Junior High had been about as perfect as Alf could have hoped. He and Regina started going out together in seventh grade and by eighth grade they were going steady. It was an innocent romance with hand holding and pecks on the cheek and not much more as far as physical activity went but on an emotional level Alf never felt for a girl the way he felt about Regina. He thought they were going to last forever. They got along great, they shared the same sense of humor, they liked to do the same things, and most of all Regina seemed to understand him. She was supportive and kind, friendly and fun, beautiful and sensitive. He had never been as happy as he had been when he was with Regina.
What was extra nice was that both families accepted their puppy love adolescent friendship and treated the situation with respect and honor. Alf was welcomed at Regina's house and Regina was definitely welcomed at Alf's home. Alf loved it when he was invited to dinner by Regina's mom or was asked to join in various family outings. Life was wonderful.
Sometimes Alf just liked looking at Regina. She had long silky golden brown hair, dancing blue eyes, a scattering of freckles on her lovely cheeks, the prettiest smile he'd ever seen, and a slender young body that hinted of the sexuality that was sure to come as she matured. Alf knew he was the luckiest guy around to have Regina as his girl.
But then came high school with new changes, challenges, responsibilities, friendships, and activities. Alf and Regina didn't see each other as often around school and they became preoccupied with new adventures. Regina joined the cheerleading squad, Alf ran track. Regina ran for student council, Alf got a job at Johnny C's Diner. The simple times of junior high seemed lost in the new excitement and demands of high school and that reality placed unfamiliar strains on their friendship.
The situation became more tense when Regina started hanging out with Steve Sheppardson, a popular and good looking sophomore jock who seemed to have an interest in her. Alf didn't pay much attention at first because it never occurred to him that Regina would fall for another guy. But when Regina went skiing with Sheppardson and some other sophomores during Christmas break without even telling Alf, the tension between the couple increased tenfold and Alf began giving Regina a hard time about who she was spending time with, especially as their quality time together became less available and definitely less enjoyable.
Regina dumped Alf three days before the Valentine's Dance, a blindsided shock that caught him totally unprepared and vulnerable. What was most bizarre was that Regina gave him the boot in the hallway in front of his locker with four of her friends surrounding her so he had no readdress or opportunity to debate.
"It's over, Alf," Regina said with no emotion in her voice. "We're broken up."
It was quick, it was stealth, it was surgical, and it was cruel. Alf didn't even have a chance to react before Regina was turning on her heels and walking away.
"Well, at least she didn't dump you by text," Alf's sympathetic pal Nate remarked later.
Alf took the news badly and he skipped the dance but his friends reported that Regina attended on Sheppardson's arm and that she looked as happy as ever which only stuck the knife deeper into Alf's wound.
Alf never forgave Regina for what she did. It was obvious that she was seeing Sheppardson behind his back even before she gave him the hook. Alf felt so angry and violated by her actions that he couldn't even look at Regina. He wanted to kill Sheppardson, of course, but Sheppardson went proactively on the offensive – he and a couple of his friends beat the shit out of Alf in the locker room after gym class one day and that left Alf with even less incentive to try to reclaim Regina's lost affections.
"Stay away from my chick," Sheppardson warned, standing over the bloodied and bruised Alf as he lay flat on his back on the locker room floor.
If Regina was willing to dump him for a psychopath like Sheppardson, Alf didn't want anything to do with her. She had ruined everything that they had enjoyed together, everything they had been together. Alf lost Regina to some high school jock because she fell prey to the pressures of high school social class and image, willing to sacrifice Alf in exchange for new faces, new thrills, and a new romance.
Regina tried to be nice to Alf but he ignored her pleasantries, turning his back on her and giving her the cold shoulder, occasionally even insulting her if they were participating in a class discussions or found themselves in the same group of classmates. Regina got the message and she avoided him from then on. Alf was miserable when he saw her with Sheppardson and he couldn't let go of the bitterness and resentfulness he felt about being dumped.
Sometimes Sheppardson and Regina came into Johnny C's on Alf's shift for a quaint lunch or afternoon frappe. In the summer, Alf would see them at Beano Field watching a ball game and Alf hated her for wrecking what they once shared. He had to bite his tongue not to say something mean whenever their paths crossed.
