Monthly Archives: May 2015

Among the Snowdrops

My flash fiction piece “Among the Snowdrops” has been published in the Journal of Microliterature:

Story Commentary:

Imagine waking up one day and learning that your mother or father was a serial killer, a torturer in the employ of a brutal dictatorship, or a violent criminal whose “work” has led to the death of innocent children. There must be many such sons and daughters confronting such horrifying realizations, and, for the German generation that was born in the final years and aftermath of the Third Reich, it must have been a common story indeed.

In addition to the Nazi leaders whose names are well known, thousands of ordinary men and women were employed in the massive bureaucracy that engineered and managed the Holocaust, and much study has been made of their motivations, of the means by which they morally justified their actions, and of even of their eventual reabsorption into post-war German society. Yet comparatively little has been said regarding their children, each of whom, must, at some point, have discovered that the man or woman they loved and respected had been a participant in arguably the greatest tragedy in history. How does a child reconcile the image of a parent they know as gentle and doting with the picture of one screaming “Schnell! Schneller!” at starving concentration camp inmates while wielding a whip? How many young people have listened to their elderly grandparents regale them with tales of the “good old days” only to later discover that they meant the Nazi regime?

Although the image of Magda Goebbels poisoning her six children in the bunker beneath Berlin as the Russians invaded fills us with pity and horror for the innocent victims, one can’t help but wonder what kind of lives they would have led, growing up in the shadow of the crimes of their father. What life would have awaited Hitler’s sons and daughters, if he had had them? Would they have defended or even glorified their father, like Gudrun Burwitz, daughter of Heinrich Himmler, who, seventy years later, is still a staunch supporter of Nazi ideology and a hero of the neo-Nazi movement? Few, I think, could maintain such a stance. Most, I suspect, would prefer to simply forget the troubling history of the older generation, because the participants in the massacre we know as the Holocaust were once so ubiquitous and so widespread that their children could not have rejected them, as Gretchen in this story rejected her mother. The former low-level Nazis were rarely shunned or ostracized by their society; by and large they returned to their lives, as did their parents and brothers and sisters and yes, even their children.

Somewhere in Germany a very old woman sits and examines a photograph of herself or her young husband in uniform and remembers those days as the best time of her life. In so many ways, she is no different from any other elderly lady who fondly recalls her era of youth, and this is what we must find so disturbing. Because she does not look like a criminal, and she does not seem sadistic or evil; she is merely an old woman who works in her garden and has tea with her neighbors, and her “colorful” past has been graciously forgotten. But sometimes let us stop, let us look at her and remember how easy it can be to forget, how much more comfortable it can be to disregard what we don’t wish to remember. And let us take flowers from her carefully tended garden and place them on the graves where they truly belong.


SALE! My Award-Winning Memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened Just $0.99 through 05/14

The Kindle version of my award-winning memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness has been discounted to just $0.99 through Thursday, May 14th on


It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.

Then came my mother’s psychosis.

I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.

My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.

But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.

She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.


How, On Mother’s Day, Twitter Taught Me the True Meaning of Social Support

I wrote this post last year on the day after Mother’s Day. I’m still blown away when I remember how I felt that day, and I felt compelled to share it again.


Yesterday was Mother’s Day. It is not a holiday I celebrate. I am not a mother myself, and as those of you who know something of my personal history are aware, my relationship with my own mother was critically wounded when she became mentally ill during my adolescence.

I’m generally not much affected by the holiday. It’s been years since I left home, and by now I’ve spent more of my life without my mom than I spent with her. Time heals. But last year I learned that she had died – in 2007. And ever since then I’ve found myself thinking of her much more often, of the mother she was when I was young, and of the mother she became when I was older. And in completing my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened naturally I’ve had to spend a great deal of time digging deeper into my long-repressed feelings towards her, this woman I once loved with all my heart.

And maybe that’s why, on Sunday morning as I was doing my usual Twitter thing, I found myself growing uncomfortable when faced with the steady stream of tweets celebrating moms and motherhood. That’s wonderful, of course, for people who are mothers and who have mothers – they should celebrate. But then I thought, what about those who don’t ? What about all those children – young and old alike – who have lost their mothers? How does it make them feel to be deluged with these reminders of other people’s happy families when their own has been torn apart?

I hadn’t known ahead of time what I was going to tweet that day. I had nothing sweet or tender to offer in honor of the holiday, nothing warm or fuzzy I wanted to say about my mom or anyone else’s. But as I waded my way through my tweetstream, it suddenly came to me that even if I didn’t know what I wanted to say, I knew who I wanted to speak to, this Mother’s Day. Not to the mothers, but to the motherless.

And this is what I posted.

“For all those who can no longer celebrate #MothersDay… Remember #Mom.”


And then I got up and made breakfast. When I returned to my computer about an hour later, my tweet had been retweeted 49 times and favorited 70 times.

I was blown away. Needless to say, nothing I have ever posted on Twitter has ever gotten anything close to that kind of response. As of this writing, there have been 133 retweets and 152 favorites – mostly by people with whom I had no prior connection. And people responded! How they responded. Here are a few of the notes I received:

“I remember my mom too! Its the 1st Mother’s Day without her! Be strong, Lori!”

“I put flowers on my mother’s grave too. Miss her so much today.”

“Thank you. Lovely reminder of our mothers lost too early.”

“Thank you Lori. This is a tough day for a lot of us, but this makes it a little easier.”

I was moved. Deeply, deeply moved. My tweet – 70 characters and a photo – had actually reached people, hundreds of them; it had touched them in a brief yet meaningful way. And when you look at the responses it prompted, it’s apparent that there were different reasons why. Some wanted to share their own feelings about their own lost mothers. Some wanted to offer their support to others who might be in pain. And some were merely grateful to be acknowledged – to be given the recognition that Mother’s Day is not necessarily a day of celebration for everyone. The responses varied. But at heart they all stemmed from the same impulse, our unquenchable desire to communicate our feelings to other humans.

It’s often said that social media is about making meaningful connections, about developing relationships with individuals you wouldn’t normally encounter in your local environment. But there’s a different kind of connection that social media also makes possible. Connecting to strangers. People with whom you have no real relationship and probably never will. People with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, except for this – a shared emotion. A shared feeling, a shared experience. A shared bit of the humanity that’s common to us all.

In its own strange way, social media unites us. We’ve all heard of revolutionary movements being organized through Twitter. We’re all aware of the grassroots activism that’s transpiring every day on the internet. We all know how social media is changing our lives, how it’s connecting people all around the world, how it brings people together, how it makes their voices heard.

And what we’re discovering is that we are not alone. There are millions upon millions of others just like us, in all the countries of the world, who are living and loving and laughing and crying and hurting and dying. We no longer have to be alone with our feelings. We can touch, and be touched. We can share our sorrow. We can share our pain. We can find comfort and support in the hearts of strangers. We can find strength in the swell of humanity that surrounds us, in the knowledge that in some of the most essential ways, we are not many, but one.

It’s a powerful age. And a beautiful one. For the first time in history, we can reach out to our fellow humans, all of them. Knowing that they can respond to us. Knowing that they will reach back.

Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged

I’m excited to announce the publication of my new novel, a funny, sexy romance entitled Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged, now available in eBook exclusively on Amazon (FREE with Kindle Unlimited!). Here’s the blurb:

Meet Kathy, a thirty-seven-year-old drifter who’s constantly on the move: to new towns, new jobs, and new relationships. Imagine her surprise when she’s befriended by lifelong friends Sam and Ted, attractive young men who, though ten years her junior, are far more settled than she thinks she’ll ever be. Cheer them on as their three-way friendship succumbs to passion, then passion to romance, and romance to… well, surely it couldn’t be love. Could it?

With a Heat Level of 4+, dialogue that will make you laugh out loud, and a plot to tickle your most sentimental of spots, Just the Three of Us promises an entertaining read for fans of romance looking for a unique take on love and sexuality.

Want to read more? Here are the first few chapters:

Chapter 1

“Wow, you’re fast!” he said with admiration, gawking at me with wide eyes through a plastic face-shield thick with fog.

I turned to look behind me but I was the last player on the bench; this unfamiliar young man with the friendly face appeared to be talking to me.

“Uh, thank you,” I said, returning my eyes to the ice and uncomfortably shifting my grip on my stick.

“I mean it,” he assured me. “You are very fast, especially for, you know, a – Hey!”

