Late Bloomer

Andrew Nelson wondered if he subconsciously applied to Green College as a third year transfer student knowing that Fatima Franklin was already enrolled there. Andrew hadn't seen Fatima in three years and his mother said if he didn't see her for another thirty that would be okay with her!
Andrew moved to Garland after the accident that disabled his mother. Andrew had also been seriously injured in the crash and he walked with a limp as a result, not something a new kid needed to deal with but Fatima was the first student to befriend him for that specific reason and they became fast friends.

Andrew and his mom moved in with his maternal grandparents after the accident. His grandparents lived in a small house having already downsized from their previous life. Andrew's mother suffered from severe back pain and constant migraines and she was for the most part housebound, unable to work.

Andrew spent most of his free time looking after his disabled mother and aging grandparents. His grandmother suffered a partial stroke a few years earlier and his grandfather had been let go from his accounting firm in his late fifties, forced to take a job at a fraction of the salary as a bookkeeper for a local non-profit. Andrew worked odd jobs until he was old enough for legal employment and he worked any part time job he could find to help out financially. He was also at his mother's beck and call for companionship, errands, chores and other demands.

Andrew enjoyed Fatima's friendship. She brought him to Church even though he wasn't Catholic. He liked the comfort her religion's spirituality gave him and it was Fatima's strength, loyalty and guidance that got him through his tough and often lonely and stressed teenaged years. He liked attending Mass with Fatima because it made him feel grounded and spiritual.

Andrew didn't have a whole lot of free or extra time to spend with Fatima and his mother didn't like the idea of him being with a girl of her stature, faith and status, so their friendship was restricted, reserved, and limited. Fatima was popular at school and involved in several extracurricular and sports programs that gave her additional status. She was also strong in her Catholic beliefs and she and Andrew shared a chaste and virginal relationship. Andrew's mother was overprotective to the point of suffocation, making sure her son didn't "ruin" his life by getting involved in an intimate relationship at a young age. It didn't matter what Fatima's values were because, according to Andrew's mother, "mistakes can be made".

"What's her problem?" Fatima complained more than once.

"She got pregnant when she was eighteen," Andrew explained. "She felt her life was ruined by my father who left her before I was born. She dreamed of being important and successful but she ended up a waitress and we lived in third floor walk up and then the accident happened and she had to go literally crawling back to her parents and she doesn't want me wrecking my life like that."

"Because we're friends?" Fatima asked with confusion.

"She's just a little bit paranoid about things," Andrew sighed.

"She'll think you're old enough to have a friend like me when you're forty," Fatima said sarcastically.

Andrew mother was very dependent on (and demanding of) him while keeping a firm thumb on her son's comings and goings and she saw Fatima as a threat, distraction and hindrance to the routine she had established and expected to be followed.

Fatima had a rough senior year when her parent's marriage stunningly ended, leaving Fatima feeling bitterly betrayed and questioning the meaning of her Faith when the two people who taught her the most about her beliefs violated their marriage vows by divorcing.

Fatima abruptly changed her college plans late in the year, gaining a late acceptance at Green College clear across the state and abandoning her plans to attend the local junior college with Andrew who had committed to staying in Garland to help his family. After the earthquake of her parent's divorce, Fatima wanted to get "as far away from this place as possible" and Andrew couldn't help but feel rejected by her decision.

"But what about us?" Andrew asked.

"Us?" Fatima asked bitterly. "You mean you, me and your mother?"

"I owe her," Andrew mumbled.

"Why don't you come to Green with me?" Fatima asked.

"I can't," Andrew sighed with defeat.

"I didn't think so," Fatima replied with resentment.

Fatima rarely came home during her Freshman year at Green and in February she e-mailed Andrew a curt message informing him that she had met someone new and wasn't coming home that summer.

"I've moved on from Garland," she wrote.

Andrew interpreted that as "I've moved on from you" and he was devastated. It took him a long time to get over Fatima's rejection. His mother was happy to learn the news although, ironically, she was offended, insulted, and angered that Fatima would hurt her son in such a cruel way and she called Fatima Jezebel from then on.

"You're way too good for that tramp," Andrew's often opinionated and rude mother said.

Andrew continued living at home taking care of his family while attending the junior college and working as many hours as he could at the bread factory, too busy too focus on a social or romantic life.

"You're married to your mother," Fatima had told him more than once.

When he finished his two years at the junior college, it was time for Andrew to choose a career path and Green College offered a strong Advocacy and Social Justice Program even though it was clear across the state (and Fatima was there).

"Social Justice?" His mother frowned. "Why would you possibly want to go into that field for?"

"To help kids like me," Andrew replied.

His mother was not pleased with the idea of her son going to school so far away but Andrew was burned out by his responsibilities living at home and he knew he needed to get as far away from his family as he could if he had any hopes of living a life of his own. He knew he had to get out from under her mother's domineering roof.

Unfortunately, Andrew discovered that there was a shortage of student housing at Green College. He didn't qualify for a dorm room as a third year transfer student and most of the rentals around campus were full so Andrew wasn't sure if he would be able to find an affordable place to live. He exhausted all his options except for one which he wasn't exactly comfortable considering but he figured he had nothing to lose.

Andrew still had Fatima's e-mail address (Ffranklinfreedom at ) from her dumping message and so he bit the bullet and sent her a message of his own.

Hey Fatima - I'm transferring to Green but I'm having trouble finding housing. Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Andy

Short and to the point without any emotional baggage, accusations or bitterness but several days went by before he received a response from Fatima:

Wow, Andy! I sure was surprised to hear from you. I'm not sure why you picked Green or why I'm telling you this but I'm sharing a house with two girls. One of them (Angie) is moving out so – call me crazy - you're welcome to take her spot if you don't think that would be too awkward. You'd have to commit by August 15th so let me know as soon as you can.

Andrew was shocked by the proposal. Share a house with the woman who turned her back on him? Wouldn't that be insane? And a second woman, somebody he didn't even know? Wouldn't that be considered scandalous?

Andrew was afraid to tell his mother about Fatima's offer knowing she would freak out on several levels. His mother was very old fashioned when it came to matters of etiquette and propriety and he knew she would never approve of her son living with two women, especially if she knew one of them was the Jezebel Fatima who already ruined his life once in his mother's view and would certainly ruin it again.
Andrew continued to work his summer job at the bread factory while trying to find other housing opportunities at Green College but with little success. Rents were prohibitively high and he didn't want a long commute if he widened his search area beyond the general Greenville area. It was well into August and Andrew was beginning to think he'd have to postpone his transfer to Green since he was unable to find a place to live. Then he got an e-mail from Fatima:

Hey, Andy - What's up!? We've got people lining up for Angie's room but I've been holding off waiting final word from you. Are you interested in taking the room or not? Please let me know soonest.

Andrew stared at the computer screen knowing that this was a pivotal moment in his collegiate future. If he turned down Fatima's offer the likelihood of him going to Green in September were extremely unlikely. But if he accepted the room, he risked upsetting his mother who would consider it highly improper and inappropriate for her son to be sharing a house with two women, one named Fatima Jezebel Franklin. Andrew sucked in a deep breath and began typing:

Fatima - I'm grateful for your very kind and helpful offer. I would be in your debt if you were to accept me as your new renter. I will have the first month's rent payment to you in the mail tomorrow. I'll see you later in the month. Please send directions to the house and any other pertinent information I will need. Thanks for your helping hand - Andy.

Andrew held off telling his mother anything about his college living arrangements until she asked and when she did he decided to do the only thing that made sense: he lied.

