Dena had gotten into The habit of always being ready before Charlie came to pick her up at 7:30. This is something to do with the fact that he would knock on the door. She would open it. He would drop his bag on the floor next to her bed, pick her up, and lay her down before he jumped in to join her to as he put it start the day off right. Thankfully, they were only at the kissing stage and I could stay in the room.

I took out my curlers which I never used except on Sunday, but now I have committed to do it every day because Ross had loved the bouncy curls during my performance. My phone kept ringing. I finally managed to hold the two threatening to fall out too early with the one that was tangled while I swiped to answer with my chin.

"Yes?"

I couldn't hear it because it was not on speakerphone. With great effort and five tries, I managed to ram my chin into the phone correctly and turn on speaker.

"Can you repeat that? I couldn't hear you."

"OKAY. I SAID"

"You don't need to shout. I can hear you. Parker?" I heard a short smacking sound from Dena's side. Charlie was now sitting up with Dena leaning on her side. They both stared at my phone, obviously going to listen in to everything he said.

"Yes, it's Parker."

"Oh, what do you want?"

"Where's my ring?"

I had a sudden pang. I had no idea where Parker's ring was. This was followed by sheer annoyance. "Hi. How are you? So good to talk to you. How have you been?"

"Oh, yeah. Sorry. How are you?"

"Ringless."

"Oh, you mean you sent it back?"

"I mean that I don't have it."

SILENCE.

"Where is it, Val? That ring cost over $250. It's gold."

"Yes, I know. I hope he didn't hock it."

"WHO? What are you talking about?"

I smiled to myself. Parker was growing angry. Poor, poor guy. Boo-whoo. "Ross. He didn't like that I had forgotten to take it off. I hadn't wanted to lose it and kept it on until I was going to the post office this coming weekend, but Ross got miffed and took it off me. He's got it."

Parker started almost choking. "Well, Go. Get. It. BACK!"

Oh, this was fun….

"Why, Parker, I had no idea you were so controlling. I'm glad that we're not dating any more if this is how you talk to your women. Forget it. You call him. I don't take orders from you."

I could hear almost confusion on the other side of the phone. "Well, I, I don't have his number."

I recited it off for him three times before saying, "And he's terribly jealous, Parker. Really. Wait, I have an idea. One sec."

I put Parker on hold and called Ross. Without telling him what I was doing, I patched Ross into our conversation. "Parker? Ross? Can you both hear me? I patched Ross in so that you could-" I heard the phone sound change. "Parker, are you still there? Parker? Oh, Ross. I guess we lost him."

Ross gave a low, pleased chuckle. "I think he was a little nervous. What did he want?"

"His ring back."

"I already took care of it. I mailed it back yesterday before classes. I sent him a little present too." Ross sounded terribly pleased with himself.

"What? What did you do?"

"I'll text it to you. I was going to tell you later today, but here you go. Now, Beautiful, I'm rather eager to touch my girl's soft hair. Where are you?"

"Just heading out the door."

"Detour by the biggest pine."

"I'll be late for class." I tried not to sound whining and like an enthusiastic girlfriend. "How about I meet you immediately after my 8:00? I have an hour block free."

"Do I get the whole hour?"

I felt my blush up a bit. "Well, I, I, if you want it. Sure."

Ross laughed hard. "Oh, I want it. I'll bring a blanket. We'll go back to the willow. I can tell you get uptight when people see us making out. It's nice and private in there….unless you'd rather come to my room. Charlie's out all morning."

I felt myself slightly shake with surprise. "I, I, no. Thank you. No."

"Too close of a call yesterday, huh?" Ross sounded very amused. "I promise to behave. You'll be much more comfortable. I'm an Eagle Scout, you know. Scouts' Honor. Babe, you're safe with me."

"No, No, NO!" is all I could think over and over. What I said was, "Well, okay. The worms under the willow worry me."

Ross immediately had his suavest, calmest voice perfected, "Well, we can't do that again then. Worried and nervous is the last thing we want. We want happy, relaxed, affectionate. Think we can do that?"

"Maybe not relaxed…." I was thinking of being nervous alone in Ross's room.

He started his hooting laughter again. "You make that my problem. I'll get you relaxed. If you're sure the 'affectionate' won't be an issue, then it's the least of my worries. Hurry up! It's 7:56. Run to class and then hightail it to my room. My 9:00 got cancelled today since the Prof is sick."

