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Snow Angels, Part Two

  • Posted on October 18, 2016 at 3:17 pm

By Rebecka

It was half an hour later. Agnes and I sat side by side on the seat directly behind Mr. Sanford’s driver’s seat, wrapped in all four blankets, staring out the doors. Strangely, they hadn’t iced up the way the windows had. I didn’t understand it; I was just grateful.

“Do you think he’s okay?” I asked. The words came out barely recognizable. Both Agnes and I were erupting in uncontrollable spasms of shaking. I had my hands jammed in my pockets, and my chin buried in the zipped up collar of my coat. My legs were freezing inside the thin lining of my Levi’s; my toes were numb.

“Sure he is,” Agnes replied unconvincingly. “He’s probably reached a house, called the police, and is on his way back right now.”

Outside, the second flare sputtered and died. Without thinking, I stood up, yanked open the doors and dropped down into the well. We were starting on our second half hour. How long could someone, even well bundled up as Mr. Sanford was, survive in this cold? On the good side, I could still see where he’d plowed through the snow, which I hadn’t been able to fifteen minutes before. The wind blew just as hard, but there was less snow obscuring my vision. Unfortunately, the temperature hadn’t improved at all.

“Mr. Sanford?” I hollered. I heard nothing but the howling wind. Digging the flare out of my pocket, I freed the lid and struck the top across the button. Even before it had begun to properly spew fire, I pitched it into the flare crater, scrambled back up the steps and wrenched closed the door.

“Jesus Christ, it’s cold outside!” I jammed my hands back in my pockets and sat down beside Agnes. She immediately flung the blanket around my shoulders and secured it in the front. For the hundredth time, I cursed my stupidity in not bringing my gloves. No, what I cursed was my laziness in not looking for them this morning.

“Thanks,” I said through chattering teeth. As I had been for the last half hour, I was intensely aware of our close proximity…and the discomfort it caused us both. Agnes had remained quiet throughout the ordeal, speaking only in reply to a comment or question. It was driving me crazy. What was also driving me crazy was the growing certainty that I liked being wrapped in a blanket with her.

“What if he really doesn’t come back?” I moaned. I forcibly pushed aside the scenarios running in my mind about Mr. Sanford wandering around in circles, stepping into a hole and breaking his ankle, collapsing exhausted and frozen into a snow bank.

“Don’t talk like that,” Alice chattered back. “He’ll be fine. We just have to believe that.”

What I believed was just the opposite. But then I’d always been a pessimist. I always saw the worst possible outcome.

“Are you and Paul, like the real thing?” she asked unexpectedly.

I blinked, and then shrugged under the blankets. “Don’t know. Guess so, I guess. We like each other.” The truth was, Paul was more steady company for me than a boyfriend, and I was more a body to feel up and attempt to stick fingers and a prick into, though so far I’d successfully resisted the latter, much to Paul’s chagrin. So far, however, he’d come closer that anyone else to claiming my virginity.

“What about you?” I asked, not cruelly, but in an attempt to keep her talking. “Anybody special?”

She rolled her eyes. “Right. That’s gonna happen here.”

“What about before you got here?” I asked. She was only a year or so older a resident of Minnesota than I was. If Agnes had stood a chance of scoring a boyfriend anywhere, it had to be Florida.

She shrugged. “It was better there than here. At least there, I had some friends. Here I’m the only Jewish girl in the whole damned school.”

I cocked an eyebrow at her. “You really think that’s the reason? I’ve never heard anyone mention your religion before at all. I didn’t even realize you were Jewish. Not that it matters. It’s not like you’re black or Hispanic or anything.” I grinned. There were no blacks in our class, and only one or two Hispanics. In my old school in Atlanta, I had been in the minority.

“What do they talk about then?” she asked wryly. “My big nose?”

“No. About you being a lesbo.”

She was shocked wide-eyed, her mouth opening in protestation… until I laughed.

“Bitch! I can’t believe you said that. It’s not true, is it?”

Continuing to laugh, I shook my head. “Your secret is safe with me. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

She was red to the roots of her hair. “I’m not a lesbo. I’ve never been with a girl before. I don’t like girls.”