Andrew packed up his fourteen year old car with most of his belongings as he prepared to leave home for the first time at twenty-one years of age. He felt guilty leaving his disabled mother but she had her parents to watch over her and Andrew knew it was time for him to get on with his life, away from his mother's often suffocating demands. But she was cold and indifferent with his "betrayal" departure and refused to say goodbye.
It was a ninety minute drive to Hillsboro and Andrew liked the way the town looked as soon he arrived. He had been to Green College on visits previously but he had never been to neighboring Hillsboro until now. Fatima's directions were spot on and Andrew had little trouble finding 59 Hillmount Street in a quaint little neighborhood. #59 was an older brown wood ranch in need of a paint job and other repairs. The lawn was faded with dirt spots, the driveway was cracked, and the garage behind the house had seen better days.
Andrew parked on a dirt spot next to the garage and climbed out of the car with uncertainty, not sure how he felt about seeing Fatima again after she abandoned their friendship in such a cold way.

"Hello, Andy."
Fatima strolled out of the house with a tentative smile on her face and Andrew wasn't sure if he should grin or grimace. Fatima was a tall girl with a bright smile. She wore her blond hair long when he knew her - now it was shorter and curly but she was as pretty as ever.

"Fatima," Andrew said cautiously.

"Franny," she said.

"Huh?"

"It's Franny now," she told him. "At least when I'm here. Fatima is much too Catholic a name for a liberal arts college."

"Franny." Andrew nodded.
"Welcome to Hillsboro," She said. "I can't believe your mother let you go."

"She didn't, really," Andrew admitted.

"I hope you know what you're doing."
Fatima helped Andrew unload his car and she showed him around the one story house which consisted of an open kitchen with an adjoining dining area and a living room. A hallway was off the living room with three fair sized bedrooms and a bathroom. Andrew's room was the smallest of the three but he wasn't about to complain. There was a bed, a dresser, a desk, and a closet and that was all he needed to exist. There was goofy looking flowery wallpaper on the walls (faded, stained, and in places ripped) but Andrew could live with that.
"Some guy who lives in Florida owns it," Fatima explained. "It was his parents' house but they died so he's been renting it out to college kids for several years. Most of the stuff in here belonged to them."
That explained some of the older furniture and tacky decorations on the walls.
Andrew set up his room feeling slightly sad missing (and feeling guilty about) his mom but at the same time feeling excited about his new start on his own. Fatima's housemate Robyn returned later in the afternoon and Fatima brought her by Andrew's room to met their new housemate. Robyn was a bubbly and cheerful person with short brown hair and she immediately treated Andrew as though she had always known him.

"So, you knew Franny before?" Robyn asked.

"Yeah," Andrew confirmed.

"Great," Robyn smiled before leaving the room with Fatima.

Andrew still felt weird about living with two women who were not his relatives but he tried not to feel guilty about the deception he laid on his mother. He spent the next few days getting accustomed to the house and living situation. Fatima gave him a tour of the area and pointed out some of the best places, including Johnny C's Diner and the Hillsboro Pizza House.
"Any questions?" Fatima asked once she was done conducting the brief tour.
"What about Church?" Andrew wondered as they both walked into the house.
"Church?" Fatima asked with surprise. "What about it?"
"Well, where do you go to Mass around here?" Andrew asked.
"Uh, I don't," Fatima replied.
"You don't?" Andrew was surprised.
"Andy, Church was fine for high school," Fatima explained as she took a bottled water out of the refrigerator. "It kept me grounded and out of trouble and my parents happy. But I'm an adult now, in college living my life. Church doesn't matter now, especially when my parents don't even go anymore."
Andrew was stunned by her revelation and Fatima noticed his reaction.
"Come on, Andy," she said bluntly. "Grow up."
"It never occurred to me that you'd stop going to Church," Andrew admitted. "You were so strong in your Faith. You got me to go and I'm not even Catholic."
"I'm not sixteen any more," Fatima said with annoyance. "The farce is over."
"I guess I'll go find a Parish on my own," he said.
"Sure," Fatima said with a shrug as she left the room. "You do that. There's St. Patrick's downtown and the Polish Parish up the hill."
Andrew knew that things were definitely different now. He remembered the younger version of Fatima, so spiritual, virtuous, modest, and a strong believer in her Faith. Now she had apparently left the Church and she was wearing semi-scandalous clothing. In fact, his roommates' attire was one of the most challenging aspects of sharing a house with two women. Fatima and Robyn both walked around the house in short shorts and tank tops, their breasts tight in their tops. One day Andrew was pretty sure he could see Robyn's nipples through the material she was wearing. Sometimes in the morning, Fatima and Robyn would come into the kitchen in their sleepwear which was usually silky and sexy outfits that barely covered their fannies. Andrew tried not to look when they reached up into the cupboards or bent over to get something out of the refrigerator.
Andrew didn't see a whole lot of Fatima or Robyn when he wasn't at the house. He kept busy on campus, got a part time job at the thrift shop, and he started attending Mass at St. Patrick's. He called his mother three times a week, sent whatever extra money he had home, and he kept to himself at the house for the most part although he was certainly sociable and friendly with his unlikely roommates. He and Fatima had a shared past and they often talked about their hometown, common memories, and people they had known, telling Robyn some of their favorite stories.

Andrew missed the sweet and unassuming Fatima who loved her Faith and was strong in her convictions and beliefs. She had lost her rudder, anchor and compass since those high school days and that left Andrew feeling sad. He engaged Fatima in spiritually based conversations whenever the opportunity arose even though he was still bitter and resentful about how she ended their friendship. For her part, Fatima was friendly, open, and honest.

Living with Fatima and Robyn reminded Andrew on a daily basis that he was twenty-one years old and a hopeless square but Andrew knew Fatima's mind and soul. They had grown up together and they had shared personal stories, philosophies, and attitudes over the years. Andrew decided that just because Fatima wasn't practicing her Faith now didn't mean he had to treat her any differently. He just needed to be her friend and maybe she'd consider him one too (again).

One night, Andrew heard a knock on his door.
"Come in," He said from his usual spot on the bed with a book in his lap and he glanced up to see Fatima entering.
She looked as attractive and appealing as ever, wearing sweat pants and a New England Patriots football home jersey with the number 83 on it.
"Hi," Andrew said cheerfully, trying with earnest to follow his new policy of being Fatima's friend without worrying about her present life style or how she hurt him.

"Hello," she said as she peered around his room, taking in some of the photos and posters on the wall. "Are you still mad at me?"
"Of course not," Andrew assured her although it was sort of a lie. "Why would you ask that?" He asked innocently.
Fatima took a seat on his computer chair by the desk. "Come on, Andy," she said knowingly.

"We all make our own choices," he said with a shrug.
"I'm still a good person," she said defensively.
"I know you are," he smiled.
"And I'll go back to the Church when I'm ready," she vowed. "When its time to get married, settle down, have kids, live a normal life," she explained. "But college is for freedom and exploration and independence and discovery and experiences."
"The no rules attitude?" Andrew asked cynically.
"See, you don't approve," Fatima sighed with disappointment.
"I didn't say that," he replied.
Fatima shook her head and sighed. "You don't have to," she remarked.

His face became flustered and she stared at him trying to figure it out before nodding her head in slow realization.

"Oh," she said with understanding. "You're a Late Bloomer, aren't you?"

