~ Ms. Evans ~
by Ronica Black


A note from the author:
This story is very special to me. It's written for every young girl who ever felt lost in a world that refused to understand. For every young girl who had a crush on a special woman in her life. And most importantly, for teachers everywhere. Your impact and influence on every young person's life is not only important?it's very often remembered. Thank you.

Also a big thanks to C.W. for her never-ending encouragement, support and editing.
There is a brief amount of sexual violence in this story.

Please keep an eye out for my book, In Too Deep to be released in September 2005 by Bold Strokes Books. Also my short story entitled, Voyage Aboard the Queen is available in Nicole Foster's book Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2005. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at midnitenyx@aol.com

The following story contains characters that are fictional. Most of the story, however, is true.

Outside the rain falls, its steady beat lulling me into the past. I think of her now as I sit here all alone, save for my dogs who lay at my feet. They look up at me with sad, bored eyes, knowing they won't be going out to explore today.

So I sit here in thought, analyzing the present as well as the past. I fold down the lid to my laptop, having re- read my email. She had answered me quickly, and my head still felt dizzy from our recent phone conversation. I hadn't heard her voice in so long. Ten years. Ten years of waiting, wondering, wanting. She had been my friend, my coach, my first love. The rain continues to fall as I lean back in my chair and remember back to when we first met. It doesn't seem that long ago. And yet it was a lifetime.

I was fifteen in the spring of 1992.Young and athletic, an avid daydreamer, a hopeless romantic who had a passion for art. That year was also a time of self discovery, a time when what I felt and what I thought collided with those around me. Forcing me to grow up and make decisions that would forever change my life. And it had all began with the start of high school softball season.

I remember the first day of practice that year. The grass had not yet come back from the winter cold as I walked out toward the fields. Excitement coursed through me and I was anxious to get started. Athletics had always been a great outlet for me and softball was no exception. I couldn't wait to hear the crack of the bat, to feel the rough seams of the ball in my hand.

I walked past the softball fields on my left, and continued straight ahead, needing to change into my work out clothes before practice. My head buzzed with adrenaline and I was nervous as hell, knowing I was soon to face the team that had finished second in state the year before. All of the girls were older, juniors and seniors. And I was a sophomore, the newest member of the team. I had heard all about this team and I knew about their tight bonds and little clique. Knowing I was most likely to be rejected, I breathed deep and headed anxiously toward the field house. The building was a large locker room located between the football field and softball fields. With the exception of softball season, it was used primarily by the boys. But as I approached, I knew by the loud giggles and shrieks that the girls currently ruled the roost.

No one looked my way as I entered and I wasn't sure if I even wanted to be noticed. I made my way to a bench quietly, weaving my way between several other girls who were talking and laughing, running around in their sports bras and sliding shorts.

Nervously, I sat down, dug in my bag and began to dress. Next to me sat Tiffany, a junior who looked like a 25 year old. I had just finished playing basketball with her a few weeks ago and knew her to be polite and dedicated. She was five foot ten and packed thick with solid muscle. She was usually relatively quiet and focused on the game but not very social. If I had counted on her as an ally, I would've been disappointed. She rarely spoke to anyone.

I pulled on my shirt and crammed my backpack into an empty locker. Even though no one had spoken to me, I felt strangely anxious, like I was being observed from every angle. With my heart hammering, I stood for a moment, and tried to remain calm, casually examining the rest of the girls. They all had nicknames for each other and I watched in silence as they cut up and carried on. A couple of them caught my eye and stopped to whisper and giggle. With my face reddening and fearing the resentment that was sure to come, I quickly made my way to door. A lower classman had no place on the varsity team. And I reminded myself once again, that this was going to be a long road to travel.

I exited the field house with a sigh of relief and stepped out into the crisp desert air.
I inhaled the scent of my leather glove and allowed it to comfort me, temporarily calming my anxiety. I smiled, spotting my friends and trotted down to them. They stood in a circle on the J.V. field, stretching and talking. I joined them and instantly felt at peace, momentarily forgetting that I was on varsity and not on J.V. with my friends. I bent down and stretched my legs as I examined the small circle.

Lori stood next to me, wearing a Simpson's shirt, talking about the latest episode of Days of our Lives. She made it a habit to fill everyone in on what was going on with Jack and Jennifer. She taped the show and sometimes we all drove to her house at lunchtime to watch it. She smiled at me and reached to tie her dark mane back away from her face. She was olive skinned with brown freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. Lori had a boyfriend who was older, nineteen, and she was known to drink at parties and get a little wild. I loved her zest for life and her sense of humor. We were both artists and we would draw each other pictures frequently and talk about how in the future, we would co author children's books together.

Next to Lori and completely opposite in every way was Dana. White blonde hair and blue eyes, she was the conservative one. She was very active in her church and often encouraged us to go with her. As religious as she was, Dana was never a stick in the mud. She seemed to like everyone for who they were and she loved to laugh. She didn't cuss or carry on, but she always fit right in and always, always seemed to have a boyfriend. Dana lived just a few streets behind me in a big house her father built. Her room was covered in posters of Christian singers like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. She also hung up some of the art work that Lori and I drew.

I relaxed a little more, feeling very comfortable around my friends. We laughed and talked as we loosened up, waiting for practice to start. I stood and pulled my throwing arm back over my head for a stretch as the wind carried my name to our circle. Turning, I saw the varsity coach calling me over to the nicer field. With reluctance and a growing lump in my throat, I grabbed my stuff and jogged off toward him. My friends wished me luck from behind. As I approached him, my anxiety came flooding back and he seemed to sense this as I stood looking at him eye to eye. Coach Marino was a short, proud Italian who spoke nasally and was forever blowing his nose on his handkerchief. He taught my global studies class and I knew his habits well. He reached out and put his arm around me pulling me in close.

"You know I want you over here, right?"

"Yeah." I replied, knowing I had his blessing but still worried about the other players.

"I want you on this team." He continued, squeezing my shoulder. "You're good enough."

I nodded and he gave me a pat on the back and called the girls in for the pre-practice talk. Letting out a nervous breath, I made myself comfortable on the grass watching as everyone sat in around me. Hugging my knees to my chest protectively, I glanced over to examine the only other girl who wasn't sitting. But rather, she was standing along the sideline close to coach Marino. At first sight I thought it might be a player, but upon closer examination, I noticed that she was dressed in chinos and collared shirt. Hardly practice attire. I studied her curiously, noting her short, brown hair and strong angled face. She folded her arms across her chest and casually looked my way with dark blue eyes. Immediately, I felt myself blush and look away, but I didn't know why. I glanced back at her again, the need to examine her more closely overpowering me. Her eyes still held me and I felt something stir pleasurably deep within me. Suddenly, I hoped she was a player and I knew I wanted to know everything about her.

My focus soon went to our coach who stood before us talking about the upcoming season. He had high hopes for us and saw the state championship in our future. Then he announced each senior and gave praise to their contribution. The girls cheered loudly for one another and my eyes found their way back to the mysterious woman. She remained on the sideline, a few feet from coach, focused on his every word. When the cheers died down and he looked her way, she shoved her hands in her pockets and appeared to be a little nervous. Coach Marino then cleared his throat and blew his nose before he spoke in her direction.

"I want you guys to give someone else a hand." He said, folding his handkerchief carefully and replacing it in his pocket. "This is Ms. Evans. She's going to help me out this season with coaching." The girls clapped around me and I joined in, completely surprised and strangely excited. She wasn't a player but a coach. Someone who would be there through it all. Someone who I would get to spend a lot of time with. I hoped that she would like me. And with that thought, my cheeks tightened and I realized I was holding back a smile. Embarrassed and confused by my reaction, I continued to stifle the grin as the girl next to me shouted out.

"Ms. Evans, since you're going to be my coach, does this mean I don't have to write that essay due tomorrow?" Laughter rang out around me.

Ms. Evans shook her head in disbelief, laughing too. "You still have to write the essay, Alyson." Her voice was deep and rich and it strummed me pleasantly. This woman was not only a coach, but a teacher. Why hadn't I seen her before? I stared at her as I thought. The high school was large so it was possible that I had just never run into her before. But as I studied her, I realized she was young, real young. Maybe she hadn't been teaching very long. I noticed my heart beat faster as I thought about seeing her everyday. Suddenly my longing to play on the J.V. team with my friends disappeared. My stomach fluttered and I jumped up happily, eager to get started.

We split up and half the team went with Coach Marino and half went with Ms. Evans. I made it a point to be with her. We lined up in the outfield, each of us waiting to field the grounders that she hit. My turn came and she stopped her momentum, catching the ball in mid air and asked my name.

"Reagan." I responded, feeling instantly flattered. I felt my face flush and I hoped she didn't notice. I took the grounder with ease and tossed it back to her, all the while trying to control the swirling of strange and foreign emotions going on inside me as I performed in front of her.

"Good job." She called out to me.

The evening wore on and I reluctantly moved to the infield with Coach Marino. He was at odds as to where to put me and his face showed the stress he was feeling. I played third but he had a senior who did as well. Her name was Brandi and she was loud with bad skin and she was in no way going to be beat out by a sophomore. I knew that the moment I saw her, standing next to coach, her hands angrily on her hips. She glared at me with attitude as Coach ordered us both to third base to field grounders.

He stood at home plate and tossed up a ball. Brandi stepped in front of me, showing off her dominance and scooped up the ball and fired it at first. She trotted back behind me with pride as the other girls cheered her on. As I readied my glove, I noticed that the outfielders had come in for water. Ms Evans stood watching us in front of the dug out. Suddenly driven to impress her, I clenched my jaw and eased my way up the third base line. I played the position closer to home than Brandi and I was more than ready to show off a little. Some of the girls made comments about how close I was to the batter but I blocked them out, completely focused on the ball.

Coach gave me a nod and tossed the ball up in the air. His bat rounded quickly, smacking the ball down the line. I charged it with power, catching it on the first bounce and side armed it to first as hard as I could. Tiffany caught the ball and stepped off the bag, shaking her glove from the sting. A few of the girls voiced their surprise, but most immediately started cheering Brandi on once again. The senior stepped up, making it a point to stand where I had. The girls all whispered, as the drama built. I stood behind her casually, already mentally focused on my next turn. Coach hit the ball and Brandi snatched it up quickly and threw it to first. We continued like this for five more hits each and I knew the only difference was our throws to first. Mine was harder.

Eventually, Coach Marino gave us a good job and called us all in for a huddle. It was the end of practice and I for one, was glad. If I had been an outcast before, now I was sure to be with the competition over third base. I hoped coach knew what he was doing, having me battle the team captain for her position. We all piled our hands on top of one another and gave a cheer. "Goooo Valley!" The girls gathered their gear and began to head off back up the hill to the field house. Coach asked me and Brandi to remain much to my dismay. But I noticed Ms. Evans stick around as well and suddenly whatever he had to say didn't seem so bad. I watched as she busied herself bagging up the balls while he spoke to us.

"I need to decide who's going to play third." My eyes returned to coach and found him rubbing his red, irritated nose. "Brandi, you're the senior. Do you have any preference?" I knew by his cautious tone that he was trying to be diplomatic and reasonable, but Brandi immediately bit into him.

"Third. I play third. I always have." She propped her hands on her hips and voiced her stance with venom. "I'm the one going to U of A on scholarship to play third."

"I know that." He said, holding up his hands.

"You promised me third as long as I played here." She continued, her voice loud and wavering with emotion. "You said you would even retire my number when I graduated."

He sighed and looked at me. I stood very still, feeling every one of the daggers Brandi was shooting my way.

"Is there any other position you play, Reagan?" His watery brown eyes seemed to be pleading to me as he retrieved his handkerchief out of his pocket once again.

I looked at Brandi and her flashing eyes full of hatred and knew I would not win this battle. And frankly, at that moment, I didn't even really care that much. I shrugged my shoulders. "I used to play first."

Coach blew his nose and nodded, his shoulders relaxing. He reached out and patted me on the back. "Good, first it is."

Brandi stalked off and coach trotted after her, wrapping his small arm around her shoulders. I grabbed my gear and headed up the hill. I didn't bother to change my clothes, instead just slinging my gear and back pack over my shoulder to head home. Most of the girls were gone and the locker room was empty and quiet, the stink of sweaty football players still hanging heavy in the air, a constant reminder that this was male turf. I felt eerie being in there alone. The field house was big, containing locker rooms and showers, as well as an adjoining weight room for the football players. During softball season the boys weren't allowed in the locker room after school, but some still worked out in the weight room. I heard several deep voices coming from behind the weight room door as I walked to the exit, desperate to leave the cold, dank building. I stepped outside and felt the chill of the evening breeze. I welcomed it with a deep breath. Goose bumps lined my bare legs as I hugged my back pack closer to my body. I glanced down at the J.V. field, disappointed that my friends were already gone.

Turning, I began the long trek back out to the parking lot to wait for my mom to pick me up. As I walked, I wished I had pulled out my walkman from my bag. I suddenly longed to listen to Depeche Mode to help me wind down from my long day. I thought about Brandi and coach and wondered what my father would say about the decision that was made. And then suddenly, I thought about Ms. Evans and I couldn't wait for practice the following day. I hunkered down against the wind and heard someone approach me from behind.

"Hey Reagan."

I stopped and turned, surprised and stirred to see Ms. Evans jogging up to me. She slowed and breathed deep, falling into step next to me. My heart raced with her closeness and my mind reeled with the possibilities of what she would say.

"I wanted to talk to you." She said, steadying her breathing. "Coach said you're only a sophomore." She looked over at me as she spoke.

"Yeah." I answered, my insides swirling. I had wanted nothing more all practice than to talk to her. And now here she was and I suddenly felt clueless as to what to say.

"You're an amazing player to be so young."

I glanced over at her as my skin rushed with heat. "Thanks." I finally mustered. She smiled at me and my body warmed even more.

"And frankly, you know you're the one who should be playing third base."

"I don't know." I said, unsure. I wasn't used to flattery, or really any attention at all for that matter.

"Yes you do. You know you're better than Brandi."

I walked on in silence never having been comfortable with talking about myself. But Ms. Evans was adamant and I bit my lower lip, overwhelmed by her presence as well as her praise.

"I was impressed at how you handled that situation." She continued. "Brandi should've been more mature. She's the senior."

I shrugged, embarrassed yet strangely moved. "It wasn't that big of a deal."

She laughed and shook her head. "You're something special, Reagan. Not only can you play, but you're modest and mature. We're lucky to have you."

My face burned and I stared at the yellow dead grass as we neared the parking lot. I was desperate to change the subject, anything to change the focus from me. Otherwise I feared I would melt on the spot. Her gaze and her words were powerful, making me feel alive and overheated.

"So you have Alyson as a student?" My eyes scanned the black pavement before us, my mother's car nowhere in sight. I was shook up and stirred in ways I didn't understand. And I was sure I would make a fool of myself if I had to talk to her much longer.

"She's in one of my classes, yes."

We walked along the gate and stood by the concrete steps that led up to the gymnasium. I started to voice my apologies to her for having to endure Alyson as one of her students, but then changed my mind, unsure of my own humor. I began second guessing everything I thought about saying.

"Oh." I let out clumsily. My brain was near panic, stuttering over thoughts and words. I wanted to know everything about this woman, but I hesitated, not wanting to sound the fool. I shrugged out of my backpack and set it down next to my gear bag on the steps, wishing I was more confident, wishing I could impress her.