“You like me,” I interrupted.

“That’s different,” she said, pouting. “I just thought you’d be a nice person to talk to.”

“I’m not?” I wondered.

Her face redden even more. She mumbled, “I don’t know. I’ve never talked to you before.”

“We’re talking now,” I reminded her.

“Only because.”

“Only because is as good a reason as any,” I said. “Why not take advantage of it?”

She hunched under the blanket and leaned away from me. I took my hands out of my pockets, grabbed the overlapped ends of the blanket and pulled them tighter together. It forced her back against me.

“Maybe I like talking to you,” I said. “Have you considered that?”

She hunched her shoulders even more. “You didn’t seem to earlier.”

“I kinda got taken by surprise,” I said. “I never for a minute suspected you had any interest in me.”

Her face was now scarlet. I could actually — or imagined I could — feel the heat radiating off it. Slowly, I moved my left hand in search of her right, found it and forced my fingers between hers, entwining them together.

“I think maybe I like you having an interest in me, Agnes.”

Startled, she inched her head around. “What?”

I told her about my revelation of earlier, of discovering that I had suppressed my own interest, had experienced jealousy and insecurity, even about the battle of the voices.

She blinked at me slowly, guardedly.

“Do you think I’d lie about something like that? Under the present circumstances?” I scooted in tighter against her, found her other hand in the folds of blanket and gripped it also, though through a layer of blanket. I drew my legs up beneath me and sat on my feet; Agnes did likewise.

“These seats are really cold,” I said. “Let’s tuck the blankets under us.” Though difficult, with only one hand each to accomplish the task — the others desperately clutched the blankets together in the front — we somehow managed.

“Better,” I muttered. I dreaded when the flare burned out again and I’d have to get up and replace it. It couldn’t be more than twenty degrees in the bus. The cold was absolutely glacial. Breath billowed out whitely with each exhalation, almost looking crystalline. My teeth refused to stop chattering. Agnes was shaking like a tree in an earthquake.

“Maybe we should put our heads under the blanket,” she suggested.

“What a great idea,” I agreed, shouldering the blankets up and over my ears. Though we had to hunker over almost double, the blankets were just large enough to enshroud us like a cocoon. Right away I could feel a difference in my cheeks and nose, which embarrassingly, wouldn’t stop dripping. I sniffed loudly.

“God, I hope we don’t get frostbite.”

Agnes shook her head. “We should be okay as long as we have these blankets around us. The warmth of our breathing should bring the temperature up. I already feel warmer, don’t you?”

I hadn’t noticed any lessening of my shaking. It was like every muscle in my body had a needle stuck in it with an electric wire attached. I imagined this was what being electrocuted felt like. I found her hands again and gripped them tightly. “If we get out of this,” I said. “From now on, you and I are eating lunch together every day.”

She coughed out a laugh. “That’ll go over big with your friends.”

“Fuck my friends. They’re not trapped here with me on this bus. They’re home, safe and sound with their iPods and cell phones and boyfriends. Totally oblivious.” I turned to look at her in the darkness. “I’d like you to send me every one those emails, Agnes. I want to read all of them. I don’t know if I’ll reply to any of them — there were so many — but I’d like to know what you wrote.”

Agnes groaned.

“What?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Why?”

“You have no idea what I wrote in some of those emails, Ellen.” She hesitated saying my name, and I realized it was a first for her. “I really poured out my heart. Even if we were best friends forever,” she said anxiously, “there is no way I would have sent more than one in five of those emails. Mostly, they were my electronic diary.”

“So?” I objected. “I’d let you read my diary.”

“No, you wouldn’t. Diaries are private. Too private.”

I was quiet a moment. I wondered if I could even imagine the things she had written, or whether I wanted to. Maybe I was better off not knowing. On the other hand, I had never done anything worthwhile enough to start my own diary. An indicator of my shallowness?

“Can I tell you something?” I said.

“What?”

