Subject: "Farrago at the Farewell Dance"-I (Oilbuckle)-F/m, nc
From: oilbuckle@aol.com (Oilbuckle)
Date: 25 Jun 1998 19:09:28 -0700

Farrago at the Farewell Dance

by Gordon X. Oilbuckle

(This story deals with the spanking of pre-teen and early teen children. If you're under 18 or offended by such things, don't read it.)

When I heard the crash, I was at my desk at home, drafting a case for my firm's biggest plaintiff. Being able to worke at home every so often was one of the perks of a senior partner, even though the air conditioner had chosen the hottest day that June to break down, and the repair person wouldn't be able to come for another few days. At least, in the privacy of my own home, I was able to divest myself of the multiple layers of clothing required of a professional woman in her own office, which on hot days kept its thermostat at an environmetally conscious 78 degrees. But at once, I shoved aside all my briefs except for the ones I had on, bolted out the front door, and ran around to the driveway. I caught my breath as I surveyed the situation.

As I'd feared, my son Nigel had been at the center of the crash, but I could see at once that my worst fears hadn't been realized. He was breathing, in one piece, and didn't seem to be any the worse for wear except for a skinned elbow, but the back of my year-old Lincoln Continental was completely bashed in. In even worse shape was the dirt bike Nigel had been riding... or at least, what had once been a dirt bike but was now little more than a jagged mass of metal.

"Nigel! Are you all right?" I screamed.

I helped him to his feet and tried to brush him off, finding my initial appraisal of his condition confirmed by his ability to stand upright without any trouble. "I... I guess so, Mom," he stammered as he caught a glimpse of my car, clearly more worried about my possible wrath than his survival. "I... I didn't mean to crash into the car! This thing just wouldn't stop in time!"

And indeed, my intital concern was beginning to give way to anger, as I began to calculate the cost of repairing the damage to the car. Nigel flinched as my hand began to tighten its grip on his undamaged arm. "And what exactly," I said in a low voice, is 'this thing?'"

"Um... it's a dirt bike." Or was, I thought, and as he looked around, Nigel seemed to reach much the same conclusion. "But it's not my fault it crashed! It's supposed to stop on a dime! Peter said..."

He must have seen my adverse reaction to his mention of his alleged best friend. Peter Desmond was fifteen, three years older than Nigel, and cut school a lot. If I'd been the sort of mother to forbid her child to associate with other children, Peter would have occupied the top three positions on the list. I looked down at the remains of his vehicle and observed, "Well, it'll stop on a dime now. Mainly because it's not likely to start, ever again."

Nigel looked up at me in sudden agitation, the panic in his voice now beginning to be replaced by indignation. "But... but it's got to work! I need it tonight!" He looked down at the wrecked bike and back up at me with a peeved expression. "Sheesh, Cynthia, if you'd had the car in the garage, I wouldn't have cracked up! Can't you see if someone can fix..."

I could tell Nigel was back to normal when he started addressing me by my first name, an affectation he'd picked up a few months earlier. It seemed to be the rage among his friends, so I'd put up with it, but that didn't mean I liked it. And I liked his attitude a lot less. "I'm going to fix my car, Nigel! And you are going to clear that mess out of the driveway, NOW!" I punctuated it by whirling him around and giving him a firm swat on the seat of his pants.

Nigel twisted his head toward me, a shocked expression on his face. "Cynthia! You can't...spank me! I'm twelve years old..."

I pushed him forward over the ruined bumper of my car, and slapped his butt again. "I most certainly can! When you run into my car and blame me..." He twisted and tried to break away, but I landed several more swats on his thin brown trousers.

He promptly stopped struggling and dissolved into tears. "Mom! I'm not ever going to drive anything without your say-so again! Just stop it! Please!"

I could never resist my son's tears. I stopped spanking him and leaned over the bumper myself to give him a hug. But he kept sobbing as if his heart was about to break. "Oh, come off it, Nigel! I didn't hit you that hard! Why, when I did something like that as a kid, my dad would take my undies down and wale my bare butt till I couldn't sit down! When I was older than you are, too!" This was quite true. The last few years had given me new appreciation of what it must have been like for him to be the single parent of a sometimes-trying near-teenager. And teenager, which Nigel would be before that much longer. I could hardly wait.

He rubbed himself where I'd hit him, but not very hard, and looked down at the ground. "It's not that! It's just that..." his voice dropped to a whisper, "people can see."

"I don't think anyone was watching us right then, Nigel."

He glanced up with an embarrassed look, and then down again. "Um... I don't mean me."

I suddenly realized what was bothering him. Even on a very hot June day, not many people walked around outside wearing white cotton briefs and nothing else. I hastily folded my hands over my chest. "Never mind the way I'm dressed. If it makes you feel any better, I could walk along half the beaches in the world wearing less than this and nobody would even notice me."

"But we're not on a beach!* he protested.

He had a point there. "All right. We'll finish this inside." He bolted to the front door and held the screen door for me, whether out of politeness or so I wouldn't have to unfold my arms. I didn't know, but I appreciated it.

"What do you say we have some ice cream?" I asked as we got inside. He tried to act nonchalant, but I could see his eyes light up at the suggestion, so I filled a couple of bowls and sat him down with one of them in a living-room chair.

"All right, kid," I said as I flopped into the other one. "I can tell there's something bothering you, and it's not those swats I gave you. Or the accident, or even the way I dress!"

"Uh, Cynthia? Do you think you could..."

I sighed and got up to put on a T-shirt, even though it was eighty degrees on the thermometer. When I got back, I leaned forward and looked him in the eye. "Now, what exactly did you need that dirt bike for?"

Nigel looked at the floor again. "Uh, nothing."

"Don't give me that!" I snapped. "You said you needed it. Tell me, how much did Peter make you pay for it?"

He gulped. "A... a hundred dollars."

I'd been criticized for giving Nigel too big an allowance, but it's no more than what I got at his age, adjusted for inflation. Like my dad, I figure kids from families with money need to learn how to live with it... even though sometimes other kids take advantage of them. I doubted that bike had ever been worth more than half that, even new. "And you said you needed it tonight?"

He glanced up and hastily looked back down. "Not really. Um, I don't suppose you could put on some pants...?"

I could sympathize. It was easy for me to forget how easily teenagers... or kids like Nigel who weren't that far being teenagers... could be embarrassed by their parents. Even me, though the daughter of a Mafia don became inured to such things very early on. So I went back to my room to get a pair of cutoff jeans, but Nigel refused to face me until I'd zipped them up. "Satisfied now? Or should I put on an evening dress?"

Nigel's face turned even redder. "No! I... I'm just afraid my friends might see you like that. If Peter thought my mom ran around in her underwear, he'd never want to come over here!"

I very much doubted that, which was unfortunate since I'd have welcomed anything that would keep Peter Desmond as far from my house as possible. "Enough stalling. You said you needed the dirt bike tonight... say! Isn't tonight the Farewell Dance?"