The exclamation caught my attention more than the unfinished remark. I turned again and saw another young man sitting beside this one, elbow out as if he’d just used it to nudge his friend into silence.

“For a what?” I said shrewdly, watching in amusement as my neighbor struggled to solicit a polite response out of an apparently unresponsive brain. “For a woman? Or perhaps you meant for an older woman?” I concluded, putting extra emphasis on the “older.” At thirty-seven I was hardly ancient, but there was no doubt in my mind that these fellows were a good ten years my junior, a fact that gave me the indisputable right to tease them mercilessly.

His face, already beet-red from the exertion, flushed scarlet. “I wouldn’t say older!” he fibbed unconvincingly. “You’re what, like twenty-eight, twenty-nine?”

“Don’t mind my friend,” the other fellow said, leaning across him towards me and grinning. “He’s really a nice guy. Sometimes just a bit of a dumbass.”

“It was a compliment!” the nearer man stuttered before being abruptly rescued from his consternation by the return of the other left wing. He stumbled over the boards and onto the ice and his buddy slid over next to me.

“I’m Ted,” he said, extending his arm in my direction. “And that’s Sam.”

“Kathy,” I replied, bumping my glove against his by way of a handshake.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said. But before I could answer, I saw the one of the defensemen hurtling towards the boards and sprang to my feet to take his place. Ted followed hard on my heels to replace the other wing, who had just lurched, panting, over to the bench.

I hadn’t even noticed them before – possibly because I’d been too busy trying not to embarrass myself my first time on the ice in my latest new town. But now I couldn’t stop watching them skating around in front of me; two of my nameless, faceless teammates had turned into people. Of course, meeting people wasn’t always as great as it sounded, as I’d discovered in the course of my many travels. You don’t worry so much about making a good impression when you’re an unknown member of an anonymous crowd. I pondered that as I forced my legs to an inhuman effort in chasing down the next breakaway when it came. I didn’t want to lose my newly established reputation for speed, after all.

“Nice job,” Sam said when I flung my body back over the boards a minute later, fresh sweat trickling coolly down my spine.

“Thanks,” I gasped, plunking my butt down on the bench and taking a deep swig of my water. My partner for the day was still nowhere in sight and I wished he’d hurry up and finish dressing; it was exhausting playing with only three D.

The guy named Ted leaned over again. “So are you new here?” he said, picking up our conversation right where we’d left off. It’s customary for hockey players to chat in fragmented one-minute intervals.

“Just moved to town,” I nodded, starting to catch my breath. “I was in a women’s league the last place I lived, but there isn’t one in town here. Thought I’d give this group a try, if it’s not too tough.”

“You’re tough enough!” Sam exclaimed. “I’ve seen the way you skate.”

“Trust me, I have no skills,” I countered, pleased in spite of myself. I wasn’t being modest; I was a poor puck-handler and had no shot to speak of, and it had already become apparent that my rather abundant apportionment of feminine muscle wasn’t quite as useful among these men, most of whom were younger and a lot bigger than me. And apart from my speed, I had few real skills as a skater, and already I was struggling a lot harder to keep up than I had in my last league. Ever heard the expression “tripping-over-your-tongue-tired?” That was me.

“Pshaw!” he answered, dismissing my critical assessment with a wave of his glove. I turned to look more closely at my new acquaintance. Along with that broad, boyish face and welcoming eye went the kind of personality that could use an expression that went out with the previous century without an iota of shame.

“Pshaw?” Ted echoed, making a motion as if scratching his helmet with his padded glove.

“Pshaw!” Sam repeated, unabashed.

“Okay,” Ted said, clearing his throat audibly and leaning towards me again. “So where are you from?”

“Um, well… New England, originally. Most recently, California,” I answered. “Up north, near San Francisco.”

Sam laughed. “So what the hell are you doing here? Sick of the beautiful weather?”

“Something like that,” I chuckled back. I wasn’t about to try to tell my life story to two strangers in the ten seconds before I had to be on the ice again.

“Well, welcome to Minnesota, eh?” Ted replied in a heavy and decidedly phony accent. I looked askance at him. He had the agreeable look of a young man who hasn’t quite reached his prime; I guessed he would be downright handsome about five years down the line. Slimmer, more serious-looking than Sam, with dark hair and deep brown eyes and a neatly trimmed beard that ran the length of his chin.

“Yeah, you’re welcome, eh?” Sam agreed.

“We don’t actually talk like that,” Ted assured me. “It’s just an affectation put on for outsiders, so they’ll think they’re in Canada or something.”

“You’d better start working on yours, too,” Sam said seriously. “Here, I’ll teach you,” he began, but fortunately I was rescued from a lesson in Northern American linguistics by the return of the entire forward line, which sent my new acquaintances scurrying for their positions.

My defensive partner finally arrived, plopping his enormous body down next to mine and effectively cutting me off from further conversational efforts with Sam and Ted. I couldn’t decide whether or not I should be sorry about that. But as the game continued, I watched them weaving in tandem along the ice, passing the puck to one another seemingly without effort, to all appearances like two balls on the ends of the same chain. They must have been teammates for a long time, I thought; they made such a good wing pair. I wouldn’t have said that they were great athletes; I mean, they were both obviously competent, but not spectacular in any way. But there was something in the way they played together that made them better, much better than their skill levels alone would have suggested. Almost as if they knew each other so well that one was an extension of the other; two minds and bodies separated only by twenty feet of ice.

Following the closing handshakes, I was surprised to find them both skating beside me back to the bench.

“Okay, so we know you’re not a native, but do you drink beer?” Sam inquired, as if it were a beverage endemic only to Milwaukee and cities of similar latitude.

“Of course!” I answered. I was actually very fond of beer, although I’d found, as I often did, that the styles that were popular in Minnesota weren’t the same as those that dominated other markets.

“Good,” Ted replied. “We usually go out for a beer after the game, and we think you should come.”

I was taken aback. They seemed like nice enough fellows and all, but I really saw no point in going overboard with the acquaintance. Sure, I was a little lonely. It’s never easy being the new kid in town, no matter how old you are, and I hadn’t exactly been a ball of social fire in any of the many places I’d lived in the wandering course of my adult life. But really, what besides hockey could I, a relatively mature woman, possibly have in common with two twenty-something-year-olds? Boys, practically, to my mind.

I guess my lack of enthusiasm showed, because while I hesitated in answering I heard Sam saying, “I don’t think she likes us, Ted.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have made that comment about her skating like a, ‘you know,’ ” Ted replied, shaking his head dolefully.

“Please just come have a beer with us!” Sam pleaded. “Otherwise Ted will never let me hear the end of it.”

“Unless you really don’t like us,” Ted said, narrowing his dark brows at me. I wasn’t short, especially with my skates on, but standing up he still towered a good six inches over me, and I might have been intimidated had he not had such an indisputably gentle face.

“We wouldn’t blame you much,” Sam chimed in. “We are kind of obnoxious.”

I looked from one to the other. There was something refreshingly youthful in their earnestness and a part of me was touched. It was sweet, really, the way they’d taken pity on me. After all, I probably seemed as old to them as they seemed young to me.

“It’s not that,” I answered finally, weighing my words carefully. “I was just surprised that you’re old enough to drink.”

“Oh-ho, she got you back, Sam!” Ted said with a laugh.

“Says you!” he shot back. “Ted’s just jealous because I’m more mature.”

“You’re only six months older than me!” Ted said. “And older does not mean more mature!”

That was certainly the truth. Here I was in my late thirties, with no husband or children and no particular desire for either yet. In a new city with a new job that I wasn’t even sure I was going to like because I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. Plus I was living in a one-room apartment with cardboard-box furniture and a mattress on the floor. What did I know about mature? Maybe my mistake all along had been in trying to meet people my own age: settled, adult, grown-up people. I’d be right at home with these guys.

“Twenty-six is mature!” Sam retorted. “Isn’t it, Kathy?”

“Hmm, sorry, I can’t remember back that far,” I joked. “It’s been a long decade.”

We retreated to the locker room to undress. As usual I kept my head down so I could pretend not to notice those few bold fellows who stripped down to their bare asses before changing into clean clothes. Me, I never bothered. I was always way too sweaty after a game to even think about forcing fresh pants on over my sticky thighs. I did wonder, though, how the other players would react if one day I, too, decided to strip down naked and wander around the locker room with all my goods hanging out like it was no big deal.

