Chapter Twenty Four

Just then the phone rang and Jess raced over to the bed, jumping across it to get to the phone. Good ole Mitch was making her decision for her, she just knew it.

    "Hello?"

    Dead silence, no background noise, nothing.

    "Hello?!"

    Click. That was weird. Why didnít he say anything? Had he changed his mind? She had acted like an immature brat. Jess was just about to dial the bar when the phone rang again.

    "Are you gonna say anything or are we both gonna revert back to childhood now?" stated Jess.

    "Huh?"

    "Phoebs?"

    Phoebe laughed, one of those concerned kinda laughs. "Yeah, whoíd you think it was? Have you been getting crank calls or something?" she continued, this time in a more serious tone.

    "No, not really, just a hang up here and there."

    "Iíve had you on my mind all day so I decided to call. So what else is up? Youíre not sounding like yourself.."

    "I dunno.."

    "What do you mean you donít know?" Her hunch had been right. Phoebe knew all to well how Jess had the tendency to shrug things off when she was feeling overwhelmed and didnít want to deal with explaining things. "Youíre a smart girl Jess, and you should know better than to pull that ĎI donít knowí crap with me. Somethingís wrong and you know exactly what it is, so spill.." Phoebe smiled, seeing her friend in her mindís eye, lips pouting, right hand twirling her hair over and over again.

    "Itís just been one of those days, okay? Iím crampy, Zachís on one of his unforeseen business trips. Iím kinda out of it. Must be hormones or something.."

    Or something, Phoebe sighed, a feeling of dread coming over her. For once in her life she had hoped beyond hope that the psychic vibes she was picking up were wrong. As she had done countless times in the past when they were teenagers, Phoebe started to calmly question her friend, trying to get a handle on her emotions. Sensing that Jess wasnít her usual strong self, Phoebe decided to take a more subtle approach, slipping questions in between idle chit chat.

    "Jess, weíve been friends too long for you to put one over on me. Iím Madame Phoebe, remember?" Phoebe giggled, "and Madame Phoebe knows all and sees all.."

    "Okay Miss Know It All, if you do see all, why are you asking me whatís up? Shouldnít you KNOW already?" Jessie grinned, busting her friendís chops.

    "I know for a fact that youíre being a brat, you always have been and always will be. And true, being on the rag makes us all more pains in the butt. But seriously Jess, Iím picking up more than hormonal swings here.. donít make me come over there and kick your butt.. Iíll embarrass you like I did in Mr Stanleyís history class.."

    Jess giggled hysterically. "Youíre such a wench! Just because I wouldnít admit to you I had a crush on ĎManly Stanleyí.. God, what a fox he was! I woulda loved to have made my own history with that hunk."

    "Manly Stanley.. the guy you wouldnít shut up about, bragging about how you could flirt with him if you wanted to, and have him wrapped around your little finger. Do you remember what I did to prove you wrong? Or shall I refresh your memory?"

Jess could see that day, back in eleventh grade all over again, as if it had happened yesterday. She and Phoebs sat in the fifth row of desks, over by the window, a few seats back, where Jess could hide behind big John Connor and drool over their teacher, drawing little hearts on her notebook, scrawling their initials on sheet after sheet of notebook paper when no one was looking. Mark Stanley was a school girlís dream, almost a carbon copy of Rick Springfield, but with preppy glasses and toting a text book.

    It was during a class on the Civil War as Jess was fantasizing herself in Scarlett OíHara garb, her teacher in Union dress blues very effectively converting his enemy over to his side with a searing kiss, when Phoebs had made her move. Knowing full well that Jess knew her Civil War history (no wonder they had watched Gone With the Wind every year on tv) Phoebe had pointed to Jess when Mr. Stanley had asked the class an in depth question.

    ĎAsk Jess Mr Stanley, she knows.."

    Jess had shot her friend a look over her right shoulder, mouthing ĎIím gonna kill youí before stumbling awkwardly to her feet to attempt to answer the question. But instead of impressing her teacher with her keen knowledge of the war, all Jess could do was stand there and stammer, getting lost in her teacherís deep hazel eyes.

    It took a week of the cold shoulder treatment but Jess finally forgave her friend. There had always been a level of friendly competition between the two, the usual high school stuff, over who knew the most, got the best grades on a test, was the better soccer player. And sometimes Jess would get a little too cocky for her own good and it was up to Phoebe to pull her back down to earth as a good friend should. By making Jess, one of Mr. Stanleyís top students, feel less than perfect in his eyes, prompting her to see him after class to answer the question properly and regain his respect, Phoebe had managed to bring things back into focus. He was her teacher, her favorite teacher, that just happened to be very easy on the eyes, and she was his smart yet often immature student.

