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Dancing to Ray Charles: Ch. 12, Love on The Levee


 The official plan, as carefully explained to all parental units, had called for Amy and Libby to share a motel room. The guys would stay with Mark’s roommate who was supposed to be in summer school. In reality, Mark’s roommate had just flunked out. And no one questioned that Bob and Libby would have the motel room to themselves.

Once they were dropped off, Mark and Amy headed for the shelter of Howard Ingram’s new place.
  Although called, “The Big House,” at first glance, the name seemed grandiose. It was an aging, single-story, white frame structure located on a tree-lined, residential street near the city park. The term, Mark explained, had to do with the people who lived there allowing almost anyone to use it as a temporary shelter. Of course, preference was given to “heads” with dope or booze and to all females.

For wedding presents, Mark had brought two cases of cheap beer now chilling in an ice chest. Amy had two jugs of an even cheaper wine. They parked down the street, got their presents out of the trunk, and trudged through the humid, July heat toward the ‘big house.' Their brief but sweaty journey accompanied by the multi-decibel sound of rock music coming through large open windows hidden behind a mass of gardenias in serious need of pruning.

At the screened front door, Mark shifted his load, pulled the door open and said with a grin, “After you, my lady. Our luxury accommodations await us.”

 A motley collection of tables, stools, and chairs occupied the wide, screened, front porch. In the living room, well-used furniture of various shapes and sizes lined walls covered with posters extolling favored musicians and causes.

 A steady, gentle movement of air kept the interior relatively cool and indicated the place had a working attic fan. Over in a far corner an unidentified female-type person wearing nothing but an over-extended pair of panties, slept face down on a couch.

 The other person in the room, a barefoot guy in overalls, sat sunk deep into a sagging green armchair positioned across from two large speakers. His eyes were closed. But judging from the movement of his head, which kept jerking in an out-of-rhythm to the music, he was awake. Whether conscious or not, the person in the chair was Mike “Last Card” Landry.

 In his previous incarnation, Last Card had arguably been the worst poker player at school and unarguably the luckiest. It was a truth universally acknowledged that no human being, living or dead could fill an inside straight with more regularity than Last Card. Of course, no one but an idiot, or Last Card, would ever try to fill an inside straight. Playing poker with him, waiting to see if his last card would once again steal another pot, could be an exasperating and often expensive proposition.

 But that was yesterday, thought Mark, and yesterday’s gone. During the spring, Last Card dropped out, tuned in, turned on, quit cutting his hair, grew a Fu Manchu mustache, and moved into the Big House. These lifestyle changes may not have occurred in that exact order, but no one had kept score.

 Amy glanced over at the girl in the corner, then motioned toward the human metronome. “I suppose you’ll want to keep an eye on things out here with Last Card. I’m going on back and look for the bride-to-be.”

Mark sat his ice chest full of beer on the hardwood floor and tapped a knuckle on Last Card’s head. “Anybody home? Hello down there. Is anybody home?”

After what appeared to be a painful effort, one eye opened. With obvious irritation, Last Card gazed up at his assailant. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, breaking into a big grin. “How the hell’s it hanging, M.C.?”

 “Rock hard and steady, L.C. You want a beer?”

 “Damn straight. You just slide into town?”

 “Yep. Amy and I came down for the big wedding. We’re just poor wayfaring strangers in search of shelter.”

 “Well, Amy’s always welcome, and you too, since that ice chest seems way too heavy.” Last Card accepted a beer.

“I figured two cases of beer would get me a dry corner to sleep in. But I’m not sure our redheaded friend is up to the challenge.” Pulling out a beer for himself, Mark popped the top, tossed the tab back into the ice and let the lid fall shut. “Poor Amy’s led a sheltered life and had this thing about dirt, bed bugs, lice, and--.”

A new voice interrupted him. “Did I hear you mention the name of, She Who Must Be Worshipped?” Turning around, Mark saw William “The Word" approaching. William, he never responded to any of that name’s many variations, was a gnomish life-form with horn-rimmed glasses that made his hazel eyes look even bigger. Before the hippie craze began sweeping the campus, he ranked high among the school’s most eccentric students. Now he was just one of the crowd.

 Although no longer considered particularly weird, William still had several distinctive characteristics. In addition to being short, he was sarcastic, brilliant, a gifted writer, and he always wore a vest. For the last three years, he’d gone around proclaiming Amy Marshall a goddess of female perfection who he would forever worship in a chaste and reverent manner.