Regina was still with Sheppardson when he graduated from Hillsboro High a year ahead of her. Alf had finally moved on emotionally and he dated a couple of other girls by then but none of them compared to what he had with Regina. Sheppardson attended nearby Green College and he was still dating Regina but school gossip control reported that the relationship was over by Christmas. Rumors had it that Sheppardson found some college babe to spend time with.
Regina looked miserable when school resumed after the holidays and Alf almost felt sorry for her but he just couldn't bring himself to forgive her. A part of him reasoned that she got what she deserved and he took secret perverse pleasure in her unhappiness.
Alf dated Sara Bussler that winter mostly to rub Regina's face in it. Sara was a nice girl and they got along fine but there was no spark there and they mutually went their own ways by the time spring vacation was over. By then, Alf was mostly just counting the days until graduation and beyond but he felt sad because the class was involving itself in so many social activities and gatherings in their final months together but he and Regina weren't able to celebrate them together.
Jerry Johnston was having a big bash at his house one Saturday evening and Alf stopped by with Nate to partake in the festivities and as unluck would have it Regina was there with some of her friends. Nate urged Alf to say something to Regina who looked like she was having a fake good time with a pasted smile on her face talking to kids she barely knew as if they were her best friends (Alf almost wanted to laugh at her fraud of a performance) but what was there to say?
Finally, near the end of the night when many of the partiers had already left, Alf spotted Regina sitting on the couch alone drinking something from a large red plastic cup. He strolled to the couch and sat next to her.
Regina had chopped off her long hair a couple of years earlier. It was lighter now, barely down to her shoulders with bangs across her forehead. Her freckles had disappeared and her blue eyes looked sad and distant. Her body had filled out with firm hips and a tight chest.
She glanced at him and rolled her eyes. "Are you here to call me names?" She asked, her voice betraying a hint of a drunken slur.
"No," he sighed, suddenly tired of being a jerk after four years of misery.
"I know you hate me so please save me from your insincerity now," she said.
"I wasn't going to say anything about anything," Alf replied defensively.
"Yeah, right," she said cynically.
"Gin, it's been nearly four years," Alf remarked. "Does any of it matter now anyway?"
Regina gave Alf a blank stare. "I guess not," she admitted.
"Don't you miss us?" Alf's voice cracked as memories of them suddenly flooded his mind.
All of a sudden, sitting next to her, smelling her, being with her, Alf forgot all about her betrayal and the lost years. He was just happy to be (physically) close to her after so long but could it be possible to ever really trust her again? He looked at her for a long moment realizing just how much he really did miss them together. But there was so much hurt too and he was surprised by how much he wanted to wrap his arms around her and get that junior high feeling back. But he knew he couldn't do it.
"Why are you here?" Regina asked with defeat. "You haven't talked to me in three years."
"I don't know," he admitted.
"Please don't feel sorry for me," she requested.
"I guess I feel sorry for us," Alf said.
"What's done is done," Regina sighed with defeat.
"I feel like the last three years was a ruinous waste," Alf remarked, surprised that his voice cracked as he said it.
Her eyes watered and a single tear began to run down her cheek. "I may have drunk too much to have this conversation with you here and now," she said.
"Why did you have to wreck everything?" He asked painfully.
"I thought it's what I wanted," she confessed. "I thought it was what I was supposed to do."
"I think you thought wrong," Alf replied gruffly.
"Maybe," she said neutrally. "It wasn't all bad."
"It was for me," Alf replied, sounding resigned.
"I know what we had and that we both loved each other," she sighed. "But…" Her voice drifted off and she looked down at her lap with an incredible amount of guilt in her eyes.
"But you wanted something more?" He guessed.
"Something else," she clarified. "I thought high school was supposed to be different."
"Different from what?" He accused.
"I don't know," she admitted. "Different from our sweet little innocent romance, I guess."
"And was it?" Alf asked bitterly.
"I thought it was," Regina said sadly. "Now?" She looked around the empty room and then back into his eyes. "Now I'm not so sure it was worth it."
Finally, after three years, Alf felt redemption and satisfaction. "Regina, I still love you," he blurted out, surprising himself even more than Regina. "I love you more than anything and I couldn't stand seeing you with Sheppardson."
