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Prudence, Chapter 2

She moaned, parting her lips beneath the kiss, returning it with passion like he'd never, ever felt before.

Mark finally, reluctantly, broke the kiss. "I won't fuck you. But I'll make love to you. Are you on the pill?"

"Yes, for years now."

Mark stood up. "Not here. Upstairs, in my bedroom."

She stood with him, reaching back to take his hand as if she were afraid he wouldn't follow on his own.

Mark led her up the stairs, to the bed.

Kristen smiled, suddenly shy, and sat on the bed. "What do you want me to do?"

Mark placed a finger against her lips. "Shhh." He unhooked her bra, caressing her breasts gently. Her breasts were perfect, soft, round globes tipped by deep red nipples already crinkled with excitement. She gasped and closed her eyes, arching into his touch.

Mark pressed against her chest, urging her to lay down, and his hands moved down to her pants, unfastening them, pulling them down. She lifted her hips to help him, and he discovered she was wearing just a black lace thong underneath. He tugged the thong down, gently, placing little kisses at the crease of her thigh.

"What -- what are you doing?" She reached down, tugging on his arms. "You don't have to do that, really you don't."

He looked up at her, smiling. "But I want to, Kristen. I enjoy it." He seems puzzled. "Hasn't anyone ever done it to you before?" He shook his head at her denial. "Wow. Teenagers are idiots." Kissing her gently on the soft mound right above her clit, he asked her, "Please?"

Looking totally bewildered, she just nodded, and then gasped when she felt his tongue flick over her clit. The look of surprise on her face delighted him, and it took less than a minute for her to come. When she did, the expression on her face was one of total, utter, complete amazement, making him feel that doing this was worth the risk. Any risk was worth it to make her feel this good.

When she returned the favor, he realized just how good her experience had made her; he'd had lovers deep-throat him before, but never one who could take his full length down her throat and keep it there for almost a minute before having to breathe. He came almost immediately, as she swallowed with his cock down her throat, and thought he'd never be able to reproduce the pleasure.

When she got him hard again less than five minutes later, he discovered he was wrong.

She was totally insatiable, and every time he thought that there was no way he could get hard again, she proved him wrong. He lost count of his orgasms, much less hers, but several hours later she was finally laying curled up to his side, looking like a satisfied, sleepy, well-fed cat.

"Wow," Mark said, looking at her. "That was...wow."

Kristen giggled and cuddled closer. "Yeah. I agree. Lots."

Mark said, again, "Wow." He had never felt anything like that before. It was orders of magnitude more intense than his previous experiences. "Is it always like that with you?"

Kristen shook her head quickly. "Oh, god no! I meant it when I said I agreed. That was amazing. And most guys give out after three times at most." She sighed happily.

Mark searched for some way to convey how he felt, finally settling on a totally inadequate, "Wow." Looking at her curiously, "Haven't you ever had anyone go down on you?"

She looked embarrassed. "Well, once, sort of, but not very well I guess. It didn't feel like that, anyway."

Mark tried to stretch, fighting weak muscles. "I liked it." He sighed.

Kristen grinned. "I noticed." At his sigh, she suddenly looked worried. "Um...are you mad at me? For talking you into this?"

Mark shook his head. "No! I mean, I shouldn't have, and it's dangerous...and I don't regret it in the slightest. But I was right."

"Right? Yeah, I guess so, we really shouldn't have. But I just...I needed you."

He shook his head. "I meant I was right about once not being enough."

Kristen blinked. "Oh," she said, very quietly.

Mark said, "That was...wow."

"You can...I mean, anytime you want to...however you want to do things is fine with me."

Mark looked at her worriedly. "I'm just...I don't want to get caught. So we have to be real careful."

"Whatever it takes. No one would expect me to hide that I'm fucking someone," she said, her voice bitter, "and they don't particularly expect me to have the brains to do so. That will help."

Mark kissed her, gently. "Hey. None of that. No bitterness. Okay. How easily can you sneak out here without being seen?"

Kristen shrugged. "Pretty easy. You just go on outside and make sure there's no cars coming, and I can just head back down the road. There was no one out when I started this way, since it was so early, so no one knows what time I came here. And I take long walks all the time, all over the place."

Mark nodded. "Still...we need a reason for you to be coming out here, if anyone finds out." He looked thoughtful. "Have you ever done starscapes?"

"Starscapes?"

Mark nodded. "Yeah. C'mere." He rolled over, staggering to his feet.

Kristen stretched, groaning a bit. "Okay."

Mark walked over to his computer, pulling up some of the better shots from his telescope, including one really spectacular shot of Saturn.

"Oh! How pretty. Just like Star Trek!"

He grinned. "Like that? Just a second." He opened a web-browser and pulled up shots from the Hubble.

She stared. "Oh, wow, are those real?"

"Yup. The Hubble telescope. How would you feel about sketching some of these, maybe painting them when you've got some experience?"

"Um...I'd love to, but we haven't started oils yet or even acrylics, and I've been scared to experiment with them. I don't even know where to start."

Mark nodded. "So start out by sketching them. Some of these..." He pulled up several moon shots, "Would work fine in charcoal."

She nodded, "Yeah. I'm not sure how that would give me a reason to be here, though. I have a computer and internet access at home. Well, Dad does, anyway, and he doesn't mind me using it when he's not."

"But you don't have my telescope, or these shots. Not all of these are from the Hubble."

"Oh! I see." Her face fell. "But wouldn't people still talk if I came out here alone, no matter what for?"

Mark nodded. "That's our excuse for keeping the visits secret. We just say that you didn't want people to talk about me when I was just trying to help you, so we kept it quiet. We only reveal this if someone finds out. Of course, you will need to do some sketching every time you come out."

She grinned wickedly. "I suppose it'd be bad if I sketched you, huh?" She ran a hand down his bare hip. "Like this?""

"Probably. Well, for -- how old are you exactly, anyway?"

"Um. I'll be fifteen in January. We'd be okay if we were in Mississippi."

Mark chuckled. "But we aren't. So two and a half years, then."

Kristen said, her voice small and soft, "You really think you'll still want me for that long?"

Mark looked at her, swallowing. "Yes." The words came out hoarse. "I...you...affect me like no one ever has."

She smiled shyly. "Even though I've been so...you don't mind how...um...experienced I am? I mean, when you have time to think about it?"

Mark said, "No, I don't mind. I'm not a virgin either, you know."

Kristen giggled. "I wasn't ever a virgin, technically."

"What do you mean?"

"I've been on the pill since I was 11, before I started having sex, cause of some female problems. One of the things the doctor found when he examined me was that I didn't have a hymen. He said it was no big deal, and a lot of girls didn't have one, especially if they do a lot of horseback riding or gymnastics and things. So I never was a virgin."

Mark grinned. "I see. So...was this enough?"

"Um...well, I wouldn't object to more. But it's not overwhelming right now. I can still think straight." She smiled.

