Author: AnonyMPC

Title: Sucker For A Pretty Face

Summary: While hanging out with friends, a teenager with prosopagnosia meets the girl of his dreams. But there's more to her than meets the eye... or his eyes, at least.

Keywords: mf, inc, 1st, dubcon, slow

Disclaimer: This story involves a character with a real brain disorder that real people have. I don't have this disorder, and although I tried to do my research and use my imagination to represent it as accurately as possible, I'm sure I screwed up somewhere and took big artistic liberties in other areas. Luckily, the condition varies quite a bit from person to person in intensity and impact on their lives, so I hope any errors can be handwaved away as a particularly idiosyncratic case.


Sucker For A Pretty Face by AnonyMPC (mf, inc, 1st, dubcon, slow)


Chapter One:

It started on a Friday, of course. What better day to get yourself into trouble, at least for a seventeen-year-old junior with a car? Saturday, maybe, but Saturdays lend themselves to a little milder partying style. Sometimes Fridays are like an elastic band, you've been stretched tight, ready to snap, and, when you've finally broken free from the frustrations and boredoms of a week of school, you need to fly as far as you can in the opposite direction. You just want to cut loose and get wild, maybe get lucky, or just do something new. Well, I got wild, fell for a girl, and got myself in a situation I never would have dreamed of the day before, or even hours before.

It all started at school, or actually before class began. I drove us there, us being me and my sister, who was seated in the passenger seat. Once I got my license and the car, it came with the parental expectation that I'd drive her to school, but I did it happily.

I always liked Sarah, even if she was a lowly, dirty freshman. Teasing aside, we always got along well, we're both pretty laid back, low-drama people. She even likes a few bands that aren't total shit. Also, she's a reader like me, although certainly not as much... still, she's one of the few people I can talk books with, when she borrows one of mine, or, more rarely, when I read one of hers. I read The Hunger Games on her recommendation, before the movie (she was only eleven when she read it), and it was better than I thought it would be. So I felt close to her, and although I might gripe about having to drive her, for appearance's sake, I actually enjoyed the few minutes where we'd just talk in the car.

On that Friday, she was quieter than usual, but I asked her about her plans for that night, to go over to her friend Cindy's place and have a sleepover. I made a few jokes about them braiding each other's hair, and reminded her it was her duty to tell me if one of her friends confessed she wanted me. She just rolled her eyes as she usually did at that, but did open up about what they were going to do... work on a project, maybe watch the last few episodes of The Vampire Diaries or something like that, that Cindy had saved on her DVR. I know what you're thinking... advance school work on a Friday night, and a night of raucous television... wow, my sister's a wild one, right? Well, for the school work, she had an excuse, it was a group project, due Monday, and Cindy had to go away the whole weekend starting Saturday morning. As for everything else... like I said, I always considered us sort of the same, laid back, and forget everything I said about teenagers on a Friday being like a rubber band snapping, that's probably roughly true, but my personal band, and I assumed my sister's as well, rarely snapped all that far. Until that day, of course.

Her plans probably sounded more interesting to an outside observer than mine, at that point. I was going to curl up with a good book... I was in the middle of rereading The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King. It was one of my favorite series. Even though the story ended disappointingly, it was still a fun ride. And sure, it gets a little annoying how the author tries to tie all his other stories together into it with characters from other stories appearing, and he even gets especially 'meta' at times and talks directly about his own writing, but sometimes I liked that. Mostly, I just loved the journey, even knowing how it ends up. I was about halfway through that newest entry, The Wind Through The Keyhole... I'd read it once before, but it really works better in sequence. I mentioned my plan for the night, offhandedly, to my sister.

"That boring Gunslinger series?" She wrinkled her nose. She'd tried it and rejected it. Sometimes she takes my advice and tries something based on my recommendations and really likes it and I feel good about myself every time I thought about it, like I'm the one responsible for exposing her to some good shit, but of course when she didn't like it, it stung a little. Like she was rejecting a little bit of me.

"I'm telling you, you've got to read past the first one. The first one stinks, I don't even know why I gave it to you." Though I still read it first in sequence, every time. I'm a purist.

"Nope. Books are like kissing, if the first one's a bad one, you don't need to try again, there's no chemistry."

I hrmphed, still annoyed that she had rejected one of my favorite series, and went for the tease. "What do you know about kissing, anyway?" I glanced in her direction, saw her stick her tongue out at me, and stuck my tongue out back. Juvenile impulse, just like the teasing was. I actually didn't know the extent of my sister's experience with boys... we were very close, but there are boundaries. I was pretty sure she'd kissed, at least. I knew she was pretty enough to attract boys... I couldn't ever explain HOW she was pretty, but my friends confirmed it, to my annoyance. I thought, and really hoped, she was still a virgin, even though she was briefly a cheerleader... the stereotypes about them being slutty are overblown. And fourteen's too young for that, at least when it's your sister. I was going to tell her how you start is far less important than how you finish, but realized with the Dark Tower series it didn't end all that well either, and besides, it would sound like... I don't know, that I was suggesting she screw guys she'd rejected romantically just to see if they're any good. So the wordless tongue-sticking-out would serve as my only reply.

Besides, we were just about at school at that point. I pulled us in right to the front entrance, and Sarah decided to pay me back about my teasing her about kissing with an old favorite. As she grabbed her overstuffed backpack from the back seat, she told me, "Okay, Nick, I'll see you tomorrow. Now, remember, to get to the parking lot, you make a right, then the first left. Do you need me to write it down for you so you won't get lost?"

"Shut up," I said, but not with any meanness. She got out, and before she did, I said, "Hey, have fun tonight." She nodded, smiled back, and waved. As she walked away, I quickly memorized what she was wearing. She had on a grey blouse that was long enough to look a little like a dress, over black jeggings, and with brown boots that rose to mid-thigh. Cute, but not especially distinctive, and I hoped I'd be able to spot her in a crowd, if I needed to. I do try to keep an eye out for her, like if some guy was hassling her, I'd want to be able to see it from down the hall so I could step in. Even if she wouldn't want me to, it's a brother's job. Not an easy one in a big school, or for somebody like me, but I do my best. She quickly disappeared into the crowd, and I heard a honk behind me, so I got moving and found my way to the parking lot, grabbed my phone off its caddy on the windshield, and prepared for my own Friday.

Right after I got inside, a guy waved and nodded at me in passing. He was a student, judging by his age, but other than that I had no idea who it was. I nodded back and went on without saying anything. It went on like that through the halls, some people looking like they knew me, but I didn't see anybody familiar to me. But then, it was way too early in the day for me, and I'm a little bit famous in my school, so I don't know how much is from that and how many genuine friends I missed in that first parade of faces.

None of them said hello to me out loud, by name, anyway, so I didn't think I was being rude. Someone finally tapped me on the shoulder and spoke up as I approached my locker. I looked in his direction, and he grinned. "Hey, man, it's me, Paul."

"Yeah, man, I know." Of course I knew it was Paul. He was my best friend, for years and years. He had that black backpack with the blue straps over one shoulder, the extra large t-shirt that hung down over his hips (bare arms despite the slight chill in the morning air), the buzz-cut, the sort of overall pudgy-look (not fat enough to get made fun of, especially since he was tall, and there was muscle underneath the pudge)... he would have been on the football team if he didn't have butterfingers, so instead, he wrestled. And of course, there was his deep voice, with a bit of a rasp to it, like he was a smoker, even though he wasn't (at least, not of tobacco). I appreciated the introduction, but I didn't really need it. Everything about him told me it was Paul, before he opened his mouth and said his name.

It was only his face I didn't recognize.

Chapter Two:

I should explain that. For much of my life, I've suffered from prosopagnosia. It's a long medical word for a condition that is commonly known as 'face blindness.' Which isn't really accurate either, because I can SEE faces just fine, it's more like I can't remember them once I look away. The problem is, I can't recognize people by their faces, even if I know them well, even if it's family. I have to use other means. Dad I recognize about 95% of the time, because he always wears the same types of things and he always has his hair cut exactly the same way. Mom and Sarah are iffier... they both do their hair differently from time to time, and wear a lot of different styles of clothes... women, you know? I can still usually recognize them by their voices, their build, the way they walk, and mostly context... if there's a teenage girl at home with (usually) light brown hair? It's a safe bet it's Sarah, though I have talked to a very bewildered visiting friend of hers for five minutes before I realized my sister was in the shower. A woman in her thirties glaring at me after I haven't cleaned my room, or obsessively worried if I do something the least bit dangerous? Probably Mom. If I see one of them on the street, I might have trouble realizing who it is, but only if I forgot what they wore that day. At school, when Sarah wore a cheerleading uniform, she practically went invisible to me... sometimes I wondered if that's part of why she joined up. Even as close as we are, even though she's generally not a wild child, I figured it's probably hard having an older brother nearby when you're in the best possible place to be young and dumb and get in trouble, since I'd almost certainly intervene to stop it if I thought she was doing anything too bad, even if I've done worse. Unless maybe I was in as deep as her.

Pretty much everybody at school knows my condition, and some don't believe it, because with close friends, like with family, I don't rely on faces, I can use other cues, what I call the 'Vibe,' actually 'VIBH,' an acronym I made myself when I was thirteen, but in my head I pronounce it 'Vibe,' so that's how I spell it here. 'VIBH' stands for Voice/Idiosyncrasies/Build/Hair, and I actually usually notice them in reverse order... hair can sometimes be a dead giveaway at a distance, if you're like the only one at school with a mowhawk. Build helps when you combine it with hair, but with very few exceptions, I can't tell someone by build alone... lots of people have similar body types. Idiosyncrasies are just things like age, the way you walk, whether you wear glasses, general style... all the things that people might not pay attention to right away, but add up to make you, you. And voice, well, that always helps, but less than you'd think. You can't always count on people talking to you, and voices can change a lot with emotion or if you've got a cold or something... besides, many voices sound kind of the same. I don't know if that's just me that thinks that or everybody.

It's not easy to identify somebody, but if we've interacted something like 30-40 times, and you haven't changed anything up recently, given a minute to think, I can usually recognize you based on the Vibe, at least if your body language says that I'm supposed to know you. Again, in most situations, it works with guys more than girls, but there are some special tricks with girls, too. There's a girl from my Bio class that I recognize almost exclusively by her earrings (they're not always the same ones, but they're always long and dangly and by now I recognize most of them) and this strawberry-scented perfume she wears everywhere.

People call it a disability, but I cope with it pretty well, and I know others who have it worse than me. I'm part of an online... I guess you'd call it a support group, but it's not like one of those ones where you sit in a circle and talk about your feelings type deals. Don't ask me what any of them look like, cause I couldn't tell you even if I had seen their faces. It's just a message board where a couple dozen other people with my condition discuss some of the difficulties and, occasionally, whenever there's new scientific breakthroughs or it shows up in the media, like when it was featured on Arrested Development, or when Brad Pitt told a reporter that he thinks he's got a mild, undiagnosed form of it.

And maybe he does. We certainly aren't all the same. Some were like this from birth, some had some kind of accident. I'm in the second group, by the way, sort of. Not really an accident. It was some kind of rare viral thing when I was in elementary school that made my brain swell up and I briefly went into a coma and almost died. I got better, but I guess there was a little long-term damage. Sarah teases me about it all the time, whenever I do something stupid or just to make fun of me, that there was a LOT of damage, but really, I got off easy, I just seem to have the face thing, and not even the worst variety of that. Some of the others, they're not good with reading facial expressions at all... thank God I'm not one of those, I know when somebody's smiling at me or frowning. I can't remember exactly how it looked, but I remember the fact of it, almost like I remember thinking, "Oh, he's smiling." Some with face-blindness can't tell age or gender at a glance, I'm also pretty good at that (though long-haired guys and very short-haired girls can trip me up). And some are better off, they can remember your face if you're family or they've seen you in the last week or so, and just forget after that. Some have it so mild they didn't even realize for most of their life that they had it, they just thought they had bad memories. Brad Pitt could be one of them. But for me, literally, if you went in the bathroom, changed your clothes and just messed up your hair a bit, you could walk right out again and I wouldn't know it was you. If I'm not paying close attention, you don't even have to change your clothes. That's not normal.

I guess there's one other thing wrong with me besides the face thing, but I don't know whether to count it separately because a lot of us in the group have the same thing... we get lost easily. Not so much a problem with GPS everywhere, but my first week in high school I ended up in the wrong class more often than not. It doesn't really play a role in this story, but it does explain my sister teasing me about getting lost on the way to the parking lot.

Don't feel sorry for me, though. As I said, I cope quite well. I guess I do feel left out sometimes, when people talk about TV or movies... most of them are hard to follow, I can't tell who's doing what. That's why I prefer books. But otherwise, you'd be surprised how little of life relies on recognizing the faces around you, and sooner or later, I bet every phone will have a face recognition app anyway. So I don't regret my condition. And sometimes it's even been a benefit. You wouldn't believe how many pretty girls come up to me who probably wouldn't otherwise talk to me, asking if I recognize them, just because they know about my condition and I guess they want to believe they're the exception, that there's something so captivating about them that I remember them. What I never mention is, those few people I can recognize by face, it's usually because it's distinctive negatively... like an ugly scar or a comically large nose, or a missing tooth or something big enough that it manages to stick in my brain even if the rest of the face doesn't. Pretty is awesome, I'm as much a sucker for a pretty face as anybody, but I can't recognize by pretty. A lot of girls are pretty. When I can recognize pretty girls, using the Vibe, not their face, I can let them think it's because they're so beautiful, at least for a while, and that gets me farther than you'd expect. But most of the time, my condition doesn't really affect my life one way or the other.

Once in a while, though, I get fucked in ways that wouldn't be possible to other people. And, that day, Paul got the ball rolling to the most memorable of those instances. "So, my dad left this morning on one of his long hauls." Paul's dad drove a delivery truck. 'Long haul' was something of an exaggeration... because he was a single parent, he arranged it so most of his delivery runs were in town, but every once in a while he'd have to cover for someone else and go away for a couple days, and, since Paul's mom died, that left him alone. When he was young, he'd come stay with us when that happened... but now, at 17, he was old enough to just stay home. "You want to come over, hang out for the night?"

"Who with?"

"Brian, for sure... Mike, probably... Trevor said he might come and bring his cousin. Oh, and Sean."

"Maybe," I said, hedging my bets a little. I wasn't entirely sure that I wouldn't just prefer to spend the night with Roland Deschain, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. I had a good batch of friends and people who were near enough, but this particular subset were something of a mixed bag, and I wasn't always in the mood for all of them. Paul was my best friend, Mike was fun, and he could get a little wild, Brian was okay, if a little annoying if he got in certain moods. Trevor I liked but I didn't know his cousin at all, and although I never made it obvious to others, I thought Sean was a little bit of an ass. Though, he could be an entertaining one, at times, so even he wasn't a dealbreaker. Still, it was a little more in terms of straight numbers than I was comfortable with at one time, and at least with Sean and Trevor, there'd probably be pot smoking, which would probably mean long stretches of everybody leaving me behind downstairs with maybe just Brian while the others went off and got high.

I'm not judging, by the way. It's not that I never smoke pot, myself, but I do it only in certain circumstances. By myself, or with one or two close friends, either at home (and I don't want to do that where either my parents or sister could stumble in) or when I won't have to go anywhere after. It's because of my condition, when I'm high, it makes it hard to remember the stuff I use for the Vibe, and it also fucks with my orienteering. I can get lost on the way home from Paul's. I have got lost on the way home from Paul's, the first time I tried it. Drinking does the same thing to me, but I can hide drinking better, and with booze, others can do it around me and I don't have to leave the room to avoid a second-hand high. I don't care if my friends wanna get high or drunk and I can't, I just don't want to be left bored and doing nothing while they do it. "I'll have to ask my parents anyway." Which was true, but they'd probably say yes unless I pissed them off somehow recently. And if I wanted to bow out, I could just use them as an excuse. "My mom might freak out again, you know?" She's had an overprotective streak ever since I nearly died as a kid. Go figure. But everyone buys it when I complain that she won't let me do something I'm secretly too chicken or just plain uninterested in doing.

"Well, start thinking of a lie... Sean said he's going to invite some girls over..."

Chapter Three:

"Oh yeah?" I was a teenage boy. The prospect of girls was ALWAYS interesting, and then, more than usual. I was painfully single again. The last girl I'd dated, Alexandra, we started fighting a lot over stupid stuff and broke up a couple months ago, and she's dating some wannabe-rapper type now. He looks like a douche. At least, I assume, but Paul agrees. I was nursing a little bit of affection for Kara, a goofy girl in Algebra (with a nice rack), but it hadn't yet bloomed into an obsession, and I wasn't even sure it was going to go anywhere. So the chance for a random hookup was certainly appealing. Of course, it was Sean inviting them, so... "Please tell me he's not been prowling for middle schoolers..."

"Nah, he still likes freshmen." And has since we were sophomores. When we were freshmen, he really was dating a middle schooler, but she was only a year younger so I guess it wasn't that bad. I still had a nagging feeling he was going to turn into one of those creepy guys that wind up in jail for luring girls online. That said, he did have a knack for bringing girls to a gathering when he said he would... usually because he was focusing on one girl and could talk her into bringing some friends along, either to lower the pressure, or show off. Maybe for freshmen girls, having a friend who can help you hook up with a cool older guy (with access to booze and light drugs) is just as useful, as, for us, having a friend who can hook you up with girls.

"Freshman are bad enough." Now that my sister was one, that was becoming somewhat of a disturbing thought. I'd never want Sarah with a guy like Sean.

"Hey, freshmen girls get lonely too and... shit, Nick, you know how it is, some of 'em drop their panties at the first beer." He had a point, though it was a little crass to prey on them... but I'm no saint, I figured if a girl gets drunk and makes herself available, why not enjoy myself? Even if it's a freshman. I couldn't deny my sister had some hot friends. I might not be able to describe their faces, but I doubt I'm the only teenage guy they had that problem with. "And if nothing else, there's always Playstation."

My dick responded. Not to the Playstation, but to the thought of panty-dropping freshmen made it give a brief, and thankfully invisible, swell, like it just wanted to let me know it heard something interesting. So I let that make my decision. "Yeah. Okay, assuming my parents don't have a problem with it, I'm in." He smiled then, like he realized he didn't have to sell me anymore. Maybe he was on to how I'd use my mom as an excuse.

"What are we talking about here?" I turned to the voice, seeing a complete stranger in khakis and a striped shirt, dark hair. Could be anybody, and the voice wasn't distinctive enough to place it right away. My eyes roamed quickly around his body, checking details against a mental database.

"Hey Trev," Paul said, speaking the name probably for my benefit, although by that time I'd just about locked in the guy's identity by glancing down at the shoes (guys may not have distinctive outfits, but many guys only have one pair of shoes). Trevor's shoes would have given me just about 80% certainty, probably would have reached 95% by the time he spoke again, but Paul's tipoff cut away all the uncertainty, which was a relief. That was one of the things that was great about Paul as a friend... in many ways he was like a big brother (I'm a couple months older, but he's always been bigger), looking out for me. He was the only friend that consistently not only introduced himself, but said the names of others we were interacting with, so I wouldn't have to be left in the dark. And I looked out for him, too, usually academically, but anything he needed, I was there for him.

We were thrown together kind of by circumstances, because we were kind of outcasts when we were young, due to two unrelated tragedies that happened in the same year. With me, it was going into a coma and coming out of it being unable to recognize people. For Paul, it was the fire that killed his mom and left him with some scars (none on the face, luckily, even if that would have made it easier for me to recognize him). And, both of us managed to overcome them, with the friendship of the other, and that built a strong bond. In a world of uncertainty, I knew I could always trust Paul. Or I thought I could, anyway.

"Just about going to Paul's tonight."

"Great. Hey, thanks for letting my cousin tag along. He's kind of quiet, doesn't have many friends of his own. Home schooled, you know?" I tried to keep my face still but was not impressed, as if it wasn't going to be awkward enough. "I just figured it'd be good for him to interact with some actual girls... I mean, you should see the porn the guy's got. It's pretty disturbing." If I had to guess, I would have guessed dickgirls. It seemed like the kind of thing a socially awkward guy would be into... the hotness of a girl's body with easy-to-understand genitals. But again, I don't judge. I don't even think liking dickgirls is necessarily gay. The cock knows what it wants, if it's into something that looks like a girl but has a dick, and not full on guys, it means that kind of thing turns you on. Personally, I like the pussy too much to want someone without one, but I've got some porn with dickgirls fucking regular girls, just for variety. I just wouldn't admit it out loud, not even to my friends. "Don't tell him I mentioned that, though."

"Shit, you know me, I'm like a vault," Paul said, and it was true, he rarely betrayed confidences from other people. He was also more open about being depraved himself than I was, or at least joked about it. "But I'm curious about this disturbing porn you speak of. What's he got? I like pretty disturbing porn. You should hook me up."

Trevor grinned. "Yeah, he probably doesn't got anything you haven't seen. Shit, he probably got it from you. Anyway, I'm bringing some of my dad's Viagra, so we might have to dip into your stash if no girls show up." I couldn't tell whether he was serious or not. I certainly didn't plan on using any little blue pills. "Sean better come through."

Why was I the last to hear about this? It sure seemed like they'd at least gotten together to discuss it without me. Then I remembered, the day before, we were going to hang out after class, but I wasn't feeling in the mood, so I half-faked a bit of a headache (it was there, but not bad enough to stop me from doing something fun), and I just went home to play racing games. And I'd almost done the same thing today, backed out of time with friends. I need to watch my anti-social tendencies so I don't turn into a complete loner... another good reason to go to Paul's little get-together.

Most of the rest of the school day went uneventfully. We had a substitute in for Algebra (I didn't realize until he wrote his name on the board), and during the time that we were supposed to be doing homework, but everybody was really just chatting, I spoke to Kara a little. It was no big deal, just discussing our individual plans for the weekend. I said I'd just be hanging out, not really doing anything... I didn't want to mention the thing at Paul's just in case I accidentally wound up inviting her and she showed up (bad because I didn't want to ruin my chances at a random, no-consequences hookup or have her watching my friends perving on freshmen), or in case she might give me some kind of clear signal she wanted me to ask her out directly on a more personal date (I'm better on the one-on-one). Neither seemed likely... she told me it was her weekend to be at her Dad's place, so I figured that meant that when she asked if I had any plans, it wasn't an invitation for me to ask her to do something with her. But I wasn't too put out, she was cool and funny (and, I stress again, nice rack, and tight shirts that accentuated it), but it was only early spring... there was plenty of the year left to form a deeper connection. And every time we talked we built a little more. This time I mentioned my sister was trying out for the school play, and found out they already knew each other. Maybe I'd even seen them together and just never knew it was her. Or my sister. Luckily there was no jealousy, they weren't going for the same part.

This year, the school's doing some modern take on A Midsummer Night's Dream, involving, I don't know, probably vampires and werewolves at a high school or something. That's a guess, not a literal synopsis, but I wouldn't put it past our drama teacher, who I'm pretty sure is stoned half the time. Last year he did Our Town with zombies. But I don't even care enough to know the actual details of what they're doing, I just faked interest for Kara and, sometimes, my sister.

I stay away from plays, in general, for the same reason I don't watch much TV. I almost went to last year's, because I like zombie movies, they usually have small casts so I can keep people straight, and you don't usually have to recognize the zombies (except when somebody who's supposed to be familiar turns). And, because everybody's scrounging just for supplies, they don't change their clothes very often. Zombie books are better (and if you tell me World War Z the movie was better than the book, you're dead to me). I wasn't sure how well a zombie play would work, but I was curious, except my sister had something at her middle school the same night. Paul told me the play sucked, though, so I'm not sorry I skipped it.

I'd probably have to go to this year's play if my sister got a part, which I thought was likely, or if Kara did and we started getting close, but otherwise, I don't really care about the details. I told Kara I hoped she got her part, and I did... but mostly it was politeness, I wanted to see her happy, and if she got chosen, I could later tell her I'd always had faith in her. It was all just an excuse to talk to her, and because that was accomplished, it turned out to be the funnest class I had all day.

Chapter Four:

Since I didn't have to wait for my sister, I drove home practically as soon as the bell rang, and enjoyed one of those rare luxuries... a time when I had the whole house to myself. Mom and Dad were still at work, and Sarah of course had her plans. So I turned up my music loud enough that I could hear it almost anywhere in the house, made a Hot Pocket to get rid of my after-school munchies (I skipped lunch), and went to my room to what any teenage boy would do. I fucked that Hot Pocket!

I guess I should probably leave out the inside jokes among my friends, but I couldn't resist. No, no Hot Pocket fucking, I ate the Hot Pocket (and as usual burned my mouth), and then masturbated (to lesbian porn, if you must know). If something did happen, later, I wanted to last, you know? You always have to go into social situations expecting the best and the worst. So fapping wasn't the only thing I did, I also showered, shaved, fixed my hair (marveling, of course, at the handsome stranger in the mirror), and did the usual other preparations. Brushing the teeth and mouthwash's a must, of course, as was changing into some nicer clothes (I'm a pretty casual guy, so it's pretty much just a nicer version of the stuff I normally wear, and better underwear).

But all of that assumed one thing... that I'd be able to go out at all. And to be sure of that, I had to wait until my parents came home, which I mostly did with a book. My dad picks up my mom on his way home, so they showed up at the same time, and I made sure I had my music down to just barely audible a few minutes before they were due. If one of them came home in a bad mood, that kind of mistake could cost me my freedom for the night.

As usual, Mom called my name as soon as she got in the house. If I don't answer her, she'll eventually come knocking on my door. It's like she expects that I might have come home and been horribly murdered or something. This time, though, I did answer, walking midway down the stairs and leaning over the banister to the ground level. "Hey," I said. I'm big on the 'Hey' greeting. It's laid-back, relaxed, like me, or like the person I try to be. It's also nice because, when you say it just right, it doesn't matter much if the person turns out to be a stranger. An excited 'Hi?' That gets you weird looks. 'Hello,' that makes you sound like you want something. But a 'Hey,' that can be passed off as you being a friendly guy, just a little more friendly than a nod and a smile. You know, like you're saying "Nice day, isn't it?" when you're passing.

