Innocence Found


S X Meagher

“Ooo, Riley, your hands are cold!” Mattie Geoffrey gasped as icy fingers slid down her bare back.

“Sorry,” Riley muttered quietly. “I’m not used to this, ya know.” She swiped at her hair, the disordered mass of curls falling into her eyes and obscuring her vision. “I don’t really know what to do.” Riley was obviously nervous and clearly out of her element, so Mattie tried to reassure her.

“It’s okay, sweetie. You’re doing just fine. Just bear with me and give me some feedback. That’s all you have to do.”

“Okay,” she said softly. “Uhm … should I unbutton you?”

“Uh-huh,” Mattie replied. The dress was quickly unfastened, and Riley partially averted her eyes, still feeling very unclear on what was expected of her.

“Do you two need any help in there?” the saleswoman asked as she popped her head into the dressing room.

Mattie, of course, took it in stride, calmly rebuffing the offer. “No, thanks. We’re doing just fine.”

The clerk shot a glance at Riley, studying the tall, nervous-looking youngster whose eyes seemed unable to light on anyone for longer than a nanosecond. “Can I bring something in your size, dear?”

“No!” Now the big, brown eyes locked onto her, a look of absolute horror on the girl’s face. “No, thank you!”

Mattie couldn’t suppress the giggle that bubbled up from her. The saleswoman gave them a puzzled glance, but drew the door closed, leaving them to their own devices. “Oh, Riley, I’d pay good money to see you in one of these dresses.”

“You don’t have that kinda money,” the curly-haired young woman scoffed, some of her natural braggadocio returning now that they were interacting in their normal roles.

“Still,” Mattie grinned, “it would be worth whatever it cost.” She cocked her head and said, “You know, you’d really be pretty in a dress. You wouldn’t even do it for me?”

Riley grabbed her nose playfully and gave it a tug. “You know I’d do anything for you, Matts, but I like my style just fine. Dresses are not gonna happen. When we have our last class in two weeks, I’m gonna burn my uniform and never put on another skirt.”

“I like your style, too,” Mattie smiled up at her. “Now help me put this last dress on. It’s your favorite,” she teased, holding up the simple, white organdy number that Riley had insisted she take into the dressing room. After another bout of zipping and buttoning, Mattie smoothed the long, flowing skirt and turned around to face her friend. “How do you like it?”

Riley was able to do little more than nod her head briefly. “Buy it,” she demanded. “Sell your car, get a part-time job, hock your watch if you have to — but buy this dress.”

“Really?” Mattie looked down at herself, pleased as well as puzzled by her friend’s enthusiastic endorsement. “Why do you like it so much?”

“I’m not sure,” Riley mumbled. “I just know that it’s perfect for you. Thom will think he’s died and gone to heaven when he sees you in it.”

Giving Riley a wry smirk, Mattie reminded her, “I don’t want to encourage him to maul me, ya know. He does enough of that on his own.”

“You don’t look maulable,” Riley assured her friend, her eyes darting from her face to the floor. She cleared her throat and murmured, “You look … you look like an angel.”

She said this so quietly that Mattie had to strain to hear her. Giving her friend a look that was equal parts pleased and embarrassed, Mattie said, “Okay, Riley, if you’re that crazy about it, I’ll buy it.”

Trying to cover her own embarrassment, Riley grinned at her and said, “Thom’s gonna owe me — big time.”

“I’ll let him know you’re responsible,” Mattie assured her. “And stop pronouncing the “h” will you? It’s Tom!”

“If it’s Tom, it’d be spelled T-o-m, just like the rest of the world spells it,” she smirked. “Which, I might add, is the way it was spelled until he came to high school. I have my informants from his grade school, you know.”

“When your name is Tom Smith, you’ve got to do something to spice it up,” Mattie giggled.

# # #

The zinc-yellow Mustang Cobra convertible pulled into the parking lot of the local Dairy Queen, the driver earning nods and waves from the drivers of the other cars that filled the lot. With studied grace, she slipped her car into the most distant parking space, heading in more quickly than was wise. The top was down, as usual, and music throbbed from the massive subwoofers, remaining at ear-shattering volume until the song finished. Blissful silence reigned when Riley Quinn exited the distinctive car and strode up to the service window to order her usual - a large, peach-flavored Pepsi. Taking her drink, she sauntered through the lot, stopping to chat with a few of the drivers or passengers she recognized. It took her almost a half hour to reach the people she had come to see — her own little gang, as it were.

“Hey, look,” her friend Karen called out when she was still ten feet away. “It’s the queen of the D.Q.! I’m surprised you made it back to us while this dump was still open.”

“I’ve got to spend a few minutes with my adoring public,” Riley joked. “You know I love you the best, but I can’t slight my other subjects.”

“Where’ve you been all night?” Patty asked. She held out a pint of schnapps, and Riley poured a healthy dose into her cup.

“Ahh, peach schnapps,” she sighed after taking a sip. She looked at Patty and said, “I was hangin’ with Mattie. We had to, uhm … pick up a few things.”

“You running errands for the prom queen, huh?” Bettina asked. “The prom queen and the D.Q. queen. No wonder you two are such good friends.”

“I was not running errands,” Riley sniffed. “I was helping her pick out a dress.” She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth, but it was too late to pull them back in now, so she tried to cover with a little boasting. “She wanted the opinion of someone who really knows what looks hot on a woman.”

“Oh, that’d be you,” Bettina laughed. “I guess you have to be the authority on what looks good on a woman — since you’ve never seen one naked.”

“I’ve seen plenty of naked women,” Riley insisted, her eyes narrowing.

“Buying Playboy doesn’t count,” Patty giggled. “Come on, Riley, you know full well that you’re the only dyke in town. You’re gonna have to go to St. Louis to get laid, and until you get some decent fake ID’s, you’re not going anywhere.”

“There are plenty of dykes in Chicago,” Riley said, hoping against hope that there were. “As soon as I get to Northwestern, I’m gonna get me some.” She was rubbing her belly as though she had just consumed a delicious meal, cracking her friends up, as usual. Just then she noticed that one of their usual number was missing. “Where’s Florrie?”

Patty jerked her head towards the darkest corner of the lot where Florrie’s boyfriend Anthony’s car was parked. The windows were fogged up, even though the night was warm, and the car was rocking rhythmically. Riley shook her head, muttering, “The odometer’s about to turn over on her … uhm … you know,” she finished lamely.

