March 26 2006
San Diego

The two girls rolled toward their separate errands, silent, each lost in her own thoughts. Sarah thought again of returning to the house, and picking up the threads of her life. And again, her heart stumbled and her brain grew numb at the thought of facing Bobby.

"What am I going to do about Bobby?" She murmured, entirely to herself; she'd forgotten about the acuity of Anna's hearing.

"You're asking me?"

She wasn't, but suddenly it seemed like a good idea. She probably knows him better than any of us, Mr. Lynch included. "Yes. Anna, what am I going to do?"

The little android who'd called her sister gave her a glance as she changed lanes. "I presume you're not looking for an answer like 'follow your heart, or 'well, what do you want to do?'"

"Answers like that I can get from Caitlin. Or even Roxanne. From you, I was hoping for something that sounded like a plan."

Anna nodded, looking out the windshield. "Uh huh. Well, we've already established that I'm a calculating bitch."

"I never said that." I just thought it a thousand times.

"You didn't have to. Shikasin, if you need the help of a calculating bitch to keep you happy and safe and free, I'm your girl." She smiled. "Let's calculate. First, we define the goal, then we look at impediments, then maybe we redefine your goal before we start discussing methods." She stopped at a light and waited for it to change before she spoke again. "What's wrong with leaving things the way they are? You get along as well as any two kids in the house. At least until the boy-girl thing raises its head between you. No pun intended."

She shifted in her seat. "Well, for one thing, I'm sick to death of dancing around the boy-girl thing. More important …" She stared at her hands in her lap. "He won't speak to me. We've fought before, plenty of times, but this is different. It started the night I was so unkind about that beautiful room. But …" She heard her voice getting smaller and smaller. "I did something monstrous just before I left the house. I think I may have already lost him."

Anna made a rude sound, startling her. "Please. Bobby? As if. Whatever it was, I guarantee you can get things back to normal with him by tonight, if you want. Shoot, you could be in his arms. For three minutes, anyway, until one of you says something to tick the other off. We'll get to that later, if it turns out to be important." Anna held her eyes. "First branch in the decision path, Sarah. Do you still want him for a friend, only without the boy-girl thing?" She felt pinned by the other's stare. "Do you want him to stop looking at you with a lover's eyes?"

"No," she said quietly. "I don't want to change him at all. I just … Oh, it's hopeless! I like Bobby, lots. And the attention he gives me … stirs me. But I'm a lesbian, Anna. It's not a social statement or a phase I'm going through or a habit I can change. I like girls, and I don't like men. I like him too much to pretend with him."

"I didn't have much use for guys myself, until I found the right one. Have you ever been with a man?"

"Oh, yes. My first two times were with boys. And I tried guys a couple of times after that before I gave up."

"Uh huh. So what's it like for you?"

She thought a moment, and then said, "It's like plain oatmeal, served cold. No flavor, nothing to interest you. Eating it is just exercise. If you're hungry, it fills you, but it doesn't satisfy."

They drove in silence for almost a minute. Then Anna said, "I think I should tell you about my first time. With Jack. I went into it thinking I knew what was going to happen, and got a surprise that set my world on its ear." She paused, blinked. "But it started out as the most coldly calculated decision I've ever made.

"You see, we were losing him, Sarah. He was as stressed out as a man can be who's not contemplating suicide. He was away all the time, exposed to constant danger among strangers. He was losing touch with us; he was avoiding you kids, coming and going while you were asleep or away. And he was losing his self confidence, thinking as if we were already caught. He was falling apart, and we would all have gone down with him. I had to do something, and I had to do it without him knowing, or I'd never restore his self-confidence.

"I researched possibilities, weighing and discarding them. For example, some drugs are effective at battling depression, but slipping them into his food wouldn't help him when he needed it most, and they have side effects he couldn't afford. Other alternatives came to my attention, but I dropped them one after another as inadequate, risky, or unworkable. I finally happened on a treatment with a very high success rate, one that almost always leaves a man feeling good about himself. An experience that fosters protectiveness in a decent man."

