Trip was quiet during the flight from Louisiana. He was quiet once we reached the apartment, too. I wanted to draw him out, but I didn’t know what to say. Besides, I was the one who was supposed to be silent and brooding.
Eventually I decided to be direct. “Okay,” I said, “what’s the matter?”
He looked up, as though I’d spoken Chinese.
“You’ve been in a funk since I picked you up. Problems with Abby?”
“I just don’t know, man.”
“You don’t know what the problems are? Or you don’t know what to do about them?”
In spite of myself, I laughed.
He smiled, but it was bleak and humorless.
“Well, you always make me talk about my problems,” I said, “so I guess the shoe’s on the other foot. Now spill.” I pulled two beers from the fridge, opened them, and handed one to him.
“Abby’s a great girl,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s really nice.”
“But I just don’t feel it.”
I let the words hang in the air.
He slumped to the couch and stared into the past. “When I first started dating Lori,” he said at last, “I couldn’t stop thinking about her.” He took a swig of beer. “It was the same with her. She used to pass me notes at my locker. Or she’d hang out after practice and wait for me. She was a cheerleader. Did I ever tell you that?”
He took another swig of beer. “That’s how we started talking to each other.” He laughed. “It was kind of a joke when we were seniors—I was captain of the basketball team and she was the head cheerleader. Believe it or not, we were Mister and Miss Franklin High School.” He laughed, the sound full of irony. “Perfect, right?” He laughed again, darker still. “Little did I know.”
Another swig of beer. “Before things fell apart, we were together all the time. And even when I wasn’t with her, I was thinking about her. I used to write songs to her.” He gestured at the guitar in his bedroom.
“When’s the last time I picked up my guitar? I haven’t written a single song for Abby.” He shrugged and drained his beer. “I’m no Eric Clapton, but I can write a decent love song. I haven’t felt like writing anything lately.”
He contemplated his empty beer bottle. “Yeah, sure, I like her. I like her a lot. But I just don’t feel it. I don’t feel it like I did with Lori.” He snorted. “Some good it did me with her.”
“That’s the past, man,” I said softly. “Don’t dwell on it.”
He nodded and then rose to fetch another beer. “I know,” he said as he slumped to the couch again. “Still… I can’t help but think that maybe I don’t know girls so well after all.”
“Trust me,” I said, “I don’t know girls so well either, and I have a lot more experience than you.”
He nodded, still morose.
I hesitated, but eventually decided to ask the big question. “Is it just the sex?”
He immediately shook his head.
I lifted a skeptical eyebrow.
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “The sex is a big part of it.” He lifted the bottle and took a long pull. “Lori was my first… you know… and I was hers. After that, we couldn’t get enough of each other.”
I nodded. Gina and I had been the same way.
“We used to do all sorts of crazy things. She’d try anything, and I mean anything.” He laughed at a memory. “We were shopping once and she decided she wanted to have sex in the Ladies’ Department. Not in the dressing room, either,” he continued, “but out in the department itself. The clerk was busy helping someone, so we did it right there between the racks of clothes.”
I took a long drink of my beer and shook my head in wonder.
“Another time, she wanted to have sex while her parents were in the next room. She just lifted her skirt and straddled me on the couch. Her mother even came into the room, but with her skirt hiding things, it looked like Lori was just sitting on my lap. She even talked to her mom while I was inside her. I was sweating bullets, but Lori was cool as a cucumber.”
“Wow,” I said softly, picturing the scene in my head.
Trip nodded. “And it wasn’t just the places. She’d try anything. She liked it from any angle, in any… um… opening.”
I grinned at his modesty.
“She liked me to shoot on her stomach, her back, her chest…” He blushed. “Well, you get the picture.”
I stifled a chuckle and nodded.
“Once,” he said, “she even wanted me to wrap her hair around my dick and jerk off.”
“Jeez,” I said, teasing him, “you haven’t had as many girlfriends as me, but that sure didn’t stop you.”
He grinned bashfully. Then he sobered. “So you see what I mean about Abby not being adventurous? Yeah, we have sex, but it’s the missionary position. Maybe doggie-style if I ask. She’ll get on top sometimes, but she gets self-conscious. She doesn’t like me to shoot anywhere but inside her, and even then, it’s only two… um… openings.”
“Pussy and mouth,” I said bluntly. “I know what they are. You can call them by name.”
“Yeah, okay. Pussy and mouth,” he said. “But even then, she doesn’t swallow.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. He looked up, and I shrugged. “Kendall told me. You know how it is.”
He nodded. After all, he’d learned that I was a nudist from Abby.
“Do you think it’s just a matter of her being shy?” I asked.
“That’s some of it,” he said, “but she’s more conservative than me.” He snorted. “She’s a lot more conservative than Lori.”
I chuckled and raised my beer in agreement. He finished his and went to the fridge for another. I was barely halfway through my first, and he was on his third. Fortunately, we only had one six-pack, so he couldn’t get too drunk.
“Yeah,” he said, to my original question, “the sex is a big part of it.”
“It’s other things too, but they’re all little things.” He shrugged. “I’d live with them if it weren’t for the sex. You know?”
“Sex is pretty important. It may be a small part of your relationship, time-wise, but it’s a big part in other ways.”
“I don’t want to force Abby to do something that makes her uncomfortable, but…”
“I’m getting… bored. Is that a mean thing to say?”
I shook my head. “I had a girlfriend once,” I said, thinking of Amy Lassiter, “who was a little like that. I mean, she wasn’t as shy as Abby, but she wasn’t nearly as adventurous as Gina. Or Kendall.”
“I envy you sometimes.”
“Kendall. From what Abby says, she’s pretty… um… wild.”
I grinned. “Yeah, she is. She’s a lot like Lori in that regard. And she has these fantasies…” I shook my head in wonder. “They’re pretty wild.”
“I’ve asked Abby about hers, but she just makes things up. I can tell. Even then, they’re pretty tame. Lori used to fantasize about having sex in front of the whole school, or going someplace like”—he grinned hesitantly—“a nudist camp.”
I laughed, low and genuine. “You’re kidding.”
He shook his head. “She found a bunch of nudist magazines in her grandfather’s attic. They were all in Swedish, but we used to look at them and talk about what we’d do if we ever went to one. She even wanted to have sex with another girl. Did I ever tell you that?”
“She did.” He finished his beer and rose to get another. “You want one?”
I decided to save him from drinking more, so I nodded.
He returned with the bottles and sank to the couch. “We used to talk about finding a nudist camp with cheerleaders or something.” He laughed and shot me a guilty look. “Hey, it was a fantasy.”
“She used to fantasize about how she and another cheerleader would make out and let me watch. And she wanted me to do it with both of them. Man,” he said, shaking his head at the memory, “that one really got her worked up, too. The first time she told me, we had sex all night. And I mean all night. I was sore for two days.”
“I know the feeling,” I said with a laugh.
He grew sober. “But Abby’s not like that. Her fantasies are all about flowers and making love and gentle shit.” He waved his beer expansively. “Sure, I can be as romantic as the next guy, but romance isn’t the same as a wild fantasy. You know?”
“I just want a girl who’s fun and smart and sexy… who happens to have a fantasy about an orgy with cheerleaders.”
“Don’t we all?” I said, half joking, half not. We shared a laugh. “Is that why you want to know about camp?” I asked.