“If you can’t bear to call it by it’s name, how in the hell do you think you’re gonna get some?” Patty laughed.

“I can say it,” Riley insisted. “Aw, hell, I’m just jealous. I’m gonna burst if I don’t get laid.”

“You could,” Karen assured her. “Lots of guys would do you, Riley.”

“Dogs try to hump my leg, too,” she scoffed. “Doesn’t mean I’m gonna let ‘em.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing, girlfriend,” Karen insisted.

“I hope I never do,” Riley smiled at her. “Hey, anybody got any bud?”

“I’ve got a little,” Bettina said. “Got your one-hitter?”

Riley stuck her hand in her chinos and pulled out the small, wooden pipe with a tiny bowl. Bettina filled it for her, and she lit the grass, taking in a massive toke and holding it as long as her straining lungs would tolerate. “Nice,” she purred, exhaling the smoke in a thin stream. She shook her cup in Patty’s direction, and her friend poured another couple of ounces of schnapps into it.

They spent the next few minutes discussing the absolute dearth of anything of interest happening in their small, extremely boring town, then the lights of the D.Q. flipped on and off a few times, signaling the close of the business day. “Fuck, I just got here,” Riley grumbled.

“They close at 11:00, Buzz,” Patty reminded her. “Even when you’re out with the prom queen until 9:30.”

“We weren’t out together,” Riley snapped. “She’s got a boyfriend.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t want to do her,” Bettina maintained. “Just ‘cause you can’t doesn’t mean you wouldn’t.”

“I don’t want to do her,” Riley said, enunciating carefully. “She’s my best friend — that’s all.”

“Only one reason for a stoner dyke to hang out with the prom queen,” Karen decided. “You want some.”

“I want some all right,” Riley agreed. “I just don’t want some from her.” She gave Karen a long look, starting at her neck and lingering obviously at each erogenous zone. “Now you — you - I’d do in a New York minute.”

“You’d have better luck with the prom queen,” Karen chuckled, giving her a pat on the cheek. “Gotta head home, Riley. 11:30 curfew.”

Riley said goodbye to each of her friends, then got into her car and headed over to the twenty-four hour truck stop, hard by the state highway that would one day soon lead her out of the place that passed for her home.

Her sorry excuse for a hometown, as she fondly called it, was just big enough to maintain three local hangouts: the D.Q., where the drop-outs, stoners, sluts and other undesirables lingered; Johnnie’s Burgers, where Mattie and the rest of the clean-cut set spent their evenings; and the truck stop, which was poetically named “Truck Stop.” Besides the long-distance truckers, this place was populated by high school kids who didn’t fit in either of the other two spots and the vermin that hung around the periphery of the town, looking to prey on anyone they could get their hands on.

Riley didn’t really like the place, but it was her only option once the D.Q. closed. She was just about the only person in her Catholic high school who didn’t have a curfew, so she made the best of it and struck up a tentative friendship with a few of the regulars. Regrettably, none of them were present this evening, and she had to content herself with sitting in her car, listening to her music and taking a hit off the flask of schnapps that she always kept under her car seat. Around 2:00 she was finally buzzed enough to be able to sleep, so she headed home, stumbling noisily when she entered the small, quiet house. If anyone heard her come in, he or she didn’t comment, and she flopped onto her bed face first, sleeping fully clothed until her mother came in to wake her for school.

# # #

The next afternoon Riley delivered Mattie home from school and popped her head into the kitchen. “Hey, Rita,” she called, smiling widely when Mattie’s mom turned to her.

“Hi, Riley. How was school?”

“Good,” she said, coming all the way in. She walked over to the counter and looked at the various elements of the meal that Rita was preparing. “Can I help?”

“Sure, if you want to,” Rita said. “Is Mattie even going to say hello?”

“Yeah. She just wanted to see if Thom called and then change her clothes.”

“You’ll stay for dinner, won’t you, honey?”

“Uhm … I can … are you sure it’s no trouble?”

“Of course not. Don’t forget to call your mother and tell her you’ll be here, Riley.”

The young woman smiled and said, “I’ll call her when I go upstairs. No rush.” It was a long-standing game between them — where Rita acted like Riley had parents who cared where she was and Riley acted like she cared enough to call. They both knew it was a lie, but neither was willing to stop the game after four years. Riley pulled up a stool and started to help Rita make dinner. Her help was always welcome, and it was doubly beneficial for Rita, since it let her pry information out of Riley that she would never have gotten out of her own daughter.

Mattie was upstairs for so long that Rob, her father, got home before she made an appearance. Rob, Rita and Riley were all sitting in the kitchen, waiting for dinner to be ready when Mattie came into the room, her swollen eyes and blotchy face a clear indication that she’d been crying.

Riley’s eyes widened in surprise, tears not a common occurrence for her friend. Rita hopped to her feet and placed an arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Thom can’t come home for the prom,” she sniffed. “He’s got a final on Friday and one on Monday, and he says he’s just too far behind to even consider it.”

“Tough break, honey,” her father muttered. “He can’t even come for the day?”

“No. He said he would have if he’d known I was gonna win the crown, but he knew I was one of the finalists. I just don’t think he wants to come,” she grumbled. “Now that he’s at U. of I., he thinks he’s too cool to come to a stupid senior prom.”

Rita patted her gently and reminded her of an important detail. “Now, Mattie, you know that’s not how Thom is. If there were any way he could come, you know he would. You’re the one who told him you didn’t really want to go.”

“I didn’t,” she groused. “But I’m the queen, Mom, I have to go.”

“That’s what you get for being the president of the National Honor Society, the editor of the student paper and the student council treasurer,” Riley said, a regretful tone to her voice. “Acting like that will screw you up every time.”

Mattie gave her a playful slap, cheered, as usual, by her brand of humor.

“Well, Riley,” Rob said, “which one of us will take her?”

Riley’s eyes grew wide, and she shook her head briskly. “Not me! Mattie would never live it down if I took her!”

“I didn’t really mean take her,” Rob chuckled. “I just meant drive her and pick her up.”

“Oh! That I can do,” she nodded. Turning to Mattie, she asked, “Is that okay, or would you rather drive yourself?”

“I am not driving myself to my prom,” she huffed, “and I’m not having my father take me!” She draped her arm around Riley and said, “I guess that leaves you, huh?”

