Copyright © 2011 by Thirteen All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be repr...
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Copyright © 2011 by Thirteen All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or shared in any form, including but not limited to: printing, photocopying, faxing, recording, electronic transmission, or by any information storage or retrieval system without prior written permission from the authors or holders of the copyright. This book is a work of fiction. References may be made to locations and historical events; however, names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination and/or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), businesses, events or locales is either used fictitiously or coincidental. All trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks, and registered service marks are the property of their respective owners and are used herein for identification purposes only. Published by Beautiful Trouble Publishing, LLC PO Box 61 Colfax, NC 27235 www.beautifultroublepublishing.com Cover Art: Marteeka Karland Editor: Legacy Editing http://legacyediting.com/ Proofreader: Cindy Davis Formatter: Jim & Zetta, http://www.jimandzetta.com/ E-book Conversion: Jim & Zetta, http://www.jimandzetta.com/ ISBN: (ebook) 978-1-61788-255-5; (print) 978-1-61788-256-2
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CAVEAT This work of erotica contains adult language and sexually explicit scenes. This book is intended only for adults, as it is defined by the laws of the country in which the purchase is made. Keep this book out of the hands of under-aged readers.
SEPTEMBER The Neanderthal was searching for a book, which Liddy, flipping through her own text, found amusing. He looked as if he’d never ventured into the college library, let alone up into the rarified, fourthfloor towers that housed the reserved volumes. His confusion was explained, in part, by his football jersey. Liddy removed her glasses and finessed a lock of dark hair behind her ear before taking another glance at the jock. It was really unfair to call him a Neanderthal. He didn’t look that far up the evolutionary ladder. Not that he wasn’t a fine specimen, all shoulders and muscled limbs. Good bone structure, too. He had hair the warm yellow of a campfire and a charming dimple in his chin. Not Neanderthal then. Homo habilis, perhaps? The handyman of genus homo, a crude tool maker, one step above Australopithecus. “Jarr-ett!” The exasperated voice belonged to a tanned female, long hair dyed honey bronze. She appeared out of the stacks like Eve from the garden and leaned herself on the edge of Liddy’s table. She took no notice of the occupant. How sweet, Liddy snorted to herself. The caveman has his own one-million-year B.C. babe. 6
DOWN TO THE BONE “You left me,” the girl pouted, canting forward until her skirted ass was high, like a puppy asking to play. Her pert breasts nearly popped out of her cropped top. “I have to find this book,” her still-evolving boyfriend said. “Why can’t you get the information off the internet?” the girl whined. “Because it’s not on the internet. The fucking thing’s not even in print anymore.” Was that exasperation? Liddy wondered. Trouble in paradise? Poor Homo habilis. “There’s nothing to do up here,” the girl complained, stretching back her legs to show off their incredible length. Now that wasn’t at all true, Liddy thought. With all these books a bored young lady could surely find some occupation. Build a house maybe, or make paper dolls. “Let’s go to the Coffee Bar for an iced mocha,” she coaxed. “You can go if you want,” the jock told her. B.C. Babe didn’t like that. “There’s a dance at Club Savage tonight, a pizza-and-movie party at Sigma House, oh, and the basketball team is having a kegger at the lake. Which do you prefer?” 7
THIRTEEN Liddy barely stopped herself from shaking her head, and on a school night, too. “You decide,” her guy said. “Maybe I should go out, make a few phone calls, see who’s going to be where,” B.C. Babe wondered aloud. Without waiting for his response, she pulled out her cell from a cute little, suede purse and made for the stairs. “Suit yourself.” The jock didn’t even glance back. Liddy covertly watched him search both sides of the stacks again. He pulled out and checked his own phone, doubtless for the book’s number, and sighed with frustration. Liddy went back to her biological anthropology texts. Time to study the real Homo habilis. Jarrett Evans couldn’t stop glancing at the geeky girl. He didn’t usually visit the libraries on campus, this one least of all. It was a brick monstrosity filled with narrow staircases and tall stacks that were barely wide enough for his broad shoulders. The situation was especially bad up here, in the “Ivory Towers” as they were not-so-imaginatively called. Geek Retreats was their other name. The hanging lamps were harsh and tended to flicker and the air smelled of must and 8
DOWN TO THE BONE moldy leather. What few tables there were seemed to be hidden away in shadow so that patrons bumped into them. Which was why he hadn’t noticed the girl at first. She’d been as shadowed as the table. It was only when Crissy leaned provocatively across it that Jarrett caught sight of her. She had dark hair and a plain, almost elfin face made a little more interesting by square, Clark Kent specs. She never looked up once, even though Crissy was practically sprawled across her books and Jarrett was right there, not a foot away. He thought at first that she might be averting her eyes like an embarrassed nerd, but it soon became apparent that she was ignoring them. That didn’t happen to Jarrett, not since his first growth spurt at age thirteen. Feminine eyes followed him wherever he went, flickered side-wise, glanced longingly before demurely falling. Especially the desperate eyes of girls like this one. Crissy left to call her girlfriends and Jarrett stepped around to get a better look at the geek. She was seated, so it was hard to see her figure, but the Vneck of her inky camisole top revealed adequate breasts. Her upper arms looked plump and soft, not unattractively so, but Jarrett was used to the toned limbs of cheerleaders. Marking her left shoulder was a strangely compelling tattoo of a skull with a heavy 9
THIRTEEN brow ridge. No jawbone, just the jutting upper half of the face. It wasn’t done up to be scary or iconic, rather it looked like some textbook sketch of a piecemeal relic. Not the sort of tat to turn a guy on, Jarrett thought. A butterfly or floral tramp stamp that was sexy, or something delicate and pretty around the ankle or accenting the nape of the neck. Something to kiss and lick seductively. But a fucked-up skull? Why wasn’t she looking at him? He was willing to bet that back in high school this girl had suffered from acne, that instead of the fairly cool glasses she had on now, there had been a pair of broken, wirerims. She’d eaten alone, her nose in a book. And she had gawked in awe at guys like him. So why wasn’t she interested now? Screw it. He didn’t have time for this. He checked the catalog number he’d jotted down in the notes section of his phone. The professor had assigned a particular book to each student and put all the texts on reserve. This one had to be here. Jarrett frowned. Wait. He stepped around the stack, edging closer to the girl’s table. Books were spread and piled all over. One of them was the one he wanted.
DOWN TO THE BONE “Excuse me,” he said petulantly. Damn geeks! She was flipping through photos of skulls. Old skulls. So, not just a geek, but a weird geek. “Excuse me,” he said louder, and leaned his weight on the desk. It shifted a little and his shadow cut off her light. She finally looked up. The magnified eyes behind the glasses were dark as flint and totally disinterested. They blinked at him as if they couldn’t be bothered to really see him. “Excuse me, but I need that book there,” Jarrett said. “It’s on reserve.” Unlike the nerdy girls he’d known in high school, she did not shrink or wince or apologize or grab the book to offer it to him meekly, as a supplicant to a great warrior. “Oh?” she said mildly, and glanced over at the text. “Oh, that one. You must be in Sorrenson’s Dinotopia course. Figures.” Jarrett felt his cheeks go hot. The class title was Prehistoric Biology but her amused disdain made it clear she knew the truth: that it was a biology-madeeasy class to help jocks meet their requirements and maintain their GPA’s. She pushed the book his way. “Enjoy,” she wished him, and went back to flipping through pictures of skeletons and skulls. 11
THIRTEEN Liddy listened to the jock’s heavy footsteps as he stomped away. Had she hurt the poor caveman’s feelings? She snorted. Impossible. But for a moment she couldn’t quite turn the page or concentrate on Australopithecus bones. All she could do was flash back to the moment when he’d leaned over her. She’d smelled him, a hint of sweat and musk, and she’d seen his hands, broad and strong. Looking up to meet those gray eyes, there’d been no denying that sudden feeling of pure, sexual attraction. She was a female and he was a male of her species. Which was all well and good, but Mr. Caveman would have never noticed her if she hadn’t had one of his books. Likely he’d already forgotten all about her. Likely, he’d never give her another thought. Best to forget about him as well. It was the skull, Jarrett thought as he drove to his father’s house for the annual Labor Day barbecue. He’d spent the last four days thinking about that damn tattoo on the girl’s arm. He ought to have asked her about it, but he’d been so pissed by her dismissive attitude that he’d just stomped away. 12
DOWN TO THE BONE The skull had stuck with him, however, haunting him. Why a worn, broken down skull? What did it signify? Even during practice it had occupied his thoughts, making it difficult for him to concentrate on taking down the quarterback. “God-damn it, Evans! Pay attention!” the defensive coordinator had barked. But in his head Jarrett kept seeing that skull, and the girl’s eyes. He’d never seen eyes that color, dark brown, almost black, and clear, like obsidian. Magnified behind Clark Kent glasses. “What’s wrong?” Crissy had demanded the other night. She’d been working away at his cock, giving it loving attention with her wet, pouty lips. Up one side and gliding down the other. That had always made him stiff as an arrow, especially when she wiggled her ripe-peach ass while doing it. His eyes had been following the crack of that ass, his breath coming short as she lapped up a trickle of pre-cum; then he’d suddenly fixed on her tramp stamp: a pair of frilly pink birds forming a heart shape. Dinosaurs had evolved into birds he’d found himself thinking. He’d already known that but he’d just re-read it in the library book, which reminded him of the girl with the skull on her shoulder. Suddenly, to his acute embarrassment, his boner had flagged. Crissy had redoubled her efforts, slurping and sucking, 13
THIRTEEN but it was as if someone had doused the fire. The embers in his groin still smoldered, but he couldn’t bring them back to life. “What’s wrong?” Crissy had finally demanded, as if he’d just insulted her. Which, he supposed, he had. “I got hurt during practice,” he’d lied to her. “I thought I could get past it but I guess I’m too bruised.” That had appeased Crissy, and he’d gone down on her to help her forget about it. But the whole episode was branded on his mind. A few months ago he’d have thought nothing could cool his lust for Crissy, but the way she’d acted in the library had shifted his perception. She no longer seemed sexy, just obnoxious. He parked his used Toyota in his father’s driveway and got out of the car still thinking about it. What had that geek girl thought of Crissy, leaning suggestively across the table, talking of parties and keggers? And, by proxy, what had she thought of Jarrett for being with such a tease? “There’s the Great Defender!” His father threw open the front door. “Hey, Dad.” Jarrett exchanged a bear hug and some back-slaps. He topped his father by a few inches, both in height and width, but the old man still had an iron grip. Over his father’s shoulder, he saw his gawky, 14
DOWN TO THE BONE fifteen-year old brother. Frankie was skinny and had reddish-brown hair like their mother. The kid had shot up another few inches over the summer, but nothing else had changed in his beanstalk physique. He still looked emaciated, as if their father didn’t feed him, which, Jarrett knew wasn’t true. If anything, Mr. Evans always overfed his sons, never skimping on prime cuts of meat no matter how lean the budget. “Gotta be big and strong to make it in this world,” his father always quipped before forking thick grilled steaks onto their plates. “Hey, bro.” Jarrett broke from his dad to hug his sibling and ruffle the kid’s hair. “Hey, Jet.” “How’s school?” A shrug of hunched shoulders. “Doin’ okay.” “He’s a friggin’ wash-out at sports,” his father complained. “As always. Can’t shoot hoops or throw pigskin, can’t wrestle, can’t even golf.” Jarrett felt his muscles tensing at the tone. “Lay off dad.” “Getting A’s in all his other classes,” his father added as if this meant Frankie couldn’t be trusted. “Says he wants to study ancient history. Mummies and pyramids and things. What the hell use is that?” Frankie’s shoulders were up and hunched even more. Jarrett put his muscled arm about the kid’s 15
THIRTEEN scrawny neck only belatedly realizing how that might feel to his little brother, all that strength Frankie lacked. “If it’s what he’s good at, then let him,” Jarrett said pointedly as he crossed through the house. He couldn’t help noticing, however, that his high school athletic trophies were still on the mantle like precious artifacts. None of Frankie’s more scholarly awards were up there. In fact, like pictures of their long-gone mother, nothing of Frankie was to be seen. Jarrett frowned and stepped out into the backyard. A few of the neighbors were there, seated on lawn chairs, enjoying the Indian summer. They rose as he appeared, reaching to shake hands and remark on his team’s first win of the season. He snagged himself an orange soda and hung out under the apple tree chatting while his father cooked burgers and Frankie kept back. Later on, to Jarrett’s growing discomfort, his father herded everyone inside and played a digital recording of highlights from last season’s games. Jarrett watched himself in one play crashing through the offensive line to sack the quarterback. In another play, he’d recovered a fumble and taken the ball a good ten yards. The neighbors cheered and praised his bravado, but all Jarrett could see were his mistakes. Like that stunt with the fumble; it had worked, but 16
DOWN TO THE BONE he’d still gotten chewed out for running and risking the ball, rather than falling on it and making it indisputably theirs. “You’ll do even better this year,” his father predicted, and paused the recording to get their guests more beers. Jarrett glanced back then to see Frankie, head bowed, slipping out. “Dad,” Jarrett said later, as his father walked him to the car. “About Frankie. Lay off him. I mean it. He gets enough crap for being smart at school. He doesn’t need it from you.” “Come on, that’s what dads do,” his father brushed it off. “Bust their sons’ balls. I busted yours, didn’t I?” It was as if a shadow had just covered the sun. Jarrett remembered every tryout for every childhood team, remembered the stomach churning anxiety he’d felt. He’d spent his life competing for his father’s praise and that had included being an average student. He could still recall the times his father had yanked books out of his hands, ordering him outside to run, practice or just sit and watch others playing sports. The only time his father had ever cared about his grades was when his low average had threatened his chances for a football scholarship. “Thing is,” his father went on, “Frankie’s a geek and geeks don’t get anywhere. Never mind all those 17
THIRTEEN stories of rich computer guys. Most nerds live at home with their folks, never have sex, never have any money. Sports are the golden ticket.” It was his father’s all-too-familiar mantra. “Frankie needs to know that.” “Frankie knows it,” Jarrett sighed, pulling open his car door. “He just doesn’t want it and there’s no forcing it on him. So stop trying, okay?” His father got that stubborn look. “Too much like his mother.” As Jarrett drove away, he saw his father in the rear view mirror, waving. He also saw Frankie peering through the curtains of the picture window, shoulders hunched as if beaten.
