It was an ass-kicking party. PJ's parents were out of town for the weekend and his sister was off at college so how could he pass up the opportunity for fun on a Friday night? It certainly helped PJ's social status hosting a party that was a who's who of who's who.

There were classmates and underclassmen and kids who had already graduated not to mention VIPS from other schools. There were jocks and geeks, stuck ups and class clowns, band members and cheerleaders. There were National Honor Society members, the theater crowd and of course the stoned druggies. PJ got a kick out of seeing some of the best looking girls in the school actually sitting on his living room couch and shooting the shit in his kitchen. PJ couldn't help but grin at the realization that at least for this one night he was a member of the cool club.

The night got better when PJ saw Jeannie come through the front door with her friends Maddie and Amy. Jeannie had been PJ's secret heart throb for years. They grew up in the same neighborhood and they performed in the band together (he on drums, she on the trumpet). That meant band camp along with rehearsals, practices and performances (marching band, jazz band and concert band) which gave PJ ample opportunity to hang out with Jeannie in a mutually enjoyable environment.

Jeannie had been dating Eddie "Pug" Puganelli for most of high school but apparently they had been on the outs lately and PJ hoped maybe that was good news for him. He noticed that a bummed Jeannie was downing her mixed vodka drinks like water to drown her sorrows about Pug and it wasn't long before she was a drunken mess.

PJ was surprised to see the normally reserved, mature, and low keyed Jeannie suddenly making a fool of herself especially when Pug made a cameo appearance at the party (he left when Jeannie started crying all over him and then got angry and started swearing at him and slapping him). Maddie and Amy finally dragged the incoherent basket case Jeannie away before she further embarrassed herself due to her extreme liquor intake.

PJ felt sorry and embarrassed for Jeannie, a very pretty girl with long brown hair, high cheek bones, a shapely figure and a beautiful smile. She was fun in band and interesting to talk with but tonight had not been a good one for poor Jeannie who clearly couldn't handle liquor (or breakups) every well.

The party eventually fizzled out in the wee morning hours with no arrests, casualties or fatalities and PJ considered the party a success. He did a quick sweep to make sure there weren't any abandoned burning cigarettes (or joints) that might accidentally torch the house down and he picked up the left over food that might spoil and rot, figuring the rest of the clean up could wait until morning.

An exhausted PJ dragged himself upstairs, still half-bagged and definitely feeling no pain. He had been smart enough to lock the bedroom doors of his parents and sister's rooms but he neglected to secure his own door. He checked the bathroom to make sure there wasn't any damage or a passed out drunk in the bathtub before stumbling into his room. PJ stopped in his tracks when he saw a form lying on his bed and when he stepped closer he realized it was Jeannie. He had lost track of her after the big scene with Pug, assuming Amy and Maddie had safely brought her home but there she was passed out cold in his bed, dead to the world.

She still looked beautiful in her drunken state even with drool coming out of the corner of her mouth. She was lying on her side, her hair tossed all over the pillow, her shoes kicked off. She was wearing a tight black long sleeve tee shirt and tight black slacks. The tee shirt had hiked up her back and PJ saw her exposed white skin. The way she was turned on the bed also caused her elastic-waist pants to slide down her hips and PJ could see that another fraction of an inch would start exposing her ass crack.

PJ stood staring at the passed out girl for a long moment, surprised and confused by her presence. Why did the girls leave her here? What was he supposed to do now? Try to get her home? Move her to his sister Karen's room? Go sleep on the couch?

"Jeannie?" PJ shouted. He repeated her name more loudly when she didn't respond or move. He even poked her a couple of times but she was clearly dead to the world.

PJ was just drunk enough not to be a gentleman. The booze had eroded away his inhibitions, insecurities and his normal sense of acceptable behavior. That's why – after staring at her lovely form for a few long moments – he reached out and pulled on the back of her pants to reveal her white tush that looked like it had been painted by an artist. PJ sighed, marveling at her (not so) hidden beauty while at the same time cursing himself for being such a perverted sicko. He snapped the pants back hoping that would stir Jeannie but she still didn't move.

"Well," PJ decided aloud. "It is my room."

He kicked off his shoes and fell onto the bed next to Jeannie, happy to fulfill the fantasy of sharing his bed with her. He turned off the lights and he could hear her soft breathing (almost a snore) and that soothed him into a sleep (aided additionally by the massive amounts of booze he had drank of course).

The next thing PJ knew it was morning. It was the stench that woke him. A foul odor that yanked him from his deep booze-induced sleep. He also felt a wetness that sent alarm signals to his brain. He opened his eyes and it took him a few moments to remember that Jeannie had spent the night. He turned his head to see that her head and hair was caked in vile green vomit with chunks of god-knows-what stuck to her face and hair. The smell was horrible and PJ belched out in disgusted horror.

"Jesus Christ!" He shouted, jumping from the bed.

PJ's movement startled Jeannie awake but she was unable to react or function, apparently incapable of processing what was going on, perhaps still drunk.

"Wh….?" She tried to speak but she couldn't get her mouth to work.

She became aware of the vomit on the pillow and in her hair and she made a face. Then she seemed to become aware of something else and her face became horrified. She pulled back the covers and PJ saw that she had pissed in her pants and wet the bed. There was also some red on the sheet and PJ was pretty sure he could smell crap too. Sure enough when Jeannie moved in the bed he saw that there were brown stains on the sheet and that her pants were totally soiled.

"Oh….aug….ah….." Jeannie burst into tears, humiliated and ashamed but she was too hung over and confused to move, laying there like she was a stroke victim.

PJ was grossed out and disgusted but he didn't want to further shame and embarrass the poor girl by going ballistic or saying something stupid.

"Are you still drunk?" He delicately asked.

"I'm sick," she clarified defensively, her face seeming to turn several different colors as he stared at her.

"You're sick because you were drunk," PJ reminded her.

"Please, my head hurts," Jeannie groaned. "Just leave."

"Can you get up?"

"Just leave me alone," she growled angrily. "Get out!"

"You have to get out of the bed, Jeannie."

Then he looked down and saw that his shirt was covered in her puke and that his pants were wet from her piss. He gagged and almost threw up himself.

"I don't want you to see me like this," she moaned. "Get out."

"Too late," PJ shrugged. "You need to get out of that stuff or you'll really get sick."