He felt himself blushing even more.
"Have you been with somebody yet, Andy?" Fatima asked gently.
He glanced away so he wouldn't have to see her judging him.
"It's okay," she said with gentle compassion.
Andrew was surprised at how embarrassed, shy and even humiliated he felt being found out by Fatima who was obviously much more experienced than he was.
"I used to worry about this stuff a lot too," Fatima confided. "I was a virgin when I got here. I held out for as long as I could. I probably should have found a Parish and gone home more and hung out with you but eventually I assimilated into life here. I made some friends in the dorm and I met a special guy I really cared about."
"Did you love him?" Andrew asked bitterly.
"I thought I did," Fatima admitted. "That's why I gave myself to him. I thought that's what he wanted and I wanted him to know that I really wanted to be with him."

"I wanted to be that guy," Andrew said acidly.

"I know," she sighed.

"You really hurt me."

"It didn't last."
"Good," Andrew said with resentment dripping through his voice.
"I was traumatized for a long time, full of regrets and guilt, questioning my Faith and my ethics and how I could hurt you like that but after a while I decided I wasn't going to get so wrapped up in that stuff."
"What stuff?" Andrew asked with confusion.
"The God Stuff," she answered. "It was just to confusing to deal with. So I let go and just lived my life."
"The freedom and exploration and independence and discovery and experience and no rules attitude," Andrew replied sarcastically.
"What do you want from me, Andy?" Fatima sighed with remorse and defeat. "What I did to you was awful and I wouldn't blame you if you never forgave me. I've missed you like crazy and I'm glad you're here even if I don't deserve to have you here."
Andrew didn't know what to say in response.
"Why don't you figure out what you want to do?" She suggested. "Your mom's not here to tell you what to do and how to feel and how to act so it's time to start deciding who you want to be and how you want to act."
"You think I'm a Mama's boy?" An insulted Andrew accused.
"You think I'm a slut," she replied with hurt in her voice.
"Of course I don't," Andrew snapped.
"I don't think you're a Mama's boy, Andy," Fatima assured him.
"I probably am," Andrew realized with a sigh. "It's just the way I grew up."
"You're living your life now," Fatima reminded him.
"Well, I'm trying to figure it out anyway," Andrew replied.

Fatima left the chair and joined him on the bed, a forward move Andrew thought as he sat up. "I'm not sure if it was the right thing for you to come here," she admitted.
"Were there other guys?" Andy asked.
"Let's not talk about that stuff," Fatima advised.
"Why not?" He asked.
"Look, I was clearly wrong with some of my decisions and choices," she sighed. "But we can't change the past. We just learn from our experiences and move on."
"And not repeat the same mistakes," Andrew said.
"I'm not going to become a nun while waiting for true love," Fatima insisted.
'I'm a monk' Andrew thought to himself but he didn't volunteer that to Fatima. Hell, she already knew anyway.
"I hope you don't think less of me," Fatima said softly.
"I hope you don't think less of me," Andrew said sadly.
"Why would I?" She asked with surprise.
"For being a Mama's boy cherry freak," Andrew replied honestly.
"Andy, there's nothing wrong with being a Late Bloomer," Fatima told him, wrapping her arm around his shoulder, her first open display of intimacy in several years "You should be proud."
"Sometimes I feel embarrassed," Andrew admitted.

Fatima softly brushed her hand through his hair. "You are who you are, Andy."
"I'm not even sure who that is," Andrew told her.
"I do," she said with a smile. "The same guy I hung out with. A nice guy."
Andrew turned his head and looked directly into her eyes. "Maybe that's part of my problem," he feared. "Maybe I'm tired of being a nice guy."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Fatima told him.
"This is weird, don't you think?" Andrew asked with uncertainty.

"Being back together like this you mean?" Fatima wondered.

Andrew nodded his head affirmatively.
"I could teach you some stuff if you wanted, Andy," Fatima offered.
"I would never use you like that, Fatima," Andrew told her. "I like and respect you way to much."
"Thanks," she said with sincerity. "But maybe it's time for you to start living your life some."
"Not like that."
"Aren't you tired of being a Late Bloomer?" Fatima asked. "How long are you going to play it safe? Follow the rules? Being so virtuous that you can't even fart in public?"
"Fatima, you can't expect me to change overnight," Andrew said.
"No," she agreed knowingly. "I shouldn't expect that. And I would never want you to do something you're not ready to do." She smiled sadly. "Why don't we just sort of take things as they come?" She suggested.
"Okay," Andrew said with appreciation. "I'd like that. I like being with you again like this."
"It's nice having a familiar piece of my past back in my life again," Fatima admitted, leaning in and giving him a kiss on the cheek. "I hope someday you will forgive me for hurting you so badly." She got off the bed and left the room.

There was now a deeper and more meaningful understanding between them and that fascinated Andrew. Fatima was actually flirting with him, or so it seemed. Even Robyn picked up on the new energy in the house and she razzed her two housemates about it.
Andrew took Fatima to a movie in Greenville one night and Fatima returned the favor by taking him out to dinner at Serguci's Italian Family Restaurant on a quiet Sunday evening. It was nice to socialize away from the house and to have some friendly conversations, discussing their college classes and social standings without rehashing the past. Andrew enjoyed listening to Fatima talk about her friends and some of the protest movements she was involved in including bio-mass, a pipe line proposal, and fracking. Andrew had never been politically involved in anything.
Fatima took Andrew to a Green College football game along with Robyn and a few weeks later Andrew drove Fatima home for the Thanksgiving break. It was a slightly surreal experience – bringing Fatima home to a place she had left behind. It was almost appropriately fitting that they were making the return together – although Andrew had only been gone a few months. It was also weird to be dropping Fatima off at her mother's condo instead of the familiar house Fatima had grown up in.

It was nice to be home for his grandmother's home cooked meals and to see his mom again but it didn't take Andrew long to realize how stifling his mom could be, always asking where he was going and what he was doing and who he was going to be with whenever he left the house and then asking twenty-questions upon his return.
Andrew was purposely vague when discussing his life at Green College not wanting his mom to know about his living arrangements or that Jezebel Fatima was back in his life. Andrew was surprised when Fatima called him on Saturday afternoon and asked if he'd attend Mass with her at the St. Peter and St. Paul on Sunday morning. For a girl who no longer went to Church, Andrew thought it was a good sign that she was interesting in making a return. Maybe his influence was rubbing off on her after all!

Andrew finally had to tell his mother that he had "bumped into" Fatima at Green College and that they were going to Mass together in the morning. His mother was understandably horrified.
"Any girl who wants to go to church with a boy is serious about him," she pronounced with concern. "What is going on, Andrew?" She demanded.
"It's not like that, Mom," Andrew replied defensively.
Andrew picked up Fatima at her mother's condo on Sunday morning and drove her to Mass at St. Peter and St. Paul.
"God, it feels like forever since I've been here," Fatima remarked as they climbed out of the car and peered at the 120 year old massive brick church.
"It has been," Andrew reminded her.
A few heads turned in surprise when folks recognized Fatima after such a long absence but she was greeted with smiles, embraces and she was even offered God's Blessings. The Mass was enjoyable as always for Andrew who appreciated the spirituality and Father Coleman's meaningful and insightful homily.
When the Mass was over, Fatima and Andrew socialized downstairs at coffee hour with various people but after a while, Fatima grabbed Andrew by the arm.
"Let's blow this popcorn stand," she begged and Andrew led her from the undercroft.
"Now I remember why I stopped going," Fatima muttered once they were in Andrew's car.
"Come on, it wasn't that bad," Andrew remarked knowingly.
"I'm still spiritual," Fatima insisted. "I believe in God and I love Jesus. But I can't take the fakeness of religious people who sing praise to Jesus in Church and then go home and leave their spouses."
"That's why you don't go to church anymore?" Andrew frowned. "Because your parents got divorced?"
"I don't go to church anymore because I don't want to feel guilty for not being holier than thou," Fatima replied. "I don't want to feel guilty because I made love to my boyfriend. I don't want to feel guilty because I like being sexual. I don't want to be reprimanded because I'm not living a holy life."
"You should pray on that stuff," Andrew suggested as they drove around.
"I pray, Andy," Fatima told him. "I pray for the starving children and the people dying in disgusting wars and I pray for our planet and for lost souls."
"What about your soul?" Andrew asked with concern.
"You think I'm going to hell?"
"No," Andrew said, although part of him wondered.
"Don't you think I'm a good person?"
"Of course," he said awkwardly.
"Then what's your problem?"
"I don't have a problem," Andrew assured her but he was lying of course.