“I’ve never had a real girlfriend before. Someone I could share secrets with. Most of the people I hang around with are more interested in their nails or the skirt they bought last weekend or their hairdos than they are in listening to a friend’s problems… or even in being friends. The people I hang around with — including myself — are more plastic than Barbie.” I snorted. “Barbie is Mother Teresa compared to some of us.”

It was Agnes’s turn to be silent. I felt her obvious embarrassment, her uncertainty of how to respond to a confession like that. “Forget I asked. It’s not important,” I told her.

She was quiet a moment longer, and then asked in a hesitant voice: “Would you want to see the latest ones, or see them in order?”

I grinned in the darkness. “From the beginning, please. I’d like to see how your infatuation with me has progressed over the last five months.” I giggled, to make sure she knew I was joking. I heard her giggle back.

“Okay. That sounds cool.” I could hear the continued embarrassment in her voice, the uncertainty, but also a tinge of hope.

Responding to a command disguised as an impulse, I leaned sideways and attempted to find her mouth. When the reality of what I was doing hit her, I heard a gasp. She jerked away, but then, very slowly, leaned back toward me again. Made clumsy by the darkness, our mouths finally found each other. As soon as they touched, I closed my eyes and held my breath. Her lips were so soft, their touch so timid. My shoulders reacted to a shiver. I drew her closer while I bent my head farther sideways and increased the pressure on her lips. I knew with certainty that she had never been kissed before, not like this, not by someone attracted to her. My heart pounded. I felt incredibly squirmy, as though my body might at any moment wrest control from my mind and attack the object of its desire. As many boys as I’d kissed, not one had lit a match to my insides like Agnes was doing. It felt like a flare had erupted.

“Oops,” I said breathlessly, breaking the kiss. My lips screamed at me in protest. “I forgot about the flare. I need to check it.”

I could feel Agnes’ rapid breath on my cheek; practically hear her heart beat in her chest. She had begun to shake again, but in a different manner than she had previously. The way I was now shaking,

“Thank you,” she whispered, and not about the flare.

I kissed her quickly and pulled the blanket down so that I could check outside. Sure enough, the flare had gone out. I was startled how frigid the air had become outside our little cocoon. Digging in my pocket, I extracted the third and final flare from the open package, shrugged out of the blanket, stumbled to me feet and dropped down into the well. Agnes grabbed the lever through the folds of blanket and worked the doors open even as I freed the plastic cap and struck it across the chemical button. It took two tries. This time, instead of pitching the flare out into the snow, I held it above my head and scanned the nightmarish landscape. Despite Mr. Sanford’s assurances otherwise, it looked like the backside of the moon.

“Mr. Sanford!”

Listening, I heard nothing but the shriek of wind and the hissing, popping flare. The wind had not diminished since the last time I’d looked outside but, though I wasn’t positive, it appeared that most of the snow in the air was being torn from the tops of snowdrifts and from the bare braches of trees. I gauged the visibility at twenty yards, roughly twice what it had been before. Encouraged, I yelled again, waved the flare back and forth over my head and, after listening carefully and squinting against the wind, pitched it forward into the crater. I was surprised when Agnes joined me in the well.

“Do you see him?” she asked.

“No,” I had to admit, dully. “The snow is letting up, though.”

“I can see that. How deep do you think it is?”

I liked having her standing there with me; the cramped floor space meant we had to be in contact. To my surprise — and pleasure — she wrapped the blanket around me and held it closed with her arms around my lower rib cage. Even through the thickness of her parka and mine, I could feel the pressure of her small breasts against my back. That, and a smile I couldn’t restrain, made my face redden.

“Three feet, maybe,” I mumbled. Reaching up, I located her hands in the folds of blanket and gripped them. I drew her to me; she nuzzled her cheek next to mine, her chin over my shoulder and I shuddered, and not from the cold. I shivered twice as hard when a moment later she kissed my neck just below the jaw line, to which I responded automatically by squirming and trying to squeeze her out, giggling. My face grew fiery hot.

“Stop that!” I protested.

“You can’t be afraid someone will see,” she said teasingly.