"I don't feel good," she muttered. "Just let me die."

PJ circled around to her side of the bed. He couldn't believe that his secret fantasy of spending the night sleeping next to an angelic beautiful girl he liked could go so wrong.

"I think you've released every possible body function there is," PJ told her.

"Don't talk about it," Jeannie said gruffly, still not moving much on the bed.

"Are you wounded or is that your period?" PJ wanted to know, gesturing to the red stains on the sheet.

"I was almost done," she mumbled.

"You need to get up and get cleaned up," PJ told her.

"I'm too sick," she groaned. "I can't move."

"I'll help."

"No! It's too gross."

"Never mind."

PJ put his arms under her arm pits and lifted her off of the bed. Jeannie smelled horrible and he tried to hold his breath.

"Can you walk?" PJ asked.

Jeannie put her feet to the floor and when PJ started to release her she began slipping toward the floor. He got a better grip on her and half carried half dragged her to the bathroom.

"Are you going to throw up again?" PJ asked, directing her toward the toilet while sucking in some fresh air once he opened the bathroom window.

"I don't think there's anything left," she moaned.

"Do you have to go to the bathroom?"

She shook her head no. "I feel like total crap."

He sat her on the toilet and she made a disgusted face when a squishy sound popped out from underneath her. A moment later some brown drips came out from her pant leg.

"Oh, God," She mumbled. "What did I do?"

PJ took her hand and put it against the sink next to the commode. "Don't move," he instructed.

He went to the shower and turned the water on hot. When he turned back to Jeannie, she was swaying on the toilet and he reached out to balance her from falling to the floor.

"You sure you're not going to puke?"

She nodded but she still looked green. He grabbed the top of her shirt and yanked it over her head.

"What are you…." She protested but it was too late – the shirt was off and PJ tossed it on the floor as pieces of puke flew around the room. "Don't!" Jeannie cried as PJ reached around her back and unfastened her bra.

"You're covered in puke, piss and…" PJ didn't need to say anymore.

Jeannie burst into tears and hung her head in shame as her breasts fell out of the bra which PJ added to the pile on the floor. He then pulled off her socks and tugged her soiled pants down her legs which were covered in her various discharges. Once he had the smelly pants and her soaked panties off, he stood her up, noticing brown on the toilet seat. Her backside looked like a baby in need of a diaper change and Jeannie was sobbing as PJ walked her into the shower to wash her clean, the water quickly turning red, yellow, green and brown as it circled the drain.

Jeannie put both her hands against the wall and hung her head under the stream of water while PJ quickly peeled out of his smelly clothes, stepping naked into the shower behind her to wash himself clean as well.

"What are you doing?" Jeannie asked with wide eyed shock when she realized out of the corner of her vision that he was naked behind her.

"Washing off your puke," he said as he handed her the shampoo.

"I'm dizzy," she moaned.

PJ quickly washed her long soaking hair making sure all the puke was out of it. He turned her around under the spray to make sure all of the remnants of her body waste were washed from all parts of her body and he delicately gave a passing sweep of her buns and privates with the wash cloth just to be sure.

Jeannie was still sniffling with shame and humiliation when PJ turned the water off. She looked away so she wouldn't have to make eye contact with him but unfortunately the bathroom was covered with mirrors and everywhere she looked she saw them both nude in the reflections.

PJ wondered how a fantasy come true could be so miserable, awkward, painful and embarrassing. Here he was seeing the beautiful Jeannie naked and all he could do was glance down at the floor with shy avoidance. It was the most mortifying experience of his life and he could only image the degradation Jeannie was feeling as she quietly sobbed.

PJ got a towel and wrapped his unexpected guest in it, getting a second one for her hair which he helped her wrap up. He wrapped a third towel around his own waist and led the still unsteady Jeannie into Karen's bedroom, helping her onto the bed. She looked awful, pale as a ghost with distant eyes.

"Go to sleep," PJ instructed and she didn't resist as she closed her eyes, still quietly crying but by the time PJ got to the door she was asleep.

PJ dressed, gathered all their smelly clothes and threw them into the washing machine along with the sheets and pillow cases from his bed and he started the wash. He returned to his room with disinfectant and other cleaning materials, opening the windows and scrubbing the floors. He also cleaned the bathroom and then went to work on the downstairs and cellar, returning the house to normal after the party, hoping no evidence was left behind for his parents to become suspicious over. He hauled four large trash bags of beer cans and bottles to the dump along with two more bags full of miscellaneous rubbish and trash and, four hours later, the house looked presentable.

Jeannie had slept through it all and PJ was about to bring her clean clothes to her when she appeared on the stairs wearing a pair of Karen's sweats. She had her cell phone in her hand and she was giving PJ a look of such hate, anger, and disgust that he was taken aback.

"Maddie should be here in a minute," Jeannie announced coldly as she came down the stairs, rage filling her otherwise white face. "Never speak of this again, PJ. Never talk to me again. And if you tell anybody what happened I'll kill you."

"Relax," PJ said with surprise.

"You violated me, you bastard," Jeannie seethed, now standing at the foot of the stairs looking like she was going to punch him in the face.

"You're the one who nearly killed yourself from alcohol poisoning!" PJ protested. "What are you getting in my face for?"

"Just leave me alone forever," she ordered. "Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. You no longer exist in my world."

"Jesus, Jeannie, this is some way to end a perfectly nice friendship."

"I don't care." Jeannie's voice was as hateful as PJ had ever heard it. Her eyes were on fire and she really looked like she wanted to stab his eyes out. "I'll never forgive you for what you did to me. I'll hate you forever. You are dead to me."

She pushed past him and fled out the front door just as Maddie pulled her car up to the curb out front. PJ was flabbergasted and dumbfounded, insulted and hurt. Why was Jeannie so pissed off at him? All he tried to do was help her out in her time of trouble. Sure it was awkward and embarrassing but she's the one who got so smashed she lost all control of her body functions.

PJ brought Jeannie's clean clothes up to his room and placed them in the bottom drawer of his dresser not sure if he'd ever have the opportunity to properly return them to her.

