Tradition, finale
by RSW

Chapter 17

Ben moped around his room for several hours on Sunday afternoon after talking with Emily. Finally, he could stand it no longer and called Greg to talk. “Emily is breaking up with me.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“She’s breaking up with you, and you don’t know why?” Greg said. “I don’t understand.”

“First, she canceled our plans for a picnic on Saturday afternoon, then she called off our date for that night, and she called me this morning to tell me she’d be riding to school with Beth on Monday.”

“Let me get this straight, Ben. Because something apparently came up and she couldn’t see you this weekend, you think she’s dumping you? Get a grip, man.”

“It wasn’t just that. It was the way she talked to me, like I wasn’t important. She even sounded mad at me for the last phone call.”

“Emily wouldn’t be mad at you for no reason. Did you do something?” Greg asked.

“No, I didn’t do anything. She’s a teenage girl, for God’s sake. She probably just changed her mind about wanting to go out with me,” Ben replied.

“Come on. Emily’s not like that. Besides, it’s two weeks before prom; there’s no way that she’d break up with you right before the social event of the year without a darn good reason.”

Greg paused. “Look, it’s one of two things. She’s either upset about something that has nothing to do with you, or you did something stupid that you don’t even know about. I could tell you some stories about stuff Beth found offensive when I was, like, you’ve got to be kidding me. Feel her out Monday at school. If it’s the former, just be there for her. If it’s the latter, apologize, even if you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Greg was making a lot of sense. “I guess it’s like the Wizard’s First Rule,” Ben said.


“It’s a book by Terry Goodkind. The rule, paraphrased, says something like people will believe any lie if they’re afraid that it might be true,” Ben replied.

“Exactly, you’re afraid she might break up with you so you think that she is going to,” Greg said. “You’re a wise and intelligent man when you’re not being an idiot.”

Emily knew that it was wrong of her, but she avoided Ben at school on Monday. Beth was right; he had done nothing wrong. She hated being irrational and felt stupid for the way that she was feeling, which, of course, made her even madder. Her best bet was to not deal with him for a while.

She practically ran into the house when Beth dropped her off. Seeing her dad seated on the couch, she rushed over to him and gave him a huge hug. She only let go when she noticed that he tensed up, and she realized that she was hurting him. “Dad, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing. Like I said, a few bumps and bruises. The seat belt left a bit of a mark, and you were squeezed up against it. No big deal.”

She looked him over. There were a couple of scratches on his face and a knot on his forehead. Beyond the physical damage, she could see guilt and sadness in his countenance.

“Tell me what happened,” she said, sitting down beside him.

“Not much to tell. I went to a bar downtown intending to have a couple of beers to take my mind off things, had too many drinks, and, like an idiot, thought that I could drive myself home. The details are fuzzy, but, for some reason, I swerved and ended up crashing into a shop. The car went through the building façade, damaging a bunch of merchandise. The accident triggered an alarm in the store, and the police arrested me for DUI. I’m lucky that I didn’t kill myself or someone else.”

She took his hand and held it. “It’s okay. We all do stupid things.”

“I’m glad you’re being so good about this. You’re more understanding than I have any right to expect. There is more, though. I contacted a lawyer who talked to the DA for me.”

Emily’s pulse jumped. She had been so glad that her dad was all right that she hadn’t thought about possible consequences.

“There was a lot of damage done to the shop, over $10,000 worth. If I pay restitution, I can take a plea deal and get probation with community service to go with the loss of my driver’s license for a year. If not, the store owner will press charges for damaging her property, and I’ll be incarcerated for up to two years.”

“Do you have enough money? Can I do anything? I can get a job,” she said.

“I’m sorry, Em. You getting a job won’t help. I have to come up with the cash in the next month, and I don’t have it. I’ve already talked to Samantha. She doesn’t have it either. I don’t see any way to avoid jail.”

Emily couldn’t help but think, ‘What will happen to me?’ She realized, though, that, no matter what hardships she would have to endure, it would be nothing compared to her dad having to spend years in prison. Being careful not to hurt him, she buried her head in his shoulder and embraced him.

“I know that this is hard for you,” he said, “but it will be okay. Samantha has agreed to take you in. She and Bill are staying here in town until Beth graduates, so you’ll be able to finish out the school year before they move.”

Emily tried to block thoughts of herself out of her mind but couldn’t. Even though Ben, Beth, and Greg were leaving, she still had a lot of friends at school. She was popular and a cheerleader here. At a new school, she’d have to start over. Cheerleaders were normally chosen at the end of one year; there’s no way she’d be able to get on a squad for her junior year. This was horrible. Her poor dad, though. She had seen The Shawshank Redemption; she knew what kind of things happened in the big house. How would he be able to deal with it? They stayed on the couch, holding each other, for a long time.

