in causing any extra pain. Deal?”
“Deal.” They sealed it with a kiss and settled back to watch the rest of the movie.
“Su? Can I ask you something?”
Susan felt Jamie’s fingers touch the nape of her neck. Tingles of electricity ran up and down her spine. “Sure, anything.”
“Did you...did you and Rob ever...”
Susan jerked away. “What? That’s really none of your business. I can’t believe you even asked me that.”
Jamie reached out for her hand. “Rob never said anything, but I knew he had slept with Michelle, and I just wondered how far you’d gone with him.”
Susan’s cheeks grew hot. She settled back against him, intertwining their fingers.
“We didn’t,” she whispered. “I still don’t think it’s fair for you to ask me about my relationship with him. I’m not asking about your previous relationships, am I?”
“Well, no.” Jamie cleared his throat. “I just wanted to be honest with you and know where I stand with you.”
“If you do anything I don’t like, believe me, you’ll know.” Susan kissed his hand.
“What about that guy Ted told me you were seeing? The guy over New Year’s. How long has that been over?”
“Jamie, why all the questions?”
He pulled away from her and faced her. “Because, dammit, I’ve never been friends with a girl first, and I don’t want to screw this up. If you’re still going to see him when you go back to school, I want to know. I want to know how much experience you have, and if you’re going to compare me to my brother.” Jamie’s face registered shock. He jumped up and shook his head. “I‒I didn’t mean that. I know you’d never compare us.”
“Predator? Our last evening together and you take me to see a scary alien movie? Jamie, I hate these kinds of movies.”
“Just trust me, all right?” He paid their admission. Susan pouted as he parked way off to the right.
“Okay, now you can hardly see the screen, and the concession stand is way over there.”
“Su, will you shut up about the damn movie for a minute?” Jamie reached in the backseat of his sedan and produced a blanket. Climbing out of the car, he opened the back driver’s side door and rolled down the window. He placed part of the blanket over it and rolled the window up again. The back window was obscured by the darkness beginning to fall, and trees shielded the car to their right.
“What are you doing?”
Jamie crawled into the back seat and spread another blanket over the cloth seats, then closed the door on the excess length of the one covering the window.
“Care to join me?” His voice sounded husky. “Told you I’d find a way to have total privacy.”
“Not very private at a drive-in.” She climbed over the seat and into his waiting arms.
“I just wanted to be with you, not at my house, not at yours.” As he spoke, Jamie unbuttoned her denim shirt. “And not at any of the typical make-out points where the cops would catch us.”
and Susan found a midnight-blue satin gown that looked lovely on her.
“Are you sure this looks all right?” She fidgeted with the thin spaghetti straps which held the dress in place and turned to see her backside. “It’s awfully low-cut, and my butt looks large.”
“No, it does not,” Lynne contradicted her. “It makes your ass look curvy and sexy. Jamie’ll love it, and if you think it’s too low in the front, we can always safety-pin it to your bra.”
“Maybe.” Susan sucked in her stomach. “Don’t I need something to hide this bulge?”
“What bulge?” Lynne looked from the mirror to her friend and back again. “I don’t see any bulge. If there were, what do you think control-top pantyhose were invented for?”
Susan turned around, trying to see herself from all angles. “I don’t know. I’ve never worn anything so slinky and form-fitting before.”
“Well, it’s high time you did. Why you try to hide that bod under layers is beyond me.” Lynne shook her head. “How much is it to rent?”
Susan told her. “All I have to do is reserve it, so it doesn’t get taken before the weekend I need it. Maybe I ought to try the bridal shops in Arbordale first.”
“Tell you what. You go ahead and reserve it. We’ll look around Arbordale, and if you find something you like better, then all you have to do is call. Deal?”
Susan took one more glance at herself in the mirror. “Okay.”
Hours later they were convinced Arbordale didn’t have anything close to what Susan envisioned. She allowed Lynne and Tara to talk her into renting a beautiful shawl to go with the dress and agreed to borrow
“You know what would look great?” Lynne snapped her fingers as Susan modeled the entire outfit again before the Thanksgiving holiday. “That rhinestone necklace Amy wore last year.”