“Since the prom king’s girlfriend hates your guts, I guess a triple date’s out of the question, right?” Riley teased.

“Don’t even kid about that,” Mattie said, frowning. “I saw her cheating with my own eyes. I had to turn her in.”

“I understand, Miss Mary Sunshine,” Riley chuckled. “The integrity of the whole school rests in your capable hands.”

Mattie put her capable hands around her friend’s neck and gave her a rough shake, making Riley laugh lustily. “Why do I keep you around?” she demanded.

“ ‘Cause you never know when you’ll need a chauffeur for the prom,” Riley reminded her, giving her a wide smile.

# # #

Riley hung out in Mattie’s room, chatting about nothing at all until ten o’clock. “I’ve gotta get to bed, Riles. Pick me up for school?”

“No prob. See ya tomorrow, queenie.” Riley made for the door, then stopped and turned to face Mattie. “You know, since I’m filling in for Thom, I think I’ll change the spelling of my name to R-h-i-l-e-y.” Her quick reflexes allowed her to easily duck the tennis shoe that came flying at her head, and she scampered out of the room, laughing herself silly.

“I’m taking off,” Riley said when she went back downstairs.

“Come here a second, will you, Riley?” Rob asked. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?”

She entered his tiny den and sat down in one of the leather chairs that faced his desk. With a wry smile she shrugged and said, “I can spare a few minutes. What’s up?”

“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot before,” he said, gazing at her carefully to gauge her reaction. “If it’ll be uncomfortable for you to take Mattie, we can work something else out.”

She shook her head, curls bouncing. “Not a problem. My reputation is always enhanced by being with Mattie.” With a slight coloring to her cheeks she said, “I can’t say the reverse is true. I’m just worried about what people will say about her.”

“Mattie can take care of herself,” he assured her. “You know she’s never given a thought to what other people say.”

“One of her best traits,” the young woman decided. She stood and extended her hand, making him smile at her insistence upon shaking when they parted. “You raise good kids, Rob. You shoulda had a dozen.”

“We’re barely getting by with one,” he teased. He clapped her on the back and said, “You’re going home, right?”

“Yep. I sure am,” she said, giving him her most winning smile. Eventually.

# # #

Rita stood at the door, watching the lanky young woman get into her car. Rob got up and went to the door when he didn’t see his wife return after a moment. Noticing the worried frown on her face, he asked, “Everything okay?”

She shook her head and walked over to the chair Riley had just vacated. “I worry about her,” she sighed. “Mattie won’t tell me much, but I’ve heard that she hangs out at the truck stop till all hours of the night.” Her scowl grew more intense as she said, “I’d like to get my hands on that mother of hers and give her a good talking to.”

“I still say she doesn’t have a mother,” Rob said, only half joking. “We’ve known the girl for four years, and we’ve yet to see any sign of her.”

“Mattie’s met her,” she reminded him. “She really does exist, she just doesn’t pay any attention to the child.” She wiped at her eyes, the fatigue of a long day settling on her heavily. “Mattie says she’s really quite pleasant. I don’t know why she’s so disinterested, but if I hear the rumors, I can’t believe that she doesn’t.”

“Whether or not she’s heard the rumors, I don’t see how those people can ignore the fact that the girl has wrecked two cars already. That accident on the bridge should have, by all rights, killed her. How she walked away from that still amazes me.”

Rita scoffed. “And those parents buy her a faster car — a convertible, no less. A bigger death trap doesn’t exist! What could they be thinking?” She gave her husband a worried look and said, “You don’t think she drinks when she’s with Mattie, do you?”

“She protects Mattie like a guard dog,” Rob reminded her. “I’m sure she’d never do anything to put her in danger. Besides, Mattie knows better than to ride with anyone who has been drinking.”

Rita nodded and said, “I’ll admit that I feel so much better about Mattie going to Northwestern now that Riley’s been admitted. They can look out for each other. Riley is so much more worldly than Mattie, and Mattie will make sure she doesn’t self-destruct.”

“It was sure nip and tuck waiting to hear about her admission,” Rob said, rolling his eyes. “Those darned nuns didn’t do her any favors. Not one of them went to bat for the kid.”

“They’re just so focused on her behavior problems,” Rita mused. “They can’t seem to realize that part of her problem is that she’s bored. She’ll be fine once she gets into a more intellectually challenging environment.”

“A more tolerant environment, too,” he added.

Rita smiled and said, “I’ve got to say, I’ve come to admire that kid so much, Rob. To have the guts to admit to being a lesbian in a narrow-minded cow town like this takes real guts.”

“It’s worked out better than I thought it would,” he admitted. “She just has such confidence about herself that no one has the nerve to make fun of her.”

“No, they don’t make fun of her, but it’s obvious that she’s ostracized. Mattie is the only friend she has who comes from a good family.”

“We’re feeling smug tonight, aren’t we?” he chuckled.

“You know what I mean,” she scowled. “Those kids she hangs out with are practically runaways.”

“I tell you, Rita, as much as I love Riley, the best thing for her is to get as far away from this town as she can manage — and stay away. She needs to be around people like her — bright kids who aren’t afraid to break out of the mold a little bit.”

“I agree, honey. I would love to have her close, but living in this town will kill her spirit — and that’s the best part of Riley.”

# # #

Riley poked her head down the stairs and called out, “Rita! There’s some crazy lady up here who insists she’s Mattie! Call the loony bin!”

Rita’s laugh floated up the stairs. “That’s my girl, Riley. The hair and makeup take a little getting used to, don’t they?”

Gazing at her friend with a fond smile, Riley called back down, “If Thom could see her tonight, he’d hang himself.” Walking back into the room, Riley closed the door and settled herself on the bed. “I’m sending you into the liquor store tonight,” she chuckled. “You could pass for twenty-five!”

“Like you have any trouble buying your schnapps,” Mattie scoffed. “Those idiots have been selling you booze since you were fifteen.”

“I was a very mature-looking fifteen,” Riley proclaimed. “They think I’m twenty-four now. Heck, I buy for kids who sit outside and beg for an adult to buy for ‘em.”

“Very gallant of you, Riley. You just have your fun now, ‘cause you’re not gonna be able to just b.s. your way through Northwestern. You’re gonna have to study in the evening.”

“I’ll just take the same classes that you do,” Riley grinned. “Then I’ll look over your shoulder during tests.”