This wasn't a stranger, though, at least I was about 99% sure. It was Mom. She hadn't changed her hair, currently blonde and straight, in a couple weeks, and she dressed in that business-casual type outfit Mom usually went for, and was the right size. And it was distinctly Mom's voice I heard from my room. The only way I could have been wrong is if she brought home a co-worker who looked an awful lot like her, and my real Mom had wandered into the kitchen. No, this was Mom, confirmed to 100% when she said, "Hi, sweetie. How was school?"

I shrugged. "It was okay."

"Did you eat your lunch?"

I wanted to keep it out of my voice, but I think I let a little exasperated sigh escape as I reported, "Yes." Even if I was technically counting my post-school Hot Pocket as lunch. Mom wouldn't feel that way, though. My sister's constantly on stupid diets she doesn't even really need, Mom doesn't say boo, but I skip a few lunches because I just don't feel like eating at that time, and she hounds me for weeks afterwards.

I waved at Dad, who looked up and gave me a nod while inspecting the mail, and then he retreated to the living room while Mom continued the third degree. "Did you get the biology test back?" I shook my head at that one. Good thing, too, I was sure I didn't do too well, and a bad score on that might lower my chances. Kind of sucks in another way, because I used to want to be a scientist, and study the brain and all the ways it can go wrong, but I just don't have the knack for memorizing all sorts of long Latin words and drawing cell structures.

"Got an A on my English essay, though." My English teacher loves me. Not literally (although that would have made a hot story if she had, she's like not even thirty), but back when I was a freshman, she had me and held me after class when she thought I wasn't paying attention. The problem was, I read Lord of the Flies the first day she gave it to the class, instead of just a few chapters, so everyone discussing the first few chapters was... well, boring. I also mentioned how I don't really follow TV very well, because of my condition, so I read a lot, and I guess she thinks that makes me an English prodigy or something. I'm not, really, although it is my best subject, I don't even have the highest marks in the class. But now, pretty much, she lets me read other books during class time as long as I make some minimal effort to contribute to discussions and can pass the standardized tests.

"That's good, sweetie, I'm so proud of you." I shrugged, and watched her pull her high heel off, and rub her foot with a wince. "You sister already gone?"

She started walking into the kitchen, and I completed my trip down the stairs and followed her. "Yeah, she went right to Cindy's from school."

Mom opened the freezer door and peered inside. "So I guess it'll just be the three of us for dinner. What do you feel like? How about bangers n' mash?"

I rolled my eyes. "You know, you can just call them sausages and mashed potatoes like a normal person." My mom's not British, but she is an obsessed anglophile. It's a weird word, 'anglophile'. It's not like 'necrophile' or 'pedophile'... it doesn't mean she wants to fuck British people. Except maybe this Benedict Cumberbund guy, or whatever his name is, that she keeps talking about. It just means you like British culture and TV and stuff. Maybe if you're sexually attracted to British people, you're an anglophiliac. But Mom watches shows like Sherlock, and Being Human (apparently there's an inferior US version of that), and Downton Abbey. She's got my sister into some of them, too. But I can deal with them watching their TV shows, unfortunately, she's also picked up a few annoying habits from it. Worst among them is using British terms for common stuff. No, scratch that, her most annoying habit is talking in a faux-British accent for fun, but she's calmed down from that.

"Do you want them or not?"

"Actually, I was kind of planning on going to Paul's tonight for dinner. His dad's working late, and it's not like either of us have dates, so we decided we'd share a pizza, play some games, you know, guy stuff. Maybe crash there." Rule One of maneuvering out of Mom's potential worrying tendencies is not to ask permission, just act like you assumed you'd have it and have already planned accordingly. Rule Two, don't tell her there'll be absolutely no adult supervision all night or that there'll be a lot of people there. Technically, I wasn't lying, her dad probably was working late, just instead of coming home after getting off work, he'd be sleeping in some small town hotel. And we didn't have dates, and though we hoped that might change, pizza and games were a real possibility, especially if Sean didn't pull through. The essence of a good deception is to stick close to the truth. If I told her he'd be home all night, she might call and ask to talk to him. Rule Three is always give her a reason what you want is good for her. "But hey, you and Dad can have a night to yourself. You can have like, a date night."

She made a soft harumph noise, jerked her head back in the direction of the living room, then said, "Your father's idea of a romantic evening is..." she struggled for a few seconds coming up with an example, before choosing, " having music on while we eat instead of TV." But I could see her gears working, and finally, she said, "I don't want you out all night."

I can't say I was totally surprised by that restriction. "Oh, come on, it's a Friday, and Sarah's sleeping over at Cindy's!"

"Sarah needs the chance to bond with her friends."

"And I could use the time to bond with my friend."

"You and Paul have known each other since you were kids. If you bonded any more, we'd be planning a gay wedding." Eww. Nothing against gays, just, the thought of me and Paul was icky. My mom has nothing against the gays either, despite her religious leanings. In fact sometimes I think my mother would be more comfortable with me and Paul dating than I would be, me being gay would mean no other woman would come before her. I was probably being hard on her, but being coddled got to me sometimes. "It's different with girls," she went on to say. No, it was different with me. She's so overprotective. If I could ask Dad, he would let me, except that he's been well-trained to say, "Ask your mother." When Mom's unavailable, I get so much more freedom. But the truth was, while I'd like the choice to stay out all night, I didn't actually expect to want to... Rule Four is always ask for more than you expect to get. "Besides, your sister and her friend are not just hanging out, they're doing a project." That's how Sarah sold it to Mom, anyway, that they might be working all evening and in the morning up until Cindy left. It probably wasn't true, but I wasn't going to bust her, either. "I want you home by eleven."

"Eleven?" That was too far. "What is this, a school night? My friends, at least the ones who have curfews on weekends, get to stay out till two. Besides, Paul and I were planning to get into a Call of Duty tourney that doesn't start until nine, our time." That one was an outright lie, but I figure if I keep them down to a minimum, and in areas Mom has no knowledge of, I can't go wrong. And it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility there was a tournament going on we might decide to join. Somewhere in the world.

"I'll stretch it to eleven thirty." I complained that was barely enough time to compete, and we did a little more negotiation, and eventually we settled on twelve-thirty. That was good enough for me. After a long day of work, my parents usually zonked out around 11:30, even if they wanted to stay up to wait for me, so I could sneak in at any time with only a limited chance of getting in trouble. "You got money for the pizza?"

Rule Five, you never have enough money. I guess that's not really about escaping my mom's overprotectiveness, that's just a general teenage rule. But her overprotectiveness certainly helps. "Not really, but Paul'll pay, I'll pay him back from Monday's lunch money maybe." Left unsaid: I guess that will leave me hungry that day, but I'm sure that won't be a big deal, right Mom?

And, boom, that's how it's done. Mom gave me $20 for the pizza, and I was on my way.

Chapter Five:

Even though I was ambivalent about going to Paul's when he first proposed it, by the time the time came, I was getting pretty excited. It sort of snuck up on me... I had no idea how much I was psyching myself up about the possibilities and worrying that Mom might not allow me to go, until I actually left. I guess, even with my earlier masturbation, I was kind of horny... and maybe a little lonely, too. Despite any impression you may have gotten before, I'm not a ladies man or a player, by nature. I've done okay, had a few long-term relationships, a slightly larger number of short term ones that just didn't work out, a fair number of make-outs outside of that with groping or occasionally oral involved, but only had full-on sex with three girls. Two were my girlfriends at the time, and one was a kind of easy girl at our school. The easy girl was a lot of fun, but I missed that connection, and, although I'd tell my friends, and even myself, that what I was hoping for out of the party was just the chance to bust my nut in a girl... and make no mistake about it, I was hoping for that, too... deep down, I also hoping to meet someone and hit it off, fall in love... make magic. My thing with Kara, that was a process, a long road that might go somewhere, and if it did, great, but so far it was preparing the groundwork. And in the end, the road might just lead to the friend zone. There were no guarantees. I was still hoping to find another girl (like my first) where it was easy, no groundwork needed, no road needed, just... flying to the place where we're a couple, madly in love. That Sean was bringing some freshmen girls over didn't exactly scream flying potential, but that's the thing about magic... it's most magical when you're not expecting it.

But you can hope without expecting, and without meaning to, I'd started hoping a lot. So, you can imagine my disappointment when at first the night seemed to be going nowhere.

I knocked on his door, and there was Paul, recognizable by his size, hair, voice when he spoke, and, of course, his helpful introduction. "Oh, hey, Nick, it's me, Paul." I nodded, returned the hey, and he held the door open just long enough for me to grab it, then retreated inside. "Brian's already here," he said, and pointed over to a skinny guy with sort of curly hair, wearing jeans and an untucked plaid shirt. He smiled at me with familiarity from the couch, then stuffed some Cheetos in his mouth and looked back to the TV. Some sitcom was on, though I couldn't tell you which. "Want anything?" Paul asked, having ducked into his kitchen. "Only got a few beers now, but Trev's supposed to be picking up some booze on the way."

I put my jacket up on the rack. "No thanks, I'm going to try and stay sober tonight." That was the plan, although I ended up breaking it a little later. Paul understood my reasons, though, without having to ask. I did take a Pepsi and took a spot on the couch, pretending to watch. Sitcoms weren't too bad, as television went. Many jokes were funny even if you couldn't keep the tellers straight, there are a few sitcoms I even like, although I prefer to just watch stand-up comedians if I want to laugh. We watched some, and also talked about the kind of shit guys talk about but can't remember in detail later, you know, talking shit about other people we know, who we wanted to fuck, good ideas for band names, stupid ideas for food combinations... I can't promise we specifically talked about any of those that night, but it was that kind of pointless, meandering conversation that, if you're a guy, you've probably had a thousand times with your friends.

Trev and his cousin showed up maybe twenty minutes later. Paul met them at the door, and introduced them both, and it was a good thing, too. I knew Trev, but the two looked close enough that I couldn't readily tell them apart. I don't mean they were identical cousins, or even that there was a strong family resemblance. I couldn't really tell you if there was or wasn't, but they had the same general build and hair, which I guess does run in families, so to me, I'd only be able to tell them apart by their clothes. As Paul made the introductions, I made a mental note. Trevor was the one in a red jacket over a grey t-shirt, and his cousin wore black, black t-shirt, black jeans. When Paul said my name making the introductions, Trevor's cousin, Oliver, said, "You're the guy with the thing with faces, right? What, am I like a blur to you here?" He waved his hand in front of his face.

"Only if I'm shitfaced," I explain, and for a moment, I wanted to be. The urge to ask him about his deviant porn was strong, too, just to embarrass him, but I'd promised not to, so I gave the usual explanation, "It's not really blindness, it's more about remembering them afterwards." Trevor was carrying a bag that clinked when he set down on the ground, and then revealed that it was full of bottles. "Shit, you got a lot."

He grinned. "Alcohol makes everything better, and we don't wanna run out. Get me a glass, man?" That was to Paul, and he took one bottle to the table where he opened it. "So Mike's on house arrest... they figured out he stole the car last weekend." Trevor was speaking figuratively, Mike just took the family's second car without permission while they were away for a day, which might not normally be a problem except he also had a suspended license. I guess somehow they found out. We might not see him outside of school for a while, but he wasn't actually headed to jail. "Heard from Sean, yet?"

"Just a text," Paul said.

"He give you an ETA?" Paul shook his head. "Damn, he better pull through, I didn't bring all this shit for you guys. Speaking of, if you want to drink, you're chipping in."

Oliver spotted Paul's console system below his TV and spoke admiringly of it and some of his games. Actually some of them, and arguably the system itself, belong to Paul's dad. The guy was an occasional gamer who used it as much as Paul, and it was one of their avenues of father-son bonding. He was surprisingly good at Call of Duty for an old dude who never saw real military action. My dad always says he used to play shooter games a lot, but I haven't seen him actually doing anything other than Angry Birds-style games since I was a kid. After looking over the games for a second, Oliver suggested we play something, but Paul's system only has two controllers, which would mean two of us playing and three doing nothing, so we didn't feel up to it. Instead, we all sat doing nothing but talking while we occasionally did stuff on our phones. Soon Brian and Oliver started playing games anyway, while Paul, I think, tried in vain to get in touch with Sean, and Trevor, I don't know, probably searched for porn or something on his Galaxy.

In between the intermittent bursts of conversation, I read some of an ebook I'd been working on (I don't have the Dark Tower books on my phone unfortunately), and answered a text message from my sister. "Hey, you're just home reading, right?" I figured she wanted me to get something from her room and maybe drop it off or something, so I told her the truth, that I was at Paul's. She didn't answer after that, and I didn't think much of it, went back to my reading.

Eventually, Paul looked up from his phone, said, "Come on guys, this is pathetic, we've gotta do something other than sit in a room with our phones."

"There isn't much to do until Sean gets off his ass," Trevor complained. Maybe the reason he wasn't coming because he was on somebody's ass... or he wasn't coming because he was cumming.

"If he's coming at all," Brian pointed out.

"Fuck, we gotta do something," Paul said. "How about poker? There's five of us, perfect number."

"Jack-Off Poker?" Trevor asked, with a smirk.

"Is there any other kind?" No, not here, at least not without planning ahead.

"What's Jack-Off Poker?" Oliver asked.

"You'll see. Come on, we'll keep it light. Ten dollar buy-in?" I shrugged. I had another ten bucks I could spare. Soon we all agreed, though we had to wait for Oliver and Brian to finish their round of Call of Duty, and assembled around the kitchen table, while Paul went to get his deck and chips.

When he returned, he distributed the chips, then fanned out the deck. Most of the cards had red backs, but one stood out as blue. "The game is Texas Hold 'Em. And, as everybody can see..." He flipped over the blue card, revealing the Jack of Clubs, and continued, "This Jack's off-color today. And freaks might stand out, but we don't cast 'em out."

Familiar patter to us, but there was an outsider here. "Yeah, what does that mean?" Oliver asked. "Is it like, wild or something?"

"Nah, just that when you're Jackin' with this guy, everybody knows." It was an old variant, started out of necessity, preserved out of tradition. Somehow, the original Jack of Clubs from the red deck got lost, and Paul, who played a lot of solitaire when he was younger, replaced it with one from another incomplete deck. Over the years, we'd worked it into the tradition of the game, with our own private jokes about it, but it did add an interesting twist to the strategy when there's one card where you always knew when it was in somebody's hand. Sometimes, in a game like Texas Hold 'Em, you could see that the turn or river card was old Blue-Balled Jack (as we sometimes called him... most of the jokes came when we were adolescents, you know), and alter your betting accordingly.

I'm not going to detail out the game round-by-round, I couldn't even remember most of the hands. I'm generally not very good at poker.. I'm going to blame my condition here, even if it may not have anything to do with it, but it makes sense that I might miss out on remembering some facial tells that others pick up on. And maybe, luck just isn't with me. This night, it was a little more even, with a few players a little buzzed and Brian stupidly went all-in early on with Queen-Ten, when I had pocket aces (Blue-Balled Jack was in play that round, too, but only as first card of the flop... I think he was going for a straight), and he sulked a bit, and left the table to watch TV.

We had the TV on, just as background, and every once in a while we'd stop to watch. For a while, a syndicated rerun of Big Bang Theory was on, one of the few sitcoms I like, because it's easy to follow... everyone has a pretty well-defined and distinctive look, or voice, and so it's easy to tell people apart right away. But after a few minutes Oliver got uncharacteristically assertive (for the couple hours I'd known him, where he'd mostly been reserved), and demanded we change the channel. When asked why, he ranted about it not really celebrating nerd culture, but, instead, being like the geek equivalent of "old blackface minstrel shows", that just gets everybody to laugh at the people who are different. Just to shut him up, Brian changed over to some cartoons, while most of us rolled our eyes at each other when he wasn't looking.

That's when I decided to start drinking. Not just because of the company, but also because I had a good lead on chips, thanks to Brian's poor move, so I figured I could afford to be a little off my game. I didn't go crazy, either, I just had a little rum in my Pepsi. Just one drink, I'd decided, wouldn't be too bad, wouldn't impair my judgment too much, and, especially, didn't seem to matter much with the whole 'girls showing up' prospect turning out to be a bust.

At least I thought.

Chapter Six:

I folded early one round, and the Pepsi was getting to me more than the rum... I excused myself from the table and, I thought probably, the next hand because I had to make a run to the bathroom. While I was there, I checked my messages... I'd left my phone off when we played Poker, so a few had built up, texts, Facebook messages, and so on. One from Mom, reminding me of my curfew, my cousin posted a status update about the birth of her little brother, so I asked her to pass on my congratulations to her parents (who aren't on Facebook, the luddites), and a guy I have a group assignment with sent a few messages, trying to set up a time to meet to discuss how far along we were. I decided to tell him I'd already finished my part, which was kind of a lie, but I knew I'd finish it before the weekend was over. Boring stuff, but it took me a couple minutes to get done. On my way out I chuckled silently and realized they probably thought I was taking a particularly difficult crap, so I made sure to wash my hands a second, extra long time just in case.

When I returned to the table, everybody was gone. It was like one of those horror stories where suddenly everybody on Earth disappears except for one guy. Well, not like they just vanished, but that they had time to put things in minimal order. Drinks were still on the table, the cards were folded neatly like they were expected to return, the TV was still on, but the game Brian had started playing was paused. The music Paul had on was still going. I looked around a corner nervously, expecting them be pulling some kind of prank, you know, all be waiting to jump out and try and scare me, but nope, nobody was there.

I looked up the stairs, but Paul's door was open and no obvious sound from up there, so they weren't smoking. I was about to consider checking out either the basement or the garage, when I thought I heard, over the music, some voices from a window to the outside.

I opened the door, and there everyone was, along with a guy and a gaggle of girls. Just before I came out, I heard one of the girls saying, "Oh, come on, please?" and I thought the voice might be familiar, but like I said, voices aren't reliable for identifying people. Then Paul grred. Actually growled in frustration, and said, "I won't, but it's on you."

The moment I came out, everybody turned to look at me and shut up instantly. It was actually a little creepy. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," said the new guy. By his voice and the car he was leaning against, not to mention the fact that he brought a bunch of girls, I knew it was Sean. He dressed more high-class than us, shiny red silk shirt, little bit of a jacket, even though it had gotten warmer since the morning, black pants. "I told you I might bring some new friends by to come hang out. So can we come in?"

"Yeah," Paul grumbled. "Nick, that's Sean, of course, and this is..." He paused, looking over the girls, then his pointing turned into a dismissive wave. "Fuck it, you girls can introduce yourselves, I don't know what to say."

I didn't know what the issue was that Paul had gotten frustrated over... but I didn't care much, either. Sean'd brought girls along, and, in my eyes, they might have averaged about 8 (on a scale of 1-10, not in age, you pervs), which was a pretty good average, even if they were freshmen, which I assumed they were. They had bodies, at least, and weren't afraid to show them off. There were only four of them, for six of us, but still, the night was looking up, especially because I felt pretty confident I'd be able to keep them straight.

You know how I said guys are much easier for me to recognize than girls? It's generally true, but in certain circumstances, everything reverses. Everyday situations, first times I meet someone in a day, guys are easier. Smaller groups, at a party or something, where there aren't people coming and going all the time, and don't have the opportunity to change clothes? Girls are easier. Because on a night out, they dress more distinctively from each other (colors, if nothing else), and usually I can latch on to something like hair color and style, and, even at a distances, tell apart people that I've bothered to take note of. Guys are more likely to dress alike, and you wouldn't believe how many I know that have short dark hair. So, as we were being introduced, I made a mental note of how to recognize all the girls, at a glance. It wasn't very hard... two were dressed up, like they were naturally stylish people, or they thought this was some kind of fancy party, and two had rather casual clothes.

First up was a blonde girl, not platinum blonde but the kind of blonde where in certain lights, looks like a very light brown. Her hair went down to her shoulders, mostly straight, but with a bit of curliness towards the bottom. She introduced herself in a sultry voice, "Hey, I'm Riley." The name was familiar, but not enough to trigger any specific recognition, I figured I'd heard the name in passing from my sister. She was one of the casuals, with a bit of a sporty look to her... I'd almost say tomboy, but far too girly. She looked like one of those girls who have mostly guy friends, sort of looking feminine but in guy-style clothes. She wore jeans, but tight jeans, and a checkered-patterned buttoned shirt, left completely open, over a grey t-shirt.

Next up, was a girl with straight black hair who introduced herself with "M'Karen," which I assumed was her mumbling "I'm Karen" and not that her parents were fans of the X-Men and named her after the M'Kraan crystal (yes, it's a nerdy reference, shut up), and I was pretty sure she was Asian. Asians are even trickier to tell apart than whites (though easier than blacks)... and if you said that you'd be horribly racist, but in my case it's just practicalities... their hair doesn't usually have as much color or style range as whites, and that's 90% of what I look on a first meeting. Hell, sometimes I can't even be sure if someone's Asian (I get them confused for Latino sometimes... that doesn't make sense to most people I've told that to, but my brain's wiring is confusing... I can't remember what facial features makes somebody distinctively Asian, each time I see one I guess that they might be, and I'm maybe 80% accurate), but when there's only one in the group, they're a lock. She had the smallest breasts of the group, but nice legs, and looked dressed up, wearing a shiny white dress with a black belt around the waist. Definitely bangable, I could picture just pulling up her dress and going at it.

In Karen's case, I sort of already knew her, but only second-hand and I didn't realize it until a little later when somebody else mentioned it. She was the younger sister of a girl I knew, Vivi (short for Vivian), who was kind of a wild girl with a school-wide reputation for being easy. Not the easy girl I'd slept with once, although they were friends, a different easy girl, there's more than a few in every school. I actually hooked up with Vivi (just making out and I finger-banged her a little) at a party when we were all sophomores. Had I known of the family connection early on, I don't know, I might have gone after Karen, or maybe I would have shied even further away. Her little sister was, I remembered from the few conversations I'd had with Vivi, supposed to be the 'good girl' of the family, but I guess she was taking a walk on the wild side tonight.

When I finally heard who Karen was related to, I decided that she was why Paul was pissed off, maybe he was still friendly with Vivi and didn't want to risk pissing her off by perving on her little sister. I didn't see Vivi much this year, or at least we didn't interact in such a way that I knew if I saw her. Our class schedules were too different, I think I only had English with her and I didn't even know where she sat. But she was easy to like even aside from the fact that I could finger-bang her at a party. I could easily see her and Paul being in-class friends and maybe even occasional fuckbuddies.

Remember how I said Paul was a vault? That goes for girls too, he's told me he's got some girls he's got that casual, once-in-a-while, no-strings-attached relationship (the kind I envy sometimes but it isn't in me to pull off) with, but has never said who they are. The closest he came was when he suggested a girl that I was considering pursuing might not be a good idea, "because, reasons." He wouldn't admit it, but the look on his face when I put forward that possibility made me think that's what it was. Sometimes him going off with a girl was obvious, of course, but when the girl didn't want it known, he was discreet.

Next up was another girl who seemed to have dressed up for a night on the town rather than a casual get together, but it wasn't the clothes that made the first impression on me. First it was the hair. She had fairly ordinary light brown hair, but it was in pigtails... I think that's still what you call them, but they weren't the braided kind, rather the loose kind, just two bunches of hair, one tied off on each side of her neck, at the bottom of her head. There was also a streak of pink running from the top of her head and down to be tied into one of the bunches, another easy-to-remember indicator, even if it probably was a hair extension that could be removed. She looked good, too. A lot of girls do weird hair styles or colors to compensate for something, but not her, she was very attractive. She had breasts just big enough that I could barely get my whole hands around them, and her ass was maybe a little tiny bit on the big side, but nice and shapely. And, she had a really pretty face. I do notice that in girls... I don't know why it's pretty, but faces still do evoke emotions in me, and in this case, it was a doozy. Once my eyes fell on her, it was just like... there was a spark. I thought, "Okay, here's somebody I connect with." I didn't literally think those exact words, but that was the feeling that came over me, even though we just met and hadn't said a word to each other. It was doubly odd, because, normally her style of dress would put her on the intimidating side of the scale. She had on this tight black skirt that clung to her shapely ass, and a thin white top with spaghetti straps that exposed cleavage. And to top it off, black and white striped stockings going up to just above her knee. I think they're called kneesocks. Anyway, they left an alluring strip of bare skin between the bottom of her skirt and the top of the socks, and the pattern just drew attention to it. I'd never lose her in the crowd, with those.

Not that I wouldn't do anything to a girl like that (I'd do it very, very hard!), but I'd want a good signal that being flirty and sexually in-your-face wasn't just part of her personality, and that she really was in to me. Some girls are like that, you know, they look slutty, maybe even act like they might do you if only you ask right, but really, they're too chicken to go all the way, or they're just doing it for the attention and pull out the "I have a boyfriend, sorry" the moment you make an unambiguous move. I hate that. And then there's the reverse problem, they're too slutty, not the kind of girl you want to date, because you'd be too paranoid she'd be banging your friends on the side, and only good for a one-night roll in the sack. Which is great, at times, but deep down it wasn't what I wanted, it was what I was willing to settle for tonight. But the weird thing here was, I wasn't getting the "I might want to bang her if I never have to talk to her again" feeling from her, I was getting the "this girl has potential" feeling, as crazy as it was. And she seemed to be eying me in particular too, rather than anybody else, although it looked a little wary, like she was intimidated by me. There's a nice change.

When she spoke her name, I got another surprise. "Hi, umm, I'm Clara Pond," she said, lifting her hand to give a little wave. The name wasn't the surprise, although, like Riley, it tugged at the edges of familiarity as somebody my sister might have mentioned. It was her voice, soft, cheerful, and English. As in a strong English accent. I think I discovered a little inner anglophile in me right there, and most of it was down my pants. "It's nice to meet you all." I played it smooth and just nodded politely.

The last girl was another black-haired one, but she was white, and had the biggest breasts of the lot, so there would be no chance I'd mistake her for Karen, even aside from the fact that she wasn't dressed fancy. She was also the tallest of the bunch, and could pass for our age, maybe, although I noticed her voice was a little squeaky and childish when she introduced herself, as Helen. She wore a sweatshirt and yoga pants, you know those black stretchy ones that outline the shape of the ass perfectly? I love those things. You could even see the upper strap of a the pink thong she wore underneath, peeking out the top, whenever her movements made her sweatshirt pull up a little. If only she had the ass to really pull it off. I'm being a little harsh, it was a fine ass, it just wasn't perfect.

"So, we going in, or what?" Sean asked, looking to Paul, who still seemed to have reservations, but rolled his eyes and brushed past me with an unreadable glance on his way inside.

