Author’s foreword: Apologies for the long wait between chapters. This one is super-sized and, well, I think you’ll understand by the end.
The first rule of M Club is: You don’t talk about M Club. The second rule of M Club is: You don’t talk about M Club. Third rule of M Club: No touching anyone but yourself. Fourth rule: No recording devices. Fifth rule: No clothing below the waist. Sixth rule: If this is your first time at M Club, you must masturbate.
The last week of school wasn’t anything like how Denby had imagined it. Yes, she was busy studying for exams. She was also looking forward to being done and getting on with summer vacation. Getting through all of it while being pissed at her likely ex-boyfriend and ducking questions about that situation from all her other friends was wearing her down.
All enthusiasm for finishing high school and being freed of her promise to abstain from sex had vanished. Lisa had tried, repeatedly, to crack her shell. Denby didn’t want to talk, but shutting her friend out was only adding to the weight on her shoulders.
Andy, in passing and at band class, was polite but wise enough not to insert himself into the situation. Vida, likewise, acknowledged Denby in passing but otherwise stayed in her own circle of friends.
Sean, like Lisa, had tried to connect with her. He’d sent several apologies by text and email and even voicemail. He’d also gotten the hint that her lack of replies wasn’t an invitation to try harder, and he’d been quiet for most of the school week. She could feel his eyes on her in the hallways, try as she might to avoid him.
“You gonna just keep hiding for the rest of the year?”
Denby looked up from the table in a dark, quiet corner of the city library where she’d been studying for her last final exam. Lisa didn’t wait for an invitation, sliding into the chair opposite and setting her backpack on the table. Den wanted to be irritated, but no longer had it in her. In truth, she was relieved. Lisa, bless her, was quietly upbeat and pointedly sincere.
“Stalking me?” Denby said, capping her highlighter.
“Your mom said you were going to be here. She’s worried about you, too.”
Denby rolled her eyes. “Yeah, like I can talk to her about it.”
“You can talk to me.”
Denby saw the pain and compassion in her friend and felt even worse for having shut her out for so long. She fought back the tears, not wanting to make a scene.
“I know. I just needed to work some things out for myself.”
Lisa reached across the table and took one of Denby’s hands in hers. That gesture, human contact, felt so good. After getting used to it daily with Sean, she hadn’t realized just how much she missed it. She squeezed back.
“So, where are you with all that?”
Denby sighed. “I’m not sure. Getting better. Coming to terms. Confused. I don’t know.”
“Still pissed at Sean?”
Denby looked down at the table and steadied herself. “A bit, yeah. But…”
Lisa leaned forward. “You do need to talk. For both your sakes.”
Denby looked up and had to wipe the corner of her eyes. “Does he think we’re still a couple?”
Lisa’s eyebrows raised at that. “You’re not? I mean, I know what you said in the heat of the moment and all, but…”
“I’m not sure if I meant it then, but now I’m pretty sure. And that’s why I’m afraid to talk. I’m too scared to tell him that.”
Lisa frowned. “I’m not about to tell you what to think or how to feel about this, but he’s a good guy and this was his first screw up. Well, that I know about. Is that really enough?”
Denby shook her head. “No, it’s more than just that.”
Lisa gave her a confused look. “What, then?”
Denby knew if she continued any further, the tears would come freely. She already felt uncomfortable wiping her eyes in the library, afraid someone would see.
“I need to study,” she said, politely but firm enough to be clear she was done talking. “Thanks for finding me and being there for me. Sorry I’ve been a shitty friend lately.”
Lisa squeezed her hand. “You haven’t been. I know it’s been hard. Just, know you can talk. If not to Sean, then me.”
Den nodded. “You’ve been talking to him?”
Lisa hesitated and looked very uncomfortable. “That’s the other thing I wanted to talk with you about.”
Half a dozen different, incompatible emotions flashed through Denby at once. She tried to keep her voice neutral. “What about?”
Lisa withdrew her hands, clenching them together. “Last weekend, when you weren’t talking and then told me to, uh, deal with Sean myself?”
Denby was stunned. During all this crap…that!? She wanted to scream and laugh at the same time. Lisa looked like she expected more of the former than the latter.
How to respond? She didn’t even know how she felt.
“Really?” Denby doubted her efforts to sound dispassionate was working.