She stared at the little android. "No," she breathed.

"Yes. I needed to get him laid, find him a girlfriend; preferably from among the girls in the house. But the field was awfully small. You seemed the best choice."


"Clearly. You were assertive and self-confident, and Jack likes strong women. Your sexual appeal was undeniable, and he didn't have the emotional hang-ups with you that he did with Caitlin. But I couldn't figure a way to bring you two together."

She snorted. "I should think not."

"And there was the complication of Bobby to consider. Roxanne I considered briefly and rejected. Bringing Roxy around to the idea would have been challenge enough, but Jack would never have gone for it; he's not into incest."


"She's like the daughter he never had, always has been. Come on, Sarah, you never noticed, really? I saw it the first day. You must have noticed how much she gets away with when he's home. Not curfew, he's iron about that, but she always has more folding money and less homework when he's home for the weekend, and he's always got time for her. He hardly ever watches television, but he'll always change a TV channel for her, even if he's been watching the show for half an hour. She's got him wrapped. If she ever crawled into his lap and called him 'Daddy,' he'd be putty in her hands. Putty. For all our sakes, don't tell her." She grinned, then grew serious again.

"That left Caitlin. She seemed amenable, and surely any man would want her, I thought. But I reluctantly scratched her off. Jack had reservations about her that I couldn't fathom at the time -still can't, really - and she'd be coming into the relationship with too much emotional baggage. Pairing them off might do more harm than good."

She stared out the windshield. "That left one candidate in the house, one person of the female persuasion he might accept. I thought I'd detected signs of interest from him at the beginning of our acquaintance, when we were alone in the house, but it disappeared when you guys moved in." She shrugged. "Maybe the daunting challenge of protecting us from IO crowded it out of his thoughts. Or maybe the idea embarrassed him once he was sharing his house with three real females." Her face was impassive, but Sarah felt an echo of pain for her, an ache of longing that she believed she finally understood.

"So I coldly plotted to become Jack's whore. I took measures to cut down on his drinking, to restore his sexual appetite. I started giving him massage, which gave me some basic craft in stimulating him by touch, and got him used to the feel of my hands on him. I'd planned on talking him into undressing for a full-body rubdown when I was ready to seduce him, but he responded so well to neck and shoulder massage that, in the end, I decided to skip it. Time was pressing.

"Finally, after I'd made all the preparations that seemed reasonable, the time seemed right. He was as receptive as he was ever going to be, I thought. And I wasn't sure I was ready for him. I'd researched human sexuality for weeks, trying to put together a subroutine that duplicated an expert level of female sexual performance, but there were too many indeterminates in the equations; the code just fell apart in my hands." She gave her an odd look. "Bios lie like a rug when it comes to sex, even the ones who claim to be totally honest and uninhibited about it. I couldn't trust any of my research data without checking it against firsthand experience. I considered engaging in a few casual sexual encounters before approaching Jack, but I decided the risk of exposure was too great.

"So I made an asset out of my liability. I 'confessed' my love to Jack, playing the part of an eager but nervous virgin. I begged. I cried on him, the first and only time I've shed tears on command. In the end, he would have felt like a monster for not taking me to bed. I was quite pleased with my performance." Her mouth twisted in a wry smile.

If that's really what it took to break down his reserve, Caitlin could never have done it; her own reserve would have made it impossible.

"I had it all mapped out," she continued. "I'm a fast learner. I was sure a night of patient instruction would make me proficient enough to make him come back for more. Once we were paired off, I could rebuild his ego and self-confidence and bring him back to his old self … and send him back out into the battlefield with confidence. Oh, yes, I had it all figured out."

The little android stilled. When she resumed, her voice was hushed, as if she were speaking in church.