    "No need," Jess groaned, "the memory of my mortification that day is still very fresh thank you.."

    "Oh puhleez, wait, lemme pull out my violin.."

    "I still owe you one for that," she rebuffed, fighting back a laugh. "You donít know, maybe he found me attractive too. I was almost eighteen then. We could have gone out during the summer.."

    "In your dreams! I bet he was married with three kids and a dog," stated Phoebe. "I feel a serious butt kicking coming on," Phoebe teased, "someone needs to start being straight with her best friend and stop using an old high school day dream to change the subject.."

    "Hey you brought it up.."

    "Yeah I did, to prove my point. I can always call your bluff and Iím doing it again now."

    Phoebe always liked getting emphatic with her words for a little added dramatic effect. She had wanted to take Drama in high school, but her Italian stepfather thought it a waste, so she ended up in Spanish instead, not that it didn't come in handy now and again.

    One thing was for sure. Phoebe was the voice of reason in her life, albeit a rather heavy handed one at times. It was hard for Jess to face up to especially difficult situations at times, like now, she mused, and it took Phoebeís badgering to get her to let it out. Not an hour before she had felt alone and lost, and now she had a friend ready and willing to help her through what felt the equivalent of teen angst at times, and she wasnít taking advantage of it.

    "Okay, you win. Iím feeling lost, okay? I have been having these anxiety attacks and I donít know why, and it scares me. There. I said it. Happy now?"

    "Extremely. You know stuffing all those feelings is just gonna makes it worse. I've got some St. John's Wort. It'll help some."

    It was back in high school when Phoebe had seriously started to delve into paranormal phenomena and getting her hands on anything relating to psychic ability, whether it was from the limited assortment of books at the schoolís library, or down at the new age store in the mall. Many of the kids didnít get Phoebe. She was very quiet on one hand, but when you got her talking you couldn't shut her up. Sheíd come to school dressed pretty conservatively, but later in the day she'd be sauntering around in a tight mini skirt and sexy shoes. Not really one to be labeled a freak or a kook, she was more like a closet nerd-nymphet Mrs. Jekyl & Hyde. So much so that she had some classmates convinced that she was a twin. Little did they know she wasn't allowed out of the house in those clothes, and that she had to hide her sexier outfits underneath her drabber clothes.

    Even with all that going on, Phoebe wasn't eclectic enough to be lumped in with the artsy crowd, nor edgy enough to be called a Punk. But she was WAY ahead of the times. Phoebe wore lots of black, punctuated with new age jewelry and medallions, even a talisman now and then, she loved all that mystical stuff. But in typical teen angst mode and wanting to fit in, she told everyone she wore it because it all looked great with her long red hair.

    Her best friend Jess knew better, for she knew all too well how intuitive her friend was, and how often she was able to read her mind, sensing when something was bothering Jess even before she mentioned anything. She also knew how much it scared Phoebs to talk about it, keeping it to herself since at the time she didnít have a handle on her ability, let alone have any idea what to do with it.

    "You know, sometimes Iím not sure whether youíre a witch or a psychic," answered Jess. "You have this way of creeping into my head and reading my mind. It gets a little spooky. Weíre so in sync sometimes itís like we share the same brain.."

    "I know.. I haven't had thus connection with anyone else. You have to have been a sister witch or something in a previous life!" Phoebe giggled, "and I'm no witch. Maybe a BITCH at times, but too goody two shoes to be a wicked witch."

    "Ok, Glenda, get back on your yellow brick road!!"

    Jess couldnít imagine having gone through high school without Phoebe, laughing at inside jokes at lunch, finishing each otherís sentences. An only child, Phoebe was the sister she never had. "High school wouldnít have been the same without you.." Life wouldnít be the same without you, Jessie thought, fighting back the melancholy that was coming over her again.

    "Yeah, I know what you mean. We had a great time. But the partyís not over yet babe, not by a long shot. Besides, I still owe you a Ďcongratulations drinkí for your engagement! We need a girlís night out while you still can!"

    "Hey, Iím getting married not going to jail!"

    "HA! Like the Zachsterís gonna take the the idea of the two of us hanging around on a regular basis. Never did like me much. Guess heís intuitive himself to a point," Phoebe chuckled, "or he knows I can see right through him!"

    "Cut it out. You guys are gonna have to find a way to get along."

    "Sure, I know. Itís gonna take a lot of candle lighting, chanting and sage burning, but Iíll do my part.."

    "Smart ass.."

    "Tis better to be a smart ass than a dumb one, Brat!"