Chapter Seven:

I followed, as did everyone else. Inside, most of us found a place to sit in the living room. Because I entered first, after Paul, I had to sit down first, and I was hoping to get next to Clara, who'd interested me the most, but instead I sat in the spot that, after everybody else got settled, turned out to be between Karen and Oliver. At least I could look over at Clara regularly without looking like I was unduly focused on her, which I guess I was. She smiled back at me nervously when I first made extended eye contact, and then whispered something to Riley, right beside her. Paul and Sean didn't sit at all. "I just need to have a private word with my buddy Paul here," Sean said, and they started heading up to Paul's room. "Trevor, why don't you get these fine ladies something to drink?"

Trev, who'd already sat down, stood up again and went for the booze, while Sean and Paul disappeared. I knew what was going on down there, or at least part of it.

See, here's the deal with Sean. He's the guy in our social group with the drug connections. Most of us can get booze, and I guess if we really wanted to we could get other drugs as well, but mostly, Sean was our source when we needed a little chemical relaxation, particularly marijuana although he could also get ecstasy and some other stuff... even those ADHD drugs that let people focus for exams.

The thing is, he doesn't want to be known as that guy, even though he IS that guy. For close friends, sure, but when it comes to girls, he prefers to keep clean hands. He had a cousin who got in trouble with a narc who posed as a teenage girl or something, I don't know if that's why, or it's just not wanting to attract the kind of girls who'll beg him for drugs all the time, but whatever the reason, when it's someone he wants to hook up, but doesn't know well, he'll pretend he doesn't have the drugs, he's not supplying anything, he just knows where there's a gathering of friends, where drugs will be. As if by magic. All he does is bring along an invitation to the party. It's weird, but we indulge him, especially because he brings girls from time to time, not just for himself, but for others, too, like tonight. So, if I had to guess, I'd have guessed what was happening with Paul was that Sean was giving him some weed so that when it came time to smoke, Paul would have it.

Trevor in the meantime took drink requests, which ranged a bit, most girls started pretty light, with some kind of booze mixed with some kind of non-booze like my Rum and Coke (I think you should still call it that even if you use Pepsi), or like a wine cooler type thing, one of those sugary drinks with booze built in. I can't recall everything everybody drank, though I remember Riley took a beer and Clara had one of the wine cooler things, though Trevor teased her a little, asking if she was sure several times and telling her she didn't have to, until she finally grabbed it out of his hands. Those of us who needed a refill also took that opportunity... I took one, although this one I added mostly Pepsi.

When Sean and Paul came out, then, Paul looked distinctly grumpy. Sean looked... well, not upset, but like he'd just been given something to think about, but put on a half-smile as soon as he returned to the room. Paul also masked whatever was bothering him, and I soon forgot it.

Riley piped up then. "So, I couldn't help but notice that poker table setup." She took a swig of her beer and grinned. "You didn't invite us here just to try to get us to play Strip Poker, did you?" Most of her friends laughed, but I thought there was a little bit of nervousness in some of them, like they came to hang out with a bunch of guys for some drinks and weed but didn't expect it to get sexual at all. Kind of naive.

Not that we were going to force anything. Sometimes I think maybe it's a bit sketchy to be giving alcohol and drugs to freshmen and hitting on them, but, we're not dicks about it. We've heard about way worse things happening in our own school, and... well, there was some serious shit going down in another nearby school a couple years back. We have rules. I mean, it's not a system or anything, we don't do this every week, it's maybe a couple times a year at most, but people say guys don't have standards, and we do, whether we're doing one of these nights, or we're at a party elsewhere. We never pressure a girl into anything, even drinking, won't tolerate anything scummy like slipping date rape drugs in a drink, and never do anything with a girl who's too drunk to say she wants it, and no cameras or anything that'll ruin a girl's reputation after. We're not white knights, either... this isn't just about protecting the girls, it also protects us... guys who do that kind of shit are plain stupid. A girl who has regrets the next day is less likely to screw our lives over if she feels like it was her choice every step, and that if she makes a public fuss her reputation will come out worse than if she just shut up and pretended it didn't happen.

Besides, we never do anything that bad, and it is their choice every step of the way, in my mind at least. We're not evil. At most, we just provide a little social lubrication, at the girl's request and, when the time is right, make an advance on someone we find attractive, just as men and women have been doing at parties and bars for centuries. Some of us might be more interested in one night of fun than anything long term, but I think the girls sense that we're not going to hurt anything but their hearts. I think it's part of why they come to us, there are harder partiers, but with us, it's a little not-too-dangerous walk on the wild side, where they test their limits before deciding to move on to more wild groups, or retreat to being mostly good girls again (and sometimes get the urge for another wild night every few weeks or months). That's who Sean goes for, the girls on the cusp. When they're freshmen, sometimes they're even virgins, and if they're not interested in changing that, they even leave that way.

That said, Strip Poker can be a lot of fun, and we have done that with girls before. And since we're used to the subtleties of playing with Blue-Balled Jack, we usually have the advantage. But you don't lead with Strip Poker, you introduce it after a few drinks. "Nah, we were just playing for money earlier," Paul said, and sat down in the easy chair that everybody had avoided before, partly because sitting there meant not sitting next to a girl.

"Of course, if you wanted to play Strip Poker..." Sean asked, raising his voice as the suggestion trailed off and leaving the obvious unsaid.

"Whoah, moving a little fast there, aren't you, cowboy?" Clara said in that adorable accent, with a little smirk, like she wasn't totally opposed to the idea, just didn't want to jump right into it. "Most of us just met you guys."

"Best way to play it. Great way to get to know somebody. I don't know why you're so body shy... if I had your body, I'd be getting naked all the time." Sean grinned, and added, "Hell, if you want us naked, we don't even need the poker..." To demonstrate this, he pulled up one side of shirt, past his nipple, and then slid his other hand up his bare skin in a parody of sensuality. "Of course, the poker makes it more fun."

Paul had a grumpy look on his face. "We're not playing Strip Poker," he muttered.

"Okay, maybe Paul's a bit body-shy." He slapped Paul on the shoulder. "Dude, you should show them your scars." Paul frowned a little more, like he thought Sean was being a douche, which he was, especially when, without asking, Sean leaned over and pulled Paul's tank top to the side.

The scars weren't horrible Freddy Kreuger type things, but they are visible, just like if a 3D map of a terrain on his skin suddenly went from plains to hilly country. It ran just above his left nipple, spreading up to his shoulder and towards the neck, although getting less severe the farther you got. There wasn't even much discoloration, although he told me once that he can't grow hair there so he shaves everywhere to keep it even... but then, I shave my chest area just to look smooth, which is more popular, so, that's not really a big deal.

Everyone except Clara seemed to lean forward to look, and Helen actually got off her seat to see up close. "Wow. How did that happen?" she asked.

Sean patted Paul on the shoulder. "See, Paul here was trying to fuck a Hot Pocket... and when he shoved it in, it exploded all over his chest." I guess my inside joke earlier did wind up needing explanation after all. Paul came up with the story for the scars as a joke, and used it among the guys, and "fucking a Hot Pocket" became a shorthand for either doing something stupid and bizarre, or anything we didn't want to give the full details on... you just covered it with a joke, that you went and fucked a Hot Pocket. Or it became a default joke that was used whenever Hot Pockets appeared in conversation in any context. Mention you'd had one for lunch, and you could count on somebody asking if you fucked it. Stupid, but we're teenagers, it's our God-given right to be stupid.

But that story was among us guys, among friends. It's less cool when somebody like Sean uses it on people you just met, especially girls, even if it got a nervous laugh. Paul shook his shoulder, knocking Sean's hand away and letting his shirt cover the wound, and explained, somberly, "I was in a fire when I was a kid. My mom died." Paul's told me that's a little manipulation, dropping the 'mom dying' bomb like that, that it gets girls to think he's deep and sensitive, even troubled... and it's so much easier to nail 'em later, but he always seems genuinely bothered by it, and sometimes I wonder if it really does bring up bad memories.

In my case, there really are no bad memories associated with my condition, or what led up to it. I got sick, and came out of it changed, but I can't even remember it, or really, what it was like before. Paul doesn't have any memories of the fire itself, but he has a lot of ones where his mom wasn't around. That's gotta stick with you, right?

Paul's confession got an 'awww' from the girls, and Helen looked a little guilty over getting too close a look and, while she sat back down, said, "I'm sorry."

He shrugged, looked dark and brooding for a moment, and then forced on a smile. "Anyway, since most of us just met, how about a classic 'get-to-know-you' game? We'll play 'I never.'"

Chapter Eight:

The game didn't need explaining to any of us, but maybe you've never played or heard of 'I never.' It's a simple game. Everyone takes a turn, says "I never went skydiving" or something, and anyone who has gone skydiving, you take a drink... or maybe give up a candy or something if you're playing as kids or Mormons.

"You're just trying to get us drunk," Riley shrewdly observed, although with the grin plastered on her face she didn't seem too put out.

"Nobody said you had to get drunk," Paul said. "In fact, if you want to play with fruit juice you're welcome to."

"Or you could strip for every I-never," Trevor suggested.

Paul ignored him. "Anyway, I'll start. I've never... " He thought about it for a few seconds before coming up with, "pleasured myself in class."

I snorted a little.. that was a dig at Sean. Paul must have been pissed at Sean showing off his scars, he usually wouldn't go there. It wasn't technically a secret, of course, even though Sean didn't get caught by the teacher. Nor was Paul technically revealing it. Sean revealed it by taking a drink.

The big surprise was Helen who, red-faced, took a drink of her own, and the jaws of her friends dropped. "Oh, you all are a bunch of liars," she accused among her friends. I don't think anybody but me noticed Oliver drinking quickly while most of our attention was focused on the girls.

"You... touched yourself in class?" Karen asked.

"No, of course not. He didn't say 'touch yourself.'" She uncrossed her legs and put them together, and, in the tight yoga pants, we could see her thighs jiggling as she flexed and released muscles. I could imagine her pussy lips sliding together with every movement, providing a friction that might go unnoticed if you were wearing something like jeans. In her yoga-pants, though, it would be harder to hide. "Not one of you will admit it? You're just going to leave me all alone?" Finally Clara took a sip, also red-faced, and then covered her eyes like that would somehow prevent herself from being seen. "Thank you! You other two are liars." The last word she drew out, making each syllable comically long.

"Am not," Karen insisted. "I've never even considered doing that." Although, from the trace of wonder in her voice, I had to wonder if that was just due to a lack of imagination.

"I've never done it in class," Riley said, putting a stress on the last two words implying she was familiar enough with the trick, and just happened to never need to do it in the middle of a class. Technicalities count in the game. "So no drink for me. Who's next?"

Trevor took the initiative. "I'll go. I never had a threesome." Riley and Helen both drank on that. Well, that escalated quickly. Normally we don't even get many drinks from our previous last virgin standing, Brian (who lost it sometime during the Christmas break, so I guess he couldn't ask the question). Paul and Sean also drank, but nobody was interested in that.

"So, uh..." Oliver asked. "Was that a threesome with two guys, or..."

"Don't you know the rules of 'I never?'" Riley teased. "You don't have to give explanations." I've played a version where you DID have to explain, actually, but we were willing to let it slide. Of course, if Helen and Riley were friends, it was a reasonable assumption that they were two prongs of the threesome. That was pretty hot to visualize, much hotter than to picture her with two guys. "Even asking means you should go next."

Oliver shrugged. "I've never played strip poker."

All of us guys drank, save Oliver himself. Of the girls, only Riley. Oliver demanded one of the girls go, and they looked among themselves, deciding. Karen spoke up, saying, "I've never even tried pot."

After we drank (I think everybody drank on that one, except Karen herself), somebody pointed out, "Wait... you've never tried pot, and I don't think you've drunk on any of the questions... are you sure you're Vivi's little sister?"

Her face twisted up in a sneer. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, just she's so... adventurous."

"I'm adventurous too... I just never tried it yet, but I heard we were going to tonight." She put her drink down on the table folded her arms in a pout and said, "My sister just tries to shelter me, even against stuff she does all the time."

I was still a step or two behind. "Wait, you're... Vivi's sister?" That's when things started to click and Paul's odd behavior started to make sense to me. He didn't want to be responsible for corrupting Vivi's innocent little sister. Fucking freshmen is fine until there's a personal connection.

"Yeah, couldn't you tell? I mean..." Then she must have realized who I was, because she stopped suddenly. "Oh, right." Even if they looked exactly alike (I guess they're damn close), I wouldn't know it.

"Who's Vivi?" Oliver asked. He didn't go to our school, or any school. It was hard for me to imagine being homeschooled, and not being able to benefit from the gossip of knowing who the slutty students were, or who had eyes for you.

"My sister," Karen said, and Oliver made a face, sort of an eyeroll, like he'd got that part already. "Believe me, having a sibling in school sucks. Right?" She looked towards the girls, who said nothing. Maybe they were communicating telepathically.

"It's not that bad," I said, and then remembered a question I should probably have asked before. "Hey, you guys know my sister, Sarah?" I didn't really want my behavior getting back to her.

More telepathic consultation among the girls, conducted in looks, but Clara said, "Yeah, we know her."

"What, you don't like her?"

"No," Helen said. "Sarah's great."

I chewed over the thought of asking them not to tell her, but decided not to. Girls talk, and me telling them not to is only going to make them think they need to talk more. So I let it drop, and eventually, Riley said, "My turn. I never had sex in the school bathroom."

"Bitch," Helen said, and took a sip. Sean did too. She was in the mood for revenge, and immediately said, with a huge smile on her face, "I never masturbated on camera for a stranger."

Riley laughed and, for the first time for her, blushed a little, and took a drink. Karen and Clara both obviously thought that was a revelation about their friend, but didn't drink. After a second, Paul drank. "Dude, what?" Bri asked.

"Omegle, man. Don't judge me, she was hot."

Shit, I didn't think I had to drink, but I'd forgotten about that site. Paul never told me he'd done that, but he gave me the link years ago, and I'd done the same thing. More embarrassing, in my case, I'm pretty sure it was just a video of a girl. And I guess others must have had similar experiences, or recalled some other cybersex encounter with a stranger, because pretty much every other guy drank at about the same time.

I don't know if it was all of us, because Clara shook her head and said, "Really?" Now I wanted to blush, especially since she seemed to be looking right at me, at least for a second, before settling back into her seat and joking with her friends. "Well, now we know where all the dicks on those sites come from."

"We're all around you," Trevor said in kind of a creepy, whispery voice like you might hear in some kind of horror movie. At least I think it was Trevor. By that time, I'd been drinking enough, quickly enough, that, although I was perfectly functional, my memory of exactly who said what can be a little iffy. "You're up, Bri."

He looked at his glass, thinking. "I have never... performed oral sex."

"Objection," Trevor said, pointing. "I just find that unbelievable. Not even on a guy? Really, Bri? Really?"

Brian turned socked him once in the stomach, not terribly hard, but enough to wipe the smile off Trevor's face and turn it into an oval of pain. "Fuck you."

"No thanks... especially if you can't even give a good blowjob."

I actually don't know for sure who drank at the oral sex question. I know I did, of course. And I was still frequently checking out Clara, who also did. Riley did, and she's part of the reason I didn't notice anybody else. She put her beer bottle to her mouth and licked around the edge, then wrapped her lips around the top, far deeper than somebody normally would, and took a big gulp. A little whorish, but I can't deny, it was a performance that made my dick stand up and salute.

"I guess it's just you," Helen said, looking at Clara. For a second I thought she meant blowjobs, but it was about the next round of the game.

She shook her head. "No, he hasn't done it either," and pointed at me. "I need some more time to think..."

Chapter Nine:

"Don't be a wimp," Helen said. "We all went."

I jumped in with, "It's okay." I just felt an impulse to make things easy for her, that one little bit, even just enough to give her a little more thinking time. "I'll go first." And then I realized that I didn't know exactly what I was going to say, either. This kind of game, to play strategically, you should always venture something where you want to find out the answers of other people, without giving away something embarrassing about yourself. Sometimes you want to know what sexual things people have done, so you know what they're probably up for in the future. At other times, you want to know something a little deeper, about what kind of person they are. So, it came to me... "I never cheated on someone I was dating." It was kind of a dealbreaker for a relationship, I wouldn't go out with a girl who'd cheated. I might have sex with her, although never if I knew she was actually with somebody at the time. It was a bit heavy for this kind of game, but not out of bounds, and, I suppose just by asking the question, I was thinking of one of these girls as potential relationship material. The one I couldn't stop looking at, Clara.

"Objection," Trevor said immediately, pointing at me. "What about Halloween?"

"Fuck Halloween," I said, meaning that in more ways than one.

"Halloween?" Clara asked.

"You were dating Alexandra," Trevor said.

"Yeah, but it wasn't cheating. I didn't kiss her, she kissed me."

Helen shook her head. "That's what they all say."

Karen turned to me, tilted her head and asked, "What happened?"

"Yeah," Riley said, leaning forward. "We'll decide if it was cheating. A jury of your ex's peers."

"It's no big deal," I explained. Halloween's always a bitch for me, with my condition. Too many people wearing too-similar costumes, and very different from their normal looks, so I can hardly tell anybody apart. So, Fuck Halloween, on general principle. "Last Halloween, I was at a party." With at least 5 girls wearing practically the exact same costume. Pirates, which was weird because it wasn't like there was a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie or anything that would explain so many. "I was actually looking for my girlfriend... my girlfriend at the time, she's my ex now." I wanted to make sure they all knew I was single right now and thus available for a hookup, or more. "Anyway, I was walking down a hall, and this drunk girl walked past, and we were alone, and she threw me up against the wall and kissed me." It was one of those girls in the pirate costume. And I could tell she was drunk because when she stuck her tongue in my mouth, I could taste it on her breath. "And then she moved on and I moved on. I never asked for it, I didn't really do anything, and to this day, I have no idea who it was. She probably just thought I was somebody else." Or she didn't remember. Either way, whoever it was never approached me about it later. I couldn't exactly go inquiring, either, as I was dating Alexandra at the time. I always assumed it was one of her friends who was too ashamed to admit it. The memory, even all these months later, provoked a wistful smile in me. "It was a pretty good kiss, though." Enough to make an impression. And I probably let it linger a little too long, and maybe let my hands linger on her butt for a few seconds, but I wouldn't have let it go any farther. Probably. I didn't consider it cheating.

"That doesn't sound too bad," Karen said. "But did you tell your girlfriend?"

"No," I admitted. Maybe I should have. It only would have pissed her off. I didn't even mention it to my friends until much later for fear she might find out, and I deliberately told them I didn't remember what costume she wore, so they wouldn't go suggesting names and get me looking in places I shouldn't. I think half of fidelity is keeping temptation away from yourself. "But she's gotten angry at me because I didn't say hello to her in the halls. When I couldn't even tell it was her. She wouldn't have believed that I had no idea who kissed me." I thought I loved her at the time, but she wasn't that bright, and she never quite 'got' me.

"I don't think it counts as cheating," Riley said. "It was just a random, drunken kiss."

Vindication. "Thank you."

She wasn't the only vote. Karen thought it was cheating, if I hid it from my girlfriend. Clara said she was on the fence, but Helen agreed it was close, but not cheating. One for, two against, one abstain, that counted as a win to me. "Okay," I said, and repeated my turn to see the answers. "I've never cheated on somebody I was dating, aside from an arguable incident where somebody I didn't even recognize kissed me."

I felt an unexpectedly large surge of relief as I saw Clara didn't drink, but I was so focused on her I didn't really notice anybody else's answers. Paul I'm pretty sure didn't, but then he didn't "date." Bri only ever had any action with two girls and they didn't overlap. I've got a strong feeling Sean has cheated, although I'm not sure, and I don't know if he drank. I'm also sure Sean would lie about it, he plays the "love" card when hitting on girls he just wants to fuck and leave, so telling them he's a cheater would work against his interests. Of the girls, I saw Riley drink, because she was close enough to Clara, but that's all I noticed.

"Okay, Clara..." Riley said, drawing out her name like a taunt. "You're up."

"All right... well, this is a little embarrassing, but, I can't think of anything else, so... I've never actually had... it. Sex." There was a surprise, with the way she was dressed. I guess she really was the tease-type. Or determined to lose her cherry tonight.

"I think you win the round, girl," Trevor said, after all the drinks had been taken. "Clean sweep, everybody drank. Even Brian." Nobody brought up or noticed that only Karen hadn't tried pot. Or maybe I just missed somebody not drinking.

"Really. I didn't think I'd be the ONLY one." She looked at Karen, who she must have assumed was a lock, but Karen seemed like she had suddenly become intensely interested in a spot on her knee, like there was an invisible pixie there.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Paul said, taking a second drink, like he was a double-not-virgin. "It's a good thing, actually. You're only fourteen. We're probably not a representative crowd."

"Easy to fix, though..." Sean winked.

Paul rolled his eyes, and said in a light, warning tone, "Sean, don't be an ass."

"It really is not that odd," I jumped in, wanting to make her feel less awkward, despite the fact that I also wanted to bang her. "Only something like 15% at your age have had sex." And then I instantly regretted saying it. Yeah, I'm the kind of geek who looks that sort of thing up. I'm usually smart enough not to bring it up, though. I wasn't sure I trusted the statistic, either... for the guys it seemed right, but for the girls it seemed low. Or maybe they all talked a good game, pretended to be more experienced than they were.

"So, what, you're saying we're the school sluts?" Riley asked. But she didn't seem to be too offended.

"No," I said. "I'm not judging at all. It's not a sin or anything. It means less than you think, whether you have or not, it's just... a fact. Having had sex doesn't make you a slut, and being a virgin doesn't make you innocent. It's way more complicated than that." I was going to try and say something about somebody could have fucked a thousand guys and then decide to not do it again until she really cared, and that second choice is just as important to who she is... but I was starting to feel self-conscious that I was talking too much, and rambling, so I tried to wrap it up. "Black and whites are for stories, you know? People try to force them way too much in the real world. The real world's usually a little grey. As long as you're not hurting anybody, it's just a matter of how you choose to live." That's why cheating was a dealbreaker, because you were choosing to hurt somebody. But just having sex too young is only about finding some pleasure and maybe choosing to reject what society says is good for you. And that should be your right, if it doesn't hurt anybody.

"Yeah," Trevor said. "Like, the whole 'drugs are bad' thing they lay on you at school. They're not so bad, they can be good."

"In moderation," I agreed. "Nothing wrong with some recreational chemicals as long as you don't go overboard." And even if you do, that's more stupid than evil.

"Speaking of..." Riley said. "Are we going to get this party started, or what?"

Chapter Ten:

"That's up to Paul here," Sean said. "What do you say, you feel like sharing with our new friends here?"

He stared into his drink, like he wasn't sure, then said, "Fuck it... those who want to, follow me upstairs."

"Upstairs?" Karen asked. "Why not here..."

Paul pushed himself to his feet. He was a big guy and so it always seemed like he moved slower than everyone else. "Because not everyone's partaking, and I don't want the smell all over my Dad's furniture."

I stayed put, sticking to my earlier decision, although I was tempted. Brian, who tried pot once and swore it off, took the opportunity to go to the bathroom. Oliver also stuck around. But everybody else headed upstairs, so that just left me with this guy I'd just met and barely knew. Great. One more reason I wish I could get high.

"Hey, Nick," he whispered. "You mind switching seats with me? I'd like to be sitting next to Karen when they come back."

"No," I said, not even considering it. "I'm not sitting off on the end." I might not be focused on Karen, but having her bare legs next to mine to look at every time I looked down didn't suck. Besides, I was comfortable.

"Come on, man."

"You can move somewhere else if you want, nobody'll notice if you moved while it's empty."

"Yeah, but then it'll look like I was trying to sit next to somebody." I shrugged, not really caring. After a few seconds he said, "So, what do you think about that Claire girl? You like her?"

What I didn't like was discussing this thing with somebody I barely knew. I had no idea if he'd be cool about it or ineptly try to 'help' and wind up cockblocking me. So I shrugged and stayed noncommittal, after correcting him about her name. "Clara. And they're all pretty hot."

"You should totally make a move for her, I can tell, she's into you."

"Really?" I was betraying myself a little, the excitement in my voice revealing my interest. I wasn't 100% sure what she thought about me, I did see her looking my way a lot, but I also was starting to think maybe she was into Sean.

"Absolutely. Every once in a while, she looks right at you, for no reason. She wants your dick, man. Get her alone and I'm sure you'll be fucking her."

"She's a virgin, dumbass."

"She wouldn't be here if she planned on staying that way, right?" I rolled my eyes. Just because a girl goes to a house with a group of guys doesn't mean she's planning on fucking somebody. But I didn't say anything, first because I liked to play with the fantasy, and a few moments later because two people started tromping down the stairs. A beautiful girl, and I immediately noticed the striped stockings which proved it was the object of the fantasy I'd just been playing with, Clara. Another girl in a white dress followed shortly behind, probably Asian but maybe Hispanic, who had to have been Karen.

"Something wrong?" I asked as they sat back down. Clara sat in the same seat she was in before, Karen, due to the extra free space, slid a spot away from me, which was a decent enough signal she wasn't all that into me.

"No," Clara said, but there was a hint of bitterness there. "I can't smoke. I, uh, am on some medication, for, like, this surgery I had. And I just remembered that they're probably going to drug-test me for tennis next week so I'd better be safe."

"Right," Karen said. "And I just figured, I don't have to do it right away."

Clara looked at me. "What about you, do you, like, not smoke pot?"

"Once in a while," I admitted. "But I'm sitting it out tonight. Moderation, you know?" I flashed a smile. "Besides, it kind of messes me up a little more than most people, so I only do it with someone I really trust."

"You don't trust us?"

I flashed a smile. "Well, we just met, but I could probably trust you. It's the other guys I don't trust. Your friends are way more likely to screw you over for a laugh." I was joking, of course, it was more about the sheer numbers than any mistrust of my friends, but it was generally true. Who else but your friend would draw a penis on your head when you're passed out drunk? Not that it ever happened to me. But for about two days, I could recognize Trevor at a glance! Thanks, Mike.

Oliver stood up, poured himself another drink, and then sat down... not in his old seat beside me, but in the now empty space next to Karen, although he gave her a decent amount of personal space. "Me, I'd smoke, but it just makes me really sleepy, and, I don't know, I kind of don't want to sleep through tonight."

