November 26, 2020

It had been over a month since Bette and Mark reunited in person and saw each other in person for the first time in 16 years. After saying 'I love you,' and meeting his ex-wife Shannon and children over a video call on the same day, they both knew things were serious. He introduced Bette as someone 'very special.' Even Shannon recognized Bette by history and reputation of Mark's past. Shannon was happy for them.

When Bette would video call Mark in the weeks following their initial reunion, the calls gave her a chance to get to know JJ and Ellie a bit more. They weren't interested in talking for too long and Bette was understanding. What do I have to offer? She asked Ellie about shows and games she liked and shared ones that she enjoyed too. Bette's friends from the Comic Convention world over the last decade had kept her pop-culturally literate and she was grateful for it in these moments. JJ was as sweet and wild as Mark had said. Talking to him was like talking to a time capsule of Mark from the mid-90s. He would go on and on about his favorite sports or how he made up a new game on the jungle-gym and Bette was enthralled by him.

The week of Thanksgiving, Bette turned 35. The children were with Shannon for the holiday. Bette invited Mark over for Thanksgiving at her home, and even though it would just be the two of them, she wanted to make something special of it.

Bette had the best of parade event on the TV while she was making her way around the kitchen. The stuffed turkey roulade was already thawed. The sweet potato cheese cake was chilled in the refrigerator. Pea pods could be steamed at any time. She was more prepared than she thought. She wasn't speeding around the kitchen, but she felt sweaty. Mark hadn't been to her home before; she had spent the week scrubbing and still felt like it wasn't enough. She was checking the table settings again when there was a knock at the door. Bette gave herself a quick sniff and went to the door, opening it to see Mark with a smile on his face. "I hope I'm not too early," he said.

Bette opened her side door wide to let him in. "Not at all. I was thinking I was going to change clothes, but-" she waved her hand in front of the clothes she had been cooking in, leggings, a tunic length shirt, and apron. "What would be the point?"

Mark was wearing clean jeans and a polo shirt, and Bette felt suddenly grubby after having been cooking, cleaning, and prepping, for the last couple hours. "You look great, I'm a mess," she said.

"No." He set down the grocery bag. "You've been working. Believe it or not, I look like a tornado most days." He slowly stepped towards her, wrapping an arm around her back, "You are-" He looked her up and down, he sighed. "You're still a star."

"You're just saying that because I cooked."

"I'm saying it because I love you, Bette." Mark kissed her forehead. "And look." He let go of her and went to the grocery bag he brought, unloading it. "I love you so much I brought salad and twice baked potatoes." He grinned.

"So much for watching what we eat." She said.

He stepped close to her, running his hands down her back, he whispered in her ear with a seductive tone, "I am going to earn every single calorie, and it's all going to be worth it." He kissed her neck once, withdrew to look at her smile, then kissed the other side of her neck.

Bette sighed to his touch and gripped his arms. "We could. We could right now, but we have all day, don't we?" What am I doing?

Mark let out a hum, almost a groan. "You're right." He pulled back, gave her an innocent kiss on the lips, and let go of her. "What can I do," he asked.

They let go of each other. She moved around the items he brought. "What do you want to drink? I have a mini bar in the corner of the living room, some beers in the fridge, or some wine."

Mark scoffed, he had an embarrassed look on his face, "I, um, I don't really drink."

"That's okay." Bette shrugged. "I also have Diet Coke and Diet Sprite."

"I'm cutting the fake sugars," he said awkwardly.

"So...water?"

Mark grinned. "Yeah. I've already had my fill of coffee."

She pointed out where the glasses were and he poured himself a glass of water. She put the turkey roulade and the potatoes in the oven to bake. Before they knew it, food was ready.

They sat at the table and filled their plates. Mark folded his hands and prayed. "Thank you for these gifts we are about to receive. In Your name we pray. Amen."

Bette was silent for a moment as she reached for the bowl of salad. "We said we weren't going to lie to each other?"

"Yeah."

"I don't believe in God. At least, not in organized religion, or practicing it, or prayer, and it's been my experience that Christianity causes more harm than good."

"But you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas?"

"I like having a meal with people I care about. I think this holiday should be abolished. I like the days off, don't get me wrong. But these holidays are some messed up, commercialized, exploitative shit." She said plainly.