True to her word, Jeannie ignored, avoided, shunned, ostracized and deleted PJ from her life. The rest of the school year went by without the two exchanging one word. PJ respected her wishes although he felt like he was being unfairly blamed and penalized for Jeannie's own errors. Rumors and gossips floated around school about "something terrible" happening at the end of PJ's party but he never bothered to dignify any of it with a comment or reaction. He didn't want to further embarrass Jeannie and he honored her request never to talk about it but he noticed that most of his classmates were shunning him too. He couldn't get a date for the prom and nobody wanted to hang out with him. Even his fellow band members were cool and aloof toward him and by the time the school year ended it seemed that nobody was talking to him.

PJ was relieved when graduation time finally arrived because his final months of high school had been torturous hell and he hoped he'd get a new start out in the real world.

PJ McDonald sat behind the drum set in the parish hall of the Second Congregational Church waiting for the rest of the Hillsboro Jazz Ensemble to show up for practice. He had been playing with the group for nearly five years, recruited by his former high school music teacher Pete Simmons who had been in charge of the group for several years.

The Jazz Ensemble gave PJ the chance to play the drums, usually at fundraisers and benefits, nursing homes, the Blue County Fair, Beano Field between games of a doubleheader, and occasionally at a political gathering. The group performed about eighteen gigs a year, a popular attraction well-received by those who came to listen, take a nostalgic walk down memory lane, and occasionally dance to the music.

The group played Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Etta James as well as jazz versions of pop songs and other culturally relevant music. They also wrote some of their own original compositions. PJ hadn't envisioned himself playing in a Jazz Band when he graduated from high school but he found it an exciting and rewarding hobby. He played the drums for his own enjoyment and the pleasure of others while continuing to develop his proficiency and he got to play with some terrifically talented musicians.

The Hillsboro Jazz Ensemble was an interesting and diverse group. Manny Olsen was on piano (sometimes keyboard) and Gerry Harmon was on the vibraphone. Don Kelley played soprano sax and Jed Waters was an amazing trumpet virtuoso. Buzz Quint was on guitar and Julie Davis played the trombone and occasionally Maryellen Thomas joined the group with her violin. Pete was the lead vocalist and also played a variety of instruments which allowed him to fill in when other members weren't available. The group was large enough so that it could still perform even with a few members absent.

Everybody in the group except for PJ was in their fifties and sixties but PJ liked being around older experienced musicians who continually taught him new insights and talents. When those guys complimented him on his drum playing abilities he knew they were being serious and sincere. PJ still called Pete Simmons "Mr. Simmons" unable to break the habit from high school. The ensemble got along well and they usually practiced a few times before a scheduled performance.

It was ironic that PJ made friends with older people because most of the peer group he knew from high school kept their distance from him even after graduation. He couldn't understand why he had been so ostracized and he still had trouble dating. He'd meet somebody, things would go well, they'd go out a few times and suddenly the woman stopped returning his calls or she broke it off for no particular reason.

Most of the band members joined PJ for the rehearsal but Pete Simmons and Jed Waters were absent and Manny Olsen was about to take charge of the session when Pete came through the side door. He was a tall man with balding gray hair (pulled back in a pony tail) wearing Khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt with white socks and sandals. With him was a woman around PJ's age who looked vaguely familiar from where he sat on his drumming stool.

"Sorry I'm late, gang, but we've got bad news on Jed," Pete announced as he stepped into the middle of the room. "He's down and out with a triple by-pass scheduled for tomorrow and he won't be playing with us for a while."

The guys groaned and passed on their concerns and condolences regarding Jed to Pete who nodded his appreciation.

"Anyway, I got us a replacement," Pete said, turning to introduce the woman standing next to him. "This is Jeannie Andrews, another one of my former students." Pete glanced PJ's way. "You remember Jeannie, PJ?"

PJ held one of his drum sticks up and gave a half-salute. "Of course," he said, feeling nervous and awkward all of a sudden. "Nice to see you again, Jean."

Jeannie gave PJ a long cold hard stare and he knew immediately that ten years had not thawed her anger or hatred toward him.

Pete made the band introductions:

Manny Olsen 63 Piano/Keyboard Retired Music Teacher

Gerry Harmon 60 Vibraphone. Insurance Salesman

Don Kelley 54 Soprano Sax Lawyer

Buzz Quint 50 Guitar Draftsman

Julie Davis 60 Trombone Librarian

Maryellen Thomas 64 Violin Retired Nurse

Pete Simmons 62 Lead Vocals Hillsboro High Musical Director

PJ McDonald 28 Drums Cable Television Installer

Jeannie explained to the group that she had recently returned to the area and was working sales at WWGN Radio in Greenville. She had played the trumpet for a local community theatre company where she lived outside of Kansas City and she wanted to continue playing. She happened to bump into "Mr. Simmons" (She still called him that too!) in Fontaine's Family Grocery Store and he invited her to join the ensemble.

"So here I am," She smiled as the various group members welcomed her although PJ maintained his distance.

Jeannie's hair was shorter – down to her shoulders now and cropped straight across her forehead. It seemed to be a lighter shade too but otherwise she looked the same as he so fondly remembered her. PJ had grown a beard and he wore wire rimmed glasses now but he didn't think he had changed much since his high school days.

Pete had already provided Jeannie with the music from their play list but nobody expected her to be perfect her first time out, especially replacing the incomparable Jed Waters. But Jeannie did an admirable job in the rehearsal and she quickly fit right in with the group, easily bantering back and forth and demonstrating that she was a pretty good trumpet player. The older guys enjoyed having a younger woman in the group and Julie and Maryellen were happy to welcome another female to the collective.

Pete didn't say anything to Jeannie during rehearsal breaks, letting her interact with the others knowing she didn't want anything to do with him even after all this time. When the rehearsal was over, Jennie walked out with some of the other members ignoring PJ as he packed up his drum set. Pete had lagged behind and he stepped up to PJ with a concerned look on his face.

"Is there something I should know?" Pete asked.

"About what?" PJ asked innocently.

"About you and Jeannie!" Pete growled. "You looked like you wanted to go run and hide and she looked like she wanted to ram your drum stick up your ass."

"I haven't seen her since high school," PJ remarked.

"I can see why," Pete replied, shaking his head with annoyance. "I had forgotten about the rumors."

"Rumors?" PJ asked with surprise.

"Back when you two were in high school," Pete clarified. "Didn't something happen?"

PJ didn't want to say anything.