"And it all dissolved the instant he made his decision and reached for me. Suddenly all the purpose and hidden power that he'd had when we first met, that had drawn me to him like a moth to the light, it was back, and irresistible. His … will, and his desire … filled me up, and pushed aside any thoughts of playacting or deception. My whole purpose became a subset of his purpose. And what he did with me, to me, that night …"

The road had widened to four lanes, and streetlights had appeared; traffic was picking up. She changed lanes twice, quickly. "I have a highly developed sense of what soldiers and policemen call 'situational awareness.' My enhanced senses and discriminating software extend my personal universe a lot farther than normal people's. The guy in the black pickup three cars back is picking his nose. The green convertible that was waiting to pull out of the convenience store fifty meters back is in desperate need of a tune-up. The yahoo right in front of me is about to hit his brakes and turn left without signaling." She swerved into the right lane half a second before the other car's brake lights came on, and then swerved back again. "From any room in the house, I can always tell where each of you is located, and usually what you're doing. I can hear your conversations and sometimes your heartbeats. I can hear the sixty-cycle hum of the wires in the walls, and tell by infrared which ones are in use.

"But that first night with Jack, and every time since, my focus shrinks down until he's my personal universe. My filters just… switch off, won't give up an electron of data from him. A brass band could be parading in the hall outside and I wouldn't notice. But I can feel every square millimeter of his body where it touches mine, every muscle twitch, every hair. I feel the ridges of his fingertips on my bare skin. The beating of his heart is some complex gigantic engine. And when he …"

"Stop it, Anna." Listening was making her uncomfortable. And maybe a little horny? "I get it. He drives you crazy in bed, and you never expected it."

"Exactly. Nothing I expected, nothing I ever experienced, nothing I ever imagined." Anna gave her a coy look through lowered lashes. "So what was your first time like? Fess up, sister."

She shifted in the seat and looked out the window. "Nothing like yours. A boy from school. Reservation school, that is, not the Academy. I was fourteen." To Anna's raised eyebrow, she replied, "It happens more often than you'd think. Boys were circling around me for years before that, older ones. Mother kept a sharpened stick by the front door for any of them with the nerve to come calling. I'm not kidding. She called me the little beauty of the family, but she said it like it was a birth defect, a handicap I'd have to learn to overcome. I think she was relieved when I came out." She paused, remembering. "The boy was old enough to have a car. My first time was in the back seat of an old Crown Vic parked at the end of a dirt road.

"It was horrible. We hadn't been at it for two minutes before I knew it was a mistake. But I felt obligated to go through with it. So I let him do what he wanted and tried to cooperate." She felt her lip curl. "He didn't say five words to me the whole time. He didn't kiss me once he got started, or afterwards. He gave the rubber more consideration than he did me. By that afternoon, he'd told every guy he knew. If I'd manifested before I met him, he wouldn't be alive today."

"What was his name?"

She stopped. "Strange. For a second, I couldn't remember. Jimmy. I don't remember his last name." Unprompted, she went on. "The second was a town boy. I couldn't believe it was always like that, and I wanted to try again, but not with anyone who might have heard the stories about me. After the first time, I couldn't spend five minutes alone with a boy without a new rumor starting, a rumor the boy wouldn't have the balls to quell, not with Jimmy and his buddies telling everybody what a wild ride I was. So I went looking for a boy off the rez. Besides …" She looked at Anna with a wry smile of her own. "Mother was death on white boys. Every time I came home from the library in town, she wanted to know who I'd been with and who had talked to me, boys especially. She told me to stay away from them, not even to talk to them. She swore there was only one thing any of them wanted from a girl off the rez."

Anna smiled back. "So of course you had to try one."

"Of course. His name was Randy, by the way. He was a nice guy, and treated me like a person. But even so, sex with him was just a favor to a friend. I had more fun helping him wash his car."

"What color were his eyes?"

"Um, blue. I think. No, green."

"What did he smell like?"

"Good grief, I don't know. His father's aftershave, I suppose." She went on. "My third was Joss. Jocelyn, that is. White girl I met at a bus stop, maybe seventeen. We waited for the bus and rode together about three times a week, and we got friendly. About the same time I noticed she was acting more like a boyfriend than a girlfriend, I realized I'd been looking her over. Not the way women look at each other when they're sizing them up as potential rivals; I was staring at her lips, her rear end, trying to catch a peek down her shirt. Her apartment was three stops before mine, and she got home an hour before her parents. One day I got off with her." She looked at Anna. "That's when I decided women had more to offer me than men."