"It affects different people in different ways," I pointed out. I could see Brian returning from the hallway to the bathroom... at least I assumed it was him, it was either that or some intruder knocked him out and stole his clothes. "Brian gets really, really paranoid." At least, he did the one time he tried it, and after that joined me in sitting it out.

"What? Are you guys talking about me behind my back? What are you planning? Who sent you?" Brian said, in a deadpan tone, spoken rapidly like an actual paranoid, and I snorted a little in laughter. Brian was a little like me, in big groups he sort of melted away in the background and didn't say much, letting others carry the conversation. But although he was probably shyer than me, he wasn't a total wallflower, and seemed more comfortable now that there were only five of us.

I was too, although I was also nervous. It might be my best chance to get to know Clara, make an impression on her. If I didn't screw it up.

Chapter Eleven:

We moved off of drugs, and started talking about the topic most of us had in common, except Oliver, school. Things like who had what teacher for which classes, local gossip, and so on. As it turned out, Clara, Karen, and I all had the same English teacher, which put them with my sister. "And Vivi's in my class too," I realized, making yet another family connection between us.

"How's she doing?" Karen asked.

"I don't know," I said. "It's not something I can easily tell." I sometimes see somebody walking out disgusted with a mark on an essay or test, but I usually have no idea who it was with that reaction. "I don't think she speaks up much in discussions, but to be honest, I don't usually pay much attention in that class."

"Really?" Karen asked. "Because Sarah always gets compared to you." She exchanged a look with Clara.

"She does?"

"Yeah," Clara said. "The teacher's always saying to her, 'you should be more like your brother'."

I didn't like that. "What, she's not doing so good?" This was news to me. I'd always thought my sister got pretty good grades, especially in English. She at least might have ended that question with 'well.'

"No, she's doing fine," Karen said.

"But you're a pretty high bar," Clara added.

"It's all illusion. My teacher just thinks I'm deep and mysterious and with 'a unique perspective' because of my condition." I rolled my eyes in an attempt to show how ridiculous I found the idea. "Sometimes your own preconceptions affect how you see people forever, you know? She already decided long ago that I was great, and so even if I half-ass an assignment, she thinks it's brilliant. I'm just sorry Sarah gets the short end of the stick."

"You get along with your sister, then?" Clara asked.

"Of course."

"You like her, as a person?" I nodded. "If you weren't related, do you think you'd... you know, be friends?"

I thought about that one for a couple seconds... It's a harder question than you'd think because, even though we got along, there were lots of people I got along with that I can't call friends, just because we hadn't hung out enough. And how much of our relationship is built solely on the shared history? But maybe I was just overthinking it. "I think so," I said. "I mean, we're a couple years apart in age, so who knows if we'd ever even meet. But I like spending time with her now, and we've got enough in common that if we weren't related, that would still be true." I didn't mention specifics... I knew Sarah sometimes hid her reading-for-pleasure and some of her other geeky interests from all but her closest friends. I think girls have it harder than guys, like there's a stupid preconception that a girl who had brainy interests couldn't be fun. "Why?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I just wonder, sometimes, things like that. It's like you said, your preconceptions affect how you see people. Karen doesn't think she would be friends with her sister."

I turned to her. "No?"

"My sister and I love each other," Karen insisted. "But most of the time when we're doing something together, it feels like she's just pretending to want to be there, like, to be polite or whatever. She'd rather be somewhere else, and if we weren't sisters, she would be."

"Huh." I didn't know what to say to that.

"I hate my brother," Brian said suddenly. "Best day of my life was when he went off to college."

I didn't know what to say to that, either, although in Brian's case, I knew the history. His brother was like a parody of an alpha male type and constantly made fun of him, not in the light way friends do, but meanly, and it got worse than that... sometimes Brian would come to school with bruises because his brother got in a bad mood over something. That story wasn't good party conversation, so I tried to steer it away. "Well, I guess I'm pretty lucky with Sarah." Though I suppose she could have secretly hated me. "I mean sure, we get on each other's nerves from time to time, but these guys get on my nerves sometimes too." I nodded upwards, to indicate the rest of my friends who were upstairs.

Oliver slid a little closer to Karen. "You know, you don't need to waste your time on people who are only pretending to like you, I'm sure you can find plenty who actually do..."

"Uh-huh," she said, and gave a look around, like she was searching for a little help, and then stood up and asked where the bathroom was.

Brian told her. I also got up, not to the bathroom, but I refreshed my drink, this time with no rum in it since I'd be driving home, and I also grabbed some snacks. The conversation continued, a little stilted, and stopped entirely a bit to watch some of the television, which was on mute while the music played, but the cartoon (Adventure Time, I think it's called) seemed to go with it, in a weird way. At least that's why I watched, maybe the others didn't think that and just liked the surreal simplistic cartoon action. You don't have to be high to enjoy that, it just helps.

But it wasn't long before the five upstairs came back down to join us, and I realized I'd blown my first chance to make a connection, just wasted it talking about school and my family, and, even when all Clara's friends were gone, I found I didn't know how to start a new conversation that might lead somewhere. It happens to me sometimes... probably happens to everybody. I am better in smaller groups, but sometimes I just choke. Actually, it's not so much choke as tell myself not to push things, there's always time... and then time runs out, like it just had. Now the others were back, laughing at some joke they must have made before the door opened, and we were back to a much bigger group. And that's also when the night seemed to take a turn.

Chapter Twelve:

The thing about being at a social gathering full of high people isn't just that they change topics on a dime, or laugh at the stupidest things, or that they can't remember everything they did or talked about... it's that the attitude is a little infectious, even if you didn't inhale any of the smoke yourself. It's what they call a 'contact high.' And it's harder to resist when you're a little buzzed from alcohol yourself. So here's where my narrative gets a little bit fuzzy, because my memory gets a bit fuzzy. Even if it wasn't, it'd still be hard to set down, because we didn't have one conversation, we had dozens, splitting off and moving around and occasionally joining together like the blobs in the lava lamp thing Paul has in his room (which, by the way, is also awesome while high).

What I can tell you are individual details, some of which matter, some of which don't. The order of this is only loosely chronological, and with huge gaps in between.

Karen threw up, but she made it to the bathroom, and was a trooper, she didn't want to go home, she just came right back to hang, although I think it was a while before she drank alcohol again. I'm about 50-50 about whether she actually threw up at all or just used that as an excuse to get away from Oliver who seemed to be hovering around her again.

Paul became the first of us to unambiguously lay claim on a girl, or rather the reverse, when Helen got up to put her empty drink away and then on the way back 'fell' onto his chair, into his lap. He grinded against her a little and his hands cupped around her breasts briefly, but she wasn't offended, she just laughed, and although she got off him then, she would, for the rest of the night, often be sitting right beside him or occasionally back on his lap. He looked happier, but still seemed intermittently grumpy throughout the night.

The prospect of pizza was brought up, toppings were debated thoroughly, then it was ordered, and about half an hour later, it came. The guys chipped in, the girls got free pizza just like they'd got free drinks. Way of the world, my friends.

There was an impromptu dance session when a song all the girls liked came on. Us guys mostly sat in on the outskirts and watched appreciatively, although towards the end Sean and Trevor tried to join in, and spoiled our view. But it was fun watching the girls dance up close to each other, playing on the subconscious appeal of implied girl-on-girl action that such close movement provides. There was even a sensual moment where the hands of one girl trailing up and down the legs of another. I'm pretty sure it was Riley and Helen and think it was Helen who got her legs stroked, but again, the memory is fuzzy.

Everyone started discussing the movies they were most looking forward to... it was still spring but the summer movie season was gearing up, and everyone who watched TV had seen a lot of commercials. I felt pretty left out, because there weren't any I was interested in. The last time I went to a movie was when I took my little sister to see Catching Fire... despite my hatred for adaptations, she wanted to go and I was feeling nice. At least she whispered the names of the people on screen when she thought I might not know.

We also somehow had a conversation about animals, which culminated in one of the girls telling a story about going to the zoo and seeing some chimps (or maybe gorillas, I can't remember) masturbating, and then eating it afterwards. A moment hung in the air, and then Brian said, "Just like you, Trev!" and it looked like Trevor was about to say the exact same thing about Brian, but didn't get it out in time.

There was a second round of pot-smoking. This time, Karen went up, despite her earlier refusal, and her earlier throwing up. So did Oliver. Clara stayed down, and Bri as usual, so this time there were just the three of us. I wanted to take the opportunity to chat with Clara, and did, a little, but just before everybody left, we started up the Playstation and did ModNation Racers, and interested people had been switching off playing rounds, two at once (more connected to multiplayer). Clara hadn't played yet, but when everybody went off, she grabbed the controller. Bri played her first, and then I sat beside her and we played a round, and I tried to think of something to say to make me look clever or attractive or something, but being close enough to bump knees together repeatedly (she sat cross-legged), I guess I choked again, lost my nerve, and mostly I just stuck to commenting on the game, except when Clara mentioned Oliver was kind of creeping Karen out, and asked what his deal was. I didn't want to bring up his deviant porn collection (at this point I'd decided it was probably Japanese cartoon porn, which didn't rule out the dickgirl theory), so I just said that I didn't really know him at all. "I think he just likes her," I said. "But if you want, I'll have a word with him, tell him to lay off."

I did not want to do that, and luckily, she said, "That's okay. As long as he doesn't get too handsy." And then the race ended. Neither of us won, some guy with a German-sounding name did, but Clara came ahead of me. I'd like to say I let her win, but she straight up beat me... I can honestly say I was not at my best, though... my mind wasn't on the game, too often I was trying to very subtly check on the exact extent her bare legs were poking out from her skirt.

The pot smokers came back downstairs, with more laughing and giggling, particularly Karen who seemed to think everything was just the funniest thing ever. We stopped playing games for a while to return to our seats, a few people got drink refills, and Karen whispered, but loud enough for everybody to hear, "Riley, your pants."

My eyes flew to her crotch just as she looked down and zipped up, and buttoned up. She was totally open, and her black thong panties were visible, but just for a second... the second was long enough to wonder why. It looked like she'd forgotten to do them up, but from what? Did they convince the girl who masturbated on camera to a stranger to put on a repeat performance in front of a crowd? It wasn't the first time something like that had happened, some girls go wild on pot, plenty flash, and we've seen two girls make out.

Realistically, probably she just flashed her panties, but the thought of her pulling them aside made me hold my glass in my lap to help conceal my boner. Fuck I was horny, but the only girl I was especially interested in, and the only girl that I'd previously imagined I'd had a shot with... more and more, I was beginning to suspect wasn't into me at all.

It had started just as a seed of doubt, that maybe she was paying one person a little more attention than the others, and then kicked into high gear with Riley's panties. Not them, but the sort of grumpy glare that appeared on Clara's face as her mind must have gone through some of the same possibilities I had, that her friend had flashed the guys upstairs, to some degree. But she didn't seem aroused, she seemed suspicious, maybe jealous.

Obviously, it wasn't jealousy over me, I wasn't there when it happened. If Riley and Clara were a couple, then I was definitely barking up the wrong tree. So I watched. And what I noticed was that Clara was watching too... again, not me, but Riley, and specifically Riley and Sean. Whenever they talked, Clara's eyes narrowed and her chin set. I'm taking some poetic license there, I don't remember if that's exactly what happened to her face, but that's how I think somebody would describe the feeling I got off her face and body language, were they writing a story. And Riley and Sean talked a lot, and touched a lot, casual, light, flirty touches, nothing as overt as Helen dropping in Paul's lap and remaining close to him (at this point in the night, he had his arm lightly around her).

When Riley talked to one of the other guys, Clara didn't have that reaction, and she also seemed to make frequent attempts to get Sean's attention on her... nothing as daring as showing off her body, but addressing him directly, and getting frustrated when he ignored her or only gave a quick answer before his attention went away again, and it soon became impossible to deny... Clara had her eyes on Sean, not Riley, not me. I was misreading her the whole time. Maybe I was shit at reading people.

Chapter Thirteen:

There's a song, by Eric Hutchinson, "Watching You Watch Him." I fucking hate that song, because it's like making a song about getting kicked in the balls... if you've felt it, you sure as hell don't want to be reminded. But that song went through my head that night, as I did just that, watched her focus on Sean. I wished it was a larger party, or I could forget everybody's particular clothes and Vibes, so I could blissfully be unaware of who was talking to who, and just be in a sea of anonymous people, but I couldn't, I might not recognize their faces, but I knew who everybody was. And the worst thing was, I couldn't even feel angry... Clara didn't owe me in anything, we'd barely talked. My heart went out to her, too, because I knew she was probably feeling much what I did, the person she was interested in was clearly into somebody else. I guess in her case it was even worse, because the affection seemed to be returned. Riley and Sean's 'thing' seemed to start pretty slow and casual, but ramped up as the night went on. They broke off to talk in a corner, Clara stewed and drank.

I wanted to drink too, but decided not to... after all, I was probably going to home soon. My night was looking down, and there didn't seem to be much reason to stick around. Riley was into Sean, Clara was into Sean, Helen was into Paul, and Karen... yeah, I guess I could have moved on Karen, if I moved fast enough, she sure didn't like Oliver, so maybe she'd be open to me, but I didn't make that move, and pretty soon she was sidling up to Trevor, and spending her time trying to get closer to him. Trev looked a little guilty at the attention, towards his cousin, but not guilty enough to put her off. That pretty well left me out.

Before I did decide to leave, Clara's frustration built to a boil. She went right up to Sean and Riley, tried to get Sean to go for a walk with her outside, but he shrugged her off, and Clara went off to a bathroom with a drink still in her hand.

At about this time, Paul went upstairs with Helen, not to smoke, but to make out, or fuck, or maybe a blowjob... or if Paul was lucky, anyway, that's what was happening, at the very least, it was some alone time. Then Karen loudly and drunkenly suggested a round of strip poker, which got most of the guys interested until she added, "Just to underwear!" I guess we were still interested at that point, but then she said "Never mind." Maybe she realized she had less to take off than anybody else, or maybe she just chickened out.

Clara returned from the bathroom, and I was standing about having some now-mostly-cold pizza when she was, but I thought maybe I'd go say something to her, only to see her again walk up to Riley and Sean, who were close enough to kiss, but not kissing yet, and try again to talk. This time, she talked to Riley, and managed to drag her off into the kitchen.

I didn't hear most of their conversation, but I did hear Riley say, "I didn't do anything to you! He was never going to be with you anyway!" and, a few seconds later, "Just because you can't have fun doesn't mean I can't." Then one of them came out (she was blonde and had jeans, so she must have been Riley) came out of the kitchen, making a bee-line back for Sean.

When Clara came out, she walked over there and said, "Well, at least loan me your bloody keys."

"No, I'm not giving you my 'bloody keys.' Just sit tight and find something else to do, or slink off back home." To top it off, Riley made a show of grabbing Sean by the shirt and kissing him on the lips, and Clara scowled and turned away.

For a second I thought she looked at me, pleading, and then she went to Karen. "Come on, Karen, let's get a little fresh air."

Karen laughed, a sputtering laugh, like she kept her lips mostly pursed while she exhaled in a rush. "You know, you really sound funny."

"Please, Karen, I want to go..."

Karen squinted one eye and said, "But where are we gonna go? Home?" She said that like it was ridiculous... and maybe it was, when they'd obviously been drinking at least. "Besides, I want to stay, Brian and I are hitting it off..." Brian? Where did that come from? Had I gotten him and Trevor confused? I was pretty sure Brian was the one in the plaid shirt... yes, definitely he was, but maybe earlier in the night I'd got their clothes switched around in my head and didn't do a detailed Vibe check. Or maybe Karen had gotten the names confused... she was pretty drunk. She kept whispering really loudly, as she did on her next words, "We might go make out."

"Well, what am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know, you can have Oliver, if you want."

Clara shook her head, and said, "This is stupid, I'm leaving." She gathered up her things (which pretty much consisted of a handbag and putting her shoes on), and headed for the door. Karen didn't seem to care, she went to talk to both Trevor and Brian, whichever one she was interested in I couldn't tell, she had her back to me.

I jumped a little as Oliver sidled up near me. "Now's your chance," he whispered. "You should go after her, make your move."


"Clara. I would if I were you, but she obviously doesn't want me." He took a swig and drained the last of whatever was in his cup, and grinned. "But you should go for it, man."

"She doesn't want me... she's into Sean, and, I'm not really interested in coming in second place." I did that once, asked out a girl who obviously liked somebody else. It didn't go well. "I don't want to be with a girl who's thinking about somebody else."

"Who cares who she's thinking about if she's banging you? Going after a girl when she's feeling rejected and vulnerable is the best time. Second place is a win if the guy in first place is off in another race."

I rolled my eyes and sat down, but I couldn't get Clara off my mind. A couple minutes later, I peeked out the window, and there was a girl in striped kneesocks, standing at the end of the driveway, illuminated only by a nearby streetlight, texting something on her phone. And I just got a strong feeling that I'd rather be out there with her than where I was. Fuck it, I thought. I might have even muttered it aloud. "Tell Paul I went home... it's almost curfew anyway." It wasn't, but I never told them what the curfew actually was, in case the party turned out to be a total drag and I needed an excuse to leave early.

I quickly put on my jacket and shoes, made sure I had my phone, and headed out the door before anybody could stop me, not that I thought anybody would. Brian and Trevor looked up to me and gave a nod before I left, but one or the other was still working on making out with Karen, and Sean was busy enjoying having Riley straddle him. Oliver grinned at me, sort of a "go get 'er" grin, but then, he was probably the only one who had any inkling that I wasn't JUST leaving.

Chapter Fourteen:

Outside, I strolled to the end of the driveway and, in the process, accidentally snuck up on Clara. She had ear-buds in while she texted on her phone, and she jumped a little when she realized I was there, then pulled one of them out of her ear. "Oh, uh, hullo."

"You want a ride home?" I asked, figuring I could gauge her interest. If she just wanted to go home, then maybe I waste a couple more minutes... but she might want to talk a little. No matter that I already fucked up two good chances, I'm still better one-on-one with girls than I am in groups, at least once I can get things going.

She seemed to take a few seconds to think about it, and then seemed to sigh a little. "Okay."

Not the most encouraging signal, but I hoped maybe she was worried I had too much to drink. I didn't, just the one rum and coke, so I felt pretty clear-headed. I got in my car and opened the passenger door for her, and she slipped in meekly as I placed my phone in its cradle and called up the GPS app. I pulled out of the driveway while it loaded, and asked, "So where do you live?"

She stared at me a second. "You don't know?"

I grinned, a little embarrassed. "What, are we neighbors or something? You remember that I can't recognize faces, right?"

Clara gave a short, weak, laugh. "Right. Ummm... I just mean... here's the thing, I can't actually go home. I was supposed to be spending the night at Riley's, but..."

I got the gist. "So what do you want to do, then?"

"I've sent messages out to my friends. I know it's a lot to ask, but... would you mind just driving around for a while, or parking somewhere, until I hear back from someone who'll let me stay over?"

I nodded, liking the sound of 'parking somewhere.' Out of the sight of others, who knew what might happen? I don't mean that in a scary way, but... she liked Sean and she hadn't made a move on him, so maybe her friends being around inhibited her, like they did me, sometimes. I didn't know where to park, exactly, though... I don't have a good memory for what's around me and out of sight... I can remember paths if I'm not distracted, but ask me to find a place when I'm not on the path already, I need my GPS, and when I don't even have a specific place in mind, just a type? It's usually easier for me to just wander around looking for a good spot than it is to think of one. So I just drove.

She still seemed sad, even defeated, and so I tried what I could to cheer her up. "Look, I know it's none of my business, but... I can tell you're upset about what happened with Sean... but you really shouldn't be. All he was going to do is use you, anyway. The kind of guy he is... I mean, he never even would have called you after tonight." Not absolutely true, Sean did keep girls he banged on the hook for a while, fuck them a few dozen more times until he got bored and moved on to another target, or until they broke his rules and tried to announce themselves publicly as his girlfriend. That's what he'd do, after the first time, he'd still act all romantic to them, alone, but he'd tell them they had to keep their relationship a secret.

Clara set her face hard at my words, and I realized she'd taken them the wrong way. "Of course not. Why would he? What would I have to offer him?" I guess when you've taken a shot to your self-esteem, everything feels like an insult.

"It's not you, it's him. He's really kind of a douche. I mean, he's my friend, but... sometimes I think he's a borderline sociopath. Really, you're better off without him. You deserve so much better." She didn't say anything, so I added, "And you will do so much better. I mean, you're beautiful." I hated complimenting girls on their beauty... that didn't mean I didn't do it, whatever works, right? I just hated doing it. Like I was saying that's all they're useful for.

She laughed, a bitter laugh that was more like a cough. "Like you can judge. You don't exactly have anything to compare it to, do you? You won't even remember my face if you turn away."

"That's exactly why I CAN judge. I may not remember faces, but I remember my reactions." And they even tended to be consistent. If I met Clara again a week or a year from now, I'd still think she was a beautiful girl... I couldn't recognize her by it, because there were a lot of a beautiful girls. Beautiful to me, anyway. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, I've said I thought a girl was beautiful, and my friends all agreed she was a total butterface... or conversely, some girl they all thought was hot that I felt nothing for. Maybe Clara was one of those cases. I'm not the greatest judge of beauty. But I know when I like someone, and I am a sucker for a pretty face, by my reckoning. And all beauty is subjective, isn't it? So I told Clara the truth. "I look at you, and I'm not comparing you to anybody else. Your face is the only one in my mind right now." I looked into her eyes, and they seemed to be shining. "What I see when I look at you is a beautiful girl. When I look away, I might not remember exactly HOW you were beautiful, but I remember that feeling." I looked towards the road again, and then, after a few seconds, back at her. "And it just makes me want to look again and again. Except if I do that as much as I want to, I'll crash." I looked to the road again, and she let out a laugh, a more pleasant one, like maybe she still thought what I'd just said was a line, which in a way it was, but it was a line she could enjoy. So I decided to press it a little further. "And, not for nothing, but I may not be able to remember faces, but I do remember bodies, and yours is hot enough to be burned into my mind for a while."

She didn't laugh at that, or know how to take it at all. "Oh, um... thank you?" she said.

I fought back a grimace. Strike one. "Look, I'm just saying... I'm not trying to hit on you or anything..." Not much, anyway, and probably not for much longer at this rate. "I know you're just here because my car's a warm place to wait while you get your night settled. My point is, Sean's not out of your league, you're out of his. You'll look back on this night and be thankful for it when you get a chance with somebody worthy of you."

Once again, she didn't seem to know how to respond, and said only, "I don't know. I..." at first. I waited to let her finish the thought, but then she stopped and said, "Oh, I love this song." The radio had been on while we were driving, and the song by Imagine Dragons, "Demons" was on.

"Yeah, it's not bad." I like the band, though, to be honest, maybe for their name more than anything else. It's not my favorite song of theirs, but still, we listened to it, bobbing our heads in companionable silence. As it went on, I mostly wrote off the possibility of making another outright move. It was sad, because I still felt that inexplicable attraction to her, but she hadn't been giving me any signals that she was receptive, and I wasn't going to spend all my night trying.

That didn't mean I couldn't be friendly and joke around a little. "So, you've got demons, I guess?"

"Plenty." She had a little half-smile, almost a smirk, like she was only playing around with the thought that she was much darker than she was. "I've got some real dark secrets."

"Well, I know a few of them..." I pointed out. She looked confused, and I explained. "From the 'I never game.'"

"Oh, that." She smiled. "Don't believe everything people tell you in a game."

I mock-gasped, as though I was totally scandalized. "You lied in 'I never?' Bad form, Clara, bad form."

"I don't consider it lying, per se," she said. "I was just building a character that wasn't entirely me."

"Yeah, that's pretty much lying."

"I never said anything that wasn't true," she insisted. I guess that meant she really was a virgin. "And technically I didn't even break any rules."

"Oh, I have to hear this explanation."

"The rules say you have to drink when you did whatever you did the thing the other person says. But it never says you CAN'T drink when you want to. Who's to know if I really needed to take a turn, or maybe I was just thirsty." She gave an over-exaggerated shrug, palms up.

I didn't think her explanation would hold up in court, if silly drinking games had a court. And there was one big flaw in what she said. "But... that would mean you're actually MORE innocent than you looked." I remembered what she drank on... smoking pot, oral sex, and masturbating in class. If she lied on one or all of them, she was practically pure as the driven snow. Yet I somehow liked her more for the thought that she was making herself sound darker to fit in. The pot, I decided was probably one... she probably chickened out at the last minute with what was going to be her first night trying it. I didn't hold it against her, in fact I kind of liked it. Call me a hypocrite, but I don't find pot smoking attractive in girls. "That's adorable."

"I'm not that innocent," she said. "You just never asked any juicy questions."

Chapter Fifteen:

That was a provocative answer, and I had to pounce on it. "So, what are the juicy questions that would reveal your dark secrets?"

"I'm not telling you. I'd have to be a lot drunker, and I..." She looked down at her phone. "Just a second." And she started reading and then replying to a text. Just when things were getting interesting. The universe, I thought, has awful timing.

"Any luck?" I asked after giving her a little time to finish.

"Not yet. But I'm not out of options." And the conversation died out for a little while. I continued to drive aimlessly, and Clara either read or sent messages on her phone. She sort of sat a little turned in my direction, and held it unusually high, so, I could hardly ever see the screen, but eventually I noticed something about the phone case.

It was red, and had the words "Keep Calm and Carry On" on it in white lettering, with a crown on top of it. "Hey, I think my sister has the same phone case."

"Uh, yeah," she said. "That's actually how we met and started talking, we noticed we were phone-twins."

"My sister's spending the night at her friend Cindy's," I remembered, out loud. "If they're already having a sleepover, maybe you could go there. I'm sure one more person wouldn't hurt."

She gave that sort of nervous laugh again. "No, that's not an option. Her, ah, mom hates me."

"Do I dare ask?"

Instead of answering directly, after a thoughtful pause, she said, "Do you know that in England, the 'c'-word is barely even a swear?"

"What, cock?" A great writer one said one of the most subtle yet sublime pleasures in the world is saying a dirty word to a beautiful girl. Or maybe I just made it up.

"No, the other one."

It took me a second. "Ohhhh." Yeah, I could see how Cindy's mom might have a problem with that word being tossed around casually. And I couldn't help but grin. I hadn't heard her say it, but I guess she'd learned her lesson. Too bad, it would have been hot. "How long have you been here, anyway? In the U.S.?"