That was one way to make an impression, I thought. I’d never been what you’d call beautiful, even when I was younger, but I wasn’t bad to look at, either, especially since hockey had sculpted my once-flabby form into a passably pleasing shape. I hoped that having a decent figure helped to distract the interested observer from my other physical flaws, which weren’t too tough to overlook if you didn’t look too closely. I had very plain brown hair that I wore cut to the shoulders, and kind of a square face that was rescued from dullness by deep dimples, rosy cheeks, and big green eyes that I simply adored. Most days I didn’t mind not being gorgeous. It was much easier to blend into the background when you were average-looking, and I’d spent most of my adulthood trying not to be noticed. And I could still clean up pretty cute when I wanted to, although I knew those days were rapidly drawing to an end. Hmm, I thought as I glanced around the room full of strangers and contemplated the cold and lonely bed waiting for me at my apartment. Maybe I should flaunt it while I still had it.

I hauled my gear out to my car and then, with some trepidation, headed upstairs to the sports pub. Sam and Ted were waiting for me in the doorway and that relieved me somewhat; I always felt hopelessly awkward walking into a place alone. I nonchalantly looked them over. Unlike me, who was twice my normal size with gear on, they didn’t look that different without it. Sam, I saw now, had golden blond hair that he wore in a buzz-cut all over his rather round head; it added to the general impression of constant cheerfulness that he radiated like sunbeams off of every edge of his person. He had a solid, stocky build and was several inches shorter than Ted. With his fair skin and bright smile, I’d describe him as cute more than handsome; he seemed to ooze a boyish sort of charm that made him appear pleasant and harmless. Ted, by contrast, had a darker, almost olive complexion, and seemed the quieter of the two; something in the set of his jaw suggested a level of reserve his friend seemed to lack. He had a narrow face that went well with his lean form, and seeing him in his street-clothes, I would have sworn he didn’t have an ounce of fat on him; only lithe, long muscles that ran like thick wires over his elongated limbs.

“Shall we?” Sam said, extending an arm as if to offer it to me with old-fashioned courtesy. When I hesitated, he seemed to think better of the idea and hurriedly retracted it. I pretended not to notice.

I followed them inside. A few of the other guys from the team were up there and nodded to Sam and Ted. Then I caught them looking bemusedly at me and I blushed. Self-consciously I raised my hands to my head and felt my hair all utterly disheveled into sweaty locks, as it always was after hockey. I’d never gotten in the habit of showering after a game, either. I figured since I was always going straight home afterwards, what was the point in enduring the fungus-ridden locker room shower?

This is why you don’t have a boyfriend, I thought as I plunked myself down at the small, circular table Sam selected while Ted went up to the bar to buy us a pitcher.

“So why did you move here, Kathy? Was it for work?” Sam asked as Ted poured our beers and I slipped him a five for my share. He pushed it back across the table with a pleading little wave of his hand. I shoved it back towards him with a bigger, more insistent wave. His eye caught mine and I watched it crinkle in amusement. Then he nodded and, conceding defeat, tucked the bill into his pocket. It was very rare that I lost the battle over going dutch with men. I hadn’t been independent all these years for nothing, after all.

“Was it for work?” Sam was repeating.

“Oh! Well, sort of,” I answered, jerking my attention back to the conversation at hand. “Not really.”

I took a sip of my beer while he stared at me as if expecting me to continue talking. Ted was peering at me keenly through narrow-rimmed glasses he had not been wearing during the game. I liked them. They did something for the shape of his face.

“No shutting her up, is there?” Sam said at last into the silence.

“So are you naturally not very talkative, or do you just have a lot to hide?” Ted inquired.

I chuckled. “A little from Column A…”

“Well, what do you do? For work, I mean?” Ted said.

“Oh,” I hedged. “This and that.”

They looked at one another.

“Wait right here,” Sam said. “I left my good dental extractor in the car and I think we’re gonna need the big one if we want to get any information out of this girl.” His voice was husky, and a little edgy, as if he spent a lot of time joking around; it rather pleasantly complemented Ted’s deep, gravelly rumble.

I laughed. “Really, there’s not much to tell. I have a Bachelor’s in Film Studies, which, as you might imagine, is pretty close to worthless.”

“Film Studies?” Ted interrupted. “That sounds interesting!”

“It was!” I answered enthusiastically. “Oh, I really enjoyed it. It’s not what people think, criticism and all that, it’s more like a sociological study, looking at the culture behind movies and so on. You do a lot of reading on the history of the time and write a lot of papers – it was really fun. Kind of useless in the real world, though. There wasn’t much I could do with it except get a doctorate and then teach, and I don’t really have the personality for that. It looks good on my resume, though; proves I was smart enough to finish college.”

“Why’d you choose it, then, if you didn’t want to make a career out of it?” Sam inquired curiously.

“I dunno,” I answered vaguely. “There wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do, I guess.”

“Huh,” Ted replied, resting his head on his hand as if seriously considering the meaning of what I had said.

I gave up attempting to describe what was obviously a foreign concept and hurried on with my speech. “Anyway,” I said, “I haven’t got what you’d call a career. I’ve done all kinds of work: office jobs, waitressing, copyediting… I was even an online retailer of out-of-print videos for a while. Right now I’m working as a bank teller.”

“Well, that’s cool!” Sam said without much enthusiasm.

I shrugged. “I like math,” I said. “It’s one of the better jobs I’ve had. I actually did it once before, back in New Jersey, but then I got promoted to New Accounts and I didn’t like it as much. Dealing with people… It can be really irritating, you know. And when I moved to North Carolina, I decided to try something else so I never advanced any further in banking.”

“Why did you move to North Carolina?” Ted inquired, his eyebrows raised as if he thought it a strange destination.

I shrugged again and let out an awkward laugh. “No real reason, I guess. Just felt like a change.”

“How many places have you lived exactly?” Sam asked, furrowing his brow. It forced his forehead into shallow, barely perceptible wrinkles that made mine look like the walls of the Grand Canyon but without all the pretty colors.

I smoothed my wet hair down over my forehead uneasily. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I guess on average I move every couple of years.”

“Every couple of years?” Sam replied, astonished, drawing back to peek underneath the table at my lower half. “No moss grows beneath your feet, I see.”

“I guess we shouldn’t get too attached, eh, Sam?” Ted said.

“Why so often?” Sam asked me.

“I can’t stand cleaning,” I said seriously. “It’s easier just to move when the apartment gets dirty.”

They frowned at me skeptically and took big swigs of their beer.

“Well, I think that’s great,” Ted said defensively. “You know that except when I was in college, Sam and I have only lived two places our whole lives?”

“Really?!” It was my turn to be shocked.

“Yup. We moved here from the country right after school and have been in the same apartment ever since.”

“Wow!” I said. “Don’t you get tired of being in the same place all the time?”

“Well, one day we’d like to move out to the suburbs. Have a place we can call our own.”

“I really want a house with space in the yard for a vegetable garden this big,” Sam said eagerly, spreading his arms wide to illustrate the size he had in mind. “And that’s not happening here in town.”

I guess they realized that I was starting to wonder, because all at once they said together, “No, we’re not gay.”

“And if we were, I still wouldn’t want to go out with him,” Ted said seriously, peering across the table at me. “He just isn’t my type.”

“Oh, you would, too!” Sam objected. “You’d be lucky to have me!”

“That’s not what your mom says!” Ted replied.

“It’s true,” Sam conceded, turning to me. “My mom’s been hoping for years to get Ted for a son-in-law, and since I’m an only child…”

I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not, so I tactfully decided not to comment. “So what do you guys do?” I asked, hurriedly changing the subject.

“I’m a carpenter,” Sam announced with pride. “A Lead Carpenter, in fact. Just got promoted last year.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Sort of like a foreman.”

“I know what that is!” I answered. “I was a foreman once.”

“Really?” They stared at me in disbelief.

“Yup. Up in Alaska when I was nineteen. I’d gone up to clean fish for the summer and was put in charge of the vacuum-packing machine. I had one person under me. I was so proud.” I clasped a hand to my chest to express the sweetness of the memory of being in charge.

“Who’d you get to go with you all the way up to Alaska?” Ted wanted to know.

“Oh, I went up alone,” I answered, thinking it a strange question. Why would I have brought anyone with me?

“All by yourself?” Sam squeaked, jumping a little in his chair as if something small and furry had just scurried underneath it.

“I don’t travel that well with others,” I confided. “Most people kind of drive me crazy after a while.”

“Huh,” Ted said again, scrutinizing me as if I were as mysterious as the Mona Lisa and only half as congenial.