    "Okay TRUCE! So when are we gonna get together?"

    "Howís tonight sound?"

    "Great, Iím free as a bird.. Whatís on the agenda?"

    "Well, see thatís complicated. Mitch suggested that I sleep over at the loft, you know, hang out with him and Angel, watch movies and stuff, but Iím not really comfortable with that, being engaged in all. Part of me wishes I could just let go and hang out with my friends and not worry about these things.."

    "Why? You and Mitch feeling those sparks again?"

    "Will you shut up?! Thereís not sparks between me and Mitch. Weíre pals.."

    "Uh huh, okay, just keep telling yourself that Jess."

    Ever since high school Phoebe had seen the verbal Ė and not so verbal Ė sparring between Jess and Mitch. At the time, Jess and Mitch had been at totally different levels karmically, making the spiritual distance between them too broad to cross. And yet now their lives seemed to be thrown together, crossing time and time again, often teetering on the brink of cosmic breakthrough. Phoebe had seen it coming for a long time. But how could she tell her friend when she was engaged to another? Could she risk scaring her away and losing her soul sister forever? It was a struggle Phoebe was entangled in that would take guidance from the highest levels to help her find her way out of. She had learned early in he psychic studies that "free will" was an element that always a key factor in any event, one which could not be controlled.

    "So are you gonna keep busting my chops or are you gonna get your cosmic ass over here?"

    "Why donít we do this. Iíll drive over to your place, park my clunker and weíll decide what weíre gonna do when I get there.."

    "Great.. sounds like a plan to me. Bring your cards. You owe me a full reading since the last one got cut short!"

    "Yeah, yeah, and so did earrings you ran off with."

    Jess wondered where the earrings were. She had admired them the last time she had been over at Phoebeís, and nabbed them to wear as part of her halloween outfit.

    All of a sudden, Jess Jess started to shiver, as a picture flashes in her mind Ė fiddling with the right earring caught in her hair, a face, distorted, then pain, heavy pain, then in an instant the memory is gone.

    "Hellooo? Jess? Are you still there? I was joking!"

    "Yeah, Iím here," Jess answers, still a little dazed. "Just come on over, and bring your cards. I really do need a reading."

On my way. Lemme just get my broom.."

    "What, your vacuum in the shop or something?"

    "GOOD BYE JESS-I-CA!"

    "Yeah, like you scare me!" Jessie taunted, both women chuckling as they hung up. Jess loved how she felt after joking around with Phoebs, like nothing was wrong with the universe, just like it was back in high school.


   
Sid was nervous waiting for Krystal to arrive, hadnít said anything to anyone, hell he wasnít sure if she'd really keep the date with him. Thankfully he had yet to even see Mitch, even though he had made up his mind not to allow the fact that they were best friends ruin his chance to have a good time with Krystal. Damn she was beautiful, he thought. How could his friend have let a girl like that slip right through his fingers? His loss, my gain, mused Sid.

    Things had started to turn around for him, first the great new job, now a date with the charming Krystal Sidís palms started to sweat just thinking about her. He looked at his watch, wondering if he made the reservations at Joeís Stone Crab too early. If she didnít get there soon they'd barely have time for a drink before they would have to leave for the restaurant. He had to calm down, or risk marring his otherwise perfect attire. Sid decided that this dressing up thing was a nice change of pace, his newly bought clothes and close shave causing women to actually give him a second look as they passed.

    "Is this seat taken?"

    Sid looked up. He knew he had died and gone to heaven, cowboy heaven if they had one. She had on a gauzey type dress, V neck, in the most sky blue of blues he had ever seen. The turquoise pendant she wore looked so sexy against her tanned body, his eyes followed the curve of her breasts, and looking away.

    "You're, you're here!" Sid stammered, quickly getting up.

    "Well of course I am silly," Krystal teased, smiling as Sid pulled out her chair for her to sit down.

    As long as she could remember Sid was always been a gentleman with her, and Krystal knew tonight wouldn't be any different. She just didn't know what else to expect. Sure, when he was in one of his moods, especially around Mitch or any of his other buddies, Sid could easily slip into his loud, boisterous self, offering his often critical opinions freely. Hell, he could even come off as a jerk, letting his comments go a bit too far. But afterwards she could see the regret cross his face, no matter how hard he tried to conceal it. Krystal had decided that he seemed angry or disappointed with life in general and wasnít afraid to voice that disillusionment by mincing words. And yet she couldnít remember one time when he had aimed that crankiness or meanness at her.

    Krystal wasn't nervous at all. Being an old hand at dating, and knowing that there was nothing that the money in her pocket couldnít resolve, be it a cab ride to get herself home, or paying her own way at dinner if things went wrong, Krystal felt totally at ease.

