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                   WYNTER AND CINNAMON
 
This is an erotic fantasy.  It is the second sequel to
"Wynter" and the sequel to "Wynter & Jimmy."  It is not
necessary to read the previous two stories to read this one,
as events are recapped within this story, but it would help
in order to better understand the background and to see the
growth in the characters as they age.
 
The characters and the situation are purely imaginary, and
this story is *NOT* intended to be a guide for actual
behavior.  Any similarities between this story and actual
people or actual events you should be ashamed of are purely
coincidental.  If it is illegal in your part of the world to
access and read erotic fiction, or if you are underage, or
if you don't like underage sex stories, then you should stop
now.
 
This story is copyright 2006 by Russell Hoisington.  Please
do not remove the author information or make any changes to
this story.  You may post freely to non-commercial (free)
sites, or in the *free* area of commercial sites.  That does
*not* mean that this stories is in the public domain, nor
does it mean that I give permission for you to use them in
spam advertising.  I reserve the right to determine what is
"spam advertising" by *my* definition, not yours or anyone
else's.
 
Thank you for your consideration.
 
My sincerest thanks to Uncle Sky, the Night Hawk, and Wizard
for editing this story and, along with Old Man Ted, for
their input and for keeping the characters in character. 
Special thanks to the Night Hawk for being my musical
advisor.
 
This story is dedicated to the memory of my close friend for
thirty-five years, Billy Forest, the Middle School Science
Teacher who was the inspiration for the character of Mister
Shelby.
 
************************************************************
 
                   WYNTER AND CINNAMON
                         Part One
                             
                    Russell Hoisington
                               
                           One
 
   They were nicknamed "The Hargus Four" by their middle
school classmates after their terrifying adventure at the
abandoned Hargus Mine in September.  Local townspeople
adopted the name and quickly shortened it to "The Four." 
The life-and-death incident had welded them into a single
entity and at the same time  had paired them into boyfriends
and girlfriends with deep feelings for their significant
others, though "deep" was a flexible term for one of The
Four.
 
   Wynter King, Future MD, stood behind the opposition's
snow fort with her arm around Jimmy McCauley.  The Four
watched the redheaded new girl wipe her eyes and trudge
head-down through the front door of her new home, four
houses south of Kenny Taylor's.  It sure wasn't the same for
the new girl as it had been for Wynter when she'd moved into
her new home in town back in the summer.  Wynter felt very
sorry that the new girl's experience hadn't been a happy
one, though for a few moments, when she saw The Four and was
waving at them from the family vehicle, her face had
brightened.  Now the girl's mother had crushed her joy.
 
   Having successfully cowed her daughter into submission,
the mother turned and began berating the crew of the moving
van which had arrived moments ahead of them.  Within seconds
her voice, if not her words, reached Wynter and her
companions and continued to grow louder.  The girl's father
had been attempting to remove things from the back of their
SUV, but he had to abandon that task to intervene on the
behalf of the movers.  The woman turned on her husband, and
the pitch of her voice became a shriek.  Wynter thought she
sure sounded like dumb old Aunt Diane screaming at yucky
Uncle Bob.
 
   Jimmy's eyes widened in amazement at the vitriol, and
he spoke to Suzie Middleton without looking at her.  "Is
that what you sounded like when you told off Judge Wilson at
the mine?"
 
   "I dunno," she admitted with a sigh as she slipped her
arm around Kenny, also a Future MD.  "I wasn't listening to
me.  I was too pissed off that I wasn't able to kick him in
the nuts, too.  Is that what I sounded like, Kenny?"
 
   That was the second question Kenny didn't answer.  She
tore her eyes away from the soap opera and looked down at
him from her one inch height advantage.  Kenny stood
slack-jawed and bug-eyed, clearly looking at the neighboring
house's front door and not the drama in its front yard.
 
   She glared at him and her face reddened when
realization struck home.  "Hey," she said in a quiet voice
to get Wynter's and Jimmy's attention.  She indicated Kenny
with a jerk of her head.  Both looked.
 
   Jimmy closed his eyes and shook his head.  His voice
had a sound of resignation as he said, "Here we go again."
 
   Wynter sighed and gave Suzie a look of sympathy.  "Last
time I saw that look was when I flashed him that quick look
at my tits on his birthday."
 
   The reddish-blonde curls on her forehead bounced as
Suzie nodded toward the new neighbors.  "And this girl is
fully clothed for the weather.  You couldn't tell if she
weighed forty pounds or four hundred.  You might wanna plug
your ears while I get his attention."
 
   She turned to her gaping boyfriend, took a deep breath,
and leaned toward his ear.  "KENNY!"  She followed the
scream with a hard punch to his arm."
 
   Kenny jumped, staggered backward, and grabbed his arm. 
The snow fort momentarily stopped him, but then it gave way
like saplings in an avalanche.  He flapped his arms, wings
seeking lift.  They found none, and he tumbled onto his
back.
 
   "Hey!" he griped, looking up at her while he rubbed his
arm.  Clearly the blow had been painful even through the
thick insulation.  "What'd you do that for."
 
   "Because I love you, you dolt," she said as she held
out a hand to help him up.  He took it, let her pull to help
him up to a sitting position, and then he lurched backward. 
Her feet slid on the packed snow and she pitched down on top
of him, her face stopping a inch above his belt buckle.
 
   Kenny grinned and shrugged.  "Well, if you really love
me, then how about a little oral action while you're down
there."
 
   "You dolt!  You can go blow yourself if you're that
horny."
 
   He shrugged again and tried to look at the new girl's
house.  "Maybe she'll blow it for me."
 
   Wynter and Jimmy exchanged a worried glance.  She'd
already told Jimmy that shortly after she first moved to
town and her smarty-pants parents wouldn't give her a chance
to give her father a welcome home kiss, she got their
attention by telling them that Jimmy would kiss her if she
asked.  Now, almost five months later, Jimmy would not only
kiss her if she asked, but he'd do a whole lot more since
they were boyfriend and girlfriend.  Wynter felt a
premonition of trouble wash through her psyche.  She felt
Jimmy shiver with the same worry.
 
   Suzie grinned as she opened Kenny's parka and undid the
top two buttons of his shirt.  In one smooth move she pulled
the shirt open, scooped a large pile of wet snow into the
gap, and held the shirt closed.
 
   "I doubt that will cool him down," Jimmy said as Wynter
doubled over laughing at the look on Kenny's face while he
wailed and struggled.
 
   Suzie grabbed his flailing arms at the wrist and pinned
them to the ground, then held them there with her knees. 
Suzie was the captain of the school swim team.  She was in
training again, and her arm strength was greater than
Kenny's or even Jimmy's.  Her hands now free, she
straightened his black-framed glasses.  "Well, isn't this
just the biggest problem you've ever had?  I guess you
should spend more of our time at the pool doing laps with me
and less time copping feels inside my stupid swimsuit, huh?"
 
   Jimmy squeezed Wynter as he sneered down at Kenny and
said, "We tried to tell you, but you wouldn't listen, would
you?  What a putz."
 
   Suzie threw a quick smile up at Jimmy before returning
her attention to her number one problem.  "Now," she said
sweetly, "you apologize to me for mentally undressing the
new girl in my presence and tell me that you love me, and I
won't scoop any more snow in your clothes.  Otherwise your
mother's gonna come out to see why you're screaming, and
you'll have to explain to her why you have your pants full
of snow and a frostbit pecker."  She smiled and scooped up a
large ball of snow to emphasize her point.
 
   Kenny tried without success to struggle free.  "You
putz," Jimmy said.  "Even if your guardian Angel were here,
he wouldn't help you now.  Oh!  I forgot!  Ron's no longer
your guardian Angel because you can take care of yourself
now.  Man, I wish I had a camera to show him that maybe he
was too quick to quit since you're getting beat up by a
GIRL."
 
   That made Kenny struggle harder.  Suzie reached for the
zipper of Kenny's jeans and brought the snowball closer.  
 
   "It's only fair to warn you," said Wynter, "that I
won't treat your frostbite for you 'cause I'm not a Future
Urologist."
 
   "You couldn't anyway," Jimmy snickered.  "When the cold
snow hits it, Stubby will go to minus inches.  I guess that
means no more writing your name in yellow snow, putz."
 
   Kenny stopped struggling and gaped at Jimmy.  "Who told
you about that?"
 
   Wynter giggled and shook her head.  She wondered if
Kenny would ever learn.  "You just did.  You've been
out-muscled and out-brained, Kenny.  Better quit while
you're behind."
 
   He did.  The others pulled him up and brushed off the
snow.  As they did, Wynter marveled at the way Suzie handled
Kenny's apparent interest in the new girl.  A few months
earlier she'd have found a flamethrower and used it without
warning instead of threatening him with a handful of snow. 
Wynter wondered if it were because Kenny had saved Suzie's
life--had saved all their lives--or if it were because Suzie
was growing up.  The change had been even more dramatic
since Suzie's twelfth birthday a month earlier.
 
   When Kenny was presentable, Suzie grabbed his lapels
and yanked him forward into a quick kiss.  Quick, yes, but
Wynter saw a flash of tongue.  Neither Suzie nor Kenny was
as reserved about showing affection in public as she and
Jimmy were.  "Now are you ready to answer my questions?"
 
   Kenny's face scrunched.  "What questions?"
 
   Suzie sighed and released one hand to point down the
street, where the father was carrying suitcases into the
house, followed by his empty-handed, still-shrieking wife. 
"Number two, is that what I sounded like when I cussed out
Judge Wilson?"
 
   Kenny looked.  His eyes started to glaze over, but he
returned to his senses in a flash.  Occasionally his large
intellect could overcome his larger collection of rampaging
hormones.  "Nah.  You were much louder.  And cuter.  And you
cussed more, too."
 
   Suzie grinned.  "Maybe I was more pissed off because he
was trying to blame you for his being a stupid parent and
causing the whole mess.  Okay, number one, should we invite
the new girl to Wynter's twelfth birthday party Monday,
along with another boy, of course, so she won't be alone?"
 
   Wynter squeezed Jimmy's waist when Kenny started to nod
and then gaped in horror at the last half of the question. 
Jimmy squeezed back with his arm around her shoulders.
 
   "Another... another boy?  NO!  I mean... well, that
would be a bad idea.  We don't know what she's like.  I
mean, what she likes.  I mean who she'd like.  Well, we...
we just don't know.  I mean, well, we should just invite
her.  Alone."
 
   Suzie's voice was mock-serious when she asked, "You
mean you think the new girl is a lesbian?"
 
   Wynter and Jimmy again exchanged squeezes when Kenny's
face changed from fantasizing the new girl in a sexual
embrace with another girl to realization of what that would
mean for his chances with her.
 
   "NO!  I just meant, well, we don't know anything about
her."
 
   "Well, putz," Jimmy said, "that's why we should go
welcome them to the neighborhood.  You should go along since
it's actually your neighborhood, but you can stay here if
you want."
 
   "Stay?  NO!"  Kenny glanced at Suzie and licked his dry
lips.  "I mean, well, we should all go. A welcoming
committee.  You know."
 
   Wynter nodded.  She knew, all right.  She knew exactly
what was in Kenny's head, and so did the others.  "That's a
relief," she said.  "We might need you to be our guardian
Angel if the mom suddenly turns on us."
 
   Kenny's arm snaked around Suzie.  "If she wants to have
a screaming contest, we're better off with Suzie on our
side."
 
   Suzie rewarded him with her tongue down his throat.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   Somebody had already cleared the sidewalks and driveway
of snow, and the movers were carrying boxes and furniture up
the sidewalk from the van.  Wynter thought the movers looked
almost as sad as the new girl.  She guessed it must be
because the mother had yelled at them.  The Four bid them
all a polite good morning, and that seemed to cheer them up. 
Wynter noticed the license plates and Boston Hospital
sticker on the Mercedes SUV and asked one of the movers if
they'd come all the way from Massachusetts.
 
   He shook his head.  "The driver and his assistant are
from Denver.  The rest of us work out of the office here." 
He picked up a box and started to turn toward the door.
 
   And froze.  He looked at her closely and then at the
others.  "You're Wynter King, aren't you?  And Kenny Taylor. 
And... you're those kids from the Hargus Mine rescue!"
 
   When they smiled and acknowledged it, the mover, a
young Hispanic man who introduced himself as Chris, called
to the others.  "Look who's here!  We got celebrities come
to call!"
 
   Wynter understood that this was a new situation for the
movers, so she didn't mind answering their questions.  Jimmy
also understood it, but he was beginning to tire of having
to answer the same questions for the millionth time.  Kenny,
as usual, embellished the story a little more, while Suzie
still enjoyed the thrill of being the center of attention. 
Things were cut short when the woman began yelling from the
front porch. "I'm not paying a collection of lazy peasants
and illegal immigrants to stand idly about and talk to
children!  Get my things in this house NOW, and you can rest
assured that I'll be reporting this to your superiors!"
 
   The Four excused themselves and moved in pairs up the
sidewalk to the woman.  She was short, only a little over
five feet tall.  She wore a fur hat.  Wynter just knew the
hat alone cost more than The Four's entire wardrobe, and the
rest of the woman's clothing was equally expensive,
including the fine leather gloves that covered her hands
like deeply tanned epidermis.  Her face said she was related
to the sad-faced little girl, but whatever beauty had once
been in the hollow-cheeked face had been destroyed,
apparently by sipping vinegar and sniffing foul odors for
most of her life.
 
   Wynter noticed that the woman's left hand held a short,
wide crystal tumbler of amber liquid.  She caught a whiff of
its smell.  Perhaps it wasn't vinegar that had destroyed the
woman's looks.
 
   "We apologize for interrupting the movers, ma'am,"
Jimmy said.  "It's our fault and not theirs.  We were coming
to welcome you to town."
 
   The woman looked down her nose.  She seemed to Wynter
to have had a whole lot of practice looking down it.  The
other shook a scolding finger at Jimmy.  "First of all,
young man, that is not the proper manner to conduct a social
call.  Secondly, your parents should be the ones calling,
not you.  But if they have taught you no better manners than
those you have displayed, I suspect they are woefully
ignorant of proper social behavior anyway.  Civilization
truly ends at the East River, and the rest of the country is
overrun with barbarians."
 
   The Four looked at each other.  Kenny was frowning, and
Suzie was slowly turning red.  Jimmy smiled and tried again. 
"We are only trying to be polite, ma'am.  The license plates
and hospital sticker on your car told us you were from out
of town.  We wanted to welcome you and your husband and
daughter and see if we could do anything to help you move
in."
 
