First warning, there is no explicit sex in this story. Second warning, this is the third part to the 'Wetap' series. Each sequence has a stand alone story but intertwines characters, actions, and events from the previous stories. The reader will gain a much deeper understanding of the characters and story line if they read and have first hand knowledge of 'Binding Ashes' and 'Wasting Time.' This story is totally fictitious; any resemblance the characters might have to any person living or deceased is purely coincidental. I wish to thank the people who helped contribute to and edit this story, per their wishes, they remain anonymous. No part of this story may be published at any other site without the express permission of the author. © December 22, 2007
'Well crap ... ain't ... that ... great ... It hasn't been fifteen minutes since Steph and Marcie left to go shopping and Ken's already over here ringing my friggin' doorbell.
'Damn it ... couldn't he have waited just a little longer?' Mark silently implored. 'All I wanted was enough time to enjoy at least one good cup of coffee in peace and quiet. But nooo ... not today ... apparently that's asking too much, ' he sarcastically thought while staring at his empty cup.
Only a fellow coffee lover could appreciate the longing Mark felt as he reluctantly slid the pot back into the maker. Then with a deep sigh, he turned and headed for the front door.
On the way Mark couldn't resist humorously thinking, 'It's a damn good thing that son-of-a-bitch is my best friend. Otherwise, I'd stuff his ass in a crate, stamp 'Do Not Open till Christmas' all over it, and ship him halfway round the world ... one way ... with no return address.'
Suddenly, with a smile, he mentally confessed, 'Ohhh, that's pure bull and I know it. In fact, I can't recall a single soul who's ever been able to get past that eternal optimism of his. With Ken around, there's no such thing as having a bad day. It's been that way as long as I've known him.
'At least I can appreciate why Marcie was so enthusiastic to marry his dumb ass. She almost did cartwheels the day he proposed.'
Mark's smile faded as he begrudgingly admitted, 'Steph on the other hand was a little less stellar when I, uh ... suggested marriage. Guess that begs the question, why did she agree to marry me in the first place? Hmmm, considering the circumstances at the time, maybe I should ask, do I really want to know?'
Then he smirked. 'But, I do know ... or at least I'm pretty sure that "aggravating my ass to no end" has to be one of Ken's favorite ways to get his jollies.'
Mark chuckled to himself, "I can just picture the big lug impatiently bouncing from one foot to the other while repeatedly ringing my damn doorbell. That wouldn't be so bad if it was the only irritating thing Ken ever did, however ... he's got more tricks up his sleeve than a pharmacy has pills." He paused and thought with a laugh, 'Now there's a hell of an analogy since both are delivered at my expense.'
As Mark reached for the door handle, he realized, 'There was only one buzz ... that's odd!' His relaxed mood immediately gave way to guarded curiosity, 'Could it be someone else?'
After opening the door, Mark noticed his friend's slumped shoulders, but his only thought was, 'Thank goodness it's Ken. I don't think I'm up to dealing with anyone else this early in the morning, especially before coffee.'
Then his friend slowly looked up and Mark found himself staring at a sad, forlorn face. Caught totally off guard, he realized, 'Never in a million years would I have believed it possible.'
But, having been the target of Ken's warped sense of humor on more than one occasion, he couldn't stop from cautiously wondering, 'Is he putting on an act? Is this some sort of gag?'
Then, as if answering his own questions, Mark knew, 'No ... not this time. I can tell from his appearance there's a problem, and it's real.'
Momentarily speechless, he finally found his voice and stammered, "You look like ... like ... like a man in need of some serious coffee. I just made a fresh pot, how 'bout a cup?"
Ken listlessly replied, "Yeah ... sounds good." Yet, his eyes appeared empty and seemed to distance themselves by looking away as he squeezed past his friend while stepping through the doorway.
Unable to think of anything else to say or do at the moment, Mark told him, "Great, make yourself at home while I get the coffee."
Before going to the kitchen he noticed a large paper bag hanging at Ken's side and thought, 'He always grabs a couple of six packs on the way. From his looks, I'd say it's a good thing. It appears we're going to need them, maybe even a few more before the day is over.'
