Two major things kept me awake for a while that night. The first， and most prominent， was Kayla. I was glad I was able to get her out of there as quickly as I did， but the last thing I wanted was for her to continue getting hurt like this. She was too sweet， too kind to deserve this crap. I was seriously tempted to grab my phone and tell her everything but the last thing I wanted was to compound her misery. Not that I thought that finding out something like that would stun her at this point; I didn’t want her feeling foolish for falling for an asshole like that. Worse， I didn’t want her thinking I had held out telling her just to make Craig look bad.The second， and far more uncomfortable， thing keeping me awake and watchful was Amanda. She had retreated to her room by the time I had got back in the house but I didn’t dare look through the keyhole. I knew she would be waiting for that. As a precaution， I locked my door and prayed she didn’t know how to pick a lock. I tried drifting off to sleep， keeping one half-open eye on the doorknob. By the time I fell into an uneasy sleep， it hadn’t jiggled once.It only seemed a few seconds later that my alarm blared like a siren in my ear. I sat bolt upright in bed， my fist swinging. My alarm clock flew across the room and skidded across the floor， stopped only by the length of the cord connecting it to the wall. I was panting， though unsure why. Maybe I had been having a bad dream or maybe I was just so tense from last night that I was wound up beyond belief.Despite my Mike Tyson-esque swipe， though， the alarm still blared.I got up， switched it off， then checked my phone. No messages. I wasn’t surprised. After the night Kayla had， she deserved to sleep in a little. I tossed a glance out the window to see her curtains were still closed. I thought about sending a text， then decided against it. She’d text me when she was ready.There were no sounds from the twins’ room but I locked the bathroom door all the same. I still didn’t trust Amanda’s grasp of personal space. As I stood under the water， waiting for it to get hot， I thought again about my decision to get a job. If Kayla was going to ditch Craig， she was going to have a lot more free time to hang with me， even if we weren’t dating. A job would eat into that time. But then again， if we were going to hang out， I’d need cash. And I still had games I wanted to buy. But I couldn’t exactly play those games if I wanted to hang with Kayla…I knocked my head against the wall. It was way too early in the morning to be thinking about this crap.I was lathering the shampoo into my hair when I thought I heard the doorknob rattle. I listened. Nothing. It might have just been my imagination but I wasn’t going to take chances. I quickly finished my wash， toweled off， and got dressed.I opened the door to find Amanda standing not six inches away， clad in her ever-skimpier bathrobe. I jumped and almost yelped. “The hell are you doing?” I snapped.She didn’t respond. She just stared at me with her piercing blue eyes with an unreadable expression. Whatever she wanted， I wasn’t sticking around to find out， not after what she had pulled yesterday. I slid between her and the edge of the door， taking care not to touch her. She just followed me with her eyes. As I turned to close the door to my room， I saw her enter the bathroom， sliding off her bathrobe before she got inside. She was naked underneath. Her butt jiggled as she walked in and shut the door.I didn’t like having to keep on guard in my own home. At least before， Alan and Amanda kept their horizontal romps behind closed doors. Now I couldn’t even find refuge in my own room. I locked my door again， hating the fact that I had to do such a thing.No text messages on my phone yet. I shot a quick text to Joe and Brad.Me: Hey， guys， be on alert. Craig’s going to be extra pissed at me today.I was loading up my backpack when I got a buzz.Brad: He puts a hand on you， we’ll make sure no one will ever wonder if he’s right-handed or left-handed again.I smirked a little. Joe chimed in a second later with a slightly less violent message.Joe: We got your back， man. And Walburn already knows Craig’s a little shit. No worries， bro.Thank God for these guys. Maybe I wouldn’t out-mature them. At least， no time soon.I opened up Kayla’s contact and my finger hovered over the screen. I really wanted to send her a message， if， for no other reason， than to try to start off her day on a positive note. God knows she needed one.“Jack!”It was my dad’s voice. Geez， when had they got back? And what the heck were they still doing up?“Yeah?” I called back.“Can you come down here， please?”I sighed and put my phone in my pocket. It didn’t sound like I was in trouble or anything but I’ve been blindsided before. They managed to get me to fess up to sneaking ten bucks from dad’s wallet when I was ten by claiming to have a present for me. The ‘present’ was a good hard swat on the rear.Mom and dad were both looking significantly partied-out but managed to both send a very serious look my way. “I just got a message from Mr. Hannigan next door，” dad said， “He says you helped his daughter out last night.”“I did.”Mom and dad gave me big smiles. “Good for you， Jack，” my mom said， hugging me. It wasn’t the most pleasant hug; she smelled like stale smoke and alcohol. But the intention more than made up for it and I hugged her back.“Did she express her thanks?” dad said， winking at me.Mom spun around. “Honey， if you keep up with Jack…” She raised a fist and I remembered， with amusement， Kayla’s similar gesture the night before.“Honey， keep this up and I’m going to end up a battered spouse on TV，” dad said， pretending to cower.She rolled her eyes at him and turned to me seriously. “Was it Craig?” she asked.“Huh?”“Was Craig the reason you had to bring her home?”Resolving to look into the matter of female mind-reading， I nodded. “Halfway through their date last night， he got bored with her.”My mom looked furious. “Jack， if you get a chance to punch this guy in the face， please do so.” I looked at my mom in surprise. When did she suddenly start condoning violence?Dad noticed it too. “Honey， have you been watching those Rambo movies again?”“No， I just think guys who treat women like that deserve a swift kick to the nads.” Dad and I both unconsciously crossed our legs.Mom was setting out breakfast when Alan and Amanda came down. Unusual for them， they were not trying to do everything in sync. It was a little disconcerting at first， but then I reflected that I could be dealing with the Creepy Couple and let it go. What I could not let go was Amanda sitting next to me and sliding her chair up so our thighs touched. I tried to scoot over as far as I could but I was pinned against the table leg.Alan was in a rather chipper mood. He was actually smiling and humming a little as he spooned some scrambled eggs onto his plate. “What’s inflated your happy balloon?” dad asked him.I could guess what it was but that wasn’t the answer we were going to hear. “It’s Friday!” he said cheerfully， “One more boring-ass day and then two days of freedom!” For those of you confused by the math， we had Monday off. It was Labor Day.“Say， Jack，” dad said， pouring himself some coffee， “I’m taking the day off. You up for hanging out after school?”“Hanging out where?” I asked. Damn it， I hoped to finally be able to chill with Kayla.“Maybe go out to Franco’s，” he replied， grinning. Franco’s was a local sports bar and a favorite hangout for dad and me.“Sure，” I said， uncertainly， “What for?”“Just to hang out. Nothing special.”Dad and I hadn’t hung out in a while， it’s true， but I felt bad that Kayla would be left with nothing to do this afternoon. Craig wasn’t getting any time with her today， not if Mr. Hannigan had anything to say about it. “Sounds good，” I said.“Fantastic! We’ll head out maybe around 5.”