 Mark’s claimed Amy had brought that on herself by treating William like a human being when they were in the same Freshman English class. Since then, her attitude toward this public devotion had mutated from embarrassed, to mad, to resigned. Along with everyone else, she now accepted it as a bad joke, and the price one paid for having him around.

 To keep from staring down at William, Mark sat on the arm of Last Card’s chair. “I thought you were going to spend the whole summer in San Francisco getting stoned, laid, and material for a great book.”

 “I spent as much time out there as I could endure. By the way, thank you for offering me a beer.” Mark grinned, fished out a can, and handed it over.

 William accepted the beer with his usual, “Mercy buckets. There’s a limit to how many beautiful, groovy people any thinking human being can tolerate. I did, however, get stoned quite a few times, laid almost as often, and gathered enough material for a small encyclopedia.”

Having completed his, “What I Did This Summer,” lecture, William opened his beer, handed Mark the tab, took a long pull, and then looked around.

“Didn’t I hear you say the paragon of womanhood was among us? If so, please tell me where she is so I may go pay proper homage.”

 “The last time I saw her she was heading toward the back, looking for Ginger.”

 “Then I must journey thence and make my obeisance. By the way, Last Card, I’m in need of ecclesiastical counsel. Since you’re a born on the bayou Cajun and no doubt a good Catholic, tell me, when I’m genuflecting and making the sign of the cross before, She Who Must be Worshipped, do I cross myself from left to right or right to left? Being a Reform Druid, I never can keep that straight.”

Last Card looked at him with a weary smile. “Word, you’re so full of shit you stink.”

 “No doubt. And I’m sure you’re an expert on the subject. But what is the answer to my sacred question?”

 “Right to left,” sighed Last Card.

 William accepted this with a nod and walked away practicing his moves. Mark shook his head and looked at Last Card. “Being a light-foot Baptist, I’m no expert on this subject, and Amy’s a Methodist so it won’t matter to her, but isn’t that sign of the cross thing done left to right?”

The grin on Last Card’s face widened. “It is if you’re Catholic. Somebody else, I think it’s the Greek, or maybe it’s the Russian Orthodox, do it right to left. I doubt anyone will notice, but I couldn’t resist.”

After pulling out two more beers, Mark sat on the ice chest and let Last Card catch him up on the local social scene. As the report wound up, it occurred to Mark that he hadn’t seen the groom-to-be. “Where’s Mrs. Ingram’s pride and joy, the soon-to-be-married Howard?”

 “Passed out in the back bedroom.”

 “This early? The man never could hold his liquor, but passing out,” Mark paused to check his watch, “when it’s not even three in the afternoon?”

 “No man, that’s not it. He’s still passed out from last night. We had kind of a bachelor party, except Ginger was here, along with some other chicks.”

 “Sorry I missed it. Did one of them jump naked out of a cake?”

 “Hate to kill your wet dreams, Cahill, but that was beyond our limited means. We did, however, have a fully clothed Ginger throwing something, I think it was her sandal, at that girl with her butt sticking up over there on the couch. And I seem to remember the girl being about half-assed naked at the time.”

Mark cast a studious look toward the couch. “Did Ginger hit her?”

 “Nope, but she did manage to connect on Howard’s soft little head.”

 “I thought Ginger was throwing at the girl.”

 “She was. But you see, the girl was sitting on Howard’s lap. She ducked. Howard didn’t.”

 “Now it all kind of makes sense. Who is she?”

 “Hell if I know. Came by yesterday with a couple of dudes. They split. She stayed.”

Mark glanced back over at the girl. “You know, I do believe it’s time we checked out the condition of that poor child over there. Then I better check on Amy. Word might have her cornered.”

 “I’ll join you on that first part,” said Last Card, as he struggled out of the chair.

 After the girl with the tight panties had been examined and commented on, Last Chance went back to his new album while Mark headed for the kitchen. Amy, Ginger, and a plump, pretty, serene-looking person everyone called Mother Ruth were gathered around a small table talking and drinking wine.

“So this is where the elite meets,” said Mark, saluting everyone with his can of beer.

“Well, it was,” said William, “until somebody let the riff-raff in.”

Mark hopped up on the counter and then looked down upon the group with bemused tolerance. “You’re throwing spitballs at a battleship when you try to insult me, Brother Word.”

Turning his attention to Ginger, Mark said, “Miss Reynolds, you are looking beautiful. You too, Mother Ruth. Did you desert New Orleans for the wedding or are you up here trying to save these poor souls from a lifetime of greed and materialism?”

