tagFirst TimeBerry's Second Chances Ch. 01

Berry's Second Chances Ch. 01

byPacoFear©

Author's Note: This two-part story was motivated by a surprising number of nice people asking me variations of the following question: "So whatever happened to 'Berry' from 'Strawberries & Bubblegum'?"

Don't worry, you don't have to be one of these people, or even understand the question they posed, to find "Berry's Second Chances" entertaining. You just have to like hearing a story from a down-on-her-luck teenage girl who mistakenly let the first love of her life get away, only to be offered a much-deserved second chance.

Actually, as the title implies, Berry's going to get two second chances. But after what she's been through, she's deserved them both.

A special thank you to the sassy and clever Darcy Sweet, whose knack for writing like me (but better) when I need help closing a plot gap still has me scratching my head sometimes. Darce, Aussie girls rock. Epically.

To all, enjoy. :)

~*~ Chapter 01: One Girl, Two Loves, Same Family ~*~

"Hey Stace."

My heart near stopped at the sound. Was it her? Could it really be her? My mouth wouldn't work. I couldn't answer.

After a pause, her voice continued uncertainly over the phone, "Ummm, it's Heather. From school?"

Good god, as if she needed to explain. I knew who it was; I recognized her voice. I just didn't believe it was really her. I'd wanted to hear from her for so long that part of me was wondering if I'd conjured her up.

"Bub--," I stopped myself before I called her Bubblegum but just barely, "Heather. Hi. Good to hear your voice."

"I'm in town this weekend. I was hoping we could, like, get together maybe?"

Get together. My stomach leapt, butterflies whirling in an excited swarm. Their ecstatic chorus sang from my middle: "Bubble! Go. See her. Apologize. Fix. Mend. Reunite. Be brave. Be happy again. Be...

...whole." The last word came with so much force that I nearly whispered it out loud.

I'd been brave once, brave enough to start things with Heather, flirting carefully at first then building up to the teasing and toying and tempting needed to lure a heterosexual girl across what, for her, was a strange and scary same-sex line.

Her lips may have moved first in the movie theater, pressing themselves softly, tentatively against mine in the flickering dark that reeked of stale popcorn butter, but in every way but literal, I'd led her to it, taken her hand and guided her down the rose petal-strewn path of young girl-girl love.

So much had happened since then. Was she? Would she?

My little fantasy deflated with her next cheerful words, "For coffee. Catch up and chat?"

"Sure...ummm that sounds..." The words, 'awful,' 'terrifying,' 'heartbreaking' ran through my head but what came out was better, "...great. That sounds great."

"Okay then, coffee at the usual place. I'll see you Saturday. Around seven?"

"Yep. Around seven."

She hung up first. I stayed on the line, listening to the silence as I tried to wrap my head around what had just happened.

Bubble and Berry. Together. For coffee and chitchat and what else?

On Saturday, I watched as she trotted in the coffee shop's door right on time. Her lip quivered a little when she spotted me and smiled. I was kind of nervous too. It didn't help that she was even prettier than I remembered.

Her brassy gold hair was woven into a long, tight braid that fell past her shoulders. She used to wear it that way when we played field hockey together. It showed off her face more. And her neck. Oh, her neck. I'd spent hours with my nose buried in her smooth neck, kissing, licking, nibbling.

I choked down a little groan when she stepped into me smoothly and hugged me tightly enough to convince me she really was happy to see me.

We got our coffees and sat together on the café's loveseat to make some small talk: school, dorm life, drinking stories. As we chatted, her leg touched mine a few times and it made my heart ache.

In the first lull, I ventured a careful compliment. "You look... good... you look good, Heather."

"Thanks." She smiled gently. "You look skinny, Stace. Dieting?"

"Running, actually. Tons."

Exercise was a new and safe topic and we traded work-out tips and stories, getting more comfortable. Our conversation drifted a little more easily into random topics.

As we talked, I waited for her to mention Hero, the large, quiet, older guy with the kind eyes she'd started seeing last year. Or Samantha, the petite and intense looking brunette that completed their storybook love triangle.

When I couldn't wait anymore, I took the breath to ask after them, but it was like Heather read my mind. "So... Sam and Hero say hi," she said quickly, eyes down in her coffee cup.

Crud, they were still together. The sick weight that sank in my stomach was the once-hopeful butterflies clutching their little hearts and falling over dead.