The Farewell Dance had been a tradition at the Albert Einstein Experimental School (private, co-ed, grades K-8) since even before I'd graduated myself back in 1960. It was theoretically open to all students, but in practice, at least in my day, it was mostly the higher grades who went. And there'd never been all that much enthusiasm for it, particularly among the boys. Which meant that, since they were the ones (at least in my day) who were supposed to ask the girls, a lot of the girls never got to go... and a lot of the boys only went because their parents made them. And even more said that was the only reason they went.

Nigel looked up at me with a startled look, then reluctantly nodded. As I continued to look, he finally mumbled, "I asked Linda and she said she'd go. And I promised her I'd pick her up."

"I can still take you..."

Nigel shot me a scornful glance. "And how's it going to look to Linda, going with a guy who's got to have his mother take him to a dance?" He suddenly shot me a nervous look and added, "Well, that's the way she'll feel. Besides, Peter needs his bike back tomorrow."

"HIS bike? Then what did you pay that hundred dollars for?"

Nigel looked exasperated at how dense I was. "That wasn't to buy the bike! Just to rent it from him!" He saw the look of fury on my face and spluttered to a stop, as if worried that I might put him back across my knee and pick up where I'd left off. I had no such intention, but if I'd been able to get my hands on Peter Desmond at that moment, he wouldn't have been able to sit for a week. Even if he was taller than I was.

Nigel was frantically searching for an excuse. "I mean...you didn't have to worry about those things when you were growing up, did you? The guys always asked you, right?"

"When they asked me. Which wasn't often."

His eyes brightened. "But if they had... how would you have liked to go to the Farewell Dance with some kid and his mother? You said Grandpa had a chauffeur in those days, so you wouldn't have had to worry."

I sighed. "Believe me, Nigel, when I was your age, or maybe a little younger, I had a much worse ride to the dance than that. Even worse than a kid on a dirt bike. And, I might add, there's no way I would've let any guy take me out on one of those things!" I didn't add that I'd have preferred to drive it myself.

Nigel's eyes brightened. "Really?"

"Really! But it's a long story. Why don't we get another bowl of ice cream?"

I can tell you exactly what my reaction was to the annual announcement of the Farewell Dance at the end of my year in sixth grade. It was the same as that of some of the other girls, and most of the boys... derision that anyone would want to participate in such an utterly boring event. Nigel's experience demonstrated how much the world was changing, at least in some ways, but in my day that was more or less what one would expect of a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys. (And one 10-year-old who'd skipped a grade: my best friend Lou Remarra, who was staying at my house at the time since his own father, his only parent, was in the hospital. Lou was pretty quiet about the whole thing, but then, in school he usually was unless he was asked a question.) Some of the girls, including my second-best friend Jessica Harrington, mumbled dreamily and cast wistful glances at the boys, but for the most part the boys tried studiously to ignore them.

"I don't see why they have that stupid dance every year!" I complained to Lou as we walked home to my house together that afternoon. "Just because the eighth-graders get off a week before the rest of us doesn't mean they have to waste the school's money on nonsense like that. Especially when our basketballs are almost shot!"

Lou didn't say anything for a minute or so. He seemed to be trying to get up his nerve to say something. Finally he burst out, "Er, Cynthia?"

I was in no mood for hesitation. "What is it?"

Lou rubbed his hands together and looked down. "It's just that... just in case you ever did want to go... you probably could. Find someone to ask you, that is."

I didn't like the way the conversation was leading. "What do you mean, find someone to ask me?"

Lou was stuttering now. "I... I mean if you wanted to go, I wouldn't mind taking you..."

With a great effort I kept my voice down. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

Lou looked dashed. "Are you going with... anyone else?"

That did it. "Can't you understand English? I'm NOT going! Not with you, not with ANYONE! Dances are stupid! You wanna go, ask Jessica! I'm sure she'd love to have someone ask her!" (Especially Fred Ashley, an eighth-grader who was her current crush, but I happened to know he already had a date, and even if he didn't he wouldn't be likely to ask a sixth-grader.)

Lou looked up at me. "I don't think so."

This was bad. He'd been hanging around with me for so long that he was beginning to get all the wrong ideas about our relationship. "Look, Lou, it's time we got something straight. You know a lot of boys our age don't even like girls. And vice versa."

"Sure. Never saw why. We're all just kids, aren't we?"

"Of course. But the way the world works is, if people see a boy and a girl hanging around together too much... even an older boy and girl, or even grownups... they start thinking the're a... uh, couple. Like they're going to get married or something."

Lou gave me a sheepish grin. "Yeah, I know."

I put my hands on his shoulders and glared down at him. "And that's especially true if they do sappy things like go to dances together. Even going to movies gives people the wrong idea. And I don't want anyone to know about that Elvis concert we went to. Understood?"

Lou looked downcast. "Does that mean we can't..."

"Go to dances? Not a chance. If you took me to that dance, next thing they'd be expecting me to kiss you and do yucky stuff like that, so no way." I punched him on the arm. "But climbing trees is OK."

He brightened at that. "You're sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. You read about high school kids and their dates, right? You ever hear of them going out to climb trees together?"

Lou had to admit he hadn't.

"Fine. So you understand it, and I understand it, and everything's fine. Now," I said as we walked in the door, "give me a minute to change into my jeans. This is my last clean dress, and I have to babysit Charity Randolph again tonight."

Lou gave me a look of extreme sympathy, and I grinned again and headed for my room.


Subject: New Story: "Farrago at the Farewell Dance"-II (Oilbuckle) From: oilbuckle@aol.com (Oilbuckle) Date: 25 Jun 1998 19:14:27 -0700 Newsgroups: soc.sexuality.spanking


by Gordon X. Oilbuckle

(This story deals with the spanking of pre-teen and early teen children. If you're under 18 or offended by such things, don't read it.)

Charity was a perfect angel that evening... in fact, she usually was when I sat for her, which is why her parents kept calling me when they needed a sitter. I think we were watching "Oh, Susannah!" on TV that night when she brought up the last subject I'd expected from her.

"Cynthia?" she asked at the first commerical. "What do you think about the Farewell Dance?"

"I think it's a dumb idea, and there's no reason they should even bother with such things for kids our age." I saw the dashed expression on her face. "But that's just me. Were you thinking of going?"

Charity brightened, but she seemed unusually concerned... so much so that she didn't even notice when the commercial ended. "Well, you told me Lou Remarra isn't your boyfriend, right?"

"How many times do I need to tell you? NO! I'm not going to HAVE a boyfriend until I'm sixteen at least, and probably not then either!"

"Then do you think... he might consider asking me to the Farewell Dance?"

With great difficulty I kept myself from bursting out laughing, since I knew it would've hurt Charity's feelings dreadfully. A sixth-grader asking a *second-grader* to the dance? Especially Charity? Just because Lou wasn't my boyfriend didn't mean he deserved to have to put up with her yammering all night. I said, "Well, I didn't think he even wanted to go."