That’s it, I thought. From now on I stay home in my apartment with the door locked and the windows bolted shut.

“So what do you do, Ted?” I said, taking one last desperate shot at trying to sound like a well-adjusted woman having a normal conversation with people she wanted to befriend.

He shrugged. “Something with computers,” he said. “You don’t want to hear about it. Boring.”

“Don’t you like it?”

“Yeah, I do,” he admitted. “It’s just not my dream job. But I’ve got student loans to pay off.”

“So what is your dream job?” I started to say, reaching for my glass and finding it empty. I always drank faster in the company of strangers.

“Hey, you want another?” Sam said, standing up to go and fetch a fresh pitcher.

“No, thanks, I really gotta run,” I said.

“Big date?” Ted said.

“Just me and my showerhead,” I chuckled. They frowned at me again in that half-serious manner and for a moment I felt like the young and immature one. “No, I just get really nervous about drinking and driving. I don’t like to have more than one if I have to drive afterwards. But I can’t stand sitting around with an empty beer, either.”

“I hear that,” Sam said.

“Well, will we see you next week?” Ted said, standing up by way of farewell. I wasn’t sure if he meant at the game or afterwards, so I played it safe.

“I think so,” I said vaguely.

“Come again when you can stay longer!” Sam called as I made my way to the door. I turned to wave at them and thought that I would never see those two outside of hockey again.

But I was wrong. I didn’t see how anyone who’d had to endure twenty minutes of my dull and dreary conversation could be inclined to sample more of it, but they didn’t seem bored with me at all. Indeed, had I not been an on-the-spot witness to my poor social performance, I would have sworn that they actually liked me. It seemed impossible, but the following week they cornered me again, and the week after that, and before I knew it, meeting those two for a beer after the game had become a routine that I looked forward to as much as the game itself. They had such easy-going personalities that, somewhere between the post-game drinks and the bits of chatter on the bench, even I began to relax around them. In a weird way, I thought the age difference also helped. I mean, I knew it wasn’t the biggest spread ever, but between that and the fact that I only ever saw the two of them together, I was fairly confident that this wasn’t some elaborate pickup scheme, and that took most of the pressure off me. Of course, if they’d ever been tempted to think along those lines, they would have stopped once they’d gotten to know me.

“So why did you leave California, anyway?” Sam still wanted to know during about the sixth week of our acquaintance.

“It’s complicated,” I muttered.

“Complicated how?” Ted prodded.

“Oh…” I said reluctantly, trying to remember that these were my only friends. “I was seeing this guy, and he wanted me to move in with him. I thought that was crazy, because we’d only been going together six months, but he kept trying to convince me, and I don’t know… I couldn’t decide. And I’d been sorta looking around for a new job and then this position came up, so, well, I figured that made the decision for me.”

They both gawked at me as if I was speaking a little-known dialect of ancient Swahili.

“Um, couldn’t you get a job as a bank teller anywhere?” Ted said.

“I suppose… Yeah, I guess I could.”

“And how did you happen to even be looking for a job in Minnesota, anyway?”

“Well, I wasn’t, really. I just put some feelers out… I mean, I don’t really care where I live.”

“I have a question,” Sam announced. “Most women your – I mean, most women would be delighted if a man they were seeing wanted to move in with her. Aren’t you starting to worry… I mean, don’t you want to get married?”

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, I’m not planning on having any children, so I don’t really see any point in it.”

“You don’t want kids?” Ted said, surprised. I could swear there was a bit of a crack in his usual calm, and Sam appeared downright shocked, his jaw hanging open like I’d just announced I was next in line to be the Queen of England.

“Kids are a lifetime commitment,” I said seriously. “It’s not like a marriage; there’s no walking away from that.”

“Well,” Sam said, at last recovering his ability to speak, “I think we finally understand why Kathy prefers to hang out with us after hockey.”

“Don’t worry, Kathy,” Ted said. “I promise we won’t be pressuring you to move in with us or anything.”

“Phew!” I said, wiping a warm hand across my still-sweaty brow. “I was worried there for a second.”

“But we do want something from you,” Sam said enigmatically as he stood up to hug me goodbye. “Something that will require a serious commitment on your part.”

“If it involves planning a bank heist, I’m not interested,” I replied.

He glared back at me. “One of these days we’re going to come pick you up so you can come out with us for some real beers and you won’t have to drive. There’s this great place near our apartment and we usually go there on Fridays.”

“Where do you live anyway, Kathy?” Ted inquired. I guess it had never come up before. I told them.

“Do you know where Delaney’s is?” Sam said excitedly.

“Sure,” I said, surprised to realize that I actually recognized a landmark. Although I’d been in town nearly three months by then, I still didn’t know my way around very well, probably because I never went anywhere but work or home or the ice rink. “It’s like a mile down the street from my place.”

“We live just a few blocks from there!” he exclaimed.

“Well, whaddya know?” I marveled. “We’re practically neighbors.”

“Now you have no excuses,” Ted threatened ominously, lowering his glasses down to the bridge of his nose and peering forbiddingly down at me. I cowered in mock intimidation.

“You will come for a beer with us,” Sam said, waving his fingers at my face as if attempting to perform some sort of supernatural mind-meld. “Next Friday. Deal?”

“Deal,” I agreed. It was nice having something to look forward to on a Friday night for a change.

But of course one Friday led to another, and before I knew it, that, too, was a standing engagement. Just three friends meeting for beers; nothing unusual about that. Except for the fact that social-moth me was one of them. But I admit it; I fell in with those two as splendidly as feathers fill out a peacock and without all the fuss. I had a great time hanging out with them, a great time. They were so full of youth and vitality; everything was exciting to them, from a new ale on the beer list to an old-fashioned roadster driving by; even my dull, repetitive work stories seemed to interest them. And they had stories, too, endless, joyous reams of them, as if everything that had ever happened in their short, unchanging lives was novel and fascinating and worthy of telling. And there was something in the banter between them that I enjoyed listening to and watching; it was the kind of relationship the guys I had known growing up had had with their close friends and I found it amusing and comforting somehow.

And it wasn’t long before I could say, with undeniable honesty, that “my boys,” as I liked to call them secretly in my mind, had become my closest friends; probably the best friends I’d had in a very long time. Soon we weren’t just meeting for beers on Friday nights; sometimes it was dinner on Saturday or a movie on Sunday, and then the following summer, when we’d known each other about six months, one day it happened, the unthinkable.

“We wanted to ask you something,” Ted said, one dark eye on me, the other monitoring the level of head in his glass. “Something important,” he added mysteriously.

“Oh?” I answered, raising my eyebrows in dubious disbelief.

“We’re serious!” Sam declared. “This could mean a big step forward in our relationship!” He winked coyly at Ted.

I looked at them appraisingly. “Your mom is right; you would make a pretty cute couple,” I observed.

“Kathy!” Sam objected. “I meant our relationship,” he clarified, spreading his arms as if to encompass the three of us.

“Huh,” I answered, narrowing my eyes at them in mock suspicion. “What exactly did you have in mind?”

“See, you’re totally giving her the wrong impression,” Ted said.

“What? No – no, I’m not!” Sam added hastily. “I didn’t mean – I didn’t mean that!”

“Don’t be scared,” Ted said reassuringly to me. “He’s basically harmless. Just kind of an idiot.”

“Not that you aren’t… I mean… not that we wouldn’t be lucky to…well, you know…” Sam continued, his neck reddening.

“How deep do you think he’ll get into that hole before he shuts up?” I inquired of Ted.

“But we would never… You’re our friend!” Sam spluttered, flecking both Ted and I with a spray of saliva.

“Pretty deep, I think,” Ted said disgustedly, wiping his cheek with his napkin. “Are you going to ask her or what?”

“Well, I’m not sure I want to, now!”

“Of course you do! You haven’t stopped talking about it all week!”

“But that was before…”

“ ‘We should ask Kathy,’ ” Ted quoted. “ ‘Don’t you think we should ask her? It would be fun, right?’ ”

For one crazy, wild moment I wondered if they actually were referring to the thought that had inevitably crossed my mind in the midst of this roundabout conversation. You know what thought I mean.

“Nah,” I said to myself, shaking my head. “It couldn’t be.”

“Just ask her!” Ted prompted.

“Oh, all right,” Sam said as his face gradually faded from maroon to pink. “Kathy,” he began momentously, turning to face me with a pronounced aura of solemnity. “Kathy… we’d like you to go away with us for the weekend.”

