He had to tell a few lies to secure the position of Ruthie's "student aide." It wasn't like him but something beyond himself was driving him these days. He knew Annie or Eric would never openly object and he hoped that Ruthie's complaints would fall on deaf ears.

Ruthie took one look at Martin and said "No way! I'd rather carry my books between my teeth."

"Ruthie!" Annie said under her breath.

"Now Ruthie," the principal scolded, "Mr. Brewer has generously donated his time. He needs just one more extra curricular activity to round out his transcript...and you're it"

She knew that was a blatant lie. She glared at Martin who just smiled back at her.

Annie got out of her chair. She whispered to her daughter, "It's only for a few days. It'll give you two some time to work things out."

And then she left. And the principal went back to her office. And that left just her and Martin.

He picked up her backpack from the table. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.

"Trigonometry, first?" he playfully questioned...reading it off of her schedule.

"You're SUCH a jerk, Martin Brewer!" she snapped.

"Well," he said hesitantly. "I may be a jerk but I'm also your only way around this school today. SO...you might want to try and be a little nicer to me...or you might end up in metal shop all day."

She scowled at him.

He led her down the hall to her math class.

Lightheartedly, he instructed her,"Now wait for me. I'll be here at the bell to bring you to French."

"And if I DON'T?" she loudly questioned.

He quickly answered, "Then I guess you'll be stuck getting a repeat of Trigonometry for second period."

He met her after every class that morning.

"Okay," he said cheerfully. "Lunchtime."

"I'm NOT hungry!" she insisted.

"Okay, well I guess you'll just have to watch me eat." he cockily replied.

She reluctantly followed him to the cafeteria.

"Sit down." he told her, "I'll get our food"

Realizing she could NEVER carry a tray and that she was famished, she complied.

He came back with two plates of spaghetti.

She took one look at the food and rolled her eyes.

"How the heck am I supposed to eat THAT?" she quipped.

He looked at her...deep into her chocolate brown eyes...and answered "I'll feed you."...in a tone she had never heard him use before on her. It gave her chills for a second.

"No!" she protested. "I'm not a baby"

"No one said you were." he countered.

He looked down at her hands and teased, "But looking like that...there's no way you can feed yourself. And I'm NOT going to let you starve...or else I might get fired from this aide position. And that wouldn't look good on my transcript."

He began twirling the spaghetti onto the fork.

Annoyed, she asked, "Since WHEN do you care about your high school transcripts? With four years of baseball and several scholarships already in the bag...why would you NEED to do this?"

His eyes focused on her and only her when he softly confessed, "You're right I didn't need to do this...I wanted to do this"

"Why?" she asked.

Truthfully, he said "Because I miss you. I miss hanging out with you...I miss talking to you...and I don't want you to be mad at me anymore."

He raised the fork of pasta and gently moved it towards her mouth. Only because she was starving, she opened her mouth and accepted the food.

They repeated the ritual several times until her plate was empty.

He couldn't help needling her with "Wow, for someone who wasn't hungry...you sure made me work!"

Frustrated, she bantered, "Shut up! If I could do it myself - I would - in a heartbeat."

He was just joking. He didn't mean to get her upset.

Apologetically, he said "I'm sorry, Ruthie. I was only kidding. You know I don't mind helping you."

He was being SO nice to her. But she knew the whole thing was driven by one thing...guilt.

He walked her to her last class and told her, "I'll meet you here at the bell. We'll grab your books and I'll drive you home."

"You can't do that." she protested. "You have practice."

"Not today." he smiled and winked. "Student aides get a free pass on sports...while they're working, of course."

"But you NEVER miss practice!" she said with bewilderment.

"There's a first time for everything." he announced as he walked away.

After their last class, he walked her to her locker and gathered all the books she said she needed. It seemed like an AWFUL lot of books.

"Do you really need ALL these?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yep." she responded. "And don't forget the ones we need to pick up at the library before we leave."

Sarcastically, he quipped "Are you opening your own LIBRARY? Is that why you need all these books?"

"Just have lots of homework tonight." she lied.

Okay, she knew it was mean to make Martin carry ALL those books from her locker ALL THE WAY to the student parking lot and then back again tomorrow. But somehow, in her mind, the task was justified.