“Dream on, baby doll. The last girl who tried that got suspended.”

“I don’t doubt that you’d rat on me,” Riley mused. Giving her a wink she added, “I like that about you.”

Wearing just a full slip, Mattie came over to the bed and sat next to Riley. Looking at her for a long minute, she tugged on a curl and said, “I worry about you, Riles. When Thom gets home for the summer, I know we’ll be together every night. What will you do in the evening?”

Riley grasped her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry about me, Matts. I have plenty of friends.”

“Too many,” Mattie scolded. “And one’s worse than the next.”

Giving her an indulgent smile, Riley said, “Hey, don’t put yourself down like that. You’re not the absolute worst.”

Mattie gave her a playful slap, realizing that they were not going to have a serious conversation this evening. “Help me get dressed, you delinquent.”

Riley hopped to her feet and went to the door of the closet to retrieve the dress. She wasn’t sure of the correct procedure and started to bunch the fabric up in her hands to put it over her friend’s head. “Good Lord, Riley, are you really that clueless?” Mattie took the dress and opened it wide, then stepped into the well she had created.

“Huh,” the taller woman mused. “Looks the same to me.”

“Not even close,” Mattie scoffed. She turned around and said, “Now, zip me, button me — do whatever you have to do to make sure this thing doesn’t fall off of me.”

Chuckling softly, Riley did the honors, the tiny buttons responding to her increasingly expert manipulation. “I’m getting good at this,” she said, pleased with herself. She gave Mattie a little pat when she finished and said, “All done.”

Mattie stepped into her bathroom, put the finishing touches on her hair, checked her makeup one more time and then swept into the room, making as dramatic an entrance as she could, given the limited space. “How do I look?” she asked, cocking her head questioningly.

Riley turned to her, then felt her mouth drop open as she took in the vision that stood before her. Gone was every trace of the gawky, boyish-looking child she had met just four years ago. Standing in her place was a stunningly lovely woman. The thick, dark hair was swept up, elongating Mattie’s slightly round, angelic face. Her dark eyes were shining, the skillful application of just a touch of eye makeup making them appear even darker and more captivating. Her full, pink lips appeared moist and soft, making Riley lean in towards her, wishing for just a moment that she could lose herself in the warmth that she felt beckoning her.

With a start, she stood at her full height, stunned at the thought that had flashed through her mind. She had never, never had that kind of thought about Mattie, and she was completely at a loss about how to deal with this unexpected and very much unwelcome development.

Mattie approached with a shy smile on her face, lifting her hand and grasping Riley by the shoulder. “Cat got your tongue?”

Good God, don’t say tongue, Riley silently begged. All I want to do is suck on yours right now! “Uhm … I just … you … uhm … damn, Mattie!” she finally said. “I’m not used to you looking like this.”

“Well, do I?” she asked softly, tilting her chin up to look into Riley’s eyes.

“Do you what?” the larger woman asked, totally befuddled.

She stepped closer and stared deeply into Riley’s eyes and asked, “Do I look like an angel?”

Unable to speak, barely able to stand, Riley nodded her head, mildly afraid that she would hear a clanging noise when she did so. Her head felt like it was full of rocks, and she mused that she was much more capable of driving when she was stoned and drunk than she was right now.

“Good,” Mattie said, releasing her friend from the light grip she had maintained on her shoulder. “Ready?”

“Uh-huh,” she mumbled, feeling everything but.

They went downstairs where they were forced to endure fifteen minutes of picture-taking — nearly every photo of the two of them together. Riley begged to step aside, but all three of the Geoffreys held firm, and she finally just gave in.

A wave of relief had flowed over Riley when the photo opportunity had begun. She was going to wear her normal jeans, but something told her that would not be a good idea. Instead, she was as dressed up as she ever consented to being, wearing neatly pressed black cotton slacks, a white cotton blouse and her black leather blazer along with her shiny, black, ankle-height boots. Her shoulder-length curls were glossy and relatively well-behaved after an application of some seldom-used hair care product that she’d found in a drawer at home. All three of the Geoffreys had commented on her spiffy appearance, but she shrugged it off, saying that she just didn’t want Mattie to look too much better than she did.

They were finally released, and Mattie sighed with relief when they reached the car. “I thought we’d be there all night!” Riley stepped next to her and opened her door, holding it wide, and then sweeping the yards of white material in behind Mattie, making sure that not a fleck of dirt marred her dress.

Trotting around to the driver’s side, Riley snuck her hand in the back seat and produced a clear, plastic box containing a stunningly perfect orchid corsage that matched the delicate orchid-colored satin ribbon bordering the bodice of Mattie’s dress. Wordlessly, Mattie shifted her gaze from the corsage to Riley’s darting eyes, then she locked onto those brown orbs and refused to budge until Riley looked at her. “Thank you,” was all she said, but there was just a hint of a tear in her warm, brown eyes, and Riley couldn’t bear to maintain the contact. She just nodded briefly and busied herself with taking the corsage from the box.

Her hands were shaking dramatically, but she somehow managed to pin the flower onto Mattie without piercing her skin. “Perfect,” she whispered, then started the car.

The music was on, as always, but instead of Riley’s preferred choice of Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit, Mattie was charmed to hear the Backstreet Boys’ latest. “You listen to this?” she asked, batting her eyes at her friend.

The larger woman was loath to admit that she had begun to hum some of the band’s songs to herself and found the music to be a calming oasis on nights when she drove around the town for hours on end, searching for something — anything- to soothe her aching soul. With another flash of clarity, she realized that she always thought of Mattie on those nights, wishing futilely that she were awake just to talk. “I know you like ‘em,” she said simply. “You’re the queen, remember?”

“I remember,” Mattie smiled, reaching over to pat Riley’s trembling thigh. “It means a lot to me that you’re taking me tonight,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Hey, I’ve been driving you to and from school for two years now. What’s one last night?”

“It’s important to me — that’s what,” Mattie said, refusing to let Riley push aside another compliment.

The dark head nodded, Riley finally allowing her friend’s words to penetrate her protective shield. “You’re welcome,” she said quietly, a slight flush coloring her cheeks.