"Listen, do you need a ride?" She placed her hands in her pockets and looked back out toward the parking lot.

"No, no thanks. My mom should be here any minute." My mind flew and wondered which car was hers and where she lived. Was she married? The possibility upset me and made me uneasy. Quickly, I looked to ring the finger on her left hand. It was bare. I relaxed and breathed out, confused by my thoughts, by my reactions.

Thankfully, she seemed pretty much oblivious to my awkward behavior. She held up her wrist casually and eyed her watch. The face was large and the band black leather. I had a passion for watches and I knew right away it was a Guess watch I had wanted. We had similar tastes. Again my insides swirled with excited heat.

"Are you going to be ok here waiting by yourself?"

I met her eyes and swam in their dark blue depths. "Yes." I muttered, completely taken in by her gaze. A horn honked and I jerked at the noise. I tore my eyes away to see my mother's Buick slowing to a stop by the fence. Whereas moments before I would have done anything to have my mother be there to whisk me away from my fumbling thoughts and words, I know stood very still and inwardly raged at the interruption. I didn't want to leave this woman. I wanted to know more. Needed to know more.

"That you're mom?"

Forcing my body to move, I grabbed my bags and swung my back pack over my shoulder. "Yeah." The disappointment was heavy on my voice, but I couldn't help it. I was, truly, very disappointed to be leaving her.

She walked with me down to the gate entrance and out unto the black pavement. I watched her walk and took in her easy going, confident stride. Upon reaching the Buick, she smiled and gave my mom a friendly wave.

"See you tomorrow." She then called to me as I opened the car door.

"Bye." I smiled at her quickly and then climbed in the car, pulling both my bags down on top of me.

"Who was that?" My mom asked, dressed in a long skirt and blouse, fresh from her job at the school district. I sat scrunched up in the seat, holding both my gear bag and backpack.

"Ms. Evans."

The car rolled softly through the parking lot and I watched Ms. Evans climb into a little white Chevy out of the corner of my eye. "Who's she?" My mom continued the questions while clicking on her turn signal.

"She coaches softball."

"Oh?" My mother glanced at me as she accelerated out of the parking lot, turning left to take us home. "Why didn't you put your bags in the back seat?"

I shrugged, very uncomfortable and clueless. "I don't know. Guess I just forgot." But as I answered, I knew the real reason. I had been too caught up in Ms. Evans to pay any attention to what I was doing.

We arrived home in silence, my mind still on my captivating new coach. I dropped my bags in my room and headed into my older sister's. She sat on her bed painting her toenails.

"Hey." I greeted, making my way to her white book shelf.

"Hey. How was practice?" She asked, not looking up.

"Ok." I scanned the book shelf and yanked out last year's year book. With my eyes focused I made myself comfortable on the floor.

"What are you doing?" She absently probed as she continued to brush on the strong smelling polish.

"Nothing, just looking through your yearbook." My sister Rebecca was a senior and a cheerleader and very popular. She was outgoing and active in all the right things, completely opposite of me. About the only thing we had in common was our looks. Both of us had light brown hair and bright green eyes. Her hair, of course was long and curly, and she spent hours perfecting it every morning. Mine on the other hand was shoulder length and straight and required no work from me at all.

"What for?" She sat back on her elbows and stretched out her legs, allowing her toes to dry.

I flipped through the pages quickly finding my way to the faculty and staff. My index finger glided along the pictures, searching for her name. Unable to find it, I checked again, going over each name carefully.

"Rey?"

Frustrated, I snapped the book closed and looked up at my questioning sister. Behind her on her walls were posters of muscular men and candid snapshots of the cheerleading team as well as the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. "I was just looking for a teacher." I sat up on my knees and replaced the year book back on the shelf.

"Which one? I probably know them."

Sighing, I eased back against the bed and relaxed. I crossed my feet and realized I still had on my cleats. In my excitement and haste, I hadn't even bothered to pull them off. My mother would be furious.

"Ms. Evans." I answered nonchalantly.

"Oh, her." Rebecca scoffed and then swung her cotton clad toes over the edge of the bed to the floor. "Why do you want to know about her?"

"She's coaching softball and I didn't even know who she was." I watched my sister walk unsteadily over to her full length mirror where she began examining her eyebrows.

"Well that doesn't surprise me." She met my eyes in the mirror and then continued to smooth her finger over her eyebrows.

"What doesn't?"

"That she's coaching softball."

"Why?"

"Because she's a total dyke." She said the words casually, as if everybody in the world knew but me.

"What?" I sat up from against the bed, shocked but electrified. Desperate for more information, I waited with bated breath for her to continue.

"Yeah, a few of my friends have her for English Lit."

I stood up quickly and stared at my sister in awe. She wasn't telling me enough fast enough. "So?"

"So they said she's a total dyke."

"How would they know that?" How could anyone possibly know? And why was I so damn excited?

She turned from the mirror and sat back down on her bed where she began removing the cotton from between her toes. "God you're so na´ve." She rolled her eyes at me. "You can totally tell. The way she dresses, the way she acts."

My face flared again and my insides swirled but I wasn't quite sure why. And suddenly, I realized that I didn't like the way my sister was nonchalantly voicing opinions about Ms. Evans.

She looked up at me and studied me for a moment. "Why do you care anyhow?"

"I don't." I stammered, defensively. "It's just that I didn't even know who she was until today." Her eyes held mine for a moment longer and then fell back to her red toenails.

"Oh, well she hasn't been teaching at Valley long. This is her first year."

I stood still thinking about the information, completely shook up but doing my best to hide it. It made sense that this was her first year teaching, especially since she looked so young. Rebecca looked back up at me and stood, her pedicure complete.

"But you should have other things on your mind." Rebecca stated, raising a perfect eyebrow at me.

"Like what?" I dreaded the answer, knowing that anything that excited her was sure to bore me.

"Like Nate Williams." An evil grin spread across her face.

This time I was the one doing to eye rolling. "God, I can't even stand to hear his name."

"Oh come on Rey! He's crazy about you."

"He is not." I felt a strong distaste fill my mouth as I thought about the over muscled, over hormoned varsity wrestler.

"Yes he is!" She approached me and held my shoulders as if trying to shake some sense into me. "He's only a sophomore and he wrestles varsity. He's totally buff and he talks about you all the time!"

"You left out the disgusting pig part." I added, winning myself a loud grunt from my sister.

"God, Rey, really. What is your problem?"

"The guy's a pig, that's my problem."

"You don't even know him."

I placed my hands on my hips. "I have biology with him. Believe me that's more than enough time to get to know him." Nate Williams was a grade A asshole. And there was no way in hell he was going to get near me. Just a few weeks ago he had walked into class before the bell and stood before my table where I sat with my lab partner Jimmy Lupton. Jimmy was very small, having yet to hit puberty. Nate had snickered at him. "Lupton." He had said as he unzipped his pants there in front of us. "My dick's bigger than you." Then, he had reached in his pants and pulled out his penis, flopping it onto the table.

I shook my head at my sister, cringing at the memory.

"No way in hell." I re-affirmed.

She sighed and gave up, at least for the time being. She returned to her bed where she began mindlessly flipping through a magazine as she spoke to me.

"You better go change for dinner or mom'll shit if you come to the table filthy and in cleats."

Nodding, I made my way into my own room and sat down on my bed. As I pulled off my cleats, I looked around and studied my walls, thankful for the comfort they provided. Robert Smith stared back at me in his dark eyeliner, white face and red lips. Next to him, paintings and drawings I had done of dark, moonlit forests and barren trees beckoned me to come away with them to another world. C&C Music Factory blasted from Rebecca's room ruining my peace and I rose up and headed into the bathroom where I shut the door. Stripping out of my clothes, I walked to my stereo resting on the back of the toilet and pushed down the play button. The Violent Femmes crooned out and moved me as I busied myself with getting cleaned up for dinner.

The next few weeks went by rather uneventfully. Practice went smooth and I did my best settling into my position at first base. I felt sort of guilty, kicking Tiffany out of her spot but she took it in stride and cheered me on from right field. Ms. Evans came to practice everyday to encourage and guide us. I looked forward to seeing her, liking the way she made me feel, like I always wanted to be my best. But I had noticed that a few of the older girls began making comments under their breath about Ms. Evans. While it made me upset, I found myself listening, trying to find out all that I could about her. It seemed my sister and her friends weren't the only ones who thought the new teacher was gay.

The girls would snicker and laugh and it soon became a running private joke that Ms. Evans was a lesbian. While I did not participate in the joking, I didn't do anything to stop it either. I would merely walk away, unless it was something I hadn't heard before. Like the day I heard that Ms. Evans had a date. As the news spread from girl to girl throughout the field, I stopped stretching and looked out over at the mysterious teacher.

"She has a date?" I asked out loud, to no one in particular.

"Yes!" Alyson declared with hushed excitement. "I overheard her telling coach that she couldn't stay late tonight because she has a date."

Hot, searing jealousy rushed through me, nearly causing my knees to buckle. Quickly regaining my composure, I stood staring across the field as if I had just been struck by a bolt of lightning. Why did I care? Why was I so jealous? I scratched my cheek in anger at myself and turned back to the ever hyper Alyson.

"Well who's it with?" I just couldn't let it go. I had to know and I was desperate, my voice high with agitation.

"I don't know! But we're all taking bets to see if it's with a man or woman." Alyson was beeming, the gossip feeding her shallow mind like a powerful drug.

"How would you even find out?" I looked away from her, disgusted at her excitement and disgusted at myself for caring.

"One of us is going to ask her!"

"Ask her? What makes you think she would tell?"

Alyson looked at me with wide eyes. "It has to be done nonchalantly, by someone she trusts." She studied me a moment longer and then jumped up and down, grabbing my shoulders. "You! You're perfect Reagan! She loves you and you're so young and innocent and?"

"No." I breathed out, scared to death to know the details, knowing that no matter what it would crush me.

"Oh come on! It has to be you." Alyson then began waving some of the other girls over and whispering in excitement. "Reagan's going to be the one who asks!"

"No, I'm not!" I put my hands on my hips in anger. The girls surrounded me in shrieks and giggles, like empty headed, starving vultures.

"Why not?" Alyson asked. "Don't you want to know who she's going out with?"

I thought for a moment. I did, truly want to know. But not for the reasons the girls wanted to know. I was curious and jealous and dying inside. "Well yeah, I want to know."

"Good, then go!" They all gave me a shove, encouraging me to walk over towards her. Ms. Evans stood in the dug out and was just about to turn around to see me. Not wanting her to see me getting shoved toward her, I took off at a jog and clunked onto the concrete with my cleats in the dugout.

"Hey." She greeted, sitting down to pack up the catcher equipment.

"Hi." I reached down and retrieved my water and took a sip. The girls all clamored around in the outfield, eyeing me and whispering. I knew if I was going to do this I had to do it fast or she would catch on. And more than anything, I was afraid she would get hurt if she knew the girls gossip and their intentions. "Ms. Evans," I started, meeting her eyes. She had on gray sweatpants and an everlast t-shirt and I noticed the sinewy muscles in her forearms and suddenly I was glad I was sitting down and unable to swoon.

"Yes?"

"Do you think you can give me a ride home tonight?" I knew the answer of course.

She stopped her packing and met my eyes. "I'm sorry, Reagan but I can't tonight."

"Oh." I said and took another sip of my water. "No big deal."

She began packing once again. My mind flew to find the right way to approach her.

"It's Friday after all, and I'm sure you have a hot date." I smiled at her and she stood in silence, synching up the bag full of equipment.

"Well, I do have a date." She set the bag in the corner and sat down next to me.

"A hot date?" I laughed, hoping she would know that I was teasing. But my insides screamed. I didn't want her to have a hot date. I didn't want her to have a date at all.

"I wouldn't say that." She glanced over at me and met my eyes. "Every Friday, I drive a blind man home from his job on this side of town. He lives near me so I pick him up from work and we ride together back into the city."

I sat in silence, truly surprised and completely relieved. "That's nice." I said, meaning it. My heart thudded in my chest at the news and my head swam as I thought about her words. She was kind, and caring, and still seemingly unattached. But what did that mean to me? Why did I care so damn much?

"He's a good friend of mine." She continued softly.

The girls laughed and continued to whisper in the outfield. Suddenly feeling creepy and extremely guilty, I looked down at my hands and confessed. "You know, the girls are curious about this date of yours."

"Oh?" She studied me and then looked out to where they were clustered.

"Yeah." I suddenly felt very ill and a bit nauseous.

"And they sent you to infiltrate?" She smiled at me and gave me a slight nudge with her elbow. "Well, they were smart to send you."

I glanced at her once again, surprised by her light attitude. "They were?"

"Yeah, you're the only one I would tell. I trust you."

We sat in silence for a moment longer.

"You better get back out there before they turn on you." She encouraged, somehow understanding what the gossiping girls were like.

I stood slowly and smoothed down my shorts. "I won't tell them anything." I said, staring out at the field.

"Well you have to tell them something."

I turned to look at her and found her smiling softly at me, as if she had known what I would do all along, as if she believed in me. It warmed my heart and I returned the smile, flattered that she trusted me with the details of her private life.

"I'll tell them you have a hot date."

She laughed and bent down to pick up the numerous equipment bags. "Ok." She said as she moved past me. "I guess I better go get ready for this hot date of mine." She walked from the dug out and headed up the hill.

As I retrieved my glove and bat the girls ran up to me with excitement. I felt sick and disgusted and all I wanted to do was leave. "Well? What did she say?"

I exited the dug out and shrugged. "She said she's got a hot date." As I made my way to walk behind the dug out, I nearly ran into Brandi who stood leaning against the fence.

"No she didn't." Brandi said, glaring at me. "I heard the whole thing. She doesn't have a date at all. She's driving some blind man home."

Laughter erupted around us. "A blind man?" The girls were shrieking and laughing and I felt myself reddening in anger. "Is that true Reagan? Is that what she said?"

I turned and clenched my glove and bat, hating them all. "I don't know. It's none of my business." I looked back to Brandi. "It's none of yours either."

"WHOAA!" I heard them call from behind. I walked up the hill alone, wanting desperately to rid myself of their existence. "Better watch out Reagan, you're her favorite." I walked up to the field house and got my stuff, this time making sure I had my walkman. I pulled on a light jacket and headed toward the parking lot. The Black Crowes soothed my troubled soul as I walked toward the gate. I saw Ms. Evan's drive her little white car from the parking lot and I wished with all I had that I was going with her and away from this place.

That night at home wasn't much better. My mom and Rebecca drug me to the mall, convinced they were going to get me to try new clothes. I stood waiting in a popular store with overhead track lighting and loud pop music blaring from the speakers. Around me young women and teenage girls moved about, sliding hangars of skimpy, pale colored clothes across the racks, chattering excitably about a particular shirt or skirt.

"Reagan?" My mother's voice beckoned. Cringing, I turned carefully. "Come here." My dark headed mother was holding up a pastel colored shirt, eyeing it appreciatelively. I approached my mother slowly, already scowling. I hated these kind of stores that catered to the young feminine teenage girls with their light colors, sheer fabrics and short skirts. "This would look so good on you." She held the light pink shirt up against me.

"I don't like it." I muttered, hating it.

"What do you mean you don't like it? What's not to like?"

"Everything about it." I said, rolling my eyes.