He nodded. Then he emptied his beer in one long pull. “I can’t imagine Abby at a nudist camp. And I definitely can’t imagine her with another girl. I mean, she won’t even have sex in public, even where no one could possibly see us.” He shook his head and stared into space. “I just don’t feel it, man.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked softly.
“For now,” he said, “I’m going to find more beer.” I started to object, but he waved me off. “I know… I’ve already had four. I just decided to get drunk.”
I couldn’t stop him, so I decided to keep him out of trouble. “You want some company?”
He gestured at my half-full bottle. “You got some catching up to do.”
“I’m fine for now,” I said. “I think I’ll fly wingman tonight.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Let’s go see what kind of beer Dad has up at the house.”
The next morning, Trip groaned over his untouched breakfast. “Why’d you let me drink so much?”
Unlike him, I had stopped at four beers, so I was disgustingly chipper. I laughed at his miserable expression. “Hey, you’re an adult,” I said. He grimaced, so I took pity on him. “Besides,” I continued, “maybe you needed it.”
“I didn’t need anything like that.” He groaned again. “The last thing I remember was you fishing me out of the swimming pool. How much did I drink after that?”
“Half a six-pack.”
“Ugh.” He tried to count the beers, but lost track after he ran out of fingers.
“Cheer up,” I said. “You’ll sweat it out as soon as we get to work. Just drink lots of water.”
He looked at me with baleful, bloodshot eyes.
“I’m serious,” I said. “Water and exercise always do wonders when I get a hangover.”
I laughed and paid the check. “C’mon, let’s get to work. It’ll do you good.”
I had a quiet word with Blackie about Trip. At one time or another, a few of the guys had come to work with bad hangovers. Blackie didn’t put up with people who didn’t pull their weight, but he usually assigned the man to something light. So Trip spent the morning helping the crew install battens of insulation. He looked like death warmed over. The crew teased him mercilessly, but they did the same to anyone else.
“Big frat party last night?” Junior said to me as we poured footers for the deck posts.
“Then how come Trip’s hung over and you’re not?”
“I drank less than he did.”
“No shit. So why’s he drinkin’ on a Sunday night?”
I met his eyes and studied him for a moment. I wasn’t in the mood for his attitude, and I thought about telling him to shove it. “Girl problems,” I said at last.
Junior merely harrumphed. Big Jim nodded solemnly. Mike shot me a look of understanding. They all respected Trip, college guy or not.
I looked at Junior. “It’s not so easy to hate us when we have the same problems as everyone else, is it?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means we’re just like you.”
“We’re nothing alike,” he spat.
I gave him a skeptical look and heaved another bag of cement into the mixer. “Oh really? I work hard. I do a good job. And I watch out for the guys around me. How are we not alike?”
He didn’t realize it was a compliment, but his father obviously did.
“We’re nothing alike,” Junior repeated.
“I think we’re more alike than you want to admit,” I said, but left it at that.
Mike told us to quit yakking and get back to work. Big Jim gave me a thoughtful look. Junior merely shook his head and muttered.
He didn’t like me, and I didn’t particularly like him, but I wasn’t about to let him get to me.
So I quit yakking and got back to work.
Trip managed to survive his hangover. He still looked like hell, but he hadn’t thrown up or passed out from the heat. Blackie stayed after the others had left, and the three of us reviewed the plans. Trip was still a bit queasy, so Blackie and I did all the talking.
“I think we’re a little ahead of schedule,” Blackie said at last. “The crew at the other house should start blowing the attic insulation tomorrow. And when you all finish the decks here, you can do the same at the Colonial Revival. The crew over there should be doing drywall by then.”
“I’d like to get some experience with that,” I said, “if I could.”
“We’ll have enough drywall to go around,” he assured me. “By the time you get done with the decks, we’ll be ready to hang drywall here.”
Blackie paused and then gave me an appraising look. “I heard what you said to Junior today.”
I looked at him in surprise. He hadn’t been anywhere near our crew all day.
“Mike told me.”
My cheeks heated, but I didn’t look away.
“You did all right.” With that, he rolled up the plans and said goodnight.
When we got home, the message light was blinking on the answering machine. Trip headed for the shower, so I checked the messages. All three were from Kendall, each more worried than the last. I smacked myself in the forehead—I’d been so preoccupied with Trip that I hadn’t called her when she returned to Chattanooga.
I picked up the phone and dialed her number.
“Where have you been?” she said. “Are you okay?”
I told her about Trip’s impromptu binge. “So I didn’t see the message light last night,” I finished, “and I completely missed it this morning. I finally saw it a few minutes ago.”
“Is Trip okay?”
“Just a bad hangover.”
“I was so worried about you, Paul. I thought something had happened. I thought you might’ve gone flying or something.”
I gritted my teeth. Why couldn’t she just trust me? I took a deep breath and tried to relax. “Trip was just feeling sorry for himself,” I said, which was a half-truth.
“Problems with Abby? He’s not happy?”
I gave her a cleaned-up version of our conversation.
“I thought it might be something like that,” she said. “That’s too bad. She’s been really happy lately. What’s he going to do?”
“I don’t know.” I suspected that he was going to break up with her, sooner or later. But I didn’t want to tell Kendall that, since it would get back to Abby. I owed it to Trip to let him do things his way.
Kendall and I talked a while longer, but she had to get back to studying, so we eventually said goodbye and hung up.
I found Trip lying on his bed with only a towel around his waist.
“C’mon,” I said, extending a hand to haul him up. “Let’s go do something.”
He shook his head.
“How about that club you were telling me about?”
“Why not? I’m not gonna let you mope around here all night.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“Not gonna happen. Now get dressed. We’re going out.”
By Friday we were another half-day ahead of schedule. Trip wasn’t back to his cheerful self, but the prospect of finishing early had him in a reasonably good mood. Besides, we’d had a realtor show one of the bungalows to a young couple.
Blackie and Trip had shown them my renderings of the finished house. Trip even offered them a choice of paint and countertops if they signed a contract within a week. The realtor told them about the quality of our work, and really played up the custom paint and counter angle.
Trip and I were still talking about the potential deal when we got home. A strange car was in the driveway by the main house, but we didn’t give it a second glance as we kicked the dirt from our boots and then trudged up the stairs.
Trip took a shower first, a quick one to save hot water. When he finished, I slipped past him into the bathroom. We’d been living together long enough that we had a routine. I had just finished rinsing my hair when I heard the bathroom door creak open. The shower curtain rustled, and I decided that Trip was joking around.
“Um… Trip,” I said, “did you nee—” I blinked and wiped water from my eyes. Then I blinked again, dumbfounded.
Kendall stepped into the shower. “Hi yourself.”
Trip shouted from the living room, “I’m gonna go up to the house. See you later, buddy.” Then he laughed, and I heard the door slam a moment later.
I turned back to Kendall and gazed at her, still speechless.
“Aren’t you happy to see me?”
I snapped out of it. “Yeah! Of course! But… how did you get here? When? Why didn’t you call?”
Instead of answering, she stepped into my arms and kissed me. Her bare breasts felt good against my chest, but her lips felt even better. My dick stiffened in an instant. She moaned into my mouth and pulled me harder against her. Unfortunately, the hot water chose that moment to run out.