They approached the local Knights of Columbus hall, the site of the prom for the class of 2001. Riley had grave doubts about the ability of the prom committee to transform the pedestrian space into a ballroom, but she reminded herself that she wouldn’t get the opportunity to peek. She parked in the first row next to the building — but in the last space, as always. Her car was her true home, and she guarded it zealously. Running around to the passenger side, she opened the door and bent to help Mattie out, barely resisting the all-consuming urge to kiss the lips that were so close to hers.

Once Mattie had smoothed her dress and Riley had checked her out thoroughly, the taller woman leaned against her immaculate car and crossed her feet at the ankles. “I’ll be waiting for you,” she smiled warmly. “Have a great time.”

Her shock evident, Mattie said, “You can’t possibly expect me to walk in there alone!”

Riley shrugged and said, “Why not? Everybody knows your situation, Mattie. It’s all people were talking about this week. Everywhere I went people were saying, ‘Mattie’s boyfriend can’t go to prom with her. Isn’t that horrible!’” Riley said this with an appropriately dramatic delivery, nearly causing Mattie to laugh.

The smaller woman placed her hands on her hips and gave Riley her most perturbed expression. “I don’t care who knows what, Riley. I’m not gonna walk in there alone.” The implacable face didn’t twitch, so Mattie let her real feelings show. She placed a hand on Riley’s crossed arms and looked into her eyes, saying, “I’m afraid.”

That brought the curly-haired woman up short. Her eyes gentled, and she clutched her friend’s chilled hand. “Are you really?”

“Uh-huh,” she murmured, sounding like a small child. “Everybody’s gonna be staring at me, Riley. I’d … I’d much prefer it if they’re staring at us together.”

“They will be, you know,” Riley said. “They’ll be staring and whispering behind your back.”

Mattie nodded. “Today’s May thetwenty-sixth, right?”


“Well, on August the twenty-seventh, we start school at Northwestern. If every one of these small-minded dimwits stops speaking to me tonight, I can easily get through the next three months with just you and Thom.” She extended her hand, and Riley grasped it lightly. “Besides, you look too cute to sit out here in a parking lot without letting everyone see you.”

She thinks I look cute! “Sure, Mattie, I’m sure that’s just what everyone will say. ‘Hey, look at how cute Riley looks!’”

“I know you don’t care what those idiots think,” she reminded her. “I think you’re cute, and I don’t want you to sit out here all alone.”

“Well,” Riley cleared her throat and said, “I’m not gonna be all alone. My buddies are gonna keep me company.”

Mattie rolled her eyes and gave Riley a look. Riley pointed to the farthest corner of the parking lot, where three cars were parked — their noses almost touching like the spokes of a wheel. The low thrum of music was wafting up on the breeze along with the unmistakable scent of burning marijuana. “Oh, yeah. Those are definitely your buddies,” the smaller woman grumbled.

“I’ll walk you in and then come out and hang,” Riley explained. “I’d feel like an idiot standing around while you were doing your queenie stuff.”

Mattie nodded, acknowledging that Riley would stick out like a very sore thumb. “Okay,” she agreed. “How will we hook up at the end?”

“When I see people start to leave, I’ll come back in and find you,” Riley assured her.

They were near the entrance, and still Mattie didn’t release her friend’s hand. As predicted, all eyes turned to them, and a few jaws dropped, but people were generally polite — at least to their faces. For the most part, people said hello to Mattie and nodded at Riley, acknowledging regrettably that they knew her. Once inside, Riley chuckled internally, deciding that a rectangular room with a bar running along one side looked like crap even with a load of crepe paper and balloons strewn about.

Mattie noticed the chairperson for the prom, and she guided Riley over. “Oh, Mattie, I was wondering when you were going to get here,” the harried woman said. Eyeing Riley, her eyes narrowed and she commented, “Quinn. I don’t have a ticket for Quinn.”

“Riley’s just dropping me off,” Mattie said, smiling up at her friend. “I guess you can go now — if you want.”

Grasping a bare shoulder, Riley lowered her voice and said, “Remember, I’ll come find you. Just wait for me.”

“Okay.” Mattie gave her hand one last squeeze and said, “Thanks, sweetie. For everything.”

Unable to resist her smile, Riley winked at her, whispering, “You’re welcome, your highness,” and strolled out with Mattie turning to watch her smooth, confident gait. Even with all of these jerks giving her the cold shoulder, she still looks like she owns the place, she thought fondly.

# # #

To a smattering of applause, Riley approached her friends, noting that Anthony and Florrie were upright and interacting with the rest of the group for a change. “Hey,” Riley nodded. “Haven’t seen more than the soles of your shoes all week.”

Florrie just waved her off, the vastly experienced young woman long past the point of embarrassment. “Anthony’s mom wasn’t home, so we had a real bed to do it in this afternoon. I don’t have the impression of a door handle on my back for a change.”

Anthony just grinned stupidly, apparently one of very few expressions in his arsenal. Riley had noticed only raging anger, befuddlement and vapidity, but she was always on the lookout for more.

Of all of her friends, Florrie puzzled her the most. One of the prettier girls in school, she was bright, funny and sexy as hell, but she chronically chose to go out with the biggest bunch of losers imaginable. Riley was certain that Anthony roughed her friend up, and she didn’t buy the excuse that they just played rough sexually. She’d seen bruises on Florrie’s upper arm that looked like she’d been grabbed hard, and once she had angry red marks around her neck. Riley guessed that choking could be part of sexual play, but she was quite sure it was play that she wanted no part of.

Anthony gave Riley a puzzled look, and once again she mused that his compressed features made him look like his head had been locked in a vise during his formative years. “Why’re we here?” he asked.

Cool … somebody has good bud, Riley surmised, noting the vacant gaze. “My friend Mattie is at the prom, and I’m waiting to pick her up,” she explained, even though she was sure Florrie had gone over the same facts earlier.

“She’s got a boyfriend,” Anthony informed Riley.

“Yeah, I know,” she said, treating him with the patience that his limited intelligence required. “He’s got finals and couldn’t come down.”

“Where’d he go?”

“U. of I.,” Riley said.

With a harsh laugh, Anthony threw his head back and roared. “Loser. He won’t be making Jack shit for years.” Anthony was the type of financial guru who was quite sure that the early years of making $15 an hour as a construction laborer would, in the long run, more than make up for the inconvenience of a college education.

“Riley’s going to college, too,” Karen said, chuckling mildly.

“Real college?” Anthony asked slowly.

“Uhm … yeah. Real college,” she admitted.

“In Chicago,” Karen added.