“I’m not! I’m ticklish!” I giggled when she kissed me again, then spun about inside her arms and wrapped my arms around her waist. I looked directly into her chocolate-brown eyes. It hadn’t occurred to me before that we were the same height. She leaned forward and kissed me. I kissed her back.

“Mr. Sanford would die if he came back to this,” she said, mischievously.

“More like, he’d die to see this,” I argued. “Men get off on girls kissing girls.”

“More like, you giving a blow-job to your boyfriend would get him off.”

“He’s not my boyfriend. And I’ve never given him a blow-job.”

Despite the levity, my face reddened again. Purposefully or not, Agnes knew how to make me squirm. It seriously made me squirm wondering where this was going, and just where it would end up. As much as I’d like to believe myself a courageous person, I couldn’t see us walking down the school corridors, hand in hand, smiling contentedly. She read my thoughts — or my expression.

“Were you serious about being friends? I don’t expect you to suddenly declare yourself to the world as being in love with me.” My face blistered again. “I’ll be happy just to be talked to,” she went on, smiling shyly, “maybe invited to your table once in a while for lunch. I don’t expect you to humiliate yourself. I’ve seen too many movies to expect everything just to fall in place. Considering that you want things to fall in place.”

Despite my embarrassment, I maintained a connection between brain and tongue. “I wouldn’t be standing here with my arms around your waist unless I was genuinely attracted to you, Agnes. It took something like this tonight to make me step back and take a hard look at myself. I’ve never been happy with guys. I’ve known that for a long time, but never allowed myself to see past the disgruntlement to figure out where it was coming from. I’m not even sure that’s a word, but I can’t think of one better to describe how I’ve been the last four years. Ever since I grew boobs. Ever since guys started pestering me. You know how girls talk about nothing but guys and sex?” I grinned at her dour expression. “Well, I’ve never been into guys like all of my girlfriends are. My enthusiasm was just a little bit made up. I just wouldn’t let myself admit what I really was interested in.”

I bit my lip. Had I just told a lie? The truth was, I seemed no more attracted to girls than I was to guys. If I was being honest with myself, could I remember a single instance of looking at a girl and being sexually attracted to her? I didn’t think so. Except for Agnes.

“Maybe…” I said haltingly. “Maybe what I am is not really a lesbian, but someone who responds to only one certain person. That person could be a guy, or someone of my own sex. It wouldn’t really matter, as long as the response is genuine. The truth is, I’ve never responded to anyone until now. I think maybe you’re my person, Agnes. You may be my soul mate. Does it feel that way to you?”

I didn’t know what her response would be, but it couldn’t have been better than Agnes closing her eyes, leaning in and kissing me like I was a princess. The air evacuated my lungs without me breathing, my knees turned to Jell-O and everything inside me melted, like chocolate. It honestly felt as though Agnes was holding me up. I was beyond pliable.

“Mmmmm,” I moaned weakly. Agnes ran her hand up my back and cupped the back of my neck. I moaned again. I was trembling, trembling pitifully. On their own authority, my hands moved up her sides and located and took possession of her firm, small breasts. Now Agnes began to moan. The flare had once again ignited in my gut and I swear I had the horrible, maddening desire to be naked inside that blanket with her, for her to be naked.

I fought my hands to keep them on the outside of her coat, rather than unzipping it as they wanted to do. Never before in my life had I wanted hands touching my bare breasts like I did now. When our mouths opened and allowed the melding of our tongues, it was the most wonderful moment I had ever experienced. I stopped breathing and I swear my heart stopped beating. How long we remained with own mouths joined and our tongues dancing, I don’t know. The passage of time had no meaning. When finally we did break, we both stood panting, foreheads together, our breathing ragged and irregular. It was a long time before I opened my eyes.

“Don’t you ever kiss anybody else like that,” I rasped out. “Don’t you ever.”

She laughed weakly. “I don’t know how to kiss. At least, I didn’t know I did. I’ve only kissed one boy before, and that was like two years ago; a kiss so he wouldn’t have to embarrass me by shaking my hand. I didn’t know anything could be like that,” she said, laughing. “I think I had an orgasm.”