The question seemed to surprise her. "Oh, uhm, a few years, now."

"You still have a pretty strong accent."

"I guess."

"Don't get me wrong, I think it's incredibly hot." I was trying to reign in my hitting on her, but I couldn't help it. It was true.

"You do?"

"Sure. But I'm a bit of an anglophile."

She stared at me in disbelief. "You are?" she said dryly, like she assumed I was joking.

"Absolutely." In the sense that I wanted to fuck British people... or one, particular British person. Maybe I was more of an anglophiliac.

"Name one British thing you're a fan of."

"Ummm...." Okay, nothing was coming to mind. Sorry, Harry Potter never did anything for me. I'm not even sure it counted as British, it was too mainstream. "Doctor Who's not bad."

"Your sister told me you don't even watch it."

"Really?" That meant two things... one, she and Sarah had talked about me, even a little bit. I liked to imagine Clara pumping her for information, but probably it just came up in passing. The other... "I'm surprised she even talked about it with you. I thought she kept it a secret from her friends." My sister lived in perpetual fear of being judged geeky or uncool. I love her, but she was a little too concerned with what her friends think, made worse because she's a bit of a serial joiner of groups. She gets interested in some new thing, like cheerleading earlier this year, and stays with them a while, pretends to hate the same things the majority there do, even if she really likes it, and then eventually decides it's not for her and quits. Which isn't entirely her fault, a lot of times it's not just because she gets bored with the new thing but because it winds up interfering with her first passion, acting. She's tried out unsuccessfully for a few commercials, and is in a drama club in addition to auditioning for the annual school play, and whenever there's a choice between some new activity and drama club, she chooses acting. In a way, at school, I think she's always acting, putting on a false face for people. My sister's the kind of girl who'd hide a good novel behind a trashy magazine, instead of the other way around. Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather that than the other way around, but I wished she could be open about what she loved and not give a damn about the haters.

"You noticed that, huh?" I nodded. "I guess she felt she could talk about it with me. The first day we met, we bonded over how much we already missed Matt Smith as the Doctor. This new guy, Capaldi, he's just too old." I'd heard my sister make the exact same observation to my mom. Mom was willing to give the new guy a chance. He'd only just barely started. not even appearing in a full episode yet, just a few scenes. "Anyway, she also very distinctively said that you never watched it."

Not never. "I heard Neil Gaiman wrote an episode and checked it out." Neil Gaiman probably counts as British, but I didn't expect her to know him. "He's an author I like..."

"I know who he is. American Gods was a brilliant book." Okay, I think I just fell in love with her a little bit more. Enough to be willing to take another crack at hitting on her. "I can't wait for the TV series." Maybe a little less in love, there. Okay, not really, but still... what is it with people wanting adaptations? Can't they just enjoy the book? "But if you were a real fan you'd know he wrote more than one episode."

"I heard that, but I didn't check them out. It's just... TV doesn't really work for me a lot of the time. But, sometimes when I'm reading, I can hear my sister watching Doctor Who through the wall... and it's not bad. It's almost like listening to a radio play." A memory flashed back to me, of a man shouting out a name, and I realized where I'd heard the name before. "Hey, you're named after one of the characters in that, aren't you?"

She seemed flustered. "Uh, yeah, there's a Clara who's one of the companions. But they're always changing. There was a Sarah, too. Anyway... you really should give it another try, the main characters usually wear the same costumes all the time." I was impressed she realized that helps me, it took some empathizing with my condition. "And, you know there actually are a whole series of, like, audio-only adventures, they're actually like radio plays. Or you could read the novel adaptations."

"I don't know, I don't really trust media tie-ins." Though I had heard some famous authors had done Doctor Who novels... I've been tempted to try the one by Alastair Reynolds, I really enjoyed his book Chasm City.

"It would give you something to talk about with your sister..."

"Hey, I've plenty in common with her. I love Sarah to bits." Up ahead, I spotted a park with a playground attached. Because it was so late, there was nobody using it, so it seemed like a good place to stop driving for a while. "Of course, it might be worth it if it gave me something to talk about with you..." I said as I parked, and turned in my seat more towards her. Okay. Because she liked Neil Gaiman, I'd give it one last try and put it all on the line.

Chapter Sixteen:

She swallowed, like she was afraid of what was coming, now that I wasn't safely busy driving the car and had turned all my attention on her. "With me?"

I pressed on regardless of her nervousness. "I don't know what it is, but from the moment I met you tonight, I felt... I don't know, drawn to you. Until I realized you were there for Sean, I actually thought maybe you felt the same."

"I... I guess, I did, a little, it's just..."

Finally a good sign, even if it's just a little. "Just what?" I said, when she went quiet.

"Sean was the one who invited me... and he made me feel the night was all about me." His standard M.O., although I still didn't get why he switched so suddenly to Riley. Maybe she put on a hell of a masturbation show while they were taking a pot break. "You... you're quite a catch, but... you were off-limits."

"Huh?" That wasn't what I was expecting to hear. I figured she'd say I was too cautious, and never made a move... that's one of my big problems. Or maybe she'd say I was too 'nice.' With some girls, too many, it seemed, 'nice' is the kiss of death. Off-limits? That was just strange... at least, for a second, until it finally clicked. "Because you're friends with Sarah." I made a grimace. Cock-blocked by my own sister. I guess it served me right for still going after freshmen.

"We're close, yeah. I noticed you looking, but I just thought..." she trailed off into a shrug. "I don't know. But I just couldn't let myself go there. And like I said, I thought something was happening with Sean."

"But you feel it too, right?" I looked at her beautiful face and into her eyes and just looked. "Like we could have a special..."

"...kinship?" she finished.

"See, it's like we're already finishing each other's sentences." Okay, I was going to say 'connection', but 'kinship' worked just as well. "Maybe it's ka."


"Sorry. Just something from a book I'm reading. It means, like fate, destiny." I wasn't lying, I really did feel it. Screw my sister, I thought. I leaned across the center divider towards her planning to go for a kiss, and she seemed almost trembling, so I went slow.

Maybe too slow, because I gave her time to put a hand up between us and say, "But you're still off-limits."

I drew back, disappointed, even a little annoyed. I guess I could hardly blame her. And really, I'd been misreading her all night, maybe this wasn't ka, maybe she didn't ever feel what I'd been feeling, and her agreeing with me and blaming my sister was all just an excuse to spare my feelings. Time to back off, for good. "Okay," I said, a bit of a sigh in my voice. "Too bad, I have a feeling we would have been great together."

"Yeah," she said. "I think so too." And then my eyes dropped and I noticed it. Her legs were twitching slightly, squeezing together and almost bouncing. In the dim light, I probably wouldn't have noticed, if she had bare legs, but thank God for striped stockings, the pattern, even though they ended just above the knee, were distinct enough that the subtle movements caught my eye in the way that an expanse of solid color couldn't. I remembered what Helen had said during the 'I never' game, about girls squeezing their legs together to pleasure themselves secretly. Was that was she doing? If so, I couldn't get a clearer sign that she was genuinely interested, it'd be like if I whipped it out and started masturbating. A little breathily, she said once more, "If only you weren't..." and my eyes flew back to hers, and I saw a sort of pleading look there as the rest of her words died. And I thought then that maybe she really, really wanted to do this as much as I did, she just wanted to be persuaded.

"Off-limits," I finished. "You know, limits are there to be tested. How do we ever know if they're in the right place, unless we're willing to go beyond them once in a while?" I asked, quoting, or paraphrasing, something from a book I once read. I'm pretty sure I didn't make that one up.

I only meant it as an opening argument, intending to follow it up with how I'm sure my sister would understand, if the feelings were this strong, but I didn't have to, that alone did the trick, I heard the click of the seatbelt disengaging, and she leaned over to my side of the car and planted one right on my lips, and her lips and mine opened without breaking contact, and soon our tongues were in play.

I may not remember faces, but I can remember feelings, and they were like nothing I'd felt before, excitement, passion, trust in somebody I didn't know. I remember the way my heart raced, the song playing while we kissed ("Counting Stars" by OneRepublic), the taste of alcohol on her breath, the softness of her skin, the taste of her, and the slight tingle of familiarity in almost everything except the song. I suddenly knew who she was... it all made sense. And, when she finally pulled away, just a little, steadying herself with a hand on my leg, just barely in contact with my erection that had chosen that leg to grow into, I had to tell her. If I was wrong, it could go very badly for me, but I just knew I wasn't wrong. "It's you, isn't it?" I said, and she gasped. "You were the one at the Halloween party. The mystery kisser."

She bit her lip. "You could tell?"

"How could I forget? Best kiss of my life." That was probably an exaggeration, but no other kiss was in my mind at the moment.

"Mine too."

She didn't even need to explain what happened, I was sure I understood perfectly, like our connection was so strong we were exchanging information telepathically. She got drunk, and took a chance, just to see what it would be like, breaking whatever Sarah's rule was for her friends, but nobody would know because I couldn't exactly point her out. Obviously, she'd liked it as much as I did, even if I wasn't ready to act on it at the time. I guess neither of us were. "Well, maybe second best, now." I closed the distance between us again, and we kissed.

"Oh God, what am I doing?" she whined as we parted again, but whatever her concerns were, they weren't stopping her. She fell back to her seat for a moment, and then climbed out of it entirely and straddled my legs, and we were making out again, her hands on my face, mine on her ass, my fingers pulling upwards on her skirt and then, when they couldn't get traction, slipped below entirely and found a more comfortable spot on her underwear.

That seemed to drive her wild and she slowly rocked back and forth on my lap, riding me, in what was one of the hottest makeout sessions I'd ever had. One of my hands left her, briefly, to adjust the seat, leaning it way back and giving us more room. "Wait, wait, wait," she said shortly after. "I can't."

God, I hoped I wasn't going to have the worst case of blue balls in my life after this. "You've already done it," I said. "The line's been crossed, once you've had more than one kiss, we've officially 'hooked up.'"

"I want to do more," she admitted.

"I'm okay with that."

"I want you to be my first."

I have to admit, I really wasn't expecting it'd go quite that far this fast, but my cock shook violently at the suggesting, a warning that it would never forgive me if I fucked this up. "You sure?" I said, not sure why I was defying my cock. "Because I can wait... I don't want to, but..."

She stopped my words with a kiss, this one a quick peck just to shut me up, and then she said, "If I wait, I'm just going to chicken out. I was planning on it tonight anyway, just to get it over with, even if I didn't care about... the guy..."

"But you do, right?"

She nodded. "But... here's the thing. If we do... you have to promise... never, ever, tell anybody. Not your best friends. Not a soul. Not even that we kissed. Please, this is too important to me."

Chapter Seventeen:

"A secret relationship..." I'd never had one of those before, and although I felt a little bit of a thrill at the idea, it wasn't what I wanted. But then, I couldn't see it lasting either, sooner or later she'd tell my sister, or Sarah would find out, and we could be more open. Until then, I could keep it secret, even enjoy the sneaking around. A smile even formed at the thought. "Okay, I can deal with that."

"And... it can only be tonight."

That was harder to take, like a stab right in my heart. "What? Why?"

She stroked my hair, looking at me. "Please, don't question? Just let it be... this one, magic night, that we can both remember forever."

"But I want more than that."

"Yeah, but... we can't always get what we want." She bit her lip again. "It's this or nothing."

I guess it was the choice of physical blue balls, or emotional blue balls. Except it wasn't really a choice, because the physical blue balls would include the emotional blue balls as a bonus gift. "I guess it's better than nothing."

Her gaze darted all around, checking out the situation and for any potential observers... but there didn't seem to be any. We were totally alone. And suddenly a little awkward. "So how should we do this? Back seat? Outside? Right here? Keep in mind I still have to remove my, uh, knickers."

It might be surprising, but I'd never done an in-car fuck before. Oh, sure, I'd fooled around in a car with Alexandra, gotten oral, but not actual sex. For those experiences, we were mostly at people's houses, once in a garden shack, and a couple times outside in secluded areas. I'd prefer the space of outside, but I wasn't sure we wouldn't be seen. The car provided us some protection from that... and besides, there was still a little nip in the air. "Backseat?" I suggested.

"Okay," she said, and then bounced, like she was about to go up and over my shoulder, but then held herself back at the last minute. "You've got a condom, right?"

"Yeah." I don't like them, but I don't want to be a daddy at my age, either, so unless I'm really sure the girl's on regular birth control, I try to remember to use them. And since I'm wasn't in a relationship at the moment, I always had at least one on hand, in my pocket.

My answer satisfied her, and the rose up again, and dove over into the backseat area, a move that resembled swimming, except not quite as graceful... I took a knee in the chest as she launched herself towards the cushion. It didn't hurt much, though, and I turned back in time to see a flash of white panties between her legs.

That's always a treat, even if I was about to get a much better look at them, as she rolled over onto her butt and began working them down under her skirt. As they slid down her legs, I had a much more sustained, albeit somehow not as exciting, look. They were surprisingly tame panties, or knickers as Clara called them, white, bikini-cut, nice, but nothing special... but then, it's hard to compete with what became uncovered when they were pulled down and the skirt was hiked up.

Even in the dim light of a parked car, I liked what I saw. She was shaved, her pussy was tight looking with very little external labia, just some pink framing a dark hole with a perky little clit on top. It looked like it might be normally even tighter, but it was a little puffed out with obvious arousal, and I thought I could even smell it, not a bad smell, not fishy, just that musky, heady, delicious scent of a woman who's turned on, a smell that's probably 90% pheromones which is why it's impossible to describe in a way that does it justice.

Clara next slid her hands up one leg, until she reached the top of the striped sock, and played with it, like she was asking whether or not she should take it off. "Nah, leave it on." I'm a fan of sex with as many clothes still on as you can get and still see everything you want to. First, because so much of what makes people who they are, in my head, is down to what they're wearing. Naked and groaning... it's not quite that everyone looks the same, but it's close. I guess it's probably like fucking somebody doggy-style, and they never once look back at you, or sex with someone who's wearing a mask that covers their entire face. You intellectually know who it is, and it's still hot, but it's a little impersonal. I guess some people like never looking at the person they're fucking in the face, but not me, and for me, the clothes serve a similar purpose. Of course two of the three other girls I'd had sex with seemed to think, and probably most normal people would agree, that having sex with your clothes mostly on is itself a little impersonal, the skin to skin contact makes everything much more intimate. I don't agree, but it doesn't matter... if a girl decides she's not getting the connection she wants from sex with you, she can really just find somebody else the moment she decides to be single. Guys can't afford to be as picky, so normally I put my desires aside and make it an occasional thing.

But this time, the second reason was a lot more relevant. The second reason I'm a fan is because if you're totally naked, and you realize you're about to get busted, because you're in the girl's living room and you hear her parents opening the door just a hallway away, you're usually not going to have time to look presentable. But if it's just a matter of zipping up, pulling up a pair of panties... well, it's safer. Especially if you're doing it in a car, if somebody knocks on the window there's a chance you can pass things off as just making out.

"So are you coming?" she asked in that adorable accent, hands on her knees, legs akimbo. "Before I change my mind?"

The worry of a girl changing her mind if you don't move is a great motivator. So I shrugged my jacket off, then slipped the condom out of my pocket and into my palm, and I, too, climbed over the center divider to get into the back seat, a far less graceful motion when I did it, but then I couldn't just dive and land on her or an empty seat, I had to make sure my feet landed on the bottom of the car. Once there, she slid a little more to one side, so I could lean into her and, it was still cramped and a little awkward, but I had a great view up her skirt and at her mound. Clara caught me staring and smiled, so I reached out towards her thigh, the bare part, and slid my finger up, just grazing it. She first tensed at my touch, and then flinched and let out a held breath when I made contact with her pussy. She didn't seem afraid, just like she wasn't sure what to expect. I brushed her slit with my fingertips, and she let me, legs spreading subtly further apart, and the shivers in her body now seemed like anticipation.

She looked delicious, and I wanted to make a good impression, maybe make her break her decision to make this just one night, so I made a bold move. I jutted forward, got my hands out of the way and placed my mouth on her mound, extending my tongue. I heard a surprised gasp, which made it all worth it.

It's never as delicious as I think it's going to be right before I do it. It's like cake. Whenever I see cake, I want to eat it, but when I do, it's always just... okay. Not bad, not usually, but never as good as it looked. That old meme, 'the cake is a lie,' has a zen-like profound truth buried inside. Cake is always a lie. It's the same with pussy, although instead of pussy just being too sickly sweet or mediocre in flavor, pussy's more a mix of tastes I like but find impossible to describe, and off-putting notes, like a sort of sweaty flavor, and it all averages out. Of course, unlike cake, it's just plain fun to eat pussy, so I still do it even despite the taste. They always say you eat with your eyes first. Pussy definitely wins out over cake in that department. Unless perhaps it's an erotic cake.

"What are you doing?" Clara asked after a moment, but not angrily, or like she didn't like it, but just like she honestly didn't expect that. I guess she really was a virgin.

I pulled my tongue away long enough to ask, "You don't like it?" Without waiting for an answer, I put it right back to work.

"No, I do..." she took a deep breath. "But you don't have to do that."

"It's your first time," I said. "It helps if we get you ready. It might hurt a little."

"No, it won't," she said. "I... well, it won't." She didn't have to say. She'd lost it on some masturbation adventure at some point. Good, I don't like to leave a legacy of pain, only good memories. Which is another reason I wanted to keep licking, get her more aroused, and it's less work to do in order to push her over the edge.

She let me continue for another minute or so, and then her hand brushed my hair. "Okay, okay..." she said. "I think I'm ready."

I certainly was. I pulled back, still mostly crouched on the floor of the car, and stood up as much as I could so I could drop my pants. She was staring at me the whole time, and especially at my dick when it was revealed, like she couldn't take her eyes off it. I got a kick of that... girls are used to being sex objects, stared at for their breasts, or pussy, but it doesn't happen as often for a guy, except sometimes during sex, and when it does... you feel powerful. I tore open the condom wrapper and felt around so I could tell which side was which, and then placed it on the tip.

"You want me to do you, too?" she asked, swallowing nervously. "With my mouth?" She continued to stare at it like it was some kind of magic glowing object, and I felt like some living god.

"Nah," I said. I totally did, but I was horny enough that I'd probably blow in her mouth before too long, and I didn't know whether that might count as the "just one time." Probably not, but she might lose her nerve, and if I only had one shot to cum, I wanted to fuck her, take her virginity. I wasn't going to take any chances.

Chapter Eighteen

I finished rolling down the condom, made sure there was no air bubbles, and then maneuvered myself back so that I was almost on top of her. She hiked her legs up to give me more room, at least horizontally, although it was also a little combative... not really, it wasn't forced or anything like that, she smiled at me throughout, so I knew we both wanted it, but her feet pressing against me made it a little like a playful struggle, a struggle I soon won as my cock landed right between those legs and, by pushing back a little, I could lodge the head in the hole. After that, there was still resistance, her legs still pushed back at me, but it was more like she was telling me to go slow, and I gradually pressed forward, until I was all the way inside her, the only barrier between us that thin band of latex.

At this point I always really resent the condom just for being there, because it could be so much better, but her pussy's tight, warm squeezes around me soon pushed that out of my mind. Once I'd gotten all the way in, balls deep, those stripey-stockinged legs had stopped pushing against me and it was now more like her lower legs were resting along my shoulders, and I bucked my hips, thrusting inside her again and again, enjoying the feel of her, the smell of her, and the sound of her moans.

The condom did have one advantage, it dulled the sensation and made me last longer than I would have... without a condom, as turned on as I was I probably would have exploded in the first minute. It had been a while, remember, since I'd had anything other than my hand. But as it was, I kept plunging inside her for several minutes, though at least one full song on the radio, and I thought I made a good first time for her. She seemed to enjoy it, and part way through, we were sloppily kissing each other on the in-thrusts, tongues and saliva everywhere, like we just couldn't control ourselves. It was during one of these kisses that I realized I was about to explode, and so pulled away and started pounding with all the power I could muster. I didn't think I'd made her cum, and I wanted every chance to, so a more aggressive approach seemed to be called for before I lost steam entirely. She was certainly giving out these sharp moans of pleasure that inspired me in my efforts.

Finally, I couldn't hold out any longer, and my whole body tensed up (I always particularly noticed my feet and face, and, of course, crotchal region), and my penis suddenly felt like an electric wire touched it, and I was just squirting out sperm, filling up the reservoir tip and imagining it was all going inside of Clara.

Once I could breathe again, I pulled out, grabbed some tissues from a box in the space between the seats, then carefully peeled off the condom and sort of loosely wrapped it in the tissues. I was going to just open a door and chuck it outside, but then I remembered we were at a park, and I didn't want kids to stumble across that tomorrow morning. Instead, after some thought, I shoved the mass into the box the tissues came from. It was nearly empty anyway, so I could just dump the whole box later.

When I looked back, Clara was staring at me with a weird expression on her face, and I felt suddenly self-conscious, grinned, and slid into the space between her body and the back of the seat, while she turned onto her side, and made room for me. It was almost like spooning, and I kissed her on the cheek before I lay my head down. She didn't say anything, but I got the distinct impression she was sad or disappointed. At the very least, lost in thought.

The first girl I had sex with, Melanie, had a reaction like that. It wasn't me, I think (although it was my first time as well so I probably wasn't the world's greatest lover), but rather a realization that she was now on the other side of the line between virgins and non-virgins and discovering that, contrary to her expectations, it didn't change anything about her like maybe she wanted it to. Or that was my best guess, she hadn't talked about it in depth but, what I knew of her, it fit. She was always looking to step outside of herself... that's kind of why things fell apart. But the quiet, after-the-first-time mood, it hadn't lasted long, and that was why I decided to dare sliding my hand around to the front of Clara's thighs and then up under her skirt to stroke at her slit. She didn't fight me off, or react negatively, so I whispered, "Give me a few minutes, and we can have another go." I was pretty sure she hadn't actually cum, and I wanted to correct that.

"This was a mistake," she said, which soured my good mood. "I shouldn't have done this."

Ouch... way to kill a guy's ego. I knew I should have eaten her out for longer... I guess the lack of an orgasm was a failing grade in her book. Porn and dirty stories often give people the impression that the girl always does cum... unfortunately, reality isn't so kind, at least during the penetration. If the guy doesn't quit and go home as soon as he gets his, persistence can usually make both sides totally satisfied. But maybe that wasn't even the issue. "It wasn't... good?" My hand began to retreat.

She caught it with her own, held it in place, still touching her mound, but only barely, and not in the slit. She gave my hand a comfortable, reassuring squeeze. "No, it was. It was... incredible."

I was a little relieved, but it wasn't much of a comfort if she still had regrets. "So what's the problem?"

"It's just... I shouldn't have done this. It was just a bad idea... I got drunk, and stupid, and... you're not going to tell anybody, are you?"

This again. "I said I wouldn't..."

"Please, not even that we kissed or anything..."

I didn't get what the big deal was, and was starting to get a little annoyed. "I promised, didn't I?"

"No matter what happens?"

My frustration was getting hard to contain, and I let out an angry sigh, but I said, "Yes."

She was quiet for a while, and then said, "I'm glad we did it. But I wish we hadn't. Does that make sense?"

Now I laughed a little and let out a rueful groan at the tail end. What else could I say, but, "No."

"You liked it, though?" Now her voice pathetically eager for my approval, probably about as pathetic as I'd sounded to her hitting on her all night, which built back some of my ego.

"Yeah," I said, and kissed at her neck, although I hit hair. "I'd like to give it another try, maybe I can make those mixed feelings go away." My cock was growing hard again, even despite the conversation being frustrating, and I pressed it into her back.

"I want to, too." Great! "But I'm afraid." Damn it!


"That if I do, I won't be able to stop."

"It doesn't make you a slut or anything," I said. "Enjoying it, I mean... It's natural."

"That's not..." She shook her head, and then in one swift motion sat up. "I should check my messages... so I know where I'm going to be sleeping tonight."

I let her grab her phone, which she left in the front seat, and just stared at the roof of my car. Actually, first I stared up her skirt, as she leaned forward to grab the phone, that was a much more entertaining sight, considering there were no panties. Her hole seemed a lot more open, but maybe that was my imagination, or the different angle. It was only when she retrieved the phone, and sat down on the edge of the backseat, that I stared up at the roof while she checked her messages. After a minute or so, she said, "Nick, would you mind driving me to my friend Jennifer's house?"

"So you found somebody who'll take you in?" I asked. I pulled myself into a sitting position and did my pants up. I guess our 'one night' was over. My penis understood, shrinking back as I zipped up, but I was disappointed. No second chances to make her scream my name.

"Yeah. Her Mom's in a clinic doing a sleep apnea test, so I can come over."

"Great." My voice was numb, unenthusiastic, although not outright sarcastic. I pushed myself out to the nearest door, and exited that way, then walked around to the front. It just seemed easier. Clara didn't climb into the front seat either, just stayed in the back and started reaching around the ground. Finally I realized she was looking for her panties, which had tumbled somewhere under one of the front seats, and turned on the light in the car to help her find them. "Where does she live?"

She told me as she wiggled back into her underwear, which I watched in the rearview mirror before entering the address into the GPS, and once again we were on the road in something of an awkward silence, except for the occasional directions. "So... can I at least get your number or something?" I asked as we were getting close to where I had to drop her off.

She bit her lip, and shook her head. "We agreed, just one night."

"You agreed. I went along with it hoping you'd change your mind. You can, you know."

"I wish I could. But I can't. I'm sorry, it's just... it's just too hard."

"Fine." I didn't even know why I was trying, she seemed determined to be difficult at every turn, for no good reason I could discern... and yet, I still felt that longing, that draw. Every refusal was like a kick in the gut, but every tiny signal of hope was like I was walking on air. So, I tried one last time, as I pulled into the driveway, realizing I was sounding impossibly needy, but not caring. "Listen. I get it, you want it to be just one night. But hey, maybe next time there's a dance or something at school, come over and say hi... actually say it, so I can recognize you by your accent. And maybe I'll ask you to dance, and maybe you'll say yes, and nobody'll know we had this night, and... I don't know, at least it'll be a chance to change our minds." A chance for her to change her mind, at least.

"Maybe," she said, and the maybe gave me another shot of hope. But she had her hand on the door, and opened it, then said, "Bye. Thanks for... for everything."

I waved, watched her go up to the door, and made sure she got in, then set the GPS to guide me home. There, I collapsed into bed. It wasn't that late... my parents were asleep, but it was before my curfew, even. For some reason, I was just exhausted.