“All right.”I was finishing up my breakfast and saving my dishes when my phone finally buzzed. My dishes clattered in the sink as I dropped them to get to my phone. It was Kayla.Kayla: Hope you were able to wake up without your preferred alarm clock ;PI laughed aloud then glanced guiltily at my family. Mom and dad were looking at me with amusement， Alan like he wanted to make a joke， and Amanda was glaring at me. More accurately， she was glaring at my phone.“Excuse me，” I said， leaving the room.Me: I punched the shit out of my alarm clock but I was able to haul my butt out of bed lol how are you?Kayla: I’m doing a little better. Sorry I didn’t text you earlier. Craig was blowing up my phone.Me: With what?Kayla: Oh， just bullshit about being sorry and that it won’t happen again. Damn right it won’t.Me: Lol your dad texted my parents.Kayla: Yeah， he really likes you! I wish you could have met my mom.Me: Soon， hopefully.Kayla: Hopefully.Me: So…are you going to want a ride with us this morning?Kayla: Yes.Me: Awesome.Kayla: Yeah， it is.Me: Did you text Craig back?Kayla: No. And if he knows what’s good for him， he’ll stay clear today.Me: I’ll protect you.Kayla: Lol you my shining knight in armor， now? xDMe: Yes I am. I’d be proud to be.Kayla: Awwwww <3Me: See you soon.Kayla: Can’t wait.I was feeling about as chipper as Alan had been. I didn’t know if Kayla was planning to fully break it off with Craig but he was on probation now. And with Joe and Brad as backup， there wasn’t much he could do. And if he wanted a fight， he could just bring it on. I was ready to turn my imagination during my workout yesterday into reality.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------We were pulling out of the driveway when I remembered a comment Alan made yesterday about how Craig’s arrival always seemed perfectly timed. As if he was waiting for Kayla to try and get in my car before speeding up to deliver a giant ‘fuck you’ to my face. “Hey， Alan?”“Yeah?”“Take a look up the street. You see a Chevy?”Alan turned to look. Amanda was trying to catch my eye and I ignored her.“I see a couple. Why? You thinking about that douchebag?”“Yep. We’re going to grab Kayla.”“Awesome，” Alan said， clearly pleased. Amanda’s tongue made a complete circle in her cheek， her eyes never leaving my face.I pulled up in front of Kayla’s house. She came running out the door， straight to my passenger-side door， and slipped in. “Morning， everyone，” she said brightly， throwing a fond glance at me. She was wearing the green hair-bow from yesterday， I was pleased to see.“Hey，” Alan said. Amanda just grunted.“Good morning，” I said distractedly， looking into my rearview mirror. Sure enough， Craig’s Chevy was barreling down the street towards us. “Hold on，” I said.Kayla frowned at me then seemed to understand. Her mouth twisted and her eyes flashed with anger. I hit the accelerator and we rocketed down the street， Craig following close behind. He wasn’t making any aggressive moves， no slamming into my bumper or anything， but he rode my ass all the way to school.Kayla kept glancing behind us. She didn’t look worried or scared; if anything， she looked ready to get our and kick Craig’s ass. Amanda had gone from staring at me to staring at Kayla. What was her deal anyway? I mean， if her plan was to seduce me then， yeah， I’d understand her dislike for her but she disliked her even before she tried to get with me last night. Unless she’d wanted to do it before…Jesus Christ…Craig parked beside me in the parking lot， out of his car and stalking over to the passenger side of my car before I even had time to shift into park. He knocked hard on the window but Kayla ignored him as she gathered up her backpack and opened the door into him.“Babe—” he started but she pushed past him without giving him a glance. Craig gave me a hate-filled look before going after her. I grabbed my backpack and tried to catch up.Craig was trying to get Kayla to stop but she stoically refused to even look at him， keeping her face forward and wrenching her arm away when he tried to take it. He was getting more and more aggravated and finally I sprinted to her other side and said， “Dude， if she doesn’t want to talk， she doesn’t want to talk.”“Beat it，” he snarled at me， “I’m trying to talk to my girlfriend.” Kayla made a disgusted noise somewhere in her throat. He didn’t miss it. “What? You are!”“You weren’t acting like one last night，” I said.He stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me， the pieces fitting together in his head. “So that’s where you went，” he said to her， getting furious， “Have you been cheating on me?!”Kayla didn’t respond and continued her march to the front door. He made to intercept her but found himself suddenly bared by the twin behemoths of Joe and Brad， giving him a look that just dared him to try and force his way through them. He glared up at them for a second， turned to burn hatred through me， then stalked away in another direction.“So Kayla’s just about done with him?” Brad said in a hopeful voice.“Probably，” I replied， “Which means he’s going to start getting desperate.”“We got your back， man，” Brad said， putting a heavy hand on my shoulder.“I don’t give a shit about me. It’s Kayla I’m worried about. If he starts going after her…” I didn’t even want to think about that. I’d seen Craig in a temper before. He had not yet hit a girl but I wouldn’t put it past him.“She’s got you protecting her，” Joe said encouragingly， “And you’ve got us and about a dozen other people. He can’t do shit.”I bit my lip. He could， if he wanted. He knew where she lived and I couldn’t be looking out for her all the time.But I trusted her to be able to take care of herself. She’d let me know if she needed my help. And I’d be on the lookout even if she didn’t ask for it.Kayla came into homeroom (the last time we’d have homeroom before the first period of the day) a little after me and sat down sullenly. After a couple of minutes， she turned to me. “I’m sorry.”I was genuinely confused. “For what?”“For just bolting away from you like that. I just couldn’t deal with—”“Kayla， don’t worry，” I said， giving her a reassuring smile， “I understand. Trust me， I do.”“But you were so sweet for giving me a ride and I don’t want you to think I just wanted you for that.”“I don’t. Believe me.” I smiled again. “I was more than happy to.”She squeezed my forearm. “How are you so amazing?” she asked.“Well， if my parents were here， I’d say I got it from them. Since they aren’t here， let’s just say it’s a learned art.”“Oh? A learned art? Where did you learn it from?”“You know. Around.”She raised an eyebrow. “Around?”“Yeah， around.”“How about we just treat my original question as rhetorical， hmm?”“But then I lose a great compliment!”She stuck her tongue out at me. “There will be more. Believe me.” I blushed and she giggled.Spakler didn’t even bother taking roll-call today. “By now you know what your name is and if you’re supposed to be here. If you aren’t here， you couldn’t pay me to care.” He put his feet up at his desk and closed his eyes. Apathy， thy name is…As the announcements droned on， Kayla turned to me and whispered， “And I’m sorry if this morning makes you a target for Craig.”“More than I already was?”“Jack…”“It’s fine， Kayla. What’s the worst he can do to me?”“Please don’t say that.” She actually looked distressed as she said it. “I don’t want him hurting you. Especially not after what happened in gym class a couple days ago.”“That was nothing，” I replied easily， “Just a little souvenir.” The bruise， though noticeably smaller， was still visible.“Well， I don’t want you to have another ‘little souvenir’. Or any souvenir. Jack， seriously， please don’t get hurt.”I was touched. And she went on about me being amazing. “All right， I’ll promise to be careful.” She smiled just as the bell rang.“See you back here soon，” she said as she got up. I followed her out， glancing around for Craig. He was nowhere in sight. Hopefully he got the message to steer clear.As we walked to our first class， Joe leaned in close. “Dude， just say the word and we’ll make sure Craig never even thinks about her again.” I turned to him and he quickly continued， “Just a suggestion， man. You don’t have to worry about her thinking you’re getting between her and a ‘good guy’ anymore. He blew that one up spectacularly.”