   "You can get out of the way while these lazy bourgeois
laborers move my furnishings into this rat-infested hovel." 
She waved them aside while the movers carried in dining room
furniture.  "If you think you can worm your way into my
house to pilfer, you're sadly mistaken, young man."  She
sneered at Suzie's worn coat.  Wynter glanced sideways and
saw Suzie's lips tighten and her eyebrows pull together, the
red of her face growing darker.  "Clearly your parents can't
afford decent clothing for you children.  I suspect none
have respectable positions or professions.  No doubt they
loiter at intersections and beg for handouts."
 
   Suzie stamped her right foot.  "SHUT...!"
 
   Kenny's hand had begun moving when Suzie lifted her
foot.  He clapped it over her mouth.
 
   "Well, well!  Visitors already!" said a man's pleasant
voice from inside the house.  He stepped out the door and
around his wife, blocking her from Suzie's seething glare. 
Where the woman's face seemed to be stuck in perpetual
disdain, a word Wynter had recently learned and enjoyed
using, the man's face seemed to be forever stuck in an
impish little-boy grin.  He had Doctor Taylor's curly hair,
but the same red color as Jimmy's.  He was trim, but not as
athletically built as Wynter's father.
 
   "Mitchell," the woman snapped, "I'm handling this."
 
   "And not very well, either.  These young people have
shown far better breeding and greater politeness than you
have, Millie."
 
   He dragged out the name slightly, and the woman
bristled, baring her teeth.
 
   "And you don't even know who they are, do you?  They
don't know who you are, either, but that hasn't stopped them
from being polite.  Well, this one is Kevin Taylor's son."
 
   Wynter gasped, then decided that the man probably knew
them from the television coverage of the mine incident. 
That changed when he said, "So, if you want to continue
antagonizing my boss' son, you go right ahead."
 
   He turned to look at The Four again.  "Hello.  I'm
Doctor Mitchell Brees.  This is my wife Gwendolyn."  He
looked at his wife and extended a hand to indicate each of
The Four as he said.  "And these are Kenny Taylor, Suzie
Middleton, Jimmy McCauley, and of course, Wynter King,
Future MD.  If you'd bother to read the national news rather
than trying to get your name on the society pages, you'd
know that Wynter and Jimmy were the ones trapped in the
ghost town mine when they were kidnapped last summer, along
with Suzie here, by a pair of murdering delinquents.  Kenny
attempted to rescue them. Suzie escaped, but Wynter and
Jimmy were trapped when the thugs died after they collapsed
the ceiling.  Suzie is the lovely heroine who went for help
because Kenny was trapped by some of the rubble."
 
   He smiled at The Four.  "Did I miss anything
important?"
 
   Kenny jumped at the opening.  "You didn't introduce
your daughter."
 
   "She's restricted to her room, young man," Mrs. Brees
snapped.
 
   Suzie nodded in sympathy.  She'd spent a lot of her
time grounded until she and Kenny took a mutual interest in
each other.
 
   Wynter was puzzled.  "The news reports said I was a
Future MD?"  She didn't know that.
 
   Doctor Brees laughed.  It was an impish, little-boy
laugh that precisely matched his grin.  "No.  I had dinner
with the Taylors the night Kenny had his birthday party with
Jimmy's.  Doctor Taylor told me a lot about you.  I think he
said fifty words about you for every one he said about
Kenny."
 
   Wynter was too stunned to speak.
 
   "Just what did he say about me?" Kenny asked, sounding
a little bit peeved to Wynter.
 
   Doctor Brees gave him that impish grin.  "He said that
I'd best lock up my daughter anytime you were around."
 
   Wynter, Suzie, and Jimmy laughed.  Kenny, instead of
becoming steamed, said, "Well, maybe you should let her meet
us for just a minute.  We'll be glad to, uuuuh, answer any
questions she might have about school and tell her what to
expect."
 
   Mrs. Brees snorted in a very disdainful manner.  "Do
you think for one moment that I would allow my daughter to
attend a public school, or even a local parochial school? 
She will be returning to Boston and attending a proper
school where she will learn to become a lady."
 
   Suzie snorted.  "Like YOU?"  Suzie made the pronoun
sound like a swear word.
 
   Wynter saw Kenny stare at Suzie in horror.  She started
to say something to Suzie, but Jimmy tugged with the arm
around her waist.  She knew it was a warning to say nothing. 
She was never sure how she knew what Jimmy was thinking, but
any time he gave her some kind of signal, she always knew
what he meant, as if they shared the same brain, though she
didn't always know why.
 
   Mrs. Brees glared at Suzie.  "Naturally.  I certainly
do not wish for her to grow up to be socially retarded like
you, little girl."
 
   Kenny's hand shot across Suzie's mouth again.  Doctor
Brees turned to his wife and spoke in an even voice.  "I
believe that's enough from you, Millie.  Go supervise the
movers.  Maybe they're stealing the gold brocade from the
seatbacks of the dining room chairs while you're out here."
 
   The woman's face went from irate to horrified, and she
scurried back inside.
 
   Doctor Brees held out a hand to Suzie.  "I sincerely
apologize for her behavior.  I don't blame you for becoming
upset.  That's what she wanted, you know.  Are we friends?"
 
   Kenny lowered his arm when she nodded and raised her
hand.  Doctor Brees took her hand and squeezed it gently. 
"Good," he said.  "I'd hate to have a charming and beautiful
redhead...."  He looked at the hair that had crept out
around her hood.  "A reddish-blondish head in the
neighborhood who was mad at me."
 
   Suzie beamed as if she'd won the state swimming
championship for her age group.  "Thank you," she said.  "I
don't like it when people judge me for being like my sister
when they don't even know me.  I don't judge you for being
like her."  Wynter noted the slight snarl in the last word.
 
   Doctor Brees gave her a polite nod and placed his other
hand around hers.  "Thank you, too.  I would be honored to
have you for a friend."  The words made Suzie's smile even
bigger.
 
   He refocused his attention on all of them.  "Just a
word of advice:  don't get mad when she does something like
that.  That's the best way to get back at her.  She wants to
upset you, and if she can't it frustrates her.  If you show
her that she's made you mad, then you've made her happy. 
It's not easy, but eventually she will give up because she
can't stand the frustration.  Understood?"
 
   The Four said they understood.  Kenny wasn't giving up
on one thing, though.  "What about your daughter?"
 
   Wynter saw Suzie's frown starting to form.  She glanced
at Jimmy, who was turning his eyes to hers.  He raised his
eyebrows and twisted his head slightly.  Jimmy also knew
Kenny was starting to push his luck with Suzie.  Kenny could
end up with his pants full of snow right there on the Brees
lawn.
 
   Doctor Brees chuckled.  "I see your dad was right about
you.  Look, Kenny, she's Gwendolyn's daughter, too, and she
did cross the line, so her mother was within her rights to
ground her, even though it was her mother's fault.  Cinnamon
knows not to let her mother get to her, but this time she
did and, well, what she said shouldn't be repeated to such
nice, polite company."  He again refocused on all of them. 
"I appreciate your welcome, and I look forward to seeing
more of you.  I need to get back to the chore of moving in. 
You know how much of a pain that can be."  The last was
directed at Wynter.
 
   "Yes, sir, I do," she said.  "If there's anything we
can do to help, let us know."
 
   He took her hand the way he'd taken Suzie's.  "Thank
you, Doctor King.  I sincerely appreciate that because I
know you mean it, and I'll let you know if I need you."  He
shook hands with Jimmy and Kenny and then all made their
farewells.
 
   As they made their way down the driveway, Wynter asked
Jimmy in a quiet voice, "Why did you stop me from saying
anything to Suzie?"
 
   "Do you want the truth or a story that sounds good?" he
asked with a grin.
 
   "You know I always want the truth from you," she said,
watching for slick spots on the concrete.
 
   "Uh huh.  Well, I, um, well....  Actually, I really
wanted to see what was going to happen next.  It was better
than anything on television."
 
   Wynter stopped and looked at him.  He looked like an
embarrassed old sheep.  "Remind me to kiss you later."
 
   Jimmy grinned and nodded in his special way.  It always
seemed to be the same grin-and-nod combination to everyone
else, but he used it to convey dozens of different messages,
and she never failed to understand each message's meaning.
 
   They were halfway to Kenny's house when a voice behind
them shouted, "Hey!"  They turned to see the redheaded girl
moving swiftly toward them, her round-cheeked face again
glowing with delight as she waved.
 
 
 
                           Two
 
   Wynter's hand found its way to its home on Jimmy's
back, the spot where the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae
joined, and rested there.  The move was as natural and
automatic to her as breathing.  She smiled at the
approaching red-haired girl, who was even shorter than
Kenny.
 
   "Hi," she said as she caught up with them.  "I'm
Cinnamon."
 
   "I'm Kenny," he blurted.  "We came to welcome you to
the neighborhood, but your mother wouldn't let us see you. 
We were going to, well, I mean, we wanted to welcome you. 
Um, I mean, welcome to the neighborhood.  We're really glad
to see you.  I mean, to meet you.  And... well, um,
welcome!"
 
   She gave him a bemused smile with one corner of her
mouth, scanned the eyes of the other three, and returned to
watching Kenny while he blathered on for almost another
half-minute.  He finally quit talking when Suzie cleared her
throat and tugged on his elbow.  Cinnamon's eyes shot to the
elbow, then to Suzie's eyes, then back to Kenny's.
 
   "Welcome!" he said again before shutting up.
 
   "Thank you," she said.  "Do you plan to introduce the
others, or should I ask them to come back when you've
finished welcoming me so that they can talk?"
 
   Wynter and Jimmy snorted laughs, and Suzie's reddening
face returned to its normal color.  She gave Kenny an unseen
smirk, unseen because his eyes never left Cinnamon's face,
and said, "Hi.  I'm Suzie."
 
   "I know," Cinnamon replied.  "I've been looking forward
to meeting you.  It's my honor."
 
   Suzie's surprised look quickly molded into a pleased,
self-satisfied, honest smile.
 
   "Hi," Jimmy said.  "This is Wynter and I'm Jimmy."
 
   "I know," she said again.  "I've heard about you."  Her
eyes shifted to Wynter's.  "And I've heard a LOT about you. 
Daddy's repeated everything Doctor Taylor said about you a
dozen times, and that's just since breakfast!"
 
   For the first time in ages, Wynter felt herself blush
as her head started to lower.  She forced it to stay
upright.  "Doctor Taylor sometimes exaggerates," she said,
feeling self-conscious.
 
   "No, he doesn't," Jimmy said to Cinnamon with a hard
shake of his head.  "She's everything Doctor Taylor says and
more."  Then he smiled.  "So, I guess your dad let you out?"
 
   "Nah," she said as her smile widened, pushing her
rounded cheeks out farther.  "I snuck out the back."
 
   "That's a good way to get in trouble," Suzie said.  It
was the voice of bountiful experience.
 
   Wynter thought the look Cinnamon gave Suzie was one of
patience.  "It's not exactly my first time, you know.  I've
been grounded until next week, and then the bitch thinks
she's going to send me to private school in Boston until
next spring.  And THIS is going to get me in trouble?"
 
   Wynter was shocked at what Cinnamon had called her mom,
though she really and truly thought it was an appropriate
term.
 
   "Yeah, I guess you're right," Suzie said.  "Sometimes
the consequentials don't matter."
 
   Cinnamon's smile faltered for an instant when Suzie
missed the term "consequences," but it returned as she said,
"Yeah.  I heard about you telling off that judge.  I sure
wish I'd been there to see it."
 
   "So do we," said Wynter.  "Everybody's given a
different version of it, and I'm sure that the real thing
was better than any of them.  Right, Kenny?"
 
   Kenny missed every word except his invitation to speak
again.  "So, do you want to come in for some hot chocolate? 
Dad's working this morning, and Mom's taken Charlie to see
Aunt Leah and Mrs. Holland's off today and we'd have the
house to ourselves."
 
   One of Suzie's arms slipped over Kenny's as the other
wrapped around his waist from behind.
 
   Cinnamon's eyes dropped to that.  She gave a bemused
smile that to Wynter seemed more appropriate for a much
older grown-up, and then she looked at Kenny again.  "Don't
you think you should invite the others, too?"
 
   "Huh?"  His body jerked as Suzie yanked sharply with
both arms.  "Oh.  Yeah!  I meant, um, well, all of us.  We'd
all have the house.  To ourselves I mean.  All of us."
 
   Cinnamon looked at Suzie and did a slow blink, shaking
her head once while her eyes were closed.  Once again
Suzie's red face faded, though she gave Kenny a sharp look. 
An unnoticed sharp look.
 
   Cinnamon scanned everyone, her eyes seeming to look
everywhere at once.  "It's okay with me if everyone else
wants to."
 
   They hung their coats in the entrance hall.  Kenny's
eyes bulged when Cinnamon peeled off her heavy coat to
reveal two shapely mounds under her dark cashmere sweater. 
Wynter's eyes dropped to her own chest and then moved to
Suzie's before she could stop them.  Poor Suzie.  She would
really have to fight for Kenny's attention now.  Kenny was,
first and foremost, a tit man, though with his raging
hormones, anything female was close enough for Kenny.
 
   Freed from her hood, Cinnamon's long red hair fell to
the top of her butt, which stood out in stark, rounded
contrast from Wynter's own slender bottom and even from
Suzie's more rounded one.  She glanced at Jimmy to see if he
was ogling Cinnamon the way Kenny was.
 
   He was looking directly at her.  "I love you," he
mouthed in silence.  And Wynter's anxiety disorder fled.
 
   The cocoa preparation wasn't aided by Kenny, who mostly
stood there looking open-mouthed at Cinnamon while he
mentally undressed her.  Fortunately the rest of The Four
knew where everything was kept.  Wynter retrieved a pan;
Jimmy the cocoa, sugar, and tiny marshmallows from an upper
shelf; and Suzie the milk, each moving to the assigned task
without a word or signal between them.  It was as if Suzie
had become part of the shared mind between Wynter and Jimmy. 
Jimmy fetched the cups, then poured the milk into the pan
while Suzie and Wynter measured sugar and cocoa into the
cups.  Cinnamon took a seat at the breakfast table since she
could be of no assistance.  The conversation centered around
the differences between the town and Boston and a comparison
of the typical winter weather.
 
   When everything else was completed, Wynter stood beside
Jimmy, arm around his waist again, while he slowly stirred
the milk to keep it from scorching.  Suzie moved to Kenny's
side and suggested they sit down.  The second time she
suggested it, assisted by a fingernail stabbing Kenny in the
lower back, Kenny did, in the chair next to Cinnamon's. 
Suzie, left standing, looked as if she were about to stamp
her right foot.
 
