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Date Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 11:08:12pm
Author: BonnieBo
Subject: Row Eight, Part 2
In reply to: BonnieBo 's message, "In honor of Jaron ..." on Wednesday, December 17, 11:03:27pm

Three months later

... Watermelon.
Wild Strawberry.

Wait! I already said that one. As I fumbled for another flavor of gum, my foot faltered on the treadmill. The side of my shoe turned inward. I lurched forward, stumbling. Caught myself in time. Damn it. Keep running. Don't stop. But it was coming. I knew it. The clip on my right arm started to vibrate. A second later, lightning shot down right to my fingertips.

Oh, yeah. Big deal. Try again. I shook my arm a couple of times until it felt less like dead wood and more like it belonged to me again. Working my fingers, I continued to run. Tilted my head slightly and scowled up at the control room. The windows were darkened but I knew Michael was there, watching. My chin lifted. Bring it on.

YEE-eow! Oh, man. The next jolt lasted longer than expected and packed twice the amps. Blasted my breath away. My chest hitched up, my lips gaping. The gum bounced inside my stunned mouth. The already dim room grew dimmer, blurred by pain and sweat. Half turning, I squinted into the darkness. Was that another target? No. I lowered the gun. I moved one wobbly leg, then the other.

Keep going. If I didn't, another bigger jolt was going to follow, sure as sh*t. I'd learned that already. No one said I was a stupid. No whimpering, Nik'. Don't waste your breath. Gritting my teeth, I ran on. A few seconds passed before I was back into my rhythm, running and chewing, step after stubborn step.

I ran until my feet wore down to stubs. They weren't there anymore. Couldn't be 'cuz I couldn't feel them any longer. Couldn't feel my right arm either because it had been fried off, but I still made those non-existent fingers wrap around the trigger of my gun and pull whenever a target came up. Sometimes I pretended the target was Michael. It made it easier.

“Stop program,” said a soft distant voice.

The bearded terrorist on my right dissolved in a blue, fizzing flash. Underneath me, the treadmill slowed. It took another moment before my feet were able to slow down too. My thighs bore down, clenching and braking for those last few steps. I was walking now, half-bent over. I was sucking up great gulps of chilled air.

Michael suddenly appeared next to me. One brow lifted. “Spit it out.”

“What? I - “


I shook my head, parking my gum in the side of my cheek.


"You sure?"

He stared. I shrugged. “ 'kay. Suit yourself.” I turned towards him and aimed carefully – more carefully than even these last two hours of target practice. The wad landed right where I wanted it to – splat on his toe.


When I saw Michael in his office the next day, I noticed that he was wearing different shoes. These were black too, but not suede. I bet he ruined his other pair trying to clean them up with one of Walter's super-duper solvents.

I bet Michael worked real hard on it. Too bad it didn't work ... Aw, poor baby. I could have told him how to get the gum out, but naturally, he did not ask me. In fact, he didn't say much of anything. Didn't show much either - not even a little flicker of his girly-thick eyelashes after I gave up my gum (just like he asked me to, I'd like to point out). Nope. No reaction at all. He only turned on his heel and left the training room. Probably was in a big rush to save his fancy-ass shoes.

Did I feel sorry for him? Huh. As if! There was no way – just no frigging way ... especially not when I'd just blown my thirty-day wad of gum on the likes of him. True, it wasn't my longest record. That was forty-two days, but I'd been trying to work up to it. Maybe that doesn't seem like much to you, but I'm telling you that a chick has to look forward to something in a place like this. There sure isn't much else.

Anyway, I didn't see him for the rest of the day but I saw the last-minute homework he sent me. I had to refigure the Zahir mission, which meant going late to Data Central and looking up some stuff in the archives. I spent half the night reading about that old weapons dealer and his arm candy. Turns out Zahir was just the little fish. We were really angling for his boss, but Zahir was the only lead we had right now. We had to hook him first, then follow the line back.

By the time I wrote up a couple of plans, my eyelids felt like big bunches of lint were wadded up underneath them. I felt tired but not sleepy. I was jazzed about starting the new day right ... I had a feeling about today. It was going to taste kind of sharp and sweet. Yeah, it was definitely going to be peppermint, at least two sticks of Bubblicious gum.