"I'm sorry I destroyed us," she said. "I let it happen because I thought that's what I wanted but I realized too late what I lost."
"Is it really lost?" Alf asked hopefully.
"We can't go back, Alf."
Alf looked stunned as he watched the tears roll down her face. "Why not?"
"It's too late," she said. "Too much time. Too much hurt. Too much damage."
"Gin, you can't mean that," he groaned.
"I do," she said. "We're older now. We can't expect to pick up where we left off after everything that's happened. We've both changed."
He sighed, hurt and defeated but he wasn't going to argue with her. "Well, we can be friends, can't we?"
She smiled sadly. "Yeah, we can be friends," she agreed.
Now Alf felt even sadder than he did before. All this time they could have been together and happy with each other. Such a wasted opportunity.
"I was a fool I realize now," Regina sighed, unable to look at him.
"It's okay," he said. "We're friends, after all."
Regina looked like she was going to start blubbering all over the place but then her friend Jen came into the room looking for her. Jen was surprised to see Regina and Alf seated together on the couch and when she saw that Regina's face was wet with tears she became irate.
"What did you say to her, you stupid asshole?" Jen yelled at Alf.
Regina wiped her eyes and stood up. "Its okay, Jen," she insisted. "We're all good."
"You're crying," Jen protested.
"I'm kind of drunk," Regina admitted. "But Alf was being nice so don't worry."
"Alf was being nice?" Jen asked suspiciously. "I bet."
"We're friends now," Alf revealed sheepishly as he stood too.
"Oh?" Jen asked cynically. "Just like that?"
"Just like that," Alf confirmed.
Jen shook her head. "Let's get out of here, Reeg," she said with annoyance.
"It was nice talking to you, Alf," Regina said with a smile.
"Likewise," Alf replied.
"Oh God," Jen mumbled, taking Regina by the hand and leading her out of the room.
Alf watched them go while smiling to himself. He felt that a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders and it was freeing to be rid of the bitter resentment, hateful anger, and self-destructive pity he had been carrying for so long.
Alf made it a point to say hello to Regina at school on Monday morning and she was kind enough to return his smile and say hi back. So, the long stand off between them was finally over and now they could both go back to functioning on a freeing level. They were both cautious and reserved but in the coming days and weeks, Alf and Regina talked to each other in the hallways. Alf was bold enough to sit with her in the cafeteria for lunch one day, causing heads to turn. He gave her a ride home a couple of times and one time she invited him into the house. Regina's mother did a double take when she saw Alf seated at her kitchen table for the first time in nearly four years but she treated him as if he had just been there yesterday and that felt comfortingly nice to Alf.
Alf and Regina's conversations were mostly safe and general, generic and neutral without a whole lot of personal revelations about the last four years. Regina accidentally mentioned Shepphard's name a couple of times and Alf occasionally referenced Sara and his other relationships in the abstract but they both avoided the past in relation to their breakup whenever they could.
One time when Alf was at Regina's house, she invited him to her room and he saw her prom photo on her dresser. She had gone to the gala with Andy Tyner, a nice enough guy.
"How come you didn't go to the prom?" Regina asked when she noticed him glancing at the photo.
"I didn't want to go stag," Alf sighed. "Sara and I had just called it quits and it was too late to ask anybody else."
"She showed up with Brad Kirkwood," Regina pointed out.
"Yeah, she didn't waste any time!" Alf laughed. Then he glanced at Regina who was looking something up on the computer. "Did you have a nice time at the Prom?"
"Sure," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "Andy was a gentleman and it was a nice night out in a fancy dress."
"How come you two aren't together now?" Alf wondered.
"It wasn't like that," she said, glancing up and meeting Alf's eyes. "We were both just doing each other a favor."
"Oh." He chewed on his lip for a moment. "Remember the 8th grade Social?"
She smiled happily. "That was fun," she said with sentimental nostalgia. "I have pictures!"
She clicked on a couple of icons on her computer and suddenly the two of them appeared on the screen, young and happy, innocent and carefree.
"I was shocked when you cut your hair," Alf admitted as he stepped closer to the computer screen and looked at the photos of them in their younger days.