I plastered on my best happy face. "Awww... that's nice. How are they?"

She shrugged in a thoughtful attempt at looking casual, but her quick half-smile told me what I needed to know. It was the look of someone knee-deep in love and sinking deeper.

"They're good. The same. Sam's her own flavor of crazy. Hero tries to play the grown up, but we usually drag him down to our level. They came up to school to visit me last month and took my entire dorm floor out drinking. It was a ridiculous night. I only remember parts of it. Now my floormates want to know when my 'cool, older friends' are coming back again."

Her smile turned lopsided, rueful with the memory.

"Awww... that's nice," I said again, even more awkwardly now that she'd shared her happiness.

Super, everybody's having fun. Except me. "Ummm, so while you're away at school, Hero and Samantha—"

"Play house," she explained a little too quickly.

My follow up question was faster and deeper than our carefully casual conversation was supposed to get. "Lonely?" I regretted it the moment it flew from my lips.

Heather's beautiful blue eyes widened then blinked a few times.

"Sometimes. It gets tough when... when I wake up at school... in the, uh, middle of the night and its just me." One of her hands wandered up to the end of her tidy golden braid and she fiddled with it, anxiously. If her hair hadn't been braided, she'd have twisted a stray lock around her finger in a nervous habit I'd once teased her about. "You? Met anybody nice?"

I smirked and shook my head, mostly to shake off the pain of my dashed hopes for rekindling our romance. "Nope."

She stopped fiddling with her braid and now her eyes glittered cryptically. "Want to?"

I counted to three in my head to keep from screaming out loud. Please, for the love of god, don't toy with me, girlie. I'm barely holding my shit together over here. I swallowed instead. "But you just... wait... what do you mean?"

"Bobbie's been asking about you," she murmured over her coffee cup that she'd just brought to her lips. "A lot."

Ahhh, Bobbie. Presto, the magic box opened and out came the white rabbit. Or in this case, the adorable kid brother. That's why we were here. Bobbie. He'd been nearly as cute as he was shy way back when and he'd kind of had a thing for me.

"Oh yeah? What's your hunky kid brother up to these days? I haven't seen him in ages."

Heather started filling me in on Bobbie and I listened, already seeing where this was headed. I didn't need Heather's genius brain to figure out that I'd be going on a date with her brother sometime soon.

The foregone conclusion on the date meant I was free to split my attention while she talked. My eyes kept returning to a small table in the corner behind her. It was where we sat almost two years ago on the night we admitted out loud for the first time, so very carefully, that we wanted to be more than just friends. It had been a dangerous conversation. Coming out as gay in high school was like playing hopscotch in a minefield.

As Heather sold me on Bobbie's seemingly endless good qualities, I sank back into that night.

She was wearing a pale pink v-neck sweater, one of my favorites, soft and girly and picking up her rosy cheeks. She was clutching a jumbo latte cup with both hands for its warmth. Her gold hair was free and wavy, pulled to the side and draped forward over one shoulder.

When two emo guys came into the coffee shop and I'd nodded at them and asked her if she thought they were cute.

"Uh uh," she'd shaken her head quickly, "definitely not my kind of boys."

I'd smiled and slid into my next question, the one I really wanted to ask, "And what kind of girls do you like?"

I'd asked it in a jokey way then held my breath and looked away, afraid she'd see right through me if our eyes met. But Heather waited so long to answer that I finally looked back at her, wondering if she'd heard me.

She'd heard me. More importantly, she'd understood me. She was blushing and looking at me shyly over her latte when she gave me her soft answer, "I think... I think I like the you kind, Stace."

Hallelujah. I'd nibbled my lip and smiled wider. "Huh, what a coincidence." My muttered answer was a little lame but it was all I could think to say. Besides, it didn't really matter because we knew how we felt about each other now.

From there it had been the kind of girlie romance that people write stories about. Right up until I fucked it all up anyway.

The current Heather snapped me out of my tender memory.

"...so take it easy on my little brother, okay? He's got it pretty bad for you, Berry... errr... Stace." She winced, almost like she'd been slapped, because she'd used her old pet name for me. I watched the blood drain from her face.

"Sorry, Stace, I didn't mean—" she started to apologize.

"It's okay," I stopped her with a gentle nudge at her knee with mine. "I don't mind if you call me Berry. It's nice. If it helps, I've been calling you Bubble in my head all damn night."