I walked across my room to the closet, slid open the door, and checked the shelf. Nothing there. I reached up and swept my hand over the shelf again, only further back this time. That's funny. I could have sworn I had a package left. Dragging a hand through my hair, I huffed out a breath. I guess I'd have to settle for wild strawberry instead. I grabbed my shirt off the closet hook and checked it. No gum there either. Frowning, I looked through the drawers, under my pillow, inside the desk, and came up empty-handed again. I started in on the few clothes I owned.

By the time I looked through every blankety-blank pocket, I was wondering about that going-crazy thing again. I knew I had to have gum somewhere. I just had to. I always did. I needed something to wipe out that funky sour taste in my mouth, otherwise those headaches would start up again. I never let myself run out of gum; not when I was out on the streets before Section, and especially not now. I tore up my room looking for the stuff. Then I looked again. Not a single stick. Not even an empty wrapper.

Oh, man. I thought this place was supposed to be ultra-secure. Some security. I couldn't believe it! Someone had ripped off my whole stash of gum. A certain green-eyed someone. That jerk. Now I wished I'd spat my gum someplace else.

Stopping by the commissary did not improve my mood. Rosita, the six-two drag queen (six-four in heels), wouldn't give me any more gum but I could get booze or smokes or hashish if I wanted (by order of you-know-who). Some deal. I could hardly believe it. What was the problem with these folks? Worried I'd rot my teeth? Like that was going to kill me. Okay. I was adaptable. I could floss every night. Hell, I'd even make myself chew that sugarless no-ingredient/no-flavor stuff if I absolutely had to.

I tried not to get too steamed as I walked through Section to his holiness' office. I made myself count to ten before I knocked on his damn door. Before he even answered, I pushed it open.

The door swung wide, then rebounded, slamming shut behind me. As I walked up to his desk, Michael reached down and pulled open a side drawer. His right hand touched something inside of it while his other hand pushed a button on his keyboard. The thin computer screen brightened, casting a dull green light across his face. Quickly his eyes skimmed back and forth as if he was reading. He didn't even bother looking up at me.

He typed for a few seconds. Eventually he said, "Need help?"

"Nope, I'm done." I watched his eyebrows lift slightly, his face tilting up towards me. Okay, now he was paying attention. He was actually looking at me instead of that screen. I must have surprised him for a change. Good. Real good. I nodded, smiling. Michael's lips pressed together. Then he returned to his work. The keys clicked softly as I added, "Yeah, you see I've been real busy. Seems like I wasn't the only one who's been busy around here."

His typing paused for less than a second before it continued. He hit the space bar. "Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Two missions launched, another on the pad."

"Twenty-four/seven, huh? That must be Section, all right. Busier than a honey-house when the fleet's in. At least, that's what Bambi used to say."

Michael's mouth parted slightly. A breath leaked out. Then he scanned my face as if he was looking for some clue. I don't think he was finding any because a faint line soon formed between his eyebrows. Another moment passed before he said, "Bambi?"

"Sure, sure. Bambi LaBoom. She used to dance with Bobby at the club. Boy, could she dance. The woman had some serious moves. Real exotic, you know. You should have seen what she could do with her pet boa."

Now at this point, any normal guy with a normal amount of curiosity might ask me what exactly Bambi did. I mean, this was not your average job and that was no average pet. I blinked at Michael and smiled wider. I practically invited him to ask, but of course, he did not. He just sat there instead, all bottled up in that plain black suit like some pretty-boy undertaker. He went back to reading his computer screen. He extended his free hand towards me. Palm up, his fingers uncurled slowly.

He was such a case. Why did I even bother talking to him? I really didn't know. It was a complete waste of time, but something about him kept making me try.

His fingers wiggled at me. Softly he called my name.

"All right, already." I dug into the front pocket of my jeans, and grabbed that little square PDA. I worked it out of my pocket, then I thrust out my arm. He took the device from me. His thumb lightly touched the panel, then his eyes flickered over the PDA screen. He read through the next two pages just as quickly. A moment later, his lips pursed as if he was thinking.

"Perhaps," he said finally.

"Perhaps what?"

"Your third plan might work."

"Nuh uh. I like the first one the best. Go after Zahir's mistress. Maybe she isn't so bright but she isn't blind. I bet she notices a thing or two."

The corner of Michael's mouth lifted briefly. He gave a short, almost reluctant nod. Making a soft sound that could have been a sigh, he handed back my PDA, then returned to his work as if our session was already over.

"Hey," I said, "What about all my gum?"

He shrugged as if he was saying, What about it?