It was a long and emotional evening and night. Between the worry about her dad going away and about her moving across the country, she barely slept at all. If anything good at all could have been said to arise from the situation, it was that the anxiety and sadness she felt about her dad’s plight overwhelmed her unreasonable anger at Ben. She resolved that she would end his banishment on Tuesday.

She had it all planned out in her head what she would say to him. Obviously, she would start by apologizing profusely and follow up with an explanation of exactly what was bothering her. He would explain in great detail how much of a silly goose she was being, and all would be well. When she saw him standing in the hallway, all her plans evaporated. Is he mad at her? She basically hadn’t spoken to him the entire weekend and had deliberately avoided him on Monday, and, for all he knew, she had no reason. ‘I would be mad at me,’ she thought.

The expression on his face when he saw her coming toward him wasn’t anger, though. ‘Why does he look so scared?’

She couldn’t help but remember how it felt to be in his embrace, how safe and secure it was. The emotion from the past few days caught up with her. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but she couldn’t. All she wanted was for him to hug her, to let her know that everything would be okay. Without a word, she threw her arms around him.

He hesitated for a moment before reciprocating the hug. “Whatever it was that I did, I’m sorry,” he said.

She looked up at his face. She treated him like crap for days, and he was apologizing to her? She snuggled her head deeper into his chest and resisted the temptation to let him take the blame.

“It wasn’t you; it was me. I had some pretty intense family stuff going on and needed some space. That’s all.”

He gripped her tighter and kissed the top of her head. “Anything that you want to talk about?”

“No. Not right now.”

“I’m here if you need me,” he said.

“I know. This is what I need.”

He stood there holding her until she finally relaxed her grip.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’m so sorry about canceling our date and the picnic. Rain check?”

“I’m free next Saturday…”

“Sounds great… Oh, wait, I promised Liz that I would help her with some techniques. Cheerleader tryouts are just around the corner. Late afternoon would be fine, though.”

“Liz?” Ben asked.

“Do you know Liz Appleton? She’s a freshman.”

“I know her. TJ has a thing for her.”

“Your brother has a crush on Liz? Really? I didn’t know that,” Emily said.

“It’s not something that he advertises…”

Ben stopped talking and a strange look came over his face. What was he thinking?

“Liz’s friend, Jeff, he’s not going to be there, is he?”

“I think that Jeff is her stepbrother. As far as I know, he’s not.”

“Good. Em, I want you to promise me something. Do not hang around with that guy. He’s trouble, and I don’t think it’s safe. Promise me that you’ll call me immediately if he shows up with her.”

“Okay. No problem.”

Ben looked her in the eye. “I mean it, Em. Promise me that you’ll call.”

He was usually so docile. She liked it when he took charge. “Okay. I promise.”

“So, can I give you a ride to school tomorrow?” he said.

“I’d like that.”

Ben smiled at her. “I love you.”

Chapter 18

Ben had scarcely finished shaking hands with Mr. Taylor when Emily walked into the living room. Any time that he saw Emily, he couldn’t help but be in awe of her beauty, but, tonight, she was absolutely amazing. He had expected her hair to be fixed up and curled, the way the girls seemed to prefer it for dressy occasions. Instead, her blonde locks were left straight and fell to the middle of her back, just the way he liked it.

There seemed to be a twinkle in her eye as she watched him admire her in stunned silence, but it could have just been the reflection of her shiny, pale-blue dress that matched the color of her eyes so perfectly. He was having a hard time believing that it was his shy girlfriend standing before him wearing this off the shoulder gown that exposed so much of her cleavage and came down to only mid-thigh on her bare legs. He had also never seen her wear such high heels, blue of course, and wondered how she was going to dance in those things.

“So?” she finally had to prompt him.

“You look incredible. I can’t find words to even begin to describe how beautiful you are.”

His comment seemed to please her as her face beamed, making her look even more lovely.

As he held out his elbow for her to take, he noticed Emily’s Dad’s expression. For a second, Ben thought that Mr. Taylor was going to say something, possibly about his daughter’s clothing, or lack thereof. Instead, he shook his head and opened the door for them.

Emily gave her dad a quick peck on the cheek, and Ben led her to his car, holding the door open for as she got in.

Once they were safely in the Charger, Ben turned to her.

“Em, that dress…”

“You like it? Beth helped me pick it out.”

“I love it, but, well, there’s not much of it. Aren’t you, uh, cold?” Ben finished lamely.

He had wanted to ask her if she was embarrassed but decided not to put that thought into her head. She looked so sexy.