Charity's eyes lit up. "Then maybe... you could let him know? He's just so cool!"

Lou..."cool?" I'd never heard that one before. He was about as far from cool as anyone in the school, sticking mostly to himself and the other oddballs like myself. I was speechless.

"Really!" Charity went on. "The way you two helped save my life from that lawnmower! Why don't you ever bring him along when you sit for me anymore?"

I was speechless. All I could do was mutter something about bringing up the subject with him tomorrow, and try to divert Charity's attention back to the show.

As Lou and I walked to school the next morning, I tried to figure out the best way of raising the subject of Charity Randolph. I knew it couldn't have anything to do with wanting him for myself, but the thought of my best friend being forced to dance with Charity all night was not a pleasant one.

And yet, I realized as I was daydreaming while the teacher was trying to explain what the aptly-named irrational numbers were, would Charity's parents let her go to the dance? Especially with a sixth-grader? I could just imagine how my dad would react if a high-school sophomore asked me out, and Charity's parents, if anything, were more protective than mine. I decided it wouldn't hurt to suggest it to Lou.

But during morning recess, Lou was curled up with a Robert A. Heinlein book he'd just discovered in the school library and wanted to finish before school was out. So I wandered out onto the playground in search of something to do.

My third-grade friend Mike O'Reilly was off by himself, practicing somersaults on the grass, and I joined him. "Hi, Cynthia!" he greeted me. "We're doing tumbling in gym, and I'm trying to see if I can do a backward somersault. A lot of the other boys can."

"Not hard at all!" I assured him. "I'll show you!"

Mike looked a bit dubious. "Well... uh, Mr. Martin doesn't really have the girls do it. Because... uh, they've got skirts on, and..."

"Yeah. So the boys get all the fun," I retorted as I stretched out. "But we've got undies on, too, so it's no big deal. At least not for me. What you do is kick up your legs like this, and swing 'em over your head. See?"

Mike tried it, but he couldn't get them high enough at first. But after I'd helped him a few times, he seemed to need less and less of a push each time. He wasn't a bad kid. And, it suddenly struck me, just about the right age and grade to ask Charity to the dance.

I broached the subject as he was turning his fifth backward somersault with barely a tap from my finger. "Mike, what do you think about the Farewell Dance?"

"Not much," he said as he picked himself up. "I've never gone. Isn't that mostly for the older kids? Like you?"

"Mostly. But not entirely." I got down again to demonstrate how to do the somersault unaided. "See, what you have to do is kick with your legs and lift your butt, and they come right over your head. Then you tuck 'em in finish the roll. And, you know, Charity Randolph's only in second grade, and she's all excited about it."

Mike snorted. "Charity! Doesn't she ever shut up?" His voice turned into a squeak as he imitated her. "'Ooh, what you said! Ooooh, you didn't see my panties, did you?'"

I yanked my dress down over my undies. "Oh, sure, catch me with my pants down, if you'll pardon the expression. You think it's my idea to wear a dress to school?"

Mike's face turned read. "I didn't mean you! But that's just how Charity sounds. If I were going to the dance, I wouldn't take her."

I sighed. "But she's trying to do things as best she can. We all do. Sometimes the world treats girls differently from boys. Like this dance."

Mike pushed harder than he'd ever pushed before, bringing his feet completely over his head. "You did it!" I went on. "But the boys are the ones expected to ask the girls. That means, even if a girl really wants to go to the dance with a guy, she can't ask him. She can only hint, or get her friends to do it for her."

Mike was all excited as he turned the second backward somersault of his life. "See, you can do it! You're growing up! Now, as for the dance..."

But the bell signifying the end of recess rang just then, and Mike leaped up and ran toward to door, eager to tell the other third-graders of his newly-acquired skill.

I'd had enough of the Farewell Dance by then, but it came up next in a completely unexpected context. Porky Judson, the most obnoxious boy in the seventh grade (or any other), came up to me at lunchtime, which I figured meant, as it usually did, that he needed me for his recess baseball team. But instead he said, "Cynthia, I'm going to do you a big favor."

"What? You're quitting Einstein School?"

He grimaced. "No! But I have decided I'm going to take you to the Farewell Dance!"

I couldn't believe I was hearing right. "You want to go to the dance? And take me!

He gave me a condescending grin. "Yeah, I figured I'd take pity on you. There's no way in the world anyone else would take you, so I thought I'd give you the experience at least once before you turn 45."

I couldn't believe his gall. "Porky, you are suffering from a couple of grave misconceptions! First of all, how do you know I don't already have plans to go to the dance? WITH someone else?"

Porky looked dashed for an instant, but then his sneer came back. "Oh, yeah. I forgot about Lou Remarra. He's even more desperate than you are."

"I didn't say it was Lou, did I?"

"You don't need to! There's no way it could be anyone else. Just tell him to wash his face before the dance."

"Wash his..face?" That made no sense. Lou was one of the cleanest boys in his grade, though that wasn't saying much.

"Yeah! Clean off all the grime he gets from kissing the grungy seat of your panties!"

That did it. I elbowed him in the chest and sent him sprawling. "And in the second place, Porky, if I were to go, I'd want an escort with a certain amount of maturity! Like your average third-grader!" I gathered up my lunch and stalked off.

Lou was still deep in his book at afternoon recess, so I wandered over to find Mike. He did several backward somersaults in a row, and beamed up at me.

"You really helped me, Cynthia!" he said enthusiastically. "And I see what you meant about the dance, too!"

At least that was one promise off my back. "So you're going to ask..."

He grinned. "You bet! But I never really believed it until I heard what you yelled at Porky at lunchtime about third-graders. It's about time someone put him in his place!" He drew in his breath, and blurted out, "Cynthia, will you go to the Farewell Dance with me?"

I was literally staggered. He'd completely missed my hint. And now, of course, I'd have to set him straight. I'd look funny enough going to the dance with Lou, who was younger and shorter but at least was in my grade. For a sixth-grade girl to go to the dance with a third-grade boy would be completely beyond the pale. It would shake the social structure... the very tradition... of Albert Einstein School to its foundations...

And suddenly I grinned back at him. "Thanks, Mike! I'd love to!"

I broke the news to Lou as we walked home afterwards. He took it hard, and I was afraid I saw an actual tear in his eye as I explained just why I'd accepted Mike's offer. "But don't you see? It'll really make things a lot easier for the things we do want to do!"

"I don't get it!" muttered Lou. "A *third-* grader...?"

"Yes, a third-grader! Can you imagine the look on Porky's face when he sees us?" Lou brightened at that; he liked Porky even less than I did. At least, he had a lot fewer chances to give me a wedgie when I least expected it. I went on, "And the whole school will know we're not a couple, so we can go places together and nobody will think anything of it. Like Mt. Ackersley this summer!"

"Really?" He'd liked the trips up to my family's summer cabin, despite his having his butt worked over a couple of times by my cousin Diana's firm hand. And she hadn't hit him half as hard as she did me, anyway.