Mark smiled and put his hand on hers. "That is so Morticia Addams of you.-No. It's very Bette Wheelan of you." He withdrew his hand and picked up the silverware. "This all looks amazing. Thank you for doing all this."

They talked and ate and got through the meal quickly. Bette put the leftover food in containers and Mark washed dishes.

"I didn't think it was possible for you to look any sexier," Bette said putting the last items in the fridge. "Nothing much sexier than a man doing the dishes."

Mark glanced over his shoulder at her and smirked. "You should see me refinish a porch."

Bette playfully sucked air in through her teeth. "Yeah. That's hot." She walked up behind him and felt him around his waist.

"You like that? You oughta see me repaint a room and change door knobs."

Bette moaned. "Yeah! That's such a turn-on. You do that, and I'm going to tell you about my long-term investments and retirement funds." She was joking around, but her tone was still aroused.

Mark turned around. "You like that domestic stuff? I like dusting."

"Stop. Don't you dare tease me with that kind of talk." She leaned into him staring up at him.

"I prefer to keep the toilet lid closed."

"Oh yeah." She groaned.

He pulled her close and tight whispering in her ear, "I actually fold clothes and put them away."

She moaned loudly and pressed her hips hard against his, "Fuck, that's hot." She grabbed him by the collar and kissed him deeply. Mark held her tight and pulled her hair tie out to let her hair flow free.

He pulled back from her slightly, panting, "You're not too full? You really want to?"

"Did you see how sparse my plate was?"

"Mine too. Thank God." He planted his mouth on hers. She reached between them and started to unbuckle his belt. He felt what she did and reached under her tunic to pull off her leggings.

She pulled away from his mouth, reached down and pulled off her leggings the rest of the way, she turned them and Mark lifted her onto the counter. He was just tall enough for the sex to work. They exposed him and led him into her and she let out a loud moan and he groaned. He found his rhythm quickly. The pair clung to each other as Mark thrust himself into her again and again on the kitchen counter. Their mouths still hungry, but for each other. "You're so hot. How is it better now than when we were young?" Bette panted.

"Uh. Maybe because we never did it, uh, in the kitchen."

"I wanna fuck you in every room of my house."

"Now?!"

Bette kissed him deeply then shoved him back from her. "Now. Get your ass in one of those dining room chairs."

He pulled his pants and shorts off the rest of the way and sat strategically in one of the chairs. She sat across his lap, facing him, and put him back in her. The rhythm wasn't as natural or easy and they didn't stay there long. Mark's eyes darted around, "Arm of the couch," Mark panted. "I want you there."

Bette removed herself from him and faced the arm of the couch. She braced an arm on the back of it waiting for him. He peeled off his sweaty shirts. "No. Not like that," he growled. He reached for her braced arm, held her tight, and turned her. Bette marveled at Mark before her.

"How-" Before she could finish asking Mark toppled her backwards over the arm of the couch, her hips still up on the arm rest.

"I'm still hungry." He planted his mouth on her loins and she moaned loudly.

"No-no one's ever, uh, stopped in the middle to-ooh! Do that before." She moaned through her pleasures he caused. He swirled, hummed, and lapped his tongue over her soaking skin; feeling and tasting every part of her. He watched her as he consumed her; twitching, moaning, sighing. She reached to him and ran a hand through his hair. She braced the same hand to grip the couch after, "Yeah. Yeah. Aaaah!" He kept swimming his tongue over her as she continued to moan and gyrate to his mouth's touch. "Get over here." She panted as she adjusted on the couch.

"Another room?" He suggested while wiping his chin.

Bette looked both heated and a little annoyed. She didn't want to wait seconds longer for him than she had to. She got up and took him into her messy office space with the spare bed in it. "I'm going to break your pelvis." She shoved him onto the bed, sat over him, and slid him back in her.

"I love you, Bette."

"I fucking love you, Mark." She braced her hands on his chest and slammed against him again and again. They both moaned while staring at each other. He ran his hand up her tunic, feeling her stomach, ribs, and back. He took a firm grip of her and pulled her close. He thrust himself fast and hard into her until he finished. They gasped for breaths as she pulled herself off him and fell to his side. "Fuck me." She said quietly.

"Maybe after some of that cheesecake and a nap. But sure. We can go again." They laughed a little until their laughs bumped to a stop. He took a couple deep breaths before he spoke again. "I don't know what made me think of it, but there was something you said last time we were together. It's been on my mind."