After pouring the coffee, Mark was a little bewildered to turn and find his friend sitting at the table and couldn't help wondering, 'Why?' Since, 'The recliners in the family room are much more comfortable!' Suddenly he remembered, 'Oh yeah, the beer, he probably wants to put them in the fridge.'
Shrugging his shoulders, Mark said in a joking manner, "Ok, the kitchen it is. Now tell me ... what's kicking your goose this morning."
In the ensuing silence, he set the cups on the table and took a seat across from Ken.
Even though the bag was now resting on the floor, his friend still had a tight grip on the handles, keeping it close at his side. Then leaning forward, with his free hand Ken retrieved his coffee. But instead of drinking, he just set it down and stared into the dark contents as his fingers began to slowly rotate the cup.
To the best of his memory, Mark couldn't recall ever seeing him appear so ... out of it. Lightheartedly he added, "It may be an old cliché, but you really do look like you've just lost your best friend."
Ken never looked up. But from deep in his chest came a quiet sigh as he barely whispered, "I may have."
Mark's forehead wrinkled with concern as a growing sense of uneasiness immediately began to develop in the pit of his stomach. In another attempt to lighten the mood, he teasingly said, "Ok Ken ... want to talk, or is this one of those manly things you have to work out for yourself?"
The short but lengthy pause that followed put a chill in the air, clearing away any final hopes of lifting his friend's spirits. The deafening silence was suddenly disrupted when he reassured, "Ken, you already know ... but, I'm here if you need me."
A few moments later, the once again quiet but tense atmosphere was finally ended when his friend raised his arm and set the bag on the table between them. Mark had been so distracted in his anxiety over Ken's demeanor that he had already forgotten about it.
But now, staring at the bag he somehow knew that instead of beer, it contained the reason for his friend's strange behavior. Without saying a word, Ken laid the bag on its side, reached in, and pulled out a scrapbook.
After a slight hesitation, he spun it around and shoved it across the table to Mark, who asked in a surprised voice, "What's this?"
Red faced, his friend angrily replied, "I found the goddamn thing last night in Marcie's closet. She had it damn well hidden and after looking inside, I understood why. Go ahead, take a peek. Believe me, you'll have no problem understanding why I'm so fuckin' mad I could scream." The tone of his voice left no doubts ... the contents wouldn't be pleasant.
"Ken ... are you sure I should see what's in here?" He felt compelled to ask. "It might be best to keep this just between you and Marcie."
"I've never been more ... sure of anything in my life. And no, I need you to look at it before I decide how to deal with her. I've been at a loss ever since I discovered the damn thing," his friend answered despondently.
Mark raised his eyebrows while pausing a few seconds to study the cover. It wasn't new, but he could tell it had been well cared for in spite of signs it had been handled often.
Finally, with a breath of resignation, Mark shrugged his shoulders and opened it. With a gasp he immediately recoiled in shock. The photo had literally jumped out at Mark as he found himself gawking in utter disbelief at a picture of 'Tony.' It caused the skin on the back of his neck to crawl as a deep flush spread over his entire body.
He desperately wanted to say something, hell, Mark wanted to scream. But after taking a few moments to calm down, only ended up silently pleading, 'OH GOD KEN ... not this, please ... not Marcie ... AND NOT HIM.'
It had been almost five years since he'd seen that arrogant and demeaning smile. Personally, Mark wouldn't give a shit if he never had to look at it again.
Absentmindedly, he rubbed his forehead and took a sip of coffee while fighting a losing battle with his own memories. Mark hated it as his mind flashed back to the year before his marriage, flooding his brain with mental pictures of his wife and Tony. At the same time, he was desperately trying to resist his own thoughts as they made an exerted effort to recall Steph's version of the events.
When not in class or at a sports practice, 'Anthony' could always be found sitting on 'the perch.' That's what the students called the low wall at the school's main entrance.