She smiled at him. “No. I think it’s warm enough tonight. In fact, you seem to be sweating.”

He knew that she was teasing him. Her voice shook a little bit with her next statement, though.

“I decided that I, we’re, going to play a little game tonight. Each time you do a certain thing, I owe you an article of clothing. I’m only starting with three pieces if we count the shoes as one, so you’d better figure out the action pretty darn quick.”

She arched her backside off the seat and hiked her skirt up to her waist. As he tried to keep as much attention as possible on the road, she slowly pulled down her royal blue thong. Once she had slipped it over her shoes, she handed it to him. He absently stuck it in his jacket pocket. “That’s for the first time,” she said.

Over the past six months, he had seen her naked many times. Literally every curve, every fold of skin, was burned into his memory. It amazed him how he still couldn’t get enough of seeing her.

“You’re going to the prom without underwear? Are you sure?” he asked.

She smiled at him. “Well, unless you do the action two more times first, then I’ll be going naked.”

He laughed. He loved it when she was in a teasing mood. Still, he wanted to make sure that she was really okay with it. He had never seen her wear so little in public. “Seriously?”

“It’s okay. Really. I know that the skirt is short, but it’s also stiff. It won’t accidentally flare up. As long as I’m careful about sitting down, I’ll be fine,” she said.

“Even with underwear, that dress wouldn’t leave much to the imagination.”

She blushed at his comment. “You like it, though. Right? I haven’t exactly been the best girlfriend lately, and I wanted tonight to be really special for you.”

“Em, the night is really special because I’m with you. You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

Her face lit up at his response. “It’s not that bad. I know what some of the other girls are wearing, and this won’t be the most revealing outfit there, believe me. It’s something that I want to do for you. You do like that I’m wearing this?”

“Very much so. You are so hot. I can’t believe it,” he said.

She positively beamed. “So, what’s the plan? You haven’t told me much about what we’re going to do tonight.”

“To start with, we’ll be dining at Chez Mouton.”

He expected her to be very excited. Though the prom was being held in Springfield, about a forty-five minute drive from their small town, he didn’t expect that many of his classmates would be able to score reservations for one of the finest restaurants in the area. Luckily, the Tech football coach had connections and was willing to hook him up.

He glanced at her hoping to see a pleased expression on her face. Instead, she had a really weird countenance that he couldn’t interpret. Had he done something wrong?

“Should I have picked a different place to eat? I can cancel, and we can go somewhere else.”

Slowly, a smile returned to her face. “No, it’s fine. It’s great, really. I’ve heard good things about it; the name just triggered a not nice memory That’s all.”

“It’s really no big deal. I know of this nice trattoria that could fit us in on short notice,” he said.

“No. Please. I’ve always wanted to eat there. Let’s go.” She hesitated a second before continuing. “How can you afford it? I’ve heard it’s really expensive.”

“I’ve been saving up. I want tonight to be special, too.”

As they pulled into town, he tried to sound casual as he said, “You know, this isn’t such a bad drive. It’s certainly easy to make the trek on weekends, and it’s not even too far for the occasional weeknight.”

They hadn’t really discussed yet him going off to college next year. He hoped that she intended to keep going out with him but had his doubts that she would be willing to put up with a long distance relationship.

She seemed to instantly know what he was getting at. “If it’s okay, I’d rather not discuss that tonight. Let’s enjoy the moment, okay?”

He pretended to be occupied with paying attention to the car in front of him for a moment so that she couldn’t see his face. “No problem, I understand,” he said.

As he pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant, she said, “Look, the sign says valet parking only. What are you going to do?”

“I’ll pull up to the guy and tell him that I prefer to park it myself. I’ll tip him anyway, so I’m sure that it won’t be a problem.”

“Why don’t you drop me off at the stand? That way, I don’t have as far to walk.”

He thought her response was a bit odd but didn’t give it too much consideration. She got out of the car when the valet opened the door for her, and he explained the situation to the attendant. As he expected, the guy didn’t put up much of a fight, and Ben was able to park it himself.

As the hostess greeted him, he couldn’t help but stare at Emily as she stood waiting for him. ‘How could such a gorgeous creature be my girlfriend?’ he thought.

He was worried that she was going to break up with him soon and had to fight not to let it make him depressed. ‘This very well could be my last night with her; I have to make the best of it while I can.’

He bent and kissed her, and placed his hand on the small of her back as the maitre de escorted them to their table. Ben tried not to wince as he looked at the menu and hoped that this was the kind of place who gave the women ones without prices. Otherwise, he would never be able to convince Emily to order.