I laughed, she joined me and we didn’t stop laughing for a full minute. I glanced briefly over my shoulder, both to check the flare, and to make sure we didn’t have an unexpected audience. The truth was, I was so wet between my legs that I might as well have had an orgasm. It was embarrassing. I’d be supremely embarrassed to have her know she’d done that to me. Not ever having experienced an orgasm before, I couldn’t wait to experience one with her. I told her so.

Blinking, she turned red. “Obviously, I never have,” she muttered.

“Not even by yourself?” I wanted to know.

Intimidated, she shook her head.

“Well, I haven’t either. Obviously, I’ve been saving that for you.”

Now she really did turn red.

The flare burned out during our next kiss. Reluctantly, I surrendered her breasts (she had yet to touch mine, unfortunately), dug in my pocket for the unopened package of flares, and struggled ineffectually to get it open. Finally, knowing I had no choice, I turned around (grumpily), freed my hands of the blankets and wrestled the package open. I did so at the expense of two of my nails.

“Motherfucker,” I mumbled irritably. Then I gasped and jumped a little bit as Agnes released the blankets, put her hands over my breasts, and cupped them through my coat. My face turned red with the unexpected pleasure of it. I was amazed how natural her hands felt on my breasts. “I like that,” I said gratefully.

She whispered in my ear: “I liked it when you held mine. Sorry to cheat you. I definitely got the better part of this exchange.”

“Stop it,” I said, going beet red once again. After the scalding it taken in the last few hours, I was surprised I had any face left to burn.

With Agnes meticulously acquainting herself with my chest, I removed a flare from the pack, returned the others to my pocket, broke loose the plastic top without bothering to peel the red banding first and struck the button. I had to make myself search the snowscape for any sign of Mr. Sanford, call his name twice into the emptiness, and listen for any response over the persistent wind. I was really becoming upset, as was Agnes.

Where the hell was he? Why hadn’t he come back? Should we go out looking for him? I voiced this last question to Agnes, who bit her lip.

“Do you think we should?”

“I think, we’d end up just like he did,” I admitted, sorrowfully. I was back to blocking visions of him lost in the snow. I didn’t know how anyone could last five minutes out there, much less forty-four minutes. I was beginning to loose whatever hope I’d had. Depressed, I pitched the flare into the ever-widening crater.

*****

Back in our little cocoon, we passed the time kissing and making romantic small talk. I told her about my miserable love life, she told me about her non-existent one. We played with our inside set of hands; the outside set were instructed not to release the overlapped blankets under penalty of death. Inside our little cocoon, it became warm enough so that we both stopped shaking. In an unguarded moment, I made a chancy admission.

“I’d like to lose my virginity to you, Agnes.”

I felt her stiffen, her breath stopping momentarily. “Really?” she whispered.

“If we were in bed, I’d be all over you. I’d give you a great big hickey right here.” Awkwardly unzipping her coat six inches with my left hand, I touched the side of her neck, right between her jaw line and shoulder. On impulse, I leaned in close and attached my mouth to the very spot. I waited for her reaction.

“My mom would kill me.”

“Maybe, but I bet she’d celebrate too,” I said laughing. I felt the tempo of her breathing quicken, grow deeper, her heartbeat accelerate. Consciously or not, her head tiled away from me, invitingly and I reattached my mouth to her neck. I sucked lightly, letting my teeth touch her skin.

“I want you to do it,” she said raggedly. “But I also know that tomorrow everybody in school is going to be talking about Bus 9899 and how Agnes Ahlberg and Ellen Olson were the only two students on it when it crashed. Everyone, you boyfriend included, will know where this came from. They won’t think that Mr. Sanford gave it to me.”

Fuck, I thought irritably. “Then I’ll just have to put it somewhere no one will see it.”

Releasing the blankets, I found the tab of her zipper and pulled it halfway down her chest. She gasped, and then gasped again when my fingers sought out the upper two buttons on her blouse and released them. Pushing aside the collar, baring her shoulder, I placed my mouth alongside her bra strap and began to suck, sinking in my teeth and drawing her flesh into my mouth. She groaned, and then groaned louder as my right hand stole inside her parka, freed another button on her shirt and slid inside. Her breast was even smaller than I’d thought; unable to cup it, I simply laid my hand over it and enjoyed the warm firmness of her flesh.