They had dressed up so formally and Regina's mom drove them to the dance. Alf's Dad picked them up and they went out to Denny's in Greenville afterwards with a couple of other couples and it was a fun time.
"I thought it was time for a change," Regina said, running her hand through her shorter hair. "Time to grow up," she sighed.
"You know, when I look back on it, I think that Social was one of the happiest days of my life," Alf said, still examining the photos on the computer screen.
"Mine too," Regina said with a smile.
He could smell her again and he had to resist the urge to lean over and kiss her as he stood over her shoulder looking at the photos of them in eighth grade. Regina didn't say anything as she clicked through a couple of pages of photos, mostly of them as pre-teens and young teens hanging out. There was Regina's 10th birthday party and a trip to Sun Rise Lake with Alf's family. The school Christmas Pageant in sixth grade and Easter Sunday Mass in seventh grade. There were shots of a back yard cook out and the first day of school Freshman year. The photos of them together stopped after a shot of them together at Regina's parent's house on New Year's Eve, barely a month before Regina dumped him. They were smiling at the camera and Alf couldn't help but wonder if that was the last time he was really happy.
"I'm glad you saved those," Alf said as he stepped away from the camera.
"Do you have a partner for graduation yet?" Regina asked, following him with her eyes.
"No," he said, looking back at her.
"Would you like to be my partner for graduation?" She asked nervously.
"Thanks," he said with a grin. I'd like that a lot."
The Class trip was to New York City to see a Broadway show (Anything Goes with Joel Grey). Alf and Regina sat next to each other on the coach bus ride to the city, almost the same way they did when they were twelve and took a bus trip to Boston together. They had their Ipods and cell phones and sometimes they chatted or watched the scenery go by.
It was a wonderful day in the city, spending the afternoon shopping and touring as a group before having a semi-formal early dinner with most of their classmates and then heading to the theater to see the show which was amazing. There was one time when Alf and Regina were walking down the street together and Alf found her hand in his which made his heart melt. There was still this unspoken barrier of hurt and loss between them but since that night of atonement in Jerry Johnston's den that night they had slowly built back and earned back trust and comfortableness and now, being together in the city that never sleeps, it almost felt like Alf and Regina had finally made it back to where they had started from.
During the ride home in the wee hours of the morning, Regina fell asleep and her head slumped against Alf's shoulder. He could smell her and feel her and almost taste her and if he closed his eyes it was almost as if they had always been together. Alf had to gently wake her up when the bus pulled into the school parking lot.
"Gin," he whispered. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty."
She opened her eyes and smiled at him with such warmth and contentment that he wanted to kiss her but he resisted the urge and instead he glanced around the bus at their departing classmates. "We're home," he observed.
"Yes," she said, trying to wake up. "We're home."
The weekend before their high school graduation Alf invited Regina to his house to hang out. His parents had gone out of town for the weekend and he thought it would be nice to have some quiet time together but he asked her over in the afternoon instead of evening just so she wouldn't get the wrong idea (whatever that was!).
They played a game of Scrabble (something they loved to do together in their younger days) and made some cookies for the fun of it and then sat on the living room couch eating them with a glass of milk while watching a DVD, a well done romantic comedy that was laugh out loud funny but also slightly awkward because Alf and Regina weren't supposed to be romantic just being friends.
When the movie ended and the credits rolled behind the soft music, Alf got so caught up in the moment that he leaned into Regina and pressed his lips to hers, tasting the cookie crumbs still on her lips.
"Sorry," he mumbled when he realized when he had done, pulling away from her. "I know that's not allowed."
But he had no regrets. He had been fantasizing about kissing her like that since they day they broke up.
"It's okay," Regina said as she put her hand to his cheek. "I thought about it too."
"Oh," he said with surprise. Then he smiled. "I'm glad you thought about it."
"Jen says you have to dump somebody and be dumped yourself before you truly realize what love really is all about," Regina remarked. "Do you think that's true?"
"All I know is that love hurts when you get dumped," Alf replied.
"Yes, it does," she agreed.
Alf stared at her for a long moment before he leaned over and nibbled on her lower lip, licking off the last of the cookie crumbs. Regina let out a small moan and then put her hands around his neck and pulled him closer. Four years of frustration, loneliness, desperation, wanting, longing and waiting gave way in that very moment.