"You'd better take me to my father's place," Fatima sighed. "I'm supposed to have Sunday dinner with him and his girlfriend before we head back to Hillsboro."
"I'll pick you up at five," Andrew replied as he followed her directions to the house her father was sharing with another woman.
"So, you're going back?" She asked sarcastically.
"Why wouldn't I?" Andrew asked with surprise.
"No reason," Fatima replied but Andrew knew she was implying that maybe he missed his mother and was homesick and felt guilty for deserting his mother and that he was such a Late Bloomer that he still wasn't ready for college.
"I'll see you at five," Andrew grumbled with annoyance as he pulled the car to the curb and Fatima knew he was upset with her.
"I didn't mean anything by it, Andy."
"Yes you did."
"Sorry," she mumbled as she got out of the car.
Andrew was both insulted and humiliated. Fatima considered him a Mama's Boy and she would never take him seriously with that false pretense. He drove home cursing his mother but he knew he shouldn't blame her for his own shortcomings. Fatima's perceptions of him were true for no other reason than that's how he presented himself.
Andrew's mother gave him the cold shoulder when he got back to the house, upset about Fatima.
"Christmas Break is less than a month away, Mom," Andrew reminded his demanding and over protective mother when she went on about how she was going to miss him all over again now that he was about to leave.
"It still seems like forever," she sighed sadly.
"You know, someday I'll have to move out for real," Andrew said.
"Why?" She asked and Andrew had to bite his tongue not to react angrily.
Andrew was actually relieved when it was time to leave. He loved his mom but his life was being suffocated by her over involvement in his affairs. The three months he spent in Hillslboro had been a welcomed breath of fresh air and Andrew found himself thinking more about Fatima (even if he resented her) than he did his mother these days. That was a huge shift in attitude.

"Be careful, Andrew," His mother warned when they said goodbye. "That girl is no good."

"Okay, Mom," he replied to keep the peace.
Andrew was moody when he picked up Fatima at five o'clock. He was polite to Fatima's mother and step-father as Fatima said her goodbyes but once they were on the road for Hillsboro he let her know that he didn't appreciate her condescending attitude toward him.
"I don't deserve your ridicule," he boldly stated.
Fatima pouted silently for several miles and Andrew wondered if he had blown it big time by calling her out. But eventually she turned to him and sighed. "I'm sorry," she said with sincerity.

The rest of the ride's conversation was about their visit home and some of the people they had seen. Now it was back to the college routine and sharing the house. Robyn was already back when they returned and she was genuinely glad to see them.
"It was kind of strange being here alone today," Robyn admitted sheepishly. "I really missed you guys!" She grinned.

"We missed you too," Fatima said with a smile.

The thing was - Andrew realized he really did miss Robyn and Hillsboro and his college routine. It was a relief to be back in Hillsboro, away from his mother and her expectations and demands. Here, he could be whoever he wanted to be, including roommates with Fatima and Robyn.

The three housemates got back into the school routine after the Thanksgiving break. Fatima stopped by Andy's room one night to interrupt Andrew's studying.

"It still feels kind of weird," she said, making a blanket statement about their circumstances. "But I have to admit having you around is like a breath of fresh air compared to all the horn dogs around campus all the time."

"Because I'm a Late Bloomer?" He scoffed.

"I'm glad you're a late bloomer, Andy," Fatima told him.

"Great," Andrew sighed, feeling defeated and stigmatized. "How come you're not with anybody now?" He wondered.

"The last guy graduated," she explained with a shrug. "Then he left abruptly for a job offer in Virginia and I have a year left here so that was that."

"Sorry," Andrew said.

"I don't begrudge him for leaving," Fatima remarked. "But the way he did it was kind of heartless. He pretty much texted me his goodbye."

"I know how that feels," Andrew mumbled.

Fatima rolled her eyes. "Forgiveness is a big part of the Catholic Faith you know, Andy," she groaned as she got off the bed and left the room and he felt bad for saying anything.

Andrew tried to be more in-sync with Fatima's Hillsboro life. He called her Franny if he saw her on campus. He went out with her (and sometimes Robyn) a few times on Friday nights to places like The Bullpen Tavern in Hillsboro and some of the hipper clubs by the Green College campus. He enjoyed being with her again

Fatima stayed home and studied with Andrew on several nights. They went out for a meal together on occasion, either to Johnny C's Diner or the Hillsboro Pizza House. Andrew was even surprised when Fatima went to Sunday Mass with him at St. Patrick's a couple of times. Their conversations came easy with an unspoken familiarity and an accepted comfortableness despite the hurt of the past. Andrew liked being with Fatima even though he didn't trust her.

A huge snow storm was approaching New England as finals week wrapped up. Robyn got out of town ahead of the blizzard by bus but Andrew had one final left. Fatima decided to leave her car in Hillsboro and go home with Andrew but by the time he had finished with his final the snows had started and the two debated whether or not they should try to outrun the storm or wait it out in Hillsboro.

"I told my mother I'd be home tonight," Andrew reported.

"Well, let's getting going then," Fatima replied sarcastically. "Can't disappoint Mom."

"Sorry," Andrew replied sheepishly knowing she wasn't pleased with the reasoning.

It proved to be the wrong decision as it took three hours to drive forty miles and they still had another sixty miles to go. It was dark and the roads were treacherous but Andrew seemed to be hell bent on getting home.

"Is it really worth our lives to get home to your mother on time, Andy?" A white knuckled Fatima wanted to know after the car nearly slid off the road avoiding a sliding car.

"Probably not," Andrew sighed.

"Let's just find a motel," Fatima told him.

"Okay," he reluctantly agreed.

"We should have stayed in Hillsboro," Fatima lamented. "This is nuts."

Andrew knew she was second guessing his choice and once again criticizing his Mama's Boy tenancies.

"No point complaining now," he muttered but the truth was he was happy that they were safe, hadn't gone off the road like so many other cars, and even managed to find a room at a Motel 6 off the highway. They could hear the snow blowing outside the window as they stepped into the room.

"I'll go get us some food," Andrew announced, sensing that Fatima was still annoyed with him for dragging them out in a blizzard.

"Fine," she replied with disinterest.

Andrew trudged down the road in the blizzard to a Seven Eleven and stocked up on sandwiches, chips, soda and some candy before walking back to the motel, half-frozen by the time he reached the warm room. Fatima emerged from the bathroom and Andrew was awkwardly embarrassed to see that she was wrapped in nothing but a white motel towel. Maybe they should have gotten separate rooms.