The assembled members of the group were quiet for a minute. Their town was exactly two hundred sixty-six miles from the Windy City, but of the group, only Riley had ever been there, and that was just for her interview at Northwestern. There was something both mysterious and frightening about the huge metropolis, and people tended to act as if it didn’t exist. St. Louis, exotic in its own way, was the town that people identified with — even though it wasn’t in their state. “I had an uncle went to Chicago once,” Anthony said, breaking the silence. “He died.”

“He died during his trip?” Riley asked, cocking her head.

“No. He fell off a roof in Swansea,” he said, and Riley realized that this was another little Anthonyism that was apropos of nothing.

Everyone just nodded, and Riley realized that they were too stoned to know that the man was making even less sense than usual. Hating to be left out, she brought her thumb and index finger to her lips and made a sound replicating the inhalation of weed. Looking around speculatively, her eyes landed on Anthony, and he smirked and pulled out his stash. Lighting up her one-hitter, Riley mused that no matter his many faults, Anthony managed to secure some of the best bud around, so he was always welcome in her book.

Almost immediately a pleasant rush hit her, and she nodded appreciatively. “Good shit,” she mused, blowing out a thin plume of gray smoke.

“It’s awesome,” Patty agreed, and the group lapsed into silence again. Riley managed to inveigle three more hits out of Anthony, and she had the presence of mind to refrain from asking for more. She figured Mattie would be inside for a minimum of two hours, so she wanted to get toked up as early and as quickly as possible — to be able to come down enough to drive safely. She even refused — to much comment — the offered flask of Jack Daniels, deciding that Rob and Rita would probably be up when she dropped Mattie off, and she didn’t want them to smell alcohol on her breath. The fact that the grass left as distinctive a scent was just a risk she had to take.

“So, what’s the deal with this Mattie chick?” Anthony asked. “She gonna marry that dude?”

“I have no idea,” Riley said, noting that Anthony looked even worse when one was stoned. “Not until she graduates from college — if ever.”

“You doing her?” he asked, looking as if the possibility had just occurred to him. His lecherous grin made it clear that he hoped the answer was an unequivocal yes.

“Ahh, no,” she answered. “No interest. She’s my friend, and she’s very happy with Thom.”

“She’s not very happy,” Karen insisted. “Or should I say that Thom isn’t very happy?”

“What do you mean by that?” Riley asked sharply, her protective streak always close to the surface where Mattie was concerned.

“I heard from somebody that goes out with Thom’s brother, Bill, that Thom and Mattie don’t even do it.”

Everyone laughed briefly, knowing that couldn’t possibly be true, but Riley’s steely gaze brought the group up short. “Thom is perfectly happy with Mattie,” she said. “He and I talk all the damned time, and he’s never complained about their relationship.” This was, in fact, a baldfaced lie. Thom was desperate to have sex with Mattie, and he moaned about it at every opportunity. Often, after Mattie’s curfew, Riley and Thom would sit in the Mustang, smoking weed and bemoaning their fate — both of them desperate for sex, neither of them in peril of getting any soon.

“Not what I heard,” Karen sniffed. “I heard that he gave her an ultimatum. If they don’t do it this summer, he’s gonna start dating around when he gets back to U. of I.”

Riley was furious. What Karen had revealed was accurate — but Thom had obviously betrayed Mattie’s confidence, and in Riley’s book, that was unforgivable. “You can’t believe everything you hear,” she scoffed. “Besides, what kinda loser goes around telling people he can’t get any from his own girlfriend? They’ve been going out for two years now,” she laughed. “Hey, Anthony, how long would you keep a girl around if she wouldn’t put out?”

He gave the matter a little thought, which was all he had to spare, and said, “Three dates. Tops.”

“Sounds right to me,” Riley nodded.

She was just about to launch into another attack on the man who had betrayed her friend when Bettina said, “Hey, isn’t that Mattie?”

Riley whirled around, cursing herself when her head continued to whirl once her body had stopped. Damn weed! Focusing her dope-squinty eyes, she saw her friend walking towards her, and without even saying goodbye, she took off in a dead sprint. “What’s wrong?” she asked, her heart beating wildly in her chest.

Tears were streaming down the flushed cheeks, and

Mattie’s voice was rough with emotion. “I’m having a horrible time,” she sobbed. “Take me home — please.”

Riley’s hands started to pat her pockets down, trying to find her keys. Mattie took one look at her sloppy movements and sighed, “Are you stoned?” She looked closely at the bloodshot brown eyes and noted the usual intelligent spark entirely missing. “Of course you’re stoned. I’ll call my father.” Mattie turned to walk back into the hall, but Riley stopped her by placing a remarkably gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Wait,” she begged. “You can drive my car. I’ll hang out at your house until I come down a little.” She shook her head and grumbled, “I don’t know what was in that shit, but I’m almost hallucinating.”

“Gee,” Mattie said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “maybe the Food and Drug Administration didn’t test that batch.” Shaking her head, she reiterated, “I’m gonna call my dad.” She was glaring at her friend with undisguised contempt, but when she saw how thoroughly confused Riley looked, she knew that she had to stay with her. “Come on.” She put her hand on her arm and led her back to the Mustang, Riley muttering apologies the entire time. “I’m disappointed in you, Riley,” Mattie grumbled. “You know that I won’t get into a car with you when you’ve been drinking and smoking.”

“I didn’t drink,” she said, her voice slow and hazy. “They even had Jack Daniels.”

“Never mind,” Mattie muttered. She took the keys from Riley and opened the doors, then she got into the driver’s seat and dropped the top. Taking a long look at her friend she asked, “Do you mind if I drive home now?”

Riley looked like she wanted to protest, but she shook her head briefly. “It’s okay.”

“Tell me,” Mattie demanded, lifting her chin with her hand.

“I don’t want your parents to see me this way,” she said quietly, her shame showing clearly on her face.

“Oh, Riley,” Mattie sighed, completely frustrated. “If you’re ashamed of the things you do — why do them?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled. “It makes me feel better. I can sleep when I’ve had a few drinks.”

Suddenly, all of her tender feelings for Riley emerged, and Mattie put her hand on her arm. “What keeps you from sleeping, Riles?”