"Had I remembered I never would have invited her to join us," Pete sighed regretfully. "She just seemed so eager and I wanted to help her out."

"Don't worry about it, Mr. Simmons," PJ told him. "High school was a long time ago. We can play together."

"I hope so," Pete replied heavily. "Listen, whatever happened between you two happened long ago. I won't ask what the issues are but you need to tell me if it was something illegal or criminal. I have the band's reputation at stake."

"It wasn't anything like that, Mr. Simmons," PJ said, feeling accused.

"Okay," Pete said neutrally as he left the room and Pete sighed.

The ensemble played at the Blue County Nursing Home on Sunday, outside on the patio on a lovely summer night, playing 16 selections to a delighted crowd as the sun slowly set in the western sky. PJ had a few drum solos which he always enjoyed (and were usually a crowd favorite) and there were a couple of numbers that didn't require drums so he sat quietly observing the crowd and the rest of the band playing. Even when he was playing, PJ still had a full view of the entire band as he was set behind the others and he enjoyed watching Jeannie play with vigor, enthusiasm and style. She liked interacting with the other musicians and there were even a couple of times when he caught her glancing back at him during a few of his riffs but she quickly turned away if his eyes went her way.

PJ could tell from his vantage point behind the drum set that Jeannie was a sexy, bubbly, fun person who was really into the music. It was clear that she loved playing and she enjoyed being a member of the band. It was nice to see her smiling and relaxed because the image of her stomping down his stairs that day with a raging look of murder was still burned in his memory.

When they finished the gig, the band packed up with Jeannie shooting the breeze with everybody except PJ. He made no effort to chat with her but he felt left out and victimized feeling her cold shoulder and disinterest. He still didn't understand why it was his fault that she got so blitzed that she couldn't function and lost all control of her bodily functions. What was he supposed to do that day? Leave her lying in the pissed soaked, puke covered, shit stained, period leaking bed? Let her drown in the bathtub or fall down in the shower and smash her head trying to clean herself and preserve her dignity and modesty?

PJ received a call from Mildred the dispatcher on Monday morning letting him know of a service call at the Callahan Apartments on Hillview Lane. PJ took the information and drove to the apartment in need. The Callahan Apartments building was a converted former factory with a historic presence and a long history. PJ remembered playing in the abandoned ruins when he was a kid before the remodeling began.

He found the apartment in question and rang the doorbell. A moment later the door opened and lo and behold Jeannie was standing there in summer shorts and a tank top, barefooted.

"Seriously?" She groaned when she saw who it was. "You're the cable guy?"

"I could get another tech to come if you want," PJ replied picking up on her disapproval right away.

"How long will that take?"

"Probably two weeks."

"Forget it," she mumbled. "I had to skip work today for this."

PJ glanced at the order. "Name says Hoyt."

"My roommate," Jeannie explained. "It's her place. She's out of town."

"I would have switched with somebody if I knew it was you," PJ told her.

"Just get it done as quickly as you can," Jeannie sighed, stepping back and allowing him into the apartment.

She wanted a cable extension in her bedroom as well as a split for the modem so she could use her computer in the bedroom too.

"Shouldn't be a problem," PJ said. Then he glanced at her. "Did you know I was in the ensemble when Mr. Simmons invited you to join?"

"He neglected to mention it until we were walking in the church door," Jeannie frowned.

"Would you have backed out had you known earlier?" He asked with interest.

"Of course," she admitted awkwardly. "But I had fun playing," she had to admit.

"I'll quit if you want me to."

She was surprised by his offer. "I couldn't ask you to do that," she said.

"I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

She seemed confused by his comment. "Don't worry about it," she finally said. "Just get my cable and modem going."

It didn't take PJ all that long to get the job done and Jeannie was appreciative when she saw that her television had all the channels and her computer was able to quickly log into the internet from the bedroom.

"So, Missouri didn't work out?" PJ asked as he had her sign the work order acknowledgement.

"No," she said, not making eye contact with him.

"The show me state wasn't for you?"

"It was for a while," Jeannie replied. She looked at him for the first time. "Sorry about your Dad."

"Yeah, me too," PJ said sadly. "He was a great guy. We really miss him."

"That's one of the reasons I came back," Jeannie said. "I wanted to be closer to family."

"Hillsboro's a nice place," PJ agreed.

"Sometimes I second guess myself as to why I left in the first place," Jeannie acknowledged.

"It's important to get out and see a different part of the world," PJ replied.

"Did you?"

"Well, Disneyworld once," he joked.

She giggled even though she didn't mean to.

PJ took the work order back from her, happy to have his first conversation with her in years even though it was just meaningless small talk. "Anyways," he said. "Welcome back."
"Thanks," she said, acting a little shyly and then she seemed to remember who she was talking to. "Goodbye," she said, much more coldly and with a tone of finality in her voice.

PJ nodded and left the apartment, his job completed. But it bugged him that she was (still) so upset with him (even though there were moments of niceness in their conversation). He honestly couldn't understand why she would let one unfortunate drunken night of vulnerability define (and ruin) their entire friendship. Sure, it was a gross humiliating experience for her but it hadn't been a picnic for him either.

Jeannie was on her computer that night when her IM popped up.

PJMAC: Don't get mad, but I sort of saw your IM address when I was installing the stuff.

Jeannie felt anger flow through her veins. She couldn't believe he was contacting her in her personal space.

TRUMGIRL: So you're violating me AGAIN?

PJMAC: Are you going to hate me forever?


PJMAC: Forgiveness is an important gift.

TRUMGIRL: I will NEVER forgive you.

PJMAC: I'm sorry.

TRUMGIRL: Apology NOT accepted. Ever.

PJMAC: I will suffer for this forever.


PJMAC: I won't IM you again. I'm sorry I violated your privacy.

TRUMGIRL: Just leave me alone.

The icon disappeared and Jeannie sat back in her chair, surprised at how hard she was breathing. Why did the one person she hated more than anybody else in her entire life keep popping back up in it? She thought Hillsboro was big enough that she'd never see him if she made it a point to avoid him. But then he was in the band. And then he was installing her cable. And now he was on her computer. Bastard.

Jeannie decided that she couldn't continue playing with the ensemble. She enjoyed the guys and she loved playing the trumpet but she just couldn't face seeing him again. She procrastinated for a few days hoping she might change her mind but Jeannie finally called Mr. Simmons to thank him for the opportunity and to apologize for letting him down.