Releasing her grip on the blankets, Agnes placed both hands on my waist; the unsecured blankets fell away, exposing our heads. Without releasing her shoulder, I twisted to look momentarily out the door and then returned full attention to her hickey and breast. My own right breast, found through the thickness of my coat, filled her hand. A moment later, her hand slid up beneath the waist of my coat, under my sweater and up to my bra-covered breast. I protested when the hand didn’t stop there but released the front catch on my bra and released me.

“No!” I complained, releasing her skin. In the reflected glare of the burning flare I could make out an oval bruise, darkening nicely. I fought to get my hand under her bra but was an instant behind her own hand. She laughed as she claimed first prize.

“Bitch! I was first.”

“You were slow,” she taunted.

“I was preoccupied,” I corrected. She had my nipple between her fingertips and was rotating it gently back and forth. It obediently hardened for her. I curled my fingers and found her own little fingertip. It was nice and hard, and surprisingly big. I could tell from sense of feel that her areole was small, the size of a quarter, maybe, and delightfully rough. I tweaked her nipple playfully; she tweaked mine. We both said “Ouch” together and laughed. To my chagrin, she reached up her back and popped the catch on her bra. It loosened over my hand and I fondled her nipple with complete freedom.

“If someone were to see us now, I’d be very embarrassed,” she said.

“Me too,” I agreed. Ignoring the cold, I unzipped her coat and pushed the left side over her shoulder. As she protested weakly, I finished unbuttoning her shirt, and opened it also, forcing it over her left shoulder. I raised her bra, exposing her breast to both the cold, and my hungry gaze. The blankets had settled around our waists, leaving us completely exposed to view.

“You’re not going to take off my shirt,” she said with some alarm.

“You’re right. I’m not going to.” Placing my left hand in the middle of her back, and my other against her left shoulder, I pushed and pulled at the same time, forcing forward the left side of her chest. Grinning, bending over, I placed my lips around her nipple and sucked it into my mouth. She groaned pleasingly. If I were a boy, I’d have a raging hard-on. Instead, I had flutters in my belly and a sopping wetness between my legs. Again, I felt the dread of acute embarrassment. Never had I been so wet. Never had I known such wetness was possible. I was a wetness factory. I desperately hoped that Agnes suffered the same problem.

Releasing her nipple, I kissed it gently on the tip and ran my tongue around the border of her areole. It was very dark, the exact size of a quarter, and perfectly round. Tiny bumps gave it a moonscape look. Between the cold and my attention, it had shriveled and hardened in a way I knew must ache terribly. I knew that because my own nipples ached terribly. Leaning back, I observed my handiwork.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how aroused I am,” she whispered huskily. Forcing her shirt back over both shoulders, while at the same time lifting her bra out of the way with my thumbs, I completely bared her petite breasts to any eyes capable of observing them. She was tiny, smaller even than my twelve-year old sister. Why that should excite me was a puzzle. I guessed it was one reason for her inferiority complex. I’d feel inferior with breasts that small, too. But maybe it wasn’t the size that mattered; maybe it was because they were mine, never having been seen before nor touched. My property, as mine were unquestionably hers.

“You’re embarrassing me,” she said, reddening as I ogled. “Imagine if Mr. Sanford walked up to the door right now.”

I continued admiring her breasts. “I’m sure he wouldn’t complain.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t congratulate me, either,” she said, wryly. “The flare just went out.”

“Fuck,” I sighed in the sudden darkness. I looked over my shoulder, back at her breasts, over my shoulder again and then far off into the darkness where an hour before, Mr. Sanford had disappeared. I had two flares left. I needed to light one. Mr. Sanford might even now be trudging the final twenty yards to the bus, blinded by my inactivity.

Releasing her shirt and bra, I grabbed the blankets and pulled them up around her shoulders. “Get the door?” I asked.