"Report back ... two hours," was all he said.

Sputtering, I stomped out his office. That - ! I was so mad, I couldn't even think of a word bad enough, and I'd heard more than my share around here. Oh man, it wasn't fair. I'd done what he wanted for a change. I even did a better than average job, and he still hadn't given me back my stuff like I'd expected. What was the point of even trying?

I clomped down the narrow corridor, made two lefts, then turned into one of the dead spots that Walter had told me about. Just in case there was still a camera, I knelt down as if I was fixing the shoelaces. My fingers fussed with the bow. I hunched over, my shoulders lifting, as my fingers slipped inside my Doc Martens where the seam near the heel was kind of loose. I pulled out my emergency stick of gum. Quickly I unwrapped it and popped it into my mouth. I stuffed the foil in my pocket as I bit down past the crusted sugar layer. I sighed when the spicy flavor zapped my tongue. Peppermint.


Three hours later, my gum still had plenty of snap to it. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't perfect any more. Its flavor was beginning to thin out, but I still saved it some place special. I didn't care. You know why? I was outside of Section. Through the van windows, I could see old stone buildings, and big wide-branched trees, girded by wrought iron fences. Neon signs flashed like colored lightning through the night; zapping across the darkness and turning the street-kids red, gold, then shadowed once more. I caught a whiff of their cigarettes and a hint of something more tangy and herbal. Turning towards it, I heard someone laughing, a trickle of saxophone, a car honk, and an answering curse. All these things hit me all at once. Bam. Just like that.

I wish I could tell you how it felt. I can't. I couldn't even come close, but I'll try. It's like the difference between biting a real strawberry and chewing strawberry gum. Don't get me wrong. I like gum as much as the next person (probably even a little more). It's sugary and it's got red flavor, but that's all it's got. It's nothing like a real strawberry that tastes tart and sweet, full of grit and sunshine. It's too complicated to be imitated completely. That first bite into a strawberry always reminds me how different the two are.

And being outside again, well, that was like biting into a strawberry. This city was the Real Thing, all right; not some simulation inside of Section. Finally. I couldn't believe it! Just thinking about it made my heart go bumpity-bump like the way our black van drove down this half-paved road. I held on to the bench as the wheels skittered over some old railroad tracks. I would be more excited if I wasn't so darned annoyed about my clothes.

Or lack of them. Everyone else in the van (even Birkoff) was wearing those cool vests and those black pants with lots of pockets. I bet I could hide tons of gum and other things in there and no one could find them all - not even Michael.

But did I get to wear that uniform? Nuh uh. Not for me. I got something else. It wasn't exactly the warmest outfit in the world, so I'd draped a coat over my shoulders. Unfortunately, I'd have to leave it behind in the van, damn it.

Glumly I stared down at my fishnet stockings, then higher where those garter things were hitching them up. And way above those dinky elastic bands was this gold bikini thong ... Jeez, I've seen Band-Aids bigger than this. I don't see how I can be very covert when practically all my secrets were showing. As far as I was concerned, it didn't make any sense.

I folded my arms across my chest and told Michael so. "Something's missing," I hissed at him.

His face remained still as he looked me over once, then again. Another moment passed before he finally nodded. His hand dipped inside his vest pocket and pulled out a tiny vinyl bag. Inside it sat a fat rhinestone, its facets winking at me.

I took the bag from him and unzipped its top. Then I plucked out the gem. Maybe it was pretty, but it felt cold and lifeless in my hand. "Just what every girl wants. Gee, thanks. Is this the twelve karat bug?"

"Yes. Now review the profile."

"I already have."

"Again," he said in that Voice of Doom.

I rolled my eyes. "Okay, already. All right! It's a nightclub. I'm a waitress. I put this bug into Zahir's drink. I give it to him. I walk away." I looked skeptically at the rhinestone. "It's awful big. Won't he choke on it?"

"Not a chance," piped in Birkoff from his station at the computer. "It's water soluble. Dissolves in 0.02 seconds. Flat."

"And just where am I supposed to put this?"

Michael pointed at my bellybutton. My jaw dropped. "No," he said seriously, "not your mouth. Believe me. They will notice if you spit something out."

"But ... you ... I ... I can't ... "

"Adhesive on the back," he interrupted calmly. "Make sure it sticks."

"Thirty seconds to egress," chimed in Birkoff.

