Chuck and Chili were slumped in indentical postures on the couch, heads arched back, mouths open, dead to the world. "Zonked," as Chuck would have put it. Vera and Debbie sat on the other couch staring with bored expressions at Andy and Shelly, who were juggling. Shelly was juggling three apples while Andy juggled oranges, each concentrating intensely as he attempted to outdo the other. Neither Debbie nor Vera could believe that the evening had degenerated to s uch a mundane level.
"Do you give up?" said Shelly, concentrating fiercely as he juggled his apples.
"Not on your life!" said Andy, whose competitive drive led him to enter any physical contest, no matter how absurd. "You give up?"
"Never!" Shelly said.
Vera and Debbie exchanged helpless glances. "I know how to stop this," Debbie said, smiling.
She got up off the couch and walked slowly over to Andy's side, stopping right next to him and sliding up to him as he kept his eyes on the oranges.
"I can think of much better things for you to be doing with your hands," she said in a husky voice, smiling and sashaying over to the stairs. ANdy promptly allowed to oranges to drop.
"You win," he said to Shelly as his oranges thudded to the floor and he hastened to follow Debbie up the stairs.
Shelly glanced around, saw that Andy and Debbie had departed and that Chuck and Chili were still asleep, then he looked at Vera nervously and smiled. "I guess that just leaves you and me. . . sort of," he added, awkwardly.
Vera watched him juggle. "You really are very good at that," she said, anxious to change the subject.
She turned back to tend the fire with the poker. Shelly stopped juggling his apples and watched her for a moment, licking his lips nervously as he saw the way her jeans stretched tightly over her ass. God, she was so damned beautiful. . . . He took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge.
"Vera. . . " he started, hesitantly, "you and I have gotten to know each other a little today." He gulped. "I like you. I like you a lot. I . . . I was thinking that maybe. . . "
Vera came up to him quickly and gently placed her hand upon his mouth, covering his lips with the tips of her fingers. "I don't think so," she said, trying to say it as gently as she knew how.
Shelly dropped his gaze to the floor, feeling his face burning with embarrassment. He felt like and idiot.
"Look," said Vera, feeling sorry for him, "I'm going outside for a few minutes. And when I get back, we'll talk, okay?"
She turned and walked out the front door, onto the porch. Shelly moved over to the living room window and watched her for a moment as she sat down on the porch steps.
"Sure, we'll talk," he said, a world of bitterness in his voice stemming from a lifetime of rejection. "Bitch."
Vera ambled down the porch steps to the front walk leading to the driveway. The sun had gone down and the night was cool. She took a deep breath and sighed, unaware that Shelly was watching her with desperate longing through the living-room window. He really wasn't a bad guy, she thought, even if he was a bit of a nerd. He'd shown a lot of guts at that convenience store with the bikers. Still, she thought, just because he wasn't a bad guy was no reason for her to give in to what was obviously a fairly potent sexual fantasy he was having about her.
What was it about guys, she th ought, that they couldn't seem to think about girls in any other tems except as potential sexual conquests? They either wanted to take you to bed or they didn't. That's all there was to it so far as they seemed to be concerned. Friendship? Forget it. That's what other guys were for, right? When it came to women, guys either wanted to ball them or they didn't and girls would either put out or they wouldn't. It really didn't seem to be any more complex than that. How the hell could they expect to have reationships with women if they weren't even willing to accept women as individuals, with wants and needs and feelings of their own?
Damn it, she thought, I like Shelly. At heart, he really is a decent sort of guy, but why do I have to feel guilty just because I don't want to sleep with him? Why does my acceptance or rejection of him have to come down to whether or not I'll go to bed with him? That's just not fair, she thought.
Maybe she could explain it to him. She didn't know if he would understand, but it was certainly worth a try. Look, Shelly, she imagined herself saying to him, just because I don't want to go to bed with you doesn't mean that I don't like you as a person. It doesn't mean that I'm rejecting you. Don't you see that by putting me in that position, you're putting me in the same unfair position that people have been putting you in all your life? They've looked at you and seen a kid wh o was overweight and they never botherd to look beyond that to find out who you really were. Well, it can be exactly liek that for someone who looks the way I do. Have you ever thought of th at? They look at me and all they see ins a pretty face and a terrific body. Not that I'm complaining, but there's a lot more to what I am than great legs, a tight ass, and nice tits. Just as there's a lot more to what you are than chubby cheeks and love handles. You'd like me to see that, to recognize that there's more to you than what you look like on the outside, but at the same time, you don't seem to be willing to give me that same consideration!
When you look at me, Shelly, she imaging herself sayig to him, what do you see? My pretty face? My tits? My legs? My ass? Do you think about who I really am, or do you think about what's between my legs? What do you really know about me, anyway? Can't you see that you're victimizing me the same way people have been victimizing you? You like the way that feels? No? Then why are you doing it to me?