"What did she look like?"

"Wavy brown hair, brown eyes. A couple inches taller, but kind of skinny. And before you ask, she smelled like the fancy soap she used. She never wore perfume. We took a lot of showers together. Then we'd do each other's makeup. She was fun, and there were never any false starts or misunderstandings when we had sex."

"So what happened to her?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, really. We just seemed to find less and less time for each other, and eventually we were each seeing someone else." She thought about her other affairs. "I haven't had a relationship with anybody, male or female, that lasted more than a couple of months. They don't end badly, exactly; I just get an urge to move on, like I'm still looking for something."

"What color are Bobby's eyes?"

"Blue. Lighter than yours; like summer sky."

"What do you like most about him?"

"You can count on him to do what he says."


"His obstinacy. I suppose they go hand-in-hand."

"What's he smell like?"

"Incense," she said promptly. "Wood smoke." It's wonderful. What would he wear that smells like that?

"Well. Fire and water, how appropriate. He thinks you smell like summer rain."

"He told you that?"

"Last Christmas, he wanted to buy you perfume and he asked me what you wore. He came back from the store and said I must have made a mistake, because it didn't smell like you."

They were finally traveling down streets she recognized; the Mission was about ten minutes away. "Sarah, my belief system allows for direct intervention by a loving God. Don't let your perceived sexual orientation blind you. Would it be such a stretch to find that the only person in the world you can be happy with is also the only man in the world you can be happy with?" Anna gave her a mischievous smile. "What do you want to do, Sarah? Follow your heart."

"My heart leads me facefirst into a brick wall. I'm not happy when I'm close to him; I'm miserable. It's like you said: I can't be anything like intimate with him for more than a few minutes without feeling as though I've got ants all over me."

They were stopped by a light. Anna took one hand off the wheel and found hers where it rested on the seat between them. "What if you could do something about that?"

"Anna," she said slowly, "do you know something?"

"First, there's something I have to know. Are we talking about taking possession of the territory, or just reconnaissance-in-force?"

"I don't have a clue what you just said."

"Are you considering a relationship, or just opening up his heart for a one-night-stand to satisfy your curiosity? I won't help you with that, Sarah. If that's all you want, you can go to your grave still curious for all of me."

She shook her head. "I wasn't thinking of a one-night-stand, not for a minute. I know him too well for that. But what if it turns out to be a big disappointment like all the others? Or maybe after all this dancing around, he finds out I wasn't worth the wait? Or what if we start out okay, and after a couple of months, it just … fizzles out, the way even my good relationships do? And still sharing a house? If any of those things happens, we'll be wishing we'd left things alone."

"Put your money on the number and spin the wheel, Sarah. Or cash in and go home. But Bobby's not like anyone you've ever had, or anyone you've ever wanted. That's another guarantee."

She swallowed to wet her throat. "Tell me."

Okay. Here's the Big Secret that's been keeping you apart for two years, even though anyone with eyes can see you were made for each other: your boyfriend irritates you when he's sexy."

She was dumbfounded. "That's it?"

"That's my observation. It means more when you put it in context. You know what pheromones are, right?"

"Sex hormones. Attractants. Pleasure enhancers."

"Yes and no. They're not some miracle drug that makes women uncontrollably horny. Humans and human sexual response are complicated, and the effect of pheromones is a bit more subtle than popular belief." She grinned. "Doesn't stop people who sell pheromone sprays and whatnot from making tons of money off of teenage boys and young men, probably the same ones who buy those penis enlargers. Anyway, they're attention signals alerting susceptible females that the male in question is looking for sex, and inviting sexual advances. Sort of nature's way of ringing the doorbell. But here's the catch. To be susceptible, you have to already be entertaining notions of having sex with that guy. Otherwise, pheromones just make you hyper aware of any male in the room."