She cracked a smile and some tension drained out of her as she nodded, "It does help."

"And, yes, I'll be nice to your brother."

We talked awhile longer before Heather's phone buzzed with a text message. She checked it, whispered "Sam" then apologized and said she had to go. She pecked me on the cheek when we said goodbye. I snuck a slow, quiet sniff of her when she leaned in for the peck. She smelled the same, a little like a piece of fresh Dubble Bubble gum right when the wrapper comes off. There was a good reason I'd given her such odd nickname; she honestly smelled a little like bubblegum to me.

Of course, with my sneaky sniff came more memories, ones of long and sweet and sweaty high school sleepovers in her bedroom with the door locked. There hadn't been much sleeping.

When we did finally fall asleep it was usually spooned and naked in her little twin bed after making love until we were both too tired and too satisfied to move. My guest sleeping bag would lay empty and unused on the floor. Sunday mornings were my favorite, we'd wake up to the smell of coffee and her Dad's chocolate chip waffles.

I blinked back tears. How had I let all of that go?

"Fuck you, Glenn," I muttered bitterly. My step-brother had taken more than my dignity the day he'd been about to rape me and Heather had thrown herself at him selflessly. Glenn had taken Heather from me. I'd hate him for that until my last breath. I'd hate my own family.

I touched my cheek where she'd kissed me goodbye. Had her lips lingered? I couldn't tell. I wished they would have just once, to relive what we'd shared not that long ago. I watched Heather's little, cute bubblebutt sway slightly as she trotted across the parking lot to her small white car.

I sighed and reminded myself she wasn't mine to ogle. Reuniting with Heather would take a miracle, and I didn't believe in them anymore.

~*~*~ Part II ~*~*~

The good news is that miracles don't need you to believe in them. Two weeks later, things were already looking much better.

"How's your ice cream sandwich, Stace?"

"Really frickin' good thanks, hehehe."

At nineteen, I was an adult by most people's standards, but there was something about eating ice cream sandwiches with Bobbie Miller that made me giggle like a little girl. I was too busy staring at my date to notice the melting corner of my sandwich and I giggled again as I hastily lapped off a few creamy, vanilla drips that slid down my wrist.

Bobbie Miller was very cute in a clean-cut, slim, trim, blonde hair kind of way. His eyes were a deep, deep blue, darker than his sister's and just as pretty.

Maybe even prettier.

More importantly, Bobbie was the kind of boy I'd heard about but never actually dated -- an honest-to-god "good guy." I didn't think they existed outside of Leave It to Beaver. This first date was turning out so perfect I found myself wondering if I'd somehow fallen into the archives at Nick-at--Nite.

He'd taken me for cheeseburgers on a Friday night. Chatting and laughing, our conversation felt easy, natural. I've never been good at talking about myself, but there was something about his sincere, undivided attention that made me want to open up. We had the same oddball sense of humor and he seemed really interested in me as a person—not just as a potential gropee. He asked all the right questions about my family, about what kind of stuff I liked, and how my sophomore classes were going.

When I leaned across the table and confided that I'd started training for a marathon and that I hoped to someday run the big one in Boston, he listened, really listened. He didn't tell me a marathon was crazy like my schoolmates and my Dad did; he just nodded and told me it was cool. Better still, he looked in my eyes as he did, not at the t-shirt stretched across my chest. He earned double bonus points for that since I fill out a top pretty well.

After dinner, he took me to a local lookout spot to watch the sunset. When we parked and he got out of the car, I followed him around to his trunk and he popped it open.

"Cool." I nodded and smiled even as my heart sank at the sight of the styrofoam cooler in his trunk. Crud, I thought, beer. For the hundredth time I wondered why guys were so convinced that beer made a sorority girl's clothes fall off.

Still, even as my disappointment brewed, I figured Bobbie was way ahead on points just based on dinner. If he wanted to get me a little tipsy while we hung out, I wasn't going to hold it against him. I mentally crossed my fingers, hoping that he'd packed something other than beer for me. I'd never liked beer that much and some of the slightly more civilized guys I'd dated had actually thought to pack a few girl-friendlier wine coolers.

The funny thing was, until Bobbie, I really believed that those boys were as good as it got. Wow, was I wrong. So wrong.

When Bobbie popped open his cooler there was no beer. No wine coolers either. And no cheap rum for mixing with off-brand cola. In fact, there was alcohol at all.