"You look like a snowman," She giggled when she saw him all snow covered and blustered from the wind.

"I could use a hot shower," Andrew announced.

He dumped the groceries on one of the queen sized beds and excused himself while Fatima turned on the television and sprawled out on the second bed. He could tell that Fatima had showered - the stall was still wet, a damp towel was hung over the shower rod, and it smelled all womanly in the bathroom. Andrew enjoyed thawing out under the hot spray and freshening up. He hung his wet clothes over the curtain rod, wrapped himself in a towel and awkwardly stepped into the room, eliciting a laugh from Fatima who was still wrapped in her towel, sprawled out on the second bed eating a grinder and drinking a soda.

"Nice duds," she grinned but he didn't say anything in reply.

He sat on the second bed and ate a sub with some chips and soda, staring mindlessly at the television but his mind was elsewhere because he was sitting in a motel room with a partially clad woman! All his years of virginal behaviors were now being tested and after four months of living in the same house as Fatima, Andrew was thinking that maybe being a Late Bloomer had run its course.

They didn't talk as they ate and watched the television although Andrew couldn't concentrate on the screen. His heart was beating fast and he felt flushed. He tried not to glance at Fatima least he be tempted by what she was (wasn't) wearing but he would be lying if he didn't admit that he was feeling a bit afraid.

When they were done eating, Fatima got off her bed and cleaned up the wrappers and trash, stuffing them into the waste basket by the television. When she leaned over and the towel hiked up her legs, Andrew nearly fell off his bed.

"Maybe we should have gotten separate rooms," he said aloud this time instead of just thinking it.

Fatima glanced at Andrew and laughed before she went to the window and peeked out the closed curtains. "Still coming down pretty hard," she observed but when Andrew looked toward the window from where he sat on the bed he saw that Fatima's towel had slipped off her body (or had she purposely released it?) and she was standing naked at the curtain with her back to him.

Andrew gawked at her white milky tush and after a moment Fatima glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him.

"I'm giving you an early Christmas present," Fatima informed him. "Have you ever seen a naked woman before, Late Bloomer?"

Andrew could feel himself becoming lightheaded but he was unable to take his eyes off her wonderful behind. She slowly turned to face him, revealing her naked front with her round breasts and the triangle of her blond pubic hair.

"Do you like the present, Andy?" Fatima asked softly.

He couldn't speak and when Fatima saw that his towel was sticking up between his legs she smiled knowingly as she slowly walked across the room. Andrew thought about bolting for the bathroom but instead he lay frozen on the bed watching her naked beauty approach. Fatima knelt on the bed by his side and she slowly reached out and tugged open his towel to free his penis that was now pointed at her. Fatima smiled as she stole a look at his member.

"Look who bloomed," she said with approval.

Andrew stared at Fatima not able to believe any of this was happening. Naked in a motel room with a girl he thought about often. Andrew wasn't sure what he was supposed to do now. Revert to his Mama's Boy persona and push her away, yelling for her to respect herself and cover her sins or appreciate the natural beauty that was inches from his face.

"What do you want to do, Andy?" Fatima asked as if reading his mind. "It is going to be Christmas or Halloween?"

"Halloween?" Andrew spoke for the first time since she exposed her ass to him.

"Tricked instead of treated," Fatima explained.

"I'm conflicted," Andrew confessed openly. "I've wanted this so bad for so long but the voice in my head keeps saying 'no no no'".

"I respect that," Fatima said, falling back on her haunches but making no effort to cover herself and Andrew made no attempt to look away. He could feel himself throbbing between his legs.

"Is it okay if I touch it?" Fatima asked gently.

Andrew knew he should have said no way in hell but he could see that his penis was literally waving in desperation and he ever so slowly shook his head yes.

Fatima slowly put her hand around his penis. "Don't be afraid," she whispered as she started stroking it up and down. Andrew jumped in surprise and nervousness. "It's okay," she smiled as she kept stroking with her right hand while moving her other hand under his balls which she lightly cupped.

"How does it feel?" She wanted to know.

Andrew stared into her eyes wanting to cry. He had finally experienced something he feared he would never experience and as good as it felt he was still overcome with shame and guilt. Fatima sensed that he had tensed up so she slowly uncapped his balls and released his penis from her strokes.

"Its okay, Andy," she said with understanding. "Maybe this is a good enough present just as it is for now."

He stared at her blonde pubic patch noticing that it was glistening with wetness. She smiled and adjusted herself so she was sitting in front of him with her legs spread open to show him her opening.

"Do you want to feel it?" She invited warmly.

Andrew was frozen but Fatima waited patiently as he glanced up into her eyes and then back down between her legs.

"Go ahead," she urged. "Just explore for a moment. Bloom a little bit more."

Andrew tentatively put his hand between her legs and felt the wetness of the hair before rubbing his finger up and down her slit. Fatima reached out and took his other hand, lifting it up to her breast which he instinctively began to rub and squeeze while the purring Fatima leaned and gave him a kiss, pushing her tongue into his mouth.

"Merry Christmas," she breathed into his throat.

"Thank you," he replied, trying not to cry.

She broke the kiss and moved away so his hand fell from her breast and his other hand was pulled from her vagina area. "We'd better stop," she said. "I don't want you doing something you're not ready for."

"Geez, Fatima," Andrew groaned, feeling tortured now.

"Think about this," she suggested. "We have plenty of time if you're really ready to bloom, especially with me."

She pulled the covers down on her bed and nestled into the bed. Andrew climbed under his own covers and turned out the lights, although the television was still on.

"Andrew?" It was Fatima's voice soft in the room.

"Yeah?"

"Merry Christmas," she said.

"Merry Christmas," he replied.

Andrew awoke early the next morning and watched Fatima sleep in the next bed. He felt confused about what happened the night before and while there was much shame and remorse about the behaviors he displayed, to be honest he had no regrets. He was grateful that Fatima had been willing to show herself to him and give a little bit of herself to him too. It was indeed a gift and he didn't feel quite so Mama boyish now that he had seen Fatima naked and been naked in front of her. To be touched the way she touched him and the way she let him touch her was definitely new frontier stuff and Andrew felt like he had finally broken free from the restraints he had felt for years.

Fatima eventually stirred in her bed and she smiled when she opened her eyes and saw that Andrew was already awake, his head propped up on his hand and elbow starring at her. The sight greatly amused her but she quickly rolled over and leapt naked from the bed to peek out the curtain and check on the situation. Andrew stared at her rear end with fascination.

'Wow, the sun's out," Fatima reported. "I guess we can continue home now."

"You sound disappointed," Andrew said with surprise, unable to take his eyes off her rear.

"Coming home hasn't been a whole lot of fun for me in recent years, Andy," Fatima sighed, keeping her back to him. "I wouldn't mind spending the entire break right here to tell you the truth."

Andrew was flattered, hoping she meant with him. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled sadly.

"I know I criticize you mother a lot but at least she cares even if it is too much," Fatima remarked. "I hate the guy my mother married and my father is living with a woman with two kids half my age," she sighed. "My parents are so caught up with their new lives that they really don't pay attention to me. They sold the house I grew up in and now I feel like a nomad with no place to call home. I feel like a guest no matter where I am."

Even though Fatima had already seen (and felt) Andrew's vulnerables he still felt timid and shy so he wrapped his discarded towel from the night before around his waist as he climbed out of the bed and joined her at the window, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on the top of her head as they both peeked out the window at the freshly fallen snow that had left their car underneath a foot of snow.

"Aren't you the one who told me I had to get on with my life?" He asked. "Maybe the same is true for you."

