Chapter 65

"This was a huge mistake," Cody whispered as he splashed water on his face. He soaped into his cheeks and nose and ground it in until it burnt red. "What am I doing here?" A day ago, this felt like an innocent soiree to the boardwalk for a little fun. Now, as he stared into his reflection, Cody remembered all of the reasons why he hated that person trapped inside the mirror.

He wore the same thing as he had every night for as long as he could remember – a pair of gym shorts and nothing more. It seemed indecent, like he should have a T-shirt or something.

He spread a stream of gel toothpaste on the bristles brush head and wasted a moment wondering why toothpaste was unnaturally translucent blue with specks. Who did they think they were fooling? Those flecks don't do anything.

He ran the hot water, soaped up his face and scrubbed until it was beat red. He noticed the changes in the mirror, but the person was the same. He fought back the sudden to punch the desperately judgmental hypocrite in his reflective face.

It had been an active day, a mercilessly fun day, all-in-all an incredible day. Cody was exhausted. With luck, she was already asleep.

Something was caught between his teeth. He set the brush down on the metal tray in front of the mirror and dug through his travel kit, locating his dental floss. A few seconds of quick work and he had excavated a popcorn skin from his gums. That felt a lot better. He swirled water in his mouth to clear out the refuse.

"Cody," he heard the call from the other room.

He spit the water out. "Yeah?"

"What's taking you so long?"

I guess she's not asleep. "I'll be out in a minute," Cody said.

He brushed his teeth one more time to make sure all of the popcorn kernel was out.

When he opened the door, one dim light remained on as a nightlight of sorts. Celia was lying under the covers, propped up on her elbow. She was adorable. Cody's doubts seeped away. I'm sure all she wanted was a little canoodling. And who doesn't enjoy a little canoodling.

"Finally," she said. "Slow poke turtle." There was no anger behind the words. With a predatory smile, she held the covers open with her arm.

"I'll never catch that rabbit." I crawled in next to her, and the trap shut. Her body enveloped his in a vice grip of emotion.

Who am I kidding? Cody thought. This is a trap in my own mind. Celia has the same needs that we all do – security and the assurance that she is loved.

Cody relaxed and pulled her up onto his chest. He felt protective, but the person she needed the most protection from was lying right next to her.

Celia's body molded around his with one leg on top of his and the other to the side. Her crotch settled dangerously into his upper thigh in a universally agreed upon signal of absolute trust. Her nose and chin remained buried in his neck as though she was final a comfortable place to fall asleep.

With one hand around her waist and the other around her back, Cody felt the movement of her back rise and fall with each breath. He kissed her on the forehead.

She pecked at his neck in return. "Mama never took me on trips like this," Celia said. "I've never been this far from home."

"I promise to take you to a lot more places," Cody said.

Celia nodded in a way that Cody felt rather than saw. "But this one is special. Our first. It's like a trip to the moon or something."

"To the moon?"

"Yeah, you know, like people who just got married."

"Oh … a honeymoon?" Cody said. Then he wondered what Celia new about honeymoons.

"That's the word," Celia said. She kissed his neck. "It feels like we're the only people in the world."

Cody pulled her up higher so that he could reach her lips. She craned her neck to meet him. With the movement, she brushed against his shaft shooting a jolt of passion across him.

Cody tried to focus his thoughts on Senora Shankapotamus from High School. He failed. "It's really late," Cody said. "You should try to get to sleep."

"Sleep?" Celia said. She kissed him again and whispered, "You don't sleep on your honeymoon."

She said it in a way that brooked no dissent. He couldn't bring himself to ask what she expected on her honeymoon. He had to trust her. So far it had only been kissing. Cody was always up for some of that.

Kissing her neck stirred a sweet aromatic whiff. "You're wearing perfume?"

"Do you like it?" she asked.

"I love it," Cody said. It wasn't fair that women had these tricks. Where did she get that perfume?

"It was my favorite of Mama's," she said.

Cody relaxed. Nothing but cuddling so far, and Celia didn't seem pressed to push the relationship. He thought she was more tentative that normal. The kisses were quicker and she kissed his neck a lot.

He ran his hand down past her hips and underneath the hem of her nightgown. Celia thought it was weird when he caressed her ass, but she didn't mind.

Cody couldn't find that demarcation line between good and evil – the hem of her panties. He ran his fingers far passed where it normally was … into the fleshy part.

It must have wandered pushed all the way into her crack, Cody thought. He squirmed thinking how uncomfortable that must be.

To gain a little composure, Cody pushed up the back of her nightgown, and moved his hand to her lower back. He would find the edge of her panties there.