"Really!" I pushed my advantage, as I remembered the other promise I'd made. "And it'd look even better if you asked someone else, too."

"Someone else? Who?"

"Like Charity Randolph! And," I hastily added as I saw the disgusted look on her face, "I don't think you'd even need to go with her. There's no way her parents would allow it. Just ask her, and she'll be sure to let the whole school know you did." Some might think he'd asked her on the rebound from me, too, but I thought it best not to mention that at the time.

He finally agreed, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Cynthia Benedetto, spreader of sweetness and light everywhere.

Charity came up to me at school next week, bubbling over with excitement. "Thanks so much for getting Lou to ask me to the dance!" she babbled. "We're going to have so much fun!"

I looked at her dubiously. "Your parents didn't give you any trouble?"

"They did at first, especially Daddy. He said he wondered why a sixth-grade boy would take a second-grade girl to a dance. But Mommy told him Lou was the youngest boy in his grade and probably couldn't get a date in it, and remimed him about how you two saved my life with the lawnmower. So he finally said OK. As long as he brings me back by 10:00."

I conveyed the bad news to Lou, who took it in good grace. "At least I'll only have three hours with her," he said. "I had that before when we babysat, and it wasn't too bad. But I can't even dance!"

"Tell you what. I'll show you... I've had lessons. Aunt Joyce insisted. And if it'll make you feel any better, I'll save some of my dances for you."

"You will?" He seemed pleased.

"Well, someone has to keep Charity off your back at least part of the evening, and it looks like I'm elected. It'll be a nice change from Mike... it's pretty hard to dance with a boy a lot shorter than you are." Something I knew from experience, even in my own grade, since at my age then a lot of girls were taller than the boys.

The day of the dance arrived, and Lou and I changed to our good clothes before we met, rather awkwardly, at the front door. He hadn't had his suit pressed since he'd helped with the refreshments at Dad's banquet not long before, but he still looked a lot better than a lot of the guys would. "You look great!, Lou!" I said, not entirely falsely. "Charity will be knocked out!"

"You do too!" he said as he looked me up and down. "But that dress looks a bit strange..."

I was wearing a green frock that I'd had in my closet for a couple of years, though, unlike Lou, I'd remembered to send it out to the cleaner's. And undies to match, since, the way my legs had been growing in the last few months, I could hardly lean down to pick up a drink without giving the world a glimpse of them. Not that I particularly cared about such things, but even so I felt awkward. But, with a third-grader as my date, I'd have felt awkward in any case.

I sighed. "Strange?"

Lou looked uncomfortable. "Well, good. But... maybe younger? Like you were eight or nine, not almost twelve."

"That's the whole point," I explained. "I'm going with a third-grader, remember? I figured I owed it to him to downplay the age difference as much as possible."

"I think I see," said Lou confusedly. "But I'll bet you'll be glad when you're grown up, and won't have to try to look younger than you are."

He never did understand why I burst out laughing at that. Dad came in, complimented us both on our appearance with a completely straight face, and called down to Ferranti to come to the door with the Rolls.

"Go ahead, Lou." I said, finally realizing that he was waiting for me to get in first. "You don't want to keep Charity waiting."

"Aren't you coming, Cynthia?"

"It doesn't work that way. You're the boy, so you pick up your date, and I wait here for mine to pick me up!"

Lou looked even more dubious, but he got in and let Ferranti drive him away. I walked down to the gate and waited for Mike, frustrated at the necessity of keeping clean that prevented me from sitting down to wait for him.

I'd been subconsciously waiting for his mother's car, so it took me an instant to recognize him when a small bicycle came around the corner of the estate. Mike dismounted and came over, beaming in his new suit. "Sorry I'm late. I got lost on the way here, but your directions were good." He must have seen the disappointment on my face as I looked at his bike. "Uh, my mom needed the car tonight, so I figured I'd take you on my bike. That's what Joe's doing."

Joe Peterson and Tammy Baxter had been "going together" for several months, oblivious to the taunts of the other third-graders of both sexes. "He's taking Tammy?" I asked needlessly.

"Sure! And she always rides on the bar in front of him. So I thought maybe you could..."

I perched on the bar, my feet dragging on the ground. Mike's face reddened. "Well, maybe that won't work. But if you lifted up your feet, maybe..."

I swung my feet up to the basket over the handle bars, and Mike caught the bike as it began to overbalance. "Mike, I don't think that's going to work, either. Maybe we should take my bike?"

Mike's face fell. He wouldn't have looked strange riding my bike, since it was a boy's model, but perhaps it was a bit big for him. And I could tell that the thought of taking a girl to a dance in his own vehicle, such as it was, meant a lot to him. So I quickly added, "Well, maybe not. Maybe if I face the other way..."

He got back on his bike and I straddled the bar facing him, then tried swinging my legs up. This time he barely kept the bike upright, as I gingerly leaned back to rest my head on the basket, but there was no place to put my feet. He couldn't hold onto them and steer the bike, not to mention being incredibly flustered at having me lying there with my dress almost around my waist. "This won't work either, Mike. Maybe I should pedal..."

I dropped that suggestion too at his dejected expression. "One more thing I could try," I said. "Hold it tight; I'm going to try to get into the basket." Mike braced himself and his bike against our block wall fence as I vaulted to the bar, then, trying to ignore his embarrassed expression as I hiked up the back of my frock to lower my butt into his basket, I settled in. I somehow squeezed my feet into the basket by wrapping my arms as tight around my ankles as I could, then tucked my dress in around me. The bike almost overturned as Mike pushed it away from the wall and mounted, but with a supreme effort on his part he got it rolling in the direction of the school.

"Just wait'll Joe sees us!" exulted Mike as he turned the corner, again almost overbalancing. "He thinks he'll be the only third-grader at the dance, especially with a date."

"Mike, watch out!" He swerved to avoid the branch lying in the road.

"Think you could move over a bit, Cynthia?" he asked. "I can't see in front of me very well!"

I tried to, but the bike started to tip. "You'll just have to keep moving your head back and forth! Oww!" I said, as we went over a stone. I decided then and there that, no matter how much it might devastate his male ego, I was going to be the one to pedal the bike back home. If I could squeeze my long legs onto the pedals.

Mike triumphantly swung around the last corner and braked to a stop at the school's bike stand. A lot of the kids were standing around outside in the warm weather, and he jumped off the bike to greet them. The bike immediately fell over.

"Oh, sorry, Cynthia!" Mike apologized as he bent over to try to extricate me from the basket. A small group gathered around us as I rubbed the shoulder where I'd landed.

"Ooh, did they have a sale on giraffes at the zoo, Mike?"

"I see London, I see France, I see Cynthia's underpants!"

"Hey, Mike! You're not supposed to bring your babysitter to the dance!"

"Need some help changing diapers, Cynthia?"