She seemed discomfited by the poshness of her surroundings. She did, however, rave about her fancy grilled chicken salad, and Ben could tell that she was impressed when the waiter used some kind of metal device to sweep all the crumbs off the table.

“Dessert?” he asked.

She winked at him and blushed slightly. “I’ll give you your dessert later.”

It was Ben’s turn to blush. He made it a point to not let her see the bill and paid their waiter with folded currency. He knew that she would feel bad if she found out how much of his hard-earned money was going towards this meal.

When they reached the valet stand, Emily told him, “I’ll stay here, and you can pick me up.”

‘That’s really odd. It’s almost like she’s…’ He turned and winked at her before proceeding to the car.

Chapter 19

Emily realized that Ben had figured it out when he winked at her. Waiting at the valet stand had been risky, but walking to the Charger with him would have been worse. Once they got there, how would she have been able to prevent him from opening the door for her? Then she would have had to give him her shoes. At least, this way he could decide if he was going to make her give up more clothing.

She hoped that he would let the attendant open the door for her, and not insist on doing it himself when they got to the prom. She knew that he wouldn’t do both, but, if he did either, she’d have to dance all night with bare feet. She would do whatever he decided, though.

He pulled the car up and made no move to get out. The valet opened her door, and she noticed that Ben stared at her crotch as she got in. She couldn’t help but be slightly embarrassed, but it was just Ben. It’s not like he hadn’t had the same view many, many times and in much better lighting conditions.

She wasn’t used to going commando, though. She felt like everyone was looking at her and knew that she wasn’t wearing panties. And the top was indecently low. The waiter had stared at her cleavage every time he came to their table. She had thought about moving the napkin from her lap to her neck but saw how Ben reacted. Instead, she had made it a point to lean forward whenever the guy was near.

She liked the hunger that she saw in Ben’s eyes. He was normally so reserved. Whenever they had private time away from prying parents, he always drove her crazy before satisfying her needs. Though he occasionally let her give him a hand job, it wasn’t the same. He never lost control like she did. When she slipped off her thong earlier, he had looked capable of losing control. In a way, she liked the thought that she could make him want her so much. On the other hand, she couldn’t help but think about what happened to her mother, and imaging this giant of a man full of unrestrained lust scared her.

She remembered reading the novel 1984 for class earlier in the year. ‘This must be what Orwell meant by doublethink,’ she thought.

She did her best to suppress the negative feelings and focused on having a good time with her date. She knew that Ben was safer for her than any guy she could ever meet. Who else would be so gentle and patient with her? She simply had to treat him better. She knew she had already hurt his feelings once this evening by blowing off his attempt to talk about the future; she hadn’t wanted to tell him yet about her moving out of state.

Ben pulled into the convention center parking lot and asked her, “Do you want me to drop you off at the front?”

“That’s okay; I don’t mind walking.”

After he parked, he grinned at her.

“I can open your door for you if you like?”

She almost laughed.

“I think that I can manage.”

Relieved that he had let her keep her shoes, she strolled hand in hand with him into the dance. She noticed that a lot of guys turned toward her when they saw her dress. Ted Johnson’s date even had to slap him to get his attention back.

Emily’s heart rate quickened. “Ben,” she whispered, “is this dress too revealing?”

Instead of answering right away, he stopped, cupped her face in his massive hand, and gave her a long, deep kiss. “The dress is absolutely perfect. Every guy in this room wants to be with you, and I can’t believe that you’re here with me.”

She didn’t know if she liked the concept of a lot of guys wanting her; it made her even more conscious of how much of her breasts were showing and of the air passing over her dampening, unclad nether regions. ‘Can any of them tell that I’m not wearing anything under this?’ she thought. She felt her nipples harden. ‘Maybe I have more in common with Beth than I knew.’

With her increased arousal, she became more enthusiastic about the effect her exposure was having on Ben. His eyes were slightly dilated, and she could see a bump forming in his pants.

“I saw this old movie once where people were dancing and the guy drug his partner through his legs and tossed her up into the air,” he said. “Can we try that?”

She smiled sweetly at him. “Try it, and you’re dead.”

He laughed and held out his hand to her. “May I have this dance?”

The DJ was playing “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden as he led her onto the dance floor.

‘This is our first real dance. This will now always be our song.’

Though she had tried hard to teach Ben modern steps, he had no sense of rhythm. The best that she had been able to achieve was to have him hold her while doing simple three or four step movements. Good thing a slow song was playing.

She willingly left the floor with him when the DJ put on “The Chicken Dance.” ‘What is this, a wedding reception?’ she thought.