    "Why thank you kind sir," she said, in her most southern of drawls.

    Sid actually blushed, and he hadn't done that since high school. Here again, he tried to hide his vulnerability, but Krystal just smiled at him again and reached for his hand when he sat back down across from her. If only he knew that the mere act of blushing had endeared him to her, maybe he wouldnít be fighting so hard to conceal it.

    "Calm down there, cowboy. I don't bite and even if I did it wouldn't be on our first date."

    Sid laughed, feeling a lot more relaxed.

    Betty came up just in time. "Can I get you a drink, maybe something to eat?"

    "Just white wine for me," Krystal said, reaching for her purse. It was a way to let go of Sid's hand and not make it seem obvious.

    She had always liked Sid, seeing through his facade. He reminded her of a one of those long, lean hunting dogs that most people backed away from when they heard their ferocious sounding barks. But like those loud mouth hound dogs, Sid had big, brown soulful eyes that spoke volumes to anyone who took the time to notice. Krystal smiled, glad that she said yes when Sid had asked her out. Maybe now she could find out more about him other than the fact that he could be extremely charming when he wanted to.

    Krystal glanced over at the bar from the corner of her eye. No Mitch. Good. What was she thinking worrying about Mitch seeing them together. Krystal had realized long ago that waiting for Mitch to make up his mind to make a move was about as hopeful as wishing it would snow in South Florida. Not gonna happen. Mitch was still firmly anchored by his matching set of emotional baggage, and a severe lack of confidence that had him constantly second guessing himself.

    And yet the fact that he had been spending so much time with Jessie had irked Krystal. It pained her to admit it, even to herself, but having Mitch keep her waiting, doting on a woman that was already taken had cut through Krystalís usual tough skin. She was jealous. But the feeling had been fleeting since that very day, waiting for Mitch to show up was when she and Sid had connected, wiping any residual sting of resentment from her heart. In its place came Sid, like a breath of fresh air, reminding Krystal of just how good interaction with the opposite sex could be.

    "I'll have another beer," Sid added, "and the check."

    Choosing a seat away from his usual spot by the bar, Mitch hadnít noticed them yet, but Sid was sure he would. But that was his problem. Best friend or not, he had let his chance with Krystal pass time and time again, pining away for Jess, a woman he could not have. His loss is my gain, Sid thought, feeling as if he had hit the frigginí jackpot.


   
Zach had finally gotten himself checked into the Ritz, ordered room service and was about to enter the shower when the phone rang. "Damn, I should have know better than to not call her an hour ago," he mumbled grabbing the phone.

    "Hi Sweets!"

    "Well.. hi sweets to you too," Candi cooed.

    "I thought you were Jess," Zach answered, matter of factly. "Now what do you want?"

    "Is that a way to talk to the woman who's gonna drive you beyond wild tonight?"

    "Are you saying you're in New York?"

    "I'm saying I'm downstairs in the lobby with nothing under my fur coat except my perfume."

    She wasn't.. or was she? Zach never knew with Candi.

    "Ah, well, give me about 15 minutes and then come to room 360," he instructed.

    "I may find someone else in 15 minutes, sweet cheeks.."

    "Okay, then make it 10," stated Zach, hanging up the phone.

    Damn that woman, he thought. Her timing was terrible but her the woman dripped pure sex, and if she was giving some away tonight, he wasn't gonna turn it down. Candi always made things interesting when they got together. Too bad she and Jess didn't get along because Candi could teach his fiancťe a few things. Speaking of Jess, Zach thought reaching for the phone.

    "I can't come to the phone right now, so you know the drill.."

    Zach hung up. No sense leaving a message. His heart wasnít in it. Besides, he had to tie up a few loose ends before Candi got to the room.

    When Candi knocked on the door she had to wait awhile. Damn him, she thought, he always does this to me, I feel like a hooker! But then again, she thought, I may as well be one. Sex was the only way she knew to get what she wanted. And sex was the one thing she knew Zach never turned down. Not since their first Ďdinner meetingí after her fashion shoot on South Beach. From the first moment they had been alone together, Candi could feel Zachís eyes devouring her, see the cocky grin curling at his lips. The typical rich boy, he was sure he would have her that night, and he was right. But he had gotten his way only because she wanted him to. But Candi knew better than to rub his nose in it. There would be time for willfulness later on when he was hers. So she played along, pretending like she had been swept off her feet, when all the while she saw Zachís handsome face and sculpted body as a icing on a very rich cake.