Mike's face turned especially red at the last jibe, and I whispered to him, "Don't pay any attention to 'em!" Straightening myself up, I showed Mike how to take my arm, and we entered the gym together.

The dance committee had gone all out this year. Balloons of the school colors, red and blue, decked the walls and the ceiling, and near the back wall a giant red banner had been hung, festooned with big blue letters:


A Nat King Cole record was playing, and Mike escorted me onto the dance floor. Much to my relief, Mike explained that his parents had forced him to take dancing lessons as well, because in those days a dance was a dance...you didn't jump around and wave your arms without having to touch your partner; he'd take you by the hand and by the waist and lead as the music played. He had to reach up a bit more than usual since I was so much taller than he was, but I'd had a lot worse partners. So we had a second dance together, during which I caught a glimpse of Lou gliding by as Charity babbled in his ear, and a third.

"Hey, Cynthia!" came Porky Judson's voice behind me. "I didn't know you meant it when you were talking about third-graders! Looks like you really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel!"

"Not at all!" I shot back. "I didn't go with you, did I?" I cast a critical eye over him and his partner. He was dancing with Lisa Olansky, a plump fifth-grader who had to wear an ugly retainer in her mouth. I didn't mean to imply that he had clearly had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find someone who'd go with him, but his eyes narrowed. I realized too late that I'd hit him in a sore spot.

"Hey, she dances a lot better than you do!" he sneered. "And her panties are a whole lot cleaner!" Suddenly he reached down with the hand he had around Lisa's waist and lifted the back of her dress, revealing her white (and admittedly clean) undies. Several kids giggled as Lisa choked, broke away from Porky, and darted off the floor.

"Excuse me, Mike," I told my partner as the song came to an end. I caught up with Porky at the refreshment stand, where he was cramming an ice-cream bar into his mouth. He sniggered as I came up. "Didn't I tell you her panties were cleaner, Cynthia?" he gloated. "Maybe because she didn't forget her skirt like you did?"

I grabbed his arm and dragged him into a secluded corner, "Now you listen good, Porky!" I hissed at him under my breath. "If you ever pull a stunt like that with Lisa... or with any girl tonight... I'm going to drag you out of here and give you a bloody nose. And you know I can do it."

"Geez, it was only a joke! I can't believe you'd care!"

"She cared, and that's enough. Now you're coming back with me, and you're going to apologize to Lisa, and you're going to do it now!" I took him by the arm and twisted it. He tried to sneer, but suddenly turned pale as I pulled the switchblade knife out of my sock and waved it in his face.

"Can't you take a joke, Cynthia?" he whined. But he walked back in the direction where he'd left Lisa, and, after restoring my knife to its place, I followed close behind him. He stammered out his apology and, as I left the couple, Lisa rather dubiously was following Porky back out to the dance floor.

Suddenly Lou Remarra buttonholed me. "Cynthia, can you dance with me now? Please?" I looked back and saw Charity sitting on one the bleacher sections that served as a chair for those not dancing; she looked almost relieved. I nodded, and I let Lou rather clumsily put his arm around me.

"No, it goes there! I told him as his hand rapped me on the shoulder blade. "Now I'll lead for a bit, and try to remember for the next time you dance with Charity. Ow, watch your feet! Tell me, how many times did you step on her feet?"

"Only three times. But if I have to listen to one more story about Mr. Moose and Miss Parker's play, I'll go crazy! Can I have another dance with you? All the other girls seem to run away when they see me coming!"

I wasn't surprised, the way he danced. Their toes could only take so much; even mine, hardened as they were from countless football and soccer games, were beginning to ache. But I tried to concentrate on Lou's footwork before leading him back to Charity, and she seemed so glad to see him that I hoped her toes could be spared this time. I returned to find my very patient date dancing with Lisa Olansky.

When the dance ended, Mike went back to me. "Did you see Porky?" he asked.

"Not since he apologized to Lisa!" I fumed. "Don't tell me he tried to..."

"No, he didn't do anything else!" Mike explained. "He just disappeared after a couple more dances, and Lisa hasn't seen him since. Me, either."

"Good riddance!" I said. "Too bad for Lisa, though."

I continued to wonder about Porky through several more dances with Mike, a couple more with Lou, and several with a few of the other boys on the baseball team. Porky obviously hadn't asked Lisa to the dance because he cared anything about her. For that matter, I didn't flatter myself into thinking he had any interest in me. Probably he'd just wanted a date, because he couldn't get into the dance without one. Come to think of it, even Porky wasn't crass enough not to know that pulling that stunt with Lisa's dress was apt to alienate her. I couldn't imagine her wanting to be with him much after that. No, he just been using her to get in the door.

But Porky had even less enthusiasm for events like the Farewell Dance than I did. Why would he want to get in the door?

At the end of the next dance, I excused myself to Mike. "I... I have to go away for a bit. Why don't you ask Charity for a dance or two?" At his disappointed expression, I diplomatically added, "She really deserves a chance for a dance with a guy who knows what he's doing!" It seemed to convince him, since I saw Mike headed in the direction of Charity, who was back on the bleachers rubbing her toes, as I headed for the far corner of the gym. Something was going on with Porky, and I intended to find out what.

I slipped through the door to the gym offices, and silently wandered down the hall. Was there some other girl Porky was interested in? Or maybe he'd just used the dance as an excuse to get out of the house, and was far off by now? Maybe I just had an overly suspicious mind...

And then I heard it... Porky's unmistakable voice from behind the door of a large supply closet. "Yeah, the awards are on for 8:30. They'll all be in position be 8:45. That's when make our move."

I inched closer to the door, and suddenly felt a strong hand grab my wrist. "Hey, come in and join us!" bellowed a boy I recognized as Tad Ellingham, a big eighth-grader who was constantly in trouble.

"What the fuck are you snooping for, Cynthia!" whined Porky as soon as Tad dragged me inside. "Can't you forgive a guy anything?"

Tad sighed and dropped my wrist. "We might as well give it up, Porky," he said in a resigned voice. "She'll tell everyone."

Much to my surprise, it was Porky who leaped to my defense. "No she won't, Tad! Cynthia's got her dad's Mafia code of honor. She may be a tomboy with dirty panties, but she's not a snitch!"

Tad looked up hopefully. "You won't tell then, Cynthia?" I vehemently shook my head. "It's not as if we're going to do anything really bad!"

"Why don't you tell her?" suggested Porky.

"What we want to do is shake this dumb dance up in a way people won't forget! They'll give the awards and choose the King and Queen... and naturally they'll be Fred Ashley and that stuck-up Ardis Matthews. And that's when we cut the ropes and send that banner down right on top of them!"

Porky outlined the exact logistics. The banner was hung close to the back of the gym... but there were still several feet between it and the rear wall, and it just so happened the climbing ropes were between it and the wall. "They didn't even bother to light that space, and it's in the banner's shadow! So nobody'll see Tad and me when we climb up, cut the ropes almost through, and then pull it down with a snap!"