 “Both. But it may take more than a weekend to save some of this crowd.” Her low voice had a pleasant trace of her hometown’s unique accent.

 A few minutes later, the girl with the tight panties came wandering in. A rumpled sheet served as her toga. After a vague, disoriented, examination of the now silent kitchen, she spoke in a vague, disoriented voice.

“Isn’t this the way to the bathroom?”

She was soon made aware of her navigational error and given directions. On her way out, she bumped into Howard who was shuffling into the kitchen. The collision sent her toga tumbling to the floor.

 The girl stopped and stared down at the sheet. After a long pause, she shrugged, kicked it aside, and resumed her search for the bathroom.

 When she'd gone, Amy began to giggle. “Well, at least she had panties on.”

 “Thank God for small favors.” Ginger did not sound amused.

“I don’t know about that,” said Mark. “What do you think, William? Judging from the strain on those drawers, I’d say it was a pretty big favor.”

After some laughter and general agreement, the group turned its attention to the man standing at the sink, pouring himself a second large glass of water. Howard Ingram sported a pasty complexion, unkempt hair, blood-shot eyes, shaky hands, and a bump on his forehead as trophies of his performance at last night’s party. No one mentioned the bump or said anything about the sandal-throwing incident.

 Howard and Ginger had been living together in the back bedroom. But at Ginger’s insistence, they were moving into a nearby garage apartment after the wedding. “That back room’s the quietest one in the house, Mark. You should take it,” said Howard. His voice was half-croak, half-moan. “I still say all your taste is in your mouth, but no one else can keep Word in line. Besides, if you don’t, a couple Kappa Sig’s might want to move in, and there’d go the neighborhood.”

 “It’s a thought. My roommate flunked out last semester, and I don’t feel like breaking in someone new.”

 “No shit? Dudley Fontenot busted out? What a bummer.” Somehow, Howard managed to look even worse.

“I shit you not,” said Mark. “It was a vicious combination of Dr. “No Mercy” Brown in math and his breaking up with Linda Neal. He called a few days ago and said the draft board was on his tail, so he was about to join the Air Force.”

At Ginger’s insistence, the group migrated from the tiny, crowded kitchen to the living room. Last Card was still there. And the girl was back on the couch, although she’d put on a t-shirt and was propped up, smoking.

 Someone asked Ginger about a honeymoon. They were, she revealed, going to drive down and spend a couple weeks in Mexico.

“It’s gonna be such a blast,” interrupted Howard. “I’ve worked out this deal where we’ll be hauling back enough weed to pay for the trip plus a little extra. The drag is that after dropping it off, we’ve got to go to Shreveport. We both kinda promised our folks we’d have another wedding just for them.”

His audience was spared having to express their sympathy by the sudden appearance of the fourth permanent male resident of the Big House. Allen Donovan, a tall, muscular, good-looking former high school basketball star, had been out, scoring dope for the wedding reception, His build, plus the reputed size of his male organ, had earned him the nickname, “Big Al.”

With his looks, body, and the rumors surrounding his endowment, Big Al seldom slept alone. No one was surprised, therefore, when, a few minutes later, he and the girl with the tight panties got up and headed for the door.

 Mark looked up from the album jacket he’d been reading. “Al, how can you leave this scene of urban charm and sophistication?”

 “Too many gutless, fence-straddling, bullshit artists around here.” Al took great delight in abusing anyone he felt lacking in sufficient devotion to whatever happened to be his current cause.

“Act nice, Al,” intoned The Word. “Mark may be moving in with us in the fall.”

 “Cahill, nothing personal, but when it comes to things that matter, you’re nothing but a go-along-to-get-along, jive-ass, spineless drag. What the hell are you going to do, turn this place into a LBJ fan club?”

 “Damn glad you weren’t being personal, my old self-righteous friend and former gung-ho member of the ROTC drill team. Just please remember, I was a Goldwater man. It was dedicated liberals like you who gave us four more years of Lyndon Baines Johnson as our Commander-in-Chief.”

 “You know Cahill, I can be an asshole sometimes, maybe most of the time, and I’ll admit my views have changed. But at least people know where I’m coming from. It’d be different if you gave a shit about Goldwater or anything else. But to you, everything’s a big, fucking joke. I’ve known you for three years, and I still don’t know what you believe in, besides being a nice guy.”

Mark maintained his composure, but some of Al’s insults were coming too close for comfort. He decided to try and end things. “You know what they say about nice guys finishing last? At least it’s what the ladies claim. You should try it sometimes.”