I noticed the other operatives were elbowing each other, so I bit off what I was going to say. Shaking my head, I did what I was told. Of all the dumb ideas ... I mean, really! Oh, brother. But orders, I supposed, were still orders - no matter how lame-ass. Carefully I thumbed the paper backing off the gem. Then I reached inside my coat, and wedged the jewel inside my bellybutton. It felt weird and heavy. I didn't like it. I tried to fix it. Then I checked the little comm unit behind my ear. At least that one lay nice and flat. I hardly noticed it at all - not like this damn jewel. If we were meant to wear something there, we would have been born with them. I felt like a bottle with a cork in it. Yuck. Sighing, I adjusted it once more as the van gradually slowed to a halt. The door slid open. A breeze spilled in.

"Go," said Michael.

The rest of the operatives silently filed out. I waited. Michael stared at me. Little bumps prickled all over my skin. I started to shiver.

"What?" he asked softly.

"Something else is missing. I'm ... uh." Hastily I glanced around me. Everyone else was gone. Birkoff was occupied with his computer. There was no such thing as privacy in this life. This was as good as it ever got. Swallowing hard, I leaned closer to Michael and whispered, "But there's no top to this outfit. I looked everywhere for it. Someone in Wardrobe forgot it."

"No, they did not," he said.

My eyes bugged. What? No one waltzed around in things like this unless ... unless they were working a topless club. It couldn't be. I can't. There sure as hell hadn't been anything in the profile about that. That I would have remembered for sure.

No. I shook my head. Michael gave a brief nod as if he'd read my mind.

Now wait a moment. Just wait a damn moment, here. Mister Mind-Reader usually wrote the mission profiles, and he was the one responsible for briefing his own team. I was on that team and if I didn't know, it was because he hadn't bothered to tell me. And guess why he hadn't told me? Because he knew I'd give him an earful if he did ...

Oh, God. I didn't know which was worse: wearing this practically-next-to-nothing thong; or not knowing at all. It was an awfully close call, and both of them pissed me off royal. I could feel my forehead wrinkling up as my lips twisted down into a scowl. I took a big breath. My mouth opened. But before I could say anything, Michael handed me a round brown tray. Automatically, I took it. As I did, I forgot to hold on to my coat, and the damn thing started to slip off my shoulders. I clutched for the lapels but it was too late. It crumpled to the floor just as a big draft suddenly blasted into the van. My hair ruffled against my face. My shivering doubled. Jeez. Now even my goosebumps grew goosebumps.

I felt Michael's broad hand slip across my back. He was guiding me gently towards the open door, then out. "Good luck," he murmured as my heels hit the ground.


The club music was so loud that I could feel the backbeat vibrate inside my guts. Its down-and-dirty rhythm was mimicked by two girls and a guy on a tiny elevated stage in the middle of this smoky room. They vaguely reminded me of Bambi, but their act did not include a boa constrictor. No loss. It only would have gotten in their way. There wasn't a lot of room on the stage, but they seemed to be, well, adapting just fine. The performers were certainly creative ... and flexible.

My only consolation was that I was wearing more clothes than all the performers put together. That was something, I supposed. Plus, the light was low. It made it harder to see where I was walking, but it also made it harder to be seen. Thank God for small favors. I sure could use them. Pretty soon - between the drink orders and the jostling - I was too busy to worry much about whatever I wasn't wearing. I was even starting to feel a little better by the time I finished another circuit in the room.

I paused near the edge of the bar, where I could see everything. Zahir sat at the center table like an old fat frog on a lily pad. His narrow eyes were set far apart over a splayed nose. His round face was mounted on a thick neck, which broadened into an even thicker body. His belly seemed to spread sideways and over, stretching the limits of his green velvet tuxedo. I'd already checked his fingers. They weren't webbed, but at any moment, I expected his tongue to zip out of his mouth and nab a fly.

He never did though. He was too busy watching the acts. He was even too busy to be paying much attention to his latest girlfriend. Honey Mae, I think he called her once when he declined a drink the second time around. She was a slight, small girl who giggled an awful lot. She couldn't have been much older than me, but the way her blonde hair was swept up into a fancy coil and her make-up certainly added a couple of years. Plus, the silver-white sparklies she wore around her neck and wrists were no dress-up jewelry. I bet that chunky diamond-studded belt was worth the entire gross national product of a small European country. Yeah, you bet. All together, she looked like one expensive package, all right. She probably cost Zahir plenty of bucks, and she was racking up even more on that cell phone. She even asked the operator to look up a number in Buenos Aires. Can you imagine that?