MID-SEPTEMBER “Mind if I sit here?” a male voice, politely phrased. It still startled Liddy. Her corner of the library hadn’t been invaded since that day two weeks ago when the jock and his girlfriend had come hunting. She glanced up, expecting to see another geek. Homo habilis! She almost shouted. There was the jock, a pile of books in his muscled arms, dimpled chin on the top volume. Damn. She’d forgotten how good he looked. No. That was a lie. She hadn’t forgotten. In fact, she’d been drifting to sleep imagining that body stripped and lying beside her. She’d daydreamed about those large hands fondling her ass while she got to explore that hard, handsome chest. “May I sit?” he asked again. His expression wasn’t nearly so confrontational this time around. In fact, he almost seemed nervous. Liddy adjusted her glasses. “Sure.” She forced her gaze back down to the pages of her book as he sunk into a chair. “Skulls again, huh?” He set out his texts. Liddy stiffened. The caveman remembered what she’d been studying? “As you can see.” 19
THIRTEEN “Whose skulls are they?” “Genus Homo.” “You’re studying gays?” Oh please, his brain couldn’t be that small she thought, even as she caught the glimmer in his eye and knew he was trying to joke with her. A poor joke, but he was trying and that earned him points. Maybe she’d upgrade him from habilis to erectus. “Hominids,” she affirmed. He hesitated, as if searching his own internal dictionary for the word. “So we evolved from those?” “Some of them.” “What about the others?” Reasonable question. Liddy smiled at him, and was captured by the smile he offered back. It was irresistibly boyish. Shit. She put him another notch up the ladder. He was beginning to look intelligent. “You know those pictures of evolution where you see the monkey slowly straightening up and losing its hair until he’s a man? Okay, now imagine one of those middle ape types having three or four brothers. And they each develop their own, parallel evolutionary line.” “Okay.” He seemed to be listening. “But one stops at hairy-nearly-upright ape stage. And another stops at half-hairy stage. And another gets all the way to looking very much like that human 20
DOWN TO THE BONE being, but shorter and thicker with a really heavy brow and jaw. And another one gets all the way but shrinks, becomes dwarf-like.” “You mean, like those Hobbit guys they found on that island?” He brightened. “Homo floresiensis.” she nodded. By Jove! The jock apparently watched the science channel. She tapped at the skull pictures. “Genus Homo. Our cousins who died out. Dead end, they call it. Concurrent with us or our ape-like forefathers, but they just didn’t last.” “Survival of the strongest.” “Fittest!” she corrected. “Get it right. Strength wise, neither you nor any other homo sapiens has ever matched a Neanderthal. They’ve found bones from that hominid with breaks similar to those of rodeo riders, implying that they wrestled big and heavy animals. But they still died out twenty-nine thousand years ago—although research says they live on in us. Interbreeding was possible and happened. Meanwhile, Homo floresiensis—if theories on them are correct— were the size of children, perfectly suited to their island environment and its dwarf elephants; they didn’t need to be big and strong, they needed to be small. They survived up till thirteen thousand years ago and, supposedly, the only reason they aren’t 21
THIRTEEN around today is because a nearby volcano erupted and killed them all.” He looked oddly stunned, as if she’d switched on a light bulb in that dim brain of his. No, she chided herself. Not dim at all. That was becoming quite clear. “So.” He licked his lips. “These dead end cousins of ours...they lived or died for all sorts of reasons, like there not being enough of them to continue the species when disaster struck?” “Or because they weren’t suited to their environment, whatever that was.” Now he was looking troubled. Liddy checked the time on her phone. She had to get going. She started to pack up. “How long....” the jock said, then paused. “How long did some of these other humans survive?” Fuck me, Liddy thought. He might be a homo sapien after all. “Difficult to say. We know approximately when they lived, but for how many thousands or millions of years...sometimes we haven’t enough evidence to tell.” “How old are we?” “Us moderns? A point of debate, but the oldest fossils we’ve found are a hundred and sixty thousand years old.” “So, some of those other hominids may have lasted as long as we have?” 22
DOWN TO THE BONE Oh, the wheels were turning now. She could practically see them. She knew exactly what he was thinking and the strangest thing of all was that it stimulated her more than his powerful muscles and masculine fragrance. There was nothing as sexy as a brain coming to life. “Longer,” she agreed. “Homo habilis lasted for half-a-million years at least.” “So we...haven’t really proven that we’re the fittest to survive,” he concluded. Thought that up all by himself, she mused proudly. Who would have imagined? “Taking over the planet is no mean feat,” she said, gathering up her stuff. He rose with her. Very civilized. “But being the most popular kid in the schoolyard is no guarantee that you’re going to make it to adulthood. And time-wise, our species is still in day care.” He looked thoughtful at that. “Nice talking with you,” she said, and strangely, meant it. She felt him at her back, still standing and watching as she headed down the stairs. It made her shiver with pleasure. Back at her apartment, Liddy welcomed the Prehistory Anthropology Club for their bi-weekly meeting. Her mind, however, was not with her peers as they munched on nachos and argued 23
THIRTEEN mitochondria-DNA and genetic drift. The discussion, Neanderthal-Sapien interbreeding and the resulting genetics of modern man, reminded her of the discussion she’d just had in the library and made her wonder about the feasibility of a geek-jock relationship. After much internal debate she concluded that it would never happen. He finally saw her outside of the library. She was in the dining area of the Student Union, eating a sandwich and reading a book, of course. She was wearing a black tee and he could just barely see the skull tattoo on her shoulder. Worn, hip-hugger jeans flattered her thick hips and thighs. Jarrett, standing with a tray between his hands, wondered if he ought to approach her. There was no one else at the table, but maybe she was waiting for someone. Or maybe she was studying and really didn’t want to be disturbed. “Can I join you?” He wasn’t even aware that he’d wandered over to her table, just that he was suddenly there and had to ask. Her eyes came up behind those square glasses and he quailed. They demanded to know if he was smart enough, worthy enough to disturb her deep and 24
DOWN TO THE BONE penetrating thoughts. Thoughts that traveled back to the dawn of time and understood the mechanisms of creation and transformation. Jarrett had never felt so inadequate or daunted. He hesitated, ready to apologize and retreat. “Of course,” she said, and with a blink, her gaze warmed and glowed. He felt absurdly relieved. “I don’t think I ever introduced myself.” He set the tray down across from her. “I’m Jarrett. Jet for short.” He offered his hand. “Liddy.” Her hand was tiny in his monstrous paw, but cool and firm. He was a little sorry when it left his grip. “Jet because you’re fast?” “Naw.” He smiled. “It’s because my kid brother couldn’t pronounce ‘Jarrett’ when he was two years old. Just ‘Jet.’ ” “Cute,” she approved, then with a raised brow, “Um, hungry?” He had loaded his tray with a pair of roast beef hoagies still steaming hot, a huge pile of fries, an equally large pile of onion rings, a plate of coleslaw, four bananas, two big bottles of water, three pint cartons of milk and a slice of chocolate cake. “This is nothing. When I was living at home, my dad had to restock the refrigerator every other day. I’d polish off a dozen eggs for breakfast.” “Wow.” 25
THIRTEEN “Yeah, I know. I might not be as strong as a Neanderthal, but I’ve got a primitive appetite.” He grinned and dug in. Liddy wasn’t quite sure what to say to that…provocative statement. She was still coming to terms with Jarrett’s appearance at her table, and the fact that he’d asked to join her. He must have thought her a moron for the way she’d stared at him, as if he’d just dropped out of a tree. But it was so different to see him outside of the library, here amid the chatter of dishes and voices. He seemed at ease, not hemmed in by the shelves and the solitude. She watched him chow down on one of his hoagies. The French rolls were as long as her arm and stuffed with meat, cheese and sautéed peppers. A couple of bites could have filled her up. Obviously, his bulk and muscles needed more fuel. She could not get over the size of him and she felt herself going embarrassingly weak with desire. Was there some way to get him naked? Maybe if she waved her peanut butter and jelly sandwich under his nose and offered to exchange bites for articles of clothing? “Haven’t seen you in a while,” she ventured.