“She can do it herself.”“I know she can. But if he becomes a problem…”“I can handle him.”“Roughly?”“Probably. Why?”“Because I’m the only guy you should be handling roughly.” He poked me in the side and skipped away， laughing， as I aimed a kick at him.Shop class zipped by. I actually was able to lose myself in the work a bit as we attempted to create perfectly smooth blocks of wood. Joe was able to finish his before most of us had even started cutting. Mine came out roughly the right size and shape， though the sanding part eluded me and I had to have Joe give me a hand. By the time I had sanded it to as smooth as I figured it was going to get， my old aches from yesterday’s workout had fired up again.Joe was strutting proudly back to homeroom while I massaged my arms. I would have made a joke about how proud he was of his ‘wood’ but I couldn’t think of anything clever enough in time.Kayla was waiting for me in homeroom and she didn’t exactly look pleased. “Hey，” she said， trying to look cheerful.“What’s up?” I asked. I could easily guess what is was but I wanted to give her the chance to tell me she didn’t want to talk about it.“Craig，” she said shortly. I nodded and sat down. Like last night， if she was going to talk about it， she’d start. “He cornered me before class and I almost missed the bell. He said he thought you were a bad influence on me.”I gave her a shifty look. “A bad boy. That’s me.”She smiled a little. “Obviously. But he’s the last person to talk about bad influences.”“Hey， we don’t have to talk about him.”“I know. I know. It’s just…I’m going to have to deal with him every day for the rest of the year.” She put her face in her hands. “Ugh…it just gives me a headache. I wish he was like you.”Fighting to keep from smiling (super inappropriate)， I replied， “Well， I’ll be there too， if it helps.”She turned and gave me one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen her give. Her already beautiful face lit up and my heart stopped for a second. She wasn’t just beautiful. She was angelic. “It does. It really does， Jack.”“Then you don’t have anything to worry about.”Spakler was his normal apathetic self; he plopped into his chair， waved vaguely at us， and opened his book. You know what? I liked this guy. Much better than having a homeroom teacher who tried to get overly involved.Kayla started pulling out her books， stopped， and then turned to me. “Jack， can I ask you something?”“You just did.”She swatted at my arm. “Jack!”“Sorry! Sorry! What’s up?”“I’m really not in the mood to do this stuff right now. Can we do it together after school?”I hissed between my teeth. I felt so bad having to shoot her down and I dreaded her response. “Kayla…I’m so sorry but…I’m doing something with my dad after school…” I cringed， waiting for her disappointment.It never came. She put a hand on my arm and said， “Jack， don’t worry. It’s okay. You hang out with your dad.”“I’m sorry.”“Don’t be. This week has just not been our lucky week， huh?”“All right， how about this. We hang out this weekend. Saturday and Sunday.”“I love it，” she said， bouncing a little in her seat， “Absolutely. I can’t wait!”Joe was poking me in the back but I was too happy to notice him. “Awesome! And we’ll make sure to set aside some time for homework.”She pouted adorably. “Do we have to do homework?”“It’s either that or do it now.”“Oh， all right，” she huffed， tossing her hair. The hair-bow bounced lightly as her hair settled.Spakler looked up from his book. “If you’re not going to study， sleep or something. No chatting.”Joe poked me again in the back. Kayla and I rolled our eyes at each other and settled in for a long， boring homeroom period. She read from the book she had been assigned for English class， Lord of the Flies， and I took Spakler’s advice for a snooze. Well， not exactly a snooze. A light doze would be more appropriate.When the bell finally rang， Kayla dropped the book and pressed her knuckles to her forehead. “Makes…no…sense，” she moaned.“What doesn’t? The book?”“Yesssss，” she hissed， packing her books， “My teacher keeps talking about how it’s some ‘big metaphor for human nature’ but it’s just a bunch of kids stuck on an island. It’s like if Lost made even less sense.”I hadn’t read the book so I couldn’t do much to reassure her aside from pat her on the back and tell her， “It’ll come to you.” Her look told me Craig would become a sensitive gentleman before that happened.Speaking of Craig， I saw him waiting down at the end of the hallway when we exited the room. It was clear he didn’t want to come any closer， not with me around at least， so he followed us from a distance. Joe stood behind us， throwing warning looks at Craig. Kayla was keeping to her new strategy of just pretending Craig didn’t exist. I was struck by the thought that， if Kayla and I started dating， we might need an escort for the rest of high school， just to make sure Craig didn’t mess with us.Then I started thinking about Kayla and I dating and I got lost in happy thoughts from there.We split when we got to the locker room area. Brad was already inside and Joe took him aside for a second， presumably to explain the situation to him. I just started getting changed， wondering what Craig was going to do when he came in. He came in a few seconds later， glaring at me. Joe and Brad placed themselves on either side of me like hulking bodyguards. I glared back， raising an eyebrow as if to say， “If you’ve got something to say， say it.”Craig just turned and stalked over to his locker. The guys and I finished dressing and I noticed that， at any given time， one of them had an eye on him.We filed into the auxiliary gym， closely followed by the girls. Kayla took a seat near me， Joe， and Brad. To Kayla’s， and my， irritation， Craig also took a seat nearby. “What do you think we’ll be doing today?” he asked. We ignored him.This was the part that was really going to annoy him. See， no one liked Craig so we did our best to ignore him whenever he would try to slide into our conversations or start one when no one wanted one. As such， most of the time his words just hung in midair until they deflated and died. This was one of those times and it was going to piss him off to no end.“Anyone can answer，” he said. No response. “Fine， I’ll just shut up.”Thank God.Walburn came in a second later， carrying his clipboard and looking decidedly cheerful. “Welcome back， folks，” he said loudly， “No more games for us. Which means no more ‘accidents’ in my class.” He glared at Craig then raised an eyebrow to me.“Fitness， fitness， fitness!” he shouted with relish， “That’s what we’re all about! Don’t think you’re strong enough? Fast enough? Your endurance in the toilet? Give me a couple months and I’ll have you as good as Nightingale over there!” Brad swelled with pride.“Kiss ass，” Joe muttered. Brad kicked him in the kidney.“Today we’re starting off easy. Pull-ups and sit-ups. This half…” He mimed chopping the class in half， “…will be with me at the bar. The rest of you， pair up and hit the floor. You’ve got a minute to do as many sit-ups as humanly possible. And no slacking!”My group was the one who were assigned sit-ups. Craig tapped Kayla on the arm but she sidled up next to me and said， “You’re my partner. Problems?”