Normally he was surrounded by fellow jocks as they checked out the girls entering and leaving. But today Tony was alone when she came walking by. "So, you're one of those?" He popped off.
Stephanie couldn't believe the most popular and seriously gorgeous senior in the entire high school had actually spoken to her. But she knew exactly what he was referring to, and was determined to make him say it. So in a sarcastic tone, Steph fired the question right back, "One of what?"
Tony humorously mocked, "You know damn good and well what, a 'Wetap Brat.'"
"You mean a 'Wetap Kid, '" Steph replied, stopping to turn and face him. With a scowl she added, "That's what they call us."
Mimicking her scowl, Tony jokingly retorted, "Not in your case. That face and attitude definitely belong to a certified brat."
Steph's expression slowly gave way to a grin, then a smile just seconds before melting into the sweetest sounding laughter he'd ever
heard. Tony didn't realize his imitating had continued until he found himself laughing with her.
"Ok," he said, "as of now, you're the 'Brat.' I've made it official ... if that is okay with you?"
"I ... think ... not, I'm kind of partial to Stephanie or Steph if you don't mind," she replied.
"Suit yourself, but there's no way I can let you hang with me as Tony's Stephanie," he informed her, "or as Tony's Steph either. Sorry, but that's not gonna happen."
'Oh my God, ' she suddenly realized, 'he's asking me to be his girl.' Then embarrassed and red faced, asked, "Does that mean you would be Steph's Tony with my friends?"
"Doesn't mean anything but ... Meet me here after last hour and I'll give you a lift home, Brat," he grinned at her.
Smiling, she nodded her head and replied, "I'll be here."
Steph was flying high. She had just become what every female student in her high school would die for, 'Tony's girl ... I can't wait to tell my friends. They'll never believe it ... I don't believe it.
All at once it dawned on her, 'Oh wow, this is tooo much, with only two months till prom, I'll be guaranteed "prom queen." But, ' she also realized, 'that's only if I can hang on to him.'
After her final class, Steph was making a beeline for the 'perch' when she noticed Mark waiting for her in front of their school bus. They had been on and off sweethearts since grade school. Though in between at the moment, he was still her best friend and had been from the first day they'd met years ago when little kids. Since they were the same age and both their fathers worked at Wetap, they'd virtually been raised together.
Steph looked the other way while passing by him. There was no way she wanted to face Mark at the moment.
He knew Steph too well not to notice, 'She's avoiding me on purpose.'
After turning to board the bus, Mark waited patiently for the aisle to clear as the younger kids took their seats. 'It's only a matter of time before Steph tells me what's going on. She always does.' That simple fact comforted him, even brought a smile to his face, but finding out was a lot quicker than he suspected.
Shortly after plopping into his usual seat at the rear of the bus, everyone started chattering and pointing towards the student parking lot. Mark turned just in time to see a very familiar looking convertible pull out with Steph sitting in the front seat next to Tony... 'So much for the idea of asking her to the prom, ' he thought to himself.
Feeling more than a little dismal, Mark noticed all the other kids had turned to look at him. 'Why wouldn't they? After all, she and I have been sitting together on this bus everyday since the beginning of time.'
Of course Mark couldn't notice, but the others did, his smile was gone. He leaned back against the bus window and closed his eyes, in case they got a little too misty. It wasn't healthy to be a male in your senior year of high school and let anyone know, or even think, you would cry over anything.
'Prom night and the queen's drunk, that's what it is and that's what she is, ' Mark thought as he glanced across the room at Steph hanging onto Tony's arm. Actually she was almost lying on him while they were standing up.
Mark shook his head and turned his attention back to his date for the evening. Ever since he'd asked Kasey to the prom, she had been a nervous wreck.
Although not a Wetap kid herself, Kasey certainly was in love with one. And had been from the very first moment she'd laid eyes on Mark in the fifth grade.
For the past few weeks, her biggest fear was the world would come to an end. She just knew something was bound to happen that would spoil her first and maybe only chance to go on a real date with him, just the two of them.
Now that her dream fantasy had finally come true, Kasey asked, "Are you sure? I want to have fun, but I want it to be a fun evening for both of us ... after all, I am here with you."