DOWN TO THE BONE “Out of state game.” He finished off the hoagie, then tore open packets of ketchup. He squeezed copious amounts over his fries. “Did you see it?” Liddy flushed. She actually had watched the game, searching for Jarrett in particular. She hadn’t, however, known his name or position, and so all she’d seen were men in helmets smashing into one another. After a while she’d shut off the television. “Um, not really. We lost, didn’t we?” “Yeah,” he sighed. “We shouldn’t have. A few bad plays and fumbles. Coach was pissed. But we’ll win the next one. Some of our new guys are really good. During the third quarter, offense actually used the old wishbone formation and Delarose—” He paused and she knew that her expression had gone blank. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” Liddy shook her head and attempted to match his previous tone. “I’m a bit of a primitive myself when it comes to sports.” “Do you know anything about football?” Jarrett ventured. Liddy was smiling encouragingly, like she wanted him to go on. 27
THIRTEEN “Whichever side gets to the goal line earns points,” she said, amused. “The team with the most points wins.” “Well, yeah, but....” He hesitated, experiencing a very odd moment of role reversal. This girl was smarter than him and he hadn’t expected to know more about any subject than she did. It was suddenly important to him, however, to get across to Liddy the rush and power of the game. To prove to her that it took more than raw muscle to succeed. How could he put it in terms she’d understand? “When a creature evolves so that it can survive in some harsh environment,” he said, “you want to know how it did that, not just that it got to the goal line. Right?” She leaned back in her chair, eyeing him in that way again, as if he were one of the skulls in her books and she was trying to figure out his species. “You mean, it’s how you play the game? All right. Go on.” “Do you have a pen?” He reached for a napkin. Sketching with one hand while using the other to eat his second hoagie, Jarrett showed her what plays had worked and what hadn’t and why. Her rapt attention was oddly satisfying.
OCTOBER “So it’s over between you and Crissy?” Bobby asked. “Done, finito, kaput?” Home turf this time, fourth quarter. Their team was winning and they had the ball. Jarrett warmed the benches with the rest of the defensive unit, sipping at Gatorade and working out the kinks in his shoulders. “Yeah,” he said. “I think she’s got her sights on Delarose.” He and Crissy hadn’t broken up so much as mutually drifted apart. He couldn’t say he was happy about it, but it was hardly unexpected. Girls like Crissy moved on and moved up if they could. And though Carl Delarose was one of the new kids, it was pretty clear he was going to be moving up fast. “You’re leaving out the best part, Jet,” said Eric, and whispered, conspiratorially, to Bobby. “He’s got himself a new girl. A geek!” “A geek!” Toby was a large, black, brick wall of a man. He was standing behind them, a disapproving scowl on his face. “Look,” Eric invited, and pointed. Jarrett winced and bitterly regretted letting Eric in on the secret. The guys all turned to take a gander. Luckily, Liddy didn’t notice. He’d gotten her a seat 29
THIRTEEN close to the field. She appeared small and a little lost, bundled in a sweater and wool cap. She was watching the game with a frown, as if trying to remember the rules. After that first lunch together, Jarrett had seen more and more of Liddy. He’d run into her crossing the campus, arms laden with books, and offered to carry them for her. They’d walked and talked about football all the way to the door of her apartment, a good twenty-minute stretch. Not long after that, she’d turned up at one of his practices and had even been waiting afterwards to walk with him to class. They’d discussed the rise and fall of dinosaurs. Right before they’d parted, he pulled out his cell phone and arranged for her to have a season pass. He’d urged her to come to the games, to see him in his native habitat. As a quid pro quo, she’d invited him to study with her in the library. It was a new experience for him to hang with a girl who could help him with his homework; it had always been the other way around with the girls he’d dated. Terrifying at first, it was also liberating. There was rarely anything that he had to explain to her, not political or historical references, not words or terms, certainly not science. And she didn’t just quiz him on what he’d learned, she offered her own opinions—intelligent, even-handed opinions that always got him thinking. 30
DOWN TO THE BONE It was, in Jarrett’s view, a decidedly strange relationship. They talked on the phone and e-mailed each other, met almost daily, yet they didn’t hold hands or kiss or go out dancing. He hadn’t even seen the inside of her apartment or gotten her up to his dorm room. Nevertheless, he found himself wanting to open doors for her, pay for coffee, and, when the rain came down, share his umbrella with her. He wanted to look good for her, win a touchdown in her honor. Years of beautiful girls throwing themselves at him, and it was the science geek that he wanted to impress. How fucked up was that? “You gave up Crissy for her?” Toby sneered. “I mean,” he added quickly as Jarrett glared, “she’s not butt ugly or nothin’. But come on—” Whatever else Toby was going to say was mercifully cut off by their quarterback throwing a stunning pass. It flew long and far, right into the waiting arms of the receiver who was immediately brought down. The crowd yelled and waved banners. “Damn!” Eric breathed. “That was friggin’ beautiful! We could score.” “All that matters is we keep the ball in our hands,” Toby muttered. “Anyway, as I was saying—” “Don’t be getting on Jet’s case,” Bobby warned him. Bobby was known, unofficially, as the handsomest man on their team. He had walnut brown 31
THIRTEEN skin and a tigerish smile that melted girls in their tracks. “He’s being smart. Senior year of high school, I got myself a geek girlfriend. Best thing I ever did.” “Is that right?” Toby skeptically crossed his arms. “How geeky we talkin’?” “Brother, I am talking classic geek. Overweight, long brown hair, glasses and no sense of style.” “Ouch,” Eric winced, and Jarrett found himself shifting uncomfortably. In high school, he and his friends had hung out at the track when the girls’ P.E. class ran laps. Mostly, they’d ogled and whistled at the sexy babes leading the pack, but now and then they’d hooted at the dumpy girls lagging behind, girls lanky haired and bespectacled; the same girls who had gazed longingly at them in the halls. If Liddy had been at his high school, he’d probably have treated her the same, he thought with shame. “Sh—shoot!” Bobby said. No one was allowed to curse on the field, and Bobby wasn’t the only one who had a hard time remembering that rule. “A penalty!” Jarrett glanced up. He’d missed something. The referee was blowing his whistle, signing that their side was being penalized for unnecessary roughness. “That fuc...dumbass,” Eric said, even as their coach met up with the ref to argue. “You were saying?” Toby urged Bobby. 32
DOWN TO THE BONE “I was saying that a geek girlfriend is a good thing,” Bobby insisted. “First, they’re obscenely grateful for the attention. A popular girl knows there are other guys after her, and if you don’t treat her right, she’ll get someone else. But the geek girl, she understands how lucky she is, and she will put up with any shit—excuse me, crap, you throw at her.” Jarrett frowned. That didn’t sound like the best reason to be with a girl. “Second,” Bobby formed a victory sign with his two fingers, “Geek girls are kinky. Take it from me. They read all this shit—um, stuff on the internet and they want to try it all. None of that don’t-you-darecome-in-my-mouth bull. They’ll suck you dry and do it underwater. Third,” another finger, “they’ll do your homework.” The other guys gawked and Bobby smiled knowingly. “Yeah,” he said smugly, “I didn’t have to write a single paper my senior year. I’m tellin’ ya, Jet here’s got the right idea. Girls like that one,” he nodded up toward Liddy, “oughta be on every jock’s list of musthave school supplies.” “Never thought of it that way,” Toby conceded. He and Eric were eyeing Jarrett with respect now, as if he’d done something very clever. He felt he ought to object, tell them he didn’t regard Liddy that way, but 33
THIRTEEN the game came to an end right about then. Their team didn’t get another goal, but they’d kept hold of the ball and won. The coach gave them all thumbs up as jubilant friends and fans flooded the area. Jarrett saw his father and brother jogging over. Though he stank of sweat and was stained with mud and grass, his father embraced him. “They don’t give you enough to do,” Dad groused. “They give me plenty to do,” was all Jarrett bothered to say. “Hey, Frankie.” His brother, shoulders hunched, nodded. Frankie looked very small and intimidated by all the hulking players. “Jarrett! Hey, Jarrett—” It was Liddy. She came running up, cheeks flushed in the crisp night air, and Jarrett felt an odd mixture of elation and panic. Had she liked the game? Had she liked what he’d done during the game? “Liddy, hi. This is my dad, and my brother.” That caught her up short. “Oh, hey, I didn’t mean—” “No, no. I’m glad you came down. Dad, Frankie, this is Liddy. She’s studying to be a biological anthropologist.” 34
DOWN TO THE BONE “Anthropologist?” his father echoed as he pressed her hand. He glanced at Jarrett with confusion and disappointment. “She studies human evolution and osteology,” Jarrett added proudly. “Bones,” Frankie murmured before his father could even ask and his gaze flickered over to Jarrett with interest, almost wonder. “It’s the study of bones. That’s cool.” He smiled at Liddy. “Only prehistoric bones,” she demurred. “You mean like ape-man stuff?” Jarrett’s father was not impressed. “Yes, sir.” “Don’t suppose there’s much money to be made doing that,” he muttered, and Jarrett felt his stomach drop. Maybe introductions hadn’t been such a good idea. Liddy could fairly smell the disapproval when Mr. Evans said, “Don’t suppose there’s much money to be made doing that.” It was an all-too-familiar criticism, one she’d learned to take in stride. Most people didn’t see any point in digging up the past and understanding it. Usually, she just shrugged her shoulders when someone pointed that out, but she 35
THIRTEEN could see that Jarrett was mortified by his father’s rudeness. “No, sir,” she said to indicate that she wasn’t offended. “I’m pretty much aiming for a job at some museum of natural history. I’ll work in obscurity and probably scrape by. But I count it a blessing that I’m good at what I like doing. I think that’s better than not liking what I’m good at, or not being good at what I’d really like to do.” Jarrett’s father twitched and his face darkened. Oh dear. She’d hit a nerve. In more ways than one it seemed, as brother Frankie was gawking at her. She didn’t know if it was because she’d dared to speak to his dad that way, or if she’d said something profound. Time to beat a hasty retreat. “I’ll see you later, Jarrett.” She offered him a quick smile before hurrying off. Inside, her stomach flipped. She knew she had the socializing problem common to geeks: a tendency to blurt out inappropriate things at inappropriate moments. Had she just done that? She hoped Jarrett wasn’t angry with her. That, she found herself reflecting, was yet another new development in a month of new developments; back when she’d first met Jarrett, she hadn’t cared if she made him angry. Now she did because, well, his opinion mattered to her. A lot. 36
DOWN TO THE BONE True, their relationship was still uneven with her doing most of the talking when it came to prehistoric topics, but he was an incredibly quick study and catching up fast. Besides, he’d more than balanced out the scales with his fun lessons on football, also with his thoughtfulness. He insisted on buying her coffee or lunch whenever they ran into each other at the commissary and always carried her books for her. And she no longer spent her nights alone, watching television or working on papers. Instead, she had long, warm talks with Jarrett on the phone, or went out to his games to cheer him on. There was now more to her life than ancient bones, and that was all thanks to Jarrett—Jarrett who had become far, far more to her than just a desirable male of her species. Their friendship, Liddy mused as she headed across campus on that windy, October evening, had evolved, was still evolving, changing her life and changing her. And she couldn’t wait to see what developed next.
LATE OCTOBER Let her be here! Jarrett wished, his rubber soled shoes squeaking across the polished stone floors of the library. He hurried up the short stairs into the airy, vaulted catalogue area with its periodicals, computers and old desks. Past the librarian’s station decorated with carved pumpkins. Past the arched Victorian windows, windblown tree branches banging against the panes, shedding the last of their red and brown leaves. He rushed between study groups and couples whispering at tables to the narrow back staircase, his computer bag pounding against his side. First landing, a swing about the wrought-iron rail, more stairs, second landing, another flight, third. Finally, he darted through the almost deserted, third-floor stacks to the nearly invisible wooden staircase leading up to one of the library’s four towered tops. The familiar perfume of old books wafted down as he came up into the yellow lighting. Let her be here! She was seated at her favorite desk and dressed for the season in a harvest orange sweater and a black skirt. Her flint eyes, magnified behind her glasses, came up as Jarrett crossed to the table. There was that 38
DOWN TO THE BONE familiar disbelieving frown, as if he’d woken her from sleep. “I got an A+.” Liddy pushed at her glasses. “Come again?” Jarrett slipped onto a chair across from her and pulled open his bag. He tossed his biology paper onto the table. A large, red A+ marked the top. “It’s from the prehistory class.” “Congratulations.” “No.” He reached across and caught her hand. He felt hot, on fire almost. “You don’t understand. I’ve never gotten an A+ in my life—not outside of phys ed. B+ was the best. And I know this is an easy class and it might not seem all that impressive to you, but it is to me. I had to come tell you.” “It’s wonderful and I’m really flattered, Jet,” she shook her head, “but I didn’t have anything to do with it.” “Yes, you did. You had everything to do with it.” He felt himself flush. Even though they’d been seeing a lot of each other, this was the first time she’d called him Jet, and it sounded magical coming from her lips. “All those talks we’ve been having. I’m doing better in all my classes. It’s like my mind was rusted and you oiled it up and got it working again.”