"Remember when we used to watch Star Trek The Next Generation together all the time?" Alf asked quietly.
"Our favorite show," Regina recalled fondly.
"Remember the episode called Unification when Picard goes to Vulcan looking for Ambassador Spock who's off doing 'cowboy diplomacy' working toward a reunification between Romulans and Vulcans?" Alf asked.
"Sure," Regina smiled. "And Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country too when the Klingon home planet blows up and Kirk and crew tries to bring peace to the entire quadrant."
"I sort of feel kind of like that with you right now," Alf admitted freely. "That this is our own sort of reunification or something."
"I like the idea of that," Regina whispered.
Alf's hands began to explore her body and she helped him by tugging at the bottom of her shirt to allow him easier access. Alf slipped his hands under the shirt as they kissed and suddenly Regina pulled Alf's shirt off over his head. Then she began to kiss his neck and then down his chest.
Alf slowly and daringly pulled Regina's shirt up her torso revealing more of her precious body to his eyes. She took the shirt in her hands and pulled it off over her head revealing her bra-covered breasts for him to see.
"Gin," he whispered, looking at her with disbelief.
"It's okay," she assured him.
He cautiously moved his hand to her breast and started to carefully touch it. After a few moments, Regina reached back and unclasped her bra, allowing it to fall off in front of her. Alf's eyes went wide as he slowly reached out to touch the smoothness of her breast which he carefully caressed. He paused and looked into her eyes.
"Gin," he sighed with such longing he thought he was going to cry. "I've waited so long for this moment."
She placed her hand over his on her breast. "I should have waited for you," she said quietly. "You should have been the first to see me. To touch me."
"I never…. I…I'm a virgin," he revealed. "I waited for you."
She looked at him with wonderment. "Why would you do that?" She asked with disbelief.
"Because I love you," he replied. "Always have, always will."
"You didn't sleep with Sara or anybody else because of me?"
He nodded affirmatively.
"Oh, Alf, what have I done?" She sobbed, falling into him.
He could feel her bare breasts against his naked chest.
"I wish you waited for me but I understand why you didn't," he said softly. "It's okay."
"I don't deserve you, Alf."
"Yes you do," he replied.
"Doesn't what happened make you want to hate me?" She asked, her tears rolling down his chest.
Alf put his hand underneath her chin and lifted her face up so he could see her. He leaned down so that his lips touched hers again in a gentle smooch.
"Alf," she muttered, breathing in heavily.
He smiled and continued to caress her bare breast while looking into her eyes. She pressed her body closer to him and rolled onto his lap causing his erection to press into her stomach through their pants.
"Oh, Alf, I can't believe any of this," Regina said through her tears as she pushed him back on the couch. "How I wish you were my first."
"Let's pretend I am," he said softly.
She reached down and unsnapped his jeans which she quickly pulled down along with his underwear which caught Alf by surprise. She smiled when she saw his erection involuntarily waving at her. Alf felt awkward but he was happy he waited to be with her first. Sara finally figured out that Alf was still hung up on Regina which is why she decided that they should go their separate ways.
"Don't say anything," she said, putting her finger against his lips. "Let's pretend we're thirteen again and this is the day after the Social."
Alf nearly choked on his breath as he sat up and kissed her almost pleadingly. "I want to make love to you, not just have sex," he whispered.
"Oh, Alf," Regina sobbed squeezing his hand hard over her breast.
Alf pulled her onto his lap and his erection pressed against her underside causing her to gasp in response. She stood and wiggled out of her jeans and panties to reveal herself before him.
"Oh, Gin," Alf said happily as he stared at her beauty. "You're everything I thought you'd be."
She giggled and began running naked through the house and he gladly chased her, not stopping until they ended up in his bedroom where they belonged.
Hours later, spent and sweaty lying on his bed cuddling happily, Regina looked into his face. He glanced at her and smiled.
"It was definitely worth the wait," he said as if he was reading her mind.
"Sometimes you have to almost lose something before you really appreciate what you have," Regina said philosophically. "I've always loved, you, Alf."
He kissed her on the tip of her nose and snuggled her close to him.