Except he didn't.

Celia's face remained buried in his neck with chittering kisses which felt a lot like laughter. Cody pulled his head away from Celia to focus on her. She looked mean, like she was expecting a tongue lashing. "Celia Hutchens, You're not wearing any underwear," Cody said.

"I know," she squealed. Her legs danced around the bed like loose, high voltage wires brimming with electricity. Each time she moved filled Cody with another jolt.

Celia wrapped her arms tight around Cody's neck, squeezing hard and whispered, "Are you mad?" She angled away from him and squinted, trying to gauge his reaction.

Insane? Yes, Cody thought. "No, I'm not mad."

She pulled herself back against him, nearly choking him, and said, "It feels so freaky." Her legs danced around the bed again. "I don't want to have sex," she said.

"Okay," Cody wheezed,"sure." I can do this, he thought. It is going to be a really, really long night. "No problem with me." He was disappointed, but also relieved. He was glad she made the ground rules clear.

Celia pulled slinked up and placed her lips right in his ear and said, "I want to make love." She pushed away from him, but held on tight to his neck.

Cody hesitated. He focused on the shadow of her. Her smile was awkward … a blend of mirth and uncertainty, "Are you teasing me?"

She nodded.

Cody placed both hands at her waist and gave a quick tickle in a playful way. She squealed. "Your mother doesn't know monster she created."

Celia's playful joy was contagious. Cody grabbed the hem of Celia's nightshirt with both hands, leaned away, and pulled the shirt swiftly over Celia's head leaving her with nothing on. Her hair crackled with electricity. Cody reached over Celia's back and allowed the nightshirt to float to the floor.

If possible, she became even more animated. Cody tried to grab onto her torso to steady her. She twisted between his arms with both forearms wedged between their chests. "I'm naked," she whispered.

Cody said, "I know." He kept his hands safely in the middle of her back. "Is that okay?" he asked. He immediately regretted taking her shirt off. It was too much, too fast. He should be letting her push him, not the other way around. "Would you like me to put it back on?" Even that sounded weird … maybe I should have just handed it back to her … it was all too surreal.

Celia shook her head. Then she seemed to recognize that she held her arms awkwardly between them. She wriggled them free and pulled close. She buried her head in his chest and kissed his few hairs. It tickled.

Cody was so tense that he felt like his muscles had hardened into brittle bone. His tension was feeding Celias. He relaxed his arms and ran his fingers up and down her spine. That seemed to help. He traced the outside of her chin and lifted it for a better angle for a kiss.

Celia squirmed higher on him and Cody helped by placing a hand under her rump and pulling her higher. She held onto the kiss. Her legs spread to envelope him. Her crotch instinctively found its way next to his. Cody cursed the thin piece of nylon shorts that separated them, but was thankful for it all of the same.

Celia finally pulled away from the kiss and licked her lips. "Wow," she said. "This is amazing. I never felt like this before."

"So you like it?" Cody said. Celia nodded. That's what counts … right? Her happiness, Cody said to himself. And he wanted to believe it.

Cody tried to let her give him some idea what she wanted, but she seemed to be waiting for his move. Moving in a slow circle, her hips never rested. He had to put a stop to that before it drove him nuts. He leaned a little to his left until Celia slid off him and back on the mattress. The movement cleared space them. He guided his hand from her chin to her chest and tested the sensitivity of her nipple.

Celia jerked away at the surprise. "I'm sorry, sweetie," Cody said. "I won't do it anymore."

"It's okay" Celia said. Cody was no longer in much of a hurry to push the limits. He closed his eyes, pulled her chin in close, and kissed her. All the while trying to imagine that she is not naked.

Celia's hand seemed to find its way to Cody's chest and felt teased his nipple. Cody wondered what the hell she was thinking. Then she took hold of his hand and returned it to her chest and Cody let her. Mostly thin skin over her ribs, the flesh billowed as a hint of adulthood.

Cody didn't want to react one way or another. He didn't want to frighten or give her any reason to believe that she was unattractive or repulsive. Even these apprehensions were elusive. The fluttered away each time Celia moved across his shaft.

He sat far enough away to gauge her reaction when he tested her nipple again. He placed his fingers around her tiny nipple and rolled it around. It stiffened under his touch. His eyes tried to ask her if that was all right.

He had visions of bruises from abusive boys on the bus. "Does that feel okay?" he asked.

"It kinda tickles," Celia leaned her torso back against the bed with her hips pressed against him. "You can keep doing it."

Cody grew more confident with her pleasure. He leaned his head down and placed his lips on her nipple. He pressed his tongue through his lips and worked it up and down.