Kendall gasped, even though my body shielded her from the brunt of the cold. I quickly turned it off and pulled her into my arms again. My dick bent between us, but I didn’t care.
We kissed for a moment before I pushed her to her knees. She teased me, her lips trailing over my shaft, so I jerked my hips insistently. She closed her lips around me and I groaned at the sensation. Then I gripped her head and started thrusting. I came sooner than I wanted to, but she merely held my hips as semen gushed down her throat.
We dried off, and I led her to the living room. I sank to the couch and pulled her after me. She straddled my hips and then reached between her legs to stroke my semi-hard shaft. She groaned as I cupped her breasts and teased her nipples. Her lips crushed mine and she ground her hips, slowly working her pussy against my resurgent erection.
When I was hard enough, she reached between her legs and steadied my cock at her opening. I closed my eyes and savored her tightness as she worked herself onto me. She settled completely and began moving her hips, rubbing the base of her clit against my shaft. Soon enough, she was panting with desire.
I took turns with her nipples—licking, sucking, nibbling. She moaned and rocked in my lap, working herself toward release. When it came, she tensed and held my head against her breast. She was utterly silent as the climax wracked her body.
I held her until I felt her relax. Then I rolled her to the couch and threw her legs into the air. I hooked my arms behind her knees and aimed my dick at her smooth labia. They were pink and puffy, slick from her juices. I entered her slowly, but she was still tight, so I took my time fucking her.
Finally, I buried myself inside her as light exploded behind my eyelids. Molten pleasure surged through my belly, and my balls tingled as I emptied them into her. When I came to my senses at last, I looked down at her.
“Welcome to Franklin, home of Paul’s Full-Service Cock Shop.”
She smiled. “I’ll say.”
We slowly disentangled ourselves and sat up. I put my arm around her and she leaned against my side.
When we’d caught our breath, I said, “How’d you get here?”
“My dad bought me a car. Can you believe it?”
The strange car in the driveway! Trip and I hadn’t even commented on it. I guess we’d both thought Darlene had a friend over.
“It’s an early graduation present,” Kendall explained.
“That was nice of him.”
She nodded. “I decided to make my first road trip to see you.”
“Tired of studying?”
“Tired of being celibate.” She smiled and hugged herself to me again. “I hope you don’t mind that I just showed up. I wanted it to be a surprise. I didn’t know what time you got home from work, so I came early.”
“You came just a minute ago,” I teased.
I turned serious. “How long can you stay?”
“Just the weekend.”
“Why? I mean, you can study here just as well as your house. I’m sure Trip wouldn’t mind.”
She shook her head. “I can’t, Paul. You know how important this is.”
I started to object, but she shook her head again, firmly.
“The test is less than three weeks away, and I want to do as much studying as I can. Besides, you have work.”
“You can study while I’m at work, but we could spend our evenings together.”
“I can’t, Paul. I’m sorry. I need to study, day and night.”
“Yeah, all right.”
“We have this weekend,” she said. “And I was thinking…”
Trip gave me directions to a secluded place where he and Lori used to go on picnics. It was out in the country, about forty minutes from town. He didn’t know who owned the land, but no one had ever bothered him about using it. So Kendall and I packed a basket and headed out.
Unfortunately, I missed the road the first time we passed it. When we passed the barn that Trip had said was too far, I turned around. The turn-off was easier to see from the other direction, but the overgrown “road” was barely wider than the Cruiser.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Kendall asked.
I nodded with more confidence than I felt. About a mile up the track, the woods finally opened onto a field of tall grass. An old oak tree stood in the center of the field on a small rise.
I parked the car and got out. Kendall grabbed the little cooler and her duffel bag from the back, while I took the picnic basket and blanket. I slung my camera bag over my shoulder and we set out for the tree.
Kendall had a fantasy about posing for a photographer, and the field was the perfect spot. It was surrounded by trees and completely private, without a house in sight. We spread our blanket and arranged our things in the shade of the tree.
“Are you ready for me to change into my first outfit, Mr. Hughes?” Kendall asked, already playing the naïve model.
“Please, Miss Payton.”
She looked at me nervously.
She wanted me to be demanding, so I scowled. “Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Would you turn your back so I can change clothes?”
I did my best frustrated huff, but turned anyway.
“Okay,” she said a minute later, “you can turn around now.”
I expected her to be wearing a skimpy bikini, but she had donned a modest sun dress instead. It showed off her figure, but it wasn’t very revealing. She looked… wholesome.
“That’s nice, Miss Payton,” I said, still a bit puzzled. She’d only told me the basics of her fantasy: I was a lecherous photographer and she was a new model. I was supposed to convince her to pose nude, and then take advantage of her. Of course.
I hadn’t expected the conservative dress, but it fit with most of her other fantasies. She wanted to play an innocent girl who was forced to perform “unspeakable acts of debauchery.” (She read too many trashy romance novels.) Her fantasies usually ended with incredibly hot sex, so I was more than willing to go along.
She snapped me from my reverie. “You can call me Kendall, if you like.”
“Okay, Kendall. Let’s take some shots by the tree.” I wasn’t a professional photographer, but I knew how to compose a scene. All those Art classes weren’t a complete waste.
She posed and tried to look seductive. I’d seen her when she really wanted to seduce me, and I could tell that she was play-acting. She reminded me of the teenage girls from camp—inexperienced but eager—and I almost chuckled as she struck a pose.
“Just act natural,” I said, and started snapping pictures. She really did look good. The dress clung to her figure and showed the contrast between her breasts and waist. My dick twitched at the sight of her profile as she twirled and posed.
“That’s nice,” I said after shooting half the roll. “Now, open your dress. Show me your cleavage.”
She pretended to be shocked. “Do I have to?”
“You want to be a model, right?”
“Then you have to do what I say.”
“Can’t you take pictures of me like this?”
“Sure,” I said indifferently, “if you want to be in a Sears catalog.”
Her face fell.
“I don’t have all day,” I said. “Do you want to be a model or not?”
“I do, Mr. Hughes. I swear, I do.”
“Then unbutton your dress.”
“J-just the top buttons?”
I hid a smile at her acting. “For now.”
When she did, I snapped a few more pictures. “Okay,” I said, “open the rest.”
She pleaded with her eyes, but I didn’t relent. Instead, I glanced at her chest. Pointedly. She actually managed to tremble as she unfastened the remaining buttons. She was wearing a bra, but I could finally see some skin.
“Good,” I said. “Now lie on the blanket.”
She did, and I snapped a couple of pictures.
“Pull up your dress,” I said. “Show me your legs.”
She reluctantly tugged the dress to her knees. “Are you sure you can get me into a magazine?”
“Maybe.” I shrugged. “A catalog, for sure.”
“That dress is too modest for anything else.”
“I… I have another outfit, if you’d like to see it.”
“What is it?”
“Just shorts and a shirt.” She managed a hint of excitement.
I secretly marveled at her acting skills—she was better than some movie stars. With a hidden smile, I quickly finished the roll.
“Okay,” I said as I rewound the film, “change into the shorts.”
She hesitated until I realized that she wanted me to turn around. I knelt by the camera bag, but didn’t turn completely away. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. When I stood again, she was wearing khaki shorts and a button-down shirt.
“Is this okay?” she asked.
“Are you still wearing your bra?”
She lowered her eyes and nodded.
“Take it off.”