Chapter Nineteen:

I don't remember if I dreamed about Clara. I don't remember most of my dreams, generally speaking. But the next day, I did what I could to put her out of my mind. She wanted one night, and I hoped that I made it clear that, if she changed her mind, I was interested, but I couldn't do anything about it that wouldn't come off as stalking. So, I tried to live my life and forget about her.

It didn't work. She kept popping back into my thoughts... when this happened, she did have a face, but it was a sort of generic, undefined face, it had eyes, lips, a nose that my mental image of her sometimes zoomed in on and sometimes swerved away from, never forming a coherent whole and probably shifting each time. Like, ever have a dream, where every time you turned your head, the window was in a different place and the furniture was slightly different, but you didn't notice it because it's a dream, and nothing about it seems strange until you wake up? I think it's a little like that. But a lot of the time this mental image I had wasn't focused on her face, it was her body, voice, pussy, taste, the image of those stockings she wore, they all came back to me, the thoughts popping up at the slightest provocation.

Dad got me doing some chores, and for once I was actually thankful for work (not that I'd ever admit it to him). Cleaning up the backyard and mowing the lawn, well, it got my mind off things a little. A girl with loosely-hanging brown hair came out to look at me for a while, while mowing. She was wearing white pants and a blouse, and for a second I thought maybe it was Clara, and she'd changed her hair and clothes, but I recognized the blouse. It turned out it was my sister, finally home. "How was your sleepover?"

"Fine," she said. And brusquely, she turned away and went inside, then up to her room. It was like that with her most of the day, she didn't talk much to me. I'd almost think she was avoiding me, and for a while I was certain she'd somehow heard that Clara and I hooked up, and she was pissed at me for making a move on one of her friends, but I couldn't approach the issue without breaking a promise. I did ask her if there was something wrong, and she said, "No, it's nothing." And, you know how girls are, I couldn't even be sure it wasn't just in a bad mood for some other reason.

So if she was avoiding me, I made it easy for her and stayed in my room too, reading, finishing my part of that group work, listening to music. I confess I played "Counting Stars" a few too many times, because it triggered strong memories of that kiss... it's funny, I can remember the song that was playing as we kissed, but can't for the life of me remember what was playing when we had sex. I reflected on the kiss a lot too, how I couldn't recognize a face of somebody I just met but I could identify a person based on their kissing me months ago. Maybe it really was ka, fate, bringing us together. It was a comforting thought... people could fight fate, but not well, so if Clara and I were fated, even though it looked like she had closed the door, we'd be brought back together somehow.

I did talk to Paul, late in the afternoon, through texts, and that was when I first learned that there was more to Clara than met the eye, or at least more than met my eye. I asked him about Helen, and he gave a vague answer, that they 'hit it off' but, as was his nature, he didn't specify exactly how far he'd gotten. Seconds later, he added, "So, what happened after you left? I heard you gave Clara a ride."

My natural tendency was to brag... no, not brag, really, but gush about what an awesome time I had, which would make it pretty obvious that I'd at least hooked up, but I had made a promise. I gave a casual reply. "Yeah, I took her home."

"So you know then?"

That got me raising an eyebrow at the screen. "Know what?"

"You said you took her home, right?"

I clarified. "Not actually home, like, to a friend's or whatever." What was special about her home?

"Oh." Followed immediately by. "Shit. Forget I said anything."

How do you forget someone said something? "Why, where does she live?" Was she a rich girl? That could explain a few things... maybe I was too low-class for her family, and she couldn't date me without being disowned? Okay, it was a ridiculous idea, the kind of thing you saw in bad TV shows, but I was eager for some kind of answer. I considered the thought at length anyway, and it was only after a couple minutes that I realized Paul hadn't answered. "Come on, man, now you've got me curious."

"Just drop it, man."

"I would, but... I'm kind of thinking of asking her out, so... I probably should know whatever it is."

"Look, I can't. I promised not to say anything about who she was. All I'll say is, you're not a good match, and nothing's going to happen, so trust me and just forget her, ok?"

Who she was?

It occurred to me that there were two possibilities. Either Clara was somebody whose name I had forgotten, because I don't really follow gossip, but that I should know by reputation. Somebody notorious in some way. Like a teacher's kid, or that girl who got suspended for, supposedly, blowing two guys in the boy's bathroom, or one of those transfers from that school where all that shit went down (though most of them were our age or older). Or, yeah, maybe a rich kid, I guess, or the sister or girlfriend of somebody I knew had a temper, somebody who would pummel my face in if I hooked up with her. I realized then that I couldn't be entirely sure she wasn't dating somebody else. Even if what I found out about her that night was reliable, it didn't rule anything out. She'd said she never cheated before, but that didn't mean she wasn't there to cheat, maybe it was the girlfriend of somebody Paul and I knew, maybe she'd got pissed at him or just horny while he was doing something else, and she was planning to fuck Sean, only Sean had second thoughts, and she turned to me as next best thing. It was another explanation for her "just one night, nobody knows" rule, if she didn't want to completely trash her relationship.

And then there was the other possibility, the far more tantalizing one. That Clara was somebody I already knew, somebody I'd recognize personally, if I recognized people, that the name 'Clara' was a lie, and probably the accent, too, because I certainly didn't remember anybody who had one. I closed my eyes and imagined it, and realized there were times the accent hadn't seemed quite right, but I didn't question because... who'd make up an accent to hang out with a bunch of people you already went to high school with?

Someone who didn't want me to know who she was, that's who. Someone I, personally, had history with.

Chapter Twenty:

I immediately began to try and narrow down a list of suspects, starting by comparing the people in my life with what I knew about 'Clara.' Unfortunately, that wasn't much, since I didn't even know how much was true and how much wasn't. She already told me she hadn't been completely honest about herself... for all I knew, she was a pathological liar and even when she admitted she was lying, it was just so she could lie bigger.

From my senses alone, I knew she had light brown hair, now, at least, and her general build, and her age. Except, I really didn't even know that. Age is iffy to judge by sight alone, especially for me. There are sixteen-year-olds who look like they're fourteen, and vice versa. So her age could have been one of those lies. I knew Sean was planning on bringing freshmen, and that Vivi's sister Karen was a freshman and she was about fourteen, but that didn't mean all of them were the same age. Sometimes people hung out with people older or younger than themselves.

I swallowed on a dry mouth when I thought of one major possibility. What if she was younger? Like, twelve or something? Fourteen was maybe on the edge of propriety, but it wouldn't be considered statutory rape in our state. Twelve or younger meant I could be looking at jail time. If Clara was an advanced middle schooler that hung out with an older crowd, that would be a good reason for Paul to warn me off her. It might even explain other things that happened that night... Sean was doing what we'd all joked, going after girls that were way too young... and Paul might have let her stay to hang out, but he laid down the law and insisted Sean not make a move on a twelve-year-old in his place. Maybe that also explained why she wasn't allowed to join the pot circle.

After some thought though, I decided this was probably too paranoid. Paul might not have told me who she was, but he wouldn't have let her drink, either, and would have warned me she was off-limits, and why. Off-limits. Clara had used that word several times. But why would I be off-limits, if not because she was a friend of Sarah? That part still might be true.

Assuming she was somebody I knew, putting on a fake accent, I wracked my brain and came up with some names. Kara was the top of the list... it even sounded like Clara. And she was an actress, so putting on a fake accent, that wouldn't be very hard. She knew my sister, possibly well enough that my sister had asked her not to date me. Sure, that would make her two years older than all her friends, but for all I knew, maybe she was Helen or Riley's older sister and not a friend. Riley being her sister might even make sense, considering how it went down between them... it was never a problem with Sarah and me, but I'd heard sibling rivalry could sometimes get intense. But it would still be a total guess... I actually didn't know if Kara had siblings.

Kara was probably the best case scenario, but I didn't really believe it, I thought Clara's breasts were a little too small to be the ones I'd so frequently pictured on Kara, so I considered other possibilities, first focusing on ex-girlfriends. Paul might have, if she begged, kept one of my exes' secret identity from me, but would probably get pissed about Sean hitting on one and warned him off. So maybe some old flame still nursed feelings for me but they thought that door was closed. If Clara was honest about being a virgin, there were a few decent possibilities, girls I dated for a few weeks or months but fell apart before we took it to the next level. In particular, there was a girl I dated last year, Deb, she was a freshman then, too. She had darker hair when we went out, but we were a year apart, and so I'd lost track of her... she could have gone light brown. She would have been, among my exes, the closest to the age I thought Clara was, but there were other options.

I had a good feeling it was probably not my most recent ex, Alexandra. We'd already had sex, and it didn't ever feel like that, and she had a new boyfriend. Besides, there was the Halloween kiss. And I remembered Clara had mentioned liking American Gods, and, although I loaned Alexandra the book, she'd never read it (worse, I never even got it back).

Her little sister Anna might have read it, though. She might be the right age, and would be off-limits. I didn't know too much about her except that it was one of the things that set Alexandra off while we were dating, she thought Anna might have had a crush on me, and me being nice to Anna when picking up Alexandra for a date or hanging out at her place was somehow turned into a sin on my part, like I was encouraging it. I wasn't. I remembered Anna being cute, but not much about her beyond that.

In fact, although Alexandra was the only one who made a big issue out of it, a few of the girls I dated, or platonic male or female friends at school, had sisters that could have turned out to be Clara, and all of them could qualify as off-limits. I could also add a handful of good friends of girls I'd dated, which could make me off-limits for them, and a few girls who seriously dated good friends of mine.

With none of them did I have much of an idea what they currently looked like. I might, once, have known their height and weight and hair color, and been able to recognize them in an appropriate context like school, but girls diet and go through lots of body changes in these years, and change their hair all the time. I had a few suspects I didn't even know well enough to name, so I just had them down on my list as "Mike's sister" or "Cheryl's best friend."

There were a lot of possibilities, too many in fact. Worse than that though, was that none of them really fit very well. With all of the possibilities I could think of, I either had to disregard something I thought I knew for sure about Clara as a lie, or make up some ridiculous story I had no evidence for, like that someone was held back a year and so despite her age all her classmates were freshmen. Sometimes both.

I guess, when it came down to it, I had to disregard everything she told me as potentially unreliable. The only things I felt I could be sure of was that she probably watched Doctor Who, and was familiar enough with Neil Gaiman to name one of his books without me prompting her. As pointless minutia go, it was one of the more attractive examples.

No, there was one more thing, completely objective. Her phone case. It was the same as my sister's. That couldn't be THAT common. I could, very slowly, keep an eye out and try to check the phone of every suspect on my list. That's actually pretty hard for me, considering I usually can't recognize the suspects themselves without help, but it could be done. Maybe I could just wander the lunchroom at school, looking for the phone. People are always on their phones at lunch, since you can't use them in class. That was kind of stalkery, I guess, but when somebody deliberately lies to you about their identity, you're entitled to get a little stalkery until you figure it out. If all else failed, I could go that route.

All else hadn't failed, but it was getting close. I, of course, also did the obvious thing, and asked all my other friends who were there, but Paul had apparently warned them that I might come calling. Sean didn't answer at all (although I know he was online), and Brian made up a lame excuse about his parents needing him and never got back to me. Only Trevor manned up, or half-manned up, and admitted he promised not to say anything or Paul would kill him, but also just said I should forget about her.

Fat chance of that. She'd already gotten inside my brain, and even when I'd go do something else, I'd find my thoughts drifting back to this impossible girl, Clara.

The weird thing was, I wasn't even all that mad... about her deception itself, at least. If I found out, and didn't like, the reason, I knew I'd be pissed, but right then I didn't. Until then, I was curious, intrigued, confused, maybe even growing a little obsessed, sure, but angry? Not really.

Maybe it's because I'm a little deceived on a regular basis, as a fact of life. Because of my condition, it's pretty easy. Not even in the obvious, deliberate ways, either. Somebody doesn't have to pretend to be literally somebody else, because I often only see the sides they directly present me. For example, if somebody was nice to you, you might think they were a nice person... unless you saw them the next day (or the day before), talking bad about you, or bullying some geeky kid, or kicking a puppy or something. But me, I often just won't realize that the nice guy and the jerkass are the same person, unless the jerkass introduces himself or has a distinctive feature. In fact, with my last girlfriend, I was sort-of dating her for a week before I realized she was also this figure I sometimes saw in the hallway, that I'd christened "Shrill Bitch." Shrill Bitch was a total drama queen who would freak out and scream at her friends over little, inconsequential things, and I only recognized her enough to name her because I noticed it happening at the same place in school on multiple occasions. I never talked to her, because why would I want to talk to a Shrill Bitch? But I got to know Alexandra separately, really liked her, and then one day walked her to her locker and realized that she must have her locker right next to Shrill Bitch. I casually asked her if she got tired of the girl screaming right in her ear all the time, and she had no idea what I meant. Then I realized they were about the same height, with the same hair style, same general style, and a very similar voice (although Alexandra's was much less shrill, most of the time). Our relationship would have died in its infancy if I hadn't bit down hard on my first instinct to blurt out, "Oh my god, you're the Shrill Bitch!" And some might say that would have been a good thing, but... the truth was, she wasn't the Shrill Bitch any more than she was the completely sweet girl I'd developed a crush on.

We've all got our good and bad days, and, in the early part of the relationships, people are always wearing masks. When they come off, you either bail, or take the good with the bad. I try not to take people at face value, but it's hard to avoid it, and sooner or later, everyone's going to get fooled. Me more than most. So when it happens, I just try to roll with the punch and focus on the person behind the mask, and that would only be revealed when I learned why they put it on.

In some ways it was attractive that Clara had gone to the effort to deliberately deceive me. I know how insane that sounds, but hear me out... it proved she had an interest. I mattered to her. It took dedication to talk in an English accent for a whole night, just so I wouldn't find out who she was... doing that meant she cared what I thought of her, even if it was just, at first, so I wouldn't be hurt while she went after my friend. If she wasn't trying to hurt me, and deep down I had a strong feeling that she wasn't, then this lie was forgivable. The feelings we shared... I wanted to believe they weren't a lie.

Maybe that's why I was determined to track her down. It's not that much different than where we were before. We'd had a one-night hookup, and I wanted to believe there was something more. Call me a hopeless romantic.

Chapter Twenty-One:

Late in the evening, I did what I told myself I wasn't going to do... I talked to Sarah about it. Not directly... I'd promised Clara that I wouldn't tell anybody, and, even if she'd lied to me, I wasn't going to break that promise. But I thought I could be subtle about it, and get some information from my sister. If nothing else, by now I was sure she and Clara had at least talked, probably about having the same phone cases and maybe a shared love of Doctor Who as well.

Part of the reason I'd held off so long was her odd behavior throughout the day, that sense that she was avoiding me, or mad at me. Even if it wasn't anything to do with me at all, just a mood, I didn't want to poke the bear, it's a good way to get mauled. Verbally, I mean.

Still, I wanted answers, and so I found myself knocking at her open door. She was lying on her bed (I was pretty sure it was her, because, who else would be?), wearing earbuds. She looked at me, then pulled one of them out of her ear and stared at the ceiling. "What?" she asked, her voice tight.

"I just wanted to check in. Everything all right? You look... I don't know, upset." It wasn't my primary motivation for being there, but even as wrapped up in my own concerns as I was, I was getting a little worried she might be going through something, and if she was, I wanted to help.

"I'm fine," she said, through what sounded like gritted teeth. Dad always said 'fine' is the four-letter F-word for women, and it was a sign not to approach.

But I did anyway. I sat down on the edge of the bed beside her, inspiring her to pull up into a seated position and pull the other earbud out, looking at me for a moment, then looking away, not saying anything, waiting for me to speak. "If you want to talk..."

"Why would I want to talk?" she asked. "Nothing's wrong. Is it?"

I shrugged. If she wanted to deny whatever was going on, I guess I could play that game. "So what are you up to?"

"Nothing," she said, and then lifted her phone. It had been phone beside her, the opposite side from me, but now she lifted it up and I could see it, and the case.

I figured it was my opening, or as good a one as I was going to get. "Hey, let me ask you something. Do you happen to know anyone else at school who's got that same phone case as you? 'Keep Calm and Carry On?' One of your friends, maybe?"

I saw... I could practically feel her tense up. "Why?" she asked.

Why indeed? Because I had amazing sex with her last night and want to know her real name, is something that I knew I shouldn't say, regardless of how true it was. So I shrugged. "I just want to know, okay? I think I met her the other day and I wanted to ask her something." That seemed fairly neutral, it didn't reveal we'd done anything or even that I had any special interest. Hell, I figured I didn't even sound like I knew her name... which, probably, I didn't. But Sarah didn't answer, so I went a step further. "Do you maybe have a number or something?"

She sighed deeply, and I figured out before she said anything that I'd blown it, been too obvious that my interest was in more than just curiosity... maybe not that we'd done anything she'd find objectionable, but at the very least that she was on my mind in the way that only the opposite sex can be (assuming you're straight). If she had a problem with me showing interest in her friends, it was bound to irritate her. I should have been more subtle, but... I guess my eagerness to find answers made me sloppy. "I really don't want to talk about my friends with you right now," she said finally. And by that tone I knew that pressing her any further would only piss her off. If I backed away, there was a chance... a small chance, but a chance, she'd come give me what I wanted a little later, after reflecting and deciding she'd been rude or unreasonable.

So that's what I did. "All right," I said, and I put a hand on her shoulder. The sudden, unexpected contact made her flinch, and I pulled away, till I was just hovering. "Listen, whatever's bothering you right now... I hope it gets better, okay? And if you do want to talk, you know where I am. I'm always here for ya." She didn't answer, so I got up and left her alone.

So much for that.

Chapter Twenty-Two:

If I was going to find Clara, my sister would be no help. She didn't come up to me with any information later, either, and I went to bed with the mystery unsolved. This time, I did dream of her, although I couldn't remember the specifics, just making out with a girl I knew was her, and woke up with a particularly intense boner that I had to take care of in my morning shower. I think I might have walked past my sister's open door on my way to the bathroom, though I'm not sure if she saw me or anything poking up from under my boxers, I was too bleary-eyed to pay much attention.

I didn't actually lay eyes on any of my family until I was called down for breakfast. They were waiting on me. Sunday breakfasts are always the best, this time it was blueberry pancakes and bacon, but my mom gets religious on Sundays, and saying grace is suddenly mandatory. I understood why, but that didn't mean I liked it... I just wanted to eat. So I closed my eyes, said a quick silent prayer just in case, and started piling on to my plate.

I chowed down, and the only thing I really noticed while I was eating was that my sister wasn't, she was mostly just picking at her food. Once in a while, she'd look up, meet my eye, and then quickly look back down to her plate. Whatever was bothering her was still going on, and I was starting to get a tiny bit worried, and tried to think about possibilities for what could be bothering her... the biggest still being that she knew about me and Clara, was worried that I was threatening to take away one of her friends to become a girlfriend or something, but I still couldn't ask about it or try to comfort her without revealing that we'd done something if she didn't already know. Frustrating.

It was only when I heard my name being called twice I realized that I was being spoken to. "Huh?"

I looked up, and the mom-shaped person rolled her eyes and said, "I wanted to know if you wanted to come to church today."

"Oh, uh, no... I think I'll pass, thanks."

"You know, it wouldn't kill you to give up one morning a week to God, after everything he's done for you."

The way I saw it, God may have saved my life, but He also made me sick in the first place, so, at best we were square. "I've got homework," I reminded her. "Besides, you were the one who made the deal, not me." When I got sick, Mom promised to go to church every Sunday if I got better, and, with a few exceptions that she assumes God understood were out of her control, she's followed through. For the first few years, she dragged me along with her, but when I was fourteen I finally convinced her that, although I still believed in God (more or less... she doesn't need to know about my doubts), I didn't agree with the whole church thing. Actually, it's more like Dad convinced her that if I didn't want to go, and she made me, I'd only wind up resenting it, which is probably the smartest thing he's ever said. That didn't stop Mom from trying to convince me every week, though. And she always looked disappointed when I said no. She never seemed to expend as much effort on Sarah, even though my sister quit church the same time I did, years younger. We used to hang out Sunday mornings together, home alone. It was fun times, actually. We'd lounge on the couch and watch Cartoon Network together, one of the few channels I can watch without too much difficulty.

"Probably just as well," Dad said. I don't think he liked going to church any more than we did, but he couldn't get out of it. "You volunteered us to help Shoop paint his place, remember? It's going to take all afternoon, and I don't want to have to take a trip back to drop them off afterwards..." He sounded momentarily irritated... giving up his last day to relax before another week of work obviously wasn't his idea, but, as he wiped his face with a paper napkin, he also seemed to wipe away the mood, and he was genial again. "Which reminds me, you put some old clothes in a bag to change into?"

"Yes, it's in the car," Mom answered absently. "And he could come with us. I'm sure your uncle Shoop would pay you a few bucks to help." As she said the last bit, she looked at me.

"Homework," I said again, shaking my head. Shoop (who was not really an uncle) was a nice guy, but I didn't want to give up a Sunday for work either, and it's not like we were close enough that I wanted to hang out there just for the sake of it. He was just a bachelor friend of my parents from way back who told jokes that were so bad they were almost funny.

That door closed, Mom turned to my sister. "What about you, Sarah?" I realize how that looks, that she makes a big deal about me going, and then with my sister, it's almost like she's an afterthought. It's not as bad as that, she loves both of us, would probably die for both of us, but my mom always did take a less hands-on approach with my sister. It benefited Sarah as much as anything else, but sometimes I thought she felt underappreciated and that bothered me. "You don't even have to paint, you can go next door and visit Jo." When we were kids and visited Shoop, Sarah would often go play with his neighbor's kid. Sometimes I did too.

My sister rolled her eyes, and exhaled in disgust. "Mom, Joanne and I haven't been friends in, like, years."

"Why, what happened?"

"Nothing happened, we just grew apart. We don't even go to the same school, and..." She shrugged instead of finishing the sentence and started again a few seconds later. "It's just I guess we didn't have much in common. Once we both got phones, whenever I went over there, it made more sense to just text our real friends than interact. Besides, I've got plans. Jill and I are going window shopping, and then maybe see a movie." I didn't remember a Jill, and wondered briefly if she could be Clara's real identity. Maybe she'd tell Sarah she was into me and ask for permission...

I pushed the thought away, and took a bite of syrup-covered bacon. It solves everything, even heartache and hopeless attractions. Okay, it doesn't actually solve them, but it helps you deal. It kept me from thinking about Clara until I'd gotten the little crunchy bacon crumbs out from between my lip and teeth.

The rest of breakfast, I thought about her several more times, but I could usually redirect my thoughts, focus on the conversation, which was mostly Mom and Dad talking, Sarah was still in her pensive mood. I did smile at her in the hopes she'd cheer up, but she looked at me once and then back to her plate.

Shortly after breakfast, Mom and Dad left for church, and then a few minutes after that, Sarah left as well, her backpack slung over her shoulder that seemed a little out of place for a shopping trip, but I didn't think much of it. And I was alone again.

Nothing I did for the next hour or so was very interesting or relevant. I was on my phone, some (internet and games, not talking to anybody), and eventually, turned to a book. It was while I was reading that my phone rang, an actual person, although my phone didn't recognize the number. I answered it and said hello, fully expecting it to be a wrong number or some kind of sales pitch from a telemarketer. Most of my friends prefer to text rather than actually phone.

Instead, my heart began to race as I heard an English-accented voice asking, "Hello, is this Nick?"

Chapter Twenty-Three:

The accent might have been fake (although, if it was, it was good), but right then it was music to my ears. "Clara," I said instantly, excitedly, even though one second later I realized I should have been playing it cool. That's usually a better route to romantic success than being too eager and obviously into somebody, though I never understood why that should be. She was silent for a second after I said her name, or the one she gave me, like she didn't know what to say, so I thought since I'd already blown playing it cool, I'd just go with it. "I was just thinking about you." Still silence. Okay, time to go all in. "In fact, I've been thinking about you a lot since Friday." My face contorted into an anticipatory wince when I said it, preparing to get my heart crushed again. Watch, I told myself, she just lost an earring or something in my car and needed it back.

But that didn't happen. "I have too," she admitted in a voice that sounded either sad or embarrassed to have to admit it. It also came after another silence, one so long I might think she'd hung up if I didn't hear some faint but difficult-to-decipher background noises. I thought I might have heard a honk, like she was somewhere outside.

After her admission (and my silent fist bump to the air), I gave her the awkward silence. She called me, after all. I made the first move, admitting I still had some kind of feelings for her. It was up to her to suggest where we go from here, or tell me why she wanted to talk to me. I suppose I could have busted her on her lying about her name and possibly her accent, but... I didn't want to, not yet. Maybe I was afraid I'd spook her and she'd just hang up. I later learned I was probably right about that.

Finally, she gave in and said, "I was wondering, if, you... wanted to maybe do it again."

This time I didn't actually fist bump, but the feeling was there, and a big shit-eating grin on my face. "Sure," I said. Now is the time I somehow manage to play it cool. "Do you have anywhere particular in mind?"

"There's... I can't have anybody here. Is there anyone at your place?"

"My parents'll be gone all day," I told her. "And I'm pretty sure Sarah will too. She said she was going to a movie this afternoon." I hoped my sister's name wouldn't provoke a pang of conscience.

"I know," she said. "They invited me." Another silence. "So it would be all right, if I came over there?"

"Sure," I said again.

"You didn't tell anybody, did you? That we did anything?" It came out suddenly, like she'd just remembered the possibility and was scared.

"No," I assured her. "I promised I wouldn't."

"And you'll keep today secret, too?"

That wasn't what I wanted to hear, but I still got the sense she was weakening on her resolve... maybe she'd wind up wanting me to keep the sex a secret, so she's not viewed as a slut, but willing to publicly go out with me. That I could deal with. So I agreed. "If you want."

"Okay, then I'll be over soon." She hung up, rather abruptly, really, and then I realized that she didn't ask my address, which means she knew where I lived already. If she really was a friend of Sarah's, she's quite possibly even been here before. More revealing was that she somehow got my cell number... that she couldn't just know from her friendship with my sister, nor could she casually look it up online when the whim struck... she had to actually get my number from somebody. She asked somebody... or maybe she peeked at somebody else's phone list, but even that level of effort had to be a good sign, didn't it?