After my lecture, I didn't exactly hightail it over to Varney Hall. Slow crawl is probably more like it. "I shouldn't be doing this. This is not wise." kept repeating in my mind, followed by "How did he talk me into this?"

"Val! Val! VAL! Watch-" A voice screamed at me.

Too late.

"AAAAAHHHHRRRRGGHH!"

SPLASH!

I had been cutting through the Reflection Garden and somehow fell into one of the Reflection Pools. I felt something lumpy underneath me. As I scrambled up, I saw what it was. "OH, NNNOOOO!" It was Big One. The biggest Koi in the pond. Rumors were he was over 200 years old. He had lived a long, happy life.

Until today.

I snatched the fish out of the pool. I couldn't believe I was about to do this. I pinched one gill closed and breathed into the other one as I rubbed him. "LIVE! C'mon! LIVE!"

I put him back in the water and let go. He flipped onto his side and floated to the surface.

Just like a dead fish would.

Help. I needed help!

I called Sally. "SALLY! I killed BIG ONE!"

"What?"

"BIG ONE! I landed on him and now he's floating sideways."

There was a long pause. "Does what you are saying make sense to you?"

"KOI! Big One!"

A suck of shocked, inhaled air met my ear way too loudly. "Oh, no! You didn't!"

"Yes, I did! Help me!"

Sally sounded totally confused. "What do you expect me to do? I'm a Biology Major."

"Right. Biology. You know about Anatomy and things. Come save him!"

"I'm going to be a Master Gardener with the Leeds Historical Society and manage their plants. I don't know about fish….although I supposed I should learn about Koi. We may have some in our gardens."

I hung up on her.

"MELISSA!"

"What's wrong, Val?"

"I killed a Koi!"

"Was it Ross?" Melissa sounded terrified. "Don't worry. I'll help you. Look. Take whatever you touched, except for what you usually touched. You are often there so you're fingerprints won't mean anything. Are you bloody?"

I stared down at the now completely upside down Japanese carp and thought Melissa had gone mad.

"No, I didn't slash him up."

Melissa gave a relieved sigh. "Good. Just leave casually. No one will know it was you unless you say there."

Right! This was good advice. I began to casually walk away. I realized the flaw instantly. Jack Mifton had seen me fall into the pool. I was also soaking wet.
"I'm wet. Jack Mifton saw me there. What do I do?"

Melissa considered. "Just go back to your dorm. Deny you were there. Jack's got a drinking problem. We will say that his words were slurred. He'd been drinking early. In fact, we could always say that he-. Well, no. We can't pin it on him."

What had I been thinking calling Sally? A criminal justice major was obviously exactly who I needed. I followed Melissa's directions exactly. I changed and threw away my clothes. As I was getting dressed, I answered my phone.

"WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? I have been eagerly waiting for you for over TWENTY minutes now. Did you get lost?" A rather passionate-sounding Ross nearly shouted at me.

"No, I had to change my clothes, brush my teeth, and-"

"No! You need to get over here. Into my bed. This moment. GET GOING." Ross hung up the phone on me.

Very slowly, I finished getting dressed. I then made myself some tea before getting down Lana The Presumptuous Stranger.

Neither Parker nor Ross was going to order me around. I had class in forty minutes. I was going to stay here and read while Ross went a little crazy over in his room.

If he wanted a woman to kiss, he could learn to treat me right. Otherwise, TOO BAD.

I heard a sharp banging on my door. I jerked awake. I was all sweaty and gross. I had left too many blankets on myself when I had wrapped them around myself, pretending they were Mitchell's aka The Presumptuous Stranger's arms. He starts off as a really romantic guy but Lana sees him for the loser and the secret assassin that he really is. It's one of those wrap your blankets and pretend his arms are holding you while reading his lines out loud like "When I hear your dulcid voice wafting on the wind, I feel that secret place inside me quiver with vulnerability. The soft place. The tender place that all men pretend that we don't have, don't feel. I begin to know that my beautiful Lana is coming and soon will bring me to her feet. I will see her deep eyes and be taken captive by her smiles."

WHAM! WHAM! "LET ME IN, VAL!"

Ross clearly had learned NOTHING from our little lesson this morning.

"You sound like a you are a wild dog after a female in heat. Forget it, Ross."

The banging stopped mid-bang. I heard him thud away with his heavy footballs down the hall. I could even hear the start of his two-at-a-time taking of our stairs.