Status, whispered Michael's voice through the comm unit behind my ear.

I wanted to say "one big tip and five gropes," but I held back. I guess I had learned some manners even though nobody else probably believed it. Instead of saying what I really wanted to (my feet were killing me), I just muttered, "No go. Zahir still hasn't ordered any drinks."

Go ...

"Nuh uh. I just did. It would look weird if I went by again."

... in another five minutes.

"Oh. Oh. That's what you meant. Good idea. That's great. Hey, I gotta go to the ... you know."

Michael suddenly cut off, but not before I heard Birkoff's little snicker over the comm. I didn't care. If a chick has to go, she has to go. Some things were beyond the call of duty, and the van ride over here had been way, way long. With some regret, I put my drink tray on top of the bar counter. I hated leaving it there. It was the only thing shielding me from the world, but it would look too weird to bring it into the bathroom with me. I wasn't supposed to be drawing attention, right? Best foot forward, as Bambi used to say (only she used a different body part). I turned away from the stage, and walked as quickly as I could. After all, I might not get another chance.


My so-called life with Bobby hadn't been easy. Don't get me wrong. I'm not crying about it. But to be honest, we'd stayed in some pretty sh*tty places. Sure, they had four walls, usually a roof, but that had been about it. And when I'd been living on my own, the streets weren't much better, but at least there, I never had to worry about her boyfriends. There, I had my friends - Rabbit and Stumpy, Didi ... yeah, and maybe Skinny Minnie too, I guess. We had each other, so by the time I hit eighteen, I didn't care so much. I was used to roughing it. I've eaten just about anything, slept about anywhere.

In a funny kind of way, maybe Section softened me up too much. You know - indoor plumbing, four hots and a cot. Maybe it made me forget how dirty things could be - like this hallway for instance. It smelled sour like piss and that strange dusty muskiness of animal so old that it was probably more remnant than not. Automatically I breathed through my mouth, trying not to notice, because what I wanted was dead ahead - the bathroom.

The dull gray paint on door was peeling off in places about waist high. Plus, it felt sticky. I could guess why, but I didn't want to. I just gritted my teeth, reached out again and pushed. As the door groaned wide, I could hear someone say, "Oh, Jorge! You bad boy!" That high breathless giggle sounded awful familiar.

I steeled myself for some unwanted company doing whatever in private. It was about to become public. Real public. I didn't care if it was rude or not.

"No, no!" continued the same voice. "I won't tell on you. I promise. I've got to go now. Yeah, that sounds good. I'll be sure to see you later," concluded Honey Mae as I walked into the bathroom.

She was alone. Thank God. I sighed with relief as I squished myself between the closing door and her. She punched another number into her phone while I tried squinching behind her. The space was too tight. My hip bumped against her leg. The studs on her belt dug into me. Ow. Who knew high fashion could be so damned painful?

"Sorry. Excuse me," I muttered, half hopping on one foot. Our eyes met in the tarnished mirror. Underneath her heavy mascara, her big brown eyes tilted briefly with annoyance. Putting the phone to her ear, she leaned forward towards the sink while I leaned backwards and scooted past her towards the closest stall.

Unfortunately this door wasn't much cleaner than the outer one, but I tried not to think about that just like I wasn't thinking about the thli-thli-thlicking sounds my heels were making as they stuck to the concrete floor. With every step, I had to jerk my foot up a little harder. Then the sole snapped unexpectedly against my foot, making me wobble. I swore. These stupid stilettos. Give me a good pair of boots any old day.

"Oh, hello? Operator? Sierra Leone, please," Honey Mae was saying from somewhere behind me.

I closed the door. My thumb automatically reached for the latch but found only a flapping piece of metal, which hung from a half-broken bolt. Above it gaped a wide hole. No lock. Nothing. Oh well. Forget that. I'd learned not to be shy about some things. At least there was toilet paper, and this sh*tpot flushed ... or at least, I think it did.

After I was done, I tested the plumbing out. I pulled on the toilet handle, but it only gurgled. Nothing else happened. I leaned forward and yanked the handle harder, giving it a good wrench this time.