Lisa nodded. “I’m sorry. I was hurt, pissed, frustrated. I needed to talk, and you were shutting me out. I met Sean, only planning Akbatı escort to talk.”
Denby shook her head and forced a smile. “Well, I told you to. No one to blame but myself.”
“Blame me. Please, please, please, blame me. I deserve it.”
The pain in Lisa’s voice hurt Denby more than the revelation. Her friend had come clean, which counted for a lot. And, all things considered, she had been the one who’d pushed Lisa and Sean together, repeatedly.
“Nope. I’m not blaming you. Sorry, but this is on me.”
Lisa looked dumbfounded. Clearly not the reaction she’d been expecting.
“Let me study,” Denby said, softly. “We can talk later. Tomorrow. Okay?”
Lisa nodded and began to rise. She paused and opened her backpack, withdrawing a beat-up composition notebook. She slid it across the table.
“It’s Sean’s club log,” Lisa said, confirming what Denby suspected. “I think you should read it. Up to you, of course. But, please, talk to Sean.”
Denby brushed her fingers across the black cover.
Against all sense, the talk with Lisa and her revelations about messing around with Sean didn’t distract Denby from her studies. On the contrary, she found herself in a strange state of indifference. It was how she imagined a monk might feel when meditating in some perfect zen balance.
Her last final exam was an hour before Lisa’s, so she was able to slip out of the school without a direct face to face. She’d promised to talk today but felt more inclined to explore this strange place she’d reached in solitude.
Hoping it would suffice, she fired off a quick text for Lisa to read later: Read the log. Thanks. I’m in a good place, but still figuring it out. Will talk with you and Sean later. See you in the morning.
“Hey baby, need a lift?”
So much for solitude, Denby thought, but not without a small smile. She turned and rolled her eyes at Andy as he hurried to catch up with her as she made her way down the sidewalk. He smiled back, clearly relieved to get something resembling a positive response from her after the week of moping.
“I was planning on walking, thanks,” she said, slowing enough to let him fall into step beside her. “Need a little fresh air.”
“We’re done! Feels good, huh?”
Denby nodded. He was right. She was done with high school. Those who’d finished up were already celebrating and the mood was buoyant. She forced herself to absorb some of it.
“It does feel good. Been a long time coming.”
They walked in silence for nearly a block before Andy finally cracked. “It’s good to see you smiling again. Things getting better?”
“Yeah. Getting there, thanks. How about you?”
Andy shrugged. “I’m fine. But my situation wasn’t exactly the same.”
Denby could tell he was uncomfortable with her short answers but respected him for doing what he could to be supportive. She just wasn’t feeling very conversational.
“You, uh, talk to Sean yet?”
“Not yet,” she said, keeping her voice light. “I will. Probably tomorrow.”
Andy nodded but clearly couldn’t come up with a follow up question that wouldn’t go in uncomfortable directions. She spared him by asking one of her own.
“Mind if I ask where things stand between you and Lisa?”
He cast a glance her way, then sighed. “Just friends. Maybe with a few benefits on the side, I suppose, but she made it pretty clear that’s all it would be. It’s cool.”
Denby had been listening for some disappointment in his voice, a sign he pined for Lisa more than he let on and wasn’t comfortable with the “friends” arrangement, but it wasn’t there. He genuinely sounded okay with it. That was, in a way, a relief.
“Why?” he said.
“Lisa and Sean were messing around together this weekend.” Zen. The words flowed out with no emotion — no anger or hurt. Just a simple statement of fact.
Andy, however, slowed his pace as he processed her words. “Wait, what? Seriously?”
Denby shrugged. She did feel a bit of frustration but wondered if it wasn’t more a reflection of Andy’s emotional response than her own.
“Lisa told me. She’s feeling all guilty about it. Said she had only intended to talk and it just happened.”
Andy caught back up to her pace. She could feel him studying her.
“You seem disturbingly calm about the whole thing.”
Denby couldn’t repress a smile. “I do, don’t I? It’s weird, but I think I am.”
“Okay. Where’s the real Denby and what did you do to her?”
Denby laughed. “It’s me, honest.”
Andy’s body language relaxed a bit. “Prove it.”
Denby pondered for a moment, then said, “Would you be able to confirm my identity by the smell of my panties?”
Andy’s eyes widened before he let out a loud guffaw. “I might. You offering?”