I hesitated a long moment before answering. They sat across from me, watching me intently, evidently anxious for my response.

“Do you really think we’re ready for that?” I said quietly at last. “I mean, first it’s weekends away, then suddenly we’re shacking up together. Before you know it, we’re starring in our own reality TV show.”

Sam began humming the Three’s Company theme.

Ted flicked a coaster at him; sent it bouncing hard off his wrist and onto the floor. “It’s just a camping trip,” he explained. “We go once or twice a year with some of the guys from Sam’s work.”

“There’ll be beer there,” Sam said hopefully. “Lots of beer!” he wheedled, nudging Ted with his elbow as if to emphasize the point.

“Hmmm…” I pretended to think. “Bunch of drunk people I don’t even know? Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.” They stared at me uncomprehendingly. “Pint of beer,” I said, translating my metaphor into language they could understand.

“They’re good guys,” Ted assured me. “Not at all creepy.”

“Plus we’ll be there to protect you,” Sam added, flexing his big bicep at me as if I should be reassured by its length and depth.

“Not that you’ll need it,” Ted chipped in hastily.

“You won’t be the only girl,” Sam asserted. “There are always at least a few at the campground.”

“A very few,” Ted said under his breath.

“But see, we know you can hold your beer. That’s why you should come.”

I mulled it over. “When and where is this camping trip?” I asked.

They told me. It was in two weeks, at a lake a couple of hours north of us.

“We guarantee you’ll have a good time,” Sam promised.

“What do I get if I don’t?” I wondered.

“You get to smack Sam upside the head,” Ted answered, demonstrating with a light whack against his friend’s skull.

“I can do that anyway,” I argued, responding in kind and causing Sam to exclaim “Hey!” and withdraw, sulking, to the corner of the table with his glass.

“We’ll buy you a beer,” Ted offered. “No, two beers,” he said, emphasizing the “two.”

“Way to sweeten the deal, Ted,” Sam replied, rolling his eyes.

“Well,” I sighed, “I suppose it would be kind of a long weekend, me here at home all by myself while the two of you are away.”

“Aw!” Sam exclaimed. “You’d miss us!”

“Hmph!” I snorted contemptuously.

But I would, I realized to my unending chagrin as I listened to them regaling me with tales from prior camping trips. Although I’d begun to have dates here and there, the majority of my social life really revolved around these two young men, and sometimes I even got the feeling that a huge part of their lives revolved around me, too. Why didn’t they ever seem to go out with women their own age? I almost began to wonder if they saw me as a girlfriend-substitute of some sort. Without the sex, of course.

I was still thinking about that when we met up at the pub the following week. That and the disastrous first date I’d had myself the previous evening.

“Loser,” Ted was saying, shaking his head disappointedly as I described the miserable lack of chemistry between me and my co-worker’s cousin, a deep, thoughtful man whom she had assured me would appeal to my sensitive side.

“I’m just not sure I have a sensitive side,” I said uncomfortably, recollecting the unfortunate fellow’s unfortunate monologue on the nature of romantic love. “Isn’t love mostly about screwing, anyway?”

“Kathy, please!!” Sam objected. “My virgin ears!”

“Your ears are virgins?” Ted said quizzically. “That’s a relief.”

“Plus he was just no fun,” I went on, ignoring them. “Talk about stodgy… it was like being out with somebody’s invalid great-great-grandfather, only the conversation wasn’t as lively.”

“We’ve spoiled you,” Sam said. “It’s hard for you to hang out with anyone else now that you’ve experienced our awesomeness.”

“Do you guys ever date?” I said suddenly.

It got so quiet that a feather falling off of a pigeon’s butt would have broken the silence.

“Oh sure,” Sam said hurriedly into the void. “We go cruising for chicks all the time. Ted’s a great wing man.”

“I thought you were the wing man,” Ted replied.

“No, you’re the wing man. And the straight man. I’m what you would call the main man.”

“That explains all the empty space in your little black book.”

“Hey, I get around!” Sam exclaimed. “You’re just never around to see the bevy of beauties I’m always bringing home.”

“But we live in the same apartment,” Ted countered.

“So you two don’t date much either, I take it?” I interjected.

There was another long, silent pause. “It’s been a while,” Ted admitted. “My last relationship experience… didn’t end so well.”

“You were too good for her,” Sam snarled defensively. Ted shrugged. “You were. She was nothing but a… but a hoochie-mama!”

“A hoochie-mama?” Ted repeated, frowning. “What century are you living in, Sam?”

“I am living in a century in which girls like that stay away from my friends,” he huffed.

“Sam’s last girlfriend wasn’t exactly a shining example of womanhood, either,” Ted confided to me.

“She sure wasn’t,” Sam agreed. “Good-looking but cold, real cold at the core. Our kitchen table treats me with more affection than she ever did. She didn’t even blink when I finally broke up with her.”

“Ten years later,” Ted muttered.

“You were together ten years?” I said, astounded.

“That’s not so long,” Sam said, shrugging as if all men in their twenties had had relationships that had lasted a decade.

“It is to me,” I insisted. “I’ve never had a relationship that lasted more than a year.”

“That’s funny,” Ted said. “I’ve never had one that lasted less than a year.”

“Huh,” I said wonderingly. “You guys are all like, good at commitment and stuff.” It certainly wasn’t one of my particular skills, and not one I was sure I was all that interested in honing, either.

“Especially Sam,” Ted answered. “He’s a one-woman man.”

I shuttled my eyes back and forth between the two of them. Ted was gazing at Sam, who stared unabashedly back at him and then glanced back at me.

“That’s right,” he said vehemently, coloring only slightly, as if uncertain whether to be proud or defensive in light of this unexpected revelation. “I’ve only been with one woman. We were high school sweethearts, you know.”

“When did you break up?” I inquired, thinking that he seemed awfully uninterested in dating for a twenty-six-year-old man who’d only had one girlfriend.

“I dunno…eight or nine months ago,” Sam replied.

“Not long before we met you,” Ted clarified.

“And you haven’t found anyone new, I take it?” I said.

“Nah… nah,” he said. “Girls my age, you know, they’re just so immature. They don’t even want to think about settling down yet.”

I stared at him for a moment in stunned disbelief. That settled it; I simply didn’t understand the younger generation.

“How about you, Ted?” I continued at last.

He shrugged. “Haven’t met anyone who interests me lately.”

“Sorry, guys,” I said. “I don’t really have any girlfriends I can set you up with.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ted replied. “We’re in no hurry.”

“Someone’s bound to come along someday,” Sam agreed.

“Well,” I said seriously. “At least we have each other.”

“See, you’re totally sensitive,” Sam said, grinning. “From time to time.”

“And on that charming observation…” Ted intervened, “Let’s have a toast. Here’s to the three of us.”

“To the three of us,” Sam and I agreed.

We clinked.

Chapter 2

As it turned out, the camping trip actually was a pretty good time. It was a lazy weekend spent lounging on the beach and paddling around the lake and sitting about the campfire while the men cooked and I took charge of handing out beers. It was, in fact, a good group of guys, as I should have known it would be. I really appreciated the fact that no one treated me any differently because I was a girl, if you know what I mean. I understand that men are just trying to be polite when they do things like apologize for farting or swearing in front of you, but I think it’s silly. Really, we women aren’t that delicate, and you’d have to come up with some amazingly rancid gas or creative cursing to offend me in a noteworthy fashion. And I know they mean well when they offer to help you carry your luggage or your groceries, but personally, I don’t like it much; it’s as if they think I can’t take care of my own crap. I, who had moved single-handedly in and out of more apartments in fifteen years than most people occupy in a lifetime. If I can manhandle a mattress in and out of the back of my pickup with my own two hands, then surely I ought to be allowed to carry a case of beer out to the car. But these guys seemed perfectly at ease with cursing freely and letting me haul coolers full of beer and ice into the shade to my heart’s content. And nobody gawked or laid it on thick with cheesy compliments, either, as men sometimes seem to feel the need to do with women, even ones they aren’t trying to get into bed. Nobody except for Sam, that is.

“You really look lovely today, Kathy,” he said sincerely when I emerged from my tent in a simple sundress, looking, perhaps, more feminine than I usually did when I was bundled up in my bulky winter jacket or my enormous chest pads.

“Uh, thank you,” I answered, startled but not displeased by the compliment.

“Hey, Ted,” he called over his shoulder, “Doesn’t Kathy look nice today?”

Ted let go of the bundle of firewood he’d been rearranging and stood up to glance at me.