THIRTEEN “So maybe this isn’t so extraordinary.” She smiled. “Maybe you were always an A student. You were just badly coached.” “Maybe.” He’d hardly winded himself on his way up, but his heart was racing. He was suddenly aware of her hand under his, so small and fine. The table wasn’t that wide, at least not for him. He rose half out of his seat and leaned forward, seeing his reflection in her glasses approaching. Liddy had imagined kissing Jarrett, dreamed of it, but the real kiss was so very different. He had warm lips, and there was a hint of stubble on his chin that scratched just a little. She was the first to open her mouth, to reach forth her tongue. He yielded and the kiss deepened. The feeling he sent down her was like a swallow of hot, sweet tea. It spread through her chest, all the way down to her crotch. Jarrett pulled back, amazed. He’d never experienced a kiss so tender, so natural. Did Liddy feel the same? She was gazing at him intently, as if trying
DOWN TO THE BONE to examine his bones. She pushed back and out of her chair. “Come on,” she said, flashing him an unexpectedly wicked smile. Her hand grabbed his and she pulled him through the stacks. “Where are we going?” The shelving was so narrow it brushed his shoulders. He tried to move sideways. “Liddy—?” He stopped. They’d reached an ancient pair of bookcases at right angles. There was a gap between them. Liddy stepped through it. What the—? He followed her, just barely fitting between. There was a corner, and a door. One of the bookcases was up against a storage room. Liddy opened the door and reached up to pull a cord, switching on a low-watt bulb. It revealed a longout-of-use janitor’s closet. Jarrett gaped. It was quite clear that generations of students had decorated and used this forgotten place. The one exposed wall and angled ceiling had been painted with swirling, psychedelic colors and the mattress on the floor was piled with pillows from four or more different decades. On the shelves were bongo drums, a Rubik’s Cube, a cheap alarm clock, and a peaceful looking Buddha complete with incense burner; also comic books and several paperbacks including Stranger in a Strange Land and Neuromancer and Harry Potter. The place 41
THIRTEEN reeked of sandalwood, marijuana, beer and...other things. There was, in fact, a corkboard with condom packets pinned to it. Liddy pulled Jarrett in, placed a hotel “Do not disturb” sign on the knob, then shut the door and secured it with a hook and eye lock. “What the fuck!” Jarrett had to bend so as not to bump his head. He settled onto the mattress. Much to his relief it seemed to be fairly firm and new. Evidently, the students regularly replaced the bedding. “Welcome to ‘The Cave.’” Liddy took a moment to remove her boots. “The secret closet of us rare, reserved history and archeology book readers.” “Do the other towers have one of these, too?” Jarrett asked, following her lead and getting off his shoes and jacket. “The other Geek Retreats? Oh, yeah. I had a very interesting time in the philosophy and religion closet once. They call it ‘The Monk’s Cell.’” She settled down on her knees and put aside her glasses. Then, with a cross of her arms, she pulled off her sweater. “Um—” Jarrett didn’t quite know what to say. Liddy revealed olive skin, a black bra...and the skull tattoo. He’d never forgotten about that tat, but he’d never asked her about it either. Maybe, he thought, 42
DOWN TO THE BONE while gazing at her soft and inviting figure, it was time to give that illustration a closer look. Liddy hadn’t thought twice when she’d dragged Jarrett to the cave, nor when she’d removed her sweater. Now, seeing his eyes widen, she did. Oh, shit, she thought, feeling her face go hot. Jarrett was wearing that too familiar look, the expression she’d gotten from other non-geek guys when she’d approached them: like he was about to tell her this was all a big mistake, that he didn’t think of her like that. “I’m sorry,” she said, heart plummeting, and reached for her sweater. “When we kissed, I—well, I thought—” “Fine!” he blurted. “It’s fine—” “I guess I got the wrong idea,” she said at the same time. “Stupid—” “No.” He placed a hand on her arm and his hot touch raised goose bumps. “I just...didn’t expect to get so lucky,” he explained, and then he was kissing her again, and drawing her down on top of him. That was all the invitation Liddy needed. She fumbled with his jeans, tugging open both button and zipper to get at the stiff bulge underneath, then she 43
THIRTEEN pushed up his thermal shirt. He helped her get it off, exposing a chest as broad and ripped as she could have wished. Simply beautiful. Her hands stroked over those taut muscles, lingering on his nipples as they tightened under her fingers. There was a line of dark blond chest hair running down over his belly. Promising more below. Liddy was salivating now. She bunched up her skirt around her waist and pulled herself forward over his lap until she felt his bulge pressing up against her panties. Then she leaned in to nip at his large, strong neck. “Hmmm,” he said, stroking a hand over her bare shoulders, making her shiver. Biting and sucking at his warm throat and ears, she teased him till he moaned. Encouraged, she tracked on down, breathing in his fragrance, scraping his nipples with her teeth. One then the other. “Shit!” he gasped, hips jumping. His bulge nudged at her dampening cleft. Excited as that made her, she hoped he wasn’t too eager, or that he wouldn’t get her so riled that she rushed this. He was her first jock, and she wanted to study him. Intimately.
DOWN TO THE BONE My God! Jarrett thought. Bobby had been right. Geek girls knew what they were doing. His cock was in agony, trapped in his briefs yet feeling the tantalizing pressure of her warm pussy through the fabric. And she hadn’t let up on licking and kissing his sensitive skin. She was working over his ribs, leaving burning trails with her lips. She circled wetly about his navel. He had enough presence of mind to fumble with the zipper at the back of her skirt. It went down. She paused, standing up long enough to let it drop. Her pink underwear were thin and very evidently soaked at the crotch. She reached back, unsnapping the bra. Her breasts weren’t very large, but they had lovely nipples. A tug at the panties, and she had them off as well, exposing a patch of pubic hair. Her body, he reflected, wasn’t anything like those of the girls he’d had in the past. It was stubby rather than long, the dent of the waist barely there, the hips and thighs heavy instead of curvy. But her shape stirred Jarrett all the same. And unlike those other girls, Liddy made no attempt to arouse him with poses or sensuous teasing. She just grinned, comfortable in her nudity, and clearly ready to play. He grabbed her legs and pulled her back down on him. There wasn’t much room on the mattress, but he rolled them over and struggled to get his jeans and briefs off. Liddy helped, jerking them over his ass to 45
THIRTEEN his thighs. His cock sprung out, shiny and eager. Liddy, however, stayed away from that, her hands roaming over his backside with something close to wonder. It was as if he was some unique and fascinating specimen and with every touch or taste she found something new to investigate. Which made everything tightening up in him just get tighter: his balls, his muscles, even his breathing space. Every stroke and touch seared his skin, especially the feel of her breasts giving way against his hard chest. Bracing himself on elbows and forearms so as not to crush her, he set his mouth to one of those breasts, mouthing it, rubbing his face against it, and then finally, eagerly, sucking on a nipple. That wonderful button rolled sensuously over his tongue, and he heard Liddy cry out. Her body arched up against him, so hot and compact. Leaving her nipple, he licked under her breast, on down her soft, fluttering belly, then back up again. She slithered and gyrated against him, as lost in him as he was in her, utterly delicious, like a dessert warm from the oven.
DOWN TO THE BONE Liddy whimpered and writhed. She couldn’t believe this; she’d never been with anyone so muscled and strong, so metabolically on fire. His burning lips were pulling at her tit, his tongue flicking at it, which sent shocks of pleasure down her spine to her clit. Her pussy dripped with desire and she felt herself giving into the purest animal urge to have him. Here. Now. Jarrett, rumbling deep in his chest, his body rocking faster, his cock slick and nudging its way between her thighs, clearly felt the same. Before she knew it, he’d nabbed one of the condom packets off the corkboard and was gloved up. She already had herself angled for him, her hands fairly clawing at his ass. She was so sensitive at that moment that when his dick finally entered she felt its shape, the head firm and tapered, like a spear. She cried out in delight. Jarrett hadn’t meant to rush things, but his dick had its own ideas and he barely got it covered before it went right in, as if seeking the tight heat that only Liddy could provide. He shouted as that pulsing grip captured him. That his legs were still trapped in his jeans made it even more erotic, as if he were some sort
THIRTEEN of merman forced to wiggle up onto land in order to mate. His hips thrust helplessly, loving her uneven interior. On his ass, hips and ribs he felt her nails, raking and clawing as if to keep hold of him. Crissy had always been at his shoulder at such times, but Liddy, being smaller, latched onto his nipples. She bit them, sending jolts to his groin. He gasped and thrust harder. “Fuck, fuck!” he hissed as she came, sending waves up his cock. His nuts, already feeling ready to burst, went hard as stone, and he lost feeling in his thighs. He shot, his body jerking and shuddering, as if he were releasing some spark into the darkness. Liddy shouted in response and held tight to him. For what seemed a long while he couldn’t speak, couldn’t suck in air. Then he groaned. “Shit,” he gasped as his cock seemed to tremble with exhaustion and then collapsed within her. When his breath finally came back, Jarrett slipped out of her. There was a roll of paper towels near to hand, and he used that to clean up before sinking down beside Liddy, sweat beading his forehead and slicking his ribs. He couldn’t quite believe how shaky he felt given how short that had been. Yet he was. Climbing all those stairs hadn’t taken as much out of him. 48
DOWN TO THE BONE It was because he’d wanted this to be more than just a quickie, he realized. He may have been wild, even thoughtless during their lovemaking, but he’d given it his all. Even his primitive hindbrain, it seemed, knew Liddy deserved no less. After a moment, he grabbed blindly and tugged up his briefs and pants as best he could. They ended up half-on, half-off his ass. He was too tired to do more. “Didn’t expect that, huh?” Liddy combed back sweaty tendrils of hair from her face. She was feeling both amused and tender, and wonderfully spent. So, that was what it was like to make love to a jock. Not bad, but she really wanted to give it another go. That had been over way too fast, as if Jarrett had been running for the goal line. “Um, no.” He sounded a little stunned. She gave him a smug kiss. “Not all geeks are virgins.” “So I’ve heard. Ask you something?” He shifted a little and brushed a hand down her left shoulder. “Anything,” she murmured, tracing fingers over his biceps. He smelled wonderfully ripe, all sweat and sex. 49
THIRTEEN “What’s with the skull?” “The skull?” For a moment Liddy wasn’t sure what he meant. Then she understood and was taken aback. Jarret smiled sheeplishly as Liddy’s brows went up. “We make love and that’s the first question to pop into your mind?” she demanded, but with a grin so he knew she wasn’t really upset. “Well, I’ve been meaning to ask you about it since that first time, when you had one of my books. No offense, but it’s not a very sexy skull.” “No,” she agreed, snuggling in. “It’s Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Commonly known as Toumaï. Discovered in the Sahara back in 2002. Some anthropologists believe this skull is the earliest hominid, marking our split from chimpanzees. Others think it’s just an ape.” “What you think?” “As I’ve got it permanently inked on my shoulder, I vote for early hominid.” Jarrett shook his head. At times like this, hearing the enthusiasm in her voice, he felt like Liddy