She laughed at the couples still on the floor as Ben went for punch. For the rest of the evening, he would occasionally ask for her hand when a slow song would come on. Otherwise, they enjoyed each other’s company and talked with Beth and Greg and Julie and her dates.

Emily liked watching her cousin during the more upbeat numbers. She and Greg moved well together. She laughed as Beth flashed her panties on more than one occasion. Funny that Beth was wearing underwear while she wasn’t!

All too soon, the party was over, and Ben escorted her back to the Charger. As she reached for the door handle, he stepped past her and grabbed it first.

“Not this time,” he said.

She smiled as she got in.

“Well?” he said once he had gotten settled. She slipped off her shoes and handed it to him. Only one more item to go. Anticipation heightened her arousal.

“Where to now?” she asked.

He mumbled something.

“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you.”

He kept his eyes straight ahead on the road.

“I have a reservation at the Marriot.”

He was so, so cute when he was embarrassed.

“That seems a little presumptuous,” she said.

“But you said that…”

“I know, silly. I was just teasing.”

She could see the tenseness in his shoulders ease.

After he parked at the hotel, he leaned over and kissed her.

“I love you so much,” he said. “I’m going to register and get everything ready. You hang tight for a few minutes and don’t even think about touching that door handle.”

She heard him open and close the trunk and watched him enter the building. Goosebumps formed on her arms and legs. ‘Did he mean what I thought he meant?’

At least ten minutes passed before he exited the building. She had to fight the urge to get out before he returned.

He surprised her by getting in the car and driving around back. She waited for him to circle around and open her door.

‘This is it,’ she thought.

He kissed her deeply again. “I believe that you owe me something.” he said.

Did he really mean for her to strip here? If she objected, she would know that he wouldn’t demand it. She resisted the temptation to chicken out. ‘Trust him.’ She turned her back to him. “Could you help? It’s hard to reach.”

She felt his massive fingers fumbling with the small tab. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of the slider descending the zipper teeth. The pressure around her chest loosened, and she could feel the cool air on her back. As the zipper completed its drop, the top of the her dress fell to her waist, and her breasts were exposed. Not stopping to think about what she was doing, she gave the garment a final push, and the fabric slid down her legs to land in a puddle at her feet. She stepped out of it as Ben picked it up and locked it in the car.

She turned back to face Ben and the hotel. She couldn’t help but notice all the room lights that were still on. Anyone could be at one of those windows, devouring her nude body with their eyes, seeing her bare breasts with her hard nipples and looking at her trimmed pubic hair.

She moaned as Ben gently laid his hand on her butt, caressing it and slightly pushing her in the direction of the building at the same time. She ached for his touch on her and grabbed his free hand, trying to force it onto her engorged clitoris. It wouldn’t budge. The pressure on her backside increased. She didn’t care; she wanted him now!

“Inside,” he whispered.

Reluctantly, she lurched forward. The movement helped break her from her stupor. She realized how exposed she was. ‘I have to get to cover.’ Her pace quickened, and she was glad that Ben parked so close to the door. He quickly inserted a card key and opened it for her. She stepped into an enclosed stairwell. “Which way?” she asked.

“One floor up. Follow me.” He stopped when he reached the second floor landing. “Wait here for a second,” he said. Ben walked through to the corridor, momentarily leaving her alone. She didn’t have time to panic, however, as he quickly returned. “The coast is clear. Let’s go.”

He led her a short way down the hall before opening up one of the rooms with his card. Relieved to be out of potential public view, she rushed inside.

Ben had already prepared the room. All the lights were out, and dozens of small candles provided the only illumination to the space. A clock radio played mood music. Emily was instantly struck by the further similarities between her prom night and her mom’s. She shook her head to try to dislodge the thoughts that sought to ruin the rest of her evening.

Ben grabbed her from behind and began rubbing his hands up and down her body. She gasped as his finger brushed against her breast and moaned as her massaged her clit, but fought to urge to give in to his touches. She wanted him to desire her as much as she did him.

He seemed perplexed when she led him to a chair across from the bed and indicated for him to sit down. She backed away from him and began moving her body to the rhythm of the music. His eyes widened when she caressed her own breasts and teased her nipples. Encouraged, she moved her hands lower and touched herself. She was soaking wet! ‘What am I doing?’ she thought. ‘I’m full on masturbating in front of him.’

Surprised by her own action, she took a step back. Since she had forgotten that she was so close to the bed, she tripped and fell back on it. With her lying on her back, her legs spread wide, Ben must have taken as an invitation. She saw him grab a package containing an XXL Trojan and begin to unbuckle his pants.

An image of her mom in the same position popped into her mind, and, for an instant, the vision melded with her. She could feel her mom’s fear and doubt. As Ben/Dan moved toward her, she screamed.