I could see a lot of potential snags, but they really seemed to have thought it through. "So go back to your... uh, date, Cynthia!" said Porky, trying to keep a sneering tone out of his voice.

I grinned... I had them both exactly where I wanted them, and they knew it. "I don't think so!"

"I told you she'd snitch, Porky!" bellowed Tad.

"Snitch? No way!" I assured them. "I think you need some help with this!"

They both stared at me for an instant, and in the silence Tad's sharp ears detected a rustle at the same time mine did. I could see now how easily he'd caught me as Tad tiptoed to the door, made a grab, and pulled Lou Remarra into the room.

"Another one!" he ranted. "Porky, let's call this off. I'm not running a kindergarten here!"

"Lou won't talk either!" I assured him. And I gave Lou a look that guaranteed his assent. Tad sat down again and pondered the situation. "We don't need four people behind the curtain," he mused. "But we'd better have someone to keep watch, and make sure nobody walks in on us. Maybe Cynthia can..."

"I think Lou would be better for that," I put in quickly, and Lou gave me a relieved glance. I felt I owed it to him to keep him out of trouble.

Once that was agreed, Tad went on. "Porky and I will climb the ropes and push the banner over. Cynthia will pass things up to us and give us the signal when it's time." All that agreed, we slipped out, one by one, and reentered the dance hall.

As 8:30 approached, the four of us once again left our partners and, making sure we weren't being followed, wandered over to the barrier. Lou gave us the go-ahead, and Tad and Porky and I slipped into the dimly-lit area.

Whereupon Tad stumbled over a body on the floor. "Hey, watch it!" came a voice I thought belonged to Steve Higgins, another eighth-grader. A feminine-looking form beside him mumbled something.

Tad put his hands on his hips and looked down. "What're you doing here?" he demanded.

"Didn't you know? This is a great place to make out!" He looked up at the three of us and chuckled. "Never figured you for the make-out type, Cynthia! Which of 'em are you with?" he asked. "Or are you doing 'em both?

"Get OUT of here!" said Tad as loudly as he could without being heard on the other side. He shook his fist at Steve, who, with his date and several other grumbling eighth- and seventh-graders of both sexes, cleared out.

Glancing down at Porky's aggrieved look, Tad muttered, "Well, how was I supposed to know? I've never done the dance before, either!" He walked over to the ropes. "Let's go, Porky. We've only got five minutes to go!"

Tad was at the top of his rope in less than one, then turned to look at the still-struggling Porky. "In a minute, Tad! I'm not as fast as you! Cynthia, can you hold the rope for me?"

This time he got up about four feet before slipping back. Tad glared down at him. "Porky, you told me you could climb that rope!"

Porky was oozing sweat by now. "I did! At least I did once...I got almost to the top, back in March..."

I'd had enough. "One side, Porky! Let an expert take care of this!" I elbowed him aside, grasped the rope, and scaled it in a flash.

Tad looked over in admiration. "Hey, not bad for a girl! Maybe we can make out after this is all over!"

I'd have preferred kissing a rattlesnake, but thought it inadvisable to say so. Instead I pulled out my switchblade and called down to Porky, "Give us the signal when it's time!"

Porky glanced around the edges. "They're all in position!"

"Ardis and Fred, too?" asked Tad vehemently.

"Them too! And the principal and the chaperones! NOW!"

Tad and I cut the ropes, held the corners of the curtain for a brief instant, then shoved it forward. I'd pointed out that, if we gave it an actual push, it would billow out and cover everyone rather than simply falling into a heap, providing a distraction while the people who cut it slid down again. Nobody would notice us in that unlit area until we'd safely reached the ground. And, sure enough, nobody did.

For one delicious moment everyone under the fallen banner was milling about frantically, while the people outside... including, to my relief, Mike O'Reilly... were trying to make some sense of what had just happened. I'd slid down the rope so fast I'd gotten rope burns on my legs, but not so anyone would notice. Tad at least had his suit trousers on, and hustled back into his jacket before preparing to join the crowd. "You did it, Tad!" exulted Porky, throwing his arm around his older friend and pounding him on the butt. He looked toward me as if prepared to give me the same treatment, but hastily looked down as I glared at him.

"All right, you've had your fun!" came a firm adult voice. The three of us looked up in horror at the imposing figure of Mr. Martin, the gym teacher.

Tad looked up and muttered a four-letter word under his breath. "I told you Lou was no good as a lookout!" he snapped at Porky and me.

Mr. Martin looked over at Lou, trying to inch away. "So he was your lookout?" he said, seizing him by the shoulder before he could run. "Thanks for letting me know. No, I just came out of my office back there. I have to check those dark areas so people won't... misuse them, but I think today I've caught some people who've done a bit more misusing than usual!"

He herded the four of us through the gym door and into his nearby office. "Apparently you didn't realize," he told us through clenched teeth, "exactly how dangerous your little prank was. What if someone had suffocated? And the punch bowl was broken in the confusion, as well as several Coke bottles. Have any of you ever been cut by broken glass?" I instinctively rubbed the place on my butt where I'd been badly cut by a broken beer bottle, months before. He was right, it would not have been so much fun.

"Um...was anyone cut?" I asked.

"No, thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt," replied Mr. Martin. His voice rose. "But that does not excuse the extreme irresponsibility all of you showed! Under normal circumstances, this would be placed on your permanent records. I don't suppose, with your family connections, any of you are apt to have worries about finding employment, more's the pity. But it would influence your potential college admission, among other things." He glared at us all, Tad in particular. "And, with Ellingham's current record, even his graduation would be in doubt!"

Tad cringed, but he seized on one phrase. "You said, under normal circumstances?"

Mr. Martin stood up. "I don't really wish to have one isolated incident ruin your entire future," he said. He reached into his desk, and Porky blanched as he removed a Ping-pong paddle. "So I propose to administer some more old-fashioned discipline, and let it go at that."

"I don't know!" stammered Porky. "M..Mr. Martin, can't you think about this a bit?" I could see he was sweating far more than usual. "I've never been hit before..." he added, lying through his teeth.

"Stow it, Porky!" snapped Tad. "Thanks, Mr. Martin. You won't regret this!"

Mr. Martin gestured Tad to walk over to his desk, and lean over it. He brought the paddle down, very hard, on the seat of Tad's dress trousers. "Oww!" said Tad. "Not so hard next time!"

If anything, the next blow was even harder, as were those that followed. Tad grunted several time and cried out after a particularly hard blow caught him on the tailbone, but clenched the desk and took his paddling without protest. After fifteen whacks,. Mr. Martin let him go, and his hands flew to the seat of his pants and began frantically rubbing it.

"Mr. Martin, please don't use it on the rest of us!" whined Porky. We've all learned our lesson, really we have..."