"Better than when you usually have sex? Could you actually tell someone no now, if you wanted?"

She nodded rapidly, "Way better. I...think so. I wouldn't tell you no, but anyone else, knowing what a difference there is, I think I could."

He smiled in real pleasure. "Good! Kristen, I don't have a problem with you sleeping with whoever you want to, but it should be because you want to, not because you can't control yourself." He hesitated. "Um...do you usually use protection?"

She blushed, looking at the ground. "I usually...it just doesn't occur to me. It's so urgent, and...well, I'm on the pill. But I get an exam every six months because of my problems. And a lot of the guys do use condoms now because they know...you know."

Mark said, softly, "I'm sorry. Could you...for me...make sure you do from now on? I'd hate to see you catch something that, well..."

"I will. You don't want me to stop?"

He took her hands in his own. "I want you to do what makes you happy. If you want to sleep with someone, do. But if you don't really want to sleep with them, promise me you'll at least try to say no. Have sex with people because you want to, not because you have to."

She looked at him, open and vulnerable. "I...I'll try. But it's so hard sometimes. And they'll be really mad if I start saying no now."

Mark's lips tightened. "If they try to force you..." He hesitated for a moment, thinking, then grinned. "Tell them you think that you might be pregnant, and if they force you you'll swear it's theirs." The grin widened. "In court. Suing for child support."

Kristen nodded. "That'll work for a little while."

"I'd suggest talking to the counselor. I assume she knows you were promiscuous, right? Tell her you are trying to change that, but you're afraid that the guys won't take no for an answer."

"Um. Mark...that wouldn't work." She looked seriously embarrassed.

"Why?"

"I can't talk to her. I just can't."

"Why not?" he asked.

"She...I said that girls don't ask often. But not never. And I did try to talk to her once, and...anyway, afterward she called me a demon and said that I should go to the church and beg to be cleansed and that I was never to come in her office again." She hugged her arms around her ribs miserably.

Mark frowned. "Okay. Who could you talk --- wait a moment. Did she ask?"

Kristen nodded. "That's what I said."

Mark's voice rose with each word. "And then she dared to call you a demon? Why, that...that..." Kristen flinched, and he visibly calmed himself. "I'm not mad at you, Kristen. I'm mad at her. What we've done wasn't abuse. What she did was."

"It wasn't that bad, Mark. It really wasn't. I think she just panicked, really, and was looking for a way to justify herself. Like, 'she must be a demon, else she couldn't have tempted me to sin like this.' "

He shook his head. "Kristen, I want you to do something for me. Compare how you felt about yourself before we made love to the way you feel now. Do you feel better, or worse?"

"Better, I guess."

"How did you feel about yourself when you walked out of her office, compared to when you went in?"

She looked down. "Worse, but it wasn't because of the sex. It was because she was so ashamed of it afterward."

"Exactly. Now, you need to take control of your life, Kristen. What do you want to do about it? Keep in mind that she's supposed to help the people who come to her. Do you want to leave her in that position?"

"I don't think she'd ever do it again, Mark, I really don't. And everyone else I talked to...I asked about her before I went to her, so that I could find out if she'd freak out...just loved her. K...someone told me that talking to Ms. Angie kept her from killing herself once."

Mark frowned. "Hmm. How long ago did this happen?"

"Last year, right before the end of school."

"So it wouldn't be too unlikely for me to have, say, 'overheard' you discussing this with someone, which would give me a perfect excuse to lay into her and make sure she doesn't do it again, wouldn't it?"

Kristen shook her head quickly. "Oh, Mark, no. That might make her suspicious." She swallowed. "I can tell her no, I know I can."

Mark sighed. "But I don't want her to get away with it. She hurt you -- I know. I'll wait outside, in the hall,doing...something. I'll think of something. If she pressures you, or if she just starts calling you a demon, you rush out -- saying something about not wanting to sleep with her again loud enough for me to hear. Then there's no reason for her to be suspicious, is there?"

"But I don't want to talk to her again! She won't bother me if I don't come to her office."

Mark sighed again. "I know. But you need to talk to someone about this, someone who's not me. If she apologized, and meant it, would you have a problem talking to her? Since the others seem to like her so much?"

"Why? I'm okay, I'm not suicidal or anything. What could she do, anyway?"

"Give you advice on handling the guys who don't want to say no."

"Oh. I forgot about that," she said. "I...don't know. Let's see if it is a problem first, okay? I really don't want to talk to her again."

Mark nodded, slowly. "Okay. I'm not going to make your decisions for you."

She smiled, relieved. "Thanks. I know it's cowardly, but...I just wasn't expecting that."

Mark squeezed her hands. "It's not cowardly, Kristen. I have to admit I'm not happy with her getting away with hurting you, but you were the one hurt, and you are the one who needs to decide what you want to do about it. Not me."

"I think it really was just...an aberration. Not the way she really is. Maybe she's been fighting being gay all her life and has a thing for redheads and having one come into her office and confess to being a nympho was just too much for her and she just snapped when she realized what she'd done." She stopped to take a breath.

Mark smiled a little. "Maybe."

Kristen smiled happily. "Anyway, so, I can come back again? Really?"

Mark nodded. "I'd love you to."

Kristen hopped up and kissed him enthusiastically, and he returned the kiss, with predictable results.

An hour or so later, Kristen was tying her shoes. "I'll tell them the party tonight is on." She hesitated, then asked, "Will I see you tonight?"

Mark hesitated. "I...shit. I'd love to say yes, but is there any way to do it safely?"

She though for a moment. "They'll expect me to be with Kevin, since it's his birthday, but...well, Kevin drinks like a fish and usually passes out. Everyone else will leave me alone. I'll just...go home with Kevin and then sneak back. He won't remember anything, and the others will just think I spent the whole night with him."

Mark nodded. "Then yeah. I'd love to see you tonight."

Kristen smiled beautifully, then shook her head. "I guess I can't keep stalling. I better go. I don't want to, though."

Mark kissed her, very gently, on the lips, and she sighed. He smiled at her. "I'll be here. Go."

"If I must..." She slipped out the door.

The party was loud, starting up around 9, but it wasn't that loud. Kristen slipped in his front door around 12:30.

"The party's still going, isn't it?" Mark asked.

"Kevin's getting a really high alcohol tolerance. It took forever for him to soak up enough to be safe." She stretched. "Yes, but it'll be winding down soon. "

"Kevin's at home now?"

Kristen nodded. "Tucked safely in bed with a bottle of Gatorade sitting on the bedside table." She glided into his arms and kissed him. "And I didn't."

"Didn't want to?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not with a half-drunk, clumsy boy. And I didn't want to come to you with...I wanted to wait."

Mark smiled, kissing her, running his hands over her body.

This time she seemed even hungrier, as if waiting was almost more than she could do. Luckily, he had taken a nap, because when she finally passed out, the darkness outside the window was tinted with a faint pink.