Her dance card was overflowing. Mark wasn't surprised. She was one of the most popular girls in school, not to mention one of the prettiest.
"Absolutely, now get out there and wiggle your ass," he joked with her.
As the waiting admirer whisked Kasey off to the dance floor for the next number, Mark decided it would be a good time to check and make sure Steph was ok.
While approaching their table he noticed she almost appeared asleep with her arm resting on the table and her head lying on her hand. As usual, Tony was engrossed in some sports topic with fellow jocks.
"Steph," Mark tried to get her attention. Getting no reply, he spoke a little louder, "Steph."
Silence fell over the group, everyone turned to see what the problem was. She finally raised her head and looked up. "Why hello Mark, are you and Kasey having fun?" Steph asked.
With everyone's attention focused on him, Mark felt uncomfortable, but continued, "We're actually having a very good time. At the moment she's working off her dance card. I thought it might be a good time to ask you for a dance."
She seemed a little surprised, but said, "Well I'd love to ... and I will, if you clear it with my guy. Ask Tony. If he says it's ok, then I'm all yours."
With a disgusted look Mark shook his head and started to turn and walk off when Tony, who would never consider him a threat, suddenly said, "Sure, why not. That's what we're here for. Since I'm tied up at the moment, you two go ahead and grab the next dance."
Even though Mark held the school's highest grade point average, he only spiked about an eight on the overall social calendar. Tony on the other hand not only set the bar for the school's social status, but owned the curve as well, peaking at a full ten plus.
Reaching out his hand, Mark had to help Steph up and out to the dance floor. Now he was really concerned about how much she'd been drinking.
It was a slow song and as they started dancing Steph laid her head on his shoulder. As in the past, Mark was still amazed at how natural it felt to hold her, but knew that for her part, it was only a result of the alcohol.
With everyone staring at them and out of respect for their prom dates he said, "Steph." As she raised her head, Mark asked, "Are you okay? I hope Tony hasn't been drinking too much to drive you home safely?"
Steph laughed, "He's fine and it wouldn't matter anyway. We're walking from here to one of the all night parties being held at the big hotel down the street. Aren't you and Kasey going? There are several to choose from," she said, her voice bordering on the verge of slurring.
When he returned Steph to her table, Tony said, "Ahhh ... glad to see you brought my girl back in one piece. It's time for me and her to show off some of our own moves."
Mark politely nodded and returned to his table to join Kasey for the next dance.
The next day, Steph woke up feeling like shit. Her hangover was so bad she would swear her head was splitting open.
Still in her prom dress, Steph lay on her bed trying to pull herself together. Her memory was fuzzy as her mouth.
Finally stripping out of her dress, Steph stumbled into her bathroom. After splashing some water on her face, she grabbed her toothbrush thinking, 'This gawd awful taste has to go.'
Feeling slightly better, except for some tremendous bladder pressure, Steph stepped over to the toilet and started to lower her panties. 'What the fuck, ' she thought while staring at the bloody, gooey mess soaking the crotch.
Confused, Steph gave an exerted effort to recall what the hell happened last night. 'Let's see, Tony picked me up to go to dinner before the prom. He had a bottle in his convertible and we started drinking on the way. After dinner there was more drinking. Once we were at the prom, Tony slipped the bottle in and was spiking our drinks.'
Shaking her head, she strained to remember, 'Oh yea. After the prom, we stumbled over to the party. More drinking and dancing, it was a good party.' At that point it was getting difficult to recall the events, Steph realized she had been totally shit-faced. 'I do remember being in the convertible, oh yea, I remember being out by the lake. What were we doing in the back seat? Oh god ... sex, we had sex. Oh fuck, semen ... and my virginity, that's all it can be.'
Panicked, Steph turned on the shower and jumped in with panties in hand. After a couple of minutes she had rinsed them clean.
Steph let out a sigh of relief just before panic set in again as she realized, 'That means I had his sperm in me all night long.' Her head hurt so bad, it was almost impossible to think, but Steph knew she had to.