   "Don't you think you should hold the chair for Suzie?"
Cinnamon asked.
 
   "Huh?  Oh.  Yeah.  Sure.  If you say so."  He jumped up
and pulled out a chair for Suzie.
 
   A look passed between Suzie and Cinnamon.  To Wynter,
the look seemed to constitute a complex conversation.  Suzie
nodded politely at the other girl and then glared at Kenny
before sitting.  Kenny somehow found the sense to sit beside
Suzie, no doubt aided by her tug on his belt.
 
   "I'm really sorry that you won't be joining us at
school," Wynter said.
 
   "Oh, I will."
 
   Wynter frowned.  "But your mother said you'd be...."
 
   Cinnamon dismissed the idea with a flip of her hand. 
"That's what she thinks.  None of the schools she wants to
send me to will take me."  She looked at a small, obviously
expensive watch on her wrist.  "By now, I expect I can't be
accepted anywhere in Massachusetts of the surrounding
states."
 
   "Why?" asked Kenny.  Wynter was surprised that he was
paying attention. She guessed he hadn't had enough time to
settle back into his fantasies.
 
   Cinnamon laced her fingers atop the table.  "Oh," she
said, looking at the ceiling and smiling in the
"I've-got-a-secret" way that a lot of girls used, "I know a
few tricks.  You'd be surprised what you can do with a few
phone calls, letters, and e-mails."
 
   Jimmy laughed.  "You poisoned the well."
 
   "Uhn uh," she said. "I peed in the punch bowl."  She
flashed him that wide, round-cheeked smile and her narrowed
eyes sparkled.  "Much more effective."
 
   "Yeah," agreed Kenny.  His eyes told Wynter that he was
back in fantasy land and not listening to what Cinnamon was
saying.  He was vaguely aware that she'd made a statement
and was simply agreeing with her.  Cinnamon could have said,
"Kenny is a homosexual," and his response would have been
the same.
 
   Where did THAT thought come from?  She frowned and
glanced at Jimmy.  Her eyes widened.  She realized it was
what he had thought.  She didn't know how, but she knew that
it was exactly what he had thought--except that Jimmy had
used the yucky word "faggot."  She didn't need to ask for
confirmation, any more than she needed confirmation that the
sun had risen in the east that morning.
 
   "You'll like the school here" said Wynter.  "I was
afraid I wouldn't because we used to live in the mountains
and I've been home-schooled until this year.  But it's
really neat!  Most of the teachers are really nice.  A
couple of them are kinda yucky, but some, like Mr. Shelby
the science teacher, are more like friends than teachers."
 
   "Especially Mr. Shelby," Jimmy added.  "He's like a
slightly taller Kenny who never grew up."
 
   "Yeah.  Even I like him," Suzie said.  "And I don't
like school all that much."
 
   Cinnamon sighed.  "Good," she said.  "I was hoping
they'd be real people.  The schools that the bitch wants me
to go to are full of mindless psychobabbling fuckheads who
wouldn't know the real world if somebody forced them to get
out in it."
 
   Wynter and Jimmy both started at the words.  Wynter
watched Cinnamon's eyes flick to Suzie, who said, "Yeah.  I
know the type.  We have a few of them in this town, too. 
Dad has to work with a couple of them at the bank."
 
   "Your dad's a banker?"
 
   "Well, sorta.  He's, um, just a teller."
 
   Cinnamon gave Suzie a dark frown.  She spoke with a
seemingly dangerous edge in her voice.  "Does he do a
necessary job?  Does he love you?  Does he care about you? 
Does he make sure you have what you need?  Yeah?  Then he's
not 'just a teller.'  He's important to the people of the
town and very important to you, and you'd better not forget
that."
 
   Wynter watched the shocked expression on Suzie's face
turn to a puzzled look and then one of contemplative
thought, as Daddy called it.  She looked at Jimmy.  He gave
her his special grin-and-nod in confirmation of her
thoughts.  Suzie's opinion of her father had just been
changed for the better by the girl her boyfriend had a bad
case of the hots for.
 
   "What about your mother?" Cinnamon asked.
 
   "Oh, she's just... I mean, she's a housewife."
 
   "That's nice.  It's important, too.  Anybody else in
the family?"
 
   "Just Caroline," Suzie said quietly, lost in thought. 
"She's sixteen and is the town slut."
 
   "She what?"
 
   Suzie refocused on the other redhead.  "I mean, well,
she's got a reputation and sorta lives up to it.  Or down to
it.  But she's been real nice to me lately.  She's helped me
with Kenny and everything."
 
   Cinnamon clearly didn't understand all of that, but she
didn't choose to pursue it.  "How 'bout you?" she asked
Jimmy.
 
   "Dad's a state supervisor with the county road
department.  Mom's a housewife, too.  It's just me.  They
decided not to have any other kids for some reason.  They've
never said why."
 
   "Then they spoil you?"
 
   Jimmy grinned and nodded.  "Yeah.  But they don't let
me get swell-headed about it, or anything like that."
 
   Cinnamon giggled and said, "Good," and then looked at
Wynter.
 
   "My dad's a geological engineer, working for his own
company.  He's the president, staff, and janitor, he says,
because he's the only employee, though he subtonc..."
_Drat!_  She hated stumbling over words, and now she'd just
done so to the new girl.  Cinnamon would probably think she
was dumb because of that.  "He sub-con-tracts a few others
for help.  He works out of the house.  He had a bad accident
after I was born--Daddy's always having SOME kind of
accident--that gave him a vasectomy and now he can't have
any more children.  Mother's with a big software firm in
Denver, but she gets to telecommute about three or four days
every week, so it's always been like she's a housewife, too. 
She's almost always been there when I've needed her."
 
   Cinnamon nodded, a sad look creeping into her eyes. 
"Must be nice," she said.  Her voice sounded rather wistful.
 
   "Your mother doesn't seem to like you very much." 
Kenny had started paying attention again.
 
   Suzie rolled her eyes.  "Well, remind me to look
surprised next Tuesday.  We'd never have guessed that. 
Thanks for bringing it up, you dolt."
 
   "Huh?"
 
   Cinnamon gave Suzie a sad smile.  "It's okay."
 
   Jimmy switched off the burner.  He poured the milk into
the cups while Wynter stirred.
 
   The sadness crept into the new girl's voice.  "I'm used
to it by now.  I know she'll never love me, but that's okay. 
Daddy loves me enough for both of them."
 
   Suzie put her elbow on the table and rested her cheek
on her fist while her other hand stroked Kenny's back.  "I
get pissed off at Mom a lot for grounding me, but I know she
loves me.  I feel sad for you."
 
   "Why?" he asked.
 
   Suzie straightened.  "Why wouldn't I, you dolt?  What
if you mom didn't love you?"
 
   Kenny gave her a puzzled look until it soaked in.  "Oh. 
No, I was talking to Cinnamon.  Why doesn't your mom like
you?"
 
   "KENNY!" three voices said in unison.  One added a
sharp, "You DOLT!"  A second added, "You putz."
 
   Wynter's head jerked up from putting the cups on a
serving tray.  Jimmy had spoken in two different voices, a
higher one through the "p" sound and then a lower one.  He
seemed to have not noticed.  It was the first time she'd
ever heard his voice break.
 
   She looked around.  Cinnamon's eyes were on her.  They
shifted to Kenny, who was again looking at her with glazed
eyes and a partially-open mouth.  "She's a high society
bitch," Cinnamon replied.  "Old money Boston, as they say. 
Old money is supposed to marry doctors and lawyers and high
professionals.  She married Daddy thinking she could change
him to fit her mold."  She glanced at Suzie.  "It can't be
done, you know."  Her eyes moved among The Four as she
continued.  "She picked Daddy because he supposedly couldn't
knock her up.  Infertility.  She had one day open in October
on her social calendar, so she said that they would get
married then."
 
   She paused while Wynter and Jimmy passed out the cocoa
cups and then took a seat across the table from Cinnamon. 
"She let him in one time on their honeymoon.  Next July...." 
She shrugged her shoulders and lifted her palms upward. 
"Me.  She never forgave me for that 'mistake,' like it's my
fault.  She realized she was pregnant before he ever got
back in.  When that happened, she told him he was cut off
until after I was born as punishment.  He's never banged her
since."
 
   "No pussy?"
 
   "KENNY!" three voices again cried in unison.
 
   Cinnamon shook her head.  "No pussy."  She sipped her
cocoa, nodded at the taste, and smiled her appreciation at
the three who had prepared it.  Kenny seemed not to notice
that he'd been left out.  "HIS choice.  Her attitude got
worse after that.  Now the only pleasure she gets is making
everyone else as miserable as she is.  They don't want to be
married, and they can't do anything about it."
 
   "They're Catholics," Jimmy said.  Wynter noticed a tone
of sadness in his voice, one she herself felt.  She didn't
like the idea of anyone ever having to get divorced, but she
knew that sometimes it was the best solution for everyone.
 
   Cinnamon again shook her head.  "Very reasonable guess,
but no, that's not her real reason.  She insisted on a
prenuptial agreement.  At the last minute Daddy had his
lawyer get involved, too.  Good thing, because his lawyer
was unbiased and forced some changes Daddy really didn't
want at the time.  You know how it is:  men can't think when
they have a hardon."
 
   Suzie nodded agreement.  Wynter started to protest, but
then she remembered when she'd been trapped with Jimmy in
the mine.  He hadn't thought about birth control; but, to be
fair, and Wynter always tried to be fair, neither had she. 
When she saw Cinnamon looking deep behind her eyes, Wynter
nodded, too.  "But we don't do any better in a complex
emotional situation, either," she said.
 
   Cinnamon smiled slightly and nodded, as if Wynter had
just confirmed something unrelated to her words.
 
   "Mother's lawyer was a cousin.  Old money relies on
family.  'Distrustful of outsiders' is the way Daddy puts
it.  Well, the cousin graduated third from the bottom of his
law school class, fortunately for Daddy.  The way it's set
up, whoever leaves gives up all rights to me.  That's why
Daddy doesn't tell her to fuck off and move out himself. 
She won't leave because if she does, she has to give me up. 
She doesn't want ME, but she wants the prestige of having a
daughter she can talk about to her snooty, stuck-up friends
who have daughters that they're training to follow in their
ass-kissing, holier-than-thou, superior footsteps.  I'm just
another meaningless trophy for her, like some of her awards
that she bought.  Not directly, like at the department store
you understand, but she bought them just the same."
 
   Wynter leaned sideways against Jimmy, seeking comfort
in his warmth and solidity.  Her heart ached for what the
poor girl must put up with on a daily basis.  She just
couldn't comprehend what it must be like having a mother who
didn't love you and who wouldn't let you love her in return.
 
   "But here's the best part:  his lawyer snuck in a
provision that all money spent on me has to be her money, so
he spends it left and right.  Even these were bought with
her money."  She pulled her red hair aside to reveal two
small sparking stones in her pierced ears.  Wynter realized
with a jolt that they were real diamonds.  Suzie's
expression indicated that she had realized it, too. 
Cinnamon continued as if she hadn't noticed anything. 
"Sooner or later she'll have to leave, or she'll have to get
a job to pay my expenses.  She wouldn't do that in Boston
because her family would bail her out, so Daddy moved us
here.  And that also means she's cut off from the snobs and
society life she wants.  Or maybe needs.  All the more
incentive for her to leave."  She sipped her cocoa, smiled,
and made a yummy sound.
 
   "So...." Jimmy halted.  "Look, if I'm prying just say
so.  One of our rules is that it's okay to ask any question
you want as long as you're willing to accept 'I don't want
to answer that' as the answer, and nobody gets mad either
way.  Okay?"
 
   Her eyes sparkled like her diamonds, and her red bangs
bounced as she nodded.  "I like it.  That's a good rule."
 
   "Yeah.  It's one of Wynter's father's rules that we've
adopted.  So, that's how your dad ended up with Blue Spruce
Hospital?"
 
   "Unh uh," she said, taking another sip.  "Not exactly. 
He applied at both University Hospital and Swedish in
Denver.  Daddy likes to ski--well, so does the bitch in
theory, though she just sits around the ski lodge with her
inner circle, holding Court as Daddy calls it--so he looked
for something in Denver.  The bitch found out about it and
peed in the punch bowl.  She had help from some other family
bastards--and I mean that literally though neither they nor
their supposed fathers know that--who are doctors.  He
didn't realize it until he came out for interviews.  He
heard about the opening here, realized it would piss off the
bitch even more, and applied for it.  She didn't have time
to ruin things here because he didn't tell her until the
morning the furniture packers arrived."
 
   Wynter forced herself to close her mouth.
 
   "Then he made a better choice," Suzie said in a sunny
voice.  "Wizard Basin's a great place to ski, and he can get
a discount because he lives here and works at the hospital.
 
   It happened so fast that Wynter didn't remember
actually seeing the look in Cinnamon's eyes, but she knew
that the new girl had thought, _Discounts don't make a
difference with us_.  Unlike her yucky mother, though,
Cinnamon was far too polite to point that out.
 
   Kenny, oblivious to the cocoa cooling in front of him,
asked, "So why's your mother pissed off at you?"
 
   "KENNY!" This time four voices cried out, two of them
Jimmy's.
 
   Kenny jumped when Suzie jabbed his back with a
fingernail again.  He turned to glare at her.  "What?  Hey,
I just asked why she'd been grounded.  What's wrong with
that?  You sure got grounded often enough."  He turned
dreamy eyes to Cinnamon.  "Hey, you don't have to answer if
you don't want to.  We have Mister King's rule that you
can't answer any question I don't want and nobody cares. 
Okay?"
 
   Jimmy shook his head at that muddled last statement. 
"Holy... you putz!"
 
   Kenny glared at Jimmy.  "What?  Now what?  What did I
say?  Hey, it's your girlfriend's rule," he said, pointing
at Wynter.  "Why can't I use it, too?  You and Suzie do."
 
   Wynter rolled her eyes.  Suzie looked like she didn't
know whether to get mad at Kenny or feel sorry for him. 
Wynter knew to feel sorry for Suzie, though.  Jimmy closed
his eyes and shook his head again.
 
   Cinnamon pretended to not notice.  "She grounded me
because I let her get to me.  You shouldn't let Mother get
to you because then she's won, but I'd had enough of her
bullshit about me going back to Boston to school.  Over
thirty minutes of nonstop lecturing, so loud it was making
my ears hurt.  I had enough and told her that I'd go back to
that school only if she'd go along and gangfuck a boatload
of Irish immigrants first.  If you knew how my mother hates
the Irish, you'd understand what an insult that really was."
 