"Well, that's very strange," Pete said on the phone once Jeannie delivered the news.

"Why?" She asked with confusion.

"Because PJ quit three days ago," Pete informed her.

Jeannie was taken aback. "He did?"

"I couldn't believe it."

There was a long pause.

"Still want to quit?" Pete finally asked.

"Why did he quit?"

"Didn't say," Pete replied. "Surprised the hell out of me. PJ loves playing the drums. Loved the group. Told me a while back it was the one thing that made him happy. I never saw it coming. Such a shame but he must have had his reasons."

"He'll probably change his mind," Jeannie predicted.

"Doubt it. Besides, I already got Robbie Rudolph to replace him."

"Oh." Jeannie wondered if she should feel guilty.

"Still want to quit?" Pete asked again. "We could really use you with Jed out for a while."

"Well, I guess I could stay," she said.

"Great!" Pete said with relief. There was a pause and then he continued. "You know, Jeannie, most of us secretly harbor grudges, carry resentments, and relive betrayals that caused us pain and anguish but as a teacher I learned long ago that I had to let that stuff go or I'd lose part of myself."

There was a gentleness and sympathy in his voice that made Jeannie want to cry.

"It doesn't mean we weren't hurt or we're condoning bad behavior, invalidating our own feelings of pain, or letting the person off the hook," Pete continued.

"Did he tell you something?" She demanded bitterly.

"No, of course not" Pete assured her gently. "But I saw how you both reacted that day in the church. It's obvious that something very painful happened and I honor that but by letting it go and leaving it in the past you can heal and move on with your life."

"Thanks, Mr. Simmons," Jeannie said with sincerity. "I'll see you at the next rehearsal."

"Okay," he replied, taking her cue to end the call.

Jeannie wanted to feel satisfaction and contentment knowing that he was out of the group and she could keep playing without him around but a part of her felt sorrow and remorse knowing she was the reason why he quit.

It didn't help when she kept hearing how great PJ had been with the band and how much everybody missed him during the next few practices. Robbie Rudolph was a fine drummer and a useful replacement but as Manny Olsen so untactfully put it, the guy was an egotistical asshole who considered himself more important than anybody else playing. He had no sense of humor and he wasn't interested in developing chemistry with the group. He just wanted to play.

The more times the group met the worse Jeannie felt about being responsible for Robbie's presence. Pete never said a word about the change in drummers and he never mentioned whatever it was that happened between her and PJ but deep down Jeannie sensed that Mr. Simmons kind of blamed her for the subtle shift in the group's morale and chemistry. The only saving grace was that everybody loved Jeannie and she felt like she belonged in the ensemble. But every time Robbie said something stupid, acted like a jerk, or insisted on some change in the play list so he would get more drumming time, Jeannie wondered if her own selfishness and pride had caused unnecessary problems for the group.

Sandra Hoyt was a friendly and cheerful roommate and Jeannie was grateful for the opportunity to have an affordable living situation while she tried to get her life back together after Ricky decided that he was no longer invested in their relationship. They had met in college and she followed him to Missouri (the last place on Earth she thought she'd end up) but she had no real work experience so when he dumped her Jeannie had to start all over. The sales job was an entry level position and she didn't have a lot of money.

Amy lived in Erie, Pennsylvania now but Maddie stayed in Hillsboro, married with two kids and Jeannie was glad to still have her friendship. It was Maddie who was Jeannie's biggest cheerleader and whenever Jeannie needed her spirits lifted she went to Maddie for encouragement and soothing.

Maddie had put on ten pounds since high school, the 'blessing' of two childbirths and a happily comfortable marriage but she was still the same happy-go-lucky person Jeannie loved and needed.

Jeannie never told anybody about the particulars of the night of PJ's party. But she didn't correct the record when Maddie and Amy assumed the worse. As time passed, their assumption became reality and now Jeannie realized that she had been unfair not being clearer in her explanation as to why she hated PJ McDonald so much.

Months passed since PJ quit the band. The ensemble played at the Blue County Fair and the Cancer Relay for Life. Jed Waters decided not to return to the band for health reasons and Jeannie agreed to stay on long term because she really enjoyed playing, Robbie Ru not withstanding.

Jeannie and Maddie went out for a girl's night one evening, at Duffy's Tavern. For Maddie it was a break from her full time housewife responsibilities and routines. For Jeannie, it was needed bonding time with a supportive and understanding friend.

"Do you ever see PJ around?" Jeannie asked out of curiosity after they had chatted about various other issues over dinner.

Maddie almost dropped her wine glass. "I can't believe you brought that guy's name up!"

Jeannie shrugged.

"God, you hated him with such passion that I honesty thought you might actually kill him," Maddie admitted.

"It was a long time ago," Jeannie said.

"Amy and I never forgave ourselves for leaving you there," Maddie sighed with regret. "I can't believe we both assumed the other took you home."

"I don't blame you guys," Jeannie said.

"The guy raped you for God sakes," Maddie said with vile in her voice. "Something like that never goes away."

Jeannie blushed. "He didn't exactly rape me, Maddie."

"Of course he did," Maddie rebutted. "Look, I know you never wanted to talk about it so Amy and I never brought it up but it was pretty clear what happened that night. I picked you up, remember?"

"Yeah," Jeannie sighed. Then she became quiet.

Maddie stared at her friend for a long time. Jeannie finally looked up from her plate of food and stared at Maddie with sorrow and shame in her eyes.

"I couldn't tell anybody what happened that night," Jeannie said.

"Yeah, because rape is horrible and shameful," Maddie said with understanding. "The guy should be in jail but I didn't want you to have to go through all the crap involved if you reported it. I'm glad I've haven't seen the bastard around because even now I might say or do something to him that could get me in trouble."

"I've seen him," Jeannie revealed.

"You have?" Maddie asked with surprise.

"Remember how I told you that Mr. Simmons got me to join his jazz ensemble?"

"Yeah, that's all you talk about these days!" Maddie grinned. "It's nice to see you so happy."

"PJ was in the band," Jeannie said.

"You're shitting me."

"I practiced with him there once and we did a gig at the nursing home a few days later."

"Holy shit!"

"But he quit after that."


"Because of me."