Andy gave her a playful nudge on the arm. “That’s a shame. Guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”
“No, I’m not upset,” she said. “Not really. I more or less told Aksaray escort bayan Sean I was done with him after…well, you know. You were there. Then this weekend, Lisa was trying to get me to talk to him and I got snippy and told her to go suck him off. And, since I seem to keep trying to push them together, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when they found comfort in each other’s arms.”
Denby nodded. “I know. Best friend screwing around with my boyfriend behind my back. Nuclear meltdown, right?”
Denby wasn’t sure she could explain it in words. She still didn’t entirely get it herself yet. Andy deserved her best shot, though.
“I like Sean. I was happy dating him. I’d have been happy letting him be my first. But after all this, I think I realized that I didn’t really love him. I mean, not the deep, get-through-anything in love sort of thing.”
Andy politely waited for her to continue.
“I think part of me, too, knew our relationship wouldn’t last once we split ways for school. A three-hour drive might as well be halfway across the country when we’re busy college students. Text and video and phone can only fill in the gaps just so much. It didn’t feel like the kind of relationship that would survive that.”
They walked in silence for a bit and Denby happily gave him all the time he wanted to process. It was nice, just having him beside her, listening and not judging or trying to offer advice.
“I was kinda wondering how you two were going to deal with that,” he finally said. “Not that it can’t be done, but…”
“Not easy. Not fun.” Denby let those words linger. “And all the while, I’d know Lisa was at the same school as Sean. She could bump into him anywhere, meet up for lunch, go out partying.”
“You didn’t want to worry about them fooling around behind your back, so you brought it out into the open.”
Denby nodded. “That was part of it, I think. And then I saw how well they clicked. It’d never work, letting them mess around while thinking he’d still stay with me. Wouldn’t be fair to anyone to even try.”
“Shitty deal. But, yeah, I get it.”
They reached her house and slowed at the walkway to the front porch. Andy wore the proper expression of a compassionate friend and she loved him for it. Just a quiet understanding shoulder to cry on, if she hadn’t cried herself out already.
“It took me most of this last week to figure out what part of me had probably already put together months ago. I can’t say I’m happy, but I’m in a better place. And I hope things work out.”
Andy smiled and took her hand. “I’m sure it will. You’re an amazing girl and you’ll find someone in college. I know, firsthand, any sane guy would be interested in you.”
She chuckled. If she asked him inside, he’d happily come. She knew he had feelings for her, but she wasn’t ready for that. He did things for her when they had flirted, things Sean couldn’t do, yet that didn’t mean he was the right guy for her, either. And, again, there was the distance between schools.
Andy said, “Need anything? Want anything? Company? Dinner?”
“Thanks,” she said. “But not tonight. I’m just gonna chill. Big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Graduation. And…stuff.”
“Stuff.” She agreed. That covered it nicely — their set-up and tear-down of chairs for commencement, punishment for the Club getting caught in the school auditorium, as well as several of her friends’ parties.
“You want a lift tomorrow morning? I know it’s not far, but I can swing by.”
“Sure, sounds good.” It did.
Denby, to her surprise, slept well. She felt good when she woke and was upbeat getting ready to go help with the commencement set-up. Her parents assumed she’d volunteered because Sean’s mom was running the show and she had no intention of telling them otherwise. They looked relieved to see her in a good mood after a full week of moping and they were wise enough not to dig.
Andy picked her up as scheduled and made the short trip over to Highland High with nothing more than innocent small talk. With the weather forecast being iffy, the decision had been made to have commencement in the school’s gymnasium. It’d be hot and crowded, but better than getting rained on.
As they entered the gym, Denby immediately spotted Mrs. Gregg talking to the principal — the two people she least wanted to see. Both adults looked over to her and Andy when they entered, however, and there were no dark scowls or anything of the sort. The principal said something else to Mrs. Gregg and then left through the back door. Mrs. Gregg walked over to meet them.
“Thanks for coming,” she said, smiling as if they’d had a choice. “The others just arrived and are down in the cafeteria loading up the racks of chairs to move them down here. We’ve put tape markers on the floor where we want each row set up. Simple enough.”
Denby nodded and was grateful she didn’t dig further about what was going on between her and Sean. She still Escort Ankara hadn’t spoken with him and had no idea what he might have told his mom.