   Even Kenny was shocked into silence.  Suzie was the
first to find her voice.  "And I thought I got in trouble
for my language!"
 
   "So, now you know about me," Cinnamon said brightly, as
if she'd just announced that the snow had resumed.  "How are
the boys around here."  She eyed Kenny and Jimmy.  "Do you
girls ever loan these two out for stud service?"  Her eyes
danced between Wynter and Suzie.
 
   Kenny appeared ready to volunteer, but was stopped by
another jab in the back.
 
   "Sorry," Suzie said, "but they have inclusive
contracts."
 
   Cinnamon frowned for a second while she translated that
into what Suzie meant.  "Too bad," she said.  "By the way
you hang on to them, I guessed that they must be pretty good
in the sack."
 
   "We don't complain," Wynter said with a grin.  When
Jimmy looked sideways and frowned at her, she smiled at him
and squeezed his arm.
 
   "How about you two yourselves, then?  Boys don't know
how to eat pussy anyway."  Her eyes flicked among The Four.
 
   Jimmy straightened, and Wynter just knew that she felt
the tremor of his jaw dropping.
 
   "Yeah," Suzie said, stroking Kenny's arm, "but he's
getting better."  Kenny apparently failed to notice either
the stroke or the subject.  "You might try my sister,
though.  She'd probably say yes."
 
   "Jimmy does just fine for me," Wynter said.  She
noticed the deep red tint shooting across Jimmy's gawking
face.  He clearly thought she'd been replaced by some weird
clone.  Obviously he didn't understand what was really
happening any more than Kenny did.
 
   "That reminds me," she said to Cinnamon.  "My twelfth
birthday is Monday.  You're welcome to come to the party if
you want.  You don't have to bring a present or anything
because you don't know me yet.  I don't really care much
about presents anyway except from special friends."  Her
eyes danced among the other Three and returned to the little
redhead.  "I just like getting together for fun.  We always
have the same number of boys and girls for dancing and stuff
at our parties, but we don't match them into pairs ahead of
time.  If you want to come, I'll invite another boy, too."
 
   Cinnamon grinned and held up her hands, palms facing
each other about six inches apart.  "Make sure it's one hung
like this or better."  Her eyes flicked around the group.
 
   "Steve Bell," said Kenny in a quiet voice, still
goggling at Cinnamon with glazed eyes.
 
   "What?" Wynter asked, wondering if Kenny had suddenly
started listening again.
 
   "Steve Bell.  He's got the biggest dick in the school."
 
   "You dolt!"
 
   "You putz!"
 
   "What's his number?"
 
   Three pairs of astonished eyes and one pair of
calculating ones snapped to Wynter, who shrugged and said,
"Never mind.  Just e-mail it to me later."
 
   Cinnamon grinned and then frowned.  "Wait a minute. 
Monday?  That's the first day of winter?"
 
   "Uh huh.  It was the first day of winter when I was
born, too, which is how I got my name."
 
   Cinnamon's cheeks rounded more.  "It's a pretty name."
 
   "So's yours," Kenny said.  "It fits your hair."
 
   "Mother picked it when she couldn't have her first
choice.  She wanted to call me Wendy."
 
   Kenny sighed.  "That's a pretty name, too."
 
   Wynter was the first to make the connection.  "Oh no! 
Wendy Brees?"
 
   Cinnamon sipped more cocoa and nodded.  "The bitch
wanted to punish me right from the moment I slid down the
Freeway to Fun.  I think the reason she chose Cinnamon from
Daddy's list is that she thought my hair would change color. 
Most of people in her family are born with red hair that
turns dark brown by age four.  Daddy's side has different
shades of red hair that stays red.  Mother didn't know that
because Daddy's family is lower on the social register, and
thus is unworthy of her notice.  She never associated with
them, not even at her wedding reception.  So, she thought
I'd soon be a brunette with a name that didn't make sense."
 
   She pushed back her chair.  "I gotta go drain the
swamp," she said with a mischievous grin.  "Where's the best
place?"
 
   Kenny started to rise.  "I'll show you!  URK!"  He
slammed back into his chair as Suzie yanked down on his
collar.
 
   "Through there and on the left," Wynter said, pointing.
 
   "Thanks."  She gave Jimmy and Kenny a big grin, all
rounded cheeks and narrow, sparkling eyes.  "Could take a
minute or two.  I might want to buff the beaver while I
picture these two naked."
 
   Nobody said anything until they heard the click of the
bathroom door latch.  Jimmy turned to Wynter.  "I can't
believe what she said in front of you.  Or you," he added,
looking at Suzie.  He turned back to Wynter.  "Or what you
said to her!"
 
   Wynter gave Suzie the look she'd often seen Mother use
when discussing men.  "It's not easy being a woman, is it?"
 
   Suzie shook her head and sighed.  "Nope.  We don't have
peckers, so we have to work at teaching our brains to think
for us."  She gave Jimmy a penetrating stare.  "Cinnamon
sure was right.  You guys can't think with a stiffy, can
you?"
 
   Jimmy straightened.  "Just because your boyfriend's
sitting there with a boner doesn't mean that I am, too."
 
   Suzie raised an eyebrow to Wynter, who dropped one hand
into Jimmy's lap.
 
   "You won't believe this, but he's telling the truth."
 
   Jimmy looked stunned.  "Hey, I resent that.  You know
you're the only...."  Wynter's finger across his lips and a
soft, "Sssh!" silenced him.
 
   "Didn't you look at her eyes?" Suzie asked.
 
   "Yeah!"  Kenny replied in a dreamy voice as he gazed
into the past.  "They were the prettiest shade of green. 
They sort of turned different colors depending on the light,
like they couldn't decide whether they were green or brown,
and sometimes they had some blue in them, too."
 
   "He really does have one, doesn't he?" Wynter asked,
though it sounded more like a statement.
 
   "Oh, yeah." Suzie said.  "I'd check, but I already
know, and the dolt doesn't deserve the thrill of me
squeezing it."
 
   Kenny's dreaming face faded into one of puzzlement. 
"What?"
 
   "Yeah," said Jimmy.  "What are you two talking about?"
 
   Suzie sighed and looked at the ceiling with her most
exasperated face.  Wynter had to chuckle because nobody else
could do exasperated faces like Suzie.  "Couldn't You have
given them enough blood to operate both heads at once?" she
cried.
 
   Wynter turned to Jimmy.  "If you'd bothered being a
scientific observer instead of a horny male," she said, but
with a grin that softened her words, "you might have noticed
that every time she said something outrageous, she looked
directly at each of us.  She was checking our reactions."
 
   When both of their boyfriends frowned at them, Suzie
sighed again and said, "Haven't you ever noticed how Ron
always seems to observe every little thing that goes on, no
matter how insufficient it is?  His eyes move just like
that."  Ron Lopez was Kenny's former guardian Angel.  Ron
had an uncanny ability to piece together complex actions and
conclusions from faint, virtually non-existent cues that
everyone else missed.
 
   "You mean insignificant?" Kenny asked with a puzzled
frown.
 
   Suzie glared at him.  "WHATEVER!"
 
   "Her eyes were just like Ron's," Wynter continued. 
"She saw every little thing we did, what we saw, what we
felt.  She added them up and then came up with other things
to test her conclusions.  I think we just met Ron if he'd
been a girl.  If you aren't any better observing facts than
that, you two had better give up being a doctor and a
scientist and become government bureaucrats where you don't
have to think."  She exchanged knowing smirks with Suzie.
 
   Kenny and Jimmy, however, exchanged startled glances. 
"Okay," Jimmy said, drawing the word out in thought, "you
think her story was a, um, fabrication?"
 
   "No," said Suzie.  "She didn't lie.  She just chose
different words and ways to tell it to see what we'd do."
 
   "Oh!"  He shrugged.  "I didn't notice."
 
   "We know," Suzie said.  "I guess Kenny's not the only
putz, huh?"
 
   While Jimmy searched futilely for an answer, Kenny
picked up his cocoa and took a tentative sip.  "Hey!" he
said in an annoyed voice.  "Couldn't you have heated it up
before you served it?"
 
 
 
                          Three
 
   Wynter couldn't remove her coat until eighty pounds of
coal-black love and protection whimpered and danced about,
sniffing her and licking her face and beating a staccato
rhythm on the wall with his tail.  "I missed you, too,
Dragon," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck.  "Did
you keep Mother and Daddy safe while I was gone?"
 
   His whimper sounded almost like "Uh huh!"  _Maybe it
was_, she thought as she removed her heavy coat.  The
Labrador retriever seemed to be able to communicate with her
by telepathy, the same way Jimmy did.  She didn't always
know what Dragon was thinking, but he seemed to be aware of
her thoughts all the time.  When she was trapped in the mine
with Jimmy, it was Dragon who gave everyone hope.  Kenny was
the one who had told her parents that Dragon was showing by
his actions that he knew she was alive.  Her father soon
realized that he was showing that Jimmy was alive, too.
 
   She hung up her coat and began removing her boots.  She
had one off when her mother came up the three steps down to
the den.  Mother was carrying a basket with folded clothes
under one arm and more clothes on hangers in her other hand.
 
   "I was going to do the laundry," Wynter said feeling
guilty that her mother had taken on the chore for her.
 
   Angela King shrugged.  "I wasn't all that busy.  Your
father's taken complete control of decorating the basement
for your birthday party.  I couldn't do anything else right
after I helped clean up the mess the hot tub installers
left, so I decided to do the laundry."
 
   Wynter grinned at the slight irritation in her mother's
voice and slipped off her other boot.  "You know how Daddy
likes to do everything himself so that it's done 'right.'"
 
   "I know," her mother said with an exasperated sigh.  "I
guess all engineers are like that, but I think he inherited
his particular brand of perfectionism from you."
 
   Wynter giggled and reached for her slippers.  As she
was pulling them on, the worries returned.  "Um, may I help
you carry them upstairs?"
 
   She didn't look up in time to see the worried look flit
across her mother's face.  The wording and tone of voice
were enough to tell Angie that her daughter was chewing a
problem the way Dragon chewed a rawhide bone.  "Of course. 
When you get to be this old, you'll appreciate all the help
you can get, too."
 
   When Wynter's head jerked toward her, Angie saw a
vestige of the panic attacks that used to sweep over her
daughter whenever she thought someone was being critical of
her actions.  Wynter obviously thought that her mother was
complaining about having to do the laundry.  She gave a wide
smile to show that she was joking.
 
   Wynter took the basket, leaving the hangers for her
mother to carry up the stairs to the bedrooms.  She tried to
think of a way to voice her feelings.  When the last of the
clothing was put away, her mother turned to her.
 
   "You've been awfully quiet," Mother said.  "Is
something troubling you?"
 
   Wynter started to speak three or four times.  Finally
she asked, "Could you hold me for a minute?"
 
   Angie was used to hearing that directed to Richard most
of the time.  She knew from personal experience that Wynter
was nearing the age where mothers and daughters became, at
best, tolerant of each other.  She wondered if Wynter had
merely substituted her for Richard since he was in the
basement.  Even if that were the case, she welcomed the
opportunity to love and comfort her only daughter.  She sat
on the end of her bed and opened her arms.
 
   Wynter stepped into the circle, threw her arms around
her mother, and squeezed tightly.  Mother's warm embrace
soothed her troubled thoughts, but did not eliminate them. 
The tears followed.
 
   "Honey, what's wrong?  Did you and Jimmy have a fight?" 
It seemed the logical reason to Angie.
 
   "I met a new girl today," she said in a halting voice
as her tears washed the turmoil out into the open.  "She
moved into the empty house by Kenny.  We have to invite her
to the birthday party.  We HAVE to!"
 
   Angie started to protest that all the plans had been
made for twelve people, but something stopped her.  It was,
no doubt, the realization that this was too important to
Wynter.  "Why?"
 
    "Well, it's... I mean, I... she...."  Wynter took a
deep breath and let the words out in a rush.  "Her mother
doesn't love her and is mean to her and she's so sad about
that but she's happy when she's with Jimmy and Suzie and
Kenny and me and I don't want to see her sad like that and I
can't imagine what it would be like to not have a mother who
loves you and holds you and makes you feel better when
things are all wrong."  And then the tears began in earnest.
 
   Angie squeezed Wynter and rubbed gentle circles on her
back.  "I understand.  Your father will just have to change
the plans.  But isn't it awfully short notice to invite
another boy?"
 
   Wynter sniffed.  "Well, yeah, but I don't think Timmy
Gagnon would mind.  I'd have invited him anyway if he hadn't
said he was going to Houston.  I'd already invited Buzz Marx
when Timmy's trip got cancelled 'cause his uncle has to go
to Cape Canaveral next week."
 
   Angie kissed Wynter's neck.  "Why don't you call Timmy
right now and see if he can make it?"
 
   "Um, could you hold me a little longer?  Just another
minute?"
 
   Angie squeezed.  "Honey, I'll hold you for as long as
you want.  What's the new girl's name?"
 
   "Cinnamon."  She sniffed again. "Cinnamon Brees."
 
   "That's a pretty name."
 
   "So is she.  She's beautiful.  Kenny has a bad case of
the hots for her."
 
   Angie chuckled at hearing one of her favorite phrases
voiced by her daughter.  "You think Suzie has competition?"
 
   "Uh huh.  She definitely does."
 
   A cold chill washed through Angie as she realized the
implication.  "You think you have competition, too?"
 
   "Unh uh."  A little of the tension left Angie's body. 
"Jimmy didn't get an erection like Kenny did.  But she sure
captured his attention at first.  He missed the clues."
 
   "What clues?"
 
   "Oh.  Um, remember how Ron always observes the symptoms
of what's going on and diagnoses situations?"
 
   Angie tried to hold back another chuckle at Wynter's
voicing it in medical terms.  "She does that too?"
 
   "Uh huh."  She explained what had happened.
 
   Angie whistled softly.  "Remind me never to try and
hide secrets around her.  So, she's Ron's age?"  She
wondered why Wynter would ask another middle school boy to
the party if the girl was in high school.
 
   Wynter thought for a moment as she repositioned the
side of her face against the top of her mother's shoulder. 
"No.  But I don't know how old she is.  All she said was
that her birthday was in July.  She's even shorter than
Kenny, but she's better developed than Suzie and me."
 
   "Poor Suzie.  You're right; she does have competition,
then.  Maybe we should invite them over to welcome them."
 
   "I don't think Mrs. Brees would even bother to tell you
no.  Cinnamon said that we're beneath her mother's notice. 
She doubts her mom would even socialize with Mrs. Taylor
because she works."
 