DOWN TO THE BONE and he were from different planets. “I’m afraid I just don’t get it, this fascination with old bones.” “Bones are it,” she insisted, coming up on an elbow. Her eyes, free of their glasses, sparkled. “People talk about getting to the heart of things, but it’s when you get down to the bone that you find out all a person’s secrets. The shape of their skeleton can tell you their sex, their age, their health. The breaks and fractures can tell you their occupation or lifestyle. Their teeth can tell you what they ate as a child!” Liddy was fairly glowing now. Jarrett had never seen her so illuminated; he was almost jealous, wishing he could make her look that alive. “The DNA from bones can reveal an entire genetic history,” she finished up. “All that, the history of an individual, of a species, there in the bones.” She sighed and took note of the old alarm clock. “Damn. I’m going to have to get going. I’m hosting the PAC meeting tonight.” “Pack?” “P.A.C. Prehistory Anthropology Club. There are four of us crazy enough to want to spend the rest of our lives piecing together old skull fragments. Don’t suppose you’re interested in joining us? Tonight we’re talking jawbones.” “Um...maybe next time.” 51
THIRTEEN “Thought you’d say that.” She found her panties and wiggled into them, and then got her bra on. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you as well, meaning no offence...but what do you want to be when you grow up?” Jarrett frowned, uncertain whether to be insulted. “I’m a football player.” “Yeah, I know.” She handed him his shirt. “But you have some other interest, right? A major?” He finally got his briefs and jeans all the way up. The crowded little closet made it hard, but he managed to adjust himself and get zipped up. “I’ll decide on some major along the way, sure, but after I graduate, I’m going into the big leagues. Football to me is what your skulls are to you. And the money’s damn good.” “True. But unless I go blind or something, I can study skeletons till I’m ninety.” She dragged on her sweater. “In football, players get broken bones, torn ligaments. Some end up with spinal injuries paralyzed for life. Your career could end in the middle of your next game. And even if it doesn’t, you’ll probably be out by the time you’re thirty.” Her words made him go cold even as they left him strangely touched. So. That’s what this was all about. She’d done her research and now she was worried about him. He wasn’t sure whether to be 52
DOWN TO THE BONE moved or annoyed. His plans—or lack of plans for the future were, after all, none of her business. “That’s life,” he said tersely, lacing up his shoes. “You gotta take the risks to succeed.” “It’s not life. It’s a constructed competition.” She was eying him now as if he were an idiot. “And it hardly seems successful if you come out of it suffering through years of surgery and post-concussion syndrome.” Fear gripped him, and anger. It was the truth she was talking and every guy who ever played sports knew it, but it wasn’t something you talked about. Not while you were still young and in your prime. You didn’t even think it, not if you wanted to keep playing. “Everything I’ve ever gotten,” he said a bit sharply, “was thanks to that constructed competition. Including this college education.” “So use what it has given you.” She got on her skirt, reaching back to zip it up. “See what else there is out there for you.” “You’re one to talk. All you ever do is sit in this library and stare at pictures of fossils. You never go out, never participate in anything outside of class. Your whole world is this damn Geek Retreat.” Given the snide tone he’d used, he expected her to get angry back, but she just looked perplexed. 53
THIRTEEN Especially when she put her glasses on and gave him that “what species are you?” stare. “Never mind,” he said, pushing up and releasing the hook from the door. “Thanks for the fuck, it was great. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.” “Jet—” Liddy cried as he strode out, and tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. She was still going over his words, stunned and trying to make sense of him when she heard his steps hurrying down the wooden stairs. Should she go after him? She wanted to. She wanted to dash after, grab him and beg him to wait, to talk, but she felt frozen in place. Frozen and confused by his unexpected transformation. They’d had a wonderful time, talked of bones. He’d seemed so open and bright, and it felt like they were close to connecting, to really understanding each other. Then, out of the blue, he’d turned mean. No, not out of the blue. Obviously, she’d said something wrong. Very wrong in her geeky way. God. She went cold inside. How mad had she made him? What if he no longer wanted to be friends? What if he never wanted to see her again?
DOWN TO THE BONE She needed to figure out how she’d fucked up and how to make it right. How to apologize. If there was a way for someone like her to apologize to someone like him.
NOVEMBER The sidewalks were thick with excited fans, their breaths misting in the frosty, November air. They shouted out to each other and to the cars that honked their horns and flashed their lights. “WE’RE NUMBER ONE!” Frat boys brayed the sentence, and waved flags featuring the school mascot while Sorority Sisters clapped and sung it. Eight games down and they’d won seven. The coach, the college, everyone but Jarrett was elated. “Top of the world!” Bobby crowed as they made their way to their favorite steakhouse. “God I feel great! Don’t you feel great?” “Yeah.” Physically, Jarrett did. There was no workout as good as expending all that energy and aggression out on the field. It was an endorphin high followed by jubilation, a hot shower and a ravenous appetite. Tonight, however, he was also depressed. It’d been over a week since his argument with Liddy and he had to admit that it was his own fault they hadn’t reconciled. He’d sulkily refused to take her calls or answer her e-mail. Yet when he’d looked up tonight to
DOWN TO THE BONE see her stadium seat vacant, it’d been like a punch in the gut. “Thank God for Carl, huh?” Bobby nudged Jarrett as a group of fans jay-walked between honking cars chanting: “Del-a-rose! Del-a-rose!” “Yeah, thank God.” The big divisions had overlooked Carl Delarose, and were likely kicking themselves for it now; the freshman was turning into a superstar. With every game, it became more evident. He moved like lightning and caught passes with ease. Carl was the team’s winning ticket and after this season, Delarose would be on everyone’s short list. Jarrett couldn’t quite hold back his envy, or fear. When he looked at Carl, he got a glimpse of his future, the feel of younger, more talented players at his heels, racing after him, racing past him. Maybe...maybe Liddy had been right. He really didn’t want to end up washed out of football because he wasn’t the fittest to survive. He should e-mail her. Apologize. Fuck it. He missed her and he missed their talks about grand things like ice ages and supercontinents. He missed her physically, too, her body so warm and compact in his arms. “Jet?” Bobby nudged him. “Huh?”
THIRTEEN “I said the town is ours, buddy.” He waved to a car of girls hanging out the windows, blowing kisses at them. “I dunno if I’m up to celebrating tonight,” Jarrett demurred. “Why? ’Cause your geek girl didn’t show?” Bobby scoffed. “Just as well. Come on, man, there are plenty of hot ladies ready to give you a night to remember.” Jarrett paused under a streetlamp. That wasn’t anything he’d considered before. Liddy was probably with her Prehistory Anthropology Club arguing over teeth and skull ridges. Would he really rather be there than out dancing? Would she rather be out dancing than discussing bones? Thinking about it, Bobby had a point. Liddy was completely wrong for this environment, unsuited to his usual crowd and lifestyle. Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t shown up tonight, as Jarrett couldn’t imagine inviting her along to celebrate with him and his friends at the steakhouse. Hell, the very idea made him uneasy. And why was that? “Jet! Bobby!” Some of the other guys were waiting under the awning of the restaurant. Bobby was already dashing through the crazy traffic to join them. Jarrett saw a break and jogged after. 58
DOWN TO THE BONE People shouted, horns honked, headlights flashed…and blinded Jarrett. He heard the screech of tires, felt a sudden jarring pain through his leg and a hard push, as if he’d been tackled. And then the asphalt was under his body. He smelled tar and blood before the pain. Then he felt it, felt it screaming up and down his leg: a shattering vibration of agony. It was as loud and blindingly noisy as the shouts of the people around him, as the howling yells of his teammates now running his way. Ah, shit! he swore, feeling that excruciating pain in every bone. Extinct already. Drifting again. They’d originally had him on a morphine drip and that had really fucked him up. Jarrett was off that now, but the regular painkillers still had him flowing back and forth in time. “We used to have to wire and pin fragments together,” he remembered a snatch of conversation from when he’d been brought in. “But now we’ve a special adhesive. We fit the pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle.” His mind paused. Funny. Wasn’t that exactly what Liddy wanted to do? Spend her life gluing fragments of bone back together again? 59
THIRTEEN “He’s young and healthy,” the voice continued in his head. “He’ll heal up just fine.” “But will he be able to play football again?” His father’s anxious voice. Hesitation. “That I can’t predict.” Meaning, Jarrett translated, that the doctor wasn’t about to guarantee anything. He dropped even further back in time, vaguely remembering the red lights of the ambulance, the paramedics tending him, the siren as he was driven to the hospital. He recalled wanting painkillers more than anything else. He’d taken plenty of injuries on the field but none had hurt this bad. They’d moved fast. Modern medicine did not wait. X-rays and an MRI. Even as his father and brother arrived, pale with fear, the doctors had prepped him for surgery. Anesthetic had been local, Jarrett’s body numb from the hips down. The operation had taken nearly three hours. Next thing he knew, he was in a hospital bed, leg elevated and on the road to recovery. That was...what? Two days ago? Three? They said he’d be leaving soon. Fix ’em and get ’em into physical therapy. That was the way now. He’d also been allowed visitors: his dad and Frankie, Coach and his teammates. “You’re going to be fine!” they’d all promised. 60
DOWN TO THE BONE All save Mr. Lawyer-Man. Mr. Lawyer-Man worked for the college. He appeared when players tested positive for drugs or were accused of assault or taking bribes. So when Jarrett saw that stern brown face, he’d had a moment of guilt. What had he done to gain the attention of Mr. Lawyer-Man? But Mr. Lawyer-Man hadn’t chewed him out. Instead, he’d pulled over a chair and gazed at Jarrett with paternal concern. “Hey, Jet,” he’d said kindly, which was weird because Jarrett didn’t know Lawyer-Man’s name. “I’m here to let you know that everything’s taken care of, so you don’t have to worry.” “Taken care of?” he’d ventured warily. “There’s the driver’s insurance, and everyone on the team is insured through the college as well,” Lawyer-Man went on, “so you don’t need to worry about any hospital or physical therapy bills. And then there’s the contract you signed for your scholarship. You’re obviously not going to be playing any more games this season, but the doctors are hopeful that you’ll be back, good as new, for next season. If you’re not, however, you still get to stay in college. That was the deal. No matter what injury you sustain, or how it happened, you get a four-year education.” How...reassuring, Jarrett had thought with a sick, sinking feeling. God. He rubbed at his eyes. He 61