At the very least, I'd get another crack at changing her mind, and, unless I screwed it up, would get some sex. I even hoped my sister might come home early, catch us together, and so blow any reason for her to be keeping a secret.

I'd also get another chance at solving the mystery of Clara's identity. With her being in the room, now that I knew she wasn't a stranger, it would become much easier for me to look for subtle signs in her behavior, look, echoes of the Vibe of somebody else I knew. Of course, I didn't intend to rely on my deductive skills alone if I didn't have to. Before she arrived, I sent off another flurry of texts to my friends who were there last night, asking who Clara was, practically begging, telling them it was really bothering me. But even if that failed, I thought I had an ace up my sleeve. All I had to do was snap a picture of Clara, nothing smutty, just an innocent face-shot. Then all I had to do was find somebody who recognized her picture... I'd ask Mom and Dad first, because if it was one of Sarah's friends (or an ex of mine!) they might know her... or I could ask Sarah. It'd risk pissing her off, but it'd probably work. And if it didn't, surely somebody at school would answer me. Nobody would even need to know we'd done anything, for me, that kind of thing wasn't really suspicious. People who know me well enough have seen me use pictures on my phone like that before, like when I'd just faked my way through a conversation and pretended I knew who I was talking to... it feels a little rude to ask somebody who they are after they've been talking to me for a few minutes and I suddenly realize they expected me to remember them from somewhere. Even if it's right at the start of the conversation, it can get a little awkward to ask them their name. Because with some people, people I'm close with, I can recognize them using non-facial cues, so if I fail on somebody and have to ask their name... it's kind of like saying I didn't care enough to remember their own particular Vibe. So instead of dealing with that, sometimes I just fake it, casually snap a picture while we're talking, then ask somebody later who's in the picture. Nobody has yet jumped to the conclusion that I've just recently fucked the person in the photo and that's why I'm trying to figure out who they are.

With that trick, I had no doubt that I'd be able to find out her real identity within a few days, if I could only snap a picture. But that didn't mean I didn't want to know who she was, before we did anything else, or at least anything too serious. Kissing, maybe, but I didn't want to do anything sexual again, I decided, until I knew who I was sticking my dick in. Unfortunately, none of my so-called friends replied to my messages before the doorbell rang, so I decided I'd have to try to figure it out from Clara herself.

When I opened the door, I recognized her immediately. As Clara, that is... I knew it was her and not somebody else who rang the doorbell. Not by her face--I still couldn't tell you anything about it other than that it was beautiful--but by her clothes. She didn't wear exactly the same outfit, but it was close. Her top was more frilly and covered her shoulders fully, but it was white again. Her skirt was ruffled this time, and hung looser and a little longer, but it was again black. And her hair was in the same style, with the pink hair extension again (I was now a hundred percent certain it was an extension this time, firstly it was on the other side of the head, and secondly because, if I looked closely, I could see where it attached). Most dramatically, she once again wore those striped socks, now looking like leggings as there wasn't that visible sliver of skin. I wondered briefly if she did that all for my benefit, somehow knowing that it would make me recognize her as Clara, or if it was just a part of her personal style. If the latter, I can't recall anybody with it before.

"Hey," I said, and put on my best casual "I'm glad to see you but not desperate or anything and certainly not madly in love with you" smile.

"Hi," she said in that distinctive, probably fake, accent. "Can I come in?"

Chapter Twenty-Four:

I stepped aside, and walked ahead of her to the family room. I didn't want to assume anything and lead her to my bedroom, like we were just going to jump to fucking right off the bat, even though she'd suggested on the phone that was part of the reason we were getting together. So I sat on the couch, and she sat beside me, but... not close. Her hands were on her knees, which were shaking a little. "So..."

"So..." she repeated. I hate the awkwardness of a new relationship, where you're not quite sure where you stand. And I didn't even know who it was.

"So I'm pretty sure Paul and Helen hooked up the other night," I said, just to say something. She looked up at me suddenly. "I mean, he's not saying anything, Paul keeps that sort of thing to himself, but... yeah, he's my best friend, I know the signs by now."

"You don't think he saw the signs about you and us, do you?" She actually said 'you and us.'

I shook my head. "No, probably not. I've got a better poker face." Not that we talked face to face. "He did warn me off you, though."

She swallowed. "He did? What did he say?"

"Just that nothing was going to happen, and I should just forget you." I asked, trying to keep my tone light, one of the questions on my mind, "You don't secretly already have a boyfriend, do you?"


"...Is there a guy who'd be really pissed off if he heard you tell me that?" RIP, Mitch Hedberg.

She smiled a little, and shook her head. "No, I promise."

"So why would he warn me off you?" She didn't answer, and the thought just occurred to me. Shit. What if she was one of Paul's exes? Not a full-fledged girlfriend, but someone he'd once had his usual friends-with-benefits arrangement, where she begged him the same thing she begged me, not to tell anybody. He didn't challenge her assertion she was a virgin during the 'I never' game, but it's always possible she did everything but, and Paul's vague warning sounded an awful lot like the other times he's steered me away from the girls he'd been with. Our bro-code rule is that somebody you fooled around with are off limits without explicit permission... and maybe Paul didn't want to give that permission, but felt he couldn't directly tell me why he wanted me away from her without breaking whatever confidence he had with Clara. "Do you and Paul have some kind of... history?"

"With Paul?" Her eyes widened, like even the question was absurd. "Of course not. I mean, we know each other, but..."

"How do you know each other?" Did he have cousins? I didn't think so. Maybe his dad had a fling with another woman and he had a half-sister out there... and he didn't tell me because he was ashamed how it reflected on his parents' relationship before his mom died. As theories go, it was pretty crazy, but at that point, I was reaching for crazy. I didn't want her to be one of Paul's exes.

"Um... just, you know, from school." I waited, but she wasn't forthcoming about how, other than to change the subject and somehow get to the point all at once. "Look, I haven't done anything with any of your friends, except Sean, and even that was just a little making out." Making out didn't count as 'fooling around' unless he got off. I suppose I might have technically broken our bro-code, but... fuck him. Our bro-code was more guidelines than anything else, anyway, particularly where the heart wasn't involved. We've all slipped once or twice. Often around Vivi.

I was looking at Clara while thinking about this, and I guess she must have taken it for judgment. "Okay, I hit on Paul once, but he turned me down."

That was a little better than being an ex, although it wasn't ideal. "Why would he turn you down?"

She shrugged. "I guess I'm not hot enough for him?"

"Now I know you're lying to me," I said with a grin, and she looked down at her legs and blushed a little. "He was probably seeing somebody else."

"Maybe. I wasn't really that into him anyway." She frowned, though, which made me wonder. Now maybe I wasn't just the second choice after Sean, but actually the third. "Anyway, I didn't come here to talk about your friends." She slid a little closer to me on the couch.

"Oh yeah?" I smiled. "Why did you come here then?"

She got even closer, close enough to touch me, and she did, putting a hand on my leg. "You know... what we did... it was... fantastic." As if she hadn't noticed my boner suddenly appearing, she asked nervously, "You thought so too, right?"

"I sure did..." But it didn't hurt to hear it, especially with all the mixed signals. I turned to look at her, staring in her eyes. "Not just the sex, either, the kissing was pretty good too."

"Yeah," she barely whispered, but I was close enough to hear it, our heads had been drawing together for the last few moments like there was some kind of gravitational attraction. But it was slow, too, or at least it felt that way, almost agonizingly slow. I think part of it was me holding back, after all the mixed signals I wanted her to make the move, and she was getting closer but maybe felt the same way. Then, it seemed like all of a sudden, our lips were touching, opening, and we were having a kiss... a lot more tentative than that first one, but sweet all the same.

At least until she drew back suddenly, in response to a sudden noise. It was just the fridge in the kitchen, turning the compressor back on after some down time where it wasn't needed, but it might as well have been a knock at the door by the way she jumped away. "Sorry," she said, with a sheepish grin. Her hand was now on my chest, playing with my shirt. It'd migrated there sometime during the kiss. The things you don't notice when you're caught up in a moment.

"It's okay," I said, and leaned in for another, but she pulled away this time.

"Wait... do you maybe have something to drink?"

"I can get you something," I said. "Nothing alcoholic, if that's what you mean, though." Anything I could steal from my parents would be noticed. Mom would freak.

"What about... pot?"

I made a face. "Is that what you came here for?" I didn't have any of that on me anyway, in case Mom searched my room.

"No!" she said, and it sounded sincere, but then, I've believed so much about her that turned out to be not entirely true. I obviously wasn't in a position to tell. "It's just... I'm a little nervous."

"Nervous? You remember we've already had sex, right?"

Her face turned red. "I know... but... it's a lot less terrifying when I've got a little bit of a buzz. It lets me get outside myself... helps me forget that... that I really shouldn't be doing this."

"Sorry, I don't have anything," I told her. "But there's nothing wrong with what we're doing. I like you, you like me, nobody's getting hurt. And we don't have to have sex again if you don't want to."

"I do... I do want to... I just... I'm not a very brave person."

I remembered her practically jumping on me, then suggesting I take her virginity the first night we met. "Seemed brave last night." The blush returned, just a milder one.

"Could we maybe go up to your room? I keep feeling like someone's going to walk in on us."

"Sure." I stood, and offered her my hand to help her up. When she grabbed it, my thumb closed on the back of her hand, it was warm and soft, and even the... weight of her, as I helped her to her feet, that seemed comfortable, right, like we were made for each other. Naive, I know. We walked to the stairs, and I got an idea. "Why don't you go on up, and I'll get you something to drink. What do you want?"

She shrugged. "Surprise me."

She started up the stairs, and I headed for the kitchen, but when she couldn't see me, I tiptoed back and looked and listened, and discovered my suspicion was correct. She went straight for my room. No hesitation, looking through other rooms until she found mine.

Clara had definitely been in this house before.

Chapter Twenty-Five:

It didn't really mean much. The suspect pool was narrowing, but still pretty wide open. It left most of my sister's friends (I have no idea which of them have been here and which haven't, even if I've run into them here), and I was already pretty sure she was a friend of Sarah's... she's said she was invited to the movie, after all. This just helped confirm it, establish how good a friend. She was good enough a friend to know the layout of our upstairs.

Maybe one of my sister's very best friends? She hadn't had many... or she'd had too many, depending on how you looked at it. There were a lot of names I'd hear all of a sudden, non-stop, like she was my sister's new best friend, names that seemed to come out of nowhere because she'd joined some new club or something and met someone she liked. Then, without a word, I'd rarely if ever hear the name again. But there weren't many names that I regularly heard over the long haul. Cindy was one, but she was the one I knew it couldn't be, since my sister was there last night.

Unless.... maybe my sister went somewhere else, out to see a boy or something, and just used Cindy as an excuse, and Cindy went out for a little fun, but had to disguise her identity to protect Sarah's alibi. I had a momentary, terrified thought that maybe Riley was my sister... I mean, what kind of name is Riley, anyway? It sounds made up. The hair color wasn't quite right, but sometimes lighting tricks you on that, and it was possible it had done so there. I didn't want to believe it, since it meant my sister was a lot more promiscuous than I ever imagined, into drinking and drugs and threesomes, the type of girl to simulate oral sex on a beer bottle and flash her underwear, or more, in a pot circle. But I shrugged that thought off. Paul wouldn't have let Sean hook up with my sister. No way. Going after siblings were against the bro-code. But Clara could still be Cindy. Maybe that was why she couldn't go home.

I went into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of Sprite for me, and, on impulse, one of the lemon iced teas my sister likes, put them on the counter and pulled my phone from my pocket. Still no messages, but that wasn't why I wanted it. I called up the camera app and then grabbed both drinks in one hand and went upstairs, holding the phone up like I was texting.

As soon as I got inside my room, I snapped a picture of Clara... silently. I turned off the sound it makes by default, because I do those subtle pictures of people, to identify them later, a lot. At the time, she was sitting on my bed, nothing special, but I decided I'd have to crop it out to just her face so nobody knew she'd been in my room. "Sorry," I said to her. "Just texting one of my friends."

"About what?"

"He asked if I wanted to go out, I said I was busy." I smiled at her, exited the camera app, pocketed my phone, and tossed her the drink. "Here, it's not alcoholic, but, it's something."

She looked at it, then up at me, then back at it. "Ooh, thanks. I love this stuff."

I drank some of mine, then she drank some of hers, and we looked at each other. Finally, she put her drink on the nightstand by my bed, and I put mine on my dresser, I put on a little bit of music (softly), and I sat down on the bed beside her. "Still nervous?" I asked.

Clara laughed. "Yeah. I know I shouldn't be, but..." She looked up at me, into her eyes, which seemed to glisten. "I really like you."

Finally something I couldn't take either way. "I really like you too," I said. "I'd like to see more of you."

She smiled, and her hands tugged at the bottom of her top, and then started pulling up. Not what I meant, but, okay, I could work with that. I watched as she slipped it over her head, revealing a lovely thin pale body, wearing a pink sportsbra with black striping, the kind that could be worn as a really skimpy top, if you were the bold type. It squashed her breasts a little, but with no top on that let me see that they were actually larger than I thought, not huge by any means, but a good, overflowing handful. She pulled me forward, and then sank towards the bed, pulling me on top of her, and from that point on, we were full-on making out again... it wasn't just one kiss, it was several, mostly on the lips but sometimes on the neck, sometimes involving grinding our mostly clothed bodies together... writing such an encounter is much harder and less interesting than actually engaging in it, and any detailed description would be a lie, anyway, because it's impossible to remember all the steps. So I'll just say we made out, a lot, and our tongues danced, our hands roamed, my shirt got discarded, and eventually that sports bra got pulled up towards her neck, and first my hands, and later my lips, closed on perky pink nipples.

I had quite an erection going on, and she felt it multiple times in multiple ways, but it went unacknowledged, until finally after a kiss she got bold and one hand cupped my crotch directly, then slid up the pants just over my throbbing shaft, and she looked into my eyes. "Let me see it..."

I moved off her, onto my back, unzipped, and pulled my pants and boxers down as one, just to mid-thigh, but enough for my dick to spring ahead. Mostly on her side, she reached out, took it in her hands, and squeezed... probably a little too tightly for comfort, at first, but the pressure soon eased off. We didn't say anything in words, but somehow telepathically engaged in a conversation about the possibility of oral sex, or if not telepathically at least composed entirely of glances at each other and my penis, and then she bent over me and started licking. Not sucking, at first, licking, literally like it was an ice cream, all on the outside, never actually going inside her mouth. That changed after the first thirty seconds, and it went inside, and I closed my eyes and lay my head back on the pillow, enjoying the sensation of a warm, wet tongue. I don't know if it was her first blowjob, but she wasn't bad at it.

When I opened my eyes again, it was to look at those striped stockings, which I followed up to her bare legs and then under her skirt, which, because of the way she was leaning over me, was in reach, so I slid my hands along the same path my eyes had just followed, and beyond, under the skirt, rubbing her panty-covered mound, which was damp with her excitement.

She wasn't the only one excited, I was pretty close to blowing in the mouth of a girl who's identity I didn't even know... and while part of me like that, because it gave me a sense of danger and mystery, another part of me, the romantic part, recoiled. I'd already failed on my resolution to find out who she was before we did anything, so I amended it... I told myself I should figure out who she was before she made me cum again... a silly distinction, and even sillier because I just didn't want to confront her, even though it might have been the easiest way. She'd become a challenge, a mystery I wanted to solve rather than bully or shame her into telling me the truth. "Okay, okay, that's enough," I said, stopping the slow stroking of her slit through her underwear and patting her lightly on her ass cheek, just to get her attention. I had to stop right then or I'd break the new, modified resolution I made only seconds ago.

She got the message and pulled off, though a little confused, and looked up at me. "Was I not doing it right?" And she seemed so earnestly insecure that I wanted to hug her and tell her it was the best ever, even though it wasn't. It wasn't the worst either, but the worst blowjob I've ever had is still better than masturbation, and I masturbate a lot, so even not being the best, parts of me were aching to just grab her head and put her mouth back where it belonged.

Instead I said something else. "It was great, but I made a promise to myself..." I didn't even know where I was going with this until I said it. It was true, of course, I had made a kind of promise to myself, but to finish the statement and have it stay true, I'd have to tell her I knew she was deceiving me, and that would ruin the mood, ruin the game, either reveal the truth or make her deny me the chance to figure it out. So I had to think of something else, and while she was giving me that expectant look, I thought fast, finally coming up with, "That if I got another shot with you, I wasn't going to cum until you did first."


God, my dick was throbbing, and seeping a little precum too, but I committed to the lie. "Friday, that was your first time, right?" She nodded. "Well, I'm afraid I let you down. I know you didn't have an orgasm." I pulled my shorts back up, not for modesty's sake, but the snug confinement around my dick with no direct stimulation seemed to take some of the pressure off. I did kick off the pants entirely, though.

"It was... it was still really really good."

"That's not good enough for me. I owe you, and I always pay my debts."

Chapter Twenty-Six:

"You really don't have to, though."

"I want to," I insisted. "Besides, it gets you more naked, and... I'm kind of looking forward to that part."

She smiled. "You've already seen pretty much everything." Even now, she still had her tits out.

"Enhh, it was too dark in the car to really get a good look. And trust me, a guy never gets tired of seeing a body as hot as yours."

"Okay," she said, with a sigh, like she was doing me a favor. Well, I can't deny I'd like it too. "But would you close the door? All while I was blowing you I was freaking out that... your parents could like, walk in at any minute."

"Relax," I said, but I got up and went for the door while I did it. "They'll be gone for hours." The real danger was my sister would suddenly get tired of her friends, as she sometimes did, and come home early... but if she caught us, that wouldn't be entirely a bad thing, as embarrassing as it would be. So I didn't mention that part, and she didn't bring it up either. I closed the door and turned back to her, and she bit her lip then pulled her shirt entirely over her head. This didn't show me anything I wasn't already seeing, and I probably would have preferred she keep it on, but they were nice tits, as pretty from a distance as they were close up. Next she stood to remove the skirt, dropping it to her knees, and then sitting down to lift her feet clear. Finally, she grabbed the top of her underwear, fell back on the bed and lifted her legs all the way in the air like one of those synchronized swimmer moves only instead of splashing around in water, she pulled the underwear off her legs and gave me a spectacular view of her ass and light little slit, before her legs touched down again. Now she sat on my bed wearing nothing but those striped stockings that first caught my eye, though with unexpected modesty she'd crossed one leg over the other.

She tugged at the fabric. "What do you think, should I take them off, or leave 'em?"

I shrugged. "Lady's choice."

"I'll leave them, then. So you know it's me." She said it in a half-teasing tone, like she knew I wouldn't actually forget her, but also knew it helped, in my head, to have a touchstone.

God, I thought, she gets me. She's perfect for me. And I didn't even know her name. But it didn't matter, I was swept up. I closed the distance between us and kissed her passionately, hungrily, leaning into her and making her lean and eventually fall back on the bed, drawing her legs up almost in a fetal position, knees together, hanging off the edge.

I pulled away, and then pulled her legs apart. Yes, her pussy was flush and glistening, and with that intoxicating, familiar aroma, and I convinced myself this time the cake wouldn't be a lie, it would be delicious and satisfying. I climbed all the way on the bed, planted myself between those legs, and kissed up and down the mound, enjoying the way her body quivered with the touch of my lips. It quickly became the touch of my tongue, which took long licks up the slit, and I got my hand in there, spreading the lips apart so I could probe the delicate pink insides. The taste was much fainter this time around, less of a sweaty undertone, probably because she'd showered right before coming here, and even though there was nothing outrageously wrong with it before, this made it even easier to commit to a much more extensive session of oral sex, with a little fingerbanging on the side.

I started slowly, but picked up the pace, and soon my tongue went into overdrive, and I could tell she enjoyed it not just by the way her legs shook, but by the regular tightening around my fingers, curled up slightly inside her while I licked all around her clit, although not often directly on. You have to be light on the clit at first, at least with the girls I've been with, and only go directly at it when they're ready. But it's a balancing act, and not just in gauging her reactions just right, but also watching your own, because, at least for me, feeling her writhe and buck underneath me, because of me, feeling her legs squeeze my head... that's arousing as fuck, and I was already aroused from the blowjob. The last thing I wanted was a messy pair of boxers because my cock, trapped between me and the covers, felt too much friction from it growing and pulsing in its confined space and I wound up shooting off.

I had to do a little shifting at one point, get up on my knees a little, to lessen that friction, but that only served to give me some leverage to send my tongue in even deeper, or at least that's what it felt like, and I heard a catch in her breath, and she soon followed that up by whispering, "Oh, my god..." And, although it's hard to be sure with only three whispered words, I think I made her break out of her English accent. Go me.

That only charged me up more, and I judged her ready, or ready enough, and if I waited much longer, I might lose control. So I went back to long licks up each side of the labia, and returned my finger to its thrusting. It was still extremely wet there, and slid in easily, which had to be a good sign. I teased my mouth around the clit a little more, just to be sure, and then, when the contractions began getting more regular and with shorter gaps, like a muscle spasm, I focused my tongue almost entirely on the nub itself, and listened as she made these sharp breaths, like she was holding most of her air in and only exhaling and inhaling the most shallow amount. Then I withdrew, to build a little anticipation, pulled my fingers out too, and suddenly came back with my tongue, and this time her hand fell on the back of my head, like she was telling me to stay there. That was good... normally I'm used to a little more direction in what areas to focus on, either verbally or with pushing and pulling, but thus far she'd been pretty passive, like she wasn't sure what she wanted and just enjoyed whatever I was doing. I wondered if I was the first one to ever lick her down there. Still, the hand on the head is a good sign, so I began sucking on the area that I'd mostly only grazed with my tongue and nose, and her legs shook, then her body followed, and she let loose a scream that told me I'd accomplished my goal.

When the scream tapered off into rapid regular breaths that were beginning to slow, I eased off, went back to just kissing around the mound, in the less sensitive areas. Alexandra once smacked me when I tried to stay on the clit too long, it grew too painful for her right after she came. Girls are different, but I didn't want to risk it. When her breathing had changed to slow but very deep inhalations and exhalations, she said, "Oh my God," again, and I think that accent was still gone. There was something familiar about the voice. I just couldn't quite place it.

I pushed myself up on my arms, grinning at her as her arm limply fell away from my head, like she couldn't even lift it. "You like?"

"That was..." She shook her head, and then, "Oh, you clever boy," she said, and just like that, the accent was completely back. I guess there were worse things in the world than being called clever in the oral sex department. Especially when it was followed by a flurry of kissing, as she pushed herself up, and then pulled me to her, or her to me, or a little of both, and our lips met again, for several minutes, and I sort of crawled up on her, my dick banging against her leg, shooting off, not a jet of cum, but one of those pulses of lubrication you sometimes get that you can feel, a warning that cum would be coming if you kept that up.

After we broke the kissing a while, we stared into each other's eyes, and I felt like pressing my luck. "So, are you still set on keeping our relationship from everybody?"

Wrong thing to say. Her face, which was previously, positively beaming, suddenly fell, and she looked lost. "Yes. I'm sorry. Nobody can ever find out. That's the deal."

Chapter Twenty-Seven

I forced back a groan of frustration at being rejected, again. I just couldn't understand why she was so adamant about this. "But why not? What's the big deal? If it's my sister, she'll understand... I know her better than anybody."

She grunted. "Not as well as you think." She turned her face away from me, like she didn't want to look at me. I guess I killed the mood again. "So, do you want to have sex, or not?"

"I do if you do," I said. She turned back to me, smiled a shy little smile, and nodded. "But this is the last time."

She must have taken that as a question. "Maybe it doesn't have to be the absolute last time. Maybe if you don't tell anybody, I..."

I shook my head and cut her off. Time to give her some of her own medicine. "No. If I can't be with you, really with you... then this has got to be the last time, or I'll wind up either blabbing or... I don't know. 'Cause you dancing in and out of my life is going to mess me up. I'm already a little bit in love with you."

She froze up, and I realized I'd blundered again. I didn't mean it that way, sure, I hoped the ultimatum might wake her up, but when I said I was in love with her, I meant it to come off as not-entirely serious banter... even though the sentiment felt entirely serious, and absolutely true. Maybe that's why I couldn't sell it as a joke. "What?" she asked.

I shrugged, looked away, unable to meet her eye right then. "I'm just saying if I can't move forward, then it's best to just stop. I can't do the friends-with-benefits thing. So, let's do it like you said the other night, just make one more good memory and close the door on it for good."

"Oh." That was her only response, and I hoped maybe I'd scored after all, made her think, perhaps made her realize what she might be giving up. "I guess you're right. Then let's make it a brilliant one, right?" I smiled, although my heart wasn't in it. My cock still was, it had maybe lost some of its vigor, which under the circumstances was good, but it was still raring to go. "You've got a condom?"

My face fell. "Shit." I hadn't replaced the one I used last time. I have a tendency to put things in weird locations and then completely forget, so I might have another one kicking around somewhere, but I'd have to tear through my room looking.

Clara bit her lip, looked around. "I suppose one time without wouldn't be TOO much of a risk..."

That brought my dick up to full readiness and once again ready to burst. But my brain still won out. "No, just give me a second. I'll just steal one from my dad." Much less effort than making my room look like it had just been burgled.


"My dad. He keeps a bunch in his bathroom." I don't know why he still uses condoms with my mom, if it's all the time or just occasionally. I prefer to just think that sometimes my Mom's normal birth control gets compromised by antibiotics or some other shit and they'd rather to be safe than sorry. If it's not that, I don't want to know. "He said that if I ever needed one, I could take one from him. You know, one of those 'I would prefer you didn't have sex at all but if you do you had better take precautions,' conversations." I only took him up on it a few times. I prefer to buy my own and fly under the radar. The last time I raided his supply, there were only two left and he had to have noticed that it suddenly dropped to one. Over the next few days I got a lot of shoulder-punches at home by a guy who had the same Vibe as my Dad except that he wore an unfamiliar grin on his face every time I entered the room. I guess he was happy I was having sex at all. Proud or not, it was still embarrassing. But I figured by then, odds were he had a box that was full enough that he'd never notice one missing.

"Wow," Clara said. "I can't believe that. I'd never get that talk, they'd freak that I was even thinking about sex."