She waited for me to turn around, which I eventually did. “Okay,” she said at last.
“Good,” I said. “Now unbutton the shirt and tie it under your breasts.”
Her eyes flew wide.
I shrugged indifferently. “You have a nice chest. You should show it off.”
“Mr. Hughes… I couldn’t.”
“All right, whatever you want,” I said, and started to put the camera away.
“Okay! I’ll do it. But promise you won’t make me show more.”
“No problem. Maybe I can get you a Sunday ad with the local department store.”
“Sunday ad? But I thought you said…”
“What kind of magazine do you want to be in? Redbook? McCall’s? Ladies’ Home Journal?”
“Maybe… something different.”
Instead of answering, I gestured at her. “If you want to be in Esquire, you’d better show a little more skin.”
She looked around to make sure we were really alone. I fought not to chuckle at her pretend anxiety.
As if anyone could sneak up on us out here, I thought. Ha! We hadn’t seen a sign of civilization since we left the main road.
Kendall fidgeted for a moment, and then slowly unbuttoned her shirt. I didn’t see anything more than the swell of her breasts as she tied the shirttails under them, but I enjoyed what I did see.
Her feigned shyness was starting to turn me on—she had a way of seeming eager and reluctant at the same time. Besides, she also darted a glance at my trapped erection. My shorts didn’t show more than a slight bulge, but she could tell by the way I moved that I was stiff as a board.
I stepped close and reached to open her shirt. She flinched, but didn’t object. “Relax,” I told her. “I’ve done this hundreds of times.”
She nodded hesitantly.
“Loosen the knot,” I said. “Show your cleavage.”
She nervously tugged the shirt open.
“That’s good,” I said, and started taking pictures. She never revealed her nipples, but she managed to show just about everything else. Finally, I lowered the camera. “Nice,” I said, eager myself. “Now lie down and unbutton your shorts.”
She pulled the shirt together.
“Do it,” I said.
Her brow furrowed, but she sank to the blanket.
“Unbutton your shorts,” I said firmly. Then I decided to use a softer touch. “Just relax. You’re doing fine,” I said. I finished shooting the roll and went to my bag to change film.
She sat up and gathered the shirt between her breasts. “Do you really think you can get me into Esquire?”
“Absolutely. They like beautiful women.” I stopped playing my part and simply admired her for a moment. “You really are beautiful,” I said, my voice tight with genuine emotion.
Her eyes widened in surprise, but then she saw my expression. She blushed for real, the flush creeping up her cheeks and turning them rosy. “Thank you,” she said at last, her voice soft.
After a moment I cleared my throat and tried to get back into character. “Maybe I could even get you into Playboy.”
Surprised, she tried to decide if I was acting or not.
I was and I wasn’t. I might not be a professional photographer, but I thought she was sexy enough to be in Playboy.
“Do you really think so, Mr. Hughes?” she asked. She was playing the role of the shy model again—she wanted me to convince her to take off her clothes.
“You’re definitely pretty enough,” I said, “but…” I gestured at her clothes.
“I brought a bikini with me,” she said immediately, hopefully.
“Playboy isn’t a bikini magazine. It’s a men’s magazine… with nude women.”
“I know,” she said, her voice small and soft.
“You think you’re ready to be in Playboy?”
She hesitated for a moment before nodding.
I pretended to be skeptical “Okay,” I said at last. “Change into your bikini.” My dick practically jumped in anticipation.
Incredibly, she waited for me to turn around.
With an unfeigned sigh, I did. “You know,” I said as I gazed down the hill, “if you really want to be in Playboy, you can’t be shy. You’re going to have to get naked sometime.”
“I know,” she said. “But I need to work up to it.”
I sighed and waited for her to tell me to turn around. When she did, I did my best to keep my jaw from dropping open. She was wearing the skimpiest string bikini I’d ever seen. She saw the look in my eyes and fought not to smile.
“Is this okay?” she asked.
I recovered myself and nodded. Then I had her walk down the hill and into full sunshine. I took pictures as we went, and she twirled like a dancer, still delighted by my reaction to her bikini. She practically beamed when she turned to face me at last.
I snapped several pictures of her smile—radiant with elation—but my eyes were drawn to her chest. The panels of the top barely covered her breasts. Her nipples were so hard that they cast little shadows in the noonday sun.
“Do you really think you can get me into Playboy?”
I lowered the camera. “Probably, but… You need to show more skin. Your breasts at least.”
She looked unsure.
“Whatever,” I said, offhanded and cool. “Not every pretty woman gets into Playboy. It takes the right kind of model.”
“I’m the right kind of model,” she said, soft but defiant.
I arched an eyebrow.
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. Stick to catalogs and Sunday circulars.” I turned to walk back up the hill, but she stopped me with a word. When I faced her again, she untied the bikini top. I raised the camera to my eye and focused.
“You promise you can get me into Playboy?”
“Take off your top.”
She let the bikini string drop, and the fabric peeled from her breasts. I snapped several shots as she posed demurely.
“Let’s head back to the blanket,” I said. I walked backward, taking pictures as her breasts swayed. She seemed more relaxed, but she still acted a bit nervous. I marveled at her ability to stay in character.
“Lie on the blanket again,” I said as I reloaded the camera. I stood over her and snapped more pictures.
My dick was a hard bulge in my shorts, and I wasn’t acting. She smiled with genuine excitement, and began blowing kisses as she pushed her breasts together. I was tempted to fuck her then and there, but I kept my cool.
“Untie your bottoms,” I said at last. “Slowly.”
She didn’t even hesitate, and my breathing was so heavy that I could hardly focus the camera. When she finally tugged the bikini from between her legs, I pretended to be surprised that she was shaved. She tried not to react, but she flushed with excitement.
“Do you really think I’m pretty enough to be in Playboy?” she said.
With an act of will, I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “You’d be perfect,” I said at last, “except…”
I gestured at her smooth pussy.
She acted confused for a moment, but then she understood. When she looked up, she had the fire of determination in her eyes.
I was about to suggest something like Swedish Erotica—since I was more than ready to fuck her—but she spoke up before I could say anything.
“What about another magazine?” she said. “What about Juggs?”
I did my best not to gape at her, but I couldn’t help myself.
“My tits are big enough,” she said.
I nodded, still speechless. I couldn’t tell if she was acting or not.
“Besides,” she added, “it’s raunchier than Playboy, so I won’t have to be so modest.”
“Of course,” I finally rasped.
“Do you think you could do it? What would I have to do?”
I forced myself to calm down. I wanted to fuck her senseless, but she was still playing her fantasy role. If she wanted more, I’d give it to her. “You’ll have to show more skin,” I said. “Pink skin.”
Her eyes widened.
“That’s right,” I said, “you’ll have to show me your pussy.”
She considered for a moment—she finally understood that I had a real camera with real film. I almost set it aside, but she flushed with excitement and reached between her legs.
I really, really wanted to fuck her, but it was her fantasy, so I began snapping pictures. When she slid a finger between her smooth lips, I knelt between her legs and took several close-ups. Then I stood to adjust my hard-on. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep up my end of things.
“Do you think men will look at me and play with themselves?” she asked, with all the feigned innocence she could muster.
Ah! So that’s what she wants. “Absolutely.”
She turned coy. “Will you?”
“I doubt it,” I said. “I have better control than that.”