'My period ended a couple of days ago ... that should make it safe. God I hope so. I can't afford to get pregnant, it would ruin everything. Graduation is only four weeks away. Oh great, I'll be on my period during the most important event of my life.'
All of a sudden, another thought brought tears, 'My first time and I don't even remember if I enjoyed it.'
"Don't worry Brat, you know I love you. If it turns out you are pregnant, we'll get married. End of problem," Tony said with a smile.
Grinning, Steph threw her arms around his neck, "Well I love you too, but let's hope and pray that when the time comes, we don't HAVE to get married. My parents would be much happier and I'm sure yours would too. Now, what are we doing tonight? I feel like partying."
She had her answer a few minutes later when the convertible came to a stop in the same place by the lake. Steph instantly knew what he had on his mind when Tony smiled and looked at the back seat. This time there were no doubts, he wore a condom and she did enjoy it.
The day of her graduation Steph felt like shit. What should have been one of the greatest nights of her life, turned into pure hell. Her period was over a day late which had her nerves tied in knots, which made her stomach hurt, which in turn left her feeling nauseous. She prayed the stomach pains were pre-menstrual cramps.
Now, a week later, while sitting at another commencement Steph wondered, 'Why did mom insist I attend Amber's graduation? So what if she finished college, so have thousands of others. What's the big deal? And why does half of Wetap feel compelled to be here?' She was amazed while looking around at how many employees and their families were there.
'Where I need to be is at the pharmacy getting a pregnancy test, ' Steph thought to herself. 'As soon as I get away from here, that's where I'm headed.
'God, I pray I'm wrong, but I'm never late, not even one day. I am always on time, every twenty-eight days regular as clockwork. Now it's been more than a week. I'm fucked ... I just know I'm pregnant. Mom and dad are going to kill me.
Later that day, her worst fears were confirmed. She cried.
"I told you 'no problem.' We'll get married and I'll make you and the baby the happiest two people alive," Tony reassured her. "Look at it this way, instead of one Brat, I'll have two," he laughed.
Steph felt so relieved that she squealed, threw her arms around his neck, and planted a long drawn out kiss on his lips.
"Wow, you keep that up and I'll be the happiest man alive," Tony jokingly told her.
"Well, when are we going to tell our parents? The sooner the better, I don't want to be showing at the ceremony."
"Okay, but let's think this through. There are a lot of things to take into consideration before we jump in any direction," he warily said.
"Like what?" a leery and worried Steph asked.
"Well for one, we don't want to screw up our future. My parents are going to go through the roof. I have no idea what they will do." Tony suggested with a very serious look on his face, "They might even decide not to pay for my college expenses. Where would that leave us?
"Even with my scholarship, there'll still be a ton of extra expenses, especially now with a baby on the way. No, we have to think it through carefully. We'll need all the support our parents can give us. Making adversaries of them could be suicidal to our future."
Just as she was about to lose her patience waiting to see where he was headed with this conversation, Tony blurted out, "I've got it."
"I'm certainly glad," Steph said sarcastically. Then after a short pause, added, "Well, are you going to share it with me?"
Laughing, he replied, "Of course, we're a team now. We share everything." After another short pause to finalize his thoughts, Tony continued, "But, we're not going to tell anyone a thing until I've gotten my first semester allowance and living expenses from my parents. Then it will be too late for them to back out. If nothing else, that will get us through the first semester and give them time to adjust to the idea. I know they'll come around sooner or later. Once the baby is here, they'll be hooked for life. They'll adore their grandkid ... trust me."
Showing more than a little concern, she asked, "And when will all this be taking place? We don't have forever to make plans and decisions. There is a set timetable growing while we're talking, you know?"
He chuckled, "Look Brat, I'm well aware of the 'growing timetable.' But knowing my parents, they won't turn loose of the money until the last minute. That'll make it at the end of the summer, we have to wait until then."
Steph exploded, "DAMN IT TONY, that'll make it almost too late ... What if something goes wrong?"