Fifteen minutes later, I heard a soft, polite knock at my door.

"Yes, who is it?"

"Ross. May I please have the honor of seeing you, Miss Yaeger?" I bit my lip to keep from erupting into laughter.

"If you care to, of course." I swung my legs off my bed and answered the door.

Ross was wearing a suit and holding a huge bouquet of stargazer lillies. He softly laid them into my arms before gently putting his arm around me. "Do you know why I brought you stargazers?"

I pretended to consider. "Let me see. I think it would be because my father is a thief. He took the stars of heaven and put them in my eyes."

Ross grinned at me. "You've heard that one? Okay. Let me think of something else." He pulled me closer to him.

I whispered, "An apology would be most effective."

Ross looked deeply ashamed. "Yeah, I was doing to do that next. First?"

I nodded.

Ross carried me over to my bed. He laid me down, still holding all the lilies, cupped my face with both his hands and sincerely told me, "I ask you to forgive me for treating you so shamefully today. I let my passion rule my behavior. I treated you exactly like you said, but I'm so embarrassed, I don't want to repeat it. I promise it won't happen again."

I tried to sit up to move the lilies, but Ross got a strange look in his eyes. "Let me help you with that. Lie perfectly still."

As I did, Ross arranged lilies all around me. "What are you doing?"

"Didn't you watch Sleeping Beauty as a kid? Plus, I got to say that the smell of the flowers with my girl's soft skin and inviting lips is rather. I mean-it's. COME HERE, VAL!" Ross forgot about his resolution as he smashed his mouth on mine - but he didn't hurt me. And he actually was respectful in how he touched and kissed me. As my head fell back onto some of the lilies and my pillows as Ross stretched out next to me making feel so incredibly beloved and special despite the fact that I knew it wasn't real, I thought, "How could I have ever wanted Parker when I could have had this?"

"Ross?" I had needed to twist and turn to get him to pause for a minute.

He kept kissing me all over my face as he whispered, "What is it, Angel?"

"Thank you."

Ross immediately stopped kissing me and stared down at me puzzled. "For what? The flowers? You're welcome."

"No." I swallowed hard and gently touched his face. I felt my face burning as I got out, "For showing me what it could be like to have a man who truly cares about me and treats me well. I almost settled for Parker when I could have had a man like you."

I can't even describe the look that came over Ross's face. He looked almost….sad. "I'm no great guy, Val."

"Yes, you are. Look at all the nice things you've done for me. And now, you are being so kind and considerate. Think of what I did today." I whispered to him. "I fell into a reflection pool and killed Big One. I feel so terrible. You can't be worse than THAT!"

Ross didn't move. His face seemed strange.

I sat up and held his shoulders, smiling at him. "What is it, Ross?"

Ross turned away from me. "I have to go, Val."

"Ross, what's wrong? What did I do now?"

Without speaking, he slammed on his shoes, shaking his head. I knelt in front of his chair and held onto his thighs. He wouldn't meet my eyes.

"Ross, tell me. What-" I tried to use the kindest, softest voice that I could.

"SEX. Sex." Ross closed his eyes.

"What?" I quietly waited. "What do you-"

"I expected to be able to talk you into it. I was only teasing you before, but I had you in bed with me. You felt so good. You're so, so." Ross stopped. He seemed to be struggling for the right word. "So generous with your affection. You get so happy to see me. I've never had a girl who just so openly adored me like you do. It's worse than drugs. I love it and look forward to it.

I wanted you bad. I wanted a woman bad. When you didn't show up, I got hopping mad. I haven't been with a girl for nearly three months now. Luanne and I weren't because she was gone working. I didn't see her until the night I found her cheating. I don't have a girlfriend to take care of me. You seemed my best option. So, I planned to work on you until you agreed. I told myself it was fine because I needed you, you would enjoy it too, I would be good to you." Ross wiped the tears away that were building in my eyes. He continued in a choked voice, "I planned to seduce my good, kind, sweet-what's that?"

Ross was staring down at my hands. A look of sheer horror passed over his face.

"What's what?" I looked down, but didn't see anything unusual.

Ross's head was thrown back with his eyes closed. "She's only-. And I almost-." He began to curse and swear - at himself. Calling himself all kinds of vile names.

Ross leaped to his feet, gathered up my slightly crushed lilies, ripped them into dozen of pieces and threw them across the room. "Don't admire me, Val. I don't deserve it."

Ross stormed out, slamming the door behind him.