Tad gave him a contemptuous look, and Mr. Martin gestured him to lean across the desk in his turn. The first blow on his well-padded rear sent him into paroxysms of pleading, "Not so hard, sir! I... OWW!" won't ever pull any... AAHH!...tricks like that..."YEOW! Please stop it! I'll never let anyone try... EEEHHH!...anything like that again!" Lou looked sick as Porky continued to babble on in this vein, and I felt very sorry for Lou. He hadn't really deserved to be roped into this, if you'll pardon the expression.

With a final swat to Porky's flabby butt, Mr. Martin let him go, and Porky massaged his abused backside, blubbering in abject relief and enduring Tad's disgusted look. "Thank heavens I've only got one more to go," sighed the teacher. "I promised the principal he could use my office for the faculty party."

I breathed a sigh of relief. So he was going to let Lou off, since he hadn't really done anything. I threw him a reassuring glance to remind him that my butt could take whatever he was about to dish out, but his next words caught me completely off guard. "Remarra, get over here."

"But you said there was only one more to go!" I burst out.

"There is," he said, taking Lou by the hand and dragging him toward the desk. "He's admitted he acted as lookout, which is just as bad."

"But... but you haven't paddled me yet!" I reminded him.

He looked at me as if I'd gone crazy. "You? I've never paddled a girl in my life, and I never will! Now, if you don't mind, I have some discipline to attend to!"

The total injustice of it made me unstoppable. "Even when I helped cut the rope? That doesn't make any sense! If you let me off, you should let Lou off, too. Fair is fair!"

He looked bewildered, but finally cast Lou aside. "Very well! If you're insane enough to want a paddling, you'll get one! Get over the desk, Cynthia!" I didn't see why he used my first name when he called the boys by their last names, but it didn't really make a difference. I obeyed.

He lifted the paddle, and then seemed to hesitate. He looked down at me, then reached up and tried to pull my dress down over my undies. Since it wasn't long enough to cover them when I was bent over like that, he got nowhere.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" I finally asked. "Let's get this over with!"

"I... I can't hit you on your... your underpants!" Mr. Martin stammered.

"Sure you can! Where do you think my Dad spanks me? Unless he pulls 'em down, that is. If you want..."

"NO!" he blurted out. "I'm not your Dad... I can't..."

"You want his permission?" I pushed the phone on the desk toward him. "Give him a call! I'd just as soon get it from you as from him, anyway."

Mr. Martin glanced at the phone, then at his watch. Then he suddenly straightened up and brought the paddle down on the seat of my undies. Lou had hit me harder the time he swatted a wasp that had landed on my butt.

Even Porky noticed how gentle he was being with me. "Why did you have to hit me so hard, Mr. Martin?" he whined, still rubbing his butt. "Like you said, it's not like we really did anything! I didn't even cut the rope like Tad and Cynthia did..."

"It was an irresponsible and dangerous stunt!" snapped the teacher, and the paddle came down harder this time. "I've known simple pranks that backfired badly when people were as thought less as the four of you!" The paddle was coming down really hard now, and I let myself groan a few times as my butt really began to hurt. I reminded myself that I'd been hit there with things a lot harder, but it didn't make me rub it any less when he finally let me go. As I walked back to join the two older boys, Mr. Martin seemed to be trying not to face me.

I shot Lou an encouraging look as he reluctantly forced himself to lean over the desk and take his spanking, and Mr. Martin set to work once more. Much to my own relief, the events of the last few minutes had flustered him enough so he didn't hit Lou nearly as hard as he'd hit Porky or Tad. It did seem to me that he was still being swatted harder than I'd been, but then again, his butt had two layers of cloth to protect it rather than only one. Lou managed to get through it with only a couple of yells and only one "Stop!" This last earned a snigger from Porky, but one that quickly broke off after Tad elbowed him. He'd saved me the trouble.

When it was over, Mr. Martin glared down once more at four now very sore kids. "I trust that will be a lesson to you!" he said in a loud voice. "And now you're going to help clean up the gym, and you're not going home until the floor is spotless!"

I saw Lou looking at his watch, which reminded me to look at mine. 9:40! And he'd promised to have Charity home at 10:00! "Uh... what if we have to be home by a certain time?" he asked. "Or our dates do?"

"You should've thought of that before you pulled that stunt!" snapped Mr. Martin. "It's none of my business if you get in trouble! You can use the phone to call your parents...after the floor is clean."

I thought fast. "I... I really need to use the bathroom!"

"So do I!" said Porky, in evident relief that a girl had broached the subject before he had to. But Mr. Martin caught his furtive glance toward the door.

"Very well," he finally said. "But I intend to keep an eye on you!" He herded us single-file to the door of the boys' room, seemed to pause for a moment as he looked at me, and came to his decision as the boys trooped inside. "Cynthia, you may use the girls' room, but I expect to find you out here in five minutes! Is that understood?"

I actually stepped inside the girls' room, but, somewhat to my regret, I had other things to attend to before I could even think of relieving myself. I immediately dashed outside and slowed down as I approached the dance floor, where a much reduced group of kids were dancing to the last few songs. Among them, to my relief, were Mike and Charity, happily dancing together.

Mike gave me a worried look as I approached. "Where were you, Cynthia?

"And where's Lou?" added Charity.

"We... uh, all had to help clean up," I explained, which wasn't entirely a lie. "So, Mike, we wanted to know if you could do us a big favor and take Charity home. Her parents want her back in 15 minutes."

To my relief, both of them seemed to take it entirely in stride. Indeed, from the conversation they resumed as the three of us headed for the bike stand, they'd discovered they had a lot in common. Mike was talking about the litter of puppies his dog Fancy was expecting, and Charity was interposing her wistful thoughts about how much she'd love to have a puppy, and Mike was suggesting her parents get in touch with his. I didn't envy Charity's parents, but I suppose they must have been used to such things.

"OK, hop in the basket, Charity!" said Mike as he unlocked his bike.

"But I won't fit in it!" protested Charity.

"Sure you will!" I assured her. "I fit into it on the way out here!" I didn't add that it was almost worth the cleanup, and even the spanking, to be spared another ride in it. Hopefully it'd be more comfortable for Charity since she was so much smaller.

She looked at it dubiously. "But they'll see my panties!"

"No they won't!" I assured her. At least not much, I mentally qualified as I lifted her up bodily and plunked her into the basket. And, since her dress was longer than mine... well, proportionately longer... it did hide her undies once I'd tucked it around her. At least until she got home, but that wasn't my problem. I should have been back three minutes ago.

"Uh, Cynthia?" said Mike. "Thanks for a lovely evening!" He strained up to give me a peck on the cheek, which made Charity giggle. Looking at her with a sudden red face, he mounted his bike, managed to keep it from toppling again, and pedalled off in the direction of the Randolph home.

I hightailed it back to the rest rooms, six minutes after I was supposed to be there. I was less afraid that Mr. Martin was going to warm my undies any more than that he'd take it out on the others. (Or on Lou; I couldn't have cared less what happened to Tad or Porky.) But they were nowhere in sight, and I was thinking of making a belated trip to the girls' room when Mr. Martin and the boys came out.