She rolled off the bed and ran to the bathroom, slamming the door in her wake. Moments later, she heard a knock. “Go away! Just stay away from me,” she yelled.

Trying to shake off her sexual haze and the aftereffects of her hallucination, she turned on the shower and stepped in. It was at least a half hour later before she shut off the water and wrapped a towel around herself.

Emily didn’t fully know what to expect when she stepped out of the bathroom. Should she apologize for her behavior? How could she explain what happened? Would Ben be mad at her? What she really didn’t expect was for him to be gone. Her dress, shoes, thong, and the overnight bag she had stowed in the Charger earlier in the week were all sitting on the bed, and Ben was nowhere to be seen. ‘He didn’t get what he wanted, so he left me,’ she thought.

Chapter 20

Ben felt guilty for leaving Emily without a ride, but he knew that she had her cell phone in her purse. She could easily call Beth. Besides, the room was paid for through the night; someone should get use out of it.

While driving the dark, deserted back roads to his house, he couldn’t help but dwell on the events of the evening. He had been shocked by her actions. One minute, she was deliberately teasing him, getting him all worked up, and, the next, she was running away from him. It had confused him greatly at first, but he figured it out quickly. Obviously, she had been planning on breaking up with him soon but had decided that she would sleep with him first. A pity fuck, he believed they called it. She must have gotten scared at the last minute and decided to back out. He wished she would have explained how she was feeling; he hated leaving on bad terms with her.

What he still didn’t understand, however, was the scream and the look that she had given him before rolling off the bed. Both had been filled with such fear, anger, and even hate. He realized that she often got angry for no apparent reason, which was annoying but not a huge problem. What could he have done to make her afraid of him, though? He loved her; how could she hate him? When she had told him to go away, he did. He knew that she wouldn’t want to deliberately hurt him and was probably groping for a way to break up with him without leaving hard feelings. He decided that the best bet would be to leave, that way she didn’t have to deal with it. He made sure to return all her clothes and get the overnight bag out of the car before departing.

The night played over and over in his mind, especially her screaming and glaring at him. He couldn’t stand the thought of her hating him, even if he had given her no reason. He was barely aware of how heavily his foot was leaning on the accelerator until he glanced at the speedometer and saw that he was pushing eighty miles per hour on a curvy road with a forty-five mile per hour limit. He knew the highway well. He visualized the next curve, rated at thirty-five. It was right before a bridge, and the land beside the pavement dipped into a steep ravine with a low fence and an old oak tree on the other side. He often wondered if his Charger would be able to clear that fence if he were going fast enough.

He punched the gas petal and watched as the red needle hit one hundred twenty. “Just two good ole boys…” he sang quietly to himself.

He could see the Charger, black instead of the orange General Lee, launching into the air. Only this time, there would be no cut away to a new vehicle after it landed. This time, the car would be a mangled heap of twisted metal wrapped around a tree. Would he survive, he wondered, if he left his seat belt on? Better to unfasten it after leaving the ground.

He raced toward the curve. At what point would be too late to pull back even if he wanted to? He didn’t think of his family or his friends or the bright future that he would be throwing away. He did think of Emily, though. How would she feel about this? Would she blame herself? She would. She would feel responsible for the rest of her life.

Years of experience with high speed driving had taught him that slamming on the brakes would result in a loss of control. Instead, he downshifted. He winced as he heard the strain on the transmission, but it couldn’t be helped. He was close to the curve, too close.

He drifted as far to the outside of his lane as he could. His only option would be to cut hard to the inside lane. He prayed that no one would be traveling in the opposite direction around the curve at that exact moment because it would mean disaster for both of them.

Still traveling way too fast, he wrenched the steering wheel to the left. He felt the rear tires slip a little. If they lost too much traction, he would fishtail and could end up crashing into the ditch doing three-sixties. He heard the squealing and smelled the burnt rubber, but his investment in high-performance radials paid off. Once he was safely around the curve, he was able to slow down, and, with his heart beating rapidly, make his way home.

A little over two weeks passed with Ben and Emily studiously avoiding each other. Even Beth and Greg couldn’t get any details out of either of them, though not for lack of trying.

On Tuesday, Joe Taylor called the school and told them that Emily wasn’t going to be attending that day. Instead, both dressed in their Sunday best and went to the courthouse.

Emily couldn’t help but be anxious when she entered the building. Would this be the last time that she saw her dad outside of a prison for a long time? Her dad’s attorney had called late last week and set up this meeting with the prosecutor. He had been a vague on the details, and neither Emily or her dad knew if this was the day that he would begin serving his sentence.