THIRTEEN didn’t want to drift anymore. He was so tired of lying in bed, napping or watching the television or eating the hospital food. So tired of having nothing to do but circle around and around that one question that no one but his father had dared to ask: Would he be able to play again? “Jarrett?” He opened his eyes, saw first, as always, the raised leg in its brace, then the flowers and footballshaped “Get Well” balloons decorating the room. Then he became aware of himself, of the soreness, his scratchy face. “Jarrett?” Square glasses, eyes dark as flint, an elfin face. “Liddy.” God. He was in a hospital gown, unshaven, hair greasy. There were healing scrapes on his cheek and one eye was partially blackened from hitting the asphalt. He tugged, embarrassed, at the thin blanket the hospital had given him. Maybe he could pull it over his head? “I saw your dad outside. He said I could come in,” she remarked uncomfortably. “I’d have been here sooner, but no one told me. I had to read about it in the school newspaper. Then again, I don’t suppose anyone but you knew how to get in touch with me. The doctor showed me the x-rays. You really fractured your patella.” 62
DOWN TO THE BONE “I didn’t. The bumper of a car did.” Emotions churned. A part of him was elated to see her. He even felt a stirring between his legs, which was embarrassing, and mystifying. His teammates had brought in three of the most gorgeous cheerleaders to kiss him and “make him feel better!” He’d thanked the ladies, but begged off, insisting that he was still in too much pain. Yet one look at Liddy had him tenting the sheets. “Must have hurt.” It was sweet really. She had no bedside manner at all. “Yeah. A busted kneecap hurts.” The eyes flickered away and back, darting behind her lenses like fish. “The doctor said they used that new bio-adhesive to piece together the fragments.” “Uh-huh. It gets absorbed back into the body as the bones reconnect and heal. Pretty cool.” Jarrett said, but he was feeling unsettled now. There was something on her mind, something she was afraid to say aloud, and he had a pretty good idea what it was. “Why don’t you just come out and ask, Liddy?” “Ask?” “Ask me if this puts an end to my career in a constructed competition.” She pushed at her glasses. “The knee should heal well enough for you to—” 63
THIRTEEN “That’s not the point is it? It doesn’t matter that this happened off the field. It still proves your point. One misstep and my future is in the toilet. So maybe I should take this as a sign to find something new?” “I—suppose—” she stuttered, and flushed guiltily. She had no poker face either. “Well, I’m not going to,” he told her defiantly. “This accident has confirmed it: football is everything to me. Everything. I don’t want to lose it. I’ll give up anything else before I give it up.” She got the message. He could tell because her face went a bit gray. So, now she knew which way he’d jump if she pushed. “Anyone who wants to be my friend,” he added, “is going to need to cheer me on. Not try to change my mind.” She looked sick and sad, which stabbed him right through the heart, but he wasn’t going to relent. He rested back on his pillows and waited. “I shouldn’t have just dropped by like this. I thought—” She hesitated, then seemed to change her mind. “We’ll talk when you’re out of here and feeling better, okay?” He was being an asshole and she was being...Liddy. And, dammit, his dick was still interested. It twitched, knowing how close she was. Hell, his hands were interested as well, desperate to 64
DOWN TO THE BONE touch her, and his mouth—Christ, he felt like he really would be healed if she’d just lean in and let him kiss her. He wanted to feel her warmth, to smell her. He could, if he just stopped being so pigheaded and said the right thing. Yet he couldn’t seem to help himself. “If you don’t want to talk now, then I don’t think we have anything more to discuss,” he observed coldly. “Do you?” “I guess not.” She conceded and then, to his surprise, she bent and gave him that kiss, a quick, painfully chaste one on the forehead. In the next heartbeat, she was gone. Ah, hell. He winced and pressed a hand to the undamaged side of his face. Why had he gone and done that? He hadn’t wanted to fight with Liddy, he’d wanted to make up with her. Crap! His cock, still half-stiff under the sheets, rebuked him and waited, ever hopeful, for her return. There was a water fountain down from Jarrett’s room. Liddy paused for a drink, then leaned against the wall, emotionally wrung out. Jarrett had looked delighted to see her at first, then embarrassed and 65
THIRTEEN then...then she’d hadn’t been able to tell what he was feeling. From what he’d said, however, it had probably been annoyance or anger. Or maybe not. Maybe he’d been waiting for some particular response from her, one she hadn’t given him and so failed the test. It was frustrating, and absurd. She could look at a skull and see its whole history, but she was dyslexic when it came to reading faces. All she knew for sure was that she’d upset him. And he had certainly upset her. When she’d seen his picture on the front page of the school paper her heart had nearly stopped. I knew it! I knew it! It didn’t matter that it had been a car accident. All that had gone through her brain from that moment on was that she didn’t want him hurt or dead. She hadn’t been able to hide that from Jarrett, how intolerable it was to imagine him hurt or lost. He could read faces and, apparently, those feelings had pissed him off. She sighed, took another drink, and wondered if she ought to go back in, demand they talk it out. She was about to do just that when she saw one of Jet’s teammates came down the hall with a girl. A longhaired, long-legged girl. One-million-year B.C. Babe! Shit. Liddy turned to run, then froze. Jarrett’s dad and brother were coming the other way. Beside the 66
DOWN TO THE BONE fountain was an alcove with the bathrooms. Liddy ducked in there. “Mr. Evans,” she heard B.C. Babe greet Jarrett’s dad, “how are you doing?” Damn. She hadn’t addressed Mr. Evans that way, with such sympathy and concern. She’d just asked for the facts, like the anti-social geek she was. “Better, Crissy. It was good of you to come,” Jarrett’s father warmly returned. “I think Jet’s awake if you want to go in.” “Don’t you want to—” she demurred. “No, no. We’ll stay out here with Bobby and let you two talk.” Liddy could just about hear Mr. Evans’s smile. “He’s gotten sick of us.” Crissy’s high heels clicked as she stepped into the hospital room. Liddy took the opportunity to peek out. The three males were stepping her way. She ducked back before they caught sight of her. They went past and settled on some chairs next to the nurse’s station. “Thanks for bringing Crissy by, Bobby,” Mr. Evans said. “No problem.” Ah, so B.C. Babe had been Dad’s idea. And now that bitch was alone with Jet. Kissing Jet. Maybe touching him under the sheets. Liddy felt her face grow hot. That skinny cheerleader better not lay a 67
THIRTEEN hand on her man, dammit, or she’d show them both how well she knew how to play football! She’d sack the bitch in a defensive tackle! “That other girl he’s been seeing....” Mr. Evans’s voice got through to her, and Liddy went very still. “Geek girl?” Bobby said. Geek girl. Liddy felt her heart sink. That couldn’t be what Jarrett called her, could it? “Jet’s not serious about that one, is he?” “Naw,” Bobby said dismissively. “A geek girlfriend is for helping you pass your classes, not for taking out to clubs or anything. Believe me, when it comes to having a girl on his arm, Jet’s gonna want someone like Crissy.” A knot rose in Liddy’s throat. She hadn’t thought Jarrett was like that, hanging with her only to get help with his studies. If he had been doing that, however— it wasn’t like she could blame him. Bobby was right. Jarrett couldn’t take her to clubs, or show her off to his friends. An oddity like her with a primitive skull tattoo and nerdy glasses would only embarrass them both. Everyone would stare and wonder what the fuck a fine physical specimen like Jet was doing with such a dork. And it would only get worse if she opened her mouth, like when she’d met Jet’s dad and off-handedly offended him. 68
DOWN TO THE BONE Come to think of it, Jarrett had said as much to her himself. That she was stuck in her rarified world, not suitable for any that he might inhabit. One brief hour of great sex aside, there was nothing she could offer him but better grades. “Well, I’m relieved to hear it,” Mr. Evans intoned. “I was afraid Jet was going to end up walking in my footsteps. I married a woman like that girl. All brains. She never let me forget it. Jet probably doesn’t remember, but she had these high expectations for him. When he wanted to go out and play instead of learning pre-school math she told him he was stupid. I know I shouldn’t have put up with it, but I did. Lucky for us, she split not long after Frankie was born. Said we were holding her back. Mailed me the divorce papers and surrendered custody. Best thing she ever did for all of us.” Liddy had her arms wrapped about herself now. She didn’t want to think she was anything like the woman Mr. Evans was describing, but she remembered all too vividly her first impression of Jarrett. Homo habilis she’d called him. Smart enough to make tools and not much else. A dead end hominid. She flushed with shame. “Jet needs a girl who makes him feel good about himself, not someone who makes him think he’s lacking brains or talent,” Mr. Evans added. “Crissy’s 69
THIRTEEN the sort to understand that. Speaking of which, have we given them enough time? Think we should go in?” “Sure. Why not?” Bobby agreed. Liddy slunk back as the trio passed by the alcove, Frankie trailing with hands deep in his pockets. She waited till she heard their voices from Jarrett’s room, then slipped out and hurried down the corridor. It had taken a club to the head, but it was finally clear to her. She’d been trying to merge two different species. She had only to speak as genus geek to make Jarrett feel wrong. And his own, bold genus jock, with its violent imperatives, made her fearful and sick. They were too far apart on their respective evolutionary ladders for any possible union. Jarrett had realized this. Now, so did she.
DECEMBER Jarrett’s absence at the last few games and the reason for it were briefly mentioned on the televised events, along with his publicity picture. “They would’ve won if you’d been there,” Jarrett’s dad had insisted when the team lost those games. He’d talked about it up through Thanksgiving dinner, which, as was the tradition in their small family, was eaten on trays before the television while watching football. As was also the tradition, Jarrett had broken the wishbone with Frankie. His brother had gotten the larger half. “All right, Frankie. You get your wish!” Jarrett had said. “Naw.” His brother had blushed. “You do. My wish was for you to get yours.” Which had surprised and touched Jarrett. He certainly needed a wish or two to come true. Winter had arrived and the icy weather was a pain-in-the-ass for a man on crutches. The insurance had paid for assistance in the form of a student helper who drove Jarrett to school and hauled around his computer bag. There’d been no trips to the library, or the Student Union however. Jarrett just went to class and then back to his dad’s house. He had physical therapy three 71
THIRTEEN times a week and his dad made sure he did the repetitive exercises he’d been given morning, noon and night. Over and over, fighting against the pain till he was ready to scream. He couldn’t deny, however, that his leg was healing fast. By the end of November, he was only required to wear a light plastic brace, and though the knee ached like a son-of-a-bitch, he was able to manage the pain with aspirin. “Gonna be good as new!” his dad kept insisting, which Jarrett would have appreciated if someone else had said it. Dealing with his father these last weeks had, in fact, been almost as hard as managing the crutches. For one thing, his dad seemed to think he ought to be with Crissy and had invited her over a few times without asking. Luckily, she was no more interested in getting back together than Jarrett was, though she had offered him sexual release. He’d refused. It’d been snobbish, he knew, but after Liddy, Crissy seemed a poor substitute. “Have you picked out classes for next semester?” Crissy asked him one afternoon, sitting on the couch and checking on her make-up in a hand mirror. “Not all. I suppose,” he mused, “it’s time I got myself a major—” 72