"Too late ... what are you saying Brat, too late for what? And what do you mean if something goes wrong?" He asked in a puzzled voice.
Now crying, Steph ashamedly replied, "Too late to get an abortion if you can't marry me." Her crying now turned to embarrassed sobbing.
"Brat, hon ... forget that idea. Nothing, and I mean nothing is going to prevent us from getting married when the time comes. I only want the best for us. All I'm asking is that we approach everything in a practical manner. It's not only for our future, but for the baby's as well," Tony iterated as he took her in his arms and comforted her. "Don't worry, everything will work out. It has to, we love each other."
Steph was a nervous wreck. Tony's parents had paid his college expenses yesterday and deposited his first semester allowance into his checking account. Last night he finally told her, "It's time Brat, tomorrow is the day, so be ready. When I pick you up, we're going straight to my house, tell my parents, and then we'll talk to yours."
'Damn, bet I didn't get two hours sleep last night ... maybe three hours max.' She thought to herself, 'My insides are shaking so bad, hope it doesn't hurt the baby.'
Steph looked in the mirror, 'God, I look horrible. These dark circles under my eyes ought to make a good impression on his parents. Oh hell, why am I worrying about impressions? It's not as though they haven't seen me a hundred times in the last few months. Get a grip girl. You're going to need it before this day is over.'
She suddenly realized, 'It's not his parents I have to worry about. Oh God, this is going to kill mom and dad. I know they love me and will stand behind me, but it's not what they've hoped and dreamed for all these years. This can't be the way they'd envisioned having grandchildren either. God, what have we done?'
It was turning into one of those late summer scorchers. The heat wasn't helping her nerves as Steph watched the minutes slowly tick off the clock. 'Damn, ' she wondered, 'why didn't I ask Tony what time he was picking me up?' Her feet hurt from pacing the floor, it was almost lunch time.
'I'll give him till noon, then I'm going to call and get his ass out of bed. How can he sleep in on a day like this? I can't even breathe, let alone sleep, ' Steph thought.
After fixing herself a small snack, she was too nervous to eat. Barely able to swallow her first mouthful, Steph dumped the rest into the trash as her stomach began to play hell with that single bite. 'It's time, ' she thought and, picking up the phone, dialed Tony's number.
"Aw, there you are," a strange voice floated through Steph's head. As her vision cleared, she looked up to see her Doctor leaning over and peering into her eyes.
"She's going to be fine. Just a little lump on the head, but we'll keep her overnight to make sure. Blood pressure is a little high, but a good night's rest should take care of that," he said.
Steph heard, "Thank goodness," and immediately recognized her mom's voice.
Raising her head to look around the small room, she saw her parents standing at the foot of her bed. Steph looked at their loving, but concerned faces and tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered, 'They still don't know.'
Suddenly Steph was overwhelmed with confusion. "How did I get here? What happened?" she asked.
Her parents looked at each other. Finally her mother shrugged and replied, "We don't know. I found you lying unconscious on the living room floor. Evidently you passed out and hit your head on the corner table. We called an ambulance and have been praying ever since. Thank Goodness the doctor doesn't seem to think it's anything serious."
Now Steph began to remember, 'Tony was supposed to come and pick me up. I grabbed a bite to eat and still not hearing from him, I called his house. Damn, I knew by the sound of his mother's voice that he had told them, I'm sure of it. I am so fucked ... got to get my parents out of here before I lose it.'
She quietly asked, "Mom, dad, will you excuse me, I'm feeling awfully tired. Must be the medication, I'm going to roll over and try to get some sleep if you don't mind?"
"Of course baby," her dad said, "we sort of dropped everything when your mother found you. There are some things we need to take care of. We'll be back after dinner. That'll give you time to get some rest."
They came around the bed and after kissing her, said, "We love you sweetheart, now get some sleep."
Right after they left, the doctor came over and sat on the edge of her bed. "Steph, I've known you all your life. I've treated every cut and scrape you've walked in here with ... Do your parents know you're pregnant?"