Just ice cream sandwiches. And fudgesicles. On a little pile of dry ice.

"What would you like for dessert?" Bobbie waved his hand at the chilled stash and looked up at me with the sweetest smile.

I laughed and gasped at the same time. It tumbled out as an embarrassing snorty sound -- the same one I used to make when I was little and I came downstairs on Christmas morning. It had been so long since a guy had surprised me in such a sweet way.

"What?" His deep blue eyes shone with an honest and open innocence that reminded me of his sister. Heather had the same expression too.

"Nothing," I chuckled, "one ice cream sandwich please, sir."

He grabbed two and passed me one. Then he had me laughing again because next he handed me -- and I'm not kidding here -- a napkin.

"Here, in case you get sticky."

I took it, amazed, and teased him a little, "Huh, I didn't think teenage boys knew about napkins."

"Hmmm, well, some of us do." He easily shrugged off my needling and I liked that too. Bobbie was comfortable in his own skin.

He shut his trunk and waved me to a little downhill path. "Come on, I'll show you where there's a little stone wall we can sit on and watch the sunset."

So that's how we ended up sitting side-by-side on the little wall, nibbling ice cream sandwiches on a clear summer evening and chatting as we watched the sun go down.

Ice cream finished, the night air set in and Bobbie loosely draped his arm around my shoulders. "I'm not being fresh, Stace, you just look cold. I guess I didn't think through that part of the ice cream thing."

"Or maybe you did think it through?" I teased him again.

The side of his mouth hitched up in a cute smirk and he started to pull away.

"No, wait," I said stopping him and wriggling myself a little closer. I put my head on his shoulder and, feeling some nice muscle under his long-sleeved t-shirt, I gave a little sigh. Bobbie was a varsity shortstop; I should've guessed there'd be muscles under there. "This is kinda nice. Can I ask you something Bobbie?"

He nodded.

"How come you never asked me out before?"

I felt him tense. He cleared his throat before answering, "Well, you're a little intimidating, Stace. Not a lot of girls look like you."

Not a lot of girls look like me. It was his gentle way of saying I was pretty. Guys blurting things like "Goddamn baby, what I'd do to you..." had gotten old back in junior high school. I liked Bobbie's shy honesty. I hadn't heard anything so sweet and genuine in such a long time. Not since my simple little girl body had bloomed and things suddenly got a lot less simple.

I'd been the first one in my class to get boobs and hips. They'd come on so fast that seven years later, it still felt sometimes like I was a girl trapped in a woman's body. Sure, I'd learned to tone it down with the right clothes, but there was no hiding it completely. Besides, dark red hair and pale skin meant I'd never really be able to blend into the background no matter what I wore.

"C'mon, Heather's gorgeous," I said, trying to shift the conversation away from me.

"Maybe," he admitted, "but she's my big sister so she doesn't count. Heck, I remember when she had no front teeth."

"Really?"

"Yep, they both came out at the same time. I called her 'Gummers' for a whole summer." He chuckled at his own memory. "I'd forgotten about that. I'll have to remind her next time I see her."

"Do you talk to Heather often?" I asked, hoping it sounded like an offhanded question. We were easing onto dangerous ground.

"Meh, she doesn't come home much. Her school is a few hours away and when she does come back it's usually to see her boyfriend." Bobbie's expression melted into a sad faraway look. He missed his sister a lot, I realized. They'd always been close.

My relationship with my step-brother was epically fucked up. Glenn and I made Greek tragedies look like primetime sitcoms.

Bobbie's new vulnerability caused me to hesitate before asking my next question, but I just had to know what I was getting into with him. "Does Heather ever, you know, mention me?"

I watched his face for a tell, my nervous hands blindly fiddling with the hem of my denim skirt. What did Bobbie know?

I kept my eyes on him, watching him like we were playing poker. His face was smooth and relaxed after my question. His eyes didn't widen or dart. I was sure those were good signs, but he didn't answer either. Worse, he flipped the question back to me, "You and Heather don't talk that much anymore do you, Stace? You used to be really close."

Close?

I almost choked. Yeah, you could say Heather and I had been close. If by close you meant in love. Those days were over though. And now I was on a date with her brother, one she'd arranged. There's a word for that and it's spelled "a-w-k-w-a-r-d." Preferably in all caps.

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