Welcome to Cambridge House-Chapter Six

Setting: May 1989-Hammond, Indiana

He was standing by the brightly-lit, neon-colored concession stand. He walked over to tear our tickets. "I could ask you the same question, Katie." Jerk. There are times when Alex just rubs me the wrong way. Melanie giggled. He gave my friends a wink and a smile. What a flirt!

"I asked you a question, Alex." I put my hands on my hips.

"What does it look like?" He gestured to the suit he was wearing. "I work here. I'm the assistant manager here, the one in charge right now. Why are you here?"

I rolled my eyes at him. Was he trying to make me feel stupid? "You just tore our tickets."

He looked at the stubs in his hand. "Shag?"

Sarah sighed. "Katie dragged us here. She's obsessed with everything about South Carolina because that's where Mark lives."

Alex had a confused look on his face. "Who's Mark?" he asked.

"Duh, my boyfriend, my perfect, handsome, older boyfriend. I just want to know as much as I can about life in South Carolina."

"The movie takes place in the 1960's."

"I know that, but I also know it's still a popular dance there. I'm here for information and entertainment."

"And you think you can learn something from Phoebe Cates? Wasn't she in Fast Times at Ridgemont High?"

I smiled at him, flashing my teeth. "Yeah, that's the one with the geeky assistant manager at the movie theatre, who never got laid."

Sarah and Melanie's mouths formed a silent O. Alex was uncharacteristically silent.

"Excuse us. We've got to get our snacks and find our seats before the show starts." I smirked and walked past him, my friends quickly trailing behind me.

Alex obviously recovered from my remark because he made his way behind the concession counter, where one of the workers serving food was flirting with us. "Hey, Joe, don't bother with the one in the middle. Sure she's got a great pair of legs." He pointed at me.

I blushed. Why did I wear shorts today?

"But she's got a h—l of a mouth of her, too"

"You're darn right I do." I pointed to the new button pinned on my denim purse that read- 51% Sweetheart, 49% B-h. I held it up for the guys to see for a minute before grabbing my popcorn and pop in a hurry to find my movie. I didn't want to miss the beginning.

The screen lit up with picture and sound as we walked into the auditorium. We scrambled to find seats before the house lights turned off. I found myself relating to the movie as I watched. I was prim and proper with my grandparents and Jake. We had a plan mapped out for our lives, approved by our families.

When I got to Andrean High School, I made new, crazy, but fun friends. I was slowly changing and it affected the status quo. I couldn't be that other person anymore. Mark entered the picture and my perfect plans disappeared as soon as I looked into his eager hazel eyes and he flashed me a charming smile. The old Kathy that disappeared years ago was lying in wait under the surface and I missed her. Okay, she was a princess. I cringe at the thought, but I'm the type to need a planned, ordered life.

Those old dreams were calling to me. My love for Mark allowed me to ignore all those thoughts and feelings bubbling up under the surface. When the movie ended, I was happy, but confused. I morphed into Katie, but which parts of Kathy did I still want to keep? I had no time for thinking after the house lights surrounded us.

Melanie checked her watch. "It's 4:15. Callie said she'd be here to pick us up at four o'clock. We've got to hurry. She's been waiting for fifteen minutes already."

Empty soda cups and half-filled popcorn buckets flew into the trash receptacles. We dashed out of the theatre like our shoes were on fire.

A hand grabbed my arm just before I reached the exit door. "Hey, how did you like the movie?"

I struggled to catch my breath. "I liked it, but I've got to go. Callie's waiting in the van."

"Can we talk later?"

I shrugged and ran after my friends out the door. Sure enough, Callie was waiting with some of the other residents.

One girl had her arms crossed. She glared at me. "It's about time. We haven't got all day to wait for you."

I sighed. I wanted to retaliate, but I knew that it wouldn't do me any good. I still wanted to fit in with everyone at Cambridge. I sat quietly as the van surged forward. Sarah and Melanie chatted amongst themselves. A hubbub of whispered conversations filled the air. Callie drove her steel chariot into Gary. I wasn't necessarily afraid of being there.

Mark's parents and my aunt still lived in town, but there were still some areas in the urban core that made me nervous. I had my parents to thank for that. Prejudice isn't innate, it's learned. I swallowed the lump in my throat as we traveled into an unfamiliar sector of the city, West Fifth Avenue. We went to pick up some of the girls from weekend visitation. Finally, I spotted something wonderful, but I wasn't the only one whose mouth was watering.

"Callie, can we stop? I'm starving!" Lisa complained.

"Dinner's at six. We can eat when we get home." Callie shot her a stern look from the rearview mirror.

Voices rose up in protest. "But you could make a smaller dinner, soup and sandwiches. If some of us eat now, you may not have to cook as much." (Latanya)

"Please, Callie!" Lisa begged.