“None whatsoever.”Brad and Joe were paired up and Craig was forced to pair up with Tim， Jessica’s brother. I needed to speak to Jessica soon， let her know that I may not need her to talk to Kayla. Would she back down? She really seemed adamant about getting that favor from me， whatever it was.Usually， we had a mat to support us when we did sit-ups (read: to make sure we didn’t do permanent damage to our spines on the wood floor). Walburn apparently felt we didn’t need the help and so we were forced to make do on the varnished floor that didn’t allow for much traction around the butt area.Kayla lay down on the floor first and I held onto her ankles. I noted that her skin was very smooth and tried not to think about how sexy she looked splayed out in front of me with her knees…Fucking boner!!! Shit， go away!!!!!She placed her fists against her head and grinned up at me. “Bet I do more than you，” she said playfully.I blew a raspberry. “Yeah， right，” I said， “Bet you just twitch your shoulder off the ground and call it good.” Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you added up the ‘legitimate’ sit-ups most high school students did， you might just hit ‘average’ on the scale of fitness excellence. If you’re lucky.Walburn stood between the two groups， one eye on the pull-up bar and the other on the sit-up group. He held a stopwatch in his hand. “When I say ‘go’， sit-up group will start. When I blow the whistle， you stop. And that means stop. No ‘last rep’. Got that?” There was a murmur of assent. “All right. Ready…set…get to it!”It wasn’t his promised ‘Go!’ but we knew what he meant. The sit-up group started flying up and down off the ground， looking like so many flexing arms. Kayla was amazing. She was zipping from the ground up to her knees and back so quickly， I was having a hard time keeping track. Twenty-two…twenty-three…twenty-four…Joe， next to us， was aware that he was being outstripped by her and tried picking up the pace but no matter how hard he tried， she always seemed to be able to do two sit-ups for every one of his.Walburn finally blew his whistle and Kayla fell back on the floor， panting and sweating but with a happy smile on her face. And no wonder. She’d just finished doing fifty-six sit-ups. Fifty-six. If someone else， besides Brad， managed to beat that， I’d be shocked.She sat up and grinned at me. “Beat that， tough guy.”“Just wait，” I said， taking her place on the ground. I took a few slow， deep breaths to calm myself， not just so I could get in ‘the Zone’ but so my boner didn’t become blatantly obvious to Kayla through my shorts.My butt was slipping and sliding on the polished wood and I had to basically slam it down on the ground to provide some traction. I pushed my fists to my forehead and tried to regulate my breathing. My heart was beating hard， whether from adrenaline or excitement (and yes， some of that was in my pants)， I didn’t know. My nose was filled with the heady， cotton-like smell you usually get during an airplane flight once the pressure has changed. I willed my muscles to relax; I had tried doing sit-ups before with completely tensed muscles and ended up with knots so big I felt like a hunchback. I’m making it sound like a big deal but all of this was happening in the course of a few seconds. Just thoughts that streamed through my head during the wait.Kayla wrapped her small， soft hands around my ankles and smiled down at me. “Ready?”“Hell yeah，” I said confidently. She laughed a little.“All right， everyone ready?” Walburn called， “Good! On your mark…get set…do sit-ups!”Again， no ‘go’ but whatever.I flung myself off the ground， touching my forehead to my knees and slammed back down onto the wood. The first one wasn’t hard; a tensing of the abs， a lift， and it didn’t feel like it had drained any energy. I did it again. Same result. I knew， from years of doing this in gym class， that the longer I could go just using my abs， the better. As soon as I had to start wrenching my body off the ground with the help of my back， I might as well stop.I wasn’t counting how many I was doing. That was something else I’d adopted over the years. If I didn’t count how many sit-ups I did， I couldn’t start panicking because I wasn’t doing ‘enough’. And I liked to keep all of my focus on what I was doing. Trying to count how many reps I had done would just distract me.Kayla’s beautiful face zoomed in and out as I flew off the ground， her smile one moment a few feet away， the next only a few inches. I was seized with the impulse to kiss her every time our faces came close， quickly squashed every time I went back down. So， you can imagine， my arousal was a series of peaks and valleys. Unfortunately， it affected my man downstairs continuously and， though I tried to stay completely focused， I couldn’t help but notice that my shorts were becoming exceedingly tight.God， please don’t let her notice. I thought I saw her smile grow wider but that could have been for any reason.I was slamming down on the wood again when I faintly heard Walburn’s whistle blast breaking through my clogged ears. I lay back on the ground， letting my arms go limp and suddenly realizing just how much it had drained me. I took deep， shuddering breaths， the adrenaline sending my heart into a frenzy as it beat all around inside my chest.Kayla held out a hand and helped me to my feet. “You did awesome!” she said.“I did?”“You weren’t counting?”“I thought that was your job.”“What if I lost count?” she teased.“Then I’m going to have to punish you，” I leered. She blushed and giggled again.Walburn came down the row， writing down the reps each student had done. Joe had managed forty-eight while Brad had collected a whopping sixty-two. Not surprising given his propensity for athleticism but more than one sit-up per second? That was nuts.“Hannigan，” Walburn said.“Fifty-six，” I said.He gave her an approving nod. “Good job， Hannigan.”“Thanks， sir.”“Harrison.”“Fifty-eight，” she said.Fifty-eight? She was kidding. Last year， I topped at fifty. I looked at her in astonishment and she grinned back in congratulations.“Good job， both of you，” Walburn said， something like magnanimity in his voice. He moved on down the line and finally got to Craig. “Carter.”“Thirty-two，” Ted replied. There was some general sniggering.“Bullshit，” Craig snarled， “I was at sixty!”“And how many had both of your shoulders off the ground?” Walburn asked， “And don’t lie. I was watching.” Craig was pissed but he didn’t say anything else.Walburn finished up his round and said， “All right， sit-up crew. Take a breather. As soon as I finish with the group at the bar， it’ll be your turn.”We sat gratefully in the bleachers. Joe， Brad， Kayla， and I made a little group while Craig sat well apart from us， his eyes never leaving her. She ignored him.“Since when were you so athletic?” I asked her.“Since forever. My dad likes to say I was running before I knew how to walk.” She smiled self-consciously. “I’m not much for strength but you put me on the track， I’ll be out front.”“That sounds like a challenge，” Brad said， leaning forward.She looked at all of us. “Do you guys like my butt?” We all sputtered and turned red. “Well， when we’re on the track， you’re going to be staring at it for a long time so you better learn to love it.”We laughed but I knew I was still blushing furiously. She was blushing a little bit too but seemed pleased we took her joke well. “I like this girl，” Brad said.“Me too，” Joe said， then glanced at me mischievously， “And I know Jack loves her.”I felt like blood was going to start pouring out of my nose. Joe， you are a dead， dead， dead man. I looked nervously at Kayla， ready to apologize for Joe being a cock， but she was smiling at me. It didn’t look like she disapproved of his comment. Ego-boost again! Things were starting to look up for me.After the last student in the pull-up group dropped painfully from the bar， Walburn blew his whistle and said， “All right! The old switcharoo! Bleacher brigade to the bar; pull-up crew to the floor. Move it!”We lined up in front of the short metal bar that was a nightmare for so many students throughout their gym careers. I wasn’t worried. I had very good upper body strength and enjoyed pull-ups (or are the chin-ups?) more than any other exercise. I turned to Kayla. “So you think you can beat me at this?”She narrowed her eyes. “I’ll take that challenge.”“Well， keep an eye on your butt because it’s about to get whooped.”She looked stunned. “What a horrible thought! Then what will you have to stare at?”