"Of course because of you," Maddie said bitterly. "That bastard knew what he did to you. He probably couldn't take the guilt and shame."

"I was awfully drunk that night of his party," Jeannie said, taking a sip from her seltzer water.

"Rape is still rape," Maddie said forcefully.

"I stopped drinking after that night."

"It wasn't your fault, Jeannie," Maddie said. "Don't blame yourself for what he did to you."

"He didn't rape me," Jeannie whispered.

"You don't have to…." Maddie saw the look on Jeannie's face and stopped in mid sentence.

"He didn't rape me," Jeannie repeated with shame.

A troubled Maddie frowned. "You told us you woke up in his bed."

"We were both fully dressed," Jeannie reported quietly. "He didn't do anything sexual to me."

Maddie fell back in her seat and glared at her long time friend. "Jesus Christ, Jeannie, what in the hell are you talking about?"

"I was really drunk. I puked. I peed in my pants. I had my period in his bed. I even….defecated," she whispered with humiliated shame.

"What?" Maddie asked with disbelief.

"It was so mortifying, degrading, appalling, and reprehensible that I just wanted to die," Jeannie revealed, her eyes tearing up. "I puked and pissed all over him too."

Maddie's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped. "Well, what did he do? Beat you up in a rage? That's just as bad."

Jeannie shook her head no. "He tried to help me," she muttered.

Maddie frowned with confusion and even fear. "He tried to… you?"

Jeannie dapped at her eyes. "I was still half-drunk and semi-out of it. I was a mess. Covered in grossness. He brought me into the bathroom and took all my clothes off."

"So, he did rape you," Maddie realized.

"No, of course not," Jeannie sighed. "He cleaned me up in the shower."

Maddie tried to comprehend what Jeannie was telling her. "Are you saying, he didn't have sex with you against your will?"

"There was no sex," Jeannie confirmed.

"Well, what were you so pissed off about?"

"I just told you!" Jeannie groaned.

"Because you had an accident in his bed?"

Jeannie nodded with shame. "It was revolting."

"But he didn't do anything to you except help you?"

Jeannie chewed on her lip and looked at Maddie, nodding her head in affirmation.

"And you let all this time go by letting Amy and me think that he was a rapist? That something terrible happened to you?"

"Something terrible did happen to me!" Jeannie wailed.

"You got drunk and made a mess," Maddie remarked.

"I shit all over myself, Maddie," Jeannie whimpered. "He wiped my ass off like I was some little baby."

Maddie leaned over the table and stared at Jeannie. "And how many guys do you think are out there that would do something like that to help somebody?"

"I couldn't look at him."

"I don't think I want to look at you right now," Maddie muttered with disgust. "Are you really that vain?"

Jeannie burst into tears. "I just couldn't have anybody know."

"So you lied?" Maddie demanded.

"I didn't lie," Jeannie insisted defensively. "I just didn't…..elaborate."

"You let us think that this guy was some sort of monster!" Maddie protested. "Do you know how many girls we warned about him? He could never get a date. Everybody knew he was a pervert. And it was all bullshit?" Maddie shook her head with regret and disbelief. "I can't believe we did that to him."

"I'm sorry," Jeannie said through her tears.

"You should be!" Maddie said angrily. "This is awful, Jeannie."

"I feel bad."

"How do you think he feels?" Maddie barked as she grabbed her bag and left the table.

It was then that Jeannie realized she should have stayed in Missouri. She would have been alone and miserable but at least PJ would still be playing drums in the ensemble and Maddie wouldn't have learned her friend's shameful secret. Maybe Maddie was right. Maybe she was vain. Why else would she have gone through such lengths to hide her embarrassing secret, willing to ruin a person's reputation to save her own? And how could she hate somebody so deeply who's only crime was trying to help her out in a time of need? She was truly a horrible person. This she now knew.

PJ was sitting in his lonely apartment watching the ball game when the doorbell rang. He tossed the bag of chips aside, wiping his hands on his pants as he made his way to the door. He did a double take when he opened the door and saw Maddie Robinson standing in the hallway.

"Can I come in?" She asked when she saw the shocked look on his face.

PJ nodded and stepped back to let her in.

"Your mom told me where you live," Maddie explained as she entered.

"My mom?"

"I see her sometimes when I bring the kids into Dr. Somberg's office."

"Oh," PJ replied, confused as to why his former high school classmate was dropping by to see him out of the blue, especially since she hadn't spoken a word to him since the night of the fateful party.

"Look, I need to apologize to you, PJ," Maddie said hurriedly. "Jeannie told me last week what really happened and it's been bugging the hell out of me ever since."

"She never told you before?" PJ asked with surprise.

"I thought you raped her," Maddie confessed with difficultly. "I told everybody you raped her."

"Oh," PJ said, slowly starting to understand why he had been shunned for so long.

"Can you ever forgive me?" Maddie pleaded.

"Everything was a horrible misunderstanding," PJ said.

"We ruined your life."

"I'm okay." PJ sat on the couch and brushed his hand through his hair.

"I'm so terribly sorry," Maddie said, her eyes getting watery. "All these years I thought you were a bastard when it turns out you were really an amazing guy."

"I was just a regular guy," PJ replied humbly.

Maddie took a seat next to him on the couch and took his hands in hers. "Let me tell you something, Paul John McDonald," she said with emotion in her voice. "If it had been me in your bed that night and you were willing to wipe my ass and clean up my piss, I would have married you."

He smiled. "Gee, that's the most romantic thing anybody's ever said to me."

She laughed. "Jeannie was a fool not to figure that out."

"I humiliated her."

"She humiliated herself," Maddie corrected. "You tried to help her. She was just too conceited and proud to see it."

"I don't blame her for being self-conscious."

"I blame her for not telling the truth," Maddie replied. "Hell, remember that time my halter top fell off on stage during Grease?" she said. "The whole school saw my tits. I know how it feels to be embarrassed but I wouldn't lie or blame someone else for my own stupidity of not wearing a bra."

"She was always hung up about her image," PJ recalled. "I understood why she felt so violated. I should have just called you when I woke up and found her like that."

"You really are a nice guy, PJ," Maddie marveled.

He shrugged but didn't say anything.

"So what are you going to do now?" Maddie wondered.

"Nothing," PJ answered. "She hates me."