I joined in. "Come on, Callie. I'm so hungry, and this place has the best burgers around."

Lisa shot me a look of disbelief. "Dang! The white princess even wants to stop here." She turned away to look at me. "Aren't you afraid to get out of the car in the ghetto?"

I cringed, recovering quickly. "I love The Lure! It's my favorite!"

"How do you know about The Lure?" Lisa eyed me with interest.

"There are two locations, you know. My dad lived near the one in Portage, off Route 20. I rode my bike there with my friends all the time when I lived with him."

Lisa was quiet, contemplating this new information about me.

Callie stopped driving.

"Well, come on, let's go." Lisa gestured for me to join the girls who piled out towards the building.

I felt so comfortable once we entered the restaurant. It looked just like the one in Portage. I impatiently waited in line, shifting from one foot to the other. I just couldn't wait to get up to the counter. Once I did, I ordered my usual meal- cheeseburger-ketchup only, fries, and a large chocolate shake. I grabbed my order to go quickly, not wanting to leave Callie in wait any longer. We piled back into the van laughing, but then scattered once we were inside. I'd made some tentative connections, but we were still divided by my choice in friends. I chose to align myself with some girls considered to be undesirables (nasty). They were the basement girls.

Callie never ate at The Lure before. I let her have the first bite of my burger and a few of my fries. Her facial expression was priceless. Her eyes widened. She grinned with delight. Yes, the food was just that good. Sarah and Melanie didn't even want to share my fries. We ate so much at the movies. It was amazing that I had an appetite at all. We gorged ourselves on soda, popcorn, and candy. I took a bite of my cheeseburger. I was in heaven. The taste of superbly grilled meat and tasty American cheese exploded in my mouth. I ate like a person who hadn't eaten for days. I swished around the flavor of potatoes, washed down by an icy cold sweet chocolaty liquid. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I couldn't finish. That's when I realized that I wasn't really that hungry. I was starved for something familiar, a taste of home- comfort food. I held onto my bag of leftovers like gold.

We finally pulled into the driveway around six o'clock that night with a full carload of girls. I silently walked into the house, lost in memories. I felt so grown-up when my dad let me go with my friends to Zip Foods and The Lure on our bikes. It was a freedom and trust I'd never experienced before while living with Cassandra. When dinner was ready, I chose to sit on the back porch, enjoying the peace and quiet for a change. The sky was full of clouds and different colors. It was getting dark early. I smelled a hint of rain in the air. The air was cool and moist. I sat down with a notebook.

Callie bought it for me, suggesting that I needed a journal. At first, I didn't want to use it. Why? I didn't want to think about feelings and stuff, but my brain wouldn't cooperate. It led me back to memories and feelings involuntarily, so I decided to put the book to use. What a day! We were allowed to use the phone for only one more hour, but I needed to wait. Calling Mark would only take ten minutes. That was the house per call limit anyway.

I needed some solitude. My body collapsed under the heavy weight of my emotions. The pen flew across the page. A swirl of emotions burst through me, so confusing. My emotions varied from melancholy to anger at Cassandra for having me "locked up". My only crime was trying to live a good, safe life without intimidation, fear, and violence. First, a fire burned through me as my fury towards her ripped through me. I wrote with the fever of injustice. My mind turned to happier thoughts and feelings.

My grandparents were a steadfast presence in my life. They made me the person I was, and I was a mess without them. My boyfriend was 800 miles away, separated by three states. It might as well have been an ocean. I retracted my arms, pulling them against my aching chest. There was a thickness in my throat, signaling the onset of tears. My body temperature chilled. Lethargy had me in a death grip.

I blinked back tears. I tensed my body, forcing myself to apply a pen to the page again. It was hard to imagine how my life led to this place and time. Suddenly, my mind returned to the present. I felt a smile curve my lips as I thought of Callie, Melanie, and Emily. My body experienced a floating sensation, like all my burdens were removed. A sense of calm flooded my soul because I was safe here from Cassandra. Everything might just turn out alright after all. For the first time, my destiny lay in my own hands.

I heard shoes connecting with pavement in the driveway, maybe someone else came outside to claim some solitude, too. Embracing the silence as I enjoyed my newly bubbling spirit, I decided to ignore the sounds, focusing inward again. Ink and paper were put to work again.

"Hey, wait. Whatcha doing?" he asked.

I gasped. The pen dropped out of my fingers. My muscles tightened and I felt a sudden urge to run back into the house. "Um, um, nothing." My hands took action to turn my private page away from prying eyes. My heartbeat raced and I felt a fluttering in my belly. "What are you doing over here, Alex?" I shouted , glaring at him. "I wanted to be alone!"

"Look, I told you earlier that I wanted to talk to you tonight. You had to anticipate my arrival at some point."