She nodded. "Okay. I get it. If you're already thinking about it, pheromones just help get you both out of your seats and onto the dance floor."

"Aptly put. Bobby emits whenever you're in the same room. Jack emits when he's in a room with me." The corner of her mouth lifted. "Eddie emits when he's in a room with any of us."

"Poor Roxanne."

"He can't help himself. Remember, you have to be receptive; it's a two-way street. Here's the problem. Up to a certain concentration, Bobby's pheromones affect you the way you'd expect: you get romantic, the eye contact gets longer, you move closer, touch more. But when his count rises further, you start arguing. I can't figure why, but the bickering seems to accelerate his pheromone production, and when it does, you two fly apart like magnets with the same polarity. Shikasin, you're allergic to his pheromones. They're an irritant."

She thought of all the times the pleasure of being near him had turned into a skin-crawling urge to get away. "So I have to eat a handful of Benadryl before I kiss him, and hope I can stay awake for anything else? That's not going to work, Anna."

"There are other drugs, if you want to experiment. And sometimes allergies come and go, and nobody is sure why. Or tolerance levels change. Sometimes people can increase their tolerance through gradual exposure until the allergy effectively disappears."

"You think … I can do that?"

"Maybe. Knowing what you're dealing with should help you plan an effective strategy. For example: now that you know you want to avoid kicking his pheromone production into high gear, you'll be cautious when you're inside his personal space... and maybe you'll be more careful about what you wear when you come out of the bathroom, knowing he might be on the other side of the door. Also… shikasin, I've watched you together a hundred times. Being close to Bobby is a pleasant experience for you. But feeling close to him makes you nervous.

"When you're nervous or uneasy around men, two things tend to happen. One, to be blunt, is that you start playing the slut. Your body language, your gait, your manner all become provocative." She smiled wryly. "Which lowers every nearby male's IQ and makes him less threatening. Two, the allure switches from carrier wave to full mating call. When either of those things happens around Bobby – or, God help him, both at once - the pheromones come out of him like squeezing water from a sponge. Keep your head. Keep it light and friendly until you're ready. Remember, you've got to keep him calm, too. Be soothing."

"Me. Soothing."

"You'll manage. Otherwise, you're going to have to learn how to make love while being attacked by bees." They turned down the street where the mission was located; she could see the building, a block distant. "If you're with him, and you start to feel the get-away itch, back off, don't run off. Give yourself time for the reaction to fade, and for him to settle down and drop his pheromone production. Make sure he knows you're not angry, he didn't do anything wrong, and you're coming back. Remember, for this to work, you're going to have to cross the line time and time again, to build your tolerance and gauge your progress. If you want to give it a rest and still be with him, spend time together outdoors, to keep the concentration down." She grinned. "Kissing him on a blanket under a shade tree, with a little breeze blowing … sounds heavenly, doesn't it? Or maybe in the pool." She grew serious again. "So, are you going to tell him, or are you going to try this all by yourself?"

"Anna, I'm not sure I can do this. But I'm not going to tell him, either way, at least not yet." A thought struck her, and she chuckled.


Laughing now, she said, "I just imagined bringing him home to meet my mother." Anna joined in. they were still snickering when the car pulled into the mission's driveway, rounding the building to reach the back entrance.

Anna said, "Someone's waiting for you."

She looked, suddenly uncomfortable. "That's Janet. She's just having a smoke before we get started." She looked at the car clock: eleven minutes to spare.

"Okay," Anna said knowingly, "she's having a smoke while she waits for you. You said you weren't sure about it, shikasin. You're not cheating on anybody." The car coasted to a stop twenty feet from the door, just out of earshot. "If you need a ride home, I can come back."

"No need. A couple of the guys go home that way. I'll get a ride from one or the other, depending on when I head back. I'll make sure he drops me off half a mile from the house. Okay?"

"Works. Call if something changes."

A thought occurred. "What about you? How are you getting home after you drop off the car? And weren't you a brunette when you rented it?"