DOWN TO THE BONE “Psychology,” she advised, flipping back her bronze hair. “Don’t you know? All jocks go for psychology.” “They do?” Actually, he did remember hearing something about that. “Why?” “Because, you can glide right through it, silly. At least at this school.” Her smile went conspiratorial. “Multiple choice tests in every class.” Fuck that! He almost said, then reflected. Crissy and others, even his coach, had recommended easy classes to him before, and he’d been grateful and taken them. So why be offended now? Yet he was, profoundly offended. Didn’t they think him smart enough to pass harder classes? “You know,” Crissy had gone on, “you should get out more. Just because you’re on crutches doesn’t mean you can’t party. There is a holiday bash at Club Savage tonight. Why don’t you come?” Is that why genus homo had left their chimp cousins behind? Jarrett had wondered. To party? Then again, perhaps it was as good a goal as any. Enjoying being young and pretty, he’d realized in that moment, was Crissy’s aim, and becoming a professional player, earning big money was his. Or was it? He’d blinked. Actually that aim had always been his father’s. He’d just carried it yard after yard toward the end zone. 73
THIRTEEN He hadn’t gone to the club with Crissy that night, instead he stayed home with his dad and Frankie, noticing how his brother barely spoke. Also, how his father never addressed Frankie unless commanding him to do chores. “Trash needs to go out. Get!” his father would snap, or “You want some coffee, Jet? Frankie, get him some coffee. And toast. Now.” And most often after dinner: “Help your brother study. That’s what you’re good for, isn’t it?” Frankie, without protest, would put down his own books to sit with Jarrett and quiz him on biology and popular literature. That was how it had been for the last few weeks. Tonight, to Jarrett’s relief, his father had finally taken a night off to play poker with his buddies. Alone in the house with Frankie, Jarrett paused on his way to his room to peer through the blinds. It was sleeting outside and the yard looked bare and icy. Most of the house was dark, but there was a light on in his brother’s room. The curtains were drawn, but not completely and a ray of illumination caused the halffrozen droplets to glitter as they passed in and out of shadow. Through the crack, Jarrett saw his brother, shirtless and bone thin, pacing restlessly. Jarrett didn’t mean to spy, but he felt suddenly uneasy. He 74
DOWN TO THE BONE watched Frankie appear at that opening in the curtains, and then vanish and then appear again. For about five minutes he watched like that, seeing nothing to worry him. Then he noticed the syringe in his brother’s hand. “Fuck!” He’d gotten good with the crutches, but it was still slow going swinging his way around the corner and down the hall. He reached Frankie’s room, grabbed the knob. The door was locked. “Frankie!” He pounded. “Open up!” “Jet?” The lock was turned and the door thrown open. His brother’s worried face appeared. “Are you all right? What—” Jarrett plowed in, forcing Frankie back until he hit a wall. Braced on one foot, the crutches deep under his pits, Jarrett grabbed his brother by his scrawny throat. Frankie’s eyes bulged with alarm. “Where is it?” “Wh-what?” “Do not shit me!” Jarrett shook his brother like a broken toy. “Your curtains were open. I saw the syringe. Where is it?” Frankie went pale as death. His eyes flickered and Jarrett saw it, half hidden on a shelf behind some books. It wasn’t easy, but he could just reach it with his free hand while still holding onto Frankie. 75
THIRTEEN “What the fuck is this?” he asked darkly, and held it up. “What are you shooting?” “Nothing.” Frankie’s voice cracked and his pronounced Adam’s apple bobbed. He was looking up at his looming brother like a chicken about to have its neck wrung. “I mean, I haven’t done anything yet. I was getting up the courage—” “To do what? Get high? Overdose?” “No! No! It’s...” Another swallow and tears appeared in the kid’s eyes. “Steroids.” “Steroids?” Jarrett was appalled. Every guy he knew who played pro sports faced the temptation to take steroids. He, himself, had been offered them, and had had to force himself to refuse. He had never imagined, however, that he’d have to talk to Frankie about them. It was almost too crazy to believe. “Do you know what this can do to you?” Frankie licked his lips. “It can make me more like you.” “Oh, shit, Frankie!” Jarrett finally let him go. ‘That’s fucked up and it’s not true. This stuff will ruin your life.” “Doesn’t matter,” Frankie murmured. “What? Doesn’t matter? What’s the supposed to mean?” “It means I have to try something! Anything!” Frankie fairly shouted. “You don’t know what it’s 76
DOWN TO THE BONE like—” His brother came to a stop, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I don’t care if Dad doesn’t like me. Well, I do, but he’s never going to like me because I remind him too much of mom. But I...I can hardly stand to think of what an embarrassment I am to you, Jet.” He bowed his head. “What a disappointment.” “Disappointment?” Jarrett pulled Frankie to him and gripped him tight. The kid’s bare skin felt cold, his thin body, fragile. Jarrett had a flash of his brother as a little kid, following him around, trying to lift his weights, eat what he ate, do the things he did. He was torn between beating the shit out of the fifteen-yearold and hugging him till morning. In his other hand he still clutched the syringe so hard it almost cracked. ”You little idiot! I love you!” His brother trembled and sobbed against his shoulder. “Dad doesn’t want me for a son. I didn’t think you wanted me for a brother.” “What made you think that? Why would you ever think that?” Frankie pulled back, sniffing and wiping at his eyes. “You’ve never been friends with guys like me, Jet. I remember you and your high school buddies making fun of us geeks, the brainy dorks who couldn’t do a single push-up. You don’t...you don’t like us.”
THIRTEEN “Oh, Jesus, Frankie, that—that was just stupid, high school posturing, you know that! And I never—I didn’t mean you!” Frankie smiled faintly and Jet flushed. It was a lame excuse. “What brought this on anyway?” Jarrett asked. His brother shrugged his thin shoulders. “You dumping Liddy and going back to Crissy.” Jarrett shook his head, in part because he hadn’t done either, but also because he couldn’t make sense of that. “You lost me.” “When you started dating Liddy…it’s hard to explain, but I felt such relief! She was totally different from the girls you’d always gone for, smart and cool, and she wanted you to be you, not just a jock. She made me think you’d changed your mind about us geeky types. But then Bobby said you were only dating Liddy to keep up your grades and—” “What? Ah, crap! Bobby and his big, fucking mouth. That’s not true, Frankie.” “Then why’d you dump her? I mean, she never comes over and you don’t call her and I don’t think she calls you.” “Because I screwed up,” he growled, but in his mind he doubted. Was Frankie right? Had he run from Liddy because he couldn’t take that next step, because he didn’t want to introduce her to his friends? Because 78
DOWN TO THE BONE he was embarrassed by her glasses and intelligence? If he was, then he didn’t deserve her. He might as well hand her over to some paleontology major who could appreciate her brains. Yet, even as he considered that he felt a sudden, almost primal rage. He’d crush any fucking egghead who tried to take Liddy from him! He blinked and took in a breath. Shit. This was no time for him to start acting like a Neanderthal. He refocused on his brother. “We were talking about you, and this.” He held up the syringe. His brother ducked his head. He looked more frail and vulnerable than ever, his scrawny chest exposed, his arms like toothpicks hanging down his sides. “It’s like Dad says, I’m a nerd. That’s my place, my niche. And I hate it and I want out. I want to be like you.” “Well, I want you to be like you,” Jarrett retorted. “I know it’s cliché, but we can’t all be the quarterback. The game’s lost if all anyone on the team can do is throw the ball. It’s why humanity is so successful. Our species has a variety of talents.” “I know that,” Frankie grudged. “But that doesn’t change how Dad feels about me and my talents. Or—or how you feel.” “You think I’m ashamed of you? Well, I’m not. Not your brains or your lack of athletic ability. I like 79
THIRTEEN who you are, little brother, I really do, and I’m proud of you. Don’t you dare tell yourself otherwise. You understand?” Frankie just nodded this time. “Come on.” Jarrett moved them into the bathroom. He dumped the contents of the syringe down the toilet, then handed it to Frankie. “You break off the needle and throw the whole thing away. We don’t say anything to Dad. But if you ever even think to do something like this again, I will kick your ass from here to next Sunday. Got that?” “Yeah.” Frankie chewed on his lips, eyes lowered. “Jet...I think...I think Liddy overheard us.” “What?” “Bobby said that stuff to dad while we were at the hospital. I think I saw Liddy by the restrooms. Which means she heard Bobby.” “Heard him say what exactly?” “That you were never serious about her. That she was just your geek girlfriend.” Jarrett winced. “Well, that explains why she hasn’t tried to call or e-mail me. Okay. Take care of that needle.” He took a moment to give his brother a one-armed hug. “I love you to death, little brother.” “I love you, too, Jet,” Frankie said back. “And I’m—” He caught his breath. “I’m sorry if I let you down.” 80
DOWN TO THE BONE When their father got back late that night, Jarrett was seated at the dining room table, waiting for him. “Hey, you should be in bed,” his father fondly scolded. ”We need to talk about Frankie.” “Ah, hell, Jet. What now? Haven’t I been coddling him enough for you?” Jarrett clasped his hands together to keep them from shaking with anger. He forced himself to speak calmly. “This is for your sake, not his. You keep ragging on him and he’s going to turn on you. He’ll use those brains of his to hurt you.” “Just like his mother,” his dad remarked bitterly. “Just like my mother. You’re not allowed to forget that anymore, Dad. I’m Mom’s son, too, and if you’re going to hate Frankie for being half her boy than you’re going to have to hate me, also.” His father looked stricken and Jarrett released a breath. He’d gotten through to the old man at last. “On the other side,” he added, “Frankie’s your son as well. You know, there’s a good chance his smarts come from you, not Mom.” “Yeah, sure,” his father cynically retorted. “Why not? You think you’re stupid? I don’t think you’re stupid. I do think you’re afraid of appearing stupid, and I’m sick and tired of letting that fear 81
THIRTEEN influence my life and Frankie’s.” Jarrett pushed up, an awkward move given his leg brace, but he managed. “Whatever you choose to believe, know that I do mean it this time. You be as appreciative and proud of Frankie for his gifts as you are of mine, or he’ll be coming to live with me, and you’ll only see us on holidays and your birthday.” He didn’t look back at his father as he made his way to his room, but he heard the intake of breath. He couldn’t feel smug; he didn’t like having to twist his father’s arm, but Frankie was suffocating and Jarrett could no longer turn a blind eye. It was long past time his brother was given a chance to grow into his potential. Maneuvering on his crutches, he went to his room. He was tired, but there was one last thing he needed to do. He got onto his computer and did a quick search. He found the website he was looking for and with it the information he needed. It was time for him to evolve.
MID-DECEMBER “The position of the foramen magnum suggests Toumaï was bipedal!” Mark argued. “That doesn’t make it a predecessor to hominids,” Dion countered. That was the big debate for PAC that evening, and Liddy really didn’t much care. She sat, curled up on the leather recliner, staring at the three other anthropology students, thinking all the while about Jarrett. She’d written up a dozen e-mails and erased them before ever clicking on Send, while hypocritically checking her inbox for messages. She’d summoned up his number on her cell phone and then lost the courage to actually dial it. But she kept hoping he’d call her. He hadn’t. He was preoccupied, of course. A healing kneecap and finals week around the corner. Likely, however, he also had no wish to talk to her. Which she could live with so long as she knew there weren’t any bad feelings between them. Live with it yes, but she still felt like something inside her had been shattered to bits like all the bone fragments she studied. And she doubted there was any way of gluing it back together again.