She lifted an eyebrow.
“Besides,” I teased, breaking character, “I see a lot of beautiful women.”
Her jaw dropped, although she quickly recovered.
I raised the camera to cut off her reply, but she took my words as a challenge. She locked her eyes on my lens and began playing with herself in earnest. I snapped a couple of shots and tried not to grin as she closed her eyes to concentrate.
She was getting more and more worked up, and I didn’t even have to direct her. I finished the roll quickly, and set the camera aside. She was in her own world—playing with her clit as her hips gyrated slowly—so I quickly undressed.
I stood over her and began stroking myself. I’d been horny for so long that I knew I wouldn’t last long.
“Oh, yes,” she hissed. “Tell me about the magazine.”
“What do you want?” I asked, my brain thick with arousal.
“I want men to look at me.”
“Do you want them to jerk off?” I said.
“To imagine they’re fucking you?”
She moaned and clutched at the blanket with her free hand. Her fingers went into overdrive on her clit.
“To shoot hot come on you?”
She moaned and nodded, her lips pressed into a thin line.
I stroked myself and felt the pressure build. Liquid heat surged up my shaft and I exploded with a grunt. The jet of semen fell in droplets across her breasts. She arched her back and tensed, silent from the force of her own orgasm.
The rest of my spurts showered her with pearly drops as I continued to stroke myself. When I finally stopped, my dick pulsed with my heartbeat, still oozing semen. Kendall sagged to the blanket and panted from the force of her climax.
“Where the hell did you come up with Juggs magazine?” I said, breaking character for good.
She opened her eyes and grinned. “Drew has a bunch.”
I arched an eyebrow.
“He left most of them when he went to UT.” She swallowed and moistened her lips. “I borrowed a few.”
“‘Borrowed a few’?”
“Mmm hmm. I look at them when I want to imagine I’m a model.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “You look at Juggs?”
“Sure.” She smiled, and her eyes dropped to my dick. “Oh, Mr. Hughes,” she said, back in character, “you’re not going to make me suck you, are you?”
I couldn’t believe she was still horny, especially after her orgasm. But her fantasies made her hotter than ever, so I wasn’t about to complain.
“Will it help me get into Juggs magazine?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” I said.
She knelt at my feet. I put my hand on the back of her head and pulled her forward. She stroked my shaft, and her eyes lit up as semen oozed from the tip.
She wrapped her lips around my shaft and sucked gently. Since I didn’t get hard right away, she did her best to swallow me whole. When I was hard enough to fuck her, I pushed her back and told her to lie on the blanket.
“W-what are you going to do?”
“When you spread your legs for my camera,” I said, “you spread your legs for me.” She watched nervously as I knelt between her thighs. I rubbed her pussy, spreading her moisture. She was already hot and slippery, but she pretended to flinch at my touch.
“Be gentle,” she said. For a moment, I thought she might be too sensitive, but she was acting. “I’ve only been with one man, and he only put his penis in me once.”
Ah, so now she’s the semi-virgin naïve model, I thought with a silent chuckle. Whatever works.
“Oh,” she breathed, “he never made me feel like that.”
I grinned to myself and brushed her clit again. Then I lowered my hips and spread her moisture with the head of my cock.
She gasped when I eased into her. “You’re bigger than he was. A lot bigger.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Her eyes blinked open. “You mean we have to do this again?”
“You want to be a model, right?”
“Then we’ll do this whenever I feel like it.” She opened her eyes at that, and I smirked. “How do you think this business works?”
She was silent, her chest rising and falling with her breathing.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I think you’ll like being a model.” I pulled back for my first thrust. “Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
I slammed into her and she gasped at the force of it.
She opened her eyes and smiled at me. Then her expression softened and she dropped the act. “You’re the best lover ever.”
“You’re pretty good yourself.”
“So you like my fantasy?”
“Good.” She smirked. “Now fuck me. Fuck me hard.”
“Of course, Miss Payton.” She started to grimace, but I buried myself completely. “You were saying?” I teased.
“Nothing? It didn’t sou—”
She put her finger to my lips. “Let your dick do the talking.”
I thrust again and she closed her eyes. When I pulled back, she spread her legs even wider, and then cupped my ass.
We moved together in the rhythm of long experience. I fucked her on her back and then rolled her to her knees. From there I drove her to the blanket and plunged into her until I felt the first tremors of her orgasm.
She groaned when I pulled out, but quickly rolled to her back. She spread her legs and I moved between them. Her pussy was still tight, but not as tight as when I first entered her. She was just as hot, though, and even wetter. She tugged at her nipples as I pounded into her.
I came first, but she was close behind, her pussy contracting around my plunging shaft. When I collapsed against her, we were both dripping with sweat and breathing hard. I swallowed and tried to moisten my mouth, but it was no use.
“Wow,” I panted at last.
Kendall left after dinner on Sunday. I didn’t want her to go, but I understood that she had to study. Still, the weekend had been a welcome break from the grind of work. Unfortunately, Monday morning came soon enough.
My crew spent the week hanging drywall and finishing the ceilings in the Craftsman houses. The work wasn’t difficult, but it was tedious, and God really was in the details. Simple things like drywall seams might not seem like much, but every flaw stood out when we covered them with primer.
By Friday we were another day ahead of schedule, and the young couple had signed a contract for the first Craftsman house. To celebrate, Trip took everyone out for a beer after work.
He sat with Blackie and the crew bosses at the head of the table. I sat with Junior and Big Jim, since they were the only guys on the crew who were even close to my age.
Junior wasn’t any friendlier with a couple of beers in him, but he wasn’t any more hostile either. I felt like the odd man out, but it was better than being alone.
The phone rang early Saturday morning. I lurched to the kitchen and answered it—it was my dad. I rubbed my eyes and stifled a yawn.
“Sorry to call so early,” he said, “but I only have an hour before show-time.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I picked up the mail yesterday, but I didn’t sort through it until this morning. You have three postcards from a girl named Christy, two from England and one from California, and a couple of letters, two from UT and two others that look important.”
He read the return addresses on the letters, but I didn’t recognize them. Then it hit me—the scholarships! Professor Joska had me apply for three of them before the end of school. I’d completely forgotten about them. “Go ahead and open them, Dad,” I said.
“‘To Mr. Paul Hughes,’” he read. “‘Thank you for submitting your drawings and essay for consideration by the Hyatt Foundation. We are proud to encourage a new generation of architects, and we strive to promote the highest standards of academic achievement. Therefore, it is our pleasure to offer you the Charles Eames Innovation in Design Scholarship—’”
I whooped, which brought Trip running from his bedroom. He saw my expression and pulled up short. I covered the mouthpiece and beamed. “I won a scholarship!”
He flashed me a thumbs-up.
“Sorry, Dad,” I said into the phone. “Go ahead.”
He teased me about being deaf, but quickly read the rest of the letter. “Congratulations, Paul,” he finished. “I knew you could do it.”
“Thanks, Dad. Go ahead and open the other letter.”
It was from a second foundation, which offered me a partial scholarship based upon my academic performance. It was anticlimactic after the Hyatt scholarship, but Dad and Trip both congratulated me.
“Do you want me to open the UT letters?” Dad continued.
“If you don’t mind.”
The letters were both routine, about my admission and housing status. Trip had already received his housing letter, so I knew we’d be living in Andy Holt Apartments with Luke Devereaux and Jeff Hamill.