He woke up alone around noon to the sound of water running. Following it into the master bathroom, he found Kristen in the shower. "Kristen?"

"Yipe! You startled me. Who did you expect?"

Mark grinned. "Just checking. Want some company?"

She smiled, "Mmmm...what a nice idea."

He climbed into the shower with you. Running his soapy hands over her body resulted in a predictable response, which she was more than happy to take advantage of. Only that once, though, because she did need to get home and do her homework. She kissed him gently before slipping out the door and heading across the fields in the direction of her house.

The next day at school things were...odd. There were a lot of little squabbles in the hall, as if everyone were on edge. Around 11, he had to separate a couple of the senior boys who were outright brawling in the hall.

"What's going on here?" he asked, as he physically separated the two fighters.

Sullenly, one of them answered. "Nothin'."

Mark marched them towards the principal's office. "What started it?"

"Nothin'."

Mark stopped. "Yes, something did start it. Now talk."

"He's a prick."

"Yeah, well, you couldn't find your ass with both hands." The second boy glared at the first angrily. "Oh, yeah? It's your fault."

Mark asked, "What's his fault?"

"Nothin'."

"Tell me." Neither of the two were in any of his classes, and he didn't really recognize them.

"'s nothin'. We're just messing around. Sorry we got carried away."

Mark shook his head, unmoved. "You were fighting in the hall. I don't have a lot of leeway here. But if you'll tell me -- honestly -- what you were fighting about, maybe I'll talk to the principal first."

Unaccountably, the boys both blushed. "'s a girl," the first mumbled.

"And? What was his fault?" Mark asked.

"She's mad or somethin', and it's his fault." The first boy pointed at the second.

"It fuckin' is not!"

"What do you mean, she's mad? And why would it be his fault?" Mark raised an eyebrow at the first boy.

"He was the last one who---"

"Shut up! You're gonna get her in trouble."

Mark eyed the two. "Spill."

"Yeah, I'll spill. Kevin's an asshole, that's the problem."

The second boy turned to face the first, angrily. "Fuck you, David! I said I didn't do anything!"

"Yeah, well, maybe that's the problem." The first boy clenched his fists, seeming ready to resume the physical level fighting.

Mark put a hand on each shoulder. "What. Is. The. Problem? Is she not talking to you or something?"

"Uh. Yeah. Not to anyone. She's mad or something."

"She just stopped talking to everyone?"

"Uh. Sorta. She's stopped...uh, she's just not being as...social...as she usually is. Kevin obviously hurt her feelings or something." David glared at Kevin.

Mark raised an eyebrow. "You aren't being honest here. What aren't you telling me?"

Stubborn silence from both the boys.

Mark said, "Kevin?"

"Whut?"

"Tell me."

"No can do, teach. D'rather be expelled." He looked as if he meant it.

Mark pursed his lips. "Nothing will be done to the girl involved. I promise."

"No, Sir."

Mark suddenly raised an eyebrow, as something came to him. "Wait a minute. Yesterday was your birthday, wasn't it, Kevin? You're 18 now, aren't you?"

"Uh, yeah. You gonna let me off with a warning since it was my birthday?" Kevin looked hopeful.

Mark shook his head. "I've heard all the rumors, you know. This is about Kristen, isn't it?"

Total silence.

"What, did she start telling you all no or something?" Mark asked.

Their mouths dropped open. "How the fuck did you know that?"

David slapped his hand over his mouth. "Shit."

Mark said, "You told me. You aren't as good at dodging questions as you think you are."

"Fuck. We're screwed." Kevin looked ready to pass out.

Mark glared at them. "And, quite frankly, maybe I should tell the principal to go harder on you. I don't care what her reputation is, she is not some sort of community property, and you two ought to know better. I don't care if she's slept with you a thousand times before, if she tells you no, that's it. You don't go beating someone else up. Maybe she's tired of having people talk about her the way I've heard them talking, did you ever think of that?"

The boys flinched. "Dude. You don't understand."

"Make me. You've got a couple of minutes before I have to have you in the office. Talk fast."

"Look, no one would force her. S'okay if she wants to say 'no', and anyone who doesn't get that is in big trouble. But she never has and she's saying no to everyone. And she looks like she's sick. So something's wrong. And maybe Kev didn't do anything, but he was the last one with her before she went all weird, and we all fucking want to know what happened!"

"Man, I didn't do anything, I swear. She was fine last night. Happy and everything." Kevin tossed his hands in the air.

Mark escorted the two into the teachers lounge, motioning for them to sit down on the couch, and sat down on a chair across from them. "Okay. That makes more sense. Look, I don't know if her reputation is accurate or not, but from the way you are reacting, I suspect it is. Okay, fine, I can think of two possibilities off the top of my head that would make her start saying no. So can you, if you think about it."

"Yeah. Someone hurt her or she's sick." David replied, a worried look on his face.

"Almost. Either she slept with someone who was...contagious, or she's worried about one of the consequences of sex." Mark waited to see if they'd get it.

"Uhh...oh fuck." David turned pale, matching Kevin's face.

Mark shook his head. "No, that comes about nine months earlier."

"But she's on the pill!" Kevin protested.

Mark sighed. "It's not perfect, you know. Sometimes it fails. I know of one case where a woman cut her husband off after having her fourth kid. He'd had a vasectomy, she'd had her tubes tied and was on the pill, and they used spermicide and condoms."

"Fuck. That would explain why she's so pale and shit, too, wouldn't it?" Kevin asked.

Mark nodded. "Now. You need to think about something. We could be wrong. We could be right. We could be right, but it's a false alarm. But something has happened to make her rethink things. What are you going to do if she decides she wants to be celibate, or wants to go steady with someone, or something? What are you going to do if some of the other guys don't want to take no for an answer?"

"Uh...man, we'd kick their asses, that's what! She's a good girl, Teach. It's not like people think. She just likes sex a lot. But if she doesn't want to, then she doesn't want to. Yeah...she'd be hard to give up. I mean, it's like magic or something, but we're not monsters you know." David said angrily.

Mark closed his eyes and sighed in relief, then opened them. "Boys, you don't know how glad I am to hear that. In the school I went to, there was a girl who was known for being, well, easy. She got pregnant, and had a miscarriage. But she decided she didn't want to have sex any more. Some of the guys didn't take no for an answer. I'd hate to see that happen to Kristen. You might keep your eyes and ears open, and if you hear anyone who doesn't get it...drop a word in their ear. Let them know that Kristen has people willing to stand up for her right to choose." He looked intently at Kevin. "You swear you haven't slept with her since you turned 18?"

"Uh...probably not." He seemed very embarrassed. "I don't really remember the last part of last night, but it doesn't seem real likely, y'know. But man...if she asks me to, I swear to god, I don't think I could tell her no."