"Quit being a smart ass." She removed the shirt and hung it back on the rack. "You've got to quit wearing all those dark clothes." She eyed me and picked at the shirt I was wearing, making a face at the collar. "They make you look so drab and masculine. Is this a men's shirt?" She asked, trying to eye the tag in the back.

Embarrassed, I moved quickly, shaking away from my mother and her prying eyes. "No." I lied, defensively. "I mean yes. I don't know." I looked away out into the mall, humiliated and wanting to escape, hating the way my mother belittled me.

"My God." She whispered behind me. "Men's clothes! Well they'll be no more of that."

Angry, I turned and reacted. "I wear what I like!" And I had done as soon as I was able to fight her about what I wore. Gradually, my clothes had become darker in color and more masculine. But truth be told, I much more enjoyed the selection in the men's department. I liked their clothes, so why shouldn't I enjoy them?

"You don't know what you like." She continued, looking me up and down, disapproving of my ripped jeans and tattered flannel shirt. "I'll take you shopping but first you need to loose ten pounds or so. You're too muscular. Here, go try this on." She flung a light blue blouse at me, her frustration obviously mounting. My mother was very controlling and temperamental, two things I usually did my best to avoid. But I was angry and close to tears, tired of her assessments of me and my image. She wasn't willing to let me be me. She wanted me to Rebecca, her little princess.

"It won't fit." I finally said, knowing without trying that the shirt was petite and would not fit my muscular five foot seven frame.

But my mother continued to rifle through the clothes, as if ignoring me. "Well we'll have to start you on that diet today then." She spoke without looking up at me.

Heat flooded and tightened my throat. Carefully, and with the last amount of control I had, I placed the blue shirt back on the rack and walked away from her. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream but I knew I couldn't. Instead, I walked from the store in silence and raged at my mother internally just like I always did. The woman didn't understand me and she never would. She wanted everyone to be perfect, an extension of herself. And I simply didn't fit. I was athletic and quiet, artistic and deep. "Weird" was the word my mother so often chose to use to describe me.

Swallowing back tears, I sat and waited on a bench outside the store. I watched as Rebecca and my mom eventually emerged from the store, two bags in tow. I fell into step behind them, walking through the mall virtually alone. They made their way into another clothing store and I, with hot tears stinging my throat, walked instead into a bookstore. I knew I couldn't take any more from my mother, not without totally yelling and screaming at her, or breaking down in front of her. Upset at my emotions, I wiped my eyes and concentrated on the shelves of books.

I began leafing through one in particular, trying to clear my mind of my mother.

"That's a good one." A deep soothing voice spoke to me from behind.

I turned slightly, surprised. "Hi." I breathed out.

"Hi." Ms. Evans said, smiling.

I cleared my tight throat and flushed as my eyes took in her presence. She stood before me casually with her hands in her faded jeans. Her eyes were darker shade of blue next to black of her tight fitting cotton shirt. I had never seen her dressed this way and it moved me in ways I didn't understand.

My mind flew as I studied her. "I thought you had the whole date thing tonight?"

"I did." She glanced at her watch. "I've already dropped him off and now I'm due at a party."

"Oh." My voice did little to hide my raging curiosity.

"It's a birthday party for a friend of mine." She moved closer to me and took the book from my hand. "Prince of Tides, it's good. You should read it."

I breathed deep as I felt the heat of her body so close to my own, and then shuddered as I caught her scent. It smelled warm and spicy and masculine causing my insides to flutter with excitement.

"Reagan?" My mother's voice came at me like nails on a chalkboard. And for the second time in as many days, I cursed her presence. Both Ms. Evans and I faced her in silence. She stood smiling politely with Rebecca flanking her holding the shopping bags.

"Mom, I?" I started, wanting her to go the hell away.

"Who's this?" She asked, her eyes focusing on Ms. Evans.

"I'm Brenda Evans." She greeted warmly, extending her hand to my mother. "I teach English at the high school and coach Reagan's softball team." She looked back to me with a smile as my mother took her hand limply.

"I see." My mother said softly.

"Reagan's one of our best players."

"Is she?" My mother's gaze fell upon me and I immediately sensed her negative vibes and returned the book to the shelf. I would not be getting it or anything today.

"Absolutely. We're lucky to have her."

"That's great. It was nice to meet you Ms. Eh?"

"Evans."

"But we really must be going. Reagan?" My mother gave another fake polite smile and turned to leave. With the tension riding high in the air, I maneuvered nervously around Ms. Evans giving her a weak and embarrassed smile.

"I guess I have to go." I shoved my hands in my pockets and felt my face redden at my mother's behavior.

"Yeah, I'll see you later." She smiled at me and gave me a pat on the shoulder. "Better hurry."

I nodded and gave her a little wave. Then, turning, I walked back out into the mall and followed my mother out to the parking lot. I saw her shaking her head and talking passionately to my sister on the way to the car. They placed their bags in the trunk and climbed in and waited for me. Upset and anxious, I slid into the Buick in silence, hoping for a quick painless ride home. But luck wasn't running my way.

"Reagan?" My mother started, as she drove across the dark pavement.

"Yeah?"

"I don't want you hanging around that woman."

"What woman?" I knew who she was talking about but my anger was stewing and growing.

"Don't get smart with me! You know damn well who."

"Ms. Evans." Rebecca said with distaste high on her voice.

"Shut up Rebecca." I seethed.

"Reagan I mean it!" My mother continued.

"Why not?" I sat forward in my seat as my temper surfaced.

"Because I said so."

"Well I don't care what you say. I can hang out with who I want." My heart pounded wildly in my chest as I confronted my mother. This was something I did not do often and I knew I was headed for trouble. But I didn't care. I was tired of being pushed around and I didn't understand what everyone's problem was with Ms. Evans. She was nice and I liked her. I didn't care what anyone said.

"No you won't. I don't want you around that woman!" My mother gripped the steering wheel so hard her knuckles whitened. She glared at me in the rear view mirror.

"Stop calling her that woman. Her name is Ms. Evans."

"I don't care what her name is you're not to be around her!"

"Why not!"

"Because? because" My mother stammered.

"Because she's a dyke." Rebecca affirmed.

"Rebecca!" My mother whispered, looking at her quickly. "Don't use that word."

"Well she is. And that's why you don't want Reagan around her." Rebecca looked at her nails as if she were bored with the conversation.

"I don't care what either of you say." I let out. "And what does it matter if someone's gay? They're not hurting anyone." I couldn't believe what they were saying and I was disgusted by their prejudice and judgments. My parents had always taught me to respect people, especially my teachers and elders and now my mother was talking about Ms. Evans as if she were diseased or evil.

"They're hurting their parents!" My mother shrieked with emotion. "And you better care young lady."

"Yeah." Rebecca chided.

"Go to Hell Rebecca." I breathed, furious at my sister and her caddy behavior. I crossed my arms over my chest and sulked back against the seat. "All your life consists of is your quest to fuck Luke Perry.

"That's it young lady!" My mother shouted with fury. "When we get home you go straight to your room."

"Fine. Glad to." I didn't care where I went as long as it was away from them. Away from everyone. It seemed that lately, everyone around me had made me sick.

Monday came slowly and I crawled out of my hole and ventured off the school. The next day we were due to play our first game against the defending state champions. After a long boring day of school, I headed out to the field house with relief. Glad to be going to practice, knowing it would help ease some of the worries in my mind.

I was standing there in front of the lockers in my sliding shorts and sports bra when Alyson started screaming. She ran in from the door hopping up and down, telling us all to run and hide. The girls around me started shrieking as well and everyone ran from the locker room and into the bathroom, shoving their way into the stalls. I jogged behind them, completely confused but on high alert.

"What's going on?" I asked walking into a stall with Tiffany and Alyson. Maybe it was the boys. Maybe one of them had opened the door to the weight room. We pushed up against one another as one other girl stepped in and closed the door.

"It's Ms. Evans!" Alyson whispered. "She's on her way in to change." Several of the girls laughed quietly in the stalls. "We don't want her to see us naked!"

Immediately I felt my insides churn with bitterness. Not only did I feel disgusted by my team mate's behavior but I felt truly bad for Ms. Evans. Surely she would see us all hiding out in the stalls. I knew I needed to get out but we heard the main door open before I could. We all stood very still as we listened to her walk around. I clenched my fists, praying that she wouldn't find us. I didn't want her to get hurt at our ridiculous behavior.

I held my breath and waited and my heart sank as I heard her call out. "Guys?" She was still walking around and I cringed as I heard her step toward the bathroom. "Where is everyone?" Her footsteps sounded ever closer. "Guys?" Her voice called to us from the bathroom sinks. She had found us. "What's going on? Why are you all in the stalls?"

Nausea crept up my throat and I knew I couldn't allow this. I could feel her wariness, I could hear her mind coming to its own conclusions. I took a deep breath and shoved my way out of the stall. Alyson grabbed me and whispered madly in my ear.

"Where are you going? Look at how you're dressed!" I yanked my arm away from her with a glare and slammed open the door. I stood staring at my confused and bewildered coach unsure as to what to do. I heard the door behind me bang shut once again along with a few hushed whispers from the stalls.

"Reagan, what's going on?" Her blue eyes searched mine and swept up and down my body quickly. She looked away as if ashamed and I saw her cheeks redden. I glanced down at my sports bra and sliding shorts and wondered what she thought. And for a brief instant I felt excited with the prospect that she might actually find me attractive.

I shook the thought from my mind and walked toward her. I didn't know what I was going to do but I knew I needed to get her away from the girls before she overheard something.

"Nothing." I said, cupping her elbow and leading her out back into big empty locker room.

"Then why were you all hiding in the stalls?" Her voice quivered and I knew she was thinking the worst. And I knew I would have to explain. I looked around frantically searching for answers when my eyes fell upon Alyson's back pack. The front pocket was unzipped showing off a pack of cigarettes.

I glanced back up at Ms. Evans and sighed. "If I tell you, you have to swear not to tell." Relief washed over me as the cover story came to me.

"Sure." She said, looking serious.

"We were smoking."

"Smoking?"

"Yeah. A bunch of us lit up and someone saw you coming so we ran into the stalls and flushed them."

"Oh." She nodded and glanced around. "Well, tell them I won't tell."

I breathed deeply, grateful that she was buying it. "Good, because coach said he would kill us if he caught us smoking."

She nodded again and then headed outside. I noticed that she had brought her bag but didn't change. And I wondered if she had really bought the story after all. I walked back into the bathroom and called out.

"She's gone." The girls scrambled from the stalls with excitement in their voices.

"Thanks Reagan." Someone voiced.

"Yeah, thanks." Brandi snided. "She liked you before but now she's really gonna like you." She whistled and snapped my shorts as she walked by.

"Fuck off." I said back swatting away her hand.

"Whooaa. Someone's testy."

I stormed off past her and yanked on my clothes, determined to take out my anger toward Brandi and the other girls on the field. I trotted down to the dug out and demanded to be the first to bat. Coach eyed me cautiously as I pulled on my batting gloves and breathed deep into the wind. I grabbed my bat and swung angrily at the air. With my jaw set, I stepped up to the plate and waited for him to feed the yellow ball into the spinning wheels of the pitching machine.

"You need a helmet." He called out.

"No I don't." I countered.

"You can't bat without a helmet."

"Yes I can. Now give me the ball." I had never spoken to him like this and he stared me down for a moment. Ms. Evans crossed her arms along the side lines and watched in silence.

Coach Marino started to speak again and then changed his mind. I stood waiting, my hands clenching my bat, my legs swaying in my usual rhythm. He fed the first ball and it whizzed at me like a bullet. I swung hungrily and grunted, firing the ball off my bat and sending it streaming down the third base line.

I wound up again and readied myself for the next pitch. I thought of Brandi and her ugly face and ugly attitude and I smacked the ball harder, sending it overhead and way out past the left fielder. Coach whistled as he watched it go. The next pitch came and I did it again, this time thinking of my remaining team mates. Another ball streamed at me and I smacked it ever harder, way out into center left, sending another outfielder after it. That one, was for my mother and sister.

I continued batting for ten more minutes, hitting every ball that came at me with all my might until eventually coach made me stop.

"Don't hurt yourself. We got a game tomorrow." He reminded.

I stalked off toward the dug out and threw down my bat. Ms. Evans quietly approached me, her arms still crossed. "You want to talk about it?"

I looked at her quickly, startled by her accurate assessment. And flattered that she cared.

"No." I took a sip of my water and sat down on the bench.

"Sometimes it helps."

I caught my breath and met her deep blue eyes once again. "I hate the world. I don't think talking about it will help."

She laughed softly and sat down next to me. "You're only fifteen, you haven't even seen the world."

"I'm almost sixteen and I've seen enough." I took another sip of water and stared out over the field watching my team take batting practice. "It's people." I continued, unable to stop. "They make me so mad. The way they act, the things they say. They, they?"

"Disappoint you?" She asked softly.

"Yes!" I tossed my water bottle aside. "I can't stand the way they think. They're so ignorant and ruthless and they spread that around and expect everybody to agree with them. But if you don't then you're out and you become a target." The words poured out of me in ragged breaths.

Ms. Evans studied me for a moment in silence. "You know Reagan, you're wise beyond your years. You see things that other people would never take the time to see. You're a deep thinker."

I scoffed. "What good is that going to do me?"

"It's a powerful tool and it will give you great insight. But I'm afraid it will cause you a lot of pain and disappointment too. People aren't like you. They don't think like you and they don't act like you. That lesson will always be a tough one, no matter how many times you have to learn it."

"So what about you?" I looked over at her, curious. "How is it you know so much already? I mean, you're not old and you know these things."

She laughed again and patted my knee. "I, like you, had to learn these things at a very young age. And I learn them over and over again when I expect another human being to share my beliefs and way of behaving."

"Does it ever get better?"

"That's up to you. All you can do is be the best person you know how. And leave everyone else accountable for themselves."

I nodded and stared out over the field. "How old are you?" I asked her, truly curious.

"How old do you think I am?"

I shrugged and then studied her. She still wore the same clothes she had taught in that day. Dark slacks and a charcoal gray button down shirt. Her hair was cut short and stylish and her ears held silver hoop earrings, her left ear with three additional piercings.

"Twenty five?" I guessed

"Close." She said with a chuckle. "Twenty three."

"Wow, you're young." I whispered, part of me excited. She wasn't that much older than me. No wonder she seemed to understand when no one else did.

"Not as young as you." She said, grinning. "When are you turning sixteen?"

"Next week."

"You gonna have a big party?"

"I don't think so. My mom wants me to, but?I told her no. I'll probably just have some friends stay the night or something.

"Reagan! Let's go!" Coach Marino yelled to me from his position on the pitching mound. "Grab you glove and get out here!"

I stood with reluctance, hating the interruption. I scooped up my glove and took a few steps before looking back.

"Thanks." I said softly meeting her eyes. "For listening."

She smiled and stood herself. "Anytime Reagan. Anytime."

The day of our first game had the team buzzing with excitement. We all changed quickly into our uniforms right after school. The day was chilly and bright enabling us to try out our varsity team jackets and our new hooded sweatshirts. Every member of the varsity team was given a thick lined wind breaker that said Valley Softball on the back. And the sweatshirts had been ordered the week before, each one having our last names lettered on the back.