She took a handkerchief out of her purse and dabbed at her eyes. She had went nearly five years without shedding a tear after her mom was laid to rest. For the past two weeks, she hadn’t made it through a single day without crying. Joe shook his lawyer’s hand as soon as he walked in the room and somberly took his seat. Emily quietly sat in an out of the way chair in the back.

“Mr. Taylor,” the assistant district attorney said, “I have the paperwork for your plea agreement prepared. Your representative has already read through it and okayed it. By signing here, you are admitting to criminal charges of driving under the influence. You will lose your license for a period of one year, perform one hundred hours of community service, and be placed on probation for three years.”

“I don’t understand,” Joe said. “What about the restitution?”

“According the my records, the restitution has been paid,” the DA said while pulling out a sheet of paper from the file on his desk.

“May I see that?” Joe asked.

Emily saw her dad scan the document. He turned to her. “Emily, this says that Benjamin F. Miller paid the money last week. Ben Miller. That’s your boyfriend, right?”

Emily didn’t know what to say. How could Ben have paid it? Where would he have gotten the money? How did he even know about it? Why would he have done it?

Without much further conversation, Joe signed the necessary paperwork. After some discussion of the requirements of his community service and probation, Emily’s dad was allowed to leave the courthouse a free man.

The confusion that Emily felt at first was replaced by joy for her dad by the time they got outside. She hugged him, and they both laughed and cried. She had never been so relieved in her life. Her dad wasn’t going away! She would be able to stay here and continue to be a cheerleader.

During the ride home, thoughts about Ben interrupted her celebration. Surely he didn’t think that she was going to sleep with him because he had prevented her dad from going to jail. Did he think she was some kind of prostitute? Her anger at him had almost subsided to the point where she missed his company; most of the tears that she had shed had not been for her father. Now, she felt the anger returning.

Her dad had borrowed Beth’s car for the trip into Springfield. The plan was for Greg to drop her off after school to pick it up. Emily would make Beth give her a ride to Ben’s house; she wanted to confront him.

As expected, Beth had been fine with the idea of giving her a ride. Once they were in the car, she said, “Good, you two need to talk, anyway. Any particular reason that it has to be now, though?”

Emily spit out her words. “He paid my dad’s fine.”

“Oh, Em, that’s great news, but why do you sound so mad?”

Emily didn’t respond, and Beth pulled the car over to the side of the road.

“Emily Taylor, I don’t know what happened between the two of you, and I don’t really care. I do care, however, that you’re acting like a spoiled child. Ben Miller is one of the nicest, kindest people that I have ever met. He certainly doesn’t deserve to have you treating him like this. If you’re not planning on being nice to him, I’ll turn this car around right now, and you can find another ride.”

“You weren’t there. You don’t know what he did.”

“You’re right,” Beth said. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know anything about it; neither you or Ben will tell me anything about it. I do know both of you, however. You are quick to anger so that you can avoid feeling anything that might make you vulnerable, and he is so smitten with you that a single mean word from you would crush him.”

Emily bristled at both Beth’s description of her and of Ben. “You weren’t in that room; you don’t know.”

For the first time, she could see a concerned look on Beth’s face. “Honey, did he hurt you? Did he rape you?”

“No, but he wanted to,” Emily said.

“He wanted to? What do you mean?”

“I could see the lust in his eyes.”

“I see. And what were you doing at the time?” Beth asked.

Emily couldn’t tell her that she was laying on her back on the bed, naked, with her legs spread wide. Instead, she stayed silent.

“Tell me, Emily, how did you get away from him?”

“I ran to the bathroom.”

“Did he try to stop you? What did he do?”

“No, he didn't try to stop me. He knocked on the door, and I told him to go away. The room, the night, everything, it was so much like what mom described.”

Beth grabbed her hand. “Reading that about your mom, especially with what happened with your dad right after, must have been horrible for you. Not all guys are like that creep your mom wrote about. Will you trust me that Ben isn’t like that?”

Emily started to disagree with her, but Beth cut her off. “Emily, at least give him a chance to explain. Will you do that? Will you do it for me?”

As much as she didn’t want to give him a chance, it was hard to refuse her cousin. Beth had always been there for her. How could she say no? Grimacing, she nodded.

When they pulled into Ben’s driveway, Emily almost told Beth to drive away because Ben’s Charger wasn’t there. She was just about to speak when spotted him pushing a lawn mower at the side of the house. She told Beth to stay put and got out of the car.

He clearly saw her approaching because he shut off the engine. Her promise to Beth to give him a chance clearly in the forefront of her mind, she strove to keep her voice level. “You paid my dad’s restitution.”

He didn’t meet her eyes. “Yes.”