The dark head shook, curls bouncing. “I don’t know,” she mumbled. “Just stuff.” Sneaking a look at Mattie, she saw that her brief answer wasn’t going to suffice. “The phone rings a lot during the night; my dad comes in late and makes a lot of noise … it’s just hard to stay asleep.” Another quick look showed that Mattie was still waiting for a better explanation. “It’s just … lonely at my house,” she muttered. “When I’m buzzed I don’t notice it so much.”

Mattie reached across the seat and grasped Riley’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “It’s only three more months,” she said. “You can hold out that long, can’t you?”

Sparing a small smile, Riley nodded briefly. “Yeah. I can.”

Mattie moved her hand to link their fingers together, then pushed the button to lower her seat. Riley did the same, and they gazed up at the stars, the radio playing softly in the background.

“My friends can see us,” Riley murmured muzzily.

Mattie gazed at her with an indulgent look. “Does that bother you?” “No. I just worry about your reputation.”

“Riley, I really don’t care what your little pals think of me. And let’s be honest, sweetie, nobody in my circle has anything to do with anyone in yours. Besides, if they’re as stoned as you are, they won’t be able to see this far with their beady little eyes.”

“Are you mad at me?” Riley’s tone reflected her oft-expressed concern over Mattie’s opinion of her.

“No. I’m not mad. I just wish you’d take better care of yourself, Riles.”

Even though Mattie was often angry with Riley over her drinking, she reserved the bulk of her anger for Dr. and Mrs. Quinn, Riley’s parents. Dr. Quinn was the physician for most of the residents of the town, although Mattie’s family had never gone to him. It was well known that he had a serious drinking problem, but with no other local options, most people stayed with him. He was usually able to perform his job, and his patients spoke well of his abilities, but Mattie knew that he could be found in one of the local bars most nights, drinking until they closed. Riley had, since she had gotten her license, tried to stay out later than he did — so that she wouldn’t have to witness the screaming fights that her parents got into nearly every night.

Mattie believed that the Quinns loved Riley, they just didn’t have any time for her — so they compensated by buying her things and giving her a ridiculously large allowance. She honestly hated them for giving their child access to the very things that could destroy her — and Mattie had sworn that she would somehow figure out how to make Riley cut down on her drinking and smoking once they got to Chicago.

Pulling her from her reverie, Riley asked, “Will you tell me why the dance was so horrible?”

Mattie sighed and started to play with Riley’s hand, running her thumb along her palm and trailing it down the smooth skin that stretched over her long digits. “Everybody was coupled,” she grumbled. “After we got crowned, Jarod and I danced together once, but that was it. His girlfriend almost knocked me over as soon as the music stopped, and for the rest of the time I just stood there — looking stupid.”

“Impossible,” Riley mumbled. “You’ve never looked stupid in your life. You’re not gonna start now.”

Mattie gave her a wry smile and said, “It was just so disappointing, Riles. I’ve been dreaming about how cool it would be to dance all night and just have a big send-off, ya know? It was a way to say goodbye.” She shook her head and said, “I don’t know what I was thinking of. That room looked like and smelled like what it is — a bar where they play bingo. I just wish we could have had the dance someplace nice — but there isn’t anyplace nice around here.”

Riley turned her head and looked at her, already feeling some of the fuzziness leave her brain. “Start the car,” she ordered, raising her seat and hooking her seatbelt.

“Start the car. I need to take you someplace.”

Mattie raised an eyebrow, but did as she was told. At Riley’s direction, they got on the highway, going away from town, heading into the more rural areas. Not long after they began, Riley instructed her to turn off onto a dirt road. “Isn’t this behind the golf course?” Mattie asked.

“Sure is. Very good,” Riley smiled. They approached a wide gate, secured with a thin chain and padlock. “Hold on.” She got out and came around to the driver’s side. Slipping her hand down by Mattie’s leg, she popped the trunk and extracted a mammoth pair of bolt cutters. She snapped the padlock like it was made of plastic and pushed the gate open. “Come on,” she urged, crooking a finger. “Turn the car off and follow me.”

“I will not!” Mattie got out, mainly so she could put her hands on her hips to fully indicate how intractable she was. “You’re insane, Riley Quinn!”

“I do this all the time,” she assured her. Heading back to the trunk, she pulled out a new padlock, with the key attached, as well as a big boom box. “I put a new one on when I leave. I think they know I’m the one who does it, but they’ve never said anything to my mom, and she’s here every damn day.” She gave Mattie her most charming smile, and the smaller woman just shook her head and followed her down the dirt road. Once they’d walked about ten yards, Riley said, “Take your shoes off … nylons, too.”

Hitching an eyebrow, Mattie complied, holding onto Riley’s arm for support. Riley then ditched her boots and her socks, and they started to walk across the perfectly tended fairway. The night was still warm, and the dew hadn’t begun to settle. The grass was soft and springy and gave a delicious little tickle to their feet when they walked across it. The only sound was the chanting of the cicadas, the sound so loud that it seemed there must be millions of them.

They didn’t speak, both mesmerized by the roar of the crickets. Mattie had both of her hands around Riley’s leather-clad bicep, holding on tight so that the more experienced trespasser could guide her. They finally reached Riley’s preferred spot — the ninth green. The gentle bubbling of the fountain in the middle of the small pond complimented the crickets, the merged sounds being vaguely melodic. “This is beautiful,” Mattie sighed. “I’ve never been here before.”

“Well, it’s not much during the day,” Riley admitted. “Just a golf course and a snack bar. But it’s magical at night.” She placed the boom box down on the ground and switched it on, tuning to the distant St. Louis station that she knew Mattie preferred.

The Saturday evening show, “Love Songs From Under the Arch,” was playing, and the smaller woman smiled up at her. “I know you hate this stuff. You can turn on your head-banger music.”

“Nope.” Riley smiled shyly and said, “You can’t dance to my music.”

“We’re gonna dance?” Mattie gawped at her, this information taking her completely by surprise.

“Yep. It’s your coronation night, my queen,” she said, her dark eyes reflecting the glow of the full moon. “This is the prettiest place in the whole county, we’ve got your favorite bands here,” she grinned pointing at the radio, “and you have an adequate partner to lead you across the dance-green.”

“Oh, Riley,” Mattie sighed, “no one understands me as well as you do.” She linked her hands behind Riley’s back and gave her a gentle hug. “And no one tries harder to make me happy.”