I wore mine with mixed feelings, wishing I felt closer to the team I was now a part of. Even though we were all dressed alike, I didn't need reminding that I was different. It was evident in the way the girls behaved, hopping around with excitement, handing out goodie bags filled with candy and knick knacks to only a few players. Tiffany and I stood in silence, watching as we were passed up as the bags were given out. We weren't part of the clique and the girls were sure to let us know it. I was the only freshman so I expected to be left out. But I didn't understand why Tiffany was. Was it merely because she was quiet and intense? Suddenly, I hated the girls even more so than before. And I couldn't wait for the game to be over and done with so I could distance myself from them.

But in the meantime, I kept my mouth closed and hunkered down in my soft hooded sweatshirt, thankful for it's protection from the cold wind. Before long the bus pulled up and we clamored on board, excited to be going to our first game. The older girls sat in the very back, laughing and shrieking telling their inside jokes. The coaches were the last on board and I sat in silence staring out the window as Ms. Evans walked up to me.

"Mind if I sit here?" She asked, standing in the middle of the crowded bus. Most of girls sat in twos, and some sat alone. The rest of the seats were packed with gear bags and equipment, not leaving a lot of room for the coaches.

"Sure." I sat up from my slouch and placed my back pack on the floor.

"Thanks." She sat down and made herself comfortable as the bus started up.

"What's this?" She asked, just as I was closing my sketch pad.

"Nothing. Just some drawings." I closed it and went to tuck it into my backpack, but she stopped me, resting her hand on the book.

"Can I see?" My eyes swept over her briefly and I noted that she was dressed the same as Coach Marino in khaki chinos and a navy blue collared Valley Softball polo. And for the second time my insides fluttered at the strength apparent in her arms and in her hands.

I swallowed with difficulty and nodded, releasing my grip on the pad.

She opened the book and ran her hand carefully over each page. I sketched and doodled in my free time. It was something I was compelled to do. Almost like an addiction.

"You're very talented." She said softly, flipping through the pages.

Embarrassed, I blushed and then shrugged as she looked into my eyes.

"I mean it, Reagan. I've seen some of your work before in the school art show. You've got a gift." She closed the book and handed it gently back to me with a smile.

"Thanks." I whispered and then looked away, uncomfortable with the flattery.

We pulled out on the main road to drive to our rival high school and the girls in the back starting singing. I turned to stare at them in awe as they belted out one Garth Brooks song after another. And when they finished that they started in on Clint Black along with comments about how they would like to get with him.

Ms. Evans looked at me and smiled as I eventually turned back around. "You don't like country music?"

I shook my head and spoke loudly over the singing and the rushing wind. "I didn't have anything against it until now."

She laughed and I nearly blushed at how beautiful she looked as the smile lit up her face. Looking down at my lap, she reached over and tapped my walkman. "What do you listen to?"

I studied my cassette player, thinking about the tape inside. "Red Hot Chili Peppers."

She nodded her approval. "What else?"

I shrugged. "Black Crowes, Jesus Jones, The Cure."

"What about you?" I asked, ever curious.

"Right now, in my little Chevy, I've got R.E.M. in the player."

I nodded back while wondering other things about her. Where did she live? Did she live alone? What did she like to do? Had she ever been in love? If so, who with? A man or a woman? If I asked and she told me, what would I do if she said it had been a woman? What would that mean? Suddenly, heat flooded my body and my mind flew with the possibilities and I briefly allowed myself to fantasize about being the one she was in love with. The pleasure and adrenaline from that thought alone left me surprisingly breathless.

Laughter erupted from the back of the bus and I turned with a start, shaken from my new world of fantasy. The day dream had lifted the flood gates of thoughts and emotions and I wanted nothing more than to return to that place and dream for hours with the scent and feel of Ms. Evans close by. But the girls in the back of the bus weren't about to let that happen. As my mind slowed from the fantasy, I realized that the horrible singing had stopped. The girls were now telling jokes and Ms. Evans remained facing forward as another joke was belted out. It didn't take long for me to figure out where it was headed. It was a gay joke, and poorly imitated by Brandi. The next one came quickly amidst the laughter. It was told by Alyson, this one aimed at lesbians.

"What's the number one cause of death for lesbians? Hairballs!" The loud laughter continued and I turned back in my seat hurriedly and eyed Ms. Evans carefully. I was embarrassed and ashamed. Of course I didn't know if she was gay or not, but everyone else seemed to think so and consequently I felt terrible for her. I wanted so badly to make it stop, to make the world stop, to let her simply be who she was. I studied her in silence as the laughter ricocheted through the bus. I watched as she sat very still, her eyes focused ahead, her cheeks flushed with color. Another joke started, this one about AIDS and I saw Ms. Evans wring her hands and clench her jaw. It was true, she was gay and the jokes were getting to her. Oh God how I ached for the pain evident on her face. The punch line came like the others, floating out loud and with lots of laughter. I started to reach out to her, to touch her shoulder, to tell her I was sorry. But she suddenly stood and turned quickly toward the girls.

I swallowed hard as I watched helplessly. She shuddered and began to speak.

"I hope you know you're not funny." She let out, her voice wavering at first but then came out deep and strong, overpowering theirs. "I happen to know some gay people, some of them with AIDS. And I don't appreciate you making fun of them or their unfortunate situation. They're good people. Humans. And they wouldn't ever be caught dead acting like you all are right now."

The bus fell silent, the girls staring. Ms. Evans trembled with emotion as she held their stares. And then, with a deep breath, she returned to her seat slowly, her face ashen.

I heard the girls snicker and laugh quietly behind us. I cringed and felt my heart fill with rage at the pain their careless words had caused. I gripped the seat and started to stand, ready to let them have it, not caring about the consequences, but Coach Marino beat me to it.

"She's right girls. No one on this team better behave that way again." He looked so small standing at the front of the bus, his tiny chest puffed out in all seriousness. But the girls seemed to respect him and soon the laughing stopped altogether.

I looked to Ms. Evans and sank back into the seat. I wanted desperately to reach out and touch her, to at the very least comfort her. I did so, tentatively, unable to resist and softly touched her shoulder. "I'm sorry." I offered, meaning it.

She shrugged and stared at the back of the brown leather seat in front of us. "You don't need to be sorry, Reagan."

"Sure I do. They're assholes and I'm sorry for that."

She glanced over at me and took in my face. "Thanks." She muttered softy. "It's just?" She inhaled deeply before continuing. "I lost someone recently. A dear friend. He had AIDS."

My heart cried out for her as I saw the pain so evidently etched on her strong beautiful face. "I'm so sorry." I squeezed her shoulder, wishing there was something more I could do. Wishing I could wring the girls necks and make her apologize for her harmful words.

"It's ok." She rested her head in her hands. "I shouldn't have let them get to me. But the wound is too fresh."

"Are you kidding? I'm glad you said something. Somebody needed to."

We rode in silence the rest of the way. I left Ms. Evans to her thoughts and her grief and I wondered what it would be like to lose a close friend. As I thought about it, I hurt for her even more.

But as we rode along I hoped that maybe something good had come from the joke fiasco. Maybe now the girls would understand how stupid their behavior was. Maybe now they would back off. The bus slowed and parked alongside our rival high school. And as we unloaded our gear and started the game, I overheard the girls continuing to snicker under their breath while Coach Marino wasn't looking. I noticed that the comments were no longer aimed solely at Ms. Evans, but at me as well. I figured since I had been sitting next to her on the bus, that they assumed we were allies. For once they were right.

The game went fairly uneventful up until the fifth inning. We ran in off the field and some of the girls began laughing and whispering, pointing at Ms. Evans who had been sitting quietly on the bench. She rose up to head out to the first base line to coach, oblivious to the girls and their laughter. I sat down and strapped on my batting gloves, trying to ignore the banter.

"Hey Reagan? Your girlfriend's wearing your sweatshirt."

I looked up, completely confused.

"Huh?"

Brandi pointed out to where Ms. Evans was standing. She stood with her hands shoved down into her Chinos with the cold wind at her back. She turned slightly and I saw my last name printed on the navy blue sweatshirt she wore. My heart skipped a beat and I nearly smiled with excitement. She was wearing my shirt. I felt incredibly close to her in that moment, and highly flattered.

"What else do you guys share?" Brandi asked in a mocking tone. I stood and retrieved my bat, taking a practice swing dangerously close to her pimply face. The team was laughing at her comment and watching me to see how I would react.

"You know, we do share something else." I said, placing the bat over my shoulders to stretch. My heart was racing with excitement and adrenaline and suddenly I felt fearless. Untied in my fight along with Ms. Evans.

"Oh yeah? What's that?" An evil grinned stretched across her face and for a minute I was reminded of the Grinch.

"We both have flawless skin."

She stood quickly and stepped up to me.

"You fucking bitch."

I shrugged and pulled on my helmet. "Sorry Brandi, that's something we share, something that you'll never have." I continued casually.

"You're dead." She breathed out, her dark eyes flashing with anger.

I stopped and turned just as I was about to exit the dug out. "Save it for U of A. After all, you're outta here, remember?" I approached home plate as I tried to steady my breathing. My blood was gushing through me at a maddening pace and I could hear the girls talking their shit in the dug out. I had just insulted the captain of the team but I didn't care. She was ignorant and a bitch and she had decided to target me. But I had fought back. Something obviously no one ever did.

I stood outside the batter's box and looked to coach for my signal. He stood next to third base, the wind whipping up his dark comb over up off his shiny scalp. He gave me the sign, telling me to hit away to left field. I nodded and stepped in, more than ready to take out my fury on the ball. The pitcher was tall and blonde and I knew her from the club league. She was strong and a senior, with a full ride waiting for her at UCLA. I rounded out a practice swing and lowered myself for the pitch. It came low and fast, just as I expected. I turned on it quickly, using the power from my legs and hips as I swung. The ball crashed into the graphite bat, soaring out into left field hard and fast, just over the short stops head.

I released my bat and ran my hardest toward Ms. Evans. She was pointed and yelling, telling me to head on to second. As I approached, I looked on to coach at third. He was giving me the windmill, wanting me to go all the way home. I did so quickly, trying to ignore the yelling from both teams. I cornered third base and barreled toward home. The setting sun stung my eyes, and I couldn't see the catcher. My team was yelling instructions, but I no longer trusted them. Not now. Not ever again. There was commotion to my left and I knew the pitcher most likely had the ball. A voice called out to me from the first base line.

"Down. Get down Reagan!" Ms. Evens yelled. Immediately upon hearing her voice, I turned slightly to my left side and slid into home. I collided with the heavy set catcher, who sat straddling me with the ball held up in her glove.

"No, she's safe, safe!" The umpire yelled, while flattening his arms. I lay there in a daze as some of the girls from my team came out to help me up. Tiffany high fived me as did our team manager. Brandi and the other girls sat in silence on the bench. Ms. Evans stood clapping for me, a big smile on her face. I rubbed my stinging ass and sat down on the bench. That one, I said to myself. That one was for you Ms. Evans.

The last inning came as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We were up by one thanks to my homerun and I felt pretty good even though I had fought with my team. I stood in my ready position off first, and glanced in at Ms. Evans. She still had on my sweatshirt and a sense of pride washed over me. There was one out now with a runner on third and the girl batting was known far and wide for her bunting. I looked to Brandi who was playing third way too far back, especially for this particular batter. I called out to her and ran my hand across my chest, the signal for bunt. She shook her head at me, refusing to move up.

The pitch was thrown and the girl squared her tiny body toward third, laying the ball down nicely in a soft bunt. Brandi hobbled off her heels and charged at the ball as I backed up to my bag. She tried to bare hand the ball but fumbled it. After a half turn to eye the third base runner, she threw the ball hurriedly and off balance, and into the path of the batter. I stretched out for the ball and caught it just as the runner slammed into me, knocking it loose. The runner at third made it home and I heard the opposing team scream in celebration. I pushed myself up off the ground and eyed my arm. It was limp and throbbing with pain. Coach Marino came at once to my side and called time out. The decision was made right away to replace me. I walked into the dug and pulled off my glove. My elbow pulsed with the pain from the collision and I breathed deep as I eased myself down onto the bench.

Ms. Evans patted me on the back. "You did the best you could. That throw was terrible."

"Yeah, well it doesn't much matter now." I flinched as our athletic trainer began bending my sore arm.

"You want your sweatshirt?" Ms. Evans asked, ready to shrug out of it.

"Nah, you wear it. It's cold out and my jacket's fine." She stood and retrieved my jacket and then placed it gently over my shoulders.

"You don't mind then, if I wear your sweatshirt?" She sat down next to me as the trainer moved away to fetch me some ice.

"Of course not."

"I didn't think you would mind."

Silence prevailed as the game started back up again. The trainer returned and wrapped a bag of ice around my elbow. Ms. Evans watched her walk away before she spoke.

"You wear Obsession don't you?"

I looked over at her, surprised. "Yes." Much to my mother's dismay. She claimed it smelled too masculine.

"I thought so. I can smell it on your shirt."

My cheeks flushed with excited heat. My body pulsed once again, but this time the pain was gone.

"It smells nice."

"Thanks." I whispered, unsure as to what to say. I stared out at the field as another batter connected with the ball. It was a line drive over second base, allowing the runner that had collided with me to score. I sighed as I realized that we had lost the game.

Ms. Evans stood as the girls came in slowly from the field. Coach Marino clapped and then blew his nose. He stood outside the dug out waiting for us to finish congratulating the other team.

"Hussle up, let's go!" He called us over and told us all to sit down. He stood before us fingered his irritated nose as he spoke. When he was done he asked us if there was anything we wanted to say. Brandi raised her hand and stood.

"We lost this game for one reason only. Inexperience." She looked directly to me and the other girls turned to do the same. My insides raged as I realized what she was trying to imply. That somehow her bad throw was my fault.

I opened my mouth to speak but before I could, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Ms. Evans squatted down next to me.

"No, it's not worth it." She said softly into my ear.

She then stood and placed her hands casually in her pockets. "I agree." She said, looking to Brandi. "I thought for sure our older, more seasoned players would know how to read a bunt better." Brandi's mouth hung open at the comment and she looked back at coach, as if telling on Ms. Evans. "But it seems that when it comes down to it, the whole team needs work on bunts." She met coach's eyes who shook his head in agreement. He seemed a little unnerved by the words, and I knew he was feeling the heat from his star player's stare. Nobody stood up to Brandi, not even him.

"Next practice, you can bet you'll be fielding a lot of bunts." He eventually said.

I sat out the next game with my strained left arm. Of course I didn't really mind because it meant that I could wander around practice, walking down to the J.V. field where my friends played. A nice and welcome escape from Brandi and her bruisers. My friends knew I was miserable on varsity and they tried repeatedly to get me to talk Coach into playing on their team. But I refused, knowing my folks would be pissed, and so would Coach Marino.

Ms. Evans came down on Friday to help out with the J.V. team. She headed out into the field to scoop up grounders and I noticed that she was using my glove. I smiled a little, knowing we had an unspoken trust and friendship. The J.V. coach eventually called everyone in and he announced that there would be a Saturday practice the next day for infielders only. He then looked to me, knowing I was soon to be off the injured list.

"You're welcome to come work out with us Reagan."

I nodded, seriously considering it, anxious to get back on the field.

"I won't be here." He continued. "So practice will be held by Ms. Evans."

She gave a wave to the girls and suddenly I knew I would show up. Not only was Saturday my sixteenth birthday, but it would be a day spent with Ms. Evans as well.