His arms were killing him by the time he got to the car. He put all the books in the trunk and then opened the door for Ruthie. He noticed her squirming in the seat.

He looked at her oddly and asked "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," she answered annoyed.

She continued rubbing her back on the seat and explained "It's just my back is so itchy and I can't scratch it!"

"Turn around." he said gently.

"No, it's okay..." she protested.

"Just turn around." he repeated.

She relented and turned her head to face the passenger window.

In one slow scoop, he picked up her silky brown hair and gently brushed it to one side.

She was wearing a turquoise tank with tiny spaghetti straps. His hand rested on her bare shoulder as he asked, "Where does it itch?"

"Kinda in the middle" she answered - totally aware that Martin's strong hands were on her.

He scratched her back gently.

"Oh come on!' she impatiently whined. "That's not helping. Do it harder! It's SO itchy!"

This time he used more pressure.

"That feels great." she purred.

"She's a friend. She's JUST a friend!" he chanted nervously to himself. Touching her was pure ecstasy.

The itch was gone. She knew she should tell him to stop. But she didn't want the moment to end. She loved his hands on her and all his attention on her.

His ringing cell phone brought them both out of the moment.

"Hello." he answered.

"Martin, it's Sandy." she announced.

He provided her with only silence.

She was annoyed with his childish response.

With hostility, she said, "Look, I'm only calling to tell you that I had a doctor's appointment today. I need to begin taking childbirth classes and I wanted to know if you have ANY interest in being at the birth of YOUR baby?"

He coldly answered "This isn't a good time. I can't talk about this now. I'll call you later."

Ruthie correctly surmised, from his demeanor, that he was talking to Sandy. The thought of Sandy, alone, made her straighten up and sit back in the seat. She smoothed her soft wavy hair back into place.

He quickly hung up with her.

He knew Ruthie had figured out who was on the phone. There was a frigid chill in the air.

All he could offer was a pathetic "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry about?" she asked bitterly.

"Everything." he replied

Testily, she said "You can't keep apologizing to me about Sandy. You didn't do anything to ME. Maybe you should apologize to HER!"

Outraged, he yelled, "Apologize to HER? Are you KIDDING?"

Sarcastically, she yelled back, "What...did she do this to HERSELF? Did she get HERSELF pregnant?"

Ruthie always had a way of putting him in his place.

Defeated, he quietly admitted, "No, she didn't do this by herself. But I didn't WANT this"

"And she did?" she questioned.

Martin just shrugged his shoulders.

"That's what you think? That she got pregnant on purpose?" she prodded.

He shrugged again.

"You know what?" she snapped. "None of that matters. You're going to be a FATHER! This baby didn't ask to be born into this mess. You and Sandy created this mess. You OWE it to your baby to clean it up!"

Ruthie always surprised him. She was a chameleon. Just when he had her pegged as a typical 16 year old girl - she'd get all "wise beyond her years" on him. It always kept him guessing. He liked that.

"And what do you suggest?" he asked curiously.

She was glad that he asked her.

"First of all, you should start being respectful to Sandy. It doesn't matter if you like her or not...she's the MOTHER of your child! And second of all, you should stop walking around telling everyone that you don't want this baby." she scolded.

"But I DON'T!" he insisted.

She looked directly into his eyes. Their's locked on each other. She said firmly to him "That's not true."

He shot back at her a look of confusion.

She explained, "You've told me before that someday you wanted to have a lot of kids."

"Yeah, the operative word there was "someday"...not now...and not with someone that I barely know!" he claimed.

She quietly retorted, "Well, you can't always pick and choose when your dreams are going to come true. That's up to God."

He stared at her with a look of wonder. He had never thought of this baby as a blessing - only a burden.

"How do you do it?" he asked with amazement.

"Do what?" she laughed.

"Always make me feel better. Always know what to say to me. Always know when to call me out on my behavior." he asked.

"It's a gift." she replied modestly.

He drove her home. He opened her door. This time it was him with his arm around her walking her up the driveway.

"See you in the morning?" he asked hopefully when they got to the door.

"I guess." she smiled and sarcastically teased, "I wouldn't want to be responsible for you losing your JOB or anything."

He gave her one of his sweetest smiles before walking away.