Andy walked with her down to the cafeteria where they found Sean, Lisa, and Vida all moving chairs onto the rolling racks. Sean was working one end of the room while the girls had started at the other. She felt a moment of panic, knowing she couldn’t put this off any longer, but pressed on.
“Mind helping the girls?” she said. Andy was quick to pick up on the meaning and agreed, splitting up.
Sean saw her approaching and hesitated a moment before returning to his work. Den was a little disappointed, but what had she expected? That he would come running over and drop to his knees? No, that wasn’t him.
“Hi,” Sean said when she got closer. He paused with chairs in each arm to give her a long, calm look. She realized he was probably as nervous about this meeting as her.
“Hi,” she said, giving him a small smile. She could see how much that simple gesture eased the burden on his conscience.
“I’ve been trying to apologize all week,” he said. “I guess you know that, but now that we’re together, in person, I want to say it again.”
Denby waved it aside. “Accepted. And I have to apologize for taking so long to talk.”
Sean stacked his chairs on the rack. “Nothing to apologize for.”
“You know why it took so long?” Denby followed him and picked up a chair. He paused for a moment in gathering up a couple others when she posed her question.
“Not really, no.”
“I needed to be sure about some things.” She’d pictured and rehearsed this moment a hundred times in her mind, but it just wasn’t the same with him here in person. Here, beside her, he was so much more the sum of their time together than the abstraction of boyfriend in her mind when he was away.
He just nodded.
Denby took a deep breath and set her chair down before dropping it. “And now I’m sure. We can’t stay a couple.”
Sean looked at her as his shoulders slumped. Her words stung, but she could tell he was ready for it. Whether Lisa or Andy had tipped him off or he’d simply been preparing for it since her blowup after he revealed how he’d hidden the details of journaling about the club and then his mom finding it. He nodded once.
“I had a feeling,” he said. “I don’t like it, but I earned it.”
Denby shook her head no. “It wasn’t that. I mean, yeah, it was some of that. I was hurt and I’m serious about how hard it is to look your mom in the eye after that, no matter how cool she seems to be about the whole thing. Maybe I’d get over it. Probably.
“But no, that isn’t the reason. It was just something that made me look at everything else.”
Sean’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t happy?”
Den sighed and grabbed another chair. “I was happy with you. You’re a great guy. Really, you are. I’m just not sure you were quite the one guy for me. And because we were going to be hours apart from each other in school next year, I think I’d have had to be absolutely, one hundred percent sure you were that one guy to make it work. I guess I’d hoped that after we started…you know…doing it…I’d have found that last missing bit.”
Sean set another couple of chairs on the rack, then stopped to process what she was saying.
She sighed. “I was looking forward to being done with my promise. Not that I’m not, now, but I think all this M Club stuff allowed me to explore some of those same things. We shared a lot of intimate moments, maybe more than we would have just by having sex in private like a normal couple. And it didn’t change the way I felt about you. Not better, not worse. Just, you know, a bigger version of the same.”
Sean, to his credit, seemed to get what she was saying. He also kept his mouth shut to let her get it all out.
“But one thing did change. That was you and Lisa.” Sean finally opened his mouth to interject but she held up a finger to cut him off. “I know I pushed you two together. Neither of you would have done anything together without my having started it.
“What I’m trying to say is, I liked seeing you two together — my favorite people in the world. I liked watching you two interact. I liked how happy you both looked. I should have been jealous, especially after last weekend, but I wasn’t. Never have been.”
The look on Sean’s face, the flash of guilt, told Denby that Lisa had let him know she’d spilled the details of their get together. He hadn’t had the chance to apologize for it, but she had no intention of letting him.
“It was what convinced me I was making the right decision, breaking up with you,” she said. “I don’t know if you two will make a couple or not. If you do, I’ll be happy for you. If not, then I’m sure it’ll be for a good reason. But you two will be at the same school, so you’ll have a better chance of making a go of it. And you won’t be weighed down with an uncomfortable, long-distance relationship.”
Sean sighed. “You know I was totally willing to give it a shot. It’s not that far of a drive, especially with our families almost halfway between.”
Denby stepped forward and took his hand in hers. “I know. You’d have tried. I’d have tried. But texts and phone calls aren’t the same as holding someone’s hand between classes or getting a goodnight kiss.”