Celia gasped. "Wow." Her body shuddered. "I just felt a tingle that ran all the way from my tit to my privates."

I have a lot more tricks where that came from, Cody thought. He pulled Celia back next to him and kissed her. With his hands, he explored her body in a deliberate, tentative way like teenagers taking baby steps. Ironic considering their ages. Cody rested his palm around Celia's hip. His thumb rotated between her waist and thigh. Her muscles twitched in response. She reacted almost reflexively against him, momentarily pinning his thumb between their hips.

Celia herself had been more reserved than Cody. She rested her cheek on his arm while she returned his kiss. One hand rested awkwardly between them. She ran her fingers of her other hand around the hairs on his chest, seeming to pay more attention to what Cody was doing. When she pinched his thumb between their hips, she snickered and shifted to free her trapped arm. The movement made him numb where it counted.

Even a little laugh from Celia always seemed to embolden Cody, and he always seemed to regret it. Cody placed both hands at Celia's waist. When she giggled, he flipped her around and wound up on top of her. It was only a moment, but her face contorted into a look of abject fear. In that one tiny moment, he saw Celia's rapist reflected in her eyes.

He twisted off her and wound up on his back, next to her.

Celia climbed back up on his chest. "Why'd you stop?" She asked.

"I'm sorry, Celia," he said.

"What for?"

Cody did not even know how to answer her. He wanted to ask her to put her nightgown back on and forget all about this. Instead, he placed his arms around her and kissed her on the forehead.

She seemed to accept that as an answer. She kissed him on the chest and ran her fingers on his chest. She looked up at him with a devilish smile as she traced her fingers down below his waist to his shorts.

"How come you're not naked?" she asked. As she said it, she ran her fingers over his shaft and Cody almost jumped out of his shorts.

"I guess because you haven't taken my shorts off, yet."

She smiled and disappeared under the covers. He felt two hands grasp the waistband and pull them down. He maneuvered his hips to make it easier, but they hung up on his shaft. She placed her hand over the end and freed it, which only served to drive him wild.

She climbed back up Cody, leaving his shorts somewhere under the covers. She draped herself across him, skin to skin, with her head on his chest. "I like lying naked with you," she whispered.

Cody loved it, but he couldn't bring himself to say it. He was disoriented and numb at the same time. He wanted to scream at himself wondering how he let himself get into these situations. At the same time, her innocence was intoxicating in a pure and simple way. He wanted to believe that this was all okay; that Celia needed to know that someone loved her and needed her. He wanted to believe that voice that rationalized this behavior as part of Celia's recovery. It wasn't going to follow the normal rules.

"You think I'm too ugly, don't you?" Celia said.

"No," Cody said. He tried to remember what it was like when he first met her. He rubbed his thumb over her scar. Add the freckles, scars and lazy eye, the kids at school must see her like a carny freak. "I think you're beautiful. Your scars, your eyes, everything about you reminds me how brave you are." He ran his fingers over the twisted path of her nose. "I like lying with you, too," he said leaving out the word naked. He licked his lips, but even his tongue was dry.

Celia nodded in a way that meant she didn't really believe him. She ran her hand up and down his torso, all the way to his erect shaft.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

For what? Cody wondered, but he knew. This all started with her request to make love. She needed him to validate her beauty. "Yes," he answered.

She rolled over on her back and lye still, staring up at the ceiling. It felt like a formal submission rather than love. Cody wanted to get it over with … get this step behind them. It wasn't so much an act of love and a capitulation. With his arms at her shoulders, he straddled Celia, then placed his knee between her legs to separate them.

She didn't even look at him. With doubt and uncertainty that bespoke all of her twelve years, she took a halting breath and asked, "Is it going to hurt?"

Cody's elbow buckled. He saw that flashing light, but caught himself before his mind left South Jersey and traveled to dark places. "No," he said. "I would never hurt you." Even that was a lie. He hoped it wouldn't hurt physically, but he might as well strike her the way Graham did. His stomach churned from cotton candy, funnel cakes, and self-loathing.

"I have to … I have to…," he gasped searching for the words. What do I have to do? "I have to get the condom," he said.

He almost leaped off her and ran to the bathroom. He tasted bile in his throat. He fell to his knees in front of the commode and heaved. After a few moments, all remnants of their trip to the Boardwalk swirled in the toiled bowl. Panting and sweating heavily, he rose and opened the shower door. He turned the handle so that the water was frigid cold and allowed it to run across him. He placed his head against the glass and lost himself in the shivers.

He knew he couldn't stay here. Celia was out there wondering, worrying about him. Trapped between desire and despair, he couldn't move.