“Sure.” Rising, she shuffled to the lever and grabbed it through the protection of the blankets. My teeth were chattering, and the air stealing through the V of my unzipped jacket had gooseflesh erupted all across my chest and my nipples hard as diamonds. I wouldn’t doubt they’d cut glass. I didn’t want to try. Reaching inside my shirt, I closed the clasp on my bra and zipped my coat all the way up to my chin. Once warm in our little cocoon again, Agnes could free me and do as she pleased. The thought excited me terribly.

Igniting the flare, I held it high and waved it back and forth, yelling for Mr. Sanford at the top of my lungs. Agnes joined in, and I felt sure that if Mr. Sanford were somewhere out there stumbling around, we’d surely catch his attention. A futile five minutes later, I pitched the flare across the snow and backed up the steps into the bus. Agnes closed the doors again. We spent another silent minute watching without hope. We both knew the score. Mr. Sanford had either frozen to death, gotten hopelessly lost, or was unable to find his way back through the raging storm. Both the wind and snowfall had wound up to their prior intensity and reinstituted the white-out. Unable to stand it anymore, I guided Agnes toward the bench and we sat down.

“We’re alone, aren’t we?” she asked.

“Until they find us,” I said morosely.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. Putting my arms around her shoulders beneath the blanket, I drew her to me; she laid her head on my shoulder and whimpered softly.

“I don’t want to die, Ellen.”

“We’re not going to die, Agnes. Once we wrap ourselves up in the blanket, we’ll be fine. Remember: it can’t get any colder inside the bus than it is outside. When we cocoon ourselves, we might as well be camped around a toasty campfire. Believe me,” I said, laughing. “If there were marshmallows here, we could roast them over each other’s red-hot coals.”

Giggling, she nodded enthusiastically. “What you did to me a little while ago? I thought I’d spontaneously combust, I swear I did. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum set. This is my first time doing anything. No one has ever even seen my breasts, not even my mom. Well, except at school, that is,” she said, her humor failing. “God, I hate gym.”

Steering the conversation away from this uncomfortable subject, I said: “You know, my brother has pictures of me in the nude.”

Her head snapped up. “What?”

I nodded dejectedly. “Little prick. I took pictures of myself one afternoon after school, last October. We all did. My group at school. Really stupid, I know, but…” I shrugged. “You know how girls are.”

She smiled, dryly.

“Anyway, the agreement was that we’d email them to everyone in the group, to prove that we did it, password protected, you know, so that no one but us would get to see them. We all promised never to show them to anyone else, under penalty of death. Worse actually; anyone who broke the rules and let someone not in the group see them…” I drew my finger across my throat. “The rest of us would strip her naked in the Whole Foods Supermarket in town and make her run up and down the isles naked.” I giggled. “I’ve done that before you know: in my bra and panties.”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Another girl thing,” I said. “You better get used to it if you plan to hang with me. We do some pretty stupid things.” I grinned, devilishly. “Some pretty exciting things too. I could see you Isle Running. You’d be a natural, Ag.”

She guffawed, her face reddening. “And why would I ever want to do that?”

“Because I do?”

She looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure your friends are ready for me to go ruining their fun, Ellen. I’d look ridiculous, running up and down an isle in my underwear. Any guy who saw me would fall down on his butt, laughing his head off. I’m not exactly a Victoria’s Secret model.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” I chided. “You’re a lot better looking than you think you are. And sexier, too. You know Dana?” I asked, referring to Dana Hillborne, the latest addition to our group.

Agnes nodded carefully.

“She was a lot like you, until last spring when Tricia and Bodie invited her to a party. Shy, unsure of herself, doubtful. Now she’s as stupid and reckless as the rest of us. And accepted,” I added significantly. “Once someone invites you into the gang, you become one of us.” I waited out her hesitation. “If that makes you uncomfortable, I’m fine with a gang of two. You and me. I don’t need stupid and reckless to make me happy.”

She blinked, tears brimming her eyes. “You’d do that for me? Really?”