"I'll catch a bus. And I've got the wig in the trunk. It's all the disguise I'll need for the camera watching the after-hours box."

She got out and stepped to the front of the car. She heard the gearshift click into reverse.

"Wait," she said, and came around to the driver's door. She rested a hand on the window sill and leaned close. "Thank you, Anna." She kissed the pale forehead.

"Did it for both of you, shikasin."

She looked down into those marvelous blue eyes. "Not just that. For everything you've done for me since I met you. For never giving up on me, for waiting for me to … come to my senses."

Anna reached up, pulled her head down, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. "Love you. See you tonight." She backed the car out and drove away.

She turned and walked to the door. Janet watched her approach, the end of her cigarette glowing fiercely as she pulled on it. Janet was a six-month resident at the mission, filling in a few shifts a week in return for room and board. She was twenty-four, with a decent build, nice hair, and beautiful hazel eyes. She displayed a scathing wit that made Sarah laugh out loud at times. Sarah had a date with her after work.

Janet blew out a cloud of smoke. "You're cutting it close."

She smiled at the older girl. "As long as we're together, I'm okay. Right?"

Janet didn't return the smile. "Right." She dropped the cigarette and ground it out with a toe. "Who's your friend?"

She suddenly realized how it might have looked: the little blonde in the red convertible, the laughter and low-pitched conversation, the goodbye kisses. Swallowing a clever remark, she said carefully, "She's not a friend. She's my stepfather's wife. My stepmother, I suppose."

"Really. Your dad a cradle robber? She doesn't look any older than you." She reached into a pocket for her cigarette pack, then changed her mind. "Bet you guys get along good, do all sorts of things together."

We haven't even kissed, and she's acting like a boyfriend already. Sarah studied the older girl. The clothes she was wearing were donations, but she had arrived with the watch and shoes, and they were expensive. Somehow she has money for cigarettes. She's able and well-educated. Why hasn't she found a real job and moved out? She looked at the incipient smoker's lines around Janet's mouth and nostrils. I never date smokers. Kissing her would be like putting my mouth on an old sweeper bag. How did I get so desperate? Three ways to tell her to tend to her own business came to mind, one after another, each more caustic than the last.

But she didn't say any of them. My mouth has already got me in enough trouble this week, maybe enough for a lifetime. This might be a good time to practice being soothing. Keeping her smile firmly in place, she said, "Only lately. We had to work through some acceptance issues first. We might be overdoing the kiss-and-make-up thing a little."

The girl's expression softened. "Ah. Well, good for you. My family's not real big on acceptance. Six months ago, I came out by bringing a girlfriend home to meet my parents. Now my brother's the only one who knows where I am, or cares. Your stepdad okay with it?"

She twitched her mouth. "Sort of. He's still hoping it's a phase I'll grow out of. He's even got a boy on the string for me."

Janet chuckled, and then extended a hand, palm up. "We still on for tonight?"

She placed her fingertips in the open palm. "Sure, but just coffee or something, okay? I have to be home by midnight. Curfew."

The girl's face clouded over. "You're kidding."

"Stepdad's orders." And thank you, Mr. Lynch.

"And you just have to follow orders. Jesus, you're nineteen, twenty? What's he going to do if you're not home by midnight?"

Her irritation rose again. "I don't know. Nobody's ever bucked him on it." But being who he is, he'll probably herd all the others inside the house and lock it down like it's a fallout shelter and ICBMs have just been sighted inbound over the Pole. Then he'll come looking for me, probably with an arsenal in his trunk, ready to do murder and mayhem on my behalf. That's if he can convince the rest of the tribe to stay home; otherwise, they'll all come in here like a carrier strike. I have a home here, and, despite everything, people who know me and care about me, who won't willingly let a night go by without knowing I'm safe. "You know how we people are. Respect for the elders, and all that." She heard the flatness in her voice, but she was done being nicey-nice. She stepped past Janet into the doorway. "Come on, we're almost late."