“I’ll put everything on your desk in your room,” Dad said.
“Congratulations, son. I’m proud of you. Be sure to call your mom and let her know.”
He had to leave for the airport, so we said goodbye and hung up.
Trip shook my hand and then pulled me into a hug. “Congratulations, man.”
The moment turned awkward when we realized we were hugging each other in our underwear, but we laughed about it.
“I can’t believe I got it,” I mused aloud. I shook my head in wonder. “The Hyatt Foundation… they’re the people who give the Pritzker Prize.”
He grinned and nodded.
“Wow,” I said softly. “The Charles Eames Innovation in Design Scholarship…”
I stood in shock for a few minutes, but then picked up the phone and dialed Susan’s number. She congratulated me, and we talked for a few minutes before she hung up to go find my family. Mom called fifteen minutes later, and shrieked when I told her the news. Erin picked up another extension and I told her too.
After I hung up with them, I called Kendall. She congratulated me, but we didn’t talk long. She was in the middle of a practice test, so I said goodbye and found Gina’s phone number. She answered on the fourth ring, but she sounded half-asleep. I looked at my watch and belatedly realized that it was still early on the West Coast.
“Hi,” I said. “Sorry to wake you.”
“That’s okay. Um… who is this?”
My face fell. “It’s Paul.”
“Oh… hi, Paul. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s great!” I told her about the scholarships.
“Wow, congratulations,” she said. “I knew you could do it.”
When the silence threatened to draw out, she said, “So, how’s it going?”
“Good. I’ve been working a lot, and…” I told her about the houses, and she laughed when I mentioned Junior and our bet. “But we’re ahead of schedule,” I said, “and I think we’re gonna finish before our deadline.”
“So, how’s L.A.? How’s work?”
It was the first time we’d talked since the end of school, and we fell into conversation. I missed her more than ever, but I didn’t tell her that. She heard it in my voice, I’m sure, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she told me about the doctors and nurses she worked with. She told me about the people in her apartment complex, and the girls she’d already met from Chi Omega at UCLA.
We talked for an hour before either of us realized it. I didn’t want to run up the long-distance bill, but I didn’t want to end the call, either. Gina sounded just as wistful as I felt, but we eventually said goodbye.
“You still miss her, don’t you,” Trip said softly. He was standing in the door to his bedroom. “I tried not to listen,” he said, “but…” He gestured vaguely.
“Don’t worry about it.” It was a small apartment, and I heard all of his phone calls.
“It gets easier,” he said.
“I probably shouldn’t have called her.”
He shook his head. “Nah. It’s good that you’re still friends.”
“Do you ever wish you were still friends with Lori?” I asked.
“Sometimes.” He laughed. “I’m sure her boyfriend would object, though.” He laughed again, harsh this time. “It’d serve him right, too. He doesn’t realize that it’s only a matter of time before she dumps him like she did me. I mean, if she did it once…”
“It takes a long time to earn a good reputation,” he said, “but an instant to lose it.”
“Tell me about it.”
He chuckled in commiseration and we fell into thoughtful silence. A moment later he brightened. “Hey, there’s a music festival up at Vanderbilt today,” he said. “Some cool bands. You up for it?”
Sunday was Josh’s birthday party. The Whitmans had more than fifty people at the house, including a horde of laughing, screaming kids.
Trip and I played in the pool with them, giving rides on our shoulders and tossing them into the water. They swarmed around us and tried to dunk us, but we easily fought them off. We even had a contest to see who could make the biggest splash from the diving board.
By the time everyone left, we were thoroughly waterlogged. Josh and Dale were exhausted, and went to bed without a word of protest. Frank and Darlene sat on the patio with us for a while, but they went to bed early as well. So Trip and I found ourselves alone, looking up at the starry sky. We sat quietly for a while, but his mood turned pensive.
“I need to see Abby,” he said at last.
He shook his head. “Next weekend. Do you mind flying?”
“No problem.” I didn’t have plans with Kendall—it was the last weekend before the MCAT, and I knew she’d be studying. “I’ll call the airport and reserve the plane.”
“What’re you going to do?” I asked.
“Not something I want to do, that’s for sure. I want to try to work things out, but I know how it’ll turn out.”
I looked a question at him.
He shrugged. “I love her, sure, but…” He touched his heart. “I don’t feel it here. You know?”
“I tried to change how I feel, but…” He shrugged again and shook his head.
“Do you think she could change?”
“Should I even ask her to?”
“You should give her the chance, at least.”
“I tried. I mean, I haven’t been a jerk about it or anything, but she is who she is.”
“She’s a wonderful girl, but she’s just too… reserved. That’d be fine for another guy, I guess, but I want someone who excites me. Like Kendall excites you. You know?”
I nodded again.
“Besides, it’s not fair to Abby. I mean, I could try to make things work, I guess, but I don’t really want them to work. I like her as a friend, but not as a girlfriend. And I definitely can’t see myself married to her. She’ll make some guy a great wife, but I’m not that guy.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah, it is. She deserves someone who isn’t trying to change her.” He paused for a moment, and I let him think. “I don’t feel it,” he said at last. “I just don’t, man. I could drag things out, but we’d just end up hating each other. This way isn’t easier, but it’s better for everyone. I keep telling myself that, at least.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Still, I can’t help feeling like a jerk.”
“Well,” he said, “I feel like a jerk. Abby deserves better.” He paused and stared at his feet. “She deserves a guy who loves her for who she is.”
“So you’re going to break up with her?” I said, speaking his thoughts aloud for the first time.
“Do you have to fly down there to do it?”
He nodded again. “I can’t do this in a letter or a phone call,” he said. “I need to do it in person. I owe her that much.”
“It’ll be harder,” I said softly.
“The right thing usually is.”
Trip kept to himself on Monday, lost in thought. Junior made a crack about “puppy love,” although he was trying to provoke me. The rational part of me knew what he was doing, but I was tired of his shit. Mocking me was one thing, but picking on Trip was another.
Big Jim caught me before I could take a swing, but Junior looked as surprised as I’d ever seen him. Maybe he saw the cold fury in my eyes. Maybe he realized he’d gone too far, especially about Trip. Maybe he wasn’t such a tough guy after all. Whatever it was, he didn’t make any more wisecracks.
Trip gave me a hard time about what I’d done, but he understood why I did it. Junior would never respect me unless I spoke his language. He didn’t care about college, or design skills, or even how hard I’d worked since joining the crew. He understood loyalty, though. And he understood that I had my limits.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t proud of what I’d done. I was sticking up for my friend, but violence wasn’t the answer, even with Junior. Professor Joska’s voice echoed in my thoughts.
“You’ll have to do better, Mr. Hughes.”
I scoffed darkly. Easier said than done.
The realtor stopped by on Friday. She had a firm offer on the second Craftsman house, as well as three offers for the Colonial Revival. Trip took the entire crew out for a beer, even though I knew he didn’t feel like celebrating.
Junior made a point of buying me a drink. I think it was his way of apologizing. I didn’t say anything aloud, but I bought him one in return, my way of saying “No hard feelings.”
By the time we left the bar, Trip wasn’t drunk, but he wasn’t feeling any pain either. Unfortunately, he was thinking about Abby again.