My own eyes teared. “I’d do just about anything for you. Believe me.”

Embarrassed, she looked away, trying unsuccessfully to fight her grin. To keep from embarrassing herself further, she said: “Tell me about your brother. How’d he find your pictures? Did he find all of them? Or just yours?”

I winced. “I kept all the other photos in their protected files, but hid mine in my user folder, in a folder labeled — are you ready for this? Naked Pictures of Myself!” I laughed caustically. “Can you imagine my brother’s face? Can you imagine anyone being that stupid?” I laughed again, and now she joined me. “I was so humiliated a month later when I snuck into his room and signed onto his laptop and found a picture of myself posing topless. He had set it as his goddamn desktop! I about died. I actually shrieked, the moron that I am, and thank God there was no one else in the house. Thank God, he wasn’t in the house! Can you imagine him catching me?

“Anyway, they were all there, in a folder on his desktop called Ellen Nude. He wanted me to find them, of course. He purposely disabled the sign-on screen so that I could get right to the desktop without any problem. He knows what a snoop I am. He skunked me, and he knows it.”

Trying to hide her mortification, Agnes said: “How do you feel about it, knowing he’s seen you nude? Doesn’t it bother you?”

“It does,” I admitted. “And it doesn’t.”

She looked at me, mystified.

“You don’t have any brothers,” I guessed. “If you did, you’d know.” Changing the subject again, I asked: “Have you ever snapped yourself nude?”

Her eyes widened in horror. “No way! Are you kidding me?”

I shook my head. “The first time I get you alone, I’m making you do a striptease. Right down to your birthday suit, little girl. Not just that,” I went on, ignoring her look of panic, “But I’ll dress you first in this really sexy, slutty schoolgirl outfit: white shirt, black mini skirt, black thigh-highs, really sexy bra and panties. Do you even own a pair of thigh-highs? A thong? How can you not own a thong? I have a drawer full of them. Well, I used to,” I said, shrugging. “They’re out of fashion now.”

Without looking first, I arose and undid my belt, lowered my zipper and ran my jeans down to mid-thigh. Although her eyes bugged out, and she blinked disbelievingly, she didn’t try to make me stop. I looked down at my beige panties and said: “I mostly wear hip-huggers now. Or boy-shorts. Boy-shorts are so cool.” I unzipped my parka and pulled up my sweater, revealing the matching bra I wore underneath. Her eyes grew bigger and her mouth formed a perfect O. I just had to laugh at her. “What are you wearing?”

She shook her head empathically.

“I showed you mine,” I objected. Slowly, I wiggled back into my jeans and pulled up the zipper. To my surprise, my sweater had remained pushed up over my bra, and I purposely thrust out my chest before pulling it back down and smoothing it over my tummy. My heart was going a million miles an hour. I wanted so badly for Agnes to get up and mimic me. I was ready to beg.

Gulping loudly, still continuing to shake her head back and forth in denial, even as she got awkwardly to her feet, Agnes let the blankets slide off her shoulders to the seat cushions. Then, hesitantly she touched the buttons of her shirt. At some point over the past fifteen minutes, she had also refastened her bra, closed the buttons on her shirt and tucked in her tails. I could see her breathing with difficulty. I could see the thud of her heartbeat in a vein in her neck. I smiled, remembering the tattoo I’d left right beside her bra strap. Her eyes followed mine.

“You better hope no one sees that,” she grumbled. “You went a little overboard, didn’t you? It looks like a black hole. It’s threatening to devour my entire shoulder.”

I laughed. “I’d be a lot more worried about the next one I intend to give you, Ag. That one will be a lot more visible than the one on your shoulder…and a whole lot more compromising,” I added, laughing wickedly.

I moved toward her, two very deliberate steps, raising my hands. She retreated, running up against the seat cushion. “Ellen,” she warned, her voice cracking into the falsetto range. “Don’t you dare!” She squat down to retrieve the blankets and wrapped them around herself protectively. “I’m warning you! Stay away from me!”

Grinning, I slowly drew the two sides of the blankets aside, and stepped into her personal space.

Continue on to Part Three