“Your face is perfectly fine.”She smiled again and traced a finger down my cheek. “You’re sweet.” I smiled. “Which will make it even better when I cream you at pull-ups.” God， she was awesome.One-by-one， my group leapt from the ground up to the bar and put on a humorous display of flailing limbs， red faces， and muttered cursing. No one was managing much more than ten， their chins just barely reaching above the bar. I almost felt bad， knowing I was basically just going to be showing off once I got up there.As the student in front of me dropped to the ground after completing twelve pull-ups (a record so far)， I walked up and positioned myself under the bar. Walburn had just dismissed the sit-up group to the bleachers and was now giving us his full attention. I looked up， calculated， then leapt up， seizing the slick metal bar and hanging on tight.I drew myself up， my chin easily clearing the bar. Now it just became a matter of coordination; breath and action together. I crossed my legs so I wouldn’t be tempted to use them to kick myself up like I was struggling to get to the surface from underwater. Each pull-up was smooth and calculated， dropping all the way down and then pulling myself all the way up.It was only around the seventeenth rep that I started to feel the strain in my arms. I ignored it for the next few reps but around the twenty-second， it was no longer going away. My breath became more obvious and I could feel my upper muscles tensing up as I pulled myself above the bar each time. Finally， when I was going for my thirtieth rep， I had to use every single muscle I could to get myself up. I was snorting like a bull through my nose and I had each arm working individually to pull myself， inch by inch， above the bar.My chin cleared it finally， the bar resting in the crook between my neck and chin， and I dropped down， staggering a little.“Good job， Harrison，” Walburn said， “Thirty pull-ups. New record for the class.” Not saying much but oh well.I distinctly heard Craig mutter， “Bullshit.”Walburn heard it too. “You have something to say， Carter?” he snapped.“No， sir.”“No， you don’t. Hannigan， you’re up.”Kayla gave me a wink then leapt up to the bar like a cat. She powered her way through twenty-five pull-ups before she dropped down， red-faced and proud. “Excellent work，里番※acg琉璃全彩无码” Walburn said， “Hayes， you’re next.”“What was that about creaming me?” I asked Kayla as we walked back to the bleachers.“I didn’t want to embarrass you，” she said smoothly， “You seemed so proud of your measly thirty pull-ups.”“Psh， I could have gone twenty more! I just got bored!”She shoved me playfully and then skipped away when I made to do the same. We sat in the bleachers， laughing together. I looked up to see Craig staring at me with a look that suggested I should keep a pair of eyes in the back of my head.Joe dropped after twenty pull-ups and Brad followed， clearing away my record with an easy thirty-five. I knew he could do more but he dropped down and walked away as if he’d been asked to do only five. A few students later， it was Craig’s turn. Craig pulled himself up and started with six decent pull-ups， then started twitching himself down only about halfway so his arms never went further than a ninety-degree angle. It was cheating， plain and simple， but I’m sure he felt proud of himself as his numbers racked up.He finally dropped， a smug look on his face. “Forty，” he said proudly， pounding his chest.“Six，” Walburn said， making a note.“I’m sorry?” Craig said， aggrieved， “I counted forty.”“And I counted six actual pull-ups，” Walburn replied， “If you can’t drop all the way down and pull yourself all the way up， you’re doing a flex. If you want， I can get everyone back in line so we can all ‘flex’ and your forty is going to start looking very small.”Craig was furious. He looked like he wanted to argue but Walburn drew himself up and gave him a thunderous look. Hissing in disgust， Craig walked away and slammed down on the bleachers， looking like a petulant child.When the final student dropped from the pull-up bar， Walburn checked his watch and said， “We’ve got a couple minutes to spare so let me tell you this: there are some definite stand-outs in the class but I don’t just want a few. I want you all to be stand-outs. By the end of this year， I want you to be matching Nightingale and Harrison for reps.” Brad and I grinned at each other. “And no slacking! All right， go get dressed.”I received more than a few back-slaps from the guys in the locker room for my performance. Brad was used to them but I couldn’t help feeling a little pride at all the congratulations.“Watch out， Brad，” Joe said， taking off his shirt， “Jack might actually be a threat to your reign.”“Oh， please，” Brad replied， “If I thought he was a threat， I’d cram him in my locker.”“I’d like to see you try，” I said， jabbing him in the ribs. He tried to swat my hand away and we both dropped into our fighting stances for a second before breaking away， laughing. “I don’t think the school would survive a fight between us，” I said. And it wouldn’t. If Brad and I got into a fight， it would be epic. Like， Man of Steel Superman vs. Zod epic.As we walked to the hallway where we would wait for the lunch bell， Craig zipped by me and sidled up next to Kayla， who was already waiting. She blithely ignored his presence. “That was some crap，” he said， trying to start a conversation， “I did way more than just six.” She didn’t say anything. “But you were awesome，” he said， patting her on the shoulder. She jerked it away.I was ready to have some words with him but at that moment the lunch bell rang and we filed into the cafeteria. I grabbed a cheeseburger from the burger line， praying I’d find something enjoyable for once， and joined Joe， Brad， and the other guys. I’d hardly taken a bite when someone else came up to the table.“Do you mind if I join you?” Kayla asked.I snagged an empty chair from a nearby table and pulled it over. “Of course!” I said joyously. She giggled at my enthusiasm and sat down next to me.“You going to be a permanent addition to our table?” Brad asked.“If you’ll have me.”“Jack?”I gave him an ‘are you kidding me?!’ look. “Well， that answers my question，” Brad said， raising his milk carton， “Welcome to the table， Kayla.”“Well， thank you，” she giggled， digging into her meal.I glanced up to where she and Craig usually sat to find Craig standing alone， looking around in confusion. His eyes finally rested on our table and his face twisted in rage. He slammed down his tray， causing a few nearby students to jump and look around， and stalked over to us.“Guys…” I said warningly. They looked up and dropped their food.Craig walked right up to Kayla and leaned down， one hand on the back of her chair. “Babe， what the hell? What are you doing over here?”“Eating，” she said simply， not looking at him.“But we’re supposed to be sitting together.”“Says who?”“Says the fact that you’re my fucking girlfriend.”“Dude，” I said， leaning forward， “Leave her alone.”“Shut the fuck up， Harrison!” he snarled at me， “I’m not fucking talking to you so just shut the fuck up!” I held up my hands and sat back.“After what you did last night， I’m not sure I want to be your girlfriend，” she said.It took him a few seconds to recover. “Last night?! Babe， I apologized for that! Now you forgive me and we’re all good.”“No， we aren’t all good，” she said， turning on him， “Craig， what’s my favorite color?”He blinked. “Color? I don’t—”“What pet do I have?”“You never—”“Why do I like wearing my hair-bow?”“I don’t know! It looks stupid， anyway.”Big mistake. Like， crashing-into-an-iceberg big mistake. Kayla flared up with fury and said， “If you don’t like it then just stay away from me and we’ll be good.”“I don’t give a fuck what—” he started， seizing her arm.That did it for me. I stood up and shoved myself between her and him. “Knock it off，” I snapped.