She broke down, the tears flowed, "No sir, not yet. The plan was for today, but things didn't work out. I'll tell them as soon as I get home. They have to know."
The doctor smiled and nodded 'Yes.' As he rose to go, Steph saw Mark standing in the doorway behind him.
'Oh no, he heard it all. Mark knows, ' but instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, oddly enough, she felt relieved. 'Why wouldn't I?' Steph pondered. Her thoughts were confirmed as she looked into the smiling but understanding face of her best friend on earth.
It took almost two hours for Steph to fill Mark in and tell him the whole story, especially since her stress caused her to repeat several things over and over. He patiently let her rattle on about her problems as she unloaded her worries and concerns, after all, what are friends for?
'That's odd ... this is the most relaxed I've felt since the day I agreed to be Tony's girl.' Steph thought to herself. 'I never realized how much I've missed my long talks with Mark.'
As her best friend sat and listened, he became very upset, but kept it to himself, when Steph told him how she had been treated over the phone. "He isn't here and won't be back anytime soon." Tony's mother had contemptuously informed her. "He caught an early morning flight to the university."
When Steph asked about leaving Tony a message, she was arrogantly informed, "For the life of me, I can't imagine why ... But, if my son wants to get in touch ... I'm sure he has your number by now."
Stressed to the max and going on very little sleep, the news, the taunt, and the insulting attitude of Tony's mother proved to be too much. Steph had fainted and evidently hit her head as she collapsed.
"What am I going to do? I'm a nervous wreck and I'm scared to death. My parents are going to kill me."
He laughed, "Yeah, sure they will. You get a good nights rest and I'll be here when they let you out of this money making prison. Tell your mom and dad I'll pick you up tomorrow and bring you home. Don't worry, I'll be there when you tell your parents. Surely they won't kill you ... not in front of a witness."
For the first time in a long time, Steph laughed, a real laugh. It felt good. As always, Mark had a way of putting everything in perspective, making it seem simple. She no longer felt afraid, not with him at her side.
They had just sat down on her parents couch when Steph nervously said, "Mom, dad, I..."
Suddenly Mark interrupted her, "We need to tell you something and it's very serious. All we can ask is that you try to be as understanding as possible."
Her mom and dad glanced at each other in confusion as they sat in their easy chairs. The look on their faces said it all, they had no idea what was coming.
Before anyone could speak, he continued, "We felt you needed to know that Steph is pregnant. She is going to have... you're going to be grandparents."
Immediately spinning in her seat, Steph stared in open mouth shock at Mark. She was trying her level best to get her head wrapped around what he was saying and what it meant.
Everyone looked up as her dad jumped out of his chair and bellowed, "Say that again please, I don't think we heard you correctly."
Mark stood and calmly replied, "No sir, you didn't misunderstand. I regret having to inform you this way, but Steph is going to have a baby. It's now a fact we have to deal with."
"I'll deal with you ... you fuckin' punk. Get my daughter in trouble then have the gall to march in here like you own the goddamn place. Why I ought to... ," her dad approached him with clenched fist.
Steph's dad got right in the young man's face before spinning off and circling the room. He did that three times as his wife and daughter sat nervously watching. Mark stood his ground each time. His demeanor wasn't threatening, but he made his thoughts perfectly clear, 'Sir, I will take whatever you decide to dish out.'
Finally Steph's mom angrily said, "Now hon, that's not going to do a damn bit of good. Get a hold of yourself and calm down. The kids have made a mistake, but they're trying to do the right thing. They've come to us with their problem. Let's try to help ... if nothing else, let's at least not make the situation worse."
Her dad stopped. "You are either the stupidest son-of-a-bitch I've ever met ... or the bravest young man alive ... or ... maybe both," he said. Before plopping back into his chair, he added with red faced anger, "Ok ... I know you've talked it over. What's your game plan at the moment?"
Mark glanced down and could see the shock on Steph's face at what he'd said and done. While continuing to look at her, he replied, "Well I can't answer for Steph, and it is her life we are talking about. So I'm going to let her make the decision as to what she wants, and I will support her choice, no matter what it is."