Mark nodded. "Okay. So you haven't slept with her since you turned 18, that means you are in the clear, legally. And I'm not asking what you would do if she asks. I don't want to know, got me? Just like I'm glad I never saw any underage drinking the other night." He stood. "Since y'all were honest, I'll talk to the principal while y'all wait outside. I can't promise anything, but I'll do what I can."

"Thanks man." Kevin looked relieved.

Mark left the two sitting outside the principal's office, closing the door behind him. "I think we've got a problem."

"Oh? You mean our two young boxers? Sometimes I wish we had a football team so these fellows could work out some of that aggression more acceptably. Talk to me." The principal, David Ward, sighed.

Mark sat down, looking vaguely embarrassed. "I'm going to assume that any rumors I've picked up on in two weeks you are familiar with."

"Probably. It's not really appropriate for a teacher to be indulging in gossip, however, Mark." Dr. Ward looked at him sternly.

Mark shook his head. "That's not what I meant. I assume you know Kristen's reputation? Apparently, she started telling guys 'no' this morning, out of the blue. That's why the two were fighting -- apparently David thought that Kevin had done something to hurt her. If her reputation is accurate, things could get fairly ugly."

The principal raised an eyebrow. "Are you seriously proposing that one fourteen year old girl, no matter how promiscuous, could seriously disrupt the entire school just by withholding sexual favors?"

Mark nodded, levelly, meeting the principal's eyes. "Yes, I am. If all of the guys blame each other for causing it -- we could have a lot of fights. I haven't been gossiping, but from what I overheard, it sounds like she was sleeping with pretty much the entire school. If just a quarter of the guys blame someone for this, and go after them..."

"Shit. Well what do you propose we do about it?"

Mark sighed. "I don't know. I really don't. But I thought you should be aware." He hesitated. "As far as David and Kevin go, I'd like to ask you to go easy on them. David didn't go after Kevin because he was mad that Kristen told him no, he went after him because he thought Kevin had hurt her. I can't condone fighting, but...at least it was motivated by concern for someone else."

Dr. Ward sighed deeply. "Yes. Perhaps...perhaps we can come up with something to get their attention, direct their...energy...elsewhere. I've had something in mind for a while...Ah well, in any event, thank you for letting me know."

Mark nodded. "In their favor, they are going to try to make sure no one...refuses to take no for an answer."

Dr. Ward sighed again. "We so did not need this right now."

"I know. I know. "

The two boys didn't get in a lot of trouble; they merely had to stay after school the rest of the week to clean up.

He didn't see Kristen until fourth period freshman chem. The boys were right. She did look unwell. Pale and tired. Mark frowned a bit, wondering if there's any way he could get away with speaking to her privately.

There were lots of curious looks at her from the rest of the students, as well. Some friendly and concerned, some belligerent, some, particularly from a couple of girls, smugly superior.

Mark decided to bite the bullet, and when class was over, asked Kristen to stay behind for a minute.

Kristen stood in front of his desk, plainly visible through the open door but blocking any view of him. "Yes, sir?"

Mark asked, quietly, "Are you okay? You look...sick."

She smiled. "Yeah. I'm just tired. I guess it was a....long weekend."

"Are you sure? Do you need to see the nurse, and maybe go home early? You really do look bad." He looked at her, concern evident on his face.

She said quietly, almost a whisper, "Mark, I'm okay. I really am just tired and maybe I have a bit of a stomach bug or something. Don't worry."

Mark nodded. "Okay. By the way, David and Kevin were fighting this morning. David thought Kevin had hurt you last night."

"Oh, dear. Poor Kev. He's so harmless. I'll have to make sure they know better.""

"Yeah. I hear you've been telling all the guys no."

Kristen looked at her feet. "Yeah."

"Are you okay with that?" he asked.

"Um...I'm the one doing it. It's not easy, but...it feels good to be able to."

Mark smiled. "Good. I'm glad you are happy." He hesitated. "By the way, when I talked to David and Kevin, I brought up the question of 'What if someone doesn't want to take no for an answer?' Their answer was 'We'll kick their ass.'"

Kristen smiled in return. "Yeah, they're sweethearts."

"So if you do have problems...they'll help." He looked at the clock. "You'd better get going."

"Why? It's lunchtime." She grinned, obviously teasing.

Mark swallowed, forcing down the sudden lust that blossomed at her words. "Kristen, I'd love to. But I'm weak, and it's probably not a good idea to tease me here."

Kristen bit her lip. "Um. Okay. Later, then?"

Mark grinned. "I hope so."

Kristen smiled sweetly. "I better get lunch, then. I'm starving today. Too much exercise I guess."

Mark swallowed, watching her as she walked out, wondering if her butt twitched that much normally, or if she was teasing him.

The rest of the day was similar. Kristen stopped by his room on her way out. "I left my chem book in my desk, Mr. H. I didn't want to leave it, specially since Dad called and said we've got to go to the city tonight. It's a long drive and I might as well study for the test on Friday." She looked very unhappy and slightly shaky as well.

Mark frowned slightly. "Are you okay, Kristen?"

Kristen swallowed hard. "Yessir. I'm just really tired. I did not want to spend five hours in the car tonight." Her eyes made it quite plain that she had other plans, and just what they were, though she didn't really look up to such plans.

"Well, I'm not sure you'd have been up to anything else, so maybe it's a good chance to rest."

Her bottom lip trembled just a tiny bit. "Yeah. I guess."

"Perhaps you'll have some free time tomorrow afternoon," he said.

"I hope so. I tried to talk him into letting me stay home, but he says there's someone he really wants me to meet. And he's been dating someone, so..." She shrugged, her voice very strained. "Have to make a good impression on any future step mom, y'know."

Mark nodded. "Well, I'll see you in class, then. You'd better get going."

"Yeah. C'ya." She didn't bounce at all on the way out.

Around 8 that night, he heard a knock on his door. He'd invited his students to come over and use his telescope if they wanted, and Kayla and one of the boys had taken him up on his offer.

Kayla was at the door. "Steve called and said he couldn't make it. He's gotta baby sit."

Mark said, leading her around to the back where the telescope was, "That's too bad. I think we're going to have good conditions tonight. The scope is back here."

"Cool. Nice setup."

Mark nodded. "It cost me quite a lot, but it is definitely worth it."

"I figured it out, y'know."

"Huh?"

She looked at him with a half amused, half exasperated look.

"What?" he asked.

"Let's see...the boys have Kristen ask you about the party because they know that no one with a dick is likely to tell her no. She lets them know it's okay and then goes straight home and stays there until it's time for the party. Where she doesn't even dance, just sits with Kevin, filling his cup every time it gets nearly empty. No one sees her most of Sunday. Then today she starts telling guys no. And Kevin said that you looked like you might kill him and David if you thought they weren't gonna take 'no' for an answer."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Really."

"Oh, don't even! Please." She glared at him. "I am not stupid."

"So what exactly are you saying?" he asked.

She sighed. "I don't know. Just...be more careful, huh?"