She sighed and continued walking down the path leading to the lake. The male thing was especially hard for a young Hispanic woman. She had to deal with the whole Latino macho trip. In order to preserve her virtue, her desirability as a potential mate, she had to be a virgin. Yet, at the same time, she was subjected to countless assaults upon her virginity, and the rules of the game were clearly defined. It was all right for the guys to do whatever was necessary––short of outright rape––to try and get between her legs, but the only way that she could maintain their respect was to continue to resist them. If she relented and gave them what they wanted, she could be regarded as nothing more than a cheap slut. Anglos pulled the same kind of number, only in a much more subtle way.
Maybe she was expecting too much of Shelly to think that he could ever understand. He was probably in there right now, feeling sorry for himself and thinking that she was a bitch because she wouldn't respond to him the way he wanted. And what about what she wanted? Or didn't that matter? She felt like going in there and asking him if he'd still feel the same way if she were about fifty pounds heavier. Somehow, she doubted he'd look at her quite the same way then. Well, Shelly, she thought, it works both ways, you know.
Andy rolled from side to side experimentally in the net hammock, feeling it sway beneath him. There was a dubious expression on his face as he looked up at Debbie, standing over him.
"How do we do it?" he said
"Well, first we take off our clothes," she said, with a perfectly straight face, "then you get on top of me or I get on top of you."
He grimaced wryly. "I know how to do it. I mean, how do we do it in a hammock?"
With a sly smile, Debbie removed her blouse. "I think you can figure something out," she said.
"I'll think of something," Andy said as she came into his arms and the hammock started to sway from side to side.
Chuck stirred groggily on the couch in the living room. He glanced over at Chili, out like a light as she sprawled back against the couch next to him. He grinned. Good shit, man, he thought. It zonked both of us right out. He glanced around the room. Except for him and Chili, there was nobody else around. The room was dark and the fire was starting to die down. Stretching lazily, he got up off the couch, threw some more logs onto the fire, and went out the back door. He walked the short distance to the outhouse, opened the door, and pulledthe light chain inside. The yellow bulb came on, and he looked around at the interior of the outhouse, grinning at the graffiti written on the walls. HELP! I'M BEING HELP PRISONER IN THE OUTHOUSE,one said. THROW DOWN A CAN OF AIR FRESHENER AND A ROPE! He chuckled, then turned around as he heard the sound of footsteps on the gravel behind him.
He couldn't see vaery far into the darkness. He shrugged, went into the outhouse, closed the door, and sat down. He pulled a joint out of his shirt pocket and lit up, inhaling deeply. As the first blast hit his lungs, the whole outhouse seemed to shake.
"Heavy shit!" he said, taking the joint out of his mouth and gazing at it appreciatively.
Then the outhouse shook again and he realized that it wasn't the dope. Someone was leaning on the outhouse wall outside, rocking it back and forth violently.
"Who's there?" Chuck shouted, feeling slightly alarmed. "Shelly, if this is another one of your tricks. . . "
A moment later, he was pulling up his pants and bolting out the door, looking all around angrily. There was no sign of anyone, but the door to the barn was slowly swining closed, as if someone had just gone inside. Damn that Shelly, Chuck thought, him and his constant screwing around. Suddenly he turned and almost jumped out of his skin when he bumped righ tinto Chili. He gave out a startled yell.
"It's just me!" she said.
Chuck exhaled heavily. "Between you and Shelly, I'm luck I haven't had a heart attack already!"
"What's butterbull up to now?" asked Chili. "I don't know," said Chuck. "He just ducked into the barn."
Chili grinned. "Come on, let's give him some of his own medicine."
She took his arm and pu lled him toward the barn. As they entered the dark building, ever shadowy form within suddenly looked ominous to Chuck. He started to get an attack of paranoia.
"I don't htink he's in here," he said uneasily, backing away slowly toward the door.
Chili made a face and grabbed his arm, pulling him back in. Chuck suddenly wasn't sure that it was Shelly who had gone into the barn. He hadn't actually seen him. . . .
"Hey, maybe that wasn't him, Chili. . . " he said nervously.
"Sssh!" She held a finger to her lips, and with her other hand, she picked up an iron crowbar. She crept forward and pushed open one of the stalls.
She brought the bar up as if it were a baseball bat and leaped into the stall with shrill yell. But the stall was empty and she dropped the bar, disappointed that Shelly wasn't there.
"I guess he must've left," she said, with a shrug.
"Come on," said Chuck, anxious to get out of there. He didn't know why, but he had a sudden powerful feeling that they were not alon. He half expected someone--or some thing--to come leaping out at them from the shadows.
"Let's get out of here!" he urged her.
She turned and smiled at the frightened expression on his face. She put her arm around him and hugged him close. "I'm not going to let anybody hurt you," she said.
"Gee, thanks," said Chuck wryly. "I feel a lot better."
As they turned and went outside, their arms around each other, the gate to the second stall inside the barn swung open and Jason stepped out, watching them with glittering eyes. The blood was pounding in his ears, filling them with a roaring sond as he kept clenching and unclenching his fists. His massive rib cage rose and fell as he breathed heavily, gulping in deep lungfuls of air to try and ease the tightness in his chest. They blood fever was upon him once again. He seemed to hear a small, insistent voice deep within his twisted brain, a voice that commanded him to kill. He stared at Chuck and Chili with utter loathing as they walked back toward the house. For the moment, they had escaped him.
But only for the moment.
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