I shrugged. "Double standard, I guess, parents are different with girls. Maybe yours are more conservative in general." Though, you'd think, considering the girls have more to lose if they get pregnant, they'd be well-protected. The thought that Clara wasn't, maybe not even by the Pill, made me more determined than ever to get a condom. Even if it was the last in the box. I didn't want to knock up a fourteen-year-old. If that really is how old she was. "Besides, you are a little younger than me," I added. Although I was fourteen when Dad made the offer, that wasn't the point... the point was to see if she'd correct me. She didn't, but of course that proved nothing I didn't already suspect.

"Still pretty unfair," she grumbled, pouted, but then got over it. "So... you going to get the...." Before she could finish, we were interrupted by the low buzz of a vibrating phone. Even though the sound was soft, it still made her jump.

"Is that me or you?" I asked.

She reached instinctively towards her clothes, and then stopped and pulled back. "It's you. I don't even have my phone on me."

That was weird. Who leaves their phone behind? And she called me from what sounded like outside. What did she do, find a pay phone? But by this time I fished my phone out of the pocket of my abandoned pants, and looked at it. Incoming text, from Trevor, finally answering my request for information on Clara. "Look, bro, I wish I could tell you but I can't. It's someone you know, but you don't want to know any more than that." Well, that was intriguing and disturbing all at once, even if it, too, was just confirmation of what I'd already suspected.

"Something wrong?" Clara asked, seeing me stare into my phone.

"No," I said. "But I'd better answer this."

"Now?" she asked, a little incredulous that I'd just drift away when sex was on the table. And normally, she was right, that'd be crazy. But after I showed my ass by dropping the L-word earlier, I thought it couldn't hurt to look a little less interested. And I had one final crack at an answer I really wanted. I had a feeling I was going to give in and have sex with her regardless of whether I figured it out, but I wanted to know.

"I have to fetch a condom anyway," I pointed out. "I'll just bang out an answer on the way." She shrugged, and sat back on the bed, and I headed out of the room, dick still making an impression on my boxers, but that didn't interfere with my texting. I had one more chance, a hail Mary, kind of a dirty trick on two levels, but not that dirty. First, it was lying to a friend, but my friends were lying to me first, so my conscience was clear. Second, I would technically be breaking my word to Clara. But again, she lied to me first, and, whether it worked or not, I could always say I lied about everything. Dirty or not, it was, however, one of the oldest tricks in the book. My response was, "It's okay. I already know. She told me. She's here now."

I got the condom from the private bathroom in the master bedroom, from a half-full box that wouldn't miss one, and then lingered there, waiting for a response. I waited a minute or two, until I heard my name. "Nick?" It was Clara. She was calling from my room, a little anxious.

"Yeah," I called back, then looked at the phone again. Still no answer. Damn it. Well, there was a pretty girl waiting for me to have sex with her, and even if I wasn't sure of her identity, I was sure I already fucked her and I wanted to again, and decided I was going to break my promise to myself again. I couldn't think of any possible answer that would make me change my mind. If she had diseases or something, I'd already been exposed, how much more risk could one last condom-covered romp be? And if she was just... off-limits, well, I could hardly be blamed if I didn't know, right?

So I returned to my room, tearing the condom open on my way. Clara was there, pacing back and forth, and holding her panties in her hands. "Maybe this was a bad idea," she said.

Fuck, being around this girl was like a roller coaster. "You don't want to?"

"No, I want to... just maybe it would be better if..." She shrugged, and her eyes went down to my boxers. "Never mind. I guess I just got cold feet. I'm okay."

The only thing that came to mind was some stupid joke about how she shouldn't have cold feet wearing socks like that, and what I actually said, "Okay." Thinking that wasn't enough, I slid my boxers down and she stared at my huge bobbing cock once more.

She matched my bold motion with one of her own, dropping the panties she was holding, crawling on my bed and presenting her rear to me, doggy style. She looked over her shoulder at me, like she was offering herself.

I guess it was a good position, for what might be our last time together. More impersonal, help cut down on any more stupid one-way emotional connections, no kissing, no looking into her eyes, just stare at the back of her head and pound her till I get off. And fuck I was hard.

I don't know how this story would have turned out if I didn't get another text from Trevor right then. Maybe, if I waited until after to look at it, I'd feel more betrayed, disgusted, maybe it would have changed everything. But I looked at the text message, and I went ahead anyway. I couldn't tell myself I'd been tricked, although I had been. I was tricked the first time. The second time, I went in knowing, even if it was just because, after nearly cumming several times and pulling back at the last minute, I was too horny to refuse at that point.

I looked at the text. Stared at it in incomprehension for a few seconds, then realized what it meant, and my cock didn't shrink. Instead, it did that sudden jerk when you're already fully hard and you somehow get even more turned on. There's nowhere to grow, so instead it just spasms. And that was when I knew I was going to do it.

'Clara' looked over me, and for the first time the 'Vibe' clicked into place, and I knew her as she was, even with the phony accent, which suddenly made so much sense. "Something wrong?"

"No," I said, and turned the phone off, then put it down, and finally put the condom on. I was definitely going to need a condom for this, and part of me was screaming at how insane that was, but the rest of me didn't care. She was there, in front of me, waiting for me to fuck her, and that's just what I was decided to do. If it didn't bother her, it didn't bother me.

The first time was had sex, I fucked Clara, and I could be excused for that. The second time, I fucked my little sister. And if there's a God, I hope he'll forgive me for going into it with my eyes open.

Chapter Twenty-Eight:

You may be thinking that this is no big surprise, that you figured it out from the moment the party started, or even earlier, considering what kind of site this is. Good for you, but that's not the point. This story isn't about surprising you, it's about telling you what I went through, and in real life, it's easier to see a twist coming when you're not living in the situation. Big twist endings are overrated, even in fiction... spoilers are everywhere, and in any story worth rereading, all the surprises to the reader are used up the first time. Besides, there are still twists coming.

The point to this story isn't who she was, but how I got to that point, and what I did after I discovered. I didn't know until then that Clara was my sister. Everyone must have known but me. And it took a few seconds for me to understand Trevor's text. Here's what he sent me: "Yeah, I didn't think she could keep you in the dark for long. Knew we should have just told you. If it makes you feel better, Paul tore Sean a new one for going after your sister in the first place, and we did our best to keep her out of trouble for you." We weren't talking about my sister, we were talking about Clara. And then it hit me, if that was the secret, so much made sense, even if so much else didn't. Why their phones were exactly the same. Why Sean abandoned her for Riley after Paul talked to him. Why she went up to smoke pot, and then was sent back down almost immediately. Why she was so good at playing another role and not breaking character. Why Sarah was acting weird around me since that night. Why I was off-limits. I should have made the connections long ago, some of them were so obvious in hindsight... but my mind wouldn't even go there, it already knew that it couldn't be my sister, so she didn't even make the list of suspects. It was only when I got the text confirming it that I could even consider it. and even then, I didn't entirely believe it.

Trevor also apologized for his cousin, although that was after I turned off my phone, so I didn't get that text until later. He swore that when he found out Oliver had been egging me on, he tore him a new one too. Good, because no matter how it turned out, what a fuckhead thing to do. That douche knew what was going on but just thought it would be funny if I made a move on her. Or maybe not funny, maybe he thought it'd be hot. Trevor had said he was into some weird porn, and there was a lot of incest porn out there.

Sure, I'd seen some of that before, even fapped to it, but I never connected it to my own life. I never thought I'd do anything with my own sister until she was on all fours on my bed, naked except for a pair of long striped socks, and I had an erection you wouldn't believe.

I don't even remember exactly what I was thinking as I approached her from behind, watching her look back at me with arousal and maybe a little apprehension. I just knew that I wanted it, and I felt entitled to it, and I just moved, like I was in a trance. I wasn't just seeing 'Clara' in a new light, as my sister, but I also saw my sister in a new light, as a sexual being with all the same nasty urges that I had. Why not work them out together? I grabbed onto one cheek, and then fingered her briefly with my free hand, just a little bit, enough to know that she was wet... my own sister, wet, at the thought of me fucking her, and antsy, wriggling on my finger a little. Hard to believe... but then I was hard at the thought of fucking her, so, maybe it made more sense than I would have ever thought.

My finger withdrew... my condom-covered cock approached, rubbing up against her slit. I do recall thinking, at that point, how technically we weren't really fucking if there was a condom in the way. It was silly, but I guess I needed the justification, at least that last moment when the head pressed into her yielding hole, and half thrust into her, half pulled her onto me. She let out a little yelp of excitement, and groaned as I thrust again and again into her, sometimes looking back at me, at other times looking forward.

Ironically, it was the back of her head where I recognized my sister the most. The hair was tied up at the bottom in ways my sister never did, and it had that fake streak of pink (which you could just barely see from the back, if you looked for it), but... it was her hair, and it looked like her hair. Sure, there are plenty of people who have similar hair, and I couldn't identify her or anybody else on hair alone, but... if I looked for it, it was another sign pointing to her identity. But when something's unimaginable to you, you'll unconsciously ignore every sign, until you're forced to conceive it as a possibility. And I never would have imagined that my sister would have wanted to have sex with me.

Or that I'd want to have sex with her. And still want to. I half-expected to chicken out at the any minute as the wrongness of the situation descended on me, and I waited, but it never came. As I thrust, and watched her push back into me when I did, and as I felt that, and her squeezing her tight hole around me, and my balls slap against her pussy when I went in as far as I could, saw her mouth hanging open when she looked back at me, like I was forcing all the air out of her, all I thought about was how amazing this was, how we should have done this long ago, and maybe we could keep doing it. Sarah obviously liked it enough to try it twice, and maybe the only reason she cut it off was because she was afraid of how I'd react, that if I told her I knew who she was, if I'd just moaned out, "Oh, Sarah," we could keep going... forever. Yes, I thought of forever in that first fuck, thought of us growing old together (although without actually visualizing that... I'm hoping by the time I'm thirty, they'll have found a way to stop or reverse the aging process). I thought of us being a couple. Because as angry as I was with Sarah (and I was, that first fuck was a confusing mix of anger and passion), I loved her. As much as I denied it, downplayed it, I'm pretty sure I had already fallen in love with Clara, and those feelings... they just don't go away right away. I was sure they would, like when you get weird urges while masturbating that, as soon as you're done, make no sense to you, but before they did, I indulged and enjoyed the thoughts that a part of me was sure could never happen.

Going ahead with the sex probably wasn't the best move, particularly if I wanted to get over the feelings I had for Clara. But I'd already done it, was doing it, and lasting a surprisingly long time given how horny I was... I blame the condom and the mental gymnastics I was doing to process this new revelation. My sister's moans were getting sharper, and I heard her say, "Oh, God, don't stop..." But that wasn't in the plan, I pressed on, until my sister started cumming again. Her arms seemed to turn to jelly and although her ass was still in the air, her face was in my covers as she just twitched and moaned. Knowing I was making my sister cum stirred up feelings that pressed past my thoughts and the sensitivity-loss of a condom, the sensations were now coming from inside of me just as much as the clenching around my cock, and when those sensations reached a peak, I started cumming, imagining I was shooting it inside my sister, wishing I was, despite how unwise that would be, for a moment even believing I was, but really all I was doing was filling up a reservoir tip.

When the last of me drained out into it, I gripped my dick by the base, holding the condom's rim tight against my skin to prevent any spillage, and carefully pulled out. As much as I'd wanted to cum inside her at the time, afterwards, the thought of getting my sister pregnant terrified me. When I was clear, I removed it and put it in my metal waste-bin, for later disposal, then turned back to Sarah. She'd fallen on her side and was looking at me with eyes that were only half-open. I wondered what she saw. It occurred to me then that it was possible to not recognize somebody you know, even without face-blindness. Because the sister I saw before me was, in some ways, a stranger to me. Maybe I was to her, too. "That was wonderful," she said, the accent snapping up between us, and just for a split second, I doubted it was Sarah at all, I wondered if maybe Clara was real.

"Yeah," I agreed, and came back to the bed, laying beside her, staring into her face, her eyes, trying to spark some recognition in the damaged part of my brain... a fool's errand, I've done it before for others and it's done no good. All I knew was that when I looked on that face, what I felt was love, but I couldn't tell if it was the love for a sister or the love of a girl, or some unholy combination of the two. It was just love. "Maybe this shouldn't be the last time..." I said, getting ready to make my confession, that I knew who she really was.

She frowned suddenly. "No, you were right," she said, and I saw the beginning of tears in her eyes. "I want to, I wish we could do more, but... I just can't screw up the one good thing I have in my life. Maybe I already have."

"Sarah," I said, and she nodded, and I realized that it couldn't be the answer. There was no friendship with Sarah that Clara was protecting, unless I'd seriously been mislead and even my Vibe was betraying me now. Sarah was Clara. And yet, she seemed to earnestly conflicted, that I thought she was telling the truth, that she was afraid of screwing up the one good thing in her life.

Was that me?

I wanted it to be me. And I wanted to reassure her.

I leaned forward and I kissed her, and she kissed back, hesitantly but wholeheartedly, but not a passionate kiss, like we were about to fuck again, it was softer. Yes, there was open mouth and tongue, but it was more like the kiss of two parting lovers, carrying notes of longing and pain. When it was done, I touched my forehead to hers, and said, "I know it's you."

Chapter Twenty-Nine:

My sister drew back suddenly, fear and uncertainty in her eyes. I'd said I knew it was her, but I didn't actually say who that was. I guess that left room for doubt, like she didn't know whether her lies were exposed or she still had to play. "What?"

"I may not know your face, but I know you." I reached around to the back of her head and felt for the little elastic things she used to tie her hair back, and slowly pulled one of them free. She trembled, her face going red, and her eyes were closed, but she had to feel it happen, the disguise being stripped away. "Where are the clothes you wore this morning?" I asked.

The accent was gone when she answered, completely, although it still didn't sound like my sister, she sounded weak, more scared than I'd ever heard her. But she did answer. "In my bag. In the bin where we keep the garden waste." Just outside the side door. "I'm sorry," she said suddenly, her voice cracking. "I don't know what's wrong with me, I'm sick."

"I don't think I have much room to talk," I pointed out.

Her breathing slowed from what seemed, for a moment, to be silent sobs, and then she opened just one eye, even if it was surrounded by red and puffiness. "How long have you known?"

I debated with myself about lying. I could have told her I knew from the beginning, and maybe cut out some of her guilt over having tricked me into sex. That seemed strangely appealing. I also thought about making myself look better, telling her I noticed it during the last time, recognizing the back of her head. Then I'd look less sick, like the only thing wrong I'd done was continue what she'd started. but I decided we'd had enough lies. "That last text I got. Just before. Trevor finally fessed up."

Her mouth curled up into a grimace. "I knew it was probably going to happen sooner or later," she said. "I didn't mean to do it, Nick. I never planned this. I just got carried away on Friday, you were being so nice, and it seemed like you wanted me..." Then her eyes widened, and she punched me in the chest. Not hard, it was somewhere between playful and wanting to push me away at some fresh revelation that had just sunk in. "So that last time, you knew and you still had sex with me!"

I was a little offended, and I squinted in disbelief at her reaction, "Uh, you knew all along."

"Yeah, but I was doing it in-character!" That was her defense, and she gave me a weak smile, like it was a joke, and she knew how ridiculous that was. At the same time, I was sure that she'd been using it as some kind of justification for herself all along, that she was playing a role, so she wasn't actually my sister, she was just a girl who could be with a guy she liked. Sometimes we don't believe our own justifications, but it doesn't stop us from using them.

"Hypocrite," I teased, a more confident smile growing on my own face. "Anyway, I figured we'd already done it..."

Sarah's voice went soft. "Yeah," she agreed. "That's what I told myself today. The first time, that was the drinking, and I got carried away being Clara, pretending I could be... somebody else. And when I was a little drunk there were times... times I really, honestly, thought you knew, and were just playing along. But after... I figured, we'd already done it.... so I didn't think just one more time would hurt." Then she made a grunt-growl sound, and said, "God, what is wrong with me? Why do I fuck up everything?"

"You don't," I told her, and instinctively stroked the side of her face.

"I do. I mean... where does this leave us?"

"I don't know," I told her honestly. "But I don't think we're fucked up."

"You're my brother, and we just had sex," she pointed out. "Again."

"Okay," I conceded. "Sure, maybe we're two fucked up people. Maybe. Real life's not that black and white. But you and me, our relationship, it doesn't have to be fucked up. You're still my sister, and I still love you. That's not going to change."

"I... I love you too," she said, and although I wanted to believe she meant it in the same way that... that I had wanted Clara to say it and mean it, I couldn't be sure. We were family, and 'love' means many different things. "Aren't you mad at me?"

"A little. But not very much." I was a little worried that I was basking in post-sex glow, that anger would come in later, but I wasn't angry. "I forgive you."

"That's probably your brain damage," she muttered, though loud enough to hear, and to my surprise I laughed, and she smiled.

"What's important is that this can't break us. Whether we decide to keep doing.... this." I looked down to her breasts, and a part of my mind spoke up saying, 'Hey, look, those are my sister's nipples,' even though I'd seen them before as Clara. This time I was filing them into my mental list of non-facial cues I can use to recognize her. Assuming she was topless. Assuming I'd get the chance to see that again. "Or we leave this as a one-time thing."

"Two-time thing," she corrected. "So... do you want to keep doing this?" she asked, looking down towards my penis, and I thought I heard a hopeful note in her voice. My cock grew.

"I do if you do. I mean, it's not like we can undo what happened, and it is a lot of fun." I pointed out, "If we're going to hell, we might as well enjoy ourselves."

Her eyes dropped, now not looking at my penis, just worried. "Do you think we're going to hell?"

"No," I said. "Not for this. If there's a hell, I don't think people get sent there for love, no matter how messed up it is." I had the same reasoning about gays, that never made sense to me that a guy would be sent to hell just because they loved men instead of women. I don't entirely believe in hell, but I especially don't believe in a God so small that he'd send you to one because of you choosing to bump uglies with the wrong person. "And if I'm wrong... I can't think of anybody I'd rather have by my side there." Besides, I think He owes me one anyway for putting me in this position in the first place.

Her fingers found my hand, and intertwined with my own. "We'll have to be careful."

"I'm very careful."

"No one can ever know."

"This time... I'm okay with that."

She squeezed my hand tightly. "Then let's see where this goes."


We had sex one more time before our parents got home, and then Sarah dressed back up in her Clara costume to go outside and retrieve her bag with her normal clothes and her phone, and we went back to being brother and sister, for the most part. But whenever we got the chance, and Mom and Dad weren't home, we'd turn into these insatiable lovers.

Despite that passion, it was still awkward, at first, because despite our talk, each of us still didn't know exactly where the other was, emotionally. Hell, I didn't even know where I was, emotionally, my feelings were still confused and wrapped up with Clara. And anger did come up, for a while, though not as much as I feared. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a pretty face. I couldn't look into my sister's eyes and be mad. Instead, most of what I felt was a bizarre sense of pride and relief. For the past couple days I'd been worried that I was the second or third choice, that 'Clara' really didn't want to be with me. But someone doesn't commit incest just because their first or second choice rejects them. They have to actually want the other person, right? They have to want them so much they break the rules they've been taught their whole lives, and go after someone who's more off-limits than anybody else. But that didn't meant we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We didn't know what we were for a while.

That first time, the first completely honest time, we did kiss some while we fucked, but it was tentative, always questioning, like we were afraid we were taking it too far, that for the other one, it was just sex, and brother-sister love, but not Love with a capital 'L,' and, if it wasn't, maybe kissing was out of bounds. After that, for a while, we fucked, or performed oral sex on each other, a lot, but didn't kiss, not on the lips. Sometimes she even jokingly started things by ducking back into the Clara persona, and I responded, and neither of us were sure if we were just playing around, making a joke about how it all started, or if retreating to the fantasy that we were two unrelated people provided a much-needed distance when our doubts about the other person's feelings grew too large. But eventually, after a session of missionary sex turned into an extended make out session that lasted long after we came, we did have that dreaded conversation and, to our mutual relief, both admitted that it wasn't just a sexual thing, as crazy as it was, the feelings had been romantic, and they had been for a long time. We weren't just fooling around, having fun. There was something more.

I said there were more twists coming, so here we go. Sarah and I aren't actually brother and sister, biologically. I didn't know this at the time, but she was adopted as a baby because her parents died and there was no other family, and my parents were friends with her parents. Pretty much everybody except me already knew or guessed... silly me, I'd just assumed we had a family resemblance, turns out she looks nothing like me or the rest of us. But, now that we had a relationship, the secret came out, both theirs and, eventually, ours, and our family accepted it. We're getting legally married soon. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Of course, none of that's true. I just wanted to prove my point, that a surprise twist that you don't see coming doesn't make a good story, not if it's not genuine. If we weren't related, it might make our life a lot easier, but good stories aren't made of easy lives. Stories are made out of the abnormal, the weird, and me falling for my actual sister, and her loving me, a real relationship started because of a lie? That's weird. And also, I came to believe, beautiful.

If there's a twist to the story, it's just that. We fell in love. If there wasn't love, I could have titled this tale "The Man Who Mistook His Sister For A Cocksleeve." (That's a little inside joke for any other agnosia sufferers out there.) But there was, and maybe, like in romances throughout history, I really just fell for a pretty face first, and it grew into real love later, but it didn't take long. Now, it's as real as any. And that's made my life so much more complicated... difficult, but wonderful, too.

I think I even know what happened, at least on my end. I'm not sure I can ever entirely explain why Sarah did what she did, felt what she felt. She's claimed she never entirely understood it herself, not the source at least. In our deep confessional talk, the one where we revealed our feelings, she told me that she'd had these weird feelings for me for a long time, and had harbored a fantasy that she thought would always remain that, about me not recognizing her and falling for her, kind of like what happened but without deception on her part, with her just not realizing that I didn't know who she was. Sometimes, in the fantasy, I was only pretending I didn't know her.

She told me about how she found this website forum about 'kinships,' romantic relationships between people who were related, supposedly started by a girl who had one with her brother. I say supposedly, because, I don't know if I believe it. That story may all be bullshit... when you're anonymous on the Internet, who knows what you really are? But my sister believes, and once she found this site she followed it, checking in now and then and reading the stories people posted supposedly about their lives, and imagining we had a relationship like that, but it didn't really change anything... most of the time, Sarah knew that, for her, it would have to remain as a fantasy. It was only alcohol that made her get bold and try to live out the fantasy in small, deniable doses, first with a Halloween kiss, and then the night after we left Paul's. I guess I can understand all of that, but none of it explained the central problem... it didn't make any sense for her to feel that way in the first place. Luckily, all of us have quirks that don't make sense, that defy explanation.

But I think, for me, it did make sense... there was a possible explanation for why I fell for her other identity, so hard, so quick. There's a theory that the we all sort of have two forms of memory, there's the conscious recognition memory, and then there's an emotional memory. And prosopagnosia hampers the first, but at least an echo of the second can survive. If, say, somebody beat me up every day of my life, I still might not know him again if I saw him walking down the street... but I might feel uneasy. Not to the level that I could use it to identify him, because, hey, sometimes you just feel uneasy about people for no reason, but it would color my interactions with him, even if he were acting nice and I had no idea who it was. There's even an opposite condition from prosopagnosia, where you can recognize people on the conscious level, but on the emotional level, they feel like strangers, so sometimes you wind up thinking everyone you love has been replaced by robot copies or something. I'd much prefer my condition, Capgras syndrome sounds scary and lonely.

Anyway, I think this is what happened with 'Clara.' On some level I knew I could trust her, be safe with her, that she was somebody worth spending time with. All the laughter Sarah and I'd shared over the years over jokes nobody else understood, all the times she cuddled up beside me on the couch when I was feeling at my lowest, because it was the only thing she could do to help, all the times she got hurt and I felt like I had been too, all the little conspiracies siblings get into against their parents and the rest of the world, a part of me still recognized that in her, I just couldn't put a name to the feeling. I still knew, deep down, they were there, waiting, in Clara, and who wouldn't fall in love with all of that? Those are some of the things love is made of. And the physical attraction, the sexual desire? I guess that was always there too, felt occasionally before whenever I first saw my sister, but pushed down into the darkest corner of my mind the moment I realized she was off-limits. Except when she was 'Clara,' I never made that realization, and those dirty thoughts were allowed to roam free, combine with that emotional connection I already had, and suddenly, I was head over heels.

I had an explanation, a starting point, that I could understand. With my sister, I guess it was more complicated, but I don't have to understand it. An explanation, or no explanation, doesn't mean anything, it doesn't mean it's right or wrong for either one of us. We're way beyond that. Maybe I never would have gotten into this relationship if she hadn't taken advantage of my condition, but at this point, that doesn't matter either. I'm just happy she feels the same way about me. I feel a little silly calling what we have a "kinship," but she likes the term. And, here I am posting our story on a site about them. I guess I have no right to complain. Sometimes I call us "ka-tet," and she thinks that's pretty silly.

There's more to the story, of course. There always is, in real stories. I could tell you about the times we sweated through a fear of pregnancy, first when the condom broke, and then later when we got so horny one night we decided to go without. Or I could tell you about the times jealously flared up when one of us got some attention from somebody of the opposite sex, or how I briefly freaked out about the possibility that she could, theoretically, cheat on me right in front of me, and nobody would tell me. Or I could tell you about how Paul came to learn about us, and taught me what a great friend he really was, because even though he didn't understand it, he put it in the vault and never told a soul, or treated me any differently. Maybe he thought we were freaks, but it didn't matter to him. It was our policy since we were kids. Freaks may stand out, but we don't cast them out.

Maybe I'll talk about those some other time. But the best part of a love story is always the tale of how the couple got together, how they found each other, even if they were under each other's noses all along. Everything after that, even the little crises that seem like the end of the world at the time, are best summed up with "happily ever after." And so far, it's been true. If I'm lucky, it'll stay that way. I'm sure I've found the love of my life. I can describe her perfectly, even with my eyes closed. She's sweet and passionate, and shy and daring, and funny and bright, and laid-back but occasionally frustrating and capable of generating a lot more drama than I used to think, and a little insecure but willing to believe what I see in her and, in turn, sees more in me than I can, and she's got a hidden ultra-geeky side she only lets me and a few trusted others see. And yes, she's very, very beautiful.

Just don't ask me what she looks like.

The End

Fanart!: Artist Danaume graciously drew this picture of 'Clara' as Nick's memory might see her. (Warning: link is to NSFW drawn art of underage characters, which may in some countries be more illegal than stories involving underage characters, click at your own risk).  

This story is free to share and distribute so long as no money is charged.

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