The next day he was quiet for most of the flight. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I tried a few halfhearted jokes. He wasn’t in the mood (neither was I, really), but the silence was oppressive. So I paid extra attention to my navigation, and he stared out the window.
While the flight was awkward, Louisiana was worse. Abby had two friends with her, Tim and Patrice, and she introduced me as a “dashing fellow.” I didn’t feel dashing at all—I felt like a heel. Trip put on a good show and acted happy to see her, but I knew the truth. He offered to buy lunch for all of us, and asked Tim to take us someplace nice.
At the restaurant, Trip quietly asked me to separate Abby from her friends. I felt even worse for doing it, because I couldn’t explain why. Tim seemed to know what was going on, but I played dumb and told them to ask Abby.
Never in my life had I felt like more of a chump. I stared at the menu and felt bad for everyone. Abby was about to have her heart broken, Trip was going to do it, and Tim and Patrice had to stare at my sour expression while it happened.
Tim asked a few more questions, but I gave him vague answers. I hated doing it, too, since he seemed like an upstanding guy. I picked at my food when it arrived. I knew exactly how Abby felt, and I kept thinking about when Gina broke up with me.
The next thirty minutes were like watching a train wreck. Abby seemed bewildered—until she started crying and Patrice took her to the restroom. Tim and I stared at each other in silence. Trip sat by himself, stoic but miserable.
By the time we left the restaurant, I was ready to slink away quietly. Tim was kind enough to drive us to the airport, which was more than I would’ve done if our positions were reversed.
While Trip and Abby had a final talk, I concentrated on preflighting the plane. They were still talking when I finished, so I climbed into the cockpit and simply stared at the instrument panel. Trip eventually joined me, and I started the engine and taxied away. I glanced at him as we took off, but he looked even worse than I felt.
“That sucked,” he said at last. “That really fucking sucked.” He rarely swore like that, and I looked at him for a moment before I replied.
“It was the only thing you could do.”
“Then why do I feel like such an asshole?”
I didn’t have a good answer, so I kept my thoughts to myself.
“What do you want to do today?” Trip asked after breakfast. He wasn’t back to normal, but at least he was making an effort.
“Nothing,” I said. “Absolutely nothing. I have some reading to do for Joska, but aside from that…”
“I thought we’d hang out by the pool,” I said. His family had gone to Disney World for two weeks, so we had the place to ourselves.
“I was thinking the same thing,” he said. Then his cheeks colored. “And… um… I don’t wanna sound gay or anything, but… I mean… do you think we could…?”
I laughed. “Do you want to work on your, ahem, all-over tan?”
He blew out his breath in relief.
I laughed again. “Man, you really do want to be a nudist, don’t you?”
“Is that weird?”
“I guess not. I mean, I didn’t really have a choice. My parents took me when I was a kid.”
“But I’m not a kid.”
“Maybe it takes more guts to do it as an adult.”
“You have no idea,” he said. “Just working up the courage to ask was hard enough.”
I clapped him on the shoulder like he usually did to me. “No problem, my shy, wanna-be nudist friend.”
“It doesn’t sound gay?”
“For two guys to take off their clothes and sunbathe together?” I teased.
He looked pained.
“As long as neither of us drops the soap!”
He burst into laughter, half amused, half relieved.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. Between the two of us, he was usually the one who was relaxed and self-assured, so it felt nice to be the confident one for a change.
The cordless phone rang and Trip extended the antenna before he answered it. We were still by the pool, although the sun had started to slant toward the horizon.
“Hi, Kendall,” he said. “Yeah, we’re up at the house this afternoon… lounging by the pool.” He smiled. “Sure, here he is. Mmm hmm. Good talking to you, too.” He handed the phone to me.
“Hello yourself,” Kendall said. “I tried at the apartment, but when you didn’t answer…”
“Yeah,” I said, “we’re being lazy today.”
“Must be nice.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. We’ve had a hard week. Besides, after yesterday…” I sighed to myself. Then I glanced at Trip, but he pretended to be reading his book.
“What happened yesterday?” Kendall asked.
“Um… hold on a second.” I turned to Trip. “I’m gonna head inside.” I waved the phone. “Bad reception out here.”
He took the lie at face value and smiled. I could see the pain in his eyes, which made me wish I’d kept my big mouth shut.
Once inside, I put the phone to my ear. “Sorry about that,” I said. “Trip broke up with Abby yesterday. So I didn’t want to talk outside.”
“Poor Abby,” Kendall said.
What about Trip? He wasn’t exactly dancing for joy.
“I should probably call her,” she continued.
“Um… I don’t know if they have phones at the camp. I mean, I’m sure they do, but it’s in the office or something.” I shrugged. “Trip never called her, at least.”
“You mean he broke up with her in a letter?”
“Um… not exactly.”
“What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”
Here we go, I thought, time to bite the bullet. “We flew down there.”
Kendall was silent.
I wasn’t going to defend myself, since I wasn’t the one with the problem, so I stubbornly kept my mouth shut.
I set my jaw.
“Well, if you’re not going to talk about it…”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” I said.
“Paul, flying is dangerous, especially in those little planes.”
I felt my temper rising, but fought to control it. “It’s not dangerous. I’m a good pilot, and I’m very careful. Car accidents kill more people each year than plane crashes.”
“But you’re not likely to die if your car has engine trouble.”
We’d been through the argument before, and I refused to have it again. She was irrational, and I’d either have to live with it or stop flying. Since I wasn’t going to stop… “Can we talk about something else?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to fly to Louisiana?”
“Because I knew you’d react like this.”
“Like what? Like I love you? Like I worry about you?”
“I don’t want to lose you, Paul. Flying is dangerous. People die—”
“People die crossing the street,” I interrupted. “Now, can we talk about something else?”
“I thought we could discuss this like adults, but obviously—”
“There’s too much static on the line,” I lied. “I can barely hear you. I’ll call you later.” I stabbed the button to hang up.
I spent the next hour fuming. Worse, I nearly bit Trip’s head off when he tried to talk about it.
“Sorry,” I said at last, “I shouldn’t’ve snapped at you. I’m not mad at you… it’s just…”
“No problem, man,” he said. “I owe you for yesterday. Heck, I owe you for the past week. Big time.”
“No, you don’t,” I said. “That’s what friends do. They don’t snap at each other, that’s for sure.” I met his eyes. “I really am sorry. I know I shouldn’t be a jerk, but…” I shrugged helplessly. “I know what I’m doing, and I know it’s wrong, but I still can’t stop myself.”
“I know what you mean. I do the same thing all the time.”
“Huh? You’re the most in-control guy I know.”
He shook his head. “It’s an act. I get upset just like you do. And I do stupid things…”
“Just like I do,” I finished sourly.
“Yeah, just like you do. I don’t do them as often, but…”
I ventured a grin at his friendly jab.
“Hey,” he said, “we’re only human. So, what’s bothering you?”
“Kendall. She’s afraid of flying, so she…” He listened calmly as I vented for the better part of five minutes. “So I hung up on her,” I finished.
To my surprise, he laughed. “Relationships suck, man.”
“With women, at least.”
“Hey, you’re not going gay, are you?” He gestured with a grin. “I realize you’re a fine specimen of manhood, but I’m not a switch hitter.”
We shared a laugh.
“No, I’m not going gay,” I said at last. “I just wish Kendall and I had a relationship like you and I do.”