He had no idea how long he stood there before Celia made the decision for him. The door opened and Celia screamed. "This water is freezing!" she said. "Are you out of hot water?"

Cody couldn't move.

She fiddled with the setting. When she got the temperature adjusted she pushed him aside and stepped in next to him. "I didn't know we were supposed to take a shower first," she said. Then she seemed to notice him unsteady. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Cody grabbed her and pulled her tight against him. "I can't do this," he begged.

"Your hurting me," she said.

Cody relaxed his grip, but still held on. "I thought I could do anything for you, but I can't do this right now. I can't make love to you."

"Why not?" she said. She sounded disappointed and a little relieved.

"Because I love you," Cody said and knew it to be true.

"That don't make any sense," Celia said. "That's what makin' love means."

Cody chuckled. As simple as her logic was, it made sense. Then why? He wondered. "It's more complicated than that," he said. "I also have to love myself."

"How can you not love yourself?"

Something to do with her age, Cody thought. "You may be the only one I know who could understand," Cody said. He was just speaking to quiet the vindictive judges in his head. "When I was your age … even younger … my sister … ." He choked back tears. He was having trouble saying the words. He had barely admitted it to himself. "I was raped." Most friends don't even know he had a sister. But, back home, they knew. He had seen the psychologists report. Everyone knew. He couldn't even look into Celia's face. "On a number of occasions … many times … my sister assaulted me … raped me. Many times." He wiped the tears away with the back of his hand.

It felt weird saying it. Saying those words made it feel real.

"I thought you said your sister loved you."

"That's what I told myself," Cody said. "I thought it was love. She acted like it was all it was all in fun or she would insult me about being a wussy little boy. It was never enough. She'd pinch me or punch me or scratch me." The psychologist report stated that she needed to feel she had control over her life. I was convenient. "After she stole my grandfather's pocketknife, I couldn't stand it anymore. I tried to hide on the roof, which turned out to be a stupid idea. I had to go through Enola's bedroom window to get there. When she found me, I had the BB gun. I shot her with it, and she fell."

"You killed her?" Celia said.

"Yeah, I killed her," Cody admitted. "I just wanted her to stop hurting me, but I killed my own sister."

To her credit, Celia didn't let go. She didn't treat him like he was some repulsive monster. "If you want to ask Mrs. Delbert for another foster family," Cody said. "I would understand."

"Why would I do that?" Celia said, "I want to stay with you."

She kissed his chest. Then she kissed it again, a little lower than the first one. Before Cody realized what she was doing, Celia had kissed his no longer erect penis. Cody placed his hands under Celias arms and pulled her up.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I want to stay with you," she repeated.

"What?" Cody was confused. He couldn't even remember what to call his penis. "What does that have to do with kissing my wanker?"

Celia sighed. "That's what I'm supposed to do to stay with you. It's like my rent."

"Who told you that?" Cody said. Celia didn't answer. "It's a lie," Cody said. "You don't have to pay for living with me. You get to stay at my house because I want you there."

It was Celia's turn to be confused. Finally, after a few minutes she said, "I understand." She stretched up on her toes with her arms around Cody's neck. "I love you," she said and kissed him.

"I love you, too." The water was starting to get cold on its own. "Why don't we dry off and get some sleep?"

Like the day before, Cody dried off Celia. Yet, this time, he saw her in an entire new way. It wasn't arousal. He saw an entirely new form a beauty standing in front of him – a person who truly understood what has messed him up all these years. She knew because she had lived it herself. Or, maybe he was just tired.

Cody insisted that Celia get in her pajamas, while he fished out his shorts. "And don't forget your underwear," he said.

The fell asleep in each other's arms.

xXx

He was woken by his cell phone shrieking from the end table. He tried to catch it before it woke Celia. "Cody Kroft," he said into the handset.

It was his agent for his book. "Have you seen the news?" she asked.

"Happy New Year to you, too," Cody said. "I haven't caught up with it yet today. What's the scoop?"

"Tyrone Guy has filed an injunction against publishing your book. He has evidence that all those stories Buck Tunmead fed you were lies. His evidence is solid. It looks like Buck played you."

"It's no big deal," Cody said. "I'll find some new information for that chapter. It may take awhile."

"In the meantime, you have no book," she paused waiting for Cody to say something. "You have to return the advance I gave you."

Cody chuckled, "I've already spent it. I used it for back taxes on my aunt's farm."

"We'll work out a payment plan," she said. "It was just an advance, not income from sales."

Cody was tempted to take Celia and run away like they had always planned. Instead, he woke her up and told her they pack up and head back to Denville today.