    She had to hand it to him, the guy had class. He could have taken her to a hotel that night, but he hadnít, opting for the luxurious privacy of his own elegantly appointed apartment in Miami. Nothing was lost on her, from the expensive dťcor, to the platinum American Express card he had charged dinner on, to his fully decked out Beemer. She had hit pay dirt, and she wouldnít let go without a fight.

Candi had put on the performance of a lifetime, hanging on Zachís every word, and letting him believe he had hold of the reins. He had called her beautiful, caressing her face before leading her to the bedroom where candlelight and champagne awaited them. Shyly peeling off her clothes, Candi had reeled him in, enticing Zach by concealing her ample breasts as she let her dress slip to the floor, looking up at him through thickly mascaraed lashes.

    Lust ignited, Zach had picked her up, carrying her to the bed and having his way with her. As his passion mounted, Zachís hands went from gentle and stroking, to urgently grabbing. Ah, she thought, so you like it rough do you? Candi had thought. So thatís what gets you hard..

    Zach had loved the way sheíd gotten creative in their love making, a special grip here, a precisely timed stroke there. Never before had she had such a vocal stud in bed. She was getting hot just thinking about him. Pulling her coat tighter around her, Candi smiled. He had no idea what magic lay hidden in the oversized pockets of her coat. Tonight she would do her own beguiling, and he would be hooked. Suddenly the door opened.

    "Champagne?" Zach asked, still wet from his quick shower.

    "Why, of course!" she cooed, slithering past him.

    Candi helped herself to the extra glass he had in his hand. Champagne was her weakness and he knew it. The dryer, the better she always told him.

    Arching her foot sexily, she stopped just long enough to ease off her right stiletto heel, and then the other, her bare muscular legs swaying as she approached him. She new her tan needed work, but she knew she was still sexy from the way Zachís hand brushed low against the plush terry robe. He was getting hard. She could see it in his eyes.

    "Is the coat next?"

    "My, arenít we impatient," she giggled. Like the pro she was, Candi slowly began to slide the coat down her bare shoulders, keeping it clutched shut in front. Her coat was long enough to concealed her entire body, yet short enough to make him wonder if she was really naked underneath.

    "We really ought to get rid of that fur before the Fur Police come after you."

    "Itís fake darling," she said, tossing her long hair back and releasing her hold on her coat, and letting it fall down around her ankles. "But these arenít," she announced proudly, her 44 D's in full salute over the green satin corset she was wearing.

    Zach grinned, running his the tip of his tongue along the edge of his lips. She got him! She wasnít naked but she may as well have been. Her cup runneth over.

    "Iíll be the judge of that," Zach said, sauntering up to her. Slipping his arm around her waist, he pulled Candi roughly against him, the evidence of his arousal pressing firmly against her flat stomach. Zach lowered his head, kissing and licking the creamy skin of her breasts.

    Candi herself was becoming aroused, feeling his manhood throbbing against her, knowing she had his undivided sexual attention. But this time heíd have to work for it. This time she wouldnít surrender so easily. So with the stealth of a predator stalking its prey, Candi forced herself to remain passive Ė no hungry roaming hands, no purposeful pressing against his arousal.

    "Hold on there handsome, whatís the rush?" she purred, looking up at him demurely.

    "You little tease," Zach grinned, grabbing a handful of Candiís long hair, and pulling her hair back roughly for a searing kiss. "I know what youíre doing," Zach moaned, covering her mouth his hungrily.

    "You have no idea," Candi smiled, licking Zachís lips. "But youíll find out.."

    Patience apparently wasnít one of Zachís virtues, and he pulled Candi even closer against him, roughly pulling her breasts free from the confines of her corset. Candi stifled a moan as she felt Zach pinch her nipple, hard, sending a jolt of pleasure through her own lustful body.

    "You like it rough, donít you lover?"

    "Less talk, more action," Zach growled, ripping the laces of her corset, and taking a hard nipple into his mouth to suckle it.

    Candi leaned way back, arching her back, and blindly reached for the coat at her feet. Finding it, she rifled through the pockets and found what she was looking for. Keeping the object concealed, she straightened up, wrapping her arms around Zach and biting him on the shoulder. "I know exactly what you want.."

    "I want that pussy wrapped around me.."

    "Oh Iíll ride you til I milk you dry baby, but youíre gonna have to ask me, real nice.."

    Feeling Zach starting to grab her again, she pushed him away, hard, with her left had, causing him to lose his balance and fall back onto the floor. "No."

    "No?" Zach said, eyes wide and filling with anger and confusion, as he started to get up.

    "Not yet," she smiled, her white teeth and the shiny steel of the cuffs she was now waving in front of him gleaming in the light from the chandelier overhead.