"I know," she sighed. "But it still hurts."

She turned and hugged him close. He could feel her soft breasts against his chest bone and he embraced her tightly.

"I keep remembering how happy and innocent I was back in the carefree days," she sighed. "Life was easy and I believed everything my parents told me. I liked the camaraderie of our friendship."

"So what happened?" Andrew asked as he clung to the naked Fatima.

"My parents split up," she groaned. "Made a mockery of everything I believed in. The sacrament of marriage didn't mean anything and that made me cynical about all the Faith teachings."

"That's why you slept with that guy?"

"It's also why I'm standing here naked in front of you, Andy, so don't complain too much," she said.

"I don't mind being Adam and Eve with you, Fatima," Andrew told her.

"Oh yeah?" She frowned. "Then why are you wearing you fig leaf?" She reached out and tugged on his towel until it loosened and fell to the floor. "Now we're both naked in the Garden," she said.

"What about the serpent snake?" Andrew worried.

"Who told you that you were naked, Andy?" She teased as they continued to cuddle and hug.

Andrew was uncertain how long they stood by the window naked just holding on to each other. Eventually, he felt wetness on his skin and he glanced down to see that Fatima had been quietly crying and now her tears were streaming down her cheeks onto his chest and stomach.

"Don't cry," he whispered.

"If I could take it all back, I would," she told him. "I would have stayed and attended the junior college. I should have embraced my Faith instead of abandoning it and then you and I would have been together, pure and perfect."

"Sometimes you have to fall to be stronger," Andrew told her.

She looked up and into his eyes before reaching up and kissing him with meaning. "Check out isn't until eleven, right?" She asked.

"Yeah," Andrew confirmed.

Fatima walked him back toward the bed until he fell onto it. Fatima lay down next to him and leaned up on her elbow, allowing him to take in her beautiful body. "Do you want to bloom some more?" She wondered.

"I can't believe any of this is happening," he admitted.

Andrew reached his hand out and traced a circle around her breast with his finger while Fatima reached her hand out and ran her fingers through his hair while smiling contently. Andrew then moved his other hand down across her stomach and into her blonde pubic hair which felt moist.

"Keep going," she urged breathlessly.

Andrew knew he really wasn't supposed to and that the snake in the garden had taken hold of both of them but he rubbed his finger up and down her slit and he was surprised when it easily slipped inside her wetness.

"Oh," Fatima approved with a pleasurable moan.

Andrew began moving his finger in and out while rubbing his palm against her mound.

"Yes!"" Fatima shouted. "Bloom me, Andy!"

She rolled onto back and lifted her behind off the mattress, meeting his finger while Andrew kissed her with a never before felt passion, slipping his tongue inside her mouth.

"Ohhhhhhhh! Andy!" Fatima moaned as she thrashed hard against his finger while returning his kisses with powerful ones of her own, their lips locked in a display of unity.

Although a late bloomer with zero experience in doing anything like this before, Andrew knew enough to keep fingering her while kissing her and Fatima continued to buck against him until he felt his finger and palm become soaked with her juices as she screamed out in an obvious orgasm before collapsing against the mattress with a happy smile on her face.

Andrew stared at her lovely naked beauty, fascinated by what he just experienced and witnessed.

"That was incredible!" Fatima gushed.

Andrew couldn't take his eyes off Fatima's body or her flushed face and the happy expression on her lips. He watched her breasts heave with her breath and then glanced down at her blond triangle pubic hair that was glistening.

"You're so amazing," Andrew told her.

She smiled as she reached out and took her hand in hers, moving it up to her lips to smell her scent on his finger. "We should probably stop blooming now," she advised.

"Why?" Andrew asked with disappointment.

"You need to retain your virginity," she said. "At least for now."

"But its Christmas Eve," Andrew pouted.

Fatima laughed as she reached out and held onto his penis for a moment, making sure her palm was underneath his ball sack which she rolled around. "Let's just get through Christmas, first, Andy, and see where we stand," she suggested.

Andrew fell onto his back next to her on the mattress. Fatima removed her hand from his balls and penis and propped herself up so her head was resting on Andrew's chest.

"You okay?" She asked. "You think this is wrong?"

He moved his head and kissed her. "Thank you for helping me bloom."

"You're welcome," she grinned as she sat up. "Now let's get the show on the road. How 'bout a shower?"

"Together?" Andrew asked with hopeful surprise.

"Why not?" She laughed as she rolled off the bed. "Come on!"

Andrew stumbled off the bed and followed Fatima into the bathroom still unable to take his eyes of her beautiful butt. The privilege of finally being able to look at the forbidden fruit after so long left him light headed.

Fatima turned on the water in the shower and stepped into the tub. Andrew stood behind her and helped her soap up her body and she helped him guide his hands along her stomach, breasts and between her legs with the bar and the washcloth while he stood close enough to feel himself rubbing against her rear.

When she was done washing her hair, Fatima turned and returned the favor, soaping up Andrew's body with the bar including his penis as she rubbed her hand up and down his shaft with the wash cloth. Andrew leaned in and offered her a long, passionate kiss underneath the shower spray, pretending it was a waterfall in the Garden of Eden, free of snakes.

Fatima finally turned off the water and she grabbed a couple of towels from the rack, handing Andrew one with a knowing smile on her face. "We should do that more often," she teased before stepping out of the shower stall. Andrew couldn't argue with that even though he knew he had violated everything Fatima learned in CCD Class on Sunday mornings.

Dressed and packed, Andrew and Fatima sat on the edge of the bed waiting for Fatima's hair to dry before going out in the cold weather.

"Would you like to go to Midnight Mass with me?" Fatima asked hopefully.

"I'd like that very much," Andrew replied, leaning over and kissing her again.

They checked out, grabbed some donuts and hot drinks from a nearby Dunkin Donuts and got back out on the now plowed highway to finish the ride home.

"I'll pick you up at eleven,' Andrew let Fatima know when he dropped her off at her mother's condo, her arms full of the gifts she had wrapped in Hillsboro. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Fatima smiled before heading for the front door.

Andrew took his mother and grandparents out to dinner as was their family tradition. He tried to avoid the controversial subject of Jezebel Fatima but his mother kept asking probing questions despite Andrew's attempt to discuss his studies and other college interests.

"Look, Mom, I gave her a ride home, that's all." Andrew continued the lie.

"You're not planning on seeing her while you're home?" His mother tested.

"Well, we're going to Midnight Mass tonight," he revealed.

His mother looked at him with disapproval. "Don't be fooled by this girl," she warned. "She hurt you once, she'll hurt you again."

"Okay, Mom."

'Okay, Mom' had been Andrew's standard response for years and most of the time he actually meant it, doing whatever his mother suggested, requested, required or demanded something from him. But lately he had come to realize that half of what his mother asked of him was unfair, pointless, unacceptable, foolish, or just plain irrelevant. Since heading off to Green College, Andrew realized that he didn't need his mother advising him on everything from what brand tooth paste he used to who he was spending time with.

But his mother had been through a lot in her traumatic life so Andrew decided not to hold it against her, especially on Christmas Eve. No point getting into a big family fight on the night the Baby Jesus was born. They opened a couple of gifts in front of the Christmas tree with Christmas music playing on the stereo and it was a pleasant Christmas Eve.

It was a cold night with snow flurries in the air as Andrew picked up Fatima at her mother's condo to bring her to Midnight Mass.