The next morning I awoke with a start, eager to go to practice, eager to share my special day with Ms. Evans. I dressed in a pair of gray sweats and carried my varsity jacket down the stairs. A bouquet of yellow roses sat on the kitchen table. I plucked out the card with a smile and read the happy birthday wishes from my family. As I sat down with a bowl of cereal Rebecca padded into the room in her pink bath robe.

"Happy birthday." She croaked, making herself comfortable across the table.

"Thanks." I chewed on, watching her massage her temples underneath her tousled curly hair. "Have fun last night?" I knew she had been out with the guy she was dating. Despite his proud devotion to the Mormon faith, I knew he and my sister were doing the nasty.

She lifted her head and eyed me through her hands. "What do you know about it?"

I finished another mouth full and swallowed. "I know enough."

"Yeah right." She challenged.

"I didn't think Sam was allowed to drink."

This time she removed her hands and sat up straighter in her chair. "He didn't."

"Right, so he was there to merely cheer you on. Hold your hair back when you puked?"

"Butt out Rey."

"Hey, I'm only looking out for you. Don't let mom and dad catch you looking like you fought with a train and lost."

"I don't need looking after."

"Yes you do." I stood and carried my bowl to the sink. "People are talking at school. About what you and Sam are doing."

Rebecca glared at me and stood as well. "Yeah, well people are talking about you too. Miss Goody Goody."

I put my hands on my hips and laughed. "Right." I rolled my eyes. I never did anything remotely exciting. Not anything to cause rumors.

"Yeah right. How about carpet muncher. That ring a bell?" I stood in shock, my hands falling to my sides. I shook my head, disbelieving.

"What?"

"Yeah, sis. Everyone's talking about you too. Calling you a dyke."

I swallowed with great difficulty, suddenly knowing who was responsible. I clenched my jaw and walked past her, brushing her shoulder. "But luckily Nate doesn't think so. He still wants your bod."

"He can dream on." I said under my breath as I walked angrily from the kitchen.

"I'm just looking out for you." She called after me. I grabbed my gear and slammed out the front door. I sat on the driveway and froze my ass on the hard cold concrete as I waited for my friend to pick me up. I yanked on my cleats and tied the laces so hard I broke one of them. I couldn't believe what my sister had said, the level people had stooped to. I knew it must be Brandi and the girls. I hugged my knees to my chest as I waited. I didn't necessarily mind being called a dyke. I had no problem with gay people. I just didn't know what it meant to be one of them. What made someone a lesbian? I had never been with a girl, kissed her or touched her. But then again, I had never done those things with a boy either.

I heard the front door close and I looked up to see my mother walking out to me.

"Happy birthday." She greeted, reaching down patting my shoulder. "Waiting for Dana?" She looked down the street as she spoke.

"Yeah."

She sighed and bent down to pick up the morning newspaper. "Listen it was gonna be a surprise but I thought I had better tell you so you didn't make other plans."

At once a sense of anxiety and dread washed over me. "What?" I asked, feeling sick.

"Well your sister and I planned a little party for you tonight."

"Mom, you didn't." I was outraged, I had specifically told her not to. I wasn't into the whole surprise party thing. I would be embarrassed as hell.

She held up her hands to diffuse me. "Now, don't get mad. It's just a little party. Rebecca did all the inviting, she said she invited all your friends?"

"Great. Just great." I rose to my feet as Dana pulled up in her noisy old Nova. I slung my gear bag over my shoulder and stormed off down the driveway.

"Be here at seven!" My mom called after me, waving at Dana.

I yanked open the door and shoved my gear in the back. I slammed the squeaky door and crossed my arms over my chest, refusing to wave at my mother. Dana stepped on the gas and the car bellowed loudly as we drove away.

"She told you didn't she?" Dana was looking at me with sorrow.

"Yes." I muttered, still furious. Why couldn't she ever just listen to me? It was my birthday, so what gave her the right? I didn't want a damn party. I wasn't some little princess having her sweet sixteen. And then on top of that, I find out that Rebecca was doing the inviting? I might as well not even show up.

"I tried to tell her not to."

"Yeah, well, thanks for trying. Apparently she doesn't care what I want for my birthday."

"What do you want?"

I turned to look at her for a moment as I thought. "To be anywhere but my house tonight."

She laughed as she gunned her powerful engine.

We pulled up at practice at nine sharp and I noticed right away that there were only a handful of players. Ms. Evans was already hitting grounders, wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt with sneakers. My heart skipped a beat as she grinned a hello at me.

The next two hours my friends and I had a great time practicing with Ms. Evans. We talked and joked around, all the while scooping up grounders and catching fly balls. I found myself smiling the entire time, loving every minute spent with her and my friends. Her sense of humor was wonderful and she connected with us easily, understanding our issues, knowing just how we felt.

I trotted into the dug out at the end of practice and heard Dana talking about my party. The reminder caused a bitter taste to rise up my throat. I had almost forgotten that it was my birthday. I tossed my glove into my bag with anger. Ms Evans walked over to me.

"I forgot to wish you a happy birthday." She spoke softly, sensing my anger.

"Thanks, but no thanks." I said, zipping up my bag.

"Why's that?" She asked as the other girls walked up.

"Her mom and Rebecca are throwing her a surprise party." Dana filled in.

"Yeah? That sounds nice." I looked up at her, my unhappiness written all over my face. "But you don't want it." She finished, understanding.

"No. I don't."

"Especially since Rebecca did the inviting." Dana piped in.

"Everyone who's anyone will be there." Lori added, pulling on a sweatshirt over her black Cure t-shirt.

"I'm not going." I said, standing and slinging my bag over my shoulder.

"You have to go." Ms. Evans said. "Your mom will freak if you don't. And that will only make things worse."

I met her eyes and wished with all that I had that she would just take me away with her. Away from Valley and the snobs, away from mothers who refused to understand, away from it all. She smiled at me and I nodded quietly, agreeing with her words.

"You need any help packing up?" I asked, eyeing the various balls and bats lying around.

"Actually, I really have to get going." Dana said, looking at me with sorrow. She could tell I was trying to put off going home. And I knew by her face that she was sorry she couldn't aid me in that plan.

"Don't worry about it." Ms. Evans said. "I got it."

Sighing, I reluctantly turned and followed my friends up the hill. Dana had assumed correctly. I did not want to go home. But there was something else hindering my step. I wasn't yet ready to leave Ms. Evans. I couldn't explain it but there was no other person on earth that I wanted to spend my special day with than her.

"What are you going to do?" Lori asked, interrupting my thoughts. "About the party?"

I shrugged hopelessly as we reached the top of the hill. Ms. Evans was right, I had to go.

"What if you showed your face and then left?" Dana asked.

I thought for a moment and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I'll do."

"Does that mean I can get away with not showing up?" Lori asked, sounding hopeful.

"Not a chance. If I have to go, you're going with me."

I stopped at the entrance to the field house, my mind made up. I wasn't going home. Not yet anyway. "Go on ahead without me. I gotta pee."

"Do you want me to wait for you in the parking lot?" Dana asked.

"Nah. I'm not ready to go home just yet."

"Ok, then. See ya later."

"Yeah, see ya later birthday girl." Lori batted her eyes at me as I gave her the finger. Their laughter faded in strength as they continued walking, leaving me and my sour mood behind.

I walked into the large empty locker room and was at once assaulted by it's musty, dank smell. The door swayed shut behind me as my hands fumbled along the wall for the light switch. The lights flickered on slowly and hummed their soft song. I made my way to the stalls and listened to the faint sound of grunts and clanks coming from the weight room next door. I was surprised to hear people working out, especially on a Saturday.

I left the stall and washed my hands, my mind wandering to Ms. Evans. I knew I had better hurry if I was going to help her. Otherwise, what excuse would I have to stick around? I wadded up the rough brown paper towel and chucked it in the blue barrel garbage. I rounded the sinks and slammed on my brakes as someone stepped out in front of me. For half a second I smiled, assuming it to be Ms. Evans. But my hopes quickly faded as reality set in, staring back at me from a bulging, sweating Nate Williams.

I faltered a little, nearly running into him. "Nate." I breathed. "You scared the shit out of me."

He grinned as he looked me up and down, his hands unstrapping his weight lifting support gloves. "I thought you would be glad to see me." He held my eyes as beads of sweat dripped down his neck to his pale but pimply chest. After pulling his straps tighter around his wrists, he velcroed them in place once again.

"I didn't know you guys worked out on Saturdays." I took a slow step to the side, trying to find a way around him. His presence was powerful and stifling, sucking up my air as his body sucked up my personal space.

"It's just me and some of the guys. Coach gave us a key." He eyed me hungrily, the grin remaining. He flexed his bicep proudly. "I work out everyday." Then, after examining the bulge in his arm, he reached up and wiped the sweat from his brow. His muscles rippled with the movement and I realized just how big he was next to me. "Can't you tell?" He took another step toward me, stopping to flex his arms and chest, this time for me.

My hand found my brow and my voice trembled as I looked away from him. "Yeah, Nate. I can tell." I laughed nervously. "You're very big. That must come in handy with uh your wrestling and all."

I made a move and stepped quickly trying to squeeze by him, but he side stepped in front of me and grabbed my upper arm. I tensed, my body on high alert and I suddenly knew what the phrase flight or fight meant. I could feel his intentions oozing out of his pores, more potent than his sweat.

"Where you going?" His other hand found my lower back, pulling me into him. I turned my head quickly and literally gagged from the feel of him all slick and stinky with sweat. His breath was foul, like day old coffee as he bent to talk in my ear. "Your sister told me something the other day."

I jerked at the feel of his hot breath, pushing him away by his chest. He laughed and yanked me ever closer, allowing my thigh to feel the awakened monster between his legs. "She told me that you liked me. That you were just shy."

My head throbbed with fear and my body remained stiff, trying to push back away from him. But he held me with ease and I began to panic as I realized just how strong he was.

"No, Nate." I muttered, still trying to push, keeping my head turned away from him. "I don't like you."

"Ahh, don't say that. I know you do."

"No, I don't!" I shouted, pounding on his chest. Suddenly, his grip loosened and his eyes widened. And then, in an instant, his face contorted and his eyes flashed with anger. I fumbled backwards taking advantage of the freedom. But my movement seemed to startle him and he came at me hard, bending to tackle me at the waist. My breath was knocked out of me as his momentum carried us back to the wall where he slammed me.

"You fucking whore." He backed off and held me pinned with just his arms. I struggled for breath and began to cry. His hand left my shoulder when he realized how weak I was growing. He fumbled with his sweat pants, shoving them down, exposing his erection covering only by his underwear.

"No, no Nate." I pleaded, doing my best to regain my strength. My back screamed with pain as I moved and I welcomed the feeling, giving me reason to fight. I clenched my jaw as he shoved me once again with his one hand. His attention was solely on his cock, anxious to free it.

I saw my opening and kicked him as hard as I could in the balls. He howled in pain and hobbled backwards, his leather bound hands cupping his crotch. I pushed myself from the wall and tried to run around him, but he reached out and grabbed my pant leg, pulling me down to the floor. His weight found me in an instant, pinning me in one of his varsity wrestling moves. His hands held down my head as his erection poked at my backside.

"Now, I've got you just where I've always wanted you. On all fours." His laugh crept into my ear and I grunted and tried to elbow him to no avail. As he reached around to yank on my pants I heard something. Movement. And then, as my face was held flat on the cold hard locker room floor I heard her.

"Let her go." She bellowed. I felt Nate instantly sit up, releasing his hold on my head. I rolled over and got my bearings, bringing myself to a slow stand.

Ms. Evans stood very still, her eyes never leaving Nate. "Reagan, are you ok?"

I approached her slowly, in a daze. My body buzzed with the shear adrenaline of someone who faces death. I now knew what it was like to be completely afraid and totally out of control. I trembled as I ran my hand through my hair, my breathing still shaky and shallow.

"I think so."

Nate stood and yanked up his pants. "We uh, I was just showing Reagan some moves and uh."

"Are they teaching rape these days, on the wrestling team?"

The blood drained from his face and his eyes once again flashed in anger. He stormed at us and I immediately jumped away, fearing his approach. But he brushed past us, slamming his shoulder into Ms. Evans.

"You won't get away with this." She said, still standing her ground. Nate turned and stopped when he reached the weight room door.

"Yeah? What are you going to do about it?"

"Tell."

He scoffed. "Go ahead. Fucking dyke." He pulled open the door and disappeared inside. Ms. Evans clenched her fists and started to go after him.

"Wait!" I called out, running to her. "What are you doing?" She stopped and looked at me, her eyes intense with fury.

"I'm going to go tell his coach."

I shook my head, unable to speak, trying to catch my breath. "There's no one there. Just wrestlers." She looked at the door and then backed away. "Please, please can we just go?" My head spun and I felt like collapsing, but I had to get away from him first. Away from his dank dungeon.

"Yes, of course." She whispered, placing her hands on my shoulders. "Are you sure you're ok?"

I nodded quickly. "Let's just go."

We walked in silence across the football field out to the parking lot. My breathing eventually slowed and my body relaxed as we approached her tiny car.

"I should really call the police." Ms. Evans stated, unlocking the passenger door for me.

"Don't!" I voiced, surprising myself. "I mean, not right now. Please." I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could. And quickly.

She studied me silently, raising her hands gently to my face. Her fingers swept my hair back from my eyes. My body felt heavy with the weight of what had just happened. I couldn't move, couldn't think. All I wanted to do was melt in her arms, into the safety she provided. She stroked my cheek, wiping away a tear and searched my face.

"Hey." She pleaded softly, cupping my chin, wanting me to look at her. "Are you sure you're ok?"

Her eyes were dark blue and beautiful, her voice so deep and soothing. I shuddered as I looked into her and trembled as the tears tightened my throat, branching up my neck to my eyes where they welled and fell. Her eyes pooled with empathy as she pulled me into her. She held me close, bracing me, cradling me.

Feeling me lean into her, she pulled away and squeezed my hand. "You're about to fall over. Should I take you to the hospital? Did he do something before I got there?" She looked at me with worried eyes.

"No, I'm ok. Just shook up."

She opened the door and helped me in. "Come on, I'll take you home." I climbed in and sat waiting for her as she rounded the car.

"I don't want to go home."

She started the car and put it in reverse. "We need to tell your parents what happened."

"No! God no. Please." I put my head in my hands at the thought. "You don't understand. My mother, she would freak and she would never let me leave the house again."

"We have to tell, Reagan. He can't get away with it."

I sighed and sat up to watch the road. "I know. But just not now, ok?" I glanced over at her, hoping she would understand. I just couldn't talk about it. Not at that moment. And certainly not with my mother.

"I'm going to tell the principal on Monday. I have to." She glanced over at me and took my hand. "I'm sure she'll want to talk to you about it."

"Ok." I said softly, knowing it had to be done.

"Now, where would you like to go?"

"I don't care. Anywhere."

Ms. Evans looked back to the road and slowed to make a right turn. "So who was that guy?"

I stared out the window at the passing desert landscape. "His name is Nate Williams. He's a varsity wrestler."

"That explains his physique." She shifted gears, still concentrating on the road. "Is this the first time he's bothered you?"

"Yes. I mean he's always been kind of?gross. But this was the first time he's ever touched me."

"What do you mean by gross?"