“You look very nice,” he replied, then bent again to his chore.

“What does Ted know?” Sam said in exasperation. “Trust me, you look good.”

Just as I was about to make a smart remark asking whether he was flirting with me, he got up to join his friends in a game of washoes and didn’t mention it again. But for the rest of the summer I did notice that he looked at me a little differently when I was more scantily clad in a skirt or a dress, and maybe I was a little surprised to realize that he was aware that besides being a friend, I was also a woman, and a not unattractive one, at that. Not that I thought anything of it, of course. You don’t suddenly become immune to the charms of the opposite sex just because the charmer happens to be your pal, after all. But that doesn’t mean you plan on making anything of it, either. I guess mostly it struck me as odd because of the age difference. Friends or not, I wouldn’t have expected even cursory admiration from a man who was so much younger than me. I did find it reassuring, though, particularly considering that I wasn’t exactly burning up the romantic scene. Maybe I even found it so reassuring that I started putting a little extra effort into dressing things up a bit. I frequently found myself choosing skirts that were cut an inch or two shorter and tops an inch or two lower when I went out with them. I couldn’t help myself; it was flattering to watch Sam’s eyes tripping delicately over my body in that appraising way before settling themselves again firmly on my face, as if he’d snapped himself out of a pleasant but fleeting daydream.

But if Sam could be beguiled by thighs and cleavage, Ted appeared as immune to such shallow physical qualities as ever; never once did I catch him glancing at my bared flesh the way Sam did, not at mine, nor, as far as I could determine, at anyone else’s.

“Oooh, look at her, Ted,” I’d say, pointing out a particularly fine specimen perched on the nearest barstool, her shapely figure encased in a dress that emphasized each one of her well-rounded curves.

“Eh,” he’d shrug. “She’s trying too hard. I mean, really, does anyone need that much makeup?”

And I’d brush my hand against my own perpetually unpainted face and wonder if he’d given me a backhanded compliment after all.

But these changes in our friendship were subtle, at best. The overriding difference was really the comfort level we began to develop with one another, which expressed itself in a myriad of ways. The way we lounged together on their sofa, watching a movie, Sam with his arm extended around me while I crooked my elbow through Ted’s. The stories I relayed to them of my unending dating woes while they clucked sympathetically and threatened any man who treated me shabbily. The way we crammed all together at our bar around a table built for two, our knees and elbows overlapping one another’s like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The tales they told, of their families and their childhoods; their lost loves and faded dreams. Although I was sure there were secrets they didn’t share with me, I would have been hard-pressed to guess what they were. Indeed, as time went on, I began to feel almost as if the lifelong friendship they’d had with one other had itself expanded to include me; as if they’d allowed me into their own cozy circle and made me a part of the bond that was Sam and Ted.

So early that fall, when the next camping trip rolled around, they didn’t even have to ask me if I wanted to go.

“You’re free that weekend, aren’t you?” Sam inquired anxiously, consulting the calendar on his phone.

“For you guys?” I said with affection. “Of course.”

“Good,” he answered. “It wouldn’t be the same without you. Right, Ted?”

“Right,” Ted agreed.

They were right. It wouldn’t have been the same without me. And after it was over, none of us would ever be the same, either.

Chapter 3

“Ew!!” I howled, crossing to my tent and finding, by the faint firelight and strong stench, that someone else’s vomit was spewed all over the front flap. “Who puked on my tent?” I yelled to the campground at large and got no answer. Admittedly, I wasn’t too surprised. The puker was probably passed out already and was unlikely to ‘fess up even if he wasn’t.

“What’s the matter, Kathy?” Sam said, unzipping the flap of the tent he shared with Ted and poking his head out in alarm.

“Somebody barfed all over my tent!” I grumbled. He slipped on a pair of flip-flops and stumbled out to investigate.

“Aw, man, they got you good!” he said, laughing.

“I’m so glad you’re amused,” I answered icily. “Perhaps you’d like to sleep in the puke house?”

“Noooo, no thank you! But hey, you know, since you’re hard up and all, you can come and sleep with us if you want. Wait, I totally didn’t mean it like that!” I’d shot him my frostiest stare. Although I wasn’t quite what you’d call hard up yet, I hadn’t had any masculine companionship of the naked kind in over a year, and I was really starting to feel the pinch of not being pinched. Secretly I liked to blame Sam and Ted. They made lousy wing men for a single girl.

“Seriously, I’m sure Ted won’t mind if you stay with us. We’ve got plenty of room. You’d better watch out for Ted, though; sleeping outdoors makes him frisky. Man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up to find him crawling into my sleeping bag looking for a little action.”

“Don’t you know that mesh isn’t soundproof, dumbass?” I heard Ted call out, perfectly audible from within their tent.

“Don’t worry about him,” Sam assured me. “He gets cranky when I’ve been away too long.”

“Kathy, why don’t you come and sleep with me and put Sam in the puke-tent where he belongs?”

“Oh-ho, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he yelled to Ted before turning back to me. “He’s trying to get you alone, I see. Just because you’re prettier and a little more feminine than I am. I’m heartbroken, I tell you.” He wiped a phony tear from dry eyes and looked coyly at me from underneath his long eyelashes.

“Shut up, sweetie,” I said. “Can we please just get to bed before I have to pee again?”

“Oh, sure. Just be careful where you let it go. I mean, me, I’m broadminded, but I don’t know if Ted’s gonna be cool with the whole golden shower thing.”

I shoved him unapologetically in the direction of their tent and followed the noise of his yelping to my new lodgings for the night.

“So, now, Kathy,” Sam said once we’d ducked inside the darkened canvas, “Not to put any pressure on you or anything, but which one of us would you rather sleep next to?”

“I dunno,” I replied. “Which one of you is the bedwetter?”

“Funny, funny, ha ha ha. That would be Ted, of course, so I guess that means you’re sleeping next to me.”

“I don’t think so,” Ted snorted from the corner, where we could see the dim outline of his slim form. “Because then I’d have to sleep right next to you, too, and that ain’t happening. Besides, Kathy’s the girl, so she should sleep in the middle.”

“Ted!” Sam exclaimed in mock horror, positioning himself in front of me like a shield; a knight in shining armor preparing to duel in defense of a hapless maiden. “Are you planning on attacking our sweet, innocent Kathy with vile intentions?”

“No,” Ted answered evenly while I snorted my disbelief. “But I’m going to attack you if you don’t shut up.” He had sat up and was unzipping their sleeping bags. “I only meant that since we’re going to have to share our sleeping bags, she should be in the middle so she won’t get cold.”

“Thanks, Ted,” I replied. I slipped off my shoes and shorts, unhooked my bra, and climbed in awkwardly next to him in the darkness, trying to ignore the body heat I felt emanating from his side of the bed and being careful not to let our limbs touch. Whatever levels of intimacy we had achieved in recent months, getting into bed together was not among them. I heard the jingling of keys and zippers and knew that Sam was getting undressed, too.

“Here, take my pillow,” he whispered as he lay down at the far edge of our shared blankets, shoving it towards me like a pushy waiter with a tray of cocktail weenies at a wedding.

“I’m fine without one,” I fibbed.

“Just take it,” he whispered urgently. “It’s too firm for me anyways; I was just going to put my head on my jacket,” he lied in return.

“Well, all right,” I said. “Thanks, Sam,”

“You’re welcome,” he said earnestly. He could be almost charming when he wasn’t trying to be funny. “Good night, Kathy,” he said, reaching out to pat my elbow in a friendly fashion before rolling onto his side away from me. “Good night, Ted.”

“ ’Night, Sam,” Ted replied. “Good night, Kathy,” he said, a bit more softly, before also rolling over onto his side away from me.

I don’t know how long that sleeping arrangement lasted, because thanks to all of the sun and beer I slept straight through the long, cool night. But when I woke up in the morning, I found that I had wrapped my arm tight around Sam, Ted had circled his tight around me, and we were nestled all together as cozy as three silver spoons in a velvet-lined drawer. Even then, I might have escaped without the idea insinuating itself into my mind except that I couldn’t help but notice that Ted was holding me in a most peculiar and unexpected fashion. Just beneath the tiny beer belly that was so determinedly beginning to take hold around my waistline, his arm was stretched out, so close to my crotch that the edge of his hand brushed up against the pubic hairs that were peeking over the top of my underwear, which had become slightly disarranged while I slept. I didn’t mean to do it, but I couldn’t help myself; instinctively I shifted upward and that hand slipped down just barely onto my mound. That urge I knew so well bubbled up unbidden within me, as exciting as a geyser of newly tapped oil and half as controllable.