"You said later- as in tonight, tomorrow, or next week." My body temperature rose and my temples pounded. Can't you see I want to be alone? You're not welcomed here. Then my cheeks burned and I couldn't meet his gaze as I remembered how much he helped me on my birthday. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so rude. I'm just dealing with some personal stuff right now."

"I thought we were on good terms, but you verbally attack me every time we meet. What did I do to deserve that?"

I felt the steam rising out of my ears. "You started it. You criticized me at the roller rink. You're always around to bug me. Look at the things you said at the movies."

He pinched his lips together, shook his head, and clenched his jaw. "You started it today. I tried to be cordial. You fired the first shot this time."

A sour taste filled my mouth while I fought to maintain eye contact. I took a deep cleansing breath, scraping a hand over my face as if to wash away my negative energy. "You got me there. Again, I'm sorry. I'm just going through so much. Everything around here is strange and new. I'm trying to fit in and make friends. I've had a lot of different experiences and choices to take in. It's a little overwhelming and scary. I took it out on you."

"Now, we're getting somewhere. That makes sense. I tell you what, I promise not to take it so personally when you lash out," he said in a steady, lower-pitched voice, offering a firm handshake and wink.

I felt a sudden lightness again. I leaned forward to shake the hand that was offered. Now, Alex was in my personal space. I maintained strong eye contact while my stomach did belly flops. I offered him a seat on the bench beside me. We caught up about the weekend's events, including yesterday's panic attack.

"Remind me never to take you to the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building." At this point, he leaned forward, quirking an eyebrow and smiling.

"I have a boyfriend, okay? I'm not sure I should be hanging out with you like this... after what happened on Friday." My hands lifted to my warm cheeks. I was sure my face turned bright red as the words left my mouth.

"Friday night?"

"Yeah, you know what happened, the ..." I stammered, clearing my throat. I scooted away from him and the tension I felt between us.

"Yeah?" He smirked at me. He would have to tease me about it. What are you, twelve? I found my voice again to give a reasonable response.

"That's your modus operandi, isn't it? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the line of fire." He sat stiffly, folding his hands and narrowing his eyes.

I gritted my teeth. I felt another headache coming on. "Are you kidding me? You kissed me. I didn't ask or invite you to do that."

He leaned away, adding to the space between us. He concentrated his fixed stare, leaving me with a feelings of being interrogated. "Really? Listen, I believe that you care about your boyfriend, but look at the facts. You were ready to be kissed, Kat. That guy was moving in for the kill. Someone had to stop you."

I crossed my arms in front of me. "So, you were jealous! You wanted me to kiss you, but I was already crossing the line with someone else. You weren't protecting me on Mark's behalf, or for my own good. You did it because you wanted me for yourself."

His hands were up in front of him defensively. "Whoa, wait a second! I was not jealous! How could I be jealous of that loser?"

"That 'loser' happens to be my ex, who's already kissed me, my first kiss. It was wonderful." I stared off dreamily. "I have to admit that I was curious if he'd improved with time. It was special."

"What kind of kiss was it? What do you call a perfect kiss?"

"You are never gonna shut up about it, are you? I'll show you, but we'll never talk about it again." My mouth went dry. Tingling fluttered through my stomach.

He held my gaze as I inched closer. My breath quickened. I planted my lips on his gently like a whisper, lingering for a moment before withdrawing into my comfort zone.

He rolled his eyes and smirked at me. "You call that the perfect kiss? Yeah, right? The perfect kiss should be anticipated, prolonged with lips caressing and tongues fiercely engaged until you're hot and panting with desire. I get why you were mad at me. I ruined that anticipated kiss with one you enjoyed a little too much."

My lips pressed into a fine line. My hand flapped to dismiss that notion. "You can't be serious. One kiss would not affect me that much. You're implying that I liked it, and you're barking up the wrong tree." My body was rigid in a confrontational stance.

"Maybe, because that kiss palls in comparison to that night." He surveyed me like he was Sylvester the cat and I was Tweety bird. Stretching his arms out wide, he leaned back at ease and in control with his cocky smile.

He must have known that his words threw me into the twilight zone. My gaze ping-ponged, avoiding eye contact. I opened and closed my mouth, struggling to find the right words. I pulled in and slowly released a deep breath, rubbing my hand through my hair. His victory was clear, but I couldn't let him get away with it. I narrowed my eyes at him, folding my arms across my chest.

"What night? I don't remember. If it was so great, why don't I remember? It obviously wasn't as great as you seem to remember." Alex leaned towards me again. "Is that right?" he said, a glint of seduction in his eyes. His eyes trailed down to my neck. Softly, his breath caressed my skin.