"Tell me what you think you know?"

"Kevin and David between the two of them have the IQ of a small, sedimentary rock. Some of the other guys might have been more difficult." She glared at him again. "Look, you're being insulting, you really are. It's obvious you had sex with her. Why that made her decide to stop having sex with all the other guys, I don't know, but maybe you're just really freakin' good in bed or something, worth being faithful for."

Mark didn't react. "And how would you feel if I had had sex with her?"

Her face became totally unreadable. "Your business. And hers, of course. I told you I think it's a stupid law. It's not the brightest thing you could do, but...I understand the temptation."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "You do? You understand just how...maddening she is?"

Kayla laughed. "I'm not gay, if that's what you're asking. But I do see the reactions, and she is very pretty."

He sighed. "Do you think anyone else figured it out?"

"I doubt it. Not yet, anyway."

"Good. Hopefully...I'm trying to be careful. I hadn't honestly expected her to start telling the guys no, but I'm glad she did." He raised a hand. "Not because I insist that she be 'faithful', or anything like that, but because I want her to have sex because she wants to, not because she has to. I'm afraid she's very close to being addicted to sex," he said.

"With teenage boys? That's like being addicted to snorting baking soda. There's nothing there to be addicted to!"

"She told me that she couldn't bring herself to tell them no, even though the sex wasn't very good. That sounds like addiction to me."

Kayla sighed. "Or a severe psychological problem. A lot of girls have trouble saying 'no', y'know. Lots of times it's just insecurity." "Sexual addiction is a psychological problem," he said. "But...she's managing to say no now. I'm just hoping that it's not just because she thinks I want her to."

"Why? If she doesn't enjoy it, I'd think you'd be happy to give her a reason to help her say no. Besides, do you really want her to keep fucking the whole school while she's sleeping with you? We get diseases even in hicksville, y'know." She looked at him expectantly.

Mark shook his head. "I want her to say no because she wants to say no. She needs to make her own decisions. I'll give her advice, I'll make suggestions, but the decision has to be hers, not mine. Do you understand?"

"Okay, then...do you want her to want to say no?"

Mark nodded, then paused. "Yes and no. I want her to say no when she doesn't want to, but I also want her to feel free to say yes if she does want to."

"You do realize that sentiment would get you tarred and feathered around here, yes?" she asked.

"What, wanting her to say no?" he asked.

"No, not minding if she doesn't want to."

"Oh. Yes, I do. I wouldn't be talking about this to anyone else. I wouldn't be talking about it to you, but," he shrugged, "You obviously already know."

Kayla was quiet for a moment, then spoke soberly. "Look...okay, so Kristen and I aren't real close. I don't think she has any close girlfriends. But I kinda like her, and I've always felt sorry for her 'cause of how those bitches can be...anyway." She paused for breath. "Anyway, look, just be careful, okay? I mean, not just so you won't get caught, know what I mean? She's a sweet girl, but frankly, she's messed up in the head somehow."

Mark asked, casually, "So you don't think I'm horrible child-molesting scum?"

"Nope. But don't make me change my mind, is all I'm saying. I think you could be really good for her. At worst, you won't be any worse for her than anyone else. But...if she's saying no because of you, that means you've got a serious hold on her, y'know? That sort of thing makes it real easy to hurt someone if you want to."

He nodded, soberly. "I know. I'm not going to hurt her, not if I can help it." He paused, thinking. "You know, I kind of think you are wrong. I don't think she's messed up in the head, with the possible exception of being addicted to sex. I think she's simply got an absurdly high sex drive. She didn't seem to want the sex just to be, well, close to someone, and she doesn't seem to have the self esteem problems that a lot of promiscuous girls do. Some, but not to that degree."

"Well, in that case, it might be controllable with hormones or something."

Mark nodded again, thoughtfully this time. "Of course, there's no way I can take her to a doctor for it, I really doubt her father will, so...for another couple of years anyway."

Kayla snorted. "You never know with her dad. Talk about a weirdo."

"Oh?"

"Oh, not like that. He's just...different, is all. Onetime, she forgot her lunch money, right? Well, instead of sending lunch money, he had his secretary bring her a pizza...from Parkerton, an hour and a half away. For Christmas last year, he gave her cat. Kristen is allergic to cats. So he took the cat to the city for laser hair removal without telling her. He just has...weird...solutions to things." She shook her head.

Mark chuckled. "I see." He falls quiet for a moment. "What do you think of the counselor?"

Her voice was guarded. "Ms. Angie? She's great. She tries really hard to help kids." Kayla watched him out of the corner of her eye.

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Why do you sound like that?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Like you don't trust me all of the sudden."

"Um. Look...what have you heard about me?"

"That you are a good student, that you are brilliant...I already know that you are mature for your age. Why?" he asked.

"Okay. Never mind then. Let's just say she helped me through a difficult time a couple of years back, and I didn't think it had become public knowledge." She played with a curl of her hair that had come loose, twining it around her fingers.

Mark stared at her for a second. "Wait. Are you the one that suggested that Kristen talk to Ms. Angie?"

"I didn't suggest it, but she did ask me if I thought she should."

He hesitated. "The one who was considering suicide?"

"She told you?" Her voice cracked.

Mark shook his head. "No. She didn't. She mentioned that Ms. Angie had talked one of the students out of killing themself. I didn't know it was you until just now." He looked at her. "I'm glad you didn't."

"Yeah. Well. Me too." She sighed. "But she did, so, yeah, I like her."

He stared into space, trying to decide how much to trust Kayla. He didn't want to break Kristen's confidence, but he needed to talk to someone about it...and he didn't have anyone else. "How much?"

"A lot, okay. She has a bit of a religious hang-up, but she doesn't push it on us. She really helped me."

"Did Kristen talk to you after talking to Ms. Angie?" he asked.

"No, not really. Why?" She looked at him curiously.

Mark struggled for a moment. "If I tell you something that Kristen told me, can you keep it a secret? I need someone else's opinion, and there's no one else I can talk to."

Kayla sighed. "Man, if I can't keep a secret, you are so fucked anyway."

Mark chuckled. "Good point. Very good point. Kristen did go talk to Mrs. Angie. It ended in Mrs. Angie throwing her out of her office, calling her a demon, and telling her never to come back. Oh, and to go to the church to beg to be cleansed and forgiven."

"WHAT?! I do not fucking believe that. That's just flat out impossible." She stared at him in disbelief, half-standing.

Mark looked at her. "Apparently she was as unable to control herself as I am, and it freaked her out."

"But..she's not...I mean, she's married." Kayla seemed bewildered.

Mark nodded. "To be honest, I'm not upset about her being tempted, or even giving in. It's the way she treated her afterwards that bothers me.

"Uh. Yeah. That's way out of character. I really cannot believe she'd do that, no matter what happened."

"You said she had a religious hang-up. If she believed that what she did was wrong...well. I could see it. I'm just worrying about others who go to her for help."