“This fucker’s doing it!” he snarled， pointing at me， “He’s been feeding you bullshit to turn you against me! He just wants to fuck you and ditch you!” An interesting case of self-awareness， even if he was trying to displace it.Joe and Brad stood up. “Back off， Craig，” Joe said threateningly.“All these fuckers are in on it!” he shouted， drawing more attention to us， “Don’t be a fucking idiot!”She didn’t respond， just continuing to chew her food. He tried to shove past me and grab her again but I pushed him back. I was ready to say something else to him when he suddenly hauled back his fist and swung. I wasn’t prepared for it and it caught me right on the jaw. As I was reeling and trying the collect my wits， I felt him grab me by the collar and slam me back onto the table. My head collided with the hard plastic trays as he slammed me down again and again. I managed to collect myself enough to pull my leg back between our bodies and shove him away， hard. He went flying back， falling over the trash can and sprawling amidst the scattered rubbish.“Hey!” One of the adults patrolling the cafeteria was running over. I recognized him: Mr. Fong， one of the guidance counselors. He was a good guy， usually quick with a joke， but right now he was all seriousness. “What’s going on?” he said， his voice low but still commanding.Craig stood up， livid. “He started—”Mr. Fong turned to Craig. “That was more of a rhetorical question. I saw what happened.” He grabbed Craig’s arm. “We’re going to go have a little chat.”“What about him?” Craig roared， pointing at me， “He kicked me.”Mr. Fong turned to me. “Shame on you，” he said in a monotone. He hauled on Craig’s arm. “Come on.”“This is fucking bullshit!” Craig shouted to anyone who would listen. “He stole my girlfriend! He’s out to fucking get me! He…” But whatever else I was was lost as Mr. Fong dragged him out of the cafeteria and out of earshot.We all sat back down. “Are you okay?” Kayla said worriedly， running a hand over the back of my head.I blinked a couple times， assessing the damage. My jaw hurt like crazy and it felt like I had a couple lumps on my head， but nothing major. “Just a few scrapes and bruises，” I said， looking over the ruined remains of our lunch， “Sorry about that， guys.”“It was worth it to see Craig dragged off，” Joe laughed， “And lucky for Craig Mr. Fong showed up when he did. We were ready to tear him apart.”We salvaged what we could from the remains of our meal， which didn’t amount to much. Kayla was subdued and quiet for the rest of the meal. As we left for theater class， she whispered， “If you don’t want to hang around me anymore， I understand.”I stopped dead in my tracks. “What?”“You keep getting hurt because of me. You’re the last person I want to see hurt.”“Kayla， this is nothing. Look， if I ever feel like I’m in too deep， I’ll let you know， okay?”“But you won’t，” she said， turning to me， “You’re too sweet to let something like that affect you.”“Well， if you know that，” I said， adding a smile to soften my words， “Then you should already know that I’m not going to stop hanging around you. Not now， not ever.”She smiled a little but didn’t look completely reassured. “I don’t want you hurt.”“You’re worth it.”We walked together in silence to theater， her arm touching mine.Today was not a monologue day in theater but an improv day. I wasn’t exactly sure what the ‘meat’ of the class was going to be but I’m glad we were starting off with some fairly light stuff. Besides， I liked improv (that’s short for improvisation to those who are unaware). Years of watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 had given me something of a knack for it.We played through a few simple improv games like Park Bench， where one person on the ‘bench’ established a character and then the next person sat down with a completely alternate personality to drive the first away (so a tree-hugger might be driven away by a gun-nut， etc); Party Quirks， where one person was setting up a ‘party’ while three guests showed up and they made random small-talk， each guest having a ‘quirk’ that the host needed to figure out without having to call it out specifically (“I see you are still suffering from narcolepsy”， “Is it annoying having all those ants in your pants?”， etc.); and one of my personal favorites， Freeze.Freeze was your quintessential improv game. Two people would go up on stage and start a scene. After a given amount of time， any person in the audience could shout， “Freeze!” and both actors would immediately freeze in their given position. The audience member who called out when then replace one of the actors on-stage and begin a completely new scene， starting with the positions they had just been in. As such， most people waited for especially goofy poses before they called out.Kayla and another actor were currently on-stage. They were acting out a scenario where the actor (his name was Mike) was trying to clean out an especially dusty fireplace while she protested that his actions were making more of a mess. At one point， she had her arms folded and he was kneeling down， getting ready to blow.“Freeze!” I called. Mike was frozen， his cheeks puffed out as he prepared to blow away the imaginary dust. I tapped him on the shoulder and took his place， trying to make sure I had my cheeks puffed exactly the same way. As soon as Mike sat down， I started up.I changed from having my cheeks puffed to blow dust to spitting on an imaginary vehicle. “Thar she is，” I said in my best redneck accent， “A thang o’ beauty. Ain’t she purty?”Kayla picked up on it right away. “Cletus!” she shouted， sounding exactly like Brandine Spukler from The Simpsons， “When are you gonna be done washin’ that thar bike? The roof needs a-fixin’.”“Ah cain’t keep fixin’ the dag-blasted roof，” I drawled， standing up with one fist on my hip and my other arm dangling like a monkey’s， “Ah gotta meet Billy-Bob and the boys over at the Five-and-Dime!”“If ah have to sleep under a leaky roof one more naght， feelin’ like ah’m being subjicted to one o’ them Chinese watery thangies， you can jist find yourself a new beddin’ place，” she drawled back， twisting her lip and spitting out the side of her mouth.“Now Marybelle Jesse Sue Katrina Windlebell Hannigan，” I said， earning some sniggers from the audience， “If that thar roof means so much to you， you can scurry your tight bee-hind up thar and fix it yourself!”“Ah ain’t learned for fixin’ stuff! I ain’t got no grasp of nailin’ thangs!”“Good thing ah got a grasp o’ that!” I said， pretending to hitch up my pants. More laughter from the audience.“Now， Cletus—”“Ah ain’t gonna hear no more ‘bout it!” I said， slapping my thigh， “Issue is over. Period.”“But honeycakes—”“Ah finished it! Ah said ‘period’!”“Ah have a period!” Kayla roared.That ended it right there. I was on the ground， roaring with laughter， unable to get back up and continue the scene. Not that it would have mattered; the rest of the class were much the same as me. Even Ms. Locke had her face buried in her hands， tears of merriment streaming down her face. Kayla had her hands on her hips， leaning back and laughing at the ceiling.I got up and gave her a hug. “You beat me there，” I said in her ear. I felt her smile.By the time everyone had calmed down， the bell was ringing. “Can I get a ride home with you?” she asked.“Of course! Don’t want to wait for Craig to get out of detention?”She closed her eyes. “If we could refrain from saying his name…”“Absolutely， of course，” I said quickly.Joe and Brad were waiting for us outside. “How you doing， man?” Joe asked， patting me on the back.“Doing great，” I said. And it was true; I was now giving Kayla a ride to and from school， something I should have started doing on the first day.“Awesome. Hey， man， Tom Jennings is having a get-together tonight over on the lake. You guys in?”Damn. That sounded like fun. “I’m hanging with my dad tonight，” I said， glumly， “Sorry， guys.”