I shrugged. "He's always saying nasty things to me, that he'd like to fuck me and stuff. And then a few weeks ago he exposed himself."

"Jesus!" She jerked her head to look at me. "Where did that happen?"

"In biology. He whipped it out in front of me and my lab partner."

"There's something wrong with that guy. You know that don't you?"

I looked down at my hands, nodding. Nate had always made me uncomfortable, I just never thought he would take things to the level he did.

"Did you tell?"

"No. My lab partner was embarrassed. He asked me not to."

She shook her head in disbelief as she slowed the car. We pulled off the road and headed into a park preserve, nestled up against the mountains near my house. She parked the car and reached in the back to retrieve a gift bag.

"Come on." She encouraged me with a smile. We climbed out of the car and made our way deep into the park, following a dirt trail to several large boulders. She stepped up and then turned to grab my hand, pulling me up alongside her. I sat down slowly, wincing at the pain in my back. But I was careful not to let her see. I felt somewhat ashamed and embarrassed at the situation she had found me in. I should've been able to handle Nate myself but I hadn't. And God only knew what would've happened if Ms. Evans hadn't walked in.

"Here." She said, sitting down next to me. "This is for you."

I took the bag from her hand hesitantly. "What is it?"

"It's for your birthday."

I looked at her, completely surprised and taken aback. "You got me gift?" Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected it.

"Of course. Sixteen only comes once in a lifetime. I was going to give it to you at practice but I forgot and left it in the car." She smiled at me and gave me nudge. "Go on, open it."

My head spun as I took in my situation. I was alone with her and she had a gift for me. I couldn't have asked for a better present. I opened the bag slowly, wanting to relish in the moment. Our moment.

The top of the bag was stuffed with tissue paper and my poor heart pounded in my chest as I dug through it. I had been through so much already, I wasn't sure if my body could take much more, good or bad. I felt something and brought it out. It was a large leather bound book with an R embroidered on the front.

"It's a journal." She said. "So you can write down all those deep thoughts of yours."

I met her eyes and held them. My throat tightened and no words came.

"You can sketch in it too. I know you like to draw."

I cleared my throat, desperate to voice my sincere thanks and my feelings, but unable to do so.

"Open the journal." She commanded gently. I unsnapped the binding and flipped to the first page where there was an inscription.

"She paints her eyes as black as night now.
She pulls them shades down tight.
There's a smile,
when the pain comes.
The pain's gonna make everything alright.
Alright.
She talks to angels. She calls them out, calls them out by their names."

As I read tears pooled in my eyes. I didn't know how she knew?but she did. I sat staring at her in silence and in awe. Unable to fathom how the person in my life who had probably known me the least amount of time could understand me so well.

"The Black Crowes." I whispered, running my finger lightly across the words. "That's my favorite song." I looked up, unable to hide my feelings. A warm tear crawled slowly down my cheek.

"I know." She whispered. "I asked Dana."

I laughed suddenly and wiped my face. "Dana. She's forever trying to get me to listen to her Christian music."

Ms. Evans grinned and wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them to her chest. "To each his own."

I nodded and met her deep blue eyes. "Thank you." I finally managed.

"There's more." She said softly.

I reached back into the bag and retrieved an envelope. She took the bag from me, enabling me to open the paper. Inside was a gift certificate to a music store.

"That's for a new CD. To help inspire you."

"Thank you so much." I rasped out. "This is the most thoughtful gift?"

"There's one more." She reached in the bag and pulled out a paperback book. "Here." She said with a smile, offering it to me.

I closed the journal and reached out for the paperback. "The Prince of Tides." I whispered as I read the title.

"It was mine, but I'm finished with it."

I looked up, overwhelmed. "Thank you." I said yet again.

"You're welcome, Reagan. I hope this, at the very least, brings some happiness to your day."

I smiled at her and examined the books in my hands. She leaned closer to me and I closed my eyes, desperately wanting to feel her lips on mine.

"Happy birthday." She whispered, enveloping me in a soft warm hug. I nearly swooned in her strong arms. I inhaled the scent of her and wanted to get lost in her depths. She held me tight and I never wanted her to let me go. Another tear formed and etched a path down my cheek. I sucked in a shaky breath and felt her pull away. She eased down and stood before me, holding my shoulders gently. She wiped away my tears with delicate fingers. "You're a very special person, Reagan." She whispered, searching my eyes. "Don't ever forget that. No matter what anyone may do or say."

I swallowed hard and nodded. She looked into my face a moment longer, her eyes resting on my lips. I wanted so badly to feel her touch my lips with her own, to have her claim me with her mouth. But her eyes returned to mine and she backed away, letting her hands fall from my face.

"I better get you home. Your mom will worry."

We rode in silence. My eyes kept wandering to her denim clad legs as she shifted gears. They were lean, yet strong and I wanted to rest my hand on her thigh, to feel the muscles in her leg move. Instead I returned my eyes to the road and held my own hands in my lap tightly. Until eventually, I saw her hand maneuvering the stick shift and I studied her long, strong fingers and I remembered how soft and warm they had felt on my face only minutes before.

My insides fluttered and flipped, my mind reeling and remembering. She turned the little car into my neighborhood and my heart sank. My time alone with her was over and I immediately felt a sense of let down that I couldn't explain.

"Third house on the left." I voiced in a ragged, emotionally tight whisper.

She slowed the car in front of my house and smiled over at me. "Nice place."

I reached for the door handle. "Yeah, it's great."

She laughed. "Don't try and hide your sarcasm on my account."

I smiled briefly and opened the door. "Don't worry, I won't." I retrieved my bag and shut her door.

"Try and have a happy birthday, ok?"

I bent down placed a hand on top of the car. "Ok." I met her eyes and found it hard to swallow once again. "Thanks again. For everything."

She smiled and gave me a wink and then put her car in first. I stood and waved as she drove off down my street, leaving me alone in the world without her. I sucked in a big breath and readied myself for my family. I swallowed the encounter with Nate way down deep, unwilling to think about it until I had to. Otherwise, I feared I would crumble. Something I definitely did not want to do in front of my family. They refused to understand me and who I was, so how could I ever expect them to understand this? That the guy my own sister had been trying to hook me up with physically and very nearly sexually assaulted me? I shook my head and ventured inside. It was best to keep it to myself for the time being.


The plan that night was for me to still pretend that I was surprised. My dad took me out to the mall to get my birthday gift. I wanted a pair of Doc Martins and I knew I would never get them from my mother. They were, after all, extremely masculine. My dad merely raised his eyebrows and then shrugged his shoulders. "If that's what you want." He said.

I picked out a brown pair and put them on right away. They looked great with my ragged faded jeans and green and brown argyle sweater. I didn't care that they were uncomfortable, I knew I would get used to them eventually.

The drive home was comfortable. I always enjoyed being around my dad. He was so mellow and soft spoken compared to my mom and sister. Yes he was anal retentive with a lot of things in his life. I knew not to mess with him when it came to grades or athletics. He expected certain things from me and if I met them, life with him was easy going.

"Your mom tells me that your coach has you playing first base."

"Yeah."

"How's that working out for you?"

"Ok, I guess."

"Next year he's going to have you back at third?"

"I think so."

"We'll make sure he does. You're good at first but better at third."

I nodded in silence. "I'll try to get to a game here soon." But I knew I would be lucky if he made to a game. He never left work early, not for any reason.

"Your mom says she's going to take you get your license on Monday."

"Yeah."

"That's terrific. And you know what that means?"

"What?" I asked, not really caring. Getting my license would be great, if only I had a car to escape in.

"The s10 is yours."

I turned my head quickly and sat staring at him completely dumbfounded. "Mine?"

"Yep. Your mom and I know you need it to go to and from practice. And Rebecca's not going to be here next year to drive you around."

"Really?" I asked, not having heard such good news in a long, long time.

"Yes."

"Thanks." I didn't know what else to say. The s10 was perfect. It was my dad's old work truck and not very big in size. But who cares? It was a car and it ran. And that meant freedom.

"In fact," He said reaching into his console. "Here are the keys. You can drive it Monday to the DMV with your mom."

I took the keys and fingered them gratefully. The day wasn't turning out so bad, after all.

We drove on in silence until he pulled his Ford Bronco up into the driveway. "Now remember Reagan, act surprised." He smiled at me and I tried not cringe as I thought of the party waiting for me inside.

I walked to the front door and stood next to my dad. He gave me a gentle push forward and I took a deep breath and opened the door. The surprise came at me loud and overpowering. I reared back, truly startled by the noise. The living room was crammed full of people, all them yelling and screaming. I searched faces and quickly realized that my entire softball team was present. Even the dreaded clique. I should've known. Rebecca was friends with Alyson.

My mother came to my side and ushered me further in. "Happy birthday sweetie." She said with her best smile. "Now go be friendly."

I took a few hesitant steps in and was relieved when Dana and Lori flanked my sides.

"You don't even want to know who's all here."

I scoffed as I looked around. I was no longer the center of attention and everyone was talking amongst themselves or walking about. "Let me guess." I said as I searched the faces. "Cheerleaders, football players."

"Yep." Lori answered.

"And?wait a minute, there's some basketball players."

"Yep." Dana said.

"And oh yes, Sam and his jock, preppy cronies."

"You got it."

"God." I breathed, hating my life.

"At least the softball team's here. You know them."

I shook my head. "Yeah but I can't stand Brandi and her friends."

"Could be worse Reagan." Dana mused.

"Yeah, how?"

"You could wake up tomorrow and be your sister."

I laughed as Rebecca approached wearing an obnoxiously short mini skirt. "Rey, do you like your party?" She asked with a broad perfect toothed smile.

"Like is a strong word." I started but then was elbowed by Dana. "But sure, yeah."

"Oh good. I invited the whole softball team." She said proudly. "And then, well you don't have too many other friends so I invited some of my own."

"I see that."

"Oh," She declared, seeing someone across the room. "And guess who else is here! Nate!"

Hot blood surged through my body and I once again felt on high alert. My eyes searched the room and found him by the sofa, laughing with some of the other jocks. Tears threatened to take over as my heart thudded. I was suddenly remembering everything. The feel of his sweat, the stink of his breath, the pain from the wall. I shuddered and my throat tightened as I remembered the head lock he had me in, ready to rape me from behind.

"Get him out of the house." I whispered, glaring at my sister.

"What?"

"I don't want him here!" I yelled, my voice gaining strength.

"Knock it off Reagan. Don't be such a bitch." She stalked off toward my mother and I felt suddenly dizzy and leaned on Lori for support. I had been dead wrong to think I could've made it through the night. This was going to be hell.

"Please tell me you brought something to spike the punch with." I needed something, anything to soften the harsh edges of my reality. I couldn't believe Nate was here. The nerve, the balls he had to show up. He must've known I wouldn't tell. The bastard. The sick, cocky bastard.

"Actually, I do have something out in my car?" Lori stated in response to my request.

"No. No you don't Lori. We're too young to drink." Dana grabbed her hand and led her away for a morality check. All alone at my party, I made my way to the cooler in the kitchen where I fished myself out a Coke. I popped the top and sipped long and hard, wishing it was something stronger.

"Reagan, happy birthday." Alyson said from behind. I turned, most of the voices around me sounding like a muffled drone due to the pounding blood in my ears. I met her gaze along with a very unhappy looking Brandi. Could it get any worse? My birthday, my sixteenth and now the one other person in world I most certainly did not want to see was in my face.

"Yeah great party." Brandi mused. "I'd say everyone's here except for one person."

"Who's that?" Alyson asked with a playful laugh.

"Ms. Evans."

I felt hot blood rush to my face, not out fear this time, but anger. I clenched my Coke can tightly, hoping for her sake she would stop. My insides were in turmoil, coiling me tighter and tighter. And I knew it wouldn't take much more before I snapped.

"Why isn't she here?" Brandi continued. "After all, it is your party and she is your girlfriend."

"Knock it off Brandi." I warned.

"What's going on girls?" My mother asked, stepping to my side. "Who isn't here?"

I thought for a rational moment that Brandi would back down with the presence of my mother, but she didn't. Instead she put on her best smile before continuing. "We were just wondering why Ms. Evans isn't here."

"Oh, well I don't think we thought to invite her." My mother fingered her necklace and looked to me. "She's that other coach right Reagan?"

I nodded, my eyes never leaving Brandi's.

"Oh well that's a shame. She really likes Reagan. In fact, I saw you two embracing today outside of the school. You both looked so happy?"

"What?" My mother questioned quickly. Her eyes flew up to my face. "Is that true Reagan?"

I didn't answer, my blood was boiling and I wanted more than anything to pound the shit out of Brandi, to knock the smiling teeth right out of her head.

"Reagan!" My mother whispered, demanding an answer.

I met her worried eyes. "We were hugging."

"She touched you?"

"It was just a hug."

"A very long hug." Brandi piped in.

"Fuck off." I seethed at her, taking a step toward her.

"Whoa." She held up her hands innocently.

"Get out of my house!" I roared at her. People around us silenced and stopped to stare. "Now!" I took another step toward her but my mother reached out and grabbed my arms.

"Reagan, knock it off. This isn't about her. Rebecca said you were acting weird."

"Yeah it's about you and your girlfriend." Brandi spat back.

I tried to charge at her again, but my mother dug her nails into me. "Reagan, stop it! Look at me! What is going on?" She grabbed my face, forcing me to look at her.

"Nothing." My heart raged and my chest rose and fell hungrily. I wanted blood. Brandi's blood.

"Then why were you hugging that woman?"

"I?she was comforting me?"

"Comforting you? Why?"

I looked up to see Nate maneuver his way through the crowd. My eyes narrowed, my hatred now more focused. And suddenly I was no longer afraid. My mother was here and she would listen and make everything ok.

"Because she found Nate trying to rape me."

A hush fell over the crowd and I felt my mother lean into me as if she had lost her balance.

"Nate? Who's Nate?"

He stepped forward, his beady eyes flashing at me. "Tell them what really happened Reagan." He said, his friends gathering by his side. "That you and I were getting it on when your dyke coach caught us and got jealous."

"No!" I shouted.

He looked around, feeding off the attention he was getting. "She even threatened to tell on me, to get me in trouble."

"That's not true! You tried to rape me!" I was screaming, raging. My mother clung to me, holding me back.

"Can anybody tell me what's going on!" My mother shrieked. She looked into the crowd, her eyes falling on members of my team.

Brandi spoke up. "I saw them hugging and I saw her touch Reagan's face." I heard my mother gasp for air. Rebecca looked around the crowd frantically. Embarrassed.

"She was wiping away my tears!"

"You were crying?" My mother asked. "Just what is going on Reagan?"

"I told you what happened! Why won't you listen to me!"

"You got in her car after that." Brandi continued.

"Yeah, I saw that too." Nate added, puffing out his chest.

My mother grabbed my shirt. "Is that true?"

My knees nearly buckled as the emotions swam through me. No one was listening. Not even my own mother. I felt so exposed, so unsafe. In my own home.

"Reagan, answer your mother." My father said firmly.

I looked to both of them, disbelieving what I was hearing. Disbelieving the betrayal I was feeling. From my very own family.

"She?she gave me a ride home."

"They're in love." Brandi continued for all to hear. "They sit next to each other on the bus, she wears Reagan's sweater, tells her she smells good."

"Reagan!" My mother whispered frantically. "Tell me that's not true."