"This used to be my most favorite service of the year," Fatima sighed. "I loved being old enough to go and hear all the music and stay up late. I always felt like I was almost there in the stable with Jesus when he was born."

"I hope you'll enjoy tonight's Mass," Andrew said warmly.

"It's too depressing now," Fatima grumbled. "I can't even get my mother to come. Or my father for that matter."

"What about me?" Andrew asked with mock hurt.

She smiled. "I probably wouldn't have bothered coming home if it wasn't for you."

"No way!" Andrew remarked with surprise. "You can't skip Christmas."

"Christmas seems to skip me these days," she replied.

"Not this year," Andrew told her as he parked the car in the already crowded church parking lot.

They had come early to hear the pre-Mass Christmas music and they were able to find a good pew. Andrew knew he was not worthy to be in Church after all the violations he had committed in the motel room but he couldn't help but feel completely at ease and happy. It was Christmas and he was attending Mass with Fatima back in his life now in a whole new (sometimes naked) light.

Andrew took Fatima by the hand when they walked out of church together after Mass. It was nearly 1:30 on Christmas Morning and all was well in the world.

"That will probably be the highlight of my vacation," Fatima sighed.

"Do you have any plans?" Andrew asked as they headed for the car.

"I'm going to hang out with my cousin in Boston for a few days," she said. "The less time I spend around my parents the better."

"Call me whenever you want," Andrew told her as he drove her to her mother's condo. "I'll be around whenever you need me."

"Thanks, Andrew," Fatima smiled. "You made this a Christmas to remember."

He smiled with relieved gratitude, glad to know that Fatima had enjoyed the Mass, although he knew she also meant their time at the motel too.

"Merry Christmas, Fatima," Andrew said when he pulled the car to the curb in front of her mother's condo.

"Merry Christmas, Andy," she replied warmly, leaning across the seat and giving him a warm and pleasant good night kiss.

Andrew had a nice Christmas Day with his mother and grandparents. Fortunately the subject of Fatima didn't come up during the gift exchange and dinner. Later in the evening, Andrew slipped out of the house and went to a late movie with Fatima "and all the Jewish people" she joked. They exchanged token presents in the car afterwards – a locket from Andrew to Fatima while Fatima gave Andrew her grandfather's old pocket watch as a remembrance. They kissed goodnight and Andrew wished her a Merry Christmas one more time.

Andrew received a few texts from Fatima giving him updates on her adventures with her cousin in Boston. Andrew missed her but he was also feeling torn knowing he was at a crossroad in his life. Was he willing to abandon his mother's expectations and remove his Late Bloomer title once and for all? Would he face going straight to hell without passing Go if he decided to go all the way with Fatima (out of wedlock)? Was he ready to completely forgive and trust Fatima again after her rejecting e-mail of several years ago? Would his mother disown him if she discovered he was living (in sin) with Fatima (not to mention Robyn)?

Every time Andrew thought about his shower with Fatima and seeing her for the first time naked in front of the motel window curtain he ached. When she pulled away his 'fig leaf' and touched him down there Andrew didn't care about values or morals or virtues or chastity. He had no idea what the right thing was when he felt her warmth and skin and breath and saw her natural beauty and kissed her soft lips and felt her heart beating against his. He loved Fatima now more than ever and sometimes it felt like that was all that mattered, God or no God. Spending time with his mother did not help Andrew's dilemma either.

Maybe Andrew needed to start calling Fatima Franny all the time now. Somehow doing what he did with Fatima felt scandalous and anti-religious but if he thought of her as Franny it didn't feel quite so hypocritical. Besides, he liked seeing Franny's fanny!

Fatima returned to town on New Year's Eve and she invited Andrew to attend a party with her. Andrew normally would have passed – his mother never thought such parties were a good idea but he wanted to spend time with Fatima and once again break the cycle of squareness so he agreed.

"I don't like this, Andrew," his mother scolded when she caught wind of his plans. "This is not something a boy like you should be doing."

"What kind of boy am I, Mom?" Andrew asked.

"A good boy," she replied.

"The story of my life," Andrew sighed, tired of the typecast.

The party was harmless enough. Some attendees got hammered but most were in mellow moods when the New Year's Ball dropped and they cheered in the New Year. Andrew stayed sober and socialized fairly well and while Fatima definitely had a few drinks she was still in control when he drove her home.

"Can we go back to Hillsboro early?" Fatima asked during the ride

"Really?" Andrew asked with surprise.

"I don't want to be bouncing back and forth between my two parents' places like a ping pong ball," she sighed. "There's nothing for me here."

"I thought we could go out to eat a few times, maybe go to the movies," Andrew said.

"We can do that in Hillsboro," Fatima pointed out. Then she understood his hesitation. "Oh, your mom, huh?" She guessed.

Andrew sighed, once again embarrassed to be 'found out'. "How 'bout we leave next weekend?" He suggested, hoping to compromise.

"I can always take the bus back," Fatima said.

"How 'bout in four days," he requested hopefully.

"I should have driven myself home," Fatima realized.

"Then the motel never would have happened," Andrew pouted. "How 'about in three days?" He almost begged.

"Okay," Fatima agreed with a semi-smirk. "I'll give your mom three days."

Andrew couldn't help but grin at that remark and Fatima leaned over and kissed him goodnight when he dropped her off at her mom's condo.

"Happy New Year, Andy," she said warmly.

"Happy New Year, Franny," Andrew replied.

"It's okay," She said. "I don't mind being Fatima here."

"I know. But I don't know if I should have seen a naked Fatima," he explained.

She giggled. "A naked Franny is better!? Man, you really are messed up!" Fatima said, rolling her eyes as she finally got out of the car, giving him a wave as she headed for the front door.

Andrew took his mom and grandparents out to a New Year's Day lunch and his mom nagged him about Fatima and her other concerns regarding his life. The following day, Andrew took his mother on a long ride to her favorite spots along the seashore and they stopped for lunch at a quaint restaurant overlooking an ocean bluff.

"I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me over the years, Mom," Andrew remarked during the meal - which of course immediately raised his mother's suspicions.

"What are you talking about?"

"I just appreciate everything you've done for me," he said. "You're a rock and you've never wavered from your beliefs. You raised me to be strong and you always believed in me."

"What's this really about, Andrew?" His mother asked.

"I was just thinking about what you said the other night," Andrew said.

"What did I say the other night?" She asked with confusion.

"That I was a good boy."

"What's wrong with that?" His mother frowned.

"I'm twenty-one, Mom," Andrew reminded her. "I'm old enough to vote, to drink, and to go to war if need be. I'm a man, not a boy. An adult, ready to live my life."

"Are you leaving me for that girl?" His mother accused.

Andrew sighed. "I'm going back to college," he said. "Earlier than planned, by the way. I'm leaving on Thursday."

"Because she wants to go back?" His mother asked with annoyance.

"This has nothing to do with Fatima," Andrew lied (again). "I have a couple of papers to write."

"You can write them here."

"I need to do some research at the campus library," he lied. "And maybe pick up a few extra shifts at the thrift shop."

"Fine, go," His mother told him curtly. "Go be a man. But I don't know of any man who would abandon his own mother like you seem to be content on doing."

"Can't we just enjoy our lunch, Mom?" Andrew sighed.

His mother was quieter after the lunch conversation but she still enjoyed the scenery, the drive, and the opportunity to spend some time out of the house, something she rarely did these days. Andrew spent the next few days with his mother although he went to lunch with Fatima a couple of times so she could rant and rave about her dysfunctional family.

"I never thought my family would be as screwed up as yours," she observed.