“Why?” she asked.

He continued to stare at the ground and didn’t answer.

“If I were a cynical person, I’d think that you had a ulterior motive for paying a large sum of money on behalf of your ex-girlfriend.”

“If I could have kept the source anonymous, I would have. They made me give my name,” he said, still looking anywhere but at her.

“Where did you even get that much…”

She stopped herself as her brain made an odd connection.

“Ben, where’s the Charger? You never let anyone else drive it. Now, you’re here, and it’s not. Didn’t you tell me one time that it was worth a lot of money?”

Ben didn’t answer her.

“Why would you sell the thing that you love most in the world to help me when we’re not even dating?”

Ben mumbled something.

“What was that?” she asked.

“I said that it’s not the thing that I love most in the world. Not even close.” Was he crying?

“I don’t get it. If you care so much for me, why did you run out on me just because I wouldn’t have sex with you?”

He finally looked at her, and, from his expression, he probably wouldn’t have thought that she was any more stupid at that moment if she had said that Britney Spears was the best singer on the planet and Miley Cyrus should win an Oscar for her acting.

“What the hell are you talking about?” he asked. “At every single point in our relationship that involved anything sexual, you always took the lead when we went to the next level. I never pushed you. Not once. Ever.”

It finally occurred to her that it was possible that she had misjudged the entire situation.

“You were the one that wanted to have sex that night,” he continued, shaking his head. “I knew that I should have stood my ground and told you no.”

“You didn’t want to?” she asked.


“But guys…”

“Guy’s always want to,” he finished for her. “Yeah, guys aren’t supposed to worry if they’re going to do it right or worry how it will effect the relationship. I do, though. And, I always thought that my first time would be with the person that will become my wife, not necessarily on my wedding night, but... Look, I knew that I should have told you how I felt, but it’s so hard for me to say no to you.”

She couldn’t help it; she seized upon the one part of his statement that she could twist around on him. “You didn’t want me as your wife?” she said.

“Emily, I told you that first day that I wanted to marry you, just as you told me that you didn’t know how you felt about me. I still don’t know how you feel about me. It seemed like you sure had fun hanging out with me and exploring the sexual stuff, but how would I know how you really feel? How many times have you told me that you love me?”

“All the time. Right? Surely I…”

“Never, Em. Never.”

She stood there thinking. She couldn’t remember a single time when she had told him how she felt. Did she even know how she felt? She had learned with her mom’s death that it was dangerous to love. Love led to loss. She couldn’t help loving her dad and, of course, Beth. Was it worth it to let someone else in? She thought about how he had been with her, so kind, so loving. Did she ever truly believe that all he wanted from her was sex? Was her anger really just a way to keep from having to admit how she felt? If there was ever a man in this world who deserved her love, it was him.

“Ben, I…”

“Don’t you dare say it now!” he shouted.

He had never raised his voice to her in anger. She didn’t know what to do, how to react.

He turned and started walking away from her toward the front door of his house.

Now that she had discovered how she felt, she didn’t want to lose him. If she let him get away now, things would never be the same. She only had one weapon left at her disposal, but she detested it’s use. Did the ends justify the means? Could she ever respect herself again if she went through with it? She had no choice. It was her only shot. She focused on what life would be like without him, on how much she had hurt him. She let down her defenses, let herself be lost in the emotions. Tears streamed down her face, and her body was racked with sobs. Ben couldn’t help but hear her.

He turned back to look at her, his face hard and eyes cold. She could tell that he was trying to fight it, but he was losing the battle. His face softened. He took a tentative step toward her. Then another. He ran to her and swept her up in his arms. “I’m sorry. I love you. Please, just don’t cry,” he said.

When she was finally able to get her tears under control, she told him in a still shaky voice, “Ben, I do love you. I’ve been so stupid; can you ever forgive me?”

“I could never not forgive you,” he said.

Emily sent Beth home and stayed to talk with Ben for hours. “So, Benjamin F. Miller. What’s the ‘F’ stand for?” she asked him.

He grimaced. “Franklin.”

“No way, Benjamin Franklin. Too funny,” she laughed.

“What can I say, I have patriotic parents.”

“What about your brother, TJ, then?”

“Thomas Jefferson Miller. Sad, huh?” he said.

“That’s horrible. Can I tease him?”

“Be my guest.”

She paused.

“Ben, can we go to your parent’s fishing camp tomorrow?”

“If you want. Why?”

“I’m ready. I mean, I’m really ready this time. I want to complete what we started on prom night,” she said.

“Em, I love you, but didn’t you hear what I said about wanting my first time to be with my future wife?”

She smiled at him. “I heard you perfectly.”