When I tried a third time, something went plop glu-glu-glu-u-u-u-ug. What was that? That didn't sound right. Worrying, I stared down in the direction of that sound and that new, soft fizzing. Oh, my God. That was it. There it was. That damn gem lay there, winking up at me through a growing mound of bubbles. I dropped to my knees. Gagging, I started to reach down. But by the time I did, the gem was already long gone. Birkoff had been wrong. It had taken less than 0.02 seconds to dissolve. A whole lot less. I'm sure Walter would be happy to find out how well it had worked, only it hadn't worked in the right place. It had gone absolutely wrong.

What was I going to do now? Slowly I made myself stand up. Michael was calling me over my comm unit. Naturally he was asking me why the device wasn't working any more. Naturally I did not have an answer - at least, not one that I wanted to give him.

I took a deep breath. I hoped that I remembered the code right. I think I did. To be honest, I hadn't been paying complete attention that day. I was too mad at you-know-who. Now, I was realizing, it didn't matter how pissed I'd been. I still needed to know the information no matter what green-eyed jacka*s was delivering it. I reached up to my comm unit. My finger shook as I tapped once against it. Stop.

Immediately Michael stopped talking. There was the briefest pause. Report, he said crisply.

I tapped again: one long, two short. Audio only. (Or was that "Incoming Hostiles?") My hand faltered. I held by breath. Less than a second later, I heard the faint click of the channel switching on my comm unit. I didn't hear any screams or shattering glass or sudden gunfire, so I guess I gave the right signal. Thank God. My breath came out in a big rush.

All of a sudden, my knees felt a little wobbly and my mouth turned dry. Whoa, I needed a good chew. I reached behind my ear and peeled off the comm unit, then the gum I'd been saving. Before I popped the gum into my mouth, I tore off a tiny corner, which I worked between my fingers. When it felt nice and warm and soft, I put it on the back of the comm unit. I knew my gum. It would work a helluva lot better than Walter's so-called adhesives. My gum never fell into the toilet like that. Grumbling to myself, I turned around and let the stall door fall open again.

When I walked out of the stall, Honey Mae gave me a sympathetic look. "That sounded pretty bad in there."

"Yeah, well. You know." I pointed to my stomach.

"I do. Too well. I was sick just about every morning." She gave me a sisterly wink as she scooted a little away from the sink.

I turned on the faucet and washed up. Afterwards, I scooped up some water and patted my face. I tried to moan, but it wasn't very good. Came out more like a sad cow. It didn't sound so convincing to me, but I guess it worked on Honey Mae.

Clucking sympathetically, she put down her phone and reached into her purse. "You poor thing. You can't go out there like that. How far along are you?"

I shrugged.

"Must be early. You're not even showing. The first weeks are the worst. You need to freshen up. Want a Tic-Tac?"

Clutching my stomach, I shook my head. "Got any gum?" I whispered feebly.

She smiled. "Sure thing." She dug around inside her purse for a moment. Things rustled and clinked. "Oooh. There it is." Like a magician, she pulled out a brand new shiny pink pack of bubble gum. Honey Mae handed the whole thing to me. "No, no. Go on and keep it. You'll need it."

I murmured my thanks while I tore the wrapper and pulled out a stick. The foil fell away, fluttering to the ground. I stuck the gum in my mouth. I bit down. Slowly sweetness leached over my tongue. Tooty Fruity. Not too bad. I could grow to like this flavor. Chewing some more, I stepped towards her. "I better get back to work. The boss, you know."

"Oh, I do. Better to work for yourself. Much better." She gave me another smile and I found myself feeling more than a little bad for what I had to do.

As I tried to squeeze behind Honey Mae, we bumped hips again. "Sorry," I apologized, wiggling by. Moving along, I stuck the comm unit deep inside her diamond belt.

"No problem. Good luck. Do you know his name?" she asked.

"Michael." Immediately, my hand flew to my lips, shutting off the gasp in time. Too bad I hadn't shut off that word too. Jeez ... did I just ...? I couldn't believe it. I hadn't meant to say that. The gum rolled back against my throat. It lodged there like a godd*mned boulder, almost choking me.

Maybe my face turned pale or my eyes widened a bit. I wasn't sure what I did exactly, but I must have looked surprised. Honey Mae shook her head. "It's always a shock, isn't it? Oh, well. It happens to the best of us. Just a little advice, girl to girl. Be smart about it. He owes you. Make sure he pays up."

Don't worry, I thought, starting to chew again. I blew a small bubble, then popped it. Snap! I'll make sure Michael does. You bet I will.

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