"I ... I ... damn it, I don't know what I want or even what I should do. But at the moment, I think it would be best if you left so that I can talk with my parents alone. I want their advice before I decide anything," Steph said. "I'll call you later, after we're finished."
"One question before you leave, young man," her dad spoke up. "Are you willing to marry my daughter if that's what she decides?"
"DAD!" Steph almost screamed in surprise.
"It's a fair question," her dad replied, "and you have to know in order to consider all your options."
Before anyone could say another word, Mark spoke up, "Yes sir, I am. I would consider it an honor to marry your daughter."
Once more she sat staring at him in the same open mouth manner as he turned to walk out the door.
Steph called Mark later that evening. After a couple of questions, which he answered to her satisfaction, the wedding was set for the middle of the following month.
For the first time, Steph's dad finally smiled at Mark. It was right before the wedding. He walked up, stuck out his hand and said, "Welcome to the family son. I want you to know that I think you're one hell of a fine young man to step up to the plate and assume your responsibilities."
As Mark shook hands with his future father-in-law, he couldn't help saying, "It isn't a chore sir. I've loved her ... all my life. I not only consider it a privilege, it's my pleasure."
Her dad just smiled and nodded while gently squeezing Mark's arm. Then after patting him on the shoulder a couple of times, Steph's dad turned to walk off, trying his best to hide his misty eyes. Mark noticed though and smiled as he pondered, 'Must be a senior high school trait that all boys carry through life.'
Four and a half months later, their daughter was born.
'That was almost five years ago. In all that time not a word from Tony. Now here he is, evidently having an affair with Marcie. How could this have been going on without Ken or me knowing a thing? Especially since we haven't heard a thing about Tony being back, ' Mark wondered.
Then staring across the table, he asked, "When? Not only when, but how was Marcie able to do this without you suspecting a thing?"
His friend's face was etched with sorrow as he slowly shook his head and replied in a quavering voice, "Mark ... it's ... not Marcie. Turn the page."
After flipping to the next page, Mark was momentarily confused. But suddenly he shot out of his chair with such force that it slammed backwards across the room, bouncing off the cabinets. The next two pages were nothing but old pictures of Steph and Tony. Mark remembered them, but thought they'd been trashed years ago.
When asked what she had done with them, he recalled Steph's exact words, "I put them where they belong, in the scrap heap with the rest of his mementos. Nothing of his is left in this house."
Moving with such speed that Ken was actually afraid, Mark slammed the scrapbook shut and grabbed it up to throw across the room. His arms were in forward motion when he caught himself and held fast as the book came around with such force that Ken ducked. With his neck bulging, Mark raised it above his head, still fighting his raging desire to bounce the goddamn thing off the walls.
Finally he slammed the book back down on the table. Not with enough force to damage either, but hard enough to spill coffee and cause Ken to jump in his seat. Mark turned and grabbed a dishtowel. After mopping up the coffee and picking up his chair, he sat back down.
Stone faced and stiff as a board, Mark started slowly going through the scrapbook, one page at a time. Occasionally he would stop to study some of the more recent photos of Tony or glance down one of the many clippings about his accomplishments in sports. There were more than a few about his academic awards as well.
Every now and then Mark paused to read one of the many letters that unbeknownst to him, his wife obviously had been receiving during the last five years. It seemed a few of her friends had gone to the same university as Tony and were secretly keeping her abreast of his ever advancing life and career. Several mentioned that occasionally he would ask, "How are Steph and the baby doing?" She and her friends evidently felt that the regular mail was safer than email.
There was not one single correspondence from Tony, or any indication that the two of them had tried to contact each other personally. Mark didn't know if that fact made him feel better ... or worse. 'If it turns out that he doesn't really care about her ... what a waste of time ... and lives all of this will have been, ' Mark thought to himself.
He also realized, 'This is why I've wondered many times about that faraway look in Steph's eyes. And the reason our relationship always seems so hot and cold in spite of her being a devoted mother and going through the motions of being a good wife.'