For a long time afterwards I wondered what it was that made me respond the way I did. Another woman would have withdrawn from the embrace of a friend, or would have shunned all together the touch of one man while another lay beside her. Even a rather kinky female inclined to give in to such a filthy temptation would at least have rolled away from the one into the arms of the other; could have derived her satisfaction from the naughtiness of clandestine cuddling and fondling alone. But neither of these very logical courses of action even occurred to me as I lay there squeezed between them. Instead I pulled Sam closer; pressed my breasts into his back and felt them swell in response as he stirred. And then I felt Ted’s fingers twitch where they rested so near to the most enjoyable parts of my body and right then I was inexplicably overwhelmed with the desire to fuck them both back into unconsciousness.

And then Ted woke up, realized with a start where his hand lay and jerked it away, mumbling something apologetic and incomprehensible, while Sam jumped out from underneath my arm, hopped into his shorts and dashed out the door of the tent like the bed was on fire. And me? I just lay there quietly turned away from Ted while we both pretended to sleep until Sam returned, looking much more at ease and not in the least aware of how close he had come to enjoying a costarring role in the wild and wicked feminine fantasy in which I had nearly indulged. But he didn’t come back to our nice warm bed, and when Ted rose soon after, they both politely left me alone to dress in private.

“Oh, hush,” I whispered to my whining breasts as I nuzzled them, lonely and naked, back into their wiry cage. “Stop even thinking about it!”

But of course I didn’t stop thinking about it.

We rode home in peace, though, and it was obvious from their usual free and easygoing manner that the moment I had so fiercely experienced hadn’t happened for them; had probably never even entered into the most recessed parts of their subconscious minds. I was relieved. It was bad enough that I had thought it, but if they had known about it… I could only envision disaster.

Over the months that followed, I made a studied effort not to alter my behavior towards them, and this was made easier by the fact that their conduct towards me hadn’t changed in the slightest. We continued to go out for beers together on Friday nights. We saw each other at hockey and hung out afterwards. We went for hikes and kicked around the dead leaves until the autumn ended, and then built mini-forts and threw snowballs at each other all through the winter. But I was conscious now, when we were cuddled up together on the couch or at the bar, of something more than a close but benign friendship, of the masculinity that now seemed to emanate from each of them like a radiant force pulling me towards them. Now I couldn’t help but notice, when I peeked out of the corner of my eye at them undressing after a game, how well-built they were; Sam’s big arms and broad chest, Ted’s lanky sensuousness. And suddenly I didn’t see them as merely boys anymore, much too young for a woman my age; they were men, two very appealing, very attractive men that I would have had a very hard time resisting, if only they’d been inclined to give me cause to attempt to resist them.

Routinely I promised myself not to think about it. And in their carefree innocence, I doubt that they ever even came close to suspecting. If once or twice one of them caught my eye trained upon areas of their bodies where I should not have been looking, they probably chalked that up merely to lack of attention on my part to where I was blankly staring. If my hugs were longer, more frequent, and more fully-frontal, they no doubt attributed that more to my ongoing singledom, my lack of romantic masculine companionship than to any unsavory desires cropping up in my straight-laced mind. I shelved away that hunger I so often felt now, the desirous greed kept so carefully in check in their presence, leaking out only in dark, devious daydreams that I pretended belonged to someone else. I could never let on, I knew. It would ruin everything. What would they think of me, if they knew what I was thinking? Likely they’d be thoroughly disgusted; maybe even repulsed to the point of forsaking me entirely. There was simply no way. It was certainly possible that the idea of being with me in that way had crossed one or both of their minds at some point in time. Maybe it wasn’t even so far-fetched to think that one of them might be willing to risk our friendship in order to turn it into something more. They might consider a Kathy and Sam or a Kathy and Ted if that was what I wanted. But I had no interest in either of those combinations. I simply couldn’t separate them in my mind; couldn’t see myself with one without the other close by. It had to be Kathy and Sam and Ted, or nothing at all. And the idea of that, I knew, would never, ever fly.

But time flew, and before I’d even finished dusting the snowflakes off my heavy winter jacket, spring had come, and with it the dreaded annual ritual that these days usually left me as desolate and cold as a midwinter dawn: my birthday. Not only was I rapidly heading towards the downhill side of the getting older coaster, it had been years since I’d had anyone with whom I even wanted to celebrate such questionable milestones. In consequence, as with most other holidays, I’d made a practice of ignoring the event entirely, and I’d gotten pretty darn good at it, too. As it happened, that year it fell on a Friday night. Since I was happy to let this particular occasion slip by unnoticed, I didn’t mention it to the guys, but arrived at their place as usual for our Friday night beers, only a little less cheerful than usual.

You can therefore imagine my very great surprise when they both sprang to the door, grinning like two mad Christmas elves, holding a vast bouquet of brightly colored balloons and a highly mysterious cylindrical package wrapped in tissue paper and tied with curled ribbons all around it.

“Happy Birthday!” they cried, releasing the balloons and permitting them to drift joyfully to the ceiling as if they’d been imprisoned far too long.

“How did you know?” I inquired, gently shaking the cold, damp present as if trying to guess what it could possibly be.

“Ted remembered,” Sam burst out proudly, as if he himself were somehow responsible for his friend’s recollection. “You told us last year when we all went out for my birthday, remember?”

“Not really,” I admitted. Sam’s last birthday was the first time I’d had a hangover in years. I didn’t feel too bad about it, though. As I recalled, he hadn’t gotten up at all the next day.

“We know you don’t like to make a fuss,” Ted assured me. “But we wanted to get you a little present. Something we hope you’ll want to share with both of us.”

I felt that intoxicating burbling in my loins again and for one crazy moment I almost dared to hope that my birthday wish was going to be granted after all.

“Open it,” Ted said, grinning and nodding towards the cool package that was warming in my fevered hands. I managed it with only a bit of shaking.

“Why, it’s a beer!” I exclaimed, poorly feigning surprise. “But what a beer!” I added, examining the bottle. It was an oak-aged Imperial Stout from a prestigious craft brewery. This was a rare and ridiculously expensive beer.

“Thanks, guys!” I said enthusiastically, internally rebuffing my surging hormones into silence while I pecked each of them on the cheek in turn. “What do you say we crack this puppy open right now?”

It was as delicious as anyone could have hoped and strong, very strong, and when we finally lumbered out into the street towards the bar, I didn’t feel the slightest compunction about positioning myself cozily between my friends and locking my arms about their waists.

“You guys are the best,” I said, drawing them towards me.

“Eh, we kinda like you, too,” Ted conceded, eyeing me affectionately and squeezing me back ever so slightly.

“Not me!” Sam interjected. “I just put up with you for Ted’s sake.”

“Good. I only put up with you for Ted’s sake, too,” I shot back, sticking my tongue out at him.

“Oh, I’m hurt!” he cried, half-pulling away and forcing me to draw him in tighter, my breast pressing against his ribs like a cheerful ambassador from the pools of my passion.

“You know I was joking, right, Kathy? I really do like you,” he added anxiously a moment later, peering at me with concern.

“I know,” I said. “Being a jerk is part of your charm.”

“Did you hear that, Ted? Kathy says I’m charming.”

“Sure she did,” Ted answered skeptically. “Dumbass.”

“Speaking of asses,” Sam said to me, seemingly apropos of nothing. “You’re what, thirty-nine now?”

“Don’t remind me,” I grunted.

And with that he drew back his hand and slapped my butt hard with the flat of his palm.

“There’s one!” he cried.

My internal simmer rapidly threatened to boil over and for a moment I couldn’t even walk; I stood stock-still in the middle of the sidewalk while they halted beside me, staring at me curiously. And then Ted drew back his hand and whack! my other cheek was stinging delightfully in turn.

“There’s two!” he shouted.

“Stop that!” I muttered unconvincingly, wondering whether they could see me blushing beneath the streetlights.

“Huh,” Sam said, grabbing my hand and dragging me back along the sidewalk. “You know what I think, Ted?”

“Um, that Kathy likes being spanked?” he replied without hesitation.

“You picked up on that, too, huh?”

And before I could even mount a half-hearted protest, they had both slapped me again hard, smack in the middle of my ass.

“Does that count as one or two?” Ted inquired.

“Two, I think,” Sam answered cheerfully. “Only thirty-five to go!”

“Plus one to grow on,” Ted reminded him, pulling back for another strike.