The two men stared at one another until Big Al shook his head and grinned. After giving Mark the finger, he walked out. The girl in tight panties, who by now had covered them with a pair of tight jeans, followed close behind.

 That evening, two young city cops stopped by to, “check on things.” According to Last Card, they were regular visitors and a general pain in the ass, but seldom did anything more than eye the chicks and tried to act tough around the guys. As predicted, they hassled everyone for a few minutes, then left.

 Later, two black guys, who The Word said were Big Al’s regular connection, came by to give Howard a wedding gift of hash. The boss man was Tecumseh Jones, a wiry, intense, young brother who sported a big Afro, several heavy gold necklaces, and a gold tooth. His “partner” was a quiet, very well-built older dude named Jerome. There was a scar on his cheek, and half of one ear was missing. Everyone treated both men with great respect.

 When they left, Ginger consulted with Amy and Mother Ruth. Then she announced that since it was the night before their wedding, she and Howard should sleep apart. He disagreed, of course. But after the previous night’s events, he was in no position to make a strong protest.

 That left him on the outside unable to look past the closed door leading to his own bedroom, which  Ginger was now sharing with Amy and Mother Ruth. Everyone assumed Big Al would be gone all night with the girl in tight panties, so Howard took over his bed.

 Grateful for any soft spot, Mark claimed the well-used couch. This business of crashing at a big house might be okay, he thought while searching for a smooth spot amid all the lumps., but moving in, well, that was a different story. With a sigh, he settled into a small crease between lumps. Something told him neither he nor Amy was cut out for hippiedom.

X x x

The wedding took place the next day on the banks of the Mississippi River. Someone identified as the Chief Boo-Hoo of the Neo-Anthro American Church, a short, chubby, bearded man who giggled a lot, conducted the service. He came clad in sandals, beads, a white, paisley suit with a vest, but no shirt. A garland of flowers crowned his long, red hair.

The wedding party caught a break from the usual brutal July heat. It was a clear, sunny day with temperatures in the low 90’s. By local standards that didn’t even rate as hot.
Thanks to some climatological miracle, the humidity had plunged to a level that was almost tolerable. All that plus a gentle breeze coming off the river kept the sweat index at a livable reading.

After the bride and groom kissed, there had been an extended period of handshaking, hugging, kissing, drinking, laughing, and talking. Except for the clothes and the setting, the scene looked and sounded to Mark like the milling and gabbing that followed most such ceremonies.

The crowd soon headed over the levee toward the line of cars parked along the edge of the old river road. From their places of honor in the bed of a pick-up, the bride and groom lead the procession back to the Big House for the reception.

Minutes later, Mark and Amy were standing alone at the now quiet wedding site. While the Chief Boo-Hoo had been turning Howard and Ginger into husband and wife, Libby and Bob had slipped off and never returned. For Mark and Amy, it meant their departure time would be indefinite delayed.

Before Mark could break the silence, Amy gave him a look and asked, “What’s bothering you?”
He started to argue but knew it would be pointless. If Amy said something was bothering him, something was.

The real problem was where they were and remembered what they’d done, and almost done, the last time they'd been here. With Amy so close, he ached to do it all again. And again But he knew they never would. Of course, he couldn’t talk about that. So he focused on the other thing, a comparatively minor irritant.

“I think it was all that crap Big Al laid on me yesterday, about my being a ‘go along to get along’ type and having nothing I’d fight for.”

“Oh. I see.” Amy’s voice sounded almost disappointed. “Well, you know not to pay him any attention. Al’s always talking first and thinking later, if at all."

Mark picked up a piece of driftwood and tossed it toward the river. It landed just beyond the shoreline and sent a frog scrambling for safety. “The thing is, for once Al might be right. I’m not sure what the hell I believe in anymore. Maybe the environment and treating black folks like human beings. That, and my friends."

He gave her a quick grin. “But I’m no crusader. I’ve never felt like I had any moral superiority to anyone about anything. And that’s okay. But sometimes, I wonder what I’d be willing to march for, much less fight for."

They walked down to the edge of the river and gazed across to the distant western shore. “There was a time I thought I’d do anything for my friends. Now I won’t even stop dating Bebe. I was so sure it’d just be a one-time deal, and it’s still nothing but a convenient, summer thing. But I know it bugs you.”

“Sure it does. But what about Bob, and Willie?"

“They’re guys. They understand. Nothing’s change between us.”
 “I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” said Amy, as they turned and headed back toward the wedding site. “Did you know Willie brought his new girlfriend, Naomi, to town last Sunday?"