   Angie nodded.  "One of those," she said in a soft, flat
voice.
 
   "Uh huh.  One of those.  But her dad's really nice! 
He's an OB/GYN.  He's kinda like Doctor Taylor.  Or more
like somewhere between Doctor Taylor and my science teacher,
Mister Shelby."  Wynter told her mother about the rest of
her morning.  "We didn't get to talk much because she had to
get back home and unpack her room."
 
   "Well," Angie said, "we'll invite all of them and tell
her dad that he's welcome to bring Cinnamon and leave his
wife at home if that's what she wants."
 
   "Okay."  She was quiet for a moment.  "I can't imagine
any mother picking a name for her daughter because she
thinks it will be an embarrassment when she's older.  Or
that one parent would have to love his child enough for both
parents."
 
   Angie rubbed Wynter's back and hugged her again.  "I
know, sweetheart.  But there are a lot of people like that
out in the world."
 
   A soft rap on the door frame brought both heads around. 
"Am I interrupting?" Richard asked.
 
   Before Angie could tell him that he certainly was,
Wynter said, "I just needed a reminder that Mother loved
me."  She asked him to sit on the edge of the bed and
related the story of her morning again while he, too, rubbed
circles on her back.  When she was finished, he gave her a
loving smile.
 
   "Honey, she's welcome to join your birthday party, even
if I have to expand the basement before Monday.  She's lucky
that she has you for a friend."
 
   Wynter pulled away from her mother long enough to give
her father one of the nose-and-lips kisses that had been a
special ritual for as long as Wynter could remember.  Then
she returned to her mother's embrace, pulled there by her
heartache.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   _Fuck!_
 
   Suzie stared at the stupid television without seeing
it.  She had no idea what was on.  In fact, she was barely
aware that it was on and was tuned to a program.  She was a
woman with a problem, and, as always, that problem was the
man she loved.
 
   If you didn't count childhood crushes, the first one
had been Chipper Jones, who went off and got himself killed
when his dad had a car accident that wiped out the whole
family.  Next there was Jimmy, who defected to Wynter as
soon as she moved to town.  She'd tried to take back Jimmy,
despite his shortcomings, eventually with the help of Kenny. 
Then she'd fallen for Kenny, even before the mine incident
but especially afterward.  He was the first one to sample
her treasures.  Okay, he was the only one, but that still
meant he was the first.  And now she couldn't get his mind
off that red-headed new girl with the bigger boobies.
 
   Suzie could say, "It's snowing again," and he'd say
something about Cinnamon.
 
   In fact, Suzie did say, "It's snowing again," and he'd
said, "I wonder if their house is warm enough for her 'cause
the movers have the doors open."
 
   She thought she could turn Kenny's head back to her
right up until the new girl removed her coat.  As soon as
Suzie had seen how the new girl's sweater bulged, she knew
she had a problem.  And the new girl, no doubt, didn't have
a stupid birthmark on her right boobie.  She'd said stuff
about doing Jimmy and Kenny, but Suzie knew, just as Wynter
did, that it was a test to see how they'd react.
 
   Only Kenny was sitting there with a stupid stiffy and
had heard only what he'd wanted to hear.
 
   She'd wanted to blame the new girl, but she couldn't. 
She'd begun losing Kenny when the girl's car passed Kenny's
house.  Her problem wasn't Cinnamon, the way it had been
Wynter taking Jimmy away.  This time the stupid problem was
one hundred percent with Her Man.
 
   "Fuck!"
 
   "What, dear?" her mother called from the kitchen.
 
   She hadn't realized she spoken aloud.  Now, wasn't that
just the stupidest thing she could do?  Get caught swearing
and get grounded again, leaving Kenny free to sniff after
the new girl's butt like a lovesick hound?  She may have
gotten away with calling Judge Wilson a "stupid fucking
shithead" after Kenny had been rescued from the mine, but
what she'd just said at home would get her grounded for at
least a week.  "Nothing!" she said.
 
   Maybe she could talk to her sister about this.  She and
Caroline had always been at odds until the day she caught
her sister doing Kenny.  Since then Caroline had changed,
had helped Suzie.  Caroline the Town Slut became Caroline
the Big Sister.  If anyone knew what to do about men, her
big sister did.  Sometimes there were advantages to being a
slut.
 
   Suzie had a special knock that told Caroline it was
just her.  She used it.  Sometimes Caroline had things out
that she didn't want their mother to see and had to put them
away first.
 
   "Come in, Twerp."
 
   Caroline used to call her a twerp as a put-down, but
now it was a term of affection.  Suzie thought it showed how
the bridge between them had been gapped.  She didn't know
what the heck that meant, but there were so many stupid old
sayings she didn't understand that she never worried about
it.  She just used them whenever the situation called for
it.
 
   Caroline was wearing a towel and the gold chain
necklace that Ray Simons had given her.  Suzie was the only
one in the family who had the sense to realize that wearing
the necklace meant Caroline was planning to do Ray.  She
shook her head, wondering whether other town sluts had as
little taste in men, and plunked down onto the corner of the
bed.  She put her elbows on her knees and supported her
head, along with the weight of the world on her shoulders,
with her hands.  Caroline looked at her through her dresser
mirror, which she was using to help her add about three
times as much eye shadow as she needed.
 
   "Problems, Twerp?"
 
   "Are all men stupid jerks, or just the ones I want?"
 
   Caroline paused in reaching for the eyeliner and
regarded her for a moment.  "There's not a woman alive who
hasn't asked that question, you know.  I guess that means
they all are."
 
   Suzie thought about that.  "Is that why you keep doing
Ray?  And some of the others?"
 
   She couldn't read the meaning of Caroline's weird
smirk.  "Yeah," Caroline said as she began applying a
too-wide streak of liner.  "That and most of the shitheads
give me nice presents.  What's Kenny done now?"
 
   Suzie sighed and told her sister about the morning's
events.  She stared at a spot on the floor while she was
talking, not looking toward Caroline until she finished.
 
   Caroline was staring at her with that weird smirk
again.  She put down the eyeliner and turned around on the
seat.  The smirk remained while she opened the towel and
reached for some perfume.  Caroline put a finger-dab behind
each ear and then spread her legs to put another on the
inside top of each thigh, right below where the faint hint
of stubble said that she hadn't shaved her cunny lips during
this shower.
 
   Caroline had shaved the auburn curls on the front to
form a narrow arrow pointing at the top of her slit.  Suzie
didn't bother asking why.  She could guess:  Ray was so
stupid he needed the help to find her sister's cunny in
broad daylight.  She thought it was weird to look at her
sister's cunny displayed like that, but she and Caroline had
seen each other doing Kenny before.  She guessed that seeing
Caroline's cunny without a boner in it wasn't all that
different from seeing when it was occupied.  Still....
 
   Caroline stood up, ending the display, and spoke,
ending Suzie's pondering.  "I guess he's finally done it." 
She dropped the towel on the bench and reached for her bra. 
Like Suzie, Caroline didn't really need one, even if she was
sixteen.  The only big boobies in their family was an aunt
by marriage.
 
   "Done what?"
 
   "Look, Kenny, well he...."  She seemed to be searching
for the words while she slipped into her bra and fastened
it.  "I dunno how to tell you this.  Kenny paid me to fuck
him that day, and then he paid me another twenty to talk you
into letting him fuck you, too.  He was pissed off because
you were trying to break up Jimmy and Wynter.  He said he
was going to fuck you for trying to fuck with them, and then
he would dump you like you deserved.  I thought he'd
forgotten about that."
 
   Caroline stuck a panty liner inside a pair of
French-cuts that were narrower across the bottom than the
pad.  She pulled them on while Suzie grew redder and redder. 
As she reached for her jeans, Suzie jumped up and stamped
her right foot on the floor, hard enough to rattle some of
the trinkets on the nightstand.
 
   "FUCK!"
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   Caroline heard the front door slam as she reached for
her watch.  She checked the time.  Still a half-hour before
Ray was supposed to pick her up, though he'd probably be
early.  She'd been on the rag until that morning, and Ray
would be extra horny.  Even though she knew he'd banged her
best friend, Annie MacReady, twice while she had been
"indisposed."
 
   She plopped down on the corner of her bed, her
shoulders sagging.  She knew Ray would come back to her, the
same way that Kenny would come back to the Twerp.  But she'd
conveniently forgotten to mention that Kenny's curiosity
would eventually fade and he'd be back.  She "forgot"
because he and the Twerp had a relationship.  For a couple
of seconds she felt guilty.  But only a couple of seconds,
and then the buried anger revived.
 
   She was the older sister!  It wasn't fair that her
younger sister should have a relationship with somebody who
cared about her, while the best she could hope for was a
temporary relationship with somebody who cared about what
she could do FOR him.  One night stands were the best she
could hope for.  Usually it was half-hour stands or less. 
Sometimes much less.  Miguel Gonzales had shot his wad all
over her cunt the instant his dick touched it.  Didn't even
get it inside, and then that date was over.  Elapsed time
from when he picked her up to take her to his apartment
until he told her goodbye was seven minutes, eight minutes
tops.
 
   Sure, Kenny wanted sex all the time, but he was there
even when Suzie couldn't provide it.  But all she ever got
was, "Hey, Caroline, how about twenty for a quickie?"  "Hey,
Caroline, I'll buy lunch for a little head."  "Hey,
Caroline, since you're riding the cotton saddle, how about a
handjob for five?"
 
   It wasn't fair.  Suzie shouldn't have a stable
relationship until after she had her own.
 
   Dammit, it wasn't FAIR!
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   Suzie slammed her right foot down on the door sill. 
"YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
 
   Kenny recoiled in surprise and in fear.  He'd seen
Suzie coming through the snow at a fast walk and thought
maybe she was coming over for a little "action."  He had
waited for her at the door, hoping he could sneak her
upstairs again.  His mom and Charlie were in the den, having
just returned from Aunt Leah's.  "What?"
 
   "Caroline told me that after you paid her twenty
dollars to fuck her, you paid her another twenty to be nice
to me and tell me to be nice to you, and that you told her
that you were gonna fuck me and then fuck over me and dump
me and NOW YOU'RE DOING IT!"
 
   Kenny was stunned.  He'd almost forgotten about that
plan.  "Suzie..."
 
   Suzie's foot slammed down again.  "She's prettier'n me
and has bigger boobies and a better butt and so you've
dumped me for her, even though you said you loved me and I
love you, just because you wanted to get even with me for
trying to take that dolt Jimmy back from Little Miss
Perfection!  You're a fucking hateful JERK, you stupid dolt! 
I thought you loved me and I did everything I could to make
you happy and all you wanted was to do me for your own
pleasure and hurt me, and goddamn it, you DID!"
 
   She burst into tears and fled down the steps, hurrying
toward the street.  Halfway down the sidewalk she slipped
and almost fell.  "FUCK!" she screamed and kept going.
 
   Kenny was stunned.  He pulled the storm door shut and
closed the front door as well as his eyes.  He'd forgotten
all about his plan after the mine incident.  All he'd cared
about after that was Suzie, not revenge.  Why had Caroline
told her?  He turned around and leaned back against the door
for a few deep breaths, then straightened and opened his
eyes.
 
   He was looking at a green sweater and a plaid wool
skirt standing two feet in front of him.
 
   "Kenneth, I think we need to have a mother-son talk."
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   The bedroom door opened and a shadowy figure slipped
inside.  The door closed.  Enough light entered through the
window to allow the figure to see the bed and the path to
the right side of it.  As the shadow reached the bedside the
covers flipped back, revealing the small, pale figure atop
the patterned blue sheet.  The half-spheres of her breasts
defied the pull of gravity.  The wisps of hair framing her
slit looked black in the moonlight instead of cinnamon red.
 
   "I was beginning to wonder if you would show up," she
said in a low voice.
 
   He slipped in next to her and pulled up the covers,
protection from the light chill permeating the room.  "I'm
sorry, honey, but your mother was so worked up that a fifth
of Scotch wasn't enough to make her pass out immediately. 
She's snoring, so she's out for the night."
 
   She rolled on her side and threw an arm around his
neck.  She kissed him with passion.  They hadn't been able
to sleep together on the drive from Boston because they'd
always shared one bedroom.  They couldn't take the chance
that the bitch would sober up enough to awaken, giving her
the excuse to leave and take her unwanted daughter with her. 
They broke the kiss, and she whispered, "I love you, Daddy."
 
   "I love you, too, Pookie."
 
   Cinnamon giggled.  It had been forever since he'd
called her by that nickname, and she'd missed it.  It was
because, as she well knew, he was distracted by the
situation with the bitch.  Distracted to the point that it
was wearing him down.  She needed him that night, but she
knew in her heart that he needed her even more, and that was
the real reason she wanted him to spend this night in her
bed.  If they had sex, then she'd be thrilled.  If they
didn't, well, there was always tomorrow night.  The most
important thing to her, in fact the only important thing to
her, was that Daddy would finally get a break from the
week's neverending burden of putting up with the bitch.
 
   They lay there for a long moment, faces vaguely
recognizable in the dark.  She stroked one small hand down
his chest.  He ran a hand down her silky-smooth back in a
loving caress, halting when it fully cupped one firm,
rounded butt cheek.  He kneaded the familiar flesh with his
fingers, stirring and tugging the surrounding flesh and
causing a thrill to flash through her goodie box.
 
   _Goodie box_.  Why had she suddenly remembered that old
term?  Maybe because he'd used the old nickname.  _Goodie
box_.  _Pookie_.  They evoked memories of happier times,
back when the bitch was just an annoyance instead of a
crushing weight that threatened to destroy her father.
 
   "So tell me, how did you like the neighbors?" he asked
in a quiet voice.
 
   "They're cool!" she said in an excited whisper.  She
hoped the enthusiasm would help cheer him up.  "I didn't
have enough time to learn a lot, but I learned plenty. 
Wynter's everything you said he'd told you.  She's really
smart.  She knew what I was doing almost from the beginning. 
She may have gotten embarrassed easily when she lived in the
mountains, but not now.  Maybe having a sex life helped
change that."
 
   "Like it helped you?"
 
   She ran a finger down the bridge of his nose and tapped
it.  "Maybe.  She's really stuck on Jimmy.  They're so
comfortable with each other that you'd think they were
already married."  She bit her lip and cursed herself.  Here
she was trying to get his mind off the bitch, and she'd
mentioned what a real marriage should be like.  She changed
the subject.  "She tends to describe things in medical
terms, just like you heard.  Not always, but when she's at a
loss for how to say something, she uses doctor-speak."
 