"I think she hates herself more now," Maddie revealed. "I was pretty hard on her for her lies."

"Thanks for coming over, Maddie," PJ replied. "It means a lot to me. You don't have to apologize. You were protecting your friend."

"Listen, it's totally up to you what you do about Jeannie and maybe that will depend on whether or not she apologizes, expresses true remorse, makes amends, and earns your trust again."

"I don't have any expectations," PJ told her. "She has a right to her feelings."

"I'm going to tell you something I've never told anybody," Maddie said with a serious tone. "My husband cheated on me a few months before we got married."

PJ was surprised she told him such a personal truth. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I was devastated but I loved him enough to give him and us another chance," Maddie said. "Maybe I shouldn't have turned the other cheek and maybe I should have called off the wedding but I have two wonderful children now and we have a stronger marriage. I'd definitely leave him if it happened again but I learned from the experience because every action is information about who a person is and whether we want them in our lives and Jeannie needs to figure that out too."

"What if she never does?" PJ worried.

"Then it will be her loss," Maddie answered. "We may not have control over what others do but we do have control over how we respond. She can cling to the past or she can heal from it. It's really her choice."

"I don't know what else I can do for her."

"You've done way too much already, PJ," Maddie said with annoyance. "You quit the band for her? That was just plain crazy. Your mom told me how much you loved playing with Mr. Simmons."

"I didn't want her to quit," He said.

"Quit protecting her," Maddie advised, standing. "I gotta go. My husband thinks I'm at Walmart." She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "If you ever need a favor or help with anything, let me know. I owe you for the rest of my life."

He smiled. "It was nice to see you, Maddie."

She nodded and let him escort her to the door.

"Don't hold it against Jeannie," PJ requested. "She needs you as a friend."

"I just need a little more time to be pissed off at her," Maddie admitted. "I'll forgive her eventually and maybe she'll do the same with you."

PJ watched Maddie walk down the hall before closing the door and sighing heavily. "Everybody just needs to forgive everybody for everything," he said aloud.

A few nights later, PJ was lying on the couch pretty much in the same position he had been when Maddie knocked on the door - eating junk food while watching a basketball game on television. He had been depressed and sullen since quitting the Jazz Ensemble after Jeannie's brutal IM conversation.

He heard the beep of the computer and he glanced at the corner table with surprise. It was the IM notification - the only reason he had IM was to contact Jeannie that time. Curious and confused, PJ climbed off the couch and shuffled to the computer, amazed to see the IM flashing.

TRUMGIRL: You must truly hate me

Wow. Jeannie was actually writing to him? PJ took the lap top and returned to the couch, trying not to get too excited or hopeful.

PJMAC: I don't hate you.

TRUMGIRL: Maddie does.

PJMAC: No she doesn't.

TRUMGIRL: I hate me.

PJMAC: What's done is done. Time to move on.


PJMAC: I'm not sure.

TRUMGIRL: It's just too humiliating to deal with.

PJMAC: It's time to let go of the pain. All of us.

TRUMGIRL: I'm sorry I caused you pain.

PJMAC: As Mrs. Harold used to say in 10th grade Algebra, time to wipe the board clean and start over.

TRUMGIRL: Oh, wow. Mrs. Harold. Sims used to call her Mrs. Hairy.

PJMAC: She did sort of have a mustache.

TRUMGIRL: I actually just laughed just now. It's been a while since I did that.

PJMAC: Laughing is good.

TRUMGIRL: Why did we stop laughing in the first place?

PJMAC: Why did we stop talking?

TRUMGIRL: Because I thought some jerk boy in high school was the love of my life but then he dumped me so I got drunk feeling sorry for myself and then I ruined everything.

PJMAC: Oh well. Time passes. Heals all wounds. All that stuff.

TRUMGIRL: Do you really believe that?


PJ watched the cursor blink as he waited for her to respond but a minute passed without any words appearing

PJMAC: There was a guy in Missouri too?

TRUMGIRL: Yeah. Didn't get drunk over him though. Just came back here pissed off.

PJMAC: I always pay the price for your broken love affairs!


PJ MAC: You know I've cared about you all this time.

TRUMGIRL: You shouldn't. I'm evil.

PJ MAC: You were just hung up on what other people think of you.


PJMAC: Who cares what other people think?

TRUMGIRL: Don't you care about what we said about you?

PJMAC No. What's the point now?

TRUMGIRL: It was awful.

PJMAC: Oh well. Didn't change who I am.

TRUMGIRL: I wish I had been that forgiving back then.

PJMAC: Are you that forgiving now?

TRUMGIRL: Can you ever forgive me?

PJMAC: I already have. Can you forgive yourself?

TRUMGIRL: I don't know.

PJMAC: That will be the key.

TRUMGIRL: You aren't in a relationship because of us. Everybody thinks you're a Sex Offender.

PJ MAC: I know I'm not. I can't convince others what truth is.

TRUMGIRL: You shouldn't have quit the ensemble.

PJ MAC: I wanted to be sure TRUMGIRL kept playing.

TRUMGIRL: Do you miss it?

PJ MAC: Yeah, but I know you would too. It's what you do now instead of getting drunk.

TRUMGIRL: Wow - how did you know that?

PJMAC: Can we meet in person?


PJMAC: IM is for high school kids.

TRUMGIRL: You make me feel like I'm still in high school.

PJMAC: Is that good or bad?

TRUMGIRL: A little bit of both, I guess.

PJMAC: Can I come over some night?

There was another long pause and PJ's heart began to skip until finally the cursor moved again.

TRUMGIRL: Friday night. 7:00.

PJMAC: Thank you.

TRUMGIRL: Good night.

The message box went blank and PJ smiled, feeling happy for the first time in...forever.

Jeannie was as nervous as a school girl waiting for her first date to arrive as she sat on the couch anticipating PJ's arrival. She felt shame for her selfish pride and resulting actions that so negatively affected PJ's life all these years. Denying her own culpability for that night and blaming PJ for her humiliating embarrassment was the worse thing she ever did and now, all these years later, she was paying the price for her denial of the truth. Maddie thought she was a troll while PJ – the one person who had every right to hate her forever - was on his way to see her.