Mark stopped, looked at her, and shook his head. He hadn’t known. The implications were enormous and all bad. “Willie didn’t say anything. No one told me.”
 “Most of the time you’re either working or with Bebe. I guess Willie didn’t want to, well, you know.”

“He didn’t want to risk inflicting Bebe on his girlfriend.”

“That’s what I figure. And it’s a shame because she’s a winner. You’d have loved her. I told Willie if he messed this up I would kick his ass long, hard, and often.”

“I just wish I’d known,” said Mark, talking as much to himself as Amy. “Something could have been worked out. Somehow."

Amy gave him a look he didn’t recognize, then turned her head and began looking up and down the shoreline. “Where do you think Bob and Libby are?"

“Out of sight.”
She shook her head and sat on a sun-bleached, driftwood log. “Thanks for the help, Joe Friday."

Mark sat beside her and grinned, “I think of myself more like the suave, sophisticated private eye type."

“Well, I know you’re nuts. And before you say it, I know, birds of a feather flock together."

“Takes one to know one, I’ve always heard. Of course, I’ve also heard that opposites attract. So you pays your money, you takes your pick."

“Seriously, do you think they’re all right?"

Mark nodded, lit a cigarette, and handed it over.
“They’re in love, remember? If one of ‘em had fallen in, the other would be raising all kinds of hell."

“Oh, that’s a real comfort."

After taking a puff, she studied the cigarette. “Weren’t we going to quit these things?"

“We did,” he said while sliding the red and white box of Marlboros back into his shirt pocket. “It was our end-of-semester resolution. But it just applies when we’re in Pinefield."

After lighting his own cigarette, he pointed to a spot near the river. “Now, as for our non-smoking lovebirds, odds are they’re hiding in that little thicket and doing God knows what sort of disgusting things. You wanna sneak up and take a peek?"

Amy laughed and shook her head. “Of course not."


Amy hesitated, then gestured in the same direction. "Is that the place where, you know, where we--, I mean, is that the place?"

At first, Mark just looked at her. Amy could feel herself blushing. After what seemed like an eternity, he pointed in the same direction. "You're asking if that's the place where we made out like two wild weasels?"

"Well, yes."

"Well, no. That happened back in the spring. The water was a lot higher then. We'd have needed scuba gear to do anything over where those two are, no doubt, now carrying on."

He twisted around and pointed north. "The hallowed ground in question, a sacred place forever etched in my memory, is upstream from here. Look back from where dat old man river is now rolling along. See that big pile of brush and logs at the foot of those two little willows? It was near the shore back then and made a perfect nighttime hideout."

Amy turned and studied the location. When she spoke, it was in a low, hesitant voice. "Mark, this is a little embarrassing, but why didn't you, well, why did you stop?"

Without getting up, Mark swung his legs over the log and faced upriver. After glancing at Amy, he gazed at the spot. "Something just told me it wasn't the right time, or place, or thing to do. God knows I didn't want to stop. I mean, it damn near gave me the bends."

His grin was part teasing, part rueful. "The thing is, you mean a lot to me lady, a whole lot. But we both know we're not in love, at least not romantically. So I was afraid if we, you know, made love, we might not be able to keep on being friends. And while it was damn tempting, I didn't want to risk losing my best friend."

"I knew that's what you'd say. And you're right, I suppose. But I still feel guilty. After all, I started it. So it's kind of my fault you got the bends."

"No complaints. You were ripped, bummed out, and very vulnerable. And don't forget, the party was my dumb idea. I'm just glad I noticed you wandering away. Besides, if it hadn't happened, I might never have known my best friend is such a great kisser."

"You’re saying that it’s unreal. Because you see, while we were kissing, I was thinking the same thing about you."

Before he could reply, Amy continued. "Damn, but life would be so much simpler if we weren't such good friends. I mean, it has us so screwed up we can't, well, we can't even screw. And it seems like everybody's doing that these days."

Mark nodded and flipped away his cigarette. "Right, as usual, superstar Amy. The way I figure it, we belong in 1868, not 1968. We’re the last of the unreconstructed, unrepentant southern romantics. Someone should have kept us from reading, "Ivanhoe," when we were kids. And I know we've read and seen, "Gone With the Wind," way too many times.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, except that’s what we both think we want, an old-fashioned, wide-screen, Technicolor epic romance, a real Bogie and Bacall number. Instead, what we got that night was two old friends so smashed they started making out at a levee party. And while it was a helluva lot of fun, at least for me, I don't think that qualifies as a great romance."