"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything."

"I'm sure." She kept going down the hall towards the kitchen.

"I was jealous, okay? I'm sorry."

She stopped. Without turning back, she said, "You don't have any claim on me, Janet. Whatever she and I do is between us."

"Not about that. About … Oh, hell, Sarah. I was Daddy's little girl who could do no wrong, right up until the night I came out. He pushed me out the front door right onto the lawn, with nothing but the clothes on my back. You have a mom and dad who don't care who you date, as long as you're home by midnight. You think maybe they'd adopt one more?"

She chuckled, the tension broken. "Sorry. Full house. Besides me, they've got two boys and two girls. I'm the only one with my own room."

She felt a hand on her right shoulder. "I could bunk with you," Janet breathed. The other hand circled her waist to rest over her bare navel. "I wouldn't mind being in bed by midnight then." The hand on her right shoulder crossed her collarbone to the left one and slid down her upper arm; the girl's forearm brushed her breasts.

How far were you looking for things to go tonight, Janet? Were you thinking of taking me to your room? You sleep in a dormitory with five other women. Even if they didn't call the monitor, I'm not going to put on a show with you in front of half a dozen strangers. My place? I wouldn't let you see my house from the street without clearing it with Mr. Lynch first. And the idea of making out with a girl anywhere around Bobby makes me squirm. So what was it going to be? A toilet stall in some club, or maybe just the alley back of the loading dock, between the dumpsters?

Something in the tone of Janet's voice, predatory and enticing at the same time, reminded her of Jimmy, just before he'd turned down that dirt road. She experienced a rush of memories: the smell of dusty car upholstery; the stifling heat, even with all the windows down, that left her sticky with sweat; Jimmy's hands, scratching her hip with a ragged nail as he pulled her panties down her thighs. The barely-restrained urge to reach down and take them from his grasp and pull them back up, warring with the sense that things had already gone too far to stop. His eyes as he labored over her, dark and flat, an animal in rut. The silent ride home, and how he had reached across her to open the door without a word or a touch. And finally, the sound of his car backing down the driveway in a spray of gravel, leaving her at her front door with her clothes askew.

"What's the matter?" Janet's lips brushed her ear. The right hand returned to her right arm and slid down it, stopping just above the elbow. "I can stop any time, sugar. Just say the word."

He wasn't ignoring me because he was done with me. He was angry. Maybe I wasn't as good as he expected. Maybe he was mad at me for messing up his back seat. She stiffened. Did he even know it was my first time? What if he thought I was on my period and didn't tell him? He was just a boy, probably almost as ignorant as I was. And I was clumsy and wooden, I know that now; did he think I was disappointed in him?

She placed a hand over the one that was caressing her belly. "Jim, stop. We're going too fast."

"Sokay." Janet removed her hands. "But I – what did you call me?"

She turned and gave her companion a quick kiss. "Jan. That okay?" She turned again, putting her back to the girl, and spoke to the empty hall. "I'm stupid. I sent you the wrong signals. I was only flirting, having fun and having fun being with you. I wasn't looking for a full-blown love affair."

She heard her step back. "Christ. Now I feel like a total fool."

"I'm sorry. It's nothing you did. It was me." The oldest turn-down line in the book; couldn't I do better than that? She added desperately, "Do you still want to go out?" Can we still be friends? It just gets better and better.

"I don't know." Janet stepped past her. "Sure," she said cautiously, "why not? Have a couple laughs, see if anything else develops." She headed down the hall without looking back and entered the kitchen.

Sarah stood a moment longer, thinking about Jimmy's eyes as he'd mounted her. Then, unbidden, a series of impressions of Bobby: the endless range of expression he used to convey every thought and emotion; his voice, full of depth and character; his habit of introspection, and his easy willingness to admit it when he realized he was wrong; the passion he put into doing anything he loved. Her breath grew shallow at the memory of his hands caressing his new guitar, anticipating the pleasure of making music with it for the first time.

I wish it had been Bobby. The first time, if only it had been him.