    "You little bitch," Zach laughed, realizing what she had in her hand.

    "Call me whatever you like," she grinned, "but tonight Candiís in control." She paused a moment, meeting Zachís hungry gaze. "And donít bother pulling that shocked crap with me Zach. I know your cockís getting hard just thinking about it." Candi twirled the cuffs on her finger and took a few steps forward, just close enough for him to catch sight of the split crotch of her corset. "Get over here," she demanded loudly.

    Zach tried to get to his feet, but she grabbed him by the hair and forced him to stay low. "Crawl slave!"

    Candi grinned keeping her eye on Zach as he crawled behind her into the bedroom. No canopy on the bed. Not a problem, she told herself. The ornate yet sturdy legs of the bed would have to do. She pointed silently to the end of the bed. "Assume the position," she commanded. To her surprise Zach was following her every instruction. Opening one of the cuffs, she snapped it shut on his wrist, anchoring him to the bottom of the bed, first on one side then the other.

    She would taunt him and tease him until his balls felt like they were going to burst, then she would ride him til they were both exhausted, etching herself into his sexual psyche forever. Tonight he would learn the merits of submission, next time sheíd bring her toys and add pain in the sexual equation. And he would be hers..


    "I like this Jeep a whole lot better Jess," Phoebe said, stretching her legs in the ample front seat. "Itís much safer than your old Wrangler.."

    "Okay mom, you can end the lecture right now," Jess grinned, pulling into the beachfront parking in front of the Dusk To Dawn. "Yeah, itís nice, but my old Wrangler held a special place in my heart, being my first car and all."

    "It holds a lot of little pieces of your heart now," stated Phoebe, "youíre lucky you came through your accident okay, in an open car and all."

    "I know. EVERYBODY keeps reminding me," Jess said, rolling her eyes. "Sheesh, between you and Mitch my mother can retire! Funny thing is I don't remember the accident at all. Itís a total blank.."

    "Nothing funny about it. That brain inside that hard head of yours is resorting to some self preservation. Maybe itís better you have no memory of what happened that night, for now. When youíre ready to remember you will, believe me."

    "Mitch saw my car over at OíNeilís Junkyard, and said it was a mess. I was thinking maybe I should go over there and see for myself. Maybe itíll spark some memories."

    "Or maybe youíll get nightmares. Geez Jess, thatís kinda morbid of you, donít you think? Just be glad youíre okay and that Zach got you this new car.."

    The two sat in silence as Jess waited for a car to pull out of a spot. "Finally," she said, changing the subject. "Look at this place. Itís packed. Seems that something good did come out of that night. People finally are starting to realize what a great night spot the Dusk To Dawn is. Iím so happy too. It couldnít happen to a nicer pair of guys.."

    Phoebe looked over at her friend, knowing full well that she was the lucky one in all this. Someone clearly had been looking over her that night, intervening to sway fate in her favor. Instinctively, Phoebe reached over and squeezed Jessís hand, glad that she was still of this world.

    "Whatís that about?" Jess asked, smiling, and arching an eyebrow at her friend, her big hazel eyes sparkling with mischief.

    "Promise me something, will ya?"

    "Whatís that?"

    "Be careful okay? And trust yourself. Iíve grown rather used to having you around."

    "Itís a deal. Iím not going anywhere Phoebs," Jess smiled, "other than inside for a drink and a few laughs. So get a move on sister. The drinks are on me.."


   
"What is this, nostalgia night?" Sid groaned, seeing Jess and Phoebe come in.

    Krystal almost spat out the beer she was sipping, laughing at her dateís remark. Poor Sid. Dressed in a smart looking dark blue blazer and neatly pressed khaki Dockers, he was making the effort to look the roll of the perfect gentleman caller. His one mistake was starting their evening off with a pre-date drink at the Dusk To Dawn. Seated at a table for two off in the corner, they had managed to have a nice chat and remain virtually unnoticed, til now. In usual Sid fashion, his rather loud quip had gotten them noticed.

    "Nice duds," Phoebe quipped, "but our class reunion is next year Sidster."

    "Phoebe Hayes.."

    "The one and only."

    "Now children, play nice," Jess said, going over to Krystal and giving her a hug. "You know Phoebe right?"

    "Your face looks awfully familiar.." Krystal said, racking her brain as to where she knew the tall redhead from.

    "Piedmont High class of 82," Phoebe said.

    "If she breaks into the alma mater I swear Iím gonna deck her," stated Sid, taking a big swig of beer.