"I really don't know what to say, Mr. H. I really don't. It's just so...strange." She spread her hands, helplessly.

"It bothers me, in part because Kristen doesn't have anyone to talk to about this other than me. I mean, she couldn't talk to someone about me, but she could talk about the other part...but she's not willing to go back to Ms. Angie." He sighed.

Kayla sighed in response. "Kristen doesn't talk, Mr. H. Not to anyone. I don't think she knows how, poor little thing."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "She talked to me. Didn't seem to have any trouble doing so. I wonder..."

"Okay, maybe it's just girls she won't talk to. Maybe because she doesn't have a mom." She shrugged.

"Maybe. Or maybe it's because most of the time she's...distracted." Kayla took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes, sighing.

"You okay?" Mark asked.

"Yeah. Headache. Look, I'll see if she'll talk to me. She knows I'm not a hostile presence, anyway. But I won't make any promises."

"Thanks." Mark frowned slightly. "Want some aspirin?"

"No, but I would take a ride home. I rode my bike out here, but...it's seriously fucking dark tonight." She waved her hand at the dark yard around them.

"No problem," Mark said, helping her up.

Her house was one of the smaller ones in town, and all the lights were still on. When the car pulled up, an older woman stuck her head out the door. "Kayla, that you honey?"

"Yeah, Mom, it's me. I'll be in in a minute, okay?"

"Okay honey...do you want to bring your young man inside?"

"Mom! This is my teacher, remember I told you, the one with a telescope?"

"Oh, sorry dear." The head retreated.

"Sorry about that. My mom's a bit scatterbrained and doesn't see real well, but she won't wear her glasses."

Mark chuckled. "That's OK. Maybe she should get contacts?"

She smiled, and he realized she was actually quite pretty without her glasses. "She did. She kept getting them mixed up and wrong side out and shit."

Mark laughed. "I'd probably be the same way, if I could even bring myself to put contacts in." He shuddered at the thought.

"Oh, I dunno. I'd kinda like some. Mom said I can have em for my birthday next month." She smiled again. "Anyway, thanks for the ride. And don't worry, I'm not gonna blackmail you into being my 'luuuuuv slave' or anything."

Mark grinned back at her. "Wouldn't work if you tried. I refuse to be blackmailed. You get much further with me by just being honest and asking than by trying to force me. Drives people nuts, sometimes."

"Specially here. G'night." She pulled her bike out of the back and trotted up the walkway.

Mark's dreams were even worse now that he had slept with Kristen, and he woke up wanting her terribly. He spent the time before her class anxiously waiting for her. When he saw her, however, he was shocked; she looked worse than the day before, tired and drawn, and it seemed as if she'd lost ten pounds or more. Once again he asked her to stay after class.

She just looked at him tiredly.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She said, dully, "I don't know, Mark. I...I think I'm sick or something. I'm so tired, and I eat and eat and eat but I'm still starving."

Mark tried to think of something which could cause her problems. "Um. I don't want to scare you, but...are you late, at all?"

"Uh...No, not at all. I'm not due for another week. And I didn't miss any pills, I never do! Oh, god...I couldn't be, not now." She looked as if she might cry.

"I think it would be a very good idea for you to get a test, though. That might explain things."

"Oh no. Oh, fuck fuck fuck. I will. I'll go right after school."

"Kristen, it'll be OK," Mark said.

"No, it won't! If I am...it could be anyone's. Why now?"

"Does it matter whose it is?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No. At least if I don't know whose it is, they can't make us get married. They'll expel me, though, permanently."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "I don't think so. That's highly illegal. And if they try, well, someone might anonymously hire you a very good lawyer. Assuming someone can't talk their college roommate's dad into doing it for free."

"My dad is a lawyer, but he'll probably send me to boarding college in Switzerland or something after the baby's born, anyway. It'd be just too much. No way he'll let me keep it." She said miserably.

"Why not?"

"They won't let me stay, Mark. They won't let me stay here after this. There's no way. They hated me enough to start with." She looked at him, close to tears. "It would embarrass him. He doesn't like to be reminded of my...habits. And I promised I wouldn't get pregnant."

Mark said, "Your father is the only one who can make you leave. We'll deal with that if it comes up. The school doesn't have any say in it. But at this point, we don't even know if anything has happened."

"You know how this place is. They might not legally be able to get rid of me, but there'd be...accidents. I'd fall down in the hall a lot. There'd be notes in my locker. And other things." She took a deep breath. "You're right. I might just have the flu."

Mark shook his head. "I suspect that if you talked to Kevin and David, you'd have a number of bodyguards. But you'll know after school."

She nodded. "Right. Shit, I'm scared. "

"Calm down. It'll be OK."

"How, Mark? If I am, how can it possibly be okay?" She swallowed. "I don't want to be sent away. Not now."

Mark paled slightly, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "What if you weren't an unmarried mother?"

Kristen looked at him wide-eyed. "Mark, no. Everyone would think it was yours."

He shrugged. "I can live with that, if it keeps your life from being ruined."

"So you'd just ruin your own? No. No way. I won't do that to you."

Mark shook his head. "It won't ruin my life. Might even make it easier."

"Yeah, right." She took a deep breath. "I'm calm now, it's okay. You don't now how touched I am by the offer, but...no. I won't let you do that."

Mark said, softly, "Certain laws regarding age don't apply if you are married."

"Yes, but if you're trying to marry someone because they're pregnant, then it's obvious that sex was taking place before the wedding. And they would definitely fire you, Mark." Despite her words, there was a huge smile on her face.

Mark smiled. "But if no-one knows you are pregnant...maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't. I might be able to do a bit of fast-talking. Look. Let's not worry about it now, okay? We'll worry about it after you know."

"Okay." She smiled angelically. "Oh, Mark, you're so sweet! I can't believe you did that, I really can't. I wish I dared kiss you right now."

"I know. Later." His eyes linger on her soft, kissable lips.

"I really am starving. I've got to get something to eat. Later. Definitely later."

He grinned. "Go get some food."

That afternoon, he heard that she'd passed out in gym class. He spent the rest of the day worried about her, wishing he had a valid reason to leave early and check on her. Rumors ran rampant. She had AIDS. She was pregnant. She was bulimic. She was on drugs.

Mark packed up and got out of the school as fast as he could after the last bell rang. He wanted to go to her house and check on her, but he couldn't figure out a way to get away with it, so he went home, worried.

The phone rang almost as soon as he walked in the door. "Hello?" he answered.

"Mark? It's me." She sounded exhausted.

"Are you okay?" he asked anxiously.

"Dad's secretary took me to the clinic in Parkerton. They did some tests. I'm not pregnant. And I don't have anything, either. They think it's just a virus." Her voice dripped with relief.

"That's a relief."

"And Dad's in Dallas for the rest of the week. I'm alone here. I want to see you, but...I don't think I can make it to your house. I'm so tired, and my stomach hurts."