As promised, Andrew drove Fatima back to Hillsboro on the third day, saying goodbye to his indifferent mother who turned icy as a punishment.

"I don't suppose you'll be back for the summer," his mother said coldly.

"I don't know, Mom," he sighed. "We'll have to wait and see."

The ride back to Hillsboro was an interesting one. Fatima could tell that Andrew was conflicted but she wasn't going to let him stew on it alone.

"What's wrong?" She asked from her spot in the passenger's seat.

"Nothing," Andrew sighed.

"Your mom gave you a hard time?"

"I just wish I had the courage to live my own life the way I want to instead of the way she wants me too," Andrew grumbled. "I don't want to miss out on my dreams, my goals, my desires, my wishes and my wants just because she doesn't want me to have choices or because I felt guilty about her situation. I want the freedom to do what I want to do."

"Maybe you shouldn't have come home for Christmas either," Fatima teased.

"I don't want to end up resenting my mother," Andrew said. "But I always feel like I have to hold back my feelings, my emotions, my opinions and my truth to keep the peace and keep her happy,"

"You're supposed to keep yourself happy," Fatima told him.

"You mean I have a choice whether I want to be happy or not?" Andrew joked.

"Stop being afraid of the chance for change, Andy," Fatima advised. "You have the right to bloom."

"With you?" He tested hopefully.

"That's what I'm thinking," Fatima smiled. "If you're ready to break free of your mom and your preconceived notions and your fear of blooming all the way. And if you can forgive me for my past transgressions."

"I don't want to have any regrets," Andrew stated.

"Regrets if you bloom?" Fatima tsked. "The only regret most people have is that they didn't love more. That they didn't take chances. What's important in life is what we do, not what we don't do."

"I haven't done a lot of things," Andrew confessed.

"You know, since coming to Green, I've tried to be true to myself," Fatima said. I've been able to express myself and my feelings and I've done the things I've wanted to do."

"No regrets?" Andrew asked as they zoomed down the highway.

"Regrets are a waste of time, Andy," Fatima said. "I bet if most people could go back and live their lives over they'd probably do the same things all over again. It's only in retrospect when we second guess our choices."

"So you don't feel guilty or bad because you're no longer a virgin?" Andy asked.

Fatima stared at him for a long moment. "Do you feel guilty or bad because you're still a virgin?" She finally asked.

"Sometimes," he confessed, somewhat flustered. "But nobody's going to burn me in hell for that."

"Andy, do you really think God punishes us because we want to experience love?"

He stared at her for an even longer moment when he was able to take his eyes off the road.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Fatima finally asked with an amused look on her face

"Well, to tell you the truth, I've always loved looking at you," Andrew told her. "I've loved looking at you since the first day we met."

"Now that's the kind of line that will get you laid, Andy," Fatima told him with a grin.

They returned to Hillsboro safely although Andrew had to shovel out the driveway and dig out Fatima's car. Once that was done, he went inside to find Fatima in her room unpacking.

"Robyn won't be back for another week so we have the place to ourselves," Fatima announced as she put her clothes away.

"I'm going to go take a shower," Andrew announced. "I'm all sweaty from shoveling."

He went into the bathroom half-hoping Fatima would follow and he was disappointed when she didn't. When he was done showering, he changed into the fresh clothes he brought into the bathroom with him and returned to his room, surprised to find Fatima lying on his bed wearing a revealing, expensive, silky, sexy red negligee with a huge smile on her face. Andrew was pretty sure there weren't any panties underneath that stunning negligee.

"Are you ready to bloom some more, Andy?" She asked seductively.

"Are you sure we've been together long enough?" Andy wondered.

"We've known each other for ten years, Andy," Fatima laughed. "How much time do we need?"

Andrew peeled out of the clothes he had just put on and while he still felt shy and timid being naked in front of her he still removed everything and then climbed onto the bed, nestling next to her totally naked.

"I've waited a long time for this, Fatima," he told her with a breaking voice. "I just don't want to throw away my cherry for a cheap thrill. I want to be with you for a long time."

"I know," she smiled.

"Are you willing to take that on?" He challenged. "My crazy mother and our rocky past and everything we've been through."

"We're stronger because of it, Andy," Fatima assured him. "Are you willing to truly forgive me for what I did to you? Are you ready to take on my crazy family too? Are you ready to give yourself to me in the Biblical sense so we can truly be Adam and Eve together?"

"Yes," he said happily.

"Then let's make love," she invited.

Andrew kissed her and Fatima intertwined her tongue with his while taking a hold of him and gently rocking and swaying their bodies in a warm embrace. They made out for a long time while Andrew explored her body with his hands and soon her fancy negligee was hiked up to expose her rear and her love nest and not long after that it was completely off over her head and she was as naked as he was.

"Make love to me," she purred. "It's your life now."

"What about condoms?"

"I'm on birth control," she revealed.

"Really?" Andrew asked with surprise. "Isn't that against your faith teachings?"

"Andy, do you want to make love to me or not?"

"More than anything," he said.

"Then stop talking."

Andrew nervously climbed on top of her.

"It's okay," she smiled. "You're going to be fine."

She helped him slide his penis between her legs. Andrew could feel how wet she was and he had little trouble gliding himself inside her. The sensation was indescribable.

"Just start moving back and forth," She gently instructed.

Andrew slowly started pumping in and out of her and Fatima moved her hips and somehow squeezed herself inside around his penis.

"Faster, Andy," she whispered. "Fuck me hard and fast!"

It was the first time Andrew ever heard Fatima use that word in that way and it turned him on greatly. Fatima wrapped her legs around his backside to help him pound into her.

"Just like that," Fatima said through her panting and she began to thrash on the bed in concert with Andrew's movements.

Her heels were kicking him in the behind and she was making funny noises. Andrew was lost in the moment feeling so many different emotions, sensations and joys that he was lightheaded. He couldn't believe it when he felt her finger rubbing up and down the crack of his ass.

"Keep going," she begged. "Keep fucking me."

"I'm going to lose it," Andrew whimpered, surprised at how quickly he had come to the edge.

"Not yet," she pleaded, moving her hand around to his front and holding his balls in her hand with a gentle squeeze.

But it was too late. Andrew exploded and he jerked uncontrollably as he felt himself shooting deep inside her.

"I'm sorry," he cried, feeling guilty for being a poor lover.

"Shhh," she whispered and he watched her breasts rise and fall with her shortness of breath. "It was your first time," she said. "That's expected and understandable."

Fatima rubbed his back and gently ran her hand over his ass cheeks as she lifted her head up and kissed him. Andrew felt his penis start to go soft inside Fatima who used her other hand to massage his balls as he collapsed on top of her.

"I guess that was hardly worthy the wait for you," Andrew sighed miserably.

"Relax, Bloomer," she said quietly. "I wasn't a very good lay the first time I did it," she assured him. "The first time is never fireworks and trumpets. It's usually blood and tears."

"You really are wonderful," Andrew said with appreciation.

She pushed her tongue into his mouth while passionately kissing him. "I love you, Andy," she told him. "Let's just stay here like this forever."

"Okay," Andrew smiled. "I know I'll bloomer better later."

"I know you will too," she smiled as she held him tight. "Late Bloomers are the best bloomers," she giggled.

"Why's that?" Andrew asked as he rested his head against her breasts.

"Because they know what they missed out on," Fatima answered. "And they appreciate it when it happens. And they never take it for granted."

"I'll never take you for granted," Andrew vowed. "I love you."

"My late bloomer," Fatima said happily.