Huskiness hung in the air. "Oh, Kat, you have no idea how good it was! You purred when I touched you. I thoroughly explored your seductive little package. You moaned as my lips tasted your sweet skin from your neck downward. Your response tore through me like a wildfire out of control, hungrily kissing me like I was the last man on Earth. It was smoking hot while it lasted. Like I said, I want to be there when you finally remember."

I felt a blush from my head to my toes. Sweat formed on my forehead. I bit my lip, darting glances at Alex. My chest tightened, and I cleared my throat. I recoiled from him, inching further and further away until I slammed onto the unforgiving, harsh, wooden floor. His lips pursed into another confident smile. I covered my mouth as I gasped. Surging pain shot up my back. Hot tears rolled down my cheek.

Suddenly, his face went grim. Raw hurt glittered in his dark eyes. He extended a hand to help me up. "Of all the reactions I imagined, I never thought of this one. I'm sorry, Kat. Stop looking at me as if I'm going to force myself on you."

I accepted the hand that was offered. I stood silently in front of him, wiping away the tears and trying to maintain some semblance of dignity. He opened his mouth to say something when the back door opened, catching us by surprise.

"Hey, guys, what's up?" Emily asked as she bounced onto the scene swinging her pale ponytail behind her. Her face split into a wide grin. "So, this is where you snuck off to. You've got a phone call. It's Mark. You must have hit the jackpot with that one. He sounds yummy."

I resisted an eye roll because with Emily almost everything that came out of her mouth had something to do with guys and sex. It made sense since her last two boyfriends were over the age of twenty-two. I could've made a smart remark, but I didn't. Instead, my face lifted into a proud, confident smile. My throat released a booming laugh. "Oh, he is. My boyfriend is tall, muscular, and devastatingly handsome." I remarked, locking eyes with Alex as I spoke. "I'm a very lucky, very satisfied girl." Satisfied with my exit line, I followed Emily back into the house.

I snatched the phone up like a life preserver. "Hi, honey. How are you?" I began with genuine delight. This was a rare treat. "I'm surprised to hear from you. I'm supposed to be the one to call on Sunday nights." We agreed to split the long-distance calls evenly. It was easy to afford on my end. Vicki gave me the info off her AT&T card to charge calls, courtesy of her despicable snake of a husband, not that Mark knew anything about that little arrangement. I was wrapped in a silken cocoon of euphoria as I listened to his gentle, loving voice. Thoughts of anything or anyone else temporarily faded from my mind.

" I missed you, Kathy."

"I know, me too. It's so hard to be away from you. I love you so much!" I had love busting out of my toes at the moment.

Mark relayed the latest events at the manufacturing plant where he worked. That was the main thing in his life right now, the reason why he relocated to the Palmetto state. A feeling of annoyance crept up on me like a giant gnat, flying around me. Everyone in my new life called me by Katie, except Mark. Why couldn't he do that one simple thing? He kept blowing it off with the excuse that he'd known me too long as Kathy and names shouldn't matter. I tried to fight off the negative feeling and concentrate on his sweet voice that always made me feel safe and protected.

"I have a surprise for you. I'm getting time off around Memorial Day. How about I drive up there to see you?"

"That would be fantastic. I can't wait!"

"Listen, we're having a reunion in honor of my grandma's seventy-ninth birthday. I would like to introduce you to the rest of my family. We'll drive down to Indianapolis the day before the holiday. I'll have you back by curfew the same night. See if you can get permission to go, okay?"

"Sure thing. Hey, my time is almost up. I have to let you go. 'Night, Mark."

"Good night, beautiful."

I hung up the receiver and skipped out the back door. Alex was sitting out on the back porch with Emily. Her face was paler than her hair. Emily's hands clasped together in her lap and her shoulders curled over her chest. She sniffed to fight back tears. Alex's hand rubbed the back of his neck. His face held a grave expression and his eyes were humorless.

Emily's features changed lightning-fast. She put on a forced smile, but I could still see the dullness in her eyes. "So, you look happy. What's your good news?"

I bounced from foot to foot, squealing. "Mark is coming into town for Memorial Day weekend. He invited me to meet the rest of his family at a reunion."

"So, it's serious, then?" he asked.

"Yep, we're taking the next step. Wouldn't it be terrific if he proposed while he was here?" I beamed a toothy grin, jumping up and down. I pulled Emily to her feet, compelling her to jump with me.

"Be careful with her, Katie," he warned. He paused in brief thought before shrugging. "It doesn't matter now anyway. Whoop it up," he remarked in a resigned tone. "I've got to go now. Forgive me if I don't offer you congratulations. Teen marriages don't last."

"Try butting out of my business."

"You're too young for this. You're still a kid looking for instant gratification."

I moved in closer, a hair's space between us. "Given our earlier conversation, what does that make you?"

His eyes darkened. He turned to Emily. "You need to talk to someone. Try talking to Katie. Good luck." He walked back next door.

"What is he talking about?"

"I'm pregnant."