“It’s not a very hard job,” Riley murmured, her heart beginning to beat faster the longer Mattie held her. A nice, syrupy love song came on, and Mattie tightened her grip, then began to move her feet, smiling up at Riley when she began to move with her.

“Good thing you don’t have shoes on,” she grinned. “You’ve already stepped on my toes.”

“I said I was adequate,” Riley reminded her. “I’m well aware of my own shortcomings.”

“You don’t have any,” Mattie sighed and tenderly dropped her head to Riley’s chest, nuzzling her face against the buttery leather.

Riley was sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mattie could feel her heart hammering in her chest, but for some reason she didn’t comment. She just tightened her hold and snuggled closer.

As they moved together, Riley got more comfortable - with both the dancing and their close embrace. She was enormously relieved that Mattie seemed perfectly at ease, and she let herself feel just how wonderful it was to actually hold a woman in her arms. It was everything she had dreamed of — yearned for — for the past three years, ever since she had realized that she was a lesbian. In her room at night, while trying to fall asleep, she would dream of holding a soft, warm, curvaceous woman in her arms — reveling in the wonder of her body — running her hands over her back and her hips.

She stopped abruptly when she realized that her hands were roaming between Mattie’s small waist and the supple curve of her hip. If she could have, she would have slapped herself, but she didn’t want to make Mattie more uncomfortable than she already was. Her heart was thudding like a bass drum, and Mattie slowed as well, then stopped. Without a word, she removed her hands from the small of Riley’s back. When Riley felt the hands leave her, she wanted nothing but to crawl into a hole and die. But her despair was very, very short-lived. Instead of slapping her, Mattie’s hands reached slightly behind herself and covered Riley’s trembling ones. Amazingly, she guided the hands back to her hips and settled them a little lower than Riley had even dared. Placing her arms around Riley’s shoulders, she linked her hands and started to move again, urging Riley to begin the dance once more.

They completed the dance, Riley’s heart beating so wildly that she could no longer hear the cicadas or the burbling fountain. All she could hear was the blood coursing through her veins in a mad rush. All of the adrenaline had one beneficial side effect, though — she no longer felt stoned. So many thoughts raced through her head that she almost wished she still had a buzz on — just to slow things down a little. Why is she doing this? Is this just the way she dances? Does this — could this — mean that she likes me … that way?

When the next song began, Mattie slipped her hands inside Riley’s leather coat, her actions only serving to further confuse the taller woman. She’s touching me like I want to touch her, but does that mean what I think it means? Cursing herself for her complete lack of experience, Riley’s mind filled with questions that she had no idea how to answer. What do I do now? I’ve never even kissed a girl!

Realizing that her brain was of no help whatsoever, she decided to let her body take the lead. Her hands moved — just a little — and as they did so did Mattie’s. As the small hands settled onto her hips and then slipped ever-so-slightly lower, a jolt of pure lust shot through Riley’s body. There was a moment of terror when she felt that she might just throw Mattie to the ground and have her — but she wasn’t sure what having her entailed — and she didn’t think that was the type of thing that you could ask the person you were having.

While her groin was trying to lead the assault, her heart prudently reminded her that this was Mattie — not some woman she’d picked up in one of the mythical gay bars in St. Louis. Shaking her head to try to clear it, she let her heart lead. Suddenly, her need to have sex began to dissipate. What she wanted most — what she needed more than anything on earth — was to touch Mattie’s lips with her own. That was her only desire — the only one of her admittedly meager life goals that she had not accomplished. She knew that once she had tasted those beautiful, tender lips, she could die a happy death — perhaps immediately if her heart gave out like she guessed it would.

Once again she let her body make the first move with her brain standing on the sidelines, wondering why it wasn’t involved. Tilting her head, she placed a gentle, lingering kiss right on the top of Mattie’s soft, dark, wildflower-scented hair.

The beautiful face tilted up just an inch or so. The moon shone on Mattie’s forehead, and Riley kissed the spot, letting her lips pause there until she felt Mattie’s head move again. Another inch and another pair of kisses. This time upon the incredibly soft skin of her eyelids. She could taste the salt from Mattie’s tears, and she moved a little lower, kissing the lingering traces from the corners of her eyes.

With a heavy, sensual sigh, Mattie tilted her head just enough to present her full lips to Riley, the moonlight making them shine. Riley’s eyes fluttered closed, and she leaned in — just enough to allow her lips to brush against Mattie’s. Heart hammering, she softened her lips even more and pressed them against the yielding flesh, for the first time in her life feeling as if everything was finally as it should be.

With a deeply satisfied sigh, she regretfully pulled away, but when she saw the baffled look on her friend’s face she, was immediately filled with dread. “Oh, Mattie,” she moaned. “I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry?” The warm brown eyes gazed up at her, looking mortally wounded.

“No! I mean … not for … I just didn’t…”

“Riley? Did you want to kiss me?”

Feeling trapped, the taller woman looked her in the eyes and told the truth. “Yes. I did.”

Mattie’s hand rose and gently landed upon Riley’s cheek. “I wanted to kiss you, too.” Her eyes blinked closed and her head dropped down. “I’ve never felt that way before. But something changed tonight, Riles. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know why, but I … I really liked kissing you,” she whispered. Lifting her chin just a few inches, she gazed at her friend and tentatively asked, “Did you like it, too?”

Fighting back tears, Riley mutely nodded.

“Kiss me again,” Mattie begged, her body shaking with fear.

Cradling her face in both of her hands, Riley gazed at her friend for a moment, seeing a wealth of warring emotions flitting across her features. Summoning her courage, she lowered her head and tenderly caressed the warm lips, letting her body express what was in her heart. Mattie’s arms enfolded her, and she kissed her again and again, slowly noting that she could once more hear the crickets and the burbling fountain. Everything was just as it should be – just as it was every other time she had visited this peaceful spot – and yet, something vital and elemental had changed – perhaps forever.

With one more gentle kiss, Riley lifted her head and gazed into the eyes of the woman who had held her heart far longer than she had allowed herself to realize. “Are you as confused as I am?” she asked softly.

Mattie gave her a tiny smile and admitted, “Maybe just a little more.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Riley asked.

“Yes, but not tonight. Tonight I want you to hold me and dance with me.” She gave her friend a warm smile and added, “I want you to kiss me again, too.”

“I’ve never been able to say no to you, Mattie,” Riley said, a wide smile lighting up her entire face. “I’m sure not going to start tonight.”

The End

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