   He chuckled at the term, causing Cinnamon's sympathetic
heartache to ease a little.
 
   "Jimmy's smart, too.  But he got too distracted by me. 
I don't think he'd have kissed me if I'd taken him to
another room and begged him to, but he enjoyed the floor
show."
 
   "He'd really be distracted if he could see you now."
 
   "I don't think so.  He got an eyeful, but only once,
when I took off my coat, like he was seeing if I had all the
right parts in the right numbers, and then after he'd taken
inventory he didn't look again.  He just stared at my face. 
I doubt he ever got a boner."
 
   "I'll bet Kenny did," he said, continuing to knead her
bottom.
 
   "I think he got it on the sidewalk, and I don't think
it ever went down.  If Suzie didn't take care of it after I
left, then he spent the rest of the day with a tub of K-Y
and a case of kleenexes.  He might have anyway."
 
   He chuckled at that image and stroked the hand down her
leg to her knee.  She lifted it in case he wanted to take
the inside route on its return.  He did, but reversed back
to her knee just as he reached her goodie box.
 
   "So I'd better keep him away from you, just like Kevin
said."
 
   "Unh uh.  I can take care of him.  I don't care if he
did cut that guy's fingers off and collapse the mine on him,
Kenny's a pushover.  I could whip him with one titty tied
behind my back."
 
   His burst of laughter lit up her world.  It was
working.  She was pulling him back from the abyss.
 
   "But I don't want to do that because then I'd have to
fight Suzie.  She's got it bad for him.  And she's not
really as dumb as Doctor Taylor thinks.  She doesn't like
school and doesn't do all that great, but she has a lot of
sense when she wants to use it.  She saw what I was doing
almost as fast as Wynter did, maybe only a minute behind
her.  Her big problem is her emotions.  They take control
too fast, and when they do she stops thinking.  Maybe she
changed, maybe she's always been that way, but she's not
like he said."
 
   His hand slid up the inside of the lower thigh.  When
the forefinger bumped against her goodie box it halted and
began caressing across the leg instead of up-and-down it. 
As a result the forefinger stroked her slit and made her
goodie box juicy.
 
   "They'll make interesting patients," he said.
 
   She hated to interrupt his fantasy, but she had to say
it or he'd talk himself into believing the possibility. 
Discovering the truth then would be worse for him.  "You'll
never get Wynter to see you as long as Doctor Taylor is
practicing.  She worships him as much as I worship you. 
He's barely behind her father for second place in her heart,
and he's barely behind Jimmy."  Something about that thought
made her pause for a moment.  Then she mentally shrugged and
continued.
 
   "We didn't have a lot of time to talk, and there were
four of them to talk to, but I know that if you're lucky you
MIGHT get her mother to come to you.  But she and her father
won't see anyone but him."  She knew Wynter's mother
wouldn't do anything for his fantasies, but Suzie certainly
would.
 
   "Suzie might be a different story, depending on Kenny's
attitude.  She'll do whatever he says despite her
independent streak.  Most likely, Kenny would tell her to
see you because he wants to be a gynecologist, too, and he's
not above using her to get closer to you."
 
   Or to get closer to herself through her father, she
knew.  She might have to fight Suzie anyway, if Kenny wanted
to try that.  She didn't want to.  Suzie had a stubborn,
independent streak that was too much like her own, and she
really admired the girl for that.
 
   "Maybe I can offer him a subtle enough bribe," he mused
as his finger rubbed faster along the groove of her goodie
box.
 
   All he had to do now was work his way inward.  Just
stop his hand and wiggle the finger until it worked its way
through her sparse groove liner, worked her open, worked its
way into her wet depth.  _Yes!_  His hand was slowing,
slowing, stopped.  His finger was in the right position. 
She willed it to work its way into her.  She concentrated
with all her might on the words, the thoughts, the feeling: 
_Put it in me_.
 
   The hand stroked down her thigh.  Another hand ripped
her heart out, and she silently began counting down the
seconds from fourteen.
 
   But he was worse tonight than usual.  He sniffed at
"four," and she knew the tears were already flowing to her
pillow.  They had thought her mother would stay in Boston. 
It really seemed as if she would.  Then, a half-hour before
they'd planned to leave, the bitch had changed her mind,
somewhere around the midway point of a bottle of breakfast
Scotch.  The bitch had yelped and whined and barked non-stop
for two-thirds of the way across the United States.
 
   She slid up higher on the pillow and pulled his head
between the soft, loving mounds of her breasts.  She brushed
her hand down the back of his head, smoothing his hair and
cooing soothing words for over a minute, until, as last, she
could no longer hold back her own tears.
 
 
 
                           Four
 
   Kenny almost switched off the phone but caught himself
when he had another idea.  "Wait.  How about Caroline?  Is
she home?"
 
   "_Caroline?  No.  She's out with that Simons
character,_" Mrs. Middleton said.  The tone implied that
Mrs. Middleton's opinion of Ray wasn't any better than
Kenny's.  "_Kenny, what's wrong?  When I told her you wanted
to talk to her she said... well, she said something that she
knew would get her grounded.  Have you two had a fight?_"
 
   Kenny wouldn't exactly call it a fight.  It was
entirely a one-sided screaming fit.  But he couldn't tell
her that.  "No, ma'am.  We just sorta had a
misunderstanding.  It's all my fault, not hers, and that's
why she's upset, so don't ground her or anything.  It'll be
okay after she's calmed down, I think."  _I hope_.  After he
switched off Mom's cellular phone he crept out of his room
to return it to her bedroom.  He had borrowed it, since he
wasn't allowed to make calls from the house phone.
 
   Caroline might have been able to help if Kenny'd been
able to talk to her.  As it was, he'd just have to wait
until the next day.  He'd have to talk to her on the phone,
when he could get the chance to do so.  It wasn't likely
that Dad would let him off restriction for the weekend.  Or
give him back his internet privileges, either.  He was stuck
in the house with no entertainment until Wynter's birthday
party started.
 
   He slipped back into his room, closed the door, and
threw himself on his bed.  And reached for his zipper. 
There was one entertainment they couldn't take away from
him.  He thought about pulling the magazine out from under
the mattress, but decided he'd skip it and just dream up his
own fantasies.  Or relive some special moments.
 
   He thought of the first time he muff-dived Suzie.  He
thought of the time she blew him in the woods.  His hand
speeded up.  He thought about the first time he banged her
in her bedroom, and how good that felt, having her pussy all
hot and juicy around his tool.  He thought about how he
tried to butt-fuck her at Wynter's house after his birthday
party and she'd said it was too big.  That had caused them
to barge in on Wynter and Jimmy to demand a ruler, so that
he could see if it had grown.
 
   He thought of Wynter giving him a one-second flash of
her tits on the way out.  He tried not to think of the smirk
on Jimmy's face when that happened.
 
   He thought of Cinnamon removing her coat in his hallway
and the mental image he'd had of her wearing nothing under
the coat.
 
   He thought it was the hardest he'd ever cum in his
life.
 
   He eventually opened his eyes and let his hand sag to
his body.
 
   "SHIT!"
 
   He thought he'd better get up and change pants before
his dad got home.  And he thought that maybe he'd better put
the kleenex box closer to the bed, sort of as a reminder the
next time he was bored.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   Mom's latest inquisition began before she was fully in
the house.  The situation wasn't all that unusual.  But this
time the topic was.
 
   "Caroline, what's wrong with your sister?"
 
   Caroline blinked at her mother and closed the front
door behind her.  "Well, she's not that great in school and
she has that birthmark.  Let's see, her hair's almost as bad
as mine...."
 
   Her mother cut in.  "She won't talk to me and, well, I
won't say what she called Kenny.  She refused to talk to him
on the phone, so he asked for you instead.  Do you know
why?"
 
   "Maybe he doesn't trust grownups," she said as she
unbuttoned her coat.  "You know how they're always trying to
run your lives."
 
   Her mother decided to pass on reviving that argument,
which told Caroline that the situation was serious.  Or it
was serious in Mom's mind, which was often out of contact
with reality, a common affliction in parents as far as she
could tell.  "Well, she's still crying in her room.  She's
been at it for a couple of hours.  Would you see if you can
find out what's wrong?"
 
   She stared at her mother and then at her father, who
was looking at her as if he expected her to flap her arms
and fly around the room.  _God_, she thought, _I can't wait
to leave home_.
 
   "Whatever."  She put her coat on the hanger and went to
Suzie's room without another word.
 
   "GO AWAY!" Suzie yelled in response to her knock.  She
opened the door anyway.
 
   "Twerp, I gotta look like I tried or they're gonna be
all over both of us.  Okay?"
 
   Suzie made a long, rattling, liquid sniff from her
face-down position across her bed.  "Fine."
 
   "You want me to just sit over here for a few minutes?"
 
   "I don't care."  After Caroline made herself
comfortable, Suzie asked, "Why did he have to do that to me? 
I told him I loved him and I meant it!"  Sobs prevented any
further comments.
 
   "Men don't care about hurting you," she said.  "All
they want is a little fucky-sucky and then they're off to
the next thing on ESPN.  Kenny got what he wanted and then
that was it until he wanted some more.  They're all like
that."
 
   Especially that fucking Ray Simons, who pulled out and
went for a beer just as she was about to cum.  She worked
herself to an unsatisfactory climax with her fingers and
then went looking for him.  She found him sitting on the
couch, looking at the television schedule.  She'd stormed
out, not that Ray cared, and found Matthew Jenkins in his
apartment down the hall from Ray's.  She managed to get off
moments before he did.  She didn't even ask Matt for a gift
when he told her to leave because he had to get ready for a
date with his fiancee.  Charley Bell bought dinner and then
took her home for a tumble.  He wasn't hung as well as his
younger brother Steve, but he was a long-lasting heavy
shooter, and he rang her bell twice before he kicked her
out.
 
   She pulled her self out of her funk.  "Mom said Kenny
called.  I guess he got horny again."
 
   Suzie began crying harder.  Caroline couldn't hide a
self-satisfied smirk as she excused herself.
 
   "Well?  Did you find out what's wrong with Suzie?" her
dad asked as her mother fidgeted on the couch.
 
   _Sure.  Ask about Suzie.  Who gives a fuck about how I
feel right now?_  "She had some kind of fight with Kenny.  I
think he turned on her.  He probably didn't hit her, though. 
Or not very hard, anyway.  I'm gonna go clean up."
 
   She ignored their gasps and rapid, whispered discussion
and went to her room.  She wanted to get that cum-soaked
panty liner out of her crotch before it started itching. 
She heard Suzie crying as she reached for her door knob. 
She smiled and disappeared into her room.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   As Wynter sat on the living room love seat, one hand
absently scratching Dragon's ears, she desperately hoped
that Kenny and Suzie would make up when her birthday party
started in about an hour.  She didn't know why they'd had a
fight because neither one would tell her.  Neither one had
told Jimmy, either.  Well, that was only logical. Telling
either anything was the same as telling both because
everyone knew Wynter and Jimmy had no secrets from each
other.
 
   None except, of course, Wynter's secret about her
father.  Nobody else knew about that except her parents and
Nurse Carter.  And Dragon, if you didn't want to unfairly
exclude non-humans.  Wynter had to become her father's nurse
during a freak snow storm back in the spring, when they
still lived at the mountain home where she'd been born, back
when she was a Future Nurse instead of a Future MD.  Mother
was in Europe and an avalanche had trapped Nurse Carter in
town while she was getting Daddy more medications.  Daddy
was stuck in bed with both arms and a leg in casts thanks to
his latest wreck.
 
   He had gotten an erection after he'd used the urinal. 
One question led to another, because her father always
answered her questions and always told her the truth, and
soon she discovered that he'd received an inadvertent
vasectomy during an earlier accident.  In fact, he'd almost
been castrated.  As a result, semen buildup caused him pain,
and he wasn't able to relieve it because Mother was gone. 
By the time Nurse Carter had been able to return, Wynter had
learned all about handjobs and oral sex and the difference
between making love and fucking.  And she'd sure learned a
lot more, too, all from practical experience with her
father.
 
   Mother sure hadn't been at all happy about it, but
they'd arrived at an arrangement where Mother got Daddy six
nights a week and she got him all to herself on Fridays. 
Daddy has said that he expected to give up his nights with
her once she became sexually active with a boyfriend.  That
had seemed like the dumbest thing a smart person like her
father could possibly say.  Sure enough, he was wrong.  Even
though she was now enjoying sexual experiences with Jimmy,
she still enjoyed her Friday nights with Daddy, as well as
the little things they did together, such as lovers kisses
and petting and stuff.
 
   But she sure did feel guilty about not being able to
tell Jimmy.  It bothered her to keep a secret from him, but
she knew he couldn't handle the situation.  And she
sometimes needed somebody her age that she could talk to
about it.  But if she couldn't tell Jimmy, then she sure
couldn't tell anybody else, either.
 
   She was interrupted by her parents bringing in the
family presents before everyone arrived for the party.  She
always opened family presents first.  Daddy gave her a new
synthesizer keyboard, so that she could more easily switch
between voices whenever she and Jimmy played music together
or play two different voices at once without having to
reprogram her first keyboard.  His thoughtfulness made her
heart feel too big for her chest, and she thanked him with
the best-ever lover's kiss she could manage.  It lasted
until Mother asked Dragon what he thought about the Broncos'
chances in the playoffs, a variation of what Wynter had done
once while waiting for her turn to give Daddy a welcome home
kiss.  The lover's kiss dissolved into an uproar of mutual
laughter.  Even Dragon looked amused.
 
   She'd mentioned once that she might like to try oil
painting in addition to the drawings she did in black and
white, ink, and colored pencils.  It had been an off-handed
comment back in the summer, but Mother had remembered.  She
looked at the collection of oil paints and brushes, the
pallet, and the instruction book.  The easel and some
canvasses, Mother said, were in their closet upstairs
because they were too hard to wrap.  Daddy made a smarty
pants remark that got him a harsh look from Mother, but
Wynter ignored him and gave Mother a big kiss and the
biggest and best hug she'd ever given her.
 
   Grandpa Wolfe, who no longer traveled outside of
Breckenridge during the snowy season, had sent a check for a
thousand dollars, with a note to put nine hundred in her
college fund and use the other hundred to buy something she
wanted.  He'd underlined and circled the word "wanted" to
remind her that it wasn't to be "wasted" on something she
needed.  She would spend it on something for all of the
Hargus Four.  Later she would decide exactly what.
 