"So what do we have?"

"We like each other. That's what we have. At least, it's what I have. Because I like you, Amanda Nicole Marshall. I like you a whole lot. You're very special to me. So special, I wouldn't risk losing you even for sex." Mark said, with another exaggerated, rueful smile. "And for a horny college guy, that just about says it all."

They gazed at one another until Amy noticed Mark was biting his lower lip. Words can deceive, but that gesture always meant something was bothering him.  Could she be that something?

She looked out at the river and tried to think, unaware that she had begun biting her own lower lip. While incomprehensible, Mark did seem to be in love with her, the way a man loves a woman. She could hear it in his voice and see it when he looked at her. The problem was he’d never make the first move. They were too close, and he was too damn nice, and then there was Bebe. So if she wanted him as more than just her best friend, and she did, she would have to make the first move and pray it worked.

All summer she’d tried to convince herself she hadn’t fallen in love with her life-long best friend. But that dream yesterday about what happened here that night back in the spring made it clear she’d failed.

Sure they hadn’t so much as held hands since then, and now he was dating that slut, Bebe Boudreaux. Amy had tried to break them up all summer, but that was because she despised Bebe and knew the little tramp would be so bad for Mark. This was different. Now she wanted Mark for herself.

But getting him wouldn't be easy. Amy knew Mark so well; she could practically name the day Bebe first let him “seduce” her. And since she was the type who’d put out like a Coke machine if it was in her interest, and since she was very interested in latching onto Mark, he was probably getting all the action he could handle. If Bebe hadn’t been out of town this weekend, he might not have come to the wedding.

Amy had never been impressed with her own looks. She thought of herself as gangly with, at best, small town good looks. No one else shared that opinion. The irony was, whatever good looks she might have, they weren’t going to help her win Mark. Tall, skinny redheads weren’t his type. He went for sexy little brunettes, like Bebe.

Besides, Mark still seemed to think of her as the scrawny kid he walked with to junior high. Even going skinny-dipping with him earlier this summer hadn’t changed things.

So if she wanted him, and she did, the next time they kissed there’d be no stopping—she’d make sure of that. The problem was getting things started.

Amy took a deep breath, stood, and moved in between Mark's outstretched legs. Their eye's locked as she wrapped her arms around his neck, leaned her face close to his, and whispered, "You're right, Mark Henry Cahill, we do like each other—a lot. But, for me,  something changed that night we kissed. You've become a whole lot more than just my best friend. So what I want to know, what I need you to tell me, is whether I've become more to you than just your best friend."

A startled look flashed across Mark's features. He slipped his hands around her slender waist and pulled her close. "You always did have more guts than me. I've fought falling in love with you all summer. And believe me, when we went skinny-dipping I damn near gave up the fight. But now I surrender, unconditionally. Amy, I love you beyond passion and logic and the hope of ever being happier than I am right now."

There were tears in Mark’s eyes. Amy knew she was crying. "Oh God, but I love you, too."

They held each other close, their lips sealing the changed nature of their love  forever. When the kiss finally ended, Amy stared into Mark's damp eyes and began unbuttoning her blouse. She had joined the bride and most of the other women in the wedding party by not wearing a bra, it seemed to fit the spirit of the occasion. Once open, she took his hands in hers and pressed them against her bare breasts. "You know me; I never do anything half-way. If you want me, I'm yours, now and forever. But I'm greedy, Mark. I want all of you, all the time."

Mark nodded. The deal had been struck. He was hers, she was his, and Bebe was history. Amy nodded toward the spot where they first kissed. "Let's go over there and pick-up where we left off. But this time, if you do love me if you want me, don't you dare stop."

"Best idea I've heard in this lifetime." His fingers rolled her hard nipples, and for a moment Amy forgot how to breathe.

Mark released her breasts and slid his hands around her back. When he spoke, his voice seemed to come from a fog. "Just one thing. I do want you, lady. But I want you forever, not just now. "So Amy, will you marry me?"

"Oh God, yes," she cried, throwing herself back into his arms. Then she leaned back and laughed. "Where's that stupid preacher, the Boo-Hoo? Where'd he go?"

Mark stood. "We don't need him or anyone else. In every way that counts, we're married. Now please hush so I can kiss my bride."

Cradling her head in his hands, they sealed their union with another long kiss. When their lips parted, he looked into her eyes and smiled. "Now let's go find that spot."



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