"I think I'll go for a walk. Maybe I'll end up close to your house," he said.

Kristen giggled tiredly. "I'll leave the back door unlocked."

"Okay. See you in a little while."

He set out for her house, cutting across the fields and the woods. It took him half an hour to get there, and he found the back door unlocked. He slipped inside. "Kristen?"

"I'm in here Mark," came from the living room.

He followed the voice, gasping as he saw her lying on the couch. She looked dead. Gaunt, skin and bones. Her hair was limp and lifeless, her skin dry and pale. She looked over thirty. A hard thirty, at that.

"Shit, Kristen!"

"Mark...oh, god, is it that bad? I've been scared to look in a mirror all day." Her voice trembled.

Mark nodded, reluctantly. "It's...you look dead. I think you could use some pampering."

"I'm sorry. I knew I looked pretty bad." She tugged the blanket up to her neck.

He tugged it back down. "You don't need to hide."

"Let me, please? I don't like being ugly."

Mark stroked her face. "How about I give you a bath? Would you like that?"

"You...still want to touch me like this?"

Mark nodded. "Yes." He kissed her gently.

"Oh, Mark!" She kissed him back, hungrily.

"Are you up to it?" he asked.

"Oh yes, yes, yes! Please!"

Mark slipped his arms under her, picking her up. "Where's the bathroom?"

"The good one is upstairs."

She weighed basically nothing. Well under a hundred pounds. He was certain she wasn't this light Sunday. Mark carried her to the tub, starting a nice, hot bath. It was a big tub, on the order of a honeymoon-suite jacuzzi bath.

As the tub filled, he began to undress her. She shyly shook her hair down to try to cover herself, and he brushed it aside. "Please, don't hide."

She glanced over at the big mirror over the sink and flinched.

Mark began kissing his way down her body.

Kristen sighed. "I missed you last night. It was not fun. Dad's girlfriend hated me."

"Oh?" he asked, nibbling on a nipple.

Kristen shrugged. "She just did. She stopped smiling the instant I came back from the bathroom and he introduced me. Oh! That feels so good..."

Mark made his way down to the crease of her legs.

"Mmm...that makes up for it, though."

Mark went down on her, with the serious intent of making her come before the tub filled. She leaned against the counter, her legs buckling. It did not take long before she came.

Mark stood up, hard as a rock. "Do you want to before the bath?"

"Oh yes...so bad...please now?"

Mark slipped inside her, and Kristen shivered and wrapped her legs around his waist, clinging tightly to his chest, her little tongue licking at his nipple. He didn't last long inside her, and she screamed when he came in her, her nails digging into his back, then went limp in his arms, nuzzling gently against his chest.

He noticed that she looked noticeably better. More color, better skin-tone. The dark circles under her eyes were smaller. Getting an idea, he dropped to his knees, going down on her again, reaching out to shut off the water.

"Oh! God, Mark! Are you sure you want to do that after...Ah...mmm..."

He licked her from asshole to clit and back, and she shuddered as his tongue pressed inside her, licking her clean, pushing her to orgasm --- and not stopping there. When her legs couldn't hold her up any longer, he supported her as she slid to the floor.

Kristen squealed, writhing on the floor, squirming around and taking his cock in her mouth.

Mark paused long enough to tug her head off of him. "Just enjoy. I'm doing this for you. You can do me later."

She whimpered. "But...I want to...please let me."

"Well...if you really want to. But you don't have to, you can just enjoy my tongue." He went back to licking her.

She didn't do a very good job of cock-sucking, getting distracted by orgasms until she finally gave up and just kind of lay there, twitching.

Mark continued eating her until he simply couldn't continue, until his tongue and jaw simply refused work any more. He looked at her, seeing no change.

Kristen eyed him hungrily and started crawling in his direction when she saw his cock twitch, managing to squirm around and start licking his balls. He moaned as she nuzzled him, licking the delicate bit of skin between his balls and ass.

He stiffened as she wrapped her hand around his cock, stroking it expertly. Her tongue teasingly inched closer to his asshole.

"Oh, please..." he whispered. "Oh, GOD. Please."

Kristen moaned and slid her other hand between her legs as the tip of her tongue circled his asshole. She licked softly across his asshole, lapping at it with her soft, soft tongue, as her hand worked his cock.

Mark jerked convulsively, already on the edge, as Kristen slid the tip of her tongue inside him, flicking it in and out rapidly. He shuddered and came, cum spurting into the air and landing on her. She moaned deep in her throat, burying her fingers in her cunt as she came as well. She let her head fall back and lay there, her attitude a bit uncertain.

He stared at her. Aside from looking slightly nervous/scared, she looked quite a bit better. Her skin had lost that loose, papery look, and her eyes were bright again. Her hair had regained its shine and bounce. She still looked thin and pale, but it was impossible to miss the difference. "Kristen, stand up and look at yourself in the mirror."

"Um...why?" She looked worried.

"Just look."

"Mark--" She stopped herself, just shaking her head and standing up. "Okay.""

"What were you going to say?"

"I don't know. Nothing I guess." She looked in the mirror. "Hey, you're good for me. I'm not so ugly anymore!"

"No, really, what were you going to say?"

"I...um. I don't know."

Mark ran a hand along her leg. "You are physically impossible, you know. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it. You improved more than is possible in thirty minutes."

Kristen giggled. "I feel better, too. Again?"

Mark just pointed his cock straight up, not saying anything.

Kristen squealed happily, pouncing on him. Once they finished, she looked just as she did before she got sick. No trace of her illness remained.

Mark stared. "My god."

She said, lazily, "Mmmm. Don't think god approves of this sort of thing, lover."

Mark shook his head. "Look at yourself now. I'm sorry, I'm terribly sorry."

"Huh? Why, Mark? I'm not even bruised. You're not rough at all!"

"Look at yourself. You look perfectly healthy now. The only conclusion I can draw is that somehow you need sex, and I talked you into...well, starving yourself."

Kristen laughed. "Oh, sweetie, that's impossible. It was just a little virus. Maybe the exercise helped me work it out of my system."

Mark shook his head again. "You have more flesh than you did. Yeah, it's impossible, but so's a ghost."

"Mark...a ghost is one thing, but I'm not anything like that."

Mark sighed. "I know. But...I can't explain it, but it's too coincidental to ignore. And it would explain why you are so horny all the time."

Kristen ran a hand down her now smooth skin, looking worried. "I know it looks odd, but I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."

Mark shrugged. "I don't know. But I think maybe completely stopping was a mistake. I guess you'll know by this time tomorrow, though -- you were looking bad after less than 24 hours last time.

Kristen looked upset. "But...I don't want to keep being a slut!"

"Then pick out two or three guys you do want to have sex with. Or girls. You decide who you sleep with."

"I don't want them! I really don't."

Mark sat up, resting his cheek against her stomach and hugging her. "It's OK. There's not any of them besides me?"