I stared at her long and hard, my heart raging, slamming blood into my ears. I looked away from her and stared out at the faces in my house. Faces I didn't know. Faces I didn't want to know. I shoved past my mother and pushed my way through the crowd. I slammed the front door behind me and dug in my pocket for the keys to the s10.

A few people scurried out after me, rubber neckers enjoying the drama. Ignoring them, and fighting tears, I climbed in the truck and peeled out of the driveway. As I drove away from my house, there was only place I could think of to go. There was only one person who I knew would understand.

I slammed the truck to a stop outside a nearby convenient store. Thunder clapped overhead, voicing what I felt internally. I stood hunched over a thick phone book in the tiny booth. My fingers flipped through the pages madly, my eyes focused and searching for my one true friend. The only one who really knew me.

Finding her name, my heart leapt. I tore out the page and climbed back into the truck as the cold rain began to fall. I sped on in silence, the lyrics from my favorite song playing over and over again in my head. I couldn't believe what had happened. I couldn't believe my mother, Brandi, Nate and all the accusatory glances from strangers.

I gripped the wheel tighter as the truck splashed through the streets. I neared her neighborhood and pulled off the road. Putting the truck in park, I reached in the glove box and pulled out a map. I didn't know this part of the city well, and I needed to locate her street.

Searching the grid of the city, I located her street and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost there. I reached out and put the truck back into drive, only to have it stutter and sput. Confused, my eyes scanned the gauges. I slammed my head back and hit the wheel.

"Un fucking believable." I was out of gas.

I climbed out of the truck and locked it. The rain beat down on me, continuing my punishment for turning sixteen. I shoved my hands down in my pockets and walked with my head held low, my first lesson as a driver learned. Check the damn thing for gas.

The rain was cold and thunder loud. I thought about running but decided against it. The pelting rain fit my mood and I realized I was virtually numb anyway. Too much had happened. Too much to handle. I was currently on autopilot.

Two blocks later I reached her street. My sweater was soaked through to my bones. I shivered uncontrollably as I walked up to her door. I reached up and pushed my hair away from my face. Then I rang her bell.

I shoved my hands down into my wet jeans as I waited. The neighbor's dogs barked and I noticed for the first time just how black the night was. A few softly glowing street lights were all that had enabled me to find my way. The house was small, the neighborhood working class.

A light came on inside and I stood straighter. The door opened slowly.

"Reagan?" Her face peeked out at mine.

"Hi." I said. Suddenly the reality of what had just happened slammed into me and I nearly crumbled there in front of her.

"What's going on?" She asked, pushing the door open further. She stood looking at me in flannel sleep pants and a tank top. Her arms were all that I had thought they might be. Muscular, strong, beautiful. Just like she was.

"I?" My voice faltered as my throat tightened. "Brandi?Nate?.my mom?.everyone." I didn't feel the tears spilling down my wet face. Something warm hit my lip and I raised a trembling hand to see what it was. Then and only then did I realize I was crying.

"Come in, come in." She said, reaching out to take my hand. My body thrived at her touch and I stepped into her quickly, holding her to me, never wanting to let her go. I cried and collapsed in her arms, giving in to all the swirling, maddening emotions that were storming through my body.

She held me back even though I was soaking wet and freezing to the touch. She held me for what seemed like an eternity until I was ready to pull away. I did so slowly, afraid to let her go; afraid she was just an illusion and would disappear. She looked at me with bright concerned eyes, her tank top wet from my sweater and sticking to her chest.

I swayed a little at the sight, drunk from her presence and the release of my emotions. I stared at her nipples poking through the fabric, causing a rush of arousal to sear through me. My shuddering stopped as I met her eyes. I wanted to touch her. I wanted to feel her. Every last inch of her. And suddenly I knew.

I was gay.

I swayed once again as my mind swirled.

"Easy now." She said, reaching out to steady me. "Come on. We've got to get you out of these clothes." She took my hand and led me further into the small house. We entered her bedroom and I looked around with amazement, wanting once again to know everything about her. A gray and white cat lounged on her bed, whipping it's tail against the blankets as it studied me.

Ms. Evans dug in her dresser drawers, pulling out a pair of faded gray sweats and a Bud Light t-shirt. "Here." She said. "Change into these." She walked over to the bed and scooped up her cat. She then walked out and closed the door behind her. I stood still, staring at her bed, marveling at it's varying shades of purples in the blankets and pillows. I undressed slowly, removing everything. A knock sounded from the door and it opened just a crack.

"Reagan, here's a towel." It dangled from her hand just inside the door. I took it and thanked her and patted myself dry. Then, feeling weak, I pulled on the clothes she had given me. I stood at the foot of her bed and ran my hands over her soft duvet. I looked up and focused on a painting hanging above her bed. It was one of mine. One I had done earlier in the year for art class. It had won several awards and I had told my art teacher to give it away to any takers.

She had later said that some of the faculty fought tooth and nail over it and now I knew why. Ms. Evans had wanted it. Another knock came and I felt suddenly light headed and sank down onto the bed.

"Reagan?" She asked, peeking her head in.

"Yeah?"

She entered hesitantly. "You look terrible."

"Thanks."

"No I'm serious. What's going on?" She sat down on the bed next to me.

"Why didn't you tell me you had my painting?" I asked, searching her face. I needed to know what I already suspected, what I already felt. I saw heat flood her cheeks in response to the question.

"You're very talented, Reagan. A lot of people wanted it. I wanted it before I even knew you." Her blue eyes met mine threatening to melt me completely from the inside out. My body sank back into the bed, seeping through the covers, molding it's way in.

"But you got it. And you didn't tell me."

She sighed and looked around nervously. "Why don't you tell me what's going on Reagan? What happened tonight?"

I closed my eyes and felt heavy and light at the same time. Was this what it felt like to be gay? To be in love. I smiled at the thought. Yes I was gay. And I was in love. And the world could go fuck itself.

"Reagan?"

"They know." I said simply, my eyes still closed.

"What?"

"I said they know. Brandi and the team."

"Know what?"

"That you're gay."

Silence followed. It sat heavy and thick in the air and I opened my eyes, finding it suddenly hard to breathe. Ms. Evans sat very still, watching me.

"They couldn't possibly know because I haven't told anyone."

"Doesn't matter. They always suspected and that's all that mattered to them. And tonight at my party they told everyone."

"Told everyone what?"

"That you and I are together."

"What!" She jumped up off the bed. "Why would they say that?" She walked away hurriedly and ran her hands through her hair.

"Brandi told my mom that she saw us hugging and saw you touching my face. She said I got in the car with you and that you've been wearing my sweatshirt. She told everyone we were in love." I sat up, wanting and wishing I could make it all go away.

"That bitch!" She fumed. "Why would she do such a thing?"

"Because she hates me. And because she hates you."

"But why does she hate me?"

"Because you're gay."

"Christ, what the fuck am I going to do?" She paced madly in the small bedroom.

"And then Nate said?"

"Nate! The guy from the locker room ?"

I nodded.

"He was there? He actually showed up?"

"Yes."

"My God!"

"I told my mom that he tried to rape me, but then he spoke up and told everyone I was getting it on with him and that you caught us. He said you were jealous and threatened him."

"Please tell me no one believed him."

I rubbed my face, feeling like crying again, but not wanting to do so. "I don't know. All my mom could focus on was you and me. It was like she didn't even hear what I said about Nate."

Silence filled the room again as we both absorbed what had happened. "I'm sorry." I said softly, unable to think of anything else. I felt truly bad for all the trouble I had somehow brought her way.

She turned to stare at me. "No, Reagan, don't' be sorry. This isn't your fault."

Tears brimmed my eyes once again, threatening to overflow. "Yes it is."

"Why, why would you think it was your fault?"

"Because it's true. I am in love with you." I shook slightly as a sob racked through my body. Ms. Evans watched me quietly, her face softening at the words. She approached me slowly, reaching out to cup my face.

"Oh, Reagan." She whispered, leaning into my ear. "If you were a few years older things could be so different. So good." I felt her warm lips brush my cheek as she pulled away. "But you're not."

I grabbed her strong forearms as she tried to pull away. "Kiss me." I demanded, pulling her back to me. "I want you to."

I felt her shudder beneath my hands and saw her eyes flash with desire. She moved into to me and I closed my eyes, waiting to feel the heaven that was her mouth. I felt her cheek brush against my own as she whispered to me again. "I can't do that. It's not right." She backed away and cleared her throat, her eyes still looking at me hungrily.

"I don't care." I declared, hating the feel of her moving away from me.

"It's wrong Reagan." She said softly, reaching out to stroke my face. "I'm your teacher?"

"No you're not." I corrected, desperate to feel her against me one more.

"I am a teacher. And your coach. What if I was a man, would it be ok then? No, of course not. This can't happen. And now that your mom thinks what she thinks, things will get very bad." She stared at the ground and started to pace.

"No, I won't let them. I'll tell everyone the truth. I won't let them hurt you." My voice broke as more emotion surged through me. I began to cry, to sob. She approached me slowly, and held me to her until I eventually calmed. I opened my eyes as her fingers stroked my hair.

"I'm sorry."

"Shh, don't be. This isn't happening because of you." She kissed my forehead and held me tighter. "We probably should call your mom."

"What?" I jerked away from her. "Are you crazy?"

"She's probably worried sick Reagan."

"Yeah and when she finds out I'm here you'll be burned at the stake."

She looked at me with scared, confused eyes. "I don't know what to do."

"Let her worry." I responded, tasting the bitterness once again. "Let me stay here tonight and I'll go home tomorrow and smooth things over."

"You can't stay here Reagan. If we get caught?"

"We won't. I parked a couple of blocks from here. No one will know and I swear I'll never tell."

She studied me long and hard and then let her eyes fall to the floor. "Ok. But I'll sleep on the couch." She wrapped her arms around me and held me tight, her breath hot and arousing in my ear. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't wish you were older." With that she pulled away. She wished me goodnight, leaving me alone to crawl in her bed to get lost in a world that was hers if only for a night.

I dreamt of her the whole night through, tossing and turning in the soft sheets that held her alluring scent. Crying every time I awoke and realized I was all alone. I opened my eyes the next morning mentally and physically drained. I made my way into the living room and found Ms. Evans asleep on an older, small couch. Her knees were curled up under a knitted throw, her cat purring loudly from her feet. I glanced around the room and saw several photographs of her with an attractive man. And a few of her with a group of laughing women.

She awoke slowly, her eyes finally settling on me as I sat in a chair across from her.

"Hi." She greeted while stretching. "How long have you been up?"

"Not long." I watched her sit up, loving the way her sleepy voice sounded. "I didn't sleep very well."

She rubbed her cat who stood gratefully and stuck his butt in the air at her attention. "You've got a lot on your mind."

"Don't you?" I asked.

She met my eyes and then looked away. "Yes."

We sat in silence, both of us worried and anxious for what the near future held.

"I'm worried for you, Reagan." She confessed as she stood to head into the bedroom.

"I'm worried for you too." I called out. She returned a few minutes later dressed in jeans and a thick shirt. She stood before me and reached for my hands. I raised up and stared longingly into her eyes, never wanting to look away. She made me feel safe and warm, a place I never wanted to leave.

"No matter what happens?you look out for you." She said, searching my eyes. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

I shook my head. "No?I won't let them hurt you."

"Reagan." She pleaded. I pulled away not willing to listen.

"Where are my clothes?"

She stood staring after me for a moment and then ventured into the bathroom where she had hung my wet clothes. I dressed quickly in the bedroom, lingering only when I had finished, running my fingers across her bed. I wanted so desperately to crawl back inside, to snuggle up with her, shielding ourselves from the world. But I knew I couldn't. Just my presence there alone was a threat to her. I squared my shoulders and walked from the room. I had to take care of things. I had to make them right.

She drove me to a nearby gas station and helped me fill up the s10. Then I stood next to her little car, unsure as to what to say. She clung to her steering wheel, sensing my emotion. "Thank you." I said, knowing it wasn't near enough.

She laughed and looked up at me. "Don't' thank me Reagan. I've only brought trouble to your life."

"No, that's not true."

"It is. I did some things that were inappropriate."

"Like what?"

"Like the gifts. Had I been a male teacher?"

"You made me feel like somebody?like I was someone worth something, for the first time in my life. You understand me. Please don't apologize for that."

"You better go Reagan." She said, looking away, her voice tight and strained.

I backed away from the car and watched as she slowly drove away. Somehow I knew she was driving away from me, and out of my life.

As I drove home I went over things in my mind. I knew I faced a battle ahead and I was determined now more than ever to stand up to my mother, to my peers, to the world. I was tired of being afraid, tired of letting people walk all over me.

I walked to the front door slowly, like a condemned man walking to the gallows. I stepped in and found my family sitting at the kitchen table, my father reading the paper, my mother wiping her red rimmed eyes.

"Oh, thank God!" She said, rising and scampering over to me. Her hands smoothed back my hair as her eyes hastily searched me for injury. "Where have you been?" She demanded, her voice changing quickly from panic to fury.

"Out." I made my way past her and pulled the carton of orange juice from the fridge. I drank heartily without bothering to get a glass.

"Out where?" She placed her hands on her hips, her face firm.

I shrugged. "The streets. I worked them all night long. Made a pretty penny."

"Reagan." My father warned. "We've been worried sick."

"I'm fine." I finished off the juice and tossed it in the garbage. I couldn't believe how thirsty I was.

"You're not fine." My mother continued. "You are far from fine young lady. Things are going to change around here. Starting today. For one?" She said as she made her way closer to me. "You're never to see that woman ever again."

"Why?" I asked, keeping my rising temper in check.

"Because it's inappropriate!" She shrieked.

"She didn't do anything wrong." I declared, looking to my mother and then my father. "She was being my friend. That was all. And that's what I'll tell people, tell the world."

"What about those things Brandi said?" She asked. "Are they true?"

I shook my head in anger. "Brandi's a bitch. She hates me because I threaten her. And she hates gays."

"So your coach is gay!"

"I wouldn't know. It's none of my business."

"It is our business!"

"No it's not." My voice began to falter with rage. I took a step closer to her. "Why is that Mom? The reason you want to know? Is it because you hate gays too, or because you're afraid I'm one of them?"

She backed up a little at the words and stammered. "Don't get smart with me young lady."

I took another step. "Well Mom, here it is. I'm gay. Is that what you wanted to know?"
Her hand flew up to clutch her chest.

"Reagan, that's enough." My father bellowed deeply. "Knock it off."

"No." I said, shaking my head. "I won't. I'm gay Mom. There you go."

"It's that woman?she's done this! She's done this to you!" She cried out.

My father stood from the table, eyeing me, warning me. He walked to my mother who stood breathing heavily, fighting tears.

"She didn't do anything." I breathed out, my anger flaring. "This is all me."

"I'll have her fired. I've already called the principal."

I shook my head, fighting off the words. My mother worked for the school district and she knew everyone. She was friends with my principal and I knew she was telling the truth. I clenched my jaw and glared at her.

"Do it Mom. Go ahead. I won't have a problem telling everyone the truth. Telling them all that Ms. Evans did nothing and that this was all my mother's doing. That she was casting blame on whoever she could because her daughter's gay."

She sucked in a big breath of air, her eyes wide.

"Go ahead Mom. I'll tell the whole district. The board members too. I'll tell them all that I'm gay." I walked away from her then. Walked away from them both.