THIRTEEN “If Toumaï was a hominid,” John interjected, “then either the dating on the fossil is wrong or chimps and Toumaï—” “And what if Toumaï was just an ape?” Dion wasn’t going to let that go. “Or a dead end,” Liddy murmured. The doorbell rang. Liddy didn’t feel like moving. “Mark, could you get that?” Mark vacated his corner on the couch. Liddy heard the door open, but kept her eyes listlessly on the coffee table. Nachos again. They really needed some variety. “Um, Liddy?” Mark squeaked, as if frightened, and she blinked up. Jarrett, wearing a heavy winter coat and balancing on crutches, was in her living room. He looked like a wounded giant. Liddy got to her feet. Everyone was gawking at him, especially Mark who looked like he was having nerd flashbacks of being beaten up in high school. There was a jock in their midst, his expression seemed to say. Should he call the police? “I came to join the discussion,” Jarrett said. “Hybridization, right? That’s what the website said.” “Jet...” Liddy said awkwardly. “What are you doing here?” “I came to talk. Can we talk?” 84
DOWN TO THE BONE The PAC people didn’t even wait for her answer, they were already grabbing their stuff. “We’ll continue next time,” Mark said snatching up his backpack. In short order, and with no few backward glances, they were out the door. Liddy stared after them, then turned her attention to Jarrett. “Take your coat?” Jarrett allowed Liddy to help him off with his things. She settled him on the recliner, legs up. “How is it?” She nodded to his knee in its plastic cage. “Got almost my full range of motion back, and I should be able to do without the brace real soon. Thanks for asking.” Jarrett kept his tone light, but inside he was terrified...and aroused. Liddy’s lemon pie fragrance had woken up his sleeping hormones. “Listen—” he tried, then stopped. He’d come here prepared, as for an exam, all possible questions and answers in essay form. Gazing on her, however, he found himself mute. “Jet?” she asked, concerned. She was adorable, Jarrett thought, in her blue tank top and yoga pants, striped socks on her feet. He loved the way she carried her weight in her hips, the plumpness of her upper 85
THIRTEEN arms. He loved her elfin face and dark hair, and those playful Clark Kent glasses. And he loved that damn skull tattoo on her shoulder! “God, I missed you,” he croaked, and, nabbing her with one arm, brought her onto his lap. He kissed her lips and her cheeks. Removed her glasses and set them aside before kissing her again deeply. He felt her heart beating against his as he flicked his tongue to meet hers. She released a sigh and sunk in against him. “I missed you, too,” she whispered back. Her clever fingers worked open his jeans and Jarrett gasped as her small hand touched on his straining cock through the fabric of his shorts. He, in turn, tugged at her waistband. Liddy helped him get her pants off; her top followed. She wasn’t wearing a bra, which was fine with Jarrett. He went right for her nipples. As he set his mouth to one, she let out a cry, her warm behind squirming on his erection until he was close to losing it. Hoping to slow things down, he backed off from tonguing the nipple to nuzzle the softness of her breast. Inhaling the fragrance of her skin, however, excited him more. Next thing he knew, he was back to licking at her areolas, loving how they tightened, the sensuous texture of that smooth-roughness. She 86
DOWN TO THE BONE moaned and bit at his neck, making his trapped cock ache with desire. Tugging at her underwear, he asked. Demanded. “Wait,” she gasped, prying his hands away. “Wait. You are not going to rush this like last time.” With trembling fingers that told him she shared his excitement, she unbuttoned his flannel shirt and got him out of it. Then, shifting off his lap, helped him tug his jeans and briefs half-way down his thighs. “Someday, I’m going to get you completely out of your pants,” she murmured, as Jarrett felt his cock come free. Liddy hadn’t gotten that good a look at Jarrett’s cock the first time. Now she did. It was tall and tantalizing with a wet, spearhead crown. The balls were covered in a down of golden hair, already high and begging for release. Well, she could provide that, she thought, reaching to adjust a lever at the base of the recliner The back went down, causing Jarrett to grunt with surprise. Then Liddy slipped off her underwear.
THIRTEEN “What are you doing?” Jarrett asked as she shifted around. He felt her hard nipples brush his belly, and then her breath on his cock. It strained and twitched to meet her. “Trying to keep my weight off your hurt knee,” she said, and suddenly she was straddling him, head down at his dick. He gasped, not only because she’d just taken his sensitive cockhead into her hot mouth, but because her pussy was right there, right where he could get at it. Fuck. Jarrett inhaled her perfume, moaning both at its fragrance and the sensation of Liddy’s lips and tongue mouthing his dick. He was salivating himself: her moist, rosy opening, her swollen pussy lips and the glistening clit were right there. Waiting. Just waiting for him. Wrapping his arms around her thighs, he leaned in for a taste. Liddy sucked in a breath as Jarrett’s powerful grip took hold of her, and his tongue parted her pussy lips. She shuddered as the exquisite sensation of that lick rolled through her, then sucked harder on his cock, her own tongue flicking over his slit, going after that musky pre cum.
DOWN TO THE BONE Jarrett couldn’t keep his hips still, and it wasn’t just the way Liddy’s mouth was sucking and tormenting his mushroom head. Every time he lapped at her smooth, tart-sweet folds she moaned in her throat, sending vibrations through his shaft. It was almost as if he were feeling what she was feeling. It was almost as if she was feeling what he was feeling, Liddy groaned. The sensations of his tongue, stroking, licking, making her pussy sing and sweat, matched the thrusts and pre-cum drips of his cock in her mouth. Every twitch and pulse felt like her own clit, tingling and flaring Jarrett was in agony. He didn’t want to stop adoring her pussy, but he couldn’t hold off much longer. “Liddy, Liddy please, I’m going to come—” he tugged at her and she reluctantly came off his cock. She was trembling and shaking as she turned and crawled back onto his lap. He shouted as her cunt enfolded him and she instantly started to orgasm. She 89
THIRTEEN throbbed around him, gripping and squeezing his cock, drawing him over the edge. He clutched her to his chest as he came, shooting into her. He felt as if her tight interior was sucking his seed right out of his nuts. He gave her all of it, still jerking and pumping long after he’d gone dry. She quivered, orgasming again and again, until she finally collapsed in sweaty exhaustion. “Touchdown,” she breathed into his ear, and Jarrett laughed. She joined him and they chortled weakly, holding tight to each other all the while. Liddy helped Jarrett pull up his briefs and pants, then got on her top and trousers for warmth. Back on his lap, she snuggled in, still reliving the ghostly waves of her orgasm. God. That had been sublime. She felt all boneless. Jarrett also seemed relaxed, but he gripped her protectively, which made her wonder and worry what he might have to say to her. “My brother told me,” he began hesitantly, “that the last time he saw you was at the hospital and that you probably overheard something you shouldn’t have—” “Oh,” she said and felt her cheeks go warm.
DOWN TO THE BONE “What Bobby said about your being my geek girlfriend—” “Doesn’t matter,” she cut him off. “Isn’t true,” he said at the same time. “It’s all right, Jet.” She gave him a hug, she couldn’t help it, he looked so forlorn, as if he’d said those things instead of Bobby. His hug enfolded her back, which was both wonderful and heartbreaking. There were a few things she had to say to him as well, and having his arms about her only made it harder. She didn’t want him to release her, and he probably would once she said them. Listen, I...” she fumbled, “I want you to know, I’d never ask you to give up sports. I know I came across that way, but I really wouldn’t. It’s in your bones, part of who you are—and I love who you are. You have to understand, though, how painful it is to even imagine you destroying your body, concussing that wonderful brain of yours, over and over again for years to come. I’m not sure I can watch that, let alone celebrate it. I know that means I can’t be with you. You—you made that very clear. And I’m all right with that. It hurts, but I get it. I just don’t want you angry at me for not being able to adapt.” 91
THIRTEEN “I’m not angry,” Jarrett tried to assure Liddy. There was such terrible pain in her expression and Jarrett couldn’t bear to think he’d caused it. “That’s who you are, and I love who you are, too. That’s why I came here tonight. To tell you that. And to tell you that I get it, too.” “Get it?” she echoed. “Survival of the fittest.” He stroked her arm, her soft, soft arm, stopping on the tattoo and tapping it. “When I first saw this,” he said, “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It took me a while to figure out why. It looks a little like a football helmet.” Liddy’s brows went up and she glanced down at her shoulder, re-examining it. “You’re right. It does,” she laughed. “Though, it’s kind of a broken helmet.” “Skulls are nature’s football helmet,” he observed. “One of my elementary school teachers said that when he was trying to teach us about the human body.” He went somber. Here came the hard part. “You only told me the plain truth about my future. Right to the bone. Which is why I got so mad. See, football is all I’ve ever had. The thought of giving it up scared me. I’ve never even tried to put my mind to anything else...mostly because I was afraid that I’d discover I was stupid and unable to do anything else.” 92
DOWN TO THE BONE “What? That’s ridiculous!” She looked so outraged he hugged her again and almost laughed. God, was this all he’d needed all this time? Someone to believe in his brains as much as they believed in his athletic ability? “It’s what I used to think,” he went on, “now...I’m starting to value my mind, and I’m not as willing to risk it as I was, not before I know what it can really do. I especially don’t want doctors gluing my skull back together like one of your artifacts. Which is why I’ve decided that I’m not joining the NFL.” Liddy pushed at her glasses. “You’re not?” “It might well kill my father when I tell him, but I’ve had more than a few realizations this season. I’m good enough, but not even close to indispensable. And that’s in college ball. Can you imagine how much more replaceable I’d be in the leagues? Which has me wondering if the short career I’m seeing ahead of me would be worth life-long damage to my bones and brains. Putting it in your terms, I think pro football would be a dead end for me.” “Jet.” She was eyeing him doubtfully. “Are you sure?” “It wasn’t only what you said,” he assured her. “There’ve been other things. Like having Delarose there to compare myself to, the knee injury and being forced to realize that my dad has directed most of my 93
THIRTEEN life and my choices; he raised me to think my athletic talent was all I had going for me. But it isn’t all I’ve got, is it? I think—I think you’re the glue that put all these pieces together so I could see the whole thing and know it. “Doesn’t mean I’m sorry I went into sports,” he added, “I really do love playing football and anything I do will be related to it.” “Jarrett—” “And I still intend to play next season,” he warned, perhaps a little too defensively. “And maybe the one after that if I can and if I’m still wanted. I’m not done with it yet, and it is part of my contract with the college. Do you think you could come to those games and be there for me, even if you can’t cheer me on? I mean, until I graduate and find myself a profession that isn’t so hard on my bones?” Her dark eyes were shining now, beautiful as deep, dark waters. “Oh, yes.” She gripped him tightly. “That, I can do. But you’d better survive because I don’t want to go on without you.” “We’re together on that,” he said, gripping her back. “I want a future with you. That is my new goal.”
MAY His father had gone all out for the Memorial Day barbecue. There were T-bones and ribs, and the weather was playing along as well. The smoke from the roasting meat wafted up into clear and sunny skies, and the green backyard held the smells and promise of summer. Jarrett sat under the shade of the blossoming apple tree, drinking down an orange soda and listening with half-an-ear to his father chatting up the neighbors. “I wasn’t too happy about it at first,” his father admitted, “but he pointed out that being a chiropractor to football players means he’ll be making steady money till he’s old and gray. And he’ll still be involved in the game. He just started taking the classes this last semester, but his teachers think he’s a natural. Getting all A’s.” Jarrett grinned. Things were better between him and his dad, and they’d improved with Frankie as well. His brother was working the grill, head up, his shoulders squared. Now and then, as he deposited a steak or rib on a plate, he even smiled. A pair of small hands appeared on Jarrett’s broad shoulders and snaked down his chest. The left 95
THIRTEEN one bore a modest, diamond engagement ring. A feminine cheek rested against his. “I shouldn’t have worn a sleeveless top,” Liddy murmured in his ear. “Everyone keeps staring at my tattoo.” “Just tell them you belong to a motorcycle gang,” he murmured back, and pulled her around into his lap. Her plump ass and thighs wiggled until she was comfortable and he was warmly aroused. “Oh, they haven’t been asking me about it,” she said. “They’ve been asking your father.” “Uh-oh. What’s he been saying?” “Actually, he’s been explaining it quite well. And he’s been boasting about Frankie’s academic awards, too. Says it looks like Frankie’s going to get his own scholarship to college.” “Well, that’s something the old man can boast about for sure. That he didn’t have to pay for either of us to get a higher education.” She laughed, her glasses flashing in the sun. “Well, you should also know he’s boasting about what a clever girl you got yourself. He seems quite as proud of that as anything.” “You sound surprised,” Jarrett retorted. “You shouldn’t be. All he did was evolve. Isn’t that what we Homo sapiens do best? Evolve?” 96
DOWN TO THE BONE “It’s in our bones,” Liddy agreed, removing her glasses. That was all the invitation Jarrett needed. He leaned in and exchanged with her a very primal kiss.
To read more works by Thirteen, check out: Christmas Lantern Exchange Value Full Disclosure Garden of Earthly Delights, The Pretty as a Picture Special Occasion, A Valentine Prayers
THIRTEEN In the Fall of 2005, Thirteen felt a desire to read some romantic erotica and went to an online website to indulge. Halfway through this indulgence, it occurred to her that she had a few erotic and romantic stories she wanted to tell. Six years, four awards—including one from a French website—and twenty-two stories later, she's still writing erotic romances. Who knew such large rewards would come from such a small indulgence? Thirteen lives in a seaside town with a cat, a strange but sexy man who says he's her husband, and a very romantic imagination.