“Catch me if you can!” I cried, wiggling out of their grasp and bolting down the street towards the bar while they chased me with threatening palms.

It may have been the best night I’d ever spent with them. We joked and talked and laughed and sat close together at the bar, each of them angling to get another crack at my butt every time I shifted in my seat or got up to go to the bathroom. And I don’t know whether it was the stout that did it or the three beers that followed, but by the time we tumbled in a pile out onto the sidewalk I was definitely feeling tipsier than usual and said so.

“You’re just punch-drunk from all the spanking,” Sam replied, landing another solid one on my buttocks while my back was turned.

“That was what, nineteen?” Ted said, winding up for another pitch. “We’d better get busy; there’s a long way to go.”

“Did I say I was turning thirty-nine?” I said playfully, edging away from them. “I meant forty-nine.”

Again we ran most of the way home until at last, landing on their doorstep, they cornered me; set me face-first against the wall and gave it to me good while I screamed and laughed.

“Twenty-eight! Twenty-nine!”

They eased up for a second and I broke free; scrambled out from between them and ran shrieking through the apartment.

“Look out!” Sam cried as I tore off my jacket and hurled it behind me like a wild animal net.

“Booby trap!” Ted yelled, tripping over the hard, flat shoes I’d smoothly slipped out of and left in my wake.

When I reached Ted’s bedroom at the end of the hall, I was forced to a halt. I’d only been in here once before, when he’d wanted to show me the oil paintings that hung on his wall, and I felt vaguely as if I’d entered some very private space and wondered whether I really ought to be there. But I was cornered now, and I had no choice but to duck behind the king-sized bed and stand there waiting while they prowled menacingly around the perimeter.

One man, of course, I might have held off. But with two there was no chance.

Finally tiring of toying with me, they sprung, one on each side, throwing me laughing onto the bed. Undaunted by my half-hearted struggles, Sam sat down on the edge of the mattress and together they forced me upside-down onto his lap, my skirt riding up to my thighs and allowing a cool breeze to flush against my burning cheeks.

They took turns while I whimpered and groaned, naughtily shifting my hips so that my skirt rode up higher, exposing the lace panties already damp with my dew.

“Forty-nine, and fifty!” Sam said, releasing me at last. But I simply lay there in blissful abandon, my face pressed against his thigh, not looking at either of them except in my mind.

“Look, we wore her out!” he observed, noting my lassitude.

“You know I’m really only thirty-nine, right?’

“Guess we’ll have to start over!” Ted threatened, leaning over me with palm extended.

“No!” I yelled, grabbing his hand and yanking him down onto the bed beside us. He went over laughing, and then I pushed hard against Sam and he went over, too, with me lying between them while we all panted from the exertion.

“That wore me out, too!” Sam said, lying down on his back, closing his eyes and turning his face towards me and Ted, who now lay on his side behind me.

Subtly I scooted my backside closer to Ted. I could feel his fingertips on my back and I reached around and grabbed his hand and drew his arm snugly around me, letting his hand fall either accidentally or subconsciously onto my right-hand breast.

Being too thoughtful to point out my little mishap, he didn’t jerk his hand away, but rather tightened it into a fist that hovered just above the flesh of my breast. I inhaled deeply and felt his knuckles tickling my nipple.

“Comfortable?” he murmured.

“Mm-hmm,” I sighed, trying and failing to keep the longing out of my tone.

Suddenly Sam’s eyes popped wide open and then bulged as he saw us lying there so close together. “Hey, how come Ted gets to feel you up and I don’t?” he teased.

“I’m not feeling her up!” Ted protested. But he didn’t move that errant hand as I wiggled my chest more thoroughly into it.

I looked at Sam and patted the bed right beside me, indicating that he should come closer. “Are you sure you two wouldn’t rather be alone?” he teased again. I didn’t answer but patted the sheet again, more vigorously this time. He grinned and scootched over half a foot.

“Closer,” I said, patting an area an inch in front of my thigh. He laughed and pulled in, so close to me that the hair on his legs tickled mine. He lifted his hand to my hip and dabbed at it with playful fingers.

“Close enough?” he inquired.

“Almost,” I agreed. And then I took hold of his hand and planted it firmly upon my left breast.

“Whoa!” they said together. For a moment nobody moved.

Then Ted muttered into my ear, “Um, Kathy? Are you drunk?” In the excitement he’d forgotten to keep that fist going and now his palm lay flat upon my breast, which was silently begging to be clutched.

I couldn’t help myself. I tilted my body and snuggled further into the hands that were touching me from before and behind.

“I don’t think so,” I answered tentatively, uncertain which answer was most likely to get me the action I so desperately wanted. Neither man had let go of the breast I’d given him and they both seemed to be poised there, waiting uncertainly to see what would happen next.

I looked at Sam, whose eyes were just inches from mine. His hand twitched on my tit and involuntarily my hips jerked in response, pressing against the delicious warmth of the thighs on my thighs, the belly and back on my belly and back.

“Aw, shit,” he said softly.

I felt my hindside grow cool as Ted retreated behind me, but he only withdrew far enough to push me gently onto my back, where I lay snugly between them while they gazed down at me with a mix of wonder and apprehension. Their arms were still criss-crossed over my chest and I felt trapped like a full-grown butterfly in a silk cocoon, waiting to flutter beautifully into life.

I inhaled audibly and heard them breathe deeply in turn. They gazed intently at one another, as if talking without speaking, and then nodded in unison, as if they’d come to some unspoken mutual agreement. I waited.

As one man they released their hands from my breasts and began unhooking the buttons of my blouse, one starting from the top, and the other from the bottom. With bated breath I watched as they gently pulled the cloth aside, leaving me nearly bare in a hot pink brassiere that nearly matched the color rising in their cheeks. Slowly they unhooked the front clasp, and pulled the bra aside, releasing me into the wild. I moaned gratefully. For a long moment they gazed down at my naked breasts, not moving, not speaking. Then they both smiled broadly, bent their heads to my breasts, and took them into their mouths as if they’d been expecting this all along.

It was ecstasy; every bit as glorious as I’d dreamed it would be, and I watched with ardor the tongues on my tits while unseen hands crept further down my trembling torso, my shivering hips, and my shaking thighs. They sucked harder and I groaned and wiggled my hips in response as I felt a different man’s fingers grasping at each edge of my panties, tugging them softly, surely away from my body while they both looked up at me with warm, tender eyes.

Eagerly I lifted my rear and my undies broke free. And all at once, I was exposed to them, these, my two closest friends, and as they smiled up at me I was no longer afraid of what this might do to our friendship, no longer worried about their disgust over my unusual desire. I let my legs fall open wider and smiled as they bent to glance down at it, my most private of parts, one of the very few sides of me they had never yet seen. And gently the fingers of two hands crept across my hips and thighs; met in the middle at the juncture of my holiest crevice, and again, as if by that unspoken mutual agreement, silently parted. They bent to my breasts with renewed vigor, and I cried out in my joy and desire and pulled them even more tightly to me. And then I felt them at last, the hands exploring my underside, the fingers slipping into my hole and stroking my clitoris and I couldn’t help it; abruptly I burst into a frenzied, frantic, flailing finish while they hung on by their teeth to my still-swollen breasts and gazed up at me with a hint of amusement filling their eyes.

Slowly they withdrew; let go of my breasts and leaned back on their elbows while I waited, flushed and panting with pleasure and wondering what to do next. Ted looked over at Sam, and Sam looked over at Ted, and they nodded at one another again in silent understanding. Then Sam sat up, awkwardly shimmied my panties back up over my body, stripped down to his boxers, and again lay down beside me, blinking bemusedly at me with his long eyelashes while his hand travelled over the sheet still warm and wet with my sweat. Ted got up to turn off the light, slipped off his pants and then climbed back into bed, nuzzling my ear with his nose and saying “Good night,” as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened here, and within minutes they were both fast asleep. I might have lain awake myself, and pondered what was to become of the three of us now, but I was so damned satisfied that I had no energy left for thinking, and merely lay peaceably between them, enjoying the feel of their hot breath on my skin until I too, fell serenely into sleep.


The eBook of Just the Three of Us is now available exclusively on Amazon at only $3.99 – borrow FREE with Kindle Unlimited! Paperback now available in both standard and LARGE PRINT sizes on Amazon (Universal Link), Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. The audiobook, narrated by Lana Long, is also available on Amazon and other audio book retailers.

Just the Three of Us II