Things did change though. I got interviewed by the principal that very Monday. First about Ms. Evans and then about Nate. I told the truth, just as I had promised and told her that my mother wasn't handling my coming out very well. She merely shook her head and assured me that she would handle everything diplomatically. When we spoke about Nate she sighed and nodded her head and I got the strange sense that she had heard this all before. She said she believed Ms. Evans and me. I'm not sure exactly what happened in regards to him but Nate left the school for good soon after that.

The principal also told me it probably wasn't a good idea to see Ms. Evans anymore. On or off school grounds. She said it was best for both of us if we stayed away from one another. I reluctantly agreed, hating it, but wanting to protect her.

At home, I avoided my parents and read the Prince of Tides, loving every dark word. My mom took me to see a therapist, convinced she could rid me of my gayness. The woman simply looked at me at the end of our session and voiced her opinion to my mom. "Let me make sure I have this all correct. Reagan attends school, stays out of trouble, she gets above average grades, she's an athlete, she's an artist and she doesn't do drugs?" My mother nodded her yes.

"But she says she's gay." My mother was sure to add quickly.

"Frankly," The therapist continued. "There's nothing wrong with your child. The problem lies within you." I nearly fell out of my chair I was so shocked. And happy. I must've smiled the entire ride home.

At school, I told coach I refused to continue to play with Brandi and moved happily down to the J.V. team where I finished out the season. Ms. Evans wasn't there, she never went back to coach. I missed her. Missed everything about her. But I stayed away. Stayed away for her.

I remember the last time I saw her. It was the last day of school that year and I stopped by her classroom after the last bell had rung. She stood at her desk, packing up boxes.

"Hi." I said.

She looked up at once, but didn't turn to meet my eyes. "You shouldn't be here." She whispered.

"I know. I won't stay long." I watched as she continued to pack the boxes. "I heard you're changing schools."

"That's right."

"I don't understand why. I told the principal the truth. She believed me. She said everyone just overreacted."

"I know." She stopped packing and this time met my eyes. "Thank you for that." She gave me a weak smile and looked away again, the pain trying to come through in her gaze.

"So why are you leaving?"

She lifted a box and walked it to the door where she sat it down. "Because the principal thinks it best that I start over fresh at a new school."

"Because of me?" I asked, feeling terribly guilty, my heart crying out for the hurt I could see in her face.

"Because of circumstances." She stood still and placed her hands on her hips. "Don't ever think it was because of you. You are the one good thing that happened to me here."

I left her there soon after that, alone to pack up her boxes. I cried the entire drive home just as I had every night since my birthday. My ache for her was never-ending. A black hole consuming my insides. She never knew but I drove by her house a few times the next few years. My way of making sure she was ok.

When I turned eighteen I thought of her. When I walked across the stage at graduation I thought of her. Afterwards, I sat outside her house in the darkness still wearing my blue gown. A car pulled up in her drive just as I was about to climb out to go say hello. A woman got out and Ms. Evens greeted her with a long, tender kiss. I looked down at my hands, embarrassed at having witnessed something so private. I started my truck and drove away, tossing my cap out the window, throwing out my high school years once and for all.

Truth be told, I've thought about her a lot over the years. I wrote several letters to her in college but never sent them. I think of her now, at the age of twenty six, sipping my Baileys on ice. I looked her up once again a few days ago, searching the school district's website for her name and email address. She was still teaching at the same school, the one she left Valley for. I had lucked out. I wrote out numerous emails, none of them good enough to send. Finally, after staring at the computer screen for hours, I typed the lyrics to my all time favorite song and sent it.

A few hours later, she wrote back.

An hour after that, she called.

We talked for what seemed like an eternity. She was happy to hear from me, said she had always thought of me. She told me that she had been in a relationship for five years and it recently had ended a few months ago. I was sorry yet strangely happy at the news of her availability. She gave me her new address and I stood looking at it by my front door. I had waited years for this moment and the reality of it overwhelmed me. I took a few deep breaths and remembered how she used to smell, how she looked when she smiled. And her eyes, they always seemed to know me, even better than I knew myself.

Knowing it was now or never, I shrugged into my jacket and headed out. She was waiting for me.

The drive to get to her was quiet and the weather reminiscent. The rain fell cool and steady, splattering down upon my windshield. Her house was newer than the one she had lived in ten years ago. It was small yet modern and in a nice little family neighborhood. I slowed to a stop and walked up her drive slowly. The rain dropped cold on my hair and ran down into my scalp. I stood at her front door and rang the bell, running my hands through my damp hair.

The door opened slowly and there she stood.

"Hi." She greeted, wearing worn jeans and tight fitting blue t-shirt.

"Hi." I breathed out as best I could. She still looked amazing, even better than I had remembered, yet slightly older, more mature.

"Please, come in." She opened the door further as I moved past her, her blue eyes intense and never leaving mine. "This feels like de ja vu. You showing up at my house dripping wet with rain."

"Yeah I know, sorry about that." I took off my jacket and looked awkwardly at my wet boots.

"No, it's fine." She laughed and my heart skipped a beat. It had been too long since I had heard it. "You're nervous." She took my jacket and studied me with a grin. "Different from the feisty Reagan I used to know."

I cleared my throat and felt my face flush. I was nervous, nervous as hell. But I was now a woman, a woman who knew exactly what she wanted. I now knew what I wanted to do to her, how to touch her, how to show her how I feel. "I?you look?amazing."

"So do you." She said softly, walking up to envelope me in a hug. I caught her scent just as she pulled away and it made my skin feel alive and electric. "You're hair's short, you look so grown up and?womanly." Her eyes burned a trail up and down my body, lingering on the buttons of my black shirt.

She took my hand and led me further into the house. We walked into the living room where candles were burning and music was playing. I stopped suddenly, recognizing the song and stood very still. Goose bumps came to life on my skin as the heat returned to my face.

"The Black Crowes." I whispered as she turned to look at me. She smiled and offered me a seat on the sofa.

"Strangely enough, I've been listening to them a lot lately."

I sat down next to her and watched as she poured us both a glass of wine. "That song still moves me." I confessed, my breathing coming quicker now.

"It makes me think of you." She said, holding my eyes, just before she took a slow sip of the red wine. I watched it stain her dark pink lips, wishing I could suckle it off.

"Why," I set down my glass and faced her. "Why didn't you ever call me?" It was a question I had been asking myself for years. Wondering if she thought of me, wondering if she knew how much she meant to me.

"I thought about it." She held her glass and circled the top with her finger. "But you were still in college and you needed to experience life. I didn't want to stand in the way of that. I hoped?that someday, you would come to me."

I swallowed and rubbed my hands nervously on my jeans. She had thought of me. She still cared. I looked up and glanced behind the couch, finally ready to speak, to confess all the feelings I had been harboring for so long. But my voice left me as my eyes took in the art work hanging on the walls.

"My work." I covered my mouth with a trembling hand. The past two years had been great, a blessing for a young artist. My first show had gone well, very well. But these weren't just my newer works, some of them were older, from my college years. It was a collection. A collection of me.

She stood and stepped up beside me as I walked up to each piece, reliving how it had been a part of me. Something deep and hidden and powerful that had suddenly poured out of me onto to the canvas.

"I've always been a fan. "

"You've followed me, even in college." I was completely moved and awe struck.

"Before college, actually. I still have some of your work from high school, remember?"

I nodded and smiled, remembering the painting she had hanging above her bed in the other house.

"Now that you're accomplished, I'll go broke buying any new work." We laughed as she led me out of the room. "Come on, I'll show you my favorite piece." Again she took my hand in hers and my blood pounded in my ears as the warmth of her skin melded with mine. We entered her bedroom where a bedside lamp was lit, showing off the soft suede duvet. "This?is my favorite one." I looked up above the bed as my breath was stolen from my chest. There, on the wall, in solid black frame was one of my most meaningful pieces of work. It wasn't a painting but a sketch I had done with pastels my senior year of high school. It was the back side of a woman, slightly turned, her hands up in her hair. Every muscle and soft curve of her body was shaded and illuminated in varying shades of pinks, reds, and browns. Her breast looked soft and weighty, her nipple taught. The drawing had meant so much to me, too much. It had been too painful to keep, a reminder of what I couldn't have. So I had left it in the caring hands of my art teacher. And now here it was. It had found the perfect home.

"I always wondered who had modeled for you for that picture." She crossed her arms, studying the drawing alongside me.

"It was you." I whispered.

"Me?"

"Yes, you. I imagined what you would look like and drew it." I heard her take in a shaky breath.

"But it's so beautiful." She let out, disbelieving.

I turned to her, my throat tight with feeling. "You are beautiful. I bet you look just like that."

"I don't think so." She said, letting her arms fall to her side. She looked at me long and hard and then shifted her eyes, her cheeks reddening.

I reached out and placed my hands on her shoulders. "Now who's nervous?" I smiled at her and held her eyes, finally feeling her relax.

"How about some more wine?" She asked.

"Sure. You get the wine while I run out to my car."

"What for?" She reached the door and turned to me with questioning eyes.

"Something special."

I returned inside with my sketch board shielded from the rain with my jacket. I pulled it out and looked around, meeting her in the hallway as she carried two glasses of wine.

"Come back in here." I encouraged, leading the way to the master bedroom.

"Ok." She said, unsure.

"The lighting in here is perfect." I sat down against the headboard and propped up my board on my lap. I watched her set down the wine on the dresser, the red still in her cheeks. "Now, take off your shirt."

"Excuse me?" She asked, startled.

"Let me sketch you."

She stood very still, her mouth opening but not speaking. My body pulsed as I watched her, the thrill of creation coursing through my veins, just as it did every time I worked. I needed to see her, needed to caress her with my charcoals, make her cry out on paper.

"Please." I pleaded with a hoarse cry. I rose from the bed and approached her, my eyes locked with hers. "I need to so badly. Let me see you." I leaned in and whispered in her ear, once again catching her scent. Reaching out with trembling hands I lifted her shirt, inching it up slowly, tentatively. I felt her shudder as my breath stroked her neck.

She raised her arms and met my eyes as I pulled the shirt from her body.

I nearly choked as she lowered her arms, allowing me the pleasure of taking her bare skin in with my eyes. Her arms were as toned and muscular as I remembered, curving with sexy strength up into her soft, yet strong shoulders. She breathed quickly as I softly explored her with my gaze, letting it rest on the small round fleshy breasts and firm abdomen.

With my heart in my throat I approached her again. I knew it was going to take great strength to sketch her. I had never been aroused by a subject before. But my creativity was my addiction and I needed to do this. I stepped up to her, my breath mixing with hers, our chests rising and falling. My hands found her arms and felt her shudder once again. I fought the desire to kiss her, leaning in and then backing off as I turned her for the angle that I wanted.

"There." I backed away and walked slowly back to the bed. "Beautiful." I murmured as I propped up my board and began sketching. She stood as still as the night, her eyes never leaving mine. My hand flew across the page, exploring her every last inch, touching her, caressing her, stroking her. The light breathed upon her skin in a magical way, feeding that crave of creativity within me. It was beautiful, it was perfect. It was her.

She sighed and shuddered under my intense stare, her skin awakening in goose bumps. I finished the last of the shading and set down my charcoal. Her eyes still held mine, the fire burning brightly within them.

"I'm finished." I said softly.

"I know." She whispered, still unmoving. "I felt you. Felt every last stroke."

"I felt you too." I stood from the bed and reached out to touch her with black tipped fingers. "Every last inch." I tilted her chin and met her dark pink lips with my own. She was soft and hot, achingly ready after waiting so long. Her hands found my hair and tangled within it as she held me to her. Her tongue probed my lips hungrily, thrusting and wet, seeking my own. We moaned into one another and tumbled to the bed. I scooted the drawing onto the floor, wanting, ready, hungry for the real thing. She straddled me and held my arms above my head.

"I want to go slow, but I, I don't think I can."

I tried to sit up to kiss her, but she held me down firmly, showing off the raw strength I always knew she had. "We have plenty of time to go slow." I said with a ragged whisper. She nodded her head and came back at me, claiming my mouth with her heated, long tongue. I groaned with delight and kissed her back, sucking on her lips.

She pulled away again breathing hard, her eyes wide and alive and flashing with blue flames. She let go of my arms and ripped open my shirt, tearing the buttons off, sending them flying across the room.

"Sorry," She said huskily. "But I just can't seem to get to you fast enough."

I sat up and kissed her hungrily while she shoved the shirt down off my arms. Then my mouth found her neck where she arched into me, her warm breasts weighing down above my own.

"God I want you." I said into her ear, just before I nibbled on the lobe.

She shoved me back down and straddled my leg, as her hand flew to my zipper. I helped her scoot my jeans down over my hips followed quickly with my panties. She grinned as she cupped my center and I trembled beneath her.

"Wait." I managed. "I want to feel you too." I reached out and unbuttoned her jeans and she readily complied. She climbed off me and shoved down her pants while my hands felt and squeezed her breasts, pinching her nipples. With her remaining clothes stripped off, she eased back up to me, her mouth conquering me from my abdomen up to my breasts. I felt her teeth graze me, her tongue dance across my quivering, aching nipples.

Her mouth left my chest and met mine once again, hotter and hungrier than before. My hand ran a blazing trail down her back, over her hip, making its way to her slick satiny flesh. She shivered and groaned, moving her hand to me quickly where she opened me up as her tongue filled my mouth. Her fingers played me and stroked me, delving deep up into me as her tongue did the same in my mouth. I cried out at the searing heat from her fingers, wanting, wishing that all of her could go inside me.

"My God you feel so good." She whispered. "So hot and wet."

I lifted my head up off the bed, the need to feel her overwhelming me. She thrust into my fingers, loving the way I was strumming her clitoris. I inched my fingers down and found her slick and warm, waiting for me. I entered her carefully, watching her eyes widen as I filled her. She was tight and hungry for me, wrapping herself down onto me, riding my fingers.

"Yes." I said, loving how she felt, how she moved atop me, loving how she felt inside of me.

Strangled cries left her mouth as we fucked. Both of us thrusting, needing, craving the feel of one another. She bent down and kissed me, shoving her tongue forcefully into me. I groaned into her mouth, my body close to the edge. I reached up and held her head to me, kissing her back with a vengeance. I pulled away breathlessly and looked into her eyes.

"I'm going to come." I declared.

"Me too."

She clenched her eyes shut as she grinded down against me.

"No." I said, causing her to open her eyes. "I want to watch you. Look at me." She held my eyes as we writhed and groaned, jerked and thrust. And then suddenly as the wave of orgasm neared, I held up my head, determined to hold her eyes. She crashed just before I did, her body fucking my fingers like mad, riding them, grinding them. I threw my head back and arched my back, shoving myself up against her, all the while watching her face. She was beautiful, it was beautiful. I knew as long as I lived I would never forget the way she looked when she came.

She collapsed down on me as we both struggled for air, our hands still inside one another. Her warm mouth suckled my neck as she began to laugh, whispering in my ear.

"Jesus. That was worth waiting for."

I met her mouth for a long lingering kiss. "Yes it was."

I felt her ease out of me and run her wet fingers up my abdomen. "Please tell me you don't still have a curfew."

I laughed and met her eyes as my fingers thrust up in her once again causing her to suck in a quick breath. "I can stay as you long as you want me to."

She moaned as her eyes flashed with desire. "Thank God."




Ronica Black's Scrolls
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