“You’re right. I’ve got my diamond pendant, which should be enough.” Susan coughed. “Damn, I hope I’m not getting sick.”
“The dance is still two weeks away,”
Tara consoled her.
“I know. I hope I’m not catching the flu.”
Lynne shook her head. “Just because it hit the entire second floor doesn’t mean you’ve caught it. Keep taking your vitamin C and drink lots of water.”
Susan stuck out her tongue in a playful manner. “Wear a hat, and keep my feet dry. I remember the drill. Who knew this fall would be so freaking cold? It’s been years since it’s snowed this much in November.”“Maybe that boyfriend of yours will come up with a computer model to predict exactly when and where the bad weather will hit, so we can all skedaddle south.”
Thanksgiving arrived, and while Susan tried to stick to her diet, the temptation of her aunt’s mouth-watering pumpkin and pecan pies were too delicious to resist. Later, however, guilt set in, and she decided not to eat the next day. Especially when she and Robyn went Christmas shopping, and she caught sight of herself in a department store mirror.
“How could you let me wear this outfit?” Dismayed, she turned from side to side. “I look so frumpy.” Susan sucked in her stomach, trying to make her jeans look smoother, but it only served to make her hips look wider.
Robyn gaped at her. “There’s nothing wrong with the way you look. Anyway, who cares? We’re in a mall full of strangers.”
Susan whirled around. “You look fashion-conscious, as always, with your penny loafers, jeans that fit you perfectly, and that green sweater set. I look sloppy.”
“No, you don’t, Su,” Robyn argued. “Just because you chose to wear that particular holiday sweater...it cuts you off in the middle, and draws attention to your hips. Look.” She steered her sister to the dressing room. “Try on that white tunic and I’ll show you.”
Susan agreed, and had to admit Robyn was right. The sweater slimmed her hips and drew attention to her legs.
“You need to wear clothes that hide your problem areas,” Robyn explained. “I saw it on one of those talk shows last month. They said some clothes can make you look ten pounds heavier. The trick is how to wear them.”
Feeling skeptical, she took Robyn’s advice for the rest of the shopping trip and consulted her older sister before making a purchase. Nevertheless, she still resolved to cut back on her calories until the dance.
“I just decided that it’s Rob’s life, and if he’s happy with Michelle, that’s all that matters. I’m in love with you, I’m satisfied with life, and more importantly, I’m at peace with everything. Last night, being up on that stage, showed me that it’s my voice and my personality that people react to, not the way I look.”
“I’ve told you that for years, but you never listened to me. I don’t know exactly when it happened...eighth grade, maybe...you stopped being you, you know, my partner in crime? We’d act out Hardy Boys, and you always gave back as good as you got. Somewhere along the line, you stopped. All of a sudden, you acted like you were afraid to say or do anything, and you drifted away from me and Rob. It’s like all the life in you was gone. I’d try to talk to you, but, I don’t know, I was going through that stupid phase where I acted like a jackass. Maybe I scared you off or something.”
Susan swallowed as the memory assaulted her. “Do you remember Halloween? I dressed up like a cheerleader, and the boys started–they started making fun of me.” Tears threatened to fall, so she turned away.
“Hell, yes, I remember that. I beat up the redheaded jerk who was spreading the rumor that you were dressed like a hooker.” Jamie laughed.
“What? They thought I was dressed like a hooker?” Susan whirled around to stare at him. “Oh, no.” She covered her eyes with her hands and sobbed.
Jamie’s arms gather her close. “I thought you knew.” He sounded puzzled. “I beat up every single guy who made fun of you that year, and that’s when I got the reputation of ‘Wild Thing’ and decided I liked it. People began taking it for granted I’d do crazy stunts.”
“You–you defended me? I never even knew.” Susan sniffed. “You never made any comments. I thought you were laughing at me behind my back like everyone else.”