“Kayla?”She looked at me and then said， “I’ve got some homework I need to catch up on. I’ve had a nasty disease the last couple days that kept me from doing any.”Joe’s shoulders slumped. “You guys are no fun. What about this weekend?”“Well， we planned to hang all weekend，” I said. They both perked up.“Hey， why don’t we meet up someplace，” Kayla said， “Like tomorrow? We can go get lunch or something.”“Fantastic!” Joe said， brightening. He looked over into the crowd. “Well， the Wonder Twins are coming so you guys probably got to get going.” He and Brad walked off. He looked back and mouthed， ‘Text me’ before disappearing.“You need a ride again?” Alan asked when he and Amanda saw us together.“If that’s okay，” she said， a little off-put by the way he phrased it.“Oh， yes!” he said， realizing how it had come off， “Absolutely. Whenever you need.” Amanda stayed silent， playing with her phone and not looking at us. At some point I was going to need to have a talk with her， preferably in a public area so there was no chance of another grope session.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I dropped off Kayla in her driveway. “Thanks Jack，” she said， squeezing my arm， “Text me soon!”“I will，” I replied， watching her wave to me as she walked up her driveway.“Are we going to be giving her rides from no on?” Alan asked eagerly.“Probably.”“Fantastic!” Alan squeaked. Amanda dug an elbow into his ribs and he looked down guiltily. She turned her eyes to me and I quickly pulled us into our driveway.“Hey， all!” dad said from the living room as we came in from the garage， “How was school?”“Fantastic，” I said.“Excellent，” Alan said.Amanda just grunted.“Two out of three，” dad laughed， coming into the family room， “Anything you need to talk about Amanda?” She just walked by without looking at him and pounded up the stairs. Dad looked after he and then turned to Alan. “What’s up with her?”“I don’t know，” he said， sounding hurt， “She’s been like that all day.”“Well， go talk to her. See what’s up.” Alan bounded out of the room. Hopefully there would actually be some talking behind those closed doors.Dad turned to me and clapped his hands. “Well，” he said brightly， “You ready for some father-son time?”“In a bit，” I said， “Need to unwind a little first.”“Of course. I’ll come get you around five.”I wasn’t planning on playing any videogames. I went upstairs， pulled out my phone， and immediately started texting Kayla. We chatted for a bit， talking about what we had planned for the weekend. We eventually decided that we would have tomorrow for fun， going to random places and just relaxing， and then spend Sunday doing actual homework. I refrained from calling our hangout a ‘date’， especially so soon after breaking up with Craig.Me: Hey， do you mind if I take a quick detour tomorrow? I need to apply for a job.Kayla: Ohhhh， gonna start raking in the dough?Me: Lol hopefully. At least enough to keep my wallet from shrinking to nothing.Kayla: I can still pay you back the ten bucks for my uniform.Me: No， Kayla. I’m good.Kayla: As long as you’re sure.Me: I am.Kayla: <3I stared at that heart for a while， thinking about what it could mean for the future of our relationship. There was a knock on my door and my dad poked his head in. “Hey， buddy，” he said， “It’s about time to go.”“Be there in a sec，” I said， rolling out of bed.Me: Hey， Kayla， I gotta head out.Kayla: Blaaaah :(Me: What IS that sound?Kayla: That’s my disappointed sound. Now I don’t have an excuse to ignore my homework.Me: Lol I’ll come back as soon as I can! Promise.Kayla: You better.Me: I will. Bye!Kayla: Bye! <3I smiled and tugged on my shoes.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Franco’s Bar and Grill was packed， as usual， but my dad had managed to secure us a booth ahead of time with a good view of the giant television screens that filled one wall with images of various sports teams locked in death matches. “Sorry we haven’t had the time to do this as much，” my dad said， taking a sip from his root beer， “But…well， one thing you’re going to find out when you get your job is that free time suddenly becomes less free.”“Mmm，” I said， still thinking about Kayla.I had ordered a thick bacon cheeseburger with an extra helping of fries while my dad had gone for a buffalo chicken sandwich with a good heaping of cole slaw on the side. We had just sent the waiter off and now sat in silence.“So，” dad said， in a voice that announced he was about to tell me why we were here， “The reason I wanted to hang out， other than you’re my son and I like hanging with you， is two-fold. First…” he held up a finger， “…your mother and I are getting different work schedules.”“How do you mean?”“I’ve just been promoted at work. I will let you shower me with congratulations later. What that means is that I will be at home until about eleven and then I’ll be going in until around eleven at night. Not looking forward to that sleep schedule， I can tell you. And your mother has decided to quit working at the book store and go to culinary school. Unfortunately， the only class available was in the afternoon/evening time slot.”I saw vaguely where he was going. “So that means…you and mom…”“Are not going to be around much in the afternoon and evenings，” dad finished， “You’re going to be latchkey kids.”Oh， wonderful. Even more time stuck alone with Amanda. “Why are you just telling me?” I asked， “Isn’t this a family-announcement sort of thing?”“I wanted to tell you first because you’re the oldest.”“By ten minutes.”“Most mature， then， if you prefer，” dad laughed， “I’m trusting you to be in charge. Your mom will make something in the morning that you can heat up for dinner. Your siblings will get their homework done and you’ll make sure the house doesn’t burn down.”“You keep saying that，” I said， “A fire isn’t the only thing that can destroy a house.”“Be that as it may， you’re going to have more responsibility. You okay with that?”I shrugged. Aside from keeping Amanda back with a ten-foot pole， it wasn’t too much to handle. The twins were decent students and we weren’t planning on throwing any parties. “Sure.”“Thanks， Jack，” dad said， patting my hand， “The second thing—” He broke off as our food arrived. We dug in for a few minutes before he started up again: “The second thing I wanted to talk about was Kayla.”I coughed up part of my burger. “What about her?” I wheezed， taking a drink.“Are you serious about her?”“In what way?”“You want to date her?”“Absolutely.” A couple days ago， I might have stammered and sputtered， but after today I was feeling confident.Dad blinked and nodded in approval. “Did I ever tell you how your mom and I met?”“I don’t think so.” At least not that I could remember.Dad sat back and took a drink. “It was during college. I was part of a frat that enjoyed the ‘partying’ aspect of college more than anything else. I was majoring in mechanical engineering at the time. We decided to throw a Toga Party one night shortly after the year began and invited our sister sorority to join. Well， there we all were， toga-clad and drunk as hell， when I heard this girl talking about mechanical engineering. Being slightly tipsy， I decided to listen in. The girl didn’t know what she was talking about. She had no grasp of the concept at all. Finally， I walked up to her and said， ‘Excuse me， I don’t mean to be rude， but you’re full of it.’“You know how your mom gets that look in her eye when she’s ready to lay someone out. This was the first time I was introduced to it. She put her hands on her hips and said， ‘Well， what do you know about it?’ I then proceeded to talk， at great length， about how， in every single way， she had been wrong. She argued back and we eventually got off the subject of engineering and onto more personal stuff. By the time we looked up， everyone had wandered away and we were alone.” He took another drink. “Twenty years later I still remember everything about her from that night， but one thing in particular stuck out: when she left， I knew I had to run after her and find out where she lived on campus. I couldn’t let her get away.”I listened in silence. “Wow，” I said.Dad smiled at me. “So， if you feel that strongly about Kayla， Jack， go for her. And if this Craig guy gets in your way， do what you have to do.”