"No. It's just...different. I don't know how to explain." She frowned, looking miserable.

Mark held her tight. "Just try."

"I still got turned on at school. I still wanted sex. But I didn't want to do it with them. Not really. And I knew that if I did, it wouldn't do any good...I'd still want it. It wasn't worth it."

Mark sighed. "I don't know what to do. I certainly can't do this with you at school, and I don't think we can count on being able to do it even every other night."

"You really think I'm some sort of sex vampire Mark?"

"I don't think I'd put it like that -- I certainly don't feel drained. Well, no more than I normally would after coming three times in an hour."

Kristen sighed. "Then what?"

"I don't know. I mean, I certainly wouldn't object to sleeping with you every night. I just don't think we can do it."

"It's okay. Hey, it might be a good thing. They won't want to sleep with me if I look like zombie-girl," Kristen said.

"No, it's not okay. It can't be healthy for you." He stood, helping her into the tub."

She slid into the hot water happily. "Mmmm. I feel fine now, so I can't see that it hurt me, really."

"Yes, but I'm not sure you'd have survived another day or two." He slid in behind her and began rubbing her shoulders. "None of the guys or girls would be worth it if you...trained them how to please you?"

"I don't know how. I mean, they try, and I try to tell them, but it just doesn't work."

"Okay, what do I do differently?"

Kristen blushed. "Everything! But I don't know what specifically. It just...feels better when you do it."

Mark sighed. "This isn't good, then. Or..." he paused. "I'm not quite sure how to ask this. Do they actually care about you, or are you just someone to have sex with?"

She looked embarrassed. "Um. I guess. I mean, they like me I guess. Sort of like a pet. They wouldn't want to see me hurt, but they wouldn't grieve forever without me."

"Rather than a fascinating person who just happens to be the hottest thing I've ever seen. Maybe that's the difference."

Kristen smiled softly at him. "Have I told you how sweet you are yet? Why don't turn around and let me wash your back?"

Mark kissed her shoulder. "Okay."

Kristen did her very best to stop him from worrying about it, and Mark let her. Kristen fell asleep around 2 a.m., curled up on his chest; neither of them had remembered to eat. He tucked Kristen in bed and headed back to his house.

Six a.m. came way too early. Coffee helped, but he still thought wistfully of calling in sick before finally getting dressed. As it was, he ended up late.

Hurrying down the hall, he was treated to the sight of one of the larger boys, a burly junior destined to drive a truck, chew tobacco, and wear his dirty jeans beneath his beer belly by the time he was thirty, banging on the door of the girl's room. "I know you're hiding in there. C'mon out!"

"What is your problem, mister?" Mark asked, fixing him with a glare.

"Uh...my girlfriend is in the bathroom and won't talk to me."

"Oh? Who is it?"

The student screwed up his brow in an effort of extreme cogitation. "Uh.. It's a secret!"

"Really."

"Yeah, that's it. She dint want anyun to know we were goin' steady."

Mark knocked on the door of the typing classroom, asking the teacher to come out.

"Is there a problem, Mark?" the teacher asked.

"I'm not sure. Would you please go in the bathroom and ask the girl inside if she's going out with Dirk, here?"

"Uh...Mr. H, that's okay. I don't wanna embarrass her."

"No, no, I insist." Mark said, looking at the typing teacher significantly.

Ms. Smidt narrowed her eyes. "Dirk Johnson, what are you up to?"

"I just had a fight with my secret girlfriend, Ms. Smidt. She's shy, she don't want no one to know we're in luv," Dirk mumbled miserably.

"Well, he was banging on the door of the bathroom. I don't think this is acceptable behavior," Mark said.

"Sorry, Mr. H. I won't do it agin. Please, kin I jus' go ta class?"

Mark shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Secret girlfriend, huh? Dirk, that is so...son, I...oh!" Ms. Smidt pushed through the door.

"Why'd ya hafta go and get her fer? I wadn't hurtin' nothin'. I jus wanted ta talk to her."

Mark just shook his head. "Dirk, that's simply unacceptable behavior."

"Man. As if you've ever had any woman troubles. Shit." Dirk slumped miserably against the wall.

Mark laughed. "Dirk, I could tell you stories...like the girlfriend who finally discovered she was a lesbian. I've had 'woman troubles'."

Ms. Smidt was in the restroom for several minutes, and looked even more pissed when she came out. "You can go to your class now, Mr. Hasseran, I'll take Mr. Johnson to the office."

"Aw, man!"

Mark nodded his head to the side. "Just a moment, Ms. Smidt." He stepped over to the side.

She nodded and glared at Dirk until he docilely moved down the hall to wait for her. "Yes?"

Mark lowered his voice. "What did the problem turn out to be, in case I have to fill out a report?'

"Nothing surprising. I'm sure Dirk would love for the young lady to be his girlfriend, but she is not, and I know this for a fact, and she confirmed it. She did go out with him more than once, but was in no way his steady girlfriend. Unfortunately for Dirk, she no longer wishes to go out with him at all. This is her choice. I don't think his little Neanderthal brain was quite up to grasping that."

Mark sighed. "Wonderful. What is it about this week? I assume you heard about the fight on Monday, yes?"

She raised an ironic eyebrow. "Which one? There were lots."

"David and Kevin. Though at least in that case, David thought Kevin had hurt Kristen. I can't fault him for protectiveness, but he went about it the wrong way."

She sighed. "Yes. The poor girl's sudden urge to keep her legs closed is causing much confusion in our walking hormone pool. Still...it is her choice, and by damn they will respect that, or I'll horsewhip the lot of them!" Sarah Smidt was about 65 and looked like the kind of little grandmother who bakes cookies and knits, but underlying the outward appearance was a core of solid spring steel.

Mark fought a smile. "That's pretty much how I feel. I gave the two of them a pretty severe dressing down. That's actually why I got you here; I was afraid it might be her trapped in there."

"A likely guess, but it doesn't really matter who the little fool had trapped in there. It is unacceptable behavior no matter what."

Mark nodded. "Yes. I wanted to make sure that she knew that she does have support, trying to make this...change, I suppose is the best term. If you've got Dirk in hand, I need to get to class. If it was her, however, you might want to mention to Dirk that he should probably avoid David and Kevin. Seems they are planning to make sure everyone takes no for an answer."

She snickered. "Or maybe I wouldn't. Dirk has a thick skull."

Mark smothered a smile. "Well, it would get the message through. Probably. I've got to go." He waved, and headed to class as the tiny elderly woman took the hulking jock by the elbow and started marching him down the hall.

His students teased him about being late. The unavoidable joker asked if he had a hot date last night or something.

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yes. With Callisto."

General laughter. "Whoa...cool. Xena's hotter though."

Mark grinned. "Actually, I'd prefer Gabrielle, but that's not important right now. Your homework is." With a fair amount of grumbling, the class settled down.



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