"Sorry we're late, Cynthia," said Mr. Martin. He looked around. "But it looks as if our timing is good."

Indeed, the music had stopped, and the last stragglers... apart from Lisa Olansky and the seventh-grade girl who'd been unfortunate enough to be the neglected date of Tad Ellingham... were just headed out the door. Mr. Martin let Tad and Porky make partial explanations to their dates, and then let us all call our parents. Lou made the call for both of us, which gave me a chance to use the girls' room for real... to my decided relief, despite the inevitable smirk from Porky. as I returned.

"In the girls' room only fifteen minutes ago, and she nearly crapped in her panties!" gloated Porky the next time I bent over to sweep up some broken glass. "If you ask me, Cynthia's finally got her period, unless her Malpighian tubules are all clogged up!" (Biology was his best subject, but I was pretty sure he had only the vaguest notion of what Malpighian tubules were.)

Lou was completely confused-he hadn't had biology yet-but he recognized an insult when he heard one and rushed to my defense: "You should talk! Who just spent ten minutes in the stall?"

"He wasn't taking a crap, Lou!" Tad informed him. "Just splashing water on his butt!"

"Why, you..." said Porky, charging at him. Mr. Martin had to force them apart and threaten to get his paddle again before the two of them simmered down.

Thankfully, there wasn't that much of a mess on the floor, so it was only a bit after 10:30 that the four of us were dismissed. Lou and I had decided to walk home, as we usually did after school, rather than bothering Ferranti.

"You know, it was really wonderful of you to put yourself out for me like that," Lou was babbling in a worshipful tone that almost turned my stomach. "Mr. Martin wasn't even going to hit you, but you insisted... just so you could get me off."

"Stow it! I deserved it just as much as you did." I broke into a run as I saw the wall of my father's house ahead.

Lou pounded after me. "It reminded me of the way Tom Sawyer took Becky Thatcher's punishment for her! Only in this case you were the one who did it for me! I never thought..."

"Knock it off!" I was really angry by now, as I charged through the gate. "I didn't save you a damned thing! Just got my butt warmed for my trouble!"

Lou tried to keep up with me as I began to climb the steep hill. "But you tried to! You know, Cynthia, I never realized quite how much I like you. Maybe I even lo..."

This had to be nipped in the bud. "Lou, what did I tell you about kids our age trying to act like teenagers? You'll be asking to kiss me in a minute, and I won't have it!"

Lou turned a bright red. "Well... I'd thought...

And here I'd thought Porky had been exaggerating with his earlier insinuations about Lou. But remembering his words made me realize exactly how I could defuse the situation. "All right, if you want to kiss me, you can kiss me!" I was several feet above him as he followed me up the hill; the position was perfect. I bent over and slapped the seat of my undies. "Right here!

Lou gasped, and I braced myself for the swat I'd just let myself in for on the target I'd so thoughtfully indicated. I knew him too well. Then I'd punch him on the arm, hard but not too hard, and we'd scuffle a bit, and kid each other all the way back to the house. But he seemed to be taking forever to psych himself up to do it. And then I glanced back. He was actually bending over...!

I whirled around and screamed at him, "You were actually going to kiss my ass??!! Good Lord, Lou, have you no pride at all?"

Lou staggered back, bewildered. "But you told me to..."

"If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?" A dreadful cliche, but since he didn't have a mother, someone had to use it on him. "You wondered why I went with a third-grader? Mike may be a little kid, but at least he knows which end of a girl to kiss!"

Damned if his eyes weren't beginning to fill up with tears. "I just thought..."

"You really don't know anything, do you?" He suppressed a sob, and I knew I couldn't take any more of this. I grabbed him around the waist and clenched him tight.

"Ow! Cynthia, what?"

"Hold still!" I seethed. I lifted his chin so he was facing me, then clamped my mouth onto his. Trying to remember the way I'd seen Diana and Corinne do it with their boyfriends (though the boyfriends were usually taller), I shoved my tongue into Lou's mouth, and I could feel his muscles tighten. I held the position until he started to gasp for breath, at which point I let him go and gave him a shove that sent him sprawling on the grass.

"Now, that's what a real kiss is like!" I said, putting my hands on my hips. "And, unless you want to do that kind of thing over and over until your face turns blue, you'll forget all that nonsense. At least for another six or seven years." I stalked on toward the house.

Lou pulled himself to his feet and followed after me. "But Tom Sawyer..."

I sighed. "Have you read 'Huckleberry Finn,' yet?" He shook his head. "Read it." I went on. "It's on next year's recommended list, but I didn't wait. You missed the whole point of the book. Tom was an immature rich kid who thought he was grown up, and was about as close to being in a real romance as he was to being a real pirate. Reminded me of you. Huck was the practical one, who knew a kid should be a kid."

"You mean...?" Lou asked confusedly.

"No more dances. Maybe a few movies. And this summer we'll go back to Mt. Ackersley and see if we can swim to the island. And right now," I said as we went into the house, "I'm going to put on some pants. Or at least a dress I can sit down in."

"And did you ever kiss Lou again?" Nigel asked me.

I smiled. "Ah, that's a story for another time!" I sat back and looked ruefully at the empty ice-cream cartons...three of them? Neither of us should have had that many, but it was too late now.

I hadn't told Nigel everything that had happened, of course. I'd spared him the exact details of such matters as exactly how Mr. Martin had punished us, or the circumstances leading up to our kiss, but he'd been impressed nevertheless. Apparently the fallen banner was still a legend at Albert Einstein School, especially by the faculty who made sure it was well guarded every year.

"But right now," I continued, "we have tonight to worry about. So here's what I thought we'd do. You can call Peter and tell him his bike's in our driveway, and it's up to him to get it home. You paid him more than enough to get it fixed, or to scrap it and get himself a new one. If he tries to bluster, have him take it up with me."

Nigel's eyes brightened. "But how'll I get Linda to the dance? Your car..."

"We'll take the old Rolls I inherited from my father. I don't have a chauffeur like he did, but Linda's not going to mind your mother driving you when you're too young to drive yourself."

He looked dubious. "You're sure, Cynthia?"

"Trust me, Nigel. I know how girls think. I used to be one myself, remember?" I loathed the sexual stereotype, but one makes sacrifices when one's child desperately needs reassurance. Especially when he thinks he's too old to need a mother's reassurance. "Believe me, she'll be so impressed you might even try to kiss her!"

"But what if she..."

"Even if she doesn't, she'll be flattered that you wanted to. She'll probably surprise you."

Nigel got up and walked toward the phone. "You really think so?"

"I'm almost sure. And even if she doesn't..." I tried to suppress a giggle as the memory of that night resurfaced, "the very worst thing she'll do is turn the other cheek."

* * *

Dedicated to Hope, for her invaluable suggestions...

To Tasha, a tomboy who found Cynthia a kindred spirit...

And to Corporal, JoniB, Y. Lee, and Kessily, for their kind and greatly appreciated compliments.