    "Sidís just upset because I still remember the time he chewed up a box of crayons in kindergarden. He made Linda Blair look like a light weight.."

    "Takes one to know one..WITCH that is.."

    "Thatís Ms Witch."

Everyone turned around. Poor Mitch was leaning up against the jukebox, with a pain expression on his face. The shock of seeing Krystal and Sid at a table together all dressed up had been a shock to his system. Apparently he hadnít expected to see Jess back either, for he was unable to make eye contact for long with her either.

    "Phoebe was a hit at the Halloween party. Many people have asked me when she was gonna be doing reading for us again," he said, face stern, and keeping his eyes fixed on Phoebe. "Everythingís on me tonight Phoebs, a small thank you for helping make the party a big success."

    "Wow," she said, looking smugly over at Sid, "a wiii err woman could get used to this kind of treatment.."

    Sid flipped open his Zippo with a loud snap. "I had another type of treatment in mind," he muttered, taking a long drag on his Marlboro.

    "I canít believe this," Krystal said, shaking her head incredulously, "this is just like high school." Bickering and posturing included, she thought.

    "Big difference," Mitch interrupted, the caf didnít serve liquor, and the music was canned. Nothing like this.."

    So he had had a few back in his office. So what. It was his bar, where he was boss, head honcho, the big man on campus. Pulling out the master key, Mitch scanned the playlist on the jukebox before pressing specific combinations on its numbered buttons.

    Jess was leaning over to stash her purse in its usual spot behind the bar when she bumped into Angel.

    "Youíre back.."

    "Yup," she said, giving Angel a friendly hug hello. "Sorry about my hasty departure earlier. Hormones reared their ugly head.."

    "Ah.. those," Angel laughed, making a cross with two fingers. "Heís been sulking since you left. Took it kinda personally since you declined his invitation.."

    "Poor Mitchy. I didnít mean to hurt his feelings."

    "I know, and I think he knows it too. Itís just heís let the books get behind again and just when he comes out for a break he catches sight of those two."

    "Yeah, whatís up with that? I never knew that had a thing for each other.."

    "As far as I know they didnít. The only time I can remember them getting chummy was the day Mitch was late getting back last week.." Angel stopped mid sentence, realizing what he was saying. "Sorry Jess.."

    "No need to be. Mitch forgot Krystal because he was seeing me at the hospital didnít he? Oh Mitch.."

    Jess turned her attention back to the others. Sid had his back turned. Krystal didnít look to happy either, with Phoebe having pulled up a chair, and Mitch putting on his little show.

    And I thought I was the hormonal one, Jess thought.

    "Hey Angel, Mitch says my drinks are on the house tonight," Phoebe grinned, loosening up. "So I wanna buy my old classmates a round of beers.."

    "Thank you but no, Iím having white wine."

    "White wine for Krystal Angel.."

    The woman was trying to be nice, but what she hadnít realized was that she was making matters worse. Krystal watched Sid get more and more withdrawn, keeping his eyes focused on the beer mug on the table before him.

    "We were just about to get going but thanks for the thought," Krystal smiled.

    As if on cue, the jukebox came to life. Clearly turned up louder than usual, the music filled the bar:

    ĎYou love her
    But she loves him
   
And he loves somebody else
    You just can't win
   
And so it goes
    Till the day you die
    This thing they call love
    It's gonna make you cry
    I've had the blues
    The reds and the pinks
    One thing for sure
    Love stinks yeah yeah
    Love stinks..í

 

    "Oh man," Jessie laughed, putting her down on the cool bar top, "what is he doing?"

    "Unwinding?" Angel chuckled.

    "Love stinks, yeah yeah, love stinks," Phoebe sang along, waving Jess over to join her on the dance floor.

    "Duty calls," Jess laughed.

    Mitch was having fun, so much so that he was actually dancing to the music, alone, over by the jukebox. Betty, seeing that the patrons were getting into the show, reached for the cordless mike up on stage, and tossed it to her boss. Mitch looked down at it and chuckled good-naturedly.

    Jess chugged down the rest of her beer, and walked-danced over to Phoebe. "See? I told you this was a good idea."

    "Uh huh, as if you guys need any encouragement," Phoebe laughed.

    "Mitch," Jess called out to him, over the music, "sing! You know the words.."

    Mitch laughed some more, and switched the mike on, but wasnít holding it up to his mouth so no one could hear him.

    "Sing Mitchell," Phoebe demanded.

    Mitch couldnít help but notice that Jess was getting into the song, and decided it would be better for her to take over.

    "Here.."

    "What?! No! You sing.."

    "You have a better voice than me," Mitch said. And a better ass, he thought, eyeing Jessís bottom in her form fitting jeans.