“I don’t think Craig’s going to be a problem anymore.”“Even better，” dad said， returning to his meal， “I’m happy for you， buddy. She’s a keeper. I knew you’d probably fall for her the first time we met her.”“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything.”“Your mom promised to make me sleep on the roof if I said anything. Did I mention she could kick ass even back when I first met her?”We chatted more throughout the rest of our meal， mostly about the various adventures dad and mom went through before they got married. The most entertaining， by far， was when dad’s car died on the side of the road in a long stretch where there was no civilization for miles and my mom had to leave class and drive an hour to come get him. The more I listened， the more I wanted Kayla and I to have wild adventures like that. I still wanted to give her some time before officially asking her out to recover from Craig Syndrome but I was already planning possibilities.We talking until way past eight o’clock before dad glanced at his watch and said， “Well， we best clear out before they start checking us for roots.”I immediately pulled out my phone in the car and shot a message to Kayla.Me: Hey hey :)Kayla: Hey!!! How was it?Me: Pretty good. How are you doing?Kayla: Blahhhhhhh.Me: I want to hear you say that in real life.Kayla: No you don’t. It sounds like a whale farting.Me: Now I DEFINITELY need to hear it.Kayla: Lmao it’s your funeral.Me: Lol homework been fun?Kayla: The blahhhhhhh was more for Craig texting me.Me: Oh， Jesus.Kayla: Yep.Me: All of it perfectly gentleman-like?Kayla: If my phone had a censor app， almost all of his texts would just be black boxes.Me: Damn…I’m sorry.Kayla: It’s not your fault.We chatted all the way back home. I congratulated both mom and dad on their new positions and promised that I would look after the place while they were at work. “I know you will，” mom said， giving me a big hug. Dad gave me a slap on the back.I said goodnight to both of them and went up to my room， ignoring the closed door to the twins’ room. I wasn’t going to fall for that again. I lay back on my bed and continued texting Kayla.Me: Turns out I’m going to be a latchkey kid.Kayla: Oh?Me: My mom and dad are getting new positions so the twins and I are going to be alone in the afternoons and evenings.Eesh. Even texting that sent a shiver down my spine.Kayla: Just gives us more alone time to study. :)Me: Yep yep :)Kayla: Ugh， Craig keeps texting me. I’m going to have to block him.Me: He won’t like that.Kayla: Well， you’re my shining knight in armor， remember? You’ll have to protect me.Me: Lol as if you need protecting. You could kick my ass then go for a bologna sandwich.Kayla: That’s true， I could.We continued texting for another hour or so until she announced that she was getting sleepy.Me: I should probably turn in too. Can’t wait for tomorrow. :)Kayla: Me either! It’s going to be so much fun. :DMe: Yes it will. Goodnight! Sweet dreams.Kayla: You too， hun. Goodnight! <3I dropped my phone and lay back against my pillow， astonished at how well things were going. I wasn’t going to get lazy， not when it came to Craig， but just for a few minutes I lay basking in the fact that she was no longer with him and how awesome it would be to hang with her for the next two days. And every day after that， hopefully. Life was good.I enjoyed my shower， uninterrupted by Amanda. Who， I remarked， had been thankfully distant for most of the day. I hummed a little to myself in the shower as I rinsed out my hair. I hadn’t had a shower this good or relaxing in days， a nice little capstone to a pretty good day.I made sure my alarm was working， especially after my right hook that morning， and slipped under my blanket， feeling warm and secure. I was happy. I was content.I was not prepared for what came next.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I’m not exactly sure what it was that woke me up but right away I could tell something was wrong. I tried to bring my hands forward to rub my face but neither seemed to be able to move. Almost as if they were restrained. I tried doing the same with my feet and found they were likewise immobile. The fuck…I came fully awake to find Amanda standing over me， grinning. “Wake up， big brother，” she cooed.I jerked in surprise. “Amanda—” I started to roar but she clamped a hand down on my mouth.“Shush，” she said quietly， “We don’t want to wake the whole house.”I twisted my head around. My wrists and ankles had been secured to my bedposts by handcuffs. Amanda was bouncing the key in her palm with a wide smile. “Didn’t want you getting away from me this time. Besides， I’m feeling kinky tonight.”She was certainly dressed like it. She was wearing a sheer black teddy with garters attached to knee-high stockings. She turned around to put the key on my bedside table， sticking her rear out as she did. The edge of the garment rode up well past the curve of her ass， exposing both cheeks in all their smooth， pale glory.“Amanda，” I hissed， making sure to keep my voice down， “What the fuck are you doing?”“We were rudely interrupted last night，” she said， running a finger down my chest. I wanted to twist away but the restraints made sure that I couldn’t. “I wanted to continue where we left off.”I was panicking. How was I going to get out of this? “I think you missed a few steps，” I said， “How about you uncuff me and we start from where we really left off?”“Tempting，” she said， kissing my stomach， “But I don’t think it would be a good idea to let you out. At least not yet.” She gave me a seductive smile. “Maybe after I’ve already had you in me for a good while.”I twisted and thrashed， trying to get lose. She pinched my nipple and I had to keep from yelping. It fucking hurt. “None of that，” she said calmly， “I’m not letting anything get in the way of tonight.”“Amanda， why are you doing this?” I said， desperate to get free， “I don’t want this.”“But…” she said， dropping the straps of her teddy， “I do. And I’m going to get it.”“I told you ‘no’ before and I’m telling you ‘no’ again. If I’m going to have to put up with you seducing me every night…”She covered my mouth with her hand again and started to tug down my boxers. She cooed in admiration as my cock was revealed. “Very nice，” she said appreciatively， running her hand along it.I thrashed again and she smacked my chest. “I told you，” she hissed， “None of that. Or I’m going to have to hurt you again.” She straddled my waist and pulled the teddy down so her tits were revealed. “And to correct you on a certain point， big brother…” she said， sliding along my cock and leaning down next to my ear， “This is no longer seduction. That didn’t work. This time it’s domination.”-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Author's Note:Wow! The response to this story is bigger than I imagined it would be! Thank you all so much for reading and supporting my work. I know I'm leaving you on kind of a cliffhanger so I just wanted to address a couple of points. First of all， yes， there will be a showdown in this story， but I will not say with whom. Second， regarding a timetable for these stories， it's going to vary. I work a very taxing full-time job so I'm working on this in my spare time. And sometimes I will have a game or a movie on in the background for when the flow stops flowing. I will attempt to have at least one story out a week， maybe more， but I'm not going to absolutely tack that down as a fact just in case something comes up. Third， thank you to all of you pointing out things you like and things you'd like to see; I am definitely taking them into account when writing these stories so keep them coming!Thank you all once again and I hope you continue to enjoy the series. I'm planning on keeping it going for a while yet.