“Sorry,” he said, still facetious, “I don’t suck dick.”
I rolled my eyes, but didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m serious,” I said. “I hate that Kendall doesn’t trust me. I mean, she doesn’t think I’m cheating or anything, but—”
“I know what you mean,” he said, finally serious. He shrugged. “She loves you, man.”
“I know, but…” I shook my head. “Why does she drive me crazy sometimes?”
“Yeah, but I wish she’d just relax. I mean, you’ve flown with me—you know how serious I am. Why can’t she see that?” I huffed. “Sometimes I wish she didn’t care.”
“I know what you mean, man.”
I fell silent for a moment, mulling my words. “No, I don’t,” I said at last.
“I don’t wish she didn’t care.”
“Because the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.”
He thought it through. “Wow, that’s deep.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I wish I could take credit for it, but Gina’s sister Kara said it.”
I thought about Kendall again. “I guess I wouldn’t get this upset if I didn’t love her.”
“And she loves me. I mean, why else would she get so upset?”
I paused and shook my head. “Dammit.”
“I hate to apologize,” I said. I laughed ironically. “I really hate doing the things I need to apologize for, but that’s another problem altogether.”
“Sounds like Kara’s not the only one who’s deep,” he said.
“Thanks… I guess. Still, I should know better.”
“What did Joska always say to you?” he asked with a laugh. “‘You’ll have to do better’?”
“Don’t even get me started on him.”
He smirked. “Don’t get your undies in a bind.”
“Ha,” I deadpanned. “Very funny.” Then I sighed. “I guess I’d better call her and apologize.”
Inside, I took a deep breath and tried to relax. Then I dialed Kendall’s number. Her mother answered.
“Hi, Melissa,” I said. “It’s Paul. May I please speak to Kendall.”
“I’ll see if she wants to talk to you.”
I stopped her before she could put the phone down. “With all due respect, I’m her boyfriend, and she needs to talk to me.” Melissa drew a breath to protest, so I tried to take the edge off my words. “Sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t trying to tell you what to do. I hung up on her earlier, and I’m sorry. I was wrong, so I called to apologize. That’s why she needs to talk to me.”
“Oh… Why… that’s very mature, Paul.”
“Well, if I were really mature, I wouldn’t’ve hung up on her in the first place, but it’s nice of you to say.”
I could almost hear the smile in her voice. “Let me go get her.”
Kendall picked up the phone a minute later, and she’d been crying. I waited for Melissa to hang up before I spoke.
“Sorry,” I said at last. “I shouldn’t’ve hung up on you.”
“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I know how much you love to fly. I know you’re safe, but I still worry. I just need to get over it.” She laughed and then sniffed. “Me and my ‘Fear of Flying’!”
I laughed too, low and soft. “You’re fine most of the time.” I shrugged. “Besides, if that’s the only thing we disagree on, then I guess we’re probably doing okay. Now, can we start the conversation over again?”
“Hi, sweetheart,” I said. “I’m glad you called.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“Trip and I are being lazy today.”
“Yeah. We had a busy day yesterday.”
“We flew to Louisiana,” I said seriously, even though she already knew. “I know I should’ve told you, but I didn’t want you to worry.”
“That’s okay. I… I know you’re a good pilot,” she said. “And… I trust you.”
I closed my eyes and sighed with gratitude. “Thanks. Still, I should’ve told you.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. A moment later she tried to perk up. “How’s Trip?”
“He’s still upset. I mean, yesterday wasn’t easy. But I think he’s happy. Well, maybe not happy, but he’s not upset about it anymore. I guess it’s like tearing off a bandage—it stings for a while, but the quicker you do it, the better. So he’ll be fine.”
“And what about you?”
“Me? I’m fine, why?”
“Fine? It couldn’t have been easy on you.”
I hesitated for a moment, but then decided to tell her how I’d felt. It wasn’t pleasant, even as a memory, but it felt good to talk about it. At least Kendall understood that I wasn’t simply a bystander.
“I’m so sorry, Paul,” she said at last. “Sorry for you, sorry for everyone. But Abby will heal, and Trip can move on now.”
“Yeah.” The silence dragged out, so I changed the subject. “So, how’s studying going?”
I could almost hear her shrug. “I’m tired of it. That’s why I took a break.”
“Sorry I screwed up your break.”
“You didn’t screw it up. You just… introduced an unexpected catalyst.” She laughed at her textbook answer. “I’m fine. Really.”
“But I’ve been thinking about you all day, so I thought I’d call.”
“Mmm hmm. Do you have time for an obscene phone call?”
“Make-up phone sex?”
She laughed. “If you’re lucky.”
“What’re you wearing?” I asked in a goofy bedroom voice.
“What’re you wearing?”
I laughed. “Nothing, actually.”
That broke the mood. “Huh?”
I explained about sunbathing with Trip.
“So he brought up the idea?” she said.
“Oh my goodness, Paul. Hold on a sec, let me make sure my bedroom door is closed.” I heard a click and she returned. “So you’re both nude? Together?”
“Well, he’s outside and I’m inside,” I said, “but yeah.”
“That’s so sexy, Paul.”
“Two guys sunbathing?”
“Two nude guys.”
“What’s so sexy about that? I mean, you see that at camp all the time.”
“But Trip is different.”
“He’s our age. He’s not some older guy with a potbelly and hairy arms.”
I laughed at the mental image. Some of the men at camp actually looked like that.
“Besides,” she continued, “do you know how sexy it is that you’re confident enough to sunbathe with another guy? Most guys would be too embarrassed, but not you. Oh, Paul, I wish I were there.”
“You do? Why?”
“Well, for the obvious reason,” she said. “I want you to make love to me.” She paused to savor the moment. “Maybe you could even take some pictures while you do.”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.”
“Speaking of pictures,” she said abruptly, “how did the others turn out? Do I look good? Do you look at them when you masturbate?”
I shook my head, a bit nonplussed. “I haven’t developed them yet.”
“Oh. When are you going to?”
“Soon, I guess.” I shrugged. “I don’t really know where, though. I mean, I don’t want to send them to some mail-order lab. You know?”
“Does Trip know somewhere there in town? Someplace discreet?”
“Probably. But what if he asks why I need it? I mean, he’s not stupid.”
“Go ahead and tell him.” She turned sultry. “You might even show him.”
“He’s seen me before,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I want him to see pictures of you playing with yourself.”
“Why not?” she practically purred. “I’m playing with myself now.”
Did she just switch gears? Again?
“And I’m thinking about you. Are you hard?”
My dick sprang to life. “Um… yeah.”
“Are you touching yourself?”
“I am now.”
“Mmm, me too. I have my hand down my panties. I’m so wet, Paul.”
“Oh, God.” I cradled the phone against my shoulder and began stroking myself in earnest.
The conversation quickly devolved into soft moans and heavy breathing. She came before I did, utterly silent, but I exploded soon after.
“I wish you’d come on me,” she said at last.
“I miss you, Paul.”
“I miss you too.”
“I want to see you.”
“When? Now?” I had visions of a wild drive to Chattanooga.
“No, not now. After the MCAT. Maybe I could spend the weekend?”
“Sure,” I said, eager for any chance to see her.
“And… I want to do something special.”
“Mmm hmm. But it’s a surprise.”