    "Woohoo Jess! Go Jess!" Phoebe laughed.

    "Two by two and side by side," Jess sang, getting back to back with Mitch, swaying, "love's gonna find you yes it is, you just can't hide.."

    Nick and the band were just coming in the back door when they noticed the loud music coming from the front room.

    "What the hell did they do? Replace us?"

    "Dude, canít be.."

    "Youíve got a rowdy bunch out there tonight," Sally said, heading towards the kitchen for her order, "gonna be an easy night.."

    "I bet," Nick said, checking things out for himself.

    Well, well, well.. what do we have here? Nick thought, spotting Jessie and Mitch who were now on the stage playing it up for the crowd.

    ĎYou'll hear it call
    Your heart will fall
   
Then love will fly
    It's gonna soar
   
I don't care for any casanova thing
    All I can say is
    Love stinks..í

    Phoebe, while participating in the antics kept her keen eye on the scene, catching the interplay of emotion between her former classmates. Mitch seemed intent on Krystal and Sid, almost happy to see Sid uncomfortable, while at the same time into Jess and his close proximity to her.

    "Why donít we go?" suggested Krystal. "Donít wanna be late for our dinner reservations," she smiled, making Sid look up at her, and return a weak smile.

    The little slut had played right into his hands, Nick thought, turning around and slipping out the back, unnoticed. He had been carrying his meal tickets around with him for a few days now, waiting for just the right moment to slip Jess the pictures. Here was his chance. He had made note of Jessís new car for future reference a few days earlier, so now it was just a matter of seeing how heíd get the pictures in the car. "Bingo," he laughed, noticing that the driverís side window was partially open. Donít you know itís not wise to leave your car accessible this way? he grinned, looking around to make sure he was alone before sliding the envelope into the car.

    Jess was facing Mitch, swaying her hips sensually to the music, pressing the fingertips of her left hand emphatically against his chest to the beat of the music.

    "Love stinks.. yeah yeah.. love stinks," she crooned, Mitch meeting her gaze. The two beers she had drank had her pleasantly buzzed, not a care in the world, and she shimmied her shoulders, teasing Mitch playfully. Heíd back up a step, she would take one step closer to him, brushing up against him.

    Mitchís heart was pounding at the unexpected proximity to Jess. J Geils was right. Love did stink. Sometimes it was just better to play. It would be so easy.. and for once Mitch tested the limits, taking Jessie off guard by stepping into her, taking her hips in his hands, and dancing with her in time to the beat.

    Phoebe had stopped moving, gazed fixed and expressionless, as if in a trance. A vision was pushing through her beer-dulled brain. Damn it her mind screamed, serves her right for drinking Ė it always did blur her vision.

    "You know youíre right, letís go. This place is too..loud for me tonight," Sid announced suddenly, getting up and offering Krystal his hand, sweetly.

    Krystal smiled. There he was. I knew you were still in there somewhere.. "I agree," she answered softly, "Iíd much rather go somewhere quiet where we can talk.."

    The crowd clapped its enthusiastic approval, snapping both Phoebe and Mitch out of their trances. Jessie, hamming it up bowed flamboyantly, then motioned to Mitch clapping.

    "That was fun," she smiled, "thank you.."

    Jess stood on tip toe and lifted her chin, and leaned in to give her friend a thank you kiss. Now it was Mitchís turn to be taken aback. Transfixed, he gazed lovingly at Jessieís full parted lips, feeling his pulse start to quicken again. Feeling a little shaky, he allowed himself to be pulled in by the thought of her soft lips on his.

    "My pleasure," he whispered, leaning in, fighting the urge to take her face in his hands.

    And then it happened. With the slight miscalculation caused by Mitchís unsteadiness, what was meant to be a sweet kiss of gratitude between friends turned into something much more, when Jessís lips grazed the edge of Mitchís lips instead. It was more than he could stand, and Mitch soon found his hands on Jessieís sides as he tried to steady himself.

    The feel of her warm breath, the softness of her lips, the calm in Jessieís deep green eyes.. Mitch had to take the unexpected but ever wanted opportunity to kiss her. He took her bottom lip in his gently, a soft moan escaping from deep in his throat. She isnít pulling away, his mind screamed. On the contrary, Jess giggled softly, pressing her lips against Mitchís, before breaking contact. "Oooh," she laughed, "youíre welcome."

    All Mitch could do was laugh at his own dumb luck. What a switch it was from Jessís hasty departure earlier.

    "Damn," Jess commented to Phoebe, as she hopped down off the stage. "The man has quite a way with a thank you!"

* * * * *

Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

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