She had spent an hour on her hair and trying to figure out what to wear, finally settling on a wool skirt and turtleneck sweater with stockings because it was a cold evening in early November. She had splashed a bit too much perfume on but smelling nice gave her a psychological lift because she wanted to erase any memory of that terrible night.

Jeannie nearly jumped out of her seat when she heard the soft knock on the door and she slowly stood from the couch and tentatively walked to the door feeling like she was about to face the executioner even though she knew PJ wasn't angry with her. She was angry with herself though.

She opened the door and saw a smiling PJ looking back at her. He was wearing an open collared blue shirt underneath a white sweater along with dress jeans. He had a bag in his hand.

"Hi, Jeannie," PJ said warmly.

"Hi," she said nervously. "Please, come in."

"Is your roommate here?" PJ wondered, glancing around as he stepped into the apartment.

"Not until later," Jeannie answered, showing him to the couch where she had some cheese and crackers and some fruit drinks spread out on the coffee table. "I cooked a casserole," she said.

"Great," PJ replied, taking a seat.

Jeannie felt self-conscious as she awkwardly sat on the couch. PJ looked extremely contented sitting next to her.

"I brought you something," he announced, lifting the bag up for her to see.

She took it from him and opened it, rolling her eyes when she pulled out her black tee shirt and slacks from that night all those years ago.

"You kept them?" She asked with surprise.

"I had to throw the other stuff out but these got cleaned," he explained. "I've been waiting a long time to return them to you."

"I was such a jerk," she sighed. "I'm so sorry."

"How's the job going?" PJ asked.

"It's going well," Jeannie replied, happy to change the subject. "I've built up my client base and I'm making enough money to afford my own place."

"Great," PJ replied.

"I think I might move into a vacating apartment down the hall in a month or so," she said happily.

All the while as she spoke, Jeannie was taken by how tranquil and satisfied PJ looked while listening to her and suddenly she realized hat she had become quite comfortable in his presence. She liked the beard he had grown and the wire rimmed glasses he now wore made him look scholarly. His brown eyes seemed to dance as he let her ramble on about her boring life. Why was her heart racing in her chest and why was she feeling so….warm?

"How's your social life going?" PJ asked when Jeannie finished with her sales update.

She shrugged. "Well, the Jazz Band keeps me involved," she said. "And I have a few girlfriends at work."

"You're not dating anybody?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm still recovering from the last guy."

"It's been a while," PJ noted, elbowing her playfully in the ribs as they sat side by side on the couch.

"It was a hard break up," Jeannie sighed, surprised at how hurt she still felt when she thought about the end of her long term relationship.

"I'm sorry," PJ replied with sincerity, patting her on the knee and she was surprised at how nice it felt to have him touching her.

"I've never handled break ups very well," Jeannie acknowledged with a self-deprecating laugh.

"You just need to find the right guy," PJ replied, giving her a sly smile.

Jeannie felt herself blush and she leaned back on the couch to get a better view of him. "Do you happen to know of any?" She teased, amazed that she was being so playful.

"I can think of one," PJ replied.

Her eyes went wide when she saw the way he was looking at her. "I ruined your life, PJ."

"You're back in my life," he reminded her.

"That might not be such a good thing," she warned. "I tend to screw things up."

"The worse thing that ever happened to us was when we stopped being friends," he said.

"Because of me."

"Right," he agreed with a smirk. "But now you have a chance to fix that."

"You want to be friends again?" She asked.

"Well, that would be a good start," PJ told her as he subtly moved closer to her on the couch, letting his fingers touch her hair ever so slightly. "Don't you want to be friends?"

"What kind of friends?"

"The best of friends," he whispered, leaning in and kissing her.

Jeannie wanted to bolt from the couch, terrorized by the feeling of welcomed satisfaction that was suddenly running through her veins as her lips quivered against his. Was this what she had wanted all this time? Was this what he wanted after all the trouble she caused? She opened her eyes from the kiss and was surprised to see that his eyes were open too, looking directly into hers.

"It was always you," he confessed.

"Even after what I did to you?" Her eyes watered with tears.

"All I care about is you."

He placed his hand on her hip and that made her smile as she felt the electricity charge through her body. Her eyelids flickered and she bent her head back, allowing PJ to kiss her neck as he moved his hand up from her hip to her hair, brushing through it with wanting exploration.

"You never told anyone?" Jeannie asked with amazement.

"Of course not," PJ answered with feeling as he continued to smooch her neck. "I would never do that to you."

"Thank you," she whispered thankfully, kissing the top of his head.

"I should have called Maddie that morning," PJ confessed. "But I wanted to take care of you."

"Why?" She asked with confusion.

He lifted his head up and looked into her eyes. "Because it was always you," he answered truthfully. "You were the only one I ever cared about."

"God, PJ," was all Jeannie could think to say as she stared at him.

"It's true," he said with watery eyes.

She leaned in and kissed him. "I should have known," she said.

"You know now," he smiled as he kissed her back.

They made out for a few minutes, happily content with the realization of their feelings for each other. "The last time we were naked together didn't go so well," Jeannie mumbled through the kisses.

He stopped the kissing her and stared into her eyes. "It's different now," he said quietly.

"Yes, it is," she agreed happily.

"What about the casserole?" He joked.

"It can wait," she assured him as she stood from the couch and reached for his hand.

"Are you sure?" He asked.

"Maddie said I should make amends," Jeannie told him. "I've hated that image for so long. Can we make a new image?"

"Yes," PJ said as he let her lead him into her bedroom.

He watched as she slowly disrobed in front of him, seductively removing each piece of clothing as if she was revealing a clue. "This is how I want you to see me," she said.

Jeannie was glad when she was finally naked in front of him again, this time as a beautiful woman with a purely clean and attractive body being presented to him for his approval. He nodded happily as he took off his clothes and it felt so much better than the last time. He stepped toward her once he was naked, smiling as she beamed proudly at him, a beautiful woman no longer ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed or traumatized.

PJ kissed Jeannie as his arms wrapped around her naked waist and this is how he imagined it was always supposed to be.

"This is how I wanted it," she whispered as she kissed him back.

Later, when the lovemaking was over, they sat in her bed naked eating the casserole.

"Robbie Ru is a retard," Jeannie was telling PJ. "You have to come back to the band. I need to atone for that last awful sin of mine."

"I'll being playing with you forever," PJ replied, leaning over and giving her a kiss.