   And the last package was from Aunt Diane and her
husband, Uncle Bob.  Or Aunt Dumb and Uncle Bozo as she
thought of them.  She could tell what it was by the size and
shape of the wrapped box.  Sure enough, inside was a cheap
plastic toy nurse's kit from the truck stop where Aunt Dumb
was a waitress.  She carefully wrote "Birthday, 2003" on the
box and set it aside.  Later she'd put it on the closet
shelf with all the others.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   The doorbell rang fifteen minutes early, as Wynter was
coming down the stairs from her room.  She opened the door
and broke into a wide grin.  It was Officer Lopez and his
sixteen-year-old son, Ron.
 
   Dragon danced around in excited circles.  He and Ron
had formed some kind of attachment as they waited for Wynter
and Jimmy to be rescued from the Hargus City mine, even
though they'd spent most of their time just waiting and
watching the mine entrance.  It was natural for people to
turn to each other for comfort and to form attachments when
they shared mutual anxieties.  She guessed it was natural
for dogs to do the same with people.
 
   Officer Lopez made a big show of checking her height to
see how much she'd grown since she was eleven.  She
remembered Daddy once saying, "If Joe Lopez hadn't become a
policeman, he'd have been a circus clown."
 
   And Ron, who was a Future Biologist, would no doubt
have been the other half of the act.
 
   After both hugged her, she excused herself and moved
back in the hallway until she was at the top of the den
steps.  She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted
loud enough to be heard in the basement.  "Senor Klutz! 
Paging Senor Klutz!  You are wanted in the hallway!"
 
   Officer Lopez, who had been at the scene of most of her
father's accidents, had given him that nickname after the
time he'd had to wait with him for the Jaws of Life to
arrive and free her father from his demolished truck. 
Wynter knew that if she'd ever be trapped in a wrecked
vehicle like that, she'd want someone like Officer Lopez
around to distract her from her pain and injuries.
 
   "Did you like the flowers?" Ron asked.
 
   Wynter frowned.  "What flowers?"
 
   Ron looked at his father, who didn't look very pleased. 
"They were supposed to be delivered almost an hour ago," he
said.
 
   "Excuse me," Officer Lopez said as he reached for his
cell phone.
 
   The doorbell rang.  The Lopez Family Circus Act stepped
into the living room to give Wynter room to open the door. 
It was a delivery man from Floral City.  Officer Lopez
switched off the phone as the delivery man brought in two
gigantic sprays of flowers for her.  Wynter couldn't believe
her eyes.
 
   "You're late, Wally," Officer Lopez said.
 
   The delivery man looked at his clipboard and then his
watch.  "Nope.  Quarter-hour early.  It's fifteen minutes
till eleven."  Sure enough, somebody had written down the
wrong delivery time.  Officer Lopez handed back the
clipboard with a shake of his head, and the man left.
 
   Mother and Daddy stepped up into the hall.  "Who died,
for piss sake?" her mother said with a great amount of awe
in her voice as she looked at the six-foot-high
arrangements.
 
   Ron and his dad looked like they'd just won the
Powerball lottery.  "Open the card," Officer Lopez urged. 
Wynter did and saw that it was signed by Ron and his dad,
and then by every member of the police force.  "Of course,
only the first name counts."
 
   Ron cleared his throat.  "That's mine, you know."
 
   "Correction.  Only the second name counts."
 
   While Officer Lopez helped her father carry the flowers
to the basement, supervised by Mother, Wynter asked Ron, "Do
you know what's going on between Suzie and Kenny?"
 
   He shrugged.  "Same thing as between you and Jimmy," he
said with a grin.
 
   "No.  They've had a fight or something.  Her mother
wanted to know if I could tell her why, because Suzie's just
been crying all the time and won't talk about it."
 
   Ron thought for a moment.  "I haven't seen or heard
anything, but I'll keep an eye out if you want.  Maybe I'll
see them tomorrow and get a clue for you."
 
   Wynter frowned and pushed her lips to one side in
thought.  "Maybe.  Oh!  There's a new girl in town. 
Cinnamon Brees.  Her dad's Doctor Brees, the new OB/GYN at
the hospital.  She's really a lot like you."
 
   Ron straightened and smoothed back one side of his hair
with a flourish of his palm.  "Incredibly good looking?"
 
   "Yeah!  She is.  She lives four houses down from Kenny
in the old Hamilton place."
 
   Ron's face relaxed.  "I think I may have a clue."
 
   Wynter nodded.  "Yeah.  Kenny never took his eyes off
her at his house, but Suzie didn't get real mad or anything
because of it.  But Cinnamon sure can pick out clues the way
you can.  If you were a girl, you'd probably be her.  I
thought maybe the two of you together might come up with the
answer."
 
   Ron put his hand over his heart staggered backward with
a stricken look.  Wynter thought he looked exactly like his
father when he did that.  "What?  You think Renaldo Angelo
Lopez the Great actually needs help from SOMEONE ELSE?"
 
   Wynter giggled at his face.  "Yeah.  It's sorta like an
outside consulting, where you know the patient and may be
too close to him to see the real problem.  She doesn't know
the patient, so she might pick up on symptoms you
discounted.  The two of you together might find the actual
problem that individually you'd dismiss."
 
   Ron blinked several times.  "You sure this is your
twelfth birthday?  They didn't," he pointed his index
fingers at each other and spun them, "switch the digits?"
 
   She giggled again.  "You've been a bad influence on
me."
 
   His dad appeared in the hallway and flashed a hand
sign.  "We have to go.  I'll see what I can do tomorrow. 
Dad has to pick up someone from the Vail Police.  The guy's
a bit of a problem, so I'm going along to insure that
there's no trouble."
 
   Wynter knew from experience how that worked.  Ron
wasn't afraid of anybody, and with good reason.  When the
two yucky creeps had attacked them in Otter Park, before
kidnapping them at the mine, Ron had rescued them.  She
couldn't believe how he'd handled the two larger boys as if
they had been stuffed cloth dolls.  He'd already become
Kenny's guardian Angel, from his middle name which he made
the two call him after he had rescued Kenny from them once
before.
 
   After the mine incident, Ron had declared he was
retiring as guardian Angel because Kenny no longer needed
him.  Kenny's enhanced self-image was all he needed, and now
Kenny was secretly taking martial arts lessons from Ron. 
Jimmy had accidentally learned that tidbit, but she and
Jimmy had shared it with nobody else.
 
   After another round of hugs and kisses on Wynter's
cheek, they left the house.  Doctor Brees' vehicle pulled
into the driveway as they stepped off the porch.
 
   Kenny got out, too.  Wynter felt a queasy wave ripple
through her abdomen.  Kenny introduced Doctor Brees and
Cinnamon to the Lopezes.  They all spoke briefly, and then
the father and son team left in a police four-wheeler while
the arrivals headed for the front door.
 
   Wynter introduced Cinnamon and Doctor Brees to her
parents.  They chatted briefly, and then Doctor Brees left,
saying he had to get back to the hospital because Mrs.
DeForest had started labor as he was leaving.  Cinnamon gave
him a big smile and a huge hug and kiss before he left. 
Cinnamon might not have much use for her yucky mother, but
there was no doubt in Wynter's mind that she loved her
father and he loved her.  It reminded Wynter of how much she
and her father loved each other.
 
   Wynter was amazed at how Dragon took to Cinnamon, and
she responded in kind, wrapping her arms around his neck and
hugging him.  It was almost the way Dragon had taken to
Jimmy, except Cinnamon hadn't brought any dog biscuits to
break the ice with him.  The new arrivals left their coats
on the living room couch, which had become the designated
coat receptacle because of the number of attendees, and
followed Wynter to the basement with their presents.
 
   "Is the hot tub ready?" Kenny asked as they descended
the steps.  Wynter wondered if he intended to get Cinnamon
and her naked in the tub.  Along with all the other girls
coming to the party, of course.
 
   "Something broke.  Pickett's Spigots' repairmen were
out here this morning with a new part, and they had to drain
it.  They haven't been gone long.  It's filled and heating
now.  You can go back there and see it if you want to."
 
   They reached the bottom of the steps and the party
room.  The new arrivals ignored all the colorful streamers
and balloons and the artificial columbines, Wynter's
favorite flower, and gaped at the huge flower arrangements. 
"From the police," Wynter explained.
 
   "Hey," Kenny said in an awed voice, "I didn't get
anything like this for my birthday!"
 
   Cinnamon backhanded his arm.  "That's because you're
not a pretty girl like Wynter."
 
   Wynter gasped.  She couldn't imagine anyone as
beautiful as Cinnamon saying that she was pretty.  "Thank
you."
 
   Cinnamon gave her a playful frown.  "For telling the
truth, or for saving you the trouble of correcting this
bozo?"
 
   Wynter made wide eyes at Kenny and put her hand over
her mouth, as if stunned by the sudden discovery of a cure
for cancer.  "Uncle Bozo Junior!"  She couldn't stop the
giggling fit caused by the look on Kenny's face as he
realized he'd been branded for life.
 
   The doorbell rang.  She left with instructions for
Kenny to explain Uncle Bozo to Cinnamon.  When she returned
with Timmy Gagnon and Josh Carter, Cinnamon was sitting in a
chair and doubled over with laughter.  Wynter wondered how
much he'd embellished the story.  She also wondered what
Cinnamon's reaction would be if she also knew about the
yucky way Uncle Bozo was always trying to look down her
blouse, or how he'd played with her butt.
 
   The doorbell rang again as the arrivals were placing
their gifts on the decorated card table.
 
   Wynter knew before she left the room that it was Jimmy. 
Dragon had made that special twist of his head and then had
raced up the steps ahead of her.  She wanted to run, too,
but when you had only two feet, running on stairs could
cause accidents.
 
   When she got to the front door she noticed that her
parents, no doubt alerted by Dragon's actions, had
conveniently disappeared.  Jimmy first had to pay a toll to
Dragon, in the form of a dog biscuit, and then to Wynter, in
the form of a kiss.
 
   It was okay, but it was hardly a birthday kiss.  She
threw her arms around his neck and demanded a kiss suitable
for her birthday.
 
   His green eyes sparkled as he gazed deeply into her
blue-green ones.  "I can't," he said, "because you still
have your pants on."  Then he pressed his lips to hers and
took her breath away.
 
   When he broke away to remove his coat, she purred with
contentment.  "I guess that will do until later.  Daddy's
taking Mother out to dinner.
 
   Jimmy frowned.  "On your birthday?  They aren't taking
you?"
 
   Wynter shook her head, but it wasn't the answer to his
question.  "You'll make a fine government bureaucrat," she
sighed in resignation.  When he looked startled she said,
"They are leaving us time together.  You know?  They're
giving me time alone with you for a present?"
 
   She made Kenny's eyeglasses with her fingers and thumbs
and then imitated the weird voice he sometimes used. 
"_Hello?  Earth to Jimmy!  Duh!_"
 
   Jimmy put his coat on the couch and picked up the
small, flat present.  "Then it's not because they don't want
you along?"  He sounded relieved.
 
   Wynter put her slender fists on the points of her hips
and gave him her best look of disdain.  "James Evan
McCauley!  You are the smartest person I know, but sometimes
you have the brains of a rock."
 
   He gave her his special grin-and-nod, and she could no
longer fake being angry.  "It's just...."  He searched for
words.  "I can't imagine them leaving you alone in the house
with a guy.  Especially since you said they know what we do
when we're alone.  Other parents wouldn't stand for that,
especially if it's their daughter."
 
   "I have special parents," she said.  "Some day I want
to be as good a parent as they are."
 
   Jimmy kissed her.  It was just a brief kiss, but the
love in it made her natural lubrication flood her vaginal
region.  "We will be," he said.  "So, I guess it will be
just us tonight?  No sharing the house with Kenny and Suzie,
huh?"
 
   "I guess not," she said with a sigh.  "But I'd put up
with them and even show him my tits again if it meant they'd
make up."
 
   "Yeah," he sighed.  He squeezed her.  "Who's here?  I
saw Kenny's coat."
 
   "Josh and Timmy and Cinnamon.  He came with her."
 
   Jimmy didn't have to ask what she meant.  He knew from
the tone of her voice.  "I wish the heck I knew what was
wrong between him and Suzie.  Let's go."
 
   They were still in the hallway when the doorbell rang. 
It was Suzie.  Wynter and Jimmy swapped worried looks when
they saw how red her eyes were.  She removed her mittens and
stroked Dragon's head, payment enough to be allowed entry. 
She hugged Wynter and Jimmy before removing her coat.  Jimmy
carried it to the couch while Wynter gave Suzie another hug.
 
   "Are you okay?"  Wynter was already in full diagnosis
mode.  She gave Suzie's face a tender caress and paused with
her fingers on the carotid artery for a moment.  "You look
terrible."
 
   It wasn't a nice thing to say when observed in
isolation, but in the circumstances her intent was obvious
to Suzie, who said, "I will be."  She looked at Jimmy, who
held out an arm as he approached and slipped it around her
waist.  She spun to him, wrapped both arms around him, and
sobbed, "I'm sorry!"
 
   Wynter knew her expression was as blank as the one
Jimmy was giving her.  Both knew Suzie's apology wasn't for
crying.  But what was it for?  For something she did that
caused the break-up with Kenny?  For breaking up with Kenny? 
She knew she was seeing one symptom, but she didn't have
enough symptoms to diagnose the situation.  She felt
frustrated that she couldn't help.
 
   Jimmy squeezed her and kissed the top of her head. 
That made her cry even harder.  Then she gained control. 
"I'm sorry.  I'm okay now."
 
   Wynter gave Jimmy a nervous glance and saw him nod.  He
knew what she was thinking.  "Timmy and Josh and Cinnamon
are here," she said.
 
   Suzie nodded and wiped her eyes.  No reaction to her
name.  She saw Jimmy relax a little.
 
   "Kenny's here, too."
 
   "Well, remind me to look surprised next Tuesday." 
Wynter couldn't exactly decipher Suzie's bitter tone, but
she knew that she didn't like hearing it.
 
   Obviously more symptoms of the situation, but still not
enough for her to diagnose it.
 
   Suzie took a deep breath.  "Let's go."
 
   The doorbell rang as they stepped down into the family
room.  Jimmy led Suzie to the basement stairs as Wynter
returned to answer the door.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   By chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream time, Wynter
had many symptoms cataloged but still no diagnosis.  When
Kenny wasn't drooling at Cinnamon he was trying to talk to
Suzie.  She kept ignoring him, while openly flirting with
all the boys except Jimmy.  She'd occasionally smile at
Jimmy, but Wynter knew it was just for show.  She thought
that it might be a clue, too.
 