Bette heard the seriousness of his tone; it was a big contrast to him being so exposed "What's that?"

"You said you knew this wasn't going to be easy, but it was going to be worth it. It's not always going to be mind-blowing sex, Thanksgiving dinners, and the two of us."

She turned to her side and looked at him. "Yeah. Ellie. JJ. Shannon. Hell, Covid even. I know when the time comes, we're going to face new things we never imagined. I just hope you can be patient with me. I've been on my own for a long time." She was nervous by the time she finished talking.

He ran his hand through her hair once and kissed her. "It would have been just as hard for us in college, I think. Who knows if we would have made it then." He got up and got his jeans from the other room, but he didn't put them on. "But there was something I didn't forget. Something I held onto."

"Hmm?"

"Hope. Do you remember when we said goodbye? For the last time? Over ice cream?"

"Yeah."

He reached into the pocket of his pants, pulled out a delicate chain, and held it around his fingers. "I never lost hope for you. For us. I held on to it," he unclasped the chain and put it on her left wrist.

"The same one I dropped in your truck?"

"The very same." He took her left hand and kissed the back of it. "I couldn't bring myself to return it." He laughed a little. "I mean, I was literally leaving town and I thought you would take it. I couldn't return it. So, I held onto it."

Bette looked at the silver bracelet with a moon and star linked in the chain along with a small diamond and a sapphire inlaid on each side of them. He looked at her looking at it, "And if you don't want to think of it from that. Happy birthday. It would be the second time I got you star jewelry for your birthday."

She reached to him and held his cheek looking into his sweet face. "If I had been given the tools to make the perfect man. And I was told I could make him thoughtful, soulful, hardworking, handsome, and all the wonderful things I could imagine..." She teared up, "He wouldn't hold a candle to you." She touched her forehead to his briefly and kissed him.

Mark beamed. "I've been wanting to hear that since fifth grade," he said with a chuckle.

The pair embraced each other. She ran her hand through his still-thick hair. "You know it's a whole new ball game, right? This is totally different than fifth grade, eight grade, senior year, the last few months." She said in a slightly sarcastic way.

"Hmm." He pushed back her hair and kissed her neck a little. "Is this still fair game?"

She sighed to how he touched her. "How am I supposed to think straight when you have known that weak spot on me since I was 14?" She moaned.

He slid his hands up her tunic and Bette's hands rose to his touch; peeling the garment from her. "I've always been weak for you. This is me trying to even things out." He moved to kiss her neck again, but she stopped him. He saw the look in her eyes and on her face; the worry, the fear.

"You didn't see them last time," she rasped. She touched the clasp at the front of her bralette. She didn't need the large, supportive bras like she did as a teenager. "You were okay with my stomach scars, but this is different. I was never proud of my stomach, but I had spectacular breasts. These botched things aren't them."

He covered her hand with his like he did the last time they were together; when she put her hand on her other scars. "I first thought you were cute when we were kids. When I got to know you, I liked you because you were smart. You were fearless and a little dangerous when we were 14. I saw you sick in bed when you were 17. It didn't matter what you looked like, because you were you. When you text me silly pictures of yourself, that's the woman I fall in love with every time." Tears streamed down Bette's face. "So if you think, for one second, your post-mastectomy chest is a reason for me to love you more or less. Then you are not the smart, fearless, beautiful in-spite-of-it woman I thought you were."

While he wiped the tears from her face, Bette unhooked the bralette and opened it. She showed him her small remaining breasts: no nipples or areolas, scar tissue, bumps, craters, and valleys of repaired skin in different shades of pink than the rest of her body. She had chosen a bra that perfectly covered the imperfections of her mastectomy and botched reconstruction. They sat there on that bed naked before each other for a moment.

He took her hand in his. "'I don't think I can be without her again.' That's what I thought to myself right before I said I loved you while making love to you last time." He reached into the other pocket of his jeans and pulled out an antique ring. "Do you want to be with me again Bette? Do you want to make a life and a family with me? Make up for the 16 years we lost? And then some?"

Bette could see the ring but didn't stop looking at Mark while he spoke. There were only two times he said serious things to her while looking at her. The dance in eight grade when he told her he had a crush in her in fifth grade. When they were 18 and they committed to trying to make things work when they planned on living in the same city for college and work. And now, Mark proposing.

I was always afraid to be venerable, he never was. Never again.

Bette's response through her tears of joy was clear, "I do."