   Cinnamon drew more attention than she did.  Actually,
Cinnamon drew more than all the girls combined, but that was
okay with Wynter, if not with the other girls.  She'd had
enough attention to last a lifetime after the mine rescue. 
Enough except for Jimmy's attention, of course.  She'd never
get enough of that if she lived to be a billion years old.
 
   People had asked both Jimmy and her what was going on
between the other half of The Four.  No help there.  She
wondered if Cinnamon could diagnose the situation from the
clues.  She was sure that Ron would have a good idea by now,
so maybe Cinnamon might, too.
 
   Suzie and Tiffany Taylor, who wasn't related to Kenny,
served the seated guests.  Luck of the draw had Suzie
bringing Kenny's cake and ice cream to the table.  She
ignored him and served Amy Katzmarek instead.  Kenny looked
embarrassed in the following silence that swept the room.
 
   Tiffany served Kenny as if nothing had happened, but
Wynter noticed that she gave Suzie a curious look when they
picked up the next servings from the side table.
 
   When Buzz asked where Dragon's cake was, Wynter gave
him a short lecture on the toxicology of theobromine in
chocolate if administered to canines.  When she finished he
blinked a few times and said, "You'd make a good Future
Veterinarian, you know."
 
   Suzie, who was seated next to him, looked at Kenny and
said, "Then she could treat stupid horses' asses."
 
   Most of the boys made smarty pants remarks to Kenny. 
Most of the girls looked worried.  Cinnamon looked
thoughtful.  Wynter realized that another clue had fallen
into place for the new girl.  She wished she knew what it
was and what it meant.
 
   After the refreshments had been cleared away, and in
accordance with local custom, Wynter opened her presents. 
She saved the rest of The Four's presents until last.  She
saved Cinnamon's until just before those.
 
   Cinnamon's gift was a pair of diamond earrings, similar
to the ones she was wearing.  "They're convertible.  I
noticed you didn't have your ears pierced yet.  You can wear
those with that mount, and then after you have them pierced
you can use them as studs."
 
   "She has Jimmy for that," said Huntly Sheridan, who was
sitting next to her, on her side away from Wynter.
 
   Cinnamon turned to him with a full-cheeked smile as the
hand between them dropped off the table.  Huntly's eyes
widened along with his own grin, one that suddenly changed
to a look of terror as she said, "One more dumbass crack
like that and she damned sure won't have you for stud
service."  Her arm trembled, and he broke out in a sweat. 
He sighed in genuine relief as her hand suddenly appeared on
the table between them.  Her smile had never wavered.
 
   Wynter thought a couple of the girls were going to
break out in applause as they whispered things about Huntly.
 
   She opened Kenny's next, saving Suzie's for the
position of honor before Jimmy's.  It was a full-sized
stethoscope.  "Dad said it was about time you had one you
can use through medical school and in your practice," he
explained.  "See where your name's engraved on the right
barrel?  There's room to put a last name longer than 'King'
as well as 'MD' at some time in the future."
 
   There were hoots and catcalls from everyone at that
comment.  Everyone, Wynter noticed, except Huntly, who was
giving Cinnamon a nervous look.
 
   Suzie's gift was bath salts and a small bottle of
perfume.  "In case you hadn't noticed," she said with a
grin, "that's Jimmy's favorite scent."
 
   Wynter was embarrassed to realize that she hadn't
noticed.  She probably knew more about Jimmy than his family
did, but she didn't know what his favorite scent was.  Well,
she'd just have to apologize to him for that after her
parents and everyone else left the house.
 
   Jimmy's present was a small, flat square.  Obviously
everyone had expected something that would need a forklift
to move it, so it had been the object of intense conjecture
among the other guests.  Josh Carter had noted that it was
too flat to be an engagement ring box.  He got really
nervous when Cinnamon turned a brief gaze at him while
Wynter carefully unwrapped it.
 
   It was a three-and-one-half-inch CD jewel case
containing a silver mini-CD with four words carefully
printed on the top:
 
 
                      WYNTER'S SONG
 
                      Jimmy McCauley
 
 
   His blush was about to drown his freckles.  "I, um,
hope you like it.  It's, well, it's my first composition.  I
hope it's good enough."
 
   She almost lectured him on how special first efforts
were, giving him the speech her father had made when she
drew her very first cartoon.  That cartoon was a gift for
Jimmy when he'd been confined to bed after an accident
caused by Will and Dick on the day that Ron had rescued them
in Otter Park.  But Jimmy already knew.  She'd seen his face
when she told him it was her very first cartoon.  Now it
hung on the wall beside his bedroom door where he could see
it and think of her every time he left the room.
 
   Instead she smiled and said, "I like it already.  Can I
play it now?"
 
   He grinned and nodded.  "It's all yours.  You can use
it for a coaster if you want to."
 
   "Smarty pants."  She took it to the CD player and
ejected the background music.  She carefully replaced that
CD in its jewel case and placed her present in the tray. 
She pushed the play button and turned to him as it closed.
 
   Pizzicato violin strings played four notes, in
three-quarter time, with the last accompanied by tiny
cymbals, then repeated it a third higher.  After the fourth
pass, violins and woodwinds overlaid a brief introductory
phrase that was repeated three more times, followed by two
rising notes with strings and horns.  Then the violins swept
through the room with a beautiful, lyrical melody that was
all springtime and warm breezes and sunshine while the horns
provided highlights and shadows in the background.
 
   Wynter stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed through half of
it, then turned to Jimmy and gave him the best lover's kiss
she'd EVER given him.  She was totally oblivious to the
other people in the room.  Her world shrank to Jimmy,
herself, her song, and Dragon pressing his nose to her calf
to see why he'd felt a sudden surge of emotion from her.
 
   When the music ended, she pulled back and heard a round
of applause for Jimmy.  She looked at the guests and
realized that not all of the applause was for the composer. 
Some of it was for the accompanying performance act.
 
   "Can we hear it again?" Cinnamon asked.  Everyone else
called out the same request.  Wynter pushed the play button
again.
 
   She wasn't very good at ballroom dancing--in fact, she
wasn't that good at any dancing--but Jimmy swept her around
the dance floor in a waltz.  "Feel the music with your
feet," he whispered in her ear.  She understood his meaning. 
It was his advice to feel the music with her fingers that
had overcome her performance anxiety with her flute.
 
   All too soon it was over.  She kissed him again,
listened to him whisper in her ear, nodded almost
imperceptibly, and announced, "I'm gonna let Mother and
Daddy hear this!"  She disappeared upstairs as everyone
crowded around Jimmy.  He accepted their congratulations and
then stepped between Kenny and Cinnamon.  "Can I have a
moment alone with Cinnamon, please?"
 
   Too late he realized what reaction that would produce. 
Hoots and jibes followed, with Huntly chiding, "When the
cat's away," but leaving the rest unsaid when Cinnamon
raised an eyebrow at him.
 
   Jimmy escorted her to the corner by the stereo system. 
"I can't believe you actually shut Huntly up.  Nobody else
has been able to put him in his place."
 
   Her square face and pointed chin made an attractive
pentagon as she looked up at him.  Her smile pushed up the
rounded cheeks, and her eyes sparkled.  "He's salvageable. 
And I may put him in my place, if I didn't break it.  That
felt like a nice dick."
 
   Jimmy ignored that.  "Do you know what's going on
between Kenny and Suzie?  She's been crying all weekend. 
It's not you, is it?"
 
   The smile remained, but her eyes went from sparking to
serious.  "The wood in his pants is probably because of me,
but I think any girl can put it there.  There's not time
now.  I'll tell you and Wynter what I think after everyone
else leaves."
 
   _And Wynter.  Smart girl_, he thought.  _She knows that
Wynter's going to know anything I find out from her anyway_.
 
   "Okay, you did the strings and woodwinds and horns with
a synth.  Midi connection to a computer used as a
controller?"
 
   The abrupt change in direction confused him for a
second.  "Yes.  Wynter and I like to play our keyboards
together, or sometimes keyboard and piano.  She also plays
the flute.  She's been sorta reluctant to play it for anyone
else because she thinks she's not good enough, but I gave
her a couple of tips, and now she plays for her parents and
me."
 
   He watched her process that data.  Little gears seemed
to light up and spin in her eyes.
 
   "How'd you do the finger cymbals?  They weren't
sampled."
 
   He wondered how she knew that, but said, "You've seen
these wind-up stuffed monkeys that play cymbals?  Well, the
one I have now just applauds."
 
   "Your percussion was sampled.  Not bad, but you needed
a set of live drums playing that."
 
   He was briefly startled at the comment, but then
realized that it was criticism intended to help him.  After
all, it was for Wynter, and he'd wanted it to be as good as
possible.  He'd been working on it in secret for three
months.  "Yeah, well, the only drummer I know who's any good
is Matthew Wylie, and he wouldn't help me if I paid him all
of Fort Knox."
 
   Cinnamon-red eyebrows drew together in puzzlement. 
"Why not?"
 
   "Matthew's pretty much the number one guy at school. 
He's an eighth grader, and he thinks the school should be
renamed for him."  He gave her a grim smile.  "You know the
type."
 
   The round cheeks melted back into her face while anger
sparked in her eyes.  "Yeah, I know the type.  He's a
drummer, huh?"
 
   Jimmy nodded.  "Superstar of the Griffin Middle School
band.  He did special routines with the marching band at all
the home football games.  He gets his way because the school
wants him to do them, and he also performs with the stage
band at the basketball games, too, because he's that good. 
The school wants to take advantage of him for their fund
raising.  School budget's kinda tight, you know.  Anyway, he
won't help, partly because he's mad that he can't get Wynter
to dump me for him, and it's partly because he doesn't like
people with IQs above his mid-eighties.  Which makes you
wonder why he wants Wynter.  And when he sees how pretty you
are, he'll want you, too."
 
   "Well, he's sure as hell not going to like me, and he
won't be wanting me for long."  She looked at him for a
moment.  "Thanks."
 
   He couldn't fit the pieces together.  "Thanks for
what?"
 
   She ignored the question and grabbed his shirt near the
neck.  She pulled, tipping him forward.  "They're all
waiting for this, you know," she said, and then kissed him.
 
   He could have sworn he heard every other guy in the
room groaning with jealousy.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   While people were dancing, Jimmy noticed that Cinnamon
was pulling others aside for a few quiet words.  He assumed
that she was asking them about Kenny and Suzie, since the
only ones she didn't talk to were The Four.  He frowned when
he noticed Amy Katzmarek was suddenly wiping tears and
Cinnamon was comforting her.  _What the heck?_ he wondered.
 
   He managed to catch Cinnamon alone for a moment and
asked, "What was that all about with Amy?"
 
    "Girl talk."  Cinnamon, for some reason filled with
furious anger that she wasn't quite successful in hiding,
would say nothing more.
 
                          ~ ~ ~
 
   Wynter looked to Jimmy for help.  He shook his head. 
"Uhn uh," he said.  "No way.  Remember when you said I had
to go through with the kissing contest at my birthday party
so I'd know that I'd made the right decision in choosing
you?  Well, the last thing you want is to be a hypocrite,
right?"
 
   He assumed the mannerism and voice of Mister Ames, one
of the English teachers, at a recent school assembly.  "And
let us not forget the words of that great American
philosopher, Uncle Bozo Junior, when he said, 'Payback is a
bitch.'  Pucker up."
 
   "Okay, guys, the moment you've been waiting for is
here," Suzie said as Jimmy put Wynter between the floral
arrangements and told her to stay put.  "Line up.  You're
gonna compete to see who's the second-best kisser.  We
already know who's going to win first place, don't we?"
 
   After the chorus of agreement died down, she called the
boys forward one at a time.  Josh Carter stepped away from
his turn with his eyes half-closed and a goofy look on his
face as the girls applauded.  He stopped in front of
Cinnamon and asked when her birthday party would be.
 
   "I won't be thirteen until July thirteenth," she said
with a smile.
 
   Several boys groaned.  "I gotta wait that long?" Josh
asked, sounding as if he'd been told Christmas had been
canceled this year.
 
   Cinnamon adjusted one of his shirt buttons and gave him
a twinkling smile.  She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. 
"Oh, maybe."
 
   At the end, only Kenny was left.  Suzie ignored him.
 
   "Hey!  What about me?" he asked.  Wynter noticed the
hurt tone in his voice and wondered if that was a symptom
she should consider.
 
   "I was sparing Wynter's feelings.  But you wouldn't
know about other people's feelings, would you, you stupid
dolt?"  The icy coldness of Suzie's voice chilled the
festivities like a plunge through the ice on the lake.
 
   Wynter watched the red creeping into Suzie's face and
half-expected to see her stamp her right foot.  _Uh oh!_ 
"The historical rules of the birthday parties are that
everyone gets a kiss," she said in a rush, hoping to defuse
the tense situation between her best friends.
 
   Kenny was red from embarrassment.  His kiss didn't have
the heart in it that she'd expected from Perpetually Horny
Kenny.  Jimmy had called him that several times, and she
could still hear the capital letters in his voice, despite
Kenny's actual lack of enthusiasm.
 
   When Suzie was still too angry to speak afterward, Amy
Katzmarek said, "Okay, it's time to 'fess up.  Who's the
second best kisser?"
 
   Wynter smiled at all the expectant faces on the boys
and said, "Jimmy."
 
   Howls of protest shook the room.  "No fair!  Jimmy
can't be first best and second best both!" Timmy Gagnon
cried.  The other guys agreed with him.
 
   "He's not."  _Well, that certainly got their
attention_, she thought as she watched everyone blink at
everyone else.
 
   "He's not?" a wide-eyed Josh Carter asked, a hopeful
look on his face.
 
   "Nope."  She grinned.  "Huntly is first best."
 
   "I am?"
 
   "Yep.  I think all the girls should kiss you, so they
can study your technique. Then they can kiss Jimmy and tell
him what he's been doing wrong, and keep kissing him until
he gets it right."
 
   Huntly straightened, blew on his fingernails, and
buffed them on his shirt.  "Any time, any place," he
announced, and then looked disappointed that none of the
girls had decided this was the right time and place.  Then
Suzie slipped her hand into his and smiled at him.  That
wasn't exactly what Wynter had intended.
 
   She looked at Jimmy.  He seemed horror-stricken that
all the girls were whispering among themselves and looking
at him the way Suzie was looking at Huntly, as if they were
sizing up a meal before devouring it.
 
   Wynter's arm snaked around Jimmy's neck and pulled his
ear next to her lips.  She kissed it and whispered,
"Payback's not the only bitch around here," before sliding
her